OffBeatMammal

Searching for monkeys in Cyberspace

No, it’s not a Mirage – it’s an i780

clock May 22, 2008 22:11 by author offbeatmammal

SGH-i780 After my somewhat dismissive comments on the BlackJack II I’ve discovered that Samsung’s next leap is pretty significant.

Although the phone in the picture (an SGH-i780 aka “Mirage”) bears a strong resemblance to it’s cousin there’s a couple of clues that not everything is quite the same.

First up is the front facing camera. Okay, it’s a tiny little thing but you might notice it. Then there’s the screen – it’s bigger than the BlackJack II (and unusually it’s a square 320x320 format). Just below the screen is a weird touchpad thing in place or the more traditional D-Pad.

Oh, and I left the last big thing until last… that stylus you see next to the phone… your eyes are not playing tricks… this is a touch device.

Amazingly they packed all this, and 802.11b and g WiFi into a device that is pretty much the same size and weight as the BlackJack II without sacrificing anything – it’s still a 3G and GPS equipped device and even has a noticeably faster processor.

This phone fixes pretty much every complaint that I had with the BlackJack II, and even the keyboard is good enough that I’d consider this to be a better phone for every day than my Shadow (there, I said it!) but… the one thing that I’m not sure I like is the trackpad. In mouse mode (yes, you get an on-screen cursor) it’s just too small a surface to work with, and in 4-way pointer mode I miss the physical “action” of a D-Pad. I’d probably even say I prefer the pearl like rollerball (if you like it on the Blackberry wait until you see it on the VelocityMobile 111 – a Windows Mobile device).

Worse than the trackpad is the fact it still doesn’t come with a standard miniUSB connector/charger.

I’ve only got this for a few days while I work on getting a demo tweaked to fit the layout better but I think I’ll miss it when it’s gone! I won’t miss the connector though.



Windows Mobile Fire Starter Event

clock May 5, 2008 21:12 by author offbeatmammal

Did you know that 5 of the 10 top selling ‘Smart Phones’ in the US run on Windows Mobile (yes, even more than the iPhone)?

Have you always wondered what it takes to write something like ‘Bubble breaker’ and how you can get started on an applications that could get used by millions of people around the world

If so, then the Mobility Fire Starter Events are for you!

The Mobility Fire Starter events are either a 1-day seminar or a 3  day lab with in-depth coverage of building applications on the Windows Mobile platform.

You will be introduced to the nitty gritty of writing applications on the Windows Mobile platform. In a typical Fire Starter fashion, the day begins with something really simple and build to more complex applications by the end of the day.

The following seven areas will be discussed in detail:

· All About Windows Mobile
· Windows Mobile for Line of Business
· The Tools
· Managed Development
· Data Management Strategies
· Performance and Optimization
· A Whole New Level

All you need some basic level of understanding of the .NET platform. The event uses familiar tools such as Visual Studio, the .NET Compact Framework, SQL Server Compact Edition and more.

There are only a few events left in the US and they’re filling up fast (I’ve got my place in Redmond booked!)

Where When Days
Redmond 05/13/2008 1
Memphis 05/13/2008 3
Houston 05/20/2008 3
Mountain View 05/21/2008 1

Thanks to Jason for the heads up and Loke for an insight into the sort of things the event contains.

If you’re a developer looking to get a headstart on the most open smartphone development on the market you really need to be there…



The changing face of SPOT

clock April 24, 2008 19:08 by author offbeatmammal

Microsoft’s SPOT (Smart Personal Object Technology) has had quite a long life in it’s original form, with up to date information being delivered to various devices – as diverse as watches and coffee makers – but as times have changed demand has waned.

Partners are no longer selling SPOT enabled watches – although the good news for us who use them is that the service will continue to deliver news, weather and other updates as expected for time to come.

MSN Direct GPSThat doesn’t mean it’s the end for the brand though. The MSN Direct service is changing along with the needs of it’s audience and delivering content in more appropriate and targeted ways… the SPOT devices are becoming less visible and more just a part of every day life.

What use is traffic data and gas prices delivered to your phone? If you’re in the car then wouldn’t it make sense it your GPS device knew that information and could make use of it? Well, with the partnership with Garmin (“MSN Direct services for GPS Navigation Devices” according to the marketing folks) the technology is embedded into your Satellite Navigation to help make smarter decisions.

MSN Direct Phone One criticism of the SPOT enabled watches was the screen size. Well, a lot of people already carry a device with a much larger screen every day – their phone. Using over the air data delivery or WiFi (for phones that support that) the MSN Direct service is available both as a native Windows Mobile client or via any mobile browser by visiting the mobile enabled http://phone.msndirect.com.

It’s great to see how this really simple technology has evolved from it’s useful but admittedly clunky origins. Of course, if you’re determined to have a really high tech watch you should check out the Epoq EGP-WP98B – a smart watch that runs Windows Mobile 5 (yes, it’s a phone!)



Blackjack anyone?

clock April 18, 2008 23:09 by author offbeatmammal

Samsung_BlackjackII_Red While I really like my Shadow I needed to do some testing of a landscape app, and get a feel for 3G performance (I' was used to it in Australia but have yet to experience it here in the US) so I now have a wine red Samsung BlackJack II (aka i617) with an AT&T pre-paid SIM in.

First let me get a little rant at AT&T out of the way. I don’t mind pre-paid SIMs. I use them a lot when traveling. The initial purchase and setup was really slick and painless. But the fact I can’t get data on the cheaper plans is annoying as I have to sign up to a monthly renewal and more annoying in order to upgrade from the penny a Kb to unlimited data I can only reset it for the second month. If I didn’t want to try out their 3G service I’d have paid the unlock fee instead and stuck my T-Mobile SIM in.

Anyway, back to the phone.

First impressions are really great. It feels solid and robust, speakers are good, the screen is clear, camera – though only 2MP – is adequate. After the Shadow the full keyboard will take some getting used to. I prefer it to the Dash/Excalibur though.

I like the fact the BJII includes GPS (though you do need to jump through some hoops to enable it for apps other than the built-in ones), and of course the speed of the 3G data (I’ll like it a lot more when the unlimited kicks in). I really don’t understand why the decided to not include WiFi of any sort in this device though – in the office I get very poor signal coverage so WiFi is a must… so this phone becomes a paperweight.

So what were the first things I installed? TinyTwitter, Windows Live Search and (once I’d sorted out the GPS) Navizon.

The early experience has really been improved by the MyBlackjack2 and MoDoCo BJII forums – you should really pay them a visit if you’ve got one of these devices (or plan to)

Oh, and apparently there is a MicroSD WiFi card that would solve my connectivity complaint… but despite early announcements I can’t find anyone who actually admits to stocking it!

As I don’t plan to switch to AT&T just yet my Shadow will be the day to day phone, but the BJ II will be getting a good workout in the weeks to come… The other thing that would negate this being a day to day phone is the non-standard charge/data connection. Mini-USB works really well on the Shadow and not having one on the Blackjack II is a real negative for me.



Taming your mobile

clock April 9, 2008 20:30 by author offbeatmammal

dashwire I still think my new Shadow is a pretty good phone. Needs GPS and better (much better) battery life to be perfect (and some workflow tweaks to the OS), but that’s another story.

One thing I’ve noticed about the non touch device though is that it’s a bit harder to manage stuff than on the old Wizard… and now I think back that was sometimes a little painful – tracking down photos or SMSs or editing a bunch of phone numbers.

Luckily I don’t have that problem any more. With Dashwire I now don’t have to think about it. No wires, just a simple app installed on my phone synchronizes everything – SMSs, photos, videos, contacts, call log, voicemail, ring tones, speed dials and even Pocket IE favorites – to a web interface.

From there I can edit, synchronize back to the phone and choose what to share in a public gallery.

If your client is up and running on the phone you can even use the web interface to compose and SMS message and have it sent from your phone.

The convenience of Dashwire is one thing, but having a backup of all your phones content is a pretty fantastic facility. If you’re ever faced with a hard reset of your phone (say to upgrade the firmware) or you manage to lose or break your handset having an up-to-date backup is going to easy the pain.

For the backup plan I’d love to see them able to retrieve details like it IMEI and serial number, and if they know your operator make reporting a stolen device painless (or at least guide you through the process) – but just having the information to hand would be a real bonus.

Looking forward to seeing how Dashwire evolves, and what their business model looks like



I think Sony Ericsson read my wishlist

clock February 10, 2008 13:00 by author offbeatmammal

Xperia_X1_52x104 A few weeks ago I detailed my dream-phone to replace my (then) current Wizard. I ended up getting a Shadow which in many ways is a really good handset but today I read the announcement about Sony Ericssons first foray into the Windows Mobile space and .... I'd like one please ;)

At the moment the best detail is on their press release but it certainly looks like a great start for them in this space - and I imagine with their experience in great smart and music phones - the P9xx and K series - the extra tweaks they'll have added to the platform will make this pretty sweet. I'm just hoping that it comes with a decent browser (and an upgrade path to the next WM releases)

Some highlights are

  • Convergence of multimedia entertainment and mobile Web communication
  • Unique arc slider with wide pitch easy-to-use QWERTY keyboard
  • XPERIA™ panels  - arrange as you want for easy access
  • Bright wide 3" VGA display
  • Windows Mobile® capabilities
  • aGPS support
  • 3.2mp camera
  • HSDPA/GPRS/EDGE and WiFi support
  • As usual I wrote this only to discover SteveCla has beaten me to the punch. There's a downside to living GMT-8 I guess... gotta get up really early to scoop the Brits!



    GPS (even without a GPS) - and maybe earn some money using it

    clock January 10, 2008 21:53 by author offbeatmammal

    One of the things I wanted in my perfect phone was GPS, but sadly my new Shadow doesn't have it built in.

    The reason was simple. I'm new to the US and even still get lost in Redmond. Also after living in Australia for a decade I find my internal sense of direction is out of whack (it took me about 2 years to trust it after I moved to Aus)

    Luckily there is a solution. Navizon have a small app you can download to your phone that uses cell towers, wifi access points and, if you have it, GPS to triangulate your location. Once it has that information it lets you navigate and record your trail (including options to export to Google Earth or as a CSV). You can geotag where you've been and share the information with buddies (or see where they are right now).

    As it happens I also have a Bluetooth GPS device so I can pair that with the phone when I really want accuracy but it's good enough to locate the hotel I was in based on the 13 WiFi access points and 7 Cell Phone towers it could locate just from my room!

    The application is available as a native Windows Mobile application and they also support iPhone, Blackberry and Nokia S60 devices. They even have a desktop app if you don't have WiFi or GPS on your phone.

    This software relies on a community of users who contribute data to the system (WiFi and Cellular towers) when they have a GPS device. Not only do non GPS phone users get the benefit of that data but users who have a GPS device get to take part in the Navizon rewards program - each cell tower or access point you provide GPS coordinates for earns you points and those points translate (once you've got enough) into dollars via PayPal. You can even refer folks and earn a percentage of their points (they don't lose out, your bonus is in addition to their credit!)

    One thing it doesn't do it let me post my location to Twitter (nice to do when I get off a plane - helps me remember where I am when I wake up in a strange hotel!) but I've send them a feature request for that ;)



    Step into the shadow

    clock January 9, 2008 22:02 by author OffBeatMammal

    Shadow It only feels like minutes ago I was writing that I was looking for a new phone. Then today my Wizard started turning itself off every 10 minutes. Opened it up and noticed the battery was a little warped and probably about to turn into a lump of toxic goo - not sometime I wanted in my pocket, or on a plane with me tomorrow.

    So, on the way home I popped into my local T-Mobile store and (thanks mostly to FrankArrs glowing recommendation) picked up a shiny new sage Shadow.

    It's very strange not having a touch screen after all these years, and not only is there no "full" keyboard the letters are not arranged as on a normal phone but spaced out over the 20 keys ... so I'm having to re-learn the old T9 style tapping out of emails as well.

    That said, it took maybe 20 mins once I got home to get the phone set up, connecting to the WiFi at home, syncing with Exchange, GMail and my Live account.

    I then turned to the AllShadow site for some background reading which pointed me at the modaco forums for some more hard core tweaks. TinyTwitter was the first app loaded (expect to see some funny tweets from me until I get used to the keyboard). The best bit was having a conversation with one of the folks responsible for the Neo interface - every day I'm reminded just how many smart people I'm lucky enough to work with.

    The coming days are going to be a learning experience. Like any new toy I don't expect to be proficient straight away, but I think this is going to be something I become very happy with in a week.

    Going back to my wish list the camera is lower spec that I'd like, there's no GPS and music means I'll need to buy a Micro-SD card and an adapter if I want a 3.5mm jack for headphones... but bang for the buck it's one sweet little phone...

    Of course, much as I like the interface I'll have to try PointUI out on it now ;)



    Looking for a new phone

    clock January 8, 2008 00:21 by author offbeatmammal

    MicroTACIt's been a long time since my first mobile phone - a venerable old Motorola MicroTAC but it really set the tone for many features that I consider to be valuable in a communications tool today.

    Of course compared to today's phones there are many features I'm glad we've moved on from, though when it comes down to it the basic functionality is pretty hard to innovate much beyond while the form factor remains close to what the world thinks of as a phone.

    Since then I've had many phones - StarTAC, Nokia 6110, 6310, 7650, 3650 and a trusty 8210, Sony Ericsson T610, Motorola A1000, Sony Ericsson P910, LG U8120 and LG U890 (I worked on TV shows that were sponsored by phone networks... it helped provide a never-ending supply of phones and paid for calls!). Then I got my iMate K-Jam (AKA HTC Wizard / T-Mobile MDA) and for a long time it's been good.

    The trusty Windows Mobile device has seen me through a bunch of projects, kept me in touch (phone, email, IM and now Twitter) and since joining Microsoft it's been used to dogfood upgrades and patches to help work out the kinks before you get them. With PointUI it now even looks as cool as the new HTC TouchFlo devices (at, at least on the home screen, gives the iPhone a run for it's money!)

    Time however hasn't been kind to the Wizard. The battery doesn't last 24 hours, the screen gets confused if it should be in landscape or portrait (the micro-switch doesn't always switch!) and it's generally starting to show its age.

    It's time for a new phone.

    But when I look around the market I find that my expectations are maybe a little hard to satisfy. Even if I'm willing to compromise on a couple of things on my wish-list there's still no one phone that leaps out and says "buy me!"

    So, what does that wish list look like - and can you help me find the ideal new companion?

    • Windows Mobile. A combination of loyalty to my employer, but more so I can be sure of connecting to our Exchange server with all the various security protocols in place.
    • A real keypad. One of the disappointments with the Wizard is trying to dial quickly. A physical keypad means you don't have to wade through an on-screen menu with no tactile feedback just to make a call. I'd like a full keyboard as well but as long as it's got T9 or smart auto-complete I can live with it.
    • A decent camera. I don't need 10MP with 25x zoom... but I do need 2MP or better, ideally with a lens cover (or some way of cleaning it) and if possible a flash. Responsive camera s/w would be a real bonus as well
    • WiFi, 802.11b and g. There are some great phones out there (eg Samsung i620 or HTC Touch Dual) that are crippled because there is no WiFi.
    • GPS. Not essential (if I only have to drop one thing it would be this) but I love being able to locate myself using Windows Live Search or track where I've been.
    • Good battery life. Let me go 48 hours without desperately needing a charge. I want to be able to do email, check twitter etc without hearing the beep-beep-beep of a dead battery. And that includes being able to turn off the radios and play solitaire and listen to music on a flight from Seattle to Heathrow, and still have enough juice to call my brother when I land.
    • On the subject of music... if I can converge my iPod and my phone in the same way I converged my PDA and Phone with the Wizard I'll be very happy That of course means I want a standard headphone jack (3.5mm) as well as good stereo bluetooth support.
    • Ideally the screen and input functionality will be good enough to write quick notes to myself, dash off emails and respond to comments on my blog.
    • Which leads me to web browsing. Compared to Safari on an iPhone or Opera on other mobile devices PocketIE really needs a workover. Apart from the circa 2000 UI on Windows Mobile Professional devices (SmartPhones are a little better) web browsing is the more compromised experience on these devices.
    • Ideally upgradable. Windows Mobile 6 is okay, but I know I'll want Windows Mobile 6.1 or 6.5 or 7 or whatever comes next...

    HTC S730 Annoyingly one of the best devices for most of these, apart from the critical email access question, is the Nokia N95 8GB. Most of the Windows Mobile devices don't quite get there at the moment, thought the HTC S730 is pretty darn close. If the Touch Dual or i620 had WiFi they'd be very strong contenders (I love the idea of the smaller slider, or even a clamshell, form factor) but with the other things I'd have to give up they don't quite make the cut.

    I guess my Wizard will last a couple more weeks... in the meantime I'd love some suggestions what should replace it. Michael thinks the Samsung SCH-i760 is pretty cool and Frank can't make up his mind between a Treo, Tytn-II or Shadow ... no wonder I'm confused ;)



    A better Windows Mobile interface

    clock January 3, 2008 21:14 by author offbeatmammal

    If, like me, you've ever looked at the user interface on an iPhone on an HTC device with TouchFlo and felt a moment of jealously because your Windows Mobile Professional / Pocket PC device wasn't as cool then I've got some good news for you.

    Pointui Home for Windows MobileNo longer does your phone have to be green with envy, when it can be blue. Blue with the new "Home" interface from Pointui. They modestly describe this little add-on as the definitive interface for mobile devices and, for a usually stylus driven device, the last few days running it on my Wizard have been quite impressive.

    A quick summary of what Home delivers is found on the site but to give you an idea of the number of ways this little (and did I mention free) app makes life easier they I'll repeat them here:

    • Control your device via touch or your thumb with the directional control
    • Smart Lists Navigation ™ with bookmarks allows you to easily locate an item in even the largest lists
    • Choose the slide navigation that suits you
    • One touch access to calls, email, text messages and music
    • Easily see who and when calls were received, made and missed
    • Using the Applet Ribbon ™ you can easily access the time, tasks, appointments, calendar and up to date weather forecasts and current temperatures
    • Easily manage your sound, wireless, battery and device settings
    • Easy create new emails, text messages, multimedia messages, tasks, appointments, documents and spreadsheets
    • Load and switch between running applications effortlessly

    I should point out though that the software is still in it's early days and has some blemishes but, as the very active forum on the site shows not only are the developers encouraging feedback they are responding and improving at quite a pace (and the build in updater means that you're never too far behind when they do release some improvements)

    Despite some of the little hiccups I've found with it in the few days of using it I'm going to keep it hanging around, which is more than I've been able to say for most of the other alternative launcher apps after a few days.

    So, what don't I like about it at the moment? Nothing serious luckily (and I've got high hopes these will be addressed)

    • No direct link to contacts. There is a (for me) redundant top level icon for the music player. I'd happily trade that for a link to contacts. I'd happily swap the SMS link for a customizable option as well.
    • The Mail icon only shows one of the inboxes (I've got three - Exchange, Hotmail and Gmail as well as SMS) ... I'd like to see that take me directly to whatever one is selected on a press and hold, with taps cycling through (or expanding the icon to show what mailboxes have new messages)
    • On the Applet Ribbon I love the fact I can cycle to tasks or my calendar, but I hate the fact I can't thumb down on a specific one and have it open. The calendar takes me to today... which can be quite irrelevant.
    • There are very nice replacement icons for WiFi, Bluethooth and Data connections... but the WiFi doesn't really show me if it's connecting (or when it's connected which base station)
    • While I'm on the subject of the WiFi and other connections... because of the mess of Windows Mobile native functionality and the HTC Comms Manager I end up having to delve into various settings screens just to get things turned on and connecting. Not really a Pointui problem but something I wish they wrapped more intelligently)
    • The hardware buttons don't work. This one is a real pain. I've mapped ActiveSync to the voice recorder button and TinyTwitter to the comms button because they're things I activate frequently - but with Home running they get ignored.
    • Task manager is great - though it would be nice to be able to stop a program from it as well as switch to it.

    My only other gripe with using Pointui's Home is what happens when I hit the end of their customization and revert back to a standard Windows Mobile interface in say Pocket Outlook or Pocket IE (I keep meaning to replace that with Opera but I'm too cheap! At least Skweezer gives readable pages on that screen). It's less jarring than using the HTC TouchFlo  launcher (and of course the iPhone has a consistent UX so it's not really an issue) but it's still something that reminds me that Windows Mobile is starting to show its age, especially on the Professional (touch screen) devices.

    All in all there's very little that I'd say is a show-stopper, and it does demonstrate the sort of functionality which could easily be incorporated into Windows Mobile. As the UX is starting to look a little aged (like PalmOS before it) with the new contenders in the shape of iPhone, Android and Series 3 S60 devices from Nokia it's about time WM got spruced up a little... and Pointui is a good step in the right direction.

    Edit: Check out this post in the Pointui forums for documentation on some of the customizations that help address some of the issues above.



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