Category Archives: Gizmodoodats

HTC Dream and Magic – Initial Review

There are some benefits in being a funded start-up by Rogers and that is access to wireless technology and infrastructure. When the Magic and Dream were first announced, I sent a quick message to both our internal executives and was quite pleasantly surprised when I was handed an unopened Dream for us to look into developing an Android app. I had previously picked up a Magic because frankly at $150, it’s hard to go wrong.

The HTC Dream is the same phone as the T-Mobile G1 that was released last year with some changes to the antenna as HSUPA/HSPDA run on a different frequency than the US. I did not know this and was an interesting tidbit to find out. I remember looking at the T-Mobile G1 and wondering how comfortable it would be to have something protruding while typing. After using it for close to a week, I found that part really intrusive. It was quite difficult to use as it made for very awkward typing over a period of time. One nice thing about it is that it gave easy access to the rollerball which came in handy at times. Overall though, I found the performance on the Dream quite sluggish. For whatever reason, it waited a lot and crashed a lot for me. It’s definitely not a replacement phone for my HTC Fuze.

The Magic, on the other hand, was awesome. I generally prefer a hardware keyboard but as a secondary play phone, it does so quite nicely. It is small and sleek. In comparison to the native Dream ROM, it is fairly solid. I did not run into crashing or slowness issues. The soft keyboard works as well as one would hope. I was quite surprised it didn’t have a dedicated key for the camera which would have been really nice. While the Magic still has that chin, it isn’t nearly as obstrusive as for the Dream.

The nice thing about these phones is that they are HTC devices and in typical HTC fashion, I’ve flashed the ROM already. My Magic currently has the Hero ROM on it with the HTC Sense software. More thoughts on that in another post. I’ll update this blog with pictures in a few days.

Dropbox – Initial Review

Outside of Evernote, one of my other favourite apps today is Dropbox. The Dropbox concept is rather simple; it allows you to store information in the cloud but it’s implementation is extremely effective. Ever since I started working, I’ve always had portable storage. Traditionally it’s come in the means of a Compact Flash memory card seated in a PCMCIA adapter that is always plugged in to my notebooks. If I ever decided to leave my laptop at work, all I would have to do is to eject my PCMCIA card and take it home with me and I’d still be able to hace access to my core information wherever I went. PCMCIA cards are no longer the norm; ExpressCards are. More importantly though this same requirement can be solved by web services like Dropbox.

I do my work on multiple devices. I have a Macbook as my primary work laptop, a Vista machine for when I’m home and a Ubuntu Linux box that I rely on to do system admin type tasks. I love the fact that Dropbox works on all 3 operating systems. For all 3, you install a client which then creates a local directory on that machine. Any time you make a change to a document in the dropbox directory, it will synchronize it to all the other machines. In that scenario, it works really well. For my mobile devices, Dropbox has a mobile friendly web site that makes these folders easily accessible. I often put cab files that I need to install on my Windows Mobile there as often times sites don’t make it easy to download apps from their site.

One of the really nice things that I like about Dropbox is the ability to share folders. This is most useful when you are collaborating with others and need to have information flow to multiple people. Instead of sending multiple files to multiple people, you can always have the latest copy accessible through a shared folder in Dropbox. One word of caution though, it doesn’t support the concept of file locking. If two people are editing the same document, the file that is retained is most likely going to be the last one. The good news though is that it does support some rudimentary file versioning which is accessible on the web.

The free account comes with 2GB of storage. It may not sound like a lot especially when USB keys are so cheap these days and when Yahoo and Gmail both offer storage sizes that is much larger than that. It all boils down to how you use your cloud storage. For me, it’s a very simple and cheap way to synchronize and cache the most critical files that I need quick and instant access to such as my work documents. For the laptops that I access to perform work related tasks, I default my local Dropbox directory as my Documents directory. That way any work I do gets saved that quickly. The nice benefit from this process is that I get file versions out of this by default. Just in case I do something stupid, I can always log on to the web to restore an older version. Since it’s cached locally, it means that I can still have access to a copy of the file. One risk though is that if it wasn’t synchronized before you took your computer offline, you might not have the latest copy.

Should you find that 2GB is not enough for your needs, you can upgrade your plan to a 50 GB or 100 GB plan for a fee. You could also get small upgrades to your account by referring friends. Each referral will get you an extra 250 MB added to your account. If you did find this review useful and would like to try Dropbox, please use my referral link.

PockeTwit – 0.74 Review

One of the things that I love about PockeTwit is that it is in constant development. One downside is that it is hard to know when is a good time to blog about it. Even though other good apps like Twikini have been launched since I last blogged, I still find myself going back to PockeTwit all the time. In fact, if I had a choice, I would use PockeTwit as my primary Twitter app instead of Tweetdeck only because it can do everything Tweetdeck can.

Outside of the features that amazed me in my first review like having a very usable user interface and integration with other providers like ping.fm, PockeTwit has recently included the concept of groups, saved searches, retweeting, showing a conversation chain and emailing someone a status. Some other nice things they have included are the ability to create and change themes and the ability to clear the cache if needed. Personally not high value to me personally but still good features.

The ability to have groups is certainly quite valuable. When I started using Twitter, I followed only a handful of friends. Since Twitter has a whole universe of interesting people, I’ve found myself following many more people since then. So the ability to group them is essential. It’s allows me to better focus on conversations in groups. The nice thing about PockeTwit is that when I assign them to a group, I can either copy them to a group or move them completely. I started out with copying fellow twitters to groups but I’m starting to realize moving them to groups makes more sense. Especially in a mobile form factor.

Being able to see a conversation is phoenomenal. Most mobile clients have this feature. I’m curious as to why most desktops don’t. It’s so nice to take a tweet and check out the history of the conversation. This is one of the reasons why moving a person instead of copying works in PockeTwit.

The other great part about PockeTwit is the ability to do a search and also re-run those searches later on. This implementation is less polished as how it is implemented is that it shows you the previous searches as part of a drop-down box. I guess it should more accurately be described as remembered searches instead of saved searches. I would have liked this to be accessible the way Groups are but I can understand why it’s implemented the way it is. I haven’t figured out how to delete searches from the drop-down list. So far it hasn’t been much of a problem because I don’t execute searches very often on my mobile device.

I personally believe that the reason why PockeTwit is such a phenomenal product is because the developer uses the app all the time. If I had a choice, I would want all of the features developed here on a desktop. Features like retweeting and emailing someone a status just makes sense. I also like being able to see the person’s timeline as well as profile. Given that it’s a mobile form factor, I like the fact that profile and timeline are separated out. Other niceties are that when I click on a tweet, it quickly separates out all of the things that I can interact with such as hyperlinks and profiles. Another sign of a great product is the ability to recognize when a feature isn’t as useful as originally imagined. In between my two reviews, there was a map feature where you could see where people were tweeting from. The feature was quickly recognized as not as useful as originally thought it would be and was removed. It was a good decision because I think that means that the developer can focus on core features instead of maintaining something obscure.

Overall, I am still in love with PockeTwit as my primary Twitter client for Windows Mobile

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SPB Mobile Shell 3.0 – Initial Review

SPB was the first company to introduce gesture navigation for the Windows Mobile after the launch of the iPhone application. The iPhone caused a massive paradigm shift in the mobile world when it intuitively thought that a mobile device was much more usable by navigating using your fingers rather than using a stylus. It was one of the most frustrating things using a stylus such that when HTC introduced the Tytn, the fact that you could do most of your navigation via either the scroll wheel on the side or the d-pad, it instantly became the most popular Windows Mobile device of it’s time.

HTC then introduced TouchFlo 3D with the Touch line of devices (i.e. Touch Diamond, Touch Pro) and it became the interface of choice. HTC did a decent job but the reality is that it is better known as a hardware company rather than a software company. The features are actually awesome on TouchFlo 3D. However, I found it extremely unstable. One of the first things I noticed right after I got the Fuze was that it would crash Manilla (the application name for TouchFlo 3D) and cause annoyances. It was frequent enough that it caused me to start looking for ROMs to ease some of the frustrations.

Enter SPB Mobile Shell 3.0. I had purchased 2.0 earlier but stopped using it because of TouchFlo 3D. After finding the Energy ROM, I was pretty happy with TouchFlo. However, being someone who enjoys tinkering, I couldn’t help but want to install Spb Mobile Shell as soon as it was publicly released. And after 3 days, I have to say it is a great piece of software.

While there are 13 screens, the application is actually broken down into a few major sections. There is the home screens which summarizes your information, there is the phone screens which manages things like phone profile and dialer, contacts screens helps manage your quick dial information and the address book, the programs and settings screen, and lastly the weather section that gives you weather information.

The software impresses right away. On first load, Spb Mobile Shell takes about 10% less RAM then TouchFlo 3D. Other things that I really like are contact integration with Facebook. I also like how I can easily switch between professional layout to info layout at a flick of a finger. With some minor hacking, you can have more than 3 info screens. The nice thing about the info layout screen is that they are completely customizable. The idea is that in the future is to enable third-party widgets to be built. Another thing that impressed me as well is the seamless transition from portrait to landscape mode. It works exactly either way (for the most part) without any rendering issues.

One of the things I would have liked is to have better integration with existing SPB Products like Wireless Monitor and Phone Suite. One of the really nice things that I liked about the previous version of this product was that I could embed the Today screen plug-ins as a tab. I think it would be reasonable to have more SPB products generate new screens. I really like the Facebook integration and would love to see the functionality extend to more than just downloading of photos but also of contact information such as email and phone numbers. This is more minor. When I added all of the icons I wanted for a particular screen in portait mode and then flipped to landscape mode, there were some minor misalignments that I could fix. Once it was fixed, it remembered the settings.

Overall, this has been an impressive product. There were no issues that made me even once consider going back to using HTC’s Touch Flo. For me this is the killer UI that I’ve been waiting for.

Flexilis – Nuke and Restore

I decided that I was going to try a new ROM this weekend so it was an appropriate time to test out the Nuke and Restore feature using Flexilis. I logged on to the site and nuked my device. I liked the fact that it asked you to confirm whether or not you wanted to nuke your device on the web but not on the phone as this is branded as as security feature for the phone. The Restore was equally easy. I only tested the restore of the SMS messages as it was the one feature I was most interested in. While it worked, it seem to have lost the SMS thread on the Windows Mobile on restore. That part was disappointing.

Overall though, I’ve been really impressed with Flexilis. I like it much better than GuardMobile. Now the big question mark is how much is it going to cost when it leaves beta.

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Tweetdeck – Initial Review

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I love Twitter for it’s simplicity and versatility; everyone seems to use it a little differently so the interactions that you observe on Twitter can be overwhelming at a glance. Enter Tweetdeck.

Tweetdeck is an Adobe AIR application that runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. It’s not an information consolidator but an information organizer. Tweetdeck allows you to organize your information into columns and by default, they give you 3 – all friends (your entire twitterverse), directs and replies. The replies function is smarter than the built-in replies in Twitter. The default replies function in Twitter searches for all tweets that start with @[your usename] where as the replies function looks for @[your username] in any messages. I wouldn’t have caught some of those messages directed at me if I didn’t have Tweetdeck.

The next most useful function in Tweetdeck is the ability to group users. This is useful as different people use it differently. The people I know outside of @jasonlewin and @gerrypower, don’t tweet as much. So often it’s easy for their tweets to get lost in the deluge of messages from the twitterverse. For myself, I decided to create groups for “friends and family” as well as “work” as those two groups interact very differently from one another.

The ability to have a dedicated search column is interesting as well. By default, I have #rogers, #telus and #bell as one of my columns as I’m curious to see what’s going on in the mobile industry in Canada.

Twitter is also famous for its ability to report news long before it hits the mainstream media. For this purpose, the Twitscoop column is fantastic. It shows you what words are hot and what terms are trending. Every once in a while it’s neat to see what’s going on out there. It would be interesting to see if there are ways to generate trend information by limiting information by either geography or keyword. That would make it an even more powerful product.

Another feature that is a big deal is the alerting. When a new message comes up, it categorizes by columns so it tells me where I should focus on instead of just being overwhelmed with lots of messages all the time. I really like Tweetdeck as it makes my Twittering more informative and relevant.

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Social Median – Initial Review

The wonderful thing about the internet is that there is such an abundant of good information out there. There isn't a day where I don't come across an entry from another blog that I find interesting and end up following. The unfortunate outcome is that I end up having a huge amount of blogs that I find myself having to catch up on. The other issue is that not everything a blog site publishes is interesting or relevant to me. So I find myself going through blogs in my RSS reader, reading a few and discarding the rest. While it's doable, it's not necessary that efficient use of my time.

So here's where I think Social Median comes in. Social Median has the potential to be a true RSS aggregator instead of an RSS consolidator. The foundation of Social Median is the concept of a News Network. A News Network is basically a theme or topic of interest. You can either subscribe to an existing news network or create your own. The implementation of the news network is quite simple but powerful as it provides you with multiple levels of filtration

Trust at the Source
As part of the creation of a news network, you select the sources of information by inputing the RSS feeds of the source. When I create an news network, I use this as filtration of trust and relevance. I only put in news sources of sites that I think can provide me with relevant entries by people whom I trust either by reputation or by knowing them.

Word Filters
The next step that the Social Median does is to filter out your consolidated sources by applying a word filter. You enter all the words that you think could be relevant to the topic and depending on the noise level that you set, it only shows you entries that match your filters. Noise levels have 3 settings – high, where it needs to only match your primary topic filter; medium where it matches your topic filter and any one of the secondary filters or low where it tries to do an intelligent match of all the filters that you've set. I've found this a bit tricky especially for broader topics. Right now I can't think of all the appropriate keywords for my topics and so I don't always get all the blogs that I'm looking for.

Social Filter
This is where the most powerful step of the news filter lies. Once your news network is created it is then published to a directory for anyone to subscribe. The people in your news network can then clip it which makes increases the popularity count of the particular entry, select the mood whether it's positive or negative or simply click it as irrelevant. The more popular your news network is, the more powerful this is going to be as a filter.

Even though I've been a Social Median subscriber for a while, I have struggled on how to use it. Social Median doesn't work very well as a news reader but to its defense, it doesn't claim to be. There are multiple tabs that you can go through that provide you very useful information. The first tab summarizes all the hot and trending topics. Followed by a summary of news from your network and then a tab with all of the news that you have contributed.

There are a few things I would love to see Social Median be able to do. The major struggle I have is that I find it hard not to be able to mark a news item already read so whenever I come back to the site, I can't immediately tell if there is new information that I should be interested in at a glance. The second is to give me the ability to see what entries I've clipped and tag them. If not, then give me the ability to integrate it into something like delicious. I usually clip an entry not only because I find the article interesting and that perhaps other people might as well, I often also do it because I think it might be useful for later use as well. Another useful capability would be to be able to link articles together. For instance, when Microsoft introduced Windows Mobile 6.5, at least 3 blogs created entries on the topic but all 3 provided relatively the same information and it would have been useful to have the ability to link the articles together so someone could easily just read one, browse through the summary of the other 2 and then move on.

Overall, I like the idea of Social Median. It has the potential to be a powerful aggregator and they have approached the problem in a very intelligent way. It is an excellent hybrid of technology and people and is certainly one of the smartest way of leveraging a social network.

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Reasons as to why I buy HTC devices

https://i2.wp.com/www.tarekesber.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/07/HTC-Logo.jpg?w=474

Whenever I purchase a Windows Mobile device, I almost always buy an HTC product. I have regretted every non-HTC device I have bought. Although the HTC brand is relatively new, the company and products have been around for a very long time. The first ever HTC device I ever picked up was the Compaq Ipaq 3600 series. Back then, HTC used to make devices for companies such as Compaq, O2, IMate and Dopod just to name a few. It wasn’t until a few years ago (I think it was 2006) when it started to brand under it’s own name.

In general, the devices are well built and is considered a premium product. Whenever I can afford an upgrade, it is always worth it to spend the premium that comes with the HTC. However, what makes the HTC great is really the developer community that is out there. In some ways, mobile devices are a very different beast from the PC. Mobile devices are essentially souped up phones. What you see is what you get. Every so often, a manufacturer will release a firmware upgrade but that is really rare. In other ways, mobile devices are very much like PCs. To get them to work with any Operating System, you require the concept of drivers for software to talk to the hardware.

The most active community is called XDA Developers after the O2 XDA phones which is an HTC device. I’m not completely certain about the how the site came about or how they discovered that you could “crack” the O2 XDA. But today, you can always go to the site, look up your phone and look for what is termed as “cooked” ROMS. Typically what happens is that someone will take a ROM, strip it to its bare minimum and then install critical software. The reason why there are so many cooked ROMS is because every different “cook” has his or her version of essential software. More importantly, the community will find ways to update the devices with the latest drivers or software updates to HTC software from other HTC devices. Ultimately, the purpose of the community is to find ways to make the phones more stable.

In my case, I bought an HTC Fuze, which is an AT&T product, from someone on Howard Forums late last year. The problem with the Fuze was that the default ROM was bloated with a lot of software that I don’t need or care for. Second problem is that for the life of me, I can rarely get an AT&T Windows Mobile phone to work properly on Rogers. I typically prefer to get a native HTC ROM. I was able to locate one quickly on the site and I flashed the ROM. The problem was that the keyboard layout for the HTC Touch Pro (native phone) and the HTC Fuze is different. Fortunately, I found a link from xda-developers that gave me a link to fix the keyboard along with other fixes as well. Another major reason why I like HTC is that even if HTC itself doesn’t release an OS ROM upgrade for one of their devices. It’s quite likely that someone from XDA Developers would release a ROM for it. For instance, there’s been a WM 7 released for the Touch Pro and my Dopod Star Trek is already on WM 6.1 when WM 5 was the last official release for that particular device.

An HTC device gets me a phone that is closest to an open-source phone as you can get. Yes, the Windows Mobile is a closed operating system but at least there’s a user community that will help me tweak the daylights out of my phone.

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Evernote – Initial Review

Evernote Logo

I started to use Evernote a little bit more over the Christmas break. It touts itself as the tool for you to “Remember Everything” and it doesn’t do a bad job of it. What I like best about it is that it has the potential to be used everywhere. My particular use case is that I tend to start my thoughts on my Windows Mobile device while in transit on the subway and save it as I exit the subway. If I have the time, I like to dabble a little bit more at work on my Macbook during the work day before heading home and completing it on the subway again. Sometimes I have ideas that give me restless nights so I like to try to write it down before I doze off and forget them at all.

Since my mobile device of choice is Windows Mobile, I use the WinMo version the most. By default, there are multiple note types that can create – text note, ink note and audio note. You can also initiate a web clipping but I haven’t had the need yet. For the most part, I use the text note the most to start my blogs but last night I used an ink note to doodle an idea that I had. Worked well but I haven’t yet edited it. The thing that frustrates me most about Evernote is also the thing that I like most about Evernote. The concept of being able to write any notes and then sync them to a web site is brilliant. My frustration stems from the times when I have to use it and have no access to internet like when I’m in the subway. In this case, it doesn’t work consistently. Creating a new note offline works flawlessly. Saving a new note gives you an error but it still queues it up and then uploads the note when you’re back online. In order to edit a note, you have to be online to download the note and invoke the edit command even though you may have a previous copy of the file. Saving an edited note offline just causes you to lose the note.

 
The desktop versions are underwhelming in general. I can’t say that anything really stands out. The cool thing that I like about the Mac version of Evenote is that it has the ability to create an iSight note. However there are quite a few things missing with it. For one, I can’t email a note using Entourage. It only supports the default Mac Mail application and there is no ink support for Macs  yet. The Windows version feels a lot fuller than the Mac version. There’s the ability to do Saved Searches, gives me a quick preview of my monthly data usage and the ability to create and view ink notes. This is espcially important when my Windows notebook is a tablet PC :D. Having the web version is a nice option when I’m working on my Ubuntu desktop. I wish they also had a non-AJAX version of the site so it would work better on my Nokia N810. The formatting of the site on my N810 is just unworkable as I found out.
As I use it more, the couple of features that would make Evernote even more powerful as a product would be the ability to share my notes with someone. As I’m using it more, one of the nice thing about this would have been the ability to share it with another Evernote user to update it. Another feature that would be useful in the future is the ability to archive it. While I can tag it, I can see the long flow of notes being overwhelming and cumbersome and I typically like to keep my notes and not delete them. The product has some flaws still but the ability to synchronize it to a central place is still quite useful to me at the moment. The key question is that will the flaws overwhelm its features to make this a long term product viable product in the future.
 
Update: Evernote has failed me again. I’m no longer as gung-ho about Evernote as I was when I started out. I lost another blog entry that I so dilligently wrote in the subway this morning.

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