Android App Review: Smartr

Smartr, as parent company Xobni describes it, “Make your address book smarter,” which it certainly does, though with a few caveats. First you have to give it access to your email and social networking, which today is something that is becoming very common(I love SwiftKey and it reads your email/texts/social networking to get a better understanding of your typing style). With the power of the “Cloud” (quotes and capital since its magic!) Smartr compiles all the people you’ve ever contacted, links names, emails, numbers, and social accounts into one contact listing. Nifty but you’ll end up with hundreds of contacts you probably don’t care about. That one off mailing list that had 50 emails in the To: field, that gets added.

Though for those you do contact a lot, it does some rather cool stuff. It will show an infographic(and what geek doesn’t love a good infographic?) of your “Relationship History” including a description of that relationship in plain English. Very nicely done, so points for that. Now considering this is an Android app, I wish there was a way to filter the contact list to those just on the phone. Within your contact list on Google, you have the “My Contacts” list, which for me is whats on my phone. I don’t necessarily need the hundreds of other emails I’ve ever sent to show up in my contacts. Also the interface itself is very sleek and nice, though sluggish when you edit a contact. Overall I like the idea of it, might keep it around for a while, but not sure if it would ever replace the standard contact list on Android.

Customizing Android

The great thing about Android is widgets, and with the right stuff and some good artwork, you can make your phone just glow. Hell my boyfriend thought I bought a new phone.

Android Lock Screen

So there is the lock screen. I’m using AndroidLocker, a great app that allows you to build a customized lockscreen. On top of that I’m using Minimalist Text widget that I’ve setup so show some relevant information. Then using SMS Unread Count widget along with icons created by Simple Text to show missed calls, txts, and emails.

Android Home Screen

Next up is the home screen. Since my phone is the Samsung Vibrant with a SuperAMOLED screen, I went for a nice dark wallpaper which still had some color. Again using the Minimalist Text widget along with the Simple Calender Widget. Also using LauncherPro with a custom dock image, and a transparent icon so the words show through. Very clean, very modern, very nice.

Android Home Screen2

Next is the second home screen. I still need quick access to some apps and not have to hunt them down in the app tray. So using Desktop Visualizer, with an black and white icon pack I found I XDA, I setup some groups. Kinda still looks cluttered, so I might add a third home screen to split things up a bit. I really think three is the most anyone really needs. I’ve tried to use more but I end up only focusing on the three main ones. I guess I got into the habit since my first Android phone was the Samsung Behold II, and before you go boo on me, I really did enjoy that phone.

Android Home Screen2b

Anyways back to the apps, I used SiMi Folder to group my apps and display them nicely when clicking on those very artistic icons. Oh and getting the screenshots wasn’t very difficult. There are apps out there, but I like using the Android SDK tools to do it since I have to download them to the computer anyways. I’m not going to try doing a long post like this on my phone 😉 So go download the SDK and the drivers for you phone if you need them. Put the phone into debug mode, attach, and run “adb devices” It should show your device. Then run ddms and press Ctrl+S to start grabbing screens. They come out nice and big and high quality. Enjoy

Revisting Google Music

So today Apple unveiled details of their iCloud(how imaginative?) service. The gist of it is it’s a cloud storage space that integrates with their apps. So just like Google/Android syncs contacts/calendar/etc, so will iCloud. In regards to music, it is part of iTunes, so purchased music is stored automatically(like Amazon’s service) and gets pushed to your device(still a bit sketchy on what that means, stored on your device or just streaming?).

But since I abhor Apple’s iDevices, lets get back to Google Music. So I finally uploaded my music library, a few notches above two thousand songs. The process took a while because 1) its a lot to upload and 2) its rather slow(understandable), and 3) the music uploader app would crash out. I think that was just due to the large volume and probably a bug with timeout errors, but just a guess. So getting past that(it is beta and well I think we’ve gotten used to what that means, but is that a good thing?), I have my music up in the cloud. It works just like Amazon’s offering, though I only have my purchased music hosted by them.

So far the only thing going for Google Music is the interface and the Instant Mix feature. That is something I wish was more prevalent in music apps. Not just the simple random playing of my library, but to make a playlist based off of a choice in what I feel like hearing. My only qualms with it is its still a streaming service. Not everyone has a grandfathered plan that includes unlimited data, and even that doesn’t mean much then there is a throttling cap.

I have to add I foresee a fight, maybe even a war, between the likes of Google and maybe even Apple and the mobile networks over their crappy track record at providing fast and reliable data connections on the go. The state of broadband in this country is appalling. I hope to see a future of reliable and fast and big connections without caps, throttling, or traffic shaping of any kind.

Playing with Google Music Beta

So today my invite came for Google’s Music Beta service. so yay on that. I already buy music through Amazon and have used their cloud player to much success. Though I did get hit by the slow down caused by everyone buying Lady Gaga’s latest album. So I’m kinda bummed out that Google’s experience doesn’t include buying music too as a way to have an integrated experience.

So first off the interface on the Android app. Very nice and clean and dark. I have a Samsung Vibrant which has a SuperAMOLED screen, so I like dark themes. I also like how the interface fades in and out instead of simply popping from one screen to the next. Gives it the illusion of a fast fluid interface, which isn’t a bad thing. A GUI is graphical and thus its good to take advantage of illusion.

The web interface is also very nice and clean, what all websites should strive for. And its nice they included free music too. I’m at work and thus don’t have any music to upload, but I am running off of the wifi, so can’t say how 3g performance is just yet. Though when I clicked on a hosted song, it was very fast to start playing. Another cool interface thing is when playing a song and backing out to the list, it shows a two bar sound visualizer. Nice.

So thats about it. Its so far just a nice way to wireless sync music from home to your phone and also as way to have it accessible online. So it gets a thumb up but still has plenty of room to grow in.

Tablets: what are they good for?

So I’m a techie and just love reading and looking at new gadgets. So if course I have a custom built pc, a nice convertable tablet pc(yes I believe in pen input. It makes some much sense if you use it), and an Android smartphone.
So now I’m looking at these slate tablets, very different crime the tablet pcs I’ve used, a touch based input only. So my first thought is so I can’t take notes, whats the point? Watch movies? Well that’s one thought.
Lately I’ve found myself in bed using my phone how I used to use my laptop previously, simply browsing the web. Now I’m browsing, viewing videos, posting things online, and reading. All this on my phone’s four inch screen and I find myself wishing for more space. So now I know what a tablet is for. So now I want one and I want the Samsung Galaxy Tablet. I think I’ll go for the smaller one.
PS: I wrote this on my Samsung Vibrant 😛

Android: Ranting in the morning

I totatlly blame the red bull I just had for said rant lol It was like the words were just flowing and I couldn’t stop. Anyways over at the wonderful site Phandroid, is a post showing off some benchmark scores on the G2 after it has been overclocked from 800Mhz to 1.3Ghz. Thats sounds nice and all right? Well I didn’t think so and so thus the following rant came tumbling out of my mouth, or keyboard, whatever, and now I feel like sharing. The orginal can be found here.

Meh. 1) Apples vs Oranges with Android 2.1 vs 2.2. 2) While I have no supporting evidence, I have heard linpack is biased towards Qualcomm chips.

But yes benchmarking is a questionable practice compared to day to day use. Besides the Galaxy S cpu is spec’ed at 1gz because they meant it to run at such a speed, while the G2 is downclocked on purpose. I’d have to make the guess the jump in clock speed is inversely proportional to battery life. Thus over clocking the Galaxy S would of course impact battery life, it wouldn’t do so as much as I’m sure it would on the G2 going from 800Mhz to 1.3Ghz.

But just like benchmarking, I’m throwing that all away because it still comes down to software. It will always come down to software as it has to be optimized to hell and back to run the best it can on a particular hardware set. Look at the iPhone, everyone loves it because it seems so snappy. Thats not to say the hardware is just that fast, its because the software has been optimized for it to be that fast. Reminds me of back in the day when it was the norm to rebuild your own kernel for linux to get it running the best it could for your pc.

The A4 chip and the Hummingbird proc are pretty much the same processor, yet UI wise Apple has the upper hand in performance. Its all about perception and only optimizations will get us there.

Everyone talks about wanting stock android, but guess what folks, pure stock android would suck. This is part of why updates take so long(and I highly doubt it has to do with skinning) is that manufacturers have to do work to optimize code for their particular hardware set and their particular drivers for said hardware. Anyone who’s worked with linux for a long enough time would know this.

heh wow ok rant over, thanks red bull.

Yea that was fun.