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Interesting random stuff

5 alternatives to Whatsapp

Now that Whatsapp is part of Facebook, some might feel a bit exposed using it. But I wouldn’t worry about Facebook doing something with their chat conversation data. I would worry more about the fact that it has been known to have very weak security.

Also last weekend, after the Facebook purchase, the service had a major fail. I had several friends going back to SMS messages to communicate.

So for those cases, here are 5 alternatives to Whatsapp in case you don’t like it, don’t trust it or when it fails:

### Line

line logo

Besides normal chat like Whatsapp, Line offers free video and voice calls. It has emoji like Whatsapp plus stickers, and you can also send location, photos, videos and voice messages in the chat stream. Another plus with Line is that it has a desktop client, so you can reply and continue your conversations on your desktop while doing other things, instead of having to reach your phone every time.

Download Line

### Viber

viber logo

Viber also supports emoji, stickers (and you can download extra ones if you need), and like Whatsapp it supports group messages with up to 100 members. Besides texts, Viber only supports voice calls. Like Line, it also has a desktop client. Oh, and they explicitly say they value your privacy.

Download Viber

### Telegram

telegram logo

When Whatsapp went down, Telegram signed up 5 million new users. This app is getting more popular every day.

Telegram supports group chats with a maximum of 200 members. You can share photos and any other media, and videos up to 1Gb. The most unique feature of Telegram is Secure Chats. These chats have end-to-end encryption and they claim are not logged in the chat servers. Also you can set them to auto delete themselves after certain time on both ends.

They also claim to be concerned about your privacy and security and they show it with their features. They also claim to never disclose data to third parties.

The interface is very similar to Whatsapp if you’re migrating from that. The downside is that it doesn’t support voice or video chats. It supports emoji but no stickers like other clients and no desktop client either. Although you can install it on a tablet, it lacks a tablet design.

Download Telegram

### Skype

skype logo

Well, we all know Skype by now. It supports chats with very limited emoticons, no emoji or stickers. You can send files but not share pictures easily in the chat timeline. The advantage of Skype is its large user base and its voice and video chats. And if you have skypeout or similar you can have an additional phone number to receive calls on any device.

Download Skype

### Google Hangouts

hangouts logo

Hangouts is Google’s chat client replacing Google Talk. It supports voice and video chats, emoji, photos and location (no videos or voice messages for now). It has a desktop client (actually a Chrome extension) so you can continue your chats anytime your browser is open, or you can do it while having your Gmail or Google+ window open. Like Google+ in the social media landscape, Google Hangouts is a late-comer into the mobile messaging world and it has slowly been adopting features from its competitors. But since it has the Gmail user base behind it and every new Android phone seems to have Hangouts included, it is slowly gaining popularity and it is very likely that your friends already have it, ready to receive your messages in case other services are unavailable.

Download Hangouts

If your concerns are more into the privacy and security area, I recommend you to read my post about secure communication apps.

Categories
personal

Replaced my Galaxy Nexus with a Motorola X

When I woke up in the morning, it never crossed my mind that I was going to change my phone that day.

I’ve been off contract for several months. If I wanted to go back in to contract, I would need a good deal since I was on an unlimited data plan that are no longer offered. Another benefit that I should look into a new contract is the price of a new phone.

Since I’ve used my Galaxy Nexus for two years and have been very happy with the stock Android experience, I didn’t want to go back into a custom branded phone; like something with Samsung’s Touchwiz for example.

I started the day by getting lunch at P.F. Chang’s, and right across the street there was a Telcel customer service office. So I went over there just to be curious on what was available, and surprisingly got a good deal: a lower rate contract since I not using all the minutes I was paying for, and a relatively good price on the Motorola X phone.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus vs Motorola X

Coming from using the Galaxy Nexus, the improvements are very noticeable. Not in the software, which are minor tweaks, but in the performance. The GNex has 1GB RAM vs the Moto X’s 2GB RAM that make a world of difference in load and response times.

The screen is very bright and I love the contrast (is it called dynamic range?) of the blacks and the bright colors.

Although the general software is pure Google Android, it has some special software like Touchless control and display notifications. I comes with Android 4.2.2, and not the current 4.3 version. The Motorola sales guy told me that it will upgrade to 4.4 “as soon as it comes out”, but I take his word with a grain of salt. You can also install the Motorola Connect Chrome extension so you can read your SMS messages and review your call log on the computer screen.

Also the camera software is different from stock Android, which I still haven’t tested thoroughly. Upgrading my mobile camera from the GNex’s 8 megapixel camera to the Moto X’s 10.2 megapixel camera sounds like a nice improvement that I still have to test and compare in detail. I like the fact that with two swings of the wrist the camera quickly activates. I got tired of spending 8 to 12 seconds to bring up the camera on the GNex, most times missing the moment, and don’t get me started on the focusing. The Moto X camera seems to focus pretty fast the couple times I’ve tried it so far.

The only complain I have so far on the Moto X is the Gallery app. It doesn’t sync all my web albums. So all I see are the photos stored in the phone. I don’t want to replace the gallery app with some untrusted version. The same thing happens with my CyanogenMod tablet, but I’m willing to experiment on that one more than on my new device.

I know that at the time of this writing and my recent purchase, the Nexus 5 is only days away from being announced. But I don’t regret my purchase. It will take weeks for it to start hitting the streets and months for it to get offered by my mobile provider at probably double the price than in the US. I guess I’ll still want a Nexus 5 when it comes out, but for now I can wait a few months, to save up for it while I figure out how I can order it from the US and get it shipped to Mexico, but more importantly, read comments and feedback from the early adopters.

Categories
News Photography

Snapseed for Android vs Instagram

Snapseed

After Google bought Nik Software, makers of the then iOS-only app Snapseed, today they have released it for Android and for free! Snapseed is a very easy to use photo app to edit and enhance your shots.

Editing photos with Snapseed is very easy and the results are good. But let me compare it with the most popular photo sharing app right now: Instagram.

Filters

They both apply filters to photos. On Instagram you select the desired filter and see the preview instantly. You can’t select more than one filter on a photo. On Snapseed, not only you can apply several filters to a photo, but you can also tweak the settings of each filter.

instagram filters
snapseed filters

You have complete control over each effect you apply and that opens the posiblities to produce very interesting things. Snapseed not only applies filters to a photo, it can also straighten it, sharpen it and apply color correction on it.

snapspeed tweaking options
snapseed easy to use

Cropping

On Instagram all photos need to be square, and thus, you have to crop your images if you’re using the standard camera app on your device. Unless you use the Instagram camera app that takes only squared pictures, you will need to leave out something on your image when you crop it. Snapseed works with the full image, no matter the size. This includes panoramic and even the new photo sphere in Android 4.2.

instagram cropping
snapseed with panoramic photo

Social

The community is what is lacking in Snapseed, since it’s only a photo editing application, not a social network. But that is why Google has integrated it with Google+ and the photography community there is amazing. On Instagram you have a nice huge community but most of the pictures are not high quality material and since you can’t tweak the filters, you get the same feeling across multiple images and users. But even then, I love browsing the photos from my Twitter contacts that have accounts there, and double tapping to love their posts and explore new users to follow from what my peers have “loved” too.

With Snapseed you can stamp your own unique style to your shots and share them with the huge Google+ photography community. Over there, there’s more than just mobile photos of mirror self shots or coffee and food pictures. It’s a community with great professional and amateur photographers and good quality images. Also, it’s hard to browse and explore the Instagram social network from the browser. There’s been some improvements lately but still, it was not designed to be a web experience but a mobile one. Google+ is a very nice web and mobile experience and lets you post more than just your mobile photos.

instagram post
Google plus post via snapseed

Quality

One of my biggest rants about using Instagram is the quality of the images it produces. Since it was designed specifically for mobile devices and mobile sharing, the files are very compressed and with a very low quality. Here’s a sample of the same image before and after Instagram. You can see the difference in quality from miles away. For me, Instagram destroys your images and the only place they look good is on a mobile device (try printing your pictures!). Snapseed doesn’t compress the final image that much, so the result is a lot more enjoyable in any media.

instagram quality

Instagram quality

snapseed quality

Snapseed quality

Conclusion

I only use Instagram for it’s sharing capabilities. I can multi-post from one app to several social networks with one click. That part I do like. For the rest, I think that Snapseed covers most of my photo editing needs and it’s very good at that. Snapseed will give you all your photo editing needs on a full size image without completely destroying your image quality. They made it easy to share on Google+, naturally, but you can also send it to any other app with the standard “Share” button functionality, but it won’t be one click.

instagram sharing options
google plus post via snapseed

With all these competition for mobile photography, I wonder when will Flickr wake up and what will they do if they ever update and improve their poor and slow app.

Categories
personal

Going wireless with Plantronics M155 and Android

Plantronics M155 headset

My old Motorola bluetooth headset that I’ve used for more than 6 years has been wearing out. The plastic rubber got ugly and started to break apart. Time to get a new headset.

After a while of browsing through the store shelves, I have to confess that the main reason I got the Plantronics M155 Bluetooth Headset
was because it had a “Android compatible” sticker in the box. It’s maddening that you go to a tech store to buy gadgets for your house and all you see everywhere is iPod/iPad compatible stuff with the ugly 30 pin connector and nothing to attract Android users. Hope this gets better with the new iPhone5 connector and manufacturers think more about broader device compatibility.

I like using mobile headsets, first of all, because of security concerns. Driving with one hand while holding the phone with the other, while it is still permitted/tolerated in some states in Mexico, it is not a good idea. Also, it’s way more comfortable to use the headset and answer quiclky with the push of a button. With this device I don’t even need to push a button, it has voice command recognition so it answers when I say “Answer” when a call arrives.

Lately, when taking a walk with my dog or while doing errands, I’ve been listening to music using the wired headphones that came with my Galaxy Nexus. But only used them on one ear, so I wouldn’t isolate all sound from my surroundings. I don’t want to get run by a car I didn’t hear coming.

Many times I had to switch from listening to music on my headphones, to listening to music on my car’s speakers (using a line-in cable) and connecting my bluetooth headset while in the car. Then, getting out of the car and switch back to wired headphones. The Plantronics M155 made the whole thing simpler because it has support for streaming music and when I plug the aux cable for the car speakers it switches automatically to the line out.

At first I thought that the grip wouldn’t hold and that I would need the over the ear loop that comes in the package. I took it to the gym using the default rubber thing that comes with it, and to my surprise, it didn’t fall off at all, even while at the treadmill. So although small and simple by the looks, it is well designed.

Volume levels and sound quality are good. Voices are very clear, and although I haven’t asked about it, I think ambient noise reduction is okay.

It has a manual on/off switch, which I like a lot, since my prevous Motorola model had one button that I had to hold for several seconds to power on or off. This was bad when travelling, I threw it in my backpack and it would turn on by itself if it got pressed against something. Then I took it out with the surprise that it had been on for a while and the battery was drained. The manual on/off switch is a must for such small gadgets. It’s also faster to power up since I don’t have to wait, which can be critical when you forget to turn your headset on and started driving away.

I expected more from the “Android compatible” labeling. I’m not talking about the label itself, but about the app. First, there is no QR code for me to get to the right app. I had to search for it by name on the Google Play Store. Then, after I installed it, all it does is just to report the status and battery of the device. No configuration or custom options for buttons or behaviors.

The battery on the device so far has proven to be great. I streamed music for 2.5 hours and still had 2 more hours of talk time. Plantronics claims that it has a 5 hour talk time, but I’m yet to find out. So far so good anyway. And the nice detail that it tells you how much talking time you have left when you power on the device is great. No more surprise hangups or having a dead device without any hints like with my previous headset.

Another good thing is the carging method. The Motorola model charged with a mini USB cable, and sometimes I couldn’t have that around with me at all times to charge it when needed. The Plantronics M155
charges with a micro USB, same as the phone, so that makes it easier to charge using the same cable, which I usually have one around, or quickly borrow one from another Android phone user.

So far I’m happy with the purchase. Being cables free while driving and now also while listening to music has been a nice experience. Specially when you walk your dog and sometimes the leash entangles with the headphones and she pulls the cable and gets them unplugged either from your phone, or worse, from your ears.

Categories
Photography

I’ve joined Instagram

Instagram logo

After long time avioding the hype, I decided last week to finally join Instagram. I’ve been trying to get more involved with photography and reading several good photographer’s blogs and some recommended to get into that. Also that after reading that it is powered by Django, I had lots of curiosity.

Among the things I like about Instagram are the many preconfigured filters. There’s a lot of them and fast to try out. It would be great if you could fade a bit some of those effects or tune them, just like you can do with Picnic when editing photos on Google Plus. Also the basic color & saturation corrections would be nice to have too. The blur effect is very cool and easy to use, I always used to do that by hand (or tried to) on Gimp or other photo editing software. The Ice Cream Sandwich image editor doesn’t have a way to do it, so having it on Instagram is nice. Sharing on multiple social networks is very comfortable too. I wish one could configure what albums on the phone get synchronized with google plus auto-upload feature. Right now it only syncs the main camera album, and all Instagram edits get saved at the “Instagram” album, so they don’t get synced, but that’s an Android ICS feature waiting to happen, not Instagram’s app fault.

So far I’ve seen, there is no web interface to browse all your and others pictures on Instagram. There’s another web app called Statigr.am and you can use that as your web access to the images. I wonder why that decision was made, a good web interface is always handy, plus you use your larger screen of your desktop or laptop. I’m a bit worried about the license on my uploaded images, but I don’t plan to upload anything important anyway. And if I did, I would republish on Flickr with a Creative Commons license, the way I like it.

As an online photo sharing app, I still prefer Flickr over all the services I’ve tried: Picasa/Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and recently 500px. Even though many criticize it for being outdated or “left behind”, just because it doesn’t have a decent mobile application doesn’t mean they’ve staggered. Recent minor changes have been great usability commodities and it lets me share and blog my pictures easier (when on my computer, not phone/tablet) letting me choose from different sizes to, for example, share them on my blog. Community wise I’m still not sure, since I don’t have lots of followers on Instagram, the activity on my photos is not that big.

Here are some of the pictures I’ve uploaded:

chamaleon

Llama

Chinchilla

Don’t forget to follow me as gabrielsaldana (don’t know if there’s a way to make a link to follow or something, since there’s no web interface to my profile). I still have lots to learn about Instagram. Mind to share with me some tips in the comments?

Categories
GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source personal

Galaxy Nexus with Ice Cream Sandwich from Telcel

Galaxy Nexus box

I was lucky to get an online coupon to get the Galaxy Nexus phone on launch in Mexico (Telcel carrier) last thursday.

The software and usability

I wanted to give the phone some use before writing about it so I waited some weeks to post anything about it. I think it’s a very fast and elegant phone and the new operating system is key to its success. The good news is that the Galaxy Nexus was not altered by the carrier, so it has no crapware on it. It’s 100% Google’s Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

Having used for months the Samsung Galaxy Tab with Honeycomb, moving to ICS was not a big deal to me, but I can imagine that it would be a big leap for Gingerbread users. The interface is very different and they way you interact with apps has also changed. Since there are no “physical” buttons, or touchable buttons like in the Galaxy S and S2, all buttons are on screen. The menu button is gone, so for apps that use it you need to look for a button that has three vertical dots. That can be very confusing at first, but having used the Honeycomb’s Gtalk and Gmail apps, it was easy to figure that out immediately.

One friend once complained about Android taking too long to open the contacts list. On the Galaxy S it took a couple seconds to load. I don’t know if this is Samsung specific or all 2.x versions had this lag. On ICS there is no lag when opening the contacts list, it has a very fast scroll and it has a very nice and clean design.

For the security aware people, ICS now comes with an option to encrypt your phone, a feature that was present in Honeycomb as well for the tablets (but I hadn’t tried until now). The bad news about it is that once you decide to encrypt your phone, you can no longer use swipe, pattern or face unlock screens. Only PIN and passphrase unlock screens are available. I didn’t expect that but I don’t mind, I “ported” my pattern to a PIN and use that. I can’t imagine typing a passphrase everytime you want to unlock your phone.

Galaxy Nexus with Ice Cream Sandwich

The hardware and design

On the hardware design part, I like the fact that the headphone jack is at the bottom and not at the top like in the Galaxy S, this makes it more comfortable and a more natural movement when taking it out of your pocket without having to flip it around. I sometimes miss the front button that you could tap quickly to turn on the screen.

My surprise though, was that when I read the Galaxy Nexus official website, it says it has 32Gb of internal storage and no indication of any alternative options. The version I got, has only 13Gb and since it has no SD card slot to expand your storage, this can get quite limited.

The Galaxy Nexus has a multicolor notification LED that is very practical to see what type of notification you haven’t seen. The downside is that the LED blinks very slowly, so you have to stare at your phone for a couple seconds to see if there’s anything blinking. On the Galaxy S I used BLN notification and when I had a notification, the LEDS were always on. If only I could make the Galaxy Nexus LED blink faster it would be more practical.

Compared to the Galaxy S2, the phone’s camera is “smaller” on the Galaxy Nexus, and by that I mean that it has a 5 megapixel camera vs the Galaxy S2’s 8 megapixel camera. The good news is that it has a zero delay shutter speed so as soon as you hit the button, the picture is taken. Long shutter lags was one of my biggest rants on previous phone cameras, so for me this is a must have on every phone from now on.

Battery lasts longer than my Galaxy S, for which I’ve had to buy an additional battery because it drains so quickly. Still you have to take the normal battery saving considerations of turning off things that you don’t need, but it still lasts longer on idle. It’s a bigger battery as well, so it might be just that.

Conclusion

Having used the phone for a couple weeks now, I noticed that for me there was little difference in speed and usability to use the Galaxy Tab with Honeycomb or the Galaxy Nexus with ICS. But I could feel a difference when using the Galaxy S with Gingerbread. I went on a weekend trip taking only my phone and I didn’t miss my Tab or my laptop to do my causal browsing and information consuming “needs”. But I couldn’t say the same if I just had the Gingerbread phone, the larger screen and the commodities of ICS in the Galaxy Nexus makes it a very fast and comfortable mobile device. ICS is a very well built mobile operating system that is not designed as only a smartphone like the 2.x Android versions. I’m very happy with this new phone and I recommend it greatly.