Skimble’s Workout Trainer gets an impressive UX update

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I first blogged about Workout Trainer by Skimble more than a year ago after discovering and falling in love with it at first sight. Following the posting, the very nice folks over at Skimble noticed my blog post and decided to reward me with a year of subscription for my early loyalty and affinity. Just when I thought it was a really nice touch by Skimble and that I shouldn’t expect anything more awesome, they also decided to do a “member spotlight” profile on me; all of these efforts totally set the stage for one of the most awesome customer experience for an Android app.

If you haven’t already, you should totally check out Skimble’s Workout Trainer – available on both Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store.

Workout Trainer by Skimble snippet found on the official website

Click on to download the app!

Today

About a year and a half in and after renewing my subscription for the second year, my love for the app and the brand continues to grow, especially after their most recent update, which features a completely revamped logo and impressive UI update. The new update takes the user experience of the app to the next level. New, awesome UX elements such as vertical sliding menu (similar to the one on Google+) and weekly progress bar are introduced in this update.

Here is the most recent changelog (for Android): 

v5.3
✓ Beautiful redesign & new app icon!
✓ Do the new fitness assessment so we can customize your experience.
✓ New dashboard with more targeted, recommended, and featured workouts.
✓ Set your Weekly Workout Goal to stay on track and be consistent.
v5.1
✓ Auto-sync with Samsung S Health API in upcoming Galaxy S5 device
✓ Stay motivated – get notified when your friends do workouts!
✓ Fix for rare crash problems seen on some Samsung devices
Skimble's Workout Trainer using vertical sliding menu from the left of the screen

Vertical Sliding Menu – Sleek!

 

Workout Trainer's homepage on Android showing workout progress, workout of the week and my workouts.

This is the killer feature in this update.

I believe featuring the workout progress at the main page of the app is the most thoughtful UI upgrade in this update, because previously if I were to check how many times I had worked out in a particular week, I would go to my profile and start counting, while having a calender open somewhere to check it against. Now, tracking the weekly progress is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

The progress bar at the top is also a great reminder whenever I open the app to see whether I am on track on a weekly basis. As long as I am making sure to hit the target of 4 workouts a week, I don’t have to go back to my profile at the end of every month to literally count if I have at least 15 (because I use Skimble’s workouts every other day to allow 48 hours of muscle recovery).

Of course, if you’re more ambitious or just starting out, you can set the bar higher or lower, by updating the fitness assessment in Settings.

Workout Trainer's feature - setting to change weekly target to keep track.

Considering ramping it up to 5 a week starting soon.

This is just a quick recap on one of the best workout apps I’ve ever discovered on smartphone. Whether you’re looking to drop fats, tone up or build lean muscles, there is no better time than now to give Skimble’s Workout Trainer a try – I seriously cannot recommend it enough.

Hope you enjoyed this post. Off to hit my workout quota of the week! ;)

Jaybird Bluebuds X Review

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I am by no means an audiophile, at least not just yet, but my colleagues and friends seem to think of me as one. I started getting into the audio game side of the geek culture only mid last year; by “audio game”, I mean paying much more attention to the details, balance and richness of the sound of music I listen to. For the better part of the last few years, I had been using Sennheiser CX200 earbuds and then I picked up a pair of Audio Technica ATH-CKS77X earbuds, both of which produce incredible sound quality and decent noise-cancellation.

I first came to know Jaybird Bluebuds X after watching MKBHD’s Top 5 best headphones under 200$. Now, note that my first bluetooth headset/headphone experience was with Motorola S305, the crap that came with the purchase of Motorola Milestone XT; the sound quality was totally underwhelming and it was designed so badly that it started to cause discomfort to ears within an hour of listening. That’s also when I got the idea that bluetooth cannot possibly deliver what wired headphones can. Though I was not fixated on that idea, I had never really given any fair chance to bluetooth headphones whenever I did research on audio equipment.

Jaybird Bluebuds X paired with Nexus 5 playing Waiting for the Night by Armin Van Buuren

Nexus 5 and Bluebuds X

But I was intrigued, very much intrigued, by the Bluebuds X. It looks so small, lightweight and it’s positioned as one of the best, if not the best, sports headphones. I am quite into working out and I can’t go through a day without music, so it seems as though the earbuds were screaming at me to give them a try. After reading half a dozen of raving reviews on the Bluebuds X, I was pretty much sold. Being an impulsive buyer that I am, I placed order on Apple Store and made sure it arrived the next day.

And it did…

Jaybird Bluebuds X box, held in hand

Sleek Packaging is a Plus

 What’s In The Box

Content of Jaybird Bluebuds X's box

It’s both amusing and confusing, I know

User Manual – Who still reads those? Well I do because it’s not that annoyingly long. The user manual details two fit options – over-ear and under-ear.

A pair of Bluebuds X – Duh!

Travel Pouch – a sleek black box that has a strap inside to hold the USB cable and the Bluebuds X if you’re patient enough to fit them both in.

USB Cable – the cable is really portable and I really love the design. But it’s very short, so you’ve to keep it close to your laptop while charging. I think it’s obvious that you’re not supposed to use it while it’s charging, but I am not sure if they make the cable so short to ensure that? *shrugs*

Jaybird Bluebuds X USB Charging cable

USB Charging Cable

Jaybird Bluebuds X USB charging

Yes, that’s where the battery is. Mind-blown.

Canal Tipas with most earbuds, they come in 3 different sizes; I am going to refer to them as L, M and S. These might not be the most comfortable tips. You may want to check out  Comply Foam Tips, which are already confirmed by Jaybird as compatible.

Secure Fitunlike most earbuds, you can’t get a great fit with Bluebuds X by just pushing the tips into your ears. These apparently patented secure fit wings are crucial in what kind of sound quality you’ll get. Serious.

Cable Groove3 cable grooves are provided to shorten the cable. Under-ear option needs no shortening, but if you choose over-ear fit option, which is a very tight fit option for some serious workout, then you would need these. Watch the How To video by Jaybird on X-Fit + Bluebuds X. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t get it right the first few times. Hell, it took me over 10 days to finally get the best fit. Will elaborate more later.

Features and Specs

Visit Jaybird Bluebuds X Product’s page for detailed specs. I want to focus this review on sound quality and fit.

Sound Quality and Fitting

As I mentioned previously, it took me more than a week to finally discover what the best fit and setting are for Bluebuds X. I’ve been using it predominantly to listen to music on my Nexus 5 with PowerAMP player. I started using the Bluebuds X with the medium tips and medium wings. For the first couple days, I tried both under-ear and over-ear fit options but I got very frustrated when I just couldn’t get the sound quality claimed by professional reviewers.

Then I read on one of the blogs that if you constantly have to push those tips in, you should probably try a size bigger. So I did, and it sounded relatively better for a period of time, until it started to hurt my ears. Apparently, my ears fit perfectly with the medium tips, but that I just haven’t found the best way to wear them. Using the large tips gives a marginally improved sound quality because they seal much better than those medium tips, but the drawback is that I’ve to push the tips in with a bit of force to get the fit, which is probably not the right way to go.

After about 5 or 6 days with the large tips, I went back to medium tips. Only this time, I started to obsess less with pushing it all the way in, but more with using the secure fit to really seal the buds in. And that’s how I got the best fit, after trial and error for over a week. Once you get the perfect fit for the ears, the sound quality is phenomenal. Bluetooth with SHIFT Technology definitely steps up the audio quality in bluetooth headphones. The sound is crisp, with really deep, rich bass. The sound isolation is also superb with a great fit as they seal really well.

What about the battery life? 

From fully charged to hearing Jenna’s “Battery Low” voice prompt, I would say I get an estimated 7 – 8 hours of battery life, which is very close to what Jaybird claims. It can be a bit frustrating if you don’t use Bluebuds X with iOS devices as you have no idea what battery percentage it is at. You can only check the battery percentage on iOS devices for Bluebuds X.

Does it live up to the sports headphones positioning? 

Jaybird Bluebuds X - assembled

My choice – medium tips and medium secure fit

After I settled on the perfect fit, I have also started using Bluebuds X for my workouts. I do a little bit of dancing for my cardio and HIIT sets as conditioning. I wear Bluebuds X for all my workout purposes. Sometimes, it does wiggle a bit when you’re moving too much, too fast, or both. Maybe over-ear fit option would minimize wiggling out, but since I can never figure out the best fit for that option and that I don’t want flat hair at the back of my head, I am okay with under-ear option with a bit of wiggling. I guess it’s inevitable that it’ll move a bit when you’re working out, but note that it gets really bad when you sweat a lot on your forehead and it starts going into your ears (while doing crunches).

Conclusion

Overall, there are very few negative things I could say about Bluebuds X because I am still very much in love with those after finding the perfect fit. Now, I cannot leave house without those. They are just so portable and deliver phenomenal sound quality for bluetooth headphones that they’re definitely my go-to earbuds for all purposes. The price tag may be a tad on the higher end though – the white one is retailing on Amazon at 140 USD now. But if you are going to spend some serious money on bluetooth music experience or if you’re looking for the perfect pair of headphones for your workouts, I can’t recommend Bluebuds X enough.

The Flight of Flappy Bird

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dont-play-top-iphone-game-flappy-bird--its-simple-but-impossible-and-youll-want-to-rip-out-your-hair

I was on my way to a postponed Chinese New Year gathering when I suddenly pulled out my phone to ask my friend whether he knew about Flappy Bird. Excitedly, he launched the app to show me the score and started talking about what high scores his colleagues had gotten. Before we even noticed, we started playing it on the subway. A few minutes later, after numerous frustrated groans because the stupid bird kept dying, we decided to stop playing and talk about it.

We talked about how this game got viral, how consumers don’t have any idea what they really want until something came along to hit them and how the developer could have made even more money from the amount of impressions he’s getting with in-app purchases (wouldn’t you like an additional life when your bird died?).

2014-02-09 08.09.01

Yes I am very much an addict too

But just a little more than 4 hours before this post is published, the developer of Flappy Bird (@Dongatory) [please don't send him any more hate messages, seriously] posted a series of tweets highlighting that he’s taking the game down 22 hours later because he can’t “take it anymore”.

Snapshot of Dong Nguyen's tweets highlighting about taking down Flappy Bird

It could be rather baffling at first to see what he can’t “take” but on a second thought, it is understandable to feel the heat from so many threats, vulgarities, scoldings, or just plain insults from random people all over the world, for an indie developer who has never expected his game to be downloaded over millions of times on two of the most popular mobile platforms.
Warning: Extreme NSFW language and no human decency ahead

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Screenshot from 2014-02-09 08:00:46

Screenshot from 2014-02-09 08:01:00

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Maybe this would put into perspective what he can’t take anymore. That or he’s actually receiving cease and desist letters from Nintendo, although he said it’s not for legal reasons but do you really believe it? Or simply it’s just a strategy to get people to rush to download in the final 22 hours to get a huge revenue bump while he prepares for his next launch.

Nexus 7 (2013) Review

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I’ve never written a product review before, although I am certainly no stranger to writing about Android ecosystem in general. Readers came to my blog in the past mostly for tips on rooting and flashing AOSP ROMs or my posts on Ubuntu Linux. But today, or rather from here on out, I would open my blog up for more versatility.

Nexus7_1

Image from ASUS

Google refreshes its Nexus 7 lineup with a brand new, improved tablet this year, while maintaining the same form factor. It’s simply named New Nexus 7 or Nexus 7 2013. This is the first tablet I’ve owned so keep in mind that the review wouldn’t draw any comparison in terms of user experience with the original Nexus.

Specs Sheet

Size 7.9 x 4.5 x 0.3 (in)
Weight 10.24 oz
Screen 7-inch LCD
Resolution 1920 x 1200 pixels (323 ppi)
Operating System Android 4.3
Storage 16/32 GB
SD Card Slot No
Processor 1.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro
RAM 2 GB
Camera Front 2.1 MP, Rear 5 MP
Bluetooth Version 4.0
Battery 3,950 mAh
App Ecosystem Google Play Store

At one glance, the spec that would stand out the most is the gorgeous 1920 x 1200 pixels screen. For any tablet on the market, that’s the highest ppi on a screen. From a user-experience perspective, the new Nexus 7 is simply a delight to look at. I used to say that pixel density is one spec that has a diminishing return, in the sense that once the density goes beyond a certain point you don’t see that much more benefits of having a relatively more crisp and sharp text/content on your screen. I am gonna have to review that statement and say that in the game of pixels, higher = better.

I’ve also read that they’ve managed to make the tablet lighter and thinner while not sacrificing the processing power. What’s being sacrificed is the battery capacity. The original Nexus 7 features a 4,325 mAh battery to process full HD screen (1280 x 800). With a much higher pixel density and a smaller physical battery, it follows naturally that the new Nexus 7 would take a slight dip in the battery life department. Again, I can’t comment on the original Nexus 7 but my experience with 2013 version has been nothing short of impressive. I will discuss more about the battery life with a complete picture of my use cases later in the post.

Form Factor

The only other tablet I’ve used before getting my hands on the new Nexus 7 is an iPad 3 (or the new iPad?). It’s obviously a very different form factor because the iPad 3 is as good a portrait device as it is a landscape one. Can’t say the same for tablets in 7-inch form factor. I’ve been using the new Nexus 7 in portrait mode about 80% of the time. The only time I’d switch to landscape mode is when I am on YouTube or when some apps are optimized for tablet.

The other thing about the new Nexus 7 is that it not only competes in the tablet market (being the best in class in the 7-inch category), but it also intends to destroy eBook readers. It’s not a ridiculous ambition but rather something that is quite achievable. Although you can argue how LCD-screen devices shouldn’t be in the same conversation as e-Ink screen devices, the new Nexus 7 makes quite a good eBook reader.

Camera 360

Contrary to what I used to believe, it’s quite easy to type on Nexus 7 in portrait mode as well. I used to think that it’s impractical to use chat on Galaxy Tab 7 or those tablets that also serve as phones. After using a lot of Skype, Hangout, Line, etc. on Nexus 7, I’d say it’s only slightly slower for me to type on this tablet than my daily driver Galaxy S3; a large part of it may be due to SwiftKey, but that’s the topic for another day.

Tablet-Optimized Apps are few and far between

As I mentioned just now, Nexus 7 makes for a very good portrait device to use, not just because of its form factor, but also because of the kind of apps available on Android optimized for tablets. Unlike iPad which has hundreds of thousands of tablet-optimized apps, Google Play is only in its infancy stage in terms of tablet apps, although I’ve seen developers’ increasingly developing apps meant for Android-based tablets.

Screenshot_2013-10-13-10-48-54

Twitter for Android already looks sort of stretched out in portrait mode but it’s still an acceptable interface to say the least. I can’t say the same for it in landscape mode though, which I totally cannot stand using in. Check the following screen on why:

Screenshot_2013-10-13-10-48-46

Now, to put this matter into perspective, I will include a screenshot of how a tablet-optimized Twitter app (3rd party) looks on Nexus 7 in landscape.

Screenshot_2013-10-06-21-29-58

While it’s not a necessity for apps to be tablet-optimized to be functional, the enhancement of user experience through aesthetics and better UX design still goes a long way in improving this app ecosystem as a whole. I do hope to see more Android developers embrace and prioritize on the value of tablet optimization.

Performance

Look at the spec sheet again, and one will realize there is nothing much to talk about in the performance department for the new Nexus 7. This thing is an absolute beast when it comes to processing power and how it makes multi-tasking seamlessly snappy. There’s very little or no delay in launching apps, switching apps. Hell, the machine starts getting to work immediately on a cold boot.

Battery Life

Now, this section is probably what any tablet user would care about the most. I mean, no one wants to bring the Nexus 7 out for productivity or leisure and have the battery depleted within hours. It doesn’t happen anyway. The battery run-down tests run by different tech blogs as well as official channels state 9 hours of solid battery life on the new Nexus 7, which is very impressive considering the battery has < 4,000 mAh.

However, this run-down number barely means anything for normal users as I cannot foresee anyone running the battery down looping 720p video playbacks for 9 straight hours or writing a script to get a web browser to keep refreshing a page every few minutes. The realistic measure of battery life is how much total standby hours you get versus how much screen-on time you have.

For my use cases:

I’ve 153 apps installed on my new Nexus 7 and about 30 of them are updated automatically with notifications every few hours. Screen brightness is at about 80% (I like my screen really bright). My most used apps are Flipboard, YouTube, Aldiko book reader, Games (about 1 hour in total per charge), social media (Facebook, Tweetcaster, Highlight, Quora, Instagram, etc.) and I get a standby of 1 day 8 hours with a screen-on time of 5 hours 42 minutes.

So, if you’re concerned about whether you’re getting a decent/normal battery life, go to Settings > Battery and check the screen-on time at the end of a charge cycle. It should give you a pretty good indication; for instance, if your device is new and the screen-on is fewer than 4 hours on one charge, then you should consider replacing the unit or examine what’s eating away your battery (use BetterBatteryStats for that).

Screenshot_2013-10-13-11-31-50

Kernel wakelocks tell you what have been keeping your device from getting into Deep Sleep. If you don’t want any complication, simply monitor the battery drop in standby. With Wi-fi on, my device would drop 3-4 % over a night’s sleep (7 hours).

Screenshot_2013-10-13-11-28-08

My battery usage screen shows the fluctuated graph because I only let my Nexus 7 drain below 20% and charge it back fully once a week or so. That’s because Lithium-based batteries can be prolonged through partial charge (since it has no memory effect) than, say, you run it down and complete a charge cycle each time. I keep my battery level between 40% and 80% for the better part of a week. If you’re interested to know more, please read - http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/how_to_prolong_lithium_based_batteries.

In a nutshell

I think the new Nexus 7 is the superb value of money you can get with 269 USD. It has the best-in-class processor performance, best-in-class screen resolution and the latest iteration of Android since it’ll be rolled out by Google for all Nexus devices. If you’re considering a 7-inch form factor tablet, I really can’t find anything that offers better than the new Nexus 7.

Monday Blues

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I think I can never truly understand the idea of Monday Blues. Urban Dictionary puts it best when it defines Monday Blues as “When you go to work or to school really tired and upset because you stayed up really late to watch your favorite football team play and they lost. All comes equipped with a hangover and bad stomache.” Then it’d make perfect sense to me why I’ve never felt it for as long as I can remember.

Apparently, people expand the meaning of “Monday Blues” to refer to any unpleasant feeling they feel on Monday mornings and/or afternoons. To me, personally or professionally, everyday is a new window of opportunity to be a better person, a more productive worker, to establish new relationships and improve existing ones.

You may learn a new skill you’ve yet to learn. You may discover a new method for your work you’ve yet to discover. You may meet new people whom you’d love to meet and spend time with. I can go on but the point is this -there’s no reason to feel the so-called Monday Blues, except unless you’re really going drinking every Sunday night or stay up until ungodly hours. If that’s the case, then at least have the courtesy or decency to not complain about it every now and then, because you deserve to feel Everyday Blues for the rest of your life for making poor lifestyle choices.

Come to think of it, I did remember feeling consistent Monday Blues….. at one point in my life, although the memory of it is far from vivid or recent. Most probably, that was during my secondary school days when I really hated school.

A Healthy Lifestyle

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To my regular readers, this would be a personal post, or rather a rant/reflection of some sort. Skip ahead if you are looking only for tech stuff; speaking of which, check back in this time next week for Nexus 7 2013 first impressions, full review, tips & tricks and root guide.

Backstory

It’s almost 4 am and I had been unable to get back to sleep since I woke up at 1, to shut the window. Thanks, rain! This is a terrible and contradicting feeling because as far as my new lifestyle is concerned, I should be sound asleep now until 2 hours later, by which time I would be well-rested and energetic to start my AM workout. Pretty sure I’d be feeling neither today. Howard Schultz would be pleased if this happens more often to people like me.

It is all about taking care of the body? 

Ever since I started working full-time just a month ago, I’ve been somewhat taking “good” care of my body. For example, I never miss a morning workout at 6 on weekdays; I always get to bed by 11 pm, or 12 latest; I’ve significantly cut down on my sugar intake and food intake in general; I’ve also given up clubbing, drinking, movies, blogging, tinkering with Android and Linux on weekdays (well except today, damn). It’s true when they say ‘leading a healthy lifestyle may very well require you to give up your favorite hobbies.’ First-hand experience here!

Despite all that I’ve mentioned, I feel like I could do more, I mean, so much more than what I’ve already been doing. Don’t get me wrong – I understand that getting into tip-top shape and leading a healthy lifestyle is an iterative process. In lean startup terms, understanding and delivering goals through iterations is paramount. You don’t dump all the features into your final product at one go, just as you can’t change every single aspect of your life in a short time frame. People get frustrated when they don’t see results in a short time frame, because of their tendency towards overestimating their effort or commitment. Penning this down here should serve as a constant reminder to myself, to not rush results.

Writing this blog post is rather therapeutic in the sense that I get to do what I like and re-organize my thoughts at the same time. Somehow, I feel rather excited and fresh about starting the day. Maybe I am just weird or maybe that’s just the effects serenity has on introverts. Off to my 3rd attempt to fall asleep – I can still squeeze in a 2-hour nap and 30-min workout before work.

Happy Monday!

Facebook Home [APK] for ANY Android Device

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facebook-home

APK Download Link – MoDaCo Thread

By now, if you’re even slightly interested in Facebook Home, you’d have seen a ton of pictures and videos depicting how it works/looks etc, and I cannot do a thorough review about it anyway here since I’ve only used it for about 10 minutes before getting annoyed enough to not want to try it again. Plus my love-hate relationship with Facebook over the years also wouldn’t help me write objectively at all.

Launcher homescreen UI

Screenshot_2013-04-15-16-09-45

Homescreen UI (sorry about the choice; I’ve to find a non-personal status)

There is one thing about Facebook Home launcher that is going to be very obvious once the UI springs up, that it assumes that your life revolves around Facebook. Seriously, imagine unlocking your phone to see status updates filling up the whole screen which can be swiped left and right for even more updates. Let’s not talk about how unusable it is, the mere fact that Facebook News Feed popping up on the phone full-screen is intrusive enough, whether you’re a privacy freak or not.

Gesture 1 – Long-Pressing

Screenshot_2013-04-15-16-09-38

Long pressing on the screen zooms out the picture on the status

This is how the UI looks when you long press anywhere on the screen. Pretty handy if you like scrolling through Facebook a lot and zoom in/out pictures with a single long press. You’ll notice that the notification bar is missing in the screenshot; you can easily enable it to show at all times in the Home Settings.

Gesture 2 – Tapping

Screenshot_2013-04-15-16-10-04

Chat Head

Tapping anywhere on the screen will bring up the “chat head”, which is essentially your Facebook profile picture in a round icon. Clicking on the chat head will show you 3 different options – going to Facebook, Messenger or the App Drawer.

How Do I Go To My Apps?

Screenshot_2013-04-15-16-10-14

App Drawer

I didn’t find any way to make folders or put widgets on the homescreen (erm duh, how to do it on top of status updates!), so it’s good that at least the app drawer is readily easy to access and the experience is quite smooth altogether. The chat head comes in really handy in terms of navigating through the mess, i.e. your Facebook news feed.

Note

Overall, the experience is not bad, but since these are the extracted APKs, don’t expect them to work fully well. I’ve had my system slowed down on some occasions because of testing out Facebook Home. But the whole launcher app takes away key elements from Android that we came to love – customizability, widgets, etc… and slaps the Facebook news feed on top of the Android OS. If this is the next version of Facebook app, which they position as it is, I am probably not going to use Facebook on my mobile again, or unless they come up with a better way to integrate with existing Android elements, instead of overriding them.