Wednesday, 14 February 2018

A Moto Z Play Camera issue meant a replacement device for me.

Just the other day i was looking through the photos from my Moto Z Play and noticed in every photo that there were 3 little black splodges, two of which were about a few pixels wide and one a bit larger. Once you notice them, you cannot unsee them in almost every rear camera photo. I looked back through my photos and found that it started happening on December the 4th last year. The last time I had an issue like this it was with the Sony Z3 I had ever so briefly before returning it. I had my Z Play since late November. I had to go through all my photos on my hard drive and edit out the spodges. It's harder to do this in Google Photos or Flickr since you essentially have to end up replacing the images, so I mainly resorted to cropping the marks out, as they are all fairly close to the edge of the photos. There's still a few on both that I have not replaced or fixed yet.


Today I returned my Z Play to CEX and luckily they had a white Z Play in the shop window to replace it with. Though I'm not keen on white usually, it is growing on me, it reminds me of the white front of the second gen X that I had a while back. The back doesn't matter since I always keep my phones in a case.


It is the dual SIM version, and in better condition than my old one. No massive scratches on the glass back on this one, and unusually has the original unused earbuds in a bag in the box. Not that I would use those, I much prefer either my AKAI Bluetooth/wired ones or my LG buds. It didn't have the original charger but they helpfully swapped it with the original one from the one I returned.


Once I got home, I restored all my apps and settings from Google, (apart from Google Camera since the latest version is Oreo only, so I had to find an older version on APK Mirrror) and restored my Nova Launcher settings from a backup off my SD card, along with the Google Now Companion. I have tried lots of launchers but always end up back on Nova. I also paired and setup my Pebble and Bluetooth headphones. Oh and I also had to download and install 3 security updates to get it up to the December Security Patch level. So far it has been trouble free, hopefully I shall keep this phone for awhile, for as long as it gives me no problems.




Sunday, 4 February 2018

Asus Google Nexus 7… A 2013 Tablet In 2018.

My wife was looking for something a little bigger than her phone for social media, light gaming and writing. She doesn’t own a laptop and decided a tablet would be a good option. Looking around, new tablets are quite pricey and the lower end ones offered terrible specs, so we started looking at local ads and found a Google Nexus 7 tablet locally at a good price, it is the second generation 2013 model.

It features a 7" screen, quad core processor, 2GB RAM, 16GB internal storage, no SD card slot, a 5mpx camera and a 1.2mpx front facing camera. It shipped with Android 4.3 and was updated through to Android 6.0.1. It might not sound too impressive, but there are a lot of new devices with less specs - some even now ship with older versions of Android than that. A quick look over the device and it’s build quality can't be beaten. It has a good weight and overall feel in the hand is great. However, the key question is how does this once high end tablet from 2013, perform almost 5 years on in 2018. I have to say I was a little dubious, but after a few minutes of setting it up and playing around with it, this tablet screams along. The 7” screen is beautifully bright and crystal clear even at different viewing angles, helped by its 323ppi. You can tell this certainly wasn't a budget device.

Navigating around the device is slick and fast. While the quad core may not be top end these days, its no slouch and certainly helped by the 2GB of RAM. The OS navigates fast, general apps have no lag such as FaceBook, Messenger and Google Docs. My wife loaded her selection of games - nothing heavy - HayDay and card games etc and these performed fantastically. The 16GB internal storage and no MicroSD slot may be limiting to some, but she has never filled her phone so it shouldn’t be a problem. The cameras are fairly good. It is one area older devices tend to fail. The 5mpx autofocus on the back is great, but it has no flash so low light shots can be a bit grainy. The front 1.2mpx camera is really just a selfie or video call camera and it suffices for that purpose. Sound is good for a tablet. YouTube videos came through loud and with as decent audio as you expect from an 8mm piece of tech. Things alway improve when you plug in a good pair of earphones and the sound performance was great. Battery life is also impressive. At 3950mAh it may not match some of the 6000mAh behemoths in some of the Samsung devices, but its smaller screen certainly helps and should keep you going for a few days of heavy use. A mobile phones battery consumption is heavily taken by having a SIM card in connected to a phone/data signal all the time, remove this feature in a tablet and the battery lasts a lot longer.
I have had zero issues with this Nexus 7 and my wife hasn’t complained about anything. It is a solid device which still outpowers even modern tablets with the beauty of having a high class quality screen. If I was to pick one downside to it, it would be the placement of the volume and power buttons. They are not directly flat on the side, but follow on the curve of the back, which can make them a little difficult to press and you find yourself fumbling around sometimes.

If you are looking for a low cost tablet I highly recommend going for an older high end model rather than a new low budget offering. The Nexus 7 2013 model is a superb example and superb device.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal


Saturday, 28 October 2017

From Moto X Play to Moto Z Play

I decided this year to replace my Moto X Play with something better and after a couple of brief and disastrous attempts at getting a secondhand Nexus 6P, I decided to fall back to plan B, good old reliable Motorola, specifically a 32GB Moto Z Play. It was in budget, (slightly less money than the 6P) has a decent camera, good size battery and close to stock Android. I went for the Play over the Force or plain Z because the Z Play is the only one of the Z series to still have a headphone jack. I ordered a Grade B example from CEX using the voucher I got back from them for returning the last 6P. My budget could not quite stretch to a Z2 play but I have heard that is a bit of a step down from the Z Play in some ways, particularly battery life and price.


Unboxing

Well today I received the Z Play and I am amazed how great this device looks and feels. It certainly looks and feels better than the white Moto Z I handled in the shop a few weeks ago. The sides feel of reassuringly cold aluminium and the grippy textured back cover stops it slipping out of your hand. I will however be putting it in a case as soon as possible to protect that nice 5.5 inch 1080P Super AMOLED screen. The only scratches on the device are on the glass back, which is hidden by the back cover that is held on by magnets, covering up the pins used for Moto Mods. It does look much better with the cover on than with the back naked. The Power and Volume buttons take some getting used to as they are equidistant from each other and all the same size so I sometimes hit the wrong one when not looking, they do feel solid though. Despite being the budget model of the Z range, it still feels premium, more so than my X Play did.


It came with the original box, instructions and original charger. The only thing I would have liked in the box would have been a USB data cable, because the charger has a fixed cable. There is even a SIM tool in the box too. It was also already charged to 100%, which saved some time, and I installed a couple of security updates that were pending. It currently runs Nougat (7.1.1), with the 1st September security patch level, and Motorola promises it will get Oreo at some point.


Screen

Being AMOLED, the screen only powers lit pixels and has motion sensors so you can wave your hand over the screen to wake it up, unlike with the IPS screen of the X Play. The last time I had the feature was on my old 2014 Moto X a while ago. I really like having Moto Display (which replaces Ambient Display from the old Moto X days) and Raise To Wake for quickly checking notifications. And when I want to get something done quickly, the front fingerprint sensor beneath the screen is very fast to unlock and lock the phone. At 1080P on a 5.5 inch display it might not have a particularly high pixel density but it still looks decent for a budget flagship.



Software

As with every Android device I have had for a long while now,  I installed Nova Launcher Prime and have a simple setup of clock widget (this time Motorola's own Z widget) and Ampere widget on the Home screen, Google Now to the left and a second screen with Google Play Music and BBC Weather widgets. I like being as close to stock Android as possible so I have replaced the Motorola Contacts app with Google's own and installed a Pixel Nougat icon pack, mainly because the Motorola dialer icon is very ugly. This is how my Home screen looks now:


Cameras

After setting up the Z Play, I went into town and took some photos and videos, and I was impressed, it took photos just as quick as the 6P and even quicker than my old X Play. However I have found some shots had blurry edges with a sharp centre section, I think I may need to give it longer when using Auto HDR. Also having 4 less Megapixels than the X Play (and the others in the Z range) means not being able to enlarge them as much. The only slight puzzling thing is why Motorola have seemingly removed the shortcut where you double tap the power button to open the camera, but at least twisting your wrist can also quickly open the camera. The rear camera has phase detection and laser autofocus (which the X Play did not have), dual-LED (dual tone) flash, which the same as the Nexus 6P but with 16MP instead of 12.3MP. It’s also nice having 32GB of internal storage and SD card storage, particularly as it can take 4K videos. I used to bump up against the 16GB of internal storage on my X Play far too often due to having plenty of apps that refuse to use (slow and unreliable) SD storage. I still managed to get some decent photos despite it being such a dull overcast day.


I also took some videos too, to make sure everything worked and it seems to handle high volumes like a road drill better than my old X Play did. I also tried the 4K mode out too.



For the first time on one of my phones, there’s a flash for the front (or "selfie") camera, though I tend not to use flash if I can help it. It's still 5MP, the same as the X Play.


It also has a gyro and compass which the X play didn't which means I can finally take Photospheres again.

Battery

The battery life from the 3510mAh battery is amazing, I have managed over 5 hours screen-on time and over 17 hours of quite heavy usage! And over 6 hours screen-on time and 23 hours on light to medium usage. This is even better than I got with my Moto X. I've no idea what the Nexus 6P would have got given I did not find one with a decent battery. Of course I could add a battery Mod to this to get even more battery life, but I don't think I need to.



Conclusion

Overall I am very pleased with the Moto Z Play, it is a worthy successor to my old Moto X, and my only real criticism is photos are not quite as pin sharp as on the X Play, but it takes better videos at higher audio volumes. It also feels much more like a premium device. I am most impressed with the performance, nice AMOLED screen, close to stock Nougat and the absolutely amazing battery life. Hopefully it will last me a long while, and should be even better when it receives Oreo. Only time will tell.



Monday, 23 October 2017

Motorola Moto G3... SD Card Issues

I have become a big fan of the Motorola Moto G series of handsets, in fact there are six in my household ranging from the original Moto G from 2013 up to the Moto G4 from 2016. They are excellent quality handsets offering fantastic value for money and brilliant performance. 

However, there has been one issue which has plagued my sons Moto G3 (XT1541) for months and it regards MicroSD cards. I know MicroSD cards aren’t the most reliable but I haven’t had issues in any other handset.

The Moto G3 seems to destroy cards. They work for a few weeks at most, then experience intermittent working before not being recognised at all after which they will not be recognised in any phone or computer.



At first I thought it was an old 8GB card I was using. Then I bought some 16GB cards from eBay, the same happened and I thought perhaps they were just cheap cards. However I bought a 16GB SanDisk cards from a reputable supermarket and the same happened again.

Officially it should take up to a 32GB microSDXC.

Not only is this annoying and a loss of data but it is also becoming an expense I wish I didn’t have.

Searching around this is a common issue, but with no obvious fix. Some say the Marshmallow update caused it, some say they have it on Lollipop. Some say it is caused by using the card as internal storage but others - like myself - have it when using it as portable storage.

There are claims that it is a problem with Class 10 cards, but I have yet to test this out.

For the past three months my son has had an unbranded 2GB card in and working fine. Is this a lower Class card? Is it because of its small size? While it is promising that a card is working, 2GB is just too small.

If it is hardware related then a resolution isn’t possible, but if it is a software issue then Motorola should have listened to the very common problem and issued a fix for it.

Have you experienced this? Have you found a solution?

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal



Sunday, 22 October 2017

Moto G (2013 First Generation) ... Is It Any Good In 2017?

Motorola have always produced good hardware. In 2013, Motorola released a new range of budget, mid and high end Android smartphones. The Moto G was a mid-level handset, but how could this handset hold up almost 5 years after release, in a world where technology is so fast paced.



First of all, let us look at the specs. It has a 1.2ghz quad core 3G device with 1GB RAM, 8GB internal storage (although a 16GB model is available), 4.5” screen with rather high 329ppi, 5mpx camera with flash, 1.3mp front ‘selfie’ camera and a 2070mAh battery.

It doesn’t however feature a MicroSD slot for extra storage, although various revisions were subsequently released with the addition of 4G and a MicroSD slot. 

My son was in an urgent need for a phone recently and I picked him up a Moto G very cheap. Our entire household has newer Moto G handsets so I knew they were good, reliable, built to last and offer excellent bang for your buck.

The Moto G features similar hardware to the Moto G2 (same processor, same GPU and same RAM), but packed in to a smaller shell. It shipped with Android 4.3 ‘Jelly Bean’ and was upgraded to Android 5.1.1 ‘Lollipop’.

So how does this aging handset handle in 2017. Moto G handsets have always performed way above others in the same price bracket and this goes in their favour for longevity. 

My son has been using his for about a week and has actually fallen in love with the ‘little’ handset. The small screen size may put some off, and compared to the 5.5” on my Moto G4 this sure does seem tiny, but it is perfectly useable for every days tasks.

Besides screen size, does this phone have enough grunt to keep up. The short answer is yes. It is never going to play massive games, but the lack of SD slot for storing apps or media is going to limit the app/game collection anyway.

It is running Lollipop which runs smooth, fast and stutter free and is a joy to navigate around. Apps load and run quick. Testing average apps such as FaceBook, Messenger, Astro File Manager, Chrome and GMail all opened virtually the same time as my G4 with the G being less than a second behind. Playing Carmageddon on both, the G was a few seconds behind on loading screens, but game play was exactly the same speed and smoothness.

A side point. The G tops at Lollipop and although the G2 has almost identical hardware received Marshmallow. The G on Lollipop runs smoother than the G2 on Marshmallow.

As a phone it is as expected. Good signal strength with excellent call quality, and the 2070mAh battery even though I suspect is the original still holds up superbly and lasts just as long as newer phones. My son easily gets a day and a half out of it, which he could push to two if used lightly.

One area that struggles today is the camera quality. The 5 megapixel shooter is a touch focus and lags behinds todays 12+ megapixel beasts but in 2013 it was pretty decent, especially for a mid-range handset. The front camera is an ok 1.3 megapixel for selfies and video calling.

The lack of SD card slot could be an issue if you like storing a lot of music. One work around which works in Lollipop but is broken in Marshmallow and up is USB OTG. Plug in a USB device with music stored and you can access these in Play Music, but in Marshmallow and upwards they seemed to revoked this access to Play Music and any third party app - so are only playable file by file in the built in file manager (not even third party file managers).

It all comes down to what your needs are. But the average person doesn’t use all the modern new gimmicky features or will only use them a handful of novel times and then go back to using the same basic functions of a handset.


The Moto G despite its age is still a great handset, capable of keeping up in 2017 and capable of keeping a teenager happy. Its small size, tiny price tag - of under £30 - and amazing build quality still makes it a great choice as long as you know its limitations. 



A comparison of the Moto G1, G2, G3 and G4


Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal

Is it worth buying a secondhand Nexus 6P?

So I was looking for a suitable replacement for my Moto X Play, which although a fairly decent device, I was always bumping up against the end of its 16GB internal storage. SD card storage is fine for music and stuff but not for apps. It is too slow and unreliable for that and many apps just will not move to SD. I also missed other little things like having a gyroscope for Photosphere photos. With my limited budget, I considered an LG V10 (and the V20 was way out of my league) but they are just too expensive for a no longer update device. LG also have a bad reputation for bootloops these days. I decided to try get a Nexus 6P and hope that I could get one without the dreaded early shutdown battery issue. Could I find one?


Nope! I bought and took back two secondhand 6Ps from CEX and both had the same battery issue. Early shutdowns and atrocious 4 hour battery life. What tended to happen would be it would drop down from 100% battery down to about 30% in just a few hours then shutdown as if it was flat. Then if you plugged it in for a moment, enough to boot it up, the battery life would now seem to be about 70%. Then you could use it for a few more hours until it shut off around 15 - 7%.

The problems with the 6P are so bad that at one point, for a short time, Google were replacing them with Pixel XLs under warranty for those who bought them from the Play store. Probably because replacement 6ps had the same issues.  There was even a lawsuit filed against Google and Huawei over early shutdown and bootlooping issues. Perhaps I could have kept going and bought more but I think many owners who had the issues probably sold them to CEX for a quick chunk of cash. CEX clearly do not test them properly and I am pretty sure I spotted the first one I bought sitting back on the shelf in their store.


This is such a massive shame, because if they did not have the battery issues they would be such a great phone for the price. The best thing was having the latest Android Oreo installed. It’s an absolutely beautiful OS, buttery smooth and it just looks amazing! The only thing I don’t like the look of in Oreo is the default icons but these are easily changed. I still used Nova Launcher Prime instead of the default Google Launcher, for the excellent customization it offers to the user. The 6P also took very good photos especially in low light.


So sadly, no, I would not recommend getting one unless you want to replace the battery yourself. I just don't have the money and patience for that. I have returned the last device and have now ordered a Moto Z Play to replace it.




Android Is For Me... 8 Months After Leaving iOS

In February, I took a massive step and walked away from being an iPhone user. My family in my house had Motorola Moto handsets and I was getting both impressed and jealous.

At the time of switching I wrote an article 'Goodbye iPhone... Hello Moto' for LowEndMac. 

The past few months have been a fresh of breath air. The move to a non-Apple device has given me a blistering fast, up to date handset for a fraction of the price and a mobile OS that will do what I want and can be tweaked to do more. It has also allowed me to break that Apple tie-in giving me more freedom over my future desktop OS choices.

I have no regrets, the Android world has gained a new fan.



My Moto G4 may now be last years model, but it is still amazingly fast (for it's price range) and has been upgraded to Android 7.0 ‘Nougat.’ And although Motorola recently announced no plans for Android 8.0 ‘Oreo’, that doesn’t matter in the Android world, most apps and Google services run as far back as Android 4.0 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich, which was released in 2011.

The ability to upgrade the storage - via Micro SD card - is superb, although I have yet to fill the 64GB card I have, but if I did I could just buy a bigger one. OK, so SD cards aren’t the best storage method and can be a bit flakey at times, but I have had no issues with mine and it gives you more options. I have recently discovered USB OTG allowing further drives to be attached as well as a whole host of devices, turning my mid-priced handset in to a portable computer.



I do far more on my Android than I ever did on my iPhone. The bigger screen makes watching films and Netflix a joy and the massive battery just keeps on going and going without the need for a power case or portable battery.

I have spent the last few months wondering why I have spent years trapped in the iPhone world, buying older models because that is all I could afford and therefore lagging behind the rest of the iPhone world.


I love my Moto G4. I love the Android operating system and I am loving the whole experience.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal