My New Xbox One X

I wanted to write this a little while ago, but needed to have some more time playing on the Xbox One X and try to experience as much as possible. Since the launch of the new Xbox One console, I have been having a blast. Yes I am an Xbox fanboy so maybe my view is slightly skewed but Microsoft made an extremely great (dare I say) near perfect console.

Xbox One X Project Scorpio with various Xbox One controllers
Xbox One X Project Scorpio with Xbox One Day One, Elite and Project Scorpio Controllers

To my luck, I managed to pre-order an Xbox One X Project Scorpio Edition, I know a number of people that wanted this edition but missed out due to the limited number. After using it for a little while I thought I might sum up the experience I have had with it so far and also areas where there is some contention on the Internet.

Breakdown

Price

I knew I wanted to purchase the Xbox One X when it was still called “Project Scorpio”. From what I was reading and the rumours swirling around the Internet , I knew it was going to be a powerful console and it wasn’t going to be cheap. A high price tag was not going to discourage me from purchasing it. I pre-ordered the Xbox One Elite controller and that was $200 AUD, so paying around $700 AUD for a new, and powerful console was not an issue. I mean a GTX 1070 is still going for $700 AUD. For the power and convenience the console provides it is super cheap, plus I have a large library of Xbox games so I am not going to invest in another console.

4K and HDR

Weeks before the lead up to the release of the console there were many gaming sites that posted about how “unnecessary” or “wasted” it would be to purchase the Xbox One X console if you do not have a 4K TV or one that supports HDR. Funnily enough there were none of these articles written when the PS4 Pro was coming out/released (bias “journalism” maybe). I don’t know where these so called “journalists” got this information because Microsoft to their credit on numerous occasions highlighted the benefits a gamer would have if they only had a 1080p display.

I personally do not have a 4K/HDR supported TV; mine is still a 65” 1080p Panasonic plasma TV. The games (enhanced or not) all look gorgeous. Gears of War 4, Halo 5 Guardians, Quantum Break, etc. all look brilliant with their enhancements. Even the games that haven’t gotten the enhancements look slightly crisper and cleaner to me like Battlefield 1. I have spoken to a number of friends on Xbox Live who do have 4K TVs with HDR and have an Xbox One X, and there has been a unanimous agreement that the visual fidelity is high class.

Performance

I knew the Xbox One X was powerful and would help with load times, framerate, etc. but boy did I underestimate how much of an improvement there would be. Off the top of my head I can think of two games where the load times have significantly improved. Destiny 2 and XCOM 2 (I’ve been playing these recently). Loading to the Tower or any planet in Destiny 2 took it’s sweet time on my original Xbox One. On the Xbox One X the time it takes to go to those same locations is easily halved.

XCOM 2 on the original Xbox One was a disaster when it came to loading. If you tried loading a save, loading a mission, or coming back to your ship, it could easily take one minute. On the Xbox One X it loads in under 15 seconds. Before I could go and grab a drink from the fridge and come back to still see that the game is still loading, and now on the Xbox One X it just loads too quick to do any of that.

Games like Halo 5 Guardians, Gears of War 4, Battlefield 1, etc. all feel smoother. They feel like they are hitting higher refresh rates (or targets that they were originally supposed to be reaching). I don’t know, I can’t measure it and maybe I’m just imagining it, but the games feel like they play better. It is the same as going from a monitor that doesn’t support 144Hz to one that does and you reach that refresh rate, the game just feels so much better. So overall I think the Xbox One X is on a completely higher tiered level to the original Xbox One. Kudos Microsoft for squeezing so much performance out of such a dense little box.

Good Internet

My current Internet download and upload is 100Mbps and 40Mbps respectively (again I am fortunate enough to be able to have fibre connected directly to my house). I also do not have a data cap. Both of these (speed and data) are extremely important when considering the Xbox One X. The game updates to handle the 4K assets, etc. are massive (some games nearly double in size). So if  you have slow Internet download speeds or have a relatively small data cap then it will seriously hamper your ability to play the recently updated Xbox One X Enhanced games. From what I can tell there is no way to not download these updates if you have an Xbox One X console.

I did notice that downloading titles on the Xbox One X seemed slower than on the original Xbox One. I am on the Alpha Insider Preview ring so there may be some OS issues, but other people I have talked who are not Xbox Insiders pretty much agree that their downloads seem to be going slower on the new console. I’ll be keeping an eye on this and if it persists then I may have to have a little chat with the Microsoft Support team or raise an issue.

Storage Space

Along with these large downloads to support the 4K assets comes the need for more storage space. This is one area I think Microsoft needed to do a little better. A 1TB internal storage device is not nearly enough to support all the new Xbox One X Enhanced games that a gamer could potentially have. My internal HDD is near capacity with all the updates my games have received recently (I only have 75GB left). I do have an external HDD but may need to consider purchasing another. So do invest in another storage device to ensure that you do not run out of space.

Final Thoughts

Who is this Xbox One X console for? Well due to the high price tag I don’t imagine it is for the casual gamer, or someone who is not interested in playing the latest games at the highest fidelity possible on a console; for that I would suggest the Xbox One S. The individual who would buy this console would be one of these I believe:

  1. Looking to buy a new console where money is not a purchasing factor.
  2. Looking to upgrade your old or original console where money is not a purchasing factor.
  3. Looking to upgrade your old or original console to play the latest games at the highest console fidelity possible.

Do you need a 4K/HDR supported TV to enjoy the Xbox One X? Absolutely not. I don’t have one and I am having a blast; everything looks amazing and the games play better than before. There is a noticeable difference even in 1080p ūüôā

Do you need a good Internet to use the Xbox One X? Unfortunately I believe yes. I cannot see in the settings anywhere to disable 4K updates if you don’t have a 4K TV. Downloads could take an extremely long time and you may hit your data cap if you have one. This is one of the downside of 4K gaming.

If someone off the street right now asked me, “Would I recommend the Xbox One X?” I would say “yes” in a heart beat with no hesitation. I would tell them that they don’t need 4K or HDR to experience what the Xbox One X offers, I would even mention to be mindful of the download sizes for game updates.

I don’t give technology a numbered rating but if I had to give one to the Xbox One X, it would easily be a 9.5/10. I cannot fault Microsoft for the product that they have built.

Kudos Microsoft.

My New Nokia 8 Smartphone

My time with the Motorola Nexus 6 has unfortunately come to an end. I loved that smartphone and it has served me well since I purchased it. To Google’s credit the smartphone received constant system and security updates; unfortunately October 2017 would be the last month that Google would officially support the device [1]. So it was time to move on to a new and shiny toy.

I didn’t just purchase a new mobile phone because the software would no longer be updated, but the battery that once lasted me a good work day would now only last around 5 hours. So after doing my research and weighing up all my options the one smartphone that had what I wanted and not break the bank was HMD Global’s new flagship smartphone, the Nokia 8. If you would like to see my Android journey so far and what I want in an Android smartphone, check out my post here.

Premium Build and Feel

Much like the original Nokia handsets, the new Nokia 8 is designed and built extremely well. When I took the smartphone out of the box it was heavy (personally I felt that it is heavier than the Nexus 6 even though it is supposed to be 24g lighter), and it easily and comfortably fit in my hand (most likely because of the curved edges/side). The Nokia 8 appears to be a smartphone that is built to last. I appreciate the high quality design and build, kudos HMD Global. If you would like to see how durable the Nokia 8 actually is then take a look at JerryRigEverything’s Nokia 8 Durability Test. Going forward I will always be looking at these types of tests because I want my smartphone to last at least 3 years.

A 3.5mm Headphone Jack

Last year Apple was “courageous” when they removed the 3.5mm headphone jack. Some other mobile phone makers followed suit like HTC. Google this year followed in Apple’s footsteps by releasing two new Pixel smartphones without a 3.5mm headphone jack. To Samsung, LG and HMD Global’s credit they have kept the 3.5 mm headphone jack in most, if not all their smartphones. As someone who does not have wireless headphones and listens to podcasts and music on the way to work and while at work, a 3.5mm headphone jack is vital. Personally I feel it hurts the mobile phone maker’s brand and it turns people off future devices when they remove such fundamental components. Nearly everyone that I talk to say that they will never consider buying a smartphone without a 3.5mm headphone jack. It is just an option that they are taking away from the consumer.

Stock “Pure” Android

I am a massive fan of the Android OS, however manufacturers see the need to add unnecessary apps, skins, launchers and other elements to their smartphones without the consumer’s choice. By having all these extra items over time the phone begins to slow down due to poor support and optimization, and updates to the OS nearly never come or come months later. The Nokia 8 comes with stock Android :D. When I mean stock Android, I really mean stock Android; there are no fancy skins or launchers, there are no extra or unnecessary apps pre-installed. It is how the Android OS is supposed to be experienced IMO. Google’s own productivity suite (Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides) is not installed on your device for example; for me this is great because I use Microsoft’s Office suite instead along with an Office 365 subscription allowing me access to 1TB worth of OneDrive storage. If you are like me and want the bare minimum with the ability to add what¬†you want and with timely OS and security updates from Google, then the Nokia 8 will most likely fit the bill perfectly.

My Experience So Far

From the 3.5mm headphone jack to the micro-SD card slot next to the nano SIM card, the Nokia 8 has everything I need from a hardware perspective. Sure it might not have dual front facing speakers like my Nexus 6 but the bottom speaker it does have is perfectly fine, and it isn’t waterproof but I don’t plan on taking it swimming with me and if it does rain, it is splash proof. There is also no wireless charging either, but I am not going to pay another $300-$400 AUD for wireless charging capabilities.

Instead of a fingerprint sensor on the back like most Android smartphones, there is a fingerprint sensor where the dedicated home button is usually placed. This is the first smartphone I have ever had with a fingerprint sensor and it is responsive and accurate. I don’t take many photos but the front and rear cameras both do the job; it also has a “boothie” mode where it shoots the front and the back cameras simultaneously (doubt I will be using this mode much).

The battery life is incredible on the Nokia 8. My Nexus 6 had a 3220 mAh battery and my Nokia 8 has a 3090 mAh battery, so you would expect the Nexus 6 to have a better battery life. When I purchased my Nexus 6 it would last close to a full 24 hours before needing a recharge, while my Nokia 8 does better getting closer to 36 hours. The display is also bright and the colors are perfectly acceptable. Moving back to a smaller sized screen would seem difficult but I have adjusted fine.

Using the stock Android experience is just as I expect. Fast, and responsive without any hiccups or stuttering. When I switch between apps there is no lag or delay, and I can easily scroll through web pages loading different media with no problem (something my Nexus 6 eventually had trouble doing). The first thing I did when I started my phone up was check for updates and to HMD Global and Google’s credit there were three security patches waiting for me (one for each month up to October).

I cannot find a flaw at the moment with this device, but if I had to really complain about something it would be the slight camera bump. I am getting a case for my smartphone so that should fix that problem. If HMD Global keeps their promise of keeping the Android OS updated [2] and ensure that security patches are rolled out ASAP then this smartphone is going to last me a long time.

Nokia is finally back through HMD Global and giving everyone a run for their money. Other mobile phone manufacturers watch out.

Please Websites Stop Doing This

I generally don’t rant too much, and if I do I definitely don’t do it on the net. But it has gotten to the point where it has really started to annoy me and most people I talk to say the same thing. So I decided to make this little post about the latest annoying trend on the Internet. Videos that automatically play with or without sound (primarily with sound).

Many sites are doing this now. If you go to a site that has any videos you may notice that the video starts to play automatically at full volume, if you continue to scroll through the page and the video is still at the top of the page all you can hear is the video’s audio, or the video player shrinks and moves somewhere else into view and continues to play. Who in their right mind thought that it was ok to have videos automatically play (with audio)? When did this practice become standard? Does no one think of the consumer of the content? There is nothing worse (when visiting a website) than getting unwanted material/content thrown in their face without your consent, it hurts the eyes and the ears.

I have two main problems with this new trend:

  1. Will someone think of my bandwidth – when I’m on my home network I’m not too concerned about my bandwidth because I am on an “unlimited” plan (thanks TPG). But when I am on my mobile I am on a pre-paid (pay as you go) “plan”. I don’t need to be excessively charged for videos that automatically start streaming.
  2. “Ow my freakin’ ears” –¬†that awkward and frustrating moment when you visit a page, you start scrolling down, while unknowingly to you a video somewhere on the page starts to play and the only thing you can do is hear it. You start to hunt where on the page the annoying video is playing from. It is absolutely rude and obnoxious to play a video with the audio on without the individual’s consent.

The only social media platform that I am a part of, LinkedIn, will start to have this feature as well. However to their credit the audio will be off which covers my second point above, but it will still chew up bandwidth if left playing I assume [1]. So if you produce content on the internet and have a website that contains videos, please for the love of God I beg you do not have videos automatically play. If you truly must (I don’t see why you would though) have videos automatically playing then at least have it muted.

I can see in the near future extensions for browsers that block automatically playing videos, just like individuals creating extensions to block invasive ads on web pages. If the content providers don’t change to be more conscious and consumer friendly then the consumers will take their browsing experiences into their own hands just like they have with ads and ad blockers.

A Microsoft Twist on Google’s Android

Update: Within 6 hours of me posting this Microsoft sent me an email about the availability of the Microsoft Edge browser on Android, in Preview. You can find it here in the Google Play Store. Enjoy your new browser.

I have stated this before but I’ll do it again. I am a HUGE¬†Android fan, I love Android. I like being able to customize my phone (from a stock Android experience) and use the full range of supported first party apps. However, I am a¬†HUGE Microsoft fan as well; even bought the original Surface RT (R.I.P. Windows RT). When I read that the Redmond software king was coming out with a new Android launcher called Microsoft Launcher (seems to be a re-skinned Arrow Launcher from their Microsoft Garage team) and Microsoft Edge I was over the moon. You can read more about the announcement on the Windows Blog here.

I have on and off used the Arrow launcher previously on my Android device, and I use Microsoft Edge on my Surface Pro 3 and Gaming PC (alongside Google Chrome. See here about my experience running Edge and Chrome on my Surface Pro 3). I could not be happier to try out these two new apps from Microsoft on my now nearly no longer security supported Google Nexus 6.

Note: As of writing this blog post the Microsoft Edge browser is currently only on iOS, you can however sign up and get informed when the Microsoft Edge becomes available to use on Android. See here for more information about the Microsoft Edge browser for Android availability. The Microsoft Launcher for Android is in Preview aka Beta and already available.

Several days later my heart sank slightly. The high I was on from the new software announcement did not last. I read that Microsoft is officially not going to be adding new features and build new hardware for Windows 10 Mobile; see here for more info about that news. I was really and truly hoping for a Surface Phone (still am, even after the announcement). Sure I don’t have a Windows 10 Mobile supported OS but it is always good to have competition and the experience I had on the Windows Mobile ecosystem was acceptable with the exception being the lack of first party supported apps. A real shame because the performance and UI to me was superior to that of the all too similar iOS and Android platforms.

With a new launcher in use and a new browser coming to my Android phone all coming from Microsoft I decided to have a look at the apps and services I use on my phone. What I saw was a little shocking at first, I used to primarily only use Google’s services and apps. As time went on my needs and preferences must have changed which in turn led to changes to the apps and services I use. The Google launcher I was using is now a Microsoft launcher, I will no longer be using Google Chrome but use Microsoft Edge (once it becomes available), and I don’t even use Google’s AI assistant, Cortana is my go to AI (she syncs with my Windows 10 PCs so easily it is stupid of me not to use her). The majority of my day to day apps or services are Microsoft now. Recently I even purchased a subscription to Office 365 so having that extra space on OneDrive and having the Office suite on my phone has Google’s suit of “Office” products obsolete.

I have always been dependent on the Google ecosystem (from Chrome to Gmail), but now I feel that I have finally managed to escape Google’s tight grasp. It isn’t that I don’t like their services or apps, it is just that I have found better services and apps. What Microsoft is offering on the Android platform is fantastic and the clear differentiation between the two technology giants is that Microsoft understands that synchronization and integration between mobile and desktop is important, plus getting people to use their services no matter the platform is important. Google’s lack of proper app support on desktop is a major problem for me as doing everything through a browser is not amazing plus the features on their browser supported products pale in comparison to the Microsoft offerings. Google Docs does not come close at all to what I can do in Microsoft Word, even Microsoft Excel completely destroys Google Sheets. What Microsoft offers with Office 365 is light years ahead of what Google offers.

So it appears that even though I am running stock Android (mainly for the performance and security updates), my time with Google’s apps and services appears to be coming to a close with Microsoft’s apps and services easily taking over. Nothing Google showed at Google IO this year has changed my mind and even the hardware they showed in early October has me avoiding their products (no 3.5mm headphone port, really, are you serious). Microsoft may be slowly abandoning their own platform but they are building a strong foundation on both Android and iOS which can in the long run position them extremely well in the mobile space. It is not about having your own platform to gain market share in the mobile space, it is about getting the mobile user to use your services to gain market share which I feel is more important and Microsoft now realises this.

Time will tell now whether I stay on the Microsoft apps and service bandwagon or I jump back on the Google apps and services freight train. What about you guys? Do you mix and match, or are you staying loyal to a single provider?

UWP: Localized String UI XAML Properties

I was messing around in Visual Studio today and decided to spruce up my UWP apps a little bit. Originally what I was doing for all my string UI XAML properties on every project was hard coding them in the XAML code like this:

<PivotItem Header="Item 1">
    ...
</PivotItem>
<PivotItem Header="Item 2">
 ...
</PivotItem>

However there are several major flaws with this:

  1. Your strings are hard coded in the XAML code and if you were to make any modifications it would need to be done programmatically which could get messy.
  2. There is no consideration for other languages other than the one you have hard coded; a big oversight if you plan on releasing your app worldwide.
  3. It is not very flexible and easy to manage; if you need to change your strings it would have be done across a number of XAML files and it could take a long time to change everything.

Nearly every tutorial or blog post when they are writing string UI XAML properties they¬† always do this ‘hard coded’ method. Even Microsoft does this on their official page when outlining the different Controls and Patterns, see the Tabs and Pivot example here. Really though, I don’t blame them as it is really simple and gets the picture across nicely for beginners and the focus is really on the Controls and Patterns. However if you are going to be making a commercially viable product that will be used across different continents, supporting a number of languages is critical.

Eventually to solve this problem you have to do some Googling or Binging (not sure if that is the Bing equivalent), or if you use the new extension/tool called the ‘Windows Template Studio’ to help build your new app it sets everything up nicely for you. This is all well and good if you use the extension/tool but if you are not, then Microsoft again has a convenient page to look at, see here. I used this page to solve this very same problem and it should help you as well.

The solution to this problem can be broken down into several steps:

  1. Set a Default Language on your Package.appxmanifest (outlined in red).
    Package.appxmanifest Default Language Setting
  2. Create a ‘Strings’ folder in your root project solution.
  3. Create a subfolder that matched the Default Language you have set.
  4. Create a Resources.resw file under the subfolder.
    Default Language Strings Folder Structure
  5. Add all your string UI XAML properties in the Resources.resw file where:
    1. Name: The XAML property you are referencing including the XAML object.
    2. Value: The value for the XAML property, what you want shown.
    3. Comment: A simple comment to help identify and describe what the property and value is for.

The Microsoft page listed above outlines a very simple example and how to test your application, so I am not going to go into further detail here and I suggest you look at their example and testing method. If you are starting out doing some UWP app development then you might not be aware of what the best practices are (I still don’t), so hopefully you find this information useful and you can create commercial grade UWP apps for the Microsoft Store.

Google Chrome VS Microsoft Edge On My Surface Pro 3

There have been many tests, and comparisons between Google Chrome and Microsoft’s browser, Edge. Now it is my turn to talk about my experience using both browsers. I am not going to be doing a technical breakdown, but will be doing an experience breakdown, specifically on my Surface Pro 3.

I have been using Google Chrome for an extremely long time and it is still my go to browser at work and on my primary desktop PC at home. When I purchased my Surface Pro 3 and used Google Chrome, my experience using my new device was disappointing. The battery life was extremely poor, I was only able to get three hours out of my device at best and the fan would spin at what would seem full speed whenever I watch online videos making the back right of the device Hell hot. So using Google Chrome on my Surface Pro 3 was a no go it would seem, as it made my mobile device essentially a stationary device.

Luckily Microsoft came prepared with their own browser, Microsoft Edge. I decided to give it a go. At first it was tough to get used to the new browser. I didn’t mind using Bing, it performed just as good if not better than Google for some search results (props to Microsoft there). All the extensions that I used in Google Chrome were not present in Microsoft Edge (at the start Microsoft Edge did not even support extensions, but now it does and it has all the ones I need, so props again for listening to your consumers). But the extension issue I had was not the major problem with Microsoft Edge, loading and viewing web pages was the biggest problem. Not all pages would load correctly, the tab would constantly become unresponsive, UI elements on the page would not behave correctly, etc. Microsoft Edge still has this problem even in 2017 which is extremely frustrating. On the plus side of using Microsoft Edge I would easily get six hours out of my device, the fan would not spin up when watching online videos, and the device would not get hot at all.

So do I use a browser that essentially ruins the mobile experience due to poor battery performance and an insanely loud fan spinning while watching online videos making the device too hot to touch or do I use a browser that keeps the battery charge, has the fan spinning at a reasonable speed, but lacks the ability to perform when it comes to loading and viewing some web pages?

Right now I use both to try and get the best of both worlds. If I need to do some web browsing then I turn to Google Chrome, but if I need to watch any online videos then I always use Microsoft Edge. It may not be the best solution but neither Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge perform as expected on my Surface Pro 3. Maybe Google will work on optimising Google Chrome to ensure that it doesn’t take up all your resources, and reduce your battery to nothing in a short period. Or Microsoft can look into the issue where Microsoft Edge fails to load and display web pages correctly, because really that is the only show stopper for me; and for a web browser it if pretty important to have pages loaded and correctly displayed.

Returning And In Podcast Form Too (Soon)

Well hello there,

It has been a really long time since my last post (apologies) and there are a number of reasons for that. Mainly I was sick over an extended period, 3-4 weeks to be exact. First I had food poisoning from one of my favourite Chinese take away restaurants, that put me out of my daily job, BJJ routine and any side project work for over a week. Then a couple of days later I came down with the cold/flu. I thought I had cleared cold and flu season this year but nope, I must have just caught the tail end. So, I was again bed ridden and had my entire routine all messed up. Now that I have missed about 3-4 weeks worth of posts and any real side project work I am back, not at full strength but I’m back.

While I was in bed resting, I also took some time to do some shopping on Amazon and bought a couple of books to assist me in becoming a better professional, software engineer, developer and programmer. I purchased:

  • The Clean Coder: A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers (see here for further product information)
  • Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship (see here for further product information)

After reading, and re-reading sections of both books, I realised how poor of a professional developer, programmer and engineer I really am. Some stuff that I thought I was doing right, was completely wrong or could be greatly improved, and there were areas where I didn’t know that I needed to work on. If you are a professional, developer, programmer or engineer and want to better yourself, then both of these are solid purchases and will help you on your path. I am not afraid to change, especially when I am or others are constructively critical of the way I am doing things.

Now in saying all that, my good friend also purchased Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship and we got talking on Skype about the book. It is from there we thought it may be worthwhile to discuss our professional experiences along the chapters of the book and discuss the concepts and ideas presented. As soon as my voice comes back and I can actually finish a podcast session without coughing up a lung I will be providing more information about the podcast. Right now it has to fit both our schedules are we are both very busy people, but we really want to get this done.

So stay tuned and please be safe and healthy.

 

 

Abandoning Most Social Media Platforms

I am a millennial, and like most millennials you would expect me to have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Google+ and who knows what other social media account on whatever platform. And you would be right about three months ago, but now you would be completely wrong. Currently I have abandoned nearly all social media platforms. I only have a LinkedIn account for professional purposes, Google Hangouts (no Google+ account anymore) and Facebook Messenger (do not have an active Facebook account).

Since closing and abandoning the majority of the social media platforms I have never felt better. I have been sleeping better, staying focused more, getting distracted less, and have overall felt less overwhelmed. Plus I reckon if I didn’t abandon all those social media platforms I probably wouldn’t have started this blog, played around with a number of different programming languages and technologies, and even start a number of small side projects (finishing them though is another story unfortunately).

What led me to close my social media accounts? One of the most annoying things I have found with social media is the lack of face to face social skills among people my age. I would go out to dinner or events with family, friends, etc. and some people would just be on their phones; now I don’t go out with those people anymore. I’d try and start a conversation but they would just not be interested. I’d ask what they are doing and they would respond with comments like “Scrolling through Facebook”, “Checking out what people are tweeting”, or “Fixing myself up for a new selfie I’m going to post online”. This type of behaviour made me decide to close my account, but it was not the only reason. I wanted to get away from all the annoying, in your face, and know-it-all posts, messages, and pictures. I could have blocked, unfollowed, unfriended, etc. the individuals who post the content but why bother when I would nearly have to do it to half my “friends” lists. Another reason why I chose to close my accounts is because I would constantly be replying to peoples messages, posts and pictures. I felt like I had an obligation to reply back, and now I don’t need to worry about it ūüôā Do I miss the hilarious Facebook posts from comedic pages? Absolutely. Is it sometimes difficult to co-ordinate events when you cannot reply to a Facebook Event or Group? Yep. But I have learnt how to manage all of that now.

At first I found it hard and had withdrawal like symptoms. I would constantly be checking my phone for no reason for example. Habits I had formed over time based on social media I never knew I had or were doing was obvious now to me. After about two weeks that all died down and I no longer had the social media monkey on my back. So I think going forward, I will most likely not be going back to those platforms, as I see no real reason to. Nothing that they offered I realised I needed. I still find ways to communicate with my friends, I don’t miss out on any social events, and best of all my health and the amount of time I have now allows me to try and do new things.

So if you really are hooked on social media platforms, maybe you need to have a think about why you use those services and if you really need them. Maybe even consider what you are doing when using the services and when you are using them? Are you browsing Facebook/Twitter/Instagram when you are going out to eat with friends instead of conversing with the people you are out with? If so, maybe you need to dial back your social media usage a little. Try going a week or two without social media, maybe your life will change for the better. I know mine has.

My Android Situation

I am a die-hard Android fan; I would even go as far as to say I love Android. My very first smartphone was Android. I switched to a Windows Phone for a brief period, but switched back to Android. I can foresee myself continuing to buy Android phones until something “better” comes out. Right now I am in a position where my current Android phone is one its last legs. Looking at the current Android device market, I am disappointed in what is out there; nothing matches what I am after. Before I go into why the current Android device market is underwhelming, I’m going to breakdown my Android journey so far. It is this journey that has me feeling this way and hopefully provide some context.

My Very First Smartphone

My very first smartphone was the HTC Desire HD. It was in my mind the greatest smartphone you could ever get. It had everything that I wanted in a smartphone, even a 3.5mm headphone port ūüôā However, the more I started to use it and as the years rolled by, I saw one glaring flaw in the once Superman like device. It had nothing to do with the hardware but the software. It stopped receiving major Android updates from Google, and HTC stopped providing updates to it as well. With the device no longer being supported by Google and HTC, I decided to “root” my phone and install a custom ROM. An unfortunate event caused my screen to no longer work; who would have thought that dropping your phone, display first on concrete will kill a number of pixels? So I decided to move on and buy a new phone.

The Proper Android Experience

It just so happened Google and LG released a new phone a month or two earlier. The phone offered a “pure”, stock Android experience, no skins and no bloatware like my HTC Desire HD. It was the almighty LG Nexus 4. It was my very first stock Android phone and after using it, I am never (ever) going back to an Android device with a skin or bloatware pre-installed; no matter how good the hardware and skin is for the phone (sorry Samsung). With the stock Android experience, I could generally get “timely” Android updates (if my telco provider doesn’t block or take an extremely long time to test the Android update on their network *cough* Telstra *cough*) and experience Android how I imagined the original creators and Google would have wanted. Eventually my Nexus 4 stopped getting support from Google but I still kept it around as it still worked great. Eventually the hardware started to fail. I probably should have just replaced the failing hardware components, but I decided to make a switch to a Windows Phone. I don’t remember exactly why I switched ecosystems but I remember having a spreadsheet with data about a number of phones and the Windows Phone was the best option out there at the time. Goodbye Android.

Hello Windows Phone

The Windows Phone that I decided to go with was the Nokia Lumia 930. At first I loved it. The build quality is still the best of any phone that I have ever had. Extremely solid, heavy and felt like it would not break on you; it is a premium device at the fraction of the cost when I bought it. The only glaring flaw the phone had (which I knew going in) was the Windows Store (more specifically the lack of apps). I could barely get by with the apps the Windows Store had, and I did not realise how much I depended on the Google ecosystem. What was truly annoying was the lack of proper first party app support; there was plenty of third party apps though. Fortunately my mum’s flip phone ended up dying and I decided to give her my Lumia 930 while I picked up Google’s latest Nexus device at the time. It was the Motorola Nexus 6, aka Shamu.

Android My Old Friend

Ah it was good to be back using an Android device. I missed having proper first party app support. After moving to the Nexus 6, something that I didn’t expect to be a major difference but would take some time to get used to was the sheer size of the device. The Nexus 6 is a fairly large device and at first I had some issues getting used to it, but now I love it. Watching videos, browsing the internet and reading documents is fantastic; consuming anything on a large screen mobile device is just too good. Like most Nexus users out there would know, the best thing about the Nexus line is the stock Android experience, and the timely OS and security updates. Overall the Nexus 6 has been a great device, however the battery is now not holding a charge like it should, and I am no longer getting any sort of updates even though officially Google is supporting the device until October 2017. Now I have to decide what new phone to get, but the choices for me are fairly limited for what I am after.

Android Market Frustrations

If you want variety and choice then there are plenty in regards to Android mobiles. You have the super low end budget phones for under $100 AUD or you can spend over $1400 AUD and get the latest premium, top of the line phone. So there is plenty to choose from. However in saying that, many of the phones on the market do not appeal to me. The features/options I look for in an Android phone are in no particular order:

  1. A large capacity battery – I want to hold a charge for a whole day with heavy use.
  2. Stock Android – no skins, overlays, bloatware or any other manufacturer gimmicks.
  3. Support for the device for at least 2 years – this includes timely Android OS updates and security updates.
  4. 3.5 mm headphone port – just because it is 2017 doesn’t mean we should take features away.
  5. Doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg – I don’t mind paying big bucks for a premium device if it truly is premium.

Now as you can see none of these are really unreasonable, and many phone users out there probably would have 3 of these on their list when looking for a new phone. I am not asking for an insane camera as I rarely take pictures or videos, a 4K display, wireless charging, or “squeeze” functionality.

I’m going to start with the battery option. Many phones have a decent sized battery, so this one generally gets a checkmark from me. When I look at phones out now I rarely see phones which have low capacity batteries and many phones can last a solid day with heavy use.

The hotly contested 3.5mm headphone port. I use my phone to listen to podcasts and music while travelling to work and while I code at work, so having a phone without one automatically removes the phone from my purchase list. If I was to go with a phone without a headphone port, I will need to spend even more money on some wireless headphones, and they are not cheap at all.

Stock Android. Something that is super important to me, and is probably number 1 on my list of requirements. The only phones I have seen with stock Android are the Nexus phones (R.I.P), Pixel phones, and the new Nokia phones (from HMD Global). Unfortunately the Nexus line will soon be not getting support for much longer, and the Pixel phones even though they have a premium price tag are not premium devices IMO. I feel that Google has created the Pixel line to directly compete with the iPhone and the Galaxy devices. The only new Nokia phone currently worth looking at is the Nokia 6, however the hardware is generally low mid tier with a high mid tier price. Maybe the Nokia 8 will be the device I am after. Generally all other manufacturers have skins, overlays and other gimmicks on their devices that ruin Android, so they are all out of the picture for me and I am not going to go out of my way to root a new device.

Along with the stock Android comes timely updates. With the heavily customised experience manufacturers provide for their Android device, getting updates is a major pain an hassle. If the device is running something other than stock Android then be prepared to wait for updates unfortunately. So as with the stock Android issue, having timely OS and security updates limits what phones are worth looking at.

Finally there is the price. Again, I don’t mind paying a high price for quality. I have a Surface Pro 3 and I bought it when it came out. It cost a pretty penny, but it is IMO the best purchase that I have ever done so far (in regards to technology and devices). Due to the length of support most mobile devices get from Google and manufacturers, I don’t feel like paying over $700 AUD for a mobile device every 2 to 3 years. Sure I can keep the same phone until it dies, I mean I have generally done that. But I want to ensure my device has the latest OS update and most importantly the latest security patch.

There it is folks. Let me know what you think. Am I being too demanding? What phones do you recommend? I’ll most likely end up waiting for the Nokia 8 or Pixel 2, but time is running out. If nothing is worthwhile purchasing later this year, the Nokia 6 will be the likely choice as my daily driver.

UWP: Loving the Windows Template Studio Extension

I subscribe to a number of development blogs and articles, and I have been meaning to play around with the new Visual Studio extension that got announced at Build 2017 for a while now. What better time to use it than when I am about to complete the transition from “proof of concept” to fully fledged Universal Windows Store application?

Installing the Windows Template Studio Extension

Microsoft has made it super simple for anyone with Visual Studio to install this new extension. If you have Visual Studio 2017 (I have not personally tried it on an earlier version of Visual Studio), navigate to¬†Tools¬†– Extensions and Updates…

Once the new¬†Extensions and Updates window appears, on the left hand side navigation pane select¬†Online¬†and then¬†Visual Studio Marketplace. On the top right hand side there is a search bar, enter¬†“windows template studio” and press the Enter key on the keyboard. You should see¬†Windows Template Studio now appear in the list of tools and extensions. Click¬†Install after selecting the¬†Windows Template Studio extension; to start and complete the installation you will need to close Visual Studio.

After the installation process completes and you restart Visual Studio, you should see the extension Windows Template Studio with a green check mark. A screenshot of a successfully installed extension/tool is shown below.

WindowsTemplateStudioInstallation

Using the Windows Template Studio Extension

With the installation complete we can start using the new extension. I was super excited to see first hand how the extension could simplify the process of creating a new UWP application. If you haven’t opened Visual Studio, open the application. Create a new¬†Project (default shortcut key is Ctrl + Shift + N). Open the¬†Windows Universal Visual C# Template on the left hand side pane and select¬†Windows Template Studio. Fill in your solution/project details as you see fit and click Ok.

UsingWindowsTemplateStudio

The Windows Template Studio wizard will launch and right off the bat it offers some templates and frameworks to get you started on the right foot; a good first sign. First you get to choose a Project Type; and you get three options (I guess the options they give are ones that most developers will use when developing their apps). You also get to choose a Framework, one of which is based on a third party; it looks like Microsoft isn’t playing any favourites here and is offering what they feel is best for developers (this goes to show how much Microsoft has changed and how much they really care about developers). Click¬†Next once you have chosen a Project Type and Framework.

WindowsTemplateStudioWizard1

If you have never developed for the Universal Windows Platform then already having a Project Type and Framework setup for you makes things much easier for you in the future. But now is where the true customization and helpfulness really begins; in this part of the wizard you get to add the Pages and Features you want to your application. To make the next couple of choices easier for you, it would be beneficial if you nailed down how you would want your application to look and how many Pages you want (but you could always manually add more at a later date).

You first get to add¬†Pages to your application. I found this part of the wizard extremely useful as it provides some common Page Types such as Settings, Map, etc. A bonus is that you can add as many as you want ūüôā

WindowsTemplateStudioWizard2

Microsoft went above and beyond for the Features part I believe, kudos Microsoft. You get a plethora of Features to choose for your project. They are some of the most common when working on your application such as a First Run Prompt, Live Tiles, and Suspend and Resume. I really appreciate how Microsoft broke them all down them into easily recognizable Features, and on top of that if you are not sure what the Features do, there is a little information button you can click to learn more. Once you have selected all the Features you want click the Create button

WindowsTemplateStudioWizard3

If you look in your¬†Solution Explorer, you will find all the Pages and Features that you selected ready for you to work on, just like magic. It could not be any simpler. If you want to start developing for the Windows platform and you choose UWP, then it would be foolish to not use this extension. It is easy to use, offers all the basics and groundwork to get started quickly. When I start working on any new UWP project, I’ll be using this extension going forward unless I can add all the necessary features faster myself (but most likely not). Overall I am very impressed with the options that you could choose to quick start your development.

For more information about the Windows Template Studio Extension have a look here and here.