Category Archives: mobile

BlackBerry Classic: Initial impressions

Blackberry classic passport Fotor

I recently picked up a BlackBerry Passport after initially pooh poohing its industrial design but then seeing it well-rated by users. I’m happy to say, my initial reaction was wrong… after using the Passport (on AT&T), I like the Passport a lot and find its large square screen and innovative capacitive keyboard to be a breath of fresh air in the world of mobile tech. 

If I like the Passport, why pick up a BlackBerry Classic? Several reasons:

  • OS: I like BlackBerry10 and how it supports both swipe gestures and keyboard shortcuts (youtube link)
  • Hardware keyboard: It just feels more satisfying to type out messages on hardware keyboards
  • Hardware quality: Although surpassed by Passport specs, the Classic offers solid build quality
  • Mobile OS Competition: BlackBerry is a mobile tech pioneer and I want to support the company in its turnaround
  • Pricing: Most phones are priced at $500 or more off-contract, so $449 is an attractive price

My Classic arrived yesterday so I haven’t had it long enough to write a full review. I do like it, and here are some initial thoughts:

  • Size: Its size falls between an iPhone 5S and iPhone 6 (H x W) although a bit thicker due to the battery
  • Weight: After reading some reviews, I expected it to be brick-like in weight… oy! Unboxing the phone, I was surprised by how it felt “just right,” not too heavy, not too big.
  • User experience: I didn’t realize how much I’d enjoy having “Back” and “Menu” hardware keys. Now, I’m nearly always clicking the Back key to minimize and then close apps (works with both BB and Android apps)
  • Trackpad: It’s very cute and tiny 😉 I use it to scroll, much the way I use the Passport’s capacitive keyboard
  • More pocketable: I love the Passport but it doesn’t lend itself to quickly answering when out walking the dog and I need to juggle holding the leash and the phone. The Classic’s size is more manageable for one-handed use.

Both phones use a nano-sim card so it’s easy to swap out and use whichever phone suits the occasion. I prefer the Passport’s big screen for intensive reading or web surfing (my vision isn’t great, so the larger screen helps), and prefer the Classic for running errands. Over the next few days, it will be interesting to see which phone I tend to use more frequently.

What do I say to folks who say the Classic is a 2011 phone released in 2014? Nothing. After all, selecting a phone is a personal decision — I take into account what I like and works best for me.

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A few miscellaneous items that may be of interest to other Blackberry Classic / Passport users:

For desktop charging, I’m using a Belkin dock that works with each of these phones. I’d love to see Seidio release a Classic holster. I have a Blackberry holster on order.

I use a Stilgut book-type case for my Passport, which I use along with the Seidio holster that comes with a case as part of their Surface Combo

My “go to” apps –

BlackBerry OS

  • BB OS OEM apps: 
    • Hub
    • Calendar
    • Maps (I like the BB OS maps, not sure why they get bashed)
    • Browser (I ❤ reader mode)
    • Connect to Dropbox
  • Twitter
  • BeWeather Pro
  • Bloomberg
  • NY Times
  • CB10
  • Dayly
  • Home Screen Plus (I like how it subtly inserts weather conditions onto the home screen)

Android OS (generally installed via Snap or Amazon App Store)

 I like the direction BlackBerry is taking and look forward to future products. Their current philosophy seems to be in sync with this Seth Godin post, which is a happy thing for BlackBerry users.

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Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2: How big is too big?

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Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro ™ 12.2 (Wi-Fi), White 32GB
http://www.samsung.com/us/mobile/galaxy-tab/SM-T9000ZWAXAR

Recently, I’ve had a hankering to do some inking. Using a stylus and tablet to write has a wonderfully organic feel that I’d enjoyed when using digital ink on Galaxy Note Phones and an early generation Note tablet 10.1. So, I downloaded some handwriting apps onto my iPad Mini and Kindle HDX 8.9, got out a stylus and got started. l quickly remembered why I’d always preferred Samsung Note devices and S pen — they make inking super easy… no skips or stutters.

So I visited my friendly neighborhood Best Buy. l considered the Note 10.1 2014 edition but quickly became most interested in the elusive and mystical 12.2″ Note Pro, which wasn’t on display. When I asked about it, I learned an employee had one of her own and she’d be working the following day. As promised, she was there the next day, Note Pro 12.2 in hand. She let me try it out and although I’d expected to be appalled and deterred by its size, I found it to be not only pleasant but fun to use.

What did I like?
– The screen is bright and sharp
– The ability to view up to 4 apps simultaneously is very handy
– The S pen makes the inking experience super smooth
– Samsung’s S pen handwriting recognition software works very well, even with my nearly illegible scrawl
– The Samsung Note Pro’s digital ink apps are fun and useful, and especially show off the S pens’s capabilities

Although I haven’t had it long, l’ve been surprised and delighted by the Note Pro 12.2. I got a free keyboard case with it (part of limited Samsung promotion) but haven’t used it because the S pen experience is so good.

Moral of the story? As newer, larger tablets are released, don’t knock ’em til you try’ em.

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.

The NY Times’ David Pogue compares smart watches

Screenshot 2 28 13 6 47 AM 2

David Pogue’s article about The Cookoo, I’m Watch, MetaWatch, Casio G-Shock GB-6900 and Martian watch is pretty interesting. Check it out here.

Video

The *best* smartwatch app (Android): Augmented Smartwatch Pro

Video description: Shows how Augmented Smartwatch Pro v 4.0 makes the Pebble watch even better. Note that app supports Pebble, Sony Smartwatch, and Metawatch.

My Take:

I’ve been using the Augmented Smartwatch Pro Android app with my smartwatches over the past few weeks. It extends smartwatch capabilities in such a useful way that I consider it a “must have” app.

Here’s how I’m using it with my Sony Smartwatch — it’s highly configurable so you can set it up to best fit how you use your smartwatch:

  • The “All other notifications” section lists nearly every app on my Note II, and based on my selections, Augmented Smartwatch Pro pushes notifications for Carbon for twitter @ messages and my Conscious app mindfulness reminders.
  • I recently learned about its robust Fitbit daily data support, and now can see how long I slept, how many steps I’ve taken, calories, etc., displayed in charts (!) on my Sony Smartwatch. For a fitbit data geek, this is nirvana!
  • It periodically pushes Wunderground weather info, including rain alerts (requires user to obtain a wunderground api)
  • I can also configure Augmented Smartwatch Pro’s quiet time settings to ensure I don’t receive smartwatch notifications during the night.

What I’ve listed above barely brushes the surface of the functionality the app brings to smartwatch use. I highly recommend it. The developer is both responsive and very experienced in writing smartwatch-related apps.

There’s a free version available, too. Strongly suggest going ahead and getting the Pro version — as smartwatch users, it’s in our best interest to support active, hard-working smartwatch app developers!

Metawatch vs Pebble vs Sony Smartwatch observations

Pebble macbookair

I recently received the Pebble watch I’d ordered via Kickstarter. Using the Pebble got me wondering what other smart watches were like. So, I picked up a few more to check them out — my experience is based on using these watches paired with my Android (Note II) phone.

Spoiler: The watch I liked best was the one I’d expected to like the least!

Metawatch

metawatch.jpeg

I picked up a metawatch “Frame,” which has a lovely Apple-esque appearance (especially the white version) and a silvery grey-scale TFT screen. Metawatch also has a “Strata” design which is similar (in appearance) to sport watches on the market. Here’s my take on the Metawatch Frame:

  • Metawatch describes the screen as 96×96 pixel sunlight-readable, reflective mirror display (Polymer Network LCD technology)
  • Easy to read in bright sunlight; much harder to read in low, ambient light
  • I found it confusing to set up: There is an official Metawatch app in Android market, and then some open source apps with much higher ratings — the only catch is that the open source apps don’t appear to completely support the latest metawatch firmware (1.3) for each hardware rev.
  • Due to the compatibility issues noted above, i was unable to use the six hardware buttons for their secondary functions. I also noticed the watch seemed to freeze up when receiving notifications (I believe this is a resolvable software/firmware issue, but frustrating nonetheless).
  • As a consumer device, the Metawatch app/widget ecosystem seems limited (at least for Android; may be better for iOS).
  • Uses a clip-design USB charger which I found challenging to get seated properly on the watch.
  • Battery life seemed quite good.
  • I loved the MetaNeko app where a cute kitty plays on the screen.
  • While the hardware and screen are lovely, I found the physical size of the watch bigger than I feel comfortable wearing (especially at the office).
  • Watch functionality is mainly focused on providing notifications from your smartphone.

Pebble

Rather than repost my initial impressions about the Pebble and its e-paper display, here’s a link to last week’s Pebble post.

Sony SmartWatch

Sony smartwatch

The Sony SmartWatch was the only smartwatch I tested that had a color screen. It’s been out a while but didn’t seem to get very good reviews from established tech writers — owner-users seems to rate it higher. My impressions:

  • The OLED screen is bright and colorful except in bright sunlight. In bright light, it’s very difficult to read as it seems to fade out. (I’m guessing a non glare screen cover may help here.)
  • Sony indicates the watch dimensions are 36 mm / 1.42 in x 36 mm / 1.42 in, thickness: 8 mm / 0.3 in
  • While the watch is smaller and less obtrusive than I expected, it has a built-in clip on the back that you can attach to clothing, or using an included adapter, attach to your own watch band. That clip makes it sit higher on your wrist, and the fact that the clip is white (against the metal watch) makes it stand out all the more.
  • There are a lot of Sony SmartWatch apps in the Android play market, some from Sony and others from third-party developers. Everything I’ve tried so far has worked well, no freezes or other odd behavior.
  • Unlike Metawatch and Pebble, I believe the Sony SmartWatch only pairs with Android phones — I don’t think it’s iOS compatible.
  • Unlike Metawatch and Pebble, Sony SmartWatch has a greater focus on onboard apps (vs simply displaying smartphone notifications). This enhanced functionality made the Sony SmartWatch extremely useful for me — there are times I want to reference information on my phone but don’t feel comfortable pulling out my phone. Being able to casually glance at my watch to flick through my twitter stream has been super handy, especially as someone who uses twitter to keep up with breaking news events.
  • The colorful screen eats up battery much more quickly than the other two grey-scale display smart watches. Still, it’s lasted throughout the day even with a variety of notifications enabled (including full sync of my twitter account each hour).

My favorite of the three smart watches?

The Sony SmartWatch

I’ve found the greatest utility (for me) in a smartwatch isn’t the notifications but rather easy accessibility to data that’s otherwise on my phone (e.g., my gmail inbox, calendar, twitter stream). The Sony SmartWatch offered the greatest utility in this regard since the other smart watches I tried both focus more on displaying notifications. And interestingly enough, it’s also the most affordable (currently offered on Amazon at about $90).

Pebble Notifier (Android): Now even better!

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I learned today that Pebble Notifier has been updated to version 2.5. Among other improvements, it now attempts to send even more information to Pebble than just notification text.

Example: With Carbon for Twitter included in my Pebble Notifier list it now sends both the notification and if I scroll down when the notification appears on my Pebble, the @mention text is also displayed. Cool!

I already love my Pebble (see my initial impressions). It’s fun seeing Pebble functionality evolve via third-party developers!