Windows Phone 7: My thoughts


Windows Phone 7 has been with the world for 5 or so months, and I’ve had the Samsung Omnia 7 for 3 of those:

This is, I believe, enough time to have formed some proper, coherent thoughts on what I do and don’t like about Microsoft’s new Mobile OS. First of all though, the device itself…

The Samsung Omnia 7 is by far the nicest mobile device I have ever held.

It’s light, it’s slim, it’s smooth, it’s sleek and yes…it’s sexy. It’s brushed metal body feels cool to the touch and looks great, as does the huge 4.3” screen. Not only is it a great size, it’s AMOLED…giving a clarity and brightness that puts most, if not all, other mobile devices to shame.

I haven’t seen another device that comes close to it’s overall aesthetic appeal.

Now on to the big one though, The OS!

I’m not going to go into hugely detailed comparisons with other mobile OS’s, just my opinions and what I think are it’s strong points. As a bit of background, I had an Android 2.1 device for over 12 months before getting WP7.

The first thing is how striking it is, especially on the Samsung screen. You can see in the pictures above, the “Live Tiles” in WP7…as you get an email/text message etc, the totals in the tile increase.

  • The Xbox tile is truly live…your Xbox avatar pops in from the side of the tile.
  • The Zune tile shows a scrolling image of the last artist you listened to.
  • If you pin a contact to the home screen it scrolls through their name and their picture.

Having these ever changing sections, right on the home screen, make Windows Phone 7 feel fluid, dynamic and interactive right from the word go.

Two huge, brilliant, unique features of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 are:

Xbox & Zune

Xbox:

The Xbox integration is still in its infancy but already is cool, useful and fun. There are 2 sides to it: interaction with your account & games.

Having it on my phone makes it much easier to do things such as editing my avatar, comparing my game progress against friends & inviting new friends. All things that can be done on the console but all much easier to do via the mobile OS.

Even better than that is the ability to earn actual Xbox achievements and gamer points on your mobile Smile I’ve currently got 5 games that contribute to my gamer score and they make gaming on my mobile more worthwhile, at least in my opinion!

Zune:

I’ve wanted a Zune device for years but, being in the UK, they’ve never been officially available to us. I’ve looked at Ebay many a time and got close to buying one, but when I heard the rumours that Microsoft’s next mobile OS would include Zune, I decided to wait. Lo and behold, WP7 arrives with full Zune integration Smile

I’ve been using the Zune desktop client for quite a while now and it is brilliant – check out my post here:

Read Zune 4.0 Desktop Software

The Zune client on WP7 is, like the rest of the OS, very slick, great to look at and great to use. No music player that I saw on Android came anywhere close to the polished look and feel of Zune…it really is a joy! It has so many great features such as:

History – This section shows the last 6 media items you played. Note I said “media items” not just “songs”…it includes videos too and not just local videos but also videos from YouTube too.

New – This section shows the last 8 items added to Zune…songs, videos and playlists.

Both of these sections are very visual, they both use album cover art and, if it’s a video, a screen grab.

Marquee

This section is pretty special and not something I was expecting. If you have other apps that tie in or relate to Zune in some way, then they appear here. For me this section includes:

  • YouTube
  • Last.fm
  • Lyrics

Office:

This is something I missed when I moved from Windows Mobile 6 to Android. Not having Microsoft Office on my mobile made things just that bit more difficult. Microsoft makes up a big part of my job so Word documents, Excel sheets and PowerPoint slides feature pretty heavily day to day so being unable to read them on my mobile device was pretty annoying!

Now with Windows Phone 7, I’ve got:

  • Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • OneNote

at my fingertips and boy is it useful.

The other day I was at home when I came across a MAP 5.5 document that I thought might be useful, so I downloaded it and it showed up in the Office hub on my phone. Today when talking to someone at work about MAP 5.5, I pulled out my phone and quickly showed them the section they needed.

One random thing is how much quicker it is to connect to wireless networks that my Android device. It’s usually a matter of seconds between me arriving at home/work and my phone being connected automatically…that never happened with Android 2.1…

I’m sure there are other parts of Windows Phone that I’ve missed here and when I remember, I’ll put another post together Smile

Angry Birds on Xbox 360


Angry Birds is awesome.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s something of a mobile device phenomenon. A game where pigs have stolen eggs from birds (hence their anger) and where retribution is exacted by the sling shotting of birds at the aforementioned pigs! They’re not just regular birds though, some drop bombs, some ARE bombs, some divide into 3 and plenty more super powered feathered adversaries.

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It, of course, started on the iPhone but recently became available on Android devices and was download 1 Million times in 24 hours!

That’s helped somewhat by the fact that it’s ad-supported on Android – meaning it’s FREE to users.

Anyway, I’m not here simply to talk about the game. I’m here to talk about the fact that it is coming to the consoles; that’s right – Angry Birds will be on:

  • Wii
  • PS3
  • Xbox 360

which is great stuff. I’m especially excited if they make it a Kinect game, as JonThomasDesigns says in the Gizmodo comments says:

They Should make a first person view using Kinect ,, Like you’re pulling the Slingshot .. Once you launch you become the Bird and use movements to do the special move such as splitting in 3 or dropping the egg

That would definitely be a great game Smile

Rovio Mobile also tell us that Angry Birds 2 is under way and:

the pigs will be a lot more active than just being slingshotted at by birds

Looking forward to this…I assume there’s a Windows Phone 7 version coming right?!

Android App: GMote


A free app Android app saved me £59.99 last week!

I’ve got my desktop hooked up to the tv in the living room for the purposes of watching online media such as Lovefilm, 4oD, SKy Player etc and it’s great. One downside though was my lack of wireless keyboard and mouse. “They’re easy to find” you say, and you’re right…but I’m fussy. I didn’t want 2 separate peripherals, oh no, I wanted a wireless keyboard with an inbuilt touchpad; and these it seem are shockingly difficult to find!

It seems, at least to me, like the kind of thing that would be everywhere but that’s not the case. I looked in all the high street stores and a lot of online sellers and came up empty handed. Eventually I found one in PC World/Currys and how much did they want for this Toshiba crafted gem? That’s right – £59.99. In my opinion that is grossly over priced, so I left it on the shelf and continued to rue my lack of combined wireless peripherals.

Then, while looking at something different online, I came across the GMote app for Android…and this thing is AWESOME! Smile

What does it do?

It turns your Android 1.6+ phone into a wireless remote for your pc! Yes it does!

How?

You install Gmote on your mobile device and the Gmote server on the machine/s you wish to control.

Download the desktop server software here:

http://www.gmote.org/

On there, you point it towards your media files (my music etc) and you’re then able to connect to them from your Android device, search through them and play them on your desktop. You can use your mobile to pause, skip, reverse etc just like a regular remote control.

I can tell you’re thinking “that’s pretty good, but does it warrant the capital “awesome” above?”. That’s not all it does, this is the best bit:

It can remotely control your mouse and has keyboard input ability too!

So I can sit on my couch, open up a web browser and navigate to Youtube, maybe 4 on Demand, Lovefilm Online, Wikipedia, whatever…all from my Android device!

It works really well, is very smooth and it FREE!

Anyone who has an Android device and the need to control a machine – get this app NOW!

Android Apps: Great ones I’ve found


I’ve had my HTC Hero for 9 or 10 months now and one of my favourite things is the app market. Recently I’ve come across a few new (at least to me) apps that are pretty awesome, and they are:

Astrid Tasks

This is a great to-do list application to help you keep track of all the many tasks you need to do. The best thing about it though, is it links to and synchronizes with Remember The Milk, which is, in my opinion, the best task tracker/to-do list out there.

BBC Browsecast

This app enables you to listen to BBC Radio LIVE on your Android device as well as access BBC podcasts.

To listen live, you can choose from:

  • Radio 1
  • 1Xtra
  • Radio 2
  • Radio 3
  • Radio 4
  • 5Live
  • Radio 7
  • Asian Network

Podcasts from 37 stations are available including the above as well as:

and a host of other regional stations.

The app works really well and will definitely come in handy when I’m out and about…especially for catching footy!

Goal.Com

I found this app during the world cup and it’s a brilliant football app, with a wealth of news as well as scores. It really is one of my favourite apps and I look at it numerous times a day to keep up to date with what’s happening in the football world. It covers such a wide range of the football world that it’s hard to know where to start!

Across the top, you have the following menu choices:

Breaking | Live Scores | Club News | More

Breaking: This updates as and when new/breaking news hits the football world, be it injuries, transfers, comments etc.

Live Scores: This is a super handy section of the app which does what it says – it gives you live scores. Watching the Utd v Everton game, the Goal.com app updated with a minute or so of the goals happening on Sky…very swift – which is exactly what you need. The best thing is the scores aren’t limited to the Premier League either, you can get live updates for:

  • Champions League
  • Europa League
  • Premier League
  • Ligue 1 (France)
  • Bundesliga (Germany)
  • Primera Division (Spain aka La Liga)
  • MLS (America)
  • Copa Libertadores (South American club competition)

Club News: This section is sub divided into:

  • Manchester Utd
  • Chelsea
  • Liverpool
  • Arsenal

and gives the latest news on happening with those clubs.

More: This section is again broken down into the different country leagues/international cups. For some, such as the Premier League and Ligue 1, it gives news updates concerning all clubs in that league. This is really useful for keeping abreast of what’s happening in across the Premier League…it can be as important to know what the other teams are up to as it is your own…especially when you’re doing fantasy football! Not all league get the news feature but they do all have a league table which is again very useful. Being able to see who’s at the top of La Liga and Serie A is really nice Smile

If you’re a football fan I’d DEFINITELY recommend that you download this app!

IMDB

: Yes, I know this has been around for a while but my HTC Hero was stuck on Android 1.5 until my recent upgrade to 2.1 so I’m a little behind the curve on some things! If you have Android 1.6 or above, get this…having the power of IMDB at your fingertips is awesome…and can help settle disagreements where ever you are Winking smile

Last.FM

: This free app allows you to listen to Last.FM stations on the move. I’ve only used this on Wi-Fi but it worked a treat, great streaming and a nice quick app.

MixZing

: I use this instead of the built in music app and I’m a big fan of it. The main things for me are that it’s easy to create playlists and has a great shuffle function.

Sky+

: This app is brilliant. It lets you set things to record on your sky+ box…from your Android handset! I’ve used this loads of times and it’s really easy to do…simply put in your sky.com login details and bang, start remote recording Smile It’s even got a feature that the sky box doesn’t and it’s very useful, it gives you “alternative screenings” of films so you can easily if it’s on again when it won’t clash with your current schedule.

Vlingo Voice

: I was most disappointed to discover that the HTC build of Android 2.1 doesn’t include voice to text (V2T) capabilities. I have no idea why they decided to remove it but it was a feature I was really looking forward to so I was a little put out. However, I then discovered Vlingo, a free app that gives you brilliant V2T functionality…I was pretty amazed at what can be done with this app.

There are a number of things you can do with it (some U.S only it seems) but the ones that I use are:

Text Message: If you say “Text Geoff what are you doing” It will open up a new message, add in the text and then all you  need to do is click “send”!

Email: This is similar to text messages, just say “Email Geoff what are you doing” and, as long as their email address is listed in their contact card, it’ll pop up ready to send.

Twitter: Again, nice and easy just say “Twitter” followed by your update.

You can also use it to update Facebook and even check in on FourSquare!

These are all great apps that I’ve found over the last few weeks and I hope you find them useful too…if you’ve got any to add, hit up the comments!

ESPN ScoreCenter: Android App


I’ve had an Android phone for about 9 months now and I’ve found all kinds of great apps, but the one thing I’ve been missing is a decent football score app. Well now that I’ve got Android 2.1 on my HTC Hero I’ve finally got one:

ESPN Score Center

This really is a great app. I’ve got the Premier League selected under “My Sports” and when I opened it up this morning, it had all today’s games lined up. As the games were played, the scores were very close to real time – especially great when you’re out and about.

It goes beyond that though. It gives goal scorers and yellow/red cards, as well as a blow by blow account of all the main events in the game (like the BBC sport site); once the game is over, you get a great in-depth review of the game. You also get a visual representation of all the shots in the match and where they were from etc.

You can add a number of sports/events to the app such as Champions League, Serie A, La Liga plus sports like Cricket, Baseball, NFL and more.

It’s been really useful today and I’m sure it will continue to be so. If you’re a sports fan Android user…go get it!

Google App Inventor for Android


Google App Inventor for Android could be one of the coolest things they, or anyone, has brought out.

I’ve got a Google Android phone and I love some of the apps that are available for it. They make things so much easier/quicker/more enjoyable etc and are truly what a smart phone should be full of.

I’ve also got ideas, lot of ideas. Ideas that involve Twitter, Blogs, GPS, football, music, places, t-shirts and more.

What I don’t have is any knowledge of Java, other than an awareness that it exists! I’ve got some rudimentary VB skills and a bit of Javascript so I looked in Java but it appears to need much more time devoting to it than I can give it. That means all my app ideas have been languishing around and I thought they would forever more.

Aber nicht.

Mais Non.

Pero No.

Google’s App Inventor has the power to change all that!

What is it?

A WYSIWYG tool allowing you to create apps without ANY programming knowledge.

How does it work?

It uses “blocks” of pre-written code that cover most actions you could want in an app and lets you drag and drop them together.

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When I first saw this I assumed it would be very basic and that all the cool functionality would be missing but that’s not the case:

“There are even blocks to talk to services like Twitter.”

“App Inventor provides access to a GPS-location sensor”

“You can even have the app read the incoming texts aloud to you”

“use App Inventor to write Android apps that talk to your favourite web sites, such as Amazon and Twitter”

These quotes from the Google App Inventor site show that it can be used to create some really cool, funky and innovative apps…and that is exciting!

More Info:

The App Inventor site is:

http://appinventor.googlelabs.com/about/

The sign up form (which requires a Gmail address) is:

https://services.google.com/fb/forms/appinventorinterest/ 

The tutorials are here:

http://appinventor.googlelabs.com/learn/tutorials/index.html

The User Group is here:

http://groups.google.com/group/appinventor

 

I’ve requested access to the beta and am really hoping I get allowed on…this could be really great for me and my phone, others who may want my sure to be awesome apps (joke!), the Android community as a whole and Google in general.

Go sign up!

Bringing together the Android-o-Sphere


I’ve recently moved over to the Android mobile platform and I’m pretty happy with it…it’s full of cool apps, e-book readers and fancy widgets. However, the biggest problem is fragmentation of the Operating System…there are currently 4 different Android OS releases in the market:

1.5

1.6

2.0

2.1

The big thing is that certain apps only work on certain versions, and that, my friends, is disappointing! One of the major apps that attracted me to Android was “Google Goggles” but, 4 months later I still haven’t used it 😦 Goggles is an Android 2.0+ app and my phone, the HTC Hero, is an Android 1.5 device. I knew that when I bought it but I had also been led to believe that an upgrade was imminent…like before end of 2009 imminent. It was then “sometime it January” and, after a period of silence, it was “by the end of March”. It’s now being reported by MSN & Engadget that HTC will roll out the update to 2.1 on April 26th in Taiwan, with the rest of the world following shortly after. I hope that happens as I think then, Android will truly realise it’s potential…and I’ll get to have all kinds of fun 🙂

It’s not just Goggles…other apps I’m missing out on include:

Flyscreen (1.6+) (adds apps to lock screen)

Gesture Search (2.1…now backported to 1.6)

Google Earth (2.1 only) <—This is a proper WTF decision…why isn’t Google Earth available to ALL owners of Google phones?!?!

and I’m sure countless more.

However, according to Engadget, Google are on the case…by splitting the OS up even more. At first I was like “What the WHAT?!” but having RTFA it does make sense:

Google “will start by decoupling many of Android’s standard applications and components from the platform’s core and making them downloadable and updatable through the Market”

This means that one wouldn’t be at the mercy of the manufacturer (HTC etc) or the carrier (AT&T etc) when new shiny bits were released for Android…you could just go and get it. That would be brilliant 🙂 This seems to be codenamed “Froyo” and then a later version will “Gingerbread”.

I’m not a great fan of Google but I do think that Android is the best Mobile OS currently available, and this appears to be a good solution to a very annoying problem. So 1) Hurry up HTC and get me onto 2.1 and 2) hurry up Google and implement this to prevent such disparate lag between users & devices.

Read the full scoop over at Engadget here.

Microsoft Tag for Android


When Microsoft Tag was released I was a huge fan, I even had them printed on a bunch of my business cards 🙂 It was a great way of directing people to websites or even calling/texting numbers…it was fun, easy and very 21st century!

Them I got an Android phone and had to give up using Tags…but now it’s back baby! If you’ve got an Android phone, open up the MarketPlace, search “Microsoft Tag” and get your download on 🙂 According to the Microsoft Tag blog, it works on:

“Windows Mobile, J2ME, iPhone, Blackberry and Symbian S60 phones”

and now Android. This makes it a great option across all major platforms and should hopefully lead to some great levels of adoption. I guess the only OS missing now is the iPhone…I wonder if we’ll ever see an app for that?!

See more info on the MSDN blog here:

Tag_MSDN_Blog_20103320012[1]

or here if you’ve not got the app yet 😉 <—If that’s the case, head over to http://gettag.mobi (or the Marketplace if you’re Android)

Exchange Online & Android


The other day at work I was asked if you can connect Android phones to Exchange Online…so I went off to investigate.

Microsoft’s page gives a list of devices and supported OS’s:

image

http://www.microsoft.com/online/mobility/exchange-activesync.mspx

I’ve got the HTC Hero and so does the person who asked, so that’s the route my investigation took, I opened up the “Mail” section on my phone and went to work.

The auto-detect feature doesn’t work with Exchange Online (or so it seems) so it’s on to manual setup, which asks for:

  • Email Address
  • Server Name
  • Domain
  • Username (Same as the email address)
  • Password

Apart from a couple, they’re all pretty self explanatory but there’s one that could trip you up:

Server Name:

There are 3 different server URLs depending on location:

image

but it just wasn’t working for  me, so I called Microsoft BPOS support. After a bit of a false start, they were very helpful and gave me a call to work through the issues.

I navigated to OWA through my browser (mail.microsoftonline.com)but couldn’t log in. I then found it was resolving itself to the “red001…” address, which clearly wasn’t right as I’m in the UK, so I cleared all my bookies, cache etc and went back to the setup screen.

I tried again and still no luck, but then I tried one last thing…entering the server URL without the “https://” and the start. To be honest, I’m not sure why I tried that (although I’m equally sure that someone more techie than me would have tried that first!) but it worked! Entering simply “red002.mail.emea.microsoftonline.com” worked a charm and BOOM, I could see my emails on my Android device. A quick check revealed that the calendar and contacts were syncing too…brilliant 🙂

I hope that helps anyone wondering if this can be done and/or having trouble getting it working 🙂

Windows Phone 7 Series


Forget what you though you knew, Microsoft are back in the mobile game…and in a pretty big way!

Above is an image of the new Windows Mobile or “Windows Phone 7 Series” as it’s now known.

Each “tile” is a “hub” which connects the user to various elements…you can see the Xbox Live tile which is pretty exciting! The tiles are all live so will display updated info from the web as appropriate. Even from that 1 picture you can see that the UI (User Interface) is VASTLY improved over all previous versions of Windows Mobile with Phone, Test messages, email, pictures, people and more all available from one screen. One of my biggest gripes with WinMo 6.1 was the number of menus I had to navigate through just to do something simple like look at a picture.

It’s integrated into Social Media like never before with the ability to update Windows Live, Facebook, Twitter etc all from one location and making it easy for users to easily share & upload media such as pictures to Flickr, Twitter and more. This video shows off some of the great new features:

 

Buzz

The buzz around this new Redmond release is one of the most surprising, and nice to see, things about this whole launch. Both end users and gadget sites such as Gizmodo and Engadget are really behind this:

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First Windows 7 had huge support from almost everyone and now less than 6 months later, Windows Phone 7 does the same thing…MS have really turned things around! I think a lot of those calls for Steve B to step down will be taken back now 🙂

Zune

This is the one thing I really wanted to see in WP7S and it’s been delivered…Zune is now the media player inside Microsoft’s Mobile platform. I’ve been using the Zune desktop software for quite some time now and it is truly brilliant (see my post here) and the experience on the Zune HD seems comparable. It’s so much smoother and sexier that Windows Media Player and I really love that it synchronizes your track play count between desktop and device 🙂

Me & Windows Phone 7

I’m really excited about Windows Phone 7 Series. I’ve been waiting for it for years…ever since I got a Windows Mobile 5 device in a way…and now it’s here. Well not quite…it’s been announced but devices aren’t going to start shipping until October and that makes me feel better about my situation…which is…I’ve got an Android phone!

Yep that’s right…I’m a huge user of Microsoft products, both software and hardware, and have been using Windows Mobile for over 3 years. However, when my contract cam up for renewal a few months ago I had a choice to make:

a) Keep trudging along with Windows Mobile 6.1 for another year? (My HTC not being eligible for an upgrade to 6.5).

b) Look at another platform such as iPhone or Android?

I was, at first, planning on sticking with WinMo out of loyalty to Microsoft but decided that, as a consumer, I deserved a phone that was fun, easy to use, cool and adaptable to me and my lifestyle. For that I looked at Android and picked up the HTC Hero…I am happier with this phone than any of my previous devices (see post here).

If Windows Mobile 7 (as I may well continue to call it) had been released to buy this week then I would have waited. As it is, I’ll have fun with my Android device, especially once I get the 2.1 update (pleeaaase HTC!) but will definitely be checking out a Windows device in the summer of 2011. Saying that makes it seem SO far away 🙂

If you’re looking for a new phone around October time, definitely go and check out Windows Phone 7 Series.

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