– Ben Martens


Tasker for Android

What if your phone automatically silenced itself when you walked into church? Or what it if it turned the volume back up when you got home? Those are just a couple of the ideas I’ve been able to implement using Tasker on my phone. The app gives you a big list of states to monitor (I’m connected to this WiFi router, I got a phone call, etc) and then you can specify what action you want to take in response. The concept is simple but the possibilities are endless.

It takes a little while to understand how it works and get your recipes dialed in, but it’s a great way to get really geeky with your phone and mold your environment to your whims.

I suspect a few of you already use this. If so, I’m interested to hear what you use it for.

Keep Android Unlocked

androidsmartlockPhones contain more and more high value, personal information. If you don’t have some kind of a password lock on your phone, you probably should consider it. Tyla and I both use a password and with our new phones, we also do a thumbprint. That being said, there are some times when you know that you’re the only one who will be touching your phone and the unlocking step is annoying. Thankfully, Android has a feature for that. It’s called “Smart Lock“. You can tell Android to unlock your phone based on location, connected Bluetooth devices, and a couple others. (I’m surprised that WiFi network isn’t on there, but maybe there’s no good way to identify a specific WiFi network since someone else could set one up with the same SSID and MAC address.)

Obviously this feature should be used with care, but it’s nice to not have to unlock my phone sometimes.

Windows 10 And Android SMS

windows-10-cortanaDid you know that Windows 10 has as built-in feature that will allow you to receive SMS messages from your Android phone and reply to them right from your desktop? This feature is fantastic when I’m at work because I don’t have to stop what I’m doing to pull my phone out of my pocket and reply. (I’ll just have to remember to disable it when I’m in projecting on the big screen in meetings!)

To get this going, you need to have Cortana set up on your phone and on your desktop. There are plenty of websites that cover this, but here are a couple tips:

  1. On your desktop, make sure that Cortana is enabled. In the settings, turn on “Send notifications from devices.”
  2. On your Android device, install Cortana. From the settings, go to “Sync notifications”. Enable App notifications sync and make sure she has access to your notifications. Then go to Choose which apps to sync and make sure you enable only the ones that you really care about (I chose my SMS app and Facebook messenger.)

Now when you get a text, you should get a toast notification with the contents of the message and you can reply right from that box. You can also open up Cortana on your computer and type (or say) “Text Joe Blow Will you bring beer to the game tonight?” Note that after I set this up, it took 5 or 10 minutes before it started working but now the messages show up on my desktop within a couple seconds of my phone buzzing.

Android Thoughts

cortana-androidThis isn’t my first post about my new Galaxy S7 and it probably won’t be the last, but I have some more thoughts about the phone and about Android in general:

  • Using Android has made me appreciate how much thought and effort went into Windows Phone. People scoff at it, but it really was a great OS. Windows Phone may be failing in the American market for a lot of reasons, but the OS isn’t one of them. Android isn’t terrible, but it’s not nearly as polished or consistent. The plus side of that is that you can customize everything.
  • I love the processor and graphics power in this phone. I can easily do live 1080p streams from my security cameras. I don’t know why but my old phone would choke on those streams.
  • The cameras are terrific. The regular camera on our old phones was ok but the front-facing one was horrendous. Now we can using the front-facing camera without fear. I can also get RAW images from the cameras which make post-processing in Lightroom very nice.
  • I didn’t even know this existed but we have “HD calling“. When we call each other, the call quality is way better than a standard telephone. I’ve also gotten the HD calling when calling to an iPhone.
  • The microSD storage is a very nice feature. We put in some very fast 64 GB cards but it goes all the way up to 256GB.
  • Android has gobs of nice features like Do Not Disturb hours so that we don’t get woken up when east coasters are texting us. We can either let specific people through at any time or set it so that our phones will ring if you call twice in quick succession. (Note: we have the latter so in an emergency, just call us back right away.)
  • I was disappointed in the reminder functionality baked into Android. It’s there, but it’s sub-par. Thankfully, Microsoft has made Cortana available for Android and she has excellent reminder technology. The UI is great and the reminders sync to my Windows 10 computers too. By the way, if you do use the Google Now reminders, did you know you can access them from your desktop Chrome browser? Just search for “my reminders” and see what pops up.

I’m still finding more cool features so stay tuned!

Ok Google

samsung-galaxy-s7-0010Back in July I announced that we’d be switching to Android when our existing contracts were up. That time has come and we’re both using Galaxy S7’s. This won’t be the last post on the topic, but let me get some thoughts out of my head:

  • We went for crazy high end phones. There are a couple reasons:
    • With Verizon’s new plans where the cost of the phone is not something that is baked permanently into the service fee (yay!), it finally makes financial sense to keep a phone for longer than 2 years. Before you were kind of paying for it whether you got a new phone or not. So my thought is that if we’re going to keep these for 3+ years, let’s get something that has a chance to last.
    • These phones were in the same ballpark as what we spent on our last laptop. These devices get used way more than a laptop so it didn’t seem unreasonable that they should cost a similar amount.
    • Also, I like technology.
  • I feel like a tool n00b. I stared at my phone and literally had no idea how to send a text message. There are 1000 ways to do everything which is awesome but it’s also daunting at first. Thanks to some advice from Android-loving friends, I was able to pick a couple apps and get started. Yes, the phone comes with Samsung and Verizon versions of various apps but those things are generally best if you delete them immediately.
  • I LOOOOVVVVEEEEEEE having access to all the apps. All of them. I finally have full-fledged first party versions of every app I could ever want. I can buy all the gadgets and gizmos that I want and I can be confident that my phone will play nice with them. I’m like a kid in a candy store.
  • The fast charging is wonderful. The phones come with a 2 amp wall wart and when you charge with that thing, you can go from dead to a full charge in a couple of hours. It also tells you right on the screen how long it will take to get to a full charge.
  • There’s the inevitable “Why didn’t you get an iPhone?” That’s not going to happen. I’ll never buy Apple anything (long time readers are hollering that I had an iPod once.) I don’t think less of you because you have one, but it’s not for me. Oh, but I do think less of you if we have this conversation: “You got an Android? That’s dumb. You should have gotten an iPhone.” “Why? What’s better about it?” “I don’t know. It’s just better because … Apple.”
  • The other question I get is why I didn’t get a Google Pixel. The two big things for me is that the Pixel doesn’t have wireless charging and it’s not water resistant. The water thing hasn’t ever been a big deal but it’s nice to have on the S7. But the big one is that I’m hooked on wireless charging. It’s so convenient! We already have four chargers around the house and they’re compatible with this phone too.
  • This phone has tons of fun sensors on it that i don’t know how to use yet. The thumbprint sensor is incredibly useful. Not only is it handy for unlocking the phone, but I also love it for signing into my LastPass app. The LastPass app automatically signs me in to all the various websites and apps that I use. Fantastic.
  • The one disappointment for me so far has been Android Auto. I was very excited to hook my phone up to the Sync 3 system in my truck and get Google Maps, Ok Google, and more all right there on the screen in my truck, but it turns out that Android Auto isn’t enabled in my truck yet. I need Sync 3 version 2.0. It sounds like they started making that mere weeks after my truck was built. Supposedly there is a dealer upgrade coming “this year” but no word on the exact date yet or whether it’s free.

All in all, I’m happy with our choice, but I’ve been putting in a lot of hours to get the phones configured nicely. Tyla and I have shared calendars, contact lists, etc and it’s tricky to get that all configured in the Android ecosystem. I also have a long list of “how do I do X in the new phone” from both myself and Tyla. I’ve spent quite a few hours in the evenings chugging away. The nice thing about Android is that everything is possible if you can find the solution.