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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Switching from Symbian to Windows Phone

My journey with Windows Phone began a little over a month ago. Used to be a big Symbian user and fan at the time but was very curious to see what would change in the way I use my smartphone everyday after the big switch. So here are the questions I was asking myself at the time:

1. Would I find all the apps I needed and used daily in the WP Marketplace?

2. Would I be able to live without multitasking?

3. Could Lumia's 8MP snapper take the place of the 12MP monster of the N8?

All these questions got answered and then some. So let's take it step by step.

Question 1: Would I find all the apps I needed and used daily in the WP Marketplace?

The Windows Phone Marketplace is full of surprises and hosts a lot more apps than Nokia Store does. You can find official apps for most services and social networks. Unlike Symbian, Windows Phone has an official app for Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, IMDb and so much more. I'm not saying the official apps are the best, but they're there and that means the platform is endorsed and will be supported for a long while. For an average user Windows Phone social networking integration is very well done, and basically removes the need for third party apps as far as social needs are concerned, but if you are a power user and want multiple accounts on Twitter and Facebook, then you need to find yourself a different app. What Windows Phone Marketplace misses compared to Nokia Store is the ton of HD games that made Symbian a gaming "phon-sole". Oh an the pay by SMS option too.

Question 2: Would I be able to live without multitasking?

Symbian is well known for it's brilliant multi-tasking and many think that the in transition to Windows Phone one may me missing that aspect. To be honest, at first you do miss the multi-tasking, but over time you get used to it and the resume app functionality along with the ability to have background agents working even when an app is dormant does make up for the lack of true multi-tasking. The resume-app approach was used my Microsoft to allow a smooth user experience even when multiple apps are started. The background agents work really well. Initially I thought that having no real multi-tasking would get in the way, but if the apps you use are well written, you have nothing to worry about. For example, I had an app that uploaded a large photo to Dropbox. The app had the ability to upload in the background so while I was playing Angry Birds the app took care of the upload neatly. If that's not multi-tasking I don't know what is. Windows Phone 7 is labeled as no-multi-tasking OS, but the matter of fact is that it does have multi-tasking, but not your traditional multi-tasking. Instead of keeping your entire app in memory doing whatever you need it to do, Microsoft used the background agent approach. The background agent is actually a piece of the app that uses no user interface and can do stuff in the background. For example, you may use an app that could eat 400MB of RAM when running in full UI mode, but only 20-30MB when running the user agent. That is called resource friendly app development.

Question 3:Could Lumia's 8MP snapper take the place of the 12MP monster of the N8?

Here is where I really missed my N8. The camera. I snap a lot of photos of my kid and lots of them are in low light conditions. The N8 clearly beats the Lumia 800 in this department, but when it comes to daylight I noticed that the Lumia 800 actually takes better photos, catches more detail. It's fast lens captures more light in broad daylight and it shows. You get less motion blur in your photos. So basically it's a trade-off. You get better photos in daylight and worse in low light. It's up to each and every user to choose. But I have to say that even in low light, the Lumia takes far better photos than other phones with LED flash. And that's, as I said above, because of the fast lens. The Lumia 800 does not claim to be a cameraphone, that's left for the 808, but it does hold it's ground against most smartphones out there.

Bottom line is this: it takes a while for you to get used to it, but once you do, you won't be able to move back to Symbian. The speed of the Lumia cannot be matched by any Symbian device. Windows Phone is missing some features, but it has others(lots of them) that more than make up for what you were missing in the first place.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Nokia Belle Refresh - What's new

Refresh is the best name Nokia could have named this update. It tells you all about it. Just like when you go on your web browser, hit refresh and nothing happens, just a page reload, the same happens with Belle Refresh: not much. I was a bit sarcastic there but that's only because I think Nokia could have put a bit more effort into this update and bring us some exciting and much awaited features. I think that after almost 8 months of development they simply could have done more.

Let's see what's new. Nokia added a bunch of new widgets with a gazillion clock widgets(important right?), the much awaited Mail,new arrival, toggles for 3G, Mobile Data, Offline mode and Silent mode, contact groups and a weather widget with the associated app.

The new bookmark widget makes a very welcomed addition, along with the data counter widget which most of use were eagerly waiting for.

We also got a new and welcomed Notes widget, a new calendar agenda widget, two music player widgets and the photo wall widget.

The music player was revamped.

The web browser got updated to version 8.3. Not much of a speed improvement, but on paper it's HTML5 compatibility has been improved. The browser also got a small UI overhaul, with a new Favorites button making it's way to the toolbar replacing the old Add bookmark button. The favorites view is now split into three tabs: Most visited, Bookmarks and History.

What Belle Refresh DIDN'T get? Well, here is the list of commons sense expectations that were not met:

1) New keyboard a-la FP2
2) Notifications split from activities and new email in notification area
3) Minimal overclock
4) New camera UI (for N8 at least)
5) Gallery

Maybe expecting some of these features to make it to Belle Refresh was wishful thinking, but let's hope that maybe they will still arrive along the way.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Weather26 - The perfect weather app for Windows Phone

This is going to be probably the shortest review I ever wrote. That is a good thing, believe me.

Windows Phone is all about minimal design. Nothing clunky, nothing to "poke" your eyes out. I like it like that and when I need an app that I'm gonna use 10 times a day I want it to be simple, functional and informative. Here's where Weather26 shines. The application has one simple panel that shows you everything you need to know. It shows you the current weather conditions(and they're right on the money), an two days forecast on 3 hours interval and a 6 days forecast. The forecast panels are cleverly designed to be swipe-able so you don't need to switch to a different screen to see any of the things I just told you about. All is done in one screen. Oh, did I tell you that it has a live tile too? Have I mentioned that it's a free app? Maybe I should remind you that it INSTANTLY updates the current weather conditions?

Simple, elegant, useful. All. I. Need.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Peregrine for Windows Phone review

Windows Phone has got a pretty consistent bunch of Twitter clients in the Marketplace, besides the official Twitter client. Some of them are paid-only, some of them have free versions but most of them make horrible use of the ads component. Or even worse, you won't even know your run an ad-supported version for a few launches. I don't know what the developers of those apps are thinking, but you can't force or annoy your clients into buying your product. Here's where Peregrine is different. Besides being a kick-ass Twitter client, it shows the user ads ONLY there is enough room for them to be displayed. It doesn't occupy half of your Timeline screen with a dog training ad, but it can display it when you're viewing someone's profile. I can guarantee that you'll never accidentally hit an ad like it happens with other apps.

The primary view of Peregrine consists in three panels: Timeline, Mentions and Messages. Each of these panels have pull-down to refresh functionality and on top of all of them there is a status display label that shows you the number of new tweets, mentions and messages for your account. As you can see from the screenshots there is no ad displayed in any of those panels.

The developer of Peregrine cleverly shows ads only where there is space for them, where they're not in your way, like in the profile panel, or in a tweet panel.

Peregrine only supports one Twitter account, but that should be enough for most users. The fact that the app is free and the non intrusive way the ads are displayed make Peregrine my preferred Twitter client.

Peregrine has what Windows Phone devs call a background agent that allows it to check for new tweets, mentions or messages even when the app is not launched. In the app settings you can define this behavior, you can turn on or off the background agent as well as choose which items should get updated when the agent runs. You can also choose which items you want to receive toast notifications for.

Peregrine has the ability to add URLs to an Instapaper account for later reading. I would have liked to have the options to have a Pocket account here too, but I guess that's the only downside of this app.

Trends are also supported by Peregrine and you can choose if you want to see the current, daily, weekly or local trends. You can add your current location to your tweets and you can also add photos from your phone's gallery.

I think Peregrine is one of the best Twitter clients for Windows Phone and definitely the best free one. Worth giving a try.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Nokia Lumia Amazing Ambassadors report

I am happy to announce that Monday August 6th 2012, Nokia Romania has announced the winners of the Lumia Amazing Ambassadors contest. They decided that all four finalists have shown dedication and amazing involvement in the contest and granted the test phones as final prizes for all four. As you may know, I am one of the four contestants, so since this Monday I am the proud owner of a brand new Nokia Lumia 800.

In the three weeks of contest I have tried to bring you new content featuring the Lumia, in the form of short video reviews of apps I like and use on this phone. From now on, I will have more time to bring you more detailed reviews(since I have no more campaigning to do for the contest).

I want to thank everyone that supported and helped me in this endeavor that lasted three weeks. From this day on, my old phone, the Nokia N8 will get sidetracked, and the new Lumia 800 will be the main subject of my reviews.

Last but not least, I want to thank the wonderful people over at Nokia Romania for giving me the chance to participate in this contest, and for the wonderful surprise they prepared for all four finalists including me. Big round of applause for their effort!

Thank you once again!


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Nimbuzz for Windows Phone - Demo Video

Today we take a look at another chat app for Windows Phone, Nimbuzz. This app is well known by Symbian users, so they should feel right at home. However, the user interface is completely redesigned to integrate with the Metro ui guidelines. Take a look at the video below for more details.