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…

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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.

Putting Windows 10 on my Toshiba Encore Mini

WP_20150802_20_59_36_ProI finally received the ‘Reserve Windows 10’ icon on my Toshiba Encore Mini last week, which I promptly went and ‘reserved’ my copy.  A day after general availability, I checked the icon and the resulting app that opened told me my Mini was compatible and there were no issues.  Of course, it only has 16GB of storage, of which 289 MB was available, I was a bit dubious.  So, upon finding out that one could download the Media Creation Tool, create an ISO file and install from that.

So, I proceeded to clear off some space so I could download the file-I did not know how much space I would need.  I got just over a gigabyte free and downloaded the tool.  Of course, it did not work. I tried to specify the SD card, which was 32GB and clear.  No go.

Persuing the ‘net for an ISO, which I thought Microsoft had on its site, but no longer do, I found an article on Softpedia that details how to download the ESD file and create an ISO from that. This ESD file is a compressed file image, very much like an ISO. We want an ISO because it can be mounted like a hard drive.

After getting the ISO and putting on the SD card, I mounted it as a drive on the Toshiba and began the installation process.  Unfortunately, I cannot say how long it took because I went to bed.  Upon checking it the next day, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had installed and the only things left were the usual user setup and download of the applications and remaining drivers.

BUT…

You knew there was a but, right?

There was the issue of drive space, the primary drive was zero bytes free.  Damn.

WP_20150802_20_59_39_ProSo…I fire up Explorer and began to poke around.  I discover the Windows.OLD directory was there. SIX GIGS worth. Now, you cannot simply right click and delete. The Trusted Installer owns the Windows directory that is in .OLD and that’s where the space was used.  Since you do not have rights to this directory, you must give them to yourself.  You must have Administrator privileges. First thing to do is right click on the Windows directory (Make sure it is in the Windows.old directory) and select PROPERTIES. Click Security.  Click ADVANCED.  Click CHANGE OWNER. Click ADVANCED, then FIND NOW. Look for your user account name and select it. Click OK, OK. Click Apply. It should then make you the owner of the directory and sub directories.  It may take a few minutes. Once done, dismiss all of the dialog boxes. From Explorer, click DELETE in the ribbon or right click and delete.  IF that does not get all files and directories, you may have to repeat the process for those directories.  It took me about fourty five minutes to get them all.  For some reason, some sub directories and files also require you to take ownership even if you ‘own’ the others.

After all of this, I ended up with just over 4GB of space left, enough to install the OFFICE Mobile Suite, which is free for screens under 10.7 inches. I was also able to install a few games from the store and still had space free, around 3GB. 

I didn’t think I’d be able to upgrade this thing, in fact, Paul Thurrot claimed to have broken his out of frustration. 

The end result is a fairly responsive and, now, usable 7 inch tablet that is running Windows 10 pretty smoothly…in 1GB of RAM.  Oh, and Bluetooth appears to be working, something that was not happening with Windows 8.1.

Turns out that my piece of junk, cheapo tablet isn’t such a piece of junk after all.  And, Word works just fine. How about that?

Toshiba Encore Mini: a Seven Inch Tablet For $99

WP_20150216_18_06_53_ProIn 2014, one of the things that Microsoft did, to push Windows 8 and Windows 8 devices, was to offer up a ‘zero dollar’ (i.e. NOT FREE) version of Windows for devices that are under eight inches.  This move did more than just give manufacturers a ‘zero cost’ version of Windows, it opened the flood gate on small Windows devices.  Now, this is a FULL version of Windows, no strings attached. Well, ok, you have BING as your default search provider, but, you can change it if you wish.

Among the devices introduced was the Toshiba Encore Mini Tablet. This is an Intel Atom powered, seven inch tablet. It has 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage (of which about 10GB is available), WIFI, SD Micro Card slot, USB connector and stereo sound.  It runs Windows 8.1 with Bing and costs $99.WP_20150214_22_48_42_Pro 1

If you shop, you can get it for about eighty-eight dollars.

The device is comparable, in size, to the iPad Mini, though not as pretty.  It is functional, but will not garner any design awards.  It is fairly generic. My unit has a bumpy, white hard plastic back with a black bezel.  The seven inch screen is not the best I’ve ever seen, but far from the worse (no, that award goes to the Pandigital White seven inch tablet from a few years ago.)

Unboxing the unit was quick, there’s not much there: the Tablet, two booklets, an addendum, the USB cable and…that’s it. NO POWER ADAPTOR was included. I suppose they cost too much.  The manual suggests PLUGGING IT IN TO YOUR COMPUTER to charge it.  Or, use the Toshiba branded wall wart, that you have to purchase separately. In reality, pretty much any USB charger will work.  My unit was DOA, so I had to wait to charge it. 

WP_20150216_18_07_50_ProOnce charged, it took a few minutes to set it up. I entered my Microsoft credentials and everything was setup for me: my mail, favorites, even recent browsing history.  OneNote synced fairly quickly as well. I specifically told it NOT to sync my apps as I don’t have that much storage and did not want ‘muddy’ it up. 

While the device comes with Office 365 Personal, I already have a subscription, so I have not set it up. 

Overall, the performance is about on par with my Asus Tablet.  For some things, it seems a bit faster and for others, much slower. Graphics performance is abysmal, but I won’t be playing games on this thing. Well, not anything demanding, anyway.  Audio is MUCH better than on my Asus-I can actually hear it. What a concept.

One thing I have noticed is that the Windows Desktop (aside from being an antique) just is not suitable for this size.  I think Microsoft made the right choice for Windows 10 by doing away with the desktop for devices of this size or smaller.  It simply does not scale properly. Icons and links are way too small, I found myself tapping on one thing, or, so I thought, and something else WP_20150216_18_07_12_Prohappens. At 1280 by 600, on a seven inch screen, it is just too small for Windows desktop.

WiFi performance was good, but I found that it, frequently, drops the WiFi connection.  I am guessing it is a driver issue.

Battery life is also not that great. iPad Mini gets about nine hours whereas this thing get, maybe, seven hours. It also charges very slowly. That initial charge took nearly eight hours. It has taken about six hours to fully charge since then. Now, to be fair, that first charge was from the computer, which charges my phone slowly as well. The second and subsequent charges have been on my Nikon Lumia battery charger. Your mileage may vary.

The camera? It’s horrible. Nothing more to be said.

Overall, this is a good buy if you need a tablet to take with you on daily trips, but don’t need it a full day.  It is great for short Internet bursts or checking and answering email. If you have a portable Bluetooth keyboard, it may be good for Word on the go.  It is great for OneNote as well. But, it isn’t so great for many things you’d use a laptop or larger tablet to do.  If you need to do more than this, save your money and buy a bigger tablet.  If, however, you want a device a little bigger than your phone, but not a full sized tablet, then this may be for you,  Go to Best Buy and try it first.

Windows 10, the consumer rules

Win10_Windows_ProductFamily_WebMicrosoft unveiled a near complete Windows 10 platform at an event they hosted this past week (Jan 21, 2015.)  During the keynotes, several key features were shown off, which are sure to make just about everyone happy about the new addition to the Windows family.  Among the features highlighted were:

  • Continuum, the ability to rather seamlessly transition from desktop mode to tablet and back again, depending on whether or not you have your tablet docked or not.
  • Cortana, the Windows Phone assistant now comes to the desktop and tablet experiences as well.
  • Universal apps, which have been talked about for a long time, are a reality. These apps will work on phone, tablet or PC and the experience will be very similar across devices.
  • Spartan, the ‘new’ browser based on the old browser’s Javascript and rendering engines.
  • Clean and consistent user interface spans all types of devices, from phone to XBOX One.

Windows 10: The Next Chapter press event (day 2 of 2)Windows 10 not only gives desktop features to mobile devices, but some of those features are headed to PC land (and some to XBOX as well) including the notification area. On phone, you swipe down from the top edge of the screen. On PC, it will be near the tray. Either way, you will see the same things. And, perhaps the biggest feature of all, Cortana, the Siri like assistant, comes to the desktop.

There were also two huge announcements made, that really kind of overshadow all of the other stuff:  Windows as a service and Windows 10 upgrades will be free to Windows 7, 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 users, for the first year the product is available.  Yes, that gives you a year to get off your seat and upgrade those Windows 7 computers.  For free.

Windows as a service is currently aimed at the business area, but it could to consumer land at some point. The Windows as a service plan is very much like Office 365 and, in fact, includes Office 365 for business.  Pricing was not announced, but it is speculated to be around $12 per user per month.

Perhaps an overlooked aspect of the announcements Win10_Xbox_Devices_Webwas the XBOX One.  Windows 10 will be coming to that platform as well. And it will require a new interface…the XBOX controller.  Game streaming from XBOX One to any Windows 10 device will be baked in. You will be able to start a game on your console, continue on your tablet or desktop and finish back on your console.  The XBOX app for Windows will also be included and will be very similar to the Xbox 360 and Xbox One apps that are out today.

Microsoft will be releasing two huge Windows 10 computers, a 55 inch and an 84 inch device that is ‘tuned’ for conferencing and aimed at business (which means they will be expensive.) They will be from the Perceptive Pixel company that Microsoft purchased a while back. Called Surface Hub, you can see them in action here.

Oh, and there was one more thing…

Win10_HoloLens_LivingRoom_WebHOLOLENS. HoloLens is an augmented reality headset in the form of glasses. Among the things it can do…use your eye as a mouse.  This device is very intriguing and nothing I write here will convey that, so…I will point you to Youtube and to Engadget, where they had some hands on with the device and a nice write up too boot.

 

OFFICE

Win10_Windows_Mail_PrintA new version of Office was briefly shown. Office for Windows 10 is a touch enabled version of the productivity suite.  It will be available for all Windows devices (not sure about XBOX) and will be consistent across them.  Outlook on Mobile will use the Word engine so you will be able to, finally, create really nice email messages on your phone.  The suite will be available for free on all device that are under 8 inches.  Pricing for the other devices was not revealed.

If  you want to play around with the new bits, you can enter the preview program and download Windows 10 for your computer today.  The mobile version is coming out in February of 2015.

Office 365: Worth it?

word2013Back when Microsoft announced that they were going to offer Office as a subscription, I put it down.  I was convinced that it was nothing more than a money grab and not worth the money.  Well, A reader of this blog, and someone I consider a friend even though we’ve never actually met, convinced me that it was worth the money.  After some further research and listening to several podcasts both praise and condemn the notion of annual Office payments, I decided to try it out.

There are several subscriptions available, each have a unique offering, for the home and business user.  The home subscriptions works on just one device and is about 7.95 a month.  I got the middle tier, a $99 a year subscription that gets you installs on five computers and five portable devices.  The business edition is higher cost and is aimed squarely at companies and we won’t discuss that here.

Now, the really good thing with Office 365 is that you can actually install it on any number of computers and devices, but only five of each are active at any time. You can deactivate it on a device and activate it on another.  That’s pretty handy, and if you use OneDrive, then being away from your computer suddenly becomes a moot point. Save your work to OneDrive and access it and Office from anywhere. Just deactivate one machine, then activate the one you are on, do your work, save to OneDrive and then deactivate.  Plus, you only install what you need. If you don’t want Powerpoint, don’t install it. Simple.

So, here at my house, I have it installed on my primary machine, my Son’s laptop and one other desktop. As the other computers already have Office 2007 or Office 2010, I’m going to leave them be. I did install it on my Asus tablet and have downloaded the three apps for the iPad. 

My only complaint, so far, is that my Live ID seems to have problems with the Office 365 login.  Not sure why, but every other login seems to return an error telling me that the ID has a problem. It never says what it is.

OK, I do have one more issue: on my tablet, some of the damn on screen widgets are too small. It isn’t very finger friendly under Windows…yet.  With Build 2014 coming up, I’m hoping that Microsoft will announce a ‘Modern UI’  version of the suite.

Office 365 is one of those odd things that, on the surface, seems like a bad deal, but it really is not.