Alcatel’s Idol 4s With Windows 10 Mobile

WP_20170103_21_30_52_Pro (2)Ever since I saw the announcement for the Alcatel Idol 4s With Windows 10 Mobile, I’ve wanted that phone.  Well, it is out and I finally bought it.  Why? Well, many reasons, biggest being its ability to support Continuum and its price: $469 from T-Mobile, in the United States.

The current package also includes Alcatel’s VR headset and the phone comes with a smattering of impressive imagery and a couple of VR games, both of which seem more like tech demos than actual games.

The phone is gorgeous, one of the prettiest phones I’ve ever seen, on par with the Apple iPhone 4, which I previously regarded as the best LOOKING piece of hardware.  The Idol 4s looks better.  It’s glass back, metallic rim and a screen that, for now, never WP_20170103_21_31_23_Pro (2)seems to get finger prints. It is just the right weight and the screen is amazing.

The phone sports a Snapdragon 820 CPU, which is a quad core processor running at 2.15ghz.  It has 4gb of RAM and 64gb of storage, expandable with an SD card.  It also features a 21megapixel back camera and an 8 megapixel forward camera.  The camera can be started via a hardware button on the side of the device, a convenient if annoying feature.

The phone ships with a release of Windows 10 Mobile that was a bit behind. It immediately wanted to update to, I think, the ‘anniversary update’ rollup.  Fortunately, it went off without a problem.

The camera, which I had read was a weak point, is actually pretty decent.  In lower light, the colors are a bit washed out, just like the Alcatel Fierce XL I have, but the resolution is excellent and the images still look really nice.  I have not yet tried outdoors at night, but will do so soon.

Perhaps the best thing about the phone…and Windows 10…is the ability to use the device as a deWP_20170103_20_06_00_Prosktop or laptop computer.  That is where this device really shines.  While I had to purchase a USB C to HDMI converter, the converter works great and also sports a spare USB 3.0 connector (for a keyboard or mouse) and a USB C female connector for charging the device while connected.  The HDMI port is 4k capable and is full size, so you don’t need any funky sized connector or adaptor. The particular hub I purchased was from Mokin and sold via Amazon. I paid $23 for the device.

Connecting the phone to the Mokin switched it to Continuum and presented the desktop, as you would expect from a desktop PC.  The phone screen turns into a mouse, though using this instead of an actual mouse can be frustrating as there is no obvious way to ‘click and hold’ to drag things. At least, I have not figured that out yet. A bluetooth keyboard was paired to the deviwp_ss_20170103_0001ce and, bam! There I was, using my phone as a desktop.

Continuum, admittedly, is not perfect. For example, nothing I had on the SD card would work. For whatever the reason, Microsoft is not allowing applications on the SD card to run in Continuum. Also, not every application is Continuum compatible either.  And, protected content will not work in this mode.

Overall, however, Continuum seems, to me, to be the killer feature (until MS introduces x86 emulation to the Snapdragon) for Windows Mobile 10.  I can see carrying just the phone and adapter.  Most places one would need a computer will, very likely, have an HDMI monitor along with keyboard and mouse. Or, you can take the travel size keyboard/mouse.  I can forsee this more than taking my old laptop or even a tablet, though, admittedly, tablets can be just as productive.

61tocr  emL._SL1500_While running Continuum, I was able to run Word, Excel, OneNote, Facebook and take a call…at the same time.  The phone showed no perceptible slowdown at all.

The VR gimmick is just that, a gimmick and really not a reason to buy this phone.  That said, and taking into account the limitation of the screen, it is still rather impressive, at first.  The screen is HD, 1080p.  That’s a problem only because the screen gets split in two to present the left and right images.  This makes things a bit fuzzy and pixelated. However, it is not so bad as to make the experience a poor one.  Quite the contrary, it works well.  Too well, I got a headache and was a bit nauseated by it because my brain knew I was not really experiencing anything, though my eyes said otherwise.

Overall, the Alcatel Idol 4s with Windows 10 Mobile is an excellent, premium phone at a great price…half what most others would cost.  It looks great, works well and is fast.  Windows 10 Mobile needs a little work, but it is, overall, a great operating system and works very well. Don’t let the notion of a poor ‘store’ steer you away. The app system on all of the mobile devices is bad, I don’t care if there aren’t five hundred fart apps.  I don’t even care that there is no Youtube app, the web site works and there are a few third party apps that fill in for what is missing.

I think you’d be satisfied with this phone. I sure am.

Mario and iPhone 7…Pokemon and Apple Watch

Apple had its September press event to announce Apple Watch, Series 2, iOS 10 and iPhone 7.  But, perhaps the biggest thing announced at the event was a game.

Early on in the event, Tim Cook said that there were over 500,000 games in the app store, but that one had been missing. Rather, one character had been missing…MARIO. And, with that, he introduced Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario.

Mr. Miyamoto explained the new game while a demo was being played on the big screen.  This Mario game looks and sounds like a Wii U game, but is controlled via touch on the iPhone or iPad.  You use a single finger to control Mario’s jumps…the longer you hold your finger down, the higher he jumps. 

While the game looked great, the game play is like a neutered Super Mario Brothers 2D side scroller. Neutered in that it appeared that Mario only goes in one direction in single hand play.  The goal is to collect as many coins as you can and raise the end of level flag, before the time runs out. 

More importantly, the game will NOT be a ‘freemium’ game in the traditional sense. You only pay one time, there are no in game purchases.  There’s no having to wait two hours for your lives to replenish.  It is a nice change from the current game mobile game model.

Now, for the other announcements, and I’m not going into detail as it has already been covered else where.

Apple Watch 2 will be out in September and will be faster and more responsive.  Oh, and Pokemon GO! is coming to the Apple Watch.  With some health monitoring additions, this looks pretty decent.

iPhone 7, though, is what I am more excited to talk about. 

Now, before I go on, let me say that I am still not an Apple fan and I LOVE my Windows Mobile 10 phone(s). 

So, what has me excited about the iPhone 7?  Well, even though it isn’t a huge, earth shattering advance in mobile technology, the camera, faster processor and MICROSOFT have me excited for the new iPhone. 

The iPhone 7 will feature a new image sub system, new API’s and better optics. In addition, iPhone 7Plus, the phablet edition, will feature TWO 12 mp cameras in addition to the front camera.  The new image processor enables the phone to record in 4K video as well.

Here are some of the nice new photo related features, from Apple:

  • New Apple-designed Image Signal Processor, which processes over 100 billion operations on a single photo in as little as 25 milliseconds, resulting in incredible photos and videos;
  • New 7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera with wide color capture, advanced pixel technology and auto image stabilization for even better selfies; and
  • New Quad-LED True Tone flash that is 50 percent brighter than iPhone 6s including an innovative sensor that detects the flickering in lights and compensates for it in videos and photos.

Iapple-iphone7plus-zoomn addition to the photo features, Microsoft’s entire suite of apps that are on the iPhone mean that I can continue using my Microsoft services and apps with my Windows 10 desktop just as seamlessly as I can, now, with my Windows Mobile phone.

There are other things, like the subtle changes to iOS and to the phone chassis itself.

There are things I don’t like, such as the removal of the headphone jack, inability to upgrade storage via SD card, no way to project the phone to another screen (at least, I haven’t seen this) and the lack of home screen tiles…a feature I’ve really grown to love on my Windows Mobile phone.  In fact, the lack of live tiles is almost a deal breaker for me. Almost.

For now, I am on the verge of mothballing my Windows Mobile phone and going Apple again.  I’m going to have play with one for a bit.   But, today’s announcements look encouraging.  Of course, if I wait a year, I may like iPhone 8 more…

Windows Mobile 10: Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL

5055w_front_back-groupI’ve been using the Fierce XL with Windows Mobile 10 for almost a month now.  I bought the phone from T-Mobile to temporarily replace my now ailing Lumia Icon from Verizon.  As Verizon no longer considers Windows a viable platform for them, I went to T-Mobile who is still friendly toward the mobile operating system. 

The Fierce XL from Alcatel OneTouch was $140 (US) to buy out right.  No contract and a $40 a month plan made it a nice deal.  So, how does it compare to my old Icon?

Well, not very well.  And that is just fine.  The Icon was a ‘flagship’ , that is, it was considered a premium phone with premium features.  The Fierce XL is not.  It does, however, have some features that were, previously, a premium feature, like 2GB of RAM and a large HD display. It also came with Windows Mobile 10.  So, it is not quite a slouch but no high end phone either.  I knew this going in.

In most respects, it is a good device.  Not as fast as the Icon, not as slow as my even older Lumia 521 or iPhone 4.  In terms of performance, it is closer to an iPhone 5.  The 2GB of RAM helps a lot.   The OS is fluid, but does hiccup once in a while. I am running a ‘Redstone 1’ insider build, so there are OS issues, but they are the result of running beta code.  However, that code does bring out features that were not in the shipping release of Windows Mobile 10, like a quasi Continuum feature. More on that in a bit. 5055w_back-left

The camera is, perhaps, the weakest point of the device. The rear camera is only eight megapixels and has poor low light ability.  The images are not very crisp and color tends to be more on the muted side of things. Coming from my Icon, it is a huge let down.  Again, I was aware of this when I got the phone, but it was still a big let down.  Almost enough to take the phone back to T-Mobile, but, alas, my poor Icon’s battery is on life support. As is the body of the phone. 

Which brings me to the best and worst aspect of the Fierce XL: it’s body is all plastic.  The back is a funky shade of blue that has grown on me, but is also now covered up by an overpriced rubbery shell that the salesguy sold me at T-Mobile.  The plastic case looks cheap and feels cheap, but it likely will not break or dent, like the Icon’s all metal body did.  I don’t mind the plastic all that much, but it does feel cheap, which makes me think I would not like it on, say, the Lumia 950.

Overall, the hardware-except for the camera-is decent. Performance is good, considering the price.  While it feels cheap, the build quality is quite good. 

As I mentioned earlier, the latest Windows 10 insider builds unlock a nice Continuum feature. To 5055w_front-rightuse it, both the phone and the computer must be running the latest builds of Windows 10 Insider (the ‘Redstone 1’ builds) as the feature needs the PC to have the plumbing for Continuum.  So, what does it do?  Well, it lets you, via the ‘connect’ feature on the device, to allow the phone’s screen to be shown on the PC’s monitor and allows the PC’s keyboard and mouse be recognized by the phone. This lets you use the phone as if it were the computer.  The difference, though, between this and the ‘real’ continuum is that you cannot do something else on the phone while using Continuum, and it does not scale the phone’s screen to fit the monitor. It is the same as the old ‘connect’ or project my screen feature.  It is a nice feature, though one that I don’t see myself using all that much.  Perhaps I will if I use my phone at my job to take notes or start work on a document or spreadsheet.  Though, I generally just save to my OneDrive and use my PC and its apps.  So, while this is cool and nice, and all that, I’m not sure that I’d use it all that much.

Windows 10 runs very well on this hardware and gives me hope that Alcatel Onetouch will bring some of its better hardware to Windows Mobile, like the Idol 3.  It also gives me hope that other manufacturers will follow. Indeed, HP, Acer and HTC all have or will have Windows Mobile devices out very soon, if not now.

The Fierce XL with Windows 10 is available from T-Mobile for $139.95.

New Lumia phones and a new Band

Lumia_950_Marketing_01_DSIM1Microsoft introduced a pandora’s box full of new devices. Among them, the new Surface Pro 4, a new Microsoft Band, new Lumia phones and a new laptop, the Surface Book. They also showed off some XBOX One stuff, which I’m not going to talk about here and a nice demo of the HoloLens, which will be available in January of 2016 in developer form for three thousand dollars.

LUMIA PHONES

Perhaps the most exciting part of the introduction was of the Lumia 950 and 950 XL.  These things are monster phones, with either an Octacore or Hexacore processor. They aLumia_950XL_Black_Front_SSIMre liquid cooled and smoking fast. The 950 sports a 5.2 inch OLED screen, 20MP rear cameras and triple LED Flash, capable of reproducing accurate skin tones and no red eye. The XL has a 5.7 inch OLED screen. Both devices are capable of 4k full time video (unlike the current 11 second limit.)  Both phones also double as desktop computers with full screen, keyboard and mouse ability.  You can use both the full screen HDMI desktop experience along with using the phone directly.  The demo was truly impressive and shows what Windows Mobile 10 is really capable of doing.  Both phones come with 32gb storage and are expandable to a theoretical two TERABYTES.

The 950 will sell for 549 and the XL is 649 and will be available in November.

The Lumia 550, a lower end phone, is no slouch either. It sports a nice 4.7 inch HD display, 4G LTE, 5mp camera with LED Flash and 2mp forward camera for skype.  It also features a quad core processor and, like the 950 series, is expandable via SD cards.

All three phones will ship with Windows Mobile 10, Office Mobile, Cortana integration, Skype and a suite of lifestyle apps.

The 550 will sell for about $150.

MICROSOFT BAND 2

Microsoft-Band-2-image-1A new Band was introduced. This thing has every type of sensor you could possibly want, including heart rate, oxygen, caloric/carb ability, GPS, accelerometer, gyro and more.  It has a Golf mode that can tell you everything you need to know about your game.  It features Cortana integration, touch screen, a multitude of apps (including Uber!?) and full integration with Windows 10. It also works with iOS and Android.  The screen is curved, unlike the previous model, which was flat and a bit awkward.

The Band 2 is the first lifestyle type device I’m actually interested in using.  It will sell for $249. 

There’s much more to talk about, so stay tuned for more on the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book.

Watch the Press Event.

Apple Announcements 2015: iPad Pro, Watch, iPhone

Microsoft has often be accused of ‘firing up the Xerox’ to copy Apple’s ‘innovations.’  Well, during the Apple presentation on Sept 9, it seems that they are the ones who ‘fired up the Xerox.’  Indeed, the new 12.9 inch iPad Pro they introduced has many Surface 3 Pro features, including the docking keyboard and the pen, which Apple calls ‘the Apple Pencil.’  Cute.  Of course, this harkens back to the Steve Jobs comment “if you see a stylus, they blew it.” Of course, the Apple apologists will say that he didn’t really mean it that way.  Uh huh, right.

iPadPro_Pencil_Lifestyle1-PRINTAll kidding aside, the iPad Pro is a credible machine.  At nearly 13 inches, the screen is big enough to adequately display two apps, side by side. Interestingly, there’s no drag and drop between applications. You copy/cut and paste.  An odd thing to leave out.  Maybe iOS 9.2.

The iPad Pro’s stylus has a nice feature that lets the Pro know the angle and pressure the user is placing on the screen’s surface.  Sensors built into the device communicate this data back to the software, which, in turn, acts on it.  Designer’s can now draw fine lines or really thick lines without having to lift the stylus. 

Microsoft was on stage demoing Office for iOS.  Yep, it is a credible package that turns the iPad Pro into a real, honest to goodness productivity device. 

The Pro’s keyboard dock is very, very similar to the Surface 3 Pro’s keyboard.  In fact, there were many, many similarities, so much so, that it seems that Apple was acknowledging Microsoft’s lead in this space.  A refreshing turn of events.

The iPad Pro also boasts four speakers.  The sound, one would hope, is far better than the tinny monoaural sound that comes out of them now.

On the watch front, native apps are now available as is several new bands.

Apple TV got a major upgrade with the addition of in device memory, a redesigned controller and an app store. Yes, it now runs apps and games with ‘stunning, console quality graphics.’ Someone quipped ‘yeah, if the console is a Wii.’  Hey, the Wii is still a cool little console.  Leave it alone or I’ll give you a wedgie!

Prices for the Apple TV are $149 and $199 for the 32gb and 64gb versions.  No 4k yet.

Prices for the iPad range from $799 to $1069.

Of course, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were also on display.  The killer feature:  living images.  This is a feature that Microsoft has had in its Lumia smart phones for quite sometime.  Basically, the camera buffers about four seconds of video.  The best frame, for the iPhone and in the ‘middle’ is taken where as the Lumia is usually the best of the last frames.  Either way, the effect is impressive.  Apple has taken it a step further and provides magic that also captures audio.  The Lumia does not do that.

There were other interesting things about the phones…faster processor, more internal RAM, 12mp camera, but the living images is, by far, the best new feature.

Head over to CNET for much more detail.

CES 2015: webOS, tablets and funky tv’s

The 2015 International CES is over.  Among the products and product lines shown off were curved Televisions, 4K TV, ‘quantum dot’ TV, TV dongles, tablets, smartphones and accessories, self driving cars and more computers-of all shapes and sizes. Oh, and smart watches and fitness bands. Lots of them.

So, where do we start?  Well, lets start with one of my favorite operating systems. This OS is now in televisions, phones and … soon, smart watches.  Yep, webOS is making a splash with LG spearheading the way.  They purchased the OS from HP in 2013 and began adapting it for use in smart televisions.  The first effort, while it sold five million televisions, was less than stallear. webOS 2.0, however, is said to be fast and easier to code for than the previous release.  It has also been shrunk down to watch size.  LG has, seemingly, teamed with Audi to produce a watch that can open the car doors, place calls and a plethora of things.  LG denies it and Audi was just trying to show off the car.  The Verge reports seeing an ‘about’ screen that shows the webOS version.  For a dead OS, it sure is making a splash.  The interesting thing is that, at the current rate, LG will have more webOS devices in the wild than Palm/HP Palm ever could.

Intel showed off its Compute Stick, an HDMI dongle for your Television that is a complete Windows computer on a stick.  Selling for $149, the Compute Stick features an Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and features a micro-SD slot for future expansion. So, it is a rather spartan PC, but, it is very portable and Wifi enabled,so you could just throw it in a bag, your pocket, whatever and take it with you instead of a laptop. The drawbacks, of course, are that you do need a keyboard and mouse AND an HDMI enabled display. But, if you don’t mind these limitations, the Stick might just be your travelling companion.  A cheaper, $89 version running Linux will also be available.  Though, the Linux version sports half the RAM and only 8GB of storage.

I’m no Sony fan, but, I would definitely purchase their newest 65 inch set. This thing is 4.9 mm thick. The 4K set is thinner than most current smartphones.  It is edge to edge awesomness.

In a big nod to Microsoft’s Surface tablets, a group of former Google engineers introduced the Remix. To be offered up next month via a Kickstarter campaign, the device has many of the same features of Surface, looks like the Surface and its software, another Android fork, even resembles Windows 8 applications and its mail client is a rip off of Windows 8 mail.  Still, It says much about Surface that these gentlemen would decide to ‘me too’ the tablet.

Speaking of tablets, there were plenty to choose from. From a six inch Windows tablet all the way up to a 65 inch, 4k enabled tablet from FUHU.  Perhaps the most interesting ones, however, are the under $150 Windows tablets which are going to be available in the next month or so.  There were no new Kindles, but there were a bunch of Android tablets as well. No one tablet really stood out (well, maybe that 65 incher) but they were all well represented.  Have a look on CNet’s News.Com for more.

For a complete wrap up of the events at CES, the Verge has a good summary.

Why, Apple, why? An iPad ordeal

Way back in April of 2010, about three weeks after it became available, I eagerly purchased an Apple iPad. Man, was this the device of my dreams, or what? Indeed, I had wanted a tablet for a decade, ever since I saw a really poor Fujitsu tablet with Windows 95 and ‘Pen Windows’ extensions. Even earlier, I once had an Epson ‘notebook’ which was similar to the TRS-80 Mod 100.

So, now I had this dream device.  I bought EVERY accessory for it that Apple came out with in those first few months. The keyboard dock. The video out cable. The Camera Kit. The case. Extra cables. I was so excited. I showed it to everyone I saw. After using it and downloading some useful apps, I thought this thing could replace my laptop.

After the death of my wife, I took my son on a rollercoaster tour of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. We hit up Six Flags America, Trimpers in Ocean City, Maryland, Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens in Virginia and Carowinds in Charlotte, NC. I had several digital cameras with me and took a lot of photos and video. At the end of each day, I would-using the Camera Kit, which was just an SD card adaptor and a USB adaptor-upload photos from the cameras to the iPad and then correctt them, catalog them and upload a few to Facebook or Picasa. For the next few years, I did this. I used the iPad as a laptop replacement.

Over time, though, it was less and less useful. As Apple brought out new models, my old iPad really began to show its age. I used it less and less and the laptop, which had showed its prowess many times, saw more and more use. My Kindle Fire picked up a lot of what I used the iPad. My Asus Windows 8 tablet sealed the iPads fate: it got relegated to kid duty.

A few days ago, I picked it up and began to peruse the photos. I realized that there were many that I did not have anywhere else. Hmmm…now I have to get them off.  Easy.

NOPE.  Apple made it nearly impossible to get your media OFF of the iPad. As the latest iOS this thing supports is iOS 5.1, I had few avenues.  iTunes was out as the computer I originally synced it with is long gone and iTunes will not allow multiple computer sync. Really.  How inconvenient is that? Windows file explorer could only ‘see’ the ‘saved photos’ and NOT all of them.  What to do?

Well, there are several applications that will bypass the one computer limit and allow true syncing. However, these applications are not free and I did not want to spend money on this as it is a one shot deal. 

To get photos into the Saved Photos folder, you must select them, one at a time and copy them over.  A real pain.  So, I figured I would have to go through this rather laborious ordeal. That is, until I remembered Goodreader.  GoodReader will allow you to import photo folders and then zip them up. It also contains a WEB SERVER. A Ha!

I had a plan.  I created a couple of folders in GoodReader. Imported the folders from Photos. Selected All. Zipped them up.  Fired up the web server. Connect from Internet Explorer and download each zip file. It took about an hour, but I got the photos I wanted.

Now, I ask you, why did Apple make this seemingly simple task an almost impossible on?

The iPad Mini: worthy successor to the iPad

ipadminiWhen Apple introduced the iPad in April, 2010, I was a bit skeptical but excited. Initially, I resisted the urge to buy one, but, ultimately, I did.  It was exactly what I had been wanting…except it did not run Windows. But, the device had so much going for it, I decided that the lack of Windows was OK. (It really wasn’t, but I had been able to get around it.)

When I bought, I went all in with the accessories. I bought the camera kit, extra power cables and adaptors, the keyboard dock, composite and VGA cables, you name it. If Apple had an accessory, I bought it. I LOVED the iPad.  It was toted around with me, everywhere I went.  I bought a WiFi hot spot just to have Internet access too (I bought the 32gb WiFi only version) and thought I was just all that.  Indeed, when I went travelling, it was all I carried.  My clunker laptop stayed mated to my desk at home.

Well, fast forward four years.  That original iPad is, at best, an aging game machine. It is no longer stable, the multitude of iOS updates have just killed it.  It is no longer supported, so I cannot update it to iOS 7.0.1, which seems to have stabilized my old iPhone 4.  Many apps I have on the device are out of date.  It crashes. A LOT.

I finally convinced my wife that she needed a decent tablet of her own, one that was still current and supported by its manufacturer. Well, she’s not a big Windows 8 fan (she pretty much hates it) and she does use her iPhone 4 as her computer, so I talked her into an iPad mini. I’m glad I did.

We got the iPad Mini 16gb WiFi version. Using my Best Buy rewards points, we got the device for about $270. Not too bad. It is new and has the very nice Retina display and a very fast A7 processor. Compared to the old iPad, it is like a Porsche to a VW Beetle.

The device is almost the perfect size, too. It isn’t overly heavy and it is pretty thin.  My complaint is with the screen. Even though it is the beautiful Retina display, it is a tad small for these tired eyes. For some reason, it seems tinier than my Kindle Fire, which is about the same size. I don’t have as much trouble reading text on the Kindle as I do the iPad Mini.  Weird. Still, the display is very, very nice and photos look great. It does video very well.  The sound is a bit tinny, but that is to be expected.

Of course, it came with iOS 7, which works much more smoothly on the iPad Mini than on my iPhone 4.  The nuanced animations, reshaped buttons, transitions…all look and work much more nicely on this device than my old iPhone (which doesn’t do most of the animations anyway.)

Apps seem to respond better, run faster and crash less. Yes, they crash less. They still crash, though, and crash more than they should. It would seem that Apple still has a way to go in the operating system department.

Aside from the screen issue I mentioned, the only other real complaint I have is that damned connector. We have tons of things that use the 30 pin connector and almost nothing that uses the Lightening connector, so…we had to buy another car charger and, likely, will get another household charger. She does not want the keyboard, yet. That may not be an issue, since we can use the Bluetooth keyboards we have.

The tablet comes with both forward and rear facing cameras. The take nice photos, with the rear camera taking the best still and video. The forward camera is better suited for Facetime.  In fact, this thing is the perfect Facetime device: big enough to actually use, not too big and easily propped up, far better than an iPhone.  It will also work well with Apple’s iMessage service.  Keep in mind, though, that Facetime needs excellent WiFi to work well. Oh, and you need a lot of light to get a good, crisp image sent to the recipient. That forward facing camera isn’t too good in the low light scenario.

Apple’s suite of video editing software works well with the device. I was able to use the iPad Mini to shoot video of my baby’s birthday, then edit it and post to Facebook as well as share the video with other devices in my house.  Apple’s in house developed software was excellent. I had not gotten to use it since my old iPad did not have a camera and Apple prevented me from downloading it because of that, even though I could use other software to edit video on the device (remember, I have the camera kit, which pulled video from my camera.  Apple, you were so forgetful…)

Overall, the iPad MIni is nice device. The price, while still a bit high, is better than what you pay for a full size iPad or Windows tablet. If you already have an investment in iOS apps, and you want another tablet, you cannot go wrong with the Mini. IF, however, you are starting out fresh and have little or no Apple interests, then you would be better off with a Windows tablet or even the Samsung Galaxy, if you care for Android.

Windows Phone 8: A superior mobile operating system

wp_ss_20140125_0002Windows Phone 8 is, simply, the best mobile operating system since webOS came out. The operating system is smooth, good looking and fairly easy to use. It takes the Zune UI experience to a more complete and fulfilling level.

Because Microsoft dictated a decent minimum spec for devices that will run the operating system, performance is snappy and satisfying. You tap an icon or link and are, nearly, instantly taken to the site, app or whatever you tapped. No waiting, which is something I do, a lot, with my iPhone.

(NOTE: See my experience with T-Mobile, here.)

The device I have, a Lumia 521, is well suited for Windows Phone 8 and came with just a handful of non-Microsoft supplied apps. These are from Nokia and consist of the ‘HERE’ apps and some T-Mobile oriented apps.  By now, I’ve learned to accept the crapware from the carriers and just avoid them.

THE INTERFACE

When the operating system starts, you are presented with the now familiar Tile interface. You can scroll through, up or down, your tiles.  You can have tiles of differing size and, depending on the app, they can be ‘live’.  My three weather apps are live tiles and are very informative.  The photo tile will cycle through your photos giving you a mini slide show. The Facebook tile, while live, isn’t as useful as it could be.  The people hub, music and video hub and XBOX games tiles are all live, though the games and music/video hubs don’t really need to be live. 

Swiping left on the tile page will present a vertically scrollable menu of all of your apps. You can launch them, delete them or add them to the tile page from here. Tapping on one of the boxed letters will present a screen with the alphabet. Tap a letter and you will go straight to the part of the app list starting with that letter. Letters without apps are not displayed.

Each app that follows the style guidelines, will display in a horizontal and scrollable manner. They typography is beautiful and the overall appearance is gorgeous.  I love the look of these apps.

Of course, not all apps follow the style, like the Facebook app.  It looks like any other Facebook app. It has a few Windowsy things, but, overall, looks like the iPhone/Blackberry/webOS/Zune Facebook apps.

APPS

wp_ss_20140125_0003Contrary to what I have read, I have yet to find an app that I have on the iPhone that does not have a Windows Phone 8 equivalent. Except for a few games, that is.  I have given up on Evernote, but there is a Windows Phone 8 version. OneNote, check. Camera apps, check.  Angry Birds, check. Web browser? Yep. Weather apps? Yep. 

Recently, several apps that both Android and iOS have, but were lacking on Windows Phone 8, are now available. They include Path and Instagram. So, developers are, finally, taking notice of Windows Phone 8.  Microsoft has provided some and as have Nokia, soon to be a Microsoft company.

In fact, the Nokia apps are really nice. I love Nokia Radio. It is like Pandora and looks great.

PERFORMANCE

As I said earlier, performance is snappy.  I have been very pleased with just how fast this operating system can be. Credit some of that to the hardware, but the multitasking aspect of Windows Phone 8 is, simply, fantastic. Press and hold the BACK button and you are presented with a horizontal,scrolling window that contains thumbnails of all running apps. Swipe left or right to scroll through them and then simply tap the one you wish to enter. To shut it down, tap it and then double tap the BACK button.  The only thing I would change is to add the up-swipe, ala webOS, to shut down an app.

wp_ss_20140125_0005Even with five or six things running, performance remains snappy. In fact, I’ve not really experienced any slow downs. Even with a couple of graphically intense games running.

ISSUES

Unfortunately, as with any operating system, Windows Phone 8 is not without its problems.  The worst problem I have encountered involves the Photos app and Facebook or pretty much any other app where you can select a photo to embed. After selecting a photo, the operating system may crash. It’s been mostly confined to Facebook, but I have experienced it with other apps, including OneNote.

The on-screen keyboard is junk.  The buttons are too small.  The iPhone, which is smaller than the Lumia 520, has a fairly decent on-screen keyboard when compared to Windows Phone 8. This is disappointing as the Zune HD’s on-screen keyboard was fantastic. The Zune HD is even smaller, but I had little difficulty with the keyboard. I don’t know what can be done to make it better, but they need to do something.wp_ss_20140125_0004

My last gripe is not really an OS problem, but an omission from the Lumia 521: no flash.  Yep, it has a nice camera, takes very nice photos (compared to other phones) but does not have a flash. Seriously? Make sure you have LOTS of light when using your camera.

SUMMARY

Windows Phone 8 is a superior mobile operating system. I am anxious to see what Microsoft is going to do with it. The roadmap has Microsoft ‘marrying’ the mobile and desktop operating systems into one OS and one app store. 

With its snappy performance, ease of use and nice looking interface, Windows Phone 8 is a fantastic alternative to Android and, especially, iOS powered devices.

New iPhone or Android phone? So, what to do with that old one?

Palm_Pre_SmartphoneIf you are like me, you probably have two, three or more old smartphones lying around, collecting dust. If they are still functional, they are still useful.  I will pull out the old Palm Pre, charge it and use it to play a few games or even surf the web. It has a good browser and I downloaded a fair number of decent games, a couple will even work with the iPhone/iPad counterparts for multi player action (Shrek Racing, for one.)  So, what can you do with those old phones? Well, read on for a few suggestions…

eReader

  • If you have an old iPhone, Android or Windows Phone 7, there is the Kindle app.  There was also a Nook reader app for Android.  There are also a few e-reader apps from other companies that are available on these and other devices like the Palm Pre. There a thousands of free ebooks as well.

WiFi Phone

  • Older iPhones, Android and Windows Phones have Skype clients that will allow you to use that old smartphone, over WiFi, as a phone. Imagine that. You can use it at home and save those minutes on your cell. Carry one for use when near a hotspot in case your phone has poor service or, again, to save those minutes.  (Granted, it could be cumbersome carrying around multiple devices.)

Web Browsing

  • Most older smartphones come with some kind of browser. iPhones, even the first gen, have the sufficient Safari and Android has it’s native browser. Firefox and/or Chrome may also be available. The Palm Pre has an excellent browser and Windows Phone 7’s Internet Explorer, well, it works. 

Games

  • Here’s where devices like iPhone and Android really shine. There are a ton of games out there for both of these platforms. If your phone is powerful enough, this can be a great alternative to the Nintendo or Sony handhelds. Or, like me, why not have them in addition to the Nintendo or Sony offerings? Lots of the games for the smartphones simply are not available for either Nintendo or Sony handhelds.  I still pull out the Palm Pre and play some of those games. Even my old Motorola Q has a few games I like. It had a nice Sim City game. Hmm…where did I put that? Even older, non-WiFi phones like the Palm Centro had some decent games. If you still have it, why not use it?

285389-htc-evo-shift-4g-sprintSecondary Info Screen for your PC

  • Ok, I’m stretching here, but I use my HTC Shift for weather and email as a secondary screen for my PC. I have it connected via USB so it continuously gets power. Right now, I am using the built in apps, so it isn’t a true secondary display, HOWEVER…there is an app called iDisplay which turns your Android device into a true secondary display.  For more, read here and here. There are also other apps like AirDisplay.

Portable Media Playeriphone4

  • iPhones, especially, make decent portable players. An iPhone is, essentially, an iPod Touch with the cell capability. Android, Palm Pre and Windows Phones are all good media players as well.  My Pre came pre loaded with the Amazon player and Androids have the Google Play store. There are tons of apps, for all major platforms, like Pandora and YouTube. This is, next to games, perhaps the best use of these devices.

Digital Camera

  • Nearly all smartphones have cameras. Some are poor, but most of them are fairly decent. The iPhone and Nokia smartphones have excellent cameras. You can keep one in the car or your bag and when the shutterbug strikes, you’ll have at least one camera around.  I know, your shiny new phone has one too. And it probably is better, but on your older device, you’ll have storage that you may not want to use on your new device. They can make good video cameras as well.

Emergency Calling

  • ALL cell phones, smart or otherwise, can still place a 911 call, no matter if you have service on them or not. As long as they are in a cell network, they can place a 911 call. This is an FCC mandate, so if, for no other reason, you could keep one (charges, of course) in a car or your home for an emergency.  The key, however, is to keep it charged up and readily available.

There are, of course, other uses for the phones, these are just a few suggestions. Others include remote control of televisions, cable boxes, Roku devices and more. Calculators, portable databases, USB storage, etc.  My point is that just because you got something shinier and newer, doesn’t mean these older ones are useless.  They even make great mini-tablets for young children. Since they are no longer in cell service, they cannot make calls so why not let them have one for games or Netflix?