Watch video on your advanced, ultra HD display with CyberLink PowerDVD Ultra

Watch video on your advanced, ultra HD display with this must have Windows media player

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I love watching movies. In fact, I watch movies more than I watch regular, network TV here in the States. I have a real issue with mainstream television. I am not fond of the writing, I don’t like many of the plot lines, and most of it isn’t appropriate for family viewing. I have cable TV and most of the movie channels because I REALLY don’t like network TV. However, when I can’t watch my movie channels due to travel, business commute or other issues, I really like to take my video on the go and its important to have a really good Windows DVD app like CyberLink’s PowerDVD Ultra at times like those. Its one of my favorites.

PowerDVD Ultra supports all media types including video, audio and photographic content. Its your all-purpose entertainment station. With it, you can enjoy media on your PC, mobile devices, home networks, from the cloud, and even via social networks. PowerDVD Ultra’s enhanced audio-visual quality, extended file format support, improved functionality, refinements to the user interface, and has an enhanced, wide range of digital media experiences.

PowerDVD 15 takes your movie experience to new places with playback enhancements and format support additions you won’t find in any other player. The app intelligently analyzes video footage and optimizes hues and vibrancy, creating a true-to-life viewing experience. TrueTheater Color recognizes skin tones in footage and applies only subtle adjustments to these areas in order to achieve improvements while retaining authentic coloring.

PowerDVD’s intelligent media buffering engine means that you no longer have to deal with stop and start playback, especially when you’re streaming video from a NAS device. This is a huge advancement, as streaming video on your home network just got more reliable. Advanced preloading techniques let PowerDVD analyze and retrieve additional playback data so that your media playback is not interrupted, even if the connection to your storage device is degraded.

PowerDVD Ultra is one of the better DVD players on the market. Its easy to use, has advanced playback and streaming controls and, it also supports 4K video… if you can find video files that actually support the new color and resolution format. When PowerDVD detects a 4K video file and a 4K monitor, Overlay Mode is automatically engaged to optimize the rendering pipeline and reduce the graphic resource load, delivering smooth, lag-free playback.

The app is also simply gorgeous to look at. However, non-standard UI’s are always an issue with Windows. They’re more often than not, “coats of paint,” or masks, over the standard Windows UI and take resources away from the PC, generating performance issues. I didn’t see that here with PowerDVD, and I tested it on an older, Windows 7 based PC.

If you’ve ripped your DVD’s to ISO’s, PowerDVD 15 now offers convenient direct playback of Blu-ray and DVD ISO files, either directly from the PC or via a network-connected drive. No additional mounting tools are required; and if your playback is interrupted, you don’t have to worry about trying to remember where you were in the movie. PowerDVD can pick it up right where you left off.

This is a really cool application, and since Microsoft has done a huge amount of work to deemphasize Windows Media Player (and I’m not entirely certain why), a more modern app with support for newer HD formats and technology is clearly needed. PowerDVD is filling a huge hole, and it does a GREAT job at it, too.

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So… Like, I’m in Wait Mode

There’s a lot happening and I’m all set to hurry up and wait; and it sucks.

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for and I truly feel blessed.

I have a wife and family that love me. I have a great job. I have a great gig here at Soft32. I actually think it’s one of the best sites I’ve ever written for, and I’ve written for a GREAT many over the past 20 or so years including CMPnet, WUGNET. AOL/CompuServe, Gear Diary, pocketnow, InformationWeek, LockerGnome, plus a number of print pubs including >, Computer Power User Magazine and a Sun-Times affiliated newspaper – The Aurora Beacon-News. Definitely blessed.

All of the writing over the years has kept me in baseball cards and bubble gum, for sure. I’ve been able to afford to buy a number of different technology items and write about them that in just about any other life scenario, I simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to do.

Case in point… I’ve got a number of different things cued up for this Summer and Fall, but I’m stuck in a wait and see mode, or stuck waiting for something to ship. Here’s a run-down of all that I’ve got queued up. I’m going to try to sort these by the time I am supposed to have something in hand, though it will likely be a few weeks after they are received before I have anything written and/ or posted about them.

Henge Docks Horizontal Dock – Mid-May 2015
This one has been a LONG time in coming.

henge_horizontal_dock1-100024094-orig

I’ve been a huge fan of docking stations since, like, the invention of the notebook computer; but really back in the mid to late 1990’s. I’ve had a number of Dell laptops – mostly Latitudes – that have had docks, and I’ve had docks at work and at home with nearly EVERY work PC I’ve ever used in my entire life, including every Dell and Lenovo I’ve ever put my hands on. However, Apple doesn’t believe in docking stations. Not even a little bit.

Apple’s take, even when they were still including a full blown Ethernet port in their notebooks, is that notebooks were meant to be portable; and you really don’t want to tie yourself down to a wired internet connection. You want to be wireless. That’s why you have a notebook PC.

Well, sorta.

I have a notebook PC because I want to be able to compute in a non-standard place like the beach, my deck, or a place where they sell overpriced coffee. The problem is, I still want to be able to use that notebook PC with some desktop styled resources – like a mouse, external keyboard (be they wired or wireless) and most importantly, a large, HD monitor. If you stick to Apple’s way of doing things when you get to a an office setting, you constantly plug and chug cables in out of ports on your MacBook or MacBook Pro… which totally sucks… hence the need/ desire for a docking station or port replicator

Henge Docks has been making (somewhat) affordable vertical docks for years. They announced their Horizontal Docking Station more than two years ago, and I pre-ordered it almost immediately. I’ve been waiting on it ever since.

The dock is finally supposed to ship in mid-May 2015; and as part of their Early Adopter Program, I’ll have access to enhanced functionality, frequent updates and special user forums where I and a number of other folks will be able to provide feedback on the device directly to Henge Docks.

When it arrives, I’m going to have to reconfigure the top of the desk in my office. Specifically, I’m going to need to reassess how I’ve got my dual monitors positioned. I may also need to get a bigger or different second/ third monitor, as the 22″ SD monitor I’ve got just isn’t cutting it anymore.

Apple Watch Sport Edition – Mid-to-Late May 2015
As I said the other day, I got my Apple Watch before things totally sold out. I should be getting mine in the third or fourth wave of shipments. My watch is scheduled to ship between 2015-05-13 and 2015-05-27.

apple-watch-side

I seem to remember seeing one or two articles over the past week or so indicating that preorders MIGHT ship earlier than originally estimated, but I haven’t heard anything else to refute or substantiate that claim. If I had to guess, I’d say things with either ship during my originally estimated window or later than that.

While people wait for their Watches to arrive, everyone everywhere is going to be inundating the internet with a bunch of fluff. You’ll see information about Apple supplied bands, third party bands, uses and ideas for Watch and of course, different apps. You’re also going to see a lot of coverage about how Watch isn’t going to be as intuitive or easy to use as every other Apple product on the market.

Concierge Appointments are going to be an interesting topic to follow and until Watches start arriving and people start making and attending appointments, we’re not going to know what they are really going to cover.

Pebble Time – May 2015
Pebble Time is Pebble’s latest venture into the wearables market. The device is an update to their previous Kickstarter Campaign provides a couple of new options.

Pebble_Time_colours-970-80

This time, you get a color display and up to seven days of battery life out of a single charge. While there are definitely updates to the Pebble watch OS to take advantage of the new color display and some new capabilities. I have no idea what we’re REALLY going to see with this, but we’ll have to wait and see. While I suspect that it’s going to be VERY Pebble – i.e. basically the same as Pebble and Pebble Steel, but with a color display, but again, I’m going to want to wait and see the actual device in my hands before making any final determinations.

Olio Model One – Summer 2015 (Meaning somewhere between July and October)
This is the one smartwatch that I really know little to nothing about. The only information that I have on it is what you can find on their home page. This isn’t much information to go on at all.

olio-watch-steel-steel-link-ui

I’ve spoken briefly with the organization’s CEO via email. He didn’t offer any additional information, other than the organization is excited to release the device in limited availability later this year.

The device looks amazing. The big thing that is going to make or break this device is notifications and the way it works with them. If it’s an all or nothing thing as it is with other smartwatches or fitness bands, then Olio isn’t going to do very well. Unfortunately, because there’s little to no additional information on how Olio intends to deal with notification overload, this is another wait and see item.

Windows 10 RTM – Summer 2015
Windows 10 is supposed to RTM (release to manufacturing) sometime this Summer, which again, means between July and October of 2015. If Microsoft wants to have Windows 10 in the hands of manufacturers and OEM’s in time for back to school computer sales, then it better be as early in the “summer” as possible. If they do hit their advertised release window, then they may make it in time to hit Back to School; but then again, it may not be enough time.

Based on what I know about my own experience right now, and the one huge bug that I have logged – Disappearing Ink – hitting this window is going to be difficult at best. They have a number of different issues to get past and with the way that builds are being released even to the Fast Ring, I’m really going to be surprised if they make it in time. I don’t think they will. My Disappearing Ink bug has been around for at least 6 Fast Ring builds, and it’s a huge defect. I don’t know that they’re going to get to the end game in time to make Back to School PC releases.

However, until they have a fix for Disappearing Ink, I’m off the Fast Ring, especially on my Surface Pro 3. I’ve got too much going on with OneNote at the office to risk losing information and notes during a meeting while using Windows 10. I also downloaded Windows 10 for Mobile 10051 on my Lumia 520, and I agree with Paul, Mary Jo and Leo. The latest Windows 10 build for Window Phones just plain sucks. Oh… it’s really horrible.

UPDATE: While writing this an article appeared on Microsoft News attributing AMD’s CEO, Lisa Su, with a statement that Windows 10 would RTM in July. Early Monday morning, 2015-04-20, as I was finishing up this column, I also stumbled upon a reiteration of this same attribution, but this time with a full quote on the Windows Supersite. Here’s the full quote, given during AMD’s Quarterly Earning’s call:

“…What we also are factoring in is, you know, with the Windows 10 launch at the end of July, we are watching sort of the impact of that on the back-to-school season, and expect that it might have a bit of a delay to the normal back-to-school season inventory build-up…”

This statement fails to indicate if the July release is Windows 10 for desktop, Phones or small tablets, or ALL devices.

Given the issues that are currently being encountered in all platforms, I’d be surprised if this was for everything. Desktop, maybe; but all platforms…? No.

iOS 9 and OS X 10.11
WWDC currently scheduled for 2015-06-08 through 2015-06-12. At that time, I’m expecting announcements for both iOS 9 and OS X 10.11. However, while this is pretty much a safe bet, there’s no guarantee on this either. No one has really started grinding the iOS 9 grindstone. No one has been beating the “I really need the next version of OS X to do ‘this'” drum.

So far as I can tell, the only thing that most people have been saying about both iOS 8 and OS X 10.10 is that they’d really like the next versions to work better than the current versions. So maybe both will be stability and bug fix releases. However, given that they’re both going up against a huge release in Windows 10, it’s unlikely that that will happen.

While this may be seen as a good thing for Apple fans and users, in the end, it may not be. Adding new features on top of a release that isn’t as solid as it could be could be a big problem in the end. Unfortunately, as information is going to be lacking until at least after the WWDC Keynote, this is yet another wait and see item.

So as you can see… I’m stuck.

I’ve got more wait and see items than I do actual stuff to look at right now.

What are you most interested in seeing this year? Are you waiting for anything in particular? Did you order an Apple Watch? Will you get it before school starts in the States in the Fall? Did you order another wearable? Is there going to be high demand for iOS 9 or OS X 10.11? Do you think that Windows 10 will make a July release date, or will it be delayed until later?

Why don’t you join me in the discussion area, below, and give me your thoughts.

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Amazon Releases Prime Music

Amazon jumps into the streaming music business with the release of Prime Music.

Amazon Prime

The world of digital music is complicated.  With the RIAA still occasionally chasing after folks for illegally sharing copyrighted files, and artists complaining of poor pay-outs when it comes to pay to play rates on their songs that are actually streamed on the service in question, Amazon has decided to throw their hat in the ring and offer a streaming music service to its Prime members – Prime Music.

The service, which is free to Prime members (which costs $99 USD per year for Prime 2 day shipping, Prime Photos, Prime Instant Video, Prime Music and Kindle Lending Library)provides over 1 million songs instantly available for streaming, via the web, your iOS or Android tablet or smartphone, as well as clients for Mac and PC. The service is ad-free, and you can skip as many songs as you want, two huge plusses for Prime customers, as the service is funded by your annual Prime membership fee.

With Amazon’s Prime Service now offering these 5 distinct and different services (shipping, photos, video, music and Kindle Library), the value of the service has (at least potentially) increased. While most streaming music services cost $120 USD per year (or $10USD per month), Prime gives you all five services for $100 USD, a $20 savings. If you order ANYTHING from Amazon during the year you have the service, and you stream music on a regular basis, you’re going to benefit from the service.

I’m a prime member and I have used Prime Instant Video along with two day shipping for years.  I likely will not use Music, unless I’m connected to a Wi-Fi network, if at all.  Call me old school if you must, but I don’t like using ALL of my mobile bandwidth for streaming services. While I do have AT&T with Roll-Over data, I share the account with my wife and daughter, and we do not stream music at all. Most of the bandwidth we use is used for iPhone data or hot spot services. Until Wi-Fi is available everywhere (if it ever is), and mobile data is much cheaper than it is now, I’m not going to blow it all listening to music I likely already have in my iTunes Music Library…AND on my iPhone. It’s why I bought a 64GB iDevice, and why I sync my entire music collection to my iPhone (and by the way, I still have over 20GB of free space…).

While this may not make a lot of sense for me (except over Wi-Fi, and then maybe only at work, if I don’t get busted for using a streaming service there), it may be very compelling for others that are looking for a streaming service and who are already Prime members or are considering Amazon Prime.

Interested parties can checkout Amazon Prime for more information.

The email that I got announcing Prime Music can be seen below:

“As a Prime Member, you now get unlimited access to Prime Stations — an ad-free, internet radio service you can enjoy at no additional cost to your Prime membership.

With Prime Stations, you can find a genre or artist you like and hit play to hear a continuous stream of music that you can pause, replay, or skip as many times as you’d like. As you listen and give songs a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, each station will adapt to your music tastes.

Prime Members can stream Prime Stations and over a million songs for free with the Amazon Music App on iOS, Android, Kindle Fire HD/HDX, Mac, PC, and the web.”

 

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Yes, I got my Apple Watch Before it Sold Out

But it won’t ship on 2015-04-24…

w42ss-sbbk-selEarly adopters and tech journalists (which are usually one in the same thing, at least on my end) know the drill when it comes to ordering a brand new iDevice – you get up in the middle of the night, wearily shuffle your feet down the hallway, nearly tripping over socks, underwear (?!?) and a Tonka truck only to step on a lone Lego block hiding in some obscure location on the floor causing you to want to cry out and swear with every four-letter word known in your native language (but you don’t ’cause it’s the middle of the night, and you don’t want to wake anyone…). So… you hobble the rest of the way to the computer desk, with muffled words held back in your mouth and tears running down your cheeks

In my case, its 1:55am CDT; and orders for the new iDevice (in this case, the Apple Watch, but the same thing happened recently with the iPhone 6…) begin in six (6) minutes. By this time, however, I’ve got myself seated, wiped the tears from my eyes and have begun refreshing my browser that’s pointed to Apple’s Online Store, specifically at the Watch’s order page.

The site still shows that its down, and that’s ok, because officially, orders don’t start until 2:01am CDT. However, that time comes and goes with the site still showing that it’s updating. That’s when I really began to understand that there was a bigger demand for Watch than some – including me – had originally thought there would be.

Initially, everyone thought that the demand for watch would be high. However, since Apple Watch requires an iPhone 5 or later, many thought that it would be easy to get, including me.

Totally…TOTALLY not the case.

I got up in plenty of time, and I started refreshing my browser early enough in order to catch an available connection on the server when one opened up. The problem was that nearly everyone ELSE in the world was apparently doing the same thing.

I was able to order and reserve my Apple Watch Sport by 2:13am CDT; but I was shocked that my delivery time was pushed out 4 – 6 weeks (delivery will take place between 2015-05-13 and 2015-05-27.

Four to six weeks. FOUR TO SIX WEEKS!! REALLY??! OMG!

You know that means that the initial stock that Apple was able to secure for Launch sold out in less than twelve (12) minutes, right?

… In less than 12 minutes!

It also means that a great many people didn’t trust the whole, “reserve a time to try on and buy your Apple Watch” thing in order to make certain that they were able to actually secure a Watch. It also means that those that were able to actually get a Watch did exactly what Angela Ahrendts wanted them to do and bought Watch online as soon as orders for it opened up.

…OR

More stock of the device was actually allocated TO the brick and mortar stores offering Watch appointments than to the online store so that orders at try-on appointments could be fulfilled. It kinda makes me wonder how many devices were on hand and available to ship at both the online store.

However, I’m very lucky.

From what I’ve been able to see, if you didn’t get in and order one by 2:15am CDT, your order got pushed to a “June” delivery time. June. Inside of 15 minutes, your delivery date got pushed from 2014-04-24 to between 2015-05-13 to 27, to June (without any kind of date range). June..!

JUNE!

…and I got that delivery time frame at 2:15am CDT when I tried to see, just for grins and giggles, what the time would be pushed to for orders that got placed after mine. Delivery times have stayed at “June” since then, and are still listed as “June” as of this writing (11am CDT). It kind of makes me wonder if Apple did the same thing with Watch as Olio did with the initial manufacturing run of their Model One – create hype and a sense of increased value and desire due to rarity, as many devices aren’t available until 2-3 months after pre-orders open. However, I’m not sure that was an active strategy here for Apple. It happens a great deal with all of their latest, high-demand products like iPhone and iPad.

Apple Insider had the same thought, but quickly dismissed the idea. It is very “unApple-like.” However, when initial stock sells out in less than 5-10 minutes, you have to wonder if it might not be true. It does appear, however, that the supply chain for Watch is even more constrained than iPhone, which is really saying something.

I was hoping to have the review of Apple Watch available on Soft32 at least in part, during the month of April. Now it looks as though we’re going to have to wait until May or so for the unboxing. I’m a bit disappointed, too. I was really hoping not to have such a long period of time between the candidates in this round up.

Until then, keep checking back here. I will likely have a bit of news and other fun tidbits as we get ready for the arrival of Apple Watch (and a couple others…) in the next four to six weeks.

Did you order Apple Watch? If not, will you? Are you planning on it or waiting until either later this year; or will you wait until version 2.0 of Watch comes out (some time in the next year or so)? I’d love to hear your opinion and thoughts on the matter. Why don’t you join me in the discussion area below and let me know what you think?

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Olio – Did the Cat Finally Build a Smarter Mouse Trap?

Contestant number five has entered the ring…

olio

One of the bigger things to hit the market this year is wearables. Things like Microsoft Band (part two of the review can be seen here), the Fitbit Surge, the Apple Watch (review pending arrival of the hardware), Pebble Time and Time Steel are all wearables – specifically smartwatches – that will have been released or will be released later this year. As of the first of this month (yes, April 1st; but no, this isn’t a joke), a new player has thrown their hat into the ring – meet the Olio Model One.

The device…? Oh my stars and garters, yes! Have you seen this thing?!

The Model One is beautiful. It’s made of stainless steel and basically comes in two flavors – (brushed?) Stainless Steel and Black. And while it is DEFINITELY drool-worthy, it’s got a few hurdles to get past.

The device itself runs on a proprietary OS

According to Olio, people spend WAY too much time in their computers, in their smartphones and tablets and shortly, in their smartwatches… that are tethered and tied to their smartphones. Olio wants their users to think of the Model One as an extension of themselves and not something that drives them or makes them live in it. As such, there’s no app store to bury you in apps. You get what you’re given (at least initially).

While the device obtains connectivity via both Android and iOS wireless devices, there aren’t any apps for you to run on the watch other than the ones that come with the device. While it does have an “assistant” of sorts, called Olio Assist, providing time saving suggestions, the limited – but value-added – functionality of (just) what comes out of the box, is where Olio sees the Model One hitting the sweet spot. You don’t get lost or waste hours of time playing Flappy Bird (or one of its many device based, or online clones). Instead, you focus on the information you need and only the information you need, so you spend time instead to your family, friends and loved ones.

However, most of the world wants apps. Its why we buy smart devices, and without an app store or a market (more on that, below), you have to wonder what the draw will be? Yeah it looks GREAT; and people at Tech Crunch, The Verge, and Gizmodo, all think saving you from “notification hell” is the bomb; and maybe it is.

Maybe it is….

I know that it drove me a bit nuts with the Microsoft Band, and it didn’t work right on the Surge; but when things are configurable, as they are on Band (and are supposed to be on the Surge), then you have to think a bit more about the purchase. For example, there aren’t any apps or even an app store for Band, either… (and its $400 cheaper).

And by the way, there’s no fitness band functionality here that I can see. This is a smartwatch and not a smartwatch that also measures physical activity. It doesn’t have any activity sensors, a GPS, a accelerometer, or a gyroscope. The functionality appears limited at this time.

It’s Expensive
Yeah… let’s talk about that for a sec.

While Microsoft Band is clearly affordable at $199.99, the Olio Model One is $345 – $395 for the Steel flavor and $495 – $545 for the Black flavor as of this writing with the $250 “friends and family” discount that’s being extended to the public. Normally, we’re talking $595 – $645 for Steel and $745 – $795 for Black (which puts their metal link bracelets at around $50 bucks over their leather bands).

The Olio Model One runs in the same neighborhood as the Apple Watch and Apple Watch Sport. The pricing models may be very different, but their close enough to be similar. You can clearly get a decent and high end analog watch for about as much AND get the band you want, too.

The device has a stainless steel case and an ion exchange glass touch screen that is supposed to survive impacts and resist scratches. It has wireless charging with a battery that can last a full two days with full functionality and then an additional two days, if you turn off connectivity to its Bluetooth-LE radio. The Model One can communicate with both Siri and Google Now via Olio Assist; and can control third party smart devices like thermostats and lights. It’s also water resistant so you don’t have to worry about ruining it when you take a swim.

The Model One is clearly a premium product; and maybe all of this is worth the premium price to you. I’m skeptical at best, at least until I have it in my hands.

It’s got an Initial Production Run of Just 1000
The Model One is a limited edition device.

Other companies release things in “limited edition,” and then they really aren’t limited at all. Olio’s first run of the Model One is limited to 1000 units – Five hundred of each the Steel and Black flavors. According to Olio,

“We decided to do a very limited production for its first release because the company is committed to the quality and craftsmanship and wanted to make sure that every piece holds up the high standards of the company. Olio compares themselves to a craft brewery, and aren’t trying to be everything to everyone.”

Olio likens itself to a craft beer brewery. Brian Ruben from ReadWrite.com said it best, I think. “if I buy a six-pack of a craft brew and I don’t like what I drink, I’m not out $600. Plus, I don’t have to call tech support.”

While the limited run and the high price are, I think, partial marketing tools to help create hype (as well as tech coverage by a number of different outlets, including yours truly and Soft32, at the end of the day you have to wonder how viable a company with such a limited production run with such a high end product will be. Olio appears to be artificially creating a limited supply in order to make the device’s value appear higher. Things that are rare ARE considered more valuable.

Diamonds, like the Hope Diamond, with such a highly desired cut, level of clarity and precision cut ARE rare and ARE very valuable. Olio hopes that watch aficionados see the Model One in the same light and don’t ding it for its digital guts as they do with nearly every other smartwatch; and with nothing really to compare it to (the Apple Watch isn’t even available for pre-order as of this writing, and hasn’t hit the market with either a splash or a thud…), it’s hard to see how well or how poorly the Olio Model One will do.

Have you seen the Olio Model One? Does it interest you? Will you buy one? Stay tuned to Soft32 as 2015 truly does appear to be the Year of Wearables. I’ll have more coverage on devices as they are released or as they make news.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments and discussion area, below.

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FEATURE REVIEW – Fitbit Surge

The next item up for review in our smartwatch round-up is the Fitbit Surge. Let’s take a look…

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Introduction

My quest to stop being a fat slob continues.

What to do, how much of it to do and what else I need to do to keep myself healthy is a never ending battle… and its not easy. There are way too many different daily challenges that present themselves.  Am I moving enough?  Am I eating right?  Am I sleeping right? These questions are difficult to answer as it is, and Fitbit has been trying to help people answer it for more than a few years now.

Their latest foray into fitness band/ smartwatch arena is the Fitbit Surge. It has a few nice things to offer not only the fitness conscious, but the smartwatch curious as well; and in this article, we’ll be taking a look at its suitability in both arenas.

This is the second review in a series – or round up – of smartwatch reviews that I’m doing.  The first on the Microsoft Band was large and in depth enough for me to break it up into two parts. You can see them here and here.  Its good and certainly worthy of more than a casual look.

My review of the Fitbit Surge is likely going to be just as lengthy and just as in depth. I’m going to pick apart the hardware. I’m going to pick apart the software. Smartwatches aren’t cheap. The Microsoft Band is $199… IF you can find one to buy.  I’ll cover the cost of the Fitbit a bit later, but I will say that it isn’t cheap, either.

Is the Fitbit Surge the right smartwatch and fitness band for you? Let’s stop dawdling and get down to it!

Hardware

Like the Microsoft Band, the Fitbit Surge is a single piece of hardware.  It has a wide, silicone/ rubber band with a traditional, aluminum alloy buckle.  Its much easier to wear than the Microsoft Band, as there’s a great deal of give and flexibility in the Fitbit’s rubber band.  Aside from the same kind of issues that you might find in wearing any other sports watch, band or bracelet made of silicone or rubber – where you sweat a great deal and your skin may become irritated due to a lack of exposure to air – the Fitbit wears the way you would expect a sports watch to wear.  Honestly, I was very pleased with the way it felt while it was on. The only comfort issues I had were related to breathabiltity.

Wearability and Usability

I’ve been wearing the Fitbit Surge for quite some time now – well over six weeks.  The device is easy to wear and its very comfortable.  However, there are a few things about it that I am not too crazy about.  Part of that is esthetics, part of that is design and while the device is comfortable to wear, it does have Wearability issues.

 The first thing that I noticed about it is that its BIG, even the small sized Surge is big.  The device comes in 3 sizes, small, large and extra-large.  However, size doesn’t relate to device size, it relates to band length and the size wrists it fits. The device itself is 1.34″ wide (34mm) and the screen is 0.82″ x 0.96″ (21mm x 24mm).

 Here are the sizing requirements, direct from Fitbit:

    • Small fits wrists that are 5.5″ x 6.3″ (13.94cm x 16.00cm) in diameter.
    • Large fits wrists that are 6.3″ x 7.8″ (16.00cm x 19.81cm) in diameter.
  • X-Large fits wrists that are 7.8″ x 8.9″ (19.81cm x 220.61cm) in diameter.X-Large is available as an online only purchase.

There are a couple of gotchas here that you need to be aware of.  While they aren’t mission critical, they are important to be aware of so that you can deal with the issues they present.

  1. The wrist band is made of silicone or rubber
    Wearing a silicone band in and of itself isn’t bad, unless you’re allergic to the rubber.  Even if you aren’t allergic to it, you need to make certain you spend some time with the band off.  Silicone can often cause rashes and other skin irritation, and its important that you spend at least some inactive time during the day with the band off, especially if you start to notice any dry, red or flakey skin, or if you start to have some other sort of skin reaction to prolonged wear of the device.
  2. The device, though flexible is bulky
    While the band in and of itself is flexible, the actual Surge itself, is stiff and bulky. The Surge is much more comfortable to wear than the Microsoft Band but the actual electronics of the device go out a bit farther than you might think.  Its clear that Fitbit have created a device that’s very compact, but if you look at it from the side and feel around the ends of band near the actual device FOR the device, you’ll see that its actually a lot bigger than just the screen.

The device itself is, well… ugly.

I hate to say it, but it is.  It’s a lot bulkier than it first appears or seems and its one piece construction means that you don’t have any kind of style choices with it.  Other Fitbit devices like the Apple Watch and even the Fitbit Flex have interchangeable bands. The Surge is a single piece unit, and… right now… you can have ANY color you want… as long as its black.  It’s the only color currently available.  The Surge is supposed to be available in blue and tangerine, but as of this writing, both are currently – still – unavailable. I’ve had my Surge for about two months or so. It was announced at CES and black was the only color available then.  You would think by now – or at least, I did – that the other two colors – which, quite honestly, aren’t all that attractive either – would be available by now.

However, don’t expect to be able to change bands. Unlike the Apple Watch or even the Fitbit Flex, this is an all in one unit, and you’d better be happy with the color choice(s) you make. Once you buy the device, its yours to keep; and there’s no way to change colors or change bands. What you buy is all that you get.

Notifications

If the Microsoft Band got notifications right, the Fitbit Surge doesn’t even come close.  On the Band, it was very easy to overdo notifications, as you could choose to have ALL of your notifications from your phone come over to Band, or you could choose specific ones that it does and keep the vibrations down to a dull roar.

With the Fitbit Surge, its exactly the opposite. You have just a single on-off setting for notifications on the device and then you get only notification of incoming text messages or incoming phone calls.

That’s it.

That can be good or bad, depending on what you’re looking for Surge to do.  If all you’re looking for is basic notifications from incoming messaging, you may be in luck.  As I said, the only notifications that the Fitbit Surge picks up are text messages and incoming phone calls.  If you’re looking to get notifications from upcoming appointments, Facebook Messenger or some other app on your phone, you’re out of luck.

The other big problem I have with notifications on the Fitbit Surge, is that the device doesn’t seem to understand or know when I don’t want them, or want them to stop.  I had notifications turned on for a while on the Fitbit, but have recently turned them off, as I didn’t need BOTH it AND the Microsoft Band buzzing my wrists every time my iPhone received a message, a phone call, or some other event occurred.

So, as I said, I turned notifications off on both bands.  Interestingly enough, Notifications on the Surge are still occasionally received, even though they are clearly turned off on the watch. I have no idea why. This is clearly a huge bug, as there shouldn’t be any notifications coming over at all.

However it clearly shows that the device’s software is capturing the notification and broadcasting the data. It clearly shows that the watch is receiving it through the Bluetooth partnership created on the device, even though its not supposed to be collecting ANY data at all. I’m seeing issues on both ends of the pairing; and its problematic at best. The fix for this – and it definitely needs to be addressed – will likely involve both a software update on your smartphone as well as a firmware update to the device.

UPDATE – The more that I wear the Fitbit Surge, the more I continue to have issues and problems with Notifications coming to it when they are clearly turned off on the device.  While the device does not alert that any text messages have come it, they are clearly coming across and they should not.

Period.

This is an issue that needs to be resolved immediately.

Battery Life

Battery life on the Fitbit Surge is actually pretty good. Compared to the Micrsoft Band, though, nearly ANYTHING would have better battery life… Well, not everything… the Apple Watch won’t last longer than 18 hours. The Micrsoft Band lasts 36 to 48 hours (even if you have Bluetooth turned off and sync via the USB cable).

The Fitbit Surge on the other hand, will last the better part of a week, even with all of the stuff that it does and all of the activities it tracks. Since the Surge tracks nearly everything you do, including sleep, the best thing to do when you do have to charge it is to charge it when you know you’re going to be inactive, or when you can’t wear it.  Swimming and showering come to mind as good candidate times when you might want to charge your Surge.  While the device is DEFINITELY water resistant, I wouldn’t hold it under water for long periods of time. Its not a perfect world, and my luck would have it getting water damage.

The biggest problem that I’ve found with the Surge is that it doesn’t give you a lot of warning when the battery is low, and you might find yourself out and about when you DO get a low battery warning. I’ve actually had mine die on me a time or two because I didn’t get an early enough warning that the battery was level was low.

Connectivity

The Fitbit Surge uses Bluetooth 4.0 to connect to your smartphone. I’ve found that while there are there are issues with this on other devices, the Surge specifically doesn’t use Bluetooth LE. I’m not certain if that’s why there are less connectivity issues with it as opposed to the Pebble Steel and Microsoft Band that I currently own.  Perhaps it is, and points to some larger issues with BT-LE devices.

What I can say about the Fitbit Surge is that while its connection to my iPhone 6 is much more stable, it isn’t as reactive or responsive as other devices are.  When implemented correctly, BT-LE devices tend to see their paired counterparts better and will actively connect when in range (though there’s even issues with this, as you can see in my article), as opposed to devices that do not pair with a BT-LE profile.

While I have less connectivity issues with my Surge, and while the battery life is decent even with its Bluetooth radio on all the time, I have found that data doesn’t come across the pairing unless the application is open and active. This means that I need to be actively using the app for the sync to work and pull data over.  Leaving it run in the background doesn’t do much… at least not consistently. I see this more as a Bluetooth issue rather than an issue with the Surge.

When you pair your Fitbit Surge with your smartphone, you’re going to see two connection partnerships – one for the Surge and one for Surge (Classic). The connection for the Surge is the one that you’d expect to see, and the one that is responsible for all of the connectivity and communication between the device and your smartphone.  If you want to use your Surge to control music playback, you need to enable Bluetooth Classic in the Settings app on the watch. After your Surge and your smartphone are paired, you can use it to control music playback.

To do so, open up a music app on your smartphone.  Then, double tap the home (left side) button on the Surge.  This will bring up the music control app on its display.  You will see your Surge attempting to connect via the (Classic) pairing, and then the current song’s meta data should appear on the watch face’s display.  You can pause the current song’s playback or skip to the next track. Unfortunately, not all music apps broadcast track information, which means that when using apps that don’t do that, the song title won’t appear on your Surge. However, you can still pause or skip to the next track.

I can see where this might be a great tool for someone who is exercising to NOT have to pull out their phone to control their playlist. Depending on where you have your phone stashed (not everyone fancies or trusts an armband case…), you may have to break your stride or stop exercising all together to retrieve and return your phone to its original place of storage.

However, I’ve tried this, and while its easier than pulling a phone from a shirt or pants pocket while running or walking, it isn’t totally a walk in the park, either. You’re going to need to get used to the interface and controls. You can pause, play, and skip songs. You’re going to have to pull your phone out if you’ want to repeat or replay any tracks or if you want to change playlists, midflight.

If you wear glasses for reading, you may have issues reading the audio file’s metadata, provided that your music app of choice transmits that information, on the Surge’s screen. While this isn’t a deal breaker, you do need to be aware of its limitations. Its hard to handle all of the varied functionality with only three buttons; AND to do it while you’re moving, too.

UPDATE – While writing this review of the Fitbit Surge, I’ve had it synching to my iPhone. Over the past few weeks, I’ve started to notice a few issues with Bluetooth connectivity between them both. They always seemed to work and play well together.

Right now, they are not; and NOTHING has changed on either end to warrant the issue in their pairing.  They just seem to not be looking at each other right now unless I absolutely tell them to get together. This is problematic at best, as when I started my Fitbit Surge journey, getting these two together was the easiest paring I’ve ever seen.  It just worked… straight out of the box.  Now, its like they love each other, but their not “in” love.

 Really..?

This is yet another reason why I think that while Bluetooth offers a LOT of potential, it has REAL issues as a data communications and transmission technology and conduit.

Software and Interfaces

I’ll get into Fitbit’s smartphone software in a minute, but I have to say something here, that’s bothered me since I started wearing the Surge – The information that it tracks and collects isn’t stored in Apple Health. Its stored in Fitbit’s proprietary program.  The app doesn’t share or swap data with Apple Health, and it really seems like it should. Some of what it does can’t be done in Apple Health, and that’s fine, but there really should be a way to have data from your iPhone and the data from you’re the Surge work and play well together, especially where Fitbit falls short.

Next Page

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The Reason Why I Drink, Or Why Documentation Is So Important

I’ve had a really bad couple of weeks…

So… gratuitous resume rewind – 25 years of QA experience… CHECK! On every, formal, Technical Windows Beta Team between Windows 95 and Windows XP and beta tested ALL versions of Windows between Windows 95 and Windows 10… CHECK! 20 years of experience as a technology journalist… CHECK!

Whoosh! Ok… I feel a LOT better. For a moment there, I thought I turned into an idiot.

Over the past three to four weeks, I’ve been having a great deal of trouble with my Surface Pro 3. I got the device in December and have had it warranty replaced once and swapped out to a NEW unit once. My original unit bricked when I tried to refresh it from Windows 10 Build 9926 to a clean install. I found out the hard way that installing Build 9879 blew the Windows 8.1 recovery partition and replaced it with a Windows 10 Build 9879 partition. Upgrading from Build 9879 to Build 9926 did NOT update the recovery partition, so the device choked upon refresh.

One appointment to the Microsoft Store’s Answer Desk had it restored to Windows 8.1; but then when it tried to setup Windows 8.1, the device froze during setup and was not recoverable. Hence warranty replacement number one.

A week so after that, I’m back at the SAME Microsoft Store, wanting to put Windows 10 back on my i3-based Surface Pro 3; and I’m having a problem creating a Windows 8.1 bootable, USB Recovery Drive. The process involves using the internal Recovery tool to create the drive. You’ll need the following:

1. An 8GB or larger USB Stick
2. A working Windows 8.1 PC with an whole and undamaged Recovery Partition on the internal SSD
3. About 30 minutes of free time

The full process can be found here. It’s easy to do, and anyone who can use Windows 8.1 (meaning EVERYONE) can complete the process. It’s really super easy…

However… please don’t think that you’re going to be able to actually USE that USB Recovery Image for anything, especially if you have a Surface Pro 3, and ESPECIALLY after the 2015-03-26 Firmware Update. The status quo has changed…but just slightly.

Before the firmware update, I could boot from just about any external, bootable image – from one on a USB stick to a bootable DVD on my USB-based BDVD-RW drive. It just didn’t matter. If it was a bootable image and Windows could read the image and the media, it all worked.

Then the firmware update hit, and it all went south.

I don’t have confirmation from anyone on this at Microsoft, but the latest firmware update modified the way Surface Pro 3 can boot. Now, you don’t need to hold Power+Volume Down to get the device to boot from USB. Now, you can set boot order preferences in UEFI, and the device will boot from the first device in that chain with a bootable image. So if you want to have your SURFACE PRO 3 boot from

Network–>USB–>SSD

Or

USB–>SSD

Or any other potential, hard coded methods, the device will just do that. You don’t need to hold the buttons down any longer and hope that you’ve let them go at the right point, so you don’t have to repeat the process. It makes life, much easier.

However, Microsoft fails to note a couple of very important items in any of the documentation – if you can find it – related to the firmware update or the process for making a recovery image. The USB stick you use must have a GPT partition table.

Say what??

Yeah… a GUID Partition Table.

Mac users will recognize this. This is the partition table scheme that Macs have been using for years. PC’s have been using MBR or Master Boot Record partition tables since the dark days (…before the empire…) of DOS 1.0. However, that was when all PC’s were using BIOS and not UEFI. UEFI will use MBR formatted disks, but they’re much happier with GPT formatted disks.

UEFI

And that’s NOWHERE to be found in the instructions here or here.

That second set is a better recovery image creating process than the first set of instructions. All you have to do is format a USB stick with FAT32, download a zip file, unzip it and copy the contents of the ZIP to the USB stick and you’re in business.

The problem is that the instructions fail to inform you that you have to format the stick with GPT. Which, BTW, Windows will NOT do by default… AND there’s no way that I know of to get any GUI element in ANY Windows to do that, either.

However, you CAN do it with a third party tool called Rufus.

The tool is small, simple and easy to use, and you can use it to do a couple of different things
1. Use it to format a USB stick with the proper partition type, file system and cluster size
2. Use it to create a bootable USB stick from just about any ISO you can get your hands on.

With Rufus, I was able to create a bootable, USB Windows 8.1 Recovery Drive with the downloadable recovery image you can get here. The most important thing you need to know about this process – which, by the way, isn’t documented anywhere – is that in order to create a bootable Recovery Drive for Windows 8.1 AFTER the firmware update from 2015-03-26, you again, must format the USB stick with the following parameters:

Partition scheme and target system type – GPT partition scheme for UEFI computer
File system – FAT32 (Default)
Cluster size – 4096 bytes (Default)

There are a couple of things you need to be aware of:

1. Anything that is on the USB stick will be destroyed when you click Rufus’ Start button. Back it up or copy it off before beginning the process.
2. Microsoft recommends you use a 16GB USB stick for this process, though I’ve been able to demonstrate that an 8GB stick will work.
3. Some partition types and file systems don’t work together. Rufus will tell you which ones don’t work and play well with others when you try to use them together.
4. If you want to create a bootable USB stick for, say, a Windows 10 install, you can specify an ISO image to use.
5. That ISO image will likely have file system requirements that you may have to adhere to. Again, Rufus will tell you when your choices and the file system on the ISO don’t match up.

This app saved my bacon AND my sanity.

I have been working a support thread with Barb Bowman most of the day today, and without her help and DIRECT intervention; I would not have been able to resolve this problem. I would have created yet ANOTHER Microsoft Answer Desk appointment and they likely would have swapped out my SURFACE PRO 3 i5 for another unit, suspecting it to be defective.

Now… the big problems I have will be moving this device over to Windows 10. There are a couple of new issues with that, given that I want to run the Enterprise version of Windows 10 and not the Professional (consumer-based) version.

1. The Enterprise download for Windows 10 is still Build 9926. Currently, Microsoft has us on Build 10049 in the Fast Ring.
2. I don’t want to have to install/ download a version of Windows 10 that’s three versions back.
3. The file system in the Windows 10 Build of 10041 (the last Build released to the Slow Ring and the last official, released ISO) is formatted with an NTFS file system, and Rufus won’t let me create a GPT based partition table with an NTFS formatted ISO. They don’t work and play well together.

This still leaves me with a problem of creating a bootable Windows 10 drive so that I can install Windows 10 Build 10041 on the new Surface Pro 3. From there, I can use Windows Update to upgrade to Build 10049, which includes the new Spartan Browser.

But that’s been my life over the past few weeks. I’ve been banging my head up against this SP3/ Windows 8.1 Recovery Drive issue so I can figure out a way of getting BACK to Windows 10 so I can continue my coverage of the OS on Soft32. As a result of this problem, I may have left my OneNote Disappearing Ink problem in the dust, but I’m without a way to actively test current builds of Windows 10 as I sold my Surface Pro 1 to Gazelle.

The biggest problem here is the total and COMPLETE LACK of documentation. I’m a software quality professional. I TRIED to find information on the issue. I had to start a support thread with Microsoft to get any resolution to this issue. If Microsoft had included this information as part of their instructions for creating a bootable recovery drive, AND if they had their Windows 8.x recovery tool automatically format the USB stick with a GPT partition table and as FAT32 as part of the process that creates the Recovery Drive, this wouldn’t be a problem at all.

Do you have a SP3? Have you had issues booting to a USB drive since the application of the 2015-03-26 Firmware Update? Did you know about Rufus; or about needing to format ANY bootable USB stick to use a GPT partition table? I’d love to hear about your recent experiences with this issue, if you’ve had them. Why don’t you join me in the Discussion Area below, and give me your thoughts?

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DJ Mixer Express for Mac

Mix your own music with professional results with this really cool Mac app.

downloadMusic is a huge part of my life. I’ve done studio work. I’ve recorded three albums of material, NONE of which are available anywhere…thank God; and I currently sing in Church as part of its Praise and Worship Team. When I do listen to music though, some of my creative juices start to flow; and you start to hear things in the music that may or may not be there, but could be if only… If only… and that’s why I like DJ Mixer Express for Mac. Its one of the best apps I know of to help you mix down tracks.

DJ Mixer Express is affordable and easy-to-use DJ software. It helps you create your own custom DJ-style music. The applications features include Dual player decks, automatic mixing, automatic BPM detection, automatic tempo control and one-click instant beat-matching synchronization. It has crossfading, seamless looping, automatic-gain, master-tempo, vinyl simulation, multiple effects and support mix your music from iTunes. Once you find your “inner voice,” you can easily express it by applying any one of a number of audio effects.

The app can record your mixes to WAV/AIFF formats and when you’re done, you can burn them to CDs. With DJ Mixer Express, you can mix your music files with professional precision. Most anyone can mix their music with the app’s simple interface in just minutes. DJ Mixer Express for Mac is simple enough for the beginners, but is professional-level software used by 1000’s of DJs in some of the most influential venues worldwide. Whether your songs come from iTunes or from your hard drive, all you need to do is drag and drop files onto the mixing deck or into the playlist; and you’re ready to go!

DJE-01

Whether you are an aspiring DJ or an already experienced DJ, you will find that DJ Mixer Express, lets you do mixes in a way you never experienced before. You can easily complete AutoMix. Its automatic beat & tempo detection allows you to easily match the playback speed of two songs for a perfect transition. automatic beat-matched crossfading, automatic pitch matching, seamless looping, automatic BPM counter, key lock (master-tempo), multiple effects and many other features are all possible with DJ Mixer Express.

The one thing that you really need to have access to, however, is the right kind of music for this kind of application. You also have to have an ear for how two disparant or similar songs can fit together. That more than anything else is perhaps the wild card here.

The software…yeah, its awesome and easy to use. However, you have to have the ear for the beats, you have to feel the rhythm. This is perhaps the most difficult part and one that may take you a few tries to get right. However, you WILL have an awesome time pairing songs in your library together, seeing if they fit, playing with the effects, etc.

download DJ Mixer Express for Mac

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