Nexus 4 Mini Review

This Nexus 4 has only been with me a short time but I can already see why the guys and gals who got their hands on the original batch of devices have raved so highly about them. Here’s a short run down of my thoughts so far…

The Look

Nexus 4
Nexus 4 (Photo credit: abuakel)

The device is understated for what one expects from flagship devices. By that I mean the Nexus 4 is not meant to draw eyes to it or make you the talk of the cool guy crowd. It’s meant to look like a lot like every other Android device out there. Not exactly like others but close enough that by glancing it wouldn’t stand out. The main thing that does stand out when focusing on the device is the back due to it’s sparkle/glass look. It actually does make the device look special without forcing it’s ‘coolness factor’.

As a side note it’s nice to have fewer brand names thrown all over the back. I’ve had phones which had multiple brands plastered on it followed by reminding me (and everyone around me) the brands ‘involved’ in the device. The Nexus 4 says Nexus and has a smaller LG logo near the bottom. The front is refreshingly brandless. Bootup also avoids yelling about it’s Google and LG makers. I love it!

The Form

Like the look the form isn’t much different than many other current generation Android devices but does have a slightly larger screen than my previous SGS II. To be honest I really like that as I’ve grown accustomed to the general Android device slate. Where it does part ways with most of it’s siblings is in how well the build feels. It’s light without feeling cheap. It’s thin without feeling frail. I’m not totally sure why the back is glass (other than giving it a slightly different look on focused look) but I have to assume that ends up adding to the positive build feel.

General Usage

Blockbuster
Better than the app. (Photo credit: ario_)

Hopefully every Android device manufacturer is taking notice of this device because this thing is exactly how I want to use a phone. First off I didn’t have to spend time hiding a bunch of ‘value added’ applications that I’ll never use. The amount of telco bought devies I’ve had which forced me to keep NASCAR or Blockbuster installed even though I never used either is a sad number.

Next, the device is fast. Really fast. I’ve been on the Tegra everywhere bandwagon and now I’m thinking Snapdragon really may be where it’s at for phone size devices. Then there’s the fact the device is running stock Jelly Bean. This means no Sense, TouchWiz, etc… Just Android the way it was meant to be. No extra value is added which makes it much more valuable.

Most of the applications the one expects are there so I won’t jump into them but Google Now is something I can see using pretty often. Don’t get me wrong, this is not my first Jelly Bean device. I have a Nexus 7 which I’ve been very happy with, but the Google Now software on a device that only has wifi access does not do Google Now justice.

The camera seems quite good so far. To be fair I have not used it much yet but here is a test photo I took in moderate to low light in a coffee shop. For a more in-depth look at the camera look at TechRadar’s review.

Medium/Lower to low light indoor photo. No flash.

Some Downsides

Nothing is perfect but wow does the Nexus 4 come close! Two of the three downsides are minor and only are noticeable one time only.

SIM Size

The first thing I did after charging the new device was to pull the SIM card from my old device for use in my new one. I should have noticed when reading about the Nexus 4 that it uses a Micro-SIM. Not a big deal but it did require a run to the closest telco store to get one.

English: GSM Micro SIM card vs. GSM Mini SIM card
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Initial Usage

There was a decent amount of updates ready to be installed upon first usage. An OS update along with many application updates. It would be nice if Google could use the latest ROM when shipping new batches. Again, not a big deal at all but still would be nice.

Storage

This is what kept me from buying it originally. The storage is capped at 8 or 16g which doesn’t sound like a good deal for those of us who keep our music library with us at all times. There are options that limit this as an issue. Using Google Music, Amazon Cloud Player, Subsonic, Pogoplug, etc.. can keep your music collection within reach as long as you have a data connection but each has it’s own downsides as well. My annoyance is generally with the quality of the music player for the services. It’s not that they are bad players but they are feature poor compared to many of the locally players.

tl;dr

Reign Of The Android
(Photo credit: JD Hancock)

If you are in the market for a new Android phone right now then there is no better option than the Nexus 4. While not perfect it’s downsides are few and are heavily overshadowed by how well the device works both in terms of physical feel and software. A real Jelly Bean experience, great build quality, no telco lock in and really fast. Did I mention you don’t have to put up with apps forced on you by telcos? Assuming that the device is currently available in your region there is not a reason to avoid it. Go get it!

Raspberry Pi and Arduino: Good Friends

I have a Raspberry Pi and it’s pretty great. I have an Arduino Esplora and an Arduino Micro and they are fun. Though, as I’ve played more with the Arduino I’ve found one totally understandable drawback: it’s more or less local only. I mean that the data that comes back through sensors or the items being controlled only send response back over serial or USB/serial. It makes sense but it also limits what can be done with it when used all by itself. One of my early ideas for a project was to use a light and a temperature sensor to keep an eye on aging homebrew beer. Nothing super fancy, just records the information for viewing and alerting when the sensors see data outside of the accepted norms. I could do this with some LED’s, buzzer or a display that would notify me when things were off but that isn’t really the type of alerting I’d like to see. That type of alerting would require me to go look at the box for information. I might as well do the sensor gathering manually with my eyes and feeling inside the box. It also means the data would be lost on every iteration. Data from 10 minutes ago could only be gathered if I was present 10 minutes back. Enter Raspberry Pi.

The Raspberry Pi is able to power the Arduino Esplora and, likely, the Arduino Micro. Since communication is over USB/serial the Raspberry Pi can collect the data from the sensors and provide a networked view into the data. For instance, a web interface showing temperature and light graphs. And, best yet, it’s simple to add a USB wireless adapter to the Pi to avoid running an ethernet cable back to the network.

Now, from what I read, it’s possible to use Raspberry Pi itself without an Arduino to collect data and control devices but it requires an ADC for analog input/output. But there is something that seems more proper about separating the physical logic (using C in Arduino) from the notification and reporting logic (using Python on a Raspberry Pi). It feels almost MVC like.

In any case, if you are looking at doing some analog and digital stuff with a Raspberry Pi do know that adding a small Arduino makes life easy and, if you decide to change to another device for providing network views it should be a simple switch over.

Hi Arduino Esplora

Last night I ordered some sensors for use with my new Raspberry Pi but I just could not wait to play with sensors. I ran up to the closest electronics store at 10am to buy the last Arduino Esplora in stock.

This is a pretty new addition to the  Arduino line up. It comes with multiple sensors pre installed on the board as well as a library to make programming with the sensors a little too easy. It’s a bit pricier than the other boards but for something to learn on and do some random project prototyping it seems ideal.

After about 15 minutes I was already reading data off the sensors and reading it back from the serial console. But since I want to learn more about using the sensors I’ll be porting the project to the lower level API once I’ve finished prototyping on the Esplora library. The Esplora library makes it really easy but I feel like it’s hiding a lot of I want to learn. At this point I have a periodic temperature check which is holding current temperature, all time and relative averages and printing it back over serial in JSON. Now I just need to figure out how to both power the board and get its data over to either a Raspberry Pi or machine somewhere so I can trend and alert. I’m worried about the differences in volts between the two but I’m sure there is a safe way to interface and power. My first project is to keep an eye on the temperature and light levels of my homebrew to ensure proper aging!

Hello Raspberry Pi

I couldn’t help it. I’ve watched other open source friends rave about playing with the Raspberry Pi but had yet to really jump in on it all. See, I bought a GuruPlug a while back and had kind of a bad experience with it. You know, overheat and shut off. In fairness the manufacturer of the device did provide a hardware fix quite a while later, but I’d already moved on and forgotten why I bought the device in the first place. It took the consistant praise from online friends and one conversation with my friend Andrew to get me to take the plunge.

Yesterday it arrived in a nondescript package. A simple yellow padded envelope. Opening it up I saw two small boxes. Funny thing is the larger of the two boxes is actually the wall plug. But I didn’t have time to do anything other than prepare an SD card with raspbian on it. But today I’ve thrown it on the network (headless) and have an ssh connection in to update the default system.

Now I’m at a bit of a loss or, I should say I’m not sure where to start. I picked up a breadboard, wires and LED’s to do a little playing around. I’m just not sure what I want to do for a longer term project. I’d like to start working with some sensors and pick up more knowledge in that space. I have some more components on the way but it will be a while. Maybe I’ll snag a Arduino while I wait.