Sunday, June 15, 2014

Defecting to Android - second attempt

So, it seems that I’ve finally managed to leave the gravitational pull of Apple and swapped my iPhone 5S for an HTC One M8.

I’ve been using iPhones since the original but have also tried Android phones in the past from time to time. My previous complaints have mainly been around battery life, camera quality and the quality/availability of apps - all of which are strong iPhone features in my opinion.

My last attempt to switch was to a Nexus 4 about 18 months ago, but that didn’t take: mainly because of the camera and I also had some build quality problems with the phone itself.

Reasons for moving from iOS

  • OS quality:  While I largely approve of the iOS 7 changes, and iOS 8 does also look interesting, I think the main features they’re adding now (Notifications, sharing data between apps) are quite blatantly trying to catch up with Android features.
  • More interesting hardware: Things like NFC and the ability to react to more of the phone’s sensors (e.g. mute incoming call by turning phone over) appeal to me. The iPhone has been fairly static, hardware-wise, apart from the fingerprint sensor.

Reasons for staying with iOS

  • Music: All my music is in iTunes on my Macbook (I like iTunes, and I use it regularly to manage all my music and I don’t want to change that) and I sync to the iPhone regularly.
  • Retina display: Despite the smaller size, the iPhone screen is still very sharp and great to look at.
  • iMessage: All my family have iOS devices, and contacts living abroad use to for free international texts. I obviously still have iMessage on the iPad, but it won’t be as convenient as having it on the phone.

The switch

Apple hardware is well designed, there’s no getting away from it. Android devices are, on the whole, big dull plastic slabs, which are not as appealing. A recent exception to this has been the HTC One M8 - a big, but not ludicrously big, screen and a sleek metal case made it look just as good as an Apple device to me, and so I grabbed a second hand one from Amazon marketplace and the experiment started.

3 weeks into my switch to the M8 and I have been using it as my main phone without needing to retreat to the iPhone at all. (It does help that  I have an iPad Mini, so the couple of iOS apps I still miss - more on those later - are still available on there). This time I have also managed to move my iTunes music onto the Android phone too - something I haven’t done before - which has helped make the transition more permanent.

The Good

Battery life 

I can comfortably get a couple of days of moderate usage out of the M8, which matches the iPhone 5S, and I haven’t even had to resort to the ‘Power Saver’ or ‘Extreme Power Saver’ modes yet.


I honestly don’t think the screen is as sharp as the iPhone’s, but it’s sharp enough, and the extra room makes it much better for most tasks.Android: iOS has lots of nice little features (double tap title bar to scroll to the top of the page), but so does Android. I like the Android phone dialer better than the iOS one. Notifications are much better (the hardware LED light is a great feature). Google Maps on Android is also much slicker and more useful than its iOS equivalent to the Apple Maps version. 


Micro SD card. I was running out of room on my 32GB iPhone - an upgrade would be to the much more expensive 64GB model. With the M8 I have just slotted in a 64GB card to add extra storage to the 16GB built-in. Standard micro USB for syncing/charging. Lightning connectors are a bit of a rip-off.

Notification LEDs: I like this as a subtle way of indicating you have a notification without having to turn on the phone screen to check.

The bad 


The metal case looks great - it’s bloody slippy though! Trying to use the phone one-handed means stretching the thumb up to the power button, which causes the phone to start slipping in my hand. This can be avoided by using the ‘double tap on the screen’ to wake up the phone, but the general point remains: it’s slippy! 

Speakers: I listen on headphones, so I don’t use the speakers. I’m sure they’re great, but they do seem to get clogged up with lint/fluff very easily - mine seem to be half clogged already. 

Lack of accessories: Life is easy for an iPhone user. There are millions of cases, adaptors, clamps, shells, protectors, gadgets, doodads and thingumajigs to use with your iPhone. Android devices are more fragmented, and so finding decent accessories for your phone is harder. I’m still looking for a sleeve for the M8 (I used to use a Colcasac on the iPhone). I think the solution might be for my wife to make one for me. 


Actually this is not quite *as* bad as I expected it would be. I like Nexus devices because you don’t get a lot of crap installed on top of Android, and you can’t get the M8 Play edition with stock Android in the UK, so I was apprehensive about the extra bloatware HTC would install on the phone. 

There are some bad points - I don’t like Blinkfeed, and you can’t really remove it, only hide it, but the bundled Mail app is much easier for me to set up and manage my Yahoo mail on than anything Google provide. The extra power saving modes are good, and the settings for how often to sync doe seem to help keep battery life healthy. 
I don’t need a ‘Kid mode’ though and I want to be able to get rid of it!
The HTC Gallery also offers a lot of pointless features that get in the way of me looking at my photos (I don’t want a bunch of photos set to music when I click on a gallery!) 


Ok, maybe ‘bad’ is too strong. Bottom line, as a general point + shoot camera, it is not as good as the iPhone 5S. There are more manual controls, and so it is possible that with tweaking for a situation it would be able to produce shots that are as good. The iPhone - even without HDR - seems to capture a larger dynamic range than the M8. 
However, the camera is ‘good enough’ as a general P+S, and the UFocus feature (allowing you to shift the focus point after the photo has been taken), while a bit gimmicky, can lead to some interesting results. 
The 3D feature is pretty pointless, and although HTC are going for ‘bigger pixels’ rather than ‘more megapixels (an approach I largely support), I would also appreciate more than 4MP.

An example UFocus shot that worked well:



  • Strava: Even with the iPhone’s M7 chip, there seems to be little difference in battery drain tracking my bike rides to/from work on the M8 rather than the iPhone. A 2 hour ride drains about 5-7% of the battery on both.
  • NFC: I am putting stickers everywhere to switch my phone into different settings using ‘Trigger’
  • Music: After trying doubleTwist and having problems syncing playlists (which their support very kindly did try and resolve, and when the couldn’t they refunded my purchase) I switched the iSyncer and Rocket Player, and have got my iTunes library onto my Android phone, with syncing of play counts back to iTunes. Perfect!

iOS apps that I still can’t live without

I think I’m only left with ‘Accounts Tracker’ and ‘Road Trip’ as iOS apps that I use frequently and can’t find an adequate Android replacement for. They track my money and my motorbike expenses respectively and they’re both excellent apps.

There are Android apps that do comparable things, and I have tried them, but nothing comes close to the functionality and ease of use of those apps, so I’m sticking with using those on the iPad Mini. It’s not ideal, and I suppose it means I’m not really strictly converted over from iOS, but I can live with that.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Getting rid of 4G on an iPhone

This may seem like a strange thing to want to do: after all 4G is fast, and faster is always better, right?

Well although I do like a new shiny gadget, I also like a decent battery life and a reasonably cheap monthly phone tariff: both of which seem to be at odds with 4G at the moment.

So, after an update to my carrier settings, my iPhone 'Settings->Mobile->Enable 3G' toggle disappeared, and was replaced with 'Enable 4G', and I lost the ability to select 2G altogether. I haven't paid for 4G, so I would rather have a 3G/2G toggle than a 4G/3G toggle that I'm just going to leave on 3G all the time anyway.

After poking around on the web, I came across this page about creating a custom carrier settings configuration profile.

So, I edited my O2/Giff Gaff carrier settings and managed to revert to a 3G/2G toggle by doing the following:
  1. Rename the carrier xxx.ipcc file as .zip
  2. Expand contents, so you see a 'Payload' folder
  3. Contents of Payload will be an operator specific bundle file - right click on it and select 'Show Package Contents'
  4. Of the files that expands out to, you will see a 'carrier.plist' file - open it up with a Property Editor of some kind (I used PlistEdit Pro)
  5. In my list of properties I had a 'DataIndicatorOverride' key, with a value of 4G - this seems to determine what the highest value data indicator on the phone.
  6. I also came across details on the 'DataExclusionOverride' key, which excludes certain data indicators and force the phone to present the next available data indicator.
  7. So, to remove 4G from my phone I deleted the 'DataIndicatorOverride' value, and added a 'DataExclusionOverride' value of 'LTE'.

Once this has been done, save the Property List, zip the Payload contents back into an .ipcc file, and install that to your phone via iTunes (as described in, and your mobile settings should look like mine below:

Sunday, March 24, 2013

NFC, Android and Motorbikes

I recently switched from an iPhone 5 to an Android Nexus 4. After a week or so I am really enjoying it. My main issue has been battery life: I could comfortably get 2 days use out of my iPhone, and although I can do that now with the Nexus I had to do a bit of work to get it.

Using Tasker to turn data and syncing on every 30 minutes made a big difference, as did turning off a lot of the Google services in the Auto Sync settings. Tasker will turn the data back on when I activate the screen, so if I want to use the phone to check email or use Maps then it doesn't get in my way, but it will not kill the battery with lots of constant background data syncing during the day.

One of the things I also want to do with Tasker is to have the phone auto reply to SMS messages and missed calls while I'm riding my motorbike. This wasn't possible on the iPhone - although maybe if it's Jailbroken - but is relatively easy to set up on Android using Tasker.

 I have two Tasker tasks, one to set a %BIKE variable to 'true', and another to set it to 'false', which are my getting on and off the bike tasks. I then have a Tasker profile, triggered by receiving an SMS when %BIKE is 'true', that sends an SMS reply to tell them I'm busy, and a similar one for a missed call.

This is all very nice, but I'm left with having to manually run the two Tasker tasks to set and unset the %BIKE value, which I wasn't that pleased with. I could get Tasker to use the GPS to regularly check my speed and guess whether I'm on the bike or not, but that seemed a bit hit and miss, and potentially a bit of a battery killer.

Then I came across this Lifehacker post about automating your life with NFC cards, and that seemed like a better way to trigger my 'On the bike' and 'Off the bike' modes. So, I ordered a set of NFC stickers from and downloaded NFC Retag Free, which allows you to assign actions to NFC tags - in this case I just had it run my Tasker tasks.

So now it's just a matter of putting NFC stickers somewhere on the bike where they hopefully won't get too rained on:

And so now when I get on the bike I tap the phone against the sticker on the screen and it sets my auto SMS reply mode up for me:

I also need another sticker on the bike to deactivate the bike mode, but as most of my riding is commuting then the NFC stickers at home and work can unset that mode as well as their other tasks, so as long as I tap into home and work then it will all work.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Apple and Java

Sigh. Just when you think Apple might be getting their act together with regards to keeping Java on OS X up to date, you install the Snow Leopard upgrade to OS X and find yourself in the following situation:
Apple appear to have upgraded Java to 1.6.0_15, but removed the features from 1.6.0_10, namely the next generation plugin features for applets.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The much anticipated (by me at least) Swedish translation of Maureen O'Brien's 'Close-up on death' is finally out, and the reason I'm so interesting in it is that it uses a photo of mine for the front cover.

My copy arrived yesterday and I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out - I doubt this is the start of a new career but it's a nice bit of exposure for one of my favourite shots.

I'm currently planning a bike trip through Sweden and Norway next year...let's hope the international fame that results from this book cover doesn't make it difficult for me to travel without being mobbed :-)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Grand Tour

At the start of July I went off for a 2 week motorbike trip around Europe on my new bike, a BMW F800GS.

The route was dictated by having to end up in Cannes for the Bastille Day weekend to meet up with my brother for a few days, and dropping in on Zurich to meet a friend - apart from that I just wanted to see lots of mountains and get used to the new bike on lots of fun roads.

I ended up doing 2,250 miles, door-to-door. My final route is below:

View Larger Map

Highlights were the second day I spent in the Alps, riding from Susa,Italy down to Cannes. A little dirt-road detour to Pontis and the rest of the trip on the N85 were all good fun on the bike.

The Pyrenees were also fantastic - I did a little bit of research before I left and found that the N260 was a good biking road, so I spent about 3 days riding west through the Pyrenees mostly on the N260 - joining at the 44km marker and leaving just after the 500km point. That road varied from 2 lane highways to single lane mountain roads with 30km/h hairpin bends and back again - great sightseeing and biking.

The bike was great - aside from the seat, which after about 45mins becomes the most uncomfortable seat in the world. Apart from that it is an ideal bike for long trips - it does feel a little unsettled sometimes at high-speed on motorways, or in strong crosswinds, but otherwise it handled everything without any fuss and is ridiculously economical too, returning 70MPG+ for several tanks, giving it a range of nearly 240 miles, although I was only brave enough to take it up to 213 miles before filling up.

Instead of the £1000+ for the BMW luggage I went with a £130 Wunderlich tank bag and a bungeed on rollbag of clothes. The tank bag is designed for the F800GS and it shows: it was essential for stuffing credit cards and toll tickets, as well as holding a map, GPS etc. It's a shame it wasn't secure enough to leave on the bike, but it's so easy to take off and put on that wasn't a big deal.

Haven't quite finished going through all the photos yet, but they will all be in the Flickr set in the next few days.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Finally, draggable applets on OS X

Apple have a pre-release Java update available on the ADC that updates Java to 1.60_13 on 64-bit platforms, so Mac users can finally take advantage of the new generation applet technology that's been available on Windows and Linux for months now.

I just installed it and tried it with the PDF Viewer applet that we upgraded to take advantage of Update 10 features, and it worked fine - I could drag the applet out and create a desktop shortcut with no problems.

You'll need OS 10.5.6, Leopard, and Safari 4.0 beta or the latest Firefox 3.1 if you want to try this out.