Windows phones announced

Earlier it was the fairly official announcement of Windows 7 and various new phones that will sport the new OS. Some of these new phones look quite tasty and in a bygone era, well not that very long ago actually, I’d have been very interested.

The least attractive looking to me is the Dell slab. That keyboard looks handy but at the same time looks a little bit too close to the bottom of the device and this may result in a cramped typing experience. Palm Pre anyone?

Not so sure about the surround sound on the HTC7  device either, can’t really see the point in that. It’s a nice idea I suppose in the sense that it is ground breaking but if you are going to be listening to music or a film then surely you would do so with your headphones in? Not sure when you would use it propped up like in the pics without headphones?

Still, it is good to see another competitor entering the fray and it can only benefit us all in the longer term. Not sure how well this “new’ platform will do though as the other major players have already established eco-systems in place, with many users who have already splashed out a heck of a lot, well I have anyway, on software.  Will these people be prepared to start out again and open their wallets again?

This OS may look super flashy and score very high on the eye-candy factor scale but it doesn’t multi-task and the UI may not be that customisable, according to reports. Some previous WM6 people may find these factors and limitations hard to stomach.

Nokia N8 almost out and about

Nokia always manages to make phones that look very enticing, well to me anyway. The E71 and E72 being great examples of smart looking devices, beautifully built and solid with that really feel good in the hand feeling. The rest of the product often fails to hit the mark bang on though but this may well change at last with the launch of the N8. Not only does this thing have really up to date specs, great screen (on paper) and a camera that will spank the bottom off every other smartphone in the market place but it looks good and arrives with Symbian 3 which, if we are to believe Nokia, will make the device a breeze to use with less hidden settings and a much more manageable UI with more uniformity than  their previous touch screened phones. Could be a goodie methinks.

Users of the N97 complained about the inconsistency of the UI and how it would vary between different applications, amongst other gripes. Hopefully the N8 launches as a device that is actually ready to be launched. I’d like Nokia to become important again in the smartphone area as at the moment it is being dominated by Apple and HTC with a bit of Samsung thrown in. Personally I still see RIM as more business orientated and don’t feel that their phones are really optimised for consumer/media/gaming based users which is where all the action currently is. The developers who seem to be making all the big cash on the Apple Store are those making good games, Android could well be the same and that is where the money is at the moment.This shows where people who buy apps priorities are based.

Shortly, we will be able to add in Microsoft too again when W7 phones start to appear. It could be the big dark horse here with that big button/finger friendly UI and if they get HTC on board again with a variety of phones styles (which HTC have not produced for Android to date) then there could be a great range of phones too. Remember how many new WM phones in different form factors used to appear from HTC, Samsung, Asus, Motorola and the likes? That variety seems to have dried up with Apple and Android as it is all slab styled.  I wonder if they will get the same level of 3rd party software developers onboard again as it wasn’t so very long ago that the biggest range of 3rd party titles was for Apple & WM phones.

Getting excited at TracyandMatt

I used to have a poke at this site for its heavy windows leanings and iffy “unboxing” videos, over the past year or so it has embraced Android and the iPhone,  probably more out of necessity as the Win Mo coverage has been forced to take a back seat, and indeed I tend to visit it on a daily basis.  It’s all quite unpretentious and civilised over there, a quiet and tranquil haven for smartphone fans who don’t want to mix it verbally, and all rather pleasant actually. Heck, I’ve even grown to quite enjoy the videos…..

Nonetheless, as the launch of Windows Phones 7 and all that approaches, I can sniff some of that pent up frustration being unleashed as they look forward to being able to discuss new devices and all things W7. This guy is getting quite excited anyway…..

On the subject of sites getting interested in Windows 7, Shaun has posted a video of a Samsung W7 phone in action. It doesn’t give much away except that it looks to have very good pinch and zoom capabilities, useful but hardly mission critical, as they say.  If the device is so good why does the guy in the video spend most of it pinching and zooming? Wouldn’t you want to have a good sniff around some apps that you might actually want to use?

I’m sure the whole thing will be very big on eye candy and be nice and simple to use, well, simple in comparison to previous Win Mo devices anyway but I’m not convinced it will offer anything that will be substantially better than Android or the iPhone iOS4. It may also suffer from the disadvantage of a lack of 3rd party software which in this day and age, when other platforms have had an app ecosystem in place for some time, may hold it back for a bit. Even if it turns out to be absolutely wonderful, I’ve invested so much in other platforms in terms of software and hardware that the thought of starting out afresh again does not appeal. I think the expression “can’t be arsed” sums it up.

Let’s be honest, the Zune and the Kin, Microsoft’s last two attempts at world domination in the mobile device market have not exactly proved successful.

Windows Mobile apps

I’ve got a stack of old Windows Mobile stuff, most of which had not been used for over a year. It’s been interesting to compare how some of the old stuff compares to some of the newer Windows apps I have tried out and also how they compare in general to their Android and iPhone counterparts. Looking at Twitter software first, there’s not really a heck of a lot of difference to be honest. I’ve been using Twikini for the last week or so and it is quite decent. I’ve chosen it ahead of others I tried such as MoTweet (didn’t like the interface) and Twiddle (?) which was clunky. A lot of WM software requires that you install that NetCompactFrame thingy which takes up nearly 7mb of space on a device, not so much of a problem for newer phones that have oddles of space but a more pressing concern for older devices….bottom line being I try and avoid software that needs it.

Twikini gives me and probably most other users the basic features they need for day to day “twittery”  and presents it in an elegant and simple UI. It does all that checking/automatic retrieval/notifications stuff, you can post pics easily and in general it does what I need a Twitter app to do. I’d say it is as good as any Twitter app I’ve used on the HTC Hero or the iPhone.

Next up RSS software and the picture here is not quite so good. I’ve always used NewsBreak from Ilium on Windows phones in the past and am still using it. Having been used to some great RSS apps on both Android and iPhone of late I was kind of hoping that Windows Mobile software might have raised its game in this sector but it appears not. I tried out the updated (since I last used it) SPB News but it is terribly terribly slow to download feeds even on  wifi and then SBSH GoTouch News, the less said about which the better. I’m a big fan of  their SafeWallet application but their RSS effort was awkward/confusing to set up, buggy, unbelievably slow on wifi and unreliable which surprised and disappointed me as it looks the part on the site demo. It does however claim to offer Google Reader syncing, something that for some reason neither Ilium nor SPB have seen fit to introduce in the time I’ve been away from their apps…..nearly 2 years. Nonetheless, I still prefer NewsBreak as it is quick and reliable with simple and intuitive navigation but it has not been updated since 2007 and is starting to look a bit lacking in key areas (well, key for me anyway) as it does not offer sharing via Twitter or Instapaper. Plus, it and other RSS apps on this platform are around the $20 mark which when compared to better RSS apps under the Android & iPhone platforms is starting to look less appealing. I just sort of expected that in the interim period since I stopped using WMo devices the apps would have been continually updated and improved but this is not the case….it’s something I’ve got used to with my Hero, for example, near constant updates and the same applies to the iPhone.

Samsung N150 update

Two weeks into my Windows 7 toting netbook ownership and things have been a little mixed to date. I appear to be having some problems with files disappearing randomly and software that I thought I had installed not being there next time I start it up. I could get all pious here and point out that things like that have never happened to me in 10 years of using Macs but remarkably, have surfaced within 2 weeks of PC ownership but as you all know, I’m well above that sort of thing.

I do like the Google Chrome browser which seems ideally suited to netbooks as it is light and quick. Here’s another thing, I installed my Vodafone Mobile Connect dongle software when I first got the Samsung and the icon was right there in that task bar thingy next to the Start Menu…I pinned it to that dock thing as sure as I’m sitting here typing this. Next time I fired up the Samsung it was nowhere to be seen. I had to stick the dongle in and then do that windows “auto-run” thing and then it started doing that “installing drivers” lark nonsense before I could use it again. I am doing something wrong here, is there something obvious that I am missing about installing apps? And another thing, I installed ListPro on it and that worked great for a week then it suddenly couldn’t locate the ListPro file I had transferred onto it previously. Luckily I had a copy of it on my portable USB drive otherwise that would have been 5 years of info kaput.

I’ve got used to the keyboard now and find it to be quite good, it has a nice clicky action and feels well built, as does the Samsung itself. I keep meaning to do a whole lot more with it but it was bought for a purpose or two and thus will tend only to get used when those needs arise and as such, I can’t muster a huge degree of enthusiasm to do much more at present, particularly if things are going to keep on mysteriously vanishing.

An old ‘friend” returns for a bit

Splashed out on a 2nd hand Treo Pro last week off eBay and I’m not sure why. This is the 3rd time I’ve bought one in the last 18 months and regular readers will know that the first two ventures both ended badly with me slagging it off and decrying it as slow and buggy. I don’t know why this one should have been any different but it is. It is unlocked and has no carrier crud on it but then so did the 2nd one I purchased. It’s by no means quick but I haven’t noticed any of the infuriating lag that blighted the first two. I’ll probably not keep it that long but what attracted me to it again was the hardware. This thing is probably my favourite hardware set up, slim with a great qwerty keyboard and it feels solid. I’m not sure that the Bold 9700, Hero and certainly the Pre have been built as well. The Bold 9700 creaks around where the silver trim is and the keyboard is bouncy and feels like it could break, the Hero is okay but there is a bit of flex in the battery cover area whilst the Pre, well, it’s a bit wobbly isn’t it?

The biggest and best surprise though has been the keyboard, I cannot recall it being as good as it is. The odd thing is that it looks in pics just like the one on the Centro, which would not be good, but the keys are bigger and there is spacing between them which makes the world of difference. I can fair fly on this thing and much prefer it to the flimsy Bold 9700 one. I had useability issues last around but have slapped on a trial of SPB Mobile Shell v3 and it has been very good so far, much better than the v2 I currently own as it lets you do most things by touch, is very customisable and doesn’t seem to slow things down at all. I barely need to whip out the stylus at all.

I was also pleased to find out that you can now get push Gmail, contacts and calender on windows devices (actually this has been available for a while now but wasn’t there when I last used the Treo Pro) and it was a cinch to set up via the ActiveSync on board software. My old Windows Mobile fears were evident though as after I entered my “credentials” I expected it not to work but fair dues, it worked first time.

The Palm Treo Pro is a fabulous bit of hardware with a great keyboard that looks and feels great in the hand. It’s just a pity that it doesn’t run a faster processor and have a higher res screen, two factors that I’m sure will start to grate quickly but it’s a nice thing to have lying around and was so cheap that I feel quite pleased with my purchase. It’s a huge pity that it doesn’t house Web OS…..

Why I bought a netbook…

Why the heck not? I don’t think I will be buying an iPad and I need a more lightweight and portable mini computer so that is the main rationale behind it. Plus, I wanted to try out Windows 7 as it gets such good reviews. Oddly too I just realised that in the 11 years that I have been “computing” I’ve never had a PC (Windows) that hasn’t been locked down by work IT. And there’s another couple of reasons why a more portable laptop was always going to be a Windows based one. Firstly, when we got our new work laptops they were really locked down this time by IT. The sneaky buggers have disabled use of external portable USB drives so I could no longer transfer files between my home Mac and work PC (necessary to move gadget files) and they have also completely stopped me from loading on software. This meant I couldn’t use stuff like ListPro and SafeWallet desktops anymore on my work laptop. Boo. Before they took back the old Dell monstrosity I saved my ListPro & SafeWallet backup files & all other gadget related stuff.

So, in order to keep using important 3rd party gadget software that has no mac equivalents I had to get a Windows device. Normally I’d spend ages doing lots of online research before buying but this time I made a pretty impulsive buy & picked up a Samsung N150 mainly on the basis of its claimed near 7 hour battery life. And the fact it appeared to be one of the few sporting Windows 7, albeit in Starter pack mode. All the different versions of Windows OS baffle me to be honest…..I think Microsoft needs a bit of streamlining in there.

Setting it up was okay…it took over 2 hours & I was surprised, during the start up, that it did not give me the option, like a mac does, of entering email details so that your email is up and running straight away. Probably because there does not appear to be a native email app installed….?? Not to worry I quickly downloaded Thunderbird and was up and running on that front soon after.

Anyway once it was finally finished downloading a myriad of stuff and updates I got to work & was quickly dispirited by how slow it appeared. Luckily my web chum Simon advised me to uninstall the MacAfee anti-virus software as it is apparantly notorious as a resource hog & by jingo he was right. Things picked up speed wise when I replaced MacAfee with the free version of AVG. Adding another 1gb if memory didn’t hurt either and was very very easy, purchased online from Crucial for around £35 including post. I like Crucial as finding the right memory is easy with their site tools and they always post out very quickly.

A few things have been annoying me though. The installed version of Windows 7 is the starter pack and in some respects it is like having a locked down by IT system as you are not able to change the desktop wallpaper, a situation I find incredible….”Windows 7…that was my idea”…yeah? Well, the person who thought up that idea should have their testicles surgically removed. Basically, the whole W7 Starter thing is just a badly disguised advert to upgrade to their Home Edition which, at £70, is not exactly cheap. I also dislike the way that alert windows keep appearing and interfering from the bottom right hand tray with seemingly urgent messages to do this and do that. The first couple of days I used it I had to install about 20 “updates”…updates to what?! And it seems unrelenting this “update” thing….

I’ll come back with a more detailed review later once I get the hang of the thing but after a few tweaks and some great tips from people, it has been working just fine and much smoother into the bargain. The battery life looks like living up to the claimed 7 hours too which is a huge bonus and the Samsung has a nice solid heft to it. The keyboard is decent too although the keys are a bit smaller than the work Samsung N140 and to be honest, the keyboard on the latter is better. For two models that are quite close together in terms of when they came out I’m surprised that Samsung decided to change the keyboard style, for the worse, on the N150.