Tag Archives: tech

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.

————

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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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).

hello, pebble: initial impressions

Pebble

In April 2012, I contributed to a kickstarter project for the Pebble watch. It was a new product that would allow the wearer to link the watch to their iOS or android phone and receive a variety of notifications. Because the watch face itself is software based, the user could select from different watch faces rather than having just one standard display.

Fast forward to February 2013: My Pebble watch arrived yesterday!

Having had a day to play with my new Pebble, here are some initial impressions:

  • It’s lighter and thinner than expected
  • The epaper display is bright and easy to read in ambient light
  • I’ve only needed to use the backlight at night — it’s not super bright but does illuminate the display well enough
  • It’s large but not as large as I’d feared
  • It’s very easy to pair with the Pebble android app
  • The watch band is soft & flexible

Before my Pebble arrived, I’d already installed the Pebble android app. Because the official Pebble app currently has a limited set of notification in settings (incoming calls, SMS, calendar reminders, email, Google Talk, Google Voice, Facebook, WhatsApp) I looked online and found there are more android apps to extend Pebble integration:

While email notifications work well using the native Pebble android app, I found them distracting and turned them off. Note to Gmail two-step authentication users: You’ll need to set up an app-specific password in order to receive Gmail on your Pebble watch.
 
Samsung phone owners need to be aware that due to an apparent Samsung firmware bug, enabling the Pebble in their accessibility settings also turns on Talkback for some phone functions. Example: Now whenever I open a folder, my Note II (audibly) says “The folder is open.” I’m not hearing text to speech across the board, just in some limited instances. If it bothers you, you can try this fix (I just tried it, and it worked on my Verizon Note II):  http://www.productigeeky.com/faq/#1
 
I’d love to see a battery % status display on the watch (or within the Pebble android app). Even so, I love my Pebble and look forward to seeing additional functionality and integration enabled as developers get up and rolling.

Edited to add: Here’s a good video by The Verge that shows Pebble watch in use.

Have we forgotten the joy of tech?

Happy jack

(Photo of my happy little poodle who takes great joy in spreading love)

Yikes. Lots of drama in the mobile tech online community recently:

  • MG Siegler of TechCrunch posted his opinion about the Galaxy Nexus
  • The Verge’s Josh Topolsky countered with his reaction
  • Mobile tech aficionados across the Internet noticed

All too often, tech articles remind me of that off-color adage: “Opinions are like *%#holes, everyone has one.” The recent drama also makes me wonder:

Have we become so entrenched in our individual tech biases that we’ve forgotten the joy of tech… how tech can improve lives in both simple and very profound ways? And how sometimes, the tech that supports those improvements isn’t always the current best-seller or perhaps is no longer an industry darling?

It’s disappointing seeing tech writers so entrenched in their biases that they can’t envision how tech (that they don’t use personally) could be beneficial to others with different lifestyles, use cases, preferences, etc. Some make it worse by discounting any opposing reader perspectives by labeling them “fanboys.” Oy.

So, I say to you, tech writers:  It’s not all about you.

It’s a big interesting world out there, and there’s a lot of interesting tech to cover. If you’re a writer posting your articles online, you have an audience… what information can you share that’s useful to them? If you have a strong reaction to a product, help your reader make an informed decision as to whether that product would be a good choice for them (even if it’s not your preferred choice).

As a fairly savvy tech user, share with me pertinent information (fact) to make my own decision. Your rant or rave is not persuasive otherwise, and most likely will be perceived (by me) as link bait.

In closing, an anecdote about a friend’s recent experience and the joy of tech:

I shared with him an old unused Verizon “network extender” because his home does not have good Verizon network coverage. I’d used it when I had a Verizon phone but stopped when I realized that network issues in my neighborhood prevented me from receiving calls when out walking the dog.

Having the network extender meant coverage issues were no longer driving my friend’s phone options. He bought a Motorola “Droid” Razr. He loves his new phone and excitedly recounted the various ways he’s been using it: As a home phone replacement, to listen to Pandora, to research questions on the web, to stream music to a bluetooth speaker.

Same tech. Two people, different perspectives, individual use cases, different outcomes.

He took tech that was no longer useful to me, and used it to make his life better.

And isn’t that what tech is all about?

UPDATED! Fitness tech gadgets: My “road test” results

Up

I’ve updated this post based on my experience after it was published. See text in blue bold for updates.

With the holidays approaching, I’ve been seeking ways to reinforce my motivation to meet health goals. This time of year, it’s all too easy not to be active enough due to long hours at work and colder weather outside.

So, after hearing about friends’ experiences using fitness devices, I decided to try a few myself:

All three devices worked as advertised for me, although there are some caveats potential buyers should be aware of…

Jawbone UP (pictured above):

PROS –

  • Easy to wear “bracelet” design
  • Compact and unobtrusive
  • Push button to change modes is easy to use and works well
  • Tracks activity (tracks steps when not in “active” mode)
  • Tracks sleep in a fairly granular manner. Comfortable to wear while sleeping. (It’s helped me understand why I’m so tired during the day… I don’t sleep very soundly at night.)

CONS –

  • First generation product with (an apparently) high failure rate. (More on this below.)
  • Only syncs with iPhone app (no joy for folks with other smartphones or even laptop users)
  • Surprisingly, doesn’t sync via bluetooth: User must connect UP to iPhone via headphone jack
  • iPhone sync process can be fussy: I find it works best if I restart my iPhone, open UP app, insert UP into headset jack, turn up headset volume, then initiate sync right away within UP app. (It really shouldn’t require such a precise process!)
  • Progress and metrics can only be viewed on iPhone app (not able to view metric tracking/dashboard on web site)
  • Food tracking is limited
  • Doesn’t automatically sync activity metrics with my favorite fitness/food journal app, Lose It!
  • Due to bracelet design, your arms must be swinging during exercise to accurately register activity (not happy news for bikers!)

UP

Caveats:
The Jawbone UP’s early failure rate almost dissuaded me from purchasing this product. Even so, I bought at my Apple Store, taking care to keep the package and receipt *just in case*. And the failure rates are not just anonymous metrics — I know someone who is on his third Jawbone UP — the 1st two failed.

With so many reports of early hardware failure, I’m not sure I’d give it as a gift until Jawbone comes out with UP v.2

UPDATED: A big con arose for me… it completely stopped syncing. No matter what I did, it would not sync. I finally wound up returning it to Apple (where I bought it) as defective.

Fitbit

Fitbit Ultra:

 

PROS –

  • Syncs wirelessly (dock connected via USB to your laptop)
  • Comes with seemingly handy plastic clip to connect to your clothing. (More on this below.)
  • Tracks activity and sleep
  • Offers detailed online dashboard at fitbit.com
  • Offers an iPhone app, as well as a mobile web site for other smartphones

UPDATE: I decided to keep the Fitbit after the UP stopped syncing. Based on the variety of tracking devices available on the market, Fitbit is among the best. I wrapped the Fitbit “holster” in electrical tape to make it less slippery (less likely to slide off my belt), and added a layer of electrical tape inside the holster to add friction (make it less likely the device itself would slide out on its own).

CONS –

  • Sleep tracking requires inserting device into cloth wristband (I found this a little uncomfortable)
  • Sleep tracking is not as granular as Jawbone UP
  • Integrates with Lose It! mobile app but in a confusing way. (More on this below.)
  • SUPER easy to lose! It’s flown off my belt several times.
  • Fitbit iPhone app is okay but not as granular as I’d like

Caveats:
The plastic clip is slippery! It’s far too easy to lose the Fitbit Ultra (and at $99, you don’t want to risk losing it!). Integrates with Lose It! app but only populates Lose It’s exercise metrics if you burn a certain number of calories (hey, I want credit for all activity, as a motivator to be even more active!).

If you buy a Fitbit Ultra, be sure to find a way to affix it to your clothing so that it won’t fly off.

Withings

Withings Scale:

PROS –

  • Super easy to use… just weigh yourself and your weight is automatically synced to your my.withings.com dashboard
  • Easy to set up: Insert batteries, then connect scale to your computer via USB to complete set up (including enabling WIFI sync).
  • User can enable integration with Lose It! app and Fitbit dashboard.
  • Offers multiple mobile apps (WiScale app for iPhone and Withings app for Android).

CONS –

  • Expensive at $159 (see Amazon page for product details & reviews).

Caveats:
Aside from cost, no caveats I can think of. Does what it promises.

Loseit

Special mention: Lose It! fitness / food journal app

I first started using Lose It! a few years ago on my iPhone and missed it terribly when I moved to an android phone.

I love its robust food database and how easy it is to update and review my food and activity metrics.

However, since then, a Lose It! Android app has been released. Glad to see this great app available for more phones!

UPDATE to add another special mention: F.lux. It’s software for Windows, Mac, Linux, and jailbroken iOS devices. It automatically adjusts your screen brightness by time of day. If you use your computer before bedtime, it’s a must have… I installed it yesterday and noticed a big difference in how soundly I slept last night.

So what combination works best for me?

I’m still using the Jawbone UP and Withings scale with Lose It! iPhone app and web site dashboard:

  • I manually add activity tracked on the UP into Lose It!
  • Since I have Lose It! linked to my Withings scale, my weight is automatically posted to my LoseIt! account.
  • I monitor my sleep metrics via the UP iPhone app.

Both the UP bracelet and Withings scale have been a good fit for me, offering motivation while not requiring a lot of effort or workarounds.

  • I found the Fitbit Ultra works well but wasn’t practical for me because it kept coming off my belt — I decided it would be too easy to lose. (UPDATED: Fixed this with some electrical tape)
  • I recommend Jawbone UP with some reservation. It does what it does well, but seems prone to early hardware failure based on user reports. (UPDATED: And my UP failed as well. Great device, disappointing quality issues.)
  • I recommend Withings scale without reservation.
  • You can’t go wrong with the Lose It! app for iPhone and android!
  • UPDATED: F.lux is a must have, as well!

There once was a company named Palm… or how I came to buy an HP TouchPad

Touchpad

Like many geeks, er technophiles, I recently bought an HP TouchPad at fire sale pricing. I bought it partly because it was a great tech buy, and this article describes what I like about it, as well as webOS apps I’m enjoying.

But I also bought the TouchPad for a more nostalgic reason:

Palm ignited my love of mobile tech

Once upon a time, in a decade not so long ago (the 90s), I received a Palm Vx for Christmas.

Palm vx

Suddenly, I could have my calendar and contact list me wherever I went. I could sync my device with AvantGo content and read news articles while I waited to get my allergy shots. I loaded Peanut Press books onto my Palm Vx and caught up on my reading while waiting in line at the grocery store.

The Palm Vx was small. It was stylish. Palm Computing (division of 3Com) had made other PDAs but none so svelte and pocketable.

I’ve had many PDAs and smartphones over the years, but none evoke the delight I felt using the Palm Vx. I dutifully tucked it into its desktop dock to charge every evening, and never left the house without it. It became my first experience of ubiquitous computing, despite the fact that it didn’t directly connect to the Internet.

When HP bought Palm in 2010, it seemed promising. Finally, the Palm brand would be nurtured.

Alas, that was not to be. In August 2011, HP announced it would no longer manufacture webOS devices, including the TouchPad, Pre 3, and Veer.

And so, when HP announced its TouchPad fire sale pricing ($99 for 16GB, $149 for 32GB), I knew I had to get one.

After all these years, what did I think of the current version of Palm OS (now webOS)?

I love it:

  • Easy to use, intuitive
  • Elegant user interface
  • Scales well to tablet use
  • Easily optimized via Preware

And, like Palm OS of years past, there’s a vibrant and committed webOS community.

And the TouchPad? With its webOS underpinnings, it’s probably the best tablet I’ve used, and I’ve tried them all!

While heavier than the iPad 2, its softly rounded edges make it comfortable to hold and use. Docked in its Touchstone, it’s easily accessible and comfortable to use at one’s desk even while charging. It’s plenty speedy after applying Preware patches and a custom kernel (I’m currently running F4 Phantom).

And despite those naysayers intent on complaining webOS and TouchPad are light on apps, I haven’t had any trouble finding apps I’ve looked for. And I’ve stumbled across great TouchPad apps too.

My favorite HP TouchPad (webOS) apps, so far:

InterfaceLIFT: Gorgeous wallpapers

Angry Birds: ’nuff said

Glimpse: Cool app that enables user to select apps to use in a multi-pane view. See these instructions for downloading Glimpse (Developers’ Cut)

Spaz HD: Great twitter app despite the odd name!

AccuWeather: The same great weather data in an app designed for TouchPad.

box: 50GB free cloud storage just for creating your account from your TouchPad!

Flickr Mundo HD: Great Flickr app, and gorgeous in Exhibition mode.

FlashCards HD: Great study aid. Easy to import cards you find online — I’m using it to study for a professional exam.

Audubon Birds: Beautiful photos and lots of great info for aviary fans

NPR Reader: For NPR fans

Kindle: To read your Kindle books. Be forewarned the Kindle icon you see on your newly purchased TouchPad is just a link to the HP Store — you still need to download it!

Quell HD: One of my favorite Android games, beautiful and relaxing

Honorable mention (aka, apps for which I couldn’t find links!):

The WSJ Reader

The Washington Post Reader

Chicago Tribune Reader

L.A. Times Reader

News Republic

USA Today

Guardian News Hub

Guardian zeitgeist

iheartradio

atPeace: Relaxing scenes and music

PodCatcher Deluxe: Nice podcast streamer

If you’re a new TouchPad owner (and even if you’ve had your TouchPad for a while), I can’t recommend highly enough James Kendrick’s TouchPad optimization article on ZDNet. He’s posted several TouchPad articles, all well worth your time.

All in all, the TouchPad is a very good tablet made even better by webOS. If you’re fortunate enough to find one, I say go for it!

Google Chrome OS Notebook (CR-48): Discovering Developer Mode

After being surprised and delighted to receive a Google Chrome OS Notebook (CR-48) a few days ago, I’ve been blogging about my CR-48 initial observations and day-to-day experience.

Yesterday, I decided to try out Developer mode after reading an article on ChromeOSSite.com. It’s an easy process, essentially flipping a switch located in the battery compartment, rebooting and a few other steps (outlined by ChromeOSSite.com here). When I first rebooted, I was greeted by an unnerving screen that declared the OS unverified. Clicking on this screen took me to screen explaining how to re-load the OS (the provided url mentioned loading the OS onto a thumb drive and re-installing). OOPS!

All I needed to do was to remain on the initial boot-up screen following reboot. By waiting at that screen several seconds, the system beeps a few times and then boots into the user log-in screen (as expected). Whew!

My understanding is that developer mode enables:

  • Shell access & other geeky fun: As I kick around in the CR-48, I may want to delve more deeply — developer mode enables this exploration
  • More frequent OS updates: The “normal” (non-developer) mode provides a beta experience. As soon as I rebooted into developer mode, a new OS update was downloaded — perhaps an OS version closer to alpha than beta?

So far, the Developer OS version seems slightly faster than the beta. The OS still struggles with pages containing Flash plug-ins and chugs a bit when trying to load several bookmarks at a time. But hey, it’s beta (or perhaps even alpha), right? Bugs and rough edges are to be expected…. just part of the experience.

I’m still surprised that I haven’t needed to revert to using my Vaio (aside from a short time on Friday). I’m finding the Chrome OS user experience enlightening in just how much I live on the web.

I haven’t yet used the built-in Verizon 3G connectivity, and may try this out today away from home. I love that 100MB is provided free monthly, but a little concerned about how quickly I could burn through that. Luckily, Verizon has included an unlimited day pass for $9.99 in their CR-48 data plan offerings.

I’ll continue to blog on my CR-48 observations — leave a comment if you have any questions.