Microsoft Lumia 950 XL

[sc:mobile-category ]I’ve been waiting for the 950 to come out for a while so when pre-orders hit a few weeks ago I signed up and placed my order.

Delivery was scheduled for Nov 25th and it arrived right on time.  Which was a little bit of a problem as I was on vacation and out of the country.  No matter, Microsoft and UPS both assured me a signature was required and so it would be held at the UPS facility until I picked it up.

Which is why I was so surprised when I received a delivery confirmation from UPS that night.  It turns out UPS just decided to leave it at my door instead of getting a signature.  I quick call to a friend to pick it up so it didn’t sit on my door step for several days took care of the problem.

Unboxing was straight forward enough and the phone, while large, is remarkably thin and light (especially if you take the battery out).

Setup

I booted the phone up and started the install, which was smooth and easy.  I didn’t add a SIM to begin with and just used WiFi for my first install.

After the initial setup was complete I wanted to verify was support for the Wind network.  So I popped in my Wind SIM and re-started the phone.

As Wind doesn’t yet support 4G, I did have to change the SIM setting to 3G as the maximum network setting, but once done everything came up without issue.

A pleasant on the 950 XL is that it has dual SIM support, so I decided to try both my Bell and Wind SIM’s in it.

The first problem I ran in to was that my Bell SIM is a micro SIM only and the 950 takes a nano SIM.  A quick trip to the Bell store and I had a new nano SIM.

Putting in the Bell SIM to the secondary SIM slot and rebooting the phone turned up one significant limitation to the dual SIM configuration.  Both SIM slot’s support 4G, but only one of them can be active at a time with 4G.  The other SIM slot falls back to 2G.

That’s a problem here in Canada as 2G doesn’t exists anymore, all the carriers use 3G or better.  That means that the second SIM slot is basically useless in the 950 in Canada.

So after pulling my Wind SIM out and putting the Bell SIM in slot 1, I rebooted my phone and all was good.

The next item to do was install a SD card, I picked up an ADATA 128G card to toss in and it recognized it right away.

I moved my local music over to it and setup the rest of the phone without issue.

Display

First off, the display is glorious; bright rich colors and incredibly sharp. There’s nothing bad to say about it, period.

Hardware Buttons

Many phones seem to be doing away with the hardware buttons at the bottom of the screen and the 950 is no different, instead going for soft keys.  I haven’t found any real difference with them and so it seems like a good trade-off.

The 950 does continue with hardware buttons for volume, power and camera.  They have a nice tactile click to them, there are two slight issues with them:

  1. The power button on the XL is between the volume up/down buttons so once in a while you’ll hit the volume instead of power or power instead of volume.  Not a big deal, just a little annoying.
  2. The buttons are thin, almost too thin really, but they really don’t have much space so I guess that was unavoidable.

Qi Charging

The 950 has built-in Qi charging, which works fine, but they’ve had to change the placement of the coil from their older phones so now the charging stand I had for my 925 no longer works with the 950 in portrait mode.  It does work if I lay the phone on its side, but that’s not a very good solution.

There are some third-party Qi stands around that look like they’ll work so I’ll have to give them a try.

Hard Case

Of course I wanted a protective case for the phone so I picked one up online from Amazon, the MoKo Hard case looks pretty good and was on sale so I actually received it before the 950.

It adds quite a bit of bulk to the phone, but that’s what you want in a hard case so it works pretty well.  The only complaint I have about it is that the hard shell only wraps around the sides and not the top and bottom of the phone.

The Perfect Phone?

A few years ago I made a list of the things that would be in my perfect phone, that list included built-in wireless charging, SD card slot and a few other things.

Guess what?  The 950 XL ticks off every single point I had about the perfect phone.

I can’t find anything I’m wanting from a hardware perspective that the 950 doesn’t have.  Clearly Windows 10 Mobile still has some room to grow, but that looks like it may happen over the next while with Microsoft’s big push towards Universal Apps.

I think I’ll be very happy with this phone for the foreseeable future.

Groove Music on Windows Mobile

[sc:mobile-category ]I’ve been running Windows 10 Mobile for a while now and with it comes Groove Music.  Windows WP8.1 I’d been using Modern Music as my music player as the WP Music app had been so buggy to start with.

With Windows 10 Mobile I decided to give Groove music a go and see how it was.

As a universal app it runs the same core as Windows on the desktop and the design is similarly very nice.

However, unlike the desktop version, the mobile version has significant issues.  Most notably around restarting payback after being paused for a while.  This comes to the forefront when you’re connecting to a car AV deck.

With WP8.1, it was seamless, get in my car, start it up and a few moments later music would start playing.

With Groove Music it just doesn’t work.  Most of the time I have to wait for the phone to connect, then force close Groove Music, restart it at least once (sometimes twice).  Then sometimes it will pick up my playlist, other times it looses the playlist and I have to reselect it.

It’s so bad it’s virtually unusable.

I’ve gone back to Modern Music which works much better, though still has a slight pause sometimes after connecting and before starting playback.  But at least it works 90% of the time, grove NEVER work.

Hopefully Microsoft will spend some time working on Groove before the official launch, but they’re running out of time real fast now.

 

Windows 10 Mobile on my Lumia 925

[sc:windows-category ]So it was finally time to take the plunge and install Windows 10 Mobile on my phone.  I’ve been holding off to get a reasonably stable release as the only phone I have that supports Win10 is my main phone.

OS Install

First off, installing and enrolling in the Windows insider program was pretty straight forward, however before installing Build 10166 (which was the current release when did my upgrade) I of course did a full backup of my data.

There was quite a few reports that the upgrade process was not quite there yet and after doing the update that’s quite apparent.

After downloading the update, it took quite a while to install (close to an hour) and one it rebooted in to the start menu it went in to a continuous “loading…” loop.  It’s a well known issue caused by having many tiles on the start screen.

A simple hardware reset to factory defaults along with a re-install of 10166 cleared up the issue.

I spent a few days with 1066 and after 10512 became available I decided to upgrade but couldn’t seem to get the phone to identify there was an update to do.

After searching around for a while I finally figured out that after the 10166 install, my Windows Insider setting had been put back to the default of no preview releases.  Switching it back to the fast ring resolved the issue and the phone identified the 10512 release.

However after several attempts at installing it, it failed each time.  There wasn’t any obvious reason for the failure and the error message wasn’t very helpful.  After a few days of poking around I finally decided to reset the phone back to 8.1 and try and do a clean install of 10513 from that.

The Windows Phone Recovery Tool is used to go back to 8.1 and it re-flashes the phone from scratch.  The 925 only has a base 8.1 image available so after the reset, Update 2 had to be re-installed.

Once that was back on the phone, I once again had to re-enrol in the fast ring and then the 10512 update came down without issue.

However, when I went to install the English Canada keyboard, I found it failed several times.  It turns out that the 10512 update also resets your Windows Insider status so I once again had to re-enrol in the fast right.  After that the keyboard updates came down.

Restoring Data

Restoring my data was straight forward with two exceptions:

  1. One of my picture folders simply would not copy over to the phone and I have yet to find a way to create a new folder on the phone.
  2. I used “contacts+message backup” to export my SMS/MMS messages (my contacts are on my Exchange server so no need to do them) which worked fine, but after installing it on Win10 it didn’t show up in the settings menu.  I had to access it from the Store, which wasn’t a big deal, just a little unexpected.

Once everything was back I re-added my accounts and everything was up and running.

Basic OS Features

Overall there are a lot of similarities between 8.1 and 10, but there are also a lot of differences.  Here are some of my first impressions in no particular order:

  • The live tile “counts” look wrong somehow.  The font is too thin I think.
  • Live tiles often “flicker” when updating.
  • Live tile counts for e-mail are often wrong.
  • The application list feels very cramped to the left hand side of the screen, a bit of white space might be nice.
  • The notification center seems at little laggy at times.
  • There’s no easy way from the notification center to connect to a new WiFi network.
  • The lock screen font seems too thin as well.
  • Alarms no longer show up on the lock screen or the glance screen.
  • The new transparent keypad on the lock screen is neat, but I don’t know if I like it.
  • Overall performance isn’t too bad but it’s still pretty slow and unresponsive at times.
  • I don’t like the decision to switch the order of the task list.
  • The new cursor controller on the keyboard is a neat idea, but I still haven’t gotten use to it.

Data Usage

One big problem I found with build 10166 is that it was eating my cellular data really fast.  About 500meg a day, which is a problem with I only have a 500meg data plan 🙂

I had to turn off cellular data on the phone and I haven’t turned it back on yet though it looks like I probably could based on the current data usage from the phone.

Groove Music

Probably the biggest issue was using my phone as my music player in my car.  Connecting through Bluetooth was easy enough but Groove Music is still a mess.  Until very recently it “forgot” the current playlist any time it was unloaded from memory and it still doesn’t start auto playing correctly when the car stereo connects to the phone.

Groove Music has come a long way, but it still misses artist info and other details when connected to the car.

Overall Impressions

Microsoft is set to announce new hardware and presumably a release date for Windows Mobile 10 on Oct 6th, so are they ready?

Right now I’d say no, there’s a long way to go before I’d consider it ready.

But beyond that, I have to say I’m kind of disappointed with it.  Windows Phone 8.1 had a nice unified feel to it and Windows 10 Mobile feels like a hodge podge of ideas all thrown together, hoping to make a whole.

It feels like they’ve sacrificed the “sole” of Windows Phone to try and get market share, which is sad in some ways but not surprising at the same time.

 

 

Some thoughts on 3D Touch

[sc:mobile-category ]Apple announced their latest phone last week and it included the much talked about pressure sensitive touch feature.

This isn’t a new idea and it does have some precedent in other areas of technology.  The most obvious one is gaming.

If we look back to the origins of the PlayStation it went through the addition of pressure sensitive controls as well.  The PS1 had an all digital controls and pressure sensitive triggers were added later.

What was the result on the PlayStation?  Not much really, games didn’t change, UI didn’t change and at the end of the day the real benefit came only to a limited set of interactions.

In the real world, we don’t have pressure sensitive controls very often, though lots of things are pressure sensitive 🙂

A few real world examples that come to mind are; gas pedal, pencil/pen, knife or any kind of squeeze bottle.

They all share the fact that you apply pressure to them to make them perform their primary function.

3D Touch on the other hand looks to use pressure to perform some secondary function.

I’m not sure pressure makes a very good interface to those secondary functions, it has no visible indicator that the function is there in the first place and if your overloading the pressure multiple times (“normal” for the regular function, “harder” for some second function and “really hard” for some third function) it may become frustrating.

But in the end I think it may not take off for a more basic reason, it’s only available on the 6S.

Not the iPad or MacBooks.

When an app developer is working on an app they’re going to target the broadest user base they can, which means they won’t make any function pressure specific.

Instead, while they’re add pressure options, they’re still going to add in a non-pressure control for the users that don’t have the 6S or are on an iPad.  That will pretty much make 3D touch a feature that some people use, but most will forget it’s even is there.

On the flip side, is it take too much cognitive resources to do?  By that I mean does it take too much thought to remember how hard to press and then press that hard.  GUI interfaces are easy to use because the visual representation is easy to understand.  See button, press button, get result.

A pressure sensitive task on the other hand requires us to; see icon, remember “really hard” gets me function 3, press button not normally or hard but “really hard”, get result.

That’s not to say pressure sensitive interfaces don’t have uses.  Clearly a pressure sensitive stylus is a must for any serious artist.  And there are other corner cases where it makes sense.  The main UI may not be one though.

Microsoft cuts and Windows Mobile

[sc:mobile-category ]Last week Microsoft made a big announcement with impact to Windows Phone/Mobile, which was followed quickly by the doomsayers that Microsoft was getting out of the phone business completely.

This is of course preposterous as Microsoft’s Mobile/Cloud first strategy doesn’t really go anywhere in the long term without Windows on phones.

But it is a significant announcement which highlights where they want to be with phones in the future, in an e-mail to employee’s, Satya Nadella, made it clear they wanted to focus on three area’s with Windows Mobile where they can make “unique contributions”:

  1. We’ll bring business customers the best management, security and productivity experiences they need;
  2. value phone buyers the communications services they want;
  3. and Windows fans the flagship devices they’ll love

This makes sense as previously they were all over the map:

  1. Feature phones.
  2. 500 line of budget phones.
  3. 600 line of budget phones.
  4. 1300 line of budget phones.
  5. 700 line of mid-range phones.
  6. 800 line of mid-range phones.
  7. 900 line of flagship phones.
  8. 1000 line of flagship phones.
  9. 1500 line of flagship phones.

That’s nine lines of phones, even Samsung doesn’t spread itself that thin.

So what does it mean in reality?  Obviously feature phones are dead, Microsoft doesn’t want to be in that business and no one else does either.

I can see them cutting back to three phone lines:

  1. 600 line for budget, they’ve just released the 640/XL to good reviews.
  2. 800 line for business, businesses look to have good hardware at a reasonable price.  They don’t want flagship phones (except for the c-suite’s of course), they want something they can buy in bulk and works well enough.
  3. 900/1000 line for the flagship phones.  I’m including the 1000 line here as the rumors are a 1020 replacement is on the way and this is certainly one area they can make “unique contributions” as there’s nothing else like the 1020.

This will let them focus on the areas that make sense and let the partners have a chance to compete with them.

Of course one of the other rumors that sprung up after the announcements was that the Lumia brand was going to be replaced with the Surface brand, but that seems unlikely.

The Lumia brand has a lot of recognition around the world, where as Surface is more concentrated in 1st world countries.  Microsoft won’t want to dilute the Surface brand (which is known as a premium brand) with low end devices like the 600.

But they could do a co-branding exercise, something like dropping the numbers and rename:

  • the 600 line to “Microsoft Lumia”
  • the 800 line to “Microsoft Surface Lumia”
  • the 900/1000 line to “Microsoft Surface Lumia Pro”

But that goes a little wordy honestly and doesn’t really add value.

Microsoft will be in the phone business for a long time, Windows 10 Mobile is coming soon and will be a huge step forward.

Microsoft can’t afford NOT to be in the phone business, period.