Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Day in the Life with Android (Part 1)

[Updated: December 29, 2012; see below under "Apps/Swype keyboard."]

If you read my September 21 blog post, then you know that a few months ago I purchased a Google Nexus 7 tablet (built by ASUS).

I haven't been very active on this blog since that purchase, and when I'm not working on book projects1 to pay the bills, I'm probably attached in some fashion (my wife would probably say "umbilically") to the Nexus 7.

My goal is to be able to perform all work-related activities on the N7. A lot of that ability is dependent on the quality and performance of the apps that I use. I'll install an app that will work perfectly, and then after the next update (and some apps are updated often, even daily at times), possibly the app won't even open on the N7. It's the nature of Android: developers attempting to make their apps compatible with dozens (hundreds?) of devices, running various levels of the Android operating system (OS), and from a multitude of manufacturers.

My N7 has the latest (and not always greatest) "Jelly Bean" (JB) OS, version 4.2.1. That point-1 update occurred just last month, and since then the device's Bluetooth functionality has been erratic. This is a known issue. Unfortunately for me, Bluetooth capability is critical to my end goal.


1. When I need to do some serious input, I use the Logitech 920-003390 Tablet Keyboard for Android 3.0 Plus and the Targus Bluetooth Comfort Laser Mouse AMB09US. The keyboard is full-size with an excellent "feel," and the case flips open to serve as a stand for the tablet.

But when the N7's Bluetooth keeps dropping the keyboard (re: see above known issue), well, not a lot of serious work gets done. The tab's onscreen "Swype" keyboard (more on this in a bit) is fairly fast, but still error prone, and I also have a tendency to fat-finger the screen -- so a keyboard is a necessity.

2. To avoid the onscreen fat-finger effect, I often use the amPen New Hybrid Stylus. I would be lost without this stylus at times (especially playing the CrossMe Color game!) and it is compatible with all capacitive touch screens. The stylus has a plastic anchor that fits in the audio headphone jack on the N7 so you never have to worry about setting the stylus down and then forgetting where you set it.

3. And lastly (for now): When I end up in an AC outlet-deprived environment and the N7's battery is running low, I have the IOGEAR GMP10K GearPower Ultra Capacity Mobile Power Station -- great for powering a phone and tab simultaneously.


Google's Chrome is the default browser on the N7; I now use Chrome on all my computers: it's fast, it's clean, and it can be synced across all devices (which allows me to access bookmarks, for example, on any device from any device).2

I don't recall how long I've been using Gmail, but it was back in the day when you needed an "invite" to set up an account. Again, Google allows the syncing of email across all devices, and being web-based, I can access it anywhere in the world; if my hard drive crashes, the email is still safe.

Maybe these next two apps should have come first... I never access banking data and such on a public WiFi network, only email, web browsing, news reading, etc. Even so, I use DroidSheep Guard, which protects from "Man in the Middle" (MIM) attacks; should DroidSheep detect any sniffers, it will disconnect the tab from the WiFi network.

I always practice safe app downloading, but nothing is perfect so I use avast! Mobile Security to check for malware, etc. whenever a new app or update is installed. Avast! runs on all my hardware.

SoftMaker Office 2012 (TextMaker, PlanMaker, and Presentations) is the product of a German company. The software was recommended by Charles Stross (I believe he uses it on a Mac), and since I needed an Android app that was MS Office compatible, I went with Softmaker Office. It's definitely not the cheapest MS Office compatible app for Android -- and I even purchased my set on sale, direct from the publisher -- but it may just be the most comprehensive set.

I mentioned the Swype keyboard earlier: you can still tap each individual key as you would on any mobile keyboard, but you can also "swype" a complete word without your finger (or in my case, the stylus I mentioned above) ever leaving the keyboard. Here's an example:
As you swype the keyboard a trail is created to show the path of your finger/stylus. In this example, the word being swyped is "quick," which appears in gold in the top left of the keyboard, along with other possible suggested words. If "quick" is the correct word, you can simply move on to the next word. Swype will "learn" your vocabulary and even anticipate the word you might want to use next. As I use Swype more and more, I am continually amazed....

[Update: Since this blog post, I have uninstalled Swype from my N7. The latest update, 1.3, is so full of bugs, including a custom dictionary that remains blank no matter how often I attempt to save words, that the keyboard has become unusable. I'll keep track of future updates, but Nuance, the publisher, is not known for its timely updates.

So, I have installed SwiftKey Flow Beta keyboard, also only available from the publisher, in its place. SwiftKey keyboard and SwiftKey 3 keyboard for tablets appear in every Top Ten list of apps that I've seen. I have the tab keyboard, but opted for the Swype Flow; however, now that SwiftKey also has a flow keyboard, I've installed it in place of Swype. It still has some problems, it's not as sleek and fast as Swype, but SwiftKey is known for their updates, user response, etc. and I suspect they will surpass Swype in functionality and ease of use fairly soon.]

I have yet to create a blog post on the Nexus 7 due to the lack of a decent Blogger app -- until now. The official Blogger app has finally been updated sufficiently such that it may actually be a viable tool. I'm not going to use it for a blog post of this length, but the next time I have a brief post, possibly one involving a single graphic, I plan to give it a try.

A Day in the Life with Android
Continued in Part 2


1. Some of my recent book projects include Brandon Sanderson's The Emperor's Soul, from Tachyon Publications, which premiered at the 2012 World Fantasy Convention in Toronto last month. And forthcoming from Night Shade Books: No Return by Zachery Jernigan; Earth Thirst by Mark Teppo; The Departure (The Owner Trilogy, Book 1) by Neal Asher; Empty Space by M. John Harrison; and last, but certainly not least, the new collection from Laird Barron, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All.

2. Since not all websites support HTML5, occasionally I still need access to Adobe Flash. Since the Chrome browser does not support Flash, I had to install the Firefox browser app and then sideload ('droid users will understand this concept) the Adobe Flash Player app. Thankfully, I don't have to launch the Firefox Android browser very often: it's dreadful!

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