TREG Impressions (really!) - Hermes

Tuesday, 12/6
Alright, after a long wait, I finally have a TextBlade in hand, for real this time. Apparently, WayTools saw my prior post on “(not) TREG Impressions”, and decided that it really would be funny to send me a unit and see what I had to say about it in my review.

My TextBlade arrived at my new house while I was at college, so I had the constant but not unwelcome distraction all through finals week that I would get the chance, finally, to get my hands on the TextBlade, just a few more days until I finished school and could get my hands on it…
Tuesday of finals week rolled around, I turned in the second of three final projects and the only remaining one that I had to be present for. Then I just had to wait a few more hours for my family to pick me up.
opening up the TextBlade was like digging into a matrioshka doll–first the FedEx envelope, then the bubble mailer, the WayTools box and plastic trusses, getting smaller and smaller until…


Holy moly that thing is TINY.
I had heard plenty of TREG folks make this assertion, and even seen some size comparisons. Nothing can really hammer home the size of this thing until you see it right there in front of you, lift it off that steel plate in the box, and realize that this is a keyboard. I’ve use my fair share of portable keyboards, including the MoKo that I reviewed prior. Comparing those prior portable keyboards is like comparing this https://tonywalkertoday.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/luggable.jpg to this http://xtreview.com/images/ultrathin%20laptops%20Samsung%20Series%209%20qvc.jpg. They may be called the same thing, but they are very clearly not.
I had already gotten an idea in mind for what I wanted to do as far as jumps slots, so I snapped the TextBlade together and hit the chord to switch it over to the sixth slot, since I figured that I would put the borrowed iDevice (an iPhone 4s) as far away from my devices as possibly possible. What followed was a slight debacle; it should be understood that Apple devices and I have a mutual hate-hate relationship, and we have since I first tried poking away at a friend’s original iPod, the bulky one with the scroll wheel thing. Whatever combination of hardware and software Apple uses for touch sensitivity does not like my particular bioelectrical field. I have seen iPads and iPhones crash into a literal blue screen of death when I try to use them, that old classic blue screen with blocky white text that you might expect from a computer running Windows 95. When borrowing a friend’s MacBook for a quick jaunt to the internet, the trackpad misbehaved in all sorts of ludicrous ways, leading right up to a blaring “whoop whoop whoop” alarm and then another blue screen of death. So, there I am trying to set up bluetooth with a device that I don’t know how to use–actually a pair of them, counting the TextBlade. The iPhone’s screen is too tiny for me to work with, my fingers feel like they’re covering half of it and my touches seem to register somewhere other than where it looks like I’m touching. After fighting through that, I get to the bluetooth screen and see two TextBlades waiting for pairing. The small screen ensures that I can’t see any more of their names than “textbla”, so any guesses about which one corresponds to Slot 6 are about 50-50.
Man, I really wish they had let me try a beta version of the Android app. I have two Android devices right there in my bags that came back from college, and the smallest of their screens is 5.5" compared to the 3.5" of the iPhone.
Finally, after guessing wrong the first time, I manage to get my TextBlade paired to slot 6 on the iPhone. This thing really needs a quick start guide–the box mentions a start page, but that’s no good if it’s currently blank save for “coming soon”. And I understand that WayTools might not want to ruin their sleek presentation of the device with a piece of paper in the box, but a quick start card that doesn’t require internet access could be very useful.
Having paired my TextBlade to the app, I get it set up with each jump slot the way I want it–slot 2, Windows, slot 3 and 4, Android, slot 6, iOS, all in Colemak layout, slot 1, iOS and slot 5 Windows, both QWERTY so I could have my family practice on this thing later. (I had a reason for wanting the other people’s iOS slot on #1, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was–I think that I’ll change it later)
Pairing to my Android tablet was much less of a hassle, since only one TextBlade showed up this time, and I could see its full name so I figured it was the one I wanted. Once paired, I pulled up a text editor, and started plinking away…in QWERTY? Back to the iPhone to look at what just happened, where I realize that there’s a tiny “Install” button in the corner of the maps tab. So, I hit that and wait for a few moments while the outdated processor of the iPhone chugs through the process of updating my TextBlade.I feel another pang of yearning for an app on a usable platform like Android.

With the map now installed, I jump back over to my waiting tablet, and jumps is pure pleasure compared to the hassle of a keyboard that can only pair to one device, so I add my phone to another slot while I’m thinking about it. Back to my tablet to get in some practice–boy do I need it. Unlike a lot of people who kept reaching beyond the keyboard, I have no problem staying on my TextBlade, but I do hit one row lower than I aim, particularly with my right hand. N, E, I, & O turn into m , . and /. Hitting enter when I’m going for O is also a problem. My next biggest issue is going for uppercase A, since I’m used to legacy keyboards where I can get away with only using one shift key, and always using the left one. (My right pinky has enough work to do, after all.)
So, after a bit of typing, I go back to the app and make some ham fisted adjustments, turning / into a second O key, and then adjusting backspace and forward delete to be how I wanted them–forward delete on Shift+backspace, backspace word on green+backspace, and forward delete word on green+shift+backspace, because that’s what made the most sense to me.
One update of firmware later (which it turned out was actually a downgrade, since my testing unit came with a higher firmware number than what was available in the app), I started to have a problem with my customizations to backspace; alpha layer backspace started acting like forward delete. It would randomly get stuck like that and be very hard to get back to normal. Since I was still getting the hang of using it, I desperately needed my backspace key readily available. This was among the issues I brought up with Mark when I called him via Skype on Wednesday evening. He gave me a few suggestions for fixing it, and the one that worked was reverting my custom mapping to default. (I had already tried reinstalling the custom mapping, without effect). I suspect this is an issue with the older firmware I downloaded, and-or the borrowed iPhone being unable to run the TextBlade app correctly. To that end, I have ordered a refurbished iPad Mini–my first and hopefully only Apple device.

Another thing that you should know about me is that I like to tinker around and see if I can come up with fixes for things that I need. As soon as I was confirmed as a TREG member, my brain began churning away on ways to integrate my TextBlade into my daily devices and use cases. One of them was a replacement for my tablet’s usual keyboard cover; I decided to make it out of corrugated plastic, a material that I have a lot of after scavenging the political signs that pop up in droves on every street corner around election season in the United States. I came up with a design, and as soon as I had my cutting edge tech toy in hand, I set about making my new lapdesk cover.

This is the cover folded on the tablet; it’s held in place with a piece of wire on the bottom that connects to the tablet’s magnets. Matching pieces of wire run under the tape, and then I decided to form it into an H and add the g on the side–Chemists among you will understand the connection of Hg to someone named Mercury.

The cover can be folded flat like a traditional keyboard cover, or

Flipped over and rotated 90 degrees, so the tablet and TextBlade both have a place to rest.

Seen from the top, you can see that the lapdesk stretches back further than the kickstand, even when the stand is fully extended.
This thing is super handy–it holds both my tablet and TextBlade where I can use them. As an added bit of fun, the cover plus TextBlade weighs less than the original keyboard cover, and all I lose is the trackpad. I thought that might bother me, but it really doesn’t that much–the TextBlade’s edit features can get me through everything that the touchscreen can’t, or nearly so. I originally thought that I would learn my way around the alpha layer and then start on the edit and select capabilities, but they just proved so useful that I’ve been using them almost from day 1. For those of you still thinking that this is a keyboard that has taken too long to bring to market, you’re only partly right–it’s not just a keyboard, and your hands have been waiting for this thing for as long as you’ve been typing. It’s worth the wait for an interface device like this that you can type with anywhere.

Wednesday
The call with Mark took place tonight, via Skype. His webcam wasn’t working, but I was surprised at how soft spoken he was–soft spoken but still gushing with passion for the TextBlade. He was able to walk me through a lot of its features, including a more detailed look at the edit and select layers, as well as plenty of other tips, tricks, and interesting quirks. I don’t know what all is still confidential under the testing agreement, so I won’t elaborate beyond that. It’s clear that he really wants this thing to get into the hands of everyone, and that he really believes that this might just be the hardware to do it.

Thursday
Over the last few days, I’ve done a fair bit of creative writing on this thing, and it has really become a pleasure to work on it. It does take practice, and it certainly lets you know if you’re a sloppy typist like I am. I knew that from working with regular, legacy keyboards–I use my backspace key a lot. The difference is that with TextBlade, those tiny errors are on equally tiny key zones, and they can really mess you up. But at the same time, I think that I’m learning to make fewer errors on my TextBlade, and even typing with it on the second day I could feel a huge improvement in my accuracy and speed. Those improvements have kept going; at this point, I can quickly feel when I make a mistake, and can correct it. I had thought that it might not always de clear if my errors were my fault or the fault of this newfangled and very advanced typing interface under my fingers. Well, I will tell you right now that most of these have been user errors, and I can tell very easily and quickly.

As of Sunday, I hardly ever have to look at what I’m doing when I want to type. Even the numbers have become more accessible than they ever were with legacy devices, because with TextBlade, everything is on home row, or at least that’s how it feels. My speed is improving as well, and I am continually pleased by the feel of these keys. I didn’t realize how much I missed a good amount of key travel when typing on my mobile devices. The sound is very different from what I’m used to as well–I’ll have to include sample typing sounds of this and a collection of legacy devices. I think I’ll put in my laptop keys, my TextBlade, and my tablet cover and prior folding keyboard, in no particular order so that you can try to pick out the TextBlade from the other sounds.
(I will of course provide the answers, if you can’t tell straight up, but don’t cheat!)

I also took the TextBlade with me to church today, knowing that there were several people who would be interested in seeing such a compact and interesting touch typing device. I was very much right, and spent several minutes after the service showing around my newest little tech gadget to an assortment of fascinated reactions–disbelief that it could be so tiny, questions about how it worked, and even a few people asking where they could get one. This thing is a genuine pleasure to use, I just wish that it came with a dongle to work with any USB-capable device the way that my ergonomic mouse does. Bonus points to WayTools if they can find a way to fit such a dongle in the nanocharger slot, but I also don’t want general release to be held up waiting for a dongle so that this little feature-packed miracle of typing could be used truly anywhere. I know that it’s easy and tempting to focus on the current slew of devices and operating systems out there, but the fact remains that there are still plenty of people who aren’t on the latest and greatest–in my house alone there are machines running Windows XP, 7, and 10, as well as our XBox 360, Wii, and a collection of Linux and Android devices that don’t have bluetooth but do have USB ports and will recognize USB keyboards attached. Being able to use the TextBlade with any of those, as well as library and school computers as I please, would be very powerful indeed. That would be the only thing between me and using this thing exclusively, as my only keyboard and primary interface device.

Now, a word about battery life: when I opened it up for the first time on Tuesday afternoon, it was showing 9 lights on the spaceblade for battery level. By Friday, I had managed to get it down to 4/10, and decided to charge it while I was using my laptop. I couldn’t seem to get it to charge from my laptop’s USB ports, but they’re old and loose and half the time they don’t work anyway, so that’s not a big deal. I plugged it into a USB charge block and watched 30 minutes or so of youtube videos, and then when I looked back at the TextBlade it was fully charged and ready to go. I think that battery life will not be a worry, especially since it has a good indicator for exactly how much it has left, and it charges smoking fast. Handy.

We’ve all seen technologies that are going to be the “Next big thing”. Look at most any movie or work of science fiction from the 80s or earlier, and look at the sorts of technology they think will be around in the 21st century–tape drives, computers as big as houses, maybe even some real visonaries thought up communication devices that could be carried in a pocket. Then tech comes along and renders those things obsolete. Look at all the science fiction where they type away on either holograms floating in the air or on panels of glass with ten thousand oddly colored and shaped little buttons.
http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/masseffect/images/1/19/Joker_and_EDI’s_normal_day.png/revision/latest?cb=20130320062033

As soon as TextBlade hits general release, all of those methods of input are, arguably, rendered obsolete.
The typists of the future won’t be using sprawling arrays of keys, either on glass or in floating light in the air. Nor will they input everything by voice. They’ll be typing on something small, packed with function, and very portable.

They’ll be typing on TextBlade, or the descendants thereof.

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Have you considered the possibility that you are from another planet and have latent super powers? :slight_smile:

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Regarding the lack of a USB dongle, someone has developed an app to use an Android device as a USB input device. It requires root and an appropriately configured kernel, so only some specific devices work, but it does exist. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=remote.hid.keyboard.client

And there seems to be a dedicated device for the same task around as well, that connects over reversed bluetooth: http://inputstick.com/index.php/en/

Thx for the elaborate postcandcgreat initial review. Your thoughts echo my experience as well as other treggers, except fir the iDevice conundrum. I have nothing but iDevices and you remind me a lot of a friend of mine who’s anti-iDevices. What’s interesting is how they brick in your hands. Are you sure you are not sabbotaging the units from pure iHatred? (joke).
I like your church experience, mine was at work but I got mixed receptions. Most of the people who saw me use the TB mocked me and my geekiness for tech. They even mocked the abolity of the device to handle daily tasks. But when I started typing and switching between the alpha and green layer without looking down the keyboard and when editing/navigation became second nature, people’s negative perception soon faded away for a positive outlookvon the practical use of this device.
My daily use comprises of the following. I have my iPhone on the nanostand and a Win10 machine at my workstation. I intermittently switch between both for personal (iPhone) and work related tasks. I frequently leave my desk to perform some experimental work (R&D lab). It quite easy, all I have to do is pack the TB and pick up my iPad and Voilà. Up and running. It’s amazing how easy it is to just switch between all devices via the jump functionality.
I’m sure other people can see other uses for their TB but each of these uses reflect the full capability of the Tb to work as a full-fledged keyboard and beyond that!
Looking forward to readig your next review!

A better option might be the community wiki on how to setup a dongle in HID proxy mode. Takes a bit of work to do it, but the instructions are available here

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That is what I was thinking as well. I’m considering getting one of these as well as my work laptop doesn’t see the textblade at all.

Your post is too long to look for one tiny part, but I think you said something about needing to adjust to using both caps keys. Well, I also only used the left one - and I still do. I take advantage of the “sticky” shift.

If I need a capital “A”, I tap the left shift, then hit “A” with the same finger. Caps then automatically turns off. Works great though I had to practice it far awhile.

For those of you looking for a dongle that will work with the TextBlade without having to do any crazy coding or whatever, This one off Amazon is pretty good–It was recommended to me by another TREGer, and I only had to install the drivers from the included mini CD twice before it worked and I could get my TextBlade connected to the Windows 7 laptop.

@dabigkahuna, I have tried using sticky shift, and I do for some things, but on the whole I prefer hold shift for most typing, because it’s a bit faster and more consistent. I know that it’s on, I know when it turns off. Works better for me, but thanks for the suggestion.

And for everyone else out there: one, I love having the TextBlade connected to my laptop. It is such a productivity booster, and it just feels RIGHT. The only thing holding it back from being my exclusive keyboard was a lack of Win7 support, and know I have a dongle that will bridge that. This is my only keyboard now, all others need not apply. And two, I will try to get some videos up on YouTube fairly soon so that you can all see this thing in action, and my setup and unique lapdesk assemblages. Please be a little patient, since I’ve never actually had cause to post anything to YouTube before now, and the only video camera I have is my phone.

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Although the dongler process is a bit more involved, it is the only option for systems where you do not have administrator rights on the machine and therefore cannot install the necessary drivers for the Bluetooth dongle. This process uses a Laird BT820 dongle and configures it so that the TextBlade connects to it and the dongle looks like a USB keyboard to the machine.

A few of the down sides to this configuration is that the Bluetooth dongle does not allow your other Bluetooth devices to connect to the machine. Another is that for right now at least, the Laird BT820 is one of the only BT dongles that it will work with, and ONLY if it has 64k internal memory.

IF you have admin rights and can install the drivers, there are many more BT dongle options available. IF you don’t have admin rights though, the Laird BT820 and the dongler method is your only option right now.

James

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and here’s to a new year, may it be a happy one for all of you!

Sorry I’ve been so quiet on the update front, didn’t have much to say. So, I’ll try and cobble together a quick update for everyone.

My attempted video blog ran into a series of technical errors, glitches, and then my phone storage somehow filled up when it was supposed to be writing to the external card that still has several gigabytes free. For added fun, it seemingly can’t transfer files over to my computer without corrupting them. I will keep trying on that front.

Mark called me for a second week check in, and walked me through the app and the many amazing and thoughtful details that they put into this thing. Honestly, I think that he should make a video or something talking about all these various features and include it with GR TextBlades. Meanwhile, I think I’ll try to put together my own quick start guide to the TextBlade. No promises on when that will get done, since the new year and my return to college are fast approaching.

I have been using the TextBlade pretty much exclusively since I got the BLE dongle and drivers that actually let it talk to my laptop. I keep getting a number of interesting and bizarre errors while typing, which fall into a few categories:
-iOS problems. iOS devices and I have a long standing grudge, and I have suffered numerous problems due to having to configure the TextBlade on an Apple device. The first several of these come from WayTools stating the wrong requirements for the app; they said it required a device running iOS 9 or higher, so I bought myself an iPain–I mean iPad–Mini, first generation, running iOS 9.3.5. The app lagged, some features didn’t work, and it corrupted the custom maps that I made. I talked to WayTools and they explained that really, the minimum requirements were an Apple device with the A7 chipset, rather than the anemic A5. So, I bought myself an iPain Mini 2, the cheapest thing I could find with the A7 and a 7.9 inch screen. When that arrived, I returned the Mini 1 (Given how physically similar they are, it was a very near thing about making sure I returned the correct one!) and tried working with the Mini 2. There are still persistent problems, including NEW corruptions to my custom maps.

-Precision problems and learning curve: the TextBlade is cutting edge of typing tech, and it’s also a complete reinvention of the wheel. There IS a learning curve on this thing, and if you are as sloppy a typist as I am, it will let you know that very clearly. I’ve been testing and dialing in my muscle memory and the settings of the TextBlade itself, but I still hit the wrong characters every here and there, most frequently q instead of a, and h instead of n or k.

-The third type of problem have been honest to goodness bugs with the TextBlade. They are rare but they do happen. It can sometimes be slow to start up, or temporarily forget how to do backspace and just give me '. (Those are next to each other on Colemak, but I was very careful to only press the corner marked backspace and I still got '). Another problem I saw was that, after doing an OTA update to the latest test firmware, caps lock stopped working on my Android devices. Still haven’t figured out what’s going on there.

Some of these problems are related to my feud with all things Apple, and corrupted maps and such. (Those persisted onto the new iPain, and I had to start from scratch for all my custom tweaks) Some of these are problems with how the TextBlade works on some level, because honestly, this thing is about as complicated as a brand new smartphone, only with moving parts thrown into the mix.

I’ve been working with WayTools to try and hunt down these problems, but the fact is that a lot of these would be crippling to general release right now. And sure, I’m a weird edge case in how I can’t get along with iOS and all the custom tweaking I’m trying to do, but it’s still enough of an edge case that I can understand WayTools wanting to make sure that these problems don’t cut off general release at the knees. I really do think that general release is coming, and that the TextBlade is the future of mobile and desktop text input. But it’s not perfect yet–better than anything before, but still with some problems that would give it a bad rap if it went out the door right this instant. If WayTools had caved to pressure and shipped this thing mid 2016? There would be some really weird bugs all over the place, and some new features that they have added since I joined TREG wouldn’t have been implemented or included.

I know, waiting sucks, especially for something really exciting like this. But the wait will be worth it, and it’s getting shorter every day. Hang in there, and keep looking forward to the point we can all say,

typed on TextBlade

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Yours is the biggest mystery of all - for those who forgot what you said in your first post, how it’s almost like you have a weird electrical field that screws up iOS devices. I can’t even imagine how that could be, but that it doesn’t apply to Android devices. Very strange indeed.

Add to that the problem you are having with Android and the TB.

Could you clarify some things for me? You specifically talk about the problems using it with Android. You also talk about your maps getting corrupted. But what I’m not clear on is whether or not you are having errors (other than user error) on your laptop (and what laptop do you use and which OS)?

Also, if you get weird reactions out of iOS devices, have you tried having someone else use the device to set things up and “apply” them to the textblade and then you see if that makes any difference?

I wouldn’t think it would matter, but since you have that weird history with Apple’s stuff, maybe it does.

Meanwhile, we’ll just blame the delay in general release on you!

I use an HP Pavilion G6 running Windows 7 Premium. It’s had a few problems that I think are on TextBlade side, such as the backspace not triggering when it first boots up.

I have tried having other people manipulate the iPad and app, but that hasn’t helped so far. I guess I have to be too far away from the iPad to actually direct what needs doing on it.

And I suppose I can accept that blame :wink: :stuck_out_tongue: That means you also all get to thank me when release comes around, right? And WayTools too, obviously.

Also, because I forgot to mention it before, I wijl say that my typing has gotten a lot faster on the TextBlade, especially with the edit features. And that’s not counting the extra errors from the leqrning curve and such which knock the average speed down, but when I get going I can really move on this thing! (Left some of my erros in this paragrah just to show them off–id’s hard not to use backspace!)

Well, it does sound like if they can get it to work for you, it will be bullet proof!

As I recall, Windows 7 has been a problem in general and not just with the TextBlade!

When you say the backspace is a problem “when it first boots up”, are you talking about the laptop or when turning on the TextBlade? And how long does it last?

It sounds like the backspace issue is just on the laptop while Android has the caps lock issue?

Strange that such issues only seem to be hitting you. Maybe you should be on one of those para-normal shows!

I’m trying to figure out if there is any way I can make similar tests. If it is just window and Android that have these issues, I don’t use either. I don’t use colemak either, though I could temporarily put it in if it was only a matter of checking backspace or caps lock.

I am using Colemak with both Windows and Android without seeing the same issues… When using Windows 7 I am using a Laird 820 dongle in HID mode while with the other Windows variants I am using the built-in drivers.

Getting interesting. You have older hardware I believe, though that may not be a factor.

Is Hermes using a different dongle? I don’t even begin to understand the intricacies of those but I could see that as being a factor for the laptop.

But that bothers me is having a problem on at least two platforms and one wouldn’t involve the dongle!

At the very least it would be good if you and Hermes compare hardware on the dongle. Oh, and what Android devices and Android OS you each use. If they are the same, it won’t help much, but if they are different, it might narrow things down.

@dabigkahuna, the issue with backspace comes up usually just on my laptop right after I start up the TextBlade from sleep. I think it also follows right after logging into my laptop when it’s locked.

@itimpi, I’ve got the aforementioned HP Pavilion G6 with Win 7 Premium and an https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B014IY2LUU/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 Orico bluetooth dongle. The Android devices are a Jide Remix Ultratablet and BLU Life 8 XL. Remix is running Remix OS 2.0 which is based on Lollipop, and the BLU is running 4.4 KitKat.

I have one of the Orico dongles, but I could not get it to work reliably with Windows 7 Pro on my desktop. Using a Laird 820 it HID mode has not shown problems which suggests to me that the Windows 7 drivers may be at fault. I have Windows 10 Pro running via a Inateck dongle using built-in drivers.

In terms of Android I am using a UDOO Quad running Marshmallow or KitKat (I can boot into either depending on the ,micro SD card I use) via a Laird 820 in HID mode (this is therefore bypassing Android Bluetooth support). I also have a UDOO Neo running Marshmallow using the built-in Bluetooth hardware.

Gonna assume for the moment that the dongle may be the issue with the laptop - so that brings us to the Android devices.

Unfortunately, that also means 4 devices, three OS versions, and one using a Laird!

So, first obvious questions for Hermes is whether the Android problems are the same on both his devices.

For iTimpi, can you connect to the UDOO Quad without using the dongle?

@dabigkahuna: My UDOO Quad has no built-in Bluetooth hardware. The closest I can do is to connect via a BLE dongle that is NOT in HID mode. I have not been doing this because it was not as convenient but I can certainly set it up for test purposes.

Can this string be made a sticky to show some people why android support often comes later. I hate that people insist that android development is just as easy as iOS. We have problems with the text blade on 4 different devices and 3 different versions of android and not one of them is the most current version. I understand that there are more android devices in the wild and that it can be frustrating to be in the majority but still be treated like a red headed step child but there are just too many variables when trying to develop for android reliably. I can go to amazon and buy an android tablet from literally hundreds of manufacturers and get one of the last 5 versions of android or one of the bastardized versions that companies like Amazon put on their devices that make them even harder to use like android is intended.

Sorry to hijack a productive thread it just struck me as disconcerting that we are all awaiting general release and a lot of the problems seem to be with older versions of 4gen old android OS and 3 gen old Windows versions.

Please continue with what has actually been one of the most productive threads on this board in a very long time.