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Cutting Edge Technology?

6 Jan

I’ve just purchased a new Windows Phone (OK, we’re calling it Windows Mobile again now we’ve hit Windows 10 everywhere, I’m sorry). It’s my third Windows phone device (I’m referring to the device, not the OS, so it’s a Windows phone – with a small ‘p’) and the ninth Windows phone device I’ve been responsible for purchasing.

This phone is for me, and it will be used for development purposes as well as a daily driver.

So what did I get?

The new flagship Lumia 950XL that I’ve had my eye on for months?

No.

I went for a SIM-Free Lumia 550 for £49.99 (plus £10 top-up).

Yep. My main phone for (at least) the next few months is about the cheapest device Microsoft is churning out at the moment. It’s also about 1/8th of the price of the 950XL I had my eye on.

I’ve had it a week, and so far I’m impressed… stunned when I consider how much it cost.

The 550 doesn’t do everything I want, the biggest omission being Continuum support that I plan to look into developing against, but I feel this functionality requires a bit more work from Microsoft before it is ready for prime time so I’m OK holding off on that for a while.

Then there’s things like the camera which isn’t a patch on the beast on the 950 variants (but surprisingly seems to be able to knock out better photos than my partner’s Lumia 640).

The speed is also nothing to write home about, but then Windows Phone/Mobile have always been very responsive so it’s quite zippy, and it’s still better than my aging Lumia 920.

Oh, and it already runs Windows 10 natively, by which I mean the device is supplied with Windows Mobile 10 out of the box, and doesn’t require the current workaround of signing up to the Insider Preview required by all the other handsets other than the 550 and 950 variants (of course, that’s likely to change in a matter of days as the rollout for prior devices should start commencing very soon).

Otherwise the phone is very good. Windows Mobile 10 is still a work in progress, but very good with only a few little gripes (why did my screen go blank for a few seconds earlier today?) which are more than outweighed by the new functionality available. I decided to start fresh with this device and not install any backups from other devices so this is probably helping the stability side, and fortunately for me I’ve not encountered any serious issues… so far.

The SD card slot is a godsend. I’ve put a 128Gb Micro SD card in the phone (Amazon Black-Friday deal), and almost all apps and data are installed on this, so even though the phone only comes with 8Gb of internal memory, I’ve still got almost 3Gb of that free (more than I typically had on my Lumia 920), with acres of space left on the SD card for me to fill up with my media, etc.

So all in all I’m impressed with this cheap little device, and can see myself using it for a while. Longer term I’ll be tempted by something a little more powerful (be that the 950 XL when some of the issues are sorted and the price has dropped) or should a Surface Phone arrive that actually offers something new (X-86 and desktop apps under Continuum? Yes please!)

Then again I should be impressed, I have just come from a handset that was released over three years ago, a lot has changed in that time.

But still, £50!!!!

It’s a steal.

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Cheap as chips

5 Mar

I’ve just seen this advert on the front of a free newspaper somebody left on the train:

The Lumia 435 is the lowest specified Windows Phone available, but for £25 you are getting a stunning amount of hardware.

This would make a brilliant back up phone or a first phone for a child.

There is a catch though, you need to be an existing customer for 3 months which is the biggest downer, otherwise the phone is £60 from Carphone warehouse, in which case I’d either pay the extra for a Lumia 635, or wait for the Lumia 640 to arrive.

Still, I’m impressed with the aggressive pricing.

Miracast Woes (continued)

30 Jul

Some time ago I purchased myself a new 3D Blu-Ray player (probably over a year ago) with Miracast built in. When I subsequently acquired my Surface Pro 2 I was, as far as I was aware, ready to go.

Only the Surface couldn’t communicate with the Blu-Ray in either direction. At various points in time the two would see each other momentarily, then just disconnect for no apparent reason.

As time has passed both these devices have had numerous firmware and software updates, which leaves me in the state I’m in today.

Now, the two devices are somewhat more likely to discover each other (although not consistently) and long enough for Windows to “install” the device as a projection target, but after this the devices disconnect again.

Only once have they managed to connect long enough for the Surface to start projecting the screen contents, unfortunately this wasn’t long enough for anything to actually appear on my TV.

I thought it was just me, but reading through several unassociated reports on the web it appears that Miracast is just not ready for prime time – yet.

And this is a problem for Microsoft, even though it’s not of it’s own doing.

Unlike Apple’s AirPlay or Google’s ChromeCast, Miracast is based on open standards. Unlike the other two, Miracast is only just getting to the stage where it is starting to work reliably on new devices with new chipsets. AirPlay and ChromeCast have both been working for a while now.

So what will people choose to use?

I’ve just been sat listening to a couple of people discussing how easy it is to use AirPlay. Everything “just works”.

This almost makes me cringe, after all: What can I use as an alternative. At the moment the answer is nothing really.

I also find it ironic that the Android crowd who constantly bemoan how much better and open Android is (when it isn’t, but more on that another time) rally around their closed alternative.

But then that’s exactly why Apple and Google could get their products working first, by controlling both ends you control the fixes for any issues found and are not so heavily reliant on anyone else.

So by doing “the right thing” and going for an open standard, Microsoft have lost some ground yet again. Of course, I don’t know how much of the problem is down to Microsoft themselves, but since these issues exist with Miracast on other platforms I’d suggest there is an underlying issue there somewhere.

So now I expect the only way I’ll get Miracast working reliably is to sit out the next few months and buy a new device at some point.

Shame.

Touchy touchy

10 Mar

Several times recently (actually, since it was released) I’ve had people ask me my opinion on Windows 8. It’s always been a case of “I like it a lot, but it’s not without its issues. Overall I prefer it to Windows 7”

It used to be the case that I would almost be told that my opinion was wrong and that Windows 8 was in actual fact a bag of balls, usually by people who had read about it but not used it for more than a few minutes in PC World (if at all).

I have started to see the negative attitudes soften recently, but the response since I’ve had my Surface has been “Well you’re using it with a touchscreen”

True, sometimes. On the train, taking notes in stand-ups, etc. but mostly I use the surface as a regular set-up with mouse, keyboard and either one or two monitors connected. This is just a natural set-up for me, especially when doing productivity work or coding.

My Work Setup

I guess I use the surface in a conventional configuration about 75% of the time (if not more) as I’m mostly using it for, or at work.

So how well does this set-up work for me?

Fine. In fact I’m impressed with some of the multi-monitor control in Windows 8.1, although less impressed with some of the scaling issues on older desktop software, but it’s an irritant rather than a deal breaker. Other than that I’m happy to have the choice between modern and desktop apps. For me modern apps work well with a mouse, and if intelligently written the layout on a large monitor is used well.

Again, I’ll say it’s not perfect, but it is as good as Windows 7 in many ways, and in others it’s better. But that’s just me, I went in not so sure but with an open mind as I like new shiny things.

Oh, and all those additional cables and extra mice in the photo – there are multiple desktop only machines under my work desk. I’m not currently using them, why would I?

Surface Pro 2 and McAfee internet Security 2013

21 Nov

A few days after the launch last month I decided to get myself a Surface Pro 2, the 256GB version with 8Gb of RAM. As regular readers to this site will be aware, I’ve been putting off getting a Windows tablet for over a year now since my laptop was doing a pretty sterling job.

The thing that finally swung it for me however was the realisation that, whilst the laptop was still very capable, it was sufficiently heavy that most of the time I left it at home. Once I’d made this realisation I finally had the justification I needed to spend the £1138 on a new device, and so the rest is history…

So what do I think of it after a little less than four weeks of ownership?

Well, at first I was in two minds. Yes it was a lovely device, but a purchase for as much as this is not something I do lightly nowadays, so I think that put a bit of a downer on it. Even though I’d thought long and hard about what a Windows tablet would do for me (over a year as mentioned), I still had my doubts that the money was well spent.

However, as time has progressed I’m beginning to feel more like I’ve actually made a good decision. The device has accompanied me almost every day (only missing the days where I had to attend after work events, i.e. the pub) and it has so far done everything I have wanted and behaved itself fairly well (more on this in a moment).

The battery life seems pretty decent, and I’ve been using it a lot at work for taking notes and recording audio in meetings.

The other thing it gets used for extensively while I’m at work is listening to music. The sound produced by this thing to my Bose QC15 headphones is among the best I have heard, to the extent that even the Lumia 920 that I had previously thought delivered an excellent sound, now seems somewhat lacking. The Surface is a little bass heavy, but the overall sound quality is very satisfying.

There have been a couple of negative points however, one of which in all fairness I am (sort of) to blame for.

Firstly, I decided to go for a “Touch Cover 2” as my keyboard of choice, rather than the significantly better typing experience provided by the “Type Cover 2”, my reasoning being that I plan to get the power cover when it becomes available next year, so having two similar keyboards was a bit silly. Additionally, I also wanted to experiment with the cover as a giant touchpad (Verdict: underwhelming). Don’t get me wrong, the keyboard is usable, impressive even in some ways, but I know without even trying the type cover that it is lacking a little in its primary use case. Sure I can type reasonably fast on it, but something is just not quite right and I do end up making slightly more mistakes than usual. Overall I question if this was the right decision. Still, backlighting in something as thin as this is impressive (but that doesn’t help much in normal usage).

Secondly, I have found the device has frozen a few times, but I think I’ve worked out why.

Very shortly after getting the Surface, I heard about the CryptoLocker virus that’s doing the rounds. This insidious virus has put the fear of god into me, so whilst I’ve been well served by Microsoft’s virus software for several years now, I decided the time was right to start paying for protection again.

I purchased three copies of McAfee Internet Security 2013, one for the Surface, one for my old Laptop which Hayley now uses, and one for my desktop machine.

So far I have only installed one copy, that going on the surface.

Shortly after I started to find that “clicks” in the Modern version of Internet Explorer were not always registering. Probably a coincidence I thought.

Then I noticed the file transfer speed of my device was far slower than I had previously seen when copying large files across locations.

Then in a meeting I noticed my battery was draining disturbingly quickly. A quick investigation revealed that despite being on battery power, McAfee had decided to do it’s weekly scan (I can find no setting to alter this behaviour).

Then yesterday whilst editing a file in Visual Studio, the IDE froze for a couple of minutes. On investigation it appeared that the biggest process user was the McAfee on access virus scanner. I feel this was an unacceptably long interruption.

Enough, I thought, is enough, so I’ve uninstalled it from the machine and gone back to the Microsoft defaults. This has left me a little uneasy, and more than a little annoyed that I forked out for three of these licences.

There is a (very small) chance that I’m blaming too many negatives on this application, so I guess time will tell if I see an improvement (it’s only been off the machine a couple of hours now)

I shall try to use this licence on the old laptop that Hayley uses, as I don’t expect she will notice the difference, and I’d like her to have the added protection and see how it works out for her. At the same time I’m hoping that the other two licences will allow me to install an updated version of this software at a later point in time when it isn’t a complete shambles (perhaps a 2014 version?). We’ll see.

In the meantime I’m annoyed I paid for something I am not going to use. Oh well, I guess that I should have read those reviews first…

So anyway, these gripes aside and considering it is missing a few features I would have used (NFC for example), I think I’ve made the right decision now, and look forward to getting some of the forthcoming accessories (power cover, dock, Bluetooth adapter for the keyboards) and using this device for the next few years.

I’m feeling pretty confident I’ll get my moneys worth out of the Surface, and that it will be money well spent… Unless of course I do something stupid like drop it on concrete or lose it entirely. That had better not happen as I can’t see me being allowed to buy another replacement for a good few years now.