FEATURE REVIEW: Microsoft Band – Part 2

Introduction

In part one of this first entry into a much larger series, I talked about Microsoft Band and the hardware that it uses to track your physical activity. In part two of this first leg, I’ll deal with the software, the additional issues and problems I’ve encountered while using it, and then I’ll wrap everything up.

Software and Interfaces

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I’ll get into Microsoft Health in a minute, but I have to say something here, that’s bothered me since I started wearing Band – The information that it tracks and collects isn’t stored in Apple Health. Its stored in Microsoft’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 your Band work and play well together, especially where Microsoft Health falls short – like on climbing stairs.

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Microsoft Health tracks the steps you take.

Exercise and Run/Walk Tracking
Unfortunately for me – and I say unfortunately, because I’ve got moderate to severe asthma and COPD – running for recreation isn’t an option any longer. I ran cross country in high school; but running isn’t too much of an option any more. Walking is ok, but I have to watch distance and exertion levels. The last thing I need to do to myself is work it too hard and then have an asthma attack. Those can get bad…

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That being said, this is a difficult section for me to write. I’m gaining weight, so obviously I need to move more and eat less, but finding an exercise program that will raise cardio up to a good level without sending me to the ER is an issue. Walking is best, and walking with a purpose has always been my style anyway. I have a long stride and a pretty quick pace, which, for a guy with rheumatoid arthritis on top of it all, is pretty good. As I said in the Hardware section, above, I can do elliptical workouts, but I really have to watch…
Now… how does Band help in my particular situation? It needs to keep me moving. Tim Cook said recently that sitting is the new cancer; and he’s likely right.

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Over time, you see how much you’re moving…or how much more you need to move.

With Microsoft Band, in order to track exercise and workouts – which is a key, core function of the device – you have to tell it that you want to start that type of tracking. Turn the device on, scroll over to either the Run or Exercise tile and tap it. Press the Action button (the one under the flashing down arrow on the bottom right corner of Band’s screen) and Band will begin tracking the workout. When you’re done, like you do with Sleep, you have to tell Band you’re done, so, turn it on again and hit the Action button. Band will ask you if you want to stop. Tap the Yes button on the screen, and Band will display a summary of the workout.

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FEATURE REVIEW: Microsoft Band – Part 1

 

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Introduction

When I was a kid, I was always skinny. When I was a young, married adult, I was always skinny. In fact, I was 135 pounds (61.24 kilos) until I was about 35. I was skinny my entire life until we moved from Chicago to Nashville in 2000 where I had a group of kind hearted, good natured rednecks introduce me to the REAL meaning of fried chicken and biscuits and gravy.

Now, I’m a fat slob. I should never have learned the recipe.

My weight jumped from 135 pounds to about 170 pounds (77.11 kilos). After I turned 40, I began fluctuating between 170 and 180 pounds (81.65 kilos). Now that I’m nearly 50 (Lord, that seems so OLD!), I’m weighing in at a hefty 191 pounds (86.64 kilos); and I lost my feet. I think they’re still attached and below me because I haven’t fallen down yet.

My wife has been wanting to lose some medically added weight for a number of years and I’m finally ready to get rid of the inner tube around my waist, so for Christmas in 2014, I purchased both of us a Microsoft Band at a local brick and mortar location near the office.

Microsoft’s first entry into the wearables market is a smartwatch and fitness band unremarkably named, Microsoft Band. Microsoft Band is really the FIRST commercially available, actual and totally genuine, platform independent Smartwatch available on the market today; and it’s all about the quantitative self – the end user’s need/ want/ desire to learn more about how much calories they’re burning, how far they’ve walked or run on a given day, what their active and resting heartbeats are like, etc.

This review is part one of a four part series. I’m reviewing the Microsoft Band, the Fitbit Surge and the Apple Watch (when its released, currently expected in April of 2015). The last part will be a round-up based article where I will try to compare and contrast the good and the bad of all three to help everyone pick the device that’s the best for them.

For now, let’s sit down (or, perhaps a more appropriate colloquialism would be, “let’s get up and jump around”) and really take a look at how the Microsoft Band works (or doesn’t).

Hardware

Microsoft Band is an interesting accessory. The design is a bit on the rigid side, however…and there are some strange and curious design decisions that were made, that are clearly evident, as you become more and more familiar with the device.

For example – the device isn’t water proof or even water resistant. That last one really is confusing. Depending on how hydrated you are, or like to be during a workout, you can sweat. Not to be gross or anything, but I’ve been in karate classes where I’ve soaked a gi. I’ve done walk or elliptical workouts where I’ve been equally as sweaty; and I’m certain I’m not alone.

Microsoft Band may be encased in rubber and plastic; but there are many seams in the device where it’s easy for water to get in. I do not understand why Microsoft would make and market a device that’s meant to get somewhat wet (with sweat at least) and not make it water resistant at least. Microsoft says Band is “splash resistant” meaning that if you accidentally splash water on it, it’s likely to survive, but you’re going to want to wipe it up right away.

However, you should not swim, shower or do any other kind of activity (like run any kind of marathon or other activity where you’re going to potentially pour water on yourself or get wet) while wearing Band. You’ll ruin it.

Totally the most stupid design decision I’ve heard or seen on an exercise and activity band… Why in the WORLD is this thing not water resistant at least?! I can understand the issue of being water proof… they may have issues with the heart rate sensor and such; but if Band has issues with excessive amounts of sweat and other moisture, how useful is the device going to be, REALLY?? This is a huge hole that really needs to get resolved in future hardware updates of Band.

Wearability and Usability

Microsoft Band is VERY bulky. Aside from the lack of water resistance, this is probably the device’s biggest issue and problem. As you can see from some of the graphics and photographs of the device, its thick, its bulky and very inflexible.

I’ve been wearing the device daily since Christmas Day 2014, as of this writing. There have been times when Band has loosened on my wrist, and has turned at an awkward angle. Due to its rigidity, its pressed against my wrist bones and can be very painful to wear.

I’ve also heard people say that it’s very difficult to sleep with because it’s so bulky. This hasn’t been my experience. The only problem that I’ve had sleeping with the device is when I forget to turn sleep monitoring on. I have the device in Watch Mode (it displays the date and time in a dim, white font when Watch Mode is turned on), and the screen never turns off when it’s in Watch Mode. While the full graphic and color screen isn’t active unless the device is actually “on,” Watch Mode is none-the-less, very bright at 2:37am, and has woken both me and my wife up from a sound sleep because its shining in our eyes. Obviously, during the day, and in bright sunlight, the Band’s Watch Mode isn’t very bright at all, and is in some cases, difficult to read, but in a dark theatre or other dimly lit area, it can be brighter than you think. If you’re using Watch Mode, as I am, and NOT using the sleep functions, you’re likely going to want to remove Band and charge it overnight. As I said, even its dim, Watch Mode, the display is VERY bright in a dark room.

Notifications

Microsoft Band does notifications rather well. The only other smartwatch that I’ve seen so far that does them as well or better is my Pebble Steel; and that’s feeling very, VERY tired and old (and it’s not even a year old yet). That’s both good and bad for Pebble, as they seem to understand what Notifications can and should do on a smartwatch (dismissing also deletes, and you can send a call to VM, directly from the watch). It’s bad because some of this really shouldn’t be old and long in the tooth at just shy of a year old, but that’s technology and Moore’s Law for you…

However, with the Microsoft Health software on your smartphone, you can configure Microsoft Band to send over every single notification that hits your phone (via Band’s Notification Center widget), or you can choose any number of predefined notifications, for example – Facebook, Mail, Calendar, phone calls, etc.

If you enable Band’s Notification Center, then don’t have it send over notifications for any of the other specific tiles like Messaging, Mail, Calendar, etc. You’re just going to get duplicate notifications that you’ll either need to clear or allow to expire when they hit your Band. The only thing about this is that Notification Center then becomes a huge dumping ground for duplicate notifications, and going through more than a handful at a time is messy.

The big problem with notifications on Microsoft Band is that even if you dismiss them when they pop up on Band, they don’t dismiss from your smartphone; and they also never leave your band, either. You can dismiss the notification, but there’s no real way of deleting a notification from Band, that I can find at least.

I’m hoping this is simply a work in progress and that Microsoft will soon have a software update for Band that will resolve some of this. Notifications can be really cool, but the hodge-podge of a mess that you have in Notification Center really needs to be addressed (the simple fix is that if you have both Notification Center and any of the other app/ notification specific tiles turned on, they don’t show up in Notification Center; but that’s just a start…)

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iCloud and iCloud Drive Could Be Awesome!

If Apple gave the storage space away…

icloud-apple-logoI’ve recently been mucking around with my Mac and iCloud Drive and have come to a very logical conclusion – iCloud and iCloud Drive could be the service that corners the consumer cloud service market…but only if it gives the storage space away.

I’ve been using cloud storage services for a number of years. A few years ago, I wrote an article that was posted on Information Week; but has since been outdated and the post removed. I recreated it on my blog, iTechGear; and you can see all of the original post, here. Cloud-based storage was big in 2011. Its big now.

Dropbox still only offers you 2GB of free storage (don’t get me started on how far behind the times, that amount is…). However, if you want to upgrade to a full terabyte of storage, you can do that for $10 bucks a month. Google Drive offers a similar plan. Microsoft OneDrive offers unlimited storage to anyone with an Office 365 subscription.

That’s all well and good, but it isn’t as elegant and as integrated a solution as Apple’s iCloud. Their solution is integrated into the OS . Its integrated into all of their computers and devices; and… it totally blows, because it’s totally too expensive.

Here’s what’s killing me about it all…

Default Storage Size

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Only 5GB..? REALLY?! What, is this 2010, still?

Look, if you’re going to charge people for storage, then you have to do better than just 5GB as a starting point. The entire world seems to be moving people to a cloud based storage model. There are a number of different cloud storage options still around today, and when you only offer 5GB to start me off, then you are really looking for me to find someplace else to keep my stuff. When I have a 64GB iPhone, thinking that 5GB of free storage is going to be enough for me to back up a device, isn’t silly… its verging on stupid. There is NO WAY that 5GB is going to be enough, and Apple wants to charge a bit for its larger storage options.

While the next tier up is 20GB for only $0.99 per month (not bad for a paid tier; but still not enough when you have a 64GB, with you all the time, digital camera and internet communications device). Apple’s next paid step is 200GB for $10 per month. That same $10 per month can buy you 1TB of storage from Google Drive and UNLIMITED storage from Microsoft (and includes a “free” Office 365 subscription).

Fellow iBlogger Jonny Evans asks a GREAT question (and I’m paraphrasing, here…) – why doesn’t Apple give you at least 5GB of storage with every iDevice you buy and register with Apple and your iCloud account? It’s a GREAT question; but hold that thought for a moment…

Photos – You’re going to Break the iCloud Drive Bank
iphotoiconApple currently has OS X 10.10.3 in beta right now. That beta release has a beta version of Apple’s new iPhoto and Aperture replacement – Photos. The app uses iCloud and iCloud Drive to store photos by default. When you do that… and if you’ve got a large photo library, you’re going to max out your storage allotment before you can blink.

I think Apple is going to have a HUGE problem with the implementation and release of Photos to the general public. While most of what they sell are considered premium products, the entire world is working overtime to support the purchase of an iPhone and MacBook/iPad combination. Photos is a prime editing candidate for these folks, but without enough online storage, the whole effort is going to be a bust with each endpoint implementation.

That’s fancy IT talk for, “your average user won’t be able to make proper use of the app because they won’t have enough online storage.”

Money to Burn
Now, let’s get back to that Jonny Evans question… And, let’s face it – Apple has money to burn. They have over $173B USD in liquid cash as of this writing, and could perhaps buy most of Greece with that amount of cash (though, not all of it…they’d need at least $200B USD more…). With money on THAT scale, I am left wondering why they are charging their customers – owners of MacBooks, iPads, iPhones, iPods, etc. – any kind of fee AT ALL for iCloud or iCloud Drive storage.

I know that all iTunes purchases are automatically stored in iCloud; and that that storage is unlimited. You can pull content down or stream content to your iDevice any time you want; but if I had a dollar for every time my wife’s iPhone told me that it couldn’t back up the contents of the device automatically to iCloud because her account didn’t have enough storage, I’d be rich myself.

But, isn’t this the right thing to do? Giving away iCloud storage, I mean….

I mean, I know Apple’s products are enticing. As I said, nearly the entire world is trying to figure out how to score enough cash to purchase the iDevice of their choice; but wouldn’t free, unlimited cloud-based storage be exactly what the organization needs to provide to make them the slam-dunk, no brainer choice for everyone and for everything you do with a computer?

I know I’d be much more inclined to choose an Apple based solution if I was in the market for a computer, tablet or smartphone, if I knew that the purchase also got me access to unlimited, free cloud-based storage. Wouldn’t you..??

That’s the computing age I want to play in. That’s the kind of, “we’ve got money to burn, so let’s do something that benefits not only our shareholders, but all of our users as well,” action that gets you written down in the history books…and it would make iCloud and iCloud Drive a slam dunk, absolute no-brainer for absolutely everything you did online…and the simple thought of Apple doing this should make companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft quake in their boots.

What do you think?

Am I on the right track here? Is this a good idea or a bad idea? Would it create any anti-trust issues for Apple? If you weren’t an Apple user, would you want to switch to an Apple product to get access to unlimited cloud storage? Why don’t you chime in, in the discussion area below and let me know what you think? If you have a different or better idea, I’d love to hear about it!

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Keep your computer malware free with Avira Free Antivirus

Keep your computer malware free with this platform independent scanning utility.

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Keeping your PC free of malware – either a virus or something that invades your privacy and steals your personal information – is a difficult job. The amount of malware on the internet today is staggering. Its difficult to go anywhere or do anything without putting you, your information and your bank and credit accounts at risk. This is one of the reasons why I really suggest using some kind of malware scanner with your computer.  Its becoming a must have; and applications like Avira Free Antivirus are a good candidate for bringing safety and reliability to your computing experience.

Avira Free Antivirus offers effective protection against computer viruses on a single PC or Mac workstation. The app detects and removes more than 50,000 viruses.  An Internet-Update Wizard updates both app and virus definitions. Avira’s built in resident Virus Guard monitors file movements automatically, for example, when downloading content from the internet. Heuristic scanning also provides Protection against previously unknown macro viruses.

Avira Free Antivirus runs silently in the background while stopping Internet attacks before they infect your computer. Its lightweight footprint means you’ll never have to choose between security and performance.  The app analyzes any file the system accesses and is completely configurable for on-demand searches for known viruses and malware when you suspect something isn’t quite right.

When the app does find something that it doesn’t like, the file is immediately quarantined, and offers you one-click repairs, if possible.  Avira Antivirus also has an integrated scheduler that will automate recurring tasks, like updates or scans to help insure that your computer stays bug free.

I’ve been a serious computer user since 1995. Throughout the years, I’ve had maybe, one or two serious malware infections.  I mean, who hasn’t been bitten at least once?  Most often the best course of action is to recover what you can and then blow your system and start over.  That… however can be problematic for many. Not everyone has the time, patience or skill to do that all the time.

When you don’t, its good to have tools like Avira Antivirus.  I use both Mac and Windows systems for both my day job and my night job.  Its nice to have the same branded solution on both of the platforms that I use. That’s a huge plus.  The biggest issue that you have though is cost.

On the Mac side, where there really isn’t an AV scanner at the OS level, having something on your Mac is a great idea, and important if you frequent sites that are less than on the up and up.  On the Windows side, its getting harder and harder to justify any other malware scanner other than Windows Defender, as it is free, and integrated directly into the OS.  There has been a huge push on both platforms towards unpaid malware solutions since 2009 or so.

This app is great on the Mac side and good on the Windows side as well.  Paying for the app on either platform is a bit pricey.  At €30 or $34 USD, its pricey for a paid desktop app. However, the biggest question you have ask yourself is – if I don’t have an antimalware app, is running without one worth saving $35 bucks?  The answer should be, “no;” but only you can answer that. The free version does a good job, and is worth using.

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Create cool collages and digital scrapbooks with Picture Collage Maker

Create cool collages and digital scrapbooks with this cool Mac tool.

picturecollagemaker-iconOver the past couple of years or so I’ve gained not only a son-in-law, but a granddaughter as well. As each major life event has occurred, I’ve been there…with my DSLR… to capture the moments. This creates a great deal of volume in your photo library. The biggest problem that I have is that I never really get to do much with the photos after retouching and posting to a social network site, that’s about it. Which is why I really like Picture Collage Maker when it comes to making something a bit special with the special images I have.

Picture Collage Maker is a fun and easy desktop app that helps you create photo collages and scrapbooks from your digital photos to share with friends and family. With just a few clicks, you can create posters, invitations, calendars, and greeting cards plus a number of other cool pieces of collateral. Whether you’re into digital photography, scrapbooking or some other cool hobby that involves pictures, Picture Collage Maker can help you transform your priceless pictures into precious memories.

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The app has over 140 professional templates. If that isn’t enough for you, you can download another 130+ extra templates in the Store for free. PCM’s templates cover all categories of greeting cards, scrapbooks, photo albums, calendars, disk covers, comic collages, posters and magazine covers, etc. The app incorporates themes for various occasions and holidays – Travelling, Birthday, Wedding, Family Tree, Yearbook, Anniversary, Christmas, etc. It also has over 180 different backgrounds, over 730 pieces of clipart, and more than 140 frames, and 80 different masks.

  • Export and Share Your Photo Collage Anywhere
  • Save collage as image formats – JPG, TIFF, BMP, PNG, GIF, PSD.
  • Save collage as PDF file.
  • Export collage to iPhoto directly.
  • Set collage as desktop wallpaper.
  • Share collage via Facebook and E-mail. For Mac OS X 10.8 or later, you can also directly share the collage to Message, AirDrop, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr within Picture Collage Maker.
  • Print collage directly.

Picture Collage Maker is an app that anyone and everyone can enjoy. You’re limited only by your own creativity and cache of digital photos. One of the great things about scrapbooking is that you create each page separately, by hand to fulfill or satisfy a specific theme. The process here is no different, however this is both a pro and a con.

When you’re scrapbooking by hand, its easy to get lost in the crafting as you draw, cut out, paint and construct each 2D and 3D element on its own. In many cases, depending on how fast you worked, you could work on a single page for days. With PCM, that’s reduced to hours. You work so quickly with PCM, that it might be a really good idea that when you chose a theme or a template, you could apply those choices to an unlimited number of pages, without having to create each page individually. Its just a thought…

When you are ready to commit this to paper or some other media, you can export and share your work in any number of different image formats or to a PDF. However, you need to be aware that any work you create with the app during the trial period is going to be marred by a huge unmistakable watermark in the middle of it. If you want to save any of your work, you’re going to need to buy the full version.

In all, this is a nice app, albeit a bit pricey at $40USD in today’s app market. However, I really like what it does and I’m glad that I found Picture Collage Maker…and I think you will be, too.

download Picture Collage Maker

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My Bluetooth has Cavities

Sometimes, I really wonder why I use so many Bluetooth devices…

bluetoothApple has just released iOS 8.3 Beta 1 to its developer partners. The big push behind iOS 8.3? – Wireless CarPlay connectivity. This is a change to CarPlay, which previously required a cabled, lightning connection to a head unit to function.

CarPlay and iOS 8.3 are obviously going to rely more heavily on Bluetooth Low Energy connections going forward. For me – and I think, a number of actual and potential CarPlay users – this is likely going to prove to be a huge headache.

I’ve got a Pebble Steel, Microsoft Band and a Fitbit Surge. These three smartwatches and activity bands all use BT-LE to communicate with my smartphone – currently an iPhone 6 running iOS 8.1.3. I’ve been experiencing some very serious challenges with Bluetooth connectivity over the last number of years and I’ve come to a very clear and solid conclusion:

Bluetooth just plain sucks.

I’ve had more dropped connections, failed connections, and difficulty pairing devices than I think ANYONE should have to put up with. The technology is supposed to be active seeking, meaning than its supposed to actively find paired devices and when it does find them, activate secured communications between devices that are paired and hold and maintain that connection as long as the two devices are in range.

The problem that I run into, with my:

  • iPhone 6
  • Pebble Steel
  • Microsoft Band
  • Fitbit Surge
  • Kenwood BT952HD Car Stereo
  • Beats Wireless Headset
  • MacBook Pro
  • Apple Magic Mouse
  • iPad 1

and any other wireless device that I’m forgetting to list is that none of them…

NONE

OF

THEM

can maintain any kind of consistent level of Bluetooth connectivity between any of the devices that they’re paired to on a consistent basis. Devices always fail to sync at some point. Active connections are dropped (like, I’m on a phone call in the car and the call I’m actively on drops off the car stereo, but the call itself is still connected to my iPhone; and this happens WHILE I’m driving) without any kind of warning or indication of communications problem.

Paired devices often refuse to connect, requiring Bluetooth radios in either one, the other, or both devices to be turned off for 15-30 seconds and then cycled back on before formerly paired devices may connect. In some severe cases, partnerships have had to be deleted and devices repaired, because no amount of trying, begging, pleading, bargaining or cajoling has gotten them to connect (and then even repairing the devices can be difficult…)

Mercedes-Benz at the Geneva International Auto Show 2014

This is why I was so very interested in CarPlay in my vehicle. It REQUIRED a cabled connection, meaning that I wouldn’t have to argue with the head unit and my iPhone and their potentially fickle relationship any more. The devices would connect when the phone was plugged into the cable, and that would be the end of that. As long as CarPlay continues to support hard wired connections, then I think it will be a good solution for hands free operation in a vehicle. The moment that it moves to wireless communications only, is the day that I think the standard will begin to have some serious problems.

What’s even more infuriating is that they stop and start working seemingly at random and completely on their own. I have no idea at times whether or not the devices I assume are connected are in fact… CONNECTED.

But can someone please help me understand what I’m supposed to do here??

Can someone point me to some sort of “wireless crazy glue” that will insure that Bluetooth connections work as their intended all the time? I know I can’t be the only person having this kind of problem. I’ve learned over time that I can’t just assume that paired devices will connect when they’re supposed to and/ or will stay connected as they’re supposed to when the devices come in range. At best, this is a hit and miss sorta deal, and honestly, Bluetooth needs to be better than this.

When I rely on Bluetooth connections to connected and stay connected after pairing (as long as the devices are in range), this sort of hit and miss crap just can’t be tolerated. I can’t get any of the Continuity features between my Macs and my iPhone to work consistently. I can’t get any of my smartwatches or activity/ fitness bands to consistently sync with my smartphone. I can’t get my smartphone and my car radio to connect and work the way it’s supposed to.

How the heck am I supposed to rely on any of this stuff to work and “improve” my life if the connectivity technology – Bluetooth is full of “cavities?”

I have NO idea what to do…

Are you having issues with Bluetooth or Bluetooth LE? Do your devices drop connections like paparazzi drop names (and flash bulbs)? Do your mission critical Bluetooth applications – your car radio, your fitness band or smartwatch, your wireless headset, etc. – crap out on you when you need them most? Am I missing something that I should be doing, but for some reason am not? What words of wisdom can YOU offer ME? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the whole issue. Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below and give me your thoughts on the whole ordeal? Lord knows… I could use the help!

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Browse websites with UC Browser from your Android Device

ucbrowsericonIn many ways, many mobile users do more web surfing on their mobile device than they do on their desktop/ laptop PC. In some cases, a mobile device is all you’ve got, so you’re going to do all of your web surfing on your mobile device. In cases such as these, you really want a browser that’s going to work for you; and in many cases, that’s NOT the default browser that came with your device. This is why apps like UC Browser for Android are so important. This browser for your Android mobile device can really help you get the biggest bang out of your mobile device buck.

UC Browser is a browser for your mobile device. Its, adaptable configuration helps you adjust the way you browse the internet under different network connections. This allows you to reduce data plan needs and costs; and helps to speed up page loading. The latest version achieves faster data presentation by compressing web pages on its server, and by preloading pages in the background. Android 4.3 is supported in the newest version of UC Browser.

You can personalize your browser experience with add-ons. This is something that is somewhat new in the mobile world. You don’t see a lot of this, or haven’t in the past, largely because of performance issues, but UC has resolved those issues. Now you can quickly and easily upload photos to Facebook with UC’s Facebook Photo Uploader. This method is easier than using Facebook’s built in functionality, as you can get everything done in a single step. You also get push notifications on likes and comments from your friends without actually having to run the full Facebook app.

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UC Browser also lets you save web pages as a PDF. Now, rendered receipts and other important information that don’t automatically have agents that email you a copy, can be saved and recalled later, as needed. Additional file handling capabilities built into the browser also let you manage zip files, directly from the browser. Now you can download supported, compressed files and unzip them so you can work with their contents more easily. This is further augmented by the app’s Download Manager, which allows you to multi-task and contains support for UDisk, permanent, cloud-based storage on UCweb’s servers.

I’m not a big fan of 3rd party browsers on my mobile devices. They often take up space and don’t offer much of an improved or better user experience than the built in version. With UC Browser, that’s not the case. The app is pretty cool.

Over and above the FB plugin and compressed file handler, the browser also offers a webpage translator. The plugin takes advantage of both Google Translate and Bing, and supports more than 70 languages, opening up more of the web to you while you’re out and about. The application is free; and is better than some of the other browsers that I’ve encountered on a mobile device. The only thing it’s missing is a desktop counterpart where synchronization between bookmarks, history and reading lists would make the experience on your device, that much better.

Even without these, it’s a great app; and as it’s free, it’s hard to turn down.

download UC Browser

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More on Tablet Mode

I got a bit sidetracked the other day…

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So, I’ve been doing a lot of work with windows 10 over the past few weeks. I’ve got Build 9926 installed on just about every Windows machine in the house. I’ve got it on a Surface Pro 1, Surface Pro 3 and a Dell Latitude 10 ST2.

When I started talking about Tablet Mode the other day, it really sorta morphed into a bit on installing it on the ST2, which had its own challenges. I never really got to what tablet mode really is or does on a Windows Pro tablet.

From what I can see right now… not much.

My thought was a bit-more iPad-esque. Believe it or not, I really wanted to see a bit more of a ModernUI approach on a pure tablet device. I mean, that IS what Microsoft was originally shooting for when they released Windows RT and Surface RT. The desktop pretty much hidden, full screen Modern apps, etc.

Yeah, you don’t get any of that…not even when you invoke Continuum (Tablet Mode) either automatically (by removing the keyboard) or manually (by tapping the Tablet Mode button in the Notification Center).

What you do get is a darker display (?? Really?), a static task bar and view back to the desktop and a full screen sized Start Menu when you tap the Start Button. The device is supposed to run all apps in full screen mode; and it does. All Modern apps are supposed to run full screen and without any min/max or close buttons; and they do.

All of which seem a bit useless; and a bit confusing. Microsoft is still mixing their UI’s. This is just more desktop focused and not tablet focused. Fancy that… a tablet, running in tablet mode that is full of desktop UI components. I am SO confused.

I like EVERYONE else under the sun complained bitterly when Windows 8 was released. The whole mix-n-match desktop and tablet OS hybrid drove me nuts, too. However, I can see where a tablet mode might work, and work well if it totally switched interfaces and could be turned on and off by the user where and when needed, and/or activated automatically when the device was separated from its detachable keyboard.

Microsoft needs to pay attention to something like this, because this is what Tablet Mode really should be. Switch the device – in full tablet form factor – into a tablet interface. It’s clear that’s what user’s want… You don’t have to look any further than Apple’s own iPad to see that. Many iPad owners are also Mac owners (and vice-versa) and are happy bopping back and forth between the two now that Convergence is in place under iOS 8 and Yosemite.

I’ve pushed this idea through the Windows Feedback app, with an invite to talk about this; and we’ll see what Microsoft does. I’m not holding my breath or anything; but if they’re looking to find about a bit more about the vision I have for this, then I’m willing to sit down and talk if they are.

What do you think?

Are you a Windows Insider? Are you running Windows 10? Have you ever run

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