Back to Nokia and Spotify and Microsoft on Android and Android on Windows

Back in June 2016 I ended my last post on my journeys with reasonably priced devices with this prediction: "My next phone might be a mid-range Surface Windows Phone, or a Windows Phone from another company, or maybe even a Nokia Android".

Well the last part has come to pass as I now have my very first Android phone, and it is a Nokia 5 costing just £12:44 per month via Tesco. It is a very similar size and feel  as the Microsoft 640. It also has a similar camera and an SD card slot, but as required with Android, it has twice the RAM and double the internal storage.  So I have gone back to Nokia, but in a way I have never left as the 640 was a Nokia in all but name. The Nokia 5 is made by HMD Global, which is a Finnish company that was set up by former Nokia executives and it is a phone that very much looks and feels like a Nokia. The newer Nokia 6 , 7+ and 8 are currently available in the UK via Carphone Warehouse from £15 per month.

The latest rumours on the mythical Surface Phone is that some sort of foldable device due to be released in 2018 has now been "pushed back". Microsoft stopped development of the mobile specific branch of Windows 10 late last year, but are working on a new version of Windows 10 with CShell that will be more adaptive and be able to work across all types and sizes of devices. New Windows 10 devices are also being released with the latest ARM processors that are or will be used in the latest Android devices, with amazing connectivity and over 25 hours of battery life. So in a couple of years there may be a reasonably priced Windows 10 mobile device, probably made by a third party, which would run the full blown Windows 10 and run Android (see below). However, at present a Windows phone is not really an option, but Microsoft has been working hard to make Windows 10 work with both Android and Apple devices. This approach is easier with Android as it is a more open platform. Currently you can link up your phone and see your phone notifications and text messages on your Windows 10 device and in the pipeline will come the ability to reply and send texts, as you already could with Windows 10 mobile, but apparently also make calls.

Microsoft on Android

You can run a great deal of Microsoft software on an Android phone and I have managed to  de-Google my phone quite a bit. There is even an Android app that will mimic tiles from Windows 10 but this seams a little OTT and the functionality is not the same, but there is the official Microsoft Launcher App  - see this guide over on All About Windows Phone. A recent update also allows you to be your families Big Brother and track your kids Android devices with Launcher installed via Windows 10. It brings the fluent and transparent design of Windows 10 and a great deal of personalisation options. But with the widgets and the app layout, along with the phones metallic casing, it is all rather reminiscent of my much loved Nokia N8, albeit with not quite the same quality of camera, but with a bigger screen and superior web browsing capabilities.

The top half of my fluent/transparent widget Launcher screen

I have also installed Next Lock screen which is also from Microsoft and confusingly, has a lot of cross over with the Launcher App, only it does the lock screen side better, or at least makes it more Windows 10 like. With both you can select the Bing image of the day, but with Next it has the Bing shortcut on the lockscreen to give you the info on the image. Next also displays notifications transparently, getting rid of the bands of white across the screen from the default notifications. You can control which notifications appear and their priority and expand a calendar notification to view your schedule for the day from multiple calendars and expand the date, temperature or location to view the weather for the next 3 days.  You can also use Next to control access to the phone, using a pin or pattern and unlike with the default pin you only need to put in the numbers and not also press the return key, which again is like Windows 10. The Nokia 5 does allow for facial recognition and fingerprint access, which I did set up but got rid of as I preferred to make my home button my glance button bringing up the lock screen with only a slight touch, which is the nearest I can get to  Nokia Glance  on their Windows phones.  As with the Launcher App there is a swipe up from the bottom for a dock of settings and fave apps, with an option for a row of apps on the screen. Selecting an app launches it in the background and so, once you have entered your pin code. the app is open or at least almost open.

However, since the release of Android 8 the Next Lock Screen has had a couple of issues. The main one is that it won't work with the system lock anymore and so it will only work with the Next  Pin or Pattern, but for me this is not a problem as I prefer the 4 digit pin and the Glance button. More of an issue  is the music player widget randomly not appearing, mostly with Spotify, but it can always be accessed by scrolling to your notification centre and you can also go straight to the Next settings from the lock screen, add in your pin, turn Music Player off and on then go back to get it working again.  Next also allows you to have a compact status bar, but this can now get muddled up with the system one and an unlock and re-lock is needed to sort it out. Or you can just revert to the system one or remove the system one from your Launcher home page. An alternative is Picturesque which is another Microsoft lock screen app produced by the Indian Garage team . It also allows for Bing Images with info and you can still use the system lock and group notifications into app like buttons that expand transparently, as does the music player. You can choose to have the latest news a swipe away and the latest scores for some sports. There is also a Bing branded search which you can't remove, but it can search the web with a bespoke browser and you can choose to let it search your contacts and apps and call a contact from the lock screen.

Note: For these apps to work fully you need to allow all access to everything and make them device admin apps. And if you want to uninstall them, then you need to deactivate them as admin apps

Next has recently been updated for the first time in over year but it has not fixed the issues above. Microsoft  Launcher is from the same Microsoft Garage team and is being updated regularly, but it  would be best if they did one app that does all that both do, plus some of the Picturesque  features. But for now I will be sticking with Next and would recommend it for any Android users who would be happy with a 4 digit pin or pattern access and do not want the music player to take over the lock screen with the artist/album art.

I would recommend Microsoft  Launcher  for anyone with a personal or work Office 365 subscription due to the integration with Cortana and Office 2016. Office 365 subscribers can also use OneDrive to back up photos and any other files and then have them easily accessible in the integrated OneDrive folder on any Windows 10 device.

For those without an Office 365 account then you are best sticking with Google for back up due to the unlimited storage for photos. Those with a work 365 account and Office 2016 can also then use the Outlook app to sync their calendar via Office 365 and link it to Cortana, Launcher and to Next. But as I have Office 2010 at work, I have had to add my Exchange account as an account on the phone to enable my work calendar to sync to the Google Calendar, so it can then link to the 3 Microsoft apps above. .

For this reason I am now using Gmail for all email, but if I had an Office 2016 Outlook account I would use the Outlook app instead as it is generally better at showing email content. It is also better at email content than the default Windows 10 Outlook app, but like the Gmail app it does not have the same level of personalisation options, or the same linked inboxes function. It would be great if Microsoft managed to combine the best of their Outlook apps for Android and Windows.

Edge or Chrome?

Both, although I have gone for Edge as my default browser, as it is on my Windows 10 devices. It is a big improvement on IE and manages and syncs passwords and bookmarks etc almost as well as Chrome and is less bloated.  In Windows 10 it also has some unique features  such as read aloud, pausing sound on tabs and on Windows 10 and Android you can send pages to connected devices, plus the link with Cortana. But I still use Chrome Apps in Windows 10 for specific sites that work better, or for ones that I just want to open in their own window and in the same way I am using Chrome bookmarks on the phone. Even on Android, an app is not always necessary and so I am not cluttering my phone when sites can be launched from the Chrome bookmarks widget, which can then run in the background if I browse in Edge.

Cortana or Google Assistant?

Again both, as they have different strengths. Cortana is great for diary management and linking up with your Windows device, but you can't as yet use Hey Cortana on Android and so Google Assistant is my default assistant and, because it is Google, it is best for search and it can also link up to Spotify.

I do miss Windows 10 on my phone, especially the live tiles and (via Nokia) the Glance screen. For me there was not an app gap and I was worried that Android would not have apps as good as the likes of Nextgen Reader and Poki for Pocket, but thankfully gReader, the same named and branded RSS feed reader I used to use on my Symbian N8, is now the even better on Android and it, along with the official Pocket app, are more than a match for Nextgen Reader and Poki for playing media, reading aloud articles and sharing them.

Back to Spotify

I was a pretty early adopter of Spotify. I first used the free version to check out new albums before buying the download to add to my last pre-smart phone, but with my first Nokia smartphone back in 2010 I became a Spotify subscriber, and was very happy with a service that worked brilliantly on Symbian, as you would hope from a Swedish app on a Finnish smart phone. But then I switched to Deezer, due to a great deal with Orange via, although the contract was a palaver to set up, as set out in A Moon Special Report: Non Customer Service From Orange And A Fond Farewell To Spotify Mobile

When the Deezer deal ended I then moved on to Microsoft's Xbox Music, which soon became Groove Music in Windows 10. Like Deezer it did not quite have the same reach as Spotify, but it was significantly cheaper for a single licence if paid annually. It is also one of the best apps Microsoft have produced, which also was able to stream your own music collection via OneDrive and mix and create playlist from  the Groove catalogue and your own MP3s, along with great Cortana integration. Sadly, Microsoft pulled the streaming service at the end of 2017 and they are now going to pull the Android and IOS apps at the end of 2018. So after a fond farewell to Spotify, I have returned reluctantly. The main reason being two months of free subscription due to the "partnership" with Microsoft and the fact that I use Spotify for sharing via The Moon
The Microsoft "partnership" with Spotify has been a one way street so far, with Microsoft doing it best to plug Spotify through the Groove app. However, Spotify, unlike Deezer, has not released a Universal app and has frozen their Windows Mobile app to make it increasingly unusable. The desktop app only became available in the Windows app store when Microsoft allowed old desktop apps to be available in store with the launch of Windows S. The only improvements I am aware of in Windows 10 is that when it is installed it does not become the only music app able to show on the lock screen anymore and the ability to switch between devices, but it does not yet have the same Cortana integration as Groove. Spotify do offer a pretty good email alert service for when artists you follow release new music, but their over-complex html emails don't show images or have working links when viewed in the default Windows 10 Outlook app.

The Spotify app on desktop and on mobile has also not changed much, the way you add your own MP3s to your playlists is just the same, which in 2010 was cutting edge but is now pre-historic. The main change is a home page you can't change and that pushes a load of rubbish algorithm produced playlist. If there really was a partnership then you would think a universal cross platform app would be developed that would enable the integration of OneDrive into Spotify. This would fix the one major drawback in the Spotify offer, which Apple does now do, although apparently not very well, as does Google, but with a streaming catalogue, that is apparently not as comprehensive, no desktop app and uncertainty over the transition from Google Play Music to YouTube Music

So you would think it could be a commercial win-win for both as a Spotify subscription could come with extra OneDrive storage (as Groove did and I have now lost), thus encouraging the use of Microsoft services and a perk of an Office 365 subscription could also be a discounted Spotify subscription.

Android on Windows

Google Play via Memu on a Windows 10 Linx in Tablet Mode.

My now 6-7 year old laptop which I did a free upgrade to Windows 10 as set out in From 820 To 640, To Windows 10 And From Deezer To Xbox Music To Groove is still going strong and, now, amongst other things, I can tell it to "turn off" and it will then ask me if I want to shut down and I can say "yes" and it will say "it's been real" and shut down. But I have also since purchased a very reasonably priced Linx tablet/laptop hybrid directly from Microsoft. I have found that, despite it having only 1.44 GHz processing power against 2.3GHz for the laptop, it is far better at running the default Outlook app and the likes of the awfully bloated Facebook app. As it is also a tablet, I looked at installing an Android emulator on it. The most well known Android emulator is BlueStacks but I also looked at AMIDuOS, Memu and Andy IOS.

Memu is free, with only app suggestions ads on the home screen and runs Android in much the same way as on any phone or tablet. Like all other emulators, you can map keys to your keyboard, but it also works well in tablet mode, as it would on an Android tablet. It also requires the least power, which is at least 2GB of RAM, but you are best with 4GB. It is designed to help developers to run different versions of Android and so you can run Jelly Bean, Kit Kat, and Lollipop. One drawback is that it is an app that requires admin rights to run and so non admin users, ie those with child accounts can not open it on their login. But you can make a child account a local admin, which does not change the protections on web content or apps and screen time etc. Or you could create a local admin/child account which opens Memu on start up, to allow multiple users to access it.  You can't pin apps to your start screen and you can't upgrade your current "instance". So when the next Android version gets released you can re-install Memu, which will save your old instance, but a new instance has to be created for the new version and so it is like getting a new phone that will then require setting up.

I have found BlueStacks is best for using on a laptop or PC but on the less powerful tablet there was a bit of lag which made the sound stutter. But non admins could run it and apps could be pinned to your start screen. It also runs Nougat and so it is only I generation behind latest Android. Like Memu it is free with ads on the home screen, but there is also a paid version for $2 a month and I would think only worth it for those who want to do lots of Android Gaming on their PC.

With  Andy OS I could not enable  tilt steering in tablet mode and it also did not have the resolution quality or speed of BlueStacks. AMIDuOS came closest to BlueStack in terms of resolution quality and speed and also worked better on the tablet.  On the Linx however they did all struggle a bit with large games involving driving etc. But it seems this would not be a problem with more powerful devices  -  here is a video from a chap back in 2015 running AMIDuOS on his Surface Pro in which he says it runs about as fast as his Samsung Galaxy S5.

Sadly AMIDuOS has recently closed down, but the good news is that Memu is being very actively developed and they have just released version 5.5 in which you can run a Beta instance of Android Nougat 7.1. Since version 5.3 it has worked probably a bit better on the Linx than AMIDuOS did, once I changed the Graphic setting from DirectX to OpenGL, I have no idea what the difference is but with OpenGL the graphics are as good but with DirectX the sound was very crackly.
For the Linx  I found the custom setting of 2 cpu and 1GB RAM works best and under Other you can enable the virtual keyboard and the Gravity setting to enable tilt steering for tablet mode.

The recommended specs for Memu and for Bluestacks is a  Intel i5 CPU processor plus 6- 8GB RAM, but Memu will also work with ARM processors. As it works pretty well already on a £200 Windows tablet with an Intel Atom 5 1.44 GHz processor and 4GB of RAM, then it ought to then work very well on a future Windows ARM powered Andromeda laptop/tablet/phones.

So my fantasy smartphone would be one designed by HMD Global, branded Nokia, running full blown Windows 10, Carl Zeiss optics, a Google approved or produced  Android Emulator and a Spotify that gives you more scope to personalise and links up to OneDrive with extra storage for subscribers. It, or similar is very possible but the problem might be Spotify keeping it a one way "partnership" and Google  not allowing an official emulator, as Memu and BlueStacks have to trick Google into thinking you have a Samsung S8 or similar. They do make an emulator for developers, but it is apparently "a pain in the neck to set up". It would be great if they made a user friendly version, or officially allowed 3rd parties to. But as Memu supports ARM and can be resized to any screen size it is likely that it will be possible to run it well onany sized Windows 10 device powered by the next generation of processors which should also have more than enough RAM to run desktop apps, such as Spotify.

If devices like this are produced they may be aimed at business and/or the top end of the market, like the current Surface devices, and no doubt Microsoft will continue to develop and link up their services with Android and it may be the best value option for most in the future. But Linx have created quite a remarkable device for the price and it may be that in the not too distant future 3rd party suppliers can do the same with Windows 10 run with ARM processors on a phone sized device.


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