Android and Split Screen

Recently I have been noticing that sometimes when I unlock my Nokia 8 which runs Android Oreo, I see that the split screen mode has been enabled/triggered. At first I was extremely confused as the device was supposed to be locked in my pocket, but yet the apps at times (mainly Spotify) would go into split screen mode.

Looking through all the settings I could not find a way to disable this split screen mode. Again I find that odd and slightly confusing because the new picture in picture mode can be turned off. So why did Google not provide a means to disable the split screen mode for the apps?

While doing some more reading I managed to find how potentially I was triggering the split screen mode in my pocket. The app switching button if it is held for a short period of time triggers the split screen mode. The 9to5Google Android N quick-tips: How to activate split-screen multitasking mode outlines the same method that I have detailed above how to trigger the split screen mode, but they list two other methods.

Perhaps Google when they finalise Android P they will offer a way to disable the split screen mode. If someone does know of a way to disable split screen mode then please do let me know because the only pieces of information that I could find on the Internet are articles about how to ensure your app handles split screen mode.

My New Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless Over-Ear Headphones

For a little while now I have been looking at getting a new pair of over-ear headphones. The main reason why I would like a new pair of over-ear headphones is because my current Beats Solo on-ear headphones begun to fall apart. 2017 had not been a great year for me with respect to headphones. Early 2017 saw my microphone detach from my Turtle Beach X12 headset I use for my PC (luckily I could just force it back together and the wires were not broken), then sometime in the middle of 2017 my in-ear headphones broke and had to get a new pair (I bought some Sennheiser headphones), and then finally at the end of 2017 my on-ear Beats Solo headphones started to break down.

Before I purchase a product I do my research; so for a couple of months I was watching various YouTube videos that reviewed a number of over-ear headphones, both wireless and wired and read a number of different reviews covering the same over-ear headphones. Finally I settled on the Sennheiser PXC 550 wireless over-ear headphones. It was between those wireless over-ear headphones and the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 wireless over-ear headphones. My original plan was to buy a significantly cheaper pair of over-ear headphones but the price I saw these PXC 550 headphones was too good to pass up. The reasons why I picked up the Sennheiser PXC 550 wireless over-ear headphones were:

  1. Comfort:
    • The pair of headphones fit around my ears and the top of my head perfectly. The cans are shaped like human ears 🙂
    • The cans and band on top of my head did not press down or create a large amount of pressure on my head. Wearing these for an extended period would be easy and comfortable.
  2. Quality:
    • Unlike my Beats Solo headphones these headphones felt extremely well built, everything clicks, fits and moves with precision. Nothing felt misplaced or miss-aligned.
    • The materials used all feel like they are premium and nothing on the headphones feel cheap.
    • Audio produced from the headphones is great. I am not too fussed or picky as I am not really an audiophile but I can definitely tell when some headphones sound tinny, are too heavy or too weak in one area. These were perfect for me.
  3. Features:
    • NFC for quick and easy pairing.
    • Android application that gives you a number of handy details about the headphones status.
    • Touch controls. There are only really two buttons on the headphones. Nearly everything is controlled using touch controls on the right eat cup which is super handy so there is no clumsy guesses which button or control you are touching or fiddling with when you are wearing them.
    • Headphones turn on and off using an extremely intuitive and innovative technique. When you want to turn your headphones on, just put them in position to put them on your head and they turn on. Want to turn them off, position them so that they are ready to be packed up.

Unboxing my headphones revealed a zip-lock fabric case. The case is not hard, so it won’t protect the headphones from extreme pressure; but it also is not too soft such that it can be easily squashed. The case also has a small pouch section inside that can house your cables or other adapters. You get a micro USB charging cable (would have loved a USB C), a 3.5mm headphone cable, an aeroplane headphone connector and a larger connector for various mixer or audio devices. So right off the bat you are welcomed with a number of useful accessories, something that other products don’t provide, kudos Sennheiser. Pairing the device is super simple. I used NFC with my Android phone, but you can also pair using the standard Bluetooth method. Using the headphones is also super easy. The instructional booklet that is supplied details all the gestures that you will need to use and remember. To start and stop your audio, just tap the right ear cup. To turn the volume up just tap and move your finger up the right ear cup. To turn the volume down just tap and move your finger down the right ear cup. You get the picture. All the controls are tied to the right ear cup.

The microphone on the headphones is also pretty good (I have not tested the inline microphone on the 3.5mm detachable cable). After testing out the headphones with one of my favourite Spotify playlists I asked my brother to give me a call so I can test the quality of the call and if he can hear me clearly. It all checked out and he could hear me loud and clear with no issue and I could hear him just as clear. Now as these headphones are wireless the battery life is very important. Unfortunately the battery is non-removable, but these headphones are supposed to last at most 30 hours on a full charge and they take a full 3 hours to completely charge. From what I could tell, the Sennheiser PXC 550 headphones have the longest battery life for the price point. As with any new electronic device I get, I always recharge the device completely before using it and these headphones were no different. After several days wearing the headphones to/from work (I walk to/from the bus stop and catch the bus to/from work) and at work I have barely drained the battery life on these headphones. There is nothing more satisfying that putting on some noise cancelling headphones, picking up a couple of Jira issues and programming for an extended period. I plan on recharging them only when the battery reaches less than 10% so that I don’t have to worry about plugging them in every night or afternoon when I come back from work.

As of right now I cannot really fault these headphones. They were expensive but thanks to a 20% eBay discount I managed to snag them for ~$370 AUD. The headphones feel, sound and perform great. You get a number of accessories that you don’t get with other high end and similarly priced wireless headphones. A really worthwhile video to watch the shows off how good these headphones are and what features they have is The Best Wireless Headphones You Can Buy Right Now by Unbox Therapy, it was one of the videos that helped me decide that these were the ones to buy. If anyone has any questions about the headphones just leave a comment and I will try to answer it as best as I can.

Android Wear Are You?

Is it just me or has every smartwatch that doesn’t run watchOS become vaporwear? I feel like if you want to buy a smartwatch then you will most likely have to settle for the Apple Watch or a smartwatch that really isn’t “supported” by Google. By supported I mean that they are featured on the official Android Wear web page and will be getting continual OS updates from Google.

When the start of the current smartwatch craze occurred I really wanted a smartwatch too. It wasn’t for the style or visual appeal but the convenience of not having to actually have your smartphone in the same room as you to respond to a new message, or even check the time (like a standard watch). Right now I generally carry my smartphone with me and leave it on the table whichever room I am in. Recently I started to get the itch to get a smartwatch but when I saw what was on offer I was a little disappointed. There was nothing on the market that I could find that was easy for me to purchase or supported by Google. Living in Australia has not made getting a smartwatch very easy it would seem.

Going to the official Android Wear website and examining the different Android smartwatches that are available was flat out disappointing. Not only was the selection fairly poor but actually getting a hold of one of the smartwatches through the officially supported stores was near impossible. Starting with the LG Android Wear smartwatches, none appear to be available to purchase in Australia. I continually get routed to the US website and when I change to Australia and check for availability it shows “coming soon”, even though these smartwatches have been out for some time. The three other Android Wear smartwatches (Zenwatch 2, Huawei Watch and Moto 360 2) all are supposed to be available through the Harvey Norman store. But when you click the link to examine the item all you get is a “Page Not Found” page. Google appears to not have abandoned the Android Wear platform entirely either. Android Police appears to have obtained information about Android Wear smartwatches that will be getting Oreo updates and/or already have the latest version of Android (see here). But why are these smartwatches not displayed on the Android Wear webpage?

Microsoft is also out of the smartwatch market as of 2016. They stopped producing more Microsoft Band 2 devices and unfortunately had no plans to release a Microsoft Band 3 according to this article from The Verge. Unlike the traditional smartwatches the Microsoft Band was closer to a fitness band with its emphasis on health and fitness monitoring. With Cortana integration it was super appealing to me as that is my primary AI assistance, even on my Nokia 8 (running Android Oero), Cortana has replaced Google Now/Assistant. Maybe Microsoft will return back to the smartwatch market, but with them also pulling out of the smartphone hardware market I doubt it very much. If (and this is a big if) they release a Surface Phone or Surface Watch then I will most likely be picking them up. I have never had any major issues with any of the Surface products that I have purchased, even the Surface RT. But nothing Microsoft has said, shown, or even hinted at has indicated a new smartwatch from them.

Do I really need a smartwatch? Not really. Would it be a nice to have? Absolutely. I have a couple of really nice standard watches. Some have leather bands, some have metal bands. None are “smart” and none do anything more than show me the time and date. For now this will have to do. I will be taking a look at various online stores to see what I can get here in Australia, but right now the Android Wear future does not look as bright as it once was.

Microsoft Edge and Paid YouTube Content

This evening I decided I wanted to watch some YouTube content on my PC using Microsoft Edge. I have a decent list of purchased movies and TV series through the Google Play Store. After looking over the list of paid content I settled on a movie and I clicked on it ready to watch on my second monitor while I was doing some other stuff on my primary monitor. To my surprise I was greeted by a playback error. To be exact I got the following error message in the video player (I have blacked out some content that I deem not relevant).

YouTube Paid Content Playback Error

The exact message reads, “An error occurred. Please try again later. (Playback ID: MLeXgYpv05LH1Uhq)“.

I decided to click the “Learn More” link which would hopefully provide some informative information as to why I got this error. But in typical Google fashion I have found it was little to no use. I decided to try their troubleshooting steps.

YouTube Paid Content Playback Error Troubleshooting Page

I first closed every tab that I had open except the YouTube tab and tried again. No luck got the same error message, a different Playback ID error code was presented though. The next step was to restart my router, did that and still no luck. I restarted my computer to see if that would help like it said, again the same error message. The second last option was to verify that I was using the latest version of my browser; there was no Windows updates and I am unaware of any other way to update Microsoft Edge (if there is please let me know). The absolute last resort is to use Google Chrome. I’m sorry Google but this isn’t going to happen and really is not a troubleshooting step.

Curiously I decided to try some videos from some of my subscribers and those videos played absolutely fine with no issue on Microsoft Edge. In fact I am watching one of my favourite YouTubers playing XCOM 2: War of the Chosen as I write this. So clearly there appears to be an issue trying to stream paid content through YouTube on Microsoft Edge. I quickly tried my Android phone and using the official YouTube app I had no issue playing the same video (so it was not a licensing issue) and the video plays absolutely fine on my Xbox One X using the YouTube app.

Finally I decide to try Google Chrome. Low and behold the video starts with no issue. I tried again on Microsoft Edge and I get an error message. To me it seems that Google is doing something in back that is restricting content being played on Microsoft Edge or Microsoft has something in Edge that Google does not like, blocking paid content from being played. Perhaps being paid and licensed content I thought maybe there was a setting that was causing issues, but Netflix on Microsoft Edge had no issues playing. Has anyone else had the same issue? If so did you get it resolved or does the problem persist? Generally I have found Google to be near useless when it comes to any support and their response to issues is down right abysmal (the only other company to be close or worse is Valve and Steam Support). Looks like when I am on my PC or laptop I won’t be streaming any paid content from YouTube until this is fixed.

Intrusive and Abusive Website Ads

Many consider this to be a controversial topic and there are generally only two camps that most people fall into. There is the “content creators live off the ad revenue they receive and the ads are not that bad” and then there is the “ads are ruining my browsing experience, so they are going to have to go when I browse“.

My position on the ads that are shown on websites has changed over the years. At first I was extremely annoyed by them (no matter the type of ad) so when the various ad blocking extensions arrived for Google Chrome I jumped right on them. Later on I took the position where the ads were not too annoying so I did not use any ad blocker. Now I have come back into the camp where ads on sites are just plain intrusive, in your face and annoying, that ruin your browsing and content consumption experience. If I was a major content provider I would make sure that the ads that I was offering were non-intrusive.

The type of ads that I don’t mind are the ones that sit in the background, don’t play any audio or video, and absolutely do not change the way that the website is presented; YouTube ads obviously are a different story and because I subscribe to YouTube Red I don’t see YouTube ads. What I found while not using an ad blocker extension recently was that there are more and more ads being shown on the various sites that I visit that completely rearrange the website’s content and either have intrusive audio playing or banners popping up. The worst experience that I have had was on mobile where the page’s content would load and then all the ads would load which rearranges the content or there is a pop up that has a difficult close button to press.

If content creators were so concerned about the ad blockers being used then maybe the ads that they show should not be so intrusive. A good example of intrusive website ads from a couple of weeks ago was on the video gaming site IGN and there was a promotion running. Not only was the home page of the site littered with ads for the promotion (banners on the top and both sides), but a large pop up ad was shown that played a video with muted audio. If you did close the pop up and started scrolling a small banner would follow that detailed the same promotion. This situation right there is intrusive and in my opinion should not be allowed. It ruined my browsing experience, slowed the site down, and also made actually viewing the content much more difficult. With the ad blocker on the page loaded significantly faster, there was no banner ads and the annoying pop up ad was gone.

As long as these types of practices for ads being displayed on websites continue then people are going to use ad blockers. I am fine with the top and side banners displaying the ads as it did not take away from the content itself and they did not ruin the experience. Having an ad pop up play a muted video and then have a banner ad follow you as you scrolled through the page is not consumer friendly and intrusive. So for the foreseeable future if websites continue to provide these intrusive ads then I am going to continue to use block the ads. If a site however is providing consumer friendly ads then I will white list the site and allow the ads to be shown. What are your experiences with ads on certain sites? And do you use an ad blocker while you browse the Internet?

Google Chrome VS Microsoft Edge On My Surface Book 2

Now that I have moved on from my Surface Pro 3 and have been using the new Surface Book 2 since it was released on a daily basis, I thought it would be a good time to do another comparison between the two browsers. If you want to check out my previous comparison of the two browsers on my Surface Pro 3, it can be found here. This time around I put Google Chrome up against Microsoft Edge on my Surface Book 2, and the results surprised me a little. If you want to read about my Surface Book 2 experience then click here.

Normally it is standard practice to install another web browser as soon as you install a version of Windows. Nearly everyone I know uses either Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox (no kidding, I maybe know a handful of people who use Microsoft Edge and they all live in my house). No one even bothers to give Microsoft Edge a go and see if it does the job, which is a real shame. Whatever Microsoft has done with the Fall Creators Update and subsequent updates to the Microsoft Edge browser has made it extremely more stable, responsive and well, usable.

Here is just a short list of gripes I had with the Microsoft Edge browser that resulted me in having to install Google Chrome when I was using my Surface Pro 3:

  1. Lack of first, and third party extension support.
  2. Web pages failing to load and render.
  3. Tabs would become unresponsive too often.
  4. Constant crashes after not being able to recover web pages and tabs.

Now as you can see some of these issues are problems that make the browser not usable in one’s day to day browsing, I mean who would really want to properly render and load a web page without it crashing?

Once I setup my Surface Book 2 I did not install Google Chrome, I wanted to give Microsoft Edge a fair go. On paper Microsoft Edge has all the features a user would want and more. Since using Microsoft Edge I have noticed little to no issue with web pages failing to load and render, tabs are very rarely becoming unresponsive if ever and when they do become unresponsive they recover quickly and do not cause the browser to lock up and crash. Come to think of it I have not had Microsoft Edge crash on me once during my time using it on my Surface Book 2, and I have not had to force close it either.

Microsoft Edge has had no negative effects such as causing my Surface Book 2 to generate a large amount of heat or spin up a fan (my Surface Book 2 does not have a fan because I have the 13.5” i5 version), and the battery life has been extremely good. The only thing I wished was better with Microsoft Edge was the support for extensions, and from the extensions that are available most are buggy or do not function as well as their Google Chrome counterpart. With all this positivity I still wanted to see how Google Chrome performs on my Surface Book 2. After installing Chrome and using it for a couple of days, it showed me how far Microsoft has gone in catching up and passing Google when it comes to web browser optimization.

Google Chrome is known to be a resource hog and to Google’s credit it has been improving the resource management of the web browser with each subsequent release. Google Chrome chews up a large amount of your available RAM, unlike Microsoft Edge. But chewing up your available RAM is not the major problem here; I mean really using up available resources is not an issue (it is there to be used for a reason). The absolute worst part about Google Chrome on the Surface Book 2 is the drain on the battery. With Microsoft Edge I can get solid day’s worth of use on my Surface Book 2; Google Chrome on the other hand cannot give the same amount of battery life doing the same browsing. A solid day to me is 8 hours and using Microsoft Edge with other tools running easily passes this. Google Chrome and the same tools running can only last me around 6 hours. To some people 2 hours is not much, but that 2 hours can determine whether you leave your charger at home or now.

The issue where watching YouTube on Google Chrome would spin up my CPU fan of my Surface Pro 3 did not happen on my Surface Book 2. The primary reason for this is because my Surface Book 2 does not have a fan. What did happen though was that my device was a little warmer when watching YouTube on Google Chrome than on Microsoft Edge, it was not too hot to use on my lap but there was a noticeable difference.

Overall I think I’ll be sticking with Microsoft Edge completely now on my devices (on my Android device I have switch to Microsoft Edge and will most likely change my default browser back to Microsoft Edge from Google Chrome on my gaming PC), especially on my Surface Book 2. With the fixes that Microsoft have done to the Edge browser, if you have not given it a chance then try it out; it will surprise you I think at how well it performs compared to Google Chrome, and if you have a device you take on the go with you then it will probably drain less of your battery.

Well done Microsoft in really taking the time in optimizing your default browser, now if people only could shake the bad taste of Internet Explorer out of their mouths, they may give Edge a go.

Nokia 8 and Android Oreo

HMD Global was touting that the 2017 branded Android Nokia mobile phones will be receiving Android OS and security patches extremely quickly, as of December they have delivered on this. They also said that the mobile phones will also be one of the first to receive Android Oreo, before the end of 2017 I might add. This is a mighty claim, many have tried and failed with many manufacturers like HTC and Samsung holding out on the Android updates due to software issues with their launchers and skins. The Nokia mobile phones run a stripped down and pure Android OS with no bloatware or skins; this should make the update process much quicker and smoother.

Last night I got a little notification that allowed me to download and install Android Oreo on my Nokia 8. There were rumours that this version of Android was in testing and would be ready sometime in December (no indication whether it would be at the start, at the end or somewhere in between). I applaud HMD Global in pushing out the update extremely quickly. HMD Global is only one part of the update puzzle however. Your mobile phone provider also has to ensure that the update still works on their network and does not completely render your mobile phone useless on their network.

Telstra has been notoriously slow with pushing these updates to consumer’s mobile phones (even if you bought the mobile phone outright and not through Telstra). You can go to their forums and support channels to see a number of posts with people complaining that Telstra is blocking mobile phone updates. This time Telstra has pushed the update out fast. Have they changed their tune and business practices regarding mobile phone updates? Perhaps, but it is too hard to tell. One Android update coming to your handset in a timely manner does not excuse or disregard the numerous other delayed or blocked updates.

After the update was installed I noticed really only a couple of differences compared to the previous version of Android; there are probably more but these are the ones that stood out to me straight away:

  1. Notifications Bar – now with white icons and the expanded notifications bar has a white background with dark icons.
  2. Battery Percentage Indicator – other launchers and skins already had this but now Android comes with this handy little feature right out of the box.
  3. Nightlight – another feature that required either a third party app like Twilight or a custom launcher. The ability to change the blue hue on your display based on the time of day now comes standard with Android Oreo.
  4. Picture in Picture –  some apps have the ability and option to now work in “Picture in Picture” mode. You can easily browse the Internet while having YouTube running in a small window. Personally I have disabled this feature.
  5. Settings Cleaned – the entire Settings app has been cleaned up and made streamlined. There is no more confusion or ambiguity of where a particular setting sits. Well done Google.

Under the hood I imagine Google has made some improvements regarding battery life, optimization of the Android OS and other little improvements to make the Android experience that little bit more fluid, consistent and uniform. I use the Microsoft Launcher so I cannot comment on the default Google/Android launcher and if there has been any changes to that, but it most likely also has been improved like previous versions. So if you have a Nokia 8 (or potentially any other Nokia 2017 mobile phone) and you are on the Telstra mobile network then see if your device has an update.

Enjoy your new version of Android Oreo 😀