Tag Archives: hardware

Two weeks with a Nokia Lumia 920

Just in time for Nokia to announce the Lumia 925 (and 928), I’m belatedly posting my review of a Lumia 920 (d’oh!).

As a techie and long-time disparager of Microsoft technology, the Xbox 360 was the MS product which turned my head. I won mine in a competition (having been a PlayStation and Nintendo gamer), and from the very first experience I was impressed – it was easy to get up-and-running, get online and pull in my social contacts from Facebook, and it was generally a smooth and impressive device. Since then I’ve also gotten to know some of the folks at Microsoft who are focussed on working with the Open Source community, and my opinions have distinctly softened and changed.

I’ve played with both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 on display in stores, so when the nice folks at Nokia Connects offered me the opportunity to trial their flagship Lumia 920 for a fortnight in March, I jumped at the chance to immerse myself in the experience. The last Nokia phone I’d owned was the slider  7650 model from way back in 2001 – I’d been a loyalist through the 1990s until then, but wandered into BlackBerry land for a couple of years after that. I’ve also had every iPhone model since the 3G and have in parallel tried Android devices running 2.2 through to 4.1. So, from both a hardware and software perspective, I guess I’ve got a fairly broad experience, and was intrigued to find how a Windows Phone from Nokia would suit my “power user” habits!

A couple of notes. Firstly, if I’m mixing tenses here it’s just because I’ve now returned the device per the trial arrangement. The other thing to point out is that I really did do road test of the phone for two weeks, to the extent of popping my nanoSIM into a microSIM adapter and using it for as much as I could. More on this to come.

The first thing to say is that the bright red Lumia 920 looked and felt fantastic in the hand, although it is substantially larger than the iPhone 5.

The Nokia 920, customised to taste

The Nokia 920, customised to taste

One tiny issue I felt that wasn’t considered was the central positioning of the camera lens and flash in the back of the device, which meant I’d often have my hand across it and needed to wipe it, but I suppose a case or skin might have reduced that. The screen was a visual treat, it looks stunning in day-to-day use, and was also very nice for watching the couple of videos I looked at while I had the Lumia. The iPhone took over most of my photographic life for many years (which is sad in many ways, I realise), and I’ve got thousands of photos stored on it. Coming back to the camera on the Lumia, apart from the seemingly more-frequent need to clean the lens, it produced some great results – although I did miss the HDR capability which might have levelled out some of the contrast in a few shots I attempted.

no HDR

HDR would have helped with this early-morning shot

One particularly innovative feature of the camera on Windows Phone 8 is the concept of “lenses” – apps which can extend the basic function of the camera application itself. I also appreciated the way in which the Photos app enabled me to both browse my own Facebook and other social network albums, but also to see the latest content from my friends. Clever stuff. Oh, and SkyDrive let me get to the images straight away across different devices and on the web. +1 for sensible functionality. I vaguely missed Instagram for a couple of weeks, but I imagine that app will materialise for the platform before too long (and since the Instagram/Facebook “ToS-gate” I’ve largely moved back to Flickr or to dual posting anyway).

Rounding out the hardware commentary, I’ll add that the battery life was acceptable (I tended to pop the phone on charge whilst in the office and overnight, but it seemed on a par with my other device). I was also very happy with the performance of the phone – everything was extremely fluid and I didn’t encounter any hangups or freezes. Very slick.

Live tiles

Live tiles

Time, then, to talk about Windows Phone 8. I’ve admired the rebooted and reimagined Windows Phone UI from afar for a while now. After all that came before it in Windows Mobile efforts, it’s a bold and stunning revolution of a user experience – and I believe it is one that works.

It’s an interface that is alive, glanceable, and easy to use. The live tiles in particular are a game changer. The resizable tiled UI lives up to the selling point of true personalisation. More than that, the list of apps is one swipe away, and not only is is searchable, it’s super fast to jump to any lettered section of apps (sorted alphabetically – crazy, right?). I am a definite fan. I’m not yet convinced of the Modern UI / tiles in Windows 8 the desktop experience, but that’s more because of the janky need to switch between old and new paradigms to get some things done – for Xbox, tablet and phone, I think this is a useful approach.

The alphabetical list of apps is useful

The alphabetical list of apps is useful

I was pleased to be able to get back to my content and online services quickly, at least in relation to a subset of the apps I use regularly. Amazon (Kindle and Shop, plus a handy barcode scanner tile shortcut), Evernote, Last.fm, Spotify, Netflix, and Paypal were all present and correct. Twitter is covered by multiple apps (I chose Rowi), as is Facebook – although in the case of the latter most are fairly poor mobile web wrappers. There’s a giffgaff app already too, for all you giffgaffers out there!

However – and you may have seen this coming – the key missing parts of my daily workflow were all essentially app deficiencies. No 1Password, no good route planning apps for bus and train, no TomTom, no Feedly or Flipboard, no Instagram, no Google+ or Google Maps, or anything decent for YouTube.

Petty arguments between technology behemoths aside, I’d love to see more organisations taking Windows Phone seriously as a platform, as it does involve rethinking existing UI strategies, and I believe that the Modern UI is something here to stay across Microsoft devices. A few apps do exist for other things I use like BBC News, Github and Flickr, but all could do with an update or an “official” app to come along. I genuinely believe it is a mistake for organisations to ignore this platform.

Finally of course we reach “the prison I knowingly built myself” – and that is called Apple iCloud. The majority of my music is now stored there, and whilst the Windows Phone app for OS X was very effective at enabling me to sync iTunes playlists, I couldn’t just grab things from the cloud when I wanted. Messaging was particularly frustrating too, as I barely have any Windows Live or Skype contacts compared with the folks I interact with daily via iMessage. Messaging was annoying, as iPhone users tended to end up getting half of my conversations, some via text, and then missing things as they were logged in via their email address. I could see some great stuff in the Windows Contacts world, having groups of contacts whose updates I wanted to follow, but I wasn’t immersed enough for it to immediately work for me.

To round off on a high note – let’s talk about online management. Both Google and Microsoft seem to have this right, and Apple are living in the past. Using the My Windows Phone portal was great, and a better experience than even Android’s ability to send apps from Google Play to the phone – I liked the integrated view of SkyDrive, Xbox Live etc.

Thanks Nokia for a chance to play with your lovely device – definitely something I’d recommend to those looking to commit to a change and wanting a modern device. A few more apps, and a way out of my prison, and I’d be there myself…

Footnote:

A last, personal and slightly unrelated note – Microsoft are very lucky to have hired the man who persuaded me to leave IBM, Patrick Chanezon – Pat’s blog post about his choice in many ways mirrors my experience of dealing with Microsoft over the past few years – there’s a much more heterogeneous and open approach there now, and I wish him very well in the future, I had a great year at VMware working with him!

About these ads

When “end of an era” doesn’t cover it

This week, I tendered my resignation at IBM, after 10 years and 4 months, to a manager who has been my team leader and friend for the past 3 years. I can honestly say that it was a really hard moment; but also the right moment to make this particular transition.

As I’ve repeatedly written over the past few years – IBM has been a company I always aspired to work for, and once I had the chance, one that I’ve been immensely proud to represent. It’s a company that has endured over a century, and one that I was able to spend time with for a tenth of its existence – it was really the age of both WebSphere and the rise of IBM Software Group, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been there.

I have brilliant memories of the past decade. IBM is an amazing company and I will always value the chance to be a part of it, particularly in a wonderful location like the Hursley Lab. The people I’ve worked with, and with whom I’ve formed what I believe will be enduring friendships, have been simply outstanding. There were so many opportunities to do great things, not only in “the day job” but also as a BlueIQ Ambassador and social collaboration advocate, with IBM developer communities, in the universities programme representing IBM at careers fairs and as a guest lecturer in degree programmes, and the schools and community programme as a BlueFusion volunteer and mentor to kids at schools in deprived areas. I’ve also loved the chances to learn from others formally and informally, and to act as a mentor to others.

This will sound like a total paean, but it’s very true that there are amazing talents around IBM. In 7 years in IBM Software Services, and more than 3 years representing the development, strategy and product management teams in the lab back out to the field, I amassed a list of friends and colleagues from across continents, business units, and brands. It’s amazing to think of the broad reach of my network and I can’t help but be grateful for that.

My next steps are still forming; but I’m looking forward to spending more time with Open Source communities, with developers, with new technology, with connected systems and the Internet of Things, and as a speaker and writer. I’m also grateful to a range of friends for their support, particularly in taking over initiatives like eightbar, and in enabling me to remain involved in strands like Eclipse and MQTT.

Thanks for following me, reading my blog, sharing my thoughts, and joining the journey. I hope what comes next will be a continuation of the path I’ve been on; and an exciting next step in developing the direction I’ve been headed in.

Centennial

On June 16 2011, IBM is 100 years old – a little older if you include the companies that existed before the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation (that was later renamed to International Business Machines) merged in 1911.

That’s pretty good going, for a technology company.

If you’ve listened to me speak this year, you will have heard me mention various reflections on how IBM has endured as an organisation. In amongst all the celebrations, and excitement, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection this year. I’m an historian by education and interest, but also a technologist; and perhaps I might even dare to describe myself as a futurist. The IBM 100 celebration has really set me thinking.

Personal Beginnings

Hursley My first introduction to the place where I now work, our lab at Hursley, was when I set foot in Hursley House as a customer, which I think was sometime around about 1999. I was struck by the beautiful wood-panelled (or Wedgewood-decorated) surroundings, the sense of history (IBM has had a research and development lab here in the UK for over 50 years), and the excitement at being at the location of some of the biggest technical innovations of the century.

I grew up and went to school in Portsmouth in the 1980s. IBM at the time was huge. The IBM PC was becoming commonplace, although I was always more of an Acorn lad; many of my school friends had parents who worked at the IBM UK headquarters in North Harbour. I couldn’t fail to know what IBM did, and I grew up learning about computers, how they worked, and wanting to learn and do more with technology. I was a schoolboy nerd, sure – but I knew what IBM did and how important the company was to the technology industry.

The more I’ve been involved with “social” at IBM, the more I’ve come to realise an issue, which SVPs like John Iwata recognised several years ago. You don’t buy IBM-branded consumer software off the shelves now, and although we invented the personal computer, very few people realise that now – let alone care about the PC as a device, by comparison to mobile phones, tablets and game consoles (even if IBM chips do power all three of the current dominant home gaming platforms…). That’s one of the many reasons why IBM chose to trust its employees to tell the broader story of the company and its capabilities through social networking and online interaction, a situation that stretches back to 1997 when IBMers were first actively encouraged to be online and public, and that has continued as the social web has continued to develop.

IBM and history

As I look at the history of the organisation and the various world-changing innovations that we’ve catalogued and highlighted via the IBM 100 site, it makes me THINK.

Many youngsters don’t appreciate the invention of the floppy disk now. In fact, most of them will never have seen one. They are as bizarre an item today as the massive twin-tape-spinning machines I used to see on TV as a child, harking back to the 1960s and 1970s era IBM mainframes. Why should the floppy disk matter? Well, in a sense, not at all… they are a relic of a bygone technical age, before the Internet. But, of course, without the floppy disk, we wouldn’t have been able to build the amazing things we have now. Tablets, mobile phones, tiny portable wireless computers. Don’t forget where we’ve come from.

Talking of where we’ve come from, the BBC has posted a lovely video featuring my friend and mentor Dr Andy Stanford-Clark and the Hursley lab, talking about IBM’s centennial. If you listen at the start and end of the video, you’ll also hear the company anthem

Why does any of this matter? Does it, or should it, matter, that the company that I’m working for helped to put man on the moon using computing equipment less sophisticated than today’s smartphones? Or that we helped to unravel the human genome? Or that we’ve built a computer called Watson that can instantly understand highly nuanced and difficult questions? Some of these things have had clear commercial imperatives, others may have had less, but all have helped to increase the human race’s understanding of the world in which we exist, and have helped towards greater things. Big Data, mobile apps, event-driven business, and the Internet, have all built on top of these earlier advances.

I haven’t blogged for a while, because I’ve been travelling and speaking. A poor excuse, but it does at least enable me to comment that last month I toured the Nordics, and had an opportunity to see a working IBM punchcard sorting machine at our HQ in Helsinki, Finland, along with a variety of other cool things (well they were cool to me – just go with it…)

Numeric keypad Start | Stop IBM Series 82 Card Sorter  IBM Parts Catalogue  IBM Clock  System/360 and 370 Electromatic Typewriter Emergency Pull System Reset

Final thoughts

My final thought is, fundamentally, a mix of cautious optimism, and fear of a technology “generation gap”. I’ve grown up during an era straddling the pre- and post-Internet generations. I’m actually hugely grateful – it gives me perspective. I’m an enthusiastic adopter of many of the technologies that have arisen as a result of the interconnected world, and my day job is involved with enabling systems to work together, reliably. Important stuff, in my opinion.

The current/next generation is growing up in an immediately-connected world, and faced not with keyboards and mice or touchpads, but with magic pieces of glass, or indeed, gestures in the air. We’ve moved beyond the period where I hacked open my Acorn Electron and soldered in headphones and a switch to avoid bothering my parents, and indeed beyond the time where graphics and sound cards could be slotted in and out of a motherboard, to an age where everything you need is apparently contained within a magic sheet of glass which responds at a touch.

This is fantastic – glorious – magical? – Technology, as our friends at Apple like to say, just gets out of the way. But, as various commentators are observing, this progress comes at the price of the wider population understanding technology, or even having the inclination to dig beneath the surface and try to fathom how these super-duper, integrated chips and advanced operating systems, enable this advanced behaviour. I’m not saying that every child should be forced to understand programming, chip design, technology internals, etc. – but an awareness of what got us here, and how we can continue driving forward, and inquisitiveness, seems to me to be essential. That’s why I’m delighted by the emergence of Arduino and electronics prototyping; and by The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park; and why I’m proud to be an IBMer, aware of our heritage, and still helping to build a Smarter Planet. It’s a responsibility to continue to understand, explain, educate, and help others to make sense of the capabilities we have developed.

Final, final thought: how can we all work together to change the world again, tomorrow?

Book recommendation: Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, by Lou Gerstner.

Video recommendation: I’ve already blogged about IBM’s story of the first 100 years. Check out the videos :-)

iPhone 4 and the accessories conundrum

Apple took the decision to change the physical design of the iPhone in the latest revision (also known as iPhone 4, or, “ahmmmmm shiny WANT”). It’s a good move as the 3G/3GS was lovely but a tiny bit dated. The fourth-generation model sits beautifully flatly on a tabletop and it simply gleams in its glass-and-aluminium glory. And when you start to read text on that retina display – woah – it’s beyond crisp.

One issue I did foresee before picking mine up was the accessories problem. iPod owners are used to this, of course, as every model of the nano has had a different form factor requiring a new case, or whatever. One particularly smart thing Apple have done all along, though, is retain the universal dock connector so that cables and things are all interchangeable.

For my 3G and 3GS (yes, I went through both generations) I’d had a Mophie Juicepack Aira Mophie Juicepack Air case which acted as a second battery, handy considering how much I tended to use it as a mobile computing device during the day. I’d also made the significant investment of a TomTom mount for the car. I more-or-less knew that the Juicepack wouldn’t work on the iPhone 4 as the shape of the device is so different, but I was moderately hopeful that the TomTom kit would work since I’d just had a new car stereo fitted and I use the mount (and TomTom app) all the time.

Well. It turns out that the iPhone 4 is exactly the same height as the 3GS, so it does indeed fit neatly into the TomTom mount. However – I found that it wouldn’t charge. It turned out that this was an issue with the way in which the base of the TomTom mount used to be pushed backwards by the converse curved shell of the older model… and there is now a tiny gap between the body of the phone and the back of the mount.

A trip to a local craft store and just over £1 spent fixed that particular issue for me and I now have a working mount. I made a quick video (using the camera and iMovie on the new iPhone) to demonstrate the fix. Take a look.

I’m guessing there will either be a whole new mount, or an “official” fix/patch from TomTom in the future – but this is working brilliantly for me. Tell all your friends!

Living with the LG Arena

Thanks to the nice people over at LG, I’ve had the opportunity to play around with one of their devices for the past month – the LG Arena KM900. Let’s get the next bit out of the way straight off the bat…

Disclaimer: LG solicited my feedback on their products and provided me with a free phone for evaluation for one month.

Right, that piece is done ;-)

frame3.jpg

Bearing in mind that before the iPhone, my previous mobile phone was a pretty old Sony Ericsson T6xx, this was quite a change from the mobile phones I’d handled in the past. Of course, the flipside of that is that I’ve now been using an iPhone 3G and 3GS for more than a year, so the Arena had to cope with many of my prejudices formed on the basis of familiarity of how a touchscreen phone “should” (or, at least, could) work. I wanted to give it a fair chance, though, so I chose to ditch my BlackBerry Pearl 8100 for the period I had the Arena – frankly, not a hard choice, as I’m no fan of the BlackBerry UI, which I’m convinced was designed by someone who hates other people.

The out-of-the-box impression was certainly pretty good. It’s a sleek, shiny, device which feels well-made with a brushed metal and glass front. It’s got a great feature set, too – 5.0MP camera which also records video, Dolby Mobile audio, front and rear-facing cameras, wifi, bluetooth, Java, an FM transmitter, multiformat video playback including DIVX, 3G video calling… the list really goes on. It also has quite an interesting 3D user interface where the screen rotates around a virtual cube as you swipe left and right through the menus. So it scores highly on both the prettiness/style and the features. It’s lighter and smaller than the iPhone, too.

I’ll be honest… I had a mixed experience with with LG Arena. I think it could be a great consumer phone, if you take a step back and forget that the iPhone exists. The camera is great (and has a flash), and the video quality and playback were more than acceptable – very good, actually. I confess I didn’t try the music player much – I guess such things are becoming pretty commoditised and it seemed to be fairly standard. This was the first phone I’ve had with a front-facing camera for video calls, which was a nice feature – but I don’t know anyone who has a video call-capable phone or who uses that, so it was somewhat redundant. The range of stuff available on this handset is great, though. Email and web browsing, check and check… although the browser interface was a little finickity at times.

I had a few issues, the first being, sadly, the screen. Touchscreens are becoming de rigeur and this one looks good… until you try to view it in strong daylight, when the fact that it is highly reflective becomes a huge problem. Plus, it collects fingerprints like crazy. I also found that it wasn’t as responsive as other screens I’ve used, and some aspects of the UI were frustrating (swiping through menu options left-to-right, as well as through lists up and down, for instance). It looks stylish, but it’s not the best experience I’ve had. It does offer a level of haptic feedback, which I switched off straight away – by default, when you touch the screen it buzzes to simulate the experience of having been touched, but in practical terms I found this somewhat annoying.

The next drawback is fairly minor, as it’s mostly a business issue. I wasn’t able to use this on an office network, as the wireless didn’t support either 802.1x certificates or LEAP – disappointing, but not a core feature in a consumer model, I’ll accept. However, there was another problem with the way in which the wireless and networking support worked… it has a fairly complex set of profiles which (I think) are supposed to help to decide which type of network to use at which time, and I found that it kept prompting me to use wifi or GPRS rather than just defaulting to the faster option, which did drive me nuts from time-to-time.

The final complaint I have relates to probably the biggest emerging area in the mobile market… Applications. In theory, this is a Java / J2ME capable device. So, I merrily installed a series of applications, none of which were really suited to the touchscreen, and all of which looked very plain. An SDK is available, but I found it was poorly documented. There’s no centralised way of getting hold of apps, either. LG have a couple of downloadable “widgets” on their website, but having downloaded them to a PC I couldn’t find a way of installing them. All-in-all I felt it was a device that is highly capable, but crying out for an easier way to extend functionality.

Thank you, LG, for giving me the opportunity to take a look. I think it’s a nice handset, got a great combination of hardware features, a nice looking UI – but, in my opinion (and I’ll readily admit I’m an uber-fan of one of the competitors here), it’s let down by the “small touches” and by the software.