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.

The weird tale of WebOS: from Palm to LG, a strange journey indeed

pre_05Introduced in 2009 by Palm, webOS (as it was then) was new, unique, fresh and, dare I say, ‘cool’? The mobile operating system was going to be the answer to Palm’s dire situation: Smartphones, headed by Apple’s iPhone, were all the rage. Sales of dedicated devices fell off the face of the earth and everyone, seemingly, wanted a smartphone, preferably the iPhone.  Companies scrambled to introduce a new phone.  Apple, Google, Microsoft, Blackberry and Palm all had phones out. Palm’s success with the Centro was waning.  Sales of its stand alone PDA devices were non-existent and things were beginning to look grim.

At some point, in 2008, they began work on webOS.  At its core was an embedded Linux kernel.  It’s user interface layer, however, was radically different.  It and other parts of the OS were built with web development technologies such as javascript, HTML 5, CSS and xml.  There were API’s written native to the hardware, but most of the OS was done with these web technologies. This was meant to keep it simple.  Palm introduced a clever and nice looking device to run the new operating system: the Palm Pre.  The Pre looked like a smoothPalmPixi pebble, something you could easily jump across water.  It was elegant.  It was also flawed.

The phone was released in July of 2009 on the Sprint network.  Some say that was it’s death knell and, I’d say that was close to spot on.  Sprint, already in dire straits itself, did little to support the phone.  They did not have the iPhone, so one would think they would have supported it better, but, they did not. With in the year, the Pre was available on AT&T and Verizon. The Pre 2 and Palm Pixi were released, but, by now, Palm was in trouble.

A seeming white knight came hopping along in the guise of HP. HP, run by Mark Hurd at the time, was going to do a lot with the Palm division.  A tablet was going to come out, webOS was going to be put into everything from Printers to PC’s and phones.  PC’s would dual boot webOS and Windows 7.  Things looked great.  For a very short time, that is.

Mark Hurd was ousted in a controversy of his own doing. Leo Apothekar was brought in and he immediately made a terrible decision:  He came from the services industry and decided that HP should be one too.  He was going to split HP’s hardware out, kill Palm and the PC division would be sold.  Gone, almost as soon as it came out, was the HP Palm Slate. The tablet ran webOS 3.0 and was fantastic.  When the cancellation was announced, fire sales ensued.  The price went from well over $300 to $99.  Sales were so brisk, that HP decided to do a second production run-using the parts left over from the first-and those sold out as well.  And, with that, the Palm company was dead.  So were the grandiose ideas for webOS.

Along the way, however, Apothekar was ousted and Meg Whitman came in to save HP. She announced that while Palm as hardware was no more, the webOS would continue.  Weeks later, she announced that HP would open source the Operating System and, possibly, use it as well.

weboswatchIn 2013, it was announced that LG (Lucky Goldstar for all of you who remember Goldstar from the 80’s) would purchase the IP and source to the operating system from HP.  LG wanted to use the OS in its televisions, which they have done.  In 2015, LG showed off a SmartWatch that uses a flavor of WebOS (as it is now spelled) as the core os for its new wearables.  This watch is, in effect, a phone. So, WebOS has come full circle: from phone, to tablet, to television to watch/phone.  The odd tale of the operating system that refuses to die is just getting good.

Stay tuned, I’m sure more weird things will happen.

Windows Phone 8: A superior mobile operating system

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

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

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

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

THE INTERFACE

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

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

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

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

APPS

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

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

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

PERFORMANCE

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

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

ISSUES

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

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

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

SUMMARY

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

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

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?