Saturday, July 21, 2012

Galaxy Nexus with Jellybean

I've been hesitant to recommend the phone I have for a fairly major reason which I'll come to in a moment, but I'm going to give a cautious thumbs up to it now that I've updated my Galaxy Nexus to Jellybean (Android 4.1.)

Here's the deal. The Galaxy Nexus is a "pure" Google phone, which means that it runs a version of Android that gives you what Google considers to be an ideal Android experience, or at least as close as possible as Google can manage.

The GN is a deceptively simple device with three buttons - Volume up/down, and Power on/off - together with the touchscreen itself. There's a headphone jack, and a micro USB port (that can also serve as an HDMI out.) The screen is a totally beautiful 720p (1280x720) affair with excellent color resolution, and there's front and back cameras. 

Why only three buttons? Well, since 3.0, Android tried to move to a buttonless user interface. The functions of the older Home, Back, and Menu keys has been moved to icons that are semi-permanently on-screen. I'm not sure whether this is a great idea in practice, but Google probably wants to simplify the hardware Android runs on, and improve the look and feel of Android devices at the same time. Me, I personally would like to see a hardware "End call" button, so reducing the number of buttons seems like a retrograde step, but the buttons being removed aren't that important.

Jellybean? Love it. While the jump from Honeycomb to ICS wasn't as dramatic as I'd read it would be, ICS to Jellybean is a huge step. It's much faster (or at least slicker), there's some great new functionality, such as Google Now, which attempts to provide constant relevant information (from weather forecasts to driving directions and times) without the user needing to ask for it. The Notifications bar is much more useful, providing more information (such as summaries of received emails) than simply one line notification counts.

The camera UI has been completely revamped and it now feels much more intuitive and much less clumsy than previous UIs. The GN was already good when it came to taking pictures, they're almost instant. You can easily take a lot of photos in quick succession, almost by accident, and you can swipe left to get the photo you just took. It's easier to see the improvement if you use the phone than it is to understand from the description!

Essentially the impression I get is that real thought went into Jellybean from the point of view of asking "How can we make this more helpful" rather than a simple "Let's add a feature that'll be hidden in some app somewhere" approach as might have been done in the past.

So... what are the downsides? Well, I have one big one, and two smaller problems.

Minor problem: No SD card slot. None. All the memory is on the phone. If you reset the phone, you wipe the "SD card" equivalent (something that doesn't happen on a phone with a removable card.)

Less minor, important to about 50% of the population: No keyboard. I'm sorry, but while on-screen keyboards are becoming excellent, there are still times I find myself pining for a real pull out thing, one where if you press a key, that's the key that'll register, not the one next to it, and not one that some software keyboard thinks you meant to type.

Really important: OK, here it is, the big reason I didn't want to recommend this phone at first, and still the issue that makes me wary of giving it a full recommendation: the battery is awful. Utterly abysmal. How bad is it? Try TEN HOURS with moderate usage. Not over the top usage. Just, say, 15 minutes of calls, the web for ten minutes during lunch, and occasionally checking emails or text messages.

It's terrible. Reportedly when one Google exec was questioned about the battery, he admitted to carrying a spare. Why, Google, would you bless this design when you know damn well that the battery life is this bad?

My solution to this is to buy a new battery. I bought the QCell Samsung Galaxy Nexus GSM i9250 3850mAh Extended Battery (sponsored link) which means the phone can last just over a day with moderate usage without running out of juice. Amazon lists a range of extended life batteries, all I can tell you about this one is that it works. It does, however, require its own battery cover, which adds a small bulge to the back of the phone.

Even this battery didn't quite last the day when my daughter was born. After a lot of calls and quite a few photos, the battery was close to dead by early evening. Fortunately I took a charger...

So, a qualified thumbs up. The battery thing is important. Get a long life one when you order the phone. Otherwise you'll probably hate it.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lenovo Ideapad K1 Ice Cream Sandwich update

Update: 3rd August:

I've put together an article explaining what's available now here.

Update: 30th July

Lenovo has finally released ICS:
  • The update does not include the Google Android app suite. Most importantly it lacks Google Play Store.
  • Lenovo is providing full source. They know the update isn't what they'd want it to be, and they're helping third party developers fix the issues by doing this.
  • Lenovo is highlighting a third party modification of the official release that does include the missing Google apps in their forums. This can be installed under Windows or GNU/Linux.

Original post follows:

I've written a few times about the K1 tablet, and I thought it worth updating the blog on the Ice Cream Sandwich situation with regard to that tablet.

Lenovo has said on several occasions, starting last year, that the K1 would be updated to ICS, and many buyers bought the tablet expecting that update. The K1 ships with Honeycomb, which is best described as a beta for ICS, rather than a finished, polished, version of Android.

The latest news is this. After promising an ICS for the middle of last month (June 2012), the update has stalled for a variety of reasons. According to a Lenovo customer service representative who's proven largely reliable on this, the situation is this:
  • Lenovo still intends to produce the update
  • Lenovo was apparently unaware that it wouldn't be able to bundle the critical Google tools (access to the Market/Google Play, etc) unless it obeyed certain restrictions, which weren't in the original plan. Because this is important, Lenovo is delaying the update until the issue is resolved.
  • The update will be "bare bones". This means Lenovo's customizations will not be bundled, and nor will the free apps. This might actually be a selling point for most Android users.
  • The update, as proposed, will require connecting the tablet to a PC running Windows. No method to update the tablet on a Mac, Ubuntu PC, or on its own, will be provided.
  • There is no ETA at this point.
In the mean time, unsupported third party ports of the alphas of CyanogenMod 9 are available. There are issues with the hardware support in this version of ICS, and it appears development has stalled because of the expectation that Lenovo is going to come out with an official ICS update "real soon now".