Friday, November 30, 2012

Hangout: Saturday, December 1st @ 1PM - Smartphones

Alright, the date is almost upon us. In trying to prepare for the discussion, I think it would do well to come up with some sample topics. I could probably talk about cell phones for hours on end myself, but that just would not be interesting to anyone but me! I think it would be better with some audience participation, but I only get ideas from you guys. Luckily for me, I have had enough conversations about smartphones that there should be plenty to talk about.

First of all, there are a large number of ways people could be using their phones that they simply don't know about. There are also hundreds of little helpful features that modern cell phones come with to make everyday life easier and simpler. I would like to share a few of these that I've found over the years, as well as perhaps hearing from some of you, if anyone has a neat tip for smartphone users who are maybe less comfortable than they could be.

Second, I know I want to open up a little discussion about cell phone contracts. Obviously, there are some upsides to signing onto three year plans with your favourite cell provider, but there are also a few pitfalls, and things to watch out for. I will share some of my "horror" stories with cell phone contracts, and I'd love to hear if anybody else has any interesting stories.

Next, as I have written about on a few occasions, I would also like to discuss the differences between the various cell phones available on the market today. I have no intention of starting a flame war, as I have no problem with Android or Windows Phone, but having done considerable research on iPhone, I would like to share some reasons why I chose them over my other options.

There are also a few other discussions that I feel would fit well with this theme, like tablets (their uses and function, how they are, or should be, used), phone cases (both form and function, and the look of a phone in a case versus the protection it gives), apps (from must-haves, to ones that are great every once in a while), and lastly perhaps a discussion about the future of smartphones, Google Glass(es) for example.

As I mentioned before, if you have any input, please don't hesitate to make it known to me, and I will be sure to discuss any questions people bring up as well.

Lastly, on the topic of signing up for, or using Google+, the registration process is quite straightforward at plus.google.com, so I won't bother explaining too much, but once you have signed up, if you add me to one of your circles (there is a link to my profile on the right of this page) you will be able to access the hangout from a desktop computer when it comes up. I will also be posting the live link to watch the video, if you don't feel like participating, about 10-15 before the hangout, so you can follow along). I incorrectly stated that you will be able to join the video chat from your phone, this is not yet possible for this type of broadcast, but hopefully it will be added soon.

Currently the time for the broadcast sits at 1PM, and I will be sure to alert everyone should that be delayed at all. I hope to see everyone tomorrow!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

iOS - Tips and Tricks: Keyboard

See "Shortcuts" near the bottom.
 I am hoping to do lots of these little guys, since they are pretty useful and only take 5 minutes. In preparation for my first Google+ Hangout on Air on Saturday (around 1PM), I would like to give you a taste of the kind of little things you can expect to learn in 2 days time. This little trick isn't that new, but I have found it to be extremely useful, even if you only use it for this one purpose.

Basically, on iPhone (or iPod or iPad), under Settings> General> Keyboard, right at the bottom is an area titled "Shortcuts". This allows you to create shorthand phrases for things you commonly type into your phone (for me, that is my long, annoying email address). As you can see, I have set it up so that when I type the characters ratt into anywhere on the phone, my email will pop up as an "auto-correct" type popup. Simply hitting space, or pressing on the popup itself will complete the entire address, saving you a lot of switching between keyboards for the various characters needed for email addresses. This is something I use every single day, and that everyone should know about.


I hope you can make good use of it! I am expecting to get together a short instructional post about signing up for a Google+ account, which will be required to actually participate in my Hangout, this should be available in the next 24 hours. However, if you are impatient, you can visit plus.google.com, or download the Google+ app from either your iDevice or your Android phone/tablet, and follow the instructions, which are pretty straightforward. If you already have a Google (or Gmail) account, things couldn't be simpler, all you have to do is accept the terms for Google+ and you are ready to go.

For those of you who do wish to participate, all you have to do is head to the link on the right of this page by the G+ logo and my picture, and you can add me to one of your circles. Otherwise, you can always just submit your question, as per the contact info here. I really hope to see you all on Saturday, and I will be releasing a list of topics I'd like to get through, ideally tomorrow, so that people can look through it and suggest changes or additional topics. Thanks!


Monday, November 26, 2012

The Time has Come

Okay guys, I have thought about this enough, it is time to act. I have decided on a time for the inaugural vodcast I mentioned in a previous post here. If anybody would like to actively participate (i.e. join the video chat directly) I will be coming up with a set of instructions on how to do so in the next day or two, but if you have a Google+ account already (that you should, but never do, use) all you will need to do is find the link at the appropriate time and you can join the hangout. I will also be posting a link to Facebook and Twitter for those of you who don't feel like being in front of a camera, but who would still like to participate, so that you can watch and comment, or ask as many questions as you can come up with.

Though this chat will be broadcasting live through Google+, it will also be up on YouTube during and after the fact, so even if you don't want to join Google+, you don't have to miss out.

As for the topic of the show, I am expecting very little participation right off the bat, so I will have a few topics prepared, but for the time being my focus is intended to be all about smartphones. Be it features, choices, prices, options, tricks, tips, anything under the sun, I will open up the floor to questions anybody might have on their current or future cell phone. I will be taking questions by email (me@RobAttrell.com), through the Facebook comment thread (robert.attrell), by SMS or iMessage (613.255.3311), via Twitter (@RobAttrell) or Google+ (see profile at right of this post), and of course you can always join the Google+ hangout itself and say hello, to ask your question in person.
Even Barack Obama has done one of these.

Currently I am looking to do this on Saturday afternoon, around perhaps 1 PM. I will update if that changes or if it needs minor adjustments. Those of you who have expressed an interest in helping me with this or participating on-air should let me know if they have anything they would like to add. I am also open to suggestions for new future topics, I would like to branch into science-based topics as well. I would really love to hear from all of you, after all, there are no stupid questions.

I will update everything as events warrant it, and I look forward to you all seeing me Saturday!

Monday, November 19, 2012

When I grow up, I want to be _______

Okay, I got a fun idea for a little mini-series that will let me kill two birds with one stone, given that I want to write as much as I can in ways that will be helpful to my future careers, as well as round out my online résumé. On that note, I am going to write a series (starting) with 4 posts about careers which I feel qualified for, as well as why I feel I could do them and what specific job titles fall under that categorical umbrella. The first one of these will be posted momentarily, and all of the essays will be linked to this post eventually, once they're done. Hopefully by the end of this experiment I will be able to narrow down my focus to only one or two career options.

Up first: Research Scientist!

Ps. For those of you who frequent the blog, you will notice a pretty stark change in scenery. I did this to make it a little more consistent, at least logistically, with my website itself. This will hopefully facilitate navigation, as well as making the blog load faster, which I am sure you will notice.

When I grow up, Part 1: Research Scientist

Why I would like to be a research scientist:

The jobs I feel this title encompasses includes (but is not at all limited to) doctor, astronaut, researcher, science officer, engineer.

Since I was a very young child, I have always been fascinated with Science. It is a field of extremely useful and relevant insight into the human condition, and can help us simultaneously understand the smallest bacterium and the largest galaxy. The fact that all of the same rules apply anywhere in the universe is a very humbling idea, but also a very powerful one. Science can be used to peer into the deepest, darkest reaches of the universe, or inside ourselves down to the atomic scale, yet the same basic set of facts hold true.

For most of my life, in fact in my whole living memory, I have been extremely curious about pretty much every scientific domain. Whether that is chemistry (which ended up being my primary field of study at the post-secondary level), physics, biology, medicine, astronomy, or geology, I have always found myself captivated by the joy of collecting knowledge and information.

Growing up, and in most cases to this day, what I learn lines up with what I already know, validating the current knowledge base. But this is not where the joy of science comes in. I think that is a common misconception of “civilians” when discussing science as a method. When something comes along that flies in the face of what we have agreed is the best explanation for a given phenomenon, we have to alter the theory so that it fits all evidence. This is not a failure of the scientific method; it is actually its most wonderful feature. If everything that happened in the universe fit perfectly into our existing knowledge base, the world would be an incredibly boring place. There could be little or no scientific or technological innovation if we learned everything there was to know about the world, or if new experiments ceased to give us new information about our existence. If science had run up against that wall at any point in history, society as a whole would be much worse off.

The absolute most wonderful part of science is its ability to see past political lines, beyond personal opinion or celebrated intelligence. For example, in the Middle Ages, or perhaps a little earlier, it was commonly thought that the world was flat and that that the earth was the center of the whole universe. This in itself is a very egotistical idea, but nevertheless. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that view at the time, and scientists around (umm aflat?) the world, given their evidence, had no choice but to think that. However, the problem arose when scientists like the famous Galileo Galilei started to encounter evidence to show that the Earth had to be round, and that it was very likely that the Sun was actually in the center of our little universe (the solar system). This evidence was merely the scientific method at work, and required modification of the existing theories about our world, but certain parties considered it heresy and (infamously) banished him to house arrest.

The point of this story is that in order to be a scientist, at least in the strictest definition, you really have to be able to put the truth above all preconceptions and personal notions. I think of myself as being ideal for this type of work because I care deeply about understanding the universe the way it is, not fitting it into some template of prior expectations. In this way I am more than capable of being objective in the face of unexpected results in any part of my life. I am always very excited to let the scientific method determine the outcome of experiment.

In the course of learning about chemistry at the post-secondary level, I have come to realize that none of the sciences are really so different once you understand one. So while I have training in chemistry, and specifically in solid-state NMR and computational methods thereof, my training has also prepared me to learn and understand any of the sciences. Over the course of a four year university degree, we are taught to read up on scientific literature, ask any questions we have, and then enter into a lab environment to perform specific experiments based on the learned concepts. In general, extensive training on these concepts is not given, and experiments in these labs are rarely done more than once in the same way. By this logic, for a competent scientist, an experiment which holds interest for the experimenter can easily be accomplished with minimal training, regardless of the specific scientific discipline.

All of this considered, I believe I have the experience, know-how and specific skills and aptitudes to be an excellent research scientist.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Writing on the Internet

I would like to dedicate this post to Matthew Inman, creator of the Oatmeal.

He wrote a really wonderful and beautiful post today about writing on the internet. You can see it at the link above, but basically it outlines why he loves writing and cartooning and comicing on the internet. It really is a fantastical place once you get to know people and people start to get to know you. Of course, Matt is a major success story, very few people can actually be successful doing what he does.

The great thing that happened to me as I was reading it, though, is that I found that probably the best and best known writer on the internet encounters all of the same problems and nuances of writing as I do. From spending hours thinking about a topic and writing nothing, to waking up at 3 AM and pouring your heart out, you do what you have to when the mood strikes. I would absolutely love to get the chance to write professionally on the Internet, but I'm not quite there yet. I hope that one day soon though, that I would be so lucky as to get the chance to do what I am so passionate about as my primary job.

That is a pretty basic human desire, and we should all get to do it, at least for a little while in our lives. For the time being though, I am going to keep writing about what I love, and I hope you all enjoy reading what I have to say. I definitely have a few ideas cooking, and I intend to see them through.

Do go read the comic I'm talking about at the Oatmeal though, here's the link:

(The Oatmeal)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Growing up

In my continual hunt for reasonable, grown-up employment, I find I continue to bump up against a ceiling which is probably the only step on the road to adulthood I was never warned about. Growing up, I was given to understand that in order to become a functioning adult, I should go through school, toeing the line and staying out of trouble. If I did that, and got good grades while doing so (which really isn't that difficult if you stay out of trouble), it was said that I could go to university. The land of academia, especially of the post-secondary variety, was my biggest aspiration in my mid-teens. What I forgot to consider, though, is that there is life beyond academic endeavours.

Though while I was growing up I considered many professions, including but not limited to lawyer, doctor and astronaut. I wrote these off, as I had no interest in pursing a career whose status is such that a high degree of competition would mean that my enjoyment of the work would be lessened by having to spend perhaps years in a cut-throat environment where nice guys like me are sure to finish last, regardless of aptitude or intelligence. I decided that given my enjoyment of the sciences (chemistry in particular), doing research to further my understanding of the world around us would be an excellent intellectual pursuit. I attended university in those interests, satisfied my curiosity, and completed all the tasks set by my various professors. When it came time to finish my studies and leave university, all indications were that it would be reasonable to delay my exit from academia for a while, as the economy, and therefore the job market, were not conducive to finding relevant employment. Since I had forged a few connections with faculty on campus, I was able to arrange a master's degree, even though from an academic standpoint I was a pretty big risk for professors using their funding.

Over the course of my master's work, which was a follow-up to research I began during my undergraduate degree, I became disenfranchised with the focus of my studies, solid-state NMR. I maintained a scientific curiosity, but had very little interest in pursuing this kind of fundamental research as a career. I arranged to wrap up my research and complete the degree in a little over 12 months, it was not worth leaving at that point in the degree, given that I had already handed a few thousand dollars to the university. In the end, I was able to finish the degree in 13 months, and felt confident my background in research and evident love of science would qualify me for any number of jobs.

While I was working in the lab during my undergraduate and master's research, I also developed a love for computers, computer science, and technology in general. This is a passion which sticks with me to this day, and in fact has only grown. The field of computer science, and the myriad opportunities it holds, are also of great interest to me in terms of careers.

What I have found, more than anything so far since I left home 6 years ago, is that given a small amount of necessary training, I can accomplish pretty much anything I set my mind to. However, you cannot get hired to do "anything", and therefore I am having real trouble narrowing my career focus. The resulting uncertainty is extremely disconcerting to me, my family and my close friends, but the fact is I would prefer not to actively exclude any particular career, especially if I can work at an interesting company, where I can perform a variety of tasks and would be given some free rein to work on things which I consider interesting and productive. I am certain a career of this nature is out there somewhere, it's just a matter of finding it.

Wish me luck!

Friday, November 9, 2012

My Future Phone

Edit: I will begin this post the exact same way I have chosen to end it. Your choice of phone is a big part of who you are, especially for those of you who use a phone for several hours every single day. I do not take choosing a new phone lightly, and for those of you who ask my advice on phone purchases, the following is a pretty good condensed version of what goes through my head before answering you. I have done extensive research and reading on all of this material, hopefully so you don't have to. Alright, now back to the story...

Hey guys, this is a question I get pretty commonly, and I've essentially devoted the last 2-3 years of my life to answering this question, among other more important questions. I am often asked "I'm in the market for a new phone, which is the best for me?". This question comes in many, MANY variations, the most frequent being "I want to get the [insert new Android phone here], what do you think of it?". If you are one of those people who really only has any intentions of using a cell phone to make phone calls and send SMS messages, then this article is not for you. I will hopefully get around to doing another story entitled "Cost/Benefit Analysis (aka how to spend your money smartly)" in which I intend to validate the additional costs incurred in the everyday use of a smartphone by what that piece of technology can do for you. Coming up to the end of 2012, with smartphones having been on the market for about half a decade, if you can afford a smartphone (which you can), by not having one you are really just being a hipster. Anyhow, I am getting off topic, this is a very important subject to me, one I reflect on every single day.

In the smartphone market, there are many, MANY players right now, but your choices boil down to three real options (BlackBerry notwithstanding, as the new set of BB handsets are due out in about 6 months, and no informed person in their right mind would buy a BlackBerry today). Your choices in smartphone today are actually very, very limited if you are an informed person making a good decision. There are three really wonderful mobile operating systems (OSes) which have been released as of today, November 9, 2012: iOS 6 (Apple), Android 4.2 "Jelly Bean" (Google), and Windows Phone 8 (Microsoft). Of these three, you would be hard pressed to find two of them on shelves today, because all three have only been released in the last 6 weeks or so. If you were to buy a phone today, and couldn't wait the weekend, I would unequivocally point you in the direction of iOS, be it on the just-released iPhone 5 ($199 for a 2-3 year contract), the iPhone 4S (can be found for $99 on 2-3 year contract) or even (if you don't need to be on the cutting edge) the 2 year old iPhone 4 ($0 on 2-3 year contract). This is because even though the two competing OSes have been released, there are no phones which can be purchased and used today on either Android or Windows Phone 8 (at least to my knowledge). That being said, let us move about a week into the future, when several phones from each of these competitors will be unleashing these phones on carriers in Canada. This will give a fair assessment of the competition and will allow me to provide my thoughts on all three systems and how different users will fare given their choice.

Pre-publication edit: This thing, as I assumed it would be, is rather long. If you don't feel like reading all of this (though if you're buying a phone and wish to be informed, you should), please feel free to scroll to the bottom and read my final recommendations.

I would like to break this down and discuss each operating system one at a time, starting with the most promising:

Windows Phone 8

This operating system, while seeming like a minor upgrade from the existing, and very similar looking Windows Phone 7, it is actually a complete overhaul of the platform. You'd be hard pressed to find too many visual differences between the Nokia Lumia 900 (Windows Phone 7) and its new counterpart the Nokia Lumia 920 (Windows Phone 8).


To the unassuming eye, this seems like a minor upgrade (like you would get in an iPhone update), but in fact everything about the system has been completely overhauled. In fact, the old system, even the Lumia 900, which by all accounts is a new phone (released on April 8, 2012 with Windows Phone 7.5 software) is completely different from the new Windows Phone 8. This phone will never be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8 because it is programmed more like a computer than a Nokia phone. These (old) new phones were updated to what was called Windows Phone 7.8, which visually mimics Windows Phone 8, but in fact cannot hold a candle to it. If you are going to buy a Windows Phone, wait until you can get one of the new phones.

Essentially, with Windows Phone 8, the desktop and mobile versions of Windows are finally going to be unified. Windows Phone is a very simple interface which cuts through having to use separate apps to see what is going on, and really takes a phone interface down to the bare essentials. With their so-called "live tiles" you can see messages and emails and phone calls without leaving the home screen of your phone. The interface is very minimal and aesthetically pleasing, and doesn't get in your way. While the system doesn't have the ease of use and quick learning curve of the iPhone, it is fairly easy to understand and can be picked up quickly based on its simplicity.

There are going to be two choices for the foreseeable future here, with the HTC Windows Phone 8X, and the Nokia Lumia 920 scheduled to go on sale next week in Canada. I will discuss the differences between those two phones in a moment, because having to choose between those phones is a cakewalk compared to the next category.

Bearing that in mind, here's a side-note for anyone in the market for a new phone who claims that they want "an Android phone". I give this information, not as an "Apple fanboy", but as a rational, technologically inclined person who has done extensive research and testing on many Android phones, I can assure you that I am not at all biased in these opinions, they come from a place of love for the truth.

Caveat*

Now, the most important thing you have to understand about phone manufacturing is that there are many different manufacturers, many different phone carriers and only a handful of mobile operating systems to choose from. Now, in 2005, for example, you could choose a Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, etc. phone, and you really wouldn't notice any difference in usability or functionality. There were differences, and in fact each phone was quite different, but usually in minimal ways that no one user would ever notice. If you had a contract with Rogers, your phone would usually have Rogers stamped on it in one or two places, and probably say it on the screen, but that's really all you would have to deal with. The performance of the phone, and its functionality, could only really be impaired if your network was of lower quality (see ATT circa 2007). Looking at the situation today, you have major manufacturers like Nokia, Apple, HTC, LG, Samsung, BlackBerry, Motorola (now owned by Google), etc., and the problems which appeared 10 years ago have only gotten worse. This growing problem is most noticeable on the Android platform, in what is referred to as fragmentation. Let's go for a little ride...

Android 4.2 "Jelly Bean"

I would like to start off right away by saying that of all the operating systems discussed here today, Android is by far my favourite. My friends will probably scoff at that, but those who know me best also know that I am a big fan of customization. I have spent many sleepless nights working on perfecting the look and feel of my jailbroken iPhone, even dedicating days at a time downloading custom skins to make it look like an Android phone. Without question, Android is best known of all the mobile operating systems for the ability to make it your own. That being said, in general it is several generations behind the other platforms simply because every hardware manufacturer, and cellular carrier, has its own view of what "the best" looks and feels like. This is going to be a long explanation, but I am going to do my absolute best to make it readable, and break it down in bite-sized chunks.

1. Manufacturers have the ability to work with raw Android code to make the operating system look and function the way they want it to (actually, anybody can do this, as almost all Android code is open source, for those who wish to do that themselves, however, it would be a very time-consuming undertaking). This is done with a so-called "skin" or user interface (UI) which is used by phone manufacturers to distinguish their phones from the others. While this in principle, and marketing-wise, seems like a great idea, in essence what it does is take up valuable computer resources which have been finely tuned by Google engineers to run smoothly, and throws virtual wrenches into all of the tiny machines in the phone. Each manufacturer does it, with HTC's Sense UI, Motorola's MotoBlur, and Samsung's TouchWiz interface, and they are all just (sometimes) nice looking ribbons which get in the way of the phones actual function. Now, there is a Android experience to be had which is as pure as it can get, and it is called the Nexus line. What Google has done is taken a phone manufacturer, worked with them to create the best blend at the time between hardware and software, and released it under the "Nexus" moniker. First, the Nexus One (HTC), then the Nexus S, followed by the Galaxy Nexus (both from Samsung), and most recently the Nexus 4 (LG), were all made in collaboration with Google to create what they say is the purest form of Android at the time. This phone is always going to be the best showing of Android in any generation, even ignoring the next point.

2. Android phones, generally speaking, do not get updates. Yes, the Nexus line is almost always the first to be considered for updates, but even those have their problems and delays. Because the manufacturers get to determine the release of updates, and those manufacturers are concerned with selling their best and brightest phones, generally speaking you will not see any major software upgrades once you have purchased your Android phone. There is a small exception in the Nexus line, as those tend to keep up with updates, but anything else, if it will get an upgrade at all, it will get it six months after it has been shown to the world, and will generally only happen if the phone is quite a bit less than a year old.

3. All of this has been done without even having the carriers (Rogers, Bell, Telus) involved in the discussion yet. Generally, when you buy a phone through a carrier, it will come stamped with the name of the carrier, but the carriers will also determine a few other things about phones, especially in the Android ecosystem. In general, on the Android platform, each carrier will get the same 2-3 phones, and you can decide which carrier you would like to use and purchase your phone. In reality, however, the phones which are released to each carrier are very different, with a few differences in each meaning you really have to do your homework if you want to be sure you know what you are getting. In some cases, you can have differences as large as 3G/4G connectivity, different processors, different camera specifications, and even different designs completely, to the point that I have seen phones which are allegedly the same which look totally different and whose cases are not even close to interchangeable. There are also a few carriers which add unremovable apps (bloatware) to the system and slow it down even more, which is something they will never write press released about and are basically free advertising for their partners.

4. Yes, Android phones do get some of the latest and greatest features first, but this is in general a bigger deterrent to adoption than it is a help. Features like 4G/LTE (fast data speeds), new screen technologies promising better contrast and less reflection, near-field communication (NFC, similar to the chip in your VISA which allows for things like making payments at select retailers with your phone), and inductive charging (which lets you put your phone onto a charging pad and wirelessly charges the battery. All of these features have been put into Android phones over the last year, and all have had their (sometimes severe) drawbacks. These are essentially experimental technologies in their implementations in these phones, and are not reasons to get the phones. The simplest way to show that is that the newest (about 2 weeks old) Nexus 4, which is so new it hasn't hit shelves yet, doesn't contain any of this technology. Google and LG put their heads together and designed the best phone they possibly could (and, without having used it, I am certain it is a great phone) and it doesn't include any of these technologies which Android purists have been raving about. The fact is that the technologies simply aren't ready for the big time yet, and on a budget (the Nexus 4 will be released in Canada starting at $309) they are not feasible. 4G/LTE on Android generally wreaks havoc on battery life, NFC and wireless charging take up room in and add weight to the phone without adding much usefulness, and the newest screen technologies are still not generally as good as the exacted versions of regular old LCD screens.

5. Now, before I go ahead and dismiss Android altogether, their saving grace could, and hopefully is, the new version of their operating system, Jelly Bean. This update, along with a systematic overhaul of the programming in the phone, called Project Butter, make Android 4.2 a very interesting proposition. Having only used one phone with Jelly Bean installed, I can say that the difference between it and Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0), even on a phone like the Galaxy Nexus, is absolutely night and day. For anybody that has used Android, no matter how die-hard a fan you are, you much concede that dealing with systematic lagginess on even superphones like the Samsung Galaxy SIII is a pretty hard pill to swallow, and has actually been a deal-breaker for me. Before Android 4.2, this was just a price to pay for using Android, and it was a very high price for those of us who know that better is out there. However, even though I have only used Jelly Bean for approximately 3 seconds, I can easily say that I can recommend it for anybody looking for a good, solid Android operating system. The lag inherent in previous versions is completely gone, and though I cannot speak for phones with a slower Android skin like the SIII, I would love for the smoothness I saw to still be there on those phones running Jelly Bean. The propagation of Jelly Bean, though, is going a little slower than would have been hoped. I have done considerable looking and actually cannot find any phones which have gotten the Jelly Bean update natively yet (Galaxy Nexus does seem to have some permeation, but official carrier updates are extremely sparse), though it was announced in July 2012 and released shortly thereafter. This is the upgrade cycle of Android, and something its users just have to deal with. There is, after some research, actually one phone which HAS been released with Jelly Bean on it already, the Galaxy Note II, a massive 5.5" screened phone with a stylus running Samsung's skin. It will be interesting to see how that TouchWiz skin interacts with Android 4.1, to see if the inherent smoothness remains.

6. The last issue with Android deals not with version fragmentation, but with apps and screen size fragmentation. Because every manufacturer has to build phones that are different and fill all screen and price points, you end up with a very strange predicament for developers trying to make apps for the platform. With thousands of different possible screen sizes, and a variety of shapes and features, developing for Android is enough to drive someone crazy.

I hope I have shown you some of the reasons why I have stayed away from Android so far, getting to my favourite part of this article in the present.

iPhone

This is by far the easiest part of this article to write, because everybody already knows pretty much all of the basics of the iPhone. There are many virtues to controlling your own software and hardware, the first being that you get to control every step of the process. You will not see a Rogers stamp on any iPhone, in fact (in general) the only indication you are tied to a carrier at all is the name of the carrier on the top left of the screen in the header bar. As far as fragmentation goes, after 5 years of iPhone, they have just recently announced their third phone resolution, and second screen size ever. Its no wonder developers flock to the Apple app store like no other, even though the price of admission is fairly steep for new developers ($99/year).

It's not to say there aren't problems with the iOS operating systems. I have my own qualms with it from time to time. But these problems generally are reconcilable by developers in their own apps. In essence, if you want something simple to use, and which is beautifully manufactured, and will generally be updated well past its warranty, I always recommend iPhone.

To put this in a little perspective, at last count, around 2% of Android deviced on the market today have 4.1 or 4.2 Jelly Bean (most of this is tablets, I would not be at all surprised if that number is more like 0.1%, if you only consider phones). This operating system was finalized in July. Compare that to iOS 6, which within 24 hours of release had about 15% adoption, and after one month had 60% of people on board. With bilateral control of the whole phone, Apple can pass along updates to all of its customer base at once, seamlessly and without too much effort or knowledge on the part of the consumer.

If you want a phone that is easy to use, has all of the newest features, and in hardware tests demolishes phones with much higher specifications, you should really buy an iPhone. That being said, if you wish to go with something else, I will offer one recommended alternative from both the Android family, and the Windows Phone family.


LG Nexus 4


This phone is the absolute best and brightest in terms of Android today, and it is affordable to boot. It is the first phone to come with Jelly Bean 4.2 natively, and will probably be the only phone to have it for a while. If you want an Android phone, this one is the one to wait for. It is expected to be released in Canada next week.

HTC Windows Phone 8X

Between the Nokia Lumia 920, which has wireless charging (making it weigh almost a half-pound) and a very fancy low-light camera, and this phone, I have to choose this phone. After reading extensive reviews of Windows Phone 8, this would be the phone to buy if you are looking for a sleek, nice Windows Phone 8 experience. And with the coming union of the just-released Windows 8 for desktop/tablet, Windows fans should rejoice at the release of this platform. This phone is expected to be announced on Rogers next week as well.


iPhone 5

This phone is my current top recommendation. The reason is simple, it gives the best overall phone experience you can ask for, in comparison to all of the reasons given above in terms of what to expect from other phones. I have not yet tried out the two phones shown directly above, as they may yet reign over this phone in my mind and in reality. I have very high hopes, because iOS does have a few well-documented issues which need rectifying, but as for the overall package I am happy to provide extensive reasoning for this choice.







To anybody who has ever asked me for phone advice, if you wonder why I hesitate before answering you, this is the reason. As for those of you looking to buy phones in the near future, please think about what I have discussed here. You should REALLY either buy an iPhone, or wait a week. I guarantee either of those options are well worth your while.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Going Forward

Hey guys,

I know this is a little bit later than I usually write, but I figure it's best if I don't catch people getting off work around 5 when people are primed and ready to be social (that's what you workadays do when you finish the day right, check social networks?).

I wanted to do a little test, as well as give you just a little bit of homework for the next little while. Whether or not you actually go through with it is exactly why I am assigning it. Since most of the feedback I get from people is through actual word of mouth from friends, I am hoping that you guys can do me a small favour to help me out. Here's the motivation for this little experiment:

The feedback I get from this writing is generally positive, though nobody is really going to tell me to my face that my work is crap. That, and there's no dislike button on Facebook. What I want to know though, is how social networks and self-promotion can actually affect traffic to this site. As with all artists (writing is a form of art, right?), all I am looking for is to know that my work is being seen. You don't have to agree with what I'm saying, and the discussions are generally much more entertaining if you have something to disagree with. Here's what I'd like to try...

First, pick a post of mine that you like, your absolute favourite one. For me personally, it is this one 5 Years in my Life, a paste of my thesis acknowledgements section from my masters work. From the numbers Google keeps on page views, statistically your favourite is this one: Back to the Future, a post about Siri and voice control assistants like her. If you don't have one in mind, just pick this post. Anyhow, once you have chosen the best post in your opinion, I would like it if you could click the "Like" button at the bottom of the post. You're welcome to use the +1 button, or the Tweet button if you so choose, but again if I'm going with the numbers, you use Facebook much more than those other networks.


I am simply trying to inform myself about what you would like to read, you are certainly under no obligation to follow the directions above, but I would be very appreciative if you would let me know what I can write about to keep you reading. And of course, if you're feeling particularly smitten with anything you read, I encourage you to share it on the aforementioned social networks, I would love to hear what your friends think about what I have to say.

One final note, if you do like what you are reading, feel free to let me know personally via any of those networks, or by email. me@robattrell.com is a great place to start.

ps. I am thinking about starting both a YouTube channel (topic(s) undecided) or doing regular Google+ hangouts. Thoughts? I'm happy to explain what a Google+ hangout is another day.