Category Archives: OS

OnePlus One and CyanogenMod review – Top 5 features

The rise of the Chinese smartphones has taken me by surprise. If at the beginning of this year you had asked me if I would like to buy a Chinese smartphone and throw away my HTC / Samsung, I would have laughed in your face. How quickly the technology place changes, I am now typing this blog on my brand new OnePlus One – a Chinese smart phone! Arguably the best Android phone on the market when it first came out. The best bit? It was only £260 for the 64GB version. A premium phone for a budget price.

IMAG2201-001IMAG2202

I haven’t felt so excited about a phone since the days of Nokia 3310 and Nokia 7210, this phone has truly blown me away. Remember it is more than 6 months old, it has taken some time to build its reputation to current levels. Imagine how good it was back when it first came out compared against the previous generation of Nexus and iPhone devices. It would have blown them away and even today holds it own well.

Unfortunately for OnePlus, it has had a lot of growing pains as a startup trying to fulfil the demands of a globally successful product. Initially it relied on a number of gimmick marketing strategies such as Smash your old phone on Youtube and its frustrating invite system as it couldn’t cope with the demand. On its forums you will find numerous complaints about its early releases such as yellow band on screen and ghost touches – most of these issues seem to have been address. More recently it has also added Pre-Order days where anyone can order the phone without invites.

However, for all its public relation problems, OnePlus has had amazing commercial success. This is one of the rare occasions where I have seen appalling customer service completely forgiven due to amazing product. OnePlus One is one of the most beautiful phones ever created, it is often quoted that it is the best phone you can buy per dollar value (like a boxer who is considered the best pound for pound fighter in the world). Amazing look and feel in additional to top spec functionality. How have they managed to achieve this? Probably saved a lot by not doing any advertising and relying on word of mouth instead.

OnePlus One isn’t just another budget Android phone, they have premium hardware and software features not readily found on other top end phones. It is important to emphasis that the success of the OnePlus One should be equally credited to its hardware and its OS – CyanogenMod. I would argue that each on its own wouldn’t be as successful. Lets take a look at my top 5 features on the OnePlus One.

1. Gestures (Double Tap, Torch, Camera, Music controls)

This has to be my favourite feature out of the box. OnePlus One allows its user to wake the phone by double tapping on the screen rather than using the power button. Similarly instead of spending ages trying to find the torch application, simply draw a V sign on the screen and toggle the flash light on or off! The camera works in a similar fashion with an O sign. Lastly if that wasn’t enough, you can use gestures to control music with play, pause, rewind and fast forward gestures!

To truly understand the power of gestures, take a look at this video

2. Battery Life

Battery life on the OnePlus One is amazing, I am surprised every single day when I get home from work to see that my battery is still above 50%. My old HTC would have died long ago if I didnt keep it on charge through the day. I no longer run any battery saving apps on my phone, no more automate task killers, no more keeping my Bluetooth and GPS off. Everything can be on all the time for maximum convenience – how it should be!

3. Privacy Controls

A less talked about feature of Cyanogenmod, but one I value highly. Privacy controls on the OnePlus One offer extra protection for sensitive applications. You can group all sensitive apps into one folder and apply a special lock on it (see below Protected folder, bottom left icom). These apps are now no longer visible, even in the main applications list. In order to access the apps, you will have to provide a unique unlock code for that folder (see second image).

4. Quick launch (PIE like feature) – left and right arrow keys

On screen navigation buttons is a personal favourite, but I know others don’t agree. However, what the on screen navigation bar provides in addition is Quick Launch shortcuts. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen will bring up a PIE like circle with three shortcut slots. You can choose pretty much any action you can imagine as shown below right. Personally I went for Take screenshot and Kill app. Both has been invaluable as shortcuts.

CM101-Quick-Launcher

The other killer feature the nagivation bar offers is the keyboard arrow keys – see below. Now this may seem a very trivial thing, but I cant stress the number of times in the past I have tried to use my fat fingers to get the cursors to the right place without success. This solves one of the biggest frustrations I have with the keyboard.

CyanogenMod-cursor-arrow-keys

5. Dynamic profiles – similar to Tasker

If you are not familiar with Tasker, I strongly suggest you invest £2 to download it now. It allows you to setup automated jobs for your phone, such as sending a text everyday on your way home to your wife or switching the GPS on when connected to your car Bluetooth. With the CyanogenMod’s dynamic profiles, it offers a subset of that possibility built into the OS. For example, it has the concept of triggers which allow different profiles to be set when we connect to our car Bluetooth. On trigger, we can set to override GPS etc similar with Tasker. However, it is not full feature like Tasker, for example it only has wifi and bluetooth triggers, and no location trigger.

Have fun and enjoy the true power of Android

It is worth remembering that while you would void your warranty by rooting most Android phones, OnePlus almost encourages it and will not void your warranty! The OnePlus One can be used by your average consumer who just want it to work out of the box and by your enthusiasts who want to customise every little detail. There are a tons of customisation you can do not mentioned here. Do you own the OnePlus One or thinking about getting one? Leave a comment to say which feature you like the best.

Microsoft Windows 8.1, first impressions

I am a little late to adopt the latest MS Windows 8.1, but my old computer wasn’t suitable for the switch to 64-bit so I had decided to wait till my next computer purchase. With the demise of my old PC, now was the right time. So was it worth the upgrade, short answer: Yes, but don’t expect it to change your life.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of improvements (although I think my experience is a little more positive given I had skipped Windows 8 and jumped straight to 8.1), but it doesn’t move the bar as much as Windows 7 did.

Little Gems you might not even notice

There are a lot of negative comments about Windows 8 out there in general with stories of people uninstalling it and reverting back to Windows 7. This is undeserved bad press. I think part of the problem is that the stuff it does well, it does it so well that you take it for granted the moment you start using it.

Little things like:

  • Super fast boot times – you get used to this very quickly!
  • Ability to burn DVDs directly from Windows without additional software
  • Revamped search functionality
  • More powerful task manager (see below)
Windows 8 Task Manager

However, one of my favourite apps of all time is now deprecated – Windows Media Centre. At first I thought they must have put it in a different place or merged its functionality into another re-branded app. Unfortunately after some research it seems that although you can still get it, you have to pay extra for it and there is no place for Windows Media Centre in the new world order. Microsoft simply believe that we do not watch TV the same way we used to and we probably stream everything we watch now (instead of through an antennae) – they are probably right.

Windows 8.1 Interface

The biggest compliant about Windows 8 is the new Metro style interface. It’s perfect for mobile devices, seriously it really does kick Apple and Android out of the park. However, for a desktop people are divided. Personally I love that they attempted to kill the Start button. In reality there is a max of 10 app (and that’s already a lot) that people will use on a daily basis. This is perfect for Live Tiles. I mean it just looks so beautiful, just let it sit in your living room and proudly have it on display. If you really want to find that random app you use once a month, just use the much improved Windows Search (Keyboard windows key and just start typing app name – you don’t even have to reach for the mouse!).

Windows 8.1 livetiles
Microsoft Windows 8.1 LiveTiles

In summary, if you are someone who is generally afraid of your computer going wrong and like things to stay as they are, stay with Windows 7. If you don’t mind doing a bit of exploring, I would recommend an upgrade, there is just about enough features here to be worth the pain.