Sunday, November 1, 2015

Back to iOS: my year long review of Android.

In July 2014, I had enough of iOS.  See my post from then: I've gone Android

Now, in November of 2015, I'm back with iOS and an iPhone 6 s Plus.  Here are my observations of having an Android phone.

  1. Security.  I've noticed that there are lot more discussions on viruses and malware in the Android ecosystem than you've ever heard about from Apple.  I found it awful that my text message client had to guard against 'Stagefright'.
  2. Fragmentation.  It's awful.  It's very hard to get a good experience with Android when manufacturers like Samsung roll their own applications. Take the Clock application; something so basic and simple, yet Samsung required themselves to rewrite it for TouchWiz.  What does this really mean?  Slower time to market with major updates.
  3. Application Updates. Believe it or not constant application updates are annoying.  Every night my phone would be updating to the latest version of some application.  I don't know why this is completely necessary.  However, I have to believe that the changes are necessary to keep the applications working with the changing environment including point #1.
  4. Major Updates.  Google released Android Lollipop to the manufacturers on 11/3/2014.  It wasn't until April 2015 when I got the image pushed from AT&T.  As a software developer, I know that this is good turnaround time assuming that the first time Samsung saw the code was on 11/3/2014.  Reality might be that Samsung saw developer previews as early as June 2014.  As a consumer, however, this is dog slow.  Why did it take so long?  First see point #3.  Second, don't forget that in the Android ecosystem, the carrier pushes your update to you.  I know that AT&T also included some of their applications in that image.  Finally, just before I got Android 5.0, AT&T upgraded me to Android 4.4.4.  Why was that necessary?
  5. Bloatware. I don't need another account to login to, Samsung account.  I don't need another place to store information.  That's what Googles services are for.  I don't need any of the AT&T applications that were automatically included in the version of Android I had.
  6. Customization.  How could that be such a bad thing?  Android is way better at it than iOS, but I feel as if ability to customize comes at the cost of battery life.  Example, it always seemed to me that an application that you replaced was still running in the background anyway. I used Nova Launcher instead of TouchWiz for most of my 16 month experience.  At one point, the widgets were not updating while on Nova and I finally figured out that when applications were updated, the launcher would some how restart and defer to TouchWiz to update the content in the widgets.  I fixed this by clearing out the data in application manager for TouchWiz.  It was a hard to find fix.  Finally, Android gives you the option to choose default applications for a lot of what you do.  Like Windows, this allows you to use Google Chrome over the built in Internet browser from Samsung.  The problem is that it's not a very good defaulting system.  Repetitively, I was asked what my default for this action should be.  Should Android open the link in Adobe Reader, Google Drive Reader, or Google Chrome?  You could touch Always and that should use that application permanently, but it never seemed to work seamlessly.
  7. Other Phones. A few months ago, I was looking at what would be my next Android phone.  I was dead set on a Moto X Pure Edition due to a lot of the issues mentioned above.  Supposedly, the camera was decent even though Motorola has had a poor history with their cameras.  A lot of the reviews mentioned that this is the phone to have if you want a 'pure' Android experience and a bit more than a Nexus phone.  This point proves that there is just too many choices out there.  This is where Google needs to take back Android and make it "this is the OS, you can't make it your own manufacturers!"  That way, the choice comes down to hardware.  Screen size and quality, faster processors, better cameras, faster fingerprint readers, etc. now become the choices in your Android phones.
  8. Battery. In the waning days of my experience with Android,  I had gone back to TouchWiz and turned off some of the other customizations I had because the battery would drain to 20% before 5 PM after a full charge the previous night.  One day it was drained to 20% by 12 PM.  I can't say why this was.  When I looked at the built in battery monitor, it basically said the major culprit was Android System and Android UI.  In previous reviews, it had been ESPN and Bluetooth.  How could Bluetooth consume 15-20% of your battery when it was only connected to another Bluetooth devices for less than 30 minutes earlier in the day?  I suspect some update caused Bluetooth to behave this way.  I also suspect another update fixed this.  I can't say which one though.  ESPN I uninstalled completely due to battery drain.  I didn't see a fix that I could do.  With Bluetooth, I turned it off for awhile, deleted any connections I had, etc.  This was a temporary fix.  The best battery life I got was when I reset my phone completely.  As you might expect once you start adding in all of the applications you like/need then you start to experience an abnormal battery drain.
In short, it wasn't a rosy experience.  Do I have anything good to say about Android?  Yes, it was different than what I had before. Integration with Google services is good, but I don' t really think it is 100 times better than what you get from iOS applications for Googles services.  Difference is good for awhile until that difference has issues.  Then it's just annoying and you go back to what works. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Linux, Windows 8.1 and Virtualization

I'm a Linux fan.  I like it's simplicity.  I like getting back to the command line.  However, I've just dumped Ubuntu and Linux Mint for Windows 8.1.

In early 2014, I bought a new HP Envy 17.  It's a beast of a computer, Core i7, 8 GB RAM, 1 TB hard drive, and so on.  Good developers machine, I'd say.  I knew I could order it with Windows 7 for an extra cost, but I also knew that I had a full copy of Windows 7 Ultimate (Steve Ballmer Special Edition no less!) that I could use.  So I decided I would chuck Windows 8 and dual-boot Windows 7 and Ubuntu 13.10.

For the most part, I don't like Windows 8.  Clearly, Microsoft build this interface to serve tablets and laptops.  I'm not a fan of a touch screen laptop so I'd never have any real use of the Windows 8 "Metro" interface.  Further, I believe Windows 7 is still in good shape from what it does and how it performs.

Initially, with the dual-boot setup, I was content with the configuration.  At this point I knew nothing of running a virtual machine with VirutalBox.  I had a bit of a bug with how I had configured the system.  Apparently, I turned off UEFI and SecureBoot when all I should have done was turn off SecureBoot.  I think I thought they worked hand in hand and needed to be off together or that Linux and Windows 7 were compatible with UEFI.  Either way, the gremlin in the system was that the clock tended to be reset to GMT.  I couldn't figure out whether it was Ubuntu or Windows 7 causing that issue, but it was annoying none the less.

In the fall, I was tempted to try Linux Mint instead of Ubuntu.  I know that Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, but the interface is what is drastically different.  Another mistake made...I wound up deleting my Windows 7 partition while installing Linux Mint.  That was awful.  Fortunately, I discovered that Linux Mint came with Oracle's VirtualBox pre-installed.  I decided to check it out and see if I should make it work with Windows 7.  It was grand.  I could get everything I wanted out of the VM without having to reboot to get into Windows 7.  When I switched to Mint I had an issue with slow wireless connectivity.  It was almost unusable sadly.  After some Googling I found that Mint was a bit behind on the Linux Kernel and an upgrade would fix the slowness.  It was a good fix.

Around December last year, I started having this issue with the wireless losing the ability to deliver Internet content, but the connection was still strong and connected.  I Googled a lot and found that a lot of folks were having issues with Linux and the Realtek wireless card.  I found an updated driver that I installed.  It helped a bit, but not a conclusive fix.  I upgraded Kernels again, no help.  It was very frustrating.  I would say for a given session with the computer the browser would drop pages 5 -10 times.  Eventually they would come back, but it was enough to slow and prevent a good flow of doing something.

About three weeks ago,  I had enough.  I decided that I would give Ubuntu 14.10 a shot and see if that fixed the issue.  My first task was to split my home directory to a separate partition.  This is a really good idea if you want to switch distributions often or even clean install the next iteration of your favorite distribution.  Once that was done, installation of Ubuntu was a breeze including the customization of the partitions to use.  Once I had everything setup,  I noticed that the same problem started happening again.  This time around, it was less often, but annoying still.

Then, I was done.  I realized through this that I had given up a bit too to use Linux.  First, this laptop came with Beats Audio.  In this case, it's three distinct speakers that can be used to improve sound.  While HP has software to help manage the sound and power consumption of the speakers, Ubuntu nor Mint have anything for Linux.  In fairness, I found some instructions on setting the speaker pins to the correct values to utilize the speakers, but since there was no power management, the speakers were on 100% of the time and using more power on battery.

Just three days ago,  I backed up the home drive from Ubuntu and factory reset the computer.  With Windows 8.1 booting to the traditional Windows interface, consistency with the wireless card,  Beats Audio in place and the positive boot up speed,  I'm happy again.  I can still run my VMs now that I know more about it.  In fact, I booted up my Windows 7 VM to get some files off of there.

Now, it's off to Windows 10.  I've just loaded it onto VirtualBox....