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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Brink for Windows Phone review- Tweeting

So one day I was bored with the official Twitter client and with Seesmic too and decided to check out what new Twitter clients I could find on the Marketplace. I came across Brink. It was way down in my search results for... wait for it... tweet. Yep, that's right. It wasn't even in the search results for Twitter. Now wonder I haven't seen it before. I was a bit skeptical but the screenshots convinced to try it out. As it turns out, it's my new favourite Twitter client.

First of all, I have to say that it's just beautiful. The Twitter clients that support customizations usually have a dark and a light theme to choose from. Not Brink. You can theme it with backgrounds and fonts, you can have multiple accounts, and you can even add a tile to post updates from the start screen with one tap.

Another thing I absolutely love about it is the Activity view. With Seesmic I used to have a section for mentions and one for retweets which I had to go back and forth through. This Activity view shows both mentions and retweets and I like it. Maybe it's just me, but the way I need to use Twitter, Brink is what I need.

Oh, did I mention it's free AND ad-free? I would actually pay for this app(if MS would hurry up to add support for payment from Romania that is).

One more thing I like about Brink the attention to detail. Those little things that just tick all the boxes. One example retweet style. You can choose from quote, append and pre-pend and you can use which one you like best. Some features you only get with paid clients are support for both Instapaper and Pocket(read it later), support for Bitly and for Flickr.

Another thing that I love about it is the way they do lists. Most clients, official one included, just show you the members of Twitter your lists in their lists views. Brink shows you their tweets.

The only two features I would like to see, and I was assured by the developer of the app that they are well underway, are toast and live tile notifications. Once those arrive, I will no longer have a reason to keep the official Twitter client installed on my phone.

Anyways, here's a video tour of the app. Go on, download it yourself, it's definitely worth it.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

13 must have free apps for Nokia Lumia

After a few months of using Windows Phone I thought of compiling a list of apps that I can't live without on my Lumia 800. Since Microsoft doesn't support apps purchase in Romania, I had to live with free apps. Here are a few that I use on daily basis.


Cross platform note taking is a must have for pretty much everyone. You want your notes at home on your computer, you want them on you table, and you want them on your phone. Evernote does it on all platforms. It has clients for all mobile platforms, for desktop computers and a web version in case you need to access you notes from a web browser. It supports rich text notes with images and everything.


Unlike Evernote, Fastnote offers you simple text notes, a very easy and beautiful user interface and the ability to backup your notes to SkyDrive. The icing on the cake is the ability to add reminders for your notes, and that makes it a must have for your Lumia phone.


We all know how well supported messaging is on Windows Phone, but for those of you who use Google Talk and Yahoo Messenger, Windows Phone can't serve your needs by default. If chatting on multiple platforms is your thing, then Nimbuzz is the app for you. Nimbuzz supports Google Talk, Yahoo, Facebook and many more networks under one roof, and it does it really well. It even has a background agent so you can receive notifications even when the app is closed. Only downside is that you need a Nimbuzz account. But there's a bright side too. Once you've set up your Nimbuzz account you never have to manually login to your networks again.


Windows Phone has brilliant support for Twitter and Facebook built in, but if you're a social networks freak with multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts, then Windows Phone can't help you there. That's where Seesmic comes in handy. You can add as many Twitter and Facebook accounts as you like, as well as Sales force accounts. For each account you can pin a plenitude of tiles to your start screen. These tiles include Mentions, Messages, Retweets, and the live tile will show you how many new items you have for each of the aforementioned categories. It doesn't have toast notifications yet, but the app is evolving at a fast pace and it's only a matter of time before they add toasts too.


If you like to mess around with photos and create some really unique ones, then you need to know that SophieCam has a lot of great effects you can add to your photos. You can make your photo look old or dirty or anyway you want it. It also has options to share you photos to Facebook and Flickr. It's a must have if you like to play with your photos.

Creative studio

Sticking to imaging, I couldn't leave out Creative Studio. Developed by Nokia you can't even imagine how many things you can do with your photos. Besides the adjustments you can apply to your photos, you can also add various effects. Another cool thing Creative Studio can do is face warps. Just point your camera at your friend and you'll get a photo that you'll laugh at for a long while.

Aviary photo editor

With SophieCam and Creative Studio can have a lot of fun, but when it comes down to business you have Aviary. It's not an official Aviary client, but one built on top of the Aviary API, so you get the same quality adjustments and effects you get from the original thing. This is the app to have for serious photo editing on your Lumia.


I love watching YouTube on my phone, but for Windows Phone there is no official app yet aside from the website shortcut you get in the Marketplace. Metrotube is the best you can get for Windows Phone and even if YouTube would launch an official app, I doubt it would have all the features built into Metrotube. Metrotube was also recommended by the Nokia official blog as the app to have for watching YouTube.


If you need music videos, then VEVO is the app to get. The app streams videos for a huge base of artists with great quality. It's basically all you need to music videos. You may ask yourselves "why do I need VEVO when I have Metrotube?". The answer is simple: VEVO only shows you music video, so yo get no distractions when you search for an artist unlike YouTube's search that can bring up a lot of not interesting results. And the advantages don't stop there. Some music videos have advertising on YouTube which means you can't watch them on mobile. With VEVO that problem does not exist.


Full length movies are hard to come by on YouTube. You search for them and can't find a decent quality one even after a deep search. Crackle comes in to save the day. Full length movies and TV shows are now at your fingertips. The only downside is that you have to manually search for them because there's no search function in Crackle. That's a small downside considering that you can watch good quality full movies on your phone.


The Bing search integrated in Windows Phone is good, but no search on the planet is as good as Google's. The official Google search app makes searching easy. If you're wondering why you should use an app instead of searching on the website, then the answer is voice search. The Google app voice search is much better than the Windows Phone voice search. It recognizes words even if you don't pronounce them correctly. With Bing is mostly hit and miss, but Google is spot on.


Many people have documents stored in their Google Drive, and while MS Office is a better suite for such purposes, it's a really tedious job to move all your stuff to SkyDrive. GDocs is an app that accesses your Google Drive docs easily and you can even edit them in plain text mode. All in all a must have app if you rely a lot on Google Drive.


One big missing feature from Windows Phone since it's early days has been smart dial. RapDialer does exactly that: smart dial and fast T9 contact search. The only thing missing from RapDialer is the ability to show missed calls on the live tile. This is a must have app if you talk to a lot of people all the time and don't want to have all their contacts pinned as a live tile.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

eBuddy XMS for Windows Phone review

eBuddy is well known to Symbian users as a instant messenger that could connect to lots of instant messaging services, but the XMS version reviewed here is different.

If you're into chatting a lot and you don't want to pay a lot on text messages, or you don't want to chat on social networks then here's a service for you. The eBuddy XMS messenger works like an SMS service, but uses your data connection instead of your precious and expensive SMSs.

eBuddy is available for all platforms, WP, Symbian, iOS, Android and BlackBerry, so you don't have to worry if a version is available for your friends. Everyone can join the party and text for free(if you have a data plan that is).

First of all you need to enter your phone number and you'll receive an activation SMS. After entering the code in the application you can start using the application. eBuddy can scan your phonebook and your Facebook account and show you in your list of contacts all your friends that are registered with eBuddy.

Basically, if you have a data connection you don't have to pay for text messages anymore. eBuddy XMS is available for all platforms invoicing Symbian, but it looks like the feature set is not the same on all platforms. I'll explain what that means in a sec.

eBuddy supports groups, which means you can add your friends in a group and text to ask of them at once. It seems though that some versions of eBuddy XMS do not support the group feature but I'm not sure which one do and which don't. The WP version and the Symbian version do support it as you're about to see in the video at the end of this post.

Update:I've been informed by the developers of eBuddy XMS that the latest versions supports groups on all platforms. At the time when this part of the review was written, the persons I was trying to add to a group may have used an older version which did not support groups.

Even if the app is not started you will still receive toast notifications thanks to the background agent that eBuddy implements. However, you have to keep in mind that on WP the background agents stop working if you enter battery saving mode, so if you're low on battery you may not be able to receive messages unless you've got the app open. This is a WP restriction, not a bug in eBuddy.

Check out the video below for a demo of eBuddy XMS.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Nokia Lumia 920 and 820 - First Windows Phone 8 devices from Nokia

Yesterday Nokia kicked off Nokia World with a joint conference alongside Microsoft. It was Jo Harlow with the first big announcement, the Lumia 920. Then it was Kevin Shields that announced the Lumia 820.

The Lumia 920 is, as Nokia calls it, a PureView device, but not the PureView you were expecting. It has no pixel oversampling, it has no 40+MP camera, but instead it is the first device to sport significant improvements in low-light and stabilization technology. Nokia developed a 8.7MP camera for the Lumia 920 that has hardware optical stabilization called OIS(Optical Image Stabilization) and an f/2.0 lens aperture. The large aperture allows more light to be capture by the backside illuminated camera sensor, about 10 times more light than any other competing smartphone. The Lumia 920 uses a floating lens guided by a gyroscope and moves the camera lens assembly to compensate for hand movements during snapping shots or filming video. The 920 uses a stunning 2000mAh battery, that should allow it to have an average battery life way above any other competing smartphone.

The 920 has a 4.5 inch display IPS LCD, with HD+ resolution (1280x768). The display is curved, like the Lumia 800's, and uses Nokia's PureMotion technology which renders everything on the screen at 60 frames per second. Another novelty for the Lumia line is the wireless charging. Nokia presented a variety of charging pads where you can just put your Lumia and it will start charging.

Another first for Nokia and the Lumia line was the super sensitive touchscreen of the Lumia 920. As Kevin Shields demoed on stage, the Lumia 920 can be operated with gloves on. It's a first for Nokia and it's capacitive touchscreens.

The storage capacity of the Lumia 920 is 1GB of ROM and 32GB of storage, with no expansion micro-SD slot.

Additional colors have been added to the Lumia line adding up to a total of 7 colors. The new colors are Yellow, Lipstick Red and Slate Grey.

The 920 can record video FullHD(1920x1080) and has a secondary camera that can record HD vide0 (1280x720).

Both devices use a 1.5GHz dual core Krait Snapdragon S4 CPU aided by an Adreno 225 GPU.

The Lumia 820 has an 8MP camera and an OLED 4.3 inch display. The secondary camera of the 820 can only record VGA resolution video. The 820 has only 8GB of mass memory, but it also offers and expansion micro-SD slot capable of up to 32GB cards. The battery capacity is 1650mAh but considering the smaller display, it shouldn't be a problem.

Both devices use LED flash light, but as Damian Dinning say last week, there have been major improvements in the LED flash department in the past months and the new generation of LED flash from Nokia closes the gap with the Xenon flash.

I for one can't wait to get my hands on one of these babies and see what it can do.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Nokia Belle Refresh - What happens after the dust settles

The first impression Belle Refresh left me was a big disappointment. And in some aspects it is. This is supposed to be the last big update for the N8 generation so I was expecting more. And by more I mean more FP2 features. But it didn't happen. Now that I got over that initial WTF moment it's time to take a look under the hood to see what are the performance improvements that arrives with this new update.

First of all let's tackle the browser. Updated to version 8.3 the browser brings some subtle but worth noting user interface updates. Besides the back and forward buttons we have the windows and a favorites buttons that make your life a bit easier when navigating the web. The favorites button opens up a three tabs panel with most visited, bookmarks and history. It's good thing that all bookmarks and favorites are in the same place. The usual web browser menu, a reminiscence of S60v5, is now gone and you can do basically the same operations as before from the context menu.
Another improvement, and this is a big one, is the browser rendering speed. It's a big improvement over the old version with zooming in and out being now way smoother than before. You can even zoom in and out as the page loads and it works pretty well. Unlike before when you used to get lots of lag even after the page was fully loaded, now you won't see anymore if those lags. So, the updated browser gets a big thumbs up. If you compare this version to the S60v5, you can't tell the current one is an evolution of that old version.

Between all the clock widgets that were included in this update, there are others that were really needed and welcomed by us all. The first is the Data Counter widget that comes with a small app too and tells you how much mobile data you've consumed. You just need to set your monthly limit and the day your limit gets reset. You can also choose to disable the mobile data when the limit is hit to avoid extra costs.

The second much needed widget is Mail,New arrival. This one can replace the big old half homescreen mail widget with a shortcut that shows you a badge notification when you have new mail. I would have liked to see the new mail notification in the system pull-down area and on the lockscreen, just like the notifications for new messages and missed calls. It's not very ergonomic to unlock you phone whenever you want to check if you have new mail.

The third widget that is worth mentioning is the Contacts widget that can now show a group on the homescreen and not just your favorite contacts. In the old Belle if you would have added the Contacts, favorites to your homescreen three times, you would have got the same contacts in all widgets. Now, if you define 3 different groups you can have three different widgets, one for each group. A big improvement over the old approach.

Also, worth mentioning are the toggle widgets fro 3G, Mobile Data, Offline mode and Silent mode.

Belle Refresh also includes the latest QT version, 4.8. The new version seems to have boosted the speed of the apps written in this language. Apps seem to scroll smoother and the touch input has been optimized for swiping gestures. Without needing to update the existing apps they run smoother and accidental scrolling when you intended to swipe happens a lot less now.

But the Belle Refresh update didn't just improve things, it also broke some apps. That was expected from third party apps that had compatibility issues, but I wasn't expecting that to happen to the Microsoft Office suite. The new update rendered OneNote useless. Synchronization was gone and I wasn't able to login to my account again for one simple reason: I could not type in my username and password. When I touched the input fields the keyboard did not pop up. Maybe a hard reset will fix it, but at the moment I am don't want to lose all my user data because of this issue. Maybe Microsoft will issue an update, but it's unbelievable that Nokia's new best buddy didn't do it's homework to properly test the office suite with the latest Belle update.

Even though not all expectations were met with this new update, it's clearly an improvement over the original Belle, but I hope this is not the end of the line as far as updates are concerned for the first generation of Symbian^3 devices.