Feature Review – Nexus 6 & Project Fi Part Two

Service

As I mentioned earlier, Project Fi is Google’s MVN (Mobile Virtual Network) like Virgin Mobile or Boost Mobile or Cricket is a MVN. All of those companies rent towers and service from either AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon and then resell it to the general public. Project Fi does the exact same thing but with service from Sprint and T-Mobile.

The service from Project Fi is unique, however, in that it offers service from two very distinct and different service providers. Sprint is a CDMA mobile broadband provider. T-Mobile is a GSM service provider. Individually, each services don’t provide great coverage. Some of their coverage areas overlap. Some don’t. However, together, they provide a much better coverage area than they do alone.

Project Fi Local Coverage

At the very least, they provide a much better coverage area where the two services overlap. When you don’t have good cellular coverage, and when you have access to Wi-Fi, you can do everything – make and take calls, surf the internet – via that Wi-Fi network.

Everything is supposed to switch seamlessly between all of the different components without any loss of service. I’m still testing this, and will likely have more on this in the coming weeks.

Service Plans

The service provides unlimited domestic talk and text, unlimited international text messages, low-cost international calls, Wi-Fi tethering and coverage in over 120 countries, world wide.

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Everyone that subscribes to Fi gets these “basic” services and these things grouped together are actually called, The Fi Basics. All of that is $20 bucks a month.

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Project Fi data is an additional $10 bucks a gigabyte, a month. You want 3GB of bandwidth, that’s an extra $30 bucks (plus the $20 for Fi Basics), so a total of $50 bucks a month. Google charges you in advance for the service.

If you don’t use all the data that you’ve budgeted for, then Google will credit your bill back for the bandwidth you don’t use, next month.

Given all this, let’s take a look at how well the service actually works in the wild.

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Voice Performance

I’m using the Nexus 6 as a backup device and not as a daily driver. With the deprecation of Google Voice (see below), I can’t use my GV number as I used to. The Google Voice app for iOS won’t function as it used to and allow me to use my iPhone 6 with both numbers.

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However, I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from the voice and data coverage in my area. Calls are clear and apparently transfer from tower to tower without issue. Areas that are known to be dead spots or weak coverage areas perform without issue. Areas where known tower transfer issues occur (on a single service) don’t seem to be an issue with Project Fi.

Provided you have decent Sprint or T-Mobile coverage in your area, and provided you have a @gmail.com, AND provided you can get an invitation and are looking for new cell service, Project Fi might be a decent option for you. But…those are a lot of “ifs.”

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Data Coverage and Performance

I’ve been pleased with the speed of Project Fi’s data network up to this point. As long as there’s decent mobile broadband coverage, I haven’t really run into any real challenges with slow network performance. Because the service has two distinct mobile signals to choose from – one from Sprint and one from T-Mobile – the Nexus 6 (always) has a (potentially) fast mobile signal to choose from.

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The best thing about Project Fi and its data coverage is that it’s always receiving all voice and data signals from every service at all times. It is intelligently able to choose the best signal and tower/ service to use for the tasks you’re trying to complete. I’ve actually really liked the way the data service has performed so far.

The only issues I’ve had with any data related speeds have been on the Wi-Fi networks that I’ve been using. That, however, has more to do with those networks than with the Wi-Fi adapter or antenna in the Nexus 6.

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Google Voice Deprecation

If you’ve ever had an Android phone, of any flavor or version, then you’ve likely used Google Voice with your cell service. When coupled with an Android phone, its an awesome feature. However, there are issues with Voice when it comes to Project Fi, and if you’re going to use the two of these together, then you need to be aware of them.

Under Project Fi, Google Voice is completely deprecated. What you used to know as your voice mail, is, like, gone, man. Its history… splits-ville… erased… and I do mean TOTALLY ERASED. For me, that’s a huge problem. I lost my dad a few years ago, and I had four messages from him that I was able to save from the trash a number of years ago, and every now and again when I needed a bit of cheering up, and I needed to hear his voice, I’d play one.

Well, now, those are totally gone; and I have no idea how to get them back, or if its even possible. Project Fi completely replaces Google Voice, even on the desktop; and once that’s done, it can’t be undone. If it weren’t for those four saved messages from my father, I wouldn’t care; but…

Depending on how much you use Google Voice – I haven’t much since making the move to the iPhone as a daily driver – then this may or may not be a road block for you. With Voice gone, you’ll have to switch to Hangouts for texting and other communication services, outside of voice mail. This may or may not be a problem for you. I’m not a huge Hangouts user, but from what I’m reading on the web, it’s a poor substitute for what you got from Google Voice.

Conclusion

I started this review out with the clear intent of really only reviewing Project Fi. I’ve tried to remain true to that.

The Nexus 6 is a decent device, but boy is it big. Its difficult to work with, with only one hand. The screen is clear and bright. The device has a decent camera and the performance of the hardware is really great.

Android Lollipop 5.1.x is ok. Honestly, I’m not an Android fan, so there really isn’t any chance of me moving to the Nexus 6 permanently. However, if Android is your cup of tea, then the Nexus 6 is a decent device.

Project Fi is a decent network, provided you live in an area that has decent coverage. Nationally, the picture isn’t all that great.

Project Fi National Coverage

While Project Fi could potentially make use of any cellular network (with the right agreements or contracts between Google and a carrier) to increase the 4G or LTE coverage, but currently the best coverage seems to be in the Mid West US.

However, if you are in an area with coverage and you can get on the service (as I previously noted…) its not bad. The fact that everything works, including voice calls, on all of the network towers that it works with, is kinda cool. The coverage is decent in my area, and the prices are definitely good. If this gets implemented a wider range of coverage, this could be a decent service for everyone… provided that it works on a larger array of devices.

Working on Android only and then only on the Nexus 6 is kind of a bummer, and an expensive one at that.

Related Posts:

Feature Review – Nexus 6 & Project Fi Part One

Google’s new cellular network, Project Fi, is here. Is it all its cracked up to be?

Nexus-6

Introduction

I’ve been a Google Services user for quite some time. In fact, I have a Gmail address that I still actively use that dates back to one of the very first and original Gmail Invitations. I began using Gmail in 2003, shortly after it was introduced to the public. I’ve been using Google Apps as a (now grandfathered) free, domain account since late 2009. I love Google Services for (seriously) just a very few reasons, the first and foremost being that they usually are always up and running. Its not like the earlier days when they went down all the time.

When Google announced Project Fi, I looked into getting myself a review unit and an account. With device and service now in hand, I am now currently looking into how well it all fits together. Project Fi is the company’s first foray into being an MVNO – Mobile, Virtual Network Operator.

Project Fi combines services from two mobile operators and one universal, networking service (Wi-Fi) in order to provide voice and data services. With Sprint and T-Mobile providing calling and mobile broadband service, combined with Wi-Fi calling and internet access, you should have coverage nearly everywhere… or at least that’s the idea.

There are a couple caveats with Project Fi, however. In this article, we’ll look at those. We will also look at the service it provides, the changes it makes to Google Voice – if relevant in your use – as well as the hardware it requires. I’m not going to go into a truly in-depth look at the Nexus 6 hardware (though I will cover it, somewhat). I’m going to concentrate more on how it works with Project Fi more than anything else.

The device has been available for a while; and if you’re looking for an in-depth or teardown review of the Nexus 6, you should check those out first. Again, I’m going to go over the device , but I’m going to really skim over it. There are a number of really good reviews of the Nexus 6 on the web already. You can find a few at pocketnow.com, C|Net and Engadget. With all that said, let’s get to it…

 

Hardware

The first thing that you need to know about Project Fi is that it requires very specific hardware. You can’t just take a Project Fi SIM and stick it into any phone with a SIM slot. It just doesn’t work that way. In order to use the service, you have to use compatible hardware, and that means acquiring a new device, unless you happen to own a Nexus 6.

Nexus-6

The Nexus 6 is the first (and currently only) smartphone (at the moment, at least) that works with Project Fi. If you already have a Nexus 6, you’re halfway there. All you have to do to get on the service is go to the Project Fi website and request an invitation.

Yep… an invitation. Oh… and then wait. Like, forever.

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Like everything cool that Google does, part of their DNA is to dangle their projects in front of you, make the access exclusive, elitist and again, cool; and build demand for it, if only just to build up the hype. In the end its (metaphorically speaking) just a photo upload service, just a webmail app, just an online office suite, etc.   So, Project Fi is just like a… no. Wait… I’m getting ahead of myself… AH-GAIN.

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In order to access the service, after your invitation arrives, again, you need a Nexus 6. If you don’t have one, don’t worry. You can purchase one through Project Fi. If you do, you have the option of buying it outright, or by paying for it over the course of 24 months as part of your monthly service, interest free.

Nexus-6

Through Project Fi, the Nexus 6 is $549USD for a 32GB version or $599USD for the 64GB version. Project Fi only offers the Midnight Blue version of the Nexus 6, so your only real choice with the device is storage size. If you want to purchase a Nexus 6 via their monthly purchase plan, you’ll pay about $22 a month for the 32GB version and $24 a month for the 64GB version. Again, there are no finance or interest charges. Your monthly charge will include any applicable taxes. If the Nexus 6 on Project Fi is going to be your daily driver, then it really makes sense to purchase the 64GB version, especially if you go the monthly payment route, as the price difference between the two is only $50USD. That process requires a credit check, though.

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However, Google is being very picky about who qualifies for the monthly payment option and who doesn’t. I wasn’t given specifics, but I was told by the PR rep I spoke with that even with my very good credit, that I wouldn’t qualify.

Screen

The first thing you’re going to notice about the Nexus 6 is its huge screen size. The device’s screen specs can be seen below. All of the specs in this article have been gathered from Phone Arena, which is one of the best places I know of to look for hard core, device specs.

Nexus-6

Physical size: 6.0 inches
Resolution: 1440 x 2560 pixels
Pixel density: 493 ppi
Technology: AMOLED
Screen-to-body ratio: 74.03 %
Touchscreen: Multi-touch
Features: Light sensor, Proximity sensor, Scratch-resistant glass (Corning Gorilla Glass 3)

Simply put, at 6 inches, the device… is enormous. With a resolution of 1440 x 2560 pixels, its screen rivals the display resolution of my Apple Thunderbolt display. The only difference in the resolution (and only the resolution) between the two is that the default orientation for the Nexus 6 is Portrait (where any monitor – like my Thunderbolt Display – has a default orientation of Landscape). According to the specs, above, the screen is nearly 3/4 of the entire device. When you see it, you’ll likely have two thoughts – 1. Wow! The screen is 3/4 of the entire device!; and 2. Wait… its only 3/4 of the entire device?? That can’t be right. There’s more screen on this thing than that! The rest is system board, casing and battery.

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With its AMOLED display, the Nexus 6 is incredibly readable in direct sun light. I didn’t have any issues with it in that department. The device is awesome for watching video or taking pictures with its 13MP camera (more on that, below). Game play on this thing has to be amazing, given the screen’s large size and resolution. (I, unfortunately, am not much of a gamer…)

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With such a large footprint, the device is nearly impossible to use one handed. I’ve used a lot of devices with a lot of different form factors, with and without large touch screens. This one is hard to use with only one hand. I’m not certain I’d even try if I were you. You’ll sprain a thumb, at least. When I tried, I kept dropping the display on my desk.

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Lastly, the Nexus 6’s screen is covered with Gorilla Glass 3. The glass is effectively scratch proof, though Google will tell you its only scratch resistant. However, Gorilla Glass 3 is so tough, you won’t have to worry about the contents of your pocket scratching your screen.

Specs

The Nexus 6 runs Android 5.1.x, Lollipop. Google has recently stated that the device will receive an update to Android 5.1.1, “within days,” but since I received my review unit on 2015-07-09, I haven’t seen the update hit. Android 5.1.1 will be arrive as an over-the-air (OTA) update; and will provide a number of improvements, such as improving the display, increasing battery life for Wi-Fi calling and enhancing notifications.

OS: Android (5.1, 5.0)
Dimensions: 6.27 x 3.27 x 0.40 inches(159.26 x 82.98 x 10.06 mm)
Weight 6.49 oz.(184 g) the average is 5 oz. (142 g)
Rugged: Splash resistant

If the screen size didn’t give it away, then the dimensions above, should. The device is really big. At 184g (6.5oz), its also got a bit of heft to it, too. The biggest problem I had the first day I had it, though was actually keeping it in my hands. The device kept sliding out of my hands (as I noted above) because I kept trying to use it one handed. Thankfully, I was sitting at a desk in the office. With a phablet this large, don’t try it. If you’re out and about and you fumble the device, you’re likely going to have it hit the ground, and these things always manage to land on a corner or edge and then the screen shatters (Gorilla Glass 3 or not). That’s physics and geometry. Hitting the corner of a device at the right speed and velocity will likely send enough force up the glass to crack or shatter it. This bad boy requires you to use both hands to operate it. Get used to it and get over it.

The Nexus 6 has a quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor and Adreno 420 graphics with 3GB of RAM and either 32GB or 64GB of storage. The device is quick and can handle just about anything that you throw at it. With the native resolution that it has, and support for HDMI (via microUSB), with the right adapter, a Bluetooth keyboard and Microsoft Office for Android, this could make a decent, on the road, laptop replacement. Couple that with OneDrive for Android, and you’ve got a perfect on the go way to edit documents in a pinch. With its large screen, you don’t really HAVE to have a microUSB to HDMI adapter. You could probably edit documents right on the plane in your oh-so-comfy coach seat if you really needed to.

In that regard, the battery on this device is pretty nice too. At 3220mAh, you have about 12 hours of talk time, 14 days of standby time and 10 hours of continuous video playback (or likely somewhere in between, depending on your brightness settings and data needs). When you need to recharge, the device comes with a turbo charger that can take you from 0-50% in 20-30 minutes. The device also supports Qi wireless charging (pronounced “chee”) for your cord-free, charging convenience.

TECHNOLOGY AND CONNECTIVITY

GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
UMTS: 800, 850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz
FDD LTE: 700 (band 28), 800 (band 19), 800 (band 20), 850 (band 5), 900 (band 8), 1800 (band 3), 2100 (band 1), 2600 (band 7) MHz
TDD LTE: 2500 (band 41) MHz
Data: LTE-A Cat 6 (300/50 Mbit/s), HSDPA+ (4G) 42.2 Mbit/s, HSDPA+ (4G) 21.1 Mbit/s, HSUPA 5.76 Mbit/s, EDGE, GPRS
nano-SIM: Yes
VoLTE: Yes
Positioning: GPS, A-GPS
Navigation: Yes
Bluetooth: 4.1
Wi-Fi: 802.11 a, b, g, n, n 5GHz, ac
Mobile hotspot: Yes
USB: USB 2.0
Connector: microUSB
Features: Mass storage device, USB charging
HDMI: via microUSB
Other: NFC, MHL, SlimPort, Tethering, Computer sync, OTA sync

Camera

I’ve been trying to use the Nexus 6 as a camera whenever possible. Its not the easiest device to wield and hold; though, in truth, taking pictures with it isn’t a horrible experience. Though (also) in truth…the performance could and should be a whole lot better, especially with the specs on the camera and the system hardware. This thing should be a whole lot faster than it is.

Thankfully, it appears as though Google has heard the wails and cries of its peoples and has released a Nexus 6 and Android 5.1 Lollipop only update to Google Camera that addresses some of these issues (plus others). The update – version 2.5.052 (2005148-30) was released on 2015-06-11. I’ve had this device for about a week, and I’ve had it on every day since getting it. I’m not certain why I’ve only just received this update today.

I’ve got a small gallery of pictures that I’ve taken with the device. They’re not anything spectacular, but you can check them out, below.

Camera: Popup13 megapixels
Flash: Dual LED
Aperture size: F2.0
Features: Autofocus, Optical image stabilization, Face detection, Digital zoom, Geo tagging
Shooting Modes: Popup High Dynamic Range mode (HDR), Panorama
Camcorder: 3840×2160 (4K) (30 fps), 1920×1080 (1080p HD) (30 fps), 1280×720 (720p HD) (30 fps)
Front-facing camera: 2 megapixels

The rear camera is a 13MP camera that will shoot in a number of different sizes and modes. The camera supports both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratio shots. You can get 13MP, 5MP, and 3.1MP shots in 4:3, and 9.7MP and 2.1MP shots in 16:9. The camera has a f2.0 aperture, so its pretty fast and should be ok in lower lighting situations. The cool part, though comes in its camcorder modes. The Nexus 6 shoots 4k, 1080p and 720p video at 30fps.

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Speaker pop

I’m not sure why this is happening; but every time I turn the device on or off, the bottom speaker is popping. Its getting pretty annoying, too. The device started doing this out of the box, even before any software was installed or updated on it, so I know this isn’t something that I installed or updated causing a problem or conflict. I may need to contact Google on this one…

Software

Stock Android

The great thing about a Nexus device is that you’re running stock Android. Granted, this is not AOSP (Android Open Source Project), which is what Amazon and similar players use. This has the full Google Services install in it, and as such, you get the full Google Experience.

With the Nexus 6, you are supposed to get updates regularly, and you’re supposed to get all the updates, too. I’ve now gotten my Lollipop 5.1.1 update, and I really don’t see much of a difference in the device’s performance.

End of part one … come tomorrow to see the part two of our review

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Pebble Time – Times Up

Here are my first (and likely last) impressions of the Pebble Time.
Pebble Time
Introduction

I’ve been a fan of Japanese anime and the like since I was a kid.  One series, however, Johnny Sakko and His Flying Robot was a favorite of mine when I was a kid, growing up in suburban Pittsburgh, PA for a couple of key reasons –

  1. It came on right after Ultraman
  2. Some of the tech it used – like a radio watch that allowed the story’s lead, Johnny, to control the actions of a towering, giant, defense robot – were pretty cool (especially for the late ’60’s and early ’70’s).

The concept behind the watch wasn’t completely new.  Dick Tracy has been using a radio watch to communicate with his team since the comic series launched in October of 1931.  However, it is a total geek-gasm, and it’s totally cool, especially since, we now possess THAT specific technology today.

In this light, I’ve approached my big writing project this summer – my Wearables Roundup – with a great deal of enthusiasm. I love gadgets, and I most especially love gadgets that I can take nearly everywhere with me.  Here’s what we’ve got so far in the series:

I’m still working through a lot of metal gyrations with the Apple Watch.  There’s good and bad there, and it’s going to take a little bit of time to work through a supportable position on it. (Yes, it’s totally cool, but why is it totally cool; and what (if any) is a compelling reason to buy one…?  I’m working on that…)

You may recall that I was – and in many ways still am – a big fan of the Pebble Steel.  Has that changed?  Does the Pebble Time improve on what Pebble and Pebble Steel introduced to the market? Let’s dig up our smartwatch review topics and find out.

Hardware

In many ways, the Pebble Time should be considered the baseline of all smartwatch hardware. It could be because they were one of the first modern smartwatches to hit the market, filling a gap vacated by the exit of the Microsoft SPOT Watch, first introduced to a short, four year lifespan back in 2004.  They continued to be supported three years beyond their death in 2008, finally losing support for their services on 2011-12-31. It could be because  – that’s all that it really does – the baseline of what many smartwatches really are capable of…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The hardware for the Pebble Time has the following basic specifications:

  • Dimensions: 40.5×37.5×9.5 mm
  • Weight: 42.5g (1.5oz, with strap)
  • Band: 22mm (compatible with all 22mm watch bands)

 

IMG_1372 IMG_1373

 

As you can see from the specs and from the pictures, below, this puts it in the same size category as the 38mm Apple Watch. The front casing has an Stainless Steel bezel, but don’t think that this device has a metal casing. It doesn’t, it has a plastic casing. The bezel is just that – a bezel, and while it may be made of Marine Grade Stainless Steel with PVD coating, it really looks more like anodized aluminum than Stainless.  I don’t think it provides much protection for the device.  It’s purely decoration only. However, it does have a nice matte finish and looks good. The watch body also has a thin, curved ergonomic profile, which is supposed to make it a more comfortable, long term wear than watches that don’t have the same type of bend.

 

IMG_1380 IMG_1381

The Time has a tough, 2.5D (Gorilla) glass crystal covering an always on, color e-paper display with LED backlight.  The display is clearly readable in both indoor and outdoor lighting, and even though it’s always on, the device comes with a 7-day rated battery life.  This improves on the Pebble and Pebble Steel which went about 5 or so days, depending on use. Seven solid days is pretty decent.  So, high marks to Pebble on this feature. I’ll have more on this in the Battery Life section, below.

However, it’s not all sunshine and daisies for the display.  The biggest problem with it, is that it’s difficult to read in low light situations.  You’d think that the backlight would help here, but it doesn’t. The backlight tends to wash out the display, so it looks more white than anything else, which is unfortunate.  Someone with not so great eyesight, like me, may have trouble reading it in low light situations, and that’s not good.

 

IMG_1589 IMG_1590

 

The Time also has a built in microphone for voice notes and quick replies, however, I don’t know how practical it is.  Yeah, I know, the whole Dick Tracy/ Johnny Sakko thing of talking to your watch is kinda cool, but I haven’t had any real luck with that feature in any other setting other than a quiet room or office; and honestly, if those kinds of places are the only ones that’s any good in, then having a microphone on the Pebble Time is a waste of internal space.

Finally, the Pebble time has a vibrating motor for discreet alerts and alarms, which allow you to silently notify or wake yourself, and not anyone else.  This is a great way of getting up in the morning without some ugly blaring, beeping noise going off in your ear, or the music on your clock radio sending you AND your cat to the ceiling because your kids are smart alecks and have turned the volume on it “all the way up to 11.”  The Time is also water resistant to 30 meters, insuring that an inerrant swim or shower won’t ruin the watch by having it come in contact with water.

On paper, the Pebble Time really looks like a cool smartwatch.  However, the hardware looks, well… campy, I guess is the best way to put it.  The original Pebble wasn’t very professional looking and while competitors like the Microsoft Band (Part 1,Part 2) and the Fitbit Surge are total dork magnets, their somewhat less than high-dollar look and feel can be completely excused due to their heavy fitness tracking functionality.

 IMG_1378 IMG_1381

Now, before everyone gets their compression pants in a knot, yes.  I know that the Time can “do” fitness related stuff too.  Yeah, but not really.  As with the Pebble, Pebble Steel and now the Pebble Time, all Pebble smartwatches can “do” fitness tracking. However, they are completely dependent on your smartphone or other device to count steps, track progress, etc.  What the watch can do is display data from your connected phone.

Yes, it has an accelerometer and a compass; but it doesn’t have an A/GPS receiver, so it can’t track your progress natively. If you forget your phone or leave it home when you go out on a run or walk, you’re not going to get any fitness data on your workout.  The watch also doesn’t have any heat or heart rate sensors, so don’t look to it to keep track of any physical attributes when you work out either.  The Time also doesn’t work with Google Fit, the Android answer to Apple Health (oh, and it doesn’t work with Apple Health, either…)

When you look at the device as a whole – plastic body and case, rubber/ silicone band, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed.  Maybe it’s because I’m also wearing the Apple Watch, and because I’ve also got an Olio Model One coming.  I don’t know. Honestly, both the Microsoft Band and the Fitbit Surge aren’t “high end” devices.so I know I’m not turning into a watch snob or anything; but I can’t help but be disappointed.

Wearability and Usability

So what is the Pebble Time like to wear and how usable is it?

Great questions.

Like the Fluoroelastomer band on the Apple Watch, the silicone band on the Pebble Time is just as comfortable and just as soft and silky feeling.  However, in long term wear, I had issues with it creating dry patches on my skin. I was not pleased with that at all.  The band simply doesn’t breathe very well, and it’s not surprising. It is, after all… a silicone band.

IMG_1374 IMG_1375

The curved hardware casing of the watch ads a level of comfort… I think. Honestly, it’s hard to tell, as with a device this small and thin, it’s difficult to know if a curved case vs. a standard shaped case – i.e. like any other watch – makes any real or noticeable difference.  Honestly, I can’t tell; but it is at least nice to know that the feature is there.

Notifications

Like its predecessors, the Pebble Time gets Notifications right.

Notifications are configurable on your phone and alert you when needed.  With the Time’s Timeline feature, you can even review them as part of your Present or Past Timelines.  The only caution I have here is that you take the time to configure your notifications correctly so that you don’t get bombarded by them . The idea behind the Time – and all other smartwatches for that matter – is to make dealing with them easier and less intrusive.  If you’re constantly checking your watch because you have your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc. social networking accounts dinging your watch, then you likely haven’t improved on anything and have overloaded your ability to effectively and discretely address notifications with the Time (or, again, any other smartwatch).

Connectivity

I do NOT like how the Time interfaces with my iPhone.

The Pebble Time connects to my iPhone 6 the same way my Pebble Steel does – with a regular Bluetooth partnership and then with a Bluetooth LE partnership.  This type of relationship has proven to be problematic in the past.  If the Bluetooth LE partnership doesn’t link up after pairing (and because the LE communication uses its own partnership vs sharing the main Bluetooth pairing, it often can), then you aren’t going to get notifications.  This starts to become evident after things are “too quiet” on the notification front after a while.

I haven’t run into this yet on the Time, but it happens quite often with my Pebble Steel, and it’s very frustrating.

Battery Life

The Pebble Time has a Lithium-ion polymer battery that Pebble rates for up to seven (7) days of battery life.  This is both good and bad.  The good is obvious. The bad may seem silly, but you’ll get it once you hear it.

Seven days of battery life (I got about five and a half during this review, due largely, to all of the fiddling and playing I did) is awesome. I love not having to remember to charge my battery every night. It makes for a much more familiar watch wearing experience.   The magnetic charging port on the Time has been moved to the back of the device as opposed to the side on the Pebble and Pebble Steel. The magnetic port on the Time is also supposed to support future smart accessories, that may be built into a watch strap (hence the move to the back of the watch).

IMG_1375

 

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I have no idea what those accessories may be or when they may be available, so at this point, I wouldn’t worry too much about them or how much they may cost.  IF they show, they can be reviewed and commented on like any other smartwatch accessory for the Apple Watch (or other watch that may have available accessories…but right now, I can’t think of any others.  Can you..??)

Software and Interfaces

At the end of the day, while having a nice bit of hardware on your wrist is nice, what’s going to make or break the device is the software that it uses on device and on your smartphone.  Needless to say, yes… I have opinions on both the device software and the Pebble Time App.

At the end of the day, though, this winds up being nothing more than a shuffle of the cards and a coat of paint.  That is to say, yes… I’m calling the interface a total dud.  Let’s check out why…

Device Software

First and foremost, let’s be clear – from a software perspective, the Pebble Time didn’t bring anything new to the table except its color, ePaper display.

That’s all.

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Yes, I know it has a new software interface. However, the interface on the Time is really nothing more than a reorganization of the information Pebble has had on their watches from day one (except now color enabled), with a new coat of paint.  Pebble Time now organizes your information into three different buckets Past (top, right, device-side button) Present (middle device-side button) and Future (bottom, right, device-side button).  You can review all of your notifications via your Timeline and see what’s most important to you “right now” by simply sticking to the middle and/ or bottom right buttons.  You can review anything you’ve missed by tapping the top right button.

The organization they’ve implemented isn’t a bad idea. In fact, it’s pretty cool; but tying it with the three right side, device buttons is very 2012; and with touch screens available on the Apple Watch and even the Microsoft Band, limiting how you’re reviewing notifications to actions and activities keyed off of buttons on the Time is (now) a bit clunky.  A touch screen implementation with swipes and taps would have been much better; and better received, too.

Finally, and I can’t put it off any longer – ‘cuz this is the right place to mention it – the interface itself is horrible. The screens look as though they were painted by my 7 year old son.  I am so upset about this, to the point where its infuriating.

Again, the word “campy,” comes to mind, and it’s such a shame.  While I know that the Pebble Time is a budget oriented smartwatch, it doesn’t have to look budget oriented.  I know there’s only so much you can do with a color ePaper display, but Pebble could have done so much more with the graphics and SDK to have the time present a more professional, much more mature interface.  With items like the Apple Watch and the Olio Model One out there, a little more sophistication out of the Pebble Time couldn’t hurt, and would have been much welcomed.

The thing that bothers me the most about this, is that UI design choice “A” vs. UI design choice “B” doesn’t necessarily cost more.  You still have to draft it all out, create the screens, review the designs, etc., and having a more sophisticated, more professional look couldn’t have been more costly during its initial development.  The Time is a budget watch, yes, but it doesn’t have to look that way, does it?!  I know I’ve repeated myself here, but I mean… COME ON, people!

The original monochrome UI elements on the Pebble and Pebble Steel looked better than this, I think. Unfortunately, the implementation of color into your UI can bring out its weaknesses as much as it can show its strengths.  The design language needs to be changed here to allow for a more professional look and feel.  It would be nice if Pebble provided that option to its users in a future firmware update.

Pebble Time App

I’ve found this to be yet another huge disappointment.

The new Pebble Time smartphone companion app is really nothing more than the ORIGINAL Pebble app with a new coat of paint to allow for apps with color screens to be offered. While I don’t think you can use the new app to connect to the original Pebble or Pebble Steel – you still need the original app for that – it’s clear that all of the familiar apps from the original monochrome store are offered and available for the Time.

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New watch should have offered me a new companion app with a new UI and a new design and, as I mentioned above, a better app offering with much more professional graphics. I’ve got screen shots of the smartphone companion app below, and as you can see, and I think agree, this struck me as a “very familiar” (which isn’t necessarily bad) and “nothing special” experience (which isn’t good).

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The new store and new watch do offer the opportunity to get a better set of watch faces, but as you notice by running through the store, many of them are really nothing more than the old monochrome faces, now colored for the new ePaper display.  Again, a huge disappointment.

As with the original Pebble and Pebble Steel, the Pebble Time works with both iOS (running iOS 8 and higher) and Android (running 4.0 ICS and higher) smartphones.  So this is about as cross platform a smartwatch offering as you can get.

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The only downside to all of this is that if you really want to track any fitness info with the Time, you’re going to need a third party fitness tracker like the Misfit or Jawbone (recommended by Pebble) in order to do it.  Additional language and international character support for the Time is said to be coming soon.

Problems and Issues

I think I’ve covered most the of the issues that I’ve bumped into with the Pebble Time in other sections. I won’t go over them again here.

The biggest thing that you do need to be aware of if you’re upgrading to the Time from either the Pebble or Pebble Steel is that the bands are not interchangeable or reusable on the new watch.  Any favorite band styles will need to be repurchased for use with the Time. However, since the time uses a standard 22mm band, they shouldn’t be too difficult to find or replace.

Conclusion

The biggest problem that I have with the Pebble Time is that the device is a huge disappointment to me. It’s not a bad device, per se. There just isn’t anything here that would make me really WANT to upgrade from my Pebble Steel to the time – except its color ePaper display – and that certainly isn’t worth the cost of the new watch. In my opinion, the original Pebble Steel should have been introduced with a color display. It would have made much more sense, and honestly, would have totally negated the introduction or release of the Pebble Time. Perhaps we would have gotten something different or better if it had.

The Pebble Time should be considered the base line for any smartwatch.  It has all of the basic functionality that would be considered mandatory in a smartwatch.  The absence of any kind of native fitness tracking in the actual device, however, is a huge hole, and one that will really make individuals looking for a smartwatch stop and consider or reconsider its purchase.  Other devices exist for about or near the same cost that include the fitness stuff, and as such kinda make the Pebble Time a bit irrelevant even before it had a chance to make any kind of impact on the market.

The Pebble Time is currently available for pre-order (as of this writing) and will cost $199.99.

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Current Status – Where I’m at with the Summer Writing Projects

It’s been kinda quiet in “Christopher’s Corner” over the past few weeks. Here’s what’s been keeping me up late , with my summer writing projects.

Summer Writing Projects

This year has been an ambitious one for me. I’ve started a new job with a financial services firm in suburban Chicago in a senior leadership role. I’ve joined the Windows 10 Insider Team and am actively testing both the desktop and mobile versions of Windows 10.

In February of this year I began a smartwatch/ wearables roundup with the review of the Microsoft Band (that hyperlink is a link to Part 2 of my review. A link to part 1 can be found in the first line of that article). I followed that up in April with a review of the Fitbit Surge. I’ve also hit a couple of pot holes with Windows 10 that is really keeping me hopping. To be quite honest, things haven’t been very easy at all over here in the Windows 10 camp especially; and I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew…

Here’s why – I’m also looking at the Apple Watch, trying to decipher it (I was going to say, “figure out what makes it tick,” but thought the better of it…). I’m trying to look at the Pebble Time, which I have in hand; and I’m also beginning to look at OS X 10.11 El Capitan and iOS 9 (both of which have had Beta 2 versions released).

I’ve got a whole lot of beta in my life right now; and honestly, it’s really messy.

I honestly don’t have iOS 9 installed on any of my iDevices as I don’t want that train wreck to interfere with any of the reviews I’m doing in the Wearables Round-Up. I had El Capitan installed on my MacBook Pro, but nuked and rebuilt my Mac as I bumped into a adware/spyware element from some software that I didn’t get from Soft32 – a huge mistake, by the way… all of our software is certified malware free – and had to rebuild the machine in order to get rid of it. I’m still in the tail end of that, as the malware had also infected my Time Machine backups and I can’t use it to restore ANYTHING. After I figure out which apps I have to redownload, reinstall and then reregister (some, like A Better Finder Rename and ClamXav were downloaded, installed and registered outside of either the Mac App Store or any other self-downloading or updating system), then I have to blow my Time Machine drive and let it automatically reestablish its backup schedule.

There are also some really big issues with Windows 10 right now, that go beyond whether or not you’re going to get the software for free. Build 10130 is a bit of a turd; and to be quite honest, my Surface Pro 3 is very unstable. I’m also having issues wiping it and moving back to Windows 8.1 (not that I want to stay there, but if you really want to clean install a beta build, the best thing to do is to go back to the last RTM point for it and build forward). I’m not certain if that’s the recovery media I have, or if there’s a firmware or other system software issue, or what, that’s preventing THAT from working.

A new firmware update has come out for the Surface Pro 3, and MY device still wants to download and install the MAY firmware update (showing as Firmware (or Hardware) Update 05/14/2015, in Windows Update) over and over and over and over and over… you get the picture… even if it’s been successfully installed. …Very frustrating.

I also happen to be a bit impatient. This can be a bad thing during a beta software run or any other testing situation, as impatience can often lead to additional errors or support problems. However, seeing as my Surface Pro 3 likes to download the same firmware update over and over again AND seeing as how the latest firmware update was released three days ago (and my SP3 is still trying to download the MAY update), I decided to see if the firmware update couldn’t be downloaded manually.

Most hardware OEM’s have support pages for their devices. Dell is famous for all of this; and I figured Microsoft had to have something similar. I was right, too.

You can find all of the latest Surface and Surface Pro support software, here.

Simply navigate to that page and then click the download button. You’ll be taken to a page where you can select exactly what files you want or need to download for your supported device.

WARNING – Only download and install software meant for your SPECIFIC Surface model.

I know this seems like a silly thing to say; but ALL of the files for all six (6) Surface Models – Surface, Surface 2, Surface 3, Surface Pro, Surface Pro 2 and Surface Pro 3 – are mixed together. They’re all named appropriately, but the model names and file names are all similar and it’s very easy to miss a model number or a “pro” and download the wrong support file. Attempting to install a file not meant for your device can cause serious, perhaps irreparable, damage to it. You need to be very careful.

I was able to find and download the firmware file I was looking for for my Surface Pro 3, and get it installed. Problem solved.

Anyway… let’s take a moment and run down a check list of where I am with everything so that everyone knows what’s what –

Wearables Roundup

Microsoft Band Review – Completed (Part 1, Part 2)
Fitbit Surge Review – Completed
Apple Watch Review – In process (Latest article – Personal Setup of the Apple Watch
Pebble Time Review – In process
Olio Model One Review – Waiting on hardware
Final Conclusions & Round Up – Pending completion of all individual reviews

Windows 10 Coverage

Latest Fast Ring Build – Build 10130
Latest Slow Ring Build – Build 10130
Latest Article – Windows 10 Build 10122 Status Update
Latest Mobile Fast Ring Build – Build 10149 (Write up is pending)

Apple Coverage

OS X 10.11 – Waiting on Stability & Public Beta Release
Current Build – Developer Preview 2 (Build 15A204b)
With the Apple Watch Review in play, I don’t want to negatively affect any connectivity between my Mac, my iPhone and my Watch.
iOS 9
Current Build – Beta 2 (Build 13A4280e)
With the Apple Watch Review in play, I don’t want to negatively affect any connectivity between my Mac, my iPhone and my Watch.

watchOS
Current Build – Beta 2 (Build 13S5255c)
Likely will not install during the Wearables Roundup period. I don’t want to screw up the Watch while its being reviewed, as not everyone will have access to the beta bits until its formal release in the Fall of 2015 (or unless and until Apple releases a public beta).

So this, kids, is why you haven’t seen a lot from me this past month. I’m working… Oh, you can bet your babushkas I’m working… I just either don’t have much to report, or I’m busy trying to troubleshoot and dig myself out of a hole due to software (and/or hardware interaction) bugs. However, I do plan on providing coverage this summer for all of the items you see here.

Do you have a Windows Machine? Are you a Microsoft Windows 10 Insider? Are you on the Fast Ring or the Slow Ring? Which Build do you currently have installed on your Windows PC? How well (or not) is it working for you? Do YOU think they will be ready to ready to release to the public on 2015-07-29?

Do you have a Mac? Are you a Mac Developer Program member? Have you downloaded and installed OS X 10.11 El Capitan? Have you downloaded and installed the latest version of iOS 9 to your iDevice? How well (or not) is they working for you? If you’re not a Developer Program member, will you install any of the public betas on your Mac or iDevice(s)?

I’d love to hear from you to find out where you are and what your experience has been with all of this. What issues have you bumped into? What issues have you heard about, but not experienced? Why don’t you join me in the discussion area below and give me your current status and tell me how things are (or are not) working for you?

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Personal Setup of the Apple Watch

Sometimes maybe, its just better to go it alone…

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Wearable computers aren’t as intuitive as you might think. In fact, the whole category is a bit confusing. Its so confusing, that you may have trouble figuring out what is and what isn’t a smartwatch vs. what is and isn’t a fitness band, and which ones really kinda “cross the streams” and are a bit of both.

When you constantly have new players making a splash in this pool full of offerings, its hard not to end up all wet. And that’s a HUGE statement, if you take a few moments and try to noodle that one through…

So, in order to try to make things a bit easier on my wife – who’s new to the whole wearables category – and to me – who knows a bit but not totally EVERYTHING on the Apple Watch in particular – I thought it might be a really great idea to have both of us. What I experienced wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be.

This whole post should be tagged with – your mileage may vary…The videos are also a bit long. So, you may want to skip through a bit. Apple’s Personal Setup process is free, and it takes you through the initial unboxing and setup of the device, right out of the box. You can, if you wish, have them take you through Personal Setup on any product you purchase, even AT time of purchase. I saw one person unbox a 27″ iMac and another, a 13″ MacBook Pro.

Initial Unboxing and Setup

Here, the unboxing has finished and the Genius is taking my wife through the pairing process with her iPhone. There’s a lot of clicking through that’s done here, and not enough explanation, in my opinion. The pairing process is interesting. You hold your phone, camera and Apple Watch app active, over your Watch, while the watch shows some sort of strange particle graphic on its screen. The active graphic’s pattern is supposed to uniquely identify the watch to your phone and silently pair both a regular and a Bluetooth-LE partnership (though only one partnership is listed in MY Devices under, Bluetooth Settings)

Pairing and Initial Setup

The pairing process is done here. My wife described the pairing pattern on the watch as looking like the Teseract from the Avengers. She wasn’t far off. After you pair the Watch with your phone, it wants to know where you’re going to wear it (right or left wrist) and then your Apple ID and password.

Configuring the Watch

Here, configuration choices are made for the Watch. Here, there’s a lot of tapping an OK button. The decision to put a passcode on your Watch is made. If you don’t want to put a passcode on your Watch, then you won’t be able to use Apple Pay on the Watch. Apple Pay = use a passcode!

Apps… here you have to be careful. Every app that you have on your phone that has a Glance, will automatically install that Glance on your phone. If you don’t be careful (I was going to say, “watch…” sheesh!!), you’re going to overload on Glances, and then, you’re likely never going to use ANY of them. You’re also going to get Notification overload, so you have to be careful about what you install on the Watch.

Oh, and if you’re stuck for a camera remote – so you can take a stickless selfie – you can use the Watch to snap the shutter on your iPhone’s camera. Its all kinda cool.

Its So Complicated

Changing your Watch face starts with a force touch. Right now you get about eight or so watch faces. All of the little information icons on any of the included Watch faces are called, “complications.” They can show you cool things like the phases of the moon, the current, local temperature, the time in other time zones, etc.

Some Watch faces can only have a couple complications on them. Others can have one in each corner, at least. What you can’t do, at this time, however, is construct your own Watch face from all of the elements available to the watch. You have to pick from preconfigured Watch faces and then only specific complications are available in each spot where one is placed. You also can’t move the complications to another location on the Watch face. There are a few options, but not many.

The Apple Watch is an amazing piece of electronic fare. It can do a lot, but can you get it to do what YOU really want it to do. I’m hard at work trying to crack this nut, and I’m close to the point where I can start writing this review. Look for it in the next few weeks!

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Apple Watch First Impressions

I’ve had it for about a week. Here’s what I’m thinking so far…

Introduction to my Apple Watch First Impressions
While the rest of the world thinks that any news on the Apple Watch is passing, passé… I beg to differ. I received my Apple Watch on 2015-05-19. I waited a few days until I was able to have a personal setup session with Apple at the Apple Store Main Place in Naperville, IL, before I started wearing the device full time.

apple-watch-first-impressions

The thought for me, was multi-purposed –

  1. I wanted the full court press from Apple for myself
  2. I wanted my wife to have a pampered experience
  3. The Apple Watch is new and like the iPhone of 2007, a bit unknown
  4. The Apple Watch is a complex device, requiring knowledge of and familiarity with
    a. its own UI
    b. Apple Pay,
    c. Notification Center, and
    d. the iPhone and Apple Watch App Stores

I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert when it comes to smartwatches and other wearables. After the Pebble Steel, the Microsoft Band, and the Fitbit Surge, I’d better be. I’ve got the Apple Watch as well as the Olio Model One and the Pebble Time to consider as well before my wearables roundup is completed.

General
I was speaking with a fellow tech pundit about this recently, and he wanted to know where and how I was basing all of these preliminary opinions on. I’ve had the Pebble Steel and the Nike Fuel Band, so I think I have a decent idea of what a smartwatch should and shouldn’t do. Spending over a year with the Nike Fuel Band has also helped me understand what a fitness band should provide its wearer as well. Yeah, with him its all about credibility and proving your premise. Without that foundation, all of this might be a load of hot air.

The Apple Watch is supposed to be the Holy Grail of smartwatches. To an extent it is, but I don’t know if it’s going to be the home run that everyone hopes or wants it to be. I’m still working through how it works; and there’s a LOT more to it than any other wearable I’ve looked at thus far, but I kinda knew that, but didn’t know I knew, ya know? So I’m trying to be objective about all of this and not form a solid opinion without having spent some REAL time with the device, but there are a few things that I know for certain; and they were fairly evident right out of the box. Literally…
Band & Watch Hardware
I’ve had watches with silicone and rubber bands before. Yeah… they pretty much suck. I was really surprised when Apple announced the Apple Watch with a fluoroelastomer (read: rubber) band. But if you recall, I was really surprised by how very much unrubber like my Apple Watch band was. The band is very soft, supple and surprisingly, very comfortable to wear. You really can’t feel it at all when it strapped to your wrist, and my guess is that even when exercising, you aren’t going to capture or retain too much sweat underneath the Watch. At least I didn’t when spreading five cubic yards of mulch in the gardens in my yard.

The Watch casing is solid, and surprisingly light. From what I saw on the internet, I expected it to have a bit of weight, and it really doesn’t. When viewed from the side, you definitely get a 2007 flashback to the original iPhone. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it isn’t all that great, either. Given the design genius that is Jony Ive, I really was expecting something more modern and more angular. However, with such a large screen – it really doesn’t have a bezel that blocks the display – it is very readable, and very large. Thankfully, the screen doesn’t look too large on my medium sized wrist, I think.

Apple Watch UI
There’s a lot to say here, and a lot I’ve got to learn about the OS and the UI before I can make any real comments. So, from a general perspective, I’m going to reserve final comments on the UI for the review, that will be published later. However, there are a few things that I want to hit and make certain everyone hears now rather than later.

Notifications
This is one area where you really have to be careful. Its VERY easy to get Notification Overload when you use this or any kind of wearable that helps you manage notifications. Apple Watch by default turns on notifications to “mirror the exact settings on your iPhone;” but that’s not always how things work out.

I’m not big into text messaging. A lot of people get into trouble with distracted driving, or distracted relationships because they pay more attention to their iDevice and the text messages they receive than the world around them (when driving) or to the people they’re with. I honestly only send and receive text messages with just a handful of people – my wife and my daughter. I occasionally text with my son in law, but as we’re guys, we only really do it when we absolutely have to, because otherwise, its just weird. Other than that, the other Messages threads I have are either my wife and my daughter, my wife and my son in law, my daughter and my son in law or all three of them. Do you see a pattern there, I really don’t text at all.

I wanted to remove Messages from my Watch entirely, but currently, like the Fitbit Surge you can’t. I really dinged the daylights out of Fitbit on that one, and unless Apple comes out with a WatchOS update that corrects that while I’m writing my review, they’re going to get dinged too. I can turn off notifications for just about anything, but the data still comes across to the Watch.

That’s wrong. I should be able to turn some things off completely; and right now, I just can’t.

I would expect something similar to the UI you have on your iPad or your Mac where you can enable or disable Messages and FaceTime on those devices and still be signed in with your Apple ID. Currently, its an all or nothing deal – if you want any level of Apple sync services on your Apple Watch, then you have to sign in with your Apple ID, and you get everything. Period. You can turn off the notifications for Messages and other content, but the information still comes across the synch connection to your Apple Watch.

Apps
The Apple Watch doesn’t have any native apps as of this writing. Right now, the best we’re going to get are Glances, and those are mini-apps that are accessed from the main Watch face, by swiping UP from the bottom of the display. They’re nice, but they don’t do enough; and there really isn’t a way for them to do much more.

You can’t install glances on your Apple Watch without first installing the associated app on your iPhone. If you uninstall the app, you also lose the glance. You can uninstall the glance from your Watch without removing the app from your iPhone.

The biggest problem with this model is that if you have an Apple Watch, and you install an app on your iPhone, if that app also has a glance, you get it installed on your Watch whether you want it or not.

Apple Watch App
Every smartwatch has its app. Some of them, like the Pebble, need to run in the background all the time, even though you also have to have Bluetooth. Thankfully, this isn’t the way that the Apple Watch app works.

Here, you choose your options and then you can quit the app, which is really kinda nice. I like that part of the app. What I really don’t like, though is how the app is an all or nothing game. What I’m talking about is the way apps install – with the Apple Watch, its really all or nothing. When you install an iPhone app that has an Apple Watch Glance, it automatically gets installed too… whether you want it to or not.

I’ll have more on the app in the review.

Battery Life
I really have to say that I’m very surprised.

Battery life on the Watch is much better than I thought it would be, at least during the one day that you’re guaranteed that the device will hold a charge. At the end of any given day, I have more than somewhere around 50% charge left on the device, in real world use. While I know I’m not going to get much more than say… 28 – 36 hours out of a single charge… while I’ve got the Watch on and I’m out and about, I really don’t think – based on my usage – that I’m going to run out of power or have it go into Power Reserve (where it only tells time, and nothing else, because I don’t have enough juice to push any real functionality).

So… so far, battery life is OK, given that I know I have to charge the Watch every night while I sleep. However, it would be nice to know that a single charge could realistically last me a week or more. However, other than the Pebble and Pebble Steel, I don’t know of a smartwatch on the market today that can realistically last that long between charges; but it would be really awesome if the Apple Watch did just that…

Conclusion
I’ll be honest… the jury is out on this one. Yeah, it looks and feels great. Yeah its bright and easy to read in the sunlight. Yeah, it really does a lot; but perhaps it does too much. The Apple Watch requires pairing with an iPhone right now. The Apple Watch doesn’t work without one. Mirroring what the iPhone does may keep you out of your phone a bit; but you have to watch how and what you do with it or you’re going to get overloaded with notifications, and confused with all of the cute stuff it does.

Over the next few weeks while I use the Apple Watch and try to customize it for my specific needs, I’m going to do my best to keep this in mind and then hopefully, I’ll be able to crack this nut. Honestly, I really feel as thought I’d better… I don’t want to put the Apple Watch aside. Its too expensive to shove in a drawer, and I really don’t want to sell it.

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Firmware Updates for Surface Pro tablets

Microsoft ships firmware updates for its most recent Surface Pro tablets

firmware-updates

If there’s one thing that I’ve been very keen on keeping up with, its all of the updates that are coming down with the Windows 10 Windows Insider program.  I’m trying to stay on top of all of the changes to Windows 10, so that I can, at least, sound like I know what I’m talking about when something cool and exciting makes its way into the wild.  Sometimes it doesn’t seem like much is happening, and I end up waiting and waiting for what seems like forever. Other times, I’m so busy, I could pull my hair out.

So here’s an interesting development – it’s been reported that Microsoft recently released firmware updates for its more recent Surface Pro tablets, the Surface Pro 2 and Surface Pro 3.  Specifically, these updates are intended to address the following issues on each respective device:

Surface Pro 3

The following updates will be listed as “System Firmware Updates – 5/19/2015″ in Windows Update.

  • Surface Pro 3 UEFI update (v3.11.850.0) includes changes needed for compatibility with the updated graphics driver noted below.

  • HD Graphics Family driver update (v10.18.14.4170) improves graphics performance and includes better Miracast (wireless display) support.

  • Display Audio driver update (v6.16.00.3172) improves audio experience and supports compatibility with the updated graphics driver.

Surface Pro 2

The following updates will be listed as “System Firmware Updates – 5/19/2015″ in Windows Update.

  • Surface Pro UEFI update (v2.5.250.0) includes changes needed for compatibility with the updated graphics driver noted below.

  • HD Graphics Family driver update (v10.18.14.4170) improves graphic performance and includes better Miracast (wireless display) support.

  • Display Audio driver update (v6.16.00.3172) improves audio experience and supports compatibility with the updated graphics driver.

From what I understand, the firmware update may have come a few days earlier than 2015-05-19 for some users.  For me, it came on 2015-05-14 and then again eight (8) more times (for a total of nine (9) times), including three (3) in the past two to three days.

This is a huge issue as far as I’m concerned.  While these firmware updates may have been released about two weeks ago, as of this writing, and even though my Surface Pro 3 shows that I have the latest version installed (you have to use MSINFO32.exe or Device Manager to see that…you can’t display a version number in the actual UEFI screen), for some reason Windows Update keeps telling me that this particular firmware version is available for me to install. I have no idea why.

What I find more concerning is that when the file does “install,” my Surface Pro 3 never seems to perform what I’ve come to understand is a full firmware update.  I’m used to seeing the device restart, enter into some obscure update mode requiring AC power to be attached, and then running through a hardware level update with all sorts of warnings that the PC shouldn’t be turned off or restarted while the update is applying, etc.

I’m not the only one bumping into this particular, firmware updates being presented more than once, issue.  A couple other really tech savvy, widely published friends of mine are also having similar experiences.

There seems to be a huge problem with these system hardware and firmware updates.  Microsoft needs to get a handle on these and get them fixed and resolved BEFORE the OS RTM’s in July 2015.  Once this hits a larger audience, having a single update come down and successfully install multiple times is going to cause a GREAT deal of confusion for the average consumer-based user.

If you haven’t installed these firmware updates yet, you should have by now.  If they’re still pending, then you may have something wrong with your Windows 10 installation. If you haven’t seen them install, you should likely check your Windows Update, Update History.

As we get nearer to Windows 10 RTM, your device is going to need those updates as part of your Windows 10 RTM migration.  Many of the drivers that your Surface Pro 2 or Surface Pro 3 device uses will be updated before the end of July. You’re either going to need those driver updates installed prior to installing Windows 10 on your device; or they will be updated post upgrade as part of a Windows Update installation.  However – and it happens every time there’s a major Windows OS update – Microsoft has a number of pre and post upgrade steps that it suggests users perform on their computers in order to both enable and finalize the upgrade.  Microsoft’s new update policy will have you installing them as they are made available under Windows 10, so it will likely be a good idea to start getting used to that process now.

If you have any issues updating your Surface Pro 2 or Surface Pro 3, let me know. I’m going to be interested to know who has what pre update problems on which devices and how Microsoft addresses them.  That will be telling on how well the Windows 10 migration will go in general, and will tell us how much work Microsoft may have in front of them, post migration, as well.  I’m assuming there are going to be a number of different common issues that are experienced. There always are, especially when it comes to migrating legacy hardware to a new platform.

This summer is going to be an interesting time in the Windows ecosystem.  It’s going to get a bit worse before it gets better, I think; but the first thing you’re going to need to do is make certain you have any and all firmware updates installed on your device.  If you haven’t already, again, you should install them now.

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Today is the Day

Yes! Merry Christmas in May to me!

YlaUR6JpbmU0lw9AXY3WpNPx-qTYoosBmOZZgwfeQwII didn’t know if this day would actually come or not. Today (2015-05-19) is the day that my Apple Watch gets delivered. Over the next few weeks or so, I will be taking a look at it, trying to make heads or tails of what it does and doesn’t do. I’ll be reviewing it, blogging about it, and in the end comparing it to the Fitbit Surge and Microsoft Band (part 2 of the review, can be seen here . I will eventually be comparing all three of these – the Apple Watch, Fitbit Surge and Microsoft Band to a couple of other smartwatches and against a set of criteria that we will begin mulling over in a blog post or two after the Apple Watch review is posted. With three smartwatch reviews in the series, we should be able to pull together some criteria that can be used to measure the best of all five.

So, stay tuned. I’ll have an unboxing up shortly; and likely an initial impressions blog post up shortly after that. I know it’s taken a while, but stick with me on this one, kids. Things are about to get very interesting in the wearables department over here…

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