Monday, April 29, 2013

Accessories galore...

I've been toying with several accessories for my phone and tablet, so I opted to write a post about each of them.

Red Samurai game controller 

Overall, the Red Samurai (RS) controller closely resembles your standard Playstation controller. It's more in line with the DualShock 2 than 3 since the L2/R2 buttons are just buttons and not triggers, but it's a good design with rubberized grips to help you hold the controller. Pairing was extremely easy and never failed on both my tablet and phone. Battery life is listed at about 8 hours per charge and I would say that's probably about right. Maybe a bit more. It does take practically forever to charge but that's not something that bothers me.

As far as connectivity, it worked flawlessly for my Grand Theft Auto III game on Android as well as Dead Trigger. Emulators it only suffered one minor issue where the 3 and 4 buttons were backwards from what they should be, but I was able to program them so nothing to worry about. The controller was responsive with no lag to be found. There's no vibration feature as near as I can tell, but at $25 it's less than half the price of a PS3 controller and I didn't have to use alternative means to reprogram a PS3 controller.

Pros: Cheap, easy to pair, works across many games and programs, comfortable to hold, great value, built-in rechargeable battery.

Cons: No apparent rumble function, minor issues with my SNES emulator, battery life could be better.

Final Grade: B+

Bluetooth Keyboard

The suspiciously generic Bluetooth keyboard that I purchased off eBay is really a decent deal. Designed specifically for my Nexus 7, the keyboard was easy to pair and functions as a stand and makeshift cover for my tablet. I've yet to have to charge it thanks to the 55 hour battery life. Only minor concerns that I have were the stand part of it is fairly loose and too much jostling knocks the tablet over. While the keyboard is decently sized, it is after all scaled to a 7 inch tablet so it's not as comfortable as a full sized keyboard. For as low as $18, you really can't go wrong with it since other keyboards can go as high as three to four times this much.

Pros: Cheap, great battery life, pairs well.

Cons: Small size makes it a bit cramped, stand part could be a little tighter.

Final Grade: B

Sony Smartwatch MN800

Ah, the smartwatch. Such a fun concept. Seen all over in places like Dick Tracy, but never made real till now. I bought this hoping it would be similar to my phone or tablet. Unfortunately, I was mistaken. While the "watch" portion of this product works fine, the "smart" element is not really smart at all. The smartwatch itself doesn't actually store apps or have Wifi or anything you might come to expect. Instead, it contacts your phone/tablet as a base where the programs are actually stored. You're merely seeing information from the phone. Not smart indeed.

Overall, I tried to work with it. The battery life was decent, getting around 4-5 days with light to moderate usage. However, the screen is 128 x 128 at 1.3 inches with a 65k color display. This creates a grainy looking screen that reminds you of a flip phone from 10 years ago. It was also finnicky, with its motion sensing not working correctly. It also requires you to stay connected to the phone so no connection, no apps. It was comfortable to wear and had replaceable bands. It also had some bizarre proprietary connection for charging (this is Sony after all, they buck convention whenever they feel). At the $75 I spent, it's not worth it.

If you really want to have a "smartwatch" you have a few other choices: get yourself a sixth generation iPod nano which while not technically a smartwatch is the closest thing out there with good performance, get the Pebble which forgoes a color screen and is much more watch-like, or wait for the next big thing from Google or Apple who both have been rumored to be working on smartwatches.

Pros: Comfortable to wear, good battery life.

Cons: Connection issues, glorified extension of your phone basically, too costly for its function.

Final Grade: D

Logitech Mini Boombox
I've been looking at Bluetooth speakers for some time, but I've never committed under the pretense of not really seeing the use and the high cost. I finally settled on the Logitech Mini Boombox due to the fact that it was on clearance at my local Meijer's. 

I found connection to speaker easy. As soon as you turn it on for the first time, the speaker goes into pairing mode. It connected easily to my phone and tablet. The sound on this little speaker is impressively loud, but lacks some range because of the close positioning of the speakers. The top contains capacitive touch buttons for changing the track, pausing/play, volume adjustment, and pairing. It also contains an aux input so you can forgo Bluetooth altogether. Battery life is estimated at 10 hours and I'm sure it will make that. I'm pleased with my purchase. I only paid $40 but you can get new ones as low as $60 online. If you're want to pay about the same, the highly rated GoGroove BlueSync speaker provides about the same level of quality for about the same price I paid for mine. If you're going higher, you might as well go with Jawbone or Bose.

The only issues I had was with changing programs on my tablet, the speaker would lose connection for some reason. What I mean was it said it was connected but wasn't producing any sound. A quick power cycling fixed it, but it was annoying. It's also prone to scratches thanks to the glossy top, but I purchased a video camera bag to fit it.

Pros: Excellent powerful sound, good battery life, affordable, aux input is a plus, easy to use.

Cons: Occasional connection issues, prone to scratches, sound is not as wide as it could be.

Final Grade: B

Jawbone Up 2nd Generation

Not so much a cell phone accessory as it is a life accessory. I bought the Jawbone Up to help me monitor how well I was sleeping. However, that's just the surface. The Up band monitors your steps, exercise, and has a programmable alarm to wake you when your just taking a short nap or when you are in a light sleep state. 

Of course, the band is just the recorder. The real meat is in the UP band app for iOS or Android. Since the band lacks Bluetooth, you transfer data through the headphone jack. It's quick, usually taking less than 30 seconds, and is pretty foolproof. While you're syncing the program will tell you how much battery which maxes at 10 days, but in reality gets probably closer to 7 depending on how active you are. 

The program will give tons of data from steps walked, calories burned, distance walked, light and deep sleep  cycles, etc. Not only that, the program has access to a large database of food that you can program in to determine your calorie intake. So the band also makes a good assistant for losing weight if you're trying a diet.

The only issues I seen are some inaccuracy in its measurements. Wearing the band on my arm for a day at work, measured around 25,000 steps which is grossly inaccurate. This was likely due to all the motion in my arms doing knife work. Putting it in my pocket and going to work measures around 14,000 to 18,000 which is much more accurate. I still wear the band during sleep however. The band is pretty expensive at $120, but I think anyone interested in their health could benefit from this. If you want a cheaper alternate there is the FitBit at around half the cost but isn't quite as feature rich in my opinion.

Pros: Comfortable to wear, good battery life, excellent program with lots of information, headphone jack connection prevents incompatibility.

Cons: Somewhat inaccurate at times, everything done through program (i.e. no readouts on the band itself)

Final Grade: A-

In the future, I'll post more about these sorts of things. For now, that's it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Thoughts on my Nexus 7

The Nexus 7 marks a firsts moment for me as it is the first tablet I've ever owned. I previously ranted against tablets as overpriced media consumption devices. I chose the Nexus 7 not just because I had money to blow, but because of its price, capabilities, and the fact that it wears the Nexus moniker. At $250, is it worth it? Well let's see.

First off, the hardware itself. At $250, you'd expect something cheap, but ASUS has really came through on this tablet. It feels sturdy in the hand and solidly constructed. On the right side you have both the power button and volume rocker. The left side has a set of POGO pins and fairly hidden microphone. The bottom contains your standard micro USB and headphone jack. The front is an all black faceless slate with a 1.2 MP camera in the center near the top. On the rear you have the speaker with a rubbery, dimpled material and the Nexus on the back. The material on the back takes special note as it makes holding the tablet a much less slippery affair. That's it for the hardware. Simple and to the point.

Overall, I like the appearance and feel of the tablet. I feel like I'm getting more than my money's worth. The power button and volume rocker have good feedback, but are a bit difficult to push when in my leather case. However, the tablet has a smart cover function so my case turns the screen on and off depending on whether it's open.

The internals of the tablet are very impressive for its price. It comes with a Nvidia Tegra 3 quad core processor running at 1.3 GHz with a 12 core GPU running at 416 MHz (mine is overclocked to 512 MHz and can go as high as 766 MHz). It has 1 GB of RAM with NFC, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS, and all the variants of Wifi. The usual suspects are here like an accelerometer, gyroscope, microphone, etc. The one thing that is missing that I find odd is haptic feedback or vibration as its commonly known. You don't realize how much this is useful in smartphones until you don't have it in your tablet. The tablet has 32 GB of storage (28 GB after formatting and space for the OS itself) with no expansion slot. It's powered by a 4,325 mAh Li-Ion polymer non-removable battery.

The screen is a 7 inch 1280 x 800 resolution IPS screen with Gorilla glass coating to prevent scratches. It comes in at 216 ppi which is very good for its price. You're still going to see some jagged edges here and there, mostly around text, but overall the screen is sharp. Color production is fairly neutral and touch screen sensitivity is good. Overall it's a very good screen, but its not groundbreaking by any means.

Running 4.2.1 (started with 4.1) with a custom ROM, I found navigating around a tablet to take a little more acclimation than I did with a phone. The "fragments" effect takes place here since starting with Ice Cream Sandwich apps can run both on a phone and tablet, but appear differently on each. Unfortunately, there are a couple negative things about the tablet.

First things first, there are some issues I have with the tablet. RAM is a big one. I've said before that 2 GB needs to be the minimum for Android and it shows here. After allocating some to the GPU and running several programs, I found myself running out of RAM and suffering stutters as the system had clear it out continuously. Because of this, I had to implement a minfree program to keep the minimum free RAM at 150 MB. This mitigated the issue, but it still stands that the tablet needs more RAM to be continuously fluid.

Secondly, there's no expandable storage or video out. The storage I can live without. I put my entire digital music collection on the tablet and it only took 14 GB. Obviously, my collection will grow, but for now, I think 32 GB is sufficient. However, anyone with larger collections is going to have to rely on cloud storage or USB-on-the-go which allows you to connect a flash drive or SD card to the USB port. While you can connect additional storage space, there is no video out or miracast to send to a external monitor. Obviously this is a cost cutting measure, but I would have enjoyed the option to project games and the like to my 43" TV.

However, this shouldn't be misconstrued as a negative review, far from it. The Nexus 7 is hands down the most cost efficient tablet on the market for its specs. The fact that it's easy to root and gets updates first is also a huge boon. I've found I actually like using it and taking it along with me in my sling bag due to its small size. I keep a Bluetooth keyboard dock and game controller with me that allows me to be productive or game whenever I want with my SNES emulator. I also have a D & D 4th edition program that keeps my character available with built in dice rollers. I even browse the news with Flipboard or watch movies with Netflix. All in all, I'm actually getting much more use out of it than I initially expected.

I will fully admit I was wrong about tablets, partially. There are still some massively overpriced tablets like the iPad and the Surface. However, the cheaper tablets like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire are great devices for their cost and I certainly would recommend anyone buying one for their media and gaming needs. There's a rumored new version of the Nexus 7 coming with better specs like a much higher resolution screen that I'll probably pick up which means this current one will become a gift for some lucky person I suppose.