Tuesday, 11 April 2017

6 Reasons Why I Use Linux

I often get asked on Google Plus or elsewhere "why do you use Linux?" so I thought I would explain my answer here in detail for the next time someone asks me. But first a little background history on my Linux story. I found out about Linux in around 2004 when I picked up some Linux magazines in a charity shop for 10 Pence each while I was on a web design course at college. I was tired of reinstalling Windows XP every 4 months or so I downloaded a few distros, settling on Mepis for a while on my 733Mhz Pentium 3. I went through distro hopping covering Suse, Vectorlinux, Debian etc and settled for a longer time on Xubuntu when I found that it was the first distro I tried that worked with the Ralink wireless drivers on my Toshiba Tecra laptop.



I have mostly used Ubuntu and variants of it since then, on various hardware, upgrading each time, and I am currently using Ubuntu LTS-based version of KDE Neon, which has been the best KDE experience I have ever had. I still check out other distros in Virtualbox occasionally. I also still use (and tolerate) Windows 10 for GTA V and OSX for music production. OK now down to the reasons, I am sure other people might have different reasons for using Linux, but these, in no particular order, are mine:    


1. Freedom. 

One of the best things about Linux is that it is free to use as much as you want, none of that restrictive one copy per machine nonsense or Activation hassle you get with Windows. nor is it restricted to one make of computer or set of hardware like OSX. And of course most distros are also free to use as well. I can, and have, moved Linux installs from one machine to another without any problems many times. Installs can often out last the machines they are running on.



2. The sheer number of (mostly free) applications available

When you install most Linux distros you not only get an OS you usually get some common apps to do general stuff too, and access to thousands of applications available in the repositories just a few clicks away in your package manager of choice! I am kind of surprised there isn't something like the DVD/CD burning app K3B by default in Windows or OSX for example. Although a lot of major games are not available yet, I am sure with time they will be, thanks to Steam on Linux. Literally the only reason I use Windows a little is for GTA V.  



3. Reliability and resilience

Linux is so resilient, it doesn't slowdown over time, rarely crashes and when it does I can find out why and report bugs and get a response usually. I find I can rescue it easier than Windows, and I am dreading reinstalling Windows again since it takes so long to get everything installed again. At least with Linux I can use it while I install and configure it.


4.  Security and control

With Linux I feel I have full control over what it does and the security of the system, both of the OS/apps and over my data. I really don't trust Windows 10 with my data. I've also never had to remove viruses or malware from a Linux machine.


5. Making use of old or obsolete hardware

Another reason I love Linux is that old Dell and HP workstations and business laptops with no longer useful Windows licences (e.g. Vista Business or XP licences) are cheap to buy - no one wants to buy a Windows 7/8.1/10 licence for them - but they run Linux very well, many of them were certified for Linux when they were new which helps. I have also installed Linux for friends on cheap underpowered hardware that performed poorly with Windows even when they were new.



6. Customizability and Flexibility

I can make Linux work and look how I want, using as many or as few resources as I want. For lower end PCs, I use Xubuntu or Lubuntu or even Debian with lightweight desktop environments. For my main desktops that have plenty of resources I prefer KDE, specifically KDE Neon. My main laptop is a Chromebook and my phone runs Android too, both are Linux based. Also Live Linux distros on a USB stick or DVDs are very useful too for rescuing data or removing viruses from Windows PCs etc.



This is not an exhaustive list but I hope this answers the question of why I use Linux satisfactorily. 

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Motorola Moto G - 1st gen to 4th gen in 2017

Motorola returned to the smartphone world with a storm in 2013 after Google bought their mobile side in 2012. Launching three new lines they were instantly catapulted in to the Android limelight. 

The E range is budget, the G range is mid way and the X, and later joined by the Z, are the high end. The G range stood out as a happy medium with Motorola packing some serious punch into these compared to its competitors.

I have had the opportunity to use all four handsets in the G range. In fact all four have been in our house over the past few weeks, so I am comparing them and how they perform in 2017.

All Moto G handsets follow a similar minimal look. The back has the camera and flash and trademark dimple, the top has the headphone socket, the bottom the MicroUSB socket for charging and data transfer. The right side has the power/lock button as well as the volume rocker.

Moto G (XT1032)

The original Moto G - released in 2013 - is the smallest of all, featuring a 4.5” screen and no MicroSD card slot. A heavy but well built device. The lack of MicroSD card slot is a big turn off for me as the built in 8GB is too limiting without expandability - although also available in 16GB version.




It can handle social media and YouTube videos without issues and even gaming is possible due to its quad core processor and 1GB RAM - but space will be your main concern. It shipped with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and received 5.0 Lollipop which it runs very well. As a four year old handset it still performs very well for its intended tasks - but lacks the new look OS, which had a major visual overhaul in Marshmallow.

Later on, variants were released that included 4G and MicroSD card slots - although I have never seen any of these.

Moto G2 (XT1068)

The second generation Moto G - released in 2014 - upped the stakes, growing to a 5” screen and adding an MicroSD card slot. It has a more plastic feel, which gives it a lighter feel without making it feel cheap. 




The bigger screen, drastically improved cameras and inclusion of a MicroSD card slot put it at a huge advantage over its predecessor - despite both having the same CPU and GPU. This model was well received by the media and offered serious value for money.

It still performs superbly today, running Android 6.0 Marshmallow (shipping with 4.4.4 KitKat) and easily keeps up with other newer handsets on the market. My daughter has this model and she uses it for light gaming, messaging and music with no issues. It really is a joy to use and doesn't feel like a three year old phone. The battery is easily as good as new phones and she can stretch hers for days. An interesting bonus too is that the G2 has stereo front speakers - producing superb sound for a phone (as far as I know, the only version of the G range to feature them). Later on, a variant, the XT1072, with 4G support was released.

Moto G3 (XT1541)

The third generation Moto G - released in 2015 - took the same design and tweaked it slightly. The back is the big give away featuring a textured back casing for easier grip. The cameras were upped once again offering a very capable 13mpx rear camera offering 1080p videos (over the 720p of previous G handsets) and dual LED flash, the front camera is taken to 5mpx. A slightly better CPU and GPU were introduced and it also added 4G/LTE in all models.




However the performance difference between the second generation and third generation is barely noticeable. My son has the third generation and he loves it. He plays a lot of games and never once complains about speed or delays, the only issue he has is the 8GB internal storage which can limit your apps even though Marshmallow introduced combined storage for internal and SD, it doesn’t work just as it should. There is was a 16GB model which had 2GB of RAM but I am not sure if it was released in the UK. (Editors note: the 16GB/2GB variant only seems to have been sold on Amazon UK, and I too have never seen one in the wild).

The battery size was increased by over 20%, which makes an already decent battery life even better and it features IPX7 water resistance which means it can be submerged in water - although I have never wanted to test it. 

One final addition over its older brother is the ability to wake the phone just by picking it up. Motion triggers the screen to wake, which is a handy feature.

Moto G4 (XT1622)

The fourth generation Moto G - released in 2016 - makes further leaps over the previous version, upping the screen even further to 5.5” (1080P instead of 720P in the previous generations) and cramming in impressive Octa Core processors, 2GB RAM but did keep the same camera specs as the G3. The device is splash-proof rather than water resistant like the G3 had been. 




My wife recently picked up a G4. The performance gain in the new specifications are fantastic. This handset flies and for something in the mid-range market and price range gives even top end handsets twice its price a run for their money.

I was a little dubious about the 5.5” display - especially as both my wife and I had phones with 4” screens - but the phone is large but not uncomfortable in the hand, and the huge display makes reading web sites and playing games great. The larger display is now 1080 - upped from the 720 of previous devices.

It packs in a whopping 3000mAh battery which sees my wife through nearly two days of average use. It ships with Android 6.0 Marshmallow - but is due for the 7.0 Nougat update shortly.

It is also the first Moto G handset to be produced under Lenovo, after acquiring the mobile side from Google.

Moto G5
Due for release in March 2017, the specs are not yet known for the Moto G5, however rumours are it will feature a 5.5" screen and Octa-Core 2Ghz and 3GB RAM.

Conclusion

The whole Moto G range has blown me away and my dismissive attitude towards Android handsets have changed considerably. All four released handsets offer so much power for so little money, it is hard to see why most people would need anything more expensive or powerful.

For the budget conscious the Moto G2 is a great bargain - however it lacks 4G. The Moto G3 is a little more expensive but does have better camera, slightly better processor and 4G.

The Moto G4 is still new and commands a much bigger price tag - but worth it. The original Moto is still good but its cameras are poor and lack of MicroSD card slot might cause space issues.

For me the G2 is the sweet spot between features and price.

Find below a comparison summary of the four models.

Moto G: Nov 2013, Quad Core 1.2Ghz, 1GB RAM, 4.5” screen, 8/16GB internal, 
no SD slot, 5mpx cam, 1.3mpx front cam, 2070mAh battery and Lollipop.

Moto G 2: Sept 2014, Quad Core 1.2Ghz, 1GB RAM, 5” screen, 8GB internal, 
SD slot, 8mpx cam, 2mpx front cam, 2070mAh battery and Marshmallow.

Moto G 3: July 2015, Quad Core 1.4Ghz, 1GB RAM, 5” screen, 8/16GB internal, 
SD slot, 13mpx cam, 5mpx front cam, 2470mAh battery and Marshmallow.

Moto G 4: May 2016, Octa Core 1.4/1.2Ghz, 2GB RAM, 5.5” screen, 16/32GB internal, 
SD slot, 13mpx cam, 5mpx front cam, 3000mAh battery and Nougat.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Kindle Fire 5th Generation Mini Review

Tablets are big business. A lot of peoples computing needs can be handled just by using one. While Apple and Google dominate the market, Amazon have a foot in the door too. Expanding on their Kindle book readers, Amazon have the Fire range - combining an e-reader and regular tablet.

My son got a Kindle Fire 5th generation as a present and I spent some time getting to know it. This model features a 1.2Ghz Quad Core processor with 1GB RAM, 8GB internal storage, card slot and a 7” screen. For a 2015 device the 1.9mpx fixed focus rear camera and 0.3mpx front camera perform very badly.

I did take some sample pictures to use on this article, but just couldn’t get them from the Fire to my Mac. Bluetooth wouldn’t work. Email needed setting up despite already doing this once. So I gave up.

It has a 7” screen that is surrounded by a rather large black border. This might seem an odd thing to write about, but it was something I noticed straight away. I wonder if it is to enable easy holding when using it as an e-reader.

It is a heavy device but seems well built. It has a minimalist look. The power/lock button, volume rocker, headphone port and MicroUSB charging port are all on the top. The MicroSD slot is the only thing on the right side.




This is an Amazon tablet. Their FireOS is a reskinned version running atop of Android 5.0 Lollipop. However this brings me to the main gripe with the Fire - it has no access to standard Android apps despite being Lollipop based, there is no Play Store. Instead it has its own Amazon Appstore. You sign in with an Amazon account not a Google account. This is not an Android tablet, which without prior knowledge a lot of people might not know this.

Once set up you are faced with a homescreen plastered with Amazon apps and book suggestions - giving a very cluttered look. This tablet can of course be used for surfing, email, FaceBook and Twitter to name a few things, but oddly lacking an Instagram app so be aware this might not cover all your needs. There are an impressive amount of apps and games, but it is just annoying that Android purchased apps will need buying again from the Amazon Appstore.

UPDATE: It is possible to sideload the Play Store and associated services, by downloading the APK files and allowing your Fire to accept 'apps from unknown sources' - full instructions on HowToGeek.com.

One other thing I don't like is your lock screen is used as an advertising medium - like a digital billboard which changes each time you lock it.



From a hardware point of view this is a very fast device. Apps and games load very fast and the whole OS is very fluid - helped by the Quad Core processor and 1GB RAM.

We have to touch on the e-reader side. You can download books directly on the device and reading them is great due to the crisp and bright screen which of course being touch means you can flick through pages too.

Battery is as good as any other tablet, but falls short of the amazing life of a dedicated e-reader. As a hybrid though, it does very well on both parts.

You may have gathered from this review that I am not too impressed with the Fire. As a tablet it is well built and runs fast with great battery life and is ok for surfing, FaceBook or Netflix, but the lack of Android compatibility puts it in the niche market and it is not clear when buying one what its limitations are.

For me a Android tablet with the Amazon app would be a better choice.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal


Editors Notes:
I have set up a Kindle Fire before for a friend and found the restricted Amazon app store was quite inconvenient and found I had to side-load a few apps like Dropbox to make things easier, but it is a bit of a faff really. I would only really recommend a Fire for absolute basic tablet needs, a better choice would be a second gen Nexus 7 or a Nexus 9. In the last few years though, smaller 7 or 8 inch tablets have fallen out of favour since the advent of ~6 inch smartphones and the introduction of touchscreen Chromebooks with Android apps. 


Saturday, 28 January 2017

Motorola Moto G : 4th Generation Review

I’ve been an iPhone user for many years, but when my kids wanted decent smartphones we looked around and was pointed in the direction of Motorola - not a name synonymous with decent phones these days. However the last few years their Moto range has taken the Android world by storm.

I bought my son a Moto G third generation last year and it blew me away. My daughter then got a Moto G second generation and we were just as impressed.. These might be mid range handsets, but they offer serious power that can even rival high end handsets.

So when my wife wanted to switch from iPhone - there was only one manufacturer to look at, Motorola. She opted for the Moto G fourth generation.

Unboxing revealed an amazing looking handset. For a handset that can be bought for £150 brand new SIM free you get a lot of hardware. While the G3 wasn’t a massive leap over the G2, the G4 is a huge improvement over its predecessor. 

The G4 packs in a 5.5” screen, Octa-Core processor, 2GB RAM and 16GB built-in storage with an SD slot. Compare this to the G3 with it’s 5” screen, Quad-Core processor, 1GB RAM and 8GB built in storage and it is easy to see the improvements the G4 has.

Build
They might be plastic, but Motorola make good solid handsets. The G4 is no exception. It feels strong and sturdy. Its removable back does seem a little flimsy, peeling it off I had a brief worry it would break. The back has a rubbery feel which great for grip.




It is a large phone - especially when you are used to an iPhone 5 or SE with their 4” screen - but the handset fits neatly in the hand. It is thinner than previous models and despite its size feels like it weighs less, although officially both weigh 155g.

The back features the camera, flash and the Moto dimple. The bottom features the MicroUSB port for charging, and connecting to a computer, and the right side has the power/lock button which has a textured feel and also the volume rocker. The top has the headphone socket.

Screen
The 5.5” screen is superb. It is large and very bright and the 401ppi makes it very crisp. Colours look vibrant and viewing angles are great. One thing I have found on all Moto is the screen is very sensitive to touch, which takes a little getting used to.


Cameras
The G4 has the same 13MP camera and 5MP front camera as its predecessor although the front camera now features a ‘selfie flash’ mode similar to the Galaxy S7 and iPhone SE. It shows a white screen illuminating your face in low light.



Back camera: outdoor shots



Front camera: outdoor shot and indoor shot



Back camera: indoor shot

Call/Music
It is a phone primarily, so call quality is important. This handset has the clearest and loudest call quality I have ever experienced on a phone. I live in a poor signal area and still had no issues even indoors.

Music playback was also as good as you get on a phone. I’m not a fan of banging out choons on a tiny phone speaker - no matter what the manufacturer claims - but it performed decently and when hooked to a Bluetooth speaker it was superb. Listening over headphones also produced very loud sound - something I like from a phone.

Performance
This handset is no slouch. Everything is a dream to use on it. Surfing the web, Facebook, Twitter, listening to music, gaming and even navigating the OS, this Moto is amazingly fast.

It’s large screen makes viewing web sites, browsing social media, watching YouTube videos and looking at your camera roll a superb experience.

Battery
It packs in a 3000mAh non-removable battery. Out of the box it was almost fully charged and setting it up, performing the 6.0.1 update and installing her apps made no dent in the battery. The following day, she continued to play with it, made calls and listen to music connected to a bluetooth speaker and by 10pm it still had over 70% battery left. That is very impressive.

OS
As with other Moto handsets, Motorola offer a nearly vanilla Android experience with a few Motorola apps thrown in. It shipped with 6.0 Marshmallow and is due 7.0 Nougat in the near future. The Android world generally falls short of the massive four year of updates you get in the Apple world - however you are talking about a phone that is a quarter of the price.

Conclusion
I was already seriously impressed with the Moto G range - and this large, elegant G4 has seriously turned my head. I can’t fault it in any way.

My ageing iPhone is in need of updating and for the first time I am seriously swaying away from iPhone.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal