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.

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IFA 2015: ACER and Windows Mobile Phone 10

It seems the death knell for Windows Phone/Mobile has yet to fall.  Indeed, At the IFA2015 conference in Berlin, Germany, Acer announced not one, not two but three Windows Mobile 10 phones. Two are aimed at low to mid range markets while the third is a high end phone called Jade Primo.

acer-jade-primo-docThe Jade Primo sports a 5.5 AMOLED screen, Snapdragon 808 processor, 21megapixel rear camera, 8megapixel front camera, and other high end features. 

So what, you say?

Well, this phone also is capable of Contiuum, the Windows feature that turns the phone into a desktop computer. 

Yes, that’s right, a desktop computer.

Think about that.

Yes, I know, Motorola tried and failed with the Atrix. Those laptop docks are now used, by many, for keyboard and displays for the Raspberry Pi.

So, the Jade Primo can be used as a computer, but, how?  Simple. It ships with a dock, keyboard and mouse.  Plug the phone into the dock and a monitor into the dock and, viola! Instant computer.

The way it works is that the monitor displays something akin to a desktop, with a start button.  The phone’s screen is used separately from the monitor.  The phone can run the Universal apps, so Office Mobile runs, and a whole host of universal apps, all at full resolution, full screen on the monitor.  The mouse and keyboard work just as they would on a ‘real’ computer.  Imagine, just carrying the phone and the small dock and no laptop or even a tablet.  There are a ton of possibilities here, and, since it is Windows, I don’t think it will suffer the same fate as the Atrix—which, in itself, was a worthy effort from Motorola, perhaps a bit ahead of its time.

Of course, Microsoft has yet to present at IFA, so there’s no telling what they will introduce. Rumor is that they are also bringing out Continuum enabled phones, but we will see..

Other companies announcing Windows Mobile devices include Asus and Xiaomi.

Windows 10 and Privacy: what you need to know

Much has been said about the privacy – or, rather, lack of – in Windows 10. Well, don’t worry about it, it is much ado about nothing.  Most of what’s been written is FUD or a poor understanding of what you can do in Windows 10. 

There are a couple of features in Windows 10 that seem to be causing the confusion: Cortana’s ‘learning’ you and WiFi Sense.

First, Cortana.

This just amazes me.  People can accept Siri on an iPad or iPhone and think nothing of it.  Same for Google Now. Yet, put Cortana on the desktop and people freak out. Doesn’t make sense: Cortana is doing the same thing that Siri and Google Now do. It sits there, learning what you browse, remembers what you search and gets to ‘know’ you.  What do you think Siri does? Heck, going to Google.com for your searches is just as intrusive. Use gmail? Well, guess what…Google reads your messages, looking for keywords to serve up more ads.  Oh, and it is looking for things that might trigger legal action too.  Just ask the guy who got nailed for pornographic pictures in his mail.

Never fear, though…you can turn off Cortana if you are still reluctant to use the feature. Goto Settings, Privacy and tap/click Speech, inking and typing.  Here, you can click/tap ‘Stop getting to know me’ and that will stop Cortana from learning and monitoring what you do.  While in the Privacy settings, you might want to turn off the following: Camera, Location, Microphone and everything in General. You will, of course, kill most of the functionality of many applications, but you will protect the little bit of privacy you may have left.

Yes, I am being sarcastic.  Turning off most of the features I mention will render things like Bing search, Google search and even maps, useless. 

Now, that doesn’t mean that EVERYTHING is OK.  On a desktop, with no touchscreen, there is no need to let Microsoft know how you write, so you can turn off that feature in Privacy->General. Also, you should turn off that bloody ‘Advertising ID’.  Finally, click the ‘Manage my Microsoft advertising and other personalization info’ link and change those settings accordingly. Want personalized ads? then don’t do anything, but, if you don’t want ads about panty hose showing up your Facebook timeline because your wife searched for them, then turn this off.

WiFi Sense

WiFi Sense is a feature that debuted with Windows Phone 8.1.  It does a lot, but nothing very scary.  If on, it will fill in, with bogus stuff, those nag screens in public wifi hot spots. It can ‘click’ the I agree buttons on those pages.  It maintains a list of hot spots and can map them for you.

More importantly, however, it allows you to give friends access to your home network with out giving them the password.  They MUST be using Windows devices for it to work, it will NOT work with, say, an iPhone.  And, it does not ‘give’ anyone your password. Once they leave, their device no longer ‘knows’ about your network.

Still worried?

Go through the settings application.  You will want to look through the privacy settings. Many are on by default, some are off, like Cortana. You do not have to let it even start collecting your data.  Simply reply ‘no’ when asked. You are asked the first time you search for something in Windows.

Wifi Sense can be turned off and you will still be able to use hotspots, but will have to give your friends your password.  It is YOUR decision.

Windows 10 is no more a privacy problem for you than anything else and, at least, you can control how much or how little privacy you keep.  Unlike with Google.

Windows 10: One more recap

10-UpgradeWell, the waiting is nearly over.  The Windows 10 rollout has begun. Those who are ‘insiders’ will be getting the bits first, then a staggered roll out for everyone who ‘reserved’ their copy will begin to get the new OS.  Your computer, if you reserved, will let you know when the OS has been downloaded so you can then install it.

So, just what will you get? What new functionality is in there, you might ask.  Well, here’s a short wrap up.

Cortana

Cortana is a digital assistant for your computer.  Cortana will search the web and your computer to give you the information you need, find that file or start an application.  You interact with Cortana in many different ways including keyboard, speech, the EDGE browser and other ways.  Cortana will learn how you use your computer and become more efficient and give you answers accordingly. And, since you use more than your computer, say a tablet or smartphone, Cortana is there. Available on iOS, Android and Windows Mobile/Phone, Cortana is there when you need it.

EDGE Browser

Replacing Internet Explorer, EDGE gives you a better browsing experience.  Faster rendering, more accurate rendering and the fastest Javascript processor yet.  EDGE is more minimalist and, therefore, easier to use.

 

EDGE has a unique feature that lets the user markup the page. You can take notes and draw on the web page and then send it to Microsoft OneNote for later use and indexing.  This feature works best with a touchscreen device, but is also mouse and keyboard friendly.

Bundled Applications

3-MailThe bundled applications have been improved. The mail and calendar applications, especially, received welcomed changes that make them easy to use, nicer to look at and smoother operation.  Looking more like a consumer edition of Outlook, Mail and Calendar play nice with not only Exchange, but GMAIL and other third party mail and calendar services. This is not your Dad’s Outlook.7-Photos (1)

Photos application now includes support for importing photos from your phone, has the same editing features that were nice in the Windows 8 version of this application AND have more intuitive OneDrive integration.

Start

8-StartThe Start menu looks familiar to both fans of Windows 7 and Windows 8. It retains the live tiles of Windows 8, arguably the best feature of Windows 8 AND the Windows 7 menu.  If you like 7, you’ll love this, ditto for Windows 8 fans. The Start menu can go full screen for those who like the Start Page from 8/8.1 Or it can reduce to almost nothing if you despise it.  However, in the default configuration, I think everyone will like them. Live tiles present information (if coded) that often precludes the need to open the application all the time. 

For a more in depth look at the operating system, click here to download the Quick Guide from Microsoft.

Windows 10, good and bad and on the way

Microsoft is in the home stretch with Windows 10 for PC.  Releasing TWO builds in two days, they are proving that they are agile, listening and, above all, making sure this thing works—it HAS to.  Overall, the latest builds have been great and are usable for daily work.  The latest build, 10159, also includes the Edge branded browser, new wallpaper and tweaks everywhere.  10158 fixed a whole raft of issue that I had (like the Start Menu not displaying, pretty big since it is now the only way to launch applications easily) and made it much more usable.  The little changes, like fonts, color changes, icons, responsiveness and stability have all added up to a product that is really close to ‘done’. 

The avenue, however, that they—still—have a problem is consistency.  They have come a long way, but, sadly, still have a long way to go.  They still have an ugly mess of old style dialogs intermixed with the newer metro style. 

For example, ‘Desktop Icon Settings’ is STILL the old Windows 95 style!  Twenty years have passed and they still are using the SAME dialogs.  Yes, they tweaked it, but it is, essentially, the same.Windows 10 159 build inconsistency 1

Most of the personalization stuff is still in the old dialogs with some redundant settings in the metro style.

One other problem they have, and I’ve seen no real change, is the stubbornness of the Windows Update mechanism.  I have a couple of drivers that I really do NOT want updated. Windows INSISTS on updating them.  One is Arduino related and I really want the Windows 7 driver to be left alone. It works and does not degrade my PC’s performance where the Windows 8 driver does.  The other driver, likely, will be updated for Windows 10, but, for now, the IDT audio driver for Windows 7 works much better under Windows 10 than the Windows 8.1 driver.  But, in the interim, Update, leave em alone!  And, speaking of update, I hope the finished Windows update just works and doesn’t gum up peoples machines. It is the number one complaint I hear. I rarely have any issues (other than the aforementioned driver updates) with it, but others do. PLEASE, Microsoft, get this right.

Now, a few things I do like…

The over all look and feel is nice.  It blends the best of Windows 8 and Windows Vista. Yes, VIsta.  Vista was a great looking operating system and so was Windows 8 (not 8.1, 8) but both were maligned for some reason … I can’t think of any at the moment.  (wink, wink)

I like the integration with Windows Mobile 10, Cortana, One Drive and the support for competing technologies.  Microsoft has realized that they are no longer the top of the heap.

The Edge browser. This thing is hot.  While it is still a bit unstable, there is no doubt that it screams along.  Pages pop up and, for the most, render as they are supposed to.  I’ve seen a few weird things, but I suspect it was to support IE and that Edge rendered it as other browsers would have done.

Windows 10 will be released to everyone on July 29, 2015.  Most people should be eligible for a free upgrade. Go to Microsoft.com to see if you qualify.

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.

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.