Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Nokia Lumia 820 - 2 week review

Lumia Resurrected
Lumia Resurrected (Photo credit: Irish Typepad)

It took some time to decide on a new Smartphone. There are so many leading phones out there and each one has their own pros and con's. My decision was ultimately made for me by the availability of my shortlisted phones from the service provider. I had narrowed my choice down to the Samsung Galaxy S3, Nokia Lumia range and on the day I went to the store the new Sony Xperia J.

Yes, the Apple iPhone was not on my shortlist. There are many reasons for this but let’s just leave it there. As it turned out my Blackberry 9800 started to give me issues and eventually stopped working so I was forced to go with what was available at the time. What was available was a Nokia Lumia 820.

I had been a fan of Nokia for many years and it was a big move away from Nokia to Blackberry for me. However moving from Blackberry back to Nokia was not that difficult. I have now had my Lumia 820 for a little over two weeks and have gotten to know it quite well.

The first thing that I noticed is the weight of the phone, due to the wireless charging cover the phone is slightly heavier than you would expect for a modern day Smartphone. It actually feels comfortable though, like you are holding something of substance. It is also good to note that Nokia's build quality is still as good as it always was. Wireless charging is very impressive and the Lumia charges quickly wirelessly. Just place the phone the wireless charge pad and it starts charging, no more looking for cables and ensuring the connection is made.

The Nokia-Microsoft partnership is starting to pay off; the biggest draw card for me was the integration with my Microsoft account. Once the details were put in the phone was setup and all my contacts were synced. Likewise with other accounts such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn etc...

It is unfortunately quite a surprise at the lack of integration with a Windows computer and the software available. The Nokia Ovi suite was a powerful piece of software that allowed to you basically control your phone from your pc. Now there is no such thing.

If you are not using an Exchange server it seems like Microsoft don't care about you. Calendar integration with your non-Exchange mailbox is non-existent. There is always a work-around of course but surely being a Microsoft to Microsoft device you would expect better.

Using the phone is very easy and the home screen is extremely customisable. Although there are only two screens to flick through, at first I thought this was very limiting. Now two weeks in I find it very useful. If the app I need is used often I just pin it to my home-screen. Else I flick one screen over and find it there, no need to scroll through five, six screens. What you need is there at your fingertips, and what you don't need at your tips is a flick away.

Sure the home screen can be boring with the colour blocking (one colour) for most apps, but the live tiled apps have constantly changing images and notifications popping up. Again when you have used the phone these minor things don't bother you that much.

A minor bug bear that I do have is that to make a call you have to perform at least three actions. It doesn't sound like much but when you need to phone a lot of people this does waste time. Messaging people is also as cumbersome to text someone. The redeeming feature though is the predictive text is really good and often selects the next word in your sentence before you have even typed the first letter. Something I would like to see though is if you hold down the letter, it should make it a capital letter, it is a nuisance holding shift and the letter.

Internet Explorer on the phone is slick and you can view the original websites almost as easily as mobile websites. You can't configure much though and as such your Internet always opens to the last page browsed and there is no setting for a homepage. Again though you can pin a page to the home screen and use that.

The features that made Nokia phones of old really well have been carried over to the Lumia range. Nokia Maps, Navigation which is free for life are really great tools to have and so far have been 100% accurate. The camera is good and with the now default Carl Zeiss optics you almost expect the camera to be decent for a happy snapper like me.

The new Nokia City Lens is an awesome tool; it has wowed many friends and family and will be of much use on travels to cities that you are not familiar with. The ability to hold the phone and turn around and select where you want to go makes life easier when you need to find the closest Italian restaurant or grocery store.

Nokia Music is really impressive and although I have not upgraded my account to the plus account I still get a lot of music out of this default app. The ability to play a song, purchase it or even take it offline for later listening pleasure is decent. Mix Radio is a great feature if you can’t make your mind up and wish to listen to specific genre of music. Select your genre and hit play.

The benefit of Nokia partnering with Microsoft is seen and felt with Skydive - with 7GB off cloud storage made available for free you can store your Office documents and access them on the phone or pc. Using OneNote helps you make those quick notes that was once reserved for those pesky yellow sticky notes. These features have come in very handy over the last few weeks.

The other integrations that I like is the Xbox integration and games. My Xbox is linked to my phone and with extra apps installed I can basically control my Xbox from my phone. The games available are awesome and the quality of the games that run on the phone is incredible.

The main drawback so far is that you cannot attach documents to e-mails sent from your phone. Maybe Microsoft are trying to drive people to use SkyDrive and share a link to the file from there? Either way it is very limiting and painful that you can only e-mail pictures.

If there was a feature I wish the phone had, which it presently doesn't is the ability to have profiles. To quickly change between silent and other settings would be nice. You are only limited to vibrate and vibrate + ring. If on vibrate other sounds still play which when you have just got your six month old to sleep is not good.

The much debated App store is not that bad. I think Nokia and Microsoft have gone for a quality over quantity approach on this front. There are some really brilliant apps and the apps that have made a name of themselves on other phone systems like Android and iPhone can be found on the Windows Store. Granted not all the apps but then again Windows 8 phone is the relative new comer to the market and the app store will get bigger over time.

Overall the phone is good. It does have a number of shortcoming that's I hope will be addressed in later updates and with Nokia taking a progressive step in setting up a site dedicated solely to suggestions to make the phones better I think they may well be on the way back, albeit against very tough competition.

I would give the phone a 7.5 out of 10 rating. It is still early days though so I look forward to playing with it more and will let you all know in about six months time if things have gotten better or worse.

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Tuesday, 28 August 2012

5 Tips to prolong your notebook battery life

Notebooks these days have battery's that claim to last for hours and hours. The Macbooks are generally really good with their long life and the latest Windows pc's are also getting better. A colleague recently replaced is default factory fitted battery with a long life battery in his HP notebook. The battery is giving him a couple of hours now. This brought on a Google search for tips to prolong battery life without buying a new battery.

I came across this article from the guys at DailyFive. DailyFive is in their own words "...the simplest way to read and share breaking tech news, reviews and features on your mobile device. Whether it has buttons or batteries, it's in our backyard." You can get their app from here DailyFive.

They suggest five different ways to prolong your battery life.
  1. Dim your screen - most of the notebooks these days have power-efficient LED displays but if you are using a slightly older model, dim your display. This simple step could save you a couple of extra minutes.
  2. Change your drive - conventional hard drives uses more power spinning those platters than a solid state disk, SSD, does. By changing your disk you could see a saving of up to 30 minutes.
  3. Wi-Fi switch - if you not using your wi-fi then switch it off, either with the physical switch or by using the software. It doesn't make sense to have it on if you are not using it. The same goes for Bluetooth. You can switch your Bluetooth off independently of your wi-fi.
  4. Upgrade your software - the newer operating systems are far more power efficient and are getting better with each release so consider upgrading to the latest software.
  5. Modern day circuitry and chargers mean in it is fine to leave the computer connected to the charger. It is recommended to try and prevent the battery from discharging unnecessarily but once every 4 weeks let the battery discharge fully and leave it for a couple of hours and then follow it up with a full recharge.
There are many other ways to prolong the life of your battery and most of them are inexpensive and easy to do. Windows has a power options function that you can customise what the computer does when on battery and this will also go a long way in increasing the life of your battery.

Thanks again to the guys at DailyFive for the short and concise articles. Go get the app for yourself.
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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

What's your Klout?

Image representing Klout as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase
Klout.com, the website that claims to measure ones “klout” or influence on the web. They manage to do this through some fancy algorithm or other magic means. There are the critics of the site and the site has often being controversial in some of its Klout weightings. Just recently Justin Bieber – he of teenage pop fame – was recently surpassed by President Barak Obama of the Untied States of America.

It would seem odd that the man behind the most powerful country in the world has only recently been rated the most influential. Why only now? Klout is all about web presence and not your real-life day-to-day influential people.  So this is why people like Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber can be rated influential, because they have a very high web presence.

When I signed up for my Klout account within two days I had a score of 47. This is apparently pretty good. How I got that score I have no idea. I have a number of friends that are professional writers and bloggers, they get paid to be on the web. My score was considerably higher than theirs. Klout.com have just recently changed their algorithm and this seems to be working better now.

I like the concept behind Klout.com and it feels great to brag to people already using Klout if your score is higher but you do feel like an idiot when discussing your Klout score with someone that has no inkling of what you are talking about. You just get a blank stare and can almost hear the persons mind going “Klout score? He needs a clout against his head!”

There are a number of features to Klout such as being able to nominate who influences you and you can earn more influence in different categories as you get more “Klout” but I am not sure how it all benefits someone? I get that it is a nice metric to view a person’s influence on the web but why? Is it going to help a student get a job if he says his “Klout” score is 56, maybe if he is applying for an online product review blogger position but does it make a difference for an engineer?

Some other nice features are the “Perks” you can earn – mainly US based though – but nonetheless maybe one day the perks will be available outside of the US. Another nice display is where you fit in with your influence, your Klout Style, you can be a conversationalist to celebrity to thought leader. My style has changed three times in the last week though.

Overall, I think it is yet another nice website to play around on. Out of curiosity it is fun to build your score for bragging rights but from a business point of view I do not see the value until it starts to measure brand value then it may have some marketing spin-offs. It seems to be another form of social networking that you will need to deal with on your day-to-day social chore list. Check Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Pinterest and now your daily check of the Klout Score.

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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

9 ways to kill time on the web

Sitting at the office, bored? Wish you could do something other than stare at the desk or eagerly await some random e-mail being sent to you? How do you kill the time between 9-5 every day. Well on those boring days here are nine potential boredom relieving things to do.

  1. Lunchtimers - an interactive space where you can try make up words using fridge magnets or just annoy people trying to write their own words by moving the letters around each time they place a letter. When you are bored its the little things that count. Play here.
  2. Fractal fun - this oddly addictive, mind numbing site helps for a couple of minutes. Click on a box and see it divide into four black or red box and repeat and repeat. Check it out.
  3. Kittens - for some unknown reason looking at cute pictures of kittens seems to lighten up most peoples days. Check out the random kitten generator
  4. Probably the most addictive form of boredom relief is falling sand. You can divert four streams of sand and add fire, water, earth to your creation and go wild without getting your hands covered in sand. Play here.
  5. Sticking with games why not try the vintage styled Stackopolis. The aim of the game is to stack, stack and stack some more. Let me stack.
  6. A website I personally enjoying visiting is Kongregate, game designers get to upload the games and you get to play new games just about every day. It's a win win situation. Play now.
  7. You are bound to be Facebook anyway so why not play some Angry Birds. On Facebook you can directly challenge your mates and even brag if you bet their score. Let me hurl some birds.
  8. For those that are not into gaming, how about some mental floss? This site offers a random collection of stories from the around the web. Get lost on the web.
  9. Ever StumbledUpon something? Check out this site for other sites that fellow web surfers have stumbled across.
There are boundless items on the web to starve the boredom beast but the above should get you through a boring day at least.
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Thursday, 16 August 2012

Blackberry Torch 9800 long term review

English: BlackBerry Torch opened
English: BlackBerry Torch opened (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It has been a year of owning a Blackberry torch 9800, so I thought I would do a long term review of my thoughts about it. I have not been overly in awe of Blackberry, I was expecting something more from it but it just hasn’t delivered that knockout punch that would sell me as a brand ambassador for Blackberry.

As much as I am not overly impressed by Blackberry neither am I disappointed. The phone has done its job without any incident or faults in the last year. The much debated battery is actually very good, surprisingly, I can go about three days with lots of use out of it on a single charge. Typical usage for me includes phone calls, e-mails, browsing, Bluetooth wireless car-kit when driving, making occasional use of wi-fi networking in offices, so I use my phone for almost all of its capabilities.

The outage experienced last year by RIM did affect me, Blackberry messenger messages didn’t go through and browsing was painfully slow but for the 2-3 days it affected me, I could still phone people and just used my laptop for everything else, yes laptops still are useful.

Phone wise, I am content to bordering on happy with it. A good friend is still clinging to his Nokia and often his phone gives him some minor issues and freezes up on him, mine I think has frozen on me maybe four times. Where the Nokia is better and far superior is not so much the phone but in the Ovi suite. Blackberry Desktop Manager is dismal at best.

I don’t know why Blackberry even made such a useless piece of software. It looks and feels very much an afterthought almost like “...well Nokia and Apple have desktop software I guess we should do as well.” I wrote a blog post about a couple things to make Blackberry better and from almost a year ago to today and a couple of versions of desktop software later, it is still pathetic.

With Ovi suite you almost have full access to your phone. With Blackberry you can back it up and browse some files. I want to be able to use BBM through my pc, send sms’s, update my contacts and more but this is just not possible. Don’t even get me started on the maps, this also seems to be a case of our competitors have it so let us put a map system on as well.

Where the phone is great and is well beyond the iPhones, Nokia and Androids of this world is its e-mail support and BBM. Yes iPhones, Nokia and Android have good clients and their own chat applications but on this front Blackberry still comes out tops.

The Appworld is not vast and although I have not paid for an app and only downloaded the odd free one it is adequate for your average user. Apart from missing Angry Birds there are similar apps available to Blackberry as there are on other devices. It is also good to note that Blackberry was originally designed for the corporate market and was focused there for a long time before becoming consumer focused.

Another point I have to add is the fact that whilst Blackberry is certainly not indestructible they can endure a fall to the ground and even a kick, unlike certain Apple products that will crack and shatter and leave you with tiny glass shards in your hands if it takes a fall of anything higher than 5cm.

Something that does bother me often and this is not directly a Blackberry fault but more a fault on my service provider. The phone continuously operates on EDGE, there are random spots where I can get 3G signal but these areas feel like they are microscopic as moving the phone a few centimetres away results to reverting back to EDGE again.

In a nutshell, I am happy with the Blackberry a year down the line. I am still not 100% sold on it and will certainly look at other phones when I am due to upgrade but that does not mean I am not get another Blackberry.

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