Went and got an iPhone

For a while there back in 2010 I kept waiting on the promises (by which I mean rumors) that the iPhone would soon-anyday-now-for-real be coming to Verizon. (whose signal is quite a bit better than the alternatives in my mountain town, and I get a company discount, too) But the time came I was tired of waiting, so I eventually pulled the trigger and went for a Droid X. And I liked it, and it worked very well for a while, and I spent quit a bit of time tuning applications and integrating it into my Mac desktop and workflow.

But along the way it started to get unstable. It wasn’t uncommon for it to hard-freeze while in the car dock, or if I locked it while using the camera app. It seemed to slow down, too, taking increasing (and increasingly frustrating) long times to do things that a phone should just do, like make calls.

Also, I dropped it three months ago and the rightmost fifth of the screen went dark. Do you know how much stuff, important stuff, is over there? The clock, scroll bars, send and submit buttons in a whole lot of apps, for example. Oh, the comedy of my rotating the phone to reveal a button, or blindly tapping in hopes of finding “send.”

So it was a good run, little, er big honkin’ Droid, but when my clock came up and I could upgrade, I was at the VZW store when it opened (this part was actually by accident, but I was the second guy in the door that morning) and came home with a black 32gb 4S.

Oh. My. There’s just. Why didn’t anybody tell me? It’s so good, and all the slavering over specifications at the gadget blogs about multi-core and 4.6-inch droid screens is just utter nonsense all of a sudden, because Apple just nails this thing.

I turn on the camera app, and there’s the camera. Not only does the app simply start up with a barely perceptible delay, but the quality absolutely smokes that of the droid. The camera lag matters more as my toddler gets faster; waiting for the camera to boot was okay when he was immobile, but the guy is on the move now, people, and shutter lag and slow startup were getting in my way.

The screen is gorgeous. Crisp, clear, colorful. Apps that I got used to working with on the droid — like 1password, tweetdeck, instapaper — are instead shockingly usable.

Tapping a phone number makes a call. I don’t wait, wondering if the tap registered. FaceTime is a revelation, one which my toddler is just agog over.

I mentioned my switch on the twittermatic, and a contact of mine expressed surprise to see me make the move, indicating that he expects many more to move in the opposite direction. Now that I’ve switched, I cannot imagine it. To be fair, android is — probably — forcing Apple to be competitive and pay attention to the apps and features landscape, but the past two years I’ve spent with my own droid is all I need to be very confident that nobody has the full packages together nearly as well. If there’s movement toward android right now, I expect it’s from first-time smartphone shoppers corralled by in-store salespeople. (I think smarter observers than I have made this point.) And as we come up on two years since the Verizon iPhone, I predict a surge of movement from VZW droids to iPhone.

Me, I’m happy.

Great Android apps: Vignette

I’ve been using the Vignette app for photography on Android ever since Dawn recommended it to me. It allows me to tap to shoot (avoiding the balky Droid X camera button) and offers a bunch of shooting options.

It also offers dozens of filters for creative photo-making, any of which can be applied either at the time of taking a shot, or later, to any photo in the Droid’s gallery. In fact, there are so many filters that I have trouble keeping track of all of them, and developers neilandtheresa (who, by the way, have an utterly charming blog and web site – and also see their official site for Vignette) continue to add more with each update to the app.

So I cheated and made myself a handy reference for the current set of built-in effects. It’s a little unwieldy to use on the droid itself, but not too bad — and it’s a big help for thinking about post-processing of photos that I’ve already shot. It includes examples of the vignette, coloring, camera and film effects styles and more. I hope it’s helpful to you. Click through for the full-size sheet at flickr.

Vignette App for Android | Effects examples

Keep in mind that the effects can be layered on top of one another via the customizations menu, allowing the stacking of any number of treatments. This sheet doesn’t show any of those combinations.

One hint for working with Vignette: Set a favorite preset with all effects, frames and customizations to Normal/None; then you can quickly toggle from fancy-pants artistic to straight normal settings.

For the sake of completeness, here’s a list of all the effects currently in the application (note that not all simple color variations are included in the example sheet).

1. Normal - Generic film effect
2. Vignette
3. Portra
4. Velvia
5. Ilford
6. Toy Camera
7. Toy Camera BW
8. Leaky
9. Cross-Process
10. Faded
11. SX-70
12. Summer - hazy grns and browns
13. Colourised - flat pastels
14. Oversaturated - bright washed out reds & yellows
15. Yearbook - faded B&W
16. Sepia
17. Platinotype - bright smooth tones & deep shadows
18. Retro Red - faded color variation
19. Retro Yellow
20. Retro Green
21. Retry Cyan
22. Retro Blue
23. Retro Magenta
24. London - contrasty b&w and red
25. Paris - contrasty B&W and blue-green
26. New York - contrasty black & white and yellow
27. Red/blue
28. Red/green
29. Blue/green
30. Rotate Hue
31. Sepia - same
32. Platinotype - same
33. Bleach bypass
34. Night vision- grainy and green
35. Duotone red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, magenta
36. Dreamy - soft-focus
37. Tilt-shift - portrait and landscape modes
38. Tobacco filter - deep orange tint for dramatic skies
39. Grad tobacco - portrait and landscape
40. Grad ND - portrait and landscape
41. Red, yellow, green, cyan, blue and magenta simple filters
42. Action movie - vivid reds w/blue-green tint
43. Technicolor - red and cyan 1930s look
44. Scary movie - tri-tone blue and magenta
45. Posterise
46. Blackboard
47. Infrared
48. Rainbow
49. Negative
50. Invert
51. Bordered
52. Rounded
53. Oval
54. Instant classic
	variants: Wide, mini & square
55. Instant transfer 1
	variants: 2 (smaller border) and 3 (yellow/magenta border)
56. Filed carrier
57. 35mm
58. 35mm full bleed
59. 6x6
60. 6x6 full bleed

Sync Lightroom Galleries to Android - Automatically!

Now that I have a photogenic, tiny gurgling creature in the house, I’m shooting a lot of photos, both on the Droid X and the Pentax. Most of these photos end up, one way or another, in Lightroom for cataloguing, and as I’ve described earlier, I have a nice workflow for updating these rapidly-growing galleries on my iPad.

But how about the Droid X? It has a nice screen, and I want to foist photos of my beautiful boy on anyone I happen across — so I started to wonder if, continuing to use Lightroom as my core platform, I could keep a small gallery of photos on the Android phone with as little manual work as possible.

Here’s the executive summary: I again use a smart published collection in Lightroom to create the gallery; then I use a LaunchAgent in OS X to monitor the mount point of the Droid X on the filesystem; and a tiny shell script syncs the published gallery to the Droid whenever I plug it into the MacBook Pro. Read on for altogether too many details.

First, a couple of things to note about how the Droid X generates image galleries [ note that this may apply to all Android devices; I have no idea, and your mileage may vary ]:

  • Android automatically displays galleries based on image type — so you don’t need to update a database or anything to build your galleries on the phone. You just need folder(s) full of images.
  • When you run the Gallery app, it will display galleries with the name of the parent folder containing the images. This means you can make a folder tree on the Droid’s SD card and neatly package multiple gallery folders within it, without cluttering up your root directory.

Prepare the SD card

When I attach my Droid X via USB to the MacBook Pro, it automatically mounts it as a volume titled NO NAME, so I used the Finder to change the label to DROIDX. This, happily, seems not to have affected any of the phone’s operations; the Droid must not depend on the name of the SD card for any of its internal work.

The second preparation step is to create a master gallery directory on the SD card. This is just for housekeeping purposes; everything in the galleries will be in a subdirectory of that top-level directory. Again, I simply did this with the finder: navigate to the DROIDX drive when the phone is connected, and create a new top-level directory, Galleries.

Your SD card and Droid should now be ready to go.

Set up the Gallery/Galleries

Just like last time, I’m using smart publish collections, based on keywords, to populate the galleries that will be synced. I decided to prefix all the keywords for this usage with dx — so, dx-gallery is my main tag, and I’ve edited it in LR to not be included in export. It’s a housekeeping tag only.

I’ve tagged a bunch of images with the dx-gallery tag.

Then it’s off to build the publish service. Here’s what it looks like in the publishing manager:

And add to that service a Published Smart Set that looks like this:

You can assign multiple keywords to the Smart Set, or create as many smart sets as you want galleries, and use unique keywords to assign photos to each. Each smart set within the published collection will appear in your directory tree as a subdirectory of the top-level folder for the set — and that makes the syncing to the Droid easy.

Automate syncing via LaunchAgent

Everything I know about LaunchAgent I learned from this tutorial. This is basically a concise repeating of that description, edited for our purposes. (I’ve previously described using this process to perform system backups)

First, if it’s not already there, mkdir ~/Library/LaunchAgents. This is the folder that OS X will watch for scripts triggered by system events such as mounting an external drive, which is exactly what plugging in the Droid does.

In that directory, make a new plist file (I called mine droid-sync-watch.plist) and give paste this into it:

<?xml version=1.0 encoding=UTF-8?> <!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC “-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN” \ “”> <dict> <key>Label</key> <string>droid-sync</string> <key>LowPriorityIO</key> <true/> <key>Program</key> <string>/Users/alan/Library/Scripts/droid-sync</string> <key>ProgramArguments</key> <array> <string>droid-sync</string> </array> <key>WatchPaths</key> <array> <string>/Volumes</string> </array> </dict> </plist>

In short, this plist file tells the OS to run the identified script (~Library/Scripts/droid-sync) when the specified WatchPath changes.

The sync script itself lives in ~Library/Scrips and consists of a check against the desired volume (here’s where naming the Droid SD card comes in) and an rsync of the designated published collection to the previously-generated target directory on the SD card.

#!/bin/bash # delay a short time to make sure the path is available echo -n "[*]-- new /Volumes... sleeping" | logger sleep 20 if [ ! -e "/Volumes/DROIDX" ]; then       echo -n "[*]-- DROIDX NOT connected - Exiting" | logger       exit 0    else       echo -n "[*]-- DROIDX Connected - Performing gallery sync" | logger fi # rsync with delete option rsync --delete -r ~/Pictures/Exported\ Photos/Droid/ /Volumes/DROIDX/Galleries echo -n "[*]-- DROIDX gallery sync complete" | logger

Finally, tell the LaunchAgent controller to watch your scripts by doing the following at a terminal:

  • launchctl load ~/Library/LaunchAgents
  • launchctl list | grep sync

You should see your droid-sync script appear in the list produced by the second command, above.

Now you’re ready!

Plug in and go

That really should do it. When you connect the Droid X, you can watch the messages in the sync script appear in your console log, and everything should work — after syncing, disconnect the device again and fire up the gallery application; in the “Folders” section of the gallery you should see an item for each gallery you create in Lightroom. You’re done!

As with the iPad workflow, the great part of this is that once it’s set up, it’s pretty automatic. If you edit, add, or remove photos, as long as you republish the collection, those changes will all be pushed over to the Droid. Thanks to a little nerdery and Lightroom, we’ve built a bit of functionality that the Droid software doesn’t directly offer — and it’s still done with LR as the core of the photo library.

Android / Droid X impressions

This little draft has been sitting unfinished becuase, well, life happened, so I thought I’d just throw it on up to get it out of the bin. These are somewhat organized thoughts about getting a Not-iPhone

So I posted this bit of a rant a couple of weeks ago about how Android just didn’t float my boat and etc. Well, not long after that I finally decided to stop waiting on a Verizon iPhone, and I ordered myself a Droid X.

Yes, the one described by David Pogue as like talking into a frozen waffle.

So how is it? Well, it is large, but it doesn’t feel like talking into a toaster pastry. I actually like the finish and feel a lot. The volume rocker is a little small, and the hard camera button is sloppy feeling. But the rubberized feel to the back of the phone is nice to hold, the ridge for the camera is a good contour, and the device overall feels quite thin.

Now that I’ve had some time to get used to the four hard buttons (menu, home, back and search), I’m pretty efficient at using the Droid X. I quite like the way the back button in some contexts returns to the prior application — for example, after visiting a link clicked in the twitter client, the back button returns you from the browser back to twitter. Search is application context-sensitive, and at the home screens it searches applications, contacts, and google. It also remembers prior searches, so it’s a handy way to launch applications or make calls, too.

However, the menu button can cause some complication, because applications don’t always use it consistently — worse, some create a soft button of their own that might or might not invoke a context menu. Here the iOS model definitely wins.

Keyboard: Text edit views often obscure UI elements, and small text boxes often are rendered as multiline text areas, taking up space rather unnecessarily. Fortunately, I have learned how to hide the keyboard after typing: since the Droid X keyboard doesn’t have a “hide” button like that on the iOS (and as I understand Android offers standard), swipe down from the top of the keyboard. That will re-hide it and give you back the rest of your UI. (That’s an undocumented Pro Tip, right there.)

Horizontal coverflow like display of bookmarks and images in gallery is awful. Really, it’s bad. Hold the phone vertically for a standard thumbnail-style view. (The same holds for the bookmarks view in the browser. In the faux coverflow style, bookmarks are entirely, entirely unusable.)

Lack of bookmarklets is regrettable. I hear there are workarounds that involve chanting and offerings to Shiva, so I’ve delayed exploring them.

Battery life: I have heard bad things about smart/app phones in general, including the Androids. It’s easy to imagine that Android’s true multitasking could be a big battery liability. This is where the fanboys go ZOMG APPLE SUXORS, but the presence or lack of multitasking hasn’t been an issue for me yet, in terms of functionality. I have observed that Android runs a lot of applications that i have not once, ever, run on my own — Amazon mp3 store and the car dock, for example — and this strikes me as a pretty inefficient thing to do.

So does it matter for battery? Who knows? After a handful of days I stopped using Advanced Task Killer every twenty minutes and just relaxed. While I reserve the right to revise and amend my statement, for now I’m very happy with my Droid X’s battery life: I routinely finish the day with 50 percent of battery life left on the meter after a day of pretty heavy use.

Apps I like (The range of Android applications seems … adequate if not impressive. The Android market badly needs some kind of curation.):

  • My Tracks: nice tracker app for biking in the hills. Integrates well with google maps.
  • Twitter app: Clean, works well, nothing extraneous.
  • Vignette: Much better than the built-in camera app, with a bunch of creative filters. I’m taking more pictures with the Droid X than in the past several weeks with my DSLR. Really good photo application a la the Hipstamatic app for iOS.
  • K-9 Email: This is a powerful email client with IMAP support. On the Droid X, there are lots of problem reports about the stock client not correctly refreshing, and while I am loath to solve a defect with an app, K-9 syncs properly and offers a bundle more features than the stock client.

It’s a good device with very nice hardware and some software feature that I really like — and some hitches.

More later?

About, the short version

I’m a sociologist-errant. This site is powered by Textpattern, Pair Networks and the sociological imagination. For more about me and this site, see the long version.

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