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Amazfit Bip review

I had always been unconvinced by the need for smart watches. I must admit to being tempted by a Pebble, but the recent Android-powered smart watches didn’t seem to have any particular raison d’etre. However, I have been wanting to take up running for a while and having a watch with a GPS tracker would be easier than strapping a phone to my arm every time I go out. I didn’t want to spend too much which ruled out a Garmin. In the end I saw a deal for the Amazfit Bip for $52.99 (currently just over £40). The Bip not only has GPS functionality but also has a heart rate monitor and a promise of 30 day battery life. Is it too good to be true?

I must admit to being very pleasantly surprised by the Bip. It has to be said that the display is pretty basic, but in a retro way I quite like this. There are thousands of alternative watch faces available, currently I have mine set to be like the pause screen in GoldenEye 007:

The activity tracking is limited to walking, outdoor running, treadmill running and cycling. This isn’t ideal for me as I do a lot of HIIT training that would be useful to track, but the run tracking works pretty well. If you install the Notify & Fitness app and pay a small amount in in-app purchases, you can sync activities straight to Strava. The GPS tracking is not perfect but it performs similarly to my phone. The Bip also tracks the number of steps you take each day.

The Notify & Fitness app also lets you customise notifications that get synced to the watch. After a few months of use I can now see why someone would want a smart watch. I can check who is calling me, emails, WhatsApp and football scores just by checking my wrist! There is no capability to respond to messages on the watch but I can’t see a situation where I might want to do that (I appreciate others might want to). I setup FotMob to notify me of goals for my favourite teams and my wrist now buzzes whenever someone scores. It’s also worth noting that you can set quiet times so that you don’t receive notifications overnight, for example.

The Bip offers sleep tracking but I do find this hit and miss – sometimes it will say I’ve had a bad night when I feel good, and vice versa, but it generally gets the start and end times right. I wouldn’t say it is worth buying just for this functionality.

As far as battery life goes I am pleased to say that it last a long time – I can easily go several weeks without charging it. Charging only takes a few hours too. Using GPS or excessive heart rate monitoring will reduce the battery life but it will still offer much better battery life than say an Apple Watch or the equivalent Android.

Having been unsure about owning a smart watch initially, I am now won over by the Bip and am very pleased with it – it’s definitely good value for money and I would highly recommend it.

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Monument Valley 2

I loved the original Monument Valley, it’s definitely my type of game, but my only criticism would have been that it was a little short. For some reason I’ve only just got around to buying the sequel – I had a flight and weekend away so decided to get some games that can be played offline.

Once the plane was in the air and I could use headphones I started the game and immediately fell in love again. The minimalist graphics and music are very soothing and the sense of achievement after clearing a level is satisfying.

Of course, the second game suffers from the same problem as the first – it’s too short. I have no problem with the price but it felt like just as things were starting to get going the game was over (I would guess I was done in under 90 minutes). I also felt it was a little easy – I think there was only one time that I really struggled (but that was on the flight home late at night after a heavy weekend).

There’s no real replay value, hopefully there will be some extra levels added. I did enjoy the game, I just wish it had been longer!

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Honor View 10 – thoughts so far

I’ve had the Honor View 10 for a few months now. It does everything I need it to and has some big advantages over the Nexus 5X that it replaced, but there are a few things that are not quite as good. Here are my thoughts:

  • The camera on the Honor is much faster to take pictures than the Nexus, especially in the last months of using the Nexus. I can’t compare the quality (I sold the Nexus 5X) but I think the quality is pretty similar. The bokeh feature on the Honor is simple to use and makes some pictures look really good.
  • The Honor is much quicker in everyday use – this isn’t surprising given that it is newer and has 3 times the RAM (6GB vs 2GB), and switching between apps actually works now, instead of apps closing themselves down in between switches as would happen on the 5X.
  • The Honor has 128GB of RAM, 4 times what I had in the 5X (32GB). I am nowhere near having to worry about space to install apps or download photos, I am not even using a third of the available storage yet!
  • The fingerprint reader on the 5X was much better than on the Honor. I much preferred the position on the back, and the Honor’s fingerprint reader doesn’t always seem to read my fingers. This is mitigated by the Honor having face unlock, which isn’t as good as the iPhone’s but it’s good enough.
  • The View 10 has slightly curved edges which means finding a screen protector isn’t straightforward. I tried a tempered glass one but that obscured the edges in order to fit, so I’m stuck using a TPU one. The View 10 comes with a case in the box.
  • I’m having trouble with notifications for some apps, generally those I don’t use often. One example is Hangouts which I use infrequently, I don’t get notified on my phone but see them later on my tablet. There are various app power settings which apparently fix this but my experience is mixed.

Overall I am pleased with the phone, it does everything I need it to and runs smoothly. I may come to miss having Nexus-like stock Android and updates in the future, but for now everything is OK.

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The new iPad

So I finally gave in and bought the new iPad.

The new Apple iPad

I’m still unconvinced by iOS as a smartphone operating system and will continue to have an Android phone, but the arguments against an Android tablet were too great. Here was my reasoning:

Pro Android tablet

  • I have bought many Android apps over the years which I could transfer over to a new device.
  • I prefer using Android over iOS – it is more customisable, the notifications work better, it’s easier to copy files over, etc.

Pro iPad

  • The new iPad is relatively cheap, and there are no Android tablets available at the same price with the same power.
  • Developers always develop for iPad first – it has been so frustrating seeing iPad apps appear well before the equivalent Android app. Apps will also be optimized as the Apple ecosystem is not fragmented like the Android ecosystem.
  • Getting accessories is much more straightforward.
  • Everything just works – once installed an app will just work, instead of having to hope that my device is supported as is common with Android.
  • Music apps work much better due to the lack of latency. Garageband also has no real Android alternative.

The new iPad is not a massive improvement over my LG G Pad 8.3 but having a bigger screen is good, reading comics or magazines with Readly is much easier. I’ve not really installed any games but having access to Civilization VI for example is amazing considering that my PC is probably not capable of running it. Yousician also works well – I have an iRig which allows me to plug my guitar in and play along without an amp. I can also plug headphones in and listen using Amplitube.

I’m pleased with my purchase and look forward to seeing what else I can do. When I have time I’ll check out the education apps (as that is the supposed raison d’etre of the new iPad) and see if there’s anything the kids can use. I’m also looking forward to overhauling the Sam Smiths Challenge website and making it mobile-compatible.

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Time for a new phone

My LG Nexus 5X is almost two years old and has already had a new motherboard fitted to fix the boot-loop of death. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until the phone starts boot-looping again, and things are starting to slow down. Most annoyingly, it will appear to take a photo but the photo never gets saved – yesterday this robbed me of a nice photo I’d taken of my son opening his birthday present.

As it’s almost inevitable that the boot-loop will happen again, it makes sense to replace the phone before it happens – that way, I can sell the phone and get more money for a working model. It also means I can transfer everything over to the new phone or backup photos etc. to my PC – it is next to impossible to do this once the boot-loop starts, as I know from painful experience!

I’ve spent a while deciding which new phone to get. I don’t like iOS so an iPhone is out of the question. I was looking at the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel 2, but I can’t bring myself to pay such a premium for them. So I started looking at phones at a lower price point. My considerations were:

  • Camera – I want a decent camera for taking photos, I don’t carry a standalone camera everywhere with me and it’s nice to be able to take photos of my family when we’re out and about. I’ve been spoiled with the Nexus 5X camera I think – obviously the Galaxy S8 and Pixel 2 have the best cameras but they’re also the most expensive.
  • Headphone socket – I have a headphone cable in my car to plug my phone, and one in the kitchen too. Bluetooth has its uses but sometimes I just want to plug my phone in and have it work straight away!
  • USB-C – I’ve become accustomed to using USB-C with the Nexus 5X and I don’t think I can go back to micro USB and having to insert the plug the correct way.
  • RAM – The Nexus 5X only has 2GB of RAM which these days is not brilliant – I’d like a phone with more memory available.
  • Storage – I’d prefer not to use a micro SD card but it’s nice to have the option. The Nexus 5X has 32GB storage which has mostly been enough for my needs.
  • NFC – I like having the option to pay for things with my phone – it comes in handy when out and about in London, for example, as you can use it with Oyster terminals.
  • Fingerprint reader – It’s so quick and easy to unlock with a fingerprint, plus it stops the kids being able to access my phone!

I was initially looking at the Honor 9, which has had some excellent reviews and covers all of the points above. However, when I went to see how much it was on Amazon it was out of stock and wouldn’t be available for shipping for at least a month. Whilst there I noticed that the Honor View 10 was reduced to £380 – only £80 more than the Honor 9, but for that extra money you get more RAM, storage and a better screen. £80 seems a decent premium for these features and it will hopefully future-proof the phone a little more, so I’ve gone for the Honor View 10. Sadly Amazon didn’t have it available for next-day delivery but it should come next week. I could have ordered it from elsewhere but if I buy from Amazon I’ll have a bit more peace of mind when it comes to guarantees, etc.

I look forward to trying out the new phone and will post my thoughts here in the near future.

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The Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild

I’m a bit late to the party but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an amazing game. I bought a Nintendo Switch just so I can play this game (I skipped the Wii U for various reasons). After playing it for 40 hours with so much still to do and enjoy, I’m pretty certain that this is one of the best games ever made, if not the best.

I love that once you’ve cleared the first area you’re basically free to explore and do whatever you want. I love that there are various ways of solving puzzles in the game. I love the variety of terrains, characters, weapons, and more.

Link from Breath of the Wild

The art style is wonderful – it’s not hyper realistic but I think in 10-20 years time it won’t look dated like some other games do.

The game isn’t perfect but there isn’t a great deal to complain about. So far I’ve beaten three Divine Beasts and reclaimed the Master Sword, and have done the first part of Trial of the Sword. I have enjoyed the game immensely and cannot wait to play the rest of it!

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New year, new blog

I don’t really have the time to update this blog at the moment, but partly I also don’t have much to write about – I can’t afford the latest phones etc. so I’m stuck talking about my older devices (although I am considering an upgrade to either a Pixel 2 or a Galaxy S8). Personally, I don’t find Android as exciting any more – there haven’t been any major changes recently, it’s more a case of ironing out flaws. It’s still the best mobile OS as far as I can tell, but I don’t have much to say about it.

So I think I am going to change the blog to cover games as well as Android. After sitting out the PS4/Xbox One era, I’ve finally entered the current generation with a Nintendo Switch. So far I am loving it and Zelda is such a wonderful experience, I’m looking forward to trying out other games. So in the coming weeks I’m going to update the blog (and find a new theme as well!) to include my thoughts about games. It will also be a handy place for me to keep my completed games list. I’ve tried maintaining lists on other sites but they always seem to shut down or not get updated.

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Tablet decisions

I’ve had my LG G Pad 8.3 nearly 3 years and it’s beginning to show its age. Things seem to be slowing down and it’s still running on Lollipop. I’ve resisted using a custom ROM because some apps won’t work (such as Virgin Media’s TV apps) but there are a few things that annoy me such as the SD card always dismounting itself for no good reason.

I’ve borrowed my mum’s iPad 2 (she’s got herself a newer model) and despite the iPad 2 being older than the G Pad it’s still going reasonably well. The main reason I wanted it was for GarageBand, but I also use it for Readly (the screen dimensions make it easier to read magazines on). I am still not a massive fan of iOS but it still feels like there are not many great apps for Android tablets, whilst the iPad ecosystem is much more extensive.

I don’t think I could ever switch to an iPhone but I could be tempted by an iPad to replace my Android tablet. It just seems to work better for media consumption (which is all I would be doing anyway). The other alternative is a Surface which I’ve been lusting after ever since it was released. It looks great but unless I can get a good deal it’s just a bit too expensive to justify getting.

I’ll wait and see how my current devices fare and whether there’s any good deals in the Christmas sales. I have a feeling I’m going to need a new phone first anyway as I’m sure my Nexus 5X will bootloop again soon…

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Unable to login to Feedly on gReader Pro using a Google account

I recently wiped my phone following the update to Oreo. My Nexus 5X was much slower after the update and either another bootloop is coming or the update caused some problems, so I opted to start over. Amongst the apps I use every day is gReader Pro which I have been using ever since Google Reader was alive.

Unfortunately, it appears as though gReader Pro is no longer being maintained – whilst it is still possible to install the app, Google have changed their authentication methods and so it is no longer possible to login to the Feedly Cloud using a Google account on gReader Pro. Luckily there is a workaround!

First, go to the Feedly website and create a new account using your email address. Once this is complete, log out and then log back in with your Google account. Then, choose Preferences from the menu (by clicking on your avatar in the top right), then choose Logins. Choose “Add Login” and add the new account that you just created.

Now you should be able to go to gReader Pro and login to Feedly using the email address and password of the new account, and you should have access to all your feeds.

I’ve tried looking for an alternative app which is still maintained but a quick check didn’t show anything as good as gReader Pro. I tried the official Feedly app but it doesn’t load the full article to read in the app, you have to visit each website to see the full article. I guess it’s a niche since the demise of Google Reader but it would be great if there was another alternative.

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Android 8 is known as Oreo

The latest version of the Android operating system is now available to select devices. Android 8 is a major release and has a new name: Oreo. I wonder if Oreo paid anything to have it known as that, like with KitKat? Anyway, if you have a specific device (e.g. Pixel or Nexus) the update should be available now or in the near future.

Android Oreo

My Nexus 5X hasn’t received the update yet but I’m in no rush – I’m sure it’s possible to force an update by joining the beta scheme but I’ll just wait for the update to arrive naturally.

Here are the headline updates for Android 8:

  • Performance – devices should be faster to boot up and run. It is also possible to set a quota for each app so that if the cache for that app gets too large, it will automatically be cleared.
  • Battery – Oreo should limit apps running in the background and force them to run background jobs which should use your battery less.
  • Notifications – these can now be “snoozed” for a certain amount of times. Icons on the launcher will also feature dots to show that a notification has arrived.
  • Autofill – it is possible to autofill certain forms and logins.
  • Adaptive icons – you can choose which icon to display for certain apps.
  • Bluetooth 5 – Oreo will support the latest Bluetooth standards.

I look forward to using Oreo but the changes are not so drastic that I feel compelled to update immediately. Generally there are no major visual changes (such as with the introduction of Holo, Material, etc.)