Coming Back….

For the last couple of years my focus and attention has shifted away from reviewing, testing and dabbling with tech whilst I prioritized on my family and fighting a Cancer diagnosis.

I’m firmly out the other-side and after adjuvant chemo-radiotherapy, multiple surgeries, and a further 6 months of Chemotherapy I am now 18 months into remission and keen to jump back into my passion.

So keep an eye out for some new posts coming in the New Year… I’ve already got some ideas including some product reviews courtesy of Aukey, use of a VPS to host a remote Plex server, SmartHome setups and many more!

Thanks for reading and have a great Christmas!

 

Dan

 

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Have HTC future-proofed the official car cradle for the One?

A while back I reviewed the official HTC In-Car Smartphone Cradle for the HTC One. In my review I mentioned the fact that the part which holds the phone to the arm of the cradle actually detaches when twisted. I suggested this may be so that it could be used as a basic case or possibly in case of breakage it being a simple part to replace.

However, I’ve recently been wondering if this is in design to be able to offer replacement ‘holders’ for varying devices? With the announcement of ‘The All-New One’ looming, could we also see them announce that a replacement holder will be available for those who already have the original car dock? This would certainly be good for the consumer if it were the case. We’ll just have to wait and see, but as an owner of the original, I’d much rather pay £10 to replace the holder than fork out another £45 (original price).

I will be attending the London launch on the 25th March for HTC’s newest flagship where I will no doubt be tweeting… Especially if my prediction comes into fruition.

Plex – My new favourite way to stream

Plex (software)

Plex (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Previously my streaming needs were met by streaming from my NAS to the XBox… But this comes with it’s limitations, mainly the codec support although the standard UPnPUI is pretty basic too.

I’ve been given a Roku on trial (which I can’t discuss about just yet) and this was an ideal platform for me to look at creating a home media system with a bit more emphasis on usability, interface and being smarter than an average UPnP setup.  As such Plex was the obvious choice (it was between Plex and XBMC, but lack of native XBMC support on the Roku made it an easy choice)

So what is Plex?

I’ll only go top level here, if you’re interested then I recommend reading more on the Plexapp website. In  essence, Plex is a streaming solution based on the popular XBMC platform. It comprises of two parts; Firstly, Server software which sits on the device which is connected to your media and the second piece of software sits on the receiving device and is like the navigation dashboard.

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What’s really cool is you can set the Plex server software to run on Windows, OS X, Linux & NAS drives. This server software will monitor your folders for changes, and will fetch the metadata for the movies, music, tv shows you have on your drives from the internet and show it as a nice interface for you to choose what you want to watch and see more details about it. It also records what you watched (so you can sort by unwatched) as well as what you last watched so it can recommend the next program in a series to watch, or remember your location so you can restart a film from where you left off.

Movies, TV Series, Music etc are all organised into their relative groups and offered as per the above picture, when hovering over an item or selecting it you are presented with more information about the particular item such as synopsis, fan art, actors, year of release, director, quality of the file etc.

I really love the interface and functionality. It makes choosing a film to watch so much easier and actually an enjoyable experience, I now just scroll to my unwatched list on the Plex client for the Roku, and then just have a flick to see what I fancy. When I want to put a movie on for my daughter (who’s not so fussed whether she’s seen it or not as she’s only 2), I just scroll to categories and select Family or Animation and then let her pick what she wants to watch. You can easily search by groups of; unwatched, genre, year, director, actor, quality (i.e. SD, 720, 1080 etc), even compilation such as select ‘James Bond’ and all my Bond films show up.

TV is similar, you can search the program in a multitude of ways and then it’ll break it down by series… and even fetches the TV theme tune to play when you have it selected. Great touch!

I highly recommend anyone take a look at this FREE streaming software (I was so impressed I’ve become a lifetime PlexPass subscriber which gives you a few more features and early release). If you have a device which has your media on, then it’ll most likely work, and you can stream to a multitude of devices from the same PC as the server software is on, to Roku’s, Android phones, IOS, Windows Phone, Windows 8, Google TV and also some smart TV‘s from Sony, LG or Samsung. I also hear they are looking to stream to ChromeCast in the future which is what I’ll probably get when the Roku has to go back.

Did I mention this is free software? Why not check it out, from the below link. You have nothing to lose except maybe some time, but I love it and if you have a large unorganised media database this makes it so much easier to navigate around.

I’ve only really touched on the base of what Plex can do, there’s so much like automatic synchronisation to mobile devices, transcoding media automatically to work on the device being streamed to, remote play etc. Just have a look, I assure you it’s great!

 

Links:

Roku – http://www.roku.com

Plex: http://www.plexapp.com

Android: Does leaving GPS enabled affect my battery?

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I often help out and regularly read forums and articles about Tasker for Android. One of the things I come across often is people using Tasker profiles to enable/disable GPS when opening specific apps such as Maps, Navigation etc. Or when creating a task set in Tasker with the ‘Get Location’ action to get a fix on the current position.

So what are the negatives about leaving GPS disabled?

  1. If you leave it off, then you have to enable it before loading up any app which will use it such as Google Maps. If you don’t you’ll get a prompt asking you to enable it
  2. If you use Tasker to enable it when opening an app, GPS is not initialized before opening the app. So you’ll still get that annoying prompt
  3. Most location based services from Google such as Now cards etc use the new api which uses cell tower & WiFi locations to determine your location with good accuracy. So it’s only really third party apps which will use the GPS service in the background
  4. The phone will record the last GPS fix and will use this to make getting a new fix on satellites faster the next time the service is started. If you disable GPS you’re starting from a cold start and it may take longer to get a positive satellite fix.

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Don’t be fooled. The GPS service on your Android device is only being used when you see the icon in your notification bar, it’s not always running and draining your battery.

Whilst I can’t comment pre-Gingerbread (it’s been so long since I ran a <=Froyo I just can’t remember). However, Gingerbread and JellyBean have all been pretty good at only initializing the GPS process when requested by an app or the system. In effect, what this means is if you keep control of your applications that you know will ask for GPS and limit these then you shouldn’t see much GPS usage at all.

I have left GPS enabled for years, and I just maintain within each app whether I want it to have access to my location. So for Facebook & Twitter I have disabled the location services from within the apps themselves. I have 34 apps on my phone which utilise the ‘Precise location (GPS and network-based)’ permission, of which most are weather updates or Google Services which i know do not use GPS but instead the cell based api. Other apps like Endomondo I know uses GPS and I’m happy with that as it only uses it when the app is opened.

 
Tip: You can find apps permissions in ‘Settings-Applications’ and then clicking on the app and scrolling down on the app details page. You can also install an app from the Play Store called Permission Friendly Apps. This app scores your installed apps based on their permissions, it can even filter apps with a particular permission such as the ‘Precise location (GPS and network-based)’ permission.

So can you leave GPS enabled? Sure, as long as you are aware of what apps will utilise GPS and keep on top of their settings there is no harm in it. There may be the occasional usage that runs in the background. But in my experience it’s infrequent and only for a short period that it’s more hassle to disable and enable the setting than to just leave it open for use as required. I’ve not noticed a significant drain on battery so I always recommend just leaving it enabled.

HTC: Remove Power Saver Notification

If you’re running a HTC device on Jellybean then you’ll no doubt have noticed the Power Saver icon remains on your notification panel at all times with no way to remove it.

If like me you prefer to have as little on your bar as possible then you may want to check out Jmz Power Saver Disable which will remove the icon all together.

Note: this will only run on rooted devices.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.jmzsoft.powersaverdisabler

Android: Why does Google ask me to turn on WiFi for location services?

A recent post on Joao Apps AutoLocation FAQ made me realise just how common this question is, and how some people don’t realise why it is asked. So why does Google need WiFi on and doesn’t this cause unnecessary battery drain?

I’m going to quote Joao on his FAQ post and share it as it gives a good insight into something which is not necessarily obvious.

If you want any kind of reliable location service to work on your device, you’ll have at least a bit of battery drain, there’s no way around that.

The reason you need to have Wifi on is this:

  • Google knows where Wifi networks are located
  • When monitoring Geofences, your phone will look for nearby Wifi networks, and send that info to Google
  • Google will check their data base and see where those Wifi networks are located
  • Google will report back your approximate location on your phone based on that info

So, your locations will only be accurate if:

  • Your Wifi is turned on
  • There are Wifi networks around you
  • Google knows about these Wifi networks
  • If any of these conditions are not met, your location may be way off.

Obviously this is more tailored to users of his AutoLocation App. However it is still relevant as Google use location awareness for a lot of things in the background of your phone such as weather updates and Google Now cards, as well as passing this data onto other apps like FourSquare, Twitter, Facebook etc.

So next time you get this popup and wonder why, hopefully now you’ll know.

Source: Joao Dias on G+ & Joapps.com Autolocation FAQ

Review: HTC One Screen Protector

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A few initial points to note:

A) There are 2 protectors included in the pack

B) There is no application card or cleaning cloth – despite what is advertised on Amazon.co.uk

Application:
You can use any micro-fibre cloth you may have handily available to clean the screen. As for applying the protector, I would recommend getting a credit card (or something similar) ready. Then Remove the top part (maybe 1cm) of the backing cover on the protector and carefully attach this to the top of the phones screen. Now work your way down the screen slowly pulling the backing cover up and applying pressure in the fold with the credit card to push any air bubbles out the way and ensuring a clean and full application.

Take your time! It may take a few minutes to apply, but done right this will ensure you have no dust/dirt or air pockets in between the screen and protector and will make this seem like an invisible protection. There are plenty of visual guides to applying these protectors on YouTube if you want to have a visual aid.

As for the product itself, after following the guide above I’ve found that the protector does not stick fully in the corners. Whilst in the most part your screen will be protected it doesn’t look like a clean fit against the screen and to this I have removed it. I’m afraid to say that for an official product this doesn’t quite meet the mark.