Launchers, Phones, and Books, oh my!

Well, I’m back to using ADW as my tablet’s launcher.  Tons more room per screen and enough options to keep me happy.  I found that even the Android 4 stock launcher has a few issues that drive me nuts.  The biggest of which is when you go into the app drawer where all of your apps and widgets are.  Most of the time when I open it, it will be showing my widgets, but the tab for my Apps will be selected.  So I can’t just click on Apps to go to apps.  If I do, nothing happens.  I have to switch to widgets, then back to apps, then it starts working right again.  This happens often enough to be very irritating.  The only major problem I have besides that–again, is what I’ve always complained about with it–the wasted screen space.  So there, that’s done for awhile.  I’m very content with ADW, it just keeps getting better and better.

Which brings me to my next topic.  I got a new phone recently.  Of course, another Android.  A Motorola Electrify with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).  I never realized the dramatic difference that happened between Android 2.2 (Froyo) and Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) for phones.  It sure makes a huge difference, especially with memory management.  And my main excuse to root my phone is now gone–screenshots.  Yes, 2.3 includes the ability (though hidden and apparently different on every carrier’s Android) to take screenshots!  On mine I was directed to a little app in the marked called “Screen Grabber” and was instructed to install it, then go to its settings and turn off the “require root” option.  After doing this, it takes screenshots with ease on my phone.  No more need to root!  My only other complaint (that I always had on my HTC Desire) is eliminated now as well–space for apps.  My new phone came with 16GB of internal memory, which is split with half for apps, half for media.  But since the “Apps2SD” lets you optionally move a good portion of most apps to your “SD Card”–which is what the “media” half of the 16GB is considered–I can install dozens of apps and use next to nothing from my app memory.  I now have every app I normally use installed and working, and still have a ton of space left.  The phone even uses the same Tegra 2 processor as my Motorola Xoom, so I can install and play any of my favorite “THD” games on it!  As a comparison, my HTC Desire had 348MB of memory for my apps (and a 32GB SDHC card for media), and after a full wipe of the phone, and the re-installation of all of the updates just for it’s pre-installed apps, I was left with about 135MB of memory, even when using Apps2SD to move everything possible to the SD card.  I could install most of the apps I normally use, but not all of them, before I started getting the “WARNING – memory is low” message.  At this point, I could still install a few more apps, but it’s very dangerous to go lower.  I usually ended up with crashing problems and the phone spontaneously rebooting once in awhile when it crashed.  Not good.  So space is no longer an issue, at least with this phone, and this should be a lesson for everyone out there who has had a bad experience with an Android device–if you bought cheap, it just might be that memory space issues are your main problem.

I also just started reading a new book.  Looking for something to grab my interest after finishing Ready Player One, I stumbled onto “One Second After” by William Forstchen.  It’s about EMP–Electromagnetic Pulse, which is apparently a very real and dangerous possibility.  It’s a novel, meant to explain the dangers of EMP and what could possibly happen if our country were attacked using a weapon like this.  It’s not my usual cup of tea, but just the publisher’s summary was enough to grab me and make me want to read it cover to cover.  Take a look:

In a small North Carolina town, one man struggles to save his family after America loses a war that will send it back to the Dark Ages.

Already cited on the floor of Congress and discussed in the corridors of the Pentagon as a book all Americans should read, One Second After is the story of a war scenario that could become all too terrifyingly real. Based upon a real weapon – the Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) – which may already be in the hands of our enemies, it is a truly realistic look at the awesome power of a weapon that can destroy the entire United States, literally within one second.

This book, set in a typical American town, is a dire warning of what might be our future and our end.

That was it.  It’s now on my phone and I’m reading it to and from work.  It’s very very scary, and as you read it you start to wonder how you and your family would fare in the same situation.  Food for thought.  A LOT of food for thought.  If you want to know more, here’s a link to the Audiobook, and here’s a link to the author’s website.

A deeper look

At the moment I’m trying to tolerate the stock launcher in Android 4.  Here’s a look at my new main home screen.  Kinda sparse, but that’s the best I can do with it.  I do like a lot of other things in it though, which is why I’m willing to tolerate the limitations of the home screens…for now, at least.  The full-page flipping of apps in the new app drawer is awesome–it’s always fast and very smooth, making it a breeze to find anything I want very quickly within all of my icons.  This, along with the same page functionality for all of the widgets, is really nice.

I also found some deeper “hidden” features in Android 4.  If you go into “Settings” >> “Developer Options” you’ll see a lot of new “User Inferface” settings that you can tweak to your liking, or experiment with.  These options are intended for developers to use when testing their apps.  Options such as “show touches” and “pointer location” will highlight exactly what the user does on the screen, but they’re also handy for making sure your screen is working properly.  You can test out your device’s “multi-touch” capabilities by turning on “show touches” and then pressing 5 or 10 fingertips on the screen at once and watch the fireflies!  “Show CPU usage” is good for monitoring your system when anything else is running–it sticks on the screen no matter where you are in the OS or in another application, constantly showing you your CPU usage and exactly what apps are using it.

The options for “Window animation scale” and “Transition animation scale” can even be adjusted to slow things down, making windows pop up and transition much more smoothly, which Kevin actually adjusted to 5x and likes it this way.  For me, I’m just the opposite.  It defaults to 1x for both of these settings, but I prefer to set the both to “off”.  They only delay whatever action you’re doing, so why not make it as fast and responsive as possible?  I love having the option though.  As I said before with the home screen pages, why didn’t they just give us all of the options like this for the homescreen grids and transitions??

I also now have second thoughts about the new panorama feature that’s built-in.  Yes, it’s nice to have it included, free of charge, but after some experimentation, the resulting images are pretty low-res.  I found an amazing alternative that does the same thing with much better results though–it’s called “Photaf THD”.  There’s a free version (with ads) and a paid version without the ads.  I’m not sure if there are any other limitations in the free version than there are in the paid version, but I’m always will to pay a few dollars to support the developer of a good app, and this is one of them.  It’s very simple to use, yet has some complex options inside for tweaking how to make your panoramas, and also includes some quality options.  Plus, this is a “THD” version, which means it’s “Tegra High Definition” optimized (Tegra 2 is the chip that drives a lot of Android tablets, including my Motorola Xoom), so it’s optimized to work with my device.

Lastly, there are also a lot more “hidden” features scattered throughout Android 4, even if you’re familiar with Android 3, which has many of the same features–a lot of the same Settings sections now include new options.  One of these, in particular, really shocked me today, and I love it: In “Settings” >> “Security” you can now select “NONE” for the screen lock!  This was never an option before–you always had to use either one of the security options, whether it was “slide”, a password, or a PIN.  With “NONE” selected, the lock screen is disabled!  I can now power on my tablet and I’m instantly on my home screen, or wherever I was when I last turned the screen off!

First Impressions of Android 4

Android 4 Screenshot (using ADW Launcher EX)Android 4, also known as “Ice Cream Sandwich” or “ICS”, has been out for a few months in the Android community, first as just a “raw” version from Android, and most recently as the newest OS for Android phones and tablets.  The Motorola Xoom (the tablet I have) was supposed to be one of the first tablets to receive ICS, and it’s being pushed out over the air this week to them.  Kevin got his yesterday, and I got mine this morning.

If they could have been just a few weeks quicker, this would have made a great Christmas present for all Xoom owners!  So far I’m really enjoying all of the new features and enhancements.  The only thing I can complain about (and I have the same issue with ALL Android versions to date) is the way they design their launcher home screens.  They really don’t give you much room for widgets and icons, leaving huge chunks of screen real estate on the left and right sides and between objects, just so you can click the edges to flip home screens and to make everything very clear and separated.  It’s not like it’s an impossible task.  They could at least throw in options to change your grid size & border sizes, and make the defaults what it has now.  That way, geeks like me could always dig in there and tweak things the way we like.  I’m sure there are plenty of Android fans out there in addition to me, who went “the Android way” primarily for the freedom it provides in many ways–from the ability to install apps from anywhere, not just the official Market–to the ability to add all the widgets and icons you want all over your home screens, so why wouldn’t they just throw in all of the options under the hood?  Maybe they’re leaving it open for the developers to build upon… which is exactly where I went to get the launcher I always dreamed of.  Read on.

That’s all I can complain about with ICS though, it’s home screen layout.  And that’s nothing really, because there are plenty of alternative home screen launchers available to give me what I crave.  I settled on ADW Launcher Ex a while back, and I haven’t found a better launcher since.  Particularly for Honeycomb (Android 3) and now ICS.  ADW has been frequently updated and enhanced to work with these versions, and it shows.  This isn’t a review for ADW though, so let me get back to ICS.

ICS is the first version of Android to have built-in screenshot capability!  POWER-VOL-DOWN on the Xoom will snap a screenshot.

All of the built-in apps have been enhanced a great deal: The camera and video recorder both have many new features, including the ability to take great 1-click panorama photos, add live facial special effects to videos, and much more.

A new font called “Roboto” makes the entire interface look much slicker, sharper and clearer, as well many apps which use the system’s default font.

A basic photo editor is now built into Gallery (called “Photo Studio”), so you can do basic editing, color correction and even perform a lot of photo effects without even installing an editing app.

The browser is much better, faster, smoother, and includes more zoom & pan features as well as the new ability to save web pages for offline viewing.

You can create folders by simply dragging one app onto another one. (Nice feature for Android to finally have, but it’s been in ADW for a long time, so it’s nothing new to me)

It has improved spell-checking and keyboard functionality, as well as new options for typing what you speak.  I haven’t tried the speaking features yet though, so I can’t comment on them yet.

You can now resize most widgets whatever way you want, which is awesome, but again, ADW has done this for some time, so it’s nothing new to me.

You can now go directly to the camera from the lock screen, and if you’re playing music, the lock screen also shows the music player options and the album art for the music currently playing.

To sum it up, I think this is an awesome upgrade from Android 3, so if you have the option on your device I wouldn’t hesitate to install it.  This is also Google’s first “unifying” OS–designed for both Android Tablets and Android Phones, so you can expect to hear about it more and more in the future.  You sure can’t beat the price, that’s for sure!

Rick takes a tumble

Rick in the ER after his fallRick (Sandy’s brother) took a fall last night.  He got up when George had to use the restroom, tripped over a pile of clothes, knocked some ceramic figurines onto the floor, then landed on one of them.  He cut a big gash in his side and it wouldn’t stop bleeding.  After trying to get it to stop for awhile, he finally called us for a ride to the ER.

He’s ok now.  They did a CAT scan and didn’t find any internal damage, so they stitched him up.  It sure took a long time in the ER though–we spent most of the night there.  Sandy eventually drove me home so I could get at least a couple hours sleep before work, then she went back to the hospital.  She got home  early in the morning and even got nearly an hour of sleep in herself, before she had to get up for work.

I’m exhausted right now, having just gone to bed again tonight, only to get paged by my hospital for an IT emergency right after falling asleep.  I’m just waiting for a call from a vendor now, telling me the problem is fixed, then, hopefully I can get back to bed.

Wow, it’s 16F out there right now.  Low of 6F tonight…brrr.  I’m not a fan of this weather.  Can’t wait till April… we’re planning a road trip to Arizona!  Really looking forward to it!

Ready Player One

I’ve been reading another great audiobook this week.  It’s “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.   It’s read by Wil Wheaton, which is what attracted me to it, since I’m a big fan of his.  And as it turns out, there’s tons of stuff in it I love–80’s video games, the fads, the movies, etc., so it brings back a lot of great memories of my youth.  But instead of typing up my own in-depth description , here’s the publisher’s description:

At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, Ready Player One is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of 10,000 planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late 20th century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?