Google Pixelbook Review

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Intro

Déjà vu… But here I am after a prolonged break from the blog! It’s all come down to a distinct lack of things to write about… I’ve not had much to say about new kit (mostly because I haven’t been buying much of it!) however I’m back and ready to review 🙂

I’m writing all of this post on a Chromebook… But this is not ordinary Chromebook, no. This is an M&S Chro… wait, it’s a Pixelbook! Google’s latest and greatest, top-est end, most premium Chrome OS device to date and I don’t love it! Do you know why that is? Because it’s still not ‘there’ yet.

If I was asked to define ‘there’ I’d struggle because my definition will differ to yours, or anyone else’s for that matter. Here’s how I see it from where I sit; the hardware (which I’ll get into shortly) is nothing short of breathtaking, tbc. The software however, that’s where it all falls apart for me. It’s not as simple as ‘the OS isn’t fast enough’ or ‘the battery isn’t good enough’ or ‘the keyboard is bad’. It’s more of a systemic issue with everything that Chrome OS isn’t (yet).

Software

I’ll start off with the bad here and try to end it with the good stuff! It’s QUICK, everything is lightning fast it’s as if it knows what I’m about to do before I want to! The ability to switch to mobile data automagically with the Pixel XL and the addition of Android apps (disappointingly these are still buggy despite reaching a “stable” release) and the speed, did I mention how fast this thing is?

The OS, Chrome OS, is lean, mean – a killing machine! The updates come through quickly, the boot times are unbelievable and tablet mode is nice. I said I was going to start off with the bad though, so here I go.

Android Apps

On the Pixelbook apps are definitely available. I’ve got Jetpack Joyride installed (not a sponsor) and it runs super well, just a shame that at the native resolution of the Pixelbook the app looks a tiny bit blocky, this is resolved by dropping the res down to 1280×800 (or thereabouts). Other apps, Slack, Plex and Google Play Music… These I dislike a lot, firstly I run a work and personal Google account on the same device and if I login to both at once I’m unable to run Android apps on both accounts?! What’s that about! So I’m limited to the account I signed in with first. Secondly the Android apps, on several occasions, have outright ceased to work, as if nothing was installed whatsoever; including the Play Store.

What else can I say about them? Sometimes they’re active in the background without me having visibility of them, i.e. Plex started playing Friends outloud despite me stopping my viewing and exiting the app, yay. Slack doesn’t scale well to the high resolution, meaning text and buttons are tiny. And furthermore when I’m in tablet mode, Android apps are stuck in fullscreen mode!

The only good thing about Android apps seems to be that they exist, IMO they’re far from “stable” and the availability is still lacking on what is essentially an Android tablet. Meaning that my phone has the potential to get more done than my laptop does. Hmm, that doesn’t feel right.

Back to the OS; outside of Android, the Pixelbook does nothing that a Chrome browser can’t do, it has file storage – without native SMB or SFTP support, another app I need to install… The browser is super duper nice though, 8GB of RAM is needed for a Chromebook, 16GB on the base model would’ve been perfect though.

One final niggle with the OS, the way it interprets touch screen inputs feels janky to me, say I want to long press a bookmark in the browser, I hold it and instead of a menu coming up (like it might in Android) I release it and it was ready for me to drag it, at which point a right-click-esque menu finally appears and I can press a small button to open in a new tab. Not perfect in terms of UX.

Hardware

One word? Astonishing.

Section complete 🙂

Ok for real though, this hardware is flawless, I can’t knock it! (Physical hardware) the keyboard feels lovely to type on, I prefer it over any desktop keyboard I’ve used to date (weird I know). The CPU is a mobile i5-7Y57, this is a 4.5W Dual Core (with Hyperthreading) unit. Performance of this seems fine, it isn’t entirely lag free, i.e. I can make the Pixelbook crawl if I really push it but day-to-day it holds up just fine.

A slight aside here, I had the Chromebook Pixel (2015) model from Google back when that came out and the 2017 Pixelbook is a massive step up over that, the previous Chromebook would choke and splutter when I loaded up a 4k YouTube video, it’d run out of RAM if I opened too many tabs, etc. So between software changes (up to version 62 of Stable Chrome OS) and the Kabylake CPU vs the much weaker i5 used in the previous Chromebook both go towards making the Pixelbook a fantastically performing machine!

The screen, as far as colour accuracy and sharpness goes; it’s immense! Google (LG) is using a 2560×1700 resolution, which equates to a 3:2 aspect ratio, which for web apps is wonderful, the additional vertical space makes browsing lovely and it still works well for playing 16:9 content. So why did I put “LG” in brackets? Well that would be because the Pixelbook, though a Google device, was manufactured by LG under the codename ‘eve’. So the resolution is great, the IPS panel displays wonderful colours but is there a problem with this display? Yes. I think there’s some room for improvement on the brightness side, 400 cd/m² means a whole lot of nothing to me! But even indoors, if sunlight strikes at just the wrong angle, the screen is a challenge to view, the backlit keyboard also has some room to grow in terms of brightness… Unless the room is pitch black, the keyboard backlight is useless (which is arguably true of any backlight?) but I’ve seen plenty of laptop keyboards which look lovely in standard lighting conditions, such as the Razer Blade Stealth with its lovely Chroma RGB keyboard.

The touchpad is nice, despite having received a defective unit… And here’s a good time to say that I’ll be returning my unit for a refund. Overall, though the experience is great! I’ve essentially spent £1098 on an Android tablet with a keyboard… It’s not worth it yet, I thought two years since Google’s last top of the range Chromebook would be more than enough time for the OS to grow into something wonderful – a Windows replacement for me. But that still remains to be an optimistic hope! The screen and touchpad are both made of Gorilla Glass and that makes them feel wonderful to interact with. Both surfaces are incredibly smooth and I was surprised at how few fingerprints this device has picked up.

I’m almost ready to wrap up the hardware portion of this review. I’m just going to mention battery life and the silicon pads! I’ll start with the easy one, resting my palms on laptops is normally not fun… It’s either cheap flimsy plastic, an uncomfortably warm surface (because some daft engineer stuck a CPU or a HDD under there!) or the hard metal body. But Google have done something genius! They’ve got a couple of silicone ‘pads’ where your hands naturally fall, they’re white so I’m concerned that they’ll discolour over time. But in terms of comfort, they’re lovely, well and truly perfect!

Battery life: I can’t say too much as I’ve only had the device for 5 days… But I’ve not had to charge it mid-day. I can happily use it all day for basic productivity on medium to high brightness without even bringing a charger. I’m happy with it but it’s definitely not the 10-Hours that Google like to brag about 😉

Rounding Up

I love the Pixelbook, if this was a £500 device, I’d keep it. If it ran Windows, I’d keep it. If it was provided to me for free by Google for review, no surprises…. I’d keep it!! But this is a lot of my own money and for what it’s capable of it just doesn’t cut it for me. When Chrome OS gets to a point where I don’t still go “Oh, I just need to go back to Windows to do this” then I’ll be prepared to spend money on a Pixelbook (or whatever the name changes to) and maybe that’s me being optimistic again – Maybe Google never want to replace Windows or Mac OS! But if it ever gets close, I hope they let me know.

I did have the Pixel Pen with the Pixelbook but I’ve got nothing nice to say so I shan’t bring it up. I will say one thing though… Unless you’re an artist, it’s a gimmick!

Nearly at the end now, the packaging of this device was lovely. A truly nice unboxing experience that I’ll relive in reverse when I send it back.

If you know the Chromebook is for you then get one, you’ll love it. But if you think for a second that it might be missing ‘something’ then avoid it… Spend your money on something better or wait in the hope that Chrome OS will expand into something glorious.

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Fantom Wallet!

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It’s been quite some time hasn’t it? But I’m back!

Plenty has happened, it seems I’ve just been too busy to write about it all. Skiing trip in France (thankfully no broken appendages on that trip!!), lots of work, busy social life (for once)  and a bit of new tech here and there. I’ve missed writing but then there’s no need to overdo it with boring topics!

But I didn’t come here to reflect on what I’ve not shared, I’m here to introduce everyone to Fantom. Wallets aren’t generally considered ‘techie’ and this is no exception… But it sparked my interest after catching site of it on an Unbox Therapy YouTube video. Wallets in 2016/17 have taken off for reasons I can’t quite comprehend, there’s been a sudden flurry of modern, good looking wallets on the likes of Kickstarter & Indigogo. Some have failed, others made it, I can’t wait for Fantom to make it!

So what could possibly be sooo exciting about a wallet you ask? Well; if RFID blocking, thin & light, yet strong, stylish functional wallets don’t sound intriguing, then I don’t know how I can persuade you – I’ll certainly try though. Wallets are boring, they sit in a pocket or a bag 90% of the time, only revealing themselves once you need to buy something – And even that won’t be true forever… Not with the advent of mobile NFC payments (i.e. Android Pay / Apple Pay). But in the mean time, a wallet is essential to safely and securely house all of your debit cards, loyalty cards, gift vouchers, etc. So why not do that in style? Every cashier has seen a plain leather wallet with a standard looking collection of cards & cash. But why not shake it up a little, throw a slim carbon fibre wallet out of your pocket with a hot coral Monzo card and people are going to look twice!

It’s a conversation starter, it separates you from the pack and looks the part. I generally don’t take part in crowd-funded projects, there’s risk involved, there’s immensely long lead times with the chance that the project might fail after you’ve already contributed. But I have made a rare exception on this occasion (I haven’t backed many projects) I was sold on Keplero (A rival wallet company on Indigogo) I didn’t end up backing that and boy am I relieved! That project crashed and burned with plenty of sad customers… Back to Fantom though, I would love to wait and buy one on Amazon but that won’t necessarily happen, there’s a current ETA of December 2017 for my ‘reward’ which is a while but hopefully worth the wait.

I’ll share a link to Fantom, I urge you to check them out 🙂 The style isn’t for everyone, granted. A leather wallet is much more traditional – but who say’s that we can’t shake tradition up? There’s normally no need to fix what isn’t broken – where’s the fun in that though? Fantom is an exciting new wallet, stylish, modern & RFID safe. I can’t wait to get one in my hands.

Comment below with your thoughts on Fantom! 🙂

New Year, New Post!

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It’s been a long while since I’ve come up with anything to write! And truthfully I still don’t have a clue but where better to start than with a happy New Year! 🙂

Plenty of stuff has happened in the technology space this last little while, super exciting new things from CES, new releases from unRAID, Plex have released an official Docker container and most exciting is that Monzo are getting even closer to launching their current accounts for everyone to use!

CES was an exciting week of news articles to read and YouTube videos to catch up on in between work and life! Intel’s Kabylake launched the day before CES started which was pretty underwhelming – another 5% increase in speed with a minor reduction in power… What I’m looking forward to (bear in mind I’m a huge Intel fan) is the launch of AMD Ryzen!! Looks like an incredible, very competitive, CPU & platform update from the red team. Hopefully this will kick both AMD and Intel back into gear – getting both companies truly competing with one another (again). The CPU industry has gotten stale, barely noticeable performance improvements, same pricing year to year and nothing new or exciting. I’m running Haswell CPUs in my gaming PC and NAS with no rush to refresh either of those builds for a very long time, even my brother with an Ivybridge i5 is completely happy with its performance. I hope that Ryzen changes all of this, driving Intel’s pricing down, making both companies severely ramp up performance and overall… bringing the much needed competition the CPU market needs! We need another ‘race to 1GHz’ or the first dual core or miles of OC’ing headroom! Not just a lower TDP with a faster DMI interface :/ Competition = better pricing and performance for consumers.

CES brought along some extremely interesting product launches! Razer was very intriguing, a laptop with 3 screens?! It was sadly stolen… but immense nonetheless! Not to mention how many other crazy cases, devices and hardware there was! Liquid cooled laptops, PCs the size of consoles, laptops as this and light as paper – all insane stuff, things which weren’t even possible a few short years ago. The car industry is really picking up too! I remember cars just starting to stick touchscreens in, really slow, crazy interfaces, pretty poor overall… Now we’ve got self driving, red light countdowns!? En-route Amazon deliveries, convoy modes, TVs and automatic sunshades for watching TV. The list goes on and on! I can’t wait to be in a world run by automagic cars.

The paranoid side of me envisions Skynet! But what a beautiful Skynet that’ll be 😉 Think of a time where we don’t even need to own a car, we just shout “ok *assistant name here* I need a lift to work” and your homehub thing has a car outside the house in a second, fully electric, wirelessly charging and perfectly in sync with everything else on the road. No more traffic, no more stopping at lights or junctions. Just a neural net of cars all being able to weave in and out of each other safely and autonomously… That’s all a topic for a post of its own though! All I want to say is that the car industry is booming and I can’t wait to own an electric vehicle of my own!

unRAID launched version 6.3 RC, along with an updated version of pretty much everything in the OS! It brought along with it a new way of ‘beta’ releases – All running under the RC moniker and in a state where they should be completely usable just bringing new features with the risk of some instability – I love seeing the next new thing so naturally, I’m a huge fan of alphas, betas, RCs, nightlies – you name it, if it’s new and I get to use it months in advanced then I probably already am! 😉 I still get along quite well with unRAID, I keep thinking about FreeNAS but then I remember how over-complicated it is, not to mention the difficulty involved with adding new disks to the array, I can’t afford to just buy 4 NAS HDDs at once just because I need an extra bit of space, unRAID is so perfect in that you add what you need, letting you add a few TB at a time instead of all at once 🙂

The official Plex Docker is exciting! I switched over as soon as it was launched. There’s no huge difference between it and the Linuxserver.io version I was using prior to that. But that didn’t stop me! It’s supported by Plex Inc and I know it’s going to be supported forever. Also means I get support from the real Plex guys who definitely know what they’re doing. Day to day, there’s no difference between the different Plex Docker versions though.

Finally that leads me onto Monzo! I’m really loving it, I can’t wait for them to launch their full banking platform with current accounts, loads more Android features and basically everything else you’d expect from a bank! I can’t believe I’ve only been using them for 4 months but I’ve absolutely loved it, seeing exactly where I’m spending is incredible. I’ve always been good at budgeting but this is a lovely way of viewing it all, no more going down stupid bank statements online – just open the app and all the info you could possibly need is presented perfectly!

I’ll be posting more on Monzo as and when things happen!

But that’s it for this new year post! Hopefully something sparks some more blog ideas in the near future… It’s fun to write, so long as there’s something to talk about!

 

-Marcus

The life of a Monzo user!

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I’m a Monzo user and I’ve got to admit… I’m already a huge fan! Monzo is such a fantastic bank, full of benefits, beautiful design, simplicity and ease. But before I explain why, I’ll get the negatives out the way quite early on, as there are so few! 😉

I’ll quickly preface all of this with: I refer to Monzo as a bank, which is true… Mostly. You can’t use them to pay for Direct Debits, Standing orders or a handful of other things. In their current state, Monzo is using prepaid Master Card cards. Which are pretty similar to normal debit cards, key differences being; they’re useless for ‘Pay@Pump’, payments will fail from time to time (Monzo is still in beta after all 😉 ) – Q1 / Q2 2017 will bring about everything you’d expect from a bank though! So there’s not too long to wait. There will be sort codes, account numbers, direct debits, standing orders, you’ll be able to get your wages paid directly into your account, have your phone bill come out, have a full debit card, etc.

Currently Monzo isn’t perfect, the Android app isn’t quite on par with the iOS counterpart but that’s fine and there’s a dedicated team of Android engineers working nonstop to get the app feature-par with the iOS version. So this bank likely isn’t for you just yet. But if you’re willing to give it a go, be brave and give it a chance? Well – You get a stunning app on both iOS or Android, a truly eye-catching bright coral card, perfect 24/7 tech support, from a real person  with a real sense of humour and you’ll be part of a community of people all dedicated to making a modern bank!

Replacing my current bank?

Sadly no, not yet anyway. For security’s sake, I’ll say I use 2 banks + Monzo. My banks are old, traditional and well… boring. They work but their breakdowns aren’t great, I plan all of my months out by myself with a calculator to see what goes out and how much will be left after this that or the other, etc. And despite that being an incredibly simple 5 minute task, it’ll only get longer and more complicated with time! Think about all those bills, shops, lunches and dinners you pay for? Not to mention all of the clothes you buy and the amount of Amazon baskets you fill up! It all starts adding up quite quickly and if you’ve ever tried to read through a traditional bank statement… well I’m sure you’d still be on last months while the next month’s arrives 😉 Monzo does this all with ease.

There's a lot of iOS specific features.
Which are better than Android...
I'll be focusing on what I know, Android!

 

What’s so good about it?

Spending

A very recent feature, so recent in fact that it’s only in the Beta channel of the Monzo Android app! #Spending – At a glance, it’s clear where my £££ has gone, I can see how much I’ve spent all month, spent eating out or shopping or buying groceries – I can even further break it down – How much I’ve spent at each merchant for the ‘Eating Out’ category, it’ll be easy to see how much you really do prefer KFC over Burger King 😉 – Yet further still, we can break it down – Monthly spends at Morrisons (for example) then listing each spend at Morrisons, then even better, I can click any Morrisons transaction, see number of transactions, average spend and total spend, all in what took 3 seconds and a couple of clicks – Incredible!

If I still haven’t sold it to you? Then apply bills to this, you can track your bills across many months, suddenly December rolls around and the total of all of your bills has risen? Well, I’m sure I don’t need to explain what’s next! You can expand the breakdown which Monzo provides, take a quick look and BAM, that pesky heating bill is what’s hit your wallet. On the other hand, you notice that your bills have slowly decreased over the past couple of months, again, take a look and it just so happens, since you stopped watching YouTube videos on the train, that your phone bill has gone down thanks to all of that spare data 😀

Freezing Card

“Brrrr, I’m cold” – Monzo card 2016

Uh oh! That horrific moment when you open your wallet and notice that your shockingly bright Monzo card isn’t there?! Well, fear not! Head into your Monzo app and simply freeze the card, no need to wait on hold for a ‘UK’ based bank agent… No need to waste 10 minutes on hold while you spend 20p a minute to a damn bank line! All of that is avoided with Monzo, there’s a button, tap that and your card will instantly freeze, no transactions will be possible once you’ve done that. Better yet?? You get active notifications of when and where (with a handy-dandy Google Maps link) that attempted transaction took place. You can either head there, call the police, look for your card – or just order a new one, with next day delivery if ordered before 3pm 🙂 No robot call ‘assistants’ to cope with, you don’t need to remember which scarf your Mum’s brother’s son’s brothers best friend’s dog was wearing in the summer 4.278 years ago, just a button!

Card replacement flow on Android

Pulse Graphs

Whilst this isn’t yet an Android feature, it certainly deserves a mention! It’s well, a pulse graph 😉 (I think I’ll insert an image, that’ll be better!)

 

home

That little graph at the top? Well that’ll let you super easily view how quickly you spend (via the steepness of the graph) when large payments come out, if you need to top up you’ll see the graph raise slightly, etc. It’s a super nice feature, both in terms of looks and functionality!

Top-Up you ask?

Well, like I said earlier, a bank that’s not quite a bank yet. So until full current accounts can be implemented we need to top up! Sound a bit weird for a bank, granted. But it’s so straightforward it takes no effort whatsoever. Home Android.png

This is where Android is even faster than iOS 😉 Just hit the FAB (Floating Action Button) in the bottom right, you’ll be asked for an amount, keep hitting the + until you get to the amount you desire, hit the big top up button and you’ll have ‘x’ funds instantaneously appear in you Monzo account! This functionality will disappear once we have sort codes, account numbers, etc.

Categories

This is where things get interesting again.

category

 

Petrol for your car? No problem, that can go under the ‘Transport’ category, oil for your van? Tyres for your flatbed? All of these can go under the transport category and you can see how much is spent on a category-by-category basis, for each month! All of your expenses can add up in a month, it’s great that they can be added to one simple place! Better yet? Notes and receipts can be attached to individual transactions.

Whilst these categories are all automagic… On the off-chance Monzo gets it wrong / you want to specify manually, you can! Just open the transaction you want to change, tap on the category that’s been pre-selected and choose another! It’s really as simple as that 🙂

All of these things help you plan, spot trends, spend less, save money and in general allow you to organise your money the way it deserves to be organised!

 

I think I’m going to leave it at that, with more Monzo updates to be coming in the future! This is my bank, I will be happily walking away from 2 other banks in favour of Monzo, for all of its (what? 2?) flaws, its Beta status and it’s newness, I still love it! And so do hundreds of thousands of other people, not to mention the investors who raised £1mil in … 96 seconds!!

If you’re not convinced yet, don’t brush Monzo off until they’re a fully fledged bank, take a look at them in the future, make it your new year’s resolution to spend less – Hopefully with the wonderful help of Monzo 😉

 

Edit: Link to Monzo (should you want it! 🙂 )

https://monzo.com/

Thoughts on the Pixel XL

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Intro.

This phone… Damn, this is one heck of a nice rectangle! Let’s start with some history shall we? (Spoiler, it’s a perfect phone. But a damn expensive rectangle…)

Sadly I can’t say I’ve been a fan of Nexus since its coming about, all the way back in 2010, what I can say however is that I’ve appreciated every Nexus phone that Google released, with the Nexus 4 being my favourite of the lot. Google have since ended the Nexus product line and replaced it with their own Pixel brand. Despite the OEM of the Pixel (XL) being

Loving it!

Whether it was the size, the fact I was using a brand new version of Android (I was still on gingerbread or honeycomb beforehand…), the design, the pattern of the rear glass, the speed or the beautiful glass which rolled over the edge of the display, I just loved it! And until I unboxed my Pixel XL it remained my favourite phone for years. No other Nexus came close, well the 6 did, but it lacked in other areas. But once I’d taken the plastic cover off the body of the Pixel I knew, that it was the device to beat all other devices!

So, to be clear, I’ll likely bring nothing in this post that hasn’t been covered in one of dozens of other reviews. But that’s not the point! 😉 This is more of a record of what I think of the Pixel XL which is where my opinion will differ from other reviewers.

As clear as it may be, I’ll say it anyway, I was instantly impressed with the look and feel of the Pixel XL (in person)! Pictures, reviews, videos, nothing non-physical does this phone justice. You really have to hold one in your hands before it can truly impress you! The cost is a very hard pill to swallow, I do however feel as though the experience is well worth it once you play with the Pixel for just a few moments. Everything it does is lightning fast, it’s ludicrously responsive to touch inputs and the camera is just incredible (from a complete photography novice 😉 ) At the time of writing this I’ve been using my Pixel XL – Quite Black … More like Quite dark grey! – Since the 20th Oct. So around 2.5 weeks. It replaced the Nexus 6P and I don’t miss it! (Well, I still liked that phone a fair bit!!) But once you try out a Pixel you’ll never want any other Android phone. I’ll give credit where credit is due, Apple have, by far, the most seamless OS integration of any phone manufacturer – any why wouldn’t they? As they control the entire process from hardware to software, it’s all their own. The Pixel on the other hand is so so close! It’s essentially the Google iPhone. It was designed from the ground up by Google, for Google, with Google users in mind. It’s a truly fantastic first go at Google’s own phone.

Not loving these bits…

There are certainly some niggles for sure, nothing can ever be perfect sadly! But these are tiny pretty insignificant gripes (except for the price, this phone is too damn expensive!) The fingerprint ‘Pixel Imprint’ scanner is too slow, I’ve used the fingerprint scanner on an iPhone 6s Plus and holy hell that was FTL! Faster than a heartbeat, pretty much as instantaneous as turning on a lightbulb… The Pixel however? Yeah, nowhere near, well sort of. It’s fast, I’d say it edges out the 6P (if only slightly) but it’s by no means instant. Maybe it’s down to software? I know that #FrancoKernel always speeds things up and that Google might make some improvements with 7.1.1 or 7.2… But there’s also a chance it could be hardware related too, as it shares the same sensor as the 6P, only time will tell with this one! But again, by no means is it laggy or slow, it’s just not as fast as Apple.

What else, what else? It’s truly hard to fault the Pixel, the camera is fast! But I’d love to have seen a higher megapixel count, although MP doesn’t at all translate to a better picture, but Google’s got; a great sensor, brilliant software and a fast shutter speed. I just notice that even with a ‘perfect’ photo, you just can’t zoom in without noticing blur / blockiness due to the, in today’s standards, low MP count. But maybe Pixel 2 will bring us a 16+ MP camera.

I’m almost finished hating on the Pixel XL! Just 2 last points of note: The Round app icons & the single MONO speaker. I love listening to music, I love watching videos on my phone, I love sound that comes out of speakers! So I’ll just list the few phones I’ve had and their respective speaker layouts.

Nexus 4 – 1x rear facing
Nexus 5 – 1x bottom facing
Nexus 6 – 2x front facing
Nexus 6P – 2x front facing
Pixel XL – 1x bottom facing…

Can you see a trend there? It was getting better and better, then… Well looks like Google took a step backwards. It’s not even like they didn’t have room either, have you seen the size of the bezels? There’s already a dirty hack floating around, which needs root, that enables the earpiece speaker to work in tandem with the main bottom speaker to create some kind of stereo-ness. See, I wouldn’t have nearly as much of a problem with just the one speaker… unless Apple hadn’t figured this out in an iPhone?! Stereo speakers, Google somehow thought that we only needed the one, which is so easily muffled and covered that it’s just plain silly. I don’t even want to blame just Google either, the Pixel OEM was HTC – HTC BoomSound anyone?? They may as well have just invented front facing speakers. But not much can be done I suppose, unless the earpiece is super loud (spoiler, it’s not) then it’s just a feature we’ll all have to live without.

Lastly, the round app icons. I’m not a fan, it’s very much user preference for this one. But I think it’s been implemented poorly and doesn’t look uniform unless all apps are properly circle-y’d, as opposed to just whacking a shape on a dinner plate.

I’ll leave on a high note though 🙂 I’ve flashed Franco Kernel to my phone and I’ve got to say, that even though it’s only r2 (2nd release) it’s already had a pretty damn significant impact on already solid battery life! I’m looking forward to software updates and more kernels from Franco. It’s a near perfect phone, build quality is immense, even if I’m terrified of the crazy amount of glass on the unit. If you aren’t reading this on your Pixel / Pixel XL, I hope that’s because it’s on charge 😉 If not, you should go and get one!

Mercedes A-Class. Review of test drive!

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Hi everyone! It’s been a little while since my last post, my pfSense post (currently at 1000 words) was scuppered by well… pfSense. Turns out it wasn’t suitable for my needs (not to mention the hardware I bought wasn’t ideal as it turns out!)

But I’ve moved past that and am onto my next post 🙂

Story

Earlier today I took a test drive in an A180d, a beautiful German made car! Well, not the one I drove. There’s a (referred to internally as the ‘pre-face-lift’ model) <2015 model (the one I was in) and a 2016+ version. To my eyes, the 2016 version is stunning, especially good looking in the blue. I however, was in a boring black car, with black seats, black interior, black everything, which was a bit too plain and boring. I would’ve much preferred a bit of flair from an accent colour – both inside and out! – But I was mainly in it for the drive, looks certainly aren’t everything (never judge a book by its cover).

The Drive

Me and the, sorry to say… BORING salesman, had a little chat about what I was looking for, 15 mins later we stepped into a car, which wasn’t; blue, the model I was after, petrol and finally, wasn’t the 2016 model. But I was assured that the drive would be incredibly similar, there are just aesthetic differences between old and new, so I thought fair enough and stepped in. Immediately I wasn’t impressed, the A-Class remains to be my favourite car to date (in terms of ‘sensible’ normal road cars, ask me about super cars and that’s a whole different story!). It’s fierce yet subtle at the same time, it’s angry yet not terrifying. The only thing it’s lacking is a personality…

I currently drive a Toyota Aygo, boring? Maybe so. But I love it, it’s the most fun car I’ve ever driven! It looks fun, sounds fun (despite only having a 3 cylinder 1.0L engine) and most importantly – IS fun to drive! It’s responsive, reactive and full of feedback (this will be important when comparing to the Merc.) For a car which has a road cost of just £13k brand new from a dealership, with extensive financing options, etc. It just can’t be beaten, Toyota’s Japanese heritage and many many years of business put it above and beyond what the (based on the same chassis) Peugeot & Citroën try to provide in their 108 / C1 models respectively. But this isn’t supposed to be a review of my Aygo! 😉

So after stepping into the A-Class I was a little bit disappointed, it’s insanely low and the windscreen feels, well, small! The FOV is pretty lame for a car of this calibre. There’s a lot of blind spots with the chunky beams and big seats. the rear-view mirror does do a lot to compensate for the little rear-window and the wing mirrors both have a convex curve to the ends which further help to reduce blind spots when cornering / changing lanes. But the issue still remains, it’s definitely not an ‘open’ car.

The feel, this is 100% down to personal preference, so I shan’t deduct too many points. (Woah, I have points now?!) I don’t like the leather EVERYWHERE, I like fabric seats, seats that I won’t slide off if I go around a corner or over a bump. I think it looks super nice on the dash though and around the handbrake… Oh, there’s no handbrake!! Another thing I hate, yes, hate. I love technology, I love digital-ness, but not when it’s ridiculously unnecessary, when I want to stop my car, on a hill, when parking, when at traffic lights, I want a lever, connected to a cable, connected to my rear brakes. Not a flimsy switch that might or might not work depending on how it feels! It’s ludicrousness, the handbrake has no reason to be removed from its home, in a car, every car. What else? Ah yes, I also don’t like feeling as though I’m sitting on the tarmac, I like to be a bit higher up when I’m in my car, not as high as a van, but certainly not lower down than a cyclist. I want to be upright too, not folded in half by a strangely shaped chair, why Mercedes? I would like to sit like this _/ not like this \/ (Over exaggerated slightly).

The list goes on… Here: The throw on the gearbox is far too short and (a recurring theme) there isn’t enough feedback from the gearbox either. You don’t feel the gear move, I wasn’t too sure if I was in gear or not & once or twice I couldn’t even tell which gear I was moving into. Every other car I’ve driven has given a meaningful reaction when you change gear. Onto the clutch, not too bad, very smooth. The biting point took a couple of seconds to adjust to, but that was relatively fine. The brake pedal… Is supposed to be a pedal. Truthfully, I thought I was pushing a pressure sensitive button! I didn’t feel it move, I also wasn’t braking, it was incredibly difficult to judge exactly how much force was needed. Maybe I’d get used to that over time? But I didn’t like that one bit. What I did like however, was the accelerator pedal 😉 boy did this car fly, even with a sluggish diesel! Mercedes have certainly tuned their engines the way somebody would expect from Mercedes, incredibly.

I started with some general city driving, which is where I noticed the stupid brake pedal and the ridiculous gimmick of a handbrake. Pulling off was alright, it was very apparent to me that I was in a diesel though. On the plus side, it’s much more difficult to stall a diesel than a petrol engine, so even 2nd gear at sub 5 mph was a breeze without having to down-shift into the inherently jumpy 1st gear (Which you should avoid moving into whilst already moving to avoid wear on the synchromesh). Then we moved on the the A46 (relatively close to the Mercedes’ Coventry Dealership) and I could put my foot down. I didn’t speed, I couldn’t risk it. I had no idea how the (pretty boring) salesman would react and it’s wrong anyway. But on the bright side, I went from 30 to a hair over 70 in no time at all… I was impressed, I floored it in 4th, heard and felt the turbo kick in and shot past numbers on my speedo! It was fun, but would’ve been truly immense if I hadn’t have stopped at just 70mph! The top speed of the A-Class tops off at… 155mph… Yeah. And if you opt for the A 45 AMG model, that’s bumped to over 160! Immense, but that’s what you’d expect from a sports car.

Dropping back into the city again I had to shed some speed, with that excuse for a brake pedal. Is it obvious that I don’t like it? Cornering isn’t too bad. It’s very responsive and quite accurate, the power steering is electronic and I couldn’t discern any audible motor noise, whereas I can in my Aygo. It was very smooth and also, something I forgot to mention, the ride is so immensely quiet! There’s always road noise but the 1.5 diesel purred along like a kitten in 6th gear doing apparently less than 2/3k RPM. I could hear the tyres going over the not rough but not smooth tarmac, as well as other road users. But the car itself was silent, just like the atmosphere with the sales man… *sigh*

Back at the dealership

Once that 20 minute trip was completed I was back. I was polite and said I enjoyed the drive I didn’t deem it worthwhile to get out of the car and go “well that was crap, cya” I let him discuss finance options which weren’t wonderful either, yet somehow reasonable for a 22k car. On that note he threw me a business car and wished me a good day.

So my conclusion? I wasn’t blown away by Mercedes.

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