Tuesday
Mar062012

Windows 8: These are not the same thing….

 

I’ve been giving the Windows 8 Consumer Preview a good run through. I thought it best if I tested it on a device that had both a Keyboard and Mouse, but also a Multi-Touch Screen. So I’ve been using a Dell Inspiron Duo Netbook.

There are a lot of things I like about the new OS: Faster boot times (even with Hard drives), Booting Windows off a USB Drive, the New Copy/Paste Dialogue with Graph, and the new Task Manager. But there is also a lot I’m really disappointed with, and in some cases down right frustrated with.

The title of this blog post focuses on a recent issue I’ve had, but helps encompass my problem with Windows 8 on whole: Metro…

Metro is the new UI that started with early roots in the Zune, but became popular and matured in Windows Phone, continued on to Xbox 360 Dash board, and now replaces the Start menu in Windows.  Metro on the surface is an interface that emphasizes touch, by employing large Square icons (tiles). Tiles and content such as text also employ the idea that menu are looking at is too big for the screen so you must scroll from side to side to see all of your content or selections. Not a big deal right? Well if it stopped there we probably be fine.

The methodology behind Metro in the desktop OS is this: Bring a simple to use Mobile interface to the Desktop PC. This might be alright if all you want to do is check the Weather, play a game or write a simple email. Which to be fair Tablet  Slates’ like the Ipad or Android Tablet do pretty well already.

 

What’s frustrating is that behind the Metro interface still lies the power house that is the PC. And when Metro applications are merely dumbed down full screen counter parts to their desktop counterparts, why would I want to use them?

Take Internet Explorer my example in the picture; the Metro version features a full screen HTML 5 viewer with no tabs that looks pretty good on a tablet. However, it’s limited, not just because it lacks tabs, but it also lacks Browser Plug-ins like Flash, or even Silver light. I can’t watch Netflix in this browser or even go to a lot of webpages.   Probably my favorite feature in the Metro version of IE is the option to send the page you are viewing to the full version of IE that runs on the Desktop. This is IE 9, which does support Plugs-Ins, and is also an HTML 5 viewer as well. So I’m left asking, why did I even start the Metro Version in the first place?

 

This is true of a lot of Metro Apps, like photos and mail there just simply better desktop tools to get the job done. And in most cases they work just as well when I’m using the Duo as a tablet. Sure they might not be as clean and as polished for touch, but when I can’t do something in the Metro version, it’s frustrating, because I’m left wondering why I even bothered running the Metro version. I’m very fearful what the next version of MS Office will be like, will I start the metro version only to have close it and reopen the doc I’m working on in the full version? Or will I have a button for switching in and out of Metro version of the app.  

 

I really feel strongly that one of two things needs to happen before Windows 8 is ready for Sale:

1) Users should have the ability to turn off Metro and use the traditional desktop UI with Start menu. It’s honestly faster and easier to use in a Desktop environment.

2) Metro Apps need to be able to quickly switch from Metro/Tablet form to their fully functioning desktop counterparts, otherwise why would a user even pin the Metro Version when on a traditional Desktop PC or laptop.

I understand Microsoft’s thinking, they are trying desperately to clone the success of the Ipad’s easy to use OS in to Windows. And let’s face it. Windows isn’t ideal for Tablet use, it was never designed to be.

But that doesn’t mean, the desktop user should use a tablet friendly UI on their computer.  It’s frustrating! Much in the same way a Desktop UI is for a Tablet user. These two things shouldn’t be the same, as much as we may desire it. Microsoft by fussing the two isn’t really doing a service to either, and instead is merely making a headache for all of us.

In many ways the Inspiron Duo really is an ideal platform for testing out this OS, it has both the Desktop and Tablet modes to play in, much like Windows 8. But when I’m in the tablet mode I feel like things are lacking in function or usability. And when I go into the Desktop, it’s hard to click on things with my finger. 

 

Microsoft these just aren’t the same thing, please stop acting like they are.

 

I'll be posting More Windows 8 thoughts as I have time. I just really hope someone listens.

Thursday
Jan052012

Why I keep using my old laptop… Or Why New Laptops suck.

I currently use a Lenovo X61 Tablet with the rare resolution of 1400x1050. I say rare, because somewhere in Production of this machine, Lenovo stopped making it with this panel and only made it with the 1024x768 panel.

I really love this laptop, it has a Core 2 Duo CPU, 4GB of Ram, and I put in a 60GB SSD… The battery has seen better days, and the fan could be a little quieter, but still a great machine. The resolution is amazing, having used a lot of 1024x768 laptops, and even some newer netbooks with 1366x768, the 1400x1050 display is just awesome! But I’ll admit, my X61 is beginning to feel long in the tooth. Core 2 Duo is great, but a in a year with IVY Bridge around the corner this Laptop is really going to show it’s age.

Lenovo has released 3 generations of X-series tablet (X200, X201 and X220) since the discontinuing of my X61. And while these may be tempting to some, they aren’t to me.

Why?

Core I7 sandy bridge and 8GB of ram all sound great, but what doesn’t is the seriously lack of resolution that has occurred in Lenovo’s light weight Laptop line. First the X61 drops the 1400x1050 resolution option; then the X200 (which was the first wide screen convertible tablet for them) only has a resolution option of 1280x800 (same with the X201). And now the X220 has a pathetic screen resolution of 1366x768.

Yes, I realize that I’m unlikely to find a laptop these days that doesn’t use a 16x9 or 16x10 aspect ratio. Which is a real shame seeing how 1400x1050 actually gives you more pixel real-estate then most modern wide screen resolutions. In part because I getter better height, without having to have an extreme width. (that said, I’ll be the first to admit that wide screen on laptops have made for better keyboards on laptops).

1366x768 seems to be the  default panel  resolution for any Laptop LCD under 13” these days, both the 11” Mac Book air and any 11” Ultra book use this resolution.  All Lenovo Laptops tablet or otherwise that use less than 14” LCD panels come in this resolution and there are no options for anything else. I have no problem paying for a better panel, but Lenovo won’t take my money.

Now, yes I could go to a different Laptop manufacturer, I’m certainly willing to entertain the idea of sacrificing the tablet functionality for lighter weight and higher screen resolution, but let’s look at choices out there:

Apple’s 13” Mac Book Air features panel of 1440 x 900. Certainly better than 1366x768, but I’m not sure I want to pay the apple tax, considering I want to run windows 7 on the machine. Also there is a lack of an Ethernet port.

Asus Zenbook X31 has a resolution option of 1600 x 900. Not bad. Still lacking in an Ethernet port. Also the touch pad feels very laggy, and the laptop all together feels very top heavy.  

Surprisingly Sony makes a 13” Laptop that features a  1080p (1920x1080) 13” Panel, the VAIO Z21, but the price is a little out there for the machine, around $2,700. However they do also have the VAIO SA line for around $1000 that has the 1600 x 900 resolution.

Ideally I’d love the same laptop I have now, just with a Sandy Bridge upgrade. Or An X220 tablet with a minimum of a 1600x900 panel. Both of which seem unlikely. And I suspect when Lenovo upgrades to the X221, there still won’t be a better panel option. Further proof being their recently announced T430U Ultrabook will have a 14” LCD with a 1366x768 panel… Yuck!

 

At this point, I’m still left with a conundrum of what to do, I can put money into my existing X61 by purchasing a new battery and possibly a larger SSD, but I’d much rather put that money towards a new machine.

Saturday
Dec312011

My first Android phone will be my last.

 

I’m not talking about me, as I’m on my second Android phone (First was an HTC Hero, current is HTC Evo), but I know several people who have told me they are fed up with Android and are looking at either an Iphone or in some rare cases Windows Phone. One thing I’ve noticed about all of these people is that their current Android phones are typically cheaper hardware that have sub 800 MGHz processors. Or the Skinning on Android that manufacturer used caused the phone to be unstable.

I actually saw a user get so fed up with how their Samsung Galaxy (which does have better hardware internals) because it would freeze and crash a lot. That user finally went out and paid full price for an Iphone 4S. Other cases were similar saying the phone is too buggy or has become too slow.

I’ll be honest, even my Evo can get slow and weird; if an App has memory leaked. A great example is Zynga’s Words with Friends which is really good at slowing a phone down to a crawl. Too be fair the iOS version isn’t much better, as it’s prone to crash often. So in some cases it’s isn’t the poor phone’s fault.  I’ve made this argument before, smart phones share a lot in common with their PC big brothers. Better and faster internals will go a far way in those 2 year contract lock ins; but so will better software.

Samsung’s  Touchwiz and Motorola’s Blur skin are great examples of where Skinning as not only caused Fragmentation issues but also performance issues. Even HTC Sense, which is arguably the best done skin still can cause a significant battery drain over the stock Android UI.

So what do you tell an Android user where their phone has left a bad taste in their mouth swearing off Android all together. “No, no, it’s not Android it’s just bad software, or your hardware is out of date” Doesn’t that just border on being an Android apologist? It’s not like Apple doesn’t suffer a similar strife by still offering the Iphone 3GS. But it seems that Iphone users like most apple users understand that Apple really doesn’t offer much support for Hardware that is 3 years old, and they are willing to shell out for next generation of stuff. And in Windows Phone’s case (like Apple) they have now taken a harder stance on Minimum hardware spec. I’d also say that Microsoft and Apple have stricter guidelines on Software, but there are still some glaring exceptions (cough, cough, Zynga).

A year ago, I was talking about how I had seen more Android phones at my work then I did Iphones, today it seems like the wind is shifting back to the Cupertino wiz kid device. In large part I think this because the Iphone is available on the 3 providers. Part of the appeal Android had was that it the only option next to sickly looking Blackberry and Windows Mobile, this just isn’t true in today’s market.

I’m not saying that I believe iOS is superior, or that Android sucks. I use both of the mobile OSes daily, but I am seeing a trend in my work that users are looking for a mobile experience that just works, and when their old wasn’t perfect or it just didn’t always work right they are far more willing to make a change at the end of their 2 year sentence.  

Saturday
Oct152011

Day 1 with the Iphone 4S

Day 1 with the Iphone 4S

 

So as many of our twitter followers know, I have been trying out iOS 5 on a Sprint Iphone 4S. I thought it was time I would actually do more than just tweet and construct some longer thoughts.

 

I’m coming from an HTC Evo 4G, that was on Sprint, running a custom ROM of Gingerbread (Android 2.3) with HTC Sense 3.5. So some of my thoughts will be comparisons, after all iOS 5’s largest new feature (other than Siri) is the new Notification Center. Which a lot of people have compared to the Notification Drawer in Android.

They are similar, you pull them both down from the top, and they will display application notifications, but some of the similarities drop right there.

First, let me talk about calendar notifications, If you turn them on, they don’t act like Notifications, infact they act more like a calendar widget. Rather than showing you just a reminder for an upcoming appointment, they instead show you all of your next appointments (depending on how many you have set in the setting for it to display). More frustrating, is that I can’t dismiss upcoming appointment notifications, they are pinned to the notification center like a calendar widget.

This is weird, because other notifications have a little “X” near them that clears them out of the center. But Calendar doesn’t. Infact the calendar Notifications are more like the stock ticker and Weather widget in that way. I suppose it all depends on your tastes weather you will like that or not, but to me, it should be called a widget and not notifcations.

Next up, Email and text notifications… This has a similar problem in that it shows new email and texts in the same way as upcoming calendar appointments, displaying each new email as separate notification and only the number you preset in the settings. So if you tell it to only display 1 Email or Text, and you get two new ones, it will only show the most recent, and will forget (or dismiss) the only slightly older message. In Android, instead of showing the individual messages they will give me a summary of how many new email or texts are in. And when you tap on the notification it takes you to the entire inbox. In iOS when you tap on the email it takes to that specific email. Only way to see an inbox view is to click on the Messages or Mail app.

 

Further annoyances with Email iOS is the Unified inbox, yes Windows Phone 7 Mango and Android do this, but Android doesn’t focus on it, unless you want to.  Also Android and Phone 7 let you make Widget shortcuts to individual mail boxes rather than having to use the single mail app. Also, my favorite feature and I even tweeted about this: is that android lets you make custom notification tones for each individual mailbox. In iOS you can only set one tone for all new Email. May not be a big deal for you, but for someone who is an on call Tech. It’s nice to distinguish between your on call mailbox and your personal email.

 So is all complaints on Day 1? Not at all, I really like Siri, it’s not perfect. It will screw up still. But it’s certainly one of the better Voice integrated systems I’ve seen since Android 2.2 (2.3 Voice recognition apparently is broken on my Evo 4G).  While the voice keyboard isn’t available in all functions like Android, it’s certainly more functional and more available then in Mango (why only Texts and not email?).

Also, the 4S is snappy. Sure the Evo was no sloath, but the Dual Core A5 CPU is blazing. And so is the camera. Again, it’s not that the Evo was bad, it’s just the 4S is better. And I’m not a Stranger to iOS in general I have an Ipad and had an Ipod Touch that both run the A4 cpu, and the A5 CPU is an improvement.

As for the rest of Hardware… The phone is sleek, almost most a little slippery. The screen despite being smaller is usable, probably because of the incredibly high resolution. And yes, I do love the IPS panel over a standard LCD.

I’m going to give it a few more days, but I still think I’m leaning towards returning to my Evo. Despite how beautiful the Iphone hardware is, Android just offers far more customizations than iOS.  And for me I take advantage of that in my day to day use.  

Wednesday
Oct052011

Iphone 4S, a let down? Really?

 

A lot of Tech reviewers are commenting that Iphone 4S is a big let down.

 

Why? Because it's not a new form factor? Because it's Specs are incremental over the iphone 4 (Stolen from Engadget):

 

  iPhone 4S
 
iPhone 4

 
Price (on contract) $199 16GB, $299 32GB, $399 64GB $99 8GB
Processor Dual-core Apple A5 Apple A4
Display 3.5-inch IPS 960 x 640 3.5-inch IPS 960 x 640
Primary camera 8 megapixel AF with flash and f/2.4 aperture 5 megapixel AF with flash
Secondary camera VGA at 30fps VGA
Video recording 1080p at 30fps, optional iMovie 720p at 30fps, optional iMovie
Cellular Hybrid GSM / CDMA "World Phone", Bluetooth 4.0 Quadband GSM, pentaband HSPA
WiFi 802.11b/g/n 802.11b/g/n
Orientation sensing Accelerometer, digital compass, gyroscope Accelerometer, compass, gyroscope
FaceTime video calling Yes Yes
SIM standard Micro SIM Micro SIM
Battery life Up to 8 hours talk time on 3G

14 hours talk time on 2G

Up to 6 hours data on 3G

Up to 9 hours data on WiFi

Up to 40 hours audio

Up to 10 hours video
Up to 7 hours talk time on 3G, 14 hours on 2G

Up to 10 hours data on WiFi

Up to 40 hours audio

Up to 10 hours video
Weight 140 grams / 4.9 oz 137 grams / 4.8 oz.
Dimensions 115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3mm 115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3mm

 

This incremental increase, actually could be a good thing for consumers, as the Iphone 4 isn't going away, it's price dropped to $100 on 2yr contract. Also both the Iphone 4 and 4S are going to be available on Verizon, AT&T and now for the first time: Sprint.  Also the 3GS will be free on AT&T, but I would strongly recommend not looking at this SKU, as it's already over 2 years old.

 

   

So if you are looking for new Iphone, it really comes down to those minor feature differences, personally I would still go 4S, not for dual core CPU or 1080p video recording, but for Siri the voice interface personal assistant that includes voice dictation features.

 

 

I know... Big whoop... Android, and now Windows phone 7.5 (Mango) already has those features. Wrong! Mango doesn't have dictation built into every keyboard function, and the latest gingerbread update on Android phones seems to have made the Voice Keyboard in operable (at least on my Evo 4G and a Droid X I've seen)

 

I guess, it's all in the eye of the Beholder... I personally was disappointed in a lack of new Ipod announcements (a white Ipod touch, is not a new Ipod). And the price drops were more like a "duh" yeah, tech gets cheaper over time.

 

 

But as for the Iphone 4S goes... I think it's going to be success, a third Cell provider in the US, that will carry both the new 4S and the 4 is going to be awesome for consumers. Also I don't believe the difference between the 4 and 4S will be nearly as painful as the differences between the 3G and 3GS. A 1GHZ CPU seems to be just enough for almost all functions on a Smart Phone, a Dual Core CPU is great for when you want to turn your smart phone into a gaming console.

 

What do you think?

 

~Graham

 

 

 

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