Are you getting the new Nexus 5?

img: Google Play

Google recently unveiled the much leaked Nexus 5 and there weren't a lot of surprises. The Google flagship phone comes with a 5' 1080p display, the latest snapdragon 800 processor, the excellent LG G2 chassis with a super thin bezel, and finally, a decent camera sensor with optical image stabilization.

 Besides the top of the line hardware specs, it's also the first device with Google's latest and greatest Android 4.4 KitKat OS, which brings a plethora of new features, under the hood optimizations and UX fixes. And if all these weren't tempting enough, the attractive off contract unlocked prices $349 (16 GB) and $399 (32 GB), make it the best value smartphone on the market. It also performs respectably and in some benchmarks outperforms comparable models from Samsung and HTC sell for $250-$350 more.


 Now, if you already have a latest generation phone, be it an HTC one, Samsung Galaxy S3/Note3 or even a MotoX, there is probably no reason to change right now. They are all great devices and you should be getting a 4.4 update in future. If you are impatient, look out for a Cyanogen mod of KitKat soon. Wait and hust get the Nexus6 next year. For the rest, preorder one right now, if you can still find it in your nearest play store :)

Linux Tip: How to Transfer Files from Ubuntu to Android

img credit:
File transfers have been notoriously painful between Linux and Android. While it works seamlessly on Windows, and on Mac you can use the Android File Transfer App, let me show you how to get his done on Linux. There are many ways to achieve it, but I'll use gMTP, which gives you a nifty little UI to manage file transfers. Later on, I'll also list other alternatives, in case this fails. So let's begin.

1. Fire your terminal using ctrl + alt + T, and

> sudo apt-get update

> sudo apt-get -y install mtp-tools mtpfs gmtp 

2. Connect your Android device to your PC, and launch gmtp

3. If you have only 1 android device attached to your pc, just click on Connect. It should automatically detect the device and show you the directory listings. I have noticed there is 30s-1min delay for the connection to happen, so do give it some time.

4. Once connected, you can drag drop files to and from your device.


gMTP is slow, unreliable and buggy.  Partially, the blame falls on mtpfs and Android's implementation of MTP. So if the above method fails, below are some alternatives

1. Transfer over your local network:  Ubuntu and most linux variants support network sharing using samba. Just right click on the folder you wish to share, and select sharing and security. On your Android device, download a file manager like ES File Explorer, which can easily access your network shares. For step by step how to, see this CNET article

2. Use Dropbox/Google Drive: Works well for small files and documents

3. Try go-mtpfs:  There is a detailed video below on mounting your device. I have limited success using this but I'll keep trying.

Hope this helps. Do drop me a comment on how the above methods worked for you. And if you have found other alternatives.

Picking the right Android Phone

I have been an ardent Android user for the last couple of yea or so. I switched from an iPhone. I don't want to get the iOS vs. Android debated started here, but rather clarify the Android purchasing decision. How do you pick the right phone in a sea of hundreds of devices from more than a dozen handset providers. Here is a summary of things we'll discuss

1. Economics
2. Brand vs. Value
3. Hardware Features
4. Skins and Customizations
5. Android Version

Economics of picking the right phone really depends on the country/market you are in. In a lot of countries, telcos offer subsidized phones whilst locking you in for a 1-2 year contract. Typically, the lower upfront cost of a phone is offset by the pricier monthly plans. In Singapore for instance, StarHub, the second biggest carrier had the following plan for the new Sony Xperia Z1

The phone typically costs S$998. So If you go for the cheapest S$38/month plan, you end up spending S$912 over 24 months, while paying S$549 upfront. That's a total of S$1461 or ~S$60/month combined for the next 24 months. Which to be fair, is not a bad deal, considering how expensive similar plans are in other countries. I bet US readers are well aware of how complex AT&T and T-Mobile plans are. Hence look at the total cost of owning that phone.

In markets where phones are not subsidized, it's a lot more straightforward but phones typically are also very expensive upfront. It costs INR 44,900 in India, very similar to the price in Singapore. However, keep in mind the per capita income of India is 50 times less.

Brand is the second biggest consideration. If you are in a developing country, there are a lot of cheap knockoffs you can get, for 1/5th the price. The internals are quite competitive but the build quality might be a but finicky and software quite buggy. The flagship phone for a locally popular OEM called Karbonn, is called Titanium S9, looks like a Note 2, and costs under $325. Lenova and ZTE have similar phones in China.

Karbonn Titanium S9

It's always recommended to get a Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony or Motorola, but I would also suggest giving the cheaper OEMs a try especially if you are on a tight budget. The thing is normal users don't need bleeding edge parts - quad cores, a full HD screen, more than a Gig of Ram, the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon etc.

Features and specs are important but normal users don't need the best specs. In fact, I would argue, the battery consideration should be the foremost feature. What's the point of having the best specs when you phone can't even last a day without charging. For a lot of users, calling and browsing might be their biggest use case. But if you need the best camera or the fastest processor to run the latest Batman Arkham Asylum game, you definitely need a top line phone. You can get a Galaxy Note 3.0, Galaxy S3, HTC One, Moto X or the LG Xperia Z1. All are great devices. Also take note, their resale value also tends to be higher.

Now let's talk about software. Google's vanilla (stock) Android is beautiful and clean. I hate it when manufacturers load their own skins as a key differentiator. Samsung's TouchWiz looks and feels quite different to HTC's Sense UI. I also hate the crapware that comes bundled with some of these phones. Since everyone has their own taste and preferences, do give each phone a try, to see which interface is well suited to you. If you hate all the skins, you can always run Cynogenmod and get close to stock UI.

HTC Sense 5.0

Lastly, comes the discussion around the version of Android. Google is busy working on Android KitKat 4.4. Each version of Android comes with bug fixes, performance improvements and new features. In an ideal world, all Android devices should run the latest and great version of Android; However, in reality manufacturers are a) either reluctant to update the phones to compel users to purchase their next flagship phone b) their own UI/skin customization makes it harder for them to quickly release an updated version of the OS.

Both of these can be solved by using a stock ROM like Cynogenmod, however there are multiple steps involved, including rooting which voids your warranty. The folks at Cynogenmod recently raised $7M to build an easy installer and make the entire process quite hassle free.

Which phone do I own, you might ask.
I have always owned Nexus devices. Google launched the Nexus program as an experiment to showcase its latest software and to set a device standard which can push the industry forward. Lately they have managed to build great hardware at a very affordable and accessible price. The last Nexus 4 which was built in collaboration with LG can be bought for $299 USD unlocked. The biggest advantage is that Nexus Users get the latest update directly from Google unlike other phones which needs to be pushed by the carrier or the OEM.

Obviously for the price, you have to make some sacrifices. The camera is below par and the phone lacks LTE support. In my case, I prefer using my DSLR over my phone for taking pictures. And the lack of LTE doesn't affect me much.

Let's summarize. If money is no issue, get the flagship phone from the Top 5 - Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony or Motorola. Unlocked, they cost upwards of $550 and typically $0-$250 with a plan in some markets. Each of them have their own skinned interface, so play around before your decide. Personally, Samsung and Sony have better cameras, HTC and Sony have better build quality, all three have great screens, Moto X is great to hold and performs really well, and if you need a Stylus, Samsung Note is the best option.

If you are on a tight budget, give some of the local players a try. All the top 5 typically have an under powered handset in the lower price range which are also worth considering. In most cases, there are work arounds to load the latest Android through a 3rd party flashable ROM like Cynogenmod onto them.

And if Google has launched Nexus in your country, and you don't want all the clutter that other OEMs are packing their phone with, you can't go wrong with the Nexus.

Distraction free writing on Android. Review of Minimalistic text editors

Back when I owned an iPhone, not too long ago, I stumbled across PlainText, a free app by the Writeroom team. It was a barebone minimalistic writing app which would sync with dropbox, enabling me to continue writing cross device and cross platform.
That's when I discovered art of minimalistic distraction free writing. All you get is a full screen of blank canvas. No intruding buttons, plethora of menu options or distracting bright colors. As a writer, you focus on simply transforming ideas into words.
When I moved to the Android platform, I was looking for a similar alternative.
I stumbled across Epistle, which worked really well. The only feature it had missing was the ability to manage folders within dropbox.

Recently, I discovered Epistle has been discontinued and the developer has released a new paid app called Draft which unlike Epistle, is actively developed and has fixed some of the gaps. The app is just ¥245 ($2.5) and I fully intend to purchase it and support the developer. However, before that let's quickly check out the free options currently out there.

1. Writer : A light, no frills app with very basic features.  Great for taking notes. No folder support. No native dropbox support, however it saves notes in separate txt files. And in theory you could sync it with dropbox and google drive.

2. Light Paper (free): A fairly new app which looks quite promising, and offers tonnes of features. Connects to dropbox, tumblr and wordpress. Supports Markdown and spell check. However in my test on my Nexus 7, I found the free app quite buggy. The bottom ad is quite distracting, the on screen menu buttons did not work well, and it did not autosave my work. I hope the paid app works as promised. However, do give it a try.

3. Write, in the cloud:  A less known app, which is my current app of choice. Similar to Epistle and Writer, it's a very simple app, with very basic features. During the first run, you specify the drop box folder and then there are no other options to configure. Everything you write gets autosaved. My only issue with the app was the lack of specifying font sizes. My eyes aren't getting any younger. Larger font would be nicer. Highly recommended if you aren't looking for a lot of features, and need a basic text editor that syncs with dropbox.

There are obviously a dozen more apps on the play store. Which app do you use? Do drop your comments below. And happy writing!