Windows Mobile 10: It’s tough being a fan

About seven years ago, I got genuinely excited about a new consumer product.  That product had WP_20141110_009all kinds of promise: price, performance, looks, ease of use and the ability to be a small computer I could carry around with me to surf the web, read my mail, do some short writing stints and more. Oh, I could make and receive phone calls.  That device was the Palm Pre smartphone.

I laughed at people who waited in line, before a store even opened, for Apple products.  I thought it was absurd. Yet, there I was, with about 15 other good people, waiting in front of a Sprint store to get my Palm Pre.  I don’t recall how much I paid, but, at that point, I didn’t much care as it was not the seven hundred or so that the iPhone was then.

Oh boy, I got my phone and a haircut and rushed home to play with my new toy.  This thing was just spectacular.  Touch screen AND a keyboard (it was a slider phone that looked like big pebble) and was super easy to use.  And, its browser really worked…no more quasi browser like my Windows Mobile 5 powered Motorola Q.  The Pre was just great.  For about a year. That’s when the cheapness of the poorly designed plastic body came into play.  See, the hardware, while attractive, was a disaster.  The body had lots strain from the sliding and would eventually crack.  The battery did last long either. It would die and not even be turned on.  And so ended my love for the Pre, but not WebOS.  There has not been anything close until last year.CIMG0118

Lets roll back time a bit.  The aforementioned Moto Q ran Windows Mobile 5, a cramped and poor copy of desktop Windows. Frankly, it was an abomination.  The interface was pretty bad.  The included applications were awful and the support from third parties was not great. In short, Windows Mobile 5, and all versions before it, was just awful.  It’s only plus was the Windows Live application that, in many aspects, was similar to Google Now or Cortana. You could talk to it and it would, verbally as well as visually, answer you. I used it a lot in the last few months I used the Q.

myWin10PhoneFast forward a few years and Micorosoft is, once again, hawking a product called Windows Mobile for Phones.  This time, the operating system is just gorgeous. And functional.  It’s everything that a mobile operating system should be and more.  It is as good today as webOS was then.  And, it can be used as a desktop operating system as well, via a feature called Continuum. Indeed, on its own, installed in desktop hardware, it could work wonderfully with a keyboard and a mouse. 

Yet, it gets little love and Microsoft is to blame, mostly,  They do not promote it or its capabilities. They port its great features to iOS and Android and even save it for last when developing apps for mobile devices.  It is treated like a distant cousin.  But, that doesn’t mean it does not have fans or support. True, it has few of each, but they are there.  And, now, there are more and more hardware manufacturers jumping on board.  In addition to Microsoft, there are companies like Acer, HP, Asus, the former Sony brand turmyWin10Phone3ned company, VAIO, and a host of others.  The phones range from just OK to stellar.  Most are able to support Continuum (it requires a certain class of processor and 2gb of ram, minimum) and all run Windows 10. 

As a user and a fan, I often find it difficult to stay both when I see stories about its demise, when I see Microsoft putting it on the back burner for some lame iOS project or hear the CEO say in one sentence just how important it is while the next sentence he would, essentially, say it was not that important after all.  Indeed, it is difficult being a fan and staying enthusiastic about the platform. 

Windows Mobile 10, Windows 10 Mobile, or what ever they call it, has so much potential–more than its desktop companion, I think.  There’s no reason why Microsoft could not port Visual Studion to WM10.  With a mouse and keyboard attached (in Continuum) a developer could very easily develop on the phone.  This powerful OS has the potential to, provided the hardware supports it, completely replace your desktop.  Hell, the iPhone could if Apple pulled its head out of its ass.

WP_20150107_003So, yeah, I went from one doomed smartphone to another seemingly doomed platform.  Oh, in between I had an Android and an iPhone 4. Didn’t like them, hated the Android and, early on, liked the iPhone until i ‘upgraded’ to iOS 7…ugh, what a piece of crap that was.  But, I digress.

Even though I hated my Android phone, if I do get away from Windows Mobile, I think I would have to get a Samsung Galaxy whatever. They are beautiful phones and Android is, finally, getting useable. Some of the siliness is gone, but the fracturing is still there.  So, why not iPhone? Well, it’s Apple and that means there are lots of costs.  The hardware is very nice and iOS 9 looks great. My son has a 6 and loves it.  I’ve played with it and it is far and away better than the version I had.  But, it is still Apple and that means you are married to them and that is one marriage I do not care to join.WP_20141110_018

So, how long do I have with my favorite mobile operating system? Well, until Microsoft says they won’t support it or they dump the business they paid billions for, a few short years ago.  I am pining for the Lumia 950, but that Acer Jade Primo looks awfully nice too.  The VAIO looks good as well.  So, there are a few non-Microsoft phones that I would buy, but…I’d rather get a 950. Unfortunately, I have, yet again, picked the wrong carrier (Verizon, which hates Microsoft) and still have about a year left on my bloody contract.  I’m hoping there is a more drool worthy phone out by then. Until then, I’ll continue along with my beat up ICON. It is still a great phone and works like a champ, running Windows Mobile 10. 

Did I mention I love Windows Mobile 10? Oh, right. 

iOS 7 on older hardware: you should wait

I upgraded my 8gb iPhone 4 to iOS 7 when it released.  In the few days since the upgrade, however, I have experienced some anomolies with the upgrade. First off, it seems the NASCAR app is not compatible as it locked up the phone. I had to reset it to use it again.  While this may not be an issue for you, bear in mind that there will be apps that may not work or work well with iOS 7.

Next, while trying to setup one of the gestures, the OS started ‘scanning’ the screen, presenting options at each widget. The screen then became unresponsive.  After holding down the power and home buttons, I was able to reset the phone. Unfortunately, the touchscreen became unresponsive after about ten to twenty seconds.  I decided to restore the phone, but, because I have ‘find my iPhone’ enabled, I was unable to reset it with out turning off that feature.  Now, will someone tell me why it is this way? Yeah, I suppose it is a security ‘feature’, but, if my phone becomes unresponsive, how the hell am I supposed to fix it? Go to an Apple store?

Anyway, after twenty or so minutes and repeated restarts, I was able to close a few apps and get the phone responsive again.  There has to be a better way.  This process was enough to make me want to pull a Scott Bourne and toss the phone into the river.

While some Apple supplied apps are a bit faster, overall, however, this upgrade is akin to running Windows Vista on a machine designed for Windows 2000 or early XP: you might get it to work, but it won’t be pretty. There are so many features in iOS 7 that simply do not work on this earlier device I have to wonder why they thought it was a good idea. 

I know there are millions of iPhone 4 devices out there and those owners would be ticked (I would, I know) but, sometimes, things are better off left alone, like iPhone 4.  I am glad that Apple finally put it to rest, they should do that to the 4S as well.

This experience has, more than anything else, made me want to ditch the iPhone altogether now. I won’t go back to Android, that’s for sure.  I had given a fleeting thought to a Blackberry Z10, but, with their recent news and woe, I want a Windows Phone even more now.

Desire aside, other issues with the upgrade, for me, include confusing settings, the control center-which does not always popup- and animations that are just in the way.

If you have an older iPhone, a 4 or 4S, you may wish to wait for the inevitable ‘point’ release, which, I am sure, will be soon.  If you simply must upgrade, do so with caution. Make sure you back up first. And, good luck!a

Using your smartphone as a Windows or Mac secondary display: iDisplay

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about ways to use your old smartphone once you got a new one.  A reader asked that I expand on this post, so I am.

idisplay4One of my suggestions was to use it as a secondary display.  There are several apps out that will do this, for the iPhone/iPad and for Android.  The one I am writing about today is for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch.

Called iDisplay, this little gem does a terrific job at adding a second display to your Windows or Mac PC (because, you know, the Mac IS a PC.)

There are two parts to the setup: the iDisplay app for the phone and the desktop app that streams to the phone.  Installing on the phone is as easy as going to the App Store, searching for iDisplay, purchasing (it is .99) and downloading. Then, go to the iDisplay web site and download the appropriate desktop app and install that.  Please Note: it is also available on Android via the Google Play Store, but I am focusing on the iOS version here.

idisplay1Once running, the desktop server uses Bonjour and Wi-Fi to talk to the phone.  In Windows, it acts as a driver, allowing full video and audio as well as adding touch to a non-touch computer.  On my Windows 8 desktop that does not have touch, using this app on my iPhone adds touch.  And, works very, very well.

On my desktop, I let it use the default, which is to extend my display to the second device. The cool thing is that in the Windows 8 desktop, I get the full experience, task bar and right click action all work.  Apps that were running already, will remain on the primary display, apps that you start from the phone will display on the phone. I have to admit, I rather like seeing Windows on my iPhone.

idisplay3Among the features in the phone app are: gestures, integrated on screen keyboard, audio playback, touch, full interaction with your desktop.  From my desktop, I could even watch a video that was streaming from the desktop with relatively high frame rate. Of course, that will depend on your Wi-Fi network and how busy it is.  Also, the phone app works great with Windows 8 Start Page.  So far, it all seems to work nicely. One really nice feature is that the phone app can show you a list of currently running apps on the main display and allow you to move them to the secondary display, pretty nifty and useful. And for an application that has multiple windows or instances, you can select which one to view.

idisplay5I tried running the server app from my VivoTab Smart tablet running Windows 8.1 preview. It works, but only to a point.  I think it is a problem with the video driver and the Atom processor. It is slow and the only mode supported is mirror of the desktop, not very useful. And, really, for a tablet, you won’t need a second screen, but I had to try anyway.

Now, even though this app works very, very well, there are a couple of drawbacks.  One, it does put a load on your Wi-Fi network, so keep that in mind; two, using the Windows Desktop on an iPhone screen is a laborious task. The ‘chrome’, so to speak, is just too small. I had a difficult time closing windows or tapping on the address box to enter a URL. Now, you can zoom, which helps, but using full screen is pretty tough.  Using the extended mode on the phone app allows this.

Overall, I think this is a very well and highly useful application.  Not only is it a secondary display, but it also acts as a remote desktop as well.  Well worth the purchase price.

UPDATE:

I downloaded the Android version to my Kindle Fire. While I am still evaluating it, it looks just as good as the iOS version. Since the Kindle Fire is somewhat bigger than the iPhone, it is much easier to use Windows on the this device. It also works better with the system mouse. In addition, you can use USB to connect your Android device to the PC (or, presumably, your Mac.)  I have a Mac Mini, so I think I may try that as well. How about full Mac OS X on your Android or iPad?

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?

Siri alternatives: Google Now, Evi and Vlingo. Which is best?

Since I got my company issued iPhone 5, I’ve had the opportunity to play around with Siri, the voice search application that began with the iPhone 4s.  I’ve had mixed results with it and, generally, do not use it. However, that does not mean I don’t like the idea. Far from it, I do.  It’s just that the Siri implementation is, well, sorely lacking. And, for some reason, I can find out the meaning of life yet cannot get results for NASCAR.

Bias aside, I can blame some of the poor results on Apple’s algorithm. Some of the witty results are from Wolfram Alpha while some, I am sure, are from Apple itself. (Ask it who let the dogs out…go on, I dare you.)

Since my personal phone is an iPhone 4, I do not have Siri. Neither does my first gen iPad.  However, all is not lost. See, there are a few apps that do some or all of what Siri does and more.

I have tried out three alternatives and my results are below.  Each one of the apps are free but there are paid ones as well. I have not tried them.

GoogleNowGoogle Now

Google Now is the most complete of the three apps I tried. It has the power of Google search behind it and, in my opinion, is more responsive than even Siri. Google Now also works on PC’s and Macintosh. Google Now also gives you access to Google goggles and a host of Google apps. But, how useful is it?  In a word: VERY.

I am not a huge fan of Google, in fact, I use Bing as my primary search engine but Microsoft does not have something like Google Now (it did, way back in the Windows Mobile 5 days with Live Search. That was pretty good, for 2006.) That said, I think Google not only did a good job with Now, I find it better than Siri in so many ways. It returns better search results, does not give as many smart assed answers (though some of them that Siri gives are funny) and it knows about NASCAR.

eviEvi

Admittedly, I did not try this one as extensively as the others. In a word, it’s confusing. However, it did come closest to Siri, even using Siri’s voice(!). However, it failed to discern Erie, Pennsylvania from Gary or Yearly when I asked for the distance between that location and Mechanicsville, Virginia. Some results it spoke, most it just returned a web page. This was my least favorite of the three. It had far too many options as well and was the worst of the three in picking up my voice.  To be fair, however, I tried it on the iPhone 5 and Siri seems to misunderstand quite a lot as well, so maybe it is either the microphone on the 5 or neither like my voice. Evi also seems to be iPhone ready as it fills the screen completely.

VlingoVlingo

Vlingo is interesting in that it has hooks into email, sms, maps and your social nets as well as search. It really does create an email with the to, subject and body all filled in. It really does create an SMS message and will post to Twitter or Facebook. The problem, though, is that you have to use specific words (which makes sense) and it must understand what you want. Here’s where it seemed to have problems. For me, it mostly understood me, it just did not do what I wanted. And, when it did, you still have finish the task by tapping an onscreen button.  Why can’t you just say ‘Vlingo, send’ or ‘Vlingo, done’? I like what they are trying to do, they just need to go a wee bit further. Oh, one additional gripe: you must tap the screen when you are done speaking. It was the only app to require this. I suppose it is so the apps knows when you are dictating, but it makes little sense.

Of the three (and Siri,) I prefer Google Now. Vlingo, when the bugs are worked out, will be a strong contender, but, for now, Google wins.

All three apps are in the App Store, work on iPhone 4 and up and are free.

EDIT: I neglected to mention that Google Now and Evi are also available on Android and gives Android users a Siri like experience. Evi is currently in Beta. Vlingo is also availble on Blackberry and Windows Mobile (no mention of Windows Phone, though.)

iPhone: My mini-micro review

iphone4Our move to Apple’s iPhone is complete. My phone arrived and activating it was not horrible, but I still had to call Sprint as the online activation refused to complete the process for me.

So, how’s the phone?

Well, simply, it is a very impressive piece of gear.  It feels solid, not too light, not too heavy. The ‘retina’ display is superb and performance is snappy. Plus, it just looks nice.  While I don’t think it is the most beautiful phone out there, it sure is nice looking.

iOS 6 Upgrade

My phone came with iOS 6 already installed (the other two we got had to be upgraded) which was a pleasant surprise and cut about an hour off of setting it up.  iOS 6 feels very responsive, more than my HTC Android phone and the iPad as well. 

Setup

Setup was pretty easy.  Once activated, I connected the phone to iTunes and I was able to install the iPhone compatible apps that I had on the iPad. I was surprised at how many there were.  The ones I really wanted were OneNote, EverNote, Netflix and Angry Birds. The other thing I was concerned about were my contacts. However, thanks to Google, that was a non-issue. I setup my GMail account in mail and the Comcast mail account as well. My contacts synced with no problem, though I see there is some cleanup as there are a ton of dupes.

Use

Using the phone was fairly intuitive and pretty easy to use.  Making a call was much more pleasant than on my Android and the sound quality is excellent.  I find the spearker phone option especially nice as you can hear easily and the receiver can understand you. A nice change from our previous phones. Since I already have an iPad, I pretty knew what to do, but if I were totally new to iOS, I think I might have a problem with some of aspects, like the god-awful Settings app. While I understand the desire to put all options in one place, I find it difficult to navigate that app. The networking options are the worst, buried way too deep. But, these do not detract from the overall experience and, once set, there should be little reason to change them. Perhaps my favorite new feature, and one that is easy to use is Facetime. While Facetime on the iPhone 4 does not work over the cell network, it will work when connected to WiFi. (Which brings up a complaint: no where on the screen does it say this feature does not work on the iPhone 4 over cellular. Apple should notate this.)

iTunes

Why hasn’t Apple dumped this turkey yet? iTunes is bloated, broken, slow and crashes. A lot. Yet, we are still forced to tether our devices to this behemoth to accomplish certain things. On my Windows 7 computer, it also looks terribly out of date and I can only imagine that getting worse on Windows 8.

Summary

Overall, I am impressed with the phone and the build quality is just superb. I’m sure, as time goes on, I will find things I don’t like but, for now, I find myself really liking this phone. And, that, my friends, is something I had not expected. Afterall, I’m a Windows/Microsoft guy. I guess it might be time to finally retire my Zune.

Goodbye, Android and good riddence…hello, iPhone!

285389-htc-evo-shift-4g-sprintI am about to end my year and change flirtation with Android.  It has been an exercise in futility. While there are a few things I like about it, the multitude of apps and the openness of it, I cannot say that I will miss it. So, what am I replacing my HTC phone with?

Well, I really wanted a Windows 8 phone. However, since I have Sprint, my chances of getting one are nearly zero. So far, Sprint has stated that they have no plans to carry such a phone in the near future.  Joe Belfiore, of the Windows Phone group in Microsoft, stated last week (via Twitter) that they have no idea what other carriers are going to carry the phones until they are announced. Seriously? I have a hard time believing that…he IS the face of Windows Phone.

So, what will it be?

Sadly, not Windows Phone. The next best thing, however, is an iPhone. So, I am eating my anti-iphone4Apple words and getting myself an iPhone 4. Why? Well, the ecosystem is established, the price is right ($0) and my son and wife have one, so I may as well get one so we can Facetime.  Hopefully, this foray into Apple’s world will be short.  I’m not willing to switch carriers just to get a Windows powered phone. Maybe, just maybe, next year Sprint will have seen the error of its ways and carry the damned things.  It will be just my luck, however, that they announce next month. 

Why can’t I wait, you ask? Well, FRUSTRATION. Frustration with Android. Every time I want to install something, I have to first: clear the internet cache, erase my Facebook data and clear the cache and then hunt for anything else to erase or clear because the damn memory management in Android stinks. I don’t know why it does not do a better job, but it does not.  Next, the shell. I cannot find a decent, reliable and fast launcher shell. The GO! Launcher was the closest thing I had found, but the themes were just terrible and GO! by itself was butt ugly. Plus, the GO! Locker has a HUGE bug: while the phone is ‘locked’, you can press the volume up and down buttons a few times and return back to the launch screen without entering a code.  Real secure there.  Lastly, speed. Android is DOG SLOW. Period. Performance is sub par to even my old Palm Pre.  Android, may you rot in hell.

iPhone 4, while not perfect, does seem pretty responsive.  Safari, while not the best browser around, is really fast compared to that junk in Android. Admittedly, Firefox on Android performs a bit better, but not by much.  The ecosystem for iPhone is top notch…but, as with Android, there is a LOT of crapware in there.  For every one decent app, there must be 20 terrible apps. It is worse with Android: it is more like 1 and 40.  Terrible. 

Android is not complete crap, though. Since it is Google, it did keep my calendar and contacts in the ‘cloud’ as well as the machine. That will make it easy to transfer them to my new phone. Thanks, Google!

My HTC EVO Shift 4G, hardware wise, was not an awful phone, it just wasn’t a good phone. The only time I really enjoyed it was when I was able to get 4G, which was almost never. I won’t miss that.

So, I am still not an Apple fan and feel really hypocritical for ordering the iPhone, I just don’t feel that there was a decent alternative. I think Windows Phone 8 COULD be that phone, but Microsoft has done little to promote it, sell it to carriers (other than AT&T, which has most of the new phones) or convince developers to code for the OS.  By withholding the SDK, they have not given devs enough time to get product coded, tested and released. What the hell are you thinking, Microsoft? The shroud of secrecy does not work for you.

So, I wait for my new phone to be delivered. Once I have it and have used it for a few days, I’ll post up a review. Yeah, it’s a two year old phone, but it is still relevant since it is now the low end phone for Apple.