Software I use
Zachary Powell - 21/01/2016
Today, we have a look at the software I use for development and just general computer use. As a software developer, I use a range of operating systems and programs.
I use three different operating systems on a daily bases. OSX is my “main” as my main computer is now a Macbook Pro, while I have Ubuntu and Windows running in virtual machines.
As I said already, OSX 10.11 is my main operating system. When I am working on Android, iOS or web applications, I will be using OSX. It provides all the tools I need using the below software, although I do need to use other operating systems for tasks, most can now be taken care of within OSX.
Windows 10 is only now used when I need to develop software for windows or use a peace of Windows only software. This is not often done, but I still keep a virtual machine ready just encase.
Ubuntu 14.04 is used again when I need access to a Linux operating system. There are a few projects I work on including LinuxonAndroid, where it is still much easier to work within Ubuntu to do this, giving me a great free and stable operating system for this work. Again, this is run within a virtual machine.
During a normal day of work, I use a range of different software packages, depending mainly on the platform I am developing for.
XCode is the go to software tool for developing OSX/iOS applications. When ever a client needs something developed for these platforms, this is the tool I will use.
Android Studio is to Android as Xcode is to iOS. If a client needs native Android work doing, Android studio is the software I will turn to. In the past, I used Eclipse exclusively for Android development. However in the past year, Android Studio has become far more stable and includes some really nice features. It is now also the only officially supported tool by Google.
FileZilla is one powerful FTP client. Often, when I am working with a remote server or on a web application, I will be using FileZilla to easily transfer files to and from the remote servers.
As I said before, Eclipse used to be the tool I went for when it came to Android development. While it is still a tool I have ready to use, it does not often get used any more due to migrating to Android Studio. If a client however, does have an older code base and is only looking for small changes/improvements, I will likely use Eclipse to save them time and money.
Textmate is, in my view, the best text editor available for OSX. It offers syntax highlighting for a range of languages and it is a great distraction free development tool. I will often do most of my web work within TextMate, along with other scripting style languages that do not require any kind of compiling.
As said when I was talking about the operating systems, I use both Windows and Ubuntu within virtual machines. These are managed and controlled by VirtualBox, a great free virtual machine system.
If a project requires the use of a MySQL database, then this is the software I will turn to. From just connecting to a pre-existing database to make changes or creating a completely new database, this software package allows you to do anything and everything you need to do from a nice GUI, without the need of the command line (although, I will admit from time to time, it can be quicker to use the command line).
There is a range of softwares I use outside of developing. Below are just a few.
Before moving to OSX, Thunderbird was my go to Email client. However, after making the switch, I found that the default Mail client, included in OSX, did a better job. I have a number of mail accounts across platforms (Google, Microsoft, own servers etc), so a good mail client that can pull all these in is a must for me.
I have talked about Skype before when discussing the apps I use on my tablet. Again, it is often a very important tool during my day – from Skype calls with clients as well as talking with friends. It is my preferred go-to text/voice chat client, mainly due to its wide use and platform support.
In the odd moment I have time to unwind, I often like to play a game. While I do have an Xbox one, I really enjoy a lot of titles far more popular on desktop platforms, including the likes of Team Fortress 2 and Portal. Valve owned titles aside, Steam is the the best desktop gaming client, and now that so many titles have OSX support, I often find myself on here.
Last but not least, Google Chrome is my web browser of choice. While it is pretty memory hungry, I have been an avid user since the very start, and using an Android phone as my daily device, I find Chrome gives the best cross platform support and syncing.
As always, feel free to leave questions and comments below.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge – One Strange but loveable device
Zachary Powell - 01/01/2016
I change my device pretty often, at least yearly if not more often. I have in the past, owned a number of Samsung devices as well as phones from other various brands. From memory, my order of devices owed to my main day to day device:
- HTC Magic
- HTC Desire S
- Samsung Note
- Nexus 4
- Samsung Note 3
- Nexus 5
- Samsung Note 4
- Samsung S6 Edge
I have also owned, and have, a range of other devices for testing and development work, but these above have been my devices used as the day to day phone, not just a development tool. In this review, I will look over the Edge S6 as both a day to day device, and a development tool. For me, both are important. I want a phone that will keep up with my daily usage, many phone calls, text, emails, skype and also something that can be used to test new software.
Lets first look at the device itself. Without solid hardware, a device simply wont keep up, no matter how good the software is. I am a heavy multi tasking user and have in the past found devices struggle to keep up and keep apps running.
The device itself has a glass front and rear, with the thin metal strip around the edge. If it was not for this strip, I think the device would be very difficult to hold. The glass is pretty slippery, and when holding it in your hand you really do feel like it could just slide out. Of course Samsung have now turned to the ‘darkside’. This phone is completely sealed – no replacing batteries or actually anything without a lot of time and heat pads (https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/Samsung+Galaxy+S6+Edge+Teardown/39158). We also no longer get a SDcard slot. This sucks, but at 32GB, the phone has more than enough memory for me.
The front of the device has the normal Samsung layout of a hardware ‘home’ button, which this time round also doubles up as the finger print reader, along with two touch buttons, a back and a recent apps button. Personally, I like having the hardware keys, leaving all the screen free for apps etc, which on a smaller phone helps a lot.
On the left side we have the volume rocker and on the right the power button. When holding the phone in your right hand, these positions are perfect – the volume rocker is easily reached with my index finger and the power button my thumb. This might be because of having larger phones in the past, but the general size of the phone seems perfect in my hand, small enough to hold and use one handed, but still big enough for the screen high resolution to be worth it.
On the top we find the SIM card slot, IR transmitter and a microphone. This might seem like quite an odd position for the SIM card slot, but because of the curved screen we are not left with very much thickness on either side. The top side is really the only location it could now fit.
Finally along the bottom we have the 3.5 headphone jack, micro USB (no USB-C here) port, another microphone and one lone speaker.
The specs of the Edge S6 has the same internal hardware as the S6, the only real difference being the funky curved screen. I will look at this more shortly but first the devices complete spec:
- Screen – Curved 5.1 inch screen with a resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels (~577 ppi pixel density)
- Chipset – Exynos 7420
- Storage – 32GB
- RAM – 3GB
For the complete spec check out
Nothing hugely different here to most flagships, although this is the first Exynos device I have used. It will be very interesting to see how far Samsung have come with their own SoC (System on Chip).
A quick run of some bench marks have given the below results. While benchmarks are not always a good example of real world performance, they are a great place to start!
Of course the main selling point of the S6 Edge is its curved screen. Other than this, it is just the S6 after all, but what a screen it is! While the curve itself has little use in terms of functionality, it does change the shape of the phone in a way ,that I feel, makes the phone much easier to hold and gives the effect that its much thinner than it actually is.
Other than the curve, the screen is a beautiful AMOLED panel, which produces an amazing colour range, and of course perfect blacks. The viewing angles are pretty damn perfect as well. This honestly has to be the best screen I have ever seen on a device.
As with every years flagship phones from Samsung, they have bumped the cameras spec, producing some really lovely images. The front camera is not really anything to write home about. It works and produces OK images in low light, but is just a standard front facing camera. If you’re a selfie lover, this might not be a selling point for you.
Personally, one of the points I look for in a new daily use phone is a good rear camera. As you may have noticed from the (pretty awful) photos of the phone in this post, I do not own a stand alone camera. I am by no means a photographer and never justified buying one. I am glad (for your sake as well as mine) that this phone lives up to that goal. Although its very dark and pretty miserable outside, the phone does a pretty good job at capturing detailed images both in low light and well lit areas.
I just wanted to stop by that other interesting hardware point of this years Samsung flagship phones, the fingerprint reader. I have used a number of readers in the past, all the way back to the Motorola Atrix, but this is the first one that actually works more times than doesn’t. Setting up new fingers is very easy to do and just involves pressing the finger on the home button a number of times so it can record from all angles. The more angles you do, the better the final result. To unlock the phone all you now have to do is press down the home button (to wake it) and hold your finger on the button for a few seconds to allow the reader to pick up your finger.
While from time to time it does fail to pick up the finger it does a pretty good job, and is finally to a point where fingerprint readers are a viable and useful method for locking and securing a phone.
Over the years, Samsung have been slated for their Android “skin” TouchWiz and the large amount of extra apps they preload on devices, causing many of their older flagship phones to struggle with multi tasking due to a lack of any free RAM. After picking up my S6 Edge, Samsung announced on twitter that they where doing an open beta test of the new Android 6.0 update for all UK owners. Of course, I jumped at the chance to give marshmallow a go and updated right away.
This does mean that the software I am reviewing is very much subject to change, although even as a beta I have struggled to find any crashes or slow-downs.
Above is the current build my phone is running. We are looking at Android 6.0 (interestingly not 6.0.1) with all the normal Samsung extras (KNOX etc).
Over the years, Samsung have slowly dialed back the bloat that is including on their devices, and the newest version of TouchWiz is no different. Now only a handful of “S” apps are included by default and, like with the last generation, while you can not uninstall these apps, you can “disable” them, which stops them running and removes them from your app launcher.
I do hope Samsung makes some final adjustments to their skin before it launches, as stable as above is, an example of a couple of points where they have really missed the mark on design. The White background with Blue highlights for the notification draw looks really bad. It might be a personal thing, but I really don’t like it. The same can be said for the “bubbles” around app icons that are not Samsung apps. Again, what is going on here !?! OK, it does say a lot about how far they have come.
But I do feel that the newest version is a step back from their Android 5.0/1 software originally shipped with the device.
This reduction of “bloatware” really can be felt. Along with the Android 6.0 improvements we now get about 1.1GB of free RAM for apps to gobble up – still not as great as other more stock android devices, but its not a bad result by Samsung and the phone really does fly. Many of the apps have also be updated with a new colour pallet which overall I do really like. It is strange to me that they can come up with some really nice simple design work for the apps like the above Phone and “Smart Manager” apps, but then miss the boat by so much with the launcher.
The Camera app itself also get a nice bump in features, with all the normal features but now with the option to shoot in RAW. Again, a great feature for someone like me who doesn’t have a DLSR, but may well want to use the added benefits of the RAW file format.
The Samsung S6 Edge is certainly a strange device. Does the curved screen really bring much to the game? I am not convinced, but what it does do, is allow the device to feel much thinner and I like that.
Other than that this is the same device as the S6, but that is not a bad thing at all. The hardware is solid and well built as you expect from Samsung and the new addiction of Android 6.0 brings some really nice extra features and an always welcome speed boost.
This is a phone that I would certainly recommend to anyone looking to get a new flagship phone and of cause, the S7 will be just around the corner and likely bring even more improvements, but in the fast moving world of phone hardware you can not stand waiting around because a new device will always be around the corner.
As always, please comment below with any questions.
Apps I use on Nexus 9
Zachary Powell - 18/12/2015
My Nexus 9 is the next most used device within my work flow. I use it a lot through-out the day, both during my free time to play games, read books and magazines. But today, I want to take a moment to look at a few of the apps I use more during a day of work.
Dropbox is my file sharing/backup cloud of choice. As I’m sure you know, there are a huge range of these systems available (Google drive, Onedrive, iCloud etc), but I have found that Dropbox is the only solution that works seamlessly across Windows/OSX/Ubuntu/Android/iOS and allows me to keep backups of my files from all Operating systems.
I use dropbox on my tablet to keep photos backed up, but also easily access any of my files I might need when I’m out and about. If a client needs to see a design for example, I will always have access to it.
The tablet app is also a great example of clean simple design. No fluff, just right to your data.
VLC is another great example of a program I use across the board. When I need to play a video file, I know that it can be played on VLC no problem. From time to time, a client might send me a video for something and with VLC I just know it will work. Again, I love using this app because of its material design and simple easy to use layout.
Another big use for my tablet is accessing other computers remotely. These might be my own devices or clients. Often they need me to show them how to use software I have developed or have questions about certain features. Teamviewer allows me to do this pretty seamlessly, connecting to any device on any operating system quickly. I often leave my Mac at home and might just need to run a program while I’m out, or check on the progress of a new software build.
As well as connection to full computers via Teamviewer, I also have a couple of headless servers, including a couple of Raspberry pi’s doing different tasks. One is a media server and another managers my local backup system. I also have a couple of remote servers for web development and other tasks. Using JuiceSSH, I can remotely connect to all of these via my tablet to easily check on them or run tasks.
Again, just like the above two programs, I use Turbo Client to connect to servers via FTP. I have FTP servers running on my backup server and my remote servers, so if I need to access files remotely from these servers, this is the best app to use. Again it has a lovely clean design and makes accessing files very quick and easy.
When I’m not out and working at my desk instead, the Nexus 9 works as a great extra screen. I tend to keep to just a couple of Apps while I’m at my desk, and most of the above apps are easier from a desktop, with far more screen space. However, what I do tend to use is either Gmail or Skype. Using Gmail on the tablet works great as a dedicated gmail terminal, as emails come in I can quickly glance down at the tablet (positioned below my main computer monitor) and read them, without stopping my current work flow. If they need a response too, I can bring up the desktop client to do such at a time that is suitable.
The other app I will use while at my desk is Skype. Often this is used to speak with clients via video/voice chat or even via text. If I am having a busy day on Skype, I will move this to the tablet again so it does not disrupt my main work flow.
This is the first non development post. I will do these from time to time, explore my different work flows (what programs I use on the desktop etc), as well as reviewing hardware and software from time to time.
If you have anything you would like me to review or talk about, please comment below!