Category Archives: technology

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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Amazon Echo: I like it!

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When Amazon announced the Echo, I dutifully signed up for an invitation since I didn’t have to buy it then and had time to ponder the purchase. When I received the email notification that Echo was now available for purchase (still by invitation), I ordered nearly immediately. I wasn’t sure how handy I’d find Echo but figured there’s only one way to find out… to try it out.

Despite wintry weather the day before Thanksgiving, the Fedex guy arrived on time bearing my Echo (he said he likes driving in the snow and wants to move to Maine :-)). I set up the Echo in the lower shelf of a small side table where I’d previously had my Definitive Technology cube speaker (that I’d gotten for an amazing $180 at Best Buy… love that speaker). I was sad to disconnect my Definitive Technology cube speaker but 1) Needed a spot that would limit the chances the cats would knock over the Echo and 2) Really, just how many BT speakers does a person need in their living room?

Set up was quick and easy using the Echo app on my Blackberry Passport. After setting up the Echo, I paired my Blackberry to the speaker via Bluetooth, to stream Audible.com audiobooks to the Echo from my phone.

So far, my greatest use for the Echo has been to ask about the weather, stream music, and add items to my grocery list while in the kitchen. I’ve always longed to be able to add items to my grocery list from the kitchen as I realize they’re running out, rather than having to go back to the living room to retrieve my phone. Productivity nirvana!

As James Kendrick mentioned in his ZDNet Echo review (recommended reading), Echo makes it very easy to stream music of any genre at the spur of a moment. I like new age (ambient/chill) music and leave it streaming in the background.

The Echo app displays your Echo query history, including graphics when appropriate (e.g., forecast if you asked about weather, or album art when streaming music):

IMG 20141128 081817

So far, I’ve found Echo to be handy, easy to use, and inspiring. In fact, I’ve thought a lot about future enhancements I’d like to see and submitted them to Amazon for consideration:

  • Stream audiobooks from user’s Audible.com library (rather than need to download and then stream)
  • Sync with Google calendar, to play reminders already resident in my calendar. (Note: You can add reminders to Echo independently, and that functionality works very well.)
  • Adding single items to a list is super easy. I’d love to be able to ask Echo to extend her listening period, in order to add multiple items to a list. (Currently, you can use the Echo remote to make it faster to add multiple items to a list but it’d be very cool not to have to use the remote.) 

Echo is cool and one of the most innovative products I’ve seen in a while. I’ve reported a few minor bugs to Amazon. I figure some bugginess is to be expected considering it’s essentially in invite-only beta testing:

  • I have the Echo app set to play a confirmation tone whenever I say “Alexa” (this is called the “wake up sound”). The tone is hit or miss, and I’d love for it to play consistently.
  • The day before Thanksgiving, I asked Echo when the next holiday was… she replied with an April 2015 date 🙂

I’m enjoying Echo and it’s a great deal for Amazon prime members at $99. If you have questions, feel free to add a comment.

Dyson Hot & Cool Heater Fan: Post-recall perspective

dyson_hot_am04Recently, Dyson issued a recall for its AM04 and AM05 model Hot & Cool fans. These are expensive (approximately $400) but offer bladeless air movement and as such are generally safer for curious pets and small children. I’ve used Dyson fans for about 3 years: My first Dyson purchase was the tower fan (AM02).

A few months ago, I received email notification from Dyson that their Hot & Cool fans were under safety recall. The email asked me to submit my product registration number at their web site, and upon confirming that my product (1st generation Hot & Cool fan, AM04) was indeed being recalled, instructions for taking the fan to UPS to be packaged and reshipped to Dyson. I didn’t have to do anything special, just take the fan itself to UPS and they did all the work for me. UPS gave me a receipt to prove I’d shipped the fan back to Dyson.

Yesterday, I came home to find a Dyson Hot & Cool fan on my front porch, the result of my recall return. Upon inspection, I realized it was brand new and was the newer model (AM05) rather than the AM04 that I’d sent back. With summer starting this weekend, I was very happy to have my Hot & Cool fan back since I use it year-round in the living room.

So, what do I think about Dyson post-recall?

I am impressed by how Dyson stood behind their products, made the product return process hassle-free, and not only returned the replacement quickly, sent an upgraded model (since my AM04 apparently couldn’t be repaired). I don’t perceive safety recalls as a flaw in manufacturing per se — sometimes hardware/software bugs aren’t apparently immediately post-production. I’m very pleased that Dyson seemed to take action promptly upon identifying the problem, rather than dragging their feet (or even trying to hide the problem) like some companies.

Kudos, Dyson! Your products are expensive but work very well and I appreciate your product support: Consider me a satisfied (and now even more loyal) customer.

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.

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.

The NY Times’ David Pogue compares smart watches

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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.