All About Android 183 - The Appeal of a Diverse Ecosystem

This week I was a guest on All About Android, the netcast about all things Android. It was great to be back on the show with Gina Trapani, Jason Howell, Ron Richards and Bryan Burnett.
Check out the Youtube video I have embedded below.

In episode 183 we discussed the name of Android 5.0 and called it the day (before?) Lollipop was announced. I also got to speak of my review of the Tesco Hudl 2, and demoed the Skyscanner Hotels app. (Also avalable at
If you like what you have seen of All About Android, you can subscribe to the video and/or audio here: To vote in the Android App Arena you can go here: (Go Skyscanner Hotels!).

All About Android 165: It's Creepy... Creepy Good

This week I had the honour of being a guest on All About Android, the show about all things Android. I really enjoyed being on the show with Gina TrapaniJason HowellRon Richards and Bryan Burnett. Discussing some of my favourite subjects on AAA was great! Check out the episode here.
You can also subscribe to All About Android on YouTube, and on iTunes.

Motorola Moto E

This is my personal review of the Motorola Moto E, the budget Android smartphone which is taking the world by storm at the moment.
For those of you who follow me on Twitter and Google Plus, from November 2013 until April 2014 will have been a bit of a Blur of the hashtag #MotoG (Android skin pun intended). I really liked the device and used it as my main smartphone, flanked by the Nexus 5 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. When my Samsung S5 came along, I passed the Moto G on to a friend who was in need of a basic smartphone and who is now delighted with it and living the Android dream.
Over the last six months at least a dozen of my friends and relatives have been advised by me to get a Moto G (and they did). The Moto G is great device which packs an impressive amount of bang per monetary unit. With the Moto E Motorola are looking to wrap up the budget segment of the smartphone market using a similar recipe to the one which made the Moto G a success.
The Moto E is currently Motorola's budget handset offering, sitting below the Moto G in Lenovorola's product portfolio. For £80 (~$125) you get what would have been a 3G flagship specs a few years ago:
  • 4.3" qHD 540x960 display
  • Dual-core Snapdragon processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 5 megapixel camera (with no flash)
  • 4GB built in storage (expandable with up to 32GB MicroSD)
  • Android 4.4.2, with guaranteed timely upgrade to the next major release of Android
Value for money, the Moto E delivers an excellent proposition: good performance, almost on a par with current flagship devices like the Samsung S5, for a fraction of the price. I must say, in some situations I think it actually outperforms many of the market heavy hitters. As a bonus, you get a smartphone which is also splash and dust resistant which can be particularly useful in Scotland.

The Moto E runs an almost stock version of Android 4.4.2 KitKat at the moment, with very few very minor extras which are unobtrusive and actually useful (like Motorola Assist). In my day to day use, I haven't suffered from any issues with the software or apps I usually use. If anything the stock Android experience makes me more likely to reach for the Moto E than the Samsung Galaxy S5. 
Pocket Casts, Google Play Music All Access, Audible, Gmail, Twitter, Google Plus and Hangouts are the apps I use the most and the Moto E runs them flawlessly. As long as you remember to change the settings in the media heavy apps to use the MicroSD there seem to be no storage issues either.
The Moto E has a 4.3" qHD (540x960) screen which is bright and clear. Use in direct sunlight, although not really an issue here in Scotland, is excellent. The auto brightness settings haven't created any annoyances for me and watching video on the screen is great.
The thing difficult to describe and that you won't see on a spec sheet is the feel of the handset in the hand. Just like the Moto G, the curved soft touch plastic back is really pleasant to hold, and sits in the hand very comfortably. This SKU of the Moto E, from Tesco Mobile, comes with an extra red shell in the box. Accessorising has never been easier!
The 5 megapixel camera on the back of the Moto E was a huge let down. No flash, slow and sometimes unresponsive I didn't like it. There is another disappointment in the camera department too: no front facing camera means making Google Hangouts or Skype calls with face to face video is impossible. I suppose some trade off had to be made to bring down the price of what is a great handset overall for the price. Or was it all a cunning ploy by Motorola to try and curb the number of selfies on the internet?
Sample: weak camera doesn't perform very well
Battery life on the Moto E is great. The 1980 mAh battery lasts me more than a day in heavy use, even on days when I play Threes and Voxel Rush a lot. If I used the phone less, it would probably quite happily last a couple of days in between charges.

The Moto E is a great device, which delivers a great smartphone experience for an affordable price. The weak points are definitely the camera and the lack of a front facing camera, but in every other department the device excels within its category. Considering that the Moto E is up against the Samsung Galaxy Fame and the Nokia Lumia 520 in the same price range, I think Motorola have a clear winner in their product portfolio.

A word of warning if you are considering buying a Moto E: the standard retail box does not have a mains charger, just a micro usb cable.

Feel free to leave comments and/or questions below, thanks!

Technika Smart TV Box - Not Good Enough

This is my review of the Technika Smart TV Box. A quick disclaimer before you read any further: I work for Tesco, and the Technika Smart TV Box is a Technika product. Technika is a Tesco own brand. I have not been paid by Tesco to review this item, and I purchased the device at my local Tesco store. It is not a review unit, it is a standard retail unit, and I have been as impartial as I can while reviewing the device.
Smart TV boxes are devices you connect to your television to be able to use internet based streaming services, social networking services and play back media files which usually need a computer to play back (such as compressed video files). Smart TVs are televisions with these functionalities built in, and tend to be more expensive than standard TVs. Recently there has been a series of smart TV boxes and BluRay players launched on the market by different companies, which add Smart TV functionality to existing "Dumb TVs".

The Technika Smart TV Box offers to "Bring you the best of the internet to your TV" on the signature Technika green and black packaging. The Blinkbox, YouTube and BBC iPlayer logos are prominent on the front of the retail box, hovering above a sleek looking black rounded device with the Technika logo on the front. One thing I find interesting is that there have been some corrections of the device features on the packaging itself: at the "Access photos, music and videos..." feature, a sticker has been placed over the end as a correction and it completes the feature with "via USB". I wonder what is under the sticker.

Inside the rectangular green and black box you find the Smart TV Box itself, well padded in plenty of white plastic foam, with the wireless dongle already inserted into one of the two USB ports at the back. Beside the Smart TV Box in white foam, there is a cardboard enclosure with a power adapter, a remote control, a 1m HDMI lead and the quickstart guide, manual and Blinkbox offer leaflet. I'm pleasantly surprised to find an HDMI lead inside the box, usually this sort of device (just like set top boxes and disk players) does not come with a cable included.

The hardware setup is straightforward: power adapter into a mains socket and plugged into the appropriate input in the device, batteries into the remote control and HDMI lead from the Technika Smart TV Box to the TV. As I mentioned earlier, the wireless dongle was already in the device when I opened the packaging.

When turned on, you are greeted by a starry sky background with the Technika logo. The software and network setup are as straightforward as the hardware: through the guided prompts you setup screen resolution output (in my case 1080p), you opt in or out of the remote access support on the device, setup network connection (wired or wireless), if necessary enter your passphrase for the network and then check the name for the device.
All was well with my setup, apart from the passphrase for my network. When entering the passphrase on the Technika Smart TV Box the default case for letters is capitals, while most passphrases are in lower case. I should have known better, and entered a higher case passphrase so my Virgin Media Superhub refused a connection. After having re-entered the passphrase with lower case letters everything was fine though.
Lower case, I should have known better...
The remote control to the Technika Smart TV box is simple and pleasant to use. I particularly like the dedicated buttons at the bottom for the iPlayer, YouTube and Blinkbox. The rubbery directional navigation buttons have a reassuring click to them and aren't too stiff.

The homescreen on the Technika Smart TV Box is simple to navigate with the remote control. In the upper half you are presented with a large promotional button for Blinkbox content (Tesco's own movie and tv show   pay per view on demand streaming service), and at the bottom you have a carousel of options including iPlayer, YouTube, My Pictures, My Music, My Video. For My Music, My Pictures and My Video, you have to connect a form of USB sotrage with content on it. I have tried both a USB flash drive and a portable hard drive and it seems to recognise content on them (I say "seems to", so read on to understand why).
The Technika Smart TV Box homescreen
My first impression of the device was excellent. Value for money the device seems very good. For just under £50 (US$80) you get a relatively sleek bit of hardware with some useful streaming services. Sadly not all was well in everyday use: streaming YouTube, iPlayer and Blinkbox was unreliable and kept crashing in the middle of programmes, USB media playback worked fine on many different types of compressed video files, even some of the more exotic ones but would crash when pausing or fast forwarding through them.
I assumed that the crashing of streaming services was due to my network connection. (I have a 100Mbps cable connection through a Virgin Media Superhub). I tried connecting the Technika Smart TV directly to my superhub through an ethernet (standard RJ45 connector) cable, but still had the same problems.
iPlayer homescreen
In the support section of the settings of the Technika Smart TV Box I was advised to log onto the Tesco Tech Support website and follow the instructions there. The Technika Smart TV Box does not seem to have a firmware or manual section on the website yet, so a DIY firmware update was out of the question. I contacted the Tesco Electrical Helpline and a very helpful chap guided me through resetting the box, checking network connections and so on, but I still had the same problems with streaming and the occasional crash when playing back content from USB storage devices.

The advertised services on the Technika Smart TV Box are great, but limited to that. There is no option to add channels or services as there is on a Roku box or on other Smart TV services. So the usefulness when compared to a Sony Bluray player or a Roku box is very limited in my view.

I'll just summarise the pros and cons in bullet points:

  • Good value for money (if it works for you)
  • Included HDMI cable
  • Sleek looking hardware
  • USB media playback
  • Many different codecs supported
  • £5 free Blinkbox credit (if you can get it to work)
  • Excellent remote control
  • Wireless dongle included
  • Easy to navigate UI
  • Youtube (if it works)
  • Ethernet port for wired connection
  • Channels limited to iPlayer, Blinkbox and YouTube
  • Limited support over helpline
  • Crashes mid video on both streaming and USB playback

I was looking forward to enjoying the Technika Smart TV Box and was considering it as an alternative to the Roku LT (at the same £50 price), but sadly the crashiness and lack of support have really put me off the device. I hope Tesco/Technika can push a firmware update to solve the problems, but I'm afraid I'm not going to stick with it.

These are my personal views and experiences with the Technika Smart TV Box, as usual feel free to leave comments and/or questions below.

INQ Cloud Touch [Review]

As many regular readers of this blog know, I'm a big fan of budget Android devices. Google's Android OS is an open source operating system that manufacturers (and users) can modify to their liking and adapt to needs and/or devices. Many of you may have heard of or seen HTC Sense, HTC's take on Android's UI, or Motorla's Motoblur, or Samsung's TouchWiz. In a similar fashion to how these major players in the smartphone market skinned and adapted Android for their smartphones, INQ did so to create a new Android experience on the INQ Cloud Touch.

The INQ Cloud Touch is a relatively inexpensive Android smartphone which has social media and the mobile internet at its core. Facebook passes from being an application (and/or web app) to an integral part of the device. People who use/live on Facebook will feel right at home with the INQ Cloud Touch as it is probably more of a "Facebook Phone" than the HTC Cha Cha or the HTC Salsa in my opinion.
The Main Homescreen - Facebook Rules!
The main homescreen of the INQ Cloud Touch is comprised of a group of custom Facebook widgets: a large Facebook News Feed (browsable) and above it a widget of your favourite Facebook contacts, one of your integrated Facebook and Google Calendar, one for your Facebook notifications and one for Facebook Places (Facebook's answer to Foursquare and/or Google Places). At the bottom of the homescreen there is a static dock that appears on the other homescreens you can slide through. The other homescreens are customisable but come pre-populated out of the box with a Spotify widget and the most popular pre-installed apps (Twitter, Windows Live Messenger, Facebook Messaging, Youtube, GMail).

Facebook is not the only service that INQ wove into the DNA of the INQ Cloud Touch. I was pleasantly surprised to find Spotify as the default media player on the INQ Cloud touch. As well as playing media files stored locally you can also stream your Spotify playlists if you have a Spotify Premium account.
Spotify Playing TWiG (local file)
Plugging my favourite headphones into the INQ Cloud Touch wasn't a problem as the device has a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack. In the funky box you also get a very iLike white set of headphones with microphone. I definitely liked the headphones that come with the INQ Cloud Touch as they are earplug style ones. They even come with size adapters for the plugs!
The INQ Headphones Bundled With The Cloud Touch
Sadly I can't afford Spotify Premium at the moment, so all my cheesy Spotify playlists have been there in the Spotify media player reminding me of their existence (and teasing me as well as tempting me to subscribe to Spotify Premium).
Tempting, oh so tempting. Spotify Premium Needed!
Battery life was pretty good on the device. In my day to day use it lasted long enough to get me through the average day. Mainly I use the device for social networking (Google Plus, Facebook and Twitter), Email (GMail), IM (GTalk) and as an mp3 player for listening to podcasts while I walk to work. Managing battery life was easy with the power and service monitor launched by the dedicated button on the left hand side of the phone.
The Power Control Screen (Launched by Info button)
As well as everything that comes set up and ready to go on the INQ Cloud Touch, it is an Android phone, so installing your favourite apps and games from the Marketplace is easy peasy. Angry Birds played smoothly and was entertaining on the INQ Cloud Touch. I must admit that I have almost stopped using Facebook and reduced my usage of Identica and Twitter since the launch of the Google Plus field test. As well as the Google Search widget, I installed the Google Plus widget and a few more apps such as Foursquare. Performance of all these apps was great and I didn't really have any problems with them.

I have now been using the INQ Cloud Touch for more than two weeks as my primary smartphone and have not really had the want (or need) for anything more powerful (or expensive) than the Cloud Touch apart from in the camera department.
The shiny red back of the INQ Cloud Touch with 5MP camera.
On the shiny red back of the INQ Cloud Touch there is a 5 Mega Pixel snapper (without flash of any kind). I didn't like the results of the camera and the lack of flash for it is definitely a negative point. The nightclub frequenting iPhone or Blackberry user (who Frank Meehan mentioned...) wouldn't be able to take very good pictures if they were to upgrade to an INQ Cloud Touch. Sharing and sending the pictures would be extremely easy with whichever service you please. Google Plus Instant worked a dream with the pictures taken, but sadly not many were worth sharing.
A Picture of @fatoldgingercat taken in optimal light conditions with the INQ Cloud Touch
Here's the geeky technical paragraph of the review you can skip if tech specs don't rock your boat: the INQ Cloud Touch runs on a 600 MHz processor, which is pretty smooth and responsive on Android 2.2. The crisp 480x320 screen is encased in solid feeling plastic and the chin at the bottom of the screen has three buttons (Menu, INQ Home and Back). The smartphone comes with a 4GB MicroSD card and you can expand the storage on the INQ Cloud touch up to 32 GB (I tested it with my card and it worked fine). The smartphone is a quad-band GSM device so it will happily work in the US of A on GSM networks too, and it also does HSDPA (3.5G for us Europeans, 4G for Yank marketers...). The speaker on the back and speakerphone performance are excellent. The INQ Cloud Touch is available in red (as my review unit is), white and black.

Right then, time to wrap up this long review with some sort of conclusion. I have been a fan of INQ since my experience with the INQ Mini 3G. I liked using the INQ Cloud Touch and enjoyed using it as my main smartphone. Battery life was good, performance was good and once I got used to INQ's UI I forgot I was reviewing a phone most of the time. If you are a Facebook addict or someone who is afraid of technology but are used to Facebook, this is definitely the phone for you. The INQ Cloud touch is easy peasy to use and a fantastic first smartphone. It is affordable, fashion conscious and powerful enough to last a while. I'll be sad to send the INQ Cloud Touch back.

Quick disclaimer: the INQ Cloud Touch I have been using is a review unit provided to me on loan by the friendly people at INQ. I received no payment for this review and remained as impartial as any INQ fan can when reviewing their products. Leo Laporte vs Mike Arrington moment averted...

Find out more about the INQ Cloud touch here.

As usual, feel free to leave comments and/or questions. If you liked this review please Google +1.

Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) To Be Shown Off On February 2nd!

That's right! Google are holding an event in Mountain View, California on Wednesday 2nd February 2011!

The event will also be streamed live on so those of us on the other side of the world will be able to follow the event.

I'm looking forward to this event because as well as finding out about Android 3.0 there may be more information on Android 2.4 (for smartphones rather than for tablets).

I'll blog about the event soon after the live stream finishes. Enjoy the wait and the excitement until then!