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5 years ago

Smartphone Round Robin: First Thoughts on the BlackBerry 8310

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5 years ago

Samsung SCH-i760, Video First Look

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5 years ago

Review: BlueAnt Supertooth II Speakerphone

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5 years ago

Round Robin: Fond Farewell to the iPhone

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5 years ago

Round Robin: iPhone Mike's Final Thoughts on the ATT Tilt

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5 years ago

Sprint Touch - Video First Look

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5 years ago

Pogue Hates Windows Mobile, Does It Need a UI Overhaul?

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So David Pogue put up a review of the T-Mobile Shadow (Video First Look of the Shadow here) - I'm jealous because the Shadow is the device I'm itching to try out for real once the Smartphone Round Robin is over. He gives the hardware and the specs very high praise, but spends the bulk of his review railing against Windows Mobile.

Frankly, Windows Mobile 6 is a mess. Common features require an infinitude of taps and clicks, and the ones you need most are buried in menus. Apparently the Windows Mobile 6 team learned absolutely nothing from Windows Mobile 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Read: Looks Good, Feels Good, but Wait... - New York Times

I have a few thoughts on this (including a Zuney zany idea!)- read on after the break.

Fair 'nough, I suppose, that Pogue is frustrated by extra dialogs, menus, and wait times. CrackBerry Kevin and iPhone Mike expressed similar complaints in their Round Robin posts. A lot of that is, as Pogue says, the manufacturer “punting” their responsibility to tweak Windows Mobile a bit to match the hardware. But a lot of it is stuff that I might be blind to - I pop up menus to do things and it doesn't often bother me because I have the shortcuts built into my “lizard brain.”

What I mean is that Windows Mobile works for me in large part because I 'grok' it. I encourage other power users to try to 'grok' it too so they can access the incredible functionality squirreled away inside Windows Mobile. With non-power-users, though, I often find myself just suggesting they get something simpler, which is a real downer.

We mentioned that Microsoft is playing around a bit with the interface with the Shadow, and may be playing around with the interface in general for the (unlikely) rumored Windows Mobile 6.1 update. Should they be playing around more?

I'm sure there would be a lot of support for a complete User Interface overhaul of Windows Mobile. In fact, I'd say most people keeping an eye on this space are expecting just such an overhaul from Photon / Windows Mobile 7.

In an IM conversation with our very own Merlyn3D, I had a surprising thought. The Zune isn't doing all that well in the market of MP3 players (and that's not too surprising), but what if Microsoft doesn't care? What if they're using the Zune to build up their “interface chops” and using what few buyers they've gained as secret beta testers? We know that we won't see a “Zune Phone”, but we also know that the Zune and Windows Mobile share the CE Platform underpinnings.

So how about it? If we want to know how Microsoft is going to simplify the User Interface of Windows Mobile in Photon, do we need to look no further than the Zune?

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5 years ago

HTC Touch gets Memory Bump, New Colors

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HTC Touch gets Memory Bump, New Colors

The biggest knock I have on the HTC Touch (Video first look here) is that it's pretty short on memory. I spent way too much time uninstalling apps and managing what was open - it was just too small. Fortunately, the Sprint Touch doesn't look to have that issue. Now HTC has announced that they're giving the GSM version a bump - 256 MB of ROM and 128 MB of RAM. They've also added two colors to the already available “Elegant Black” and “Wasabi Green” -- “Burgundy Red” and “Immaculate White.” The Red version looks pretty awesome, me want.

There's also apparently another version of the Touch coming from CarPhoneWarehouse, designed by Ted Baker and called The Needle. It looks to have the same functionality, but with slightly redesigned buttons and a slightly slimmer shape. New color too - a purple/pink - and apparently comes preloaded with a cuckoo clock wallpaper. Yeah.

link via pocketnow.com

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5 years ago

Observations from the Centro, Implications for the next WM Treo

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(Editor's Note: Malatesta remembers that Palm has claimed that they intend to share hardware between their PalmOS devices and their Windows Mobile devices. The latest and coolest PalmOS hardware? The Centro. Will the Treo 800w sport similar improvements?)

Recently in the TC forums and on WMExperts, there has been a lot of discussion of what the upcoming Palm Treo 800w will have for hardware and what features it will contain. No doubt that many will judge the device just on pure numbers e.g. how much memory, how fast a processor and, if like the recent AT&T Tilt, it has all the technological bells and whistles that could be crammed in.

While the hardware specs are certainly important, I’d also argue how that hardware is implemented and integrated in the OS is just as significant, if not more so.

Read on for more of Malatesta's thoughts!

Case in point: Bluetooth. Palm Treos all have version 1.2 and also have the notorious reputation of being some of the worst implementations of this popular standard. Blame it on the hardware or blame it on the BT software stack, either way Treos are not known for their stellar BT performance. However, if you look at the new Sprint Mogul (ppc-6800), it has BT 2.0 -- surely an upgrade from the ubiquitous 1.2 standard that is out there. But here too HTC drops the ball a bit as many report the usual: connection and static issues, something that was partially addressed in the recent HTC ROM update.

Lesson learned: just because it’s the latest version of something doesn’t mean it works well.

So how is Palm doing in this regard with their latest device, the Palm Centro? I recently picked one up and one thing is clear: Palm seems to have finally nailed down hardware performance and integration. Will this new found hardware improvement carry over to their upcoming WM Treo 800? Too early to tell, but the Centro inspires confidence where it was previously lacking. Read below for my review of the new Centro hardware and why this bodes well for WM Treo users.

Keyboard

Changes: The Centro’s keys are slightly smaller and don’t have the “smile” layout of previous Treos. They are also not hard plastic buttons but rather soft and rubbery. The keys are printed as a single sheet, as opposed to poking through the plastic shell.

Opinion: Despite the size, the new style keyboard is very nice and a keeper. My thumbs no longer get sore at the tips from banging on hard plastic keys and I have to say, I’m delighted with the new keyboard.

D-pad/Soft buttons

Changes: The new D-pad has a large center button, in fact much larger than the current dimple button that some find hard to press for the “Enter” function. I was concerned when I first saw the change as I felt the current D-pad was actually the most comfortable I’ve used on any WM device (the HTC 6700 hands down being the worst). Also the new Soft buttons e.g. the Green and Red phone buttons are now flat and polished.

Opinion: The new design choice is preferable. The D-pad on the Centro is very smooth, requires little effort and is even gentler to push—if the expression “like buttah!” ever meant anything, it applies to the new hard keys of the Centro. The rest of the soft keys are also large enough for your thumb and I find easier to toggle than my Motorola Q, which can be quite difficult to push at times.

Bluetooth

Changes: The Centro still has BT 1.2 (although it may actually have BT 2.0 + EDR)

Opinion: Bluetooth on the Centro is a finally a pleasure to use. I’ve had no dropped calls, little static and the call quality, especially on my Blueant Z9, was top notch—even better than my Treo 700wx. I’m not sure if the hardware radio is different or the software is enhanced, but it looks as if Palm finally figured it out.

Camera

Changes: The Centro still has the same measly 1.3MP camera as the 7xx series.

Opinion: Once again, in comparison to the Treo 700wx’s, it is sharper, brighter and has better contrast. For 1.3MP it’s actually one of the best I’ve seen and I could only imagine how a 2+MP camera may look.

Cell Radio (reception)

Changes: Unknown

Opinion: Improvement. As many have attested in the forums the Centro has great reception. I can make calls in my apartment in some spots where before on my 700wx I could not.

Speakers (ear & rear)

Changes: Unknown

Opinion: The rear speaker on the Centro, though still a mono it has quite fantastic clarity and is very loud. I’d liken it to the Motorola Q and can easily say it bests any of the Treo 7xx series by a long shot. Same with the earpiece: call quality has a nice warm sound to it and volume quite ample (though as usual, some may prefer even louder).

Screen

Changes: Removed blank border around the screen edge

Opinion: The Centro’s screen is quite impressive. Though the smallest yet (2.2” versus 2.6” on the Treo line), contrast is high, resolution looks great and now without the border, the full screen real estate is finally used.

Miscellaneous

Screen Protector: The Centro's a built in, protective layer over the screen appears to be a slight improvement over the protective layers on Treos. In turn, there is no included screen-protector sheet (which was always junk anyways). Like a ringer switch, some things are just so obvious and implementing a built in screen protector is one of them. Nice to see Palm filing in these gaps.

Battery Cover: Though some have had problems with removing it, the new battery cover is very flush with the device and eliminates any chance of it accidentally popping off due to hitting of the release button (since there is no release button). The Centro’s back feels solid and clean with the device contours.

Size: Despite what you may think form seeing pictures of the Centro, it is very tiny. It’s so narrow that my Arkon Universal vehicle mount can’t hold it (the clamps don’t reach the sides!). I don’t think we’ll see the new Treos as small as the Centro, but it may be close. The good news is they maintain very good ergonomics i.e. it feels great in the hand as opposed to the more awkward Motorola Q.

Power Saving: The Centro has dimmer keyboard lights than all the other Treos, which is a good thing since the Treo lights were often too bright. Palm also put in an option to turn of the screen automatically during a phone call, saving precious battery life. Finally, even though it has only an 1150mah battery, the Centro’s hardware seems to manage it quite well. It’s nothing mind blowing, but most seem to be quite pleased despite negative expectations.

LED: Okay Palm, you fail on this one though. The LED is supposed to blink for new voicemail or SMS but it does not, so fix it on the Centro and have it for the WM Treo!

Conclusions

What makes this review interesting is this: the $99 Centro has virtually the same hardware specs as the more expensive Palm 7xx line, yet performance of that hardware is remarkably different. The Centro easily beats all other Treos in every category in hardware: camera, screen, speakers, reception, keyboard, buttons and even BT. (Of course this is the least we should expect from smartphone manufactures, but unfortunately it’s not uncommon to find a company taking 2-steps forward and 1-step back on devices.)

Maybe it has something to do with Palm being reportedly heavily involved with the Centro’s hardware design or maybe it’s on Inventec’s end (the OEM of the Centro)—either way, it’s a very nice change. If the leaked Treo 800w mockup image is accurate, it looks like Palm will be keeping the Centro and Treo lines separate in terms of style, but hopefully this improved quality of hardware performance will carry over for WM aficionados.

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5 years ago

Opera Mini 4 Out of Beta

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Opera Mini 4 Out of Beta

We liked the Beta of Opera Mini 4 a whole heck of a lot, so we see no reason we'd feel any differently about the non-beta version:

Opera Mini 4 is based on the same rendering engine as the Opera 9.5 desktop browser. The browser still has a very small install size, less than 100k, even though we've added all these cool new features.

Go and take a look at the giant list-o-features, then tell anybody still stuck in featurephone land to install it post-haste on their phones. Windows Mobile users - well - you'll need to use it in a Java Virtual Machine.

I think that Opera Mini's zoom implementation might actually have a slight leg up on the native Opera 8.65's version. That version of Opera is my default browser, btw, or it least it is when I'm not using an iPhone as my main brain.

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5 years ago

Microsoft Responds to Android: Meh.

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Microsoft Responds to Android: Meh.

I'll admit that Google's announcement of the Android Platform had its intended effect on me: I saw the list of folks on board, I heard that an 'early SDK' is coming on Monday, and I believed that not only was Android not vaporware, but it was something pretty significant. Today things look a little shakier - Who's in control of what parts? Just how locked-down will some of these things be? What guarantee will there be than an app will work on disparate versions of Android (hello Symbian)?

Basically: Are there too many chefs in the Android kitchen?

Microsoft has a different take than I do, and it's a shrug of the shoulders:

“It really sounds that they are getting a whole bunch of people together to build a phone and that's something we've been doing for five years,” said Scott Horn, general manager of marketing at Microsoft's Windows Mobile business. “I don't understand the impact that they are going to have.”

Microsoft has forecast that more than 20 million handsets running Windows Mobile software will be sold in the business year to June 2008, nearly double the amount sold last year.

Read: Rivals dismiss threat of Google mobile platform | Reuters

Now, I strongly suspect that there are GoogleFanBoys out there to rival AppleFanBoys and they're currently bookmarking the above article to better make Microsoft eat their words someday. At the present moment, though, “I don't understand” actually isn't all that bad of a reaction - it feels like we barely know more about Android than we did on Sunday.

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5 years ago

gPhone: Android to be Announced Today?

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gPhone: Android to be Announced Today?

Update: Yep, it's for real, Engadget has some deets.

Update 2: Yowza, this is looking like a really, really big deal. I am a little worried for Microsoft, but I am very worried for Palm. More details on that particular issue at TreoCentral.

Them's the rumors over the weekend. As we reported a month ago, it looks like Google intends to compete directly with Windows Mobile - offering not hardware but a full smartphone OS. They appear to have more than 30 partners on board - basically everybody you'd think that might be interested - and their OS should be full-featured:

Google will announce an open-source development system for mobile applications that will contain a full set of components, including an operating system, a set of common application programming interfaces, a middleware layer, a customizable user interface and even a mobile browser, according to sources. Instant messaging standard protocols will also be supported.

Read: Google to unveil mobile platform; target: iPhone?

Further rumors - Wind River is apparently going to be applying their embedded Linux know-how to the project. That particular bit should be interesting to those who followed the Foleo debacle, as Wind River was also on board for that project. Although many will see this as a shot at Microsoft, I'm willing to bet that it has Palm, planning their own Linux-based Smartphone OS, shaking in their boots.

The real challenge to Microsoft is that “Android,” as it is supposed to be called, is likely going to be offered for a license fee of approximately $0 to manufacturers. Some of the costs may be offset by some sort of mobile ad structure. I'm very skeptical phone-based could work - screen real estate is just too precious to waste pixels on ads.

The announcement is supposed to come at 11 Eastern.

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5 years ago

T-Mobile Shadow Interface: Neo

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T-Mobile Shadow Interface: Neo

We spent quite a bit of time during our Video First Look at the T-Mobile Shadow talking about the new “Home Screen” interface - it's called “Neo.” There are two interesting things about Neo. The first is that it was developed by Microsoft themselves for T-Mobile and HTC:

Normally when Windows Mobile creates a release, we release it out to OEMs who then do their own customizations.  With this release, however, Microsoft worked with the OEM to create an experience that catered to what T-Mobile wanted. The OEM, HTC, had their talented industrial design team working on the hardware form-factor and wheel. Microsoft wrote the homescreen and worked out an interface for the myFaves information to bubble up for the user to see.

What's even more interesting, to me anyway, is that it seems to be a sign of things to come for Windows Mobile - not just the “Carousely” interface (and the WM6.1 rumor), but also a new strategy from Microsoft to work more closely with manufacturers and carriers. One of the knocks against Windows Mobile devices is that it's too difficult to differentiate them - hence the “Yet Another Qwerty Keyboard Windows Mobile Smartphone” tag we sometimes use here. I like the idea of being able to differentiate devices based not just on hardware but also on how well these custom interfaces are made and implemented.

My fond hope is that we'll see more experimentation -- but experimentation that follows an overall strategy and has some usability consistency. Different devices may have different “carousels,” but if the concept of using one direction navigating through “broad tasks” and then the other direction for “drilling down” sticks across all of them, we could see a lot of cool innovation without a lot of un-cool user confusion.

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5 years ago

Smartphone Round Robin: CrackBerry Kevin Tries Out the Tilt

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If you haven't already, you really need to go read this: Smartphone Round Robin: Goodbye BlackBerry, Hello Windows Mobile and the ATT Tilt | CrackBerry.com.

See, it's a die-hard BlackBerry's guy's take on the Windows Mobile AT&T Tilt (Video First Look of the Tilt here). We chose the Tilt for the Smartphone Round Robin for a couple reasons - the main one being that I've said here many-a-time that it is a very good contender for the “best damn Windows Mobile smartphone ever.” That said, I was a little nervous using a “slider” in this Round Robin, as it's the only entrant that isn't a very good two-handed device. Well Kevin definitely picked up on that as well as picking up on a whole bunch of other issues with the Tilt.

We'll post some of our own reactions here after the break. More importantly, you should post your reactions in the comments here for a chance to Win in the Round Robin.

Form Factor

Kevin writes:

Holding the device in my hand I was impressed by the Tilt’s build quality. I can now see why HTC enjoys the reputation that it does. I do think maybe the heaviness of the phone bolsters this feeling  of quality (I’m pretty sure the gadget world associates lightweight electronics with being ‘cheap’ and heavy electronics with being ‘well-built’) but either way the device seems well constructed and put together.

You durn-tootin it's a solid device. Earlier in the review it's called a “brick” and - honestly - that's fair. The point stands, though, that there's something to heft and weight that feels awesome. I'm stealing the image at right from intomobile's excellent post on that very subject because it's hilarious and because it's exactly right: heavy ain't always a bad thing.

The bigger issue, though, and one I was worried about was the input thing:

But with the Tilt I honestly did not even know how to begin using the device. Should I pull out the slider keyboard? Should I pull out the stylus? Should I try tapping the screen with my thumb? Or index finger? Should I keep the keyboard slid ‘in’ and use the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen? I am coming over from a BlackBerry… maybe I should use the trackwheel?

Yeah, one thing you have to say about Windows Mobile is that there are a myriad of ways to get around the device and manufacturers keep trying different methods in order to find the “right way.” We have 5-ways, scroll wheels, styli, track-wheels, and so on. I personally like that I can often hunt down just the right input style for myself, but it's confusing.

Also check out his notes on the “Two-handed thing.”

On Windows Mobile

When I think about the Tilt as a 'communications tool' and compare it head-to-head with the BlackBerry I pretty much want to throw the Tilt and Windows Mobile out the window (pun most definitely intended). The Windows Mobile OS is not very mobile user friendly compared to the BlackBerry OS. Its user experience is more akin to a computer that’s been downsized into a phone instead of starting with the demands of a mobile user and building an OS around the way a mobile user actually works (yes, that is what RIM has done with the BlackBerry).

Two thoughts about this issue. The first is a gripe I've long had that people assume that “Windows Mobile” is “just like Windows.” This is actually a gripe against Microsoft, in a way. I can't really blame them for leveraging their brand (and the “start menu”) to try to grab new users - but the bottom line for me is that Windows Mobile has a completely different UI philosophy to Windows - or at least different enough that I've had to help people through mental blocks like “On Windows I do X, why can't I do X here?”

The second thought is that, yes, Windows Mobile can be slow and that, as I said early and often about the Tilt, it requires some customizing to get it to work efficiently (read How To: Customize Your Tilt). That “customization required” is probably a bad thing on the whole, but the silver lining is hugely important for me. Out of the box, a Windows Mobile device is often not as user-friendly as a BlackBerry -- but once you have it tweaked, you can do things with a WM Smartphone that would make a BB user's head spin.

...Or so I assume, I have the BlackBerry 8310 (which is currently in Phone different's hands, read Mike excellent overview here) during week three. I'm on record as of this moment that I will eat my words if I'm wrong about the above.

Last thoughts

CrackBerry Kevin is annoyed by having to use the power button to make the device active. Agreed. As for the data loss thing - the Tilt won't actually lose data if it powers off, it just might lose whatever particular thing you might be doing the moment it shuts down -- just saying.

He's also annoyed by the battery life. Well, them's the breaks with a device as loaded with radios as this one. Maybe we should have sent him something with better battery life -- any suggestions for next year?

Anyhow, those are a few brief thoughts. What do you folks think? Tilt getting a fair shake so far from our BlackBerry fanatic?

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5 years ago

CrackBerry Kevin's Last Look at the Tilt

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