Is Verizon getting a new Lumia phone?

12647246_962624217140667_8348549796545464349_nRecently, my Lumia Icon has been giving me some heartache. It’s been dropped several times and now has a chip in the glass, a long crack across the Nokia logo and the glass is starting to separate from the metal body.  So, I am going to have to replace it soon.  Problem is, I am on Verizon and I want another Icon like phone, running Windows Mobile 10. Something like the Lumia 950.

Well, last year, very publicly, Microsoft and Verizon seemed to have gone their separate ways.  Icon was dropped as an option and, it seemed that my choices required me to jump to AT and T.  They seem to get all of the ‘good’ phones anyway.

No, I do not want an iPhone.

No, I do not want an Android phone.

I want a Windows Mobile 10 phone.  Yes, I know it is a sinking ship, and I’ll go down with it, but, for now, that is what I want.  Not that Microsoft makes it easy to stay on that sinking hulk. No, they seem to go out of their way to make you want to jump overboard.

Not me.

Not yet.

So, frustration kicked in a few days ago and I’ve gone back and forth with Verizon over Twitter.  Up until today, all I got were comments like this:

Verizon Wireless CS@VZWSupport 12h12 hours ago

@geogray We certainly want you to have a device that you can enjoy. Here are more details regarding Windows OS http://vz.to/1Sfi3wF .

And that link takes you to the Verizon page with ALL TWO of the Windows phones they currently carry.  An LG Lancet and the Lumia 735. Neither phone is as good as the Icon and both are a year old or older. No thanks. 

However, to my surprise, the person followed that tweet with:

Verizon Wireless CS@VZWSupport 7h7 hours ago

@geogray I’m sorry to hear your equipment expectations hasn’t been met. Please keep stay tuned, new Lumia devices will launch soon.

I’m thinking, what!? So I ask:

geogray@geogray 7h7 hours ago

@VZWSupport Verizon is going to have NEW phones like the 950? Running Windows Mobile 10?

And the reply:

Verizon Wireless CS@VZWSupport 6h6 hours ago

@geogray Yes, we are planning to expand our Windows Mobile 10 device line up. The 950 was last year’s model. No date yet for our next.

So, maybe there is hope for Verizon users who want a great phone running Windows Mobile 10.

I am still skeptical, and my contract is not for a few more months, so, hopefully, my Icon will hold up and Big Red does, in fact, get a great Windows Mobile 10 phone.

Now, to their credit, they have been attentive to my coverage issue, but I do not know that they can really do anything about it.

Windows 9…make that 10…

Tech-Preview_Start-menuMicrosoft, today, introduced Windows 10, the successor to Windows 8.x, Windows Phone 8.x and Windows RT.  While today’s presentation was aimed solely at the Enterprise, there were nuggets for everyone else as well, especially those who did not like the current version (and probably did not even bother to try it) and its Start Page and tiles.

Indeed, todays presentation showed off changes for the desktop and how Windows will handle the variety of devices.  This means figuring out what it is running on and, in the case of tablet/laptop hybrids.  If it detects a touch screen, it will default to the Windows 8 style with the Start Page, touch centricity and tiles.  If it detects a mouse and keyboard, it defaults to the desktop and the keyboard/mouse centricity.  It is something called Continuum and looks rather nice.

The desktop receives a welcome upgrade in the inclusion of the Start Menu with Tiles.  The Charms bar, still in the Technical Preview showed at the presentation, is accessible in much the same way. The task manager has a new button on the task bar and the ability to create, manage and use multiple desktops is built in. The feature resembles similar features found in Linux and Mac OS X.Tech-Preview_Task-view-500x281

Even the Command window got updated: copy and paste now work IN the window, no need to use an inconvenient context menu.

Windows 8 Style apps can now run in windows right on the desktop, which, for some, increases their usefulness.  The Start Menu is both old and new and incorporates a pared down Start Page. Part of it is the old style menu, the other half is the pared down start page.  A nice compromise.

Another interesting thing Microsoft has done is enhance the Windows 7 Snap feature. Previously, you could drag a window to the right side and snap it in place and then drag another to the left and snap it. Now, from the new task list, you snap up to four windows, certainly something a power user or developer will welcome.Tech-Preview_Three-program-snap-and-suggestions-500x281

Terry Myerson and Joe Belfiore stuck around for questions after the presentation. Among the questions asked was what this does to Windows RT and Windows Phone. The answer was that Windows 10 would be available to the majority of devices running Windows. Previously, they had said it would, in fact, run on ARM based devices…which includes Windows RT tablets. Now, recently, it was revealed that the majority of Tablets are, in fact, RT. So, I cannot imagine that this segment will get ignored. Windows Phone will be replaced with Windows 10, something we already knew.

All in all, the new version looks promising and you can get your hands on a very early build, starting Wednesday, October 1, 2014.  Go to http://preview.windows.com/ to download the ISO file.

Windows Phone 8.1: Worthy update

wp_ss_20140422_0002Windows Phone 8 was already a pretty decent mobile operating system, but the 8.1 update makes it more complete.  While no modern mobile OS is as good as webOS was, Windows Phone 8.1 comes awfully close and some nagging issues it had are gone.

After having used webOS for two years, I got really used to its nice way of managing running applications.  Bring up the card view, swipe left or right then swipe away the app you want closed. Easy. Apple ‘borrowed’ the notion for iOS 7 and made it work.  Microsoft, as is often their way, half assed it: they allowed you to swipe left and right to SEE the open apps, but you had to actually go back in the app and shut it down. Not hard, but not simple and not elegant. Well, they fixed it with a simple, if in-elegant way: hold down the back button, swipe left or right to the app and tap the big X in the circle. Effective, if ugly.

Fortunately, other things are much nicer.

Speed, for one.  The over experience seems a bit snappier, but it could also be that ‘new OS install’ factor. We will see, in a couple of months, if it persists.

The Start page is a bit more customizable. You can now have more tiles across the screen. The number will depend on size of the tiles and the screen. You can now use a custom background as well. Be careful here, some of the live tiles may become unreadable if the background contains the same color as the live tile text.

Storage Sense is a nice new feature that not only lets you know about much of your phone’s storage is being used, but it also allows for the installation of apps to an SD card-something that was not previously allowed.  You can also tell Windows Phone to store your downloads on the SD card as well.

Of course, the BIG new feature is Cortana. Cortana is the new personal assistant from Microsoft that is designed to act like Siri or the Google Android equivalent.  Cortana can not only answer questions, but can also do things like add a calendar entry, to do item, set up ‘quiet time’ in which it will answer email, texts, phone calls, etc. It stops the phone from making any noise and lets the calling entity know why.  I have not fully tested this, so I cannot verify it does what it claims, but, if it works as well as the rest of Cortana, then it should be fine. 

This is a worthy upgrade and one that really cleans and polishes some of Windows Phone’s dirtier corners.  It is not perfect, but none of the others are either (well, save for the aforementioned webOS. Have I mentioned how much I liked webOS?) and stills need a bit more refinement.  For example, while overall performance is better, it seems to stumble when reloading the Start page. Some times it comes right up, other times…not at all or very, very slowly.  To be fair, I am running the developer preview, which is supposed to be the shipping bit but without any carrier or phone optimization, which means there are no device specific drivers or other such things to make the overall experience optimal for the device. It also speaks volumes for the work that Microsoft has done: the developer preview will work on ANY Windows Phone 8 device. As is.  That says a lot right there.

** If you wish to take the plunge now and not wait for the official release, you can go here to get instructions on how to update your Windows Phone 8 device to 8.1. NOTE: it is a one way ticket, you cannot revert back to Windows Phone 8 and you WILL lose carrier support (not service) until the ‘official’ release is out. This means, if you upgrade to the dev release and then have a problem using your device, your carrier will not assist you.  Now, if you want to continue…click the link. (The link takes you to Paul Thurrot’s WinSupersite. The article is dated, but the instructions still work.

Windows Phone 8 Update 3, what’s in there?

wp_ss_20140125_0005I’m not sure how long update 3 has been out, I just got it myself.  So, what’s in the update? Well, nothing earthshattering, but a few small but useful enhancements and bug fixes.

Perhaps the best enhancement is with the task manager. In the past, if you held down the back button, you saw a webOS like screen that contained thumbnail images of the running tasks. You could swipe left and right through them and tap one to open it up. The thing you could not do, however, was close them from this screen. Now, you can. Start task manager by holding down the back button. Swipe left or right to get to the task you wish to kill. A little ‘x’ in a circle will appear. Tap it and the app goes away.

Internet sharing or tethering, as it is also known, has been enabled in the operating system. Your carrier, however, must support it on your device.

Memory management has been enhanced. New categories have been added and you can more easily clear out temporary files and manage your device’s memory. Go here to see what you can do both from the device and your computer via the Windows Phone app.

Here’s a list of the changes:

· Accessibility. Several improvements for customers who are visually impaired.

· Storage. Easily free up storage space on your phone and manage temporary files. New categories show what’s taking up space.

· Driving Mode. Driving Mode allows you to minimize incoming calls and text messages to help you focus on the road.

· Screen. Lock your screen orientation so it doesn’t shift when you move your phone around.

· Wi-Fi. Connect to Wi-Fi during set up.

· Internet sharing. use your phone’s cellular data connection from your Microsoft Windows 8.1 device

· Bluetooth. Several fixes were made to address known issues, and improvements were made to connection quality for Bluetooth accessories.

· Ringtones. Assign ringtones for text messages, instant messages, emails, voicemail, and reminders.

· App switcher. Use the App switcher to quickly close apps when you’re finished with them.

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.

T-Mobile, you need to take a customer service lesson from Chik-Fil-A

My wife got me a Lumia 521 Windows 8 Phone for my birthday. It’s a very nice device for the money. It is bigger than the iPhone 4/4s and much speedier too.  The Windows 8 interface is easy to use and looks nice too.  The phone, a prepaid device on T-Mobile, is likely to replace my aging and very slow iPhone 4. We are currently on the Sprint network and have abysmal service. As it is our ONLY phone service, I am anxious to replace it.  I was hoping that T-Mobile would be my answer. So far, however, I have not been able to find out.

We got the phone just before Christmas, 2013. It is now late January and I’ve still not been able to use the phone as, you know, a PHONE. It has been terrific as a WiFi only device, a 4.3 inch tablet. Windows Phone 8 works terrific is this regard.

So, what’s the problem? Well, initially, I could not activate the phone and its included SIM card. Now, this is my first exposure to SIM cards as Sprint does not use them.

I try to activate the phone and prepay for the service. I still have months left on my Sprint contract, so I thought the prepay route would be a great way to test the waters with another carrier.  Upon trying to activate, the web page tells me that there is a problem with the SIM card and that the phone’s IMEI is not valid. So, I call the number provided.

Now, before I go on, let me say that I have nothing against anyone who cannot speak my language very well (hell, I have issues myself) but…if you are going to be in a CALL CENTER answering calls in ENGLISH, then you should damn well know how to speak it and do so that the caller doesn’t have to ask you to repeat yourself time and time again.

When the phone call was answered, it was obvious that I was dealing with someone not in the United States. The person spoke so poorly that I was continuously having to ask him to repeat himself. It was embarrassing for both of us.  I’m sure the gentleman was doing his best, but he did not belong in this particular job.

After a very painful 20 minute or so call, he informs me that I would have to take the device to the store where I got it.  Well, it was ordered online, from Best Buy during one of its sales.

I finally got around to going to a Best Buy store to have the issue resolved. A very nice lady, Shannon, tried, desparately, to get my phone working. And, she got farther than I did.

I explained what happened and she got another SIM card.  She then calls T-Mobile and had a similar experience to mine. They did, however, get the phone activated AND the SIM card setup. Now, mind you, the call center person got the serial number to the new SIM card and assured Shannon that it was the correct card. BUT…

(You just KNEW there was a but, right?)

…the bloody card was too damn big. There are, apparently, many different sized SIM cards and Best Buy only carries the standard size in the stores.  WHAT?

So, Shannon calls the nearest T-Mobile store to see if they would swap out my defective SIM for a new one and activate it.  They said sure, for $21.  WHAT?

Yep, they want to charge $21 to swap out a defective card that T-Mobile gave me in the first place! Mind you, the defective SIM was IN THE BOX, FROM T-MOBILE.

I see why they are a distant fourth in the cell business. AT&T may have been smart to not buy them.

Shannon then proceeded to check around the local Best Buy stores to see if they had a micro SIM that I could get. They didn’t. She found out that Best Buy does carry them, but only online. She ordered me one. Should be in in about a week.  I’m OK with that.

I don’t blame Best Buy for this problem. The blame is squarely on T-Mobile. They packaged the phone and SIM card.  They should have taken care of it.  When I called them the first time. They should have just sent me a replacement card or, at the very least, had me go to one of their stores and pick one up, as an exchange. The didn’t do that.

Now, to be fair, I did take to Facebook and complained on the T-Mobile page.  I was instructed to go to the web site and make the complaint there. I did. I got a reply back, a day later, saying that they were ‘very sorry’ and that IF I had to pay for another card, they ‘would make it right’, implying-but not saying directly-that I would be refunded the amount.  Sorry, folks, that’s not good enough. I should NOT have to pay at all. This was their mistake, THEY should have made it right.  Best Buy went above what I expected of them. I only went there because I was told to take the phone back to where I got it.

Looking back, I think the guy meant to say to take it to a T-Mobile store, but that is not what he said.

I’m still willing to switch my family over to T-Mobile if the service (the radio service, that is) is more reliable and better than Sprint. I suspect it will be. Even though the phone was not usable as a phone, it still connected to T-Mobile and showed me both the speed and signal strength. I get solid 4G service where I live, which is important. Most places we go seem to get the solid, 4G service, so I am hopeful.

So far, though, I am far from impressed with T-Mobile.  They are worse than Sprint in the Customer Service arena so far, and that is saying something.  They could take a lesson or two in excellent customer service from Chik-Fil-A, a company that prides itself on excellent service.

I’ve been a Sprint customer for nearly 16 years now and have rarely ever gotten what I would call good service, customer service or cell service. I’ve stayed with them mainly for convenience. However, since moving three years ago, the cell service in this area is just abysmal.

So, I will know in a week or so if I like the actual T-Mobile service.  I will follow up this post with how it goes with the new SIM card.

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.