Monthly Archives: March 2013

BlackBerry Z10, one week in

Z10

When the AT&T BlackBerry Z10 came out last weekend, I wandered over to a nearby AT&T store to check it out. Turns out that was easier said than done… store employees had removed the Z10 from its display and stashed it in the back room. Why? They said it was because the theft alarm kept going off. Oy.

So, the store employee had to fetch it from the back room, and then charge it. Generally, store employees were negative about the Z10 — the guy who helped me had used it but reverted to his Samsung GS3, and another nearby employee flat out bashed the Z10. Clearly not a phone being promoted by this carrier…

I found I loved the Z10’s bright, crisp screen, the unified in-box, the swipe navigation (reminiscent of the HP TouchPad or Palm Pre). I also liked its physical size (larger than an iPhone but smaller than the big Android phones that are popular right now). I liked it so well that I bought it.

First, some technical specs for context:

Z10 specs

I’m really enjoying the Z10. BlackBerry 10 is a unique and enjoyable mobile operating system, and the Z10 is a great phone:

  • Overall user experience: Blazing fast. Navigating around the phone is fast (no lags), downloading and uploading data is fast (obviously dependent upon your data network), and great ping times (on AT&T LTE network). 
  • Hardware: The Z10 is big enough that displayed text is easy to read but still small enough to be easily used one-handed. The soft-touch, slightly dimpled plastic back feels nice and doesn’t pick up finger-prints easily.
  • Call quality: Both ends of calls are clear and crisp. No issues with dropping calls or audio/voice drop-outs while on calls.
  • GPS: GPS lock is insanely fast whether indoors or out. I was shocked by how quickly it warned I’d gone off-course when using turn-by-turn navigation in the car.
  • Maps / Turn-by-turn navigation: I live on a fairly obscure street that isn’t listed by some maps software, so I was delighted to find my street listed. I found turn-by-turn navigation to be very accurate, with the maps very easy to read in the car due to highly contrasting colors. 
  • Screen: As noted above, the Z10 screen is crisp, clear and beautiful. At 4.2″, it’s a bit bigger than the 4″ iPhone 5 screen. 
  • BlackBerry Hub: I’ve always loved BlackBerry’s unified in-box — no need to open several apps to see info about incoming calls, texts, tweets, email, etc. A huge timesaver.
  • Swipe navigation: While I find the Z10’s swipe navigation to be a breath of fresh air, it’s not completely new… it feels like it borrows the best of WebOS, Android and iOS. There’s a learning curve, but Z10 initial set up provides a demo to help new users learn the basics of getting around BlackBerry 10.
  • On-screen keyboard: Oh, I love this keyboard! It displays word suggestions on the keyboard “frets” and sometimes on the spacebar. It makes for a fast, easy typing experience. Tip: In the On-screen keyboard settings, set both Portrait Mode and Landscape mode to “In-column” to enable word suggestions to display just above the keyboard (vs under your fingers).
  • Web browser: The Z10 web browser renders content quickly and it’s easy to zoom in/out using pinch & zoom. While flash is supposed to be on its way out for smartphones (generally), it’s still super handy to have a flash-enabled browser. The Z10 browser includes flash but it’s turned off by default — you just need to turn it on in browser settings. 
  • Photo quality: I confess, I didn’t have high hopes for photo quality after reading some early reviews. However, photos I’ve shot have been sharp, nicely detailed and colors are natural. I’ve gotten some surprisingly good shots in low lighting. And the camera software is fast! The shutter fires as soon as you touch the screen — great for taking photos of active pets.

While Blackberry seems to catch flak for its young Blackberry 10 app store, I’m not finding the app inventory to be an issue. Of course, I don’t need any specialized apps — other folks’ mileage may vary.

The BlackBerry Z10 has been a delightful surprise. It retains BlackBerry’s traditional strengths (great keyboard, unified inbox) and adds a great new user interface that’s fun to use.

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Roku 3: Worth the upgrade?

Roku 3 with Headphones 1024x597

I’ve had the Roku 2 XD since its release last year and have generally enjoyed it. My only complaint: Not sure if it’s due to the user interface, CPU, or remote, but sometimes it felt really laggy. Click, lag… display. Click, lag…. display. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So, when I learned the Roku 3 had been released (thanks, zatznotfunny!), I was curious. Here’s how Roku is marketing the Roku 3 and my point-by-point observations:

Screenshot 3 10 13 11 54 AM

  • So much fun: I mainly use my Roku box to watch Netflix, Amazon streaming, and TED talks, so of course it’s fun! For me, this goes without saying 😉
  • Amazing interface: The Roku user interface has been updated and is now easier to use (especially if you use a lot of channels). Instead of a film-strip like interface, it’s now a grid.Ui
  • Powerful remote: The Roku 3 remote includes a headphone port to allow private listening. Also, instead of using bluetooth connectivity to control the roku box (as previous roku models have), the Roku 3 remote uses WiFi Direct to eliminate Bluetooth coexistence issues
  • Awesome app: I confess, I haven’t used the smartphone app yet. I hereby relinquish my geek cred 😉
  • Serious performance: As noted above, I’ve always loved Roku (and have owned each generation released), but had in the past found it laggy during navigation and starting video playback. Now: WHOA, lagginess is no longer a problem with the Roku 3! I’m so pleased by the faster performance. 
  • Totally simple: Yep, Roku boxes are wonderfully simple to set up. Unlike some tech that is cool once finally set-up but can be a nightmare getting there, no such issues with Roku. For that reason, I think Roku boxes are the perfect gift.

Other observations:

  • You won’t be able to just plug it into your older Roku box’s AC adapter: The box itself requires a different power adapter (higher voltage and shaped differently than that used by previous models).
  • It’s heavier: This is a good thing. Now, the cables hooked to the back of the box no longer weight it down — my Roku 2 HD was normally suspended in air (unintentionally) because it was so light and the cables only weighed down the back.
  • Great theme selection: I’m normally not keen on themes included in tech gadgets. However, the new interface offers a selection of very attractive themes that really do add to the Roku menu experience. 

The great theme selection seems to be server driven — you select the theme and within a few seconds it displays on your box. Why do I think it’s server-driven? Well, I initially selected the lovely Daydream theme. Then, yesterday, I decided to check out the other themes — they are all indeed very nice. The only problem is when I tried to re-select Daydream from the theme list (after using the Decaf theme), the following error message displayed:

Roku error

Having become quite fond of the Daydream theme (which is somewhat Paperland-esque), I even did a factory reset on the Roku 3 to try to re-select the Daydream theme. Nope, still got the error above. I contacted Roku chat support, and the very helpful Roku support rep confirmed that he wasn’t able to select the Daydream theme, either. Clearly, this is a non-critical early adopter issue — I submitted a problem ticket and am hopeful Roku will have the lovely Daydream theme available again soon. 

Edited 3/11/2013: My Roku technical support experience was excellent. The tech folks I chatted with were very helpful and the theme issue was resolved this morning.

So, is the Roku 3 worth the upgrade?

Yes. The faster performance offered by the Roku 3 makes it a better box than its predecessors.

One caveat: If you’re happy with a previous Roku box and are just interested in the new user interface, just be patient — apparently the new UI will be rolled out to older boxes soon.

If any questions about the Roku 3, feel free to leave a comment.