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Restoring from Time Machine on Thunderbolt Drobo

Apparently I tend to make my life more complicated than it should. I have been backing up my Mac to a Time Machine on a Thunderbolt Drobo. No problem, right? Well, I guess I spoke to soon.

Doing a complete restore of a Mac from a Time Machine is pretty straight forward using OS X’ Migration Assistant, but in real life, the result is not usually perfect, and can be quirky. Of course, I have to add an additional confusion to the mix, by using a Drobo. I love Drobo, but they can initiate a heart attack when they do not behave as expected.

The scenario is, I wanted to transfer the content of my Mac to another. There are many ways to do this, but OS X’ Migration assistant is usually pretty foolproof and fairly easy, especially since it has the option to do it from a Time Machine backup so you don’t have to have the original machine. So I reformatted the target Mac with 10.9, connected my Thunderbolt Drobo, and Migration Assistant could not seem to find it. Uh oh. So I set up the target Mac as a fresh Mavericks install, and although System Information detects the Thunderbolt Drobo, it’s not shown in Finder. A knowledge base from Drobo said that I have to have Drobo Dashboard installed. 

I downloaded and installed Drobo Dashboard, and the Drobo is mounted. Great. So I started Migration Assistant again. No go. Seems like Migration Assistant kinda did a “reboot” to run. Well, based on the knowledge base from Drobo, since it needs Drobo Dashboard to mount the Thunderbolt Drobo, that means Migration Assistant will never be able to recognize the Thunderbolt Drobo as it started before Drobo Dashboard is loaded. Double uh oh!

So I dug up the drobo box to get its USB cable. Meanwhile, I let the target system to update itself to 10.9.2. After 10.9.2 was installed, I tried Migration Assistant again, saving the USB route as last resort. Luckily, the Time Machine partition was shown. Hallelujah!

Moral of the story:

  1. Although restoring form Time Machine works, sometimes it is easier to just do a direct migration from the old Mac. So if you buy a new Mac, don’t sell or reformat the old one yet until you get everything transferred
  2. Update the target Mac to the latest OS X version and its patches. 10.9′s Migration Assistant did not recognize the Thunderbolt Drobo, but apparently 10.9.2 did (with Drobo Dashboard installed)
  3. Thunderbolt is great and fancy, but don’t dismiss USB just yet

Well, just another doki-doki adventure with Drobo.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Merry Christmas!

legalhigh santa

Excellent deduction Komikado. :D Just started watching this J-Dorama, Legal High.

Merry Christmas!

 

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2013 in funny

 

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Smartphone Buying Guide 2013

Since many tech blogs are doing a smartphone buying guide thanks to the holiday shopping season, I’m going to do one too with my own bias. :D If you read my blog for sometime, you know how I feel about provider locking, so this guide will focus mostly on GSM unlocked phones and GSM carriers/MVNOs. It’s actually pretty easy since unlocked phones is not the norm in the US.

Carrier Choice

In the US, there are only two major GSM carriers, AT&T and T-Mobile. Among those two, T-Mobile offers the best bang for the buck, and also the carrier that has a lot of MVNOs. The catch is coverage. So I would check their coverage first. Another great way to check coverage is to ask friends and family members as it will give you better real-life testimonies. Note that the coverage on T-Mobile’s website is assuming you have a phone with AWS band support. Unfortunately, since the number of carriers that use this band is extremely small, most phone manufactures don’t bother supporting it. Luckily, T-Mobile has also started to refarm the 1900 band for 3G in some areas, which is more widely supported than AWS as AT&T also uses this band. You can check this site to see if your area is a refarmed area. Note that this site is generated from user input, so the data is definitely more limited.

If you are not lucky enough to be covered by T-Mobile, next step is AT&T. In general, AT&T is more expensive, and has less choice in MVNOs. Their 3G speed is also slower than T-Mobile’s HSPA+. The upside is coverage is better in general, although I have been in areas where T-Mobile actually has better coverage than AT&T. This is their site for their coverage. Again, better gauge is to ask your friends or family members as the general map coverage usually assume that you are outside, not indoors. AT&T uses 850 and 1900 bands for 3G, and they are supported by many phones.

LTE

Both AT&T and T-Mobile have started to offer LTE. The main advantage of LTE imo is the much lower latency. Browsing the internet under LTE feels more like a landline broadband than a cellular connection. Speed wise, however, is not much faster, at least in my experience. You see people on the internet bragging how much faster their LTE speed is, but so far in my experience in trying Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile’s LTE, I usually get around ~10-20Mbps down at best, which is not much different than a good HSPA+ connection.

T-Mobile uses LTE band 4, and AT&T uses band 4 and 17. In short, phones that supports AT&T LTE will support T-Mobile LTE by default. LTE coverage is still very limited. I would rather have a good HSPA+ coverage than a paltry LTE coverage.

If you really must have LTE, then your provider selection is more limited. So far, I think there are no T-Mobile MVNOs offering LTE service, so to get T-Mobile LTE, you have to get a T-Mobile plan. AT&T only offers LTE on their own plans and their MVNO Aio wireless (at lower speed of 8Mbps).

Picking Your Plan

I have posted quite a bit of discussions on different MVNOs in this, and this posts. Just to quickly recap and to update things a bit:

T-Mobile and Its MVNOs:
Cheapest with good amount of data: Ultra mobile. $19 a month gives you 250 minutes, unlimited SMS, and 50MB data. You can add 250MB for $5. This is the provider I’ve been using so far.
Best deal for heavy data user: T-Mobile monthly 4G. No need to go to Walmart. Just order the SIM online from T-Mobile themselves. $30 a month gives you 100 minutes, unlimited SMS, and 5GB data at 4G speed (2G speed afterwards). This deal is so good that T-Mobile themselves are not making it easy to find it.
For unlimited talk: Straight Talk offers either AT&T or T-Mobile SIM. $45 a month gives you unlimited voice, unlimited SMS, and 2.5GB high speed data. It’s good that they specify the limit now. Another option is Simple Mobile or Spot Mobile, both are offering $40 a month for unlimited voice, unlimited SMS, and 1GB high speed data.
$50 and up: If you are willing to spend more, Simple Mobile offers $50 plan that gives you 3GB of high speed data (unlimited voice and SMS). If you are a really big spender, T-Mobile will give you unlimited everything for $70 a month.
Longest expiration date: This is a great option for a backup SIM. Spot Mobile offers a pay-as-you-go plan with $5 good for 90days.

AT&T and Its MVNOs:
Cheapest with good amount of data: Airvoice Wireless offers $40 a month, unlimited minutes, unlimited SMS, and 1GB data.
Best deal for more data: Straight Talk. $45 a month, unlimited voice and SMS, 2.5GB high speed data.
$50 and up: Red Pocket offers $60 a month, unlimited voice and SMS, 3GB data. If money is no object, Aio Wireless has a $70 a month plan with unlimited voice, SMS, and 7GB data.
Longest expiration date: Airvoice Wireless pay-as-you-go has $10 credit that is good for 90 days.

As you can see, it is clear that T-Mobile offers more bang for the buck, so pray that you have good T-Mobile coverage. :)

Picking a Phone

You have decided on your carrier and your plan. Now’s the fun part, picking your phone. :)

Under $100:
The Lumia 520/521 is really a good Windows Phone 8 phone at this price range. Unfortunately, you will be stuck with either AT&T goPhone plans or T-Mobile’s prepaid plans unless you can get them unlocked. Seems like since it’s a popular phone, it is getting harder and harder to find unlocks for these phones. Another catch is the 521 T-Mobile version doesn’t seem to support band I (2100) for 3G based on the spec on T-Mobile website. Something to think about if you travel as band I is the most common band used for 3G in Asia and Europe. Caveat emptor. I would spend more money to get better flexibility of unlocked phones.

~$200:
Motorola’s Moto G. There is no contest here unless you start looking at used phones. $180 for 8GB, $200 for 16GB. 720p screen, quad-core Snapdragon 400, near stock Android. It’s not shipping yet, but it’s the best deal on paper right now. It even makes the Nexus looks expensive. :D No LTE, but at this price point, who cares. Do note that there are two versions being sold, a global version and a “US” version. The US version supports AWS, which is useful for T-Mobile coverage, at the expense of lacking 2100 band support (the frequency band used for 3G in most Asian and European countries). Both versions do support 850 and 1900 bands, so if your carrier is AT&T, or T-Mobile has refarmed the 1900 band in your area, my vote is for the global version.

If you are a Windows Phone fan, Microsoft is selling the HTC 8X unlocked for $250. 16GB, 720p SLCD gorilla glass screen, dual-core Snapdragon S4, quad-band HSPA (no AWS though), LTE support for AT&T and T-Mobile. It’s a much better phone than the Lumia 520, but value wise, imo the Moto G trumps this. Check out my quick impression of the HTC 8X.

~$400:
Google Nexus 5. Penta-band HSPA, LTE support for AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, Snapdragon 800, 1080p screen, latest Android KitKat. 16GB is $350 and 32GB is $400. Hard to beat at this price point. The only downside is probably the camera app. Check out my impression here.

Sony Xperia ZR is available around $450. It’s no Snapdragon 800 like the Nexus 5 and no LTE, but it is still a decent phone with penta-band HSPA, quad-core processor, 1080p screen, 2GB RAM, 8GB storage with SD slot, and it’s water proof. Something to check out if you need a phone that can withstand the environment a little bit. If you don’t need the water proofing, the Xperia ZL is bigger, supports LTE, and has 16GB storage instead. It’s hard to beat the Nexus 5 though for your money.

~$600:
The HTC One is available unlocked in regular Sense or stock Android versions. Ironically, HTC used to sell this for cheaper at $580 before the Google Play stock Android version came out. Spec wise, it has been upped by the Nexus 5, but it is still quite a beast with 1080p screen, LTE support (both AT&T and T-Mobile), Snapdragon 600, 2GB RAM, and 32GB storage. It only has tri-band HSPA though, no AWS support. I prefer the Sense version due to HTC Zoe as an added value. The GPE version is just stock Android, and at that price, might as well save the money and get the Nexus 5 instead.

iPhone:
iPhone is unique as it is only made by Apple. I wouldn’t get the iPhone 5c (16GB for $550, 32GB for $650). It’s basically a cheapened iPhone 5. If you are going to spend some $600, might as well get the iPhone 5s. Starts at 16GB for $650 and up to a whooping $850 for 64GB. It’s magical. Of course, the iOS experience is unique on iPhones, so the price premium might be worth it.

Well, there you go, my smartphone buying guide for 2013. :D Imo the real winner this year is the Moto G. Motorola was going to delay the Moto G in the US until next year, but looks like they were wise enough to ship it by December 2nd instead, and still catch the holiday buying season. At $200 for its spec, it really does offer great value, even arguably better than the Nexus phones. At this point, you have to really love your carrier to still buy a carrier controlled phone with contract. Nexus 5 is changing the game again, bringing top high end spec at mid-range price. iPhone is as magical as ever, and Apple doesn’t seem to be bothered by the low cost offerings of Android.

Hopefully this can bring some perspective into the plethora buying guides thrown in by tech blogs that are mostly focused on carrier controlled phones. ^_^ What phone do you want from Santa?

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2013 in Buying guide

 

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HTC 8X Quick Impression #windowsphone

I was browsing at a local Microsoft store, and I noticed that they were selling the HTC 8X unlocked for $250. I double checked Microsoft’s online store, and surely it sells them for the same price. Why was I interested? Windows Phone phones have never been sold unlocked in the US, other than the overpriced bundle that Microsoft did for the Lumia 800. So this was quite a surprise.

I really like the packaging of the 8X. It feels cheap, but the design is fresh from the typical carton box. $250 is not cheap, but it’s not bad either. The HTC 8X was HTC’s flagship Windows Phone 8 in 2012. When people talk about cheap WP8 phone, the first thing that comes up usually is the Nokia Lumia 520/521. In the US, the Lumia 520 is available as a no-contract GoPhone from AT&T (521 from T-Mobile) at $99. It’s good for the price, but it is cheap for a reason. If you go to any retail store with the 520/521 demo unit, you will immediately notice the washed out WVGA screen. It just doesn’t look good. Storage is only 8GB, and RAM is only 512MB, something that can be an issue with some apps. Also, despite being sold as a no-contract phone, it is carrier locked.

The HTC 8X costs more than double the Lumia 520, but it is a better equipped phone. It has higher res SLCD 720p screen with Gorilla Glass, which is a lot better screen than the Lumia 520. The 8X has 1GB RAM and 16GB storage. The processor is faster too, but Windows Phone 8 is smooth enough on both devices. The 8X does support LTE on AT&T and T-Mobile. Today, these specs are nothing compared to Android phones, but considering your options, it is the only Windows Phone 8 that is sold unlocked straight from Microsoft.

Build quality wise, the HTC 8X is a beautiful phone. It uses that soft rubbery plastic for its body. I am confident enough that the phone will survive daily usage without a case (in contrast to phones like the iPhone and Nexus 4). Microsoft only sells one color of the 8X, blue. It’s more like bluish purple.

At the top right is the power/sleep/wake button, and on the right side, there are the volume rocker on the upper section and the camera shutter button on the lower section. The arrangement can be somewhat annoying as I always end up pressing the volume rocker when I want to wake up the phone. Holding down the camera shutter button will fire up the camera app, even while the phone is locked.

I am always amazed how people fumbling around to silent their phones when they rang during a meeting or quiet situations. Apple solved the problem easily by putting a hardware mute switch on the iPhone, so you can mute your iPhone whenever. Android is a bit unintuitive, where you have to hold down the power button to have a dialog box pop up offering the option to silent the phone. Some phones like the HTC One makes things even harder as you don’t have access to that dialog box when the phone is locked. Windows Phone also takes two steps. First, you have to press the volume rocker button to trigger the volume control on the top bar on the screen. There, there is an icon on the right to toggle silent/vibrate mode. To me, it is not as simple as the iPhone, but I guess it is more intuitive than Android.

The lock screen itself is simple and pretty readable (and Hime is pretty too. ^_^). To obtain a screen shot, you push and hold the power button, and tap the Windows capacitive button. There is no way to show battery percentage on the OS without the help of 3rd party apps. Limited notifications are shown on the bottom, but you can only allow 5 apps to show things there. Interestingly enough, I find that messages from your friend on Facebook won’t trigger a notification here, despite allowing Facebook app to do so in settings. This is one of my gripes with Windows Phone. Unlike iOS and Android, there is no central place to handle notifications. You are left with limited icons on the lock screen (that are dismissed once you unlocked the phone), and hunting down each apps having a notification badge (assuming you put those apps’ tiles on your home screen).

My previous experience with Windows Phone was with the Lumia 710, a Windows Phone 7 phone that was abandoned by Microsoft and T-Mobile from receiving the 7.8 update. One of my major complaints was the tiles, as they are merely oversized icon shortcuts. Considering their size, it limits the amount of stuff you want to see on your home screen at one time. Windows Phone 8 fixed this by allowing smaller icon sizes, so you can have a lot more shortcuts on the home screen.

As you can see, on the main home screen, you only have your tiles on a solid background (can be white or black). Your wallpaper only shows up on the lock screen. This imo limits the “personalization” of the phone, with only limited colors to choose from for the tiles. Even then, notice that not all apps will conform to the system’s tile color, not even Microsoft’s own apps.

Shortcuts to quick settings like switching wifi or airplane mode are not available by default. You have to get 3rd party apps. This is what concerning. When I was perusing the WP app store for live tile apps that provides shortcuts to system functions, a lot of them are very sketchy, where the apps require permission for your identity from the phone and whatnot. Heck, even many battery widgets (that show charge percentage on the tile) require those permissions. Not cool in my book. This is typical of sketchy Android apps, and I was expecting Microsoft to do a better job. Worse, none of those battery indicators actually work. Apple has solved this by baking those features into iOS7 via control center. Hopefully Microsoft would do something similar.

Getting your stuff into Windows Phone is pretty simple, especially if you use Hotmail/Outlook. Just login to your Hotmail account and everything will be there, including Facebook contacts if you link your Facebook account with your Hotmail account. Your Xbox avatar will also appear on the Xbox app if you have the same login for your Xbox. Setting up other services is pretty straight forward too, including Gmail, Yahoo Mail, etc. The problem is on social media. Facebook and Twitter have native apps, but if you are on Google Plus, forget it. In fact, Google only made ONE app for Windows Phone, which is just a Google search screen. It’s pathetic. If you are a heavy user of Google services, you may want to step back and get an Android phone/iPhone instead.

The sad app situation doesn’t stop there. Dropbox, a popular cloud syncing app, does not even have a native app on WP. Now this might be acceptable if Windows Phone is new to the market. It’s not. Microsoft really needs to work harder in attracting developers. The absence of Google apps already put a huge dent on the platform. If you are a Microsoft user, you are fine. Many services, like maps, are taken care of by bing.

The lack of many native apps from their original developers, like Google, creates a huge amount of fake apps. This is a huge problem on Android, and I was surprised that WP is having the same issue. Simply search for Facebook and you will find plenty of “Facebook app” that is made by some unknown developer. Same thing with Google apps. Worse, these fake apps are using the real logos from Facebook/Google, and their descriptions are making them sound like they are the real apps. Lay users can unknowingly download these fake apps and have bad user experience with them, condemning the platform even more.

On the Mac, Microsoft creates a Windows Phone app (previously called Windows Phone Connector) to sync photos and music from iPhoto and iTunes. Pretty straight forward and basic. Alas, there’s no way to create a full backup on the desktop now (I think it used to be able to do that). Instead, backup is created in the cloud on your Skydrive account.

Yes, there is Office, or Office super lite to be more precise. People seems to be bragging about Office on Windows Phone, but I can’t see one who would want to use it. Maybe Excel, but Word is practically useless as it rewraps your whole document to the phone’s margin. This makes it extremely difficult to think how it would look normally when editing a document.

The camera app on the 8X is a stock one, and you don’t have access to those exclusive Nokia only apps. Some lenses are still there though. The 8MP camera is not too bad. It has pretty wide aperture, f2.0. Looking at the quality briefly, I say it’s above the Nexus 4, but does not quite match the Nexus 5 or the iPhone 5.

The shutter button makes taking pictures a bit more like a conventional camera, but you cannot focus on certain areas by touching the screen by default. That’s really annoying, kinda beats the advantage of having a touch screen. The only way to do this that I know of is to set the camera to automatically take a picture upon touch, where you can touch an area, the camera focuses to that area, and takes a picture. I find it annoying as I am used to the flexibility on iOS’ and HTC One’s camera apps.

One big paradigm shift that Microsoft did on Windows Phone is the shift from apps into hubs. The idea is instead of checking Facebook app or Twitter app individually, you simply go to the People hub that will aggregate all the updates from the various sources (mail, messages, Facebook postings, tweets, etc).This is a neat idea. I can group select contacts, pin the group as a live tile, and I can observe a live tile showing some recent messages from those group right on my home screen. This is great in filtering your social media contents to just the stuff from your friends, for example. Of course, that is assuming that you only use those social media that are connected to the people hub. Like I mentioned above, Google Plus is a no go. Some apps are not even updated to fully support this. Example is the flickr app, where the app itself still says that it is for Windows Phone 7. Yeah, many apps are fairly old, abandoned by the developers. It is sad as I actually like the concept of hubs.

The bad news doesn’t stop there. HTC is not doing so hot right now. Although the 8X received GDR 3 update, it’s clear that HTC is focusing on Android with the One lineup. The possibility of the 8X getting Windows Phone 8.1 is pretty slim. Worse, Microsoft itself is not going to release 8.1 till next year, leaving 2013 for iOS and Android to shine with iOS7 and KitKat. Samsung, the other WP OEM, clearly has abandoned Windows Phone too. Nokia, the sole survivor, sold its mobile hardware division to Microsoft. Oh, and Microsoft itself reflects its desire to not have three version of Windows. Considering the regular Windows is the bigger brother, this means Windows Phone will get the boot. One can clearly see this is coming when Microsoft did Windows RT instead of transforming Windows Phone into a tablet OS. Why have two OSes on ARM? The future is definitely bleak for Windows Phone.

Thus I returned my HTC 8X. :) To be honest, I kinda like the phone itself. It’s pretty and whatnot, but there’s no point in investing on a dead-end platform. Oh, and Motorola is now selling the 16GB Moto G for just $199 unlocked. $250 has turned from okay to expensive when $200 can buy me a very decent phone on a platform that is more fully featured. For Windows Phone, I’m going to say wait for Microsoft to release their Surface branded phone, or their own branded phone. It’s clear that the OEMs are jumping off the boat, so buying a WP device from HTC/Samsung means you are buying a device with potentially no support. Considering the history of Microsoft ditching the Lumia 710 from 7.8 update, I can see 8.1 being pushed to only the high end Lumias, and then everything will be abandoned in favor of new devices running the WinRT hybrid.

Windows Phone, second round, and still failed to hook me. I’m keeping my money on iOS and Android in the meantime.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2013 in impression, Windows Phone

 

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Power Rangers Super Megaforce

Yeah, Gokaiger’s adaptation is going to be creatively called Power Rangers Super Megaforce. :roll eyes: And what is it going to be? It will be the Megaforce team “powering up” into Super Megaforce instead of a new series. And how are they going to mangle the legend war?

This is why imo Power Rangers will never work. It’s just a cheap copy-n-paste from Super Sentai, with very little creative idea, to sell toys in the western market. I tried watching the first episode of Megaforce and I cannot even finish it. It made me sick. You cannot just transplant a white jock to replace a somewhat-flamboyant asian guy. I’m talking about Arata, aka Gosei Red. In Megaforce, red ranger is a white muscly jock. It doesn’t work during the action scenes pasted from Goseiger as the stunts are done for the character Arata. The fact that Saban was oblivious to this kinda shows you the level of quality they were doing. Super Sentai is turned into a cheap show with cheap script, bad acting, and zero creativity.

Enter Gokaiger, one of the highest praised Super Sentai series mainly due to the huge amount of fan service in the show. Imagine a year of show full of fan service. That’s Gokaiger, and TOEI managed to do an awesome job compared to Kamen Rider Decade. Well, what Saba is going to do? You can see from the teaser, that it will be just another cheap knock off. Just like the original MMPR, they are transitioning the same characters into the new costume. Makes no sense. While Goseiger has a backstory of them being angels, Megaforce has nothing other than some random teenagers, just like the original MMPR. This kills the whole basis on the designs and motives of the costumes and mecha. Gokaiger are pirates, and now it will be just a new “power” to Super Megaforce? I bet all the nautical references on the mechas will be lost too.

And yes, you saw Dairanger in the teaser. Considering Saban never adapted Dairanger fully (only adapted Kiba Ranger into White Ranger), I don’t know how they are going to pull this. Bah, who cares. I’m just ranting. Just another trash show to sell cheap crappy toys.

Makes me wonder how Saban is going to mangle Gobusters. Gobusters is made to be extremely easy to adapt to Power Rangers. The henshin process is in English, “It’s morphin’ time.” The mechas are called megazords. But I bet Saban will still turn it into yet another generic trash show with cheap script and bad acting, relying more on the cut-n-paste scenes to sell toys.

/rant

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2013 in rant

 

More Nexus 5 Impression and Camera Comparison #nexus5

The boot animation.

I have been taking the Nexus 5 with me for the last couple of days, and here are my impression so far.

1. Build

Unlike the Nexus 4, the black Nexus 5 has a soft touch plastic on its back. This makes it feel less slippery than the Nexus 4 (the Nexus 4 can slide down from a desk on its own, that’s how slippery it is). People are saying the white one is more “plasticky” though. I like the soft touch back. It makes the phone feel more durable than the glass Nexus 4. Alas, the material that Google uses actually attracts dust fairly easily. The Nexus 4 does still feel a bit more premium thanks to the glass back. It has the iPhone 4 feel, while the Nexus 5 feels more like a Lumia, well built but not as premium.

Swiping my finger on the Nexus 4 is a joy thanks to its curved glass at the edge. Alas, the Nexus 5 has a sharper edge, making it feel less “luxurious” when swiping my finger over the edge. The buttons have been changed too. It feels more solid than the Nexus 4, but the sharp edges on the buttons, especially the power button, can be jarring on the fingers compared to the Nexus 4.

The Nexus 5 is as big as the HTC One, but it has a bigger screen (4.95″ vs 4.7″ on the HTC One). It is much lighter, even lighter than the Nexus 4. The soft touch back actually makes it feel smaller than the HTC One. It feels nice on the hand, while sometimes I feel the HTC One is too big.

One huge annoyance for me? The SIM slot. The Nexus 4 uses a non-standard pin hole for its SIM slot, requiring a tinier pin to open (vs the bigger hole on the iPhone and HTC One). Well, the Nexus 5 uses yet another different pin hole. The pin included with the Nexus 4 does not work anymore, as the Nexus 5 requires a longer pin. WTF LG? WTF Google? Seriously?

2. Screen

The Nexus 4 has a pretty conservative auto-brightness. The after effect is that people has poor impression of the screen. Coupled with the prevalence of AMOLED screens, the Nexus 4′s screen looks washed out. Google for some reason is aggressively pushing the brightness on the Nexus 5 to combat this first impression. However, we know that more brightness equals less battery life. The Nexus 5 screen is great. It’s sharp thanks to the 1080p resolution. I do still think the HTC One to be better, mainly due to more saturation in color that make images pop.

3. KitKat

The Nexus 5 is running the latest Android, version 4.4, dubbed KitKat. Main thing I notice is that the wallpaper takes over the whole screen, meaning that there is no more black bars on the status and navigation bars. The icons on the status bar are now white in color. In the past, the wifi and signal bar icon are grey in color when connected wirelessly, and blue when the phone is connected to Google services. A small indicator would also pop up whenever there are data transmissions occurring. Those are all gone in KitKat. The icons will be just white, and there are no indicators of data transmissions. You have to go to the control center (2 finger swipe down) to see those indicators (the wireless icons will be orange if the phone is connected wirelessly but not to Google, and there are small triangles indicating data transmissions). This makes it less intuitive to troubleshoot connectivity problems.

The home screens have been rearranged. The main home screen is not the “middle” screen anymore. It is the first screen instead. Swiping to the right will actually reveal Google Now screen on the left. It is similar to iOS 6 when swiping to the right will reveal spotlight search. By default, there are only two home screens. I don’t see a direct way to add more home screens, other than dragging a widget passing the last screen on the right, then KitKat will create a new home screen.

Google Now will now respond once you unlock your phone, meaning that you don’t have to have Google Now running. Unlock the phone, and you can say “Ok Google” right away. It is similar to Motorola’s touchless control, but with the Moto X, it can respond even when it’s locked. So the implementation on the Nexus 5 feels half-baked. Even Siri can be initiated right from the lock screen without unlocking the iPhone.

The lock screen has been redesigned too. In 4.2, there is no indication that you can swipe the lock screen to the left to run the camera app, other than a brief flash of outlines on the sides of the screen when you wake up the phone. In KitKat, Google followed iOS, by providing a camera icon on the lower right corner. Following the bottom of the screen, there is an arrow pointing up in the middle, This replaces the dotted circle on 4.2 to access Google Now. Thing is, at first that up arrow makes me think that I can swipe the lock screen up to start the camera, just like the iPhone. Well, to start the camera, you have to actually swipe to the left instead. I can see new users being confused at first.

Another change in KitKat UI is the icons. They are overly large. The App drawer now only contains 4 x 5 grid instead of 5 x 5 on the Nexus 4. The icon size is so large that it feels downright silly. This also makes folders in the home screen to cover up more space that it did before. Aesthetically annoying as it makes the screen feels cramped.

The regular messaging app is gone. Everything is handled under Hangouts. Like it or not, Google wants you to use Hangouts and join Google Plus. This consolidation of messaging apps is welcomed, but Google created another confusion. This is not exclusive to KitKat, but with the new push of Google Plus, now there are two apps to access your photos. The classic Gallery app, and the new Photos app that integrates the camera roll with Google Plus. Confusing? Yeah. I can see the classic Gallery app going away, although I really like it.

In terms of responsiveness, the Nexus 5 is fast. It is so fast that it actually make the Nexus 4 feels slow. Side by side, when opening apps and menus, there is a noticeable delay on the Nexus 4 compared to the Nexus 5. Now the Nexus 4 is by no means slow/laggy, but there is this noticeable hesitations on every screen transitions compared to the Nexus 5. Not sure if this is due to KitKat or just because of the beefier hardware of the Nexus 5, but hopefully KitKat can bring some smoothness to all Android devices.

4. Battery Life

Non-scientifically, it’s a meh. I took the Nexus 5 along with my iPhone 5 for a stroll. Both have everything on (wifi, cellular radio, GPS, etc), and same email accounts configured. I used both to take similar number of pictures. After a few hours, both are showing around 75% of battery life left. Thing is, I had the iPhone also running a location tracking app, while the Nexus 5 did not have this app running. Considering how the iPhone 5 battery is a lot smaller, this tells me that the Nexus 5 and/or Android is less efficient than the iPhone/iOS. Seems like Android does not behave well, especially when cellular signal is weak. I notice this also on the HTC One as the battery drains pretty quick when it is in low signal area. Heavy users might want to have an external battery pack handy just in case.

5. Camera

I did a comparison of the Nexus 5 camera with some other devices on the previous post. Here are some more pictures to enjoy. :)

The HTC One is showing a weakness here. The Nexus 5 fares okay, while the iPhone 5 continues to provide the best balance. Throughout this post, you will see inconsistent white balance from all devices. It is also interesting to see the different FOV of each devices (the HTC One having the widest FOV).

Getting this image was an interesting experience. I actually had a hard time making the leaf in focus with the iPhone 5. I had to go very close before it focused properly. I’m guessing the iPhone has a minimum range where it initiates its macro mode focusing. The HTC One took the picture without much fuss. The Nexus 5 had trouble in its metering, resulting in a dark image although the leaf was in focus properly.

Wow, white balance all over the place. :D The HTC One doesn’t look good here. It seems that it had trouble in determining the white balance and overblowing the highlights. The Nexus 5 did an okay job though. I kinda like the warmer tones in this context. The Nexus 4 trailed behind, but you can probably do some post processing to make it look decent. The iPhone, again, gave the most balanced picture.

This was a tough picture to take. I wanted to focus on the lower right fruit. After numerous tries, I just couldn’t do it with the Nexus 5 and the stock camera app. Same thing with the Nexus 4, it was impossible. The iPhone also had a difficult time, but I finally got a focus, albeit resulting a dark picture due to the phone trying to compensate for the sky. The HTC One? Well, at first, I had trouble with it too. But a simple flip to macro mode, bam! It took the picture like a champ. :)

On the Nexus 5 and Nexus 4, I tried using a camera app called Camera360. This app has multiple options, including macro mode. Although it was still a difficult process with multiple tries, I finally got something. Not great, but it’s something. The HTC One definitely took the cake this round.

These were another difficult shot, with dark and bright areas. The Nexus 5 did okay. It dropped down its shutter speed to 1/9 to help with light while keeping the ISO low. Problem is, it is susceptible to blurring due to shake (despite having optical image stabilization). Not bad, but not as sharp as the iPhone 5. The Nexus 4 had to resort to high ISO, giving noisy picture. The HTC One suffered overblown highlights, its achilles heel.

Throughout this experiment, I was really annoyed with Android stock camera app. The camera start-up on the Nexus 5 is slow. When switching from portrait to landscape or vice versa, there is a significant lag. Yes, lag, on a  quad-core snapdragon 800 phone. There is really no excuse there. The focusing system is slow, and it wanted to keep focusing at the center. I observed it changing the focus to the center even while it was taking a picture, which can sometimes create out-of-focus picture. It’s ridiculous. The camera itself is capable on producing decent images. Google needs to really work on the software side.

The HTC One continues to be a joy to use. Startup is fast, focusing is fast, and it is the only one having a specific macro mode. Sometimes relying on auto everything is not necessarily the best way (e.g. the iPhone having issues with the leaf). Even better, its gorgeous screen makes you enjoy the pictures right away. Its weaknesses at this point are well known though, especially the overblown highlights.

In the end, the iPhone takes the best balanced pictures in most situations. Apple just know their stuff. Start up is fast, focusing is fast, and other than some issues in specific instances, it just works. However, during this experiment, I wish it had a larger screen. ;-)

If you are going to take a lot of pictures, get the iPhone. You have to have a lot of patience with the Nexus 5.

6. Conclusion

Well, there you go. My quick impression of the Nexus 5. It is Google’s latest, and the only way to enjoy KitKat out of the box right now. It feels great on the hand, but I would still invest in a case. It has top notch spec, yet Google is still skimping on certain things, like the stock camera app. Despite all the drawbacks, one has to remember that this is a $350-$400 phone. It’s cheaper than even the iPhone 4S! :D It’s an excellent phone for the money. Hopefully my impression can help your decision, or at least make you feel better about your purchase. :D

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in android, apple, comparison, google, impression

 

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Nexus 5 Camera Test and Comparison #Nexus5

A Nexus 5 just arrived and joined the family. :)

IMG_0456

From left to right, Nexus 4, 5, and 7 (2012). All we need is a 6. :D

Anyway, Nexus 5 is running the latest Android OS, 4.4, aka KitKat. The logo kinda shows the obvious brand connection. Yeah, no more flinging jelly beans around.

IMG_0457

The most controversial thing about the Nexus 5 among reviewers is the camera. Well known tech bloggers are disappointed with the camera. As an armchair analyst/critic, I did another non-scientific comparison, similar to what I did previously for the HTC One. The contenders were the Nexus 5, Nexus 4, iPhone 5, HTC One, and the Sony RX100 as a reference. Settings were all auto, and JPEG were resized to lower res by iPhoto. Why not upload the full size? I don’t want to waste the free space I have on WordPress. :P Also, let’s be realistic. Most of the pictures taken with smartphones are posted on social networks that will resize them anyway. Normal people don’t pixel peep their digital photos.

Okay, let’s cut to the chase. First was indoor fluorescent lighting, featuring Momotaros and Urataros.

The Nexus 4 did okay. I did have a hard time tying to get proper focus for some reason. Android’s stock camera app just sucks. The Nexus 5 is a definite improvement over the Nexus 4. White balance is better, and thanks to optical image stabilization, it can take the picture with slower shutter speed and lower ISO, resulting in lower noise compared to the Nexus 4. Image is sharper too, but it’s the same camera app. Yes, the one that has an ADHD focusing system. It loses the area you want to focus easily, and always wants to go back to the center focus. The iPhone 5 is a bit in between, being definitely better than the Nexus 4, but since it lacks optical IS, it has to find a balance between shutter speed and higher ISO. The result is still great, with decent white balance. What makes the iPhone 5 much better is the shooting experience. It focuses quickly without fuss and I was done in a snap, while I had to take time composing and focusing using either Nexus phones. The HTC One fares okay too. The taller picture is because the HTC One captures in 16:9 ratio natively. Switching to other aspect ratio will result in less resolution. Image is sharp and white balance is good. As long as you don’t pixel peep, you won’t notice that it’s only 4MP, smaller than the rest. And lastly, the RX100 obviously took the cake, with a definite blurring of the background, sharp picture, and low noise. It performed even better when I manually adjusted the white balance.

Okay, so within indoor lighting, everybody did fine, although you can already see the limitation of the Nexus 4. Next, I turned off the light, leaving ambient light coming from an adjacent room.

Okay, Nexus 4 is toast. :D It’s useless, period. The Nexus 5 is a huge improvement over the Nexus 4. However, again, you are dealing with the sucky stock camera app, and focus hunting is often. Noise creeps in due to higher ISO. Same thing with the iPhone 5. The Nexus 5 does have an advantage of optical image stabilization, thus using a slower shutter speed to get more light, while the iPhone 5 has to find a balance between shutter speed and ISO. In the end, the Nexus 5 still used a higher ISO than the iPhone 5, 1624 vs 1600, but you can see the image itself is a tad brighter. Again, what makes the iPhone 5 better is the shooting experience. Even at low light, it still managed to get focus quickly, and I was done in a snap. Apple just nailed the user experience down. The HTC One continues to surprise me, as it managed to get such bright image. Sure, details were lost and whatnot, but once you post that into Facebook or whatnot, your friends would prefer being able to see a less detailed something than a dark blob of darkness. Its camera app is not as snappy as the iPhone’s, but it’s more usable than Android’s stock camera app. The RX100 produced a dark image, but its noise reduction is better than the smartphones, and considering it can shoot in RAW, you can probably extract and post process a better picture in the end.

How about flash? I don’t like using flash as straight on flash just does not work in most situations. Let’s take a look.

LOL, the Nexus 4 is just useless. The Nexus 5 is much better, but again, the problem with straight on flash is the major overblown highlights. The iPhone 5 offers similar image. Okay but overblown. The HTC One, surprisingly, is very good! I don’t know if it’s due to its wider lens, but the resulting picture is not as overexposed as the others. The RX100 also has overblown highlights, but not that bad and seems like you can get a good image after some post processing. Note its depth of field advantage too. :)

When you read/watch/listen to reviews from the tech bloggers, you probably heard about the Nexus 5 not being able to focus properly, or that it took blurry pictures. Alas, I can confirm that it is an issue. Take a look at this.

Nexus 5 out of focus

Yes, a blurry mess. The Nexus 5 thought that Momotaros’ head was in focus. Seems like this happened when I set it to either use flash or auto-flash, ie. it fired the LED flash while trying to get a focus lock, but while it seemed that it got proper focus when the flash is on, its focus was off afterwards. Worse, once it got this out-of-focus lock, it didn’t seem to want to refocus. I tried to touch different areas and move the composition to reset the auto-focus, but it seemed that it’s locked. Very annoying. If I disabled the flash, it didn’t seem to have this issue. I could be wrong though. Google has said that it’s a software issue, and I think that is correct. Yes Google, your Android stock camera app is trash. Can’t you just ask HTC or Samsung to help you? Seriously.

There you go, my personal non-scientific and completely subjective impression of the Nexus 5 camera. Is it better than the Nexus 4? Hell yeah. I can argue that it can rival the iPhone 5′s image quality. However, the shooting experience is not great. This is where the iPhone just wins. Apple just nailed everything down. It may not have fancy things like optical image stabilization, nor the super best image quality, but Apple managed to find that balance where things just work and the result is fine, so people like to shoot with their iPhones more. Meanwhile, the HTC One continues to surprise me. It performs very well, despite the naysayers bashing its 4MP camera. Sure, it has its quirks, but I find shooting with the HTC One to be more enjoyable than the Nexus 4. A high end compact like the Sony RX100 still offers more, especially when you want more control of depth of field. But then again it costs as much as an iPhone 5s. :D

Speaking of cost, it is important to remember that the Nexus 5 costs US $349 for the 16GB model, which is less expensive than anything else here, other than the Nexus 4. Still, it’s no excuse for Google to not bother with the crappy camera app. Hopefully the promised update from Google can improve the Nexus 5. If you are buying or have bought the Nexus 5, don’t be disheartened. If you are upgrading from a Nexus 4, you are getting a much better camera. If you are already on an iPhone 5 and up or higher end Android phones, you are not missing much though, other than having the latest Android OS.

So, in short, the Nexus 5 camera can produce images that may rival the iPhone 5, but it is hindered by the crappy Android stock camera app and usability.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2013 in android, apple, impression

 

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