Category Archives: Gizmodoodats

HTC Touch Pro – TouchFlo 3D

While one of the main reasons why I got a Windows Mobile devices is that I can fully customize it, the default set of software that came with the HTC Touch Pro is definitely above and beyond what HTC has previously released with. The three that come to mind are TouchFlo 3D, Opera 9.5 and YouTube.

Let’s face it – while the Windows Mobile platform is extremely pragmatic, it is just plain old boring. It looks, feels and acts like the Windows desktop. To give Microsoft some credit, it was the differentiator between Palm and itself. The strategy was to bring a subset of the desktop to a mobile platform. The end result is what we have here. Along comes iPhone to change the mobile space altogether. So this is where TouchFlo 3D comes in.

TouchFlo 3D is a very slick implementation of a dashboard. At the bottom of the screen, you have a menu bar which you scroll around with by pressing your finger down and sliding across with it. Some people love it and some hate it. I am in the former camp. It has a total of 11 modules; each with it’s own gesture and animation.


You start at the Home module with your time, missed calls and next appointment. It’s a simple view of what’s going on now. With a flick upwards, the clock gets smaller and you see more appointments. Usually around 3.


Next is the Favorite Contacts module. It is basically a speed dial and looks like a Rolodex. Flicking up and down basically flips the Rolodex. Pictures are added automatically if your contact is associated with a photo in the addressbook. Unfortunately, the photo stored by Pocket Outlook is very small and gets grainy when it gets displayed by TouchFlo. Apparently the workaround is to associate it with a local photo instead.


The messages module gives you access to your sms messages. The flick up and down lets you flow through your incoming texts. Tapping on a message brings you to the threaded text message view in native Windows Mobile 6.1. I like the fact that through the menu screen, I can reply and delete messages right from there. To me, this is one of the more complete modules in TouchFlo 3D.


It’s a completely different story for the E-mail module. I like the envelope and that it only gives a summary of the message. There are tabs on the right hand side that you can select the appropriate account and flicking the email up and down scrolls through your messages. What makes no sense for me is that the interactivity expected is to create more e-mail accounts. I would have expected that you would provide the most frequently used functions at this level. Creating new email accounts just isn’t it. When you click on the email, it takes you back to the email but you can’t really delete it. To delete an email, you click on the Inbox and then delete it from there.


I love the fact th
at they have integrated Opera directly into the Today TouchFlo 3D modules.


The music module is another frustrating implementation. It’s pretty but does not work the way I would have expected it to. It lists all of the music on your device by default which makes
sense. I would have expected it to limit my view to only music on my playlist once it’s been selected. It doesn’t seem to do  that.


The picture module is well thought out for me. It lists all of your photos, you flick through them to scan them and clicking on it takes you    to the full screen version on your photo. What’s neat about the photo is that moving your finger around the circle zooms in and out of the photo. Definitely full featured and intuitive in my books.


The weather module is simple and elegant. It is the one module that shows off how gorgeous the screen on the TouchPro really is. The gestures are simple – flick up and down to sroll through cities you’ve selected. The animation is very slick. My favorite is the rainy day one. It starts off with your screen looking like it’s been splashed with rain drops followed by a wiper wiping the screen. It’s just something you have to see in person.


Settings screen is not particularly interesting. Only thing I really use it for is to access the the comm manager and the program launcher launches programs. The program launcher is limited to 18 applications which is plenty. You can further access other programs by hitting the soft key that says All Programs.

For the Windows platform, TouchFlo 3D is phoenomenal. Yes, it can be gimicky but so is the iPhone. TouchFlo 3D is by far the best looking interface to date for Windows. What it suffers from is that it is a layer on top of the native Windows UI so it suffers from some overhead to load it up when it first starts. It also comes down to a crushing reality when you have to launch other Windows apps when
TouchFlo 3D is implemented as a Today Screen plug-in. Once Windows Mobile launches, it then loads TouchFlo 3D making it a very long boot up.

TouchFlo also seems fragile to me. I tried playing with the tweaks that I found on the web and kept running into “manila.exe” failures often. I then decided to re-flash the ROM and it’s been more stable ever since. I have only run into problems with Dashwire with TouchFlo. The failure for the most part is not catastrophic but it is annoying. For some reason after it crashes, it kicks in the home screen whenever you have to type something in a text box.

Many people have said that after a while, I would get rid of TouchFlo. Assuming that it doesn’t crash as often as it has been doing, I like the interface. It is actually intuitive and simple to use.

Sent from my HTC Touch Pro®

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Finally got my Touch Pro

After weeks of searching, I finally got my hands on a North American version of the Touch Pro, also known as the HTC Fuze which is sold by AT&T. The search was extremely tough and after 3 failed attempts I finally have one in my hands. After much pursuit, I finally was able to swing a deal with mitsubishiman of Howard Forums. The deal itself was relatively straight forward and was completed in one night.

There’s actually much to write about the Touch Pro even though the device is very similiar to my Tytn II which I still really enjoy using. Because of that, I am going to split this blog entry into multiple posts as not to bore people to tears with the length of the post. Even with the same form factor, I am still adjusting to the Touch Pro and I’m not quite as proficient with it as I would like.

With every iteration of HTC devices, the product gets smaller and feels better built. It is definitely no where as heavy as the Tytn II. It is both thinner and narrower than the Tytn II although it is also slightly thinner. Because of that, the Touch Pro actually looks like a small brick. I don’t love the dimensions of it and personally as a whole, I think it looks very awkward. Since this is modeled after the Touch Diamond, it has the uneven cuts at the back. Personally, it does nothing for me but I’ve had at least one postive comment on that aspect. The casing is very shiny and plastic making it smudge frequently. I actually miss the rubberize feel of the Tytn II. That being said, it feels like a solidly built device.

The major reason for the upgrade to the Touch Pro is the screen from specification. The one thing that bothered me about the Tytn II was that it didn’t have the fully flush screen and that impeded my ability to use it as a one-handed device. Tapping at keys at the edge was very inprecise. The other thing that I looked forward to was to have a VGA screen on my mobile device again. I have to say that I was elated with the implementation of the screen. Not only is it completely flush and VGA, the display is crisp and clear. The only way to describe the screen is gorgeous.

One of the design decisions on the Touch series is to make the devices as touch friendly as possible. By doing so, they have also reduced the number of buttons on the device. In fact, there is only one programmable button. They have also removed the soft buttons as well. It takes a bit of getting used to and the flushed screen makes it easier for it to work. I have to admit that I do miss the soft buttons, the “ok” button and the jog wheel.

The layout is different and the keys are smaller. Fortunately, it is not so small that it is hard to type. But it is different enough that i still feel clumsy on it. For instance, I keep hitting the ok button on the lower left corner expecting the shift button. I don’t like the fact that the spacebar key is almost miniscule and that you can no longer hit the function key and spacebar combination to cycle through to get to the appropriate symbol. Instead, you press function and space and then select the appropriate symbol on the screen. That’s a bit awkward. Fortunately though, the majority of the symbols that are required for my daily use are available on the keyboard.

All in all, I love the physical aspects of the device. It is a beautiful phone to behold. Even with the pictures, it is hard to describe how beautiful the device is. More on the other aspects of the device in the next set of blogs.

[Had to recover this blog post from old emails to myself]

Sent from my HTC Touch Pro

pRSSReader – Upgrade 1.4.3

The feature that caught my eye on Solsie.com with this upgrade was the ability to synchronize with Google Reader. As soon as I saw it, I jumped all over the rush to download and install it. As I was in a bit of a rush, I couldn’t find the release notes for this feature readily. After installing it, the feature wasn’t hard to find. Go to Menu –> Options and find the Sync button. Enter in your Google credentials and you’re almost good to go. I did a complete reinstall so I had to go to the Site Manager to add feeds. From the Site Manager screen, you have the ability to synchronize your feed with Google Reader. How cool is that. Once your feed has synched, I clicked on Update All on my channels page and at the status level you could see a message that it is “synching.” I assume that it is synching with Google Reader.

Bookmark integration has also been a critical part of how I read my blogs. It’s nice to be able to bookmark entries for future reference. Lately, I’ve also used the ability to bookmark blogs and share them on Twitter via an RSS feed. pRSSreader allows you to bookmark via delicious but I haven’t been able to do it offline. However, I can still email someone a link but that’s still not quite the same.

pRSSreader provides what I like best in Illiumsoft’s Newsbreak and SPB Insight. Now with Google Reader integration, it is definitely the Windows Mobile RSS Reader to beat. However, without the ability to integrate with an online bookmarking service, I am going to continue to use Newsgator for now. I have to ay that I have very high hopes for pRSSreader. Another major bonus to pRSSreader is that it’s free and it’s also open-sourced.

Sent from my Windows Mobile® phone.

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Bright Kite – Initial Review

I really like Twitter. It's one of my favourite things to do. It's a great way to keep in touch with friends and update them. It's fun to keep in touch with good friends like @camilleking and @michaelnotmike, or with people I haven't met like @digital_jenn. Sometimes it's nice to update friends who rarely respond like @arose12 although I know @arose12 reads my updates. At least that's half the battle.

I signed up with Bright Kite a few months ago with the intention of trying it out but never really got around to it. Bright Kite is a location based microblogging application. I guess the idea of a Bright Kite is the concept of using a "bright kite" to notify others of where you are. It's actually quite interesting and could potentially be useful.

It has the same features as Twitter which really are the ability to post messages, respond to messages, find and follow people. Another really neat thing about it is that you can send all posts automatically to Twitter as well. It's really a pretty smart thing to do given that Twitter is the behemoth in this space and for any other Microblogging service to survice, tbe ability to post to Twitter is a must.

The standout feature for Bright Kite is the ability to also post your location. I like the idea of being able to go to a spot and if my friends are nearby, I can be notified and perhaps meet up. It's also a bit scary because it also permits others to stalk you. Unlike other social networking tools, this is the one social networking tool that I am going to keep with a high security profile to. There are 3 basic levels of privacy in this tool: trusted friends, friends and everyone.

A few major downsides to this tool though. The first major one is that it doesn't seem to fully work through SMS in Canada. I seem to be able to receive notifications but don't seem to have the ability to send messages out. Another downside that I have is that it does not have a windows mobile client yet. I'm hoping that PockeTwit would integrate it with the current application because it actually covers most of the functionality already available in PockeTwit. However, for my use, there is the mobile web version of Bright Kite. Not great but in the mean time it's got to be good enough.

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Newsgator – Initial Review

 

One of the most wonderful things about the Internet is that new information is so immediate that often times by the time the information gets to a magazine, the information is already stale. Being in the IT industry, I personally feel that it gives me an edge to always be as informed as possible. Another wonderful thing about the internet is the discussions that often happen that enriches the subject. This is what makes blogs interesting and relevant to me.

In general, I have often used Google Reader as my desktop RSS reader but I have been trying to find a whole host of other readers for my mobile device. I've tested pRSS Reader, Newsbreak, SPB Insight, Viigo and Fetch It. While all of them work well (some better than others of course) but the one feature that all of them lack is the ability to keep all of my reading synchronized. Enter Newsgator.

Apparently I've used the online version of Newsgator before as my email id was registered to it. However, it didn't make that great an impression. On the surface, it works like other RSS aggregators – it has the ability to tag an entry, the ability to import an OPML file, separates your blogs into folders, you can bookmark an entry by clipping it and you can email an entry to someone else. In short, it works and has the basic features that I would expect from such a service. After being used to Google Reader though, I will definitely miss the way Google Reader marks my entries as read. As you scroll over the bottom of an entry, it automatically marks the entries as read. It's such a small detail but it makes the reading experience so much more intuitive. In Newsgator, you can either mark an entry read as you go down or wait until you get to the bottom of the page to mark all entries as read. It still works but not as intuitive as Google's way of doing things.

On the mobile device front, it offers much of the same functionality of the other RSS readers such as ability to schedule a download of data, display articles by folders and share by email. One of the big benefits of being able to synchronize with the web version is that I don't have to import an OPML file which is nice. I like the fact that you can tag or clip articles and will synchronize with the web. Another neat feature is Top Stories. I believe that what this does is that it goes to the web and picks 50 stories or so that it thinks it's "top." I'm not that sure what algorithm it uses. It could just be based on currency.

So far I like the windows mobile version. Not quite in love with the web version but it's useable. If it impresses me, I'll write a full review for it. There's a premium subscription as well. Not sure what that does either.

Sent from my Windows Mobile® phone.

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PockeTwit – Updated Review

I’ve been trying to get into microblogging a lot more lately as I find the concept fascinating. My microblog platform of choice is Twitter. Not so much because it’s a great platform but rather because it’s the one used the most and it has some interesting attached sevices like TwitPics. The cool thing about Twitter is that I’ve met at least one person that we share some things in common like BSG and our interest in HTC devices. She goes by the id of digital_jen these days. Anyway, I’ve used different Twitter apps like Twitterfox, PockeTwit,  Digsby, Yoono, Flock and Twitterberry comes to mind but I always seem to come back to PockeTwit as one of my two favourite Twitter tools.

PockeTwit is a Windows Mobile client for both the full and smartphone devices. At first pass, PockeTwit seems quite unintuitive to use. It screens is looks like it’s laid out poorly and it doesn’t use the soft keys that is now common to Windows Mobile devices. It took me a while to figure out that the developer uses a different paradigm for PockeTwit. Once I figured it out, it was very simple to use and very intuitive.

The way I think about the User Interface for PockeTwit is that there are 3 screens or levels. The first screen is the system screen. Over here you can have the following options:

sshot002 by you.

Errors
This is a new feature that alerts you when you run into network issues. From what I can see, it appears only when it occurs.

Friends Timelines

This is the most common feature used for me as it displays all your friends’ tweets.

Messages
This filters out your @replies and direct messages. I believe that the convention here seems to only filter out if @[your username] is the first thing of a tweet. I noticed that when my username was used in the middle of a sentence, it did not show up. Not sure if this is a problem with the Twiter API call or a PockeTwit problem.

Search/Local
I thought this was neat. This was the only client that allowed a search function. I don’t use this as much but it’s nice when I want to try to find out if something I’m interested in is being talked about.

Set Status
This is used to publish your status to your Microblogging site.

Settings
You can set up your various identities such as ping.fm or identi.ca. Also allows you to set up whether or not you want GPS to be turned on automatically or not.

About/Feedback
Gives you the version you’ve installed and the ability to check for new updates.

Exit
Not too exciting. Exit the application.

sshot001 by you.

The middle screen is the messaging screen where it’s filtered by the first screen. I didn’t notice this before but there’s a really tiny indicator on the right hand of the screen that indicates how far down in your messags you are. Typically pick either Friends Timeline or Messages. Press Enter or the Action key on your device. This will update the middle screen and you can use your right arrow key to bring your middle screen into full view.

sshot003 by you.

The last screen interacts with the person associated with the message on the middle screen. So let’s say that the message was sent by @someperson. If you scroll right from the middle screen you could see @someperson’s time line, reply using regular twitter, direct message @someone, make that message a favourite message, go to @someone’s profile page on the web, stop following a person and minimize the application.

There are a few quirks with PockeTwit. For one, the errors page is very much an anomaly. When you click on it, it takes you to a page that looks very different from the rest of the application. Now that I’m used to the UI, it makes absolute sense albeit a bit inconsistent. While I was writing about how I use the app, it was definitely quite apparent that I couldn’t write consistent rule of thumbs to a new user. However, once you start using it, it’s quite intuitive. A nice feature that I would like to have is the ability to do a manual update on top of the scheduled update.

The shortcomings of the application are for the most part cosmetic. It is even made even better by the fact that you know the developer uses his application constantly. He is responsive to both questions and suggestions. A prime example is that someone suggested that ping.fm would be a great addition to the app and within days, it was added to the app. Caveat though, not all suggestions make it into the app but at least the developer will consider it and test it before deciding whether or not it gets added to the final product. One other major benefit is that the application is open source. Overall, I really like the application. It works well, the developer is quite interactive and responsive on Twitter,

Sent from my Windows Mobile® phone.

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VMWare Server 2.0 – Initial Review

I've
been a big fan of the VMWare server product for a while now. I started
out with the issue where I was running a multi-server environment at
home. I always thought it was a good idea to have at least one spare
environment to act as a redundant as I was constantly experimenting. As
my concepts became more complex, the number of machines grew and at
some point, I couldn't afford to keep up with the number of machines
required to operate both my home management environment and my lab
environment.

Then my friend, Camille, introduced me to VMWare
server, which was launched as an open-sourced product. I was on a home
refresh cycle anyway, so I decided to upgrade my home environment to
the then newly launched AMD X2 3800+ cpu running the Windows Server
2003 operating system. I rebuilt my entire environment from ground up.
After 6 months, I discovered that there was a serious flaw in my design
for Operations by using Windows Server 2003 as the underlying server
for the virtual machines (vm) and this was most apparent on Microsoft
Patch Tuesday of every month. Secondly, I had a very difficult time
with my AMD machines. So I used this opportunity to go to Intel Quad
Core on the 64 bit version of Ubuntu Linux. The migration of the VMs
were flawless. From that point on, I was sold on VMWare Server.

VMWare
Server released version 2.0 recently. Overall, it is an improvement to
1.0.x of the product. For one, the install seems to be simpler. It
bundles both the server and management user interface install on Ubuntu
in one script. I couldn't get the mui to work consistently with any of
my versions of Ubuntu. For 2.0, it worked flawlessly. The other change
is that the server console is now web based which is different from the
client-based consoles which was used before. This has both pros and
cons. It's much easier to now manage and access vms without the need to
install the console client on multiple desktops. On the other hand,
VMWare seems to have changed the way you locate VMs. They've created a
concept called storage where all vms created are stored in the root
directory of your storage directory. I typically create mount points
for each of the external drives that I attached to my server and
mounted them as sub-directories to the default vm folder. There is no
way to select a sub-folder in the interface and I would have to create
a new storage location. What makes this especially tricky is that you
can't chooses a sub directory of an existing storage folder as a new
storage folder. While it makes sense, it's a bit of a conundrum for me.

It's
hard to compare versions of the MUI because mine was never stable
enough to do any thorough testing. However, the features which I really
like now that it is working are that I can sequence which vms boot up
first. This is particularly useful because in my windows environment, I
prefer the Active Directory come up before any other machines come up.
The other thing which I like is that I can control the shutdown
behaviour of the vms. In my environment, I am able to set the vms to
suspend to disk rather than shut down when the host shuts down. The
reason why this is useful is that the only time I forsee me not
manually shutting down a vm is during a power outage in which case, I
would like the vms to shutdown as quickly as possible.

I like
the idea of abstracting the hardware in building out my environments
and vmware has served me well in that regard. So far, it's been a lot
easier for me to recover from outages because I usually have a backup
of a VM somewhere. The abstraction of hardware has allowed me to
quickly port a machine from one physical machine to the next with
minimal effort on my part. It's also allowed me to build and test new
software easily, painlessly and more importantly safely. Recovering
from a botched install is often as easy as just copying a base vm image
and starting again.

Sent from my Windows Mobile® phone.

Digsby – Initial Review

digsby

I've always been an instant messaging fiend and lately I've found myself leaving the Trillian Astra alpha for Digsby. Lately Trillian has been a bit flakey for me. I had a really bizarre problem where whenever I have Trillian running and if I plugged in a USB device, Windows Media Player would crash. If you can follow that, you'll realize how bizarre it is. It took me a really long time to isolate that issue and that involved reinstalling the laptop. So I decided to give Digsby a try.

After all the random problems I had with Trillian, Digsby was a welcomed change. There's really nothing not to like about Digsby. Digsby was also a tool that more closely matched my life and interests. I love how it integrates all of my instant messengers and it also consolidates my social networks and emails all in one client. It's puts my entire communication universe all in one tool.
For the most part, Digsby works like most of the multi-headed instant messengers. You can log on to MSN, Gtalk, Yahoo, AIM, ICQ, and Jabber. It also includes integration with Facebook chat but it's slightly delayed especially if you have Facebook chat open on the browser as well. Although Trillian Alpha implemented the Facebook chat feature as well, I couldn't seem to get it to work without crashing. What makes Facebook chat integration important is really that it broadens the audience of the friends I can chat to. A lot of people who are hesitant to instant message using the traditional applications such as MSN or Yahoo are often more than happy to message using Facebook. Go figure. Both Pidgin and Trillian allow you to merge multiple contacts into one contact but Digsby is the only one that I've figured out how to priotize if a contact has multiple IMs. So for instance, if someone I know is on Yahoo, MSN and Gtalk but I prefer to talk to them on Gtalk whereever possible, I can make the individual's Gtalk client be the default.
Digsby built quite a powerful email client within it's product and the integration with the IM client is quite seamless. You can interact with any contact through email, IM or SMS from the chat window.

The way I set up Digsby is that I have my email and social network accounts show up as bars at the bottom of the IM client. When you hover on the account bar, it lists the last 50 odd interactions of each account. With the email accounts, I can mark an email as read, mark as spam and delete it.

Overall, I personally think Digsby is the new king of multiheaded Instant Messenger clients. It's done a great job capturing how people use it today by integrating instant messenger with email and social networks. It is the killer social networking tool of today.

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