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…

Pebble Smartwatch and Windows Mobile 10: working, at last

WP_20160815_20_13_28_ProSince I got my Pebble Classic Smartwatch, I’ve only been able to use a smattering of its features. The problem is that Pebble does not and, apparently, will not, support the watch on Windows Mobile.  But, as the watch is very open, anyone is free to develop software to run on the watch and companion apps on any platform.  So, several enterprising souls did that. The second big issue was that Microsoft closed off parts of Windows Mobile-notifications and running in the background-which pretty much killed most of the functionality.

Well, fast forward a year and Microsoft has released Windows Mobile 10 Anniversary Update which fixed these issues.

So, there are now two apps that work with the Pebble smartwatch line of wearables: Pebble  Time Manager 10 and Pebble Essentials.WP_20160815_20_16_37_Pro

I downloaded Pebble Time Manager 10 and began using it.  For a free app, this thing rocks.  I did plunk down a buck to ‘unlock’ the health features and to give the developer SOMETHING for this great product, which is free.  Did I mention it is free?

Pebble Essentials I have not yet tried out, but will sometime soon. This write up is about the Time Manager.

Pebble Time Manager allows you to:

  • Download and install apps and watch faces from the Pebble store
  • Display all notifications from your mobile device
  • Track your health stats (provided you paid for the module AND your watch supports it)
  • Manage installed apps and watch faces
  • Direct Access to the Pebble Store

The notifications is huge.  Being able to get my phone’s notifications and NOT have to have an app running is tremendous.  Previously, you could get Twitter, Weather, email and, maybe Facebook notices but an app had to be running. Since the Windows AU came along, you no longer have to do that. You still run the app, but you can then dismiss it and the notifications keep on going.

WP_20160815_20_14_15_ProThe other big deal is direct access to the store.  Tap an app or watch face and see everything about. Tap the download icon and download the item to your phone. Tap it on the phone and it is sent to the watch.  The app, however, cannot tell you how much space you have, though.

Some watch apps require a settings page. Previously, you just took the defaults, but TIme Manager incorporates the ability to access and use these settings.  A nice touch.

The user interface could use some polish, but it works and is functional, if not a bit bland.  It does not have to be pretty, though, because it just works. And works well.

All in all, the app is worth much more than the developer charges (which is nothing) and is very easy to use. 

Stay tuned for more.  There are a lot of things it will do and some it won’t.  Oh, there’s a desktop version as well.

Upgrading Your Toshiba Encore Mini from Windows 10 to Windows 10 Anniversary Update

I have a Toshiba Encore Mini Tablet that I bought a couple of years ago and managed to upgrade it to Windows 10 last year. I document that effort here.  It was quite a task as the Encore Mini is really crippled: 1 gb of RAM and only 16 gb of storage. Minimal, indeed.  So, how was going to do this upgrade?  Well, pretty much the same way as the original upgrade.

Since I do not use the Toshiba for much, mostly Candy Crush, web browsing and some video watching, I didn’t have a whole lot on the device. So, the first thing I had to do was clean it up.

I freed about two gigs of space and then tried the upgrade using the system update.  That did not work. I needed over five gigs on C:\, which would be next impossible. Windows itself takes nearly ten of the sixteen gigs, so freeing 5.76gb was a no go.  So, I tried to use an SD card. I put in a 32 gb card and tried again, this time telling it to use the SD card. That bloody thing still needed nearly three gb on C:!

I then remembered the Media Creation Tool.  I put the card in my desktop and fired up the tool.  UGH! It did not let me use the SD card!

WP_20160804_21_48_19_ProI figured out, as well, that the bloody SD card was bad. I kept having to format it…which you should not have to do. I put it aside and found a 16gb card.  I then tried everything again and…failure greeted me at every step.  As a last ditch effort, I downloaded the 32 bit ISO to the SD card. Put it in the Toshiba, mounted the ISO as a drive and ran setup from there.

Setup did point out the lack of space on C:\ but did allow me to use the SD card AND 2gb on C:\.

The upgrade took quite a bit of time.  I’m not sure, because, after an hour, I went to bed.  I finished overnight.

When it finished the initial user setup, it began to hang on me.  I tried everything I could think of, even trying to reset the operating system using the OS Refresh/Reset feature. They, too, locked up. On a whim, I removed the SD card and rebooted the tablet.  It has worked perfectly since.  I have WP_20160805_07_38_37_Proformatted a 4gb SD card and that has been working splendidly.  I’m not sure why the ISO SD Card caused a problem, but I am also glad I figured out what was wrong.

The tablet has been running well.  It is a bit speedier, but that might be because it is a new install of Windows.

So, there you go, a tablet that, by any definition, is a turd, has been upgraded–not painlessly–to the latest and greatest Windows.  Life is good.

NOTE: One issue I had, post upgrade, was that Windows would stop responding after logging in.  After about 20 to 30 seconds, what ever was running would continue, but shell would stop.  I solved the problem by dismounting and removing the SD card that contained the ISO.

Microsoft, Apple, T-Mobile…They take a lot and give little

win10mobileT-Mobile.  The Un-Carrier.  This company, led by it’s uncool CEO, John Legere, claims to be different.  And, in a few regards, that is true.  They led the march to do away with subsidies and contracts.  Getting rid of the contracts was a good thing.  However, the replacement plans by T-Mobile and the others leave little to be desired.  This company also bills itself as having a fast, reliable network.  That’s debatable. In the Richmond, Virginia area, anyway, they are spotty—despite having PINK all over the area map.  Speeds are so-so.  They also advertise the binge-on program where you can consume all of the video streaming, from a select few services, and won’t affect your data or speed. What they fail to say is that you need specific plans to qualify.  Lastly, the ‘Get Thanked Tuesdays’ promotion only applies to certain customers—i.e. those who have Android or iOS devices and those not on prepaid plans. If you have a Windows Phone/Mobile, Blackberry or other device or you have those and are on a pre paid plan, you are out of luck. No thanks on Tuesdays or any other day.  (To be fair, they did try  to make up for it by giving me a credit, free pizza and, in last Tuesday’s event, they texted me the codes—but did not mention I had to use them right away. My fault there, though, it is in the rules.)  The no hoops, hurdles and strings mantra does not apply if you use anything but iOS or Android.

Apple.  Another company that loves to dump on its customers. But, Apple, at least, makes you feel good about getting dumped on. Hell, it’s a PRIVILAGE.  This company has, for the most part, products that, if from any other company, would put you to sleep. But, they slap that stupid logo on them, charge a mint and invite you into these sterile, wood and glass stores, and attempt to make you feel like you OWE them a purchase.  What’s really odd…and lame…is the uniforms the employees wear…..JEANS and BLUE T-SHIRTS.  What the hell is that?  You want me to pay two grand for a computer, I’m in what is supposed to look like a high-end store, and the person who is assisting me is dressed as if he or she was playing kick ball on a school lunch break? Seriously?  And what’s up with that stupid watch?

Microsoft. OH MY LORD.  This company makes it damn near impossible to like.  Everything I have liked, from the Zune to Windows Mobile 10 to Windows 10 itself, has had features removed, been crippled in some way or out right cancelled. I don’t’ need to say anything about Zune…its dead and so is my 30gb player. So, I’ll move on…to Windows Mobile 10. Now, a few years ago, MS bought Nokia’s phone business.  And promptly drove it into the ground.  They released Windows Mobile 10 by gutting many of the nice features of Windows Phone 8, including stability, reliability and many, many features like the hubs.  Now, the company says they are removing features because no one uses them, like FM Radio and the Kids Corner.  Guess what? I DO! This is the same reason they removed Media Center from Desktop Windows. Guess what? I used that too.  Now, Microsoft is further limiting another of its once great products: OneDrive.  They lured you in with tons of free online storage, then cut it all out but 5gb (like Apple) but you could still do a lot. Now, that is being limited as well. You cannot use it to share files a lot or share large files. I guess they are getting hammered for bandwidth. I don’t care, they opened the door and invited us in, now they want to boot us out after an hour.  Why should I bother at all?  They did this with remote sharing as well.  They killed off a terrific photography tool, photosynth.  Their OneCare was great, they killed it.  Windows Mobile has the potential to still be great, even with all of the neutering but, it, too, will languish. That’s what this company does best.

Honorable Mention: GOOGLE. Man, I could rant for days, but I’m not.  Suffice it to say that I will likely be forced to use Android again. I don’t like Android, but my distaste for iOS is worse than my dislike of Android.  One last thing, Google is far worse than Microsoft when it comes to product support and growth. Just look at the Google dead product grave yard.

This may sound like sour grapes, and to some extent, it is.  I’ve been burned a lot by these and other companies.  However, the problems stated here affect more than just myself. In the case of Apple, the deception costs real money.  In the case of Microsoft, it’s not only money, but a lot of frustration as well.  This company needs to stop its practice of introducing things, getting you hooked and then either taking them away or severely handicapping them.  It has really made me re-think my whole Microsoft affinity. 

So, what great Android phones are out there?  I need a good, non-Apple replacement for my Zune too.  My Zune HD is starting to have problems and I don’t know how much longer Windows will run the Zune software.  I want a dedicated MP3 player, I don’t like using my phone for media.  Lastly, what online storage solutions are out there that are low cost or free and are unfettered? 

Apple, you are done…Microsoft, your dominance is near the end and Google, welcome aboard: how Android won the game, via Chrombooks

Change. It is a difficult thing to go through, but, it is inevitable. Nearly thirty years ago, CP/M was THE operating system and 8080/Z80 based computers were THE thing. I remember thinking they’d be around FOREVER. They didn’t make it past 1986, when IBM began to take over the personal computer industry. And, so, we are near that crossroad today.

Google has announced that Android apps will be available ‘soon’ for ChromeOS. That is, as they say, a game changer.

Why?

Well Chromebooks are inexpensive. Small computers using ChromeOS are inexpensive and do not need Wintel level power to do things.  Android apps, likewise, are mostly designed to run on cheap smartphones with power that comes close to that of a cheap desktop or laptop computer.  Combine the two and…WOW…that is a game changer, folks.

A friend of mine (one day, Sam, we will meet in person) has been touting these Chromebook things for a few years now.  I’ve always kind of poo-poo’ed them as being a browser on a minimalist Linux.  However, you put Android abilities in there and…BOOM!   A real challenge to Wintel.

Chromebooks already outsell the Macintosh. It will be a while before they supplant Windows, but, I think the writing is on the wall.  I am a die hard Windows fan. I’ve loved the environment and, later, the operating system since the 2.1 days. But, change is inevitable and Microsoft knows this. Pretty much the only product they still sell that is not completely available on other platforms is the Visual Studio development tool suite. And, I think, it won’t be long and you will be using that on Android. On a Chromebook. 

So, how is Google doing this? Merging the two operating systems?

No. No merging.  No AppV or Virtual machines either. NO, they are using containers that have the Android framework embedded in them.  This is a quite clever approach as it not only allows the app to ‘see’ the underlying filesystem and hardware it is running on, it also means apps can talk to each other and that is HUGE.  What good is a photo editor that cannot get to the photos?

It also means the applications run AT FULL SPEED.  Think about that.  Now the Android GAME world is open to ChromeOS.  In fact ALL Android apps will work this way, no developer changes required. Candy Crush Jelly Donuts and Coffee will run, full speed, full screen, on a cheap $120 (US) Chromebook just as well as it does on that Moto G.  This, my friends, is not only cool, but awesome.

I am no fan of Google, but this is a clever and very smart way to bring Android into the home in something other than a phone.

Now, I need to buy myself a Chromebook, get a good book on Java development and retool myself.  Apple, you need to get a clue. Your walled garden is about to be overtaken by weeds when your gardeners leave for greener pastures.  From Google.

You can read more about it here.

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.