Saturday, June 29, 2013

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 review (N5100)

This is my personal take on the Galaxy note 8.0 I bought this month. My first 8 inch device after trying my hands on 7 and 10 incher. I used it for 10 days. This was good time for me to evaluate how the device fared.

The specs are good. Quad-core 1.6 GHz processor could handle the load on the device, no slowdown or drag noted.  2GB RAM is great for hosting lot of applications. I bought the 16GB model that also has a micro SD card slot for more space addition, if need be. This ran on Android 4.1.2

It is plastic built and to me that does not make it look cheap or poorly designed. It fits well for what it is. It is a fingerprint magnet though and of the highest order. The body becomes sticky and glossy. It was difficult to rub of the oil and I resorted to using wet cloth to wipe it clean every couple of days. It could probably be that I was taking the device wherever I went. Putting a decent screen protector was helpful to some extent.

Screen quality is good, no matter what most reviews are saying. The resolution of 800 x 1280 could be better but this is good to go for me. On paper the 189 PPI of this device could be less than Nexus 7, but to bare eyes there is no difference. I have never found it to be pixelated. I somehow felt the screen was kind of fragile and may not survive a hammering sessions with my kid. So I bought a book cover for it, but then it looses the portability touch..

Video playback quality is good and sound is OK, don't expect exceptional performance here.

The 5MP back Camera without the flash is good for those quick moments while you are working on the device. I prefer my phone for such function. Applications such as Camscanner make good quality scans. It can do 720p recording at 30fps, no I did not try this, again my phone serves me for this.

The device size is great for portability, if not compared with the 7 inch form factor. 8 inch screen is good to view images and video. You also get a bigger screen state to interact with, good to have for drawing/sketching apps. This however does not mean that I could easily carry this in my pant pockets. Nope it did not fit in my front pant pockets, some part of it always hanged out risking a fall. So I had to carry it around in my hand like a book.

Ranting -7 inch is my all time favourite as it is a perfect balance between portability and screen state, besides being perfect for keyboard typing with thumbs.

The forte of this device is the stylus, known as S-Pen by Samsung. It is truly a wonderful interface. The screen response is real-time, it is like writing on a paper. Samsung has improvised on this interface and to me this seems unparalleled (I have lived with the Note 1 and Note 10 to arrive at this opinion).

The option of cutting screenshots, web pages, images and then editing them for needful effect is wonderful and very much useful.

While other features like air-view, hover your stylus to interact with the screen, can be useful for some. Air-view is supported by some apps and there will be more coming in for sure. This has also worked well to expand menu or highlight URL for some sites I often visit.

My main intention of checking out this device is to try out the text writing rather than text typing. I was amazed at how well the device could interpret my handwriting and convert it along with proper predictions. It took few tries to get used to, and I could achieve 99% accuracy if I wrote each character separated from the other. I might have penned down about 50 pages or so.

The S-Note application provides more functions for using S-Pen. For instance there is this drawing mode that autocorrects the sketchy images for curve, line and length. I could actually achieve some good structured diagram using this in office and share it with colleagues.

S-Pen was very refreshing from typing in the text. After few days of use, I however started getting stiffness in my hand. I soon realised that the writing area at the bottom of the screen is pretty small and cornered. This resulted in some extra effort to place my hand at bottom edge of the phone while writing. This became discomforting the more I used it.

It should be noted that the screen becomes aware of the stylus pointer as soon as the dot (cursor) is visible on the screen and normal finger or palm touch on the screen is ignored. This is good design.  However, the touch and physical keys at the bottom edge often reacted by mistake while I was typing (in portrait mode). The keys ignored my resting palm while I typed, but there was that occasional touch which registered. This was irritating. Using the landscape made it difficult to hold the device while writing.
It could be that one needs some time to adjust to the behaviour. One has to keep the stylus dot active (keep stylus close to screen) when typing to make the device understand that human touch is to be ignored.

I compared this with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 inch tablet. Given the slightly  bigger screen state, the writing area was also wider and more comfortable to handle the stylus on.

I bought my device with the GSM sim support. Though I never got a chance to try this out. I could barely hold the device from behind in single hand, let alone using it like a phone. Yes this could be much easier to do for folks with wider palm reach.

This was my first device that could actually send a print to my printer, a Samsung model again. The provided print driver allows print function support for Samsung printers only. I did not try the wireless print, I used an OTG cable to directly connect the device with printer. It recognized  the printer. The print quality however suffered from slight blurriness as compared to the print taken from my computer.
Another welcoming feature was the micro USB port rather than the proprietary Samsung charging and data port. This meant I could use the same cable to charge all my devices.

No complains on battery life. It survived a days work, sometimes more. It used to recharge when I connected it my desktop USB, handy to plug in when I am on my desk.

Over all, the device raises the excitement level and opens up lot of interactive option thanks to the well integrated stylus.

For those who love designing and working with rich media content, this device is ideal. This could in fact be the standards that others should benchmark.

If the price could be a bit lower, and I hope it will eventually be, this device is highly recommended for those who want a portable device for rich media consumption and stylus use.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus update to ICS

After a disappointing Android 3 experience on my Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus, I have longed for an ICS update. I noticed that this is released and users of many other regions have reported getting it. I just failed to see why it did not hit my device. So decided to force update. Below link provides the complete instructions that I used to update my device.

The interface looks much smoother. Hopefully, the erratic reboots are gone.

One finding, things did not work fine when I used a windows virtual machine on my Linux box to get this through. VM always used to reboot at the point when the flash is being loaded. Tried this from a windows laptop and it worked as expected. Cheers.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Android 2.3.6 OTA update rolls out to Samsung Galaxy Note

I was a bit surprised to receive the notification for an update for my galaxy note device this morning. This was an update to release 2.3.6 and I just bought the device couple of weeks back. So I opted to install the same. On my network the complete process took less than 10 minutes.

The update was close to 10MB. It was pretty straight forward, but however it was not a one step process. I had to trigger the process 3 times (Accept terms, download file, Install it) from the notification bar. Each time I waited for something to happen before I manually triggered from the notification bar.

It did end well. The last alert told me that the phone was updated to version N7000JPKK2 (this is the UAE update version as per @SamKiesUpdates tweet).

I learned from forums that this update improves the performance and battery life of the device, will have to use it for few days to confirm this.

Friday, November 25, 2011

UAE to block fake phones

I do not know how well the clamp down on fake phones would go, but if you are concerned about your phone, here is a method to check if your device is genuine or counterfeit. I did not invent this, it is published in Gulf News (link below).

If you picked your device from another country or from a back lane store (including Dragon mart), or an online store, or have rooted or unlocked it; I suggest you give this a try.
  1. Identify your phone IMEI
    Dial *#06#
  2. Jot it down on a piece of paper
  3. Next SMS this IMEI No to 8877.
  4. Wait for few minutes. This may take some time. You will receive another SMS, like below one, that confirms your device status.

Gulf News article 24-Nov-11

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Purple tint on Samsung Galaxy Note Display

After a thoughtful day, I decided to finally buy the Samsung Galaxy Note. I was happy to see that the device had hit the shelves at the local electronic stores. So I picked one up, yes damn expensive (AED 3000/-) . I am told that the device will come down by AED 200 to 400 in about couple of weeks time.

I got a one evening chance to do hand-on session with the device, before I found out a fault with the display. During a dim light reading, I actually noticed a purple tint on one corner of the screen. This is not visible when the brightness is high or if the room is well lit. I installed the "Screen Filter" software from Market to further reduce the brightness to about 30%. This made the purple tint quite visible.

I had to explain and demo this to about 4 store staff, none found it convincing. It was just not visible in bright store light. I had also taken pictures of the purple tint in dim light, this was convincing. So I returned the device and the stock is also out! I will have to wait till the new stock arrives, this could take weeks..

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Samsung Galaxy Tab (GT-P1000) personal review

Yes, looks like a late review for a device that has been launched more than a year back. I bought the Samsung Galaxy Tab P1000 few months back. This is the one with wireless as well as GSM/3G capabilities.

Interestingly, it is actually a sensible idea to buy a device after few months of launch. After the initial hype hoopla is over, the device value actually slides down to a more reasonable and rational level.

I was looking for a substitute for my 10" tablet that was becoming cumbersome to carry around and failed to keep with the multiple application processes. I used the Samsung Tab for about 20 days. Here are some inputs based on my experience.

  • P1000 is a 7" model and has all the Network and phone functions. You can get all the technical Specs on web, google it. In short,

    • 7" inch TFT capacitive touch screen with pinch-to-zoom capability, WSVGA resolution of 1024x600 supporting 16 million colors.
    • 1GHz processor, 3MP back camera and 1.3MP front camera, Back camera support 480p video resolution quality at 30fps approximately.
    • Has GSM, 3G/EDGE, Bluetooth, WIFI, USB connectivity.
    • 16GB of internal memory.
    • On Android 2.2 OS.
    • Has slot for SIM and MicroSD card, 3.5mm audio jack.
    • Good Battery life, can last about 2 days with normal use.

  • This is a perfect size to fit my hand and carry around. This however does not look like a suitable device for regular phone function, there is no ear piece to directly take a call. Ear plugs, either cable or Bluetooth based is needed (or call can be taken on the speaker directly).
  • I found it best suited to hold and use. I have had no issues in operating the device, lying down or slouching on the sofa. If you are looking for a larger screen experience with just about comfortable device to carry around, Tab is good to go.

  • Browsing internet is smooth and I have had no issues. It would be best to use a more feature-rich browser like Dolphin HD, this can be downloaded from Market.

  • The device is rugged and is built for rough use. It does not mean that we can throw it around, it is just that one need not be extra cautious when handling it.

  • Though I put on a screen protector, the device has scratch proof gorilla glass, the toughest there is at this time. So a screen guard is actually not needed for scratch prevention, I still put a screen guard for its other benefits - To reduce Fingerprints and light reflections.

  • The screen is very responsive. I don't recollect a moment when the screen delayed in responding. However there could be response delay if there are too many jobs or a few resource hogging jobs running at the same time and the 1 GHz processor is preoccupied.

  • After being disappointed with samsung's decision in the past to disable Android Market (possibly for devices being launched in this region), I was happy to see that this one came with the market app.

  • Samsung has put in a lot of bloatware on this device. It also came preinstalled with religious applications. I personally don't need this and I was disappointed to not find an uninstall option. Samsung decision to include religious software is probably a marketing strategy to cater to the larger masses, fair enough, but then not giving an option to uninstall is something I did not like. So the next option - root it.

  • I rooted the device and removed the unwanted bloatware. This also gave me superuser access. This gives access to a lot more software on the market. Software such as Appszorter are now available to better customise the look and feel. Rooting was a simple process, there are many sites out there who can give information on this.

  • The TouchWiz UI is good. However the widgets could not be sized. This is a disadvantage as the widgets do not benefit from the higher resolution and wider screen. So I decided to try the different launchers. All worked well, I chose to use ADW Launcher. This gave the option to resize my widgets to fit the required space and show more information. For instance, I was able to resize my Turtle photoframe widget to show a much wider frame and allow for more pictures viewing.

    Custom launcher also give the option to remap available buttons. For instance, I could change the home button to actually open the application menu.

    Bottom line, the default Android software with Samsung TouchWiz interface is good for normal use. However, if the need is to make the look and fell more richer, launcher software such as ADW Launcher or LauncherPro could be installed and used. Apart from this the device comes with its own office suite support and has some good seeded software.

  • Most android market software worked as expected. However some failed to make use of the wide screen. This is specific to software and nothing to do with the device itself.

  • The big screen also gives the advantage of a wider keyboard. This makes typing much easier. Yes it is possible to do thumb typing in portrait mode, I prefer it this way.

That's all from my side. Final comments, this is a decent device and I am satisfied using it for both personal and professional work.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Motorola Charm MB502 customization

This note talks about the software customization I have done on Motorola Charm to make it usable, for what it is worth.

I bought this device for one reason - productivity. Read more about my thoughts in this note.

A very good hardware and form factor, excellent keyboard, optimal performance using the 600MHz processor. Unfortunately, lacks in display (QVGA) and video (max CIF) support. The screen is indeed bad and some widgets look squashed.

I did some customization to improve on the UI and brighten up the pixelated looks. My current home screens..

 Turtle Photoframe
 Turtle Photoframe
 Screen Filter, uptime, Weather, Agenda widget
Precious Metals Price Widget, aCurrency, Google Finance
 Turtle Photoframe, Drinking Water
 Mensa Word of the Day, Google+, Seesmic
 Android's Fortune, Babyage, Calorie Counter
Lock Screen

I am jotting down the list of changes I did on the device.

root it
Don't do this if you are concerned about support. Else do yourself a favour and root the device. Motorola is not interested in upgrading this device any further, you are left alone (check official Motorola forums on this). This device is probably on end of life list and may not get any more updates.

I downloaded and extracted the, and followed the instructions (look for reference link below). This also needs the Android SDK and Java SDK to be available on the system. Note, version 1.6 is required for this device, the higher version did not work for me.

Partition the SD card
This is required for the subsequent step for linking apps and moving them to SD card. I made use of MiniTool partition software to make three partitions on my 16GB SD Card (look for reference link below).

Cell1 -  11GB  (for actual data)
Cell2 -   3GB (for link2sd app)
swap  - 840MB (for additional memory space support)

link2sd - move apps to SD card
Downloaded and installed link2sd from market. The software link2sd requires a second primary partition. This basically moves all apps related files to the 2nd partition of the SD card and leaves a link in the internal memory that points to the actual file on SD. This saves huge amount of internal space and therefore allows installation of large number of apps. Something just not possible without rooting the device.

ADW Launcher as UI

Motoblur UI isn't that bad, but this is a small screen and I did not want it wasted on the dock bar and screen position indicators. The more space available for actual data and widgets display the better.

Installed ADW Launcher from market for easy screens. As the screen size is small and there is a physical keyboard available, I decided to remove the dock bar. Next I made some changes in the keyboard quick launch options to gain easy access to my frequently used apps.

Changed the home key to point to apps drawer and the double tap on home key to phone dialler. The quick launcher option also allows setting of search+ key to directly invoke apps. This is pretty cool as I can now avoid putting apps shortcuts on the desktop.

Font Changer

Downloaded and installed Font changer app from market. Font changer allows changing of font density from the default 120 to 140 or higher. This basically makes the font look bigger on the small screen. Though 140 was good to look at, it also increased the sizes of some of my apps. For instance,  the ADW Launcher 5-icons panel extended beyond the screen size. At a higher sizing, even the default dialler misbehaved due to the spillover of
buttons. I decided to keep the density at 120 and change the default font instead. I copied the Liberation fonts from my Linux desktop to the font changer folder. Then set Liberation Sans font for display from font changer app. This is much more crisp and easy to look at than the default font.

I found out that using a Mono font, such as Droid Mono, gave a good reading quality that did not strain the eyes. However, this takes up lot of space and most short-cuts and widget data is truncated. So will have to stick to a type face font.

Quite a few apps also allow setting there own custom font, this serves well for such small screens.

Some of my widgets did not allow font sizing and are barely readable. You will be able to make out from the screen shots. I still keep them as they act as reminders to get into the app itself.

I faced following issues with the device.

Battery charger conked
The battery charger worked for the first use. It just failed to work after this. The phone is getting charged from the USB link when attached to a computer. The phone is also getting charged from my wife's Samsung charger (same Micro-USB port). So Motorola does have some quality issue here. Checked some forums and realised I am not alone. It is OK for me as the alternatives work.

Washed out pictures
I knew the video quality on this device is pathetic. Was not happy with the pictures, 3MP should have been able to deliver better. With no flash present, the pics are unbearable in low light. There is a Kodak app included in the device that does picture enhancement. This is working out good for most pictures I take. So will use this as a process to enhance my snaps.

Not much can be done of the video quality. The CIF format is the best one can get from this phone. This will remain a bad score for me.

keyboard Delivers

This is the best part of getting the device. I typed most of this note on the device itself. I setup quick launch keys for my most frequently used apps (calendar, Seesmic, catch, Springpad, MySettings, greader, email clients..). Gotten used to this now. The keyboard is where the device delivers.

Working apps
I use the following apps on the device. Haven't noticed any issues in these. Some show a smaller font size though, have tweaked the settings of some to give better looks. Have put some screen shots here.

- aCurrency lite
- Adobe Reader

- Astro

- Agenda widget
- Android's fortune
- AVG Anti-virus
- Babyage
- Business calendar free
- Default Browser


- Default Dialler


- CamScanner
- Catch


- Calorie Counter
- Drinking water
- Font changer
- Folder Organizer lite
- Google+
- greader



- Default picture Gallery


- Link2SD
- Load Monitor


- Default Messaging


- Mensa word of the day
- MortPlayer Audio Book
- Market


- MySettings

- Openoffice document reader
- Precious Metals Price Widget
- Root explorer
- Seesmic
Screen filter
- Seven mail
- SMS backup
- SMS popup
- Springpad

- Turtle photoframe
- Google services (gmail, contacts, reader, maps, youtube etc.)



Final note
The device is much more acceptable with the above changes, but not quite there. Guess this is the maximum I can achieve on this hardware. I will be using this device till I get another up-scale qwerty device, may be in a few months time.