Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – Official Report to be released Jan 23

It was announced last week that Samsung will go to press on Monday, 23 January with an official report detailing what really went wrong with their Galaxy Note 7.

Since killing off the Note 7 and releasing an update that permanently bricks the remaining few devices, Samsung have been conducting an internal investigation to find out why a large number of the units caught fire and exploded last year.

Their report is due out next week, and to be completely honest, after taking the plunge and going for a Galaxy S7 in December, I’m particularly interested to hear the reasons for the Note 7 fires.

After reading unconfirmed insider reports about a rushed R&D phase and cramming so much tech into an already thin device, I want to know how a doomed product like the Note 7 ever reached the shelves.

To get the elephant out of the room, I’ve long held a grudge against Samsung for the low quality and build design of some of their past products – something I’ve probably admitted a few times in my blog series, My Next Phone. I’ve also alluded to the fact that my heart said Huawei P9 but my brain said Galaxy S7 when making a decision about which phone to go with next: to be honest, I was slightly miffed that the S7 had trumped a lot of the other Android smartphones I had been considering when it came to features, specs, usability and general user experience – phone like the LG G5, Huawei P9, and Sony Xperia X Compact.

But I now have a newfound respect for Samsung, because after so many years of getting it completely wrong with flimsy plastic covers, they’ve finally turned the corner.

However, I’m still in a state of shock about the Galaxy Note 7, both from a business perspective as well as a journalistic one. I just can’t believe that a company as big as Samsung could make such a big slip-up, one that could’ve proved very costly for other companies like HTC or LG.

I’m sure their marketing budget more than covers the slip-up with the Note 7, but now that we know they’re releasing a statement that concludes their internal investigation, I’m interested to hear the ‘Official’ reason(s) for the fires. Was it that they rushed the whole process? Was there any advantage to switching to a different battery supplier? Did they try to cram too much technology into an already thin device?

Whatever the reason, I’m sure it’s something that every major smartphone and technology maker will be eagerly waiting to hear about. After all, if it is a common problem with a particular battery or style of phone, that’s something that affects the whole market, not just one company.

I’m sure that a lot of companies, from HTC, Sony, HP, Huawei and LG, to Apple, Google and Microsoft, will all be looking to learn a lot of lessons from Samsung’s mistakes. Hopefully even Samsung can be a bit self-reflective as well.

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My Next Phone: Virtual Assistants

Virtual Assistants have been around in the computing world for a while, but they’re now also available on smartphones. A virtual assistant is supposed to take the smartphone experience to a whole new level, organising your day and reminding you with alerts about appointments in your calendar, weather reports and news headlines.

The many variants of assistants offer different services, and some of them are better than others. Some are more friendly, while others can give you a detailed response to a query instead of pointing you to a web search.

Although I’ve personally never used Virtual Assistants, save for the occasional tomfoolery when getting a new phone and discovering its features, I can see why many people use them.

Virtual Assistants have come a long way since the days of Clippy on Microsoft’s Works suite on a computer. Apple debuted Siri back on the iPhone 4S, and since then, the popularity of Virtual Assistants has grown.

Here, I’ll quickly look at some of the main examples, although it should be noted that there are many alternatives, including small lesser-known apps such as Assistant.ai, and also more popular assistants, downloadable from various app stores, such as Robin, Dragon by Nuance, and Jarvis.

Siri

Siri is possibly the better known variant, and appears on Apple’s iPhones. She’s gained a lot of publicity, from TV advert skits to cameos on comedies like The Big Bang Theory.

Siri was first introduced as an app on the App Store by Siri Inc. There were plans for the Siri app to appear on other phone platforms such as Android and Windows, but these were halted upon Apple’s acquisition of the app. As such, the Siri app was withdrawn from the App Store, and the iPhone 4S was the first phone to receive Siri integrated into the phone’s operating system as part of an update to iOS 5 in October 2011.

Although the earlier iPhone 4 and iPod Touch 4G did not officially receive Siri when updating to iOS 5, a legal port was created and distributed on Cydia by independent developers, who bypassed Apple’s Siri servers by creating a backend using APIs from Google and Wolfram Alpha. Access to the Siri port required the user to jailbreak their device, before heading into Cydia, the marketplace for iPhone repos and tweaks.

The original Siri app was integrated into services such as StubHub, OpenTable, Google Maps, MovieTickets and TaxiMagic, and used voice recognition technology from Nuance, developers of the highly popular Dragon dictation software. A feature of Siri was to adapt to the individual user’s searches and language usage to offer a truly unique and personal service.

As my iPod Touch 4G was never officially supported, I haven’t had a lot of experience with Siri. I was unaware of the Siri app at the time, and as such, my experience with Siri has since been limited to my use of iPhones in my local electronics store. Despite jailbreaking my ‘iTouch’ on numerous occasions, and installing Siri ports through Cydia, I found that some of these ports weren’t as good as the real thing, and I had to rely on YouTube videos and trips to my local technology store to enjoy the real Siri for all her pros and cons.

That said, even though Siri is only available for iPhones, she/he/it still remains one of the best assistants out there, although Siri wouldn’t be the sole reason for me switching from Android to iOS if I were ever to make the transition.

Google Now (on Tap)

Like Siri, but only available through Google Search or via the Home button on Android phones, Google Now is very useful, and presents information in a ‘Cards’ format, which is now central to the Google search experience.

Whenever I’ve used Google Now, results have always been quick and to the point. It’s always been relatively easy to add events to my calendar, as has adding or removing weather reports or alerts for certain news stories.

That said, I’ve never really found the use for a Virtual Assistant.

Cortana

Microsoft’s contribution, initially only available on the Windows platform but now downloadable as an app on Android and iOS, is named after the Master Chief’s AI friend in Halo, the video game that was almost solely responsible for confirming the Xbox as a reputable game console opposite Sony’s Playstation.

It seems fitting, therefore, that Cortana is the name of their Virtual Assistant, as Cortana ties-in with the new-world branding of Microsoft. Even the same voice actor was used for the American variant of Cortana.

Microsoft Cortana

On my Windows Phone, I enjoyed how much more human Cortana was than Siri ever seemed to be. Although I’ve mentioned my limited experience with Siri, I’ve watched a lot of comparison videos on YouTube and played around with Cortana myself. When I’ve used Cortana, she seems a lot more down to earth and natural in how she answers a query. She’s less robotic than Siri. Cortana even has more of a personality than Siri and Google Now put together. Ask Cortana to sing a song or tell a joke, and she’ll do just that, with often amusing results. Ask Siri or Google Now to do tell you a joke, and they’ll direct you to a web search on jokes websites.

The Evolution of Cortana in the Halo games

The Evolution of Cortana in the Halo games

When it comes to actual, real world practically, on the whole Cortana performs well, although there is the odd request that results in a web search or an “I didn’t understand” error. As this article by MakeUseOf explains, cross-platform availability is possibly Cortana’s biggest appeal and is integrated into Windows 10, which means you can send a text or make a call from your laptop or PC, similar to the Siri experience between an iPhone and a Mac.

Plus, Cortana can be downloaded as an app for Android and iOS and, on Android at least (in my experience), can even replace Google Now as the default assistant. Cortana even makes it easier to use some of Microsoft’s services, now that the Office suite has been made available for mobile in the form of the apps Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive and Outlook among others.

S Voice

S Voice is Samsung’s contribution to the world of virtual assistants. Personally I’ve never used S Voice, even though I have it on my Samsung tablet. It’s more of an annoyance than a useful feature, although I shall report my findings in my review of the S7, which will be uploaded shortly.

Google Assistant

Google Assistant, though available in the Allo messaging app, will only be available as an integrated part of the Android OS on Android 7 Nougat for the new Pixel and Pixel XL devices (however, it has been said that Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge might get Google Assistant as well).

Google Assistant in the Allo app on my phone

Google Assistant in the Allo app on my phone

Google Assistant seems to be a useful feature, and I can certainly see its benefits, but as it’s currently only available through Allo, an app I’ve rarely used since launch, my experience using the assistant is limited – alongside my rare usage of the Messenger bot/assistant created by Facebook.

If Google Assistant is anywhere near as useful as Google Now, then it should be a promising future rival to Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana.

Which Assistant is Best?

As I said before, I have rarely found the use for a Virtual Assistant, and often ignore the feature where I should probably use it. Personally, the idea of talking to my phone is rather frightening, especially in public where people may think I’m talking to myself. I’m often able to get things done quickly without requiring the assistance of an assistant, and don’t think I’ll be needing the services of one any time soon.

That said, if I ever did require such services, I’m leaning towards Cortana, the Dragon app by Nuance, or the independent assistant Robin, which has been around for a few years now.

My Next Phone: Which Operating System?

The operating system is one of the most important considerations when choosing a smartphone, because it’s the interface that you’ll interact with every day you use your device.

The two biggest platforms are Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. The two other major operating systems, though slightly inferior, are Windows Mobile (recently renamed from Windows Phone) and Blackberry OS. Indeed, there are many more available, but a lot of these are variations of Android – including Linux mobile, CyanogenMod (a custom ROM for a rooted Android device), and Fire, a stripped down version of Android which runs on, amongst others, Amazon Fire tablets.

Blackberry OS was all the rage back in the day before the iPhone existed. But it never really evolved and missed the presence of big app launches, whereas iOS, Android and Windows Mobile have all grown and developed – the former two quite a bit more than Windows Mobile.

Windows Phone/Mobile: My Experience with Microsoft’s Portable OS

Windows Mobile benefits from running on Microsoft’s ecosystem and so a WM device can be a great companion to a laptop or desktop PC running Windows 10 thanks to the Continuum feature.

However, the app store is rather lacklustre, with only a selection of Xbox titles and the biggest mobile games, from publishers such as EA, ever making it onto the Windows Store.

My Nokia Lumia 820 ran on Windows Phone 8 (later 8.1 thanks to a system update) and was great for basic smartphone tasks, but near the end of my contract I realised there wasn’t enough to keep me on the platform.

A lot of Microsoft’s Office suite was now available for Android and iOS, such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote; and, apart from a good camera experience and great looking devices such as the Lumia 830, there wasn’t a great deal of unique features to keep me attached to Windows Phone.

As Snapchat never had an official app on Windows Phone, I had been using a third-party client by Rudy Huyn called 6snap. It was a good app, too – much better than the iOS variant in that it allowed me to add photos from my camera roll that I had captured in an Internet ‘not-spot.’ But Snapchat updated their API in the latter half of 2014, and all third party clients were shut down – including Huyn’s 6snap – to improve user privacy. I was locked out of my account and wasn’t able to unlock it until I used the official Snapchat app.

Although I don’t use Snapchat as much today, back then this was a deal breaker. Things weren’t much better for other apps. Facebook’s official Windows Phone app had been developed by Microsoft and wasn’t as feature rich as on iOS or Android. Although Instagram had an official app, I used to use Huyn’s client called 6tag, which was way better than the official port.

When I made the move over to Android in January 2015, Instagram’s official app for Windows Mobile, Instagram Beta, still did not support video recording or viewing. It was also still in Beta a whole year after I had left the platform.

I switched to Android, and to be honest, I haven’t looked back on that decision. Maybe one day, I’ll go back, but only if app support is guaranteed.

However, after 2 years with Android, I feel it could be time for another change. I don’t want to leave Android, because I love the OS. But I’d be a fool not to consider iOS.

Android versus iOS: Ecosystems

Both benefit from having their own ecosystems, but this can prove disadvantageous when trying to switch from one platform to another.

Although Google offers a lot of its apps and services on iOS, like Gmail and Drive, this cannot be said for Apple, whose only apps on the Play Store are the iTunes Music app (for playing and streaming music from iTunes) and Move to iOS.

As such, it has often been said that switching from Apple to Android is the hardest, as a lot of users get locked into the Apple ecosystem with services like iMessage. This difficultly will remain until iMessage is made available from the Play Store.

However, the main differences between iOS and Android are how you use your phone and interact with its User Interface. iOS is set up for the people who want to get things done with little to no fiddling. The app icons appear in a long list spread across several pages, with only a limited amount of customization available. And that’s okay, but the whole point of Android is customisation – every app lives in the App Drawer, with the Home screens dedicated to being your own space. They can be as cluttered or clutter-free as you want.

Phone Geeks vs Phone Civilians

Jayce from Android Authority once illustrated the difference between the two mobile OS’s as a case of phone geeks versus phone civilians. He likened the situation to opening a letter: a knife geek will use a specific knife with a custom blade, special features, possible an interchangeable blade and comes with a unique trade name, but a knife civilian will just use a pair of scissors because the scissors do the same job, sometimes in a better way, and don’t require any special features.

Believe it or not, this model translates over to phones in the Android versus iOS debate. Phone Civilians don’t care how they get something done, as long as it gets done in the quickest time without much fiddling or setting up. Phone Geeks, on the other hand, like to fiddle. They like customisation. They like to set things up to their liking. They don’t mind that it takes longer to set things up initially because, in the long term, things will be easier.

Why access an app to send an email when you can send one right from your home screen without having to open the app? Why access the calendar app or the phone app when you can add appointments and dial contacts from the home screen?

Sure, Apple will argue you can do this with 3D Touch, but I don’t want to perform any special gestures to get the job done. I want the facility there in front of me. Yes, it will take longer to set this up, but it will save time and energy in the long run.

Generally, Phone Civilians use iOS as its simpler and easier. Phone Geeks use Android because it’s not as restrictive and allows for customisation. However, this isn’t exclusive, and you’ll often find that both Geeks and Civilians use both platforms for different reasons.

If that argument doesn’t really make any sense, how about this: imagine buying a writing desk from a furniture store to put in your house. Your plan is to use that desk how you please, by placing your own pens, books, computer and notepads on the desk. But, the store delivers the desk with its own laptop, branded pens and notepads attached. The only level of customisation available is how you can arrange them on the desk. You can’t remove them or replace them with alternatives, all you can do is accept they’re there and get used to them.

Why I love Android over iOS and Windows Mobile

That’s how I’d feel about using an iPhone. Whereas, using an Android phone has allowed me to be free. It allows me to use it how I want, just like I do with my laptop.

On my laptop, I can set up and use have custom icons made from photos I’ve taken – by converting JPEG images to ICO icon files. As well as setting a custom wallpaper, I have the freedom to arrange the layout and size of the desktop icons. Android offers me that same freedom, and to have a workspace that’s convenient to me. iOS pales in comparison, and back on my iPod Touch felt restrictive and suppressed. Even now, even with a fresh look, it still feels the same. 3D Touch may be useful for some, but for me it’s nothing more than a carbon copy of Huawei’s Force Touch feature and a cheap gimmick that I’d never use. Sure, Nova Launcher Prime and Action Launcher 3 have Quick Actions, which is a similar feature, but I’ve not really used the feature enough to say I’d miss it if it weren’t there.

In terms of customizing the home screens on iOS, yes you can move the icons around, but they were all there unless you hid them away into folders. And that always looked too messy to me.

I suppose this, and the fact that I didn’t like the futuristic neon TRON look and feel of Android Jelly Bean, was why I chose Windows Phone-now-Mobile for my first smartphone, as I thought it would offer a mobile version of the desktop experience I’d come to know and love.

Sadly, Windows Phone never gave me that same level of freedom as on a desktop, switching icons for big slabs called Live Tiles that were supposedly just as useful as widgets on Android.

I never really liked the Live Tiles. They were just big slabs that flipped over every now and then. They were customizable only in that you could change the size and arrangement of the Tiles. You could change the colour, but it was a standard setting for all tiles rather than being able to have multi-coloured tiles. That felt restrictive. My creative mind felt suppressed.

Widgets, which is what Live Tiles failed to be, are more useful and easier to access on Android as you can add them to your Home screen. Information is available without searching for it, and it could be anything: SMS texts, emails, weather reports, health reports, news headlines, tweets, and many more.

Widgets on iOS were hidden away within the Notifications drop down menu, which didn’t seem that useful to me – on Android, I can have my diary or calendar on my home screen alongside a weather report and a scrollable list of news headlines. On iOS, I still have to go searching for these things. I have to do more to get the same result.

The only argument against Android is that it takes longer to set it up. But this is the part I enjoy the most. I can set up my phone the way I want to use it.

I suppose the only argument against the freedom of Android is that it does take a bit longer to [fully] set up an Android device than an iPhone. But this is the part I enjoy the most. I can set up my phone the way I want, not the way Apple or Samsung want me to use it. I can change the default keyboard app if I don’t like the colour or autocorrect algorithm. I can change the default app for the phone dialer, messaging, emails, Internet browsing… the list goes on.

Default Apps

On Apple, you can’t change the default apps. Yes, you can download alternatives, but you can’t outright disable, uninstall or replace the default app. You can install Chrome and Firefox as alternatives to Safari, but Safari will remain the default app for opening links from your emails. To some extent, I’m okay with this. But then there’s the whole Apple Maps debacle – the app Apple have pushed onto its users as a replacement for the much better Google Maps. If I got an iPhone, I’d have to out to with an inferior app as the default option, and with the amount of money I’ll be spending on the device, I’m not sure I’m happy with that.

Apps from Unknown Sources

With Android, you can also install apps from outside sources, and also those apps not downloadable from the Play Store, without rooting your device. You can’t do this on iOS without Jailbreaking your iPhone (which is the equivalent of rooting as on Android).

On Android, I can also change the default icons with a custom launcher or icons pack, versus only being able to change app arrangement and wallpapers on the iOS home screen.

Android Devices are like USB Drives

Android phones work like USB devices: internal storage works on a plug-and-play or drag-and-drop basis, with no specialist software needed. Windows Phones are much the same, but iPhones, on the other hand, require iTunes to really get things transferred. Music, photos and videos are all synchronised to an iPhone through iTunes. There’s no way of dragging and dropping files onto the phone like with a USB drive. This is kind of a disappointment, as I have never had a great experience with iTunes in the past.

iPhones also don’t benefit from expandable storage, and there’s no easy way of transferring content from one phone to another. For me, this is a deal breaker. I love having all my music and media on a Micro SD card that I can take out of one device and put in another – no lengthy media transfer required. I’ve heard that file management on the device has improved somewhat, but getting media onto the phone is still a tedious process, and it’s all to do with how media is tired on the device.

When you sync music or video from a computer to an iPhone, what happens is that iTunes flashes an image of the files onto the phone. In the olden days, I remember getting so wound up and uptight over the fact that half my music collection would get wiped from my iPod because it’s no longer there on my computer.

This meant I had to have my entire music collection permanently stored on my PC, otherwise it would be removed from my iPod the next time I plugged it in.

This mass removal would also happen every time the computer crashed – even if I’d loaded all the music back on the computer where it was last time. So if anything went wrong with the computer, I often had to put up with it because of my iPod. I couldn’t refresh it with a factory reset, because this would effectively do a factory reset of my iPod too.

To my knowledge, iPhones and iPods still work the same way. And, WiFi syncing never worked for me, and wasn’t all that useful seeing how the iPod had to be plugged in while syncing. So it’s not wireless then, is it?

If I could one day use an iPhone like a USB Drive, with simple drag and drop without removing half of my music from my phone, I might be tempted to switch over to an iPhone. I wouldn’t rule out an iPod Touch or second hand iPhone as a secondary device, but in their current forms, not as my daily driver.

New Android Features, and Android 7 Nougat

Aside from this, there’s also the new features of Android Nougat to think about. Although split screen is already available on some devices running Android 6, such as the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, multi-window support is a much-touted feature of the new Android OS. It’s a feature I’m begging for in a mobile device, one that will bring my phone up to speed with my laptop. It will further blur the lines between desktop and mobile.

Having had my S7 now for a month, I’m already seeing the benefits of split screen on my phone. I’m planning a lads holiday with my mates for 2017, and on multiple occasions I’ve been able to chat to them on Facebook while checking hotel prices and flight times.

I’ve also used split screen when typing up a blog post, this one for instance, while checking my facts with a quick search on Google. It’s a useful feature,one that truly bring the desktop experience to your smartphone. It’s another step in the right direction and takes the ‘smart‘ in smartphone to a whole new level and meaning.

Android vs iOS: Apps Crash Rate

Although this is not a huge issue for me, app crashing is another thing that can hamper the smartphone experience.

According to this article by Android Authority, apps crash more on iPhones than on Android devices. Statistically, it works out at a crash rate of 62% on iOS versus 47% on Android.

While I’ll accept the occasional app crash, I do recall a time when my iPod Touch downright refused to run an app. I’d open an app, and no sooner had it loaded that it would crash and force close. Obviously this wasn’t that important if the app in question was a game, but this happened quite a lot more than it should have done, even with system apps like iBooks and the App Store.

On Android, the only time I’ve ever experienced app crashing is when I’ve got too many apps open at the same time, or I’ve found a bug or glitch (which is later patched up in an update).

Still, a 47% crash rate for Android is pretty startling, and I have to wonder why it’s such a high figure.

iOS vs Android: Which One?

There are many more talking points to consider than what I’ve talked about in this blog post, but generally stapling I think the decision has already been made.

Although iOS is the first for new apps and app updates, times are changing and tides turning. There are still a few apps that I wish were available on Android that are iOS-only at the moment, including Neon Drive and Darkroom, but I love Android.

I’m used to Android being about me. I love Android’s sense of freedom. I love its unlimited customisation. I also love how you interact with your device.

It’s not just one Home Button like on an iPhone – an Android device can have a physical dedicated Home Button, Back button and Recent Apps button. Or, if lacking physical buttons, Android devices benefit from a fully customisable Navigation bar that can be arranged in any order you please.

Android is so me. In the words of an old Microsoft advert where people said they were a PC… I’m not just an Android user. I am Android.