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March 31, 2014

esurance Mobile Video Apprisal, totally Smart!

Auto insurance company esurance is leveraging mobile in a smart way: mobile video appraisal.  I haven't seen this kind of innovation since the early days of mobile application ideas like "zipcar", "redbox" and "Chase Quick Deposit".  The concept is simple; esurance lets you book a video appraisal at your convenience so you can show the appraiser your vehicle so you do not have to wait for the appraiser to be there (the traditional option is available as well).  Just the concept alone is cool, it create a sense of speed and convenience but where I think its clever is that it probably makes esurance's appraisers life much easier without having to physically travel to each client's location.  esurance app is availble for iPhones and Androids.

February 12, 2014

Nexus 5 Battery Mysteriously Draining Faster

Current Build: 4.4.2

As of last week, I start to notice the battery life on my Nexus 5 starting to drain much faster than usual.  As noted when I first received my Nexus 5, I can get more than 1 day of usage out of the phone.  Now it would drain down to 20% if I don't charge it throughout the day.

It seems like "Cell Standby" is using most of the battery drain... which is strange as it has never been the culprit in the past.  I am with AT&T, so I wonder if its something AT&T has changed recently to it's cell towers in NYC since this was not the case few months ago.  It seems like this is a common complaint.

[UPDATE]:  I turned off "LTE" (in settings>more>mobile networks>preferred network type>3G) so it is forced back to 3.5G HSPDA which offers much stronger signal, 5 bars.  This seems to have restored the battery life as I once expected.  Still not sure why the sudden problem with LTE as it has not been a problem until recently.


November 29, 2013

Review: STM Catch Case for iPhone 5/5s

The nice folks at STM asked me to take a look at some of their latest product offerings for the new iPhone 5/5s.  Amongst their collection, one product jumped out at me for a need I have been wanting to fulfill.  The Catch is a case which doubles up as a card holder which can act as a phone protector and a wallet.  To a man who is obsessive about minimizing everything in life, this case is interesting.
The case itself is a solid TPU (flexible) case which provides ample protection for your phone.  This is important since it's primary function is to protect the phone.  I opted for a black one to keep the phone look modern and minimal but they do offer 2 more colors to fit various personalities. 

Once I had the case installed, I quickly brought out my wallet to decide which two cards I plan to carry in the two available slots.  Believe it or not, that is when I ran into a bit of a dilemma.  I already use one of these slim Monaco wallets from Tumi which I've narrowed down to about 5 or 6 cards to have at all times. This case is asking me to narrow it further down to 2 of the most essential cards to take with me.  This is difficult because I think a modern man in a metro area needs at least 4 cards at all times:  ID, ATM Card, Credit Card and Subway/Metro Pass.  This ignores the possibility of a work badge/ID.  

Having said that, here is what I conclude of this case; it is a nice option to have for pre-meditated short trips; meaning, on your way to the gym on the weekends, you can toss in your credit card and metro card so you can buy some groceries or coffee on your way home. It will not replace your wallet but for small trips where you just have one pocket to hold your phone, this will do the trick!  You might want to tape a $20 bill to the back of the phone so it can protect the cards from scratching up the back of the phone with prolonged use!

Pros:
Nice TPU Case that protects the phone with nice cutouts
Carries two cards, acting like a wallet
Good for when you are on a quick trip (ie. to the Gym, to the store) and didn't want to carry your entire wallet
Cons:
Card slits are exposed to the back of the phone (may scratch back of your phone over time)
Since it only holds 2 cards, it may never replace your wallet

November 25, 2013

Custom Sounds, Ringtones and Notifications Sound for Android

A pretty comprehensive guide to configuration of your sounds, ringtones and notifications alerts for androids. Teaches you where to load the MP3s as well as customize it to the people calling you, etc.

Posting it if for nothing else, a bookmark to remind myself :)

November 23, 2013

Best (Name Brand) Qi Wireless Charger under $25

Calling all NEXUS 5, Nexus 4, Nexus 7 (2013) and (Samsung S4, LG G2, etc.) owners out there, if you've been wanting to try out the Qi Wireless Charging function but didn't want to settle for something really cheap, here is a deal.  AT&T has the Nokia DT-900 Qi Standard Wireless Charger for $25.  Supposed to be free shipping and you can save 10% if you buy 2 or more.  For whatever, I can't get my online order processed so I checked from their website for instore pickup and walked down the street and picked them up in person.  The charger works pretty good on my NEXUS 5, so far, it charges right after I set the phone down, not need to re-align or adjust its position.  I've heard that on the Nexus 4, you might need to adjust it a tad to find the charging coil location and the back being glass can cause the phone to slide off.

This is the best price I can find for a name brand charger as I missed the sale from Samsung for $25 a while ago.





November 18, 2013

Yota Phones featuring 2nd LCD leveraing e-Ink

It's been a while since I wrote about a hardware piece that excited me.  The last device I was excited about was the NEXUS 5 which is an amazing phone but to me, its a mild upgrade from the NEXUS 4.  However, when I heard about a Russian startup's new phone dubbed as Yota Phone which leverages a second LCD Screen using E-Ink, I was intrigued.

Furthermore, when I realized these guys are really solving a battery problem in a smart way, I got really excited.  In short, the Yota phones come with two screens, a regular color LCD and a black/white E-Ink LCD, both are 4.3" and both are touchscreen based.

With E-Ink using minimal energy and can store the previously displayed image forever, these guys figured out a way to leverage this technology to play nicely in this information age we live in (where we are over-flooded with information and not everything needs to be accessed in ULTRA High, 4K HD, Retina-High Pixel Density Display kind of way.  Sometimes, as long as the simple information such as Tweets, Facebook updates or Calendar reminders can come through clearly to us, its sufficient.  This to me, is one of those "Wow" moments where technology is just leveraged properly to solve real life problems.  Some examples I've seen including the use of the 2nd screen for mobile boarding passes, MAP needs for a weary traveler running low on power.  The application is endless and I can already imagine a Yota Tablet which doubles as a eBook, eNewspaper device with amazing Battery life to boot!

Yota phone is suppose to be available in December. This solution is so simple that it is brilliant, just like all the smart ideas I admire (ie. UBER, Square, Netflix, etc.).  Big Kudos to the Yota team.  I hope them great success!

November 11, 2013

NEXUS 5 Battery Optimization

One of the two major complaints I have about the Nexus 5 is 1). Lack of MicroSDHC slot and 2). Small Battery - 2300mAh.  Small is a relative word, the 2300mAh battery is one of the largest battery for a Nexus Device (Nexus 4 - 2100mAh, Nexus Galaxy 1750mAh) and compared to iPhone 5S' 1570mAh, it is relatively big.

That said, with all the fancy features this phone does come with (LTE, 2.3GHz Processor, 5" LCD) plus tons of software features, it can really suck down the battery life in a few hours.  The first day I took my to work, from unplugging around 7AM to about 9AM (Yes, 2 hours), I noticed the power is down to 82% without even using the phone.

You can Google "Nexus 5 Battery Optimization" for a whole lot of tricks, but I don't want to do things like "turning off 4G" or "disable GPS" which impacts the fundamentals of the phone.  I have discovered the following formula which seems to be the best power to battery ratio.

1. Manually adjust your Brightness Settings; the default Auto Brightness is much more aggressive than previous NEXUS phones, perhaps future release will fix this; I set it to roughly 20% of the slider and find it plenty bright.
2. Set Auto Dim to 30s from default 2 Minutes
3. Disabled the "Ok Google" Hot Word detection (Press Empty Space on Menu>Settings>Voice>Hotword Detection off
4. Turn off NFC and Bluetooth (when not in use, I rarely use these features)
5. Watch out for Widgets or Apps that sucks power:  I was using a widget for clock and weather, and for whatever reason, on the Nexus 5, it was using so much power, more so than LCD Screen in the battery analysis, so I uninstalled it.
6. Push Notifications: I only have it on for default or utility stuff (ie. Hangout/SMS, Google Voice, App Updates and Emails); I turned everything else off such as news and alerts.

With the settings above, I monitored my battery throughout the day; by from 7AM to 11PM, the phone has light to moderate usage throughout my work day and still end up with 62% of power left... Not bad at all.

UPDATE:  I purposely not charge the phone when I went to bed, I woke up in the morning with 52% Power left.  After 24 hours, 54% remaining.  Thats pretty darn good.


November 5, 2013

Internet Speed is Getting Insanely Fast

Within the last 24 hours, I read two articles which makes me realize how far (and fast) we've come along in terms of data speed:

1. Verizon to roll out LTE-Advance which can go up to 80Mbps realistically
2. Netflix is testing streaming on 4K Ultra HD (which requires 20-30Mbps connections)

Realizing that my ATT LTE reached up to 26Mbps and my FIOS connection at home tops out at 40-50Mbps... information is being exchanged at an alarming rate, and the wireless industry is totally catching on.

One word:  AWESOME!


NEXUS 5 is a microSD slot away from the perfect phone!

I was super excited to wait for the NEXUS 5.  Having used both Nexus Galaxy and Nexus 4 (which is near perfection), I could not wait for NEXUS 5's arrival.

On paper, it improved on everything that NEXUS 4 was weak:

* LTE is now available (almost world wide), but definitely good enough for the US GSM carriers
* Processor is now a beast with the 2.3GHz Snapdragn 800 (up from 1.5)
* Internal Memory is now available with 32GB (which is the minimum for today's standard IMHO)
* Battery improved marginally to 2,300MHz (vs. 2,100MHz)

One thing that could have made this phone to perfection is the MicroSDHC support so I can expand storage by another 64 or 128GB for media files.

I can't fathom the additional cost this would have added for Google.

For that, I give it a 4.5 stars (missing .5 for the microSDHC slot)

September 10, 2013

Your Move, Google! (hint: Nexus 5)

Apple's iPhone 5s announcement is pretty boring today.  I think this company is showing clear signs of lack of innovation.  There were only 3 significant things to note on the new iPhone 5s and they are all pretty miniscule:

1. 64 bit Processor (sure it is cool and industry first but 99% of the users couldn't care if its 32 or 64bit)
2. Better Camera (iPhone cameras have always been great... so it is now greater... again "minimal" change)
3. Finger Print Scanner (hmm... thats crazy innovation here... just in case, I was being sarcastic)

If Google plays their cards right, this can be the first time where the Nexus 5 device can truly trump the iPhone 5s.  Below would be the killer recipe:

1. 2.3GHz Snapdragon 800 Processor (this phone would be a beast)
2. 3GB RAM (again, it would be so fast and robust)
3. 3000+mAh Battery (this will prolong the beast)
4. 32GB Internal Memory + MicroSDHC Expansion slot
5. High Density Screen between 4.5-5"
6. LTE (or even LTE+ 150mbps)
7. 8MP+ Camera featuring f/2.0 low lighting camera... (iPhone 5s is at f/2.2)
8. Finally, tie up all of the above with the Kit Kat 4.4 release...

One dares to dream!


Cheap Unlocked Smartphones (and Tablets) Roundup

On the cusp of new iPhone 5s announcement, I am seeing all sorts of unlocked, contract free smartphones on the cheap.  We must be in midst of a smartphone revolution or something.  Enjoy

Smartphones
1. Google Nexus 4 - $249 (16GB still in stock)
2. Sony Xperia M - $249 (4GB but supports MicroSHDC which is rare)  Sony Store or Newegg
3. Virgin Mobile AWE - $100 (not a super phone but will work for some) Virgin
4. Samsung Galaxy S2 - $269 Newegg
Tablets
1. Google Nexus 7 (1st Generation, 32GB) - $169 via eBay via Adorama

September 8, 2013

The iPhone vs. Android Dilemma (2013 Edition)

The tech space, especially mobile, is a fascinating place.  A popular brand can lose it's dominance in a very short period of time. Once powerful leading brands have become brands that are hardly surviving, to name a few in recent history:
Sony, Palm, Motorola, Nokia, BlackBerry, HTC(?)
Smartphones have reached a hardware plateau!
I have been getting the feeling that Apple is starting to lose its ground.  Based on the loosely gathered blog and Facebook commentaries I am seeing, folks are not as excited to hear about the upcoming release of the new "iPhone 5s" or "iPhone 5c". There can be a couple of reasons around technological maturity; the fact is, smartphones have matured, in it's current reincarnation, it has all the hardware features one can wish for (AGPS, 4G data rivaling broadband, Ultra MP cameras, Super HD and high density screens, Extreme-fast CPU, etc...).  I read somewhere that prior to this upcoming release, a typical iPhone's CPU improvements from one release to the next is 100% faster than the previous, with this upcoming release of iPhone 5S, it will "only" be 31% faster than it's predecessor. The other reason is that Android devices have taken the last two years to polish itself to rival the iPhones and beyond; from every corner of the manufacturing world, phones are upping the ante on LCD resolution and size, low light camera performance, dual or quadcore CPUs at breakneck speed. iPhones no longer take the lead in design, hardware spec and most importantly, offer the best UI anymore.

Why iPhone users are shifting to Androids?
Android devices (ie. Samsung Galaxy S4, Nexus 4, HTC One, Moto X, LG G2, etc...) have come a long way.  Working closely with Google engineers, these device manufactures have come up with a long list of impressive hardware specs to exceed Apple's standards.  For example, Samsung GS4 stepped up to a extra large size battery 2,600 mAh, with the latest Galaxy Note 3 at a stunning 3,200 mAh; LG G2 will be equipped with 3,000 mAh... these larger battery is helping to work around the power management challenges of the inherent android OS design.  iPhones have always been stellar with its cameras but lately, competitors have stepped up in that game exceeding what Android can do (btw, the best camera today appears to be on a Nokia Windows phone).  Not to mention a slew of software advantages (apps) Google now has over Apple with Google Maps, Gmail and YouTube being the top used apps in smartphones today.  These manufacturers have caught up to Apple but did not just stop there, better ideas are coming up for the Android camp.  From NFC tec tiles, to Kevlar casing to re-positioned buttons for larger screens to F/2.0 low light camera, Androids phones are pushing the limits.  Finally, Android ability for ease of customization is just icing on the cake.

Why ex-Android users love iPhone 4 and 5?
On the other hand, I am hearing (and feeling) a lot of mistrust of Android devices from early adapters. These early adapters have switched from Android to iPhones in recent months and were quite happy to see how smooth iPhones 3, 4, and 4s were. Speaking from my own experience, early Android devices (Pre-2012) were buggy, sluggish, difficult to use, lack in apps, poor battery life and more importantly, unpolished.  I was using a Galaxy Nexus which is a pretty good phone on paper and until last week I picked up the Nexus 4 on sale and it was then I realized a huge leap in hardware spec improvement and how sluggish the my old Galaxy Nexus has become.  Newer, high power Android handsets using smoking fast quad-core Snapdragon processors and 2GB+ in RAM is extremely responsive and are likely to pack with 2,000-3000 mAh batteries to make it last a full day.  I am finally convinced that Android handsets are ready for prime time (especially if you buy the NEXUS devices in pure Google experience), but... WHAT WILL TAKE TO CONVINCE THOSE CONVERTED IPHONE-USERS TO GIVE ANDROID ANOTHER CHANCE (and switch back to Android)?

So what does this mean?
I cannot predict the future for Apple but without Steve Jobs at the helm, I worry they simply do not have enough vision to survive the long term future, Tim Cook's game plan as a business man will keep the company a float for a few years by tapping into other countries still in love with the Apple brand (similar path as Nokia, and then BlackBerry, took on its way down).  On the Android front, Google is pushing the phone manufacturers in what I believe as a love-and-hate relationship.  They push with a black sheep strategy via back-handed passive-aggressive devices known as "Nexus" and 1-up the hardware manufactures every year to elevate hardware specs and lowering prices...  All at the same time challenging each manufacture to differentiate itself between hardware (form factor, etc) and software (TouchWiz, HTC Sense, etc.).  In the end, users are growing more excited towards each generations of NEXUS devices as we receive the raw intention from Google w/o robbing away device power (CPU and Battery life) compared to the heavier Manufacturer's build... not to mention Nexus devices receives latest Android OS first!  I expect manufactures to 1-up each other on specs (ie. You give the 3GB RAM, I will go up to 4GB, you give 5" screen, I will go up to 6") thus repeating a similar model we've seen in the PC/Laptop industry.

In conclusion, I am convinced Android devices are finally on-par or exceed the iPhones.  For the first time in a long time, I am actually anxious to see what the rumored NEXUS 5 is up to...