Nexus 7 Review, Worth All The Hype?

Nexus 7 Review

Earlier this month, Google launched their flagship tablet. Made by Asus, their Nexus 7 perhaps spells the end for the multitudes of cheaper, flimsier tablets that run also run android. Selling from only £159 in Britain, the Nexus is hugely cheaper than the likes of the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and at only 7 inches, the Nexus becomes one of many tablets filling the gap between smartphones and 10 inch tablets, but with an Ipad mini rumoured to be just around the corner, should the Nexus 7 be your tablet of choice?

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My Week With Android Jelly Bean

jelly bean review

For the past week, I have been using an Alpha version of Android Jelly Bean on my HTC Desire S. This is article details my first impressions with the new operating system however some opinions may change as the ROM becomes more stable.

Last week  I woke up and checked on the CM10 for Desire S thread on XDA developers, as I had done each day since the thread opened. On this particular day, I was extremely surprised to find that there was already an early build of the ROM available to download. The thread had only been open for a few days and the build available the night before was having trouble getting past the boot screen. I scrolled through the comments which gradually reassured me that the ROM, despite being alpha, was extremely stable and was only missing a few features.

I downloaded the ROM and tried installing it via recovery. It froze on the boot animation prompting fear to spread through my body, the thought of bricking my phone was terrifying. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one with this problem. It turned out that this was a known issue and it was easy to bypass by wiping the cache. I did this and was presented with the lock screen I had seen just weeks before in the Jelly Bean demo video at Google I/O 2012. The dotted pattern followed my finger as I swiped across to the right to unlock the phone. Other than the pattern, nothing much was different compared to the Ice Cream Sandwich ROM I had been using for the past few months.

Once into the actual operating system, I did what most people would have done. I tapped on the Google Search bar and set up Google Now. This is the most anticipated feature of Android 4.1, especially since videos online have revealed that it destroys Siri in head-to-head competition.

I spent the next few minutes rigorously testing the new voice search feature. I was extremely surprised at how quick the results showed up. I have been use to using Siri which takes a good few seconds to take in what I have said, and then another few seconds to find me a suitable answer. However Google’s search seemed to recognise what I was saying as I was saying it, and only took a second or two to respond. After tweaking some settings I was able to make it so that images showed up alongside the cards just as I had seen in the videos, and I began searching for my favourite sports team (arsenal) and selecting my locations. If I was to believe Google, within a few days I should expect the phone to recognise what information I need and when I need it. I’d have to wait and see.

Now that I’d finished playing with Google Now, it was time to set my phone up as what it is…a phone. The default SMS application wouldn’t open, but downloading an ICS themed text messaging application from the Play Store worked a treat. It was only at this point I realised how fast the phone was. I’d just visited the Google Play Store, downloaded an application and set it up in under a minute. I’d heard about Project Butter but I never really imagined that it would work very well on my phone, especially in an alpha ROM.

Project Butter seemed like the one feature of Android 4.1 that I could easily live without. I’ve never really though that any ROM or stock UI that I had used in the past felt particularly slow, except when I compared it to iOS on my iPad 2. However project butter completely blows away iOS in terms of speed and smoothness. The animations when each window opens are lightning fast but look great. Each application opens almost as soon as I tap it. One way I tested it was to open up the multitasking menu, which had always taken a while to load on ICS. Boom, the second it opened all of the thumbnails loaded with it, with no delay.

As I was scrolling madly through the app drawer to admire the speed of Jelly Bean, I received a notification. It was an e-mail to my Gmail account which had landed in the notification drawer. I pulled down the bar and remembered what had happened in the demo conference of 4.1. Notifications now expand to show you more information than they would before, without you having to open the individual application. Unfortunately, it didn’t work in the build I was running. Shame.

A few days after my initial download of Jelly Bean, an updated build was released. New builds were added to the thread just about each day, but this one offered a number of fixes. For one, the phone now worked without me having to be in loudspeaker mode. Obviously I wouldn’t have been able to put up with this for long, but I had no plans over the week so it was no trouble until it was fixed. Another fix was the camera. I quickly downloaded and flashed the updated build to my phone as the camera packed a few new features in Android 4.1.

The camera works very well with Project Butter. One of the new features is that after taking a picture, you can swipe to the right and view what you just took. You can also pinch out to see the recent photos in a different view. Both of these gestures bring a very nice animation which fits in with the beautiful animations of Project Butter. The inclusion of the animations in the camera make the entire operating system feel so much more smooth and like it’s together. I’ve always felt that Android has had trouble organising it’s applications into one operating system, it never feels together like iOS. That’s changed now.

In the latest build, the notifications were fixed. It’s a much bigger deal than I thought it would be. I can now expand text messages, e-mails, screenshots and a number of other things to show me more of what I am about to open. To be honest, I could see this being an annoyance on previous builds of Android, as it wouldn’t have been smooth enough to pull it off elegantly. However it works very well through Project Butter, and I now find myself swiping away things I know I don’t want to open, rather than opening the application itself.

While the updates for my Jelly Bean are still coming out regularly, I feel that the build I have at the moment can’t be improved much. There is still a few parts of it that are unstable but it is more than enough to use as my daily ROM, and I feel that I am in a position to give a pretty accurate description of my feelings of Android 4.1.

At first glance, Android Jelly Bean looks almost identical to Ice Cream Sandwich. The search bar is a different colour and the lock screen has some fancy dots, however all in all it’s the same. Where Jelly Bean really shines is the hidden features. I could go on for paragraphs about how good Google Now is. It’s learnt what I do and often tells me the directions to places I have searched, just like we were told at I/O 2012, however the thing that impresses me the most is Project Butter. When the iPad 3 was released, I was told that you had to see the retina screen to believe it, and I was left very underwhelmed when I actually did come to trying it out. However, Project Butter is something that really does need to be seen before you can believe it, but it might only benefit people who have previously used Android. I’m sure even the most dedicated Android user could admit that more often than not, it would lag when unlocking the screen or scrolling fast through the app drawer. However Android 4.1 is faster than any other mobile operating system I have ever used.

CynanogenMod 10 ROM for Desire S – Link

MailerLite, An Easy Way To Create Newsletters

Running a successful business often involves sending out e-mails to keep in contact with clients. The trouble is, sending multiple e-mails is a chore, and some newsletter creating services fail to offer many customization options. MailerLite is an easy way to create newsletters straight from your browser, offering a lot of themes and ways to arrange content for just $99 a year.

Here’s how easy it is to get started

 

No cluttered interface here, simple easy to find headings make creation process extremely easy to start.

First steps include naming the newsletter, setting the company name and choosing where replies get sent.

Once again, the clutter-free layout means that there is no confusion as to how to layout the newsletter. Simple drag and drop boxes mean that you are always sure where content will appear.

In less than two minutes, I created a simple but professional looking newsletter, using images and content as well as social media buttons so that recipients can contact us.

The next step is selecting who receives the newsletter. Mailing lists can be organised into different categories, and individual recipients can be selected. Hmmm, looks like I could use a few more subscribers.

You can even test what the finished product looks like by sending it to your own e-mail address.

Preparing for an upcoming event? In the final stage of the creation process you can select a time and date to send out the newsletter, as well as integrating Google Analytics to which links attract attention on the newsletter.

Here’s my newsletter sent to my iPad.

Pricing

$99 a year | Maximum of 10,000 subscribers

$198 a year | Maximum of 20,000 subscribers

$297 a year | Maximum of 30,000 subscribers

$396 a year | Maximum of 40,000 subscribers

$495 a year | Maximum of 50,000 subscribers

What I Like:

– Very user-friendly.

– Cheaper than other options.

– Lots of colourful themes.

– Google Analytics

What could be added?

– More features for advanced users, who want to customize their newsletter beyond the template.

Verdict

MailerLite is the perfect option for people who are starting up or maintaining a business however lack much computing knowledge. It’s a very simple process which guides you through design of the newsletter and makes sure you send it to the exact people you want. While I was creating the test newsletter above, there was never a moment where I felt lost, and using the templates I was confident that my finished product would have a professional finish.

You can sign up for a free 30 day trial of MailerLite by visiting the link below.

[sponsored post]

MailerLite

 

Sony MDR ZX500, a Review

Last month I reviewed the Sony MDR ZX700 headphones, which for quite a high price, offered a lot of comfort and decent sound quality. The MDR ZX500 is the cheaper equivalent to those, but despite the considerable price drop, they aren’t much worse than the 700s.

The MDR ZX500 is very lightweight, but that doesn’t mean that it feels cheap by any means. In fact, i’d even go as far to say that it feels just as high quality as the ZX700.

The overall design of the MDR ZX500 is almost identical to the ZX700, except with substantially smaller cups. Personally, I prefer the larger cups as I have always thought of larger cups as the comfier option, however there are many who feel the opposite. The very light weight means that the MDR ZX500 is very comfy to wear for long periods.

I have been trying out the white version of the MDR ZX500, which is a lot more flashy than the black version. That said, just like the MDR ZX700, they don’t attract too much attention to themselves which is a very nice touch.

The sound quality of the MDR ZX500 isn’t going to blow you away. It is no competitor to some of the high-end headphones on the market at the moment, but for the price, you wouldn’t expect it to be. However the sound is impressive considering the small price tag.

The MDR ZX500 specializes in bass boosting meaning that if you listen to a lot of dubstep, electro and dance music, this would be right up your street. I have never come across a pair of headphones for this price which can perform so well on heavy tracks like that. However the noise isolation does suffer as a result of offering very heavy bass.

Overall the MDR ZX500 has a very nice design, which is both great to look at and very comfy to wear. The light weight design means that you can listen to music through them for a number of hours before you even start to notice them. The sound quality leaves a lot to be desired, but for the price I have never tried out anything that performs so well with bass and I’m pretty sure I won’t for a long time.

4 out of 5

Instagram Prints by Firebox

Instagram is a great platform for sharing photos, grabbing the attention of millions of users by allowing them to add cool and vintage style filters to any of their photos in a single second. The idea is not one that has gone unnoticed, with Facebook buying Instagram for around $1bn earlier this year. But once you have shared the photos online, nothing happens to them. If you want to see them, you either have to re-visit the application or it stored on your phone, or even have to print it off yourself.

Firebox offer that service for you, and I can assure you that they do a much better job than any home printer could do.

This isn’t so much as a review, rather a ‘go online and get this now’ article. The quality of the prints are amazing, styled like old polaroid photographs. The pack of prints even comes with a Sharpie so that you can annotate what was happening in the snap, and keep it forever.

Available at Firebox, you can get 12 prints for £9.99, or 24 prints for £14.99.

 

Windows 8 Release Preview, A Review

I still won’t be buying Windows 8.

Microsoft have suddenly released the third and probably final test build of the upcoming operating system ‘Windows 8’, which features one of the biggest re-designs to Windows that we have ever seen in any previous release. Microsoft are hoping that the public see Windows 8 as a refreshing change, but does it achieve this?

I’m going to begin by making a reference to my previous opinion piece which was very critical of Windows 8 Consumer Preview. In the article, which is no longer on the site due to the change-around, I complained that the Metro UI was almost completely useless to the standard mouse and keyboard user, and that there weren’t enough changes to the normal desktop to make it a worthwhile update. Before I update these points based around the new version, I should tell you that there are still bugs in the Release Preview and that the final version may give me a completely different view on the new operating system.

First off, there are a lot have been a lot of improvements since the last build, and I mean this in terms of performance rather than design and the way you interact with it. The entire operating system is faster, with animations between windows making the OS smoother and much more enjoyable to use. You can tell Microsoft are edging very close to releasing this, as it’s beginning to feel more like a finished product than ever before.

That said, it doesn’t matter how smooth it runs if the actual product is useless. Luckily, I really don’t think it is anymore. Last time, as mentioned above, I just couldn’t see the point of the new Metro UI unless Microsoft attempted to make all computers touch-screen only, which would be the company’s most silliest move to date. However, I’m glad to say, that the refinements made to the Metro section of the operating system have greatly improved my overall opinion of the user interface since the Consumer Preview. Not only is the whole system smoother, but it just seems to work a lot more like a complete operating system now that the majority of the apps work and there are quite a lot to choose from.

Understandably, the OS is a lot more user-friendly now that we have entered the Release Preview stage, meaning that we can now customize things the way we would hope to when the final product is released. A good example of this is on the very first boot up of the new build, which asks you which colour you would like to use as the default, which will then be used throughout the Metro background, buttons and borders.

Now, the majority of the applications work and have very few glitches. However, they aren’t all that impressive. For example the Wikipedia application seems to be lacking a search feature. You can see what’s popular and other important pieces on the homepage of the app, but the inability to search makes Wikipedia almost useless. (Please let me know if there is in fact a search feature). I know that this is probably the role of the people making the applications, and not Windows themselves. However if all of the applications begin to feel quite half-hearted, then the operating system will reflect that.

The Metro UI fits a lot better with the usual desktop than it did before. The transition between the two UIs is a lot smoother and can be done quite easy through the left panel which displays your applications open. However, I still very much miss the start button which has been inhabiting Windows since very early days. There are still ways to find things, but they seem too spread out and it is certainly a lot harder than it has been before. This wouldn’t bother me too much as there are currently tweaks that can re-enable the button, however with rumours flying around that Microsoft are working on stopping these tweaks, the taskbar could lose out.

The Metro Internet Explorer now comes with very limited Flash support, meaning that while it works on popular sites like YouTube, it doesn’t work on others like Rdio and other music playing websites. It’s good that it finally has some Flash support but it can be annoying when you come across a video that you want to play, only to be told that you can’t. Personally, I don’t use the Metro UI for my web browsing anyway. I may consider it if my current favourite browser, Google Chrome, decides to create a Metro version of the browser, however I think that for serious browsing of the web it’s much easier to have the taskbar at the bottom so that you can keep switching between applications.

The above points brings me on to one of my final points, in that I just don’t use Metro. I want to like it, and having played with it a bit on my iPad through Splashtop, I can see it being something really great on tablets and touch screen computers. However as far as a mouse and keyboard goes, I just don’t see it taking off. People like to see all of their things on one screen so that they can quickly switch between applications, however this isn’t really an option on the Metro user interface as you have to keep clicking the right mouse to bring up tabs or be able to change back to the home screen. As much as people want something nice to look at on their PC, the main reason they have one is for the usability, and Windows 8 just doesn’t seem to want to cater for people who use the computer in their line of work. It’s fine for children, teenagers and others who just use their computers for fun, as there are some applications like Cut the Rope which are really great. However the Metro UI would simply get in the way of people who need the computer urgently in their work.

To finish, I will say that I still won’t be desperate to get Windows 8 when it’s released to the public. As expected, it’s improving each time a new build is released, and my impressions are a lot rosier than they were the last version, and I don’t think that it’s by any means a bad operating system. However as I feel that the Metro UI just gets in the way, I would much prefer to stick with Windows 7, or use Ubuntu which is a OS I have been getting into in the last few months.

Please give your opinions below, be kind!

 

 

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