How Do I Like The Nexus 6P?

In early November I wrote of my expectations for the Nexus 6P as I was anticipating its arrival. Now, a little over a month later, it’s time for me to report on whether the Nexus 6P met my expectations. I am happy to report that the Nexus 6P exceeds my expectations.

Doze But Don’t Sleep

Battery life was the primary reason for replacing the first generation Moto X, which had been my daily driver, with a new phone. At Google I/O we learned about Doze, a new power management feature in Android 6.0 (Marshmallow), but frankly, Google had announced power management features before that did not result in significant power savings.

I was skeptical about whether Doze would meet Google’s claims, and my skepticism caused me to choose the Nexus 6P and its 3450 mAh battery over the Nexus 5X and its 2700 mAh battery even though I preferred the 5X’s smaller size.

While the larger battery in the 6P is obviously going to result in longer battery life, I’ve been so impressed by Doze that I wonder whether I could have gotten by with the smaller phone. Doze, combined with USB-C quick charging, has eliminated the battery life anxiety that I’ve been living with ever since I began using Android smartphones.

With the Moto X I religiously plugged the phone in every night so that it would fully charge while I slept and be read for me to go the next morning. Starting the day at a full charge kept me comfortable with the Moto X until dinner, by which I may have 30% battery life left. To get through the evening without worry, I had to top off the Moto X.

I have yet to recharge the Nexus 6P overnight. I don’t need to because either there is plenty of battery life left, or all I have to do is plug it in to its USB -C charger for 15 minutes to get the battery back to a comfortable level.

When I bought the Nexus 6P I also bought a second USB-C charger to leave at the office, as well as another USB-C charger for my car. For the first three weeks I never took the extra charger out of my bag at the office, I simply did not need it. In fact, it wasn’t until I went on a weekend trip that I even took the charger out of the box.

Frankly, I’ve never had a smartphone for which I have not had to worry about battery life. I know my iPhone toting friends will derisively comment on how the iPhone has always been this way for them, but frankly, I see lots of iPhone users carrying chargers, external battery packs, or battery pack cases. The only other device I have had the same battery life experience with is the iPad.

A Tablet In Hand

What the iPad and Nexus 6P have in common is a large size that enables large batteries. For a while I carried my iPad with me everywhere, until I tired of its size and weight. The Nexus 6P, while large for a smartphone, is much smaller than the iPad and yet it provides similar battery life experience.

Prior to the Nexus 6P arriving, I speculated whether I would start using it more than my Nexus 9 tablet. So far in practice I have not, when I am sitting on the couch I usually grab the tablet to check social networks and read web articles.

I don’t find it comfortable to hold the Nexus 6P for long periods of time while reading a book, it feels too small to hold in two hands for long and my hand starts to cramp when hold it in one hand for long. I do find the 6P’s screen plenty large for reading text.

The larger screen size brings me to the only real significant issue I have with the 6P, and even it is a nit and more a fault of software developers than Google. I use a few different 4 x 1 widgets that fit perfectly across the width of the screen on the Moto X, but are a half inch short on the 6P.

Developers can write their widgets so that users can re-size them but unfortunately that is not the case for the Yahoo Sports widget. Sure, there are alternate sports widgets available, but really, why can’t all developers make theirs re-sizable?

In November I had the following expectations:

  • Have much longer battery life than my current phone, the Moto X 2013. Expectation met
  • Run much faster, not slow down, and not lock up. The Nexus 6P is much faster than the Moto X, and I’ve yet to experience any slow downs or lock ups.
  • Be noticeably larger than the Moto X and it will take me some time getting accustomed to the size. The Nexus 6P is definitely larger, and while I am getting accustomed to it, I wonder how I will feel about it during summer.
  • Replace some for what I use a tablet, particularly reading The Nexus 6P has not replaced my tablet.
  • Receive updates faster than any other Android phone because it is a Nexus. Google has released version 6.0.1 of Android a few weeks ago, and it is already on my Nexus 6P.

In summary, if you are in the market for a new Android smartphone, and can get by with the larger size, I highly recommend the Nexus 6P, it may well be the best Android smartphone that you can buy.

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New Surface Pen

Today I received the new Surface Pen that I will be using with my Surface 3. Back when Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 4, they also announced the new pen, which works with all Surface models.

Three things attract me to the new Surface Pen. First, it has replacable tips that add more or less friction to make writing on the Surface’s glass screen feel like paper. Next, the top button on the pen acts as an eraser, mimicking a pencil. Finally, the new pen has one flat edge that prevents the pen from rolling off a table.

The new tips are for me what make it worth buying the new Surface Pen because I write a lot. You get four tips ranging from the least friction (2H) to the most friction (B). The HB tip provides a “medium” degree of friction, and is what ships in the pen, while you get another with the tip set.

The tips come in a holder, color coded and labeled. One end of the holder is the tip extraction tool, it is simply a wide plastic tweezer in which you insert the installed pen tip, press to squeeze the two sides and pull out the pen; the tip remains in the tweezer’s grip.

I tested all of the tips, and I think the 2H tip, which has the least amount of friction, is most comparable to the original Surface Pen. When you use the 2H tip the pen easily slides along the screen and feels like you are writing on glass, which of course is what you are doing. To me a 2H tip feels like a rollerball or fine ballpoint pen.

The HB and B (medium friction and most friction) tips feel more like a felt tip pen, and I haven’t really decided which I like better. While I clearly feel the difference between 2H and HB tips, I don’t feel much difference between HB and B. For now I will use the HB tip.

I did not think that the flat side on the new Surface Pen would make much difference, but I have found that it makes writing more comfortable. Place your index finger on the bottom of the flat edge and you will find the pen more comfortable to hold than placing your index finger on the round portion of the pen.

The original Surface Pen is completely round and has two buttons on one side, one to erase and the other to select. To erase something you press and hold the lower button while scribbling over what you are erasing. With the new Surface Pen, you flip the pen over and glide the “eraser,” which is the top button, over the area on the screen you want to erase. One can debate whether flipping the pen over or pressing and holding an eraser button is faster.

The new Surface Pen does have a select button but it is not obvious. Along 90% of the flat side is a raised area that appears to simply provide padding, but you can press in the lowest portion of that pad, which is the select button. If you place your index finger on the lowest part of the flat side (nearest the tip), you slide your index finger slightly up to use the select button.

People who do not use the Pen to write a lot on their Surface will not find the $59 price worth spending, and I expect most people who already own a pen may not want to pay that much for a replacement. I did find that you can pair multiple pens to a Surface, so I can leave one on my desk in case I lose or forget the one I normally use.

The new Surface Pen comes in three colors, silver, black, and blue, and can be bought at the Microsoft Store. If you write a lot using OneNote, I think you will find the new tips provide a better writing experience.

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Reading The Web

webAdThe World Wide Web has a wealth of information but reading it is becoming more and more frustrating as ads appear all over web pages. Many people have given up even using the web, replacing it with smartphone or tablet apps or social network sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Those who chose to not be chased away from the web have employed ad blockers in their fight against the bloat and distraction of ads. I have not yet installed an ad blocker, but I do utilize a number of tools to make reading more enjoyable.

My desktop browser of choice is Chrome, although I wish it had the reading modes available in Firefox and Edge. You activate the reading mode of both browsers by clicking a button in the browser address bar that removes ads and displays text in a font of a size you specify. Pages seem to load instantly, partly because it has already been retrieved by the browser so it is simply being reformatted. I wish there was a way to make the reading mode a default, or to tell the browser to use it before loading a web page.

I really like Microsoft Edge, mostly because it is noticeably faster than any other browser on my Surface 3, but it doesn’t support plug-ins, which means Lastpass is not available and that renders the browser nearly unusable for me. Even though Chrome is slower than Edge, I still prefer it because of how well it handles the web apps I use.

Evernote’s Clearly extension for Chrome provides the same reading mode built-in to Firefox and Edge, and it has the added benefit of providing a way to highlight text and save directly to Evernote, which is my personal information database. Clearly also works with Firefox.

Another tool I use to read the web is Pocket, which provides a way to save web pages to read later as well as providing a clean reading mode just like those built-in to Firefox and Edge. Pocket apps are available for smartphones and tablets, so I can save pages to read later on any device.

I use the River4 RSS aggregator to retrieve articles from hundreds of web sites and when I find an article that I want to read, I right-click the link and click Save To Pocket. Unfortunately, there is not a similar way to save a link to Pocket in Chrome for Android, instead you have to first load the page then use Android share to send the page to Pocket.

Firefox for Android has a built-in reading list that works like Pocket, and you can tap and hold a link and then tap Add to Reading List. If the Firefox reading-list synchronized between the Android and desktop versions I would probably use it instead of Pocket, and with that use Firefox more than I do today. My understanding is that Mozilla is working on adding the reading list to the desktop version (for a period of time it was included) but for now Pocket is integrated by default.

You can configure the reading list to display by default when you open a new tab in Firefox for Android, which means my reading list is just a tab away. I like the reading list feature so much that Firefox has become the preferred browser on my Nexus 9. I’ve even configured Firefox to be the default browser for Android, and find it to be faster than Chrome on the Nexus 9.

Another way to add items to the Firefox reading list is via the Android share function. For example, in Nuzzel on Android, tap the share button on an article and then tap Add To Firefox. Of course, you can also tap Add To Pocket. I wish Android provided users with a way to sort the order that options appear in the share menu.

It is unfortunate that web content providers have let their desire to monetize make the web horrible for reading. Long time Internet users will point out that what we now have was inevitable as soon as the Internet become available for commercial use. Fortunately, several tools are available that make reading the web better, but I fear we may be in an ever escalating war that will just turn the web into a commercial wasteland.

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Smartphones In November 2008

T-Mobile G1 launch eventSeven years ago today I was a guest on the MobileAppsToday Podcast and talked about the T-Mobile G1, which was the first Android smartphone. Tonight I will participate in a seventh anniversary recording, and no doubt we will talk about how Android and the smartphone personal computing market has matured.

In preparation for the podcast I spent some time jotting down some thoughts of how things where then, seven years ago, and how they are now. It occurs to me that what I have are some good topics for a series of blog posts about smartphones as we head towards the end of 2015.

To start, we have to remember back seven years and remind ourselves that in 2008 smartphones as we now know them were very new. Apple had just started selling the iPhone on June 29, 2007. Prior to the iPhone, the iPod was Apple’s most successful consumer device and in fact I recall during that first iPhone announcement Steve Jobs made it a point to describe the iPhone as an iPod that can do more, although that first model only ran web apps and apps specifically written by Apple.

Prior to the iPhone, Microsoft had been selling Windows Mobile smartphones and Pocket PC Phone Editions for several years, Palm had the Treos, and RIM had the Blackberry, all of which enjoyed success selling to professionals and businesses but did not gain a great deal of success in the broad consumer cellphone market.

sidekickiiPerhaps the one device that did have some success with consumers was the T-Mobile Sidekick, also known as the Hiptop Danger, that was released in 2002. The Sidekick had a screen that flipped out from the base to reveal a physical keyboard, its operating system was based on Java and it automatically backed up all personal data to the cloud. For apps the Sidekick featured an instant messaging client that worked with AIM, Yahoo, and MSN, and it along with e-mail were the primary functions of the device along with phone calls.

The Hiptop Danger, which eventually became property of Microsoft, can be thought of as the forefather of the T-Mobile G1. Andy Rubin was a co-founder of Danger and left the company in 2003 to create a new company, which was later acquired by Google. At Google Rubin led the development of a new operating system that would take on the name of his former company, Android.

It should be no surprise that the T-Mobile G1 had similar hardware features to the Danger given Rubin’s prior experience. Further, in 2007 it was widely believed that to be usable for inputting text, a device must have a physical keyboard. At the time, Blackberry was the market leader and had what is still believed to be the best physical keyboards for smartphones.

What was most shocking at the time about the iPhone is that it did NOT have a physical keyboard. Instead, the iPhone had an on-screen keyboard with predictive capabilities to determine the letters and words one intended to type. Despite Steve Job’s claims that with its predictive capabilities the on-screen keyboard could be just as good as a physical keyboard, some people were skeptical.

At the time that T-Mobile began selling the G1 on October 22, 2008, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and Palm were the incumbents, and the iPhone was the up-and-comer having been sold for just a little over a year. While most people considered the iPhone easier to use than its competition, it was functionally hampered by the web-app model it launched with, but that was corrected in July, 2008 when Apple introduced the iTunes App Store as a means for third-party developers to release standalone apps.

world_wide_smartphone_sales_share

While Apple did finally provide a way for developers to create apps for the iPhone, before an app became available for download it had to be approved by Apple and that process took time and often lead to denials. The first version of Android came with an app store called the Android Market, and Google provided minimal review before placing most apps in the Market. Further, Android had, and continues to have, the ability to directly install apps from third party source web sites or directly from personal computers.

In November, 2008 we saw the beginning of two contrasting approaches to what I like to call the real personal computer market that includes smartphones and tablets. Apple’s approach focuses on providing the best end-user experience by controlling the hardware design (only Apple makes iPhones and iPads) and the software that runs on their hardware. Google’s approach focuses on providing users a wide range of options, allowing for multiple manufactures to sell devices that run Android, and even allowing them to customize some of the appearance of the software to match the manufacturer’s branding.

In November 2015 there are more smartphones running Android world wide than iPhones, while the iPhone may be more profitable for Apple and remains to be in the eyes of most the best smartphone. In fact, it seems as though both company’s strategy is working, and with a market much larger than traditional personal computers, it seems both strategies will enjoy long term success.

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Go Big Or Just Go

Welcome to my Nexus 6P week! What, you didn’t know that it was Nexus 6P week? Well, it is, you see this is the week that I might receive my new smartphone for 2015, the Google Nexus 6P manufactured for Google by Huawei. While unboxing videos and reviews are pretty common, I thought I would write a preview on why I chose the Nexux 6P and how I hope it works. Some time down the road we will take a look back to see how well it met my expectations.

My current daily driver is the original (2013) Moto X, which has served me well. It is a custom design of my own creation using Moto Maker to pay homage my favorite NFL team, the Green Bay Packers. While I say the Moto X has served me well, I have been bumping up against some of its constraints, mainly its 2 GB of RAM, 1.7 GHz dual-core CPU, and 2200 mAh battery.

The Moto X cannot get through the day without taking a hit from the power cord, and without an occasional reboot the phone slows down or just locks up. A reset and wipe might improve the performance, but I suspect the source of my problems are the number of apps I run bumping up against the memory and CPU limitations.

Obviously, my biggest hope is to get much more battery life and better performance from the Nexus 6P over the Moto X. The Nexus 6P’s 3450 mAh battery ought to get me through the day and its 3 GB of RAM and quad-core 2.0 GHz CPU ought to provide a big performance boost. I am looking forward to seeing just how fast the 6P charges and what type of difference fast charging makes in daily use.

My biggest worry is with the size difference between the Moto X, which has a 4.7-inch screen, and the 6-inch screen of the Nexus 6P. Will it be comfortable in my hand? How bulky will it feel in my pants pocket? Clearly it is going to be larger, the question is how well and how soon will I be able to adjust.

I bought the official folio case, and I am starting to wonder whether I will regret the purchase. My main concern is with using the fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone, how comfortable will it be to place my finger on the scanner while opening the folio cover? Also, how easy will everything be to operate when making a payment using Android Pay?

I am curious to see whether the Nexus 6P’s larger screen will mean that I will use the phone more and my tablet less. Right now I do the majority of my reading on a tablet, but a 6-inch screen is nearly the size of a paperback book, so I can see myself doing more reading with the phone. Many people who have adopted these “phablets” have ditched tablets and just use the phone and notebook computer.

In summary I expect the Nexus 6P to:

  • Have much longer battery life than my current phone, the Moto X 2013
  • Run much faster, not slow down, and not lock up
  • Be noticeably larger than the Moto X and it will take me some time getting accustomed to the size
  • Replace some for what I use a tablet, particularly reading
  • Receive updates faster than any other Android phone because it is a Nexus

Hopefully in a couple of weeks I will know whether or not the Nexus 6P meets my expectations.

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