Thursday, June 27, 2013

Devices, Gadgets and Gear, Oh My: Smartphones

I was going to write separate posts about each of the smartphones that I carry everyday but quite a lot, if not most, of the posts would be the same so I decided to combine them into one post.


I carry two phones with me not because I want carry two phones but because I want to keep my personal life personal. Since I work in education call records and text messages on my phone would be subject to FOIA requests and I would rather not have my personal conversations and other information accessible from these requests which they would be if I used one phone for both work and personal communications. Not to mention that I shouldn't use district resources for personal use anyway.

My personal phone was for many years an iPhone. I had a 3G, a 3Gs, a 4, and a 4S. When the 5 was released I made the decision that I really didn't want to follow that path any longer, maybe someday I will write a post about that decision. The phone I carry now is a Google Nexus 4 by LG running CyanogenMod 10.1.0-RC5. While I miss some of the applications that are available on iOS only I don't miss Apple trying to tell me how I should use (and hold) my phone. With Android I no longer have to play the constant patch - jailbreak - patch game anymore. I can install applications from anywhere at any time and know that I will still be able to use them after the next OS upgrade.


Android lets me customize my interface in any way that I want to using any tool available from anyone, or that I wrote myself without paying a fortune for a certificate to write programs for the platform. Currently I am using Apex launcher with banners on my main home screen which you can see on the image to the left.

Android also lets me customize each page of the home screen individually. Currently each page has a different layout to best access the widgets and apps on that screen. The impossible-ness of this on an iPhone is almost debilitating.

The Nexus 4 specifically I picked because if I was going to change to an Android phone I was going to get as pure an Android phone as possible. The Nexus line from Google ships with vanilla Android and nothing extra on it. They are not SIM locked and don't have any of the bloatware from manufacturer or carrier. The phone is fairly powerful, has 16GB of storage, and a decent screen on it. That being said there are a few detraction's as well. I have yet to take a decent photo with the camera on it, I simply can not get it to focus clearly. The audio output for headphones is so low as to be laughable. It is far better over Bluetooth and I will use that whenever available as opposed to plugging in an aux cable to the headphone plug. The screen scratches easily which is something that took some getting used to after using iPhones which say what you will, do not scratch easily. All in all I would recommend the Nexus 4 to anyone looking for an affordable, powerful, and easy to use, Android phone but only because they cost so little compared to the rest of the market.

The second smartphone I carry, my work phone, is the Samsung Galaxy Note II. This is also an Android phone, and was the first Android phone I ever used. Using the Galaxy Note II is what made me decide to move from iPhones to the Nexus 4 i wrote about above.

The Galaxy Note II is a Phablet which is either a very large phone or a very small tablet. It does have both the strengths of both and the failures of both. To me though the extra usefulness of a phone you can actually write on while taking notes makes up for all of the shortcomings. There are a number of things I like about the Note II, TouchWiz notwithstanding. Things I didn't know I was missing when I used iPhones, like SD card slots, removable and replaceable batteries, plastic cases. Yes, plastic cases. Anyone who has a cracked glass rear panel on an iPhone or even a Nexus 4 would tell you how nice a plastic case would be.

The real selling point of this phone however is the combination of huge, beautiful, and active digitizing screen. In combination with the smaller S-Pen in the Note II you can take some legible notes with this phone. You can annotate just about anything on the Note II; pdfs, images, documents, etc. Writing on the screen isn't perfect but anyone who has tried a stylus on an iPad or iPhone will tell you that palm rejection and precision are everything and the Note II handles both very well. The S-Pen and software are almost good enough to make me sell my iPad and get a Galaxy Note 10.

Moving on to the camera the Note II succeeds where so many others have failed. Having this quality of camera available to me makes the failure that is the Nexus 4 camera bearable. Every mobile photo I take is taken with the Note II and with the exception of photos taken of the Note II all the images on this blog and The Coffee Bearer are taken with the Note II's camera. It is consistently sharp, focused, bright, and is better in low light than any phone I have ever owned.

I have not rooted or customized the Note II in anyway and use it as stock as possible. TouchWiz leaves a little to be desired but in the grand scheme of things gets out of the way most of the time and lets you get to work. S-Voice is interesting and is more than a little better at detecting my Midwestern accent  than Siri ever was. This holds true for the Google voice search as well (on both the Note II and the Nexus 4) which has yet to misunderstand anything that I have said to it. If I were to only have one phone it would have to be the Note II. It does everything I would need a smartphone to do, does it all reasonably well and only costs about double what a Nexus 4 does.

1 comment:

  1. […] not found a way to satisfactorily take hand written notes digitally. If you read my post about the Note II or my post about the Bamboo tablet then you know I have been trying to get digital with […]

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