HTC One (M8) Initial Impressions

I have seen the new hardware; and it is good… if you have 3 hands.

As I’ve said, I’ve been in mobile devices for a long time. I’ve used nearly all of them, too; at least on the Windows Mobile and Android side. I had nearly every Compaq iPAQ. I had all the Palm Tungsten T devices (T, T2 and T3… that hardware was totally awesome – solid and well built).One of the biggest and most important tenants of mobile device use has consistently been one handed use.

HTC-One-M8

With the HTC One (M8), it’s just not possible. The phone is very wide, with the body measuring 137.4 x 68.2 x 9.3 mm (5.41 x 2.69 x 0.37 in). Don’t get me wrong. The device fits very nicely in my hand(s). The problem is that you can’t use the device with one hand. The average person’s hand isn’t wide enough and their thumb isn’t long enough to enable one handed use on a device that’s nearly 5.5″ tall and 2.7″ wide. However, it fits well in the one hand that you do use to hold it. The device’s curved back lends to the comfort you do feel, holding the device

This is a big problem with the current smartphone screen size trend as I see it. You can’t work the device with one hand. You must use two, meaning that in order to successfully use the device for the task at hand, you must focus all of your attention on it and nothing else. You also don’t get to have anything else in your hands. This means that you can’t be at the office, walking down the hall on your way to another meeting with a notebook, tablet or a cup of coffee in one hand while you check newly arrived mail with your smartphone in the other. You either need to be empty handed or you have to stop and put something down so you can use your phone. Not totally intuitive or user friendly, if you ask me; and I think it’s the biggest reason why Apple hasn’t jumped on the new wide screen fad/ paradigm shift up to this point. Jobs was all about one handed use (which is also another reason why he didn’t like styli. You had to use both hands AND it was another thing to carry and lose…)

The screen is clear and bright. It’s easy to read and easy to view content on. For someone firmly in the middle of life where eyesight is currently an issue (and it most certainly is with me), this is a great screen to have on a mobile device. Fonts are easy to read and are crisp and clear. Video is easy to view on the large 1080p compatible screen.

The other thing that struck me right off the bat was the dot case and the clock/weather screen. I activated the phone on Saturday 2014-03-29, shortly after I did my unboxing. The first thing I did was put it in the dot case, because it was included and I honestly didn’t want any scratches or blemishes on this device while I had it on my watch.

When you opened and then closed the case, the device clock and current weather conditions would activate as you expected it to. It did that pretty consistently…for about the first hour and a half that I had the device going. Shortly after that, it stopped displaying the time and current weather conditions when the case closed. Now when you close the case, the display just goes dark. The only way to get that information to display is to double tap the case while the cover is closed.

Amazingly, the device detects the double tap through the case cover and displays the time and current weather. However, I have been all through the device’s settings. I can’t find any information or settings page where you control what happens with that case. I find that very aggravating. I didn’t change anything on the device to make that cease from functioning. The HTC One (M8) just stopped doing it on its own. Yeah… I don’t get it.

The dot case itself, however, is a dark gun metal grey. It’s a dark contrast to the HTC One (M8)’s light gunmetal grey metal casing. I like the way it looks. It’s unique in the mobile device world, as I’ve never seen anything like it before; and it does a decent job of protecting the device. The only thing I don’t like about it is that there’s no good way to use the device with any kind of a universal device cradle in my vehicle with the case on.

In order to use the device in the Arkon Slim Grip Ultra mount for example, you have to bend the cover back around the back of the device. This produces two potential problems.

1. Hinge Stress
Unless the plastic in the case will be able to withstand a great deal of stress, I can see cracks developing in the hinge over time. The whole thing makes me nervous; but I’d rather not risk scratching the beautiful screen without one.

2. Flexible Cover
The Arkon mounts I have in my Camry allow me to secure my iPhone 5 as well as any other mobile device (in this case the HTC One (M8)) while I’m driving. That way, I can use either/both device’s built in GPS functionality and/or audio players while the vehicle is moving. However, the Arkon Slim Grip Ultra mount likes to grab the dot case cover while its wrapped around the back of the device and not let go of it when you try to remove the device from the universal mount. I can see the cover tearing away from the case backing, especially if there’s stress cracks in the hinge. You can use a side gripping mount like the Arkon Mobile Grip 2 mount; but honestly, I don’t feel that the device is as secure as I do with the Arkon Slim Grip Ultra mount.

I’ve done a lot of talking about the screen today – size, resolution, etc. as well as the device’s dot case. Come back tomorrow and I’ll have some thoughts on Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat and HTC’s implementation of it on the HTC One (M8) as well as device performance.

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2013 Last Minute Holiday Buyer’s Guide – Part 1

These are some of the hottest gifts available now, and some really good advice on which to get and why.

image2993Over the past few years, I’ve put together a Holiday Buyer’s Guide. I never got to do one last year due to commitments to the now defunct Byte. Thankfully, I’ve got a chance to do it this year; and while nearly everything you see here will have some kind of software available for it from Soft32, I’m going to cover the hot categories – tablets, smartphones, computers and accessories.

What you’re going to see are recommendations only. I don’t have everything that I’m going to list, so these aren’t necessarily reviews and shouldn’t be considered as such. However, I will try to cover recommendations from as many major camps within a given category as I can.   For example, I’ll likely recommend a computer from the Windows as well as the Mac camp, a tablet from the Windows, iOS and/or Android camp, etc.

This is going to take a few days to get through, so please come back often to Soft32 Blog for updates to the series. I’m going to do my best to get the series completed as quickly as possible.   Let’s get things started right now with tablets.

Tablets – Lean Back Devices with Lean Forward Capabilities
I’ve been spewing a lot of information and commentary lately about how Lean Back and Lean Forward devices don’t mix and match well in the same device.   I’ve talked to a great many people about this particular point and feel comfortable saying this about combining the two efforts into a single device:

1.    Do you have a desktop or laptop and are adding a tablet to the mix?
From my point of view, this is the most likely use case. Here, it’s likely that you’ve got set work habits that you’re looking to break away from your work machine. A lean back device or tablet is a GREAT way to do that.     You get all the multimedia and gaming goodness without having to mix apples and oranges between work and personal machines.
2.    Is your smartphone your main computing device?
If this is the case, then you’d probably benefit a great deal from moving up to a tablet as your main computing device. You’ll get much the same experience and be able to use the same apps or tools if you stick to the same ecosystem as your smartphone. The multimedia and gaming experience on a tablet will be much better and you’ll still be able to do everything you’ve been doing on your phone – email, social networking, IM and texting, and web surfing.
3.    Are you adding a tablet to your work or recreation gear?
I have found in most cases that when you do this, you’re adding hardware here to fulfill a specific need. In the office, you likely want something that can get you access to the office network so you can check email and access work specific resources during or between meetings.   In my case, I wanted to use a Windows tablet as a digital notepad so I wouldn’t have to lug different or more than one notebook between to and from meetings.   For down time, I wanted to use an iPad to watch movies, TV shows or other video on a commuter train. My needs and use cases were specific. I have found that most business and/or power users use tablets in a similar fashion.

In the end, how you use a tablet – either lean back or lean forward or a combination of both – is totally up to you and the way you work or want to work.   Just be aware of your needs and then make the choice and selection that best fits those needs.

Android
There are so many different types of Android tablets from a number of different vendors, in a number of different form factors, configurations and price points. Regardless of your budget, you’ll likely be able to find something that will satisfy your computing style and needs in the Android camp.

While this is Android’s biggest advantage, it’s also its biggest problem. There’s TOO MUCH choice here, and it can be overwhelming.   My recommendation – if you don’t know what you want, go with a no-name brand and save some money.   This way, you get the tablet experience and get to try it out without investing more than $100 or so.   You can find a number of Android tablets at No More Rack or Rakuten (formerly Buy.com)   in the $100 price range.

If you already have a high end smartphone and there’s a tablet available by the same manufacturer, AND you can afford a matching high end tablet, I’d marry the two.   The important point here is that if you have an Android smartphone, to go with an Android tablet and vice-versa.   The big benefit here is insuring you can use the same software across both devices.

To that end,   if you’re going to go with a high-end tablet, my recommendation would be the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.   The Galaxy Note line – over the Galaxy Tab line – specializes in hand written notes and OCR. While it works great with any Bluetooth keyboard (as does the Galaxy Tab line), the Galaxy Note 10.1 is specifically designed to take handwritten notes, which for a high school or college student is perfect.   You can still draw, sketch and create on the fly graphics, but you’ll also have the ability to take notes and then convert your handwriting to text later on.

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Like any Android tablet, the Galaxy Note 10.1 will work very well with Google Apps, so you’ll have access to a full blown office suite of apps, provided you have the connectivity you need to get out to the internet. As I said, this tablet works well for students (both under grads and graduates) as well as business types (again, please keep your use habits in mind…) who might want to take this to meetings as a digital notepad.

Next Page

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Galaxy S2 Owners Soon To Get Their Ice Cream Sandwich

Samsung has finally announced that it has begun the process of rolling out an Android Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) update for its Galaxy S2 smartphones. Needless to say, the announcement will be music to the ears of Galaxy S2 owners.

While Galaxy S2 owners residing in Poland, Korea, Hungary and Sweden received the update on 13 March, UK owners of the smartphone will have to wait until 19 March to receive their much anticipated update for the new version of Android.

Samsung made the important announcement via its corporate Twitter account and the internet was rife with reactions as soon as it was made.

It has been a curious strategy by Samsung, who were an integral launch partner for Android Ice Cream Sandwich. Despite its Nexus smartphones being one of the first to use it, Galaxy S2 owners have been made to wait for the crucial update. Some have done so patiently, while others have expressed displeasure over the delay.

The Galaxy S2 has been a major force in the smartphone market for Samsung, selling more than 22 million units since the handset’s launch in February 2011, assisting Samsung to rise to its position as the largest seller of smartphones in the last quarter of 2011.

Considering that more than 52% of smartphones are Android-based, the length of time to introduce Android Ice Cream Sandwich for Galaxy S2 smartphones has left many owners puzzled.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich delivers a whole host of features improving usability. Key improvements include the refined touchscreen, far better multi-tasking abilities and a new security feature through which users can unlock their phone via face recognition.

Despite not giving a set date, Samsung has also announced that it plans to update and enhance its Tab and Note features with Android Ice Cream Sandwich in the not too distant future.

Now Samsung has announced a UK date of 19 March for its Android Ice Cream Sandwich update for its Galaxy S2 smartphones should owners be rejoicing? Well, yes and no, because the whole rollout will be staggered according to which network provider Galaxy S2 owners are using, which complicates the issue somewhat.

Once Google has supplied its Android Ice Cream Sandwich source code to a manufacturer like Samsung, the manufacturer must spend time ensuring the software works seamlessly on their hardware, which of course takes considerable time and resources, as it has done with the Galaxy S2.

However, this is only the initial phase, as network providers must then make sure the new software works perfectly with their network, or face the wrath of angry network users disappointed with the service they are being provided.

To date, network providers Three, Vodafone, T-Mobile and Orange have confirmed that they have received the update from Samsung and will be striving to release the Android Ice Cream Sandwich update for the Galaxy S2 as close to the 19 March date as possible. However, O2 has announced it won’t be releasing the update to their customers until mid-April.

Galaxy S2 owners anxious for more news on the release of Android Ice Cream Sandwich for their smartphones should check the Samsung website and their network providers for updates.

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Nexus Prime – First Ice Cream Sandwich Smartphone

The Galaxy Nexus had the working title of Nexus Prime, taken from a backstory for the Transformers movie series. It’s an appropriate name as Google is hoping the device will continue to help Android transforming the smartphone market. The Nexus is produced by Samsung but will be specifically marketed by Google itself, following on from the Nexus One and Nexus S.

One of the key elements of the Galaxy Nexus is that it will be the first commercial phone to run Android 4.0, the latest edition of Google’s mobile operating system, with the odd marketing name of Ice Cream Sandwich (previous updates included Cupcake, Eclair, Gingerbread and Honeycomb.)

The most significant development in Android 4.0 is that it is specifically designed to be suitable for both smartphones and tablet devices. That’s led to both an overhaul of the system’s design and a series of new and revised features that will feature on devices including the Galaxy Nexus/Nexus Prime.

The two most dramatic additions are both the stuff of sci-fi movies. There’s a voice recognition system that, although scooped by Apple’s new Siri feature, stands out by allowing unlimited dictation. Even more impressively it’s now possible to use a photo of yourself as the phone lock: facial recognition means that you and you alone can unlock the phone.

Speaking of the camera, the Nexus Prime will be able to use new features that include built-in image editing, the ability to take static images while filming video, and an automated panorama feature that means you simple move the camera round and don’t need to worry about lining up each “shot” so that they stitch together.

Using the Galaxy Nexus should be a breeze as Android 4.0 includes several revisions to the user interface, similar to the way Windows gets updated every few years. You can now organize apps and shortcuts into folders on the home screen, there’s a special favourites tray at the bottom of the screen (similar to the taskbar in Windows), you can adjust the size of widgets (displays of information such as weather updates or stock prices that are updated in real time), and there’s even a graphical display to show exactly how much data you are using — a must for those on contracts with tough data limits. Check the leaked video:

The Nexus Prime’s hardware makes the best of this update: it has two cameras, one which can record HD video, 16GB storage, a dual-core processor (which means fewer freezes or slowdowns), a true HD screen, and even the ability to connect the phone straight to a TV set through a special adaptor cable.

The phone’s unveiling was delayed briefly as a mark of respect after the death of Steve Jobs. It’s now scheduled for release in the UK on 17 November and, as with its predecessors, is only available in unlocked form: that means users must pay the full, unsubsidized price but don’t have to sign up to a mandatory service contract. The phone will be around £550 including VAT from major networks, though Amazon is selling it for £520.

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