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).

Google Nest Hub Radio Alarm Issues

I have both Google Nest Hub generation 1 and generation 2 devices, which seem to have issues consistently in playing a radio alarms. Doing a quick Google search and it appears that I am not the only person having this problem. The dates from the results also suggest that it has been a persistent issue for a number of years unfortunately 😦

I have factory reset the devices, tried a number of different radio stations, etc. and it seems that every other day the radio alarm will not play and a traditional alarm will played instead. I double checked to ensure that the devices only have a single alarm and it is a radio alarm.

Both devices do not have issues with network connectivity and the only thing that I can think of is that there is some software bug that is causing the radio alarm not to play. However the one problem with that is the radio alarm sometimes does play. Generally if it is a software issue then it would either work or it would not work, ie. 0 or 1.

I am a little confused about how to resolve this issue as it seems that Google support know of “an issue” with radio alarms but have given no other information. The troubleshooting steps I have already gone through from the support forums and have not helped. One solution I found was to have instead a routine that is triggered at a certain time and to play a radio station instead of having a radio alarm. But that sort of defeats the purpose of having a radio alarm.

If anyone out there has any solution or steps that I can try to resolve this issue then it would be greatly appreciated. I love both my Google Nest Hubs and with the second generation the new sleep sensing features are fantastic as I have difficulty wearing any watch or ring to monitor my sleeping pattern, etc. while I sleep.

Transferring digital content between storage devices

This morning I was trying to move some applications from my internal solid state drive to a USB thumb drive so that I can install the applications on my Surface Book 2. I found it a little odd that during the entire transfer process the progress stayed at 0%. A small Windows “error” message appeared but in my haste I did not read the message and selected “skip” for all the applications. This was my first mistake.

When inserting the USB thumb drive into my Surface Book 2 and copying the applications locally it went extremely fast. I was a little surprised by this and was even more shocked when I opened the folder on my Surface Book 2 that was supposed to have all the applications from the USB thumb drive be completely empty. Perplexed I went back to my desktop PC to see if the applications were still there and they were. I tried to move the applications to the USB thumb drive again. This time paying more close attention to any message that would appear.

When I started the move of the applications to the USB thumb drive again progress showed 0% for an extended period of time and a small Windows “error” message appeared again, most likely the same error message that I ignored the first time. But this time I read the message and the critical information from the message that I gathered was “has properties that can’t be copied“. Doing a very quick Google search for that specific phrase led me to double check the format of my storage devices that I was transferring the digital content between.

Low and behold when comparing my internal solid state drive of my desktop PC where the applications had originally been downloaded to and that of the USB thumb drive; the formats were different. The internal solid state drive was NTFS while the USB thumb drive was FAT32. I had originally used this USB thumb drive as a bootable Linux distribution but no longer needed it and must have reformatted it to FAT32 instead of NTFS.

So if you get an error message when transferring any digital content from one storage device to another ensure that they are formatted the same otherwise your transfer may not occur successfully. And also ensure that you correctly read and comprehend any messages that appear during this process 😛

Using a Logitech MX Ergo Wireless Trackball Mouse

While working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic I was in need of a new mouse to use. My work laptop is a Macbook Pro 15” and for extended periods of time using the mouse track pad is not great, even though the large size makes it easy to use. At the office I would use the Apple Magic Mouse (which I am not really a fan of) and right now using the mouse track pad long term is not an option with my current working from home setup.

Using a USB connected mouse (corded or receiver) is a little difficult, as most USB connected mice are not cabled with USB-C or have a receiver that is USB-C which is the one of the only ports my Macbook Pro has. I could buy a dock or a dongle but I’d rather get a wireless Bluetooth mouse to keep my ports available if need be and would not want to spend the extra money on a dock.

Seeing as I was going to be using this mouse for extended periods of time I was thinking of getting an ergonomic mouse and I watched a number of different YouTube videos discussing the types of ergonomic mice and good Bluetooth mice, and read a number of articles covering a range of Bluetooth enabled ergonomic mice. At the end of it all I found that the mouse which covered everything I was after was the Logitech MX Ergo Wireless Trackball Mouse.

The criteria I had (in no particular order) for the ergonomic mouse that I personally bought had to:

  1. Cost under $200 AUD. I am not in the market for a gaming mouse and do not really want to spend a fortune on a mouse I would primarily be using for work. There are suitable mice for under $20 AUD so :shrug:
  2. Bluetooth enabled. As I stated above, it is critical that this mouse not have a dongle to connect to my laptop as my only wireless means. Happily the Logitech MX Ergo Wireless Trackball Mouse can connect to a computer via a USB cable, a USB dongle or Bluetooth. So many options which is great.
  3. Rechargeable battery. I do not want to have a wireless mouse that takes removable batteries, and I do not want to buy some more rechargeable batteries.
  4. More than two buttons. Having the option to navigate pages, go between lines of code that I previously visited and jump across different class files helps in my day to day work.
  5. Horizontal and vertical scrolling. All mice that I pick up in the future must have this option. Not being able to scroll in all directions with the mouse wheel is a massive pain and should be standard in 2020.
  6. Comfortable for extended periods of time. This is really subjective, but what I found was among the ergonomic mice there was a general consensus whether the mouse was comfortable to use for extended periods of time and did not cause strain in the forearm and wrist.

I was a little hesitant to get this mouse even with the stellar reviews because to move the mouse cursor, you move your thumb on the trackball and the mouse stays where it is. Once I started using it though and adjusted the speed to be a little faster, it was really easy to use and I had no problem performing my daily tasks. So the learning curve is really (IMO) fairly low. Some people may take some time to adjust to not moving your arms and wrist to move the mouse cursor but long term I think it is far more beneficial for you. Plus there is a button that allows for fine grain movement if you really need precision which is a nice bonus.

The Logitech MX Ergo Wireless Trackball Mouse is fairly heavy (which is good as it will stay put when placed), does not slide around, has the ability to be tilted at a slight angle to change the position you hold it (does not go completely vertical), and is built extremely well i.e. does not feel cheap or poorly made. The time I have spent using the mouse I have not been able to fault it. If I could change some things on the mouse I would have it support USB-C for charging as the port for charging the mouse is micro-USB, and I would support a number of different angles instead of just the two it currently supports.

There is special Logitech software that you can install which allows for greater customization of the buttons and other special features. But out of the box the mouse does everything I want it to and I do not need anything more. Having the option to pair across two devices is nice, so if you have multiple devices that could use a Bluetooth mouse this is a bonus. Overall I am please with my purchase and I hope that my right wrist and forearm will thank me for not putting more strain on them. If you are in the market for an ergonomic mouse, or a Bluetooth mouse then this mouse may be the one for you. I have not tried it to play games with but for working day to day, it does the job really well.

Resolving my restarting PC issue

Last weekend my gaming desktop PC started to randomly restart itself. It first did not appear to be after a set period of time or when there was a certain application running, it looked really random. I noted it down and said to myself that I am going to fix the problem in the coming week or next weekend. I was not looking forward to the troubleshooting and diagnosis process.

During the week I was a little busy with other things and I never even got a chance to turn on my gaming desktop PC, so fixing it during the week did not happen. As the weekend came along and I just finished my lunch on a bright and clear Saturday I said to myself that I should probably fix the problem.

Now I have only ever experienced this type of issue before once and have heard a number of different people have the same problem. In my case originally the problem was the PSU and I had to replace it. The issue here was that every single story had a different solution to the problem. Googling the problem will also give you some general and generic answers. The problem could be:

  1. Hardware related – something could be faulty
  2. Software related – some virus or application writing to an area of memory it shouldn’t
  3. Firmware/Driver related – graphical drivers or even deeper problems

I was hoping that the problem was hardware; I had not installed any new software and if I had a virus I would be concerned; Nvidia had put out new graphical drivers but I had not updated any other firmware on my machine. And fortunately enough for me this time around it was only hardware related. My thought process in resolving the problem and narrowing it down to a specific piece of hardware (if it was not hardware related I would have gone through the process of troubleshooting the software, etc.) was to piece by piece remove all hardware component and see if the PC restarts.

I started off by removing and unplugging all my audio equipment and disconnecting my PC completely from the network; not too important and I would not have thought they were the culprit but I need the space and room to work. The first hardware component I removed and test was my GPU. I was hoping that my GPU was not the culprit (it wasn’t) as buying a new GPU right now is out of the question for me. Once my gaming desktop PC restarted with the GPU out I also uninstalled and removed any driver and Nvidia software. Sometimes updates to the graphic drivers causes problems; it has done that to me a number of times. Still the issue persists.

With the GPU removed and all the accompanying software/drivers removed with the issue not resolved, the next logical piece of hardware to remove is the RAM. I have configured 2 8GB RAM sticks, and I first removed the RAM stick that is in Channel A but #2. Issue still unresolved. I replaced the first RAM stick in Channel A #1 with the one I removed first. Low and behold the restarting issue could not be replicated.

To verify that it indeed was the RAM stick, I changed them over to see if it would restart but it didn’t. I was a little confused. After talking to my dad and a couple of my mates on Discord, they said that potentially it was that the RAM stick was just having contact issues and needed to just be reseated. So I played around a little more with my RAM configuration and I could not reproduce the issue. Restarting would normally and reliably occur after at least 10 minutes of my gaming desktop PC being on and logged into Windows 10 when I was testing on Saturday. But now with both RAM sticks (even just having the one identified as the faulty RAM stick alone) installed the issue could not be replicated. This is good news.

I inserted back my GPU, installed the latest Nvidia graphic drivers and made sure everything was up to date, and then just let my PC run a video in the background waiting for it to reboot. It did not happen. Looks like reseating the RAM sticks resolved the problem. Thankfully I do not have to purchase any new hardware and I can still have my PC running with 16GB worth of RAM and not the 8GB if one of the sticks was faulty. So the lesson to be learnt is to methodically go through each of your hardware one by one, noting down any configuration changes and testing to see if the issue can be reproduced consistently. Once the issue has been resolved, see if you can reproduce the issue by reverting the change you had done; once that is confirmed see if your fix when applied again resolves the issue.

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.

Revisiting Google Chrome VS Microsoft Edge on my Microsoft Surface Book 2

Just under a year ago I wrote about the my experience using Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge on my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (it can be found here). Several months later once I purchased my Microsoft Surface Book 2 I did a very similar comparison between the two browsers (it can be found here). Now I am revisiting my experience using Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge on the same Microsoft Surface Book 2. The good news I can tell you is that Google has caught back up to Microsoft in my books.

With my original Microsoft Surface Book 2 (and Microsoft Surface Pro 3) experiences blog posts there were two areas that I was fairly critical of Google’s Chrome browser when comparing it to Microsoft’s Edge browser and why I chose to use Microsoft Edge over Google Chrome. Those were (and I am not the only one to notice these pain points when using Google Chrome):

  1. Negative impact on the device’s battery
  2. Resource usage and management

The current version of Google Chrome that I am using on my Microsoft Surface Book 2 is version 68.0.3440.106 (Official Build) (64-bit). With this build I can say for 100% certainty that Google has made some improvements in regard to battery life (well I notice better battery performance). Using Microsoft Edge I could easily get 8 hours (1 full work day) of battery life no problem (this includes browsing the web, consuming different media, etc). With the version of Google Chrome I am using now (and the ones in between), I can get roughly the same amount of hours, performing the same tasks. I tested this over a couple of weeks and made sure that I was having my device fully charged before use and browsing roughly the same sites and watching similar content. So kudos to Google in fixing this. If you have a mobile device like a laptop then battery life is very important. The difference between using an application that drains the battery faster than another application that does the same tasks could be whether or not you need to bring your charging cable. I can safely say for me, I don’t need to bring my charging cable with me when I am now using Google Chrome.

Google Chrome is known to be a resource hog as well, and I make note of this in my original experience blog post (there are plenty of memes out there that make fun of Google Chrome and how it handles RAM and CPU usage; this one here is one of my favourites). Has it gotten better with the later releases? Yes, sort of. When I see what processes and services are taking up what resources, I can see that Google Chrome is sitting high on this list compared to Microsoft Edge (even now with the build that I am looking at). However comparing it to the last time I was monitoring my resources, Google Chrome is no where near consuming as much RAM (even with the same extensions, websites, etc running) and the load on the CPU is smaller. Microsoft Edge still uses less resources so in the long term you will get slightly more battery life than if you used Google Chrome (but not by much), and you get slightly more heat generated on the device but nothing that makes it difficult or uncomfortable to use on your lap.

Google Chrome now performing very similar to Microsoft Edge in regards to battery life and resource management, there is very little reason to stay on Microsoft Edge. Google Chrome is leaps and bounds ahead of Microsoft in regard to:

  1. Extensions – so, much more options. You just get a large number of options. The popular ones are appearing on Microsoft Edge but even the ones that are there, the Google Chrome ones are updated more frequently and seem to be treated like first class citizens compared to the Microsoft Edge counterparts. The situation here is just like any app on the Windows Store in general.
  2. Rendering web pages – Google Chrome has no issue rendering if not all but most web pages (probably 99.99% of them) whereas Microsoft Edge I find sometimes does not correctly render web pages correctly and I either have to refresh or switch browsers for it to load. I am not the only one to experience this with Microsoft Edge, I have found some friends say the same thing to me when using Microsft Edge.

So in the end, Google Chrome is being used as my primary web browser on my Microsoft Surface Book 2 again, until something breaks the Google Chrome build that returns it to the battery draining and RAM usage hog of the old days. I’m sorry Microsoft, but Microsoft Edge is just not worth using anymore even with all the improvements and changes made (which I really like too). There is nothing wrong with changing what products you use, what products you like, etc. as they are always changing and your situations also change. I constantly switch what Android apps I use and on my Windows PC this is no different. I will continue to use products that help me be more productive, and for longer periods. In this case Google Chrome is that browser. Let me know what you think. Have you seen improvements in the same areas with the later Google Chrome builds? Let me know in the comments.

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.

Moving to Visual Studio Code

I performed a clean install of Windows 10 on my Surface Book 2 recently and I have not installed my default go to Java IDE, which is IntelliJ. Instead I have now moved to using another tool, which I am finding is much more versatile and beneficial; Visual Studio Code. I have previously used Visual Studio Code but mainly as a way to edit my various data files such as XML, XAML, JSON, etc. and not any of my source code files like Java, C# or C++. I treated VS Code as a text editor only previously.

Visual Studio Code comes with a crazy amount of extensions which is great because that gives you options. To get started with Java, the extensions that I suggest you get is:

  • Java Extension Pack – this comes with all the necessary Java dependencies for Visual Studio Code such as proper language support for Java, Debugger for Java, Java Test Runner, Maven for Java.

On top of that extension you will need a JDK installed. If you want to know how to setup the environment for Java then have a look at the comprehensive page that Microsoft has created here. Microsoft also has a pretty sweet tutorial about how to build a Spring Boot application that can be found here.

One thing that IntelliJ made super simple was the compilation of Java code and managing all the dependencies, not to mention providing some really convenient debugging tools and project management. This makes it a really powerful development tool. When I was at university I primarily used a terminal or command console with a basic text editor for developing software, but as I moved towards writing commercial software for the company I work for I relied less and less on the terminal and command console and more on the IDE for the heavy lifting. Now that I use VS Code I am using the terminal and command console more again, and all of the necessary information such as the class path, dependencies, etc to ensure everything complies correctly is critical. Looking at this now, I really appreciate what the IDE does to simplify development process but realise how important it is to know the fundamentals.

I wrote about a similar scenario a month or so ago regarding Git (this can be found here) and how important it is to actually be really familiar with the Git commands through a terminal and/or command console because it is cross platform but it allows you to truly understand what is going on. Using a GUI is fine but all that does is issue the same commands you would use if you were using a terminal or command console. Using VS Code and the terminal to compile and execute my Java applications has allowed me to really appreciate what the IDE does to simplify the development process but also familiarise myself with the fundamentals and important concepts that can be carried between platforms.