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Recording music – what are the choices?

Android has always had one major downside compared to iPads, and that is sound latency. Anyone wanting to record music will know that Apple have a great range of recording apps, notably GarageBand, but as the Android operating system suffers from audio latency it is harder to develop good recording apps.

Audio latency is the difference in time between audio going into the device and exiting the device. So for example if you were using a device to add effects to your guitar, the delay between you playing something and hearing it would cause you to be out of time with everyone else. This is a problem caused by the way Android is developed and there is not much you can do about it unfortunately.

One big Android player, Samsung, has made moves to counter this and has developed drivers and SDKs for their own premium devices (such as Galaxy S and Note) which allow for practically zero audio latency. This allows apps to be developed for these devices which work in a similar way to Apple devices. This is a huge improvement but requires you to have a Samsung device. One benefit of Android devices is that there are many cheap devices available, but the Samsung Pro Audio devices are all at a similar price to Apple’s offerings.

It does seem strange that Google haven’t done more in this area – music apps generate a lot of revenue on the App Store for Apple but there is very little to be found on the Google Play Store. It’s almost at a point where I’ve considered buying an iPad just to use GarageBand, but the truth is I don’t spend enough time recording music to justify the expense. It’s definitely something I will consider though when the time to replace my LG G Pad 8.3 arrives.

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Allow custom notifications in the Outlook app for Android

I use Gmail for my personal email account but I’ve found that Outlook works better for my work account which has recently switched to using Exchange. There was one minor annoyance however; I was unable to select custom notifications for the app, and I was originally limited to the default selection. Having spent years listening to the same message notification I didn’t really want to change it, but luckily I was able to find a solution.

The problem arises from a change in more recent versions of Android to allow specific permissions for various apps. Outlook does not have access to Storage by default and so it can’t see the custom notification. It’s easy to solve however:

  • Go to your phone’s Settings
  • Go to the Apps section and select Outlook
  • Select Permissions
  • Switch the Storage permission to on/yes

Screenshot showing permissions for Outlook

Now if you go back into Outlook and try to change the notification sound you should be able to see the custom notifications again!

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How to activate “Swipe for notifications”

Thankfully my Nexus 5X did not take too long to repair and is now back in full working order. It’s now updated to Android Nougat 7.1.2, which mainly features stability and bug fixes. However, there is one addition which I’m very happy about – it’s now possible to swipe down on the fingerprint scanner in order to bring notifications down on the screen! It’s so easy to use and it’s a wonder Google didn’t include it before.

To activate this setting, go to the usual Settings menu and go to the “Moves” section. All you have to do is now activate the “Swipe for notifications” setting and away you go!

Swipe for notifications setting

If you weren’t already aware, there are some other very useful settings here. The “Jump to Camera” setting is one that I find very useful, as it allows me to jump straight to the camera when the phone is locked. All I have to do is take my phone out of my pocket, press the power button twice and the camera is active! The “Flip camera” one is also pretty handy, sometimes I like to take photos whilst cycling and being able to switch camera using only one hand is very useful.

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The Dreaded Nexus 5X Bootloop

I’d seen all the warnings about the Nexus 5X bootloop and had figured it was going to affect me some day, but in the meantime I was enjoying using the phone – it is easily the best device I have ever owned. However, one day away from it’s first anniversary, the dreaded bootloop hit me whilst I was midway through a game of Marvel Puzzle Quest.

What happens is that the phone turns itself off, boots up, you see the Google logo and then it promptly reboots, you see the Google logo, it reboots, etc. I did actually manage to get it to boot up properly once by leaving it off for a while to cool down, this gave me a couple of minutes to copy some files off before the bootloops hit once again.

I bought the phone from Amazon UK but I have to deal with LG’s warranty department to get it repaired. I’m not holding my breath that this will get resolved any time soon after the efforts it took to get my LG G Pad 8.3 repaired.

Things are already off to a bad start – LG use a locker-based courier firm to get devices to them. They sent out packaging two days after I called them, and I visited the locker and packaged up my phone within an hour of getting the notification. However, five days later and the phone had still not been picked up – I had to email the courier asking why this was and thankfully it is now showing as being sent. Once it reaches LG I’ll have to wait between 10-15 working days for them to repair it, then wait for the courier to get it back to the locker.

For anyone else who bought the phone directly from Amazon, I’ve heard it might be best to take things up with them – if you complain that you’ll be without a phone for a few weeks, they’ll just give you a full refund. The trouble is that I do really like using the Nexus 5X, and I don’t really want to fork out the extra money for a Pixel just yet.

In the meantime I have borrowed my mum’s old phone, an iPhone 4s. Yes, an iPhone – I thought I would give it a try as the only other alternative is a Galaxy Ace 4 with a cracked screen or a Moto G which can’t maintain a cellular network connection. I am trying to be fair (the iPhone 4s is over 5 years old now) but everything seems so difficult to use – I thought the whole point of Apple is that anyone can use it, but simple things require digging through menus which aren’t always obvious. We’ll see if things get any better…

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How is Android doing these days?

I am still very much a fan of Android and all smartphones and tablets in my house are Android-based. But am I perhaps a bit too biased towards Android? I can definitely see the advantages of Apple devices (limited range of hardware devices so apps are optimised, popularity means more apps are created, number of accessories, etc.) I found it interesting on a night out with some old friends from university recently. The previous Android owners have now switched to Apple, whilst the previous Apple owner has switched to Android (for his phone at least). There are still many things about Apple I’m not a fan of (still no widgets?) and I can’t really ever see myself owning an iPhone (never mind that the price probably counts me out unless I get a good deal on a contract).

Things are different however in the tablet market. I am still using my LG G Pad 8.3 whilst my wife has an Amazon Kindle Fire (which has had the Google Play store sideloaded). This is one arena where I can definitely see an advantage to having an iPad – the Android tablet market is so fragmented and not as popular as iPads so there are very few tablet-specific apps being made. I’d love to see something like GarageBand on an Android tablet but I think there are hardware reasons why something similar cannot be created.

My G Pad is nearly two years old and is starting to show signs of age – I have never really been able to successfully use it for productivity (e.g. coding, blog entries, simple things such as this) and have generally used it to consume media (comics, videos, games). I have been looking enviously at the Surface tablet – it seems perfect for what I’d like to use it for, but the cost is prohibitive as I probably wouldn’t use it enough to warrant the cost. I have seen similar cheap copies available from GearBest etc. but these always have an element of risk, but some of them are dual-boot with Android – this would be perfect for my needs, so I might take the risk and buy one soon. I’ll definitely have to do some research first.

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Android Nougat released – how to get it right now if you have a Nexus device

Google have released the final version of the Android Nougat operating system for Nexus devices – but you might still have to wait even if you have a current supported Nexus device such as the 5X, 6P or 9 as Google releases the update in stages. However, there is an easy way to get the update immediately.

All you need to do is sign up for the Android beta programme and enrol for your specific device. The notification to install the Nougat update will then appear on your device shortly afterwards (it appeared almost instantly on my Nexus 5X). You will see warnings about your phone being wiped if installing a beta update, but you can safely ignore this as this is not a beta update. Once the update has been downloaded and installed to your phone, you should then unenrol your device at the same beta programme link so that you don’t receive the next beta update.

Nougat downloading on my Nexus 5X

Nougat promises some great new features such as multi-window support, quick switching between apps, new emoji, a new Vulkan API for faster graphics, improved battery life, improved bundling of notifications and more. I look forward to trying out Nougat – it’s nice to have a Nexus device and get the update straight away without waiting months for manufacturers!


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Android N to be known as Nougat

Continuing the Android platform’s tradition of sweet nicknames, the next update to the mobile operating system will be known as Nougat. The new name was revealed via Google’s Snapchat account:

Android Nougat announcement via Snapchat
Android Nougat announcement via Snapchat

The name was also revealed on Twitter:

Android Nougat is due to be released later this summer. Expected features include an improved notification shade, split-screen multitasking and improvements to the Doze battery-saving feature.

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Belong – a new way to earn rewards

Belong is a new app promising users a range of rewards in return for displaying branded wallpapers on their devices. The app (formerly known as QuiltLife) is planned for launch in September 2016 – users can sign up now for early bird access on the website.

By installing the app and leaving a wallpaper displayed on their device, users can earn rewards on a “ladder” – the longer you leave the wallpaper there, the better the reward! The image from the Belong website gives an idea of what will be available:

Belong reward ladder

This seems like it will be great for both users and advertisers and is well worth checking out -I’d advise signing up as an early bird so that when the app is launched you can start earning rewards as soon as possible!

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Nexus 5X update

So I’ve had the 5X for a couple of months now and I thought I’d post an update on my usage of the phone. I’m still really happy with it – the only negative is possibly the battery life but that’s only if I spend all day playing Marvel Puzzle Quest on it. There’s no lag when using the phone, things happen quickly and smoothly and it’s an absolute pleasure to use compared to previous phones.

The fingerprint scanner is a big plus. It’s very quick to unlock the phone and helps add an extra layer of security (and stops the kids playing games behind my back!) It also helps with my banking app and LastPass, I can just login with my fingerprint rather than having to mess about with passwords.

The absolute highlight is the camera. Two presses of the power button and the camera loads, and pictures can be taken so quickly. The quality is excellent too. I can easily take three or four high quality pictures in the time my wife’s older phone can take one. It makes such a difference when wanting to take quick pictures – at a gig on Saturday I could whip my phone out, hold it in the air for five seconds and have taken three or four decent pictures, even if some don’t come out it doesn’t matter because one is bound to work. With my previous phone I wouldn’t even have had the camera app open in that time!

I’m really pleased I chose this phone and look forward to what Android N brings. I hope to use this phone for a long time yet (it cost me a fair amount after all) but it’s definitely convinced me that Nexus devices are the way to go. Just watch and see Google discontinue the Nexus program now!

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Nexus 5X

I took the plunge and bought a Nexus 5X – in the end it was having vanilla Android that won out over the Xperia Z5 Compact, I know for sure that the Nexus 5X will always be updated quickly.

The box for my Nexus 5X

So far I am loving the phone – it is a massive upgrade from the Moto G (2014). Everything is smooth, I’ve not experienced any lag yet, and everything loads quickly and works as you’d expect it to. The phone only has 2GB of RAM but I’ve not come across any performance issues related to this, and it’s double what is in the Moto G.

I got the version with 32GB of storage – as the phone doesn’t have additional microSD storage I felt it was important to get as much as possible. This is obviously a massive improvement over the 8GB that the Moto G has, and I’m nowhere near filling it up. Being able to update apps without having to clear cache and delete things first is much better!

Having used the fingerprint reader on this phone I can’t now imagine having one without it – it makes life so much easier, both with unlocking the phone and for verifying my identity (LastPass uses it instead of a master password). I don’t need to set a PIN now to prevent the kids from using it!

The camera is also another massive improvement – I can finally take photos in low light conditions and expect the results to be usable. I also like that you can bring the camera up quickly when the phone is locked – just push the power button quickly twice and it brings up the camera. You can then use the volume buttons to take a photo. The panorama and photo sphere features are also very good.

To protect the phone I bought a screen protector and a case. I went for the PThink screen protector which is tempered glass rather than the usual cheap plastic cover. It costs a bit more but it is so much better than what I’ve used before – I was able to apply it first time with no dust getting underneath and the bubbles were small and easy to get rid of. So far it is holding up well and I’ve not got any scratches or marks on it yet.

I went for the SUPCASE Unicorn Beetle case which has a transparent back that shows off the Nexus logo. It fits well, although one thing to note is that the hole for the headphone socket is a little small – my headphones fit in but my car adapter is too thick to fit in – I’ll have to buy an extender to get it to fit.

So far I am very pleased with the Nexus 5X and would happily recommend it to anyone looking for a new phone.