Spotify VS Google Play Music

I’ve been using Spotify for quite some time now. Checking my receipts, it looks like October 2011. So I’ve been a subscriber for over 3 years now. Overall it’s been a great service. For a monthly fee $9.99, I’m able to stream music on my computers and mobile devices. I can even use the service while overseas without using a VPN service. This was one of the reasons I didn’t try Google Music Play when it was released. I could’ve tried it out and qualify for the lower monthly rate of $7.99 and save $2 per month. Doesn’t sound that much but that would be $24 per year, and for the 3 years I’ve used online music subscription, I would’ve saved $72. I don’t see going back to buying CDs. I think being able to stream music online is a great service. Even with the stupid bandwidth caps ISP hits their customers and inconsistent coverage, you can always download a local copy of playlists and albums.

Spotify is not a perfect service. I don’t think such a thing exist. I’ve noticed songs I wanted to listen are not available. Some songs are available but it’s the clean version. It’s understandable. But here are some things that they could fix.

  1. The mobile app used to allow users the ability to store local/downloaded copies of playlists and albums in a location they prefer. This is beneficial for non-iOS users (because Apple devices do not have external storage options) to be able to use external storage devices for storage. Imaging you have an 8GB or 16GB device and it’s filling up. You would be able to store Spotify media onto larger external storage. Unfortunately, as of November 2014, this is no longer an option.
  2. The radio station is a nice feature. Unfortunately, it doesn’t change. What I mean is, if the station contains 20 tracks, that’s all you get. It doesn’t try to find more music that match the station genre. I guess it is designed that way, because that’s how radio works, same songs over and over.
  3. Spotify continues to ask if I want to follow friends. I don’t really care what they’re listening to. I want to listen to my stuff. Enough already!
  4. On Android, the song details are not displayed in my car’s display. I’m not sure if Google is not allowing 3rd party apps this feature or Spotify devs got lazy on the Android version. When using iOS, the song details display just fine.
spotify vs google

Spotify VS Google

Recently, Google is giving out 90 day trial for their Google Play Music service. On top of that, you get theYouTube Music Key beta. Perfect time to check out the service. For almost a week I’ve been using it and have been impressed. Just like Spotify, the library isn’t complete but I understood that going in. But here are the things that stood out so far.

  1. When you first use the app, it will ask you to select from a list of artists that you like listening to. I believe this is how they can match you with songs for random play or suggestions. I feel this is much better than Spotify.
  2. The I’m feeling lucky radio is great. Unlike Spotify, it truly does play random songs based on your history and the answers from the questions I metioned above. On top of that, it’s always different songs.
  3. The app has a smarter AI. This morning, it greeted me with suggestions for just waking up. Selecting it will take you to another menu that’s based on genre and other things. I pick one and was amazed at how less I used the skip button. As a matter of fact, it’s been over 30 minutes (I’m listening to it now while typing this post) and I’ve yet to hit the skip button. If this was Spotify, I would already hit the skip button a few times. Either it was a song I didn’t want to listen to at this time or I’ve already heard the song recently. You can refresh the station and it’ll load music in a different order. It does display how many times you’ve listened to the music. So I noticed some songs I’ve already played. But it just feels that it’s doing a better job with random selections than Spotify.
  4. According to this list https://support.google.com/googleplay/answer/2843119, I’m still not able to use Google Play Music in Philippines… without a VPN – as of November 2014. Hopefully, they update this list and include it.
  5. Youtube Music Key is a great service and you get it at no additional cost. Not only do you get ad-free browsing but there is offline playback capability. But it’s only for the music side of Youtube. I was hoping that it was applied throughout Youtube. I’ve notice a huge increase in the frequency of ads when watching videos.
  6. It has a labs section where you can play with different plugins. Spotify has plugins as well. It’s neither an advantage or disadvantage but I wanted to mention it here. I haven’t played with it much to determine which is better or which fits my listening style better.

In conclusion, I’m probably going to cancel my Spotify service and replace it with Google Play Music. It’s for the same price, but for me it has a smarter AI, better search, and Youtube Music Key service. Being on Android, using Google service could have advantages as well, like getting new features earllier.

HTC Nexus 9

Best Buy had a promotion where they buy back old tablets and give an additional discount if you bought the new Nexus 9. I had the 1st gen Nexus 7 from 2012. It was a great tablet. It ran the latest version of Android and it supported multiple users. Sadly, it started to run slower and slower. So I took advantage of the promotion and parted ways with my old Nexus 7.

nexus 7

Google Nexus 7 1st Gen 2012

The details of the promotion are as follows. I traded in my 16GB Nexus 7 and was able to get $50 for it. If I were to sell it on eBay, the average value is around $80. If you factor in shipping and fees from eBay and PayPal, I’m floating around $50 anyway. So I chose to go the Best Buy route and not have any headaches. With purchasing a Nexus 9, I would get an additional $50 for the trade-in totalling $100. Not a bad deal.

So The 16GB version of the Nexus 9 retails for $299, with the trade-in I would only have to add $200 plus tax. Not bad but the Best Buy I went to sold out. They spent over an hour trying to get one for me but they couldn’t and I’ve already done the trade. The manager was very accomodating and was willing to extend the deal beyond the expiration just in case they didn’t get one in time. I was also given an additional $50 off if I chose to get the 32GB ($479).

After a few days, Best Buy’s website finally had some in stock. I ended up getting the 32GB White model and paid full price. I then went back to the store and the manager applied all the discounts. I pretty much paid $30 more than the 16GB version – well that’s including the trade-in of my old Nexus. Enough back story, how is it so far?

Before we get into that, here’s a pic of the box. It’s white and it definitely stands out if you’re in the store checking out boxes of tables. It has a large 9 in the front.

nexus 9

White box with a large 9

Inside you’ll find the usual, device, charger, and documents that no one really pays attention to. Powering it on, I had 53% battery life so I was able to play with it before charging it up. That micro USB plug is just a great, standard port for non-iOS devices.

nexus 9 contents

Google Nexus 9 contents inside the box

Hardware

First off, this tablet is powered by nVidia’s Tegra K1 processor. Not only is it 64bit, but it’s a dual-core running at 2.3 GHz. Accompanying the processor is 2GB of ram with 192-core Keppler GPU.

Software

One of the biggest benefit buying a Nexus is being able to have access to the latest Android version. Out of the box, you will have Android 5.0 aka Lollipop. Upon opening the tablet, I was met with an update.

software update

Update already

I guess it’s a good sign of support. Lollipop is a great OS and it runs smooth. I did run into some weird lag after my device was off for about a day. After minute, everything seemed normal again.

Material design is nice. All of the Google apps are running it. It takes some getting used to but I can feel a bit more responsiveness from navigating around the app – it could be the processor, Android runtime, or a combination of all. One of my favorites is the recent app display.

recent app

Recent apps

I can flick up and down and the response is great, it’s buttery smooth. What I’ve noticed in many different reviews for the Nexus 6 and 9 is that they first start talking about the hardware but for the most part, they end up talking about Lollipop. And that’s what I end up doing.

Basically, the hardware is all the same improvements. It’s usually faster and lighter. But the Lollipop experience has been a breath of fresh air. Everything just feels right. It reminds me of being on my iPad Air and running iOS 7.1.2 (I haven’t played much with iOS 8). I think Google did a great job with Android Lollipop. I hope my LG G3 will get the update.

One last thing to mention. I added my Motorola 360 watch as a trusted bluetooth device so that it won’t ask me to unlock, but it keeps disconnecting. It’s primarily connected to my phone and/or it can only connect to one device at a time. I will try connecting the Nexus with my G3 and see if I can get that to work.

LG Tone HBS 730

For many years, I’ve been using Apple’s earpods regardless of the phone I’m using. Why? Because they are the best that I’ve used when I just need a plain headset for music and phone functionality. One of the key features it can do is it’s tangle-free, at least the newer ones are. They even survived a trip to the washing machine.

Recently AT&T had a promotion that enabled me to get a pair of LG Tone+ HBS-730 bluetooth stereo headset for the cost of a pair of Apple earpods – $30. I’ve seen many people use these, great reviews online, so I figured it’s worth taking a look at. I’ve never been a fan of bluetooth headsets for three reasons:

  1. It was another device that I had to charge.
  2. Previous devices I looked into suffered intermittent connections.
  3. Price.
hbs-730

front
hbs-730

back
hbs-730

The front flap is held with a magnet and shows the functionality of the buttons.

So what’s in the box?

  • The HBS-730 headset.
  • Micro USB cable for charging. I just love how most non-Apple devices use micro USB cables.
  • USB to AC wall adapter.
  • 3 different sized earbuds. 2 are in the bag and 1 on the headset.
  • The usual paperwork.
hbs-730

contents

The headset is worn around your neck. The earbuds are held in place by magnets. Just pull them out and pop them in your ear. They are pretty comfortable.

The headset can be easily paired to multiple devices. I currently have them paired to my Macbook Pro, Mac Pro, and LG G3. When you turn on the device, you will hear an audible notification power on and it will tell you the current battery level. Battery life is good. I’d say I use it about 3 hours each day on average and don’t need to recharge for about 3 days – with battery still left over.

The sound quality is great for my taste both music and phone conversation. My way of adjusting noise cancellation is by shoving the ear buds in and out of my ear. When fully inserted in my ear, it’s nearly impossible to hear anything else.

What I have noticed though is there some interference that occurs during music playback. At first I thought it was because my phone is in my pocket and the interference is caused by a line of sight issue with the bluetooth connection. I tried the playback with the phone on the table, but I still experience the interference. To somewhat describe it, it sounds like lowering the volume 3-5 levels then coming back up – but it happens in under a second. It happens frequent but not enough to where it’s bothersome. It is noticeable.

I really like the headset but I feel it’s not worth its regular price for the interference I’ve been experience. Other than that, it’s a great device. If you can get a good deal, I’d recommend getting one.

Markdown Here

Ever since I discovered Markdown, I’ve been finding ways to use it aside from Jekyll. It’s made writing faster and simpler for me. I recently discover a browser extension (available in most browsers) called Markdown Here. With the extension installed, you can use Markdown syntax to write your emails in Gmail (using your browser) and it will apply formats to your text.

I found out about the extension while looking for an alternative to OSX’s native Mail app. It’s been preventing my Macbook Pro from shutting down. I found out about Postbox and Markdown Here was one of the plugins available for it. I followed the link and read more.

If you’re curious about Markdown, you can visit http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/syntax. It’s not for everyone and it does take some time getting used to. But for me, I save a considerable amount of time when using it.

Switched From WordPress to Jekyll

We’ve been using WordPress since this blog was started back in 2006. There have been many great features that were implemented. But as more features were added, I started to notice that it took longer and longer for me to create a post. Pages started to take longer and longer to load as well. Blogging began to become more work than something I did on the side and enjoyed. There were great themes out there but to have it work that way I want it to took longer than expected and I ended up just staying with the previous theme. I could create my own but I just couldn’t work inside WordPress. The code is just a mess to me. These are just some of the reasons why I wanted to look elsewhere for a blogging platform.

Welcome Jekyll and the Markdown syntax. Jekyll is a static site generator written in Ruby. It is cross-platform compatible and for me, it makes blogging fun again. Markdown is the syntax used to create content. If you’re familiar with Wikis and their syntax, it’s fairly similar. Liquid handles the layout/template engine. You can check out a great cheat sheet at https://github.com/Shopify/liquid/wiki/Liquid-for-Designers.

So what does Jekyll give me that WordPress doesn’t?

  • Increase is speed loading. Jekyll compiles the content to HTML. No need to query a database and parse content. I also started to use a CDN for assets and images. I could have used CDN for images with WordPress but to do a bit more work to implement CDN for assets. I could use plugins but that adds more overhead. I could easily update the template file but every time there’s an update, don’t forget to add it again or it will be overwritten.
  • I can easily change the layout of the blog with a lower learning curve for Jekyll and Liquid. Aside from that, it’s just regular HTML and CSS.
  • No database means not having to manage or worry about a database. This also means I can host the blog on any platform and with low requirements. You can get it hosted for free at GitHub or even Amazon S3.
  • Less distractions while creating content. The WYSIWYG for WordPress is nice and helpful but there aren’t any shortcuts. For instance, if I had to bold, insert hyperlink, create a list, etc. I have to stop typing, use my mouse and click on some menus, and pick what I want it to do. With Markdown, there is no need to take your hands off the keyboard and use a mouse for the menus, you can use the Markdown syntax and continue typing. It does take some time getting used to but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature like shortcuts within Microsoft Word. Some examples are using an asterisk (*) with two spaces after it creates a list; surrounding textext with one asterisk will italicize; surrounding text with two asterisks willbold; the number of pound signs wrapped around a text will determine its heading value. There’s many more and for me that’s very convenient.

It sounds all good, but is there a down side? Yes there are a few I ran into but it outweighs the advantages.

  • It’s not a fit for everyone. You will lose the WYSIWYG feature. I’m fairly comfortable with the platform because I have a good amount of experience with technology and can have an easier time learning it. My wife on the other hand is not technical and loves how she can just log in and post. To help her, I have created a template on Google Drive that asks for title, date, category, tag(s). She can then freely write her content and with all the formatting she wants. I can easily translate that to Markdown. Any images she wants can be attached to the document in Drive and I’ll upload them to our CDN. Seems like more work but it’s a small price to pay.
  • There is no app so I can’t post from a mobile device. I had the capability but never used it so no big deal.

Other than spending time converting posts from WordPress to Markdown – I know there’s a converter but I wanted to do it manually to fix broken links and do some housecleaning, I had to figure out how to replicate features I was using with WordPress and plugins.

  • Comments: WordPress has a built-in commenting system. It does this easily since there is a database. To achieve this, you can look at third party services such as Disqus, Livefyre, and Facebook comments. You can even set it up and make it a part of Jekyll. Some people have comments emailed to them to moderate. Once approved, it is added to the content and pushed up with the site. I chose to go with Disqus.
  • Search: There are many ways to implement a search functionality with Jekyll. A common way is to generate a JSON file and use JavaScript to search through it. You can also use Google Custom Search Engine.
  • At one point on another, I may have implemented some sort of email subscription feature where you provide your email and it will send a notification when new article is published. You can use RSS for that without providing your email address. Just look for the symbol and click it. You can use your browser to subscribe or other RSS client. It will notify you of new articles similar to how you get emails.

That’s pretty much it with Jekyll. I’m excited to use it and we’ll continue to provide more content.

We will be moving to a new platform

I am currently migrating posts over to a new platform and testing out how to integrate it with existing content. One of the difficult tasks, aside from copying posts over, is handling the comments in the new system. I will be trying out Disqus and importing the existing comments to that system. I’ve tried it once before, a few years ago but quickly removed it. I guess I wasn’t ready for such a move. But now I will be spending more time with testing. I feel this is a much better way of handling comments, specially posts that have many comments.

Please be patient during the testing and migration. If you have any questions, please leave a comment.

Motorola 360

I was pretty excited when the Moto 360 was announced during Google IO 2014. At the time, it was the only Android Wear device that was round. After a few months, I finally got my hands on one (they were sold out everywhere).

So what is the idea behind Android Wear devices? Well, to put it simply, it’s a device you wear around your wrist that receives notifications from your Android powered smart phone. For the most part, you wouldn’t have to pull out your phone from your pocket. Just look at the watch as if you’re checking the time and the notifications will be displayed. Aside from telling time, the Moto 360 also has a heart monitor and a pedometer built in. These features should work even without the phone in its range. So here are some pics I took during my unboxing.

DSC08054

DSC08055

DSC08056

DSC08057

The package includes a QI charger – wireless charging capability. It can serve as a nice looking desk clock while docked and charging. That’s really about all that it comes with. No additional band. The band it comes with is made of rubber and feels comfortable. I normally have a leather or metal band from the other watches I use – but no big change. Although, this is lighter than my metal band watch, obviously.

I bought the watch on September 2014. During the first couple of days, Motorola released an update –KGW42R. So I will be splitting up this post to include pre-update experiences and post-update experiences.

Before KGW32R Update Experiences

  • Android Wear is a bit buggy. There are many inconsistencies like the watch’s display won’t turn on when holding towards my face – it doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens enough to mention. Another thing I noticed is the notification of answering phone calls. There are times when I would answer a call on the phone, but the watch would continue to vibrate. There were even times after answering the phone, I would answer on the watch as well by swiping it and it would hang up the call.
  • Voice recognition is fairly accurate. It’s rare I had to repeat my commands.
  • Notifications can pile up if you ignore them. At one point, I had over 10 and I had swipe them away just to check the time. Also, to swipe them away, you have to swipe from left to right – opposite of what you’d normally do on your smart phone. It took some time to get used to but it isn’t an issue now.
  • Battery life is fair. My day is about 13 hours long. I get an average of 69% left after 6 hours of use – with ambient mode off. After 12.5 hours, I’m left with 46% battery life. The “short” battery life isn’t of concern to me. I have trained myself to charge my devices when I can. Even if this watch was rated to work for 48 hours on battery, I wouldn’t wait more than 24 hours to charge. It’s pretty much routine to me – when I get in to work, charge my devices; when I get in the car, charge; when I get home, charge. With the watch, it’s more of charging it as soon as I get home. Charging is fast. I would say about 80% worth of battery life can be charged within an hour.
  • In the car with my phone connected via bluetooth, the watch really shines. If you commute as much as I do, this is where I feel a huge convenience of owning one. Without the watch, you can use voice commands on your phone to send out messages or make calls. Unfortunately, the phone will have to connect to the car’s audio system before you can say a command. From my experience, this is where it becomes very frustrating. There is a huge lag during this step and commands get misinterpreted. With the watch, you can send commands to your phone before it connects to the car. It ensures that the command is understood correctly before your phone connects to the car (if necessary). This is a more pleasing and efficient experience. I did have to turn the radio down a little bit – it may create interference with background noise.

After KGW32R Update Experiences

  • From what I’ve read, this update increases battery life and bluetooth connection changes. Android Wear is still buggy and I’m still experiencing the same inconsistencies.
  • I’m not sure what else they changed but I find myself having to repeat more often than before when sending voice commands to the watch.
  • Battery life has improved. I noticed about a 20% increase in battery life. But as I mentioned before, it wasn’t an issue to begin with since I’ve implemented charging my devices into my daily schedule. It’s important for me to always have my devices available – hence I make sure the battery life can accommodate my tasks. I also noticed that the charging is as fast as it was before.
  • With the bluetooth communication update, it is now back to the old way. As soon as I get my watch to accept a command, it mutes everything in my car and awaits for instructions. But I think it’s more accurate than it was before and I don’t notice a huge lag. I guess it’s an improvement and muting the audio will help reduce background noise.

Other things to mention

  • In the Play store, there is no section for Android Wear apps. You can’t really search for specific apps that targets the wearable. Your favorite app may just have an update that now integrates better with wearables. You just have to go to each app one by one and see on the description.
  • Not all apps’ notifications can be viewed on the watch. For instance, Facebook and Instagram will have notifications on the watch, but to view it, you will have to open it on the phone. If you have a lock on your phone, you will not see the notification until you unlock your phone.
  • Facerepo is a $.99 app that allows you to change the face on the watch. The faces are designed by the community and are free once you install the app. You can also create your own and share. The app supports both round and square faces.
  • For me the vibration is subtle. The noise it makes grabs my attention more than feeling the vibration on my wrist. I haven’t found a setting to increase or decrease the vibration.
  • Bluetooth connection is versatile. When I found out that the watch synchronizes to my phone via bluetooth, I was concerned at how it would interface while connected to my car. It handles it with no problems.

Conclusion

After a week or so of use, at its current state, I feel wearables are not worth the price tag. I was close to returning it but I want to give it a chance. After all, it’s still in its infancy. Smart phones were at this stage before and look what they’ve become. If you don’t mind spending $250 or so on a platform with growing support, go for it. I can’t wait what wearables will become in the coming months.

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