HTC One (M8) – Wrapping it all Up

My time with the HTC One (M8) is almost up. Here are my parting thoughts on the device.

Introduction

My time with the HTC One (M8) is nearly over; and I’ve had one heck of a time with the device. There are some things I really liked; and there are some things that I really didn’t care for at all.

I’ve published a number of blogs here on Soft32. You can search for all of them if you like, or you can simply click through and check out the links below:
HTC One (M8) Unboxing
HTC One (M8) – Initial Impressions
HTC One (M8) – Performance at a Premium
HTC One (M8) – Duo Camera
HTC One (M8) – Is Retro Good Enough?: The Dot View Case

I wanted to take a few moments and give the device the proper treatment before I box it up and send it back, so here are the core essentials of a proper review.

The Specs
The device has some really nice hardware specs from a device perspective. The camera, as you can see in my review of it, leaves a great deal to be desired. It does OK, but if you’re used to 8MP or better on your phone, I think you’re going to be greatly disappointed. However, I also have a decent DSLR and take some (semi-professional quality) pictures. Honestly, I don’t want to be a camera snob at all, but I would definitely NOT buy the HTC One (M8) for its camera. I’m not even certain I would rely on it as a smartphone camera. My iPhone 5 takes much better pictures, and by today’s standards, its 8MP sensor with f2.2 lens is about average. There are smartphones (some Android, some not…) out there with much, MUCH better lenses. If you’re wanting to double up smartphone and camera needs, this is not the phone to look at, in my opinion.

However, as I said, the rest of the specs are quite respectable, and I think, worth the premium price. The camera would have made this a home run, and instead, it unfortunately makes the HTC One (M8) just a mediocre phone.

Quad-core 2.3gHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor
32GB Solid State Storage
2GB DDR3 RAM
microSD Card Slot supporting up to 128GB cards
5″ HD Display
HTC BoomSound
HTC Duo Camera – 4MP, dual LCD Flash
5MP Front facing camera
Bluetooth 4.0

The device does not appear to have BT LE as part of its Bluetooth stack. I’m not certain why. My iPhone 5 does, and its 2 years older than the HTC One (M8). Very disappointing, and somewhat confusing…

The device has enough onboard storage to hold a movie or two as well as most of your music collection. I’ve got a HUGE music library and have about 2300 songs on my iPhone 5. I’ve got maybe 500MB of space left over after that and all my tech podcasts (apps, etc.) are on it. With only 16GB, I don’t bother with video. There just isn’t enough space.

However, the HTC One (M8) has twice that space, and as I said, you can hold 1-3 HD movies, PLUS a large music collection, PLUS other audio (like podcasts) and still have space left over. You can also stick in up to a 128GB microSD card in the device for a max total space of 156GB. The HTC One (M8) gives you enough storage capacity to take everything with you, without having to compromise.

Its 2GB of DDR3 RAM insures that nearly everything you run – games, video player, music player, productivity apps, etc., run smoothly. In the month or so that I’ve had the device, I haven’t had any performance issues with it. It’s been running smoothly and quickly. I really couldn’t have asked for a better performing device.
The Hardware
Despite the camera issue (which for me, is HUGE, due to my photography bent), the HTC One (M8) has a lot to offer. From a hardware only perspective, the (M8) hits a home run.
The Device Itself
The HTC One (M8) is a great looking, great feeling device. Its aluminum body is solid, and it doesn’t look or feel cheap by a long shot. The device is thin and sleek. As you can see from the pictures below, it makes the larger iPhone 5 (with a 4″ 16×9 screen) seem dinky by comparison. I’ve tried to give you a decent look at the device. You have the full 360, plus the device’s front and back.

HTC One (M8) -0001
The HTC One (M8)

However, I did find that with a 5″ screen, the HTC One (M8) REQUIRES two hands to operate. I am huge (and have been for well over 10 years) on one-handed operability. I live in my device, and often have a notebook, pen and cup of coffee in one hand and my smartphone in another, checking mail, messages and the location of my next meeting. I can do this with my 4″ iPhone 5 quite easily. The device is skinny enough that I can hold the device and work the screen with my thumb.

HTC One (M8) -0002

The HTC One (M8) and the iPhone 5 – front view

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I Think Apple found the Smoking Bazooka

Oh snap..!   Google did in fact agree to indemnify Samsung in the original trial against Apple.

A-lonely-gavel

On any given [Sun]day, this might not be a big deal.   However, there are two big problems with this development that had me nearly reeling this morning as I read first the headline and then the article on Apple Insider. Samsung is in a boat load of trouble; and it may be taking Google down with it. BOTH companies may burn on this one.   This is a huge deal for two specific reasons
1.    Samsung KNEW it was Infringing on Apple Patents – Despite anything that it has said over the course of the past few years while the Apple v. Samsung patent trials were under way, based on Samsung’s request for Google to indemnify them (read – foot the bill for the legal fees and direct the path of their legal defense) Samsung ACTIVELY knew that it had been steeling Apple’s intellectual property. If it hadn’t, then it wouldn’t have asked Google to indemnify them.
2.    Samsung Lied…BIG Time – In short (because Apple’s attorney Harold McElhinny really hit this one out of the park, presenting four (4) different exhibits outlining Samsung’s activities to actively hide its request …REQUEST… to Google to indemnify them) – during active testimony in open court, Samsung denied seeking indemnification from any third party (including Google). Here’s where McElhinny hit the grand slam – he presented four examples that clearly shows that Samsung did in fact ACTIVELY pursue indemnification from Google.
That’s not a smoking gun, kids…that’s a smoking bazooka.   There’s not much left of Samsung’s foot.

The final exhibit that McElhinny presented in his examination was,

“…a letter ‘from Allen Lo of Google, Deputy General Counsel Patents and Patent Litigation,’ to Samsung’s JaeHyoung Kim, dated May 21, 2012. The email, titled, ‘Apple litigation alleged patent infringement,’ was described by James Maccoun, [Google’s counsel], as ‘Google’s essentially offering to defend Samsung to the MADA (Mobile Applications Development Agreement) and does offer to defend some — some claims.’ ”

While this may seem a bit “open and shut,” it actually isn’t. There’s a great deal of, “he said, she said” going on with all of this. After the last trial, which Apple won and was ultimately (after reductions and retrials) awarded a judgment of about $890M USD (and not the original $1B+ USD), Samsung outlined what was described as “minor damages” related to two patents it purchased in 2011, after initially being sued by Apple; and doesn’t appear to amount to much.

For example, one patent related to a FaceTime-like video system which could send video over a low bandwidth line, has expired. Apple Insider calls this “start contrast to Apple’s patent offense, which focuses on four feature patents that Samsung meticulously detailed as features it needed in its own products in order to compete against Apple, including Slide to Unlock and Apple Data Detectors.” At this time, Samsung refuses to license the patents on Apple’s terms, hence the latest law suit from Apple seeking $2.0B in damages, royalties and lost profits.   However, that doesn’t clear Apple of anything.   How – and even IF – it’s relevant to these proceedings remains to be seen.

However, being able to produce these four exhibits that clearly contradict Samsung’s earlier testimony, is – in a word – damning. The fact that Samsung knew it had IP issues and then actively sought protection against them from Google in Samsung’s first patent trial against Apple is telling. They knew they were (at least potentially) in trouble.

One big question from all of this is, “how does this effect Google, if at all?”   Will they be drawn into this because of their own desire to indemnify Samsung; or because of the conspiracy to hide the truth from both the Court and from Apple during the last trial? Will they be fined, or be held partially responsible for the damages and judgment that Apple won?   At any rate, that, and if and how this development effects the current trial, remains to be seen.

The biggest question I have after all this is – how will Judge Koh take all of this?   Since Samsung has been caught in a blatant lie, will Judge Koh penalize Samsung in any way?   Will she hold them in Contempt of Court?   She’s shown herself to be intolerant of the shenanigans going on between the two companies in and out of the courtroom. Given that this is pretty “in your face,” I wonder if she will retaliate.   I know many that would want to, at least initially.

At the end of the day, it’s clear that the legal issues between Apple and Samsung – and potentially Google now – are far from over.   If there’s one thing that this particular revelation has shown me, it’s that the trial still has a lot of legs and still has a great many more skeletons buried deep within both company’s respective closets that may yet be revealed.

What do you make of all of this? Did this surprise you as much as it did me? If so, were you more surprised by the actual facts of the situation or by the fact that Samsung got caught in a lie? How do you think it will affect the current trial, if at all?   Will Judge Lucy Koh act on this particular issue, holding Samsung and/ or Google in contempt of court, will she let it slide; or will she penalize one or both of them in a different way?

I’d really like to hear from everyone.   This could create a really cool conversation, with a great deal of speculation and interesting content.   Why don’t you log in and give me your thoughts in the comments section and tell me what you think?   I’d really like hearing your thoughts on all of this.

The roller coaster ride isn’t over yet, but you’re going to have to watch out for pot holes and other bazooka-like remnants as you make your way through it all. This one has the potential to get a bit messier still…

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Did Nike’s FuelBand Run out of Gas?

Numerous reports have been seen on the internet recently indicating that Nike recently decided to exit the wearables market and has released or reassigned the members of its FuelBand Team.

If there’s one thing that I know, it’s that wearables are a hot market. Jawbone has one. Fitbit has several; and now Nike has none; or at least that’s what most of us have been lead to believe, if you lend credibility to some reports that have surfaced over the past couple of days. It was reported by a source close to C|Net that Nike has recently announced that it will be exiting the wearables market, leaving its FuelBand and FuelBand SE wrist bands behind to concentrate, it says, on health related software.

Nike-FuelBand-SE

Nike’s wearables division was 70 people big. It was originally reported that as many as 55 of those 70 had been released or reassigned.   That’s 78%+ of the members on the team. It was thought that some of those 55 people may take roles in other parts of the organization, though the specifics of those details were unknown.

Last week, Nike announced a new R&D entity called Fuel Lab. The group is said to concentrate its work on building out products that leverage the Nike Fuel workout metric.   Now, Nike has confirmed to Re/code that a “small number” of its people were let go. They have denied C|Net’s reports that it is closing its hardware division stating that the FuelBand and the FuelBand SE remain “an important part of [their] business.”   They have committed to continuing updating the FuelBand app as well as supporting it for the foreseeable future.

I bought a Nike FuelBand in December 2013 and have worn it every day since it arrived. I now have over 1.1M Nike Fuel in my Nike+ account. The band is comfortable to wear and does a good job of recording MOST movements.   It does a great job of recognizing arm sway while walking. It’s not that great about recognizing running arm sway. I spent most of November, December and January on an elliptical jogger. It did a horrible job of recording and measuring the activity. I’m told that it was the angle of the movement as read by its accelerometer that causes the problem.   For some reason, the Nike FuelBand/SE just doesn’t read the movement correctly. It’s very frustrating.   I run on an elliptical because I have knee problems (and therefore can’t jog…). Running is one of the best ways to lose weight and exercise. However, if my activity tracker can’t measure the activity correctly, then I may need a new tracker…

The iWatch is supposed to address this, if and when Apple releases it, and IF its even called that.   To an extent, the Pebble Steel may address this via Run Keeper (or other connected, compatible app). Either way, I need to eat less and move more; and measuring my progress isn’t as clear-cut as it was about 8 months ago.

Do you use an activity tracker?   If so, which one? Does it have a companion app on your smartphone of choice? Why don’t you join me in the discussion area and tell me about your setup and what you feel the best configuration is?

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Aftermarket CarPlay Support Arrives in 2014

Both Alpine and Pioneer have promised to release aftermarket head units compatible with Apple’s CarPlay in 2014

If you remember, right before Apple announced CarPlay, I put out a lengthy article outlining a vision for what was then known as iOS in the Car. Right after that hit the site, it seems Apple got on the stick and decided to announce their long anticipated and highly sought after automotive integration.  It was pretty cool to compare what I was looking for and what Apple decided to do. I was close, but my vision didn’t quite have synergistic parity with Apple’s actual plans.

14.03.03-CarPlay-2

At the time of the announcement, companies like Volvo, Ferrari and GM announced support.  Shortly after that, a great many others announced support for the info-tainment system, including Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota, among others. As long as you’ve got an iPhone 5 or later running iOS 7.1 or later, your iPhone will support CarPlay and your NEW ride will have support for Apple’s ecosystem built in.

The problem comes in iPhone owners with older vehicles. No one knew if or when any aftermarket support for the standard would be introduced either via a firmware upgrade for existing head units or as new, aftermarket hardware that could be installed.  Thankfully, both Alpine and Pioneer have confirmed that they will both have units available for purchase – that should work in many popular vehicles – before the end of calendar 2014.

Pioneer will update the firmware of five of its new NEX in-dash multimedia receivers; and they are compatible with most existing vehicles.  Pioneer will also have entry level options for new receivers starting at $700 USD; and going up to $1400.

Alpine’s offerings will reportedly be offered in both the US and in Europe and are reported to range from $500 to $700 USD and is rumored to include a 7″ touch screen.  Movement for aftermarket support is coming faster than anticipated, as Kenwood said they wouldn’t have any CarPlay compatible systems in 2014. The fact that both of these high-quality, aftermarket providers will being offering multiple units at varying price points indicates huge aftermarket demand for what will likely become an standard across multiple automotive manufacturers.

For me, this means I’m buying a new head unit later this year. Period. My Toyota has a Kenwood system in it right now that isn’t quite iPhone 5 or iOS 7.x compatible, despite what Kenwood says.  The unit is very nice, but it frequently has issues connecting to my iPhone 5, has issues staying connected and then tends to beep or ping unexpectedly when speaking to callers. It gets so bad, that I often have to either delete the partnership between my iPhone and head unit and repair OR I have to remove the head unit face (killing Bluetooth) or turn Bluetooth on my iPhone off/on and allow it to repair.

This happens multiple times a week, and I’ve nearly ditched the head unit on a number of occasions. I recently discovered a firmware update for it and applied it, but it really didn’t improve anything for me. I’ve either got a bad head unit (not quite likely) or the firmware update/ Bluetooth profiles aren’t as robust as they could be/ should be (much more likely).  The problem isn’t my iPhone 5. It pairs with other Bluetooth devices (speakers, headsets, etc. – or those that make specific use of Bluetooth audio) without issues or needing any troubleshooting. I was seriously considering buying another, much more expensive – read, totally iPhone 5/s iPhone 6 compatible – head unit. I spend a great deal of time driving my car commuting to work and driving between Chicago and Omaha.

I need something that’s going to work and isn’t going to requiring a lot of hand holding and troubleshooting. Since I’m going to either stay with my iPhone 5 or upgrade to iPhone 6 (the smaller of the two larger screen models that are currently rumored to be released this Fall), I know I’m going to want something that will continue to work and work well with my smartphone of choice. That’s going to be something that’s CarPlay compatible.  Since I’ll likely keep an iPhone 6 for at least two years, or will keep my iPhone 5 indefinitely, paying a premium for the car head unit will be justified (at $500 that breaks down to about $21 a month).  It becomes an even better deal if I stay with my iPhone 5, as I won’t also have a new device purchase to fund as well as a new head unit.

For my wife, who has a Honda Odyssey with a factory head unit that plays DVD’s on a screen that flips down from the ceiling of the van, any CarPlay compatible replacement for her entertainment system would likely have to come directly from Honda in order to insure that everything works the way it’s supposed to. However, with the kids as active as THEY are after school, it’s likely that she will need something that works well with her iPhone 5, especially since she doesn’t have any kind of Bluetooth headset and Illinois passed a cellphone hands free law that went into effect 2014-01-01.  She’s on her phone all the time. If she doesn’t get something to help her be hands free, she’s gonna get pulled over, I just know it…

And unless the offerings from either Alpine or Pioneer work in her van and interface with her in-car DVD player, the CarPlay unit will likely HAVE to come from Honda, which will make it all the more expensive…if Honda even offers it as an aftermarket/post purchase add-on or upgrade. I don’t want to have to replace everything in that system.

What about you?  Are you an iPhone owner?  Will you be purchasing a CarPlay compatible head unit for your late model vehicle? Will you just purchase a new vehicle instead? Why don’t’ you join me in the discussion below and tell me what you’re going to do?

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Is Retro Good Enough? – The HTC One (M8) Dot View Case

It offers good protection, and the dot view display is cool in a retro sorta way, but…

P1060969

When I bought my iPhone 4S, I tended to carry it without a case. Most of the cases that I found, I didn’t like. The ones I liked, were too expensive, or…they wouldn’t work with an Apple branded or third party cradle. I got so fed up with it that I just decided to carry a naked device. Working with the cases that I found was just too frustrating.

That changed a little bit with my iPhone 5.  I’ve been using the same Speck case for nearly 2 years. I’m very happy with it, mostly because the back folds up and out of the way, so it works with devices and cradles that don’t work well with cases. It’s pretty cool to have a case that works – and I mean really WORKS – with your device and not against it.

When I received the HTC One M8 a few weeks ago, I was very excited to see that it came with the Dot View case.  Since it’s a loaner-review unit, the last thing I wanted to do was return it with scratches or dents in the screen or aluminum unibody. I know most reviewers understand that these things make the rounds, but you really want to take care of it. YOU don’t want to work with a beat up review unit. The next guy doesn’t want to, either.

So, the moment that after I unboxed the HTC One (M8), I put it in the Dot View Case. Here’s my feedback, specifically on the case.

1.Dot View Display Doesn’t Always Display

I find this one very frustrating. The Dot View display is supposed to display every time you close the case and then every time you double tap the front cover of the device while it’s closed over the display.  Simply  put, the HTC One (M8) review unit I have initially did this, but then stopped displaying the Dot View Display when the Dot View Case is closed on the device shortly after I started working with it on day one. Since then, the Dot View Display does appear when you double tap the closed case while it’s closed over the display, as required.

 2. Cracks and Wear

I’ve said it before. I have concerns about the hinge on the Dot View Case cracking over time with wear.  The logical way to work with this case is to flip the cover around the back of the device so that the cover stays open while you hold the device.  Over time, that’s going to create stress cracks on the spine of the case, and it’s going to weaken, rip and/ or crack. Period. This is just a matter of time.

3. Dot View Case and the Duo Camera

It’s clear to me that whomever designed the Dot View Case, never used it with the device. Part of the normal use case for the device is to take pictures with the device while it’s in the case.  This presents a couple of problems:

a.   Wrapping the Case Cover around the Device – You Can’t Take Pictures with the Case Cover open and wrapped around the back of the device. It covers the secondary lens, and the camera complains because the lenses are obstructed.  If you’re using the device with the Dot View Case and you want to take pictures, you have to open the case and let the cover flop open…which leads to our second problem.

b.   Elasticity in the Case Hinge – Leaving the case to flop open while you’re holding the device in landscape orientation, using the volume rocker as a shutter button, the Dot View Case cover wants to close shut on the device, turning off the display. This makes taking pictures with the device very frustrating.

In the end, you’re better off taking the device OUT of the case when you want to take pictures with the HTC One (M8).  Having the device in the Dot View Case while using it as a camera is very frustrating and very aggravating. While it’s very easy to take a lot of pictures with the HTC One (M8) and its rapid shutter release, the longer you work with the device as a digital camera, the more you’re going to want to have it out of the case, which completely defeats the purpose of having it in the case in the first place.

I’m not sure what the right answer is here. The case needs a couple of holes in the front at least for the camera (which would screw up the dot matrix look of the case OR require a graphic redesign of the dot view display), or you just need to make a different case choice for the HTC One entirely.

4. Use with Automotive Universal Device Cradles

This is another hot mess.   Most universal device cradles use some kind of spring tension arm to hold the device in place. Arkon makes some great universal holders. I’ve been using them for almost 10 years.

Your device needs to be in a cradle of some kind while it’s in the car. If you’re using it for navigation or for music playback, you’re going to want it secured and within reach so you can change songs, address GPS issues or answer phone calls without diverting your attention from the road.

The problem is that the case is flexible and there’s a great deal of elasticity in the plastic/ rubber hinge. You have to fold it around the back of the device so you can see the device while it’s in the case and in a universal cradle.  Side gripping cradles want to grab the case cover and fold it in half long ways/ portrait style. When this happens, I feel like the case cover is going to crack. Top gripping cradles want to grab the case and fold it in half short ways/ landscape style. When this happens, I feel like the plastic/ rubber hinge is going to rip AND the case cover is going to crack.

Again, this is another instance where you’d think that taking the device out of the case would be best, but at that point. However, that brings me to my final point regarding the Dot View Case.

5. Practicality Over Time – Don’t Bother

The Dot View Case is a book style case that rests its novelty in a dot matrix styled, retro display created by the holes in the cover.  When using this case with the HTC One (M8), I found I wanted the device in some sort of a protective case nearly all the time. It’s a mobile device, and I use mine most when I am in fact…mobile.

However, I found myself wanting to plug and chug the device in and out of the case more often than not when taking pictures and when putting it in a universal device cradle in the car.  The case doesn’t work well in these use cases.

I have an hour drive to work every day. That’s 2 hours in the car. Add normal picture taking/ selfies posing and other use to this, and I think you’ll find as I did.  The Dot View Case is a flop.

The problem is the case design, not the case type – a book style case. In contrast, book cases for the Samsung Galaxy S4 or S5 works and works well because of the huge window cut in them to display the date and time when they are closed. When you fold them back, the opening in the case cover doesn’t obstruct the camera lens or LCD flash, allowing for unobstructed camera use.  The case hinge also doesn’t have the elasticity that the Dot View Case’s plastic/ rubber hinge and doesn’t want to swing closed all the time. I believe it’s also made of leather or other material and will probably weather the stress a bit better.

In the end, while I truly believe you need a case for any and all mobile devices and smartphones, the HTC One (M8) Dot View Case, unfortunately isn’t very practical; and that really bothers me.  I like the retro styled, dot matrix display and the fact that the device can detect a double tap to activate the display THROUGH the case, but in working with it over the past few weeks, I am too afraid of ripping, cracking or breaking it while using it for it to be of any real, long term use to me or any other user of the HTC One (M8).

What do you think?  Is the Dot View Case’s cool factor enough to excuse its many foibles? With its Gorilla Glass front and aluminum shell, is a case REALLY necessary?  Am I being too critical of the design and of book style cases in general?  Why don’t you give me your thoughts in the comments section below and let me know what you think?

 

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Ashampoo WinOptimizer 11

Keep your Windows PC running in tip-top shape with this must have optimization utility.

AWO-03

Security and performance optimization are some of the most needed, important computer features today. With all of the security issues that seem to be cropping up now-a-days, the more you can do to protect yourself, the better off you’re going to be. Having the right tools in your toolbox for this is important, and its one of the biggest reasons why I like WinOptimizer 11 from Ashampoo. Its one f the best Windows utilities you can find on the internet today.

Taking care of your PC is often difficult. With WinOptimizer, you get all the assistance you need. It gives you the most your PC can deliver, allowing you to concentrate on your work, rather than concerning yourself with its performance. For example, new in Ashampoo WinOptimizer 11 is Game Booster. With it, you can automatically free system resources and shut down non-essential system services during game play so that your games run faster and more efficiently. It kills all non-gaming essential services (but not processes) and enhances multimedia processing.

Services for mobile devices support, VoIP, browsers that consume a lot of RAM and Office apps like Word or Excel and their associated services will be shut down; but can be easily restored when you’re done playing your game. The best thing is that Game Booster can be activated manually through Live Tuner’s system tray context menu, a shortcut on the apps overview page, or automatically when a game or system intensive app is started.

One of the app’s newest and biggest features is User Rights Manager. This is a comprehensive module that allows anyone with admin rights to the box adjust system restrictions for a single user or for multiple accounts, based on the internal Windows system Policy Editor. A backup of all user restrictions is created automatically in the background before changes are saved.

For example, you can set policies like always opening flash drives as write protected. You can prevent access to admin features by non-admin users, hide varying shutdown options, prevent access to Control Panel’s System properties that control Display, Bluetooth, Power Management, Network connections, etc. If you have shared computers anywhere in the house and inquisitive computer users, limiting access to these things can save you a lot of grief and troubleshooting later.

I’m always very critical of system utilities for a number of reasons. In many ways they make self service a whole lot easier. However, the more advanced THEY get, the more advanced YOU must get in order to understand the system changes you’re enabling. The biggest reason why I like WinOptimizer from Ashampoo is that they give you the options and capabilities without overwhelming you with all the technical mumbo-jumbo that goes along with it.

WinOptimizer 11 is one of better Windows utility apps on the market today. Its fast, easy to use and understand, yet gives you access to all of the options that many corporate system admins have via the Windows Group Policy Editor, without having to deal with its much more complicated interface.

Ashampoo is one of my favorite software publishers. They have some really awesome apps, and this is definitely one of them. The addition of User Rights Manager and Game Optimizer alone justify the upgrade costs. However, it has a great deal MORE to offer. Download this now and find out for yourself why Soft32 thinks this is a must have for your PC.

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UPDATED – Amazon Releases FireTV

It’s a direct shot across the Apple TV bow. How the industry, and Apple specifically should respond remains to be seen…

amazon-fire-tv-close-up

Amazon recently announced the Amazon FireTV, a set-top box similar to the Roku box, Chromecast and of course, the Apple TV. However, there were a few gotchas with the device that have me – and a number of other people – scratching their heads. It’s a good first effort, but; well… I don’t want to get ahead of myself…

Amazon’s FireTV has a similar look to the Apple TV, Apple’s “hobby-based” content streaming project that has them pulling in a great deal more revenue from their content ecosystem than I think most people think or Apple is willing to admit. If you have an iDevice and buy ANY content on iTunes, having an Apple TV so you can play that content on your television set is a no-brainer.

I think Amazon had the same thought. They want to give people that have adopted their ecosystem the opportunity to do the same things – watch their purchased or rented video, listen to their music, etc. on their television sets. However, based on the recently debunked rumors, it seems to me that Amazon had a chance to hit a home run, and instead, swung and missed.

The FireTV… yeah… it doesn’t support Amazon Prime Video. Meaning that you can’t use it to stream any content to your TV from the vastly popular and PAID streaming service Amazon gives its Prime members as part of their (now) $99 annual member fee. Whoever made that decision needs to be hunted down and shot fired.

Apple TV is successful because it allows users to stream items from the iTunes media store as well as a user’s iTunes library. Everything that Apple can stream to your Mac or PC, can come through the Apple TV. Users can also buy and rent content from the set top box.

Amazon won’t stream Prime Instant Video through the FireTV. There’s absolutely NO incentive for any Amazon Prime member to buy the box, even after the $20 price increase most of us have recently been subject to. Again, what idiot thought THAT up? While I understand that they are trying to entice other, new customers and users – many of which may not be Amazon Prime users to the ecosystem – what better way to cement current users into the ecosystem than through a set top box that supports their ENTIRE ecosystem and also allows those users to purchase additional content? I know there was purpose and thought behind the decision not to support Prime Instant Video. I just think their logic is flawed and the decision was, well… wrong.

In my opinion, Apple TV has no direct competitor. Yes. You’re right…there ARE other streaming set top boxes out there. The Roku box and Roku Streaming stick are two big examples at the front of the pack. However, even though it can stream content from external services like Netflix as well, it doesn’t have an ecosystem it could support. The FireTV does.

This decision just feels as though someone was asleep at the wheel. Amazon needs to reexamine it and correct it ASAP. I was seriously considering purchasing one UNTIL I found out it doesn’t support Prime Instant Video. Now, I wonder if I will even bother looking at the product pages for it.

How about you? Are you interested in the FireTV even though it doesn’t support Amazon Prime Instant Video? Would it encourage you to purchase an Amazon Prime membership if it did? Why don’t you join me in the comments below, and tell me what you think of this development.

UPDATE – This article was originally based on initial information available on the internet at the time just before the announcement of the set top box. Much of what you see above has been updated to indicate that Amazon FireTV DOES in fact support Amazon Prime Streaming Video. This is a huge win for Amazon as well as users of Amazon Prime as it corrects nearly every issue I brought up with the service.

What makes this an even more compelling buy, especially if you have most, if not all of your media content purchased through one of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets, is that like the Apple TV, now you have access to all of your purchased content as well as Amazon’s Prime Streaming Video service.

If you do not have a set top box AND have an Amazon Kindle Fire or Kindle Fire HD tablet, this is the streaming set top box you need to purchase.

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HTC One (M8) – Duo Camera

You’re either going to love it, or you’re going to hate it. There is no middle ground…

So… I’m a huge digital photography nut.   I have two Nikon DX series DSLR’s and about 8 different lenses. I love taking pictures with them. My kids and my granddaughter are some of my favorite subjects to shoot.   That is, if you can get them to sit still long enough for me to get the camera out and the right lens attached.   While it is a bit harder with my granddaughter – at 18 months, getting her to sit still for ANYTHING is a challenge – this is the reason why God invented cameras in smartphones.   It’s much easier to whip out your phone and take a number of shots than it is to take them on a real camera, especially if you weren’t planning on taking photos.

htc-one-m8-duo-camera-smartphone-unveiled-03-570x712So, enter the HTC One (M8) and its Duo Camera.   The HTC One (M8) is the first camera that I have seen with a dual rear-facing camera with dual LCD flash.   The camera is supposed to pair its main UltraPixel module with a depth sensor that concentrates on depth of field information in the secondary lens. What you get is (supposed to be) a sharp foreground as the camera knows EXACTLY where everything is and what you’re really trying to focus on.   The camera has different tools related to both foreground and background (Foregrounder and UFocus, respectively) that provide specialized effects that can be applied to the pictures you take…and it’s all possible due to the extra depth of field information you get from the secondary lens.

The camera also has one of the fastest shutters I’ve ever seen in any kind of digital camera, either DSLR or point and shoot.   The HTC One (M8) can take 9-12 continuous shots with an autofocus speed of 300 milliseconds.   The camera begins snapping shots as soon as you press the shutter button.   The shutter is so fast, you’ll barely even notice that its capturing shots, which is one of the reasons why I ended up taking over 600 photos this past weekend (literally…) in under 30 minutes. I’ve never seen any camera so fast on the draw in my life.   There are a lot of features here that the average user won’t ever get to or even think about using.   The camera is pretty advanced.

So, how did it perform in actual use…?

Eh…

I was very disappointed.   As I said, I take some pictures, and I’m used to taking several hundred in a single shoot. There are a few things that are a bit concerning about the HTC One (M8)’s camera that HTC hasn’t hidden, per say, but they haven’t advertised them very well, either.

First and foremost, the rear facing camera has a 4MP sensor.   No.   That’s not a typo. I meant to use just the number “4” by itself. It’s not 14MP, or 24MP or even 40MP. Just 4MP.   That’s it…   The front facing camera intended for Skype and for selfies has a larger sensor at 5MP. While the secondary lens is supposed to compensate for the reduced sensor size and provide extra background information to allow for a sharper picture, that’s not what I experienced.

Many of the photos that I took, in varying lighting conditions, were “cloudy” (and yes, I checked the lens and cleaned any dirt or finger prints off…).   Many of the photos were blurry, even in direct sunlight and when the subject (and the phone/ camera) were relatively still.   I tried some of the special picture features and was equally unimpressed. Many of those things are novelties anyway, and unless you find something you really feel is cool or interesting, they’re not something you’re going to use on a regular basis.   Most people are just going to want to take pictures. Period.

IMAG0104_BURST005 IMAG0009

For example, the rapid shutter setting can either be used to take a bundle of pictures or to take rapid, single, shots.   If you take a bundle of photos, you can have the phone pick the best shot in the bundle and then delete the others.   If you’d rather do it yourself, you wind up with, like I said earlier, between 9-12 shots that are pretty much the same, unless you’re taking pictures at a sporting event or of your children traveling faster than light.   You have to watch, as you can accumulate quite a bit of photos, very quickly.   That’s how I shot over 600 photos over the weekend.

Getting them off the device and on to my Mac, I think was the biggest train wreck I’ve experienced. EVER.

With most other smartphones, once you connect the device to the computer, the smartphone shows up as a disk drive, and you can copy or move files off the device; OR in some cases, its recognized as a digital camera and whatever tool you have on your computer that senses cameras starts up and offers to transfer files for you.   That’s what I expected to happen on my Mac.   I was severely disappointed.

On the Mac, you have to install the HTC Transfer Manager.   The app assumes you’re using iPhoto to manage pictures and not any other app. Unfortunately, I don’t use iPhoto.   I had to jump through a number of different confusing screens to finally get to a point where I was looking at the device itself; and where I could browse files.   The photos aren’t in the “camera” folder on the device.   They’re in the DCIM folder.

It’s nice that HTC Transfer Manager supports iPhoto on the Mac, but the app should allow me to configure the device to use any transfer method and/or to show up as a drive automatically. It was confusing to have to wade through all the screens I had to wade through only to have to hunt for the files after I finally located the DCIM folder on the HTC One (M8).

After I imported them into Adobe Lightroom the amount of retouching I had to do to get them to look right was extensive.   You’re also going to see that at just 4MP, you aren’t going to get a photo suitable for anything bigger than a 4″x6″ or 5″x7″ print out. 4MP shots just don’t have enough data to support a decent 8″x10″.   You’re also not going to do a lot of cropping here, either. There just simply isn’t enough detail in the photo (read: enough pixels/ resolution) to support any decent cropping or detailing of the shots you take.

This was HUGELY disappointing to me; as it will be to many potential HTC One (M8) customers as well.   Digital photography is something that nearly everyone does now-a-days, as its every easy with many smartphones now sporting better digital camera sensors and equipment than many point and shoot cameras you can buy at Wal-Mart or BestBuy.   I also do a great deal of post processing to my images as well. There are a lot of tools out there that make retouching and adding post process effects easy.   The lack of resolution at a time when digital photography is something that nearly everyone makes use of on their smartphones is nearly inexcusable.

Is there anything you want me to look at on the HTC One (M8)?   Are you as disappointed as I was with the camera’s performance?   Why not join me in the comments section below and give me your thoughts on the matter?   As I said in the beginning… you’re either gonna love this device as a camera or you’re going to hate it…

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