Wednesday, November 24, 2010

WP7 hands on impressions

Today I decided to go by the mall and check out the new Window Phone 7 (WP7) phone for T-Mobile called the HD7 by HTC. I stopped by the T-Mobile store first thinking that they would have a few in stock and I could easily find a display model to play with. I was shocked (or not) to find out that they didn't have any HD7's in stock and the one they did have was dead. The T-Mobile rep that I've spoken to before and purchased my G2 from started bad mouthing the HD7 from the second I mentioned it. He mentioned how they would plug it in and charge it all night and it would be dead by lunch time. This wasn’t a very good start for WP7 if you ask me. He went on talking about how he didn't like the interface and how much he preferred Android over the HD7. He also mentioned how the micro SD card couldn't be changed and how he looked for a SD slot for about 20 minutes and finally just gave up on finding a way to swap SD cards. I didn't think the average consumer cared about swapping cards but I guess they do. After chatting with him for a bit while a customer sat there amazed and dumbfounded by the conversation we had, he told me to try the kiosk because they have the HD7 in stock. I asked him if they had any Galaxy Tabs available and he told me no. He mentioned something about the shipment being held up for this or that reason and they would be expecting them soon.

I went over to the T-Mobile kiosk in the mall to find the HD7 and see if it was what I thought it would be. They had a demo model on hand and sure enough, it was dead as well. Battery life seems to be a problem with WP7 or maybe just the HD7 by itself. Either way, it’s not looking good for the same phone to be dead at two different stores. I questioned if the WP7 interface would be enough for me before and my initial impression is just what I thought it would be. The home screen is plain and uneventful to say the least. It's just a bunch of blue tiles that have some animation on them but it lacks the feel or look of anything a person would want to play with just for fun. The rest of the UI was pleasant to the eye and seems cool to play with going between apps. The screen transitions were smooth as the screens seem to turn like a page of a book. Everything seemed smooth and it should feel smooth considering the OS is brand new and the phone had nothing but factory apps on it with zero customization. I would assume that WP7 phones as with all other phones would have minor hiccups or problems as more apps and customization is done to it. The basic colors used throughout the OS looked good to me. I checked out the calendar, contacts, internet explorer, media and other parts of the OS and they all used basic white font on a black screen. This is one aspect of the phone being "simple" that I liked and didn't have a problem with simple white on black color schemes. I didn't get to dig into contacts because the phone wasn't set up. The calendar was empty as well. The internet explorer was OK but didn't seem to be on par with Android or iOS phones from my few seconds playing with it. I was able to type out the classic, "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" within the messaging app and I was able to do it without any errors. The on screen correction seems to work pretty well because I know I misspelled "quick" while typing the message.

In summary, WP7 looks like a viable option in the mobile market. Do I think it will take the place of Android or iOS? Not even close. I don't think WP7 has a chance to take over BlackBerry either. I believe that WP7 will be a nice 4th option that gets things down without the flair of an iOS device or the customization of an Android phone. It's a simple UI that was meant to be nothing more than simple. It would make a great phone for someone who is new to smart phones or for a parent who wouldn't have a clue what Pandora is or thinks that Angry Birds is that pissed off Robin that attacks them every time they go to the mailbox.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Does Windows Phone 7 get it done for you?

Now that Windows Phone 7 (WP7) is coming out this week, I am trying to figure out if the plain vanilla interface of WP7 is enough for me. I have seen all of the WP7 commercials and I an appreciate the idea of getting the info you need up front without having to dive into a phone's operating system but is the interface too generic? The WP7 UI is very simple and displays the info you need the most right up front but I personally think it's too bland. After owning Android phones for the better part of a year now I have come to appreciate widgets and the information they display along with the ability to put information where I need it up front. My G2 is set up in a way that the clock and weather are displayed up front and easily accessible. Also on my main screen I have icons which will take me to email (with unread count) messages (with unread count), contacts, maps, browser, camera and gallery. These are all of the apps that I use most often and they are all very accessible from my home screen. I also have a screen set up just for contacts which has all of my most used contacts for personal use and work use. All of them have pretty little pictures and are easily identifiable at a glance. It's this customization from Android that I have come to know and love and simply can't live without anymore. I have other home screens set up with folders for frequently used apps, games, music shortcuts and other misc items. I also have a blank screen where I can test out widgets, wallpapers an other such modifications that I may or may not use but want to test out without modifying other home screens on my phone.

I simply can't imagine looking at a bunch of blue (I'm sure the colors are customizable but blue is most often used in the promo pics) tiles and getting my information from them. The tiles on WP7 are also arranged in two vertical columns which I can't see scrolling through if I had a lot of contacts I wanted quick access to or apps which I wanted to use frequently.

I will go to the store on Tuesday and play with the HTC HD7 and maybe even venture to an AT&T store to check out their WP7 offerings. I have to say that I am not impressed from what I have seen from other tech reviews and pictures but I am willing to give it a chance in store. I hope WP7 wows me but I am not expecting it to.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tech Impressions from SEMA

Tech impressions from SEMA
I was recently in Las Vegas for SEMA (Special Equipment Market Association), which is an automotive specialty product trade show. Whenever you attend one of these conferences you expect to be blown away by various uses of technology but that was not exactly my experience on this trip.

I expected to see iPods, iPads, iPhones, Android phones, Android tablets in use both on the convention floor and also integrated into car dashes. In reality I saw a just a handful of iPads in use at booths to input attendee information and a few random people using them to take notes while walking around the convention. The SEMA passes which all attendees had to wear had a QR codes printed on them so the exhibitors could quickly collect and transmit contact information with potential customers. Android phones have a great QR reader called Barcode Scanner and I’m sure there are more than a few iPhone apps which do the same thing. I didn’t see any exhibitors using mobile devices to scan QR codes. Personally, if I was one of the exhibitors, I would have paid someone $20 just to walk around with an Android phone scanning all of the QR codes they could see. SEMA is so big that there is no way for anyone to see everything there. There were a lot of potential customers missed simply because they didn’t make it to your booth. There were just a few booths using iPads to manually input user information and it was tedious to say the least. The women that were using them were just your typical “Booth Girls” who are just there for guys to snap pics of them along with the vehicles they had displayed. These women probably received a 5 minute brief on how to use the iPads and were put to work. I was giving one of them my information and she told me, “That’s not working. I’ll just skip that part.” two different times.

There was widespread use of QR codes at SEMA this year. Every attendee had a QR code printed on his or her SEMA pass used so exhibitors can collect your contact information without having to manually input it into their computers. There were quite a few display booths and vehicles that had QR codes printed on them. This Hyundai Genesis Coupe from JP Kustoms had a QR code printed on the airbox under the hood which is a great idea to get your company name out there without having to print out business cards.

Cell phone cameras have evolved to a point that almost every phone coming to market has at least a 5mp camera or better. I was expecting to see a lot more attendees using cell phones to take pictures like I was doing on my T-Mobile G2. There were plenty of people using cell phones but most of them were average joe consumer just snapping quick pics to text or email to buddies back home. Most serious photographers where still using DSLR to take quality pics. I guess the gap between professional cameras and cell phone cameras is still larger than I expected.

Despite the dominance Apple has in the MP3 market, I can’t recall anyone using an iPod on the monorail or walking around the strip. I can only recall seeing one guy using an iPad the entire week as a media device. It looked crazy to see a guy on the plane using an iPad with an inch thick rubber case on it as a media device. I really wanted to tap him on the shoulder and tell him that an iPod Touch could have done the same job in a lot smaller form factor but I assume he already knew that.

At SEMA, people from small and large companies surround you and it was almost smothering the number of BlackBerry phones that crawled the Vegas strip. I saw everything from older 83XX Curves and 96XX and 97XX Bolds and one lonely 9800 Torch. I have long felt RIM was on deaths front door but after being around 10’s of thousands of people over the last week I have to change my tune. Although I didn’t see many new BlackBerry devices I think RIM will be ok if they can get half of the consumers they have now to purchase another BlackBerry as their new phone, they will be good for many years to come. Considering most people are scared of change and just want a phone works, I don’t see RIM not accomplishing this goal.

If I had to guess the market breakdown of mobile phones at SEMA and around Vegas based on what I saw last week would have been 75% BlackBerry, 20% iPhone, and the remaining was Android and feature phones. Maybe this highlights RIM’s strength in the business segment, but we are talking a large diversity of business. Secondly, the tech world has been calling RIM and its BlackBerry phones dead in the water for months now. The number of Motorola Razrs I saw shocked me. No one would argue the Razr is beyond its prime, but this highlights the upgrade challenge with the average consumer. The sad truth is consumers don’t upgrade their phones as often as the ‘tech world” does. I personally have had four phones in the last year but I am not the norm. Based on what I’ve seen the last week BlackBerry isn’t dead and maybe OS6 will be the savior for BlackBerry or at least the “holdover” until QNX can be implemented.

One great selling point of BlackBerry is the battery life. While I was in Vegas with my T-Mobile G2, I was constantly looking for ways to save battery life; fortunately I borrowed from SMR’s HTC Battery tips and I was able to maintain battery life all day long. I changed my mobile settings to 2G only, turned off WIFI, Bluetooth and GPS and even on my longest day, I was able to make it home with 30% life left. My friend who had a BlackBerry 9630 didn’t change any settings and made it through a day just fine. Luckily on most days I would get back to my room and recharge when I had 40-50% battery left. In contrast, my friend wouldn’t charge her BlackBerry at all during the day and still awake the following day with 30-40% charge left. I can only attribute this difference to the massive screen on my G2 compared to her BlackBerry Bold 9630.

BlackBerry isn’t as dead as most of the tech world (and myself) thought. They are firmly cemented in the market and will be there for years to come, even if the tech geeks know that BlackBerry is behind the times. Ease of use and battery life will keep current and new BlackBerry users happy for many months to come. For the tech hungry consumers who want more out of a phone, they will change devices with the slightest technology breeze. When you switch to a smartphone you need to give up hope for good battery life, unless you own a BlackBerry.