iPhone 13 Pro/iOS Impressions from a Pixel 3/Android User

Last week on Wednesday my new Apple iPhone 13 Pro finally came in. I was super excited to get it all unboxed, SIM card inserted (I put my case on and then realized I needed to put the SIM card in, then had to take the case off again :facepalm:) and then put the case back on, ready to use as my next phone for the future (or until Apple no longer supports the device). Below are some of my initial and first impressions from someone who has only used an Android phone consistently in the past and is using an iOS device for the very first time as their main mobile phone.

Look and Feel

The Apple iPhone 13 Pro is built like a tank when compared to my old Pixel 3 phone. It is very close in size, with the iPhone 13 Pro being only slightly taller, wider and thicker but it is significantly heavier. I think the combination of the battery, stainless steel frame, and front and back glass make up most of that weight. When I pick up my old Pixel 3 it is like picking up a feather compared to picking up my iPhone 13 Pro. It took me a little bit to get used to the new weight difference. I do like this weight change though as it does feel a little more premium.

I like the way the phone does feel in my hand too. It is not too large and manageablefor single hand use, which is one of the reasons why I moved from Android to iOS. I am sorry Google but the Pixel 6 Pro to me does not look good, I absolutely hate the curved display on the edges and being such a large size makes it a deal breaker for me. The case helps to ensure that the frame does not dig into my hand and slightly protect my back cameras as there is a little lip.

One thing that I do know about Apple products is that generally they make extremely well-built products, be it their laptops to their tablets. Sure, sometimes they make “foldable” devices but by and large Apple does not skimp on using quality materials for their products. Paying for more premium products to get a better finished product is a no brainer for me and is something I am willing to pony up for. This may not be possible for everyone, but I am in a fortunate position where I can do this, so I took advantage of it.

I am a little disappointed in that it has a lightning port to charge the iPhone 13 Pro and I cannot use my many USB-3 cables that I have laying around, but it is what it is. The silent switch on the left-hand side of the phone is superb and I wish more phones incorporated something like this as it is very useful. The massive camera bump is not an issue for me, and I am not too fussed about the notch compared to other people. A single hole punch camera hole is a little cleaner but you lose out on Face ID.

iOS 15

Moving from Android to iOS I knew was going to be a little difficult at the start but there are a number of frustations that I have with iOS when compared to Android.

Less customization is something I knew I was going to lose on iOS. I did generally keep my Pixel 3 stock with what came out of the box, but I did like the ability to change the icon shapes, folder shapes and the ability to keep the icons, folders and widgets at the bottom of my screen and not have them all go at the top. That is my first gripe with iOS. Why does Apple not allow me to have icons, folders and widgets placed anywhere on my screens? I would like to have even easier access to my apps and folders by only using my thumb.

Something I thought I would not get frustrated by was notifications. Now I have to perhaps make some more changes in the settings, but I find notifications are absolutely horrible on iOS compared to Android. I find I am missing more notifications on iOS compared to Android. The notification center is okay but not great. I would like to have a small notification indicator on the top bar to know that “hey you have a message, etc.” instead of looking at the notification center. I am not too sure if it is a bug but there are times when I would get a message and sometimes I would get a notification sound and other times I would not.

I do like the iOS settings, permissions and app management compared to Android. Everything is more clearly laid out and is much easier to manage. Pulling down the control center from the right-hand side is also nice to have, but I found the universal pull down anywhere at the top on Android (notification drawer) to get access to quick settings and notifications is a little easier and more user friendly than how iOS makes you swipe down elsewhere for the notification center. If iOS could adopt something like this then that would be great.

My biggest two gripes are to do with notification/media volume levels and universal back gesture behavior on iOS. On Android you have dedicated alarm, notification/caller/alert and media volume controls while on iOS I found that managing my audio levels a major pain. I have no idea how I can keep my notification/alert levels high while keeping my media volume levels low. If I use the buttons on the side and keep the volume low all my sound minus the caller audio is low, and if I raise it then when I watch YouTube or listen to music, I need to quickly lower the volume. Perhaps I am missing something or have not set something up correctly but why are those volume levels paired? I would like to have all my notifications and alerts at the same level as my caller volume levels but keep my media volume levels low.

Now to the back gesture. This is something that I need to get used to as on Android I would swipe left from the right edge to go back to whatever screen I was on and even to previous apps sometimes. On iOS 15 there is no universal back gesture itself. You can go back to the main home screen by swiping up from the bottom or you need to press the dedicated back button located somewhere on the app which can be either on the top left or the bottom. It would be great to have a single and universal way to go back to the previous screen from any part of the right edge, but I guess that would fundamentally change the way iOS would work and would require apps to be re-worked to allow for the gesture.

All in all, I am not finding iOS very difficult to get used to. I am using many of the native Apple apps instead of my usual Gmail, Google calendar, Gboard apps, etc. But I do have installed Google Chrome and Google Maps as I have all my favourites, etc set up there and it would be a pain to migrate all of these to Safari or Apple Maps (as well as this being my only Apple device at the moment for personal use). All the other apps that I had used for travel, fitness, my smart home are all there so I have not lost anything but I did need to buy new licenses for the iOS app versions which is a little bit annoying but expected.

Final Thoughts

I knew there was going to be some initial teething issues with using iOS. I knew I had to adjust to the way iOS worked compared to Android. I knew that moving from a Pixel to an iPhone was going to require a little bit of mental and physical gymnastics. Overall though I did not find the initial migration and adoption of an iPhone or iOS that difficult. I do miss the ability to perform some customizations, the more accessible notifications and universal gestures. However I gain some of iOS’s handy streamlined, accessible and user friendly features while being housed in what I would again call a mobile tank.

Now I do have an iPad Mini 2021 version coming my way as well so that I can take more notes, read a little more and also watch videos and surf the web a little easier. Plus the new Apple Watch series 7 is also being delivered sometime next month. Did I jump completely in the Apple ecosystem? Yeah. For me to take advantage of everything that Apple offers I need to really start looking at investing in their ecosystem, even if it is for the next 5 years and has a very very steep entry cost. But I feel that in those 5 years (at least) it may be all worth it and I may be a permantely converted Apple user for mobile, tablet, watch (and perhaps laptop).

Bye bye Android and hello iOS

I wrote a blog post recently about potentially switching to the Apple ecosystem for my smartphone, smartwatch and tablet with the laptop also being an option. And I can officially say that I have bought an Apple iPhone 13 Pro, Apple iPad Mini 2021, and am waiting on the new Apple Watch 7.

If Apple do have an October 2021 event and showcase a new Apple Macbook Pro 14” with the M1X or M2 and it can support 32GB of RAM, 2 external monitors and have a good battery life then I may skip out on the Framework laptop and just go with the Macbook Pro. Even though I really like the repairability and upgradability of the Framework laptop there is no information about availability in Australia and my Surface Book 2 battery is not doing so great 😦

The more I see what the Pixel 6 Pro looks like the more I do not want it. The glossy back, the large size and the curved glass edges are all turn offs for me. I like to have a nice small smartphone that is powerful in the hands, and at 6.1” the iPhone 13 Pro is just that. Android 12 looks fantastic and what Google is doing with their software apps and assistant is going to be a major loss IMO by switching to iOS as that native support is gone. Most if not all the Google apps I use are on iOS so I am not missing too much there as Google seem to update their apps fairly frequently, sometimes even before they update their Android apps.

Currently I am still waiting for Apple to deliver my iPhone 13 Pro and Apple iPad Mini 2021, but I do have with me an Apple Pencil Gen 2 and leather case for my smartphone. The smart cover for the iPad Mini 2021 is still in transit the last I checked.

So by the end of October 2021, I will have my new smartphone and tablet, and am looking forward to using them. From the people that I have spoken to, getting used to iOS is not that hard and some of the workflow might make things a little easier. Overall I am looking forward to moving to a new mobile OS as I have been with Android for a very long time with a short stint using Microsoft’s mobile OS.

Will I go back to Android? Perhaps, but if I am happy using Apple’s products and they continue to support it for a long period of time (which from what I read and see, they like to continue to update their older devices) I may be in the Apple mobile ecosystem for a long time. My smart home/devices however will be still primarily Google/Nest and Philips Hue as I really like the Hubs and smart lights.

Thank you Android for all the fond memories starting with my HTC Desire HD all the way to my current Pixel 3. You have generally been very rock solid but the current hardware missteps, the lack of a proper first party smartwatch and tablet, and the poor security and update policy for the devices has made me decide to move on. I may see you again in the future :wave-bye:

Four Years of Android OS and Security Updates as Standard, Finally

As someone who likes to keep their mobile phone for as long as possible when Samsung announced that they will be supporting their line-up of Galaxy products with updates for four years from initial release it was great news. I know that Samsung are one of the device makers that do update their phones (security and OS) even if it might take them longer or in longer intervals than Google or Nokia. Officially supporting your product for at least four years is a must if we are to start reducing the amount of e-waste we keep producing.

Google currently only supports their Pixel line-up officially for three years. I am using a Pixel 3 and by my calculations I will be on my last year of support and will most likely need to purchase a new mobile phone if I am to get any further new OS or security updates. This is a little disappointing because not only do I really like my Pixel 3 but there is absolutely nothing wrong with the device. Everything is working like it was since I purchased the device. Sure, the battery might not be as good as it was, but it still gets me through the entire day even with heavy use. I like to get new features and security updates to make sure my device is protected, but why should this be limited to only new products after three years even if the old product is still functioning, working as intended and can support these new features?

The question is will Google also be officially supporting at least four years of security updates (and fingers crossed OS updates)? Qualcomm and Google did announce in December 2020 a collaboration to extend Android OS and security update support for four years which is amazing. When I read the Qualcomm press release I saw that it will officially start with the new Snapdragon 888 Mobile Platform. What I was not sure of was will it only be supported on high end chips? This is critical as Google in their Pixel line currently is not using the flagship Snapdragon chips anymore. If only the flagship Snapdragon chips will support this new four year update support, then it is a little kick in stomach.

Thankfully reading the Android blog post about the same announcement, the chips that will be supporting this four-year support will be any SoC launching with Android 11 and later. So that will mean that any device launching in late 2021 that has Android 11 will support this new four-year cycle. That would mean that the Pixel 6 will fall into this category. I am going to try and hold onto my Pixel 3 for as long as I can and that it stops officially receiving security updates. Perhaps 2022 will be the year that I need to upgrade my mobile phone. What Samsung announced seems to indicate that will be support phones already released while Google/Qualcomm will be supporting future devices. If you are in the market for an Android device then it may be wise to wait for an Android 11 device to get the full four year of support.

React Native: NodeJS and Expo Start Failure

Recently I was looking at doing some React Native work so that I can quickly get some Android and iOS prototypes up and running to help me build the app that I actually want to get onto the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.

To help me get a better understanding of what I need, I looked at several YouTube videos. The tutorials/guides were extremely useful, however I encountered an issue that was not present in the videos. When I ran the following command on my computer:

npm start

instead of the Expo DevTools running locally in my browser until I force killed it through Command Prompt, it would crash immediately and my Command Prompt would display an Unterminated Character Class error like below:

C:\Development\Android\React Native\Tutorials\rn-first-app>npm start

> @ start C:\Development\Android\React Native\Tutorials\rn-first-app
> expo start

Starting project at C:\Development\Android\React Native\Tutorials\rn-first-app
Expo DevTools is running at http://localhost:19002
Opening DevTools in the browser... (press shift-d to disable)
error Invalid regular expression: /(.*\\__fixtures__\\.*|node_modules[\\\]react[\\\]dist[\\\].*|website\\node_modules\\.*|heapCapture\\bundle\.js|.*\\__tests__\\.*)$/: Unterminated character class. Run CLI with --verbose flag for more details.

Metro Bundler process exited with code 1
Set EXPO_DEBUG=true in your env to view the stack trace.
npm ERR! code ELIFECYCLE
npm ERR! errno 1
npm ERR! @ start: `expo start`
npm ERR! Exit status 1
npm ERR!
npm ERR! Failed at the @ start script.
npm ERR! This is probably not a problem with npm. There is likely additional logging output above.

After doing some Googling, I found this super handy StackOverflow page (answer linked) which has several answers that talk about specific NodeJS versions that have this problem and downgrading to an earlier version (I had installed NodeJS 12.13.1, which at the time was the latest recommended version to install) fixed it. Or you could modify a specific JavaScript file that was not escaping correctly.

I decided to modify the blacklist.js file instead of downgrading my NodeJS version. The StackOverflow page linked above outlines what needs to be changed in the file. If you are using an editor like Visual Studio Code then with the syntax highlighting you will notice the difference once the \ is added to line 15 of the file. It basically goes from:

var sharedBlacklist = [
  /node_modules[/\\]react[/\\]dist[/\\].*/,
  /website\/node_modules\/.*/,
  /heapCapture\/bundle\.js/,
  /.*\/__tests__\/.*/
];

to this:

var sharedBlacklist = [
  /node_modules[\/\\]react[\/\\]dist[\/\\].*/,
  /website\/node_modules\/.*/,
  /heapCapture\/bundle\.js/,
  /.*\/__tests__\/.*/
];

Now this issue may only affect Windows due to the nature of how the slashes are escaped and respected (different OS do things slightly differently). So if you encounter this problem, either downgrade your NodeJS version, or if you don’t want to do that then modify the offending JavaScript file. Also it would be worthwhile to go visit that StackOverflow page and bump up the answer. As developers we need to help each other out and share as much information as possible to help make the world a better place.

Playing with my new Google Pixel 3

My Final Nokia Troubles

Last weekend my Nokia 8’s microphone had stopped working/functioning correctly. It was also not the first time that it stopped working or started to not function correctly. Instead of the individual on the other end of my call being able to hear and understand me, all they could hear was static or white noise. But to resolve the problem before I just blew into the microphone to remove any dust, dirt or anything else that might be interfering with the microphone. This time that did not work 😦 Looking at the official Nokia support forums I am not the only one who has experienced this problem; poor design. You can also see various YouTube videos that show the same thing that I was experiencing.

I could have taken my phone to a repair shop to get them to take a look at it but it got to the point where I was a little frustrated and annoyed at Nokia and my Nokia 8, so I decided instead to take the more expensive option and buy a Google Pixel 3 (not a 3a however); with my friend getting me a good deal on what I purchased and a sale already on the white version of the Google Pixel 3, I feel I made the right choice. Along with the white Google Pixel 3 I also picked up an official charcoal Google Pixel 3 case and a Pixel Wireless Charging Stand too.

I knew the Pixel 3 phones were really good phones even if they lacked some of the features of other flagship and no flagship phones (3.5mm headphone jack, expandable memory, 5G support, etc), and it did come in at a high price point but it has not disappointed me so far.

Solid Hardware Build

The build quality of the phone is really good IMHO. In your hands it feels heavy and well put together. The size of the phone is perfect for my hands and I don’t see any real shortcuts that Google took when I am handling the phone. I did put a case on my phone (as I do with most of my phones I purchase) so I don’t have to worry about scratches to the back of the glass and if I do drop it then it should protect it from any major damage.

The screen is of really high quality and along with the stock Android OS it makes for an absolutely smooth and pleasant experience. The front facing dual speakers are also really good. I prefer to have front facing speakers than a single speaker at the bottom of the phone, or what some phones are now having, in-screen speakers (using vibrating motors behind the screen). The fingerprint sensor on the back is something I have to get used to as the Nokia 8 had a fingerprint sensor at the front.

One area that I want to comment on is the forehead and the chin on the Pixel 3. I am not a fan of a notch or punch hole on phones. I am also not a fan of the various different ways that device makers are adding mechanical and moving parts to the cameras which over time will breakdown or not work properly; no matter what they say, moving parts are prone to breaking. The Pixel 3 has, as some people would say (not me), a large forehead and chin. But I think the Pixel 3’s forehead and chin are absolutely fine. Plus with the “sized” forehead and chin on the Pixel 3 you get dual front facing speakers, which are well worth it.

Pixel Android

I am a super fan of stock or “pure” Android. I don’t want (nor need) multiple email clients, multiple chat clients, multiple browsers, etc. Apps I cannot delete or disable are pure and utter garbage that annoy the hell out of me. As soon as I see that there is a separate skin or over the top launcher added to a phone out of the box with that bloatware I refuse to buy the phone. Most, if not all OEMs do this which is a shame.

The Pixel phones are IMO what I feel Android should be. It is how Google imagines Android should be; stock Android with all the added benefits of Google’s new ideas. If you are not into the entire Google ecosystem and like all the Googleyness that is added to the Pixel phones then the Pixel line up might not be for you; but you can then add other apps to better suit your needs though. I do enjoy what Google offers and having Android setup with how Google envisions the direction Android should go is great.

Crazy Camera Quality

There are countless articles out there from a number of different sites that say that the Pixel 3 phone’s camera is one of the best (if not) the best camera out there on a phone. Does it have ultra wide support? No. Does it have the highest megapixel count? No. Does it have multiple camera lenses? No. But it has some of the best software out there to make sure that no matter what photo you take it is the best possible capture.

I generally do not take many selfies, or photos; unless the time calls for it. I don’t use Instagram or Snapchat so I don’t have a need for a camera to be on the high end, but if I go to an event or place and want to take a picture then I want to be sure that I am getting the best possible photo or video. Knowing I have a Pixel in my pocket makes me feel that I will get the best photo (no matter how much light is present or not).

All the Extras

The squeeze functionality if a little bit of a gimmick. I don’t think I’ll be using that feature much. I’d rather just use my voice.

This is the first phone I have had that has wireless charging. Right now I am seeing the convenience of it. Nowhere near as fast as charging through USB-C fast charging, but when I come home from work I place it on my Pixel Stand and I leave it there until I need to leave for work the next day. On the weekend I keep it docked while I am at my desk and it shows me the time, etc. I never need to worry much about whether or not I will run out of battery.

Overall I am super happy with the Pixel 3. The screen is vibrant, the sound is clear, the build quality is top notch, the OS is perfect, and it will get constant OS and security updates for 3 years. Hopefully this phone lasts me the 3 years and I will not have to pick up another phone until at least the end of 2021.

No New Nokia Phones For Me

Last week on the train ride home I was talking to my friend about the up and coming Google I/O 2019 event, Android, the Pixel phones and gimmicks/features all these phones are coming out with. With the recently leaked Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL details I questioned whether when the Pixel 4 is announced (at the end of 2019 at the usual Google Pixel hardware event?) that there would be three or four models. Two mid-range models (one for the smaller model and another for the larger one) and two premium models (again one small and one large). The reason I bring this up is because HMD Global/Nokia have again failed to live up to timely updates and I am fed up.

It is now the month of May and my Nokia 8 still does not have the April update. It took until the end of April/beginning or May for HMD Global/Nokia to release the March update or my phone to receive the update. Completely unacceptable IMO, for a company that specified they will be providing timely updates to their devices, and my telecommunication provider not being at fault. I have already blogged about this, but this time I am drawing a line through the HMD Global/Nokia brand when it comes to buying a brand new phone. When my friend’s Samsung Galaxy Note 8 has the April security update, and Samsung being known to take more time to release updates to their phones it is unacceptable.

It is as if HMD Global/Nokia have completely forgotten their commitment to timely updates for older model phones. This is one of the reasons why I moved away from HTC. Right now the only devices that I feel would be providing timely updates are the Google Pixel line of phones, have the hardware to do what I need (nothing special and I don’t play games) and not fall apart; oh and also not cost an arm and a leg. I miss the days of the Nexus line (I had a Nexus 4 and Nexus 6), all of which had timely updates, did the job they were tasked to do and lasted physically without costing a fortune. I know that the Pixel line is expensive but with the new line of mid-range phones coming from Google perhaps that is what I will go with. Is it so hard to ask for an OEM to provide timely OS and security updates, at a reasonable price point (under $700 Australian dollars) and has specifications that are not turtlish but also not elite. I also don’t need gimmicks with my phone such as the with the LG G8 ThinQ.

Goodbye HMD Global/Nokia, you had your chance to keep me as a loyal customer but you have failed after I gave you a number of chances. The only hesitation I have with the Pixel line is the hardware is not the best such as the lower than what is common now RAM and the durability of the phone. If the Pixel 4 mid-range phone can withstand JerryRigEverything’s durability test, has workable hardware, and is not going to break the bank it will be my go to; otherwise I will need to look elsewhere for a new phone when this Nokia 8 kicks the bucket. My fingers are crossed for the Pixel 4.

Living with a Google Home Hub

Some Background

When Google announced the Google Home Hub at their Google Pixel event in October, I was intrigued. Do I use Cortana? Yes. Do I also use the Google Assistant? Yes. The more I watch Microsoft’s assistant play in the consumer space, the more I get attracted to Google’s offering. I’m sorry Microsoft, I really like you and your products but your play in the consumer space is not great (non-existent really). Not only is the Google Assistant superior to Cortana on Android, it feels far more complete and functional. Cortana on Android has been of a little bit of a mess for me anyway (you can read my post on that here).

Looking at what the Google Home Hub can do and what some of the smart device offerings are on the market currently really made me decide to pick one up. I did not decide to pick up a Google Home or Google Home Mini because they did not have screens. I have never considered picking up any of the Alexa enabled devices such as the Echo or Echo Dot either. Having audio only results presented is not ideal in all situations, for example if I ask the Google Assistant what the weather is going to be like for the remainder of the week it shows me the next several days, the highest and lowest temperature and what the expected conditions will be. Another bonus of the Google Home Hub compared to other smart devices with screens is the distinct lack of a camera.

Unboxing

When I went to my local JB Hi-Fi and asked for the Google Home Hub in charcoal, the box that it came in was small as is the actual device. I originally thought that the device was going to be a little bigger, but it being this size has really not bothered me. If it was a little bigger then placing it on my bedside table (where it currently sits) would make it look out of place and too big. When you open the box you get the device, some paperwork and the cable that connects to the wall. Overall it was a pleasant experience (clean and there was no wasted space or materials), much like other premium device boxing like the Surface Book 2.

Setup and Configuration

I commend Google in making the setup process of the Google Home Hub so easy. Downloading the Google Home app on my Android phone and then following the prompts on the Google Home Hub and the Google Home app made it seamless. As someone who is security conscious with access control enabled on my wireless router and my wireless network does not broadcast its name, having the Google Home Hub connect and then allowing it to communicate on the network was easier than some other wireless devices that I have connected on my network. The Google Home app on Android has all the settings that you will need to make sure that your Google Home Hub is properly configured. From the downtime options to alarms and the brightness of the screen when the room is dark. Everything is there for you to configure and is clearly laid out when you select the device on the Google Home app. Simple and easy to use which is always a nice to have for a device that can do so much.

Clear Display with Decent Speakers

With a smaller display than the other smart devices on the market you would think that the quality of the screen and resolution would be poor. But I find that it is just about right. Images look acceptable, they are not the best I have seen but they are also not the worst. The screen can also go really bright and really dark, plus the ambient light sensor at the top makes the brightness change accordingly and it works great.

For a device this small I would have thought the speakers would be worse. But I am pleasantly surprised at how loud and how clear the speakers are. They don’t have much bass to them, but that is to be expected. Overall the music, radio and standard alarm that get blasted through the speakers is acceptable, but don’t expect it to be amazing.

The Google Assistant Shines Bright

With no other smart devices purchased currently the main use of the Google Home Hub for me is to use it as a bedside clock, alarm and informational device. As a bedside clock, the Google Home Hub does a very good job. I have a clock displayed when the hub is idle (not cycling through my Google Photos) and depending on the ambient room brightness the display on the hub changes brightness. At night it is not bright at all and I can easily make out the numbers and during the day it is just like any other clock.

Configuring the Google Home Hub to have an alarm is super simple and you can also set a radio alarm. On the Google Home app on Android you can check to see what alarms you have but you cannot modify them which is a little unfortunate (maybe in a future update); the volume of the alarm appears to be the only thing you can change. The actual Google Home Hub cannot modify the alarm volume with the volume rocker that is on the back right of the device, that seems to just adjust the media volume level.

One of the first things I do in the morning is turn my alarm off and then say “Ok Google, good morning”. The morning routine that I have set for my Google Assistant provides me with the information to see what is on my calendar, what tasks I need to complete, what reminders are set, what the weather is going to like, how my commute to work will be and then it plays my favourite radio station while I get ready for work. I love this feature because it gets me ready for the day and I know what I need to do.

Asking the Google Assistant information such as the weather, travel time, locations of certain shops, etc is really easy too. You don’t need to yell, as the hub can easily pick up your voice from the other side of the room (my bedroom is about 5 meters by 5 meters). I find that the Google Home Hub’s Google Assistant performs near identically to the one on my Android phone. A bonus here is that information from the Google Home Hub can also be relayed to your phone, for example if you ask for departure times or how to get someone, the information will be presented to you ready for Google Maps.

Well Worth It

Overall for $220 Australia dollars, I feel that I have gotten my money out of it. I got a brand new bedside clock, a new radio alarm, and also a little assistant I can get to let me know in the morning what I need to get done before I go to bed and also ask it any information that I need to know without touching a screen.

Microsoft or Google’s Productivity Apps

My original post was going to be about the two different AI assistants that Microsoft and Google offer, Cortana and Google Assistant respectively. However while writing and reviewing the post the theme of productivity and how the two assistants are making life simpler kept appearing. So instead I discarded that post and started this one. I try to streamline and make my life easier by looking for ways to automate, digitally organise, and remove redundant or boring tasks while taking advantage of applications on both mobile and PC to keep everything together.

As someone with an Android phone and has/is still using Google’s products on a number of platforms it would make sense that I lean towards Google’s ecosystem and productivity apps. But, Microsoft’s own products are just as good (if not better IMO) than Google’s. Are there other productivity products out there that do the same job or better? There could be but I generally only like using first party products because I don’t like giving other applications access to my account information. If others have suggestions about other apps that are useful let me know in the comments and I’ll potentially take a look at them and break my rule.

Email

Be it personal or for work, I use email a good amount. On my Android phone I have disabled the Gmail app and have opted for the Outlook app. There are several reasons for this. Aesthetically the Gmail app is pleasing and the performance is great, you never see any slowness or lag. Outlook is not as visually pleasing and appears more formal but it too performs well with little to no lag or slowness. If you are on PC then you can use both Gmail and Outlook through your web browser of choice, and if you subscribe to Office 365 (like I do) you can get access to the Outlook application where you can have both your Gmail and Outlook accounts synced up. The features that you get with Outlook on their apps and the web are also far superior than what Google offers. Outlook can be far more complicated and daunting with all your options, etc while Gmail is more user friendly, streamlined but lacks the options that Outlook offers. Score one to Microsoft here with the number of email features on offer when using Outlook.

Calendar

This one is a no brainer. For some reason Google has a separate app for your calendar which is a little bit of a pain. But the calendar app they do have is like the Gmail app aesthetically pleasing. Not only does it look good but it also performs very well. However the major draw back is that it will only sync with your Gmail account (perhaps I have not found the right setting but I cannot sync other calendars to it). Microsoft’s Outlook app has an inbuilt calendar (yay, less apps) and it has all the features the Google Calendar app offers. On the PC you can again use a web browser to access both Google and Microsoft account calendars. The Outlook app to manage your calendar on PC is a power user’s dream. There are a number of features that are either really hard to find in Google Calendar or are not present. So again Microsoft takes the win here by making Outlook such a powerful app on both Android and PC.

Tasks, To-Dos, and Reminders

I decided to bundle tasks, to-dos and reminders together because I generally treat and use all three in a similar way. Microsoft allows you to handle these either through the dedicated To-Do app (would have loved to be able to do this through the Outlook app like everything else unless you use Outlook on PC) or the AI assistant Cortana, plus there is the Microsoft Launcher, but I won’t discuss the details about that app here. I just want to point out that aesthetically Microsoft’s apps on Android feel very corporate and formal, but the To-Do app feels very consumer friendly and welcoming like Google’s apps. Google handles tasks, to-dos and reminders in a much similar fashion. Google has Google Keep and a new Google Tasks app, plus there is the Google Assistant. I previously used Google Keep and it did the job really well, but after moving to Office 365 and Microsoft’s products I found that Google Keep was/is fairly basic. From what I have read about Google Tasks, that product is also basic and has only the very bare minimum features with more coming the future. If you want a number of features for your tasks, to-dos and reminders then Microsoft’s products are the way to go, but what Google offers do the job just fine.

AI Assistant

The AI assistant of choice really depends on which ecosystem you are using. If you are in the Google ecosystem using Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Tasks, Google Keep, etc. then the Google Assistant is the one you should be using IMO. If you use Outlook and To-Do then Cortana is the AI assistant you need to use. Google Assistant on Android is integrated so well it is really a shame that Cortana does not integrate as well. If I could identify one area where Google is leaps and bounds above Microsoft is the quality, performance and appearance of the app on Android. I believe Cortana does not look as good as Google Assistant and also is not as responsive. There have been graphical issues when I launch the app at times, there is the occasional lag, etc. However with every new update of Cortana on Android it gets better. Cortana on PC however does not have the same issues as it does on Android in regard to performance and appearance. Both AI  assistants perform very similar when I ask them questions in my day to day use so if you’re worried about not being able to answer or perform a task during day to day use then you shouldn’t. They have their own ways to perform the same task but it is just a matter of getting used to it. Google’s feels a little more natural than Microsoft, but it is not a major issue. If I had to lean one way, Google’s integration with all their platforms, products and services, aesthetics and performance makes this one a win for it.

Overall Google and Microsoft offer a number of products and services that can pretty much handle everything that you throw at them. Google’s products are simpler, easy to use and are very consumer friendly. They perform very well and visually are superior to the ones offered by Microsoft. Microsoft’s products feel more business, formal and professional oriented. The number of features that they have is also far superior to that of the features the Google products have. If you are a power user and really want to streamline, organise and stay on top of all your things then Microsoft has you covered. At the end of the day you cannot go wrong with either ecosystem and it is all about what you want out of your apps.

Another Android Messaging Play?

Poor Google.

If you have ever used Android, then you may be familiar with the various messaging and chat clients that Google has provided you throughout the years. There was Google Talk, Google Hangouts, Google Messenger, Google Allo, etc. Some of them no longer exist, some have been repurposed, some have been renamed and some have/had no support in a long time.

Now it appears that Google will be trying to unify and have one primary messaging and chat app for the Android OS with the backing of a number of telecommunication companies, mobile phone manufacturers and service providers. This is sorely what the Android platform really needs if it wants to catch up to Apple and the iMessage system that they have.

This information appears to have been broken exclusively by The Verge and propagated through other media outlets afterwards. When I watched their video and read the article I was excited, and still am. However I do have some reservations with what they are offering. Some of these are unfortunately unavoidable while others are concerns based on how Google likes to work.

What excites me:

  1. A single, unified, quality chat and messaging app:
    • I don’t need to have Allo, Messages, etc on my Android device. There is just one default app now called Chat.
  2. Support from a number of third parties:
    • From the telecommunication companies to the mobile phone manufacturers, it appears to be backed.
  3. Charged for data messages instead of SMS where possible:
    • Data messages cost me significantly less than a standard SMS. Anything to save some money is fantastic.

What concerns me:

  1. No end to end encryption:
    • With all the snooping, data gathering and harvesting, ensuring that your messages are readable by only the intended parties IMO is critical.
    • iMessage has the leg up here.
  2. Long term support from Google and third parties:
    • Will the third parties drop support soon after launching?
    • Google has a habit of:
      • Throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.
      • Constantly drop support for apps and services when they get bored and try to start again.
      • Not letting apps and services mature before they get cut or dropped.

Looking at the list of operators, Telstra appears to be on the list so that is good for me. HMD Global/Nokia appears to not be on that list, but that may change in the future as they seem to be going the route of pure stock Android. Having Microsoft onboard is also great because it could mean that a Windows 10 desktop client may also be in the works.

Messaging on Android may get a cleaner and uniform in 2018, but for how long?

Update: HMD Global/Nokia Missing Android Security Updates

Update 28/04/2018

Recently I was in contact with the HMD Global/Nokia support team and I had two very different experiences. The first support person I was in contact with I explained my situation and wanted to know why my Nokia 8 had not received the Android Oreo 8.1 update and the April 2018 security patch. They were extremely friendly and happy to assist. They tried a number of different methods to force the update and were not sure why some Nokia 8 devices received the update and others did not. I was told to contact the support team again later on in the week if the update had not arrived. My second support contact was no where near as friendly or helpful however.

Unlike the first support person I was in contact with, the second support person was hostile, rude and did not seem interested in helping me at all. As the first support person instructed me I let the second support person know what was happening and that I was told to ask for further assistance if the update had not arrived. This second support engineer did nothing or try to find answers to my problem. Instead all they kept responding with was to “just wait and the updates may come”. This right here is not really reassuring to a customer who just wants a little explanation as to why this is happening and to be so rude and completely unwilling to assist helps no one.

Yesterday I got a little notification on my phone that allowed me to update to Android Oreo 8.1 and also update to the March 2018 security patch (not the April 2018 security patch unfortunately). I will be closely monitoring the situation and if HMD Global/Nokia continue to delay patches to their Android smartphones then I may have to bite the bullet and buy a Pixel phone in 3 years time.

Original

I was really hoping that I would not have to write this post.

When I was looking for a brand new Android mobile phone, one of the requirements that I had was that the mobile phone would be supported by Google and the manufacturer for at least three years (two for the major Android OS and three for the Android security updates). The only manufacturer that I could find that met this requirement was HMD Global/Nokia (not including Google) and why I chose to pick up the Nokia 8. On the Nokia Android home page it clearly states:

Regular security updates and two years of OS upgrades…

If you navigate to the Nokia Smartphone Security Maintenance Release Summary page you can see that HMD Global/Nokia are pushing updates to various Nokia mobile phones (including the Nokia 8). However, not all models are receiving the updates. The security patch release information is done on a Device – Build_number basis it appears. My Nokia 8 has a Build_number ’00WW_4_390_SP02′, which unfortunately does not appear in both the March and April security patches.

When contacting the HMD Global/Nokia support team about this, they could not provide a valid reason why my Nokia 8 was not getting the security patches even though my device (not the build number though) was listed in the security patch release. Looking through the forums shows the same confusion and frustration from other customers. Some sort of answer would be greatly appreciated by HMD Global/Nokia.

Has HMD Global/Nokia gone back on their promise of regular security updates? I would say partially yes. They are updating some devices but leaving other devices based on build numbers it would seem. In saying that however how regular is regular? Is a monthly security patch regular? Is a two month or three month interval regular? Right now I wished that HMD Global/Nokia would have been more specific about the regular security updates. To their credit though, compared to Samsung, LG, HTC, etc. they are trying to ensure their devices are up to date.

Recently I came across an article on The Verge discussion manufacturers lying to customers about the security level on their Android devices. That is even more concerning. I would not want to “update” my mobile phone only to not be properly protected even though it appears that it is protected. Hopefully HMD Global/Nokia is not one of these companies.

Right now I am sitting and waiting for the latest security update for my Nokia 8. But if it never arrives then when it comes to buying a brand new mobile phone it may be time to switch to another manufacturer. Perhaps going back to the Google products (RIP Nexus line) and buy a Pixel mobile phone is the only option. Are Android security patches and OS updates worth the premium price of those Pixel phones? For me the answer is yes. I would happily pay more for a device that is supported and updated timely.

I will update this post if my Nokia 8 receives the April security patch, but will not be updating it after April as a two month gap between security patches is not regular IMO. Am I making too much of a fuss? Or should HMD Global/Nokia and other manufacturers take more responsibility and ensure that customers are protected while using their devices?