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Kinda scary, but apparently I was covering CityPlan 20 years ago. A look back in time at some of the real debates going on.

Reaction to city’s urban-village vision of the future not all neighborly: [FINAL C Edition]

Bula, FrancesView Profile. The Vancouver Sun [Vancouver, B.C] 06 Dec 1994: B3.

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Abstract (summary)

Twenty thousand people participated to come up with what appears to be the final conclusion, at least as it shows up in surveys and questionnaires: Most people in Vancouver are willing to take in the 160,000 new residents calculated as the city’s share of the growth predicted to the year 2021 for the Greater Vancouver region. And if they have to take them in, they’d rather have them absorbed by building up about 20 urban villages in the city, rather than using up industrial land or spreading them out through Vancouver.

The burr under the saddle here is people like [Eleanor Riddell], Charles Dobson, Mel Lehan, Jan Pierce, Ron Hawkes, Gillian Watson-Donald and others. They’re worried about how fair the CityPlan process was and, more important, how much control neighborhoods will really have over development.

Some, like Pierce and Riddell, feel railroaded by the city. “There’s some concern that CityPlan was driven by projections that Vancouver would have to absorb a certain number of people,” said Riddell, who got involved with city planning through her neighborhood group, the Cartier Hudson Athlone Team. “I sat in as a facilitator at some meetings and certainly at the end of it, there was a feeling that we were driven to absorb more than what some people wanted.”

What’s wrong with CityPlan?

That’s what a handful of the city’s most energetic urban activists will gather to talk about today in Eleanor Riddell’s living room.

CityPlan, the process meant to design a future for Vancouver that would be carried out over the next 30 years, has been 26 months in the making so far.

Twenty thousand people participated to come up with what appears to be the final conclusion, at least as it shows up in surveys and questionnaires: Most people in Vancouver are willing to take in the 160,000 new residents calculated as the city’s share of the growth predicted to the year 2021 for the Greater Vancouver region. And if they have to take them in, they’d rather have them absorbed by building up about 20 urban villages in the city, rather than using up industrial land or spreading them out through Vancouver.

Now, in theory, Vancouver city planners will fill in the details of that vision for the city and the 20 neighborhoods will begin deciding how they want to absorb the 2,000 to 3,000 housing units that is their share of the growth.

The burr under the saddle here is people like Riddell, Charles Dobson, Mel Lehan, Jan Pierce, Ron Hawkes, Gillian Watson-Donald and others. They’re worried about how fair the CityPlan process was and, more important, how much control neighborhoods will really have over development.

As they prepare to start pushing for changes, the city is considering what strategies to use for neighborhoods that don’t want to take in any more housing — strategies like putting them at the bottom of the funding list for community services.

Some, like Pierce and Riddell, feel railroaded by the city. “There’s some concern that CityPlan was driven by projections that Vancouver would have to absorb a certain number of people,” said Riddell, who got involved with city planning through her neighborhood group, the Cartier Hudson Athlone Team. “I sat in as a facilitator at some meetings and certainly at the end of it, there was a feeling that we were driven to absorb more than what some people wanted.”

Pierce is bothered by the choices the city gave people: no growth (clearly not an option); using industrial land for growth; spreading new people out through the city; or putting them in urban villages.

“I feel there’s a fifth option that wasn’t presented,” says Pierce, a Kitsilano resident. “It’s a future where neighborhoods try to look at their own needs for housing and decide what to develop. Yes, we densify, but we do it based on what neighborhoods need.”

Others are less concerned about the past of CityPlan than the future.

“The big difficulty everybody’s had is deciding to what degree the city will actually allow citizens to make decisions,” says Charles Dobson, a longtime advocate from Mount Pleasant who believes in stronger neighborhood participation in city government.

“They got the message loud and clear from the discussion groups that everybody is interested in more neighborhood governance and that doesn’t appear anywhere.”

Dobson predicts that if neighborhoods don’t feel that they have a genuine say in what’s going on, “there’s going to be serious opposition all over the place.”

It’s going to be especially intense on the west side of Vancouver. “I think when developers go in and try to densify the desirable parts of the city — the west side — people will be up in arms. The areas of the city where people would like to see change, on the east side, developers aren’t interested in them.”

Activists like Dobson, Pierce and Riddell are often dismissed by city councillors as not really representing average city residents.

But they can be powerful in mobilizing opposition when those average city residents don’t feel they’re listened to.

Ann McAfee, the associate director of planning who has been overseeing CityPlan, admits the city could face serious problems if it doesn’t find ways of including neighborhood opinions and finding new processes for listening to those people most directly affected by development — the people who find themselves with transit lines going through their front yards or apartment buildings appearing across the street.

“If we don’t come up with some way of making sure those people aren’t hurt by something that’s for the general good, we’re going to have strong negative responses.”

But McAfee also doesn’t show any sign the city is willing to let neighborhoods totally control Vancouver’s growth.

She doesn’t think that works.

“We’ll pretend we’re taking a share of the growth, but when you add it up, nothing’s happened. I’m more comfortable saying, `Let’s set a target of two or three thousand in a neighborhood and work to that.’ ”

Neighborhoods will have the choice, through a local planning process, of how they want to spread that extra housing out — towers, townhouses, secondary suites — but the target will stay.

What happens if they decide not to go along with the plan? “The thinking here now is if a community says no, we’re not going to take anything, then when budget time comes, they’re not going to be in the front of the line for community services.”

In spite of that, McAfee doesn’t see any crisis brewing. For one, the region’s projections for the population Vancouver needs to take have already been lowered.

Second, all of this is a long way away. Although a report will go to council Jan. 17 that puts some flesh on the bones of the urban-village vision, McAfee expects any real change to be a 30-year process.

Vancouver already has the capacity for 70,000 new housing units in the downtown area and along the major arteries. The 30,000-40,000 units that are supposed to go into the neighborhood centres won’t be needed for a while.

It’s worth taking the time to make sure that everyone is comfortable with development, she says. “I don’t think we should compromise a long-term vision to get a couple of buildings on one corner.”

Credit: VANCOUVER SUN


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This is just a list of the personal pain points that I have at least a tiny hope of seeing fixed. I’ll assume that Apple aren’t going to get better (or more open) at cloud services. So asking for an iMessage that works, or that will also work on Android (I avoid things that lock me into a single platform nowadays) is a non-starter. Likewise, there are things I’d like that are never going to happen (choosing the default camera app, choosing the default web browser, relaxed app review). From most-likely (?) to least-likely:

  • I’d like to see which apps are using all my battery. Mavericks grew this last year. There’s a “that’s too much information” argument, but the phone will already tell break down cell data usage by app – to me, knowing what’s using battery seems more useful than that.
  • Stop home screen icons auto-arranging, so you can leave gaps between icons.
  • Make the notification settings screen not awful. Just sorting the list of apps would help. But also removing the pointless distinction between the two lists, and letting me see which apps can (eg) make noise without having to tap on every single one.
  • I want to be able to share links and images to WhatsApp (this is an end-run around iMessage). I want “links” and “images” to be treated as special objects, and let third party apps register to handle them. (On Android this has led to abuse but this is mostly because of the naïve implementation there.) Sharing links to Pocket from any app without needing special integration, sharing images to Instagram direct from the camera app, whatever. This doesn’t even need full-on XPC, just launching the other app and sending a file will do it. 90% of the infrastructure is already there.
  • As a developer, I’d like to see code signing requirements relaxed a little. I’d like to see closed beta testing for apps that doesn’t require collecting UUIDs and managing devices and having to turn people away because you might hit your 100 device limit*. I spend days fighting this rubbish. And it stops no piracy because people who want to do that are just jailbreaking their devices.
  • I’d like to know if I just pressed “snooze” or “stop” on the alarm, so I know if it will go off again 5 minutes after I get in the shower.

* The 100 device limit is clearly not taken seriously in Apple because you’re supposed to get an enterprise cert. The $100/year developer level is for toy developers. If you’re doing anything serious at all, you’re doing beta testing with an enterprise certificate. That’s why Apple don’t care about solving that problem – no-one they care about has that problem.


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I’ve had an Azure subscription for a while, but now that I got an opportunity to go (much) deeper into it, I thought I’d jot down a few public notes and at least one useful tip before my disclaimer kicks in.

The short of it (putting the business issues aside) is that I’m looking into orchestration, much like what I did with AWS a few years back. It’s a nice step up from a little dip into GAE earlier this year and the configuration management stuff I do for my projects at work, and doing it in regular office hours makes it all the more fun, and appeals to my methodical take on all things related to infrastructure.

I’m hesitant to go about calling this “devops”, however, both because it feels like a pointless moniker when you’ve moonlighted as a sysadmin for as long as I have, and also because it all really boils down to laziness — the best way to make sure you’ll get reliable, repeatable setups is to automate everything away, and that is what saves you time, worries — and money.

As usual these days, there are entirely too many options to orchestrate stuff in the cloud1 but for the requirements I’m capturing, using something like Ansible feels like cheating, so I went down a couple of abstraction layers — i.e., straight to the API. Even though I’ve written mostly Go and Clojure(-y) stuff over the past couple of months, Microsoft’s Azure SDK for Python was the natural thing to reach for.

So far, it seems more than adequate for rolling your own orchestration — it took me only an hour or so to read through it and get an instance going from basic principles, and bpython makes for an excellent ad-hoc CLI once you’ve familiarized yourself with the naming2:

So that’s my pro tip, right there — the Python SDK with a REPL going. It’s not PowerShell, but it’s much better for me given that after setting up a few wrappers you can do wonderful stuff like setting up (or tearing down) entire flocks of machine instances in a nice functional style:

>>> map(utils.shutdown, deployment.role_instance_list.role_instances)
[u'Stopped',u'Stopped',u'Stopped',u'Stopped',u'Stopped',u'Stopped',u'Stopped',u'Stopped',u'Stopped',u'Stopped']

To be honest, once you’re on a roll it feels a little like this:

…and then you remember you still need to nail down a lot of details and wrap the whole thing in an ansychronous daemon that implements a bunch of “boring” business logic.

Ah well.


  1. Gosh, how I hate the overuse of the word “cloud”, and all the “as a service” acronyms. Still, it’s a good thing people don’t call them “sausage factories” or something like that — can you imagine having SFAAS all over your product slides? 

  2. To be honest, the thing’s naming is more than a tad inconsistent and the API isn’t very Pythonic, but it does the job. 


Tao of Mac IconA Deeper Blue" was written by Rui Carmo for The Tao of Mac and was originally posted on Saturday, Oct 18th 2014. Except as noted, it’s ©2014 Rui Carmo and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

As usual, please consider donating towards hosting and bandwidth costs.


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More info here. What this means, in practice, is that I will likely never buy an Apple desktop again.

Both my home and work office desktops are Mac minis driving identical HD monitors, a setup that works very well for me and that has gone (at home) through a nice, predictable upgrade cycle: buy a new mini, turn the old one into a media server (or pass it on to family), max out the RAM as soon as it’s feasible under €100.

After four generations of iMacs (which I still consider to be needlessly big, bulky sub-par hardware and a bad investment overall, even with the new models), iterating through the Mac mini series was a great, cost-effective way to have a decent (if not stellar) desktop that lasted ages in Internet terms, and a stable niche in this age of planned obsolescence.

And a Pro is, of course, completely out of the question. I’d much rather spend that kind of money on keeping my kids clothed and fed, so I’m going to invest on SSDs for the current batch of minis (which is already maxed out in RAM) and hope for the best a couple of years down the road.

Removing aftermarket expandability in this way is sure to kill the mini, so I’m going to start looking for long-term alternatives – hackintoshes aren’t really my thing anymore and a Linux desktop makes no sense to me, so it’s probably time to start keeping tabs on compact Windows desktops.



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Here’s something that we can use big data for today: Let’s set the socioeconomic benchmark against which society will respond to rising sea levels across all income levels.

Everyone carrying a phone today is throwing off location data that, if anonymized, collected and analyzed, would show what low-lying land is most used today. From that, we can project the potential economic disruptions that will be caused by various levels of sea level change, as many tools do today. We can look at property ownership, travel patterns, rent and home prices that will be impacted by rising water and, like the Dutch when they decided to hold the sea back, make some long-term decisions that will save everyone, not just the privileged, from personal tragedy and economic disaster as their homes, communities and job networks disappear in the waves.

When the ocean rises, and it will rise enough that many low-lying cities in 40, 80 or 120 years will be under many inches or feet of water, everyone’s lives will be disrupted. If we start tracking the use of public and private property, shared-use common areas and investments, such as the the cost of infrastructure that may be destroyed, and that which needs to be created to holds the seas back, can be mapped to provide the best outcome for all. At least, it will give everyone a baseline against which to measure the impacts. Democracy can take care of the rest, with an assist from the market, but a market-only solution will leave far too many losers.

Without some benchmark to measure the social cost of responding to climate change, the wealthiest people will almost certainly benefit disproportionately to others who live and work in flooded areas. We’ll see cries reparations for lost land from every quarter, but the rich will have the loudest voice, as we know from the state of political speech today.

The homes of the rich that line sea coasts everywhere will be lost, but so will many of the homes occupied (not necessarily owned by) the poor and middle class. Who will get the help necessary to relocate? Who will have new public right-of-ways running through their neighborhoods when existing rail and road infrastructure must be moved inland or raised above the rising seas? Will insurers make the rich whole and, like home insurance today, leave most people less than half-whole when the cost of relocation is counted?

I am not arguing that anyone get resources here, only for a measurement so that, when the crisis comes, we will have had many years, even decades to have the national and international conversation about the mass migration of people fleeing the high tide. We may decide it’s time to move past many of the institutions we rely on today.

If we’re going to go through this together, we need the data to understand the distributed social cost of lands and infrastructure — technical, industrial, social and even personal networks that currently provide support to families. The problem with this statement is that it appears naive, because we live in a society where almost everyone thinks they’ve made their way in the world alone. That myth is going to collapse as the world starts denying us land and resources we used to have.

Yet we can get through this, as humans have done many times in history, if we recognize the real costs and opportunities in radical change. Perhaps, with lots more data and people trained to think through these complex issues armed with real-time and historical perspectives provided by big data strategies, we might actually realize we are in this together.


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Hii Everyone,

After attended various Events Now This time I planned with my coffee (Mozcaffee) with Our Community. This coffee contains many things in itself (Community Strengthen,Sharing Experiences,Working on Structures of future events etc) but not limited to this only(adding some creams on it by Planning some Fun Activity ;) :D ).

On the Day(2nd October) We get together on Cafe Coffee Day(Famous with Tags ;) ) and start pressing ideas on different event matrices that we have set prior to event. Points that we have done their :

  • Structuring Community on Different aspects.
  • Charging up Inactive members
  • Sharing our experiences whatever we gained through our individual contribution
  • Distributing Task among Members,So We can Recognize them with there works.
  • Adding New Community Members(Newbies,who want to fly ;))

After that we are going through Some Awesome(Actually We love to creativity) To-Do-Things,and This is one of Best part through out the event. We decided to make makes on some festive themes,so We start creating :

20141002_173806-compressed20141002_175840-compressedFinally We get :

MozLantern

MozLantern

This Mozcoffee is one of Best Event I Ever Done Because of Its Necessity. Now we are Running with More structured More Determined with Aim(whatever we set) and We Hope We Really Proved Why We called as Packet of <Do Gooders>.

Stay Compiled,World having need of you :D



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The Galaxy Note 4 is perfect.

It’s not a perfect smartphone, nor a perfect phablet, but a perfect distillation of what Samsung has been working on creating for the past three years. The Galaxy Note 4 is a perfect Galaxy Note.

But as other manufacturers clamber to catch up to Samsung in both device size and market share, does a perfect Galaxy Note do enough to differentiate itself from last year’s still-excellent offering, or those of its competitors? Let’s find out.

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Specs

  • Android 4.4.4 KitKat w/ TouchWIZ Flat
  • 5.7-inch 2560 x 1440 pixel QHD Super AMOLED display (515ppi)
  • 2.7Ghz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 SoC / Adreno 420 GPU
  • 3GB RAM / 32GB internal storage
  • 16MP rear camera w/ optical image stabilization (OIS), 1/2.6″ sensor, 1.12 µm pixel size, F2.2 lens
  • 3.7MP front-facing camera, F1.9 lens
  • WiFi (a/b/g/n/ac) MIMO, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, GPS {A-GPS, GLONASS, Compass}, NFC, USB 2.0, MHL 3.0, IR Sensor
  • Fingerprint sensor, heart rate monitor, Oxygen saturation sensor (SpO2)
  • 3,220mAh removable battery (Adaptive Fast Charging & QC2.0)
  • 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5mm
  • 176g
  • 3G: 850, AWS, 1900, 2100 MHz
  • LTE: Band 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, Cat 4 150/50 Mbps

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Design & Display

We’ve already looked at the metal-framed Galaxy Alpha, but this year’s Note is the first mainstream flagship device from Samsung with a hunk of aluminum.

Both devices share a similar focus on clean lines and chamfered edges, a design element that gained acclaim in 2012 on the iPhone 5. But the Note 4 does not maintain a clean profile, preferring to roll with the hills and valleys of its various ports. Samsung still employs plastic on the rear, but the faux leather exterior not only feels less artificial but lacks the egregious fake stitching found on the Note 3.

In fact, everything I disliked about the Note 3’s design has been updated here. The chrome plastic bezels are now solid white or black metal; the power and volume buttons crafted alloys; the camera bump more gradual. The Note 4 looks awfully similar to its predecessor, but it’s immediate upon picking it up that this is a new generation — a new era — of Samsung smartphones.

The Note 4, while taller than the Note 3, is nearly 2mm narrower, making it easier to grip in one hand. This is still not a one-handed device, though as we’ll see in the next section Samsung continues to maneuver around this issue with mixed results. It’s also slightly heavier, but the heft is necessary — the Note 3 felt awkwardly light for such a large product.

I had no complaints about Note 3’s screen, either — it was, and still is, one of the best AMOLED displays — but the Note 4 ratchets up the resolution at the expense of very little.

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I had qualms about LG’s choice to use a 2560×1440 pixel LCD panel on its G3, but there are no similar reservations here. Samsung not only managed to achieve nearly perfect calibration, within the confines of AMOLED’s over-saturated nature of course, but max brightness is comparable to the Full HD display on the Note 3. It’s not quite iPhone 6-levels of brightness — still one of AMOLED’s weaknesses — but in all other ways the Note 4’s screen is incredible.

Samsung admitted to us that the Galaxy S5 was a misstep in design, water ingress protection and all — a misstep that, in many ways, prompted the worldwide release of the Galaxy Alpha. Not only did Samsung do away with the under-utilized USB 3.0 port of the Note 3 and GS5 but the company saw an opportunity to refine nearly every facet of the Note’s design in moving from plastic to metal. What we have is, as I said in the introduction, a perfect distillation of the Note series’ ideology.

The S Pen, which is physically identical to the Note 3’s, communicates with the Wacom Digitizer’s 2048 pressure points, double that of the previous two generations (and ten times that of the original), making note-taking and sketching about as close to natural as you’re going to find on a digital canvas.

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Performance & Battery Life

The Note 4 is one of the first devices on the market, and the first to launch in Canada, with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 805 SoC. While the four CPU cores are still based on the same Krait architecture (manufactured on a 28nm process) that debuted in 2012, some improvements have been made, and maximum clock speed has been boosted to 2.7Ghz.

Using AnTuTu benchmark as a base, the Snapdragon 805 offers around a 10% boost in performance over the Galaxy S5’s S801, affected by higher clock speeds in the CPU and a new GPU.

Screenshot 2014-10-15 13.31.44

Delving into the specifics, we find that the Adreno 420 GPU performance is roughly 15-30% better in certain benchmarks over Snapdragon 801’s Adreno 330, thanks to a wider memory bus and faster clock speeds. These performance improvements are not noticeable in everyday use — the Note 3’s Snapdragon 800 is still plenty fast — but through our fortnight of use we found the Note 4 generally more responsive.

We’ve clearly reached the end of a very mature chipset design lifecycle; Krait has been good to us, but we’ll have to wait until next year’s 64-bit Snapdragon 810 before we see hearty CPU speed improvements and accompanying power savings.

I was also concerned that due to separation of the Snapdragon 805’s CPU/GPU/memory from its modem chip — we haven’t seen such a design since the Snapdragon S4 Pro — power consumption would be higher than last year’s model, but thankfully I was wrong. Well, partly wrong.

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There is a nominal increase in idle power consumption over an SoC with an integrated baseband, but it is largely offset by the inherent efficiencies of the Krait 450 CPUs themselves, which benefited from serious battery improvements from the second-revision Krait 400 chips found in the Snapdragon 801. Confused? Don’t be: the Snapdragon 805 is, despite consuming a larger surface area, still relatively power efficient.

All this plus-minus has an neutralizing affect on the battery. In fact, battery life is around 30% better than the Note 3, despite having a battery that is practically identical in size. In our video looping test, which normalizes the brightness to 200 nits and loops a video while the device is connected to WiFi, the Note 4 ran just over 11 hours, compared to the Note 3’s 8.5 hours.

In our subjective usage tests, where I used the Note 4 to perform daily tasks, from checking email to refreshing feeds to playing some Threes, the device lasted well over 24 hours. I never quite managed the “two days-plus” some others have claimed, but that’s why battery stats continue to be the most difficult of all smartphone benchmarks to pin down — there are just too many variables. Suffice it to say, the Note 4 will last a whole lot longer than the other QHD device on the market, the LG G3, and should thoroughly beat any other Android device short of the Huawei Ascend Mate 2. The only other phone that beat the Note 4 in our mixed use battery tests is the iPhone 6 Plus, which lasted well over 40 hours.

The victory doesn’t pack the wallop the Note 2 or Note 3 had over its competitors, but that’s due to the general trend of shipping higher-capacity batteries inside larger flagships running more efficient chips. Or, in short, every high-end smartphone has a huge battery and a Snapdragon.

The takeaway here is this: if you’re a power user who doesn’t want to worry about charging your phone even once throughout the day, the Note 4 is a good candidate, alongside the HTC One M8, Sony Xperia Z3 and iPhone 6 Plus.

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Software

TouchWIZ still has those awful, awful bubble touch sounds enabled by default. You’ve definitely heard them, likely in the background while sitting on a bus or enjoying a coffee at the local Tim Horton’s. Samsung still thinks people want to hear whistles for notifications or bubbles for screen taps. Well, they don’t.

I’m grateful, though, that the touch sounds are the most egregious of Samsung’s missteps in the software department. In fact, once known for piling on feature after godforsaken feature, the OEM has shown a modicum of restraint with the Note 4. Continuing a trend we saw on the Galaxy S5, this year’s TouchWIZ is flat and, dare I say it, attractive. Screen animations are gloriously smooth, and aside from the multitudinous superfluous menu items, the Note 4 is relatively easy for a newcomer to use.

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During our briefing, Samsung told us something that made us exceedingly happy: it is discontinuing its attempts to recreate features Google already offers, such as a separate app store and media hub. While Galaxy Apps will continue to be bundled on Samsung’s devices, it will focus on offering software that has been specifically modified for the Samsung experience, such as Autodesk’s Sketchbook for GALAXY. And you’ll be happy to know that ChatON, Samsung’s failed messaging experiment, is no longer bundled with its devices.

Galaxy Apps houses Gifts and Essentials, two portals Samsung hopes will continue to separate it from other OEMs by offering value on top of just the basic Android experience. Users get three months of free Evernote Premium, for instance, and six months of Wall Street Journal. While these things are not new to the Galaxy experience — they arrived alongside the Galaxy S3 — Samsung is putting more emphasis on them by removing the cruft in the periphery.

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A good example of this new-found focus is the S Pen, Samsung’s ubiquitous stylus that now comes with 2048 points of pressure sensitivity. Samsung has simplified the number of features that stare back when the pen is taken out of its holster, consolidating some and revising others. Action Memo is still a clear focus here, allowing users to take a quick note from anywhere and either save it to Evernote or paste it, like a sticky, to one’s homescreen.

In the original two Galaxy Notes, I was ambivalent about the S Pen: while a curious addition, it just wasn’t very accurate, and therefore wasn’t very useful. It was on the Note 3 that I finally began to take advantage of its input precision: taking notes in a meeting, for example, appears far less rude than tapping away, which can be misconstrued for zoning out.

For note-taking, sketches and annotations, the S Pen is extremely useful; those creatively inclined may find it more valuable still. See, fingers are fat blobs of skin, and humans have habituated themselves to rely on prediction and autocorrect rather than enter something right the first time. The S Pen allows me that precision when I want it — on a less fragile, cloud-enabled digital canvas — and the Note 4 allows me the ability to resort to fat thumb typing when I don’t.

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Now let’s talk about the Note 4 as a one-handed device. Samsung wisely decided not to increase the size of the Note 4’s screen, figuring that anything over 5.5-inches or so is a two-handed proposition.

But the company has been working to make its larger devices more accessible for some time, and with the Note 4 there are numerous ways to achieve that. Not only can the entire OS be shrunk down, with disastrous aesthetic effect, but individual windows can be, too, merely by swiping diagonally from the top left of the screen.

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The scene above is an example of how Multi Window has evolved to fit the needs of Samsung’s user base. Want to scroll through Facebook while watching a YouTube video in portrait mode? You got it. Browse the web fullscreen while keeping an eye on a Hangouts window? No problem.

Traditional bifurcated Multi Window is still alive and well, accessed by holding down the capacitive back button, but it’s no longer the only way to do it.

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Further, individual apps can be minimized, Chat Heads style, to sit on top of any window, making it particularly easy to keep track of important conversations. The problem is that these disparate multitasking methods sit in contrast to Android’s perfectly capable bidirectional system of notifications and app switcher. Samsung’s multitasking and one-handed solutions are certainly admirable, but none are particularly innovative, and all potentially foster confusion and frustration, especially when one can easily go from split screen to resizable window to Chat Head and back very easily.

In some ways, this is Samsung at its best, and what made it so popular: give users every choice by showing no restraint at all. And, of course, none of these multitasking or one-handed modes are mandatory, and are easily ignored, but I wish Samsung would pick something and stick with it, rather than maintaining one method and building two more on top.

Contrast this with Apple’s anemic Reachability solution, though, and you have yourselves two sides of a wide usability chasm. Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have a feature that, with a double-touch on the home button, drops the top half of the screen so higher content can be more easily reached. On the iPhone 6 Plus, where it’s needed the most, Reachability doesn’t solve the problem of horizontal content being too far away, and adds two taps to a workflow that many took for granted, by being easily able to reach the top of the display, on the iPhone 4 and 5 series.

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Samsung, on the other hand, sees its hack-and-slash engineering decisions pay off with its one-handed mode. Being able to granularly resize both the entire screen and individual apps makes the Note 4 a much more one hand-friendly device.

The difference is that Samsung tries so hard to convince you the Note 4 is versatile that it loses the aesthetic entirely. With Apple, it’s form over function, and with Samsung it’s the other way around. Neither makes the phone any physically smaller, and both methods frustrate more than they solve, but the Korean company fares better.

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Samsung’s health push continues by adding oxygen saturation and UV sensors to the existing heart rate monitor underneath the camera. It’s admirable that the company is trying to make more useful a feature that, on the Galaxy S5, I found redundant and frustrating, but the Note 4 is not a medical device, and the inclusion of the SpO2 sensor baffles me.

A healthy, active person’s oxygen saturation level should never drop below 98%; an ill person whose SpO2 levels are below that is certainly not going to be using a rudimentary component in a smartphone over a medical-grade device to measure his or her blood oxygen levels.

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If, for some reason, one uses it for fitness, he or she is met with the same usability issues as before: it doesn’t work while moving, or with sweaty digits, or in any situation outside the ideal. More times than I could count the measurement failed and, as seen above, my fingerprint was on the centre of the sensor, I didn’t press too hard and I kept perfectly still.

The UV sensor is slightly more interesting, but the average person doesn’t care if the UV index is five, eight or 10. If they care about protecting their skin against harmful UV rays, they’re likely going to apply sunscreen regardless (at least I hope they will).

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To further muddle the message on fitness, Samsung has teamed up with Cigna, a US-based health insurance company (?) to launch Cigna Coach.

After asking a bunch of questions about sleep and daily exercise and stress (and the above one, my favourite, vaguely patronizing query) Cigna determines your Personal Lifestyle Score in a number of categories, after which it lightly impugns you for not walking, failing to stretch or eating that plate of fries.

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Unlike Apple’s purely quantitative approach to health and fitness (though the Note 4 still counts your steps), Cigna Coach paints a more naturalistic picture of one’s overall health, but speaks in generalities as a result. It’s less useful than nothing at all, but other ecosystems, from Jawbone to Fitbit, do it better and more consistently. This one feels like a half measure.

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Samsung’s software is still mired by strange decisions (why is it so complicated to create a homescreen folder?) and an abundance of choice. By now, though, you’ll know whether that choice is a blessing or a curse.

Features like the Flipboard Briefing, found on the leftmost pane of the launcher, have been improved over previous versions, but lack the granularity of a native app experience. Others, like the ability to hover over a photo to extract a preview, are so much a part of the Samsung software story that neither the company nor its user base likely notices them anymore. Smart Stay, Air View, Phone Call (OK, the last one is a joke) are flashy monikers for features few people use, but remain in the OS because Samsung wants to please everyone.

If you’re willing to ignore everything superfluous and just use Android as it comes, the Note 4 offers a pretty great software experience. Delve deeper and muddy the waters a little and you’ll either be immensely frustrated or immensely satisfied with all that choice.

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Camera

With the same sensor, optics and lens as the Galaxy S5, I wasn’t expecting much change on the Note 4. The 1/2.6″ 16MP sensor proved itself in daylight shots, coming in ahead of most Android devices, and the Note 4 shares, and modestly improves upon, those positive qualities.

As with Samsung’s AMOLED screen, the company has properly calibrated colours captured through the Note 4’s sensor, similar to Apple’s changes on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. This means more neutral but accurate colours, which translates into some fantastic photos that can be shared as-is from the phone, but benefit from some post-production in Samsung’s competent editing studio.

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With double the number of pixels compared to Apple’s 8MP iSight sensor, the Note 4 captures an incredible amount of detail. It’s clear to see that spacial resolution advantage when comparing the street sign captured at 100% in the gallery below. Samsung also does a great job exposing most outdoor scenes correctly, though it does have a tendency to choose a higher shutter speed than the iPhone and slightly underexpose the scene as a result.

In our low-light tests, the Note 4 performed better than the Galaxy S5 thanks to its optical image stabilization, but the extra pixel count is a disadvantage here: the iPhone 6 Plus lets in considerably more light, and its OIS module appears to keep motion blur in check slightly more effectively than the Note 4. As a result, Apple achieves better results by keeping shutter speed and ISO (light sensitivity) lower, avoiding the graininess that creeps into the Note 4’s low-light photos.

The two phones are evenly matched on indoor photos, with colours coming across a little more vividly on the iPhone 6 Plus, but Note 4 users should be very happy with most captures.

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Indeed, the Note 4 is probably the best all-round shooter on Android at the moment. The LG G3 shoots better in low light, and the Xperia X3 captures more detail, but the Note 4 finds the right set of compromises.

Samsung also uses the Snapdragon 805 to great advantage, improving autofocus time and discretely adjusting exposure to shoot photos with better dynamic range than its S801 competitors.

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Like most Samsung flagships, there is a bevy of potential photo modes, from HDR to panorama to split-screen shooting (which uses the front and back at the same time), and all sorts of excess, like taking a selfie with the rear-facing camera (HTC has that problem solved).

The HDR mode is particularly good, turning a gloomy, underexposed shot of a building into something more usable.

Speaking of selfies, the Note 4 doesn’t quite go all-out, but it still improves things for the front facing-conscious. The 3.7MP sensor is paired with an F1.9 lens, and the quality is vastly superior to anything we’ve seen from Samsung before. While regular selfies generally turn out just fine, the company has also added something called “Wide-angle Selfie” that acts sort of like a panorama for people. It’s weird, but it works. The only downside is that you’ll probably end up annoying people in the process.

On the motion side, the Note 4 captures excellent 1080p video and beautiful 4K video that, for space considerations, is still limited to five minutes per clip.

We took our trusty iPhone 6 Plus to the streets of downtown Toronto for a little OIS tête-à-tête and came away a little disappointed with Samsung’s stabilization. The iPhone simply captures smoother, better video. Each ‘clomp’ of my boot resonated through the Note 4, disrupting the video; with the iPhone you only see unperturbed movement.

Still, the Note 4 takes wonderful video at both 1080p and 4K, and I was impressed with the camera’s overall performance in most scenarios.

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Connectivity

Like the Galaxy S5, the Note 4 doesn’t skimp on LTE bands: the device supports 150Mbps in the downlink on Band 7, which is great news for Rogers and Bell customers, and I was able to reach nearly 100Mbps on some lesser-used nodes.

Generally, the Note 4 was a competent phone — you know, to make calls — but its heft and size, along with the sharp chamfered edges, made it uncomfortable to hold for too long. Sound quality from the headpiece was good, but not great, and the anemic speaker in the back continues to be a sore spot for Samsung, especially since smartphone sound is a focal point for competitors like Sony, HTC and Apple.

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Competition

The Galaxy Note hasn’t encountered much competition in the phablet space until recently, but the slow encroachment of larger flagships has forced Samsung to change its strategy.

The Note is no longer a phone for power users or business professionals, but a mainstream product with a slightly larger-than-average form factor. The introduction of the iPhone 6 Plus will inevitably have a halo effect on the 5.5-inch-and-larger smartphone market in general, and customers will no longer scoff at the Note for its stature, since the iPhone is actually larger.

The Note 4 does a great job showcasing not only the strengths of Samsung’s vertical integration — its screen quality and battery technology in particular — but Android, too. As Apple struggles to adapt iOS 8 to suit a larger form factor, the Note 4 reinforces Google’s open Android strategy, with its apps-on-apps extensibility. iOS still has an edge in app quality, and perhaps it always will, but the Note 4 is nothing short of the poster child for the high-end Android market.

Of course, the Nexus 6 muddies the waters somewhat, as the device marks Google’s entry into the phablet space. Many were expecting a price more akin to last year’s Nexus 5, so the $749 entry point will force customers back to the carrier store, where the Note 4 can be compared side by side with similarly subsidized pricing.

And with Sony about to launch its latest smartphone salvo with the Xperia Z3, and HTC, LG and others pushing their interpretation of flagship, there’s no wrong answer in the smartphone space today. The Note 4 is the best of the big phones, though — Samsung made sure of that.

The major issue is price: at $300 subsidized and $800 outright, the Galaxy Note 4 is expensive, both on contract and without. It’s therefore an investment, which is aligned with Samsung’s strategy of offering decent products in every market segment.

But this is the new reality in Canada: want the best? Pay for it.


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Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review http://ift.tt/1vyatTA
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