Enter the Nexus

Summer 2012 saw the launch of the Nexus 7. Designed and developed by Google in conjunction with Asus, it’s the first tablet in the popular Google Nexus series. Featuring a 7-inch 1280×800 HD display, quad-core processing, up to 32GB (from Oct 2012) of on-board storage and a host of bells and whistles; the most important being it’s a stock Android experience and guaranteed to get updated software way before pretty much everybody else. No fuss, no mess, no clunky UI overlays.

I’d been toying with the idea of getting an N7 since the device was first released, however as I was rocking an original Sony Tablet S1, with 16GB on-board storage AND a 32GB SD card, and the N7 initially topped out at 16GB I was reluctant to take the plunge.

However, over the remainder of the year I spent some time trying to source additional accessories for my S1, things like a spare charger – unsurprisingly from a Sony product, the S1 has a proprietary connection – and/or a charging cradle and after coming up short, I started to change my mind. Namely as, with the release of the Xperia Tablet, the S1 was gradually rendered obsolete. There was a software update to the device in September 2012, to bring some features in line with Xperia Tablet, but since then there has been nothing. Rumours were abound at start of February 2013 the S1 wouldn’t be getting the Jelly Bean upgrade and with my patience thoroughly exhausted I decided to abandon the device, just like its makers had.

As stated above the 32GB variant of the Nexus 7 was introduced shortly before Christmas, to appease the grumbles from consumers who wanted more storage on the device. Not that this grumble was entirely without merit as the Nexus series of devices do not come with expandable storage – it’s all about the cloud with Google.  And in some ways it’s all the better for it – making me choose what I want to watch or listen to, without having to trawl through thousands of tracks across multiple storage formats and the occasional erratic behaviour from the scripts required to bind the SD card.

Speaking of music and movies, the Nexus can handle pretty much anything you throw at it. 720p movies now stream from a server or play on the device without a hint of the ‘digital wash’ that used to appear on the dual-core Tablet S and was a sign of the processor struggling to keep up with the feed. It plays music quite well through the on-board speaker too and has a decent enough EQ that should appease casual and discerning listeners alike.

Regarding the speed of the device, it’s not that it’s quick, it’s that it’s so fast and so slick, the dual-core Tablet S pales in comparison and I thought that was pretty quick. You can egg the device on to go faster by using something like CPU Master and clocking the speed up to somewhere between 1100MHz and 1300MHz for the best results.

Of course to do something like this you need to be rooted. On the Sony, this was a pickle but Google’s embracing of the development community is fully evident here; with an accessible bootloader, you can do whatever you want. For example, the stock factory image for 4.2.2 was released just a few days ago. Within a few minutes I’d downloaded the image, installed it to the N7 and rooted, booted etc. In addition to this, the freedom offered by the N7 has thrown open the doors to some spectacular work from the guys over at XDA and beyond. Now that’s certainly progress you can’t buy from other rival devices retailing at a much higher price.

And for the price of £200 the N7 certainly feels a lot more expensive. The construction is sturdy and solid, without a hint of the creaking in the body I’d read about in other reviews. The grippy back panel works wonders as well and has saved the device more than once from flying out of my hands. At 216 PPI on a 7 inch screen, the display is vivid and gorgeous. I could go and on spewing superlatives about how great it is without once getting to a bad point. I can’t find one! Even with a decent case for protection it fits quite neatly into my inside coat pocket. Portable, durable, reliable and affordable – the Nexus 7 is a great effort from Google and Asus and a decent stepping stone into the tablet market for the uninitiated.

The Legend of Tablet SMS

I’ve been reading the occasional article about getting WhatsApp to work on tablets. Personally, I find the application quite irritating as it’s not very pretty, but I can understand why people would want to have it on multiple devices – for starters, there’s no cap on how many messages you can send. The advert boldly states you could send a million messages a day, if you had the strength in your fingers that is. Challenge extended?

DeskSMS from Clockwork Mod takes this idea and makes it even better. Instead of relying on countless numbers of friends installing WhatsApp, DeskSMS forwards your text and MMS messages to your GMail and Google Chat accounts. It’ll even send messages to a Chrome extension and all while using your mobile number.

So far, so intrusive, some might say. But here’s the best part – if you install the companion TabletSMS app on your tablet it acts like a client for DeskSMS and funnels your text messages to your tablet. Oh yes. And you can respond as you would on your phone and send a message straight back. If you’ve got your contacts synced to your Android phone you can text anyone you please. Honest!

You’ve got to pay for the service, of course, as the initial install of DeskSMS has a 14 day trial period (TabletSMS has no such limit) but you can buy a licence for £3.17 and merrily text away from wherever you might be with your tablet, provided you’ve got a wifi/3G connection. Your phone can stay in your pocket for the duration of a train journey, for example, while you ping messages back and forth from your tablet to the outside world while reading a book or watching a movie.

The guys at Clockwork Mod have done it again. A solid application that ticks all the boxes and builds a few bridges at the same time. Thoroughly recommended.

Gardeners World

Browsing through the Google Play store today, one of the apps recommended to me was Barnacle Wifi Tether. Some of you might remember this app having some prevalence on Android in the days of Éclair and FroYo as it allowed provided a tether from your phone to whatever WiFi enabled device you wanted. Pretty good stuff and one in the eye for the OEM developers as they were dragging their heels big time.

Jump forward several months and tethering is the norm. Providing your mobile operator isn’t a total miser with their data connection, you can tether your WiFi-only device (iPad, tablet, Vita etc) to your phone and surf away to your hearts’ content.

Sony jumped on the bandwagon with tethering by introducing Xperia Link with the Xperia Tablet S and also rolled out an app for phones. It basically worked as a dedicated link between Xperia devices and for those too idle to head into the settings menu to enable tethering, provided a nice little apk with which to do it. It worked really well, although when I switched from stock Sony to FXP ROM’s, it stopped working. Then I got rid of my Sony tablet altogether.

Anyway, I digress again – back to the point. Open Garden works in very similar way to the Xperia Link application, except it works on any phone and any tablet, no matter what brand. Well, at least it does with a Sony Xperia S and the Nexus 7.

It’s simple enough. Install and open the app on both devices. Hit connect. Done! I’ve tested the link on a couple of occasions through the weekend and can confirm it’s nice and steady. My only gripe would be that you can quit the app once you’ve finished – it does like to linger. Fix that minor gripe and it’ll be perfect!

Carbon Copy

Carbon is the latest app from the fiendish geniuses at ClockworkMod. Billing itself as the missing app sync and backup solution for Android, it lives up to expectations. So much so, I took the plunge and stumped up for the premium edition. This was mainly so I could restore a backup sent to my Google Drive, which you can only restore if you upgrade. A bit of a sneaky trick but nonetheless, it worked. You can also backup to Dropbox, Box or USB etc.

Anyway, I digress. I’m now free of the contraints of GoBackup and the 300MB+ files that used to generate and I can instead sync apps at will across my two main devices, the Nexus 7 and the Xperia S. Indeed I can sync to such an extent that I can save my progress on Angry Birds Star Wars (ahem) on my Nexus 7, backup the data then restore it to my Xperia S…and pick up where I left off!

If that’s not worth £3.17, I don’t know what is. Plus, it gives a major use for the 5GB of space on my Google Drive that was previously sitting unused.

Life of Pie

Hands up who likes tinkering with their phone? I do. I can’t get enough of trying to get the best performance from my handset, playing with a new app or using the latest custom ROM; FXP all the way, by the way. In the interests of new apps, the LMT Launcher has been around for close to 18 months, but only really came to my attention about a week ago.

Originating on the Paranoid Android custom ROM and now released as a standalone apk for rooted phones, LMT 1.9 offers a unique user experience. If you’re willing to do a teeny tiny amount of legwork with the app itself, LMT gives users an Expanded Desktop Mode – i.e. ditching the on-screen navigation keys for something much cooler.

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As you can see, it’s pretty nifty and very customisable. I’ve installed it on both my main devices and when you’re rocking a full-screen application and can’t get to your navigation or notification bars, it comes in very handy indeed. And looks pretty good too! If you’re interested, hit this link and check out the video from the developer, then get the latest version of the app from this page and slice yourself a piece of LMT Pie. As I write, it’s currently on version 1.91.

Snap Happy

Some of you might remember when in September 2012, Facebook bought out a little company called Instagram for around $1 billion. But, rather than buy this hot startup company to kill and/or assimilate their product, Facebook are committed to building and growing Instagram independently.

Never ones to rest on their laurels, Google immediately set their sights on acquiring their own social networking/filtering photo application, which is where the wonderful Snapseed from Nik Software comes in.

Originally starting life on iOS, much like Instagram did, Snapseed has come a long way in a short time. Offering photo adjustments similar to Instagram, it also comes armed with a slew, a bevy even, of digital jiggery pokery that goes far beyond its competitor. Snapseed offers one of the most powerful image editors available for phones and tablets alike, and all for free.

It’s simple and clear to use yet it packs a lot of punch and in-depth detail. After you open or shoot a photo, you can swipe through to choose edits, adjustments, and effects. Simple swiping gestures let you adjust contrast, brightness, and colour; or you can have the program choose those automatically or choose control points in the image. It also offers photo-fixing basics such as cropping, and straightening.

Snapseed is not for those who want to snap ‘n’ share in a few seconds. It’s for the more discerning photo editor, offering high end features which do not compromise. True, Instagram certainly offers fun ways to tinker with photos and offers a social photo community, but Snapseed is more capable and powerful at enhancing your images.

You should be aware Google are using this app as another way to pump up its under-populated social network and to that end, there’s a big Google+ button below your photo on the main screen. Fortunately, you can share to places you’re more likely to have contacts at from the Share menu. Or, you can do some tinkering with G+ and www.friendsplus.me (more here) to cross post from G+ to Twitter and beyond. It’s one way to fan the flames on G+, I suppose!

You can get Snapseed on the Google Play store here.

Cross Post

I’m sure most of you reading this will be aware of Google’s attempt to crack the social network market with Google Plus. Launched in 2011 and slowly gaining momentum close to two years later it does have around 235 million active users, around a quarter of Facebook’s active users.

So far, so underwhelming. I signed up for the service through an invite and was initially quite taken with it, until I realised the hoops one had to jump through to post from G+ to other places. Call me lazy, but I like to type one status and that’s that – I simply cannot be bothered to go to two (or three, or four) different places to input the same thing, even if I copy and paste. Twitter’s ability to post to Facebook has this nailed down, so there’s no reason why G+ shouldn’t work, either, is there? Unless of course you factor in Google have purposefully made it difficult to cross-post…

Which is where Friends Plus Me comes in. Currently in beta testing, FPM acts as a go-between, a middle-man of sorts, connect your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to Friends+Me and all your publicly published Google+ activity will be reposted within 5 minutes. The great thing about the service is that it fetches your publicly shared posts roughly every 5 minutes and distributes them wherever you want and you only need to type your post once! Yes – lazy posters of the world – rejoice!

I’ve set my FPM to fetch my G+ posts and feed them to Twitter, which in turn feeds into Facebook. Five minutes, Three social networks, one post. It’ll even let you post hashtags in G+ which then filter over to Twitter. What’s not to like?!

Check out FPM in the link supplied above.