Archive | October, 2012

Microsoft Surface – The ultimate tablet?

A few weeks ago in New York I was at a demo of Windows 8 and the new Surface tablet. There was nothing new on Windows 8 but getting to use the Surface did enforce just what a powerful tool Microsoft are bringing to the party.

From other posts here you will know that I really do like the iPad. Unfortunately, it could never replace my laptop for certain aspects of my work. Thus on days like today when travelling I am forced to carry the iPad and laptop and appropriate chargers. Granted the iPad is not a large device and not a huge inconvenience to carry but still.

The Surface will change that. The Surface (not the RT version) runs full apps like Excel and Word. They demo’d a little docking station for it and advised that you could hang 2 monitors off it and it also connected to your keyboard and mouse. So it became your full desktop solution. This little slab of tech could do it all. No more laptop and iPad needed. No more dropping stuff in dropbox so I could grab off the iPad. No more switching between devices depending on what I needed to do.

The device was very fast and responsive. Windows 8 was very easy to use on it. Of course as with any new OS there will be a learning curve and bugs to work out but initial view was very positive. The new version of Office interface was very clean with similarities to Outlook.com new interface. An added bonus was the pen\stylus. Unlike the iPad, that needs capacitive touch tip for writing, the Surface can us a fine tipped stylus. This tool meant that accurate writing was easily achievable and it means hand written note taking on the device is a real option.

The iPad is a wonderful device. For many it will continue to be so. The Surface however is a more complete tool especially for business. The ability to have full applications installed, the integration of the operating system with SkyDrive, the ability to dock it and use external monitors, a mouse and keyboard, the fine stylus all mean that it’s not just a real iPad competitor but it could spell the end for PCs and laptops as we currently know them. For the majority of people this device should be enough. There will be exceptions as there always is for those who need lots of processing power and memory. However, for the majority, like me, who need to access email, the Internet, and run Office applications for the most part then this device is ideal.

Over time as apps are added to the Microsoft store then it may turn from the ideal device into the perfect one. I hope it lives up to that potential.

Back to paper with Moleskine’s Evernote Smart Notebook

I have droned on in the past about how great it was to go paperless on the iPad and just how I achieved that.

After all that I am now going to tell you about how great it is to have some paper again!  Firstly, I love being almost paperless and my shelves are still paperless, I don’t print anything to read, sign or comment on.  I haven’t abandoned my paperless effort and I still do the majority on the iPad.  However, while the stylus and Studio i works great for note taking they do at times compromise how you can use the iPad.  Multi-gestures have to be turned off.  The Studio i doesn’t work in all apps that I like so I still need a capacitive stylus.  A couple of times my battery has run out just when I needed to take notes so I was left scrambling for a pen and paper.  Quite often I felt like I needed two iPads.  One with the document open in front of me and one where I could take notes as switching back and fort between the different apps can be a little annoying especially in meetings.

I wanted my hand written notes stored electronically in a manner I could use.  I tried a Livescribe pen and notebooks and liked the tech but it was all just a little cumbersome.  If they could get it to sync wirelessly and with some apps as opposed to having to go back to your PC or laptop every time it would be a big improvement.  I also tried a new iPad cover that had an integrated notebook so I could read on my iPad and jot down notes to the side.  I didn’t like it. More often than not I ended up pulling the iPad out of it.

Along came an email from Evernote on the new Moleskine notebook that they were planning to launch.  I signed up and placed my order as a Moleskine with some tech built-in seemed ideal.

Evernote Moleskine Smart Notebook

Evernote Moleskine Smart Notebook

As with all Moleskines the quality is excellent. So straight off just the look and feel of the notebook is pleasing.  The notebook comes with a selection of stickers that you can place on your notes.  The advantage being that when you use the Evernote App camera to snap the page, to record it electronically, it recognises the stickers and will auto tag those pages for you.

Evernote Moleskin Notebook with Stickers

Evernote Moleskin Notebook with Stickers

Obviously you don’t need to snap and record every page. Just the ones to want.  Once uploaded your hand written notes become searchable in Evernote and available across all your devices.  So when on your 3rd notebook and travelling you can still bring up those notes from the 1st Notebook that is sitting at home in your drawer!

Evernote App Auto-Tagging

Evernote App Auto-Tagging

Above is a screen shot from the iPhone Evernote App auto-tagging a Moleskine page.  Click the little check mark in the bottom right and it then uploads to Evernote.  Safe and secure and available anytime in the future for reference from your mobile device or computer.

I love being back organised in my Moleskine while also being able to archive to the cloud important notes for future reference.  I do have a few thoughts on it though:

  • Its expensive.  Overly so I feel but I am hopeful as more people use them then the price will come down.
  • The Notebook includes 3 months Evernote membership.  As I am already a premium member this is useless to me and probably just adds to the cost.  They should either get rid of it or make it optional on the notebook
  • Stickers – Should be able to refill your stickers separate to purchasing a notebook
  • Sticker types – I think there should be at least 3 more different types of stickers.  Possibly a web page I can log on to select the 6 option of stickers I want with my order.
  • Uploading a page – should have an option to overwrite if page was already uploaded.  Sometimes I snap a page and then a few days later there may have been notes added to the same page.  When I upload it again I now have two of the same page albeit one with edits. It would be great if there was an option to only have the latest version of each page (some may want to keep all but an option for those like me that don’t)
  • Some more variations for cover colours and types of notebooks

P.S. Livescribe if not already then you should start looking at how you can link your pen via Bluetooth to devices and sync notes just taken with an app such as Evernote – and do a deal with Moleskine to get some nice notebooks – Love your product but it’s getting out of date fast and it doesn’t need to!

The Nike Fuelband – A daily reminder of just how lazy you are!

Nike FuelBand

Nike FuelBand

The idea of constant 24 hr feedback on daily activity has always intrigued me especially as our lives become more and more sedentary.  Pedometers have been around for a while but with the latest improvements in technology the growth in offerings for personal activity recorders has vastly improved.  I picked the Nike Fuelband from the options as its worn directly on the body (right or left wrist) versus attached to a piece of clothing or a belt which doesn’t appeal to me.  It is always on and recording my activity, aside from when I have it charging or updating on the laptop, so it gives a great insight into a 24 hour window of activity without being specifically focused on steps.

The device is very easy to use with a single button bringing up all displays and controlling all options.  The device itself will show you readouts at the touch of a button on Fuel(an activity calculation), Calories, Steps and Time.  You can also disable the Bluetooth for when in flight and it gives feedback on battery level to warn when you need to charge.  The battery life is excellent and I only need to charge every 3 or 4 days.  I sync it daily with my iPhone Nike Fuelband app to upload the data to my Nike+ account. See screen shot below from the iPhone of data display for a particular day.

Nike iPhone App

Nike iPhone App

The screen shot below is from my Nike+ web account.  It gives a nice breakdown of activity over the whole day showing number of steps, calories, distance and when you were most active similar to the iPhone app above.  As with other Nike apps you can set targets and challenges and share your progress across Twitter or Facebook. My Nike+ web account has the added advantage in that it pulls together the info from my Nike iPhone App and the Fuelband (and other Nike tracking devices if you have them).

Nike Web Screen

Nike Web Screen

I wanted to try these 24 hr monitors to get a better sense of my activity(which is not a lot!).  Working on a computer all day combined with relatively long commutes and small kids can leave very little time to indulge in multiple trips to the gym each week.  Even at that when the health fit kicked in it seemed hard to shift all those pounds that have added on over the years.  The Nike Fuelband has given me a much better insight into my average and particularly worst days.  It has reinforced the fact that a number of small things over a whole day versus 3 or 4 trips to the gym every week can be significantly more rewarding from the health point of view.  All common sense stuff but when the figures are thrown in front of you on a daily basis and you can analyze the last day, week and month it can be quite shocking and eye-opening.

My worst days were those I worked from home.  There is obviously no walk for the train, to the car, to the bus, to the office and then to meetings or lunch.  I go from my kitchen to the attic conversion and sit in front of the computer from maybe 7am or 8am until 5pm or 6pm.  With a couple of breaks for lunch and a cup of coffee.  I normally got a score of 400-600 Fuel points on these days.  That compared with an average work day of about 1800 Fuel points or a Saturday cutting the grass, playing a game of tennis with the kids and just doing a few bits around the house where I would score over 3000 Fuel points.

Other simple small changes like the healthy heart ad states ‘get off a bus stop earlier’ can make a big difference.  Wise words, common sense and very obvious but I (we) all too often hear these messages but don’t action them.  Amazing over a day how a number of these small changes can help you hit your fuel target easier than trying to make time for a trip to the gym.  So the device won’t lose the weight for me but it might just be that piece that reinforces the serious need for a whole lifestyle habit change and helps me do it at a more consistent level across my day versus spurts a few times a week.

If considering buying there are a few things to note.  If your main activity is biking or swimming then this is not the device for you.  Its worn on the wrist so I am not sure if on a bike how accurate it would capture your activity if at all.  Nike state you can shower with the device but it’s not waterproof.  So swimming is not an option which frustrates me a little as I do like to go for a swim.  Also I haven’t had the cojones to wear it in the shower for fear I kill it.  In my head if it’s not waterproof then it stays away from water, showers included!

Feedback for Nike and improvements?

  • Make it waterproof!
  • It would be great if there was GPS and thus location and elevation info captured (or at least integrated better with your smartphone app to capture this – see next point)
  • Nike Apps – presently there are a number of Nike Apps. So when I go for a run (fast walk!) I use the Nike Running app and then when I come back I have to sync my Fuelband to my Nike Fuelband app.  This just seems a little crazy.  There should be one Nike app that can integrate the data across the different devices you have be that the Nike App, Fuelband, Sportswatch, etc
  • Continue to improve on the Nike+ web piece.  While it has improved greatly over the last year they should(will)) continue to develop and they should add some features like weight tracking and body measurements.

So that is it.  I think it’s a great piece of tech and when used correctly could really help some of us to improve our lifestyle on a more consistent basis.  The fact it is a 24 hr all day tracking system means its a lifestyle monitor for anyone to use and learn from and not just a piece of gear for serious runners and athletes. People have made the odd comment such as ‘oh you can fool it by shaking your arm!’ but in these cases it’s not really the device you are fooling.  When it’s used as it is designed it really is an excellent, easy to use, put on and forget piece of tech.  Highly recommended for those so inclined!

The Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone

So as we gear up for Windows 8 with new phones and tablets a few thoughts on the current Windows Nokia Lumia 900 phone after using one for a few weeks.

Positives

  • Really liked the form factor.  Nice phone in the hand for shape, weight and size and easy to operate.
  • The device was very fast.  Never felt the device was struggling to do anything with always quick response in apps.
  • A nice touch screen that was very responsive. The slightly curved aspect made interacting with it very easy (pleasant even!).
  • Excellent integration with Windows Live, Office 365, Twitter and Facebook. E.g. from a text message I could jump onto my Live skydrive and attach an image. Posting to Twitter or Facebook from within apps worked better without logins such as those you get on the iPhone.
  • The OS was very clean with a real Windows 8 feel to it based on my exposure.  I really like the minimalistic aspect.  In parts it made the iPhone feel dated and clunky (and I love my iPhone!)
  • Phone piece of it was excellent with very nice interface and excellent call quality – a piece Apple all too often have forgotten.
  • Good battery life.  Better than both Blackberry and iPhone in recent comparison.
  • MS Office mobile such as Word, Excel, Onenote and Powerpoint.
  • Really liked the customisable tiles on your home screen.

Negatives

  • While I liked the OS it did have an unfinished look and feel to it at times.
  • Poor Camera – especially indoors and in poorer light compared with other phones.  It  often was quite difficult to take a good quality picture, or a picture with the same quality as the iPhone.  The camera app does has a lot more ‘real’ camera settings that many may like but for me I want to point and click and not spend 10 mins picking from 20 different settings just to get a good picture.
  • Obviously not the same volume of apps available for it so I could not replicate everything from my iPhone.
  • The phone was expensive.  The same cost roughly as recent iPhones or other devices we have got.  Considering it can’t quite offer what other devices offer they should be cutting their margins to make it more appealing.

So overall I was very pleasantly surprised with it.  I will seriously consider switching to the new Windows 8 version when it comes out if the camera is better and once the selection of apps improve.  Personally it would work better for me as my email is with Microsoft Outlook.com and work is on Microsoft Office 365.  The excellent integration with these products that the Windows phone offers might just get me to give up my iPhone!

Twitter’s missing piece?

Twitter’s missing piece? It is missing the whole check-in piece similar to what Foursquare offers. I hear foursquare haters shout ‘No! I don’t care where you are!’ but please hear me out.  I don’t just mean for places but for events like concerts, conferences, topics, news pieces, emergencies, TV shows, movies and of course places and companies like Starbucks! Anywhere or anything you can start a conversation on.

Why? Well Twitter is where the conversation happens now. Having to filter topics or search based on hash tags is cumbersome and awkward. There are different hash tags for the same event, idea, debate or show. Often where I am or what I am watching is not the same as those I follow on Twitter . That is fine but it should be easier to connect with those people who are. I should be able to check in to any thing or place. e.g. a TV show Madmen. Twitter would then auto build a search\view and include all other tweets from others checked in here. I could make it geography specific if I choose.  There is no point in having a list with people from another geography that may be an episode or 2 ahead or behind in the conversation. Any tweet I compose when in this list\view is auto tagged by Twitter as a ‘Mad Men’ tweet and could be easily filtered for those who follow me but who are not interested in Mad Men.

If I return to my standard Twitter stream and tweet all is normal and my tweets are not tagged but as soon as I return to the Mad Men check-in the filters and tags are auto built into each tweet I compose. When I check out that list\view and all those auto built views and pieces disappear from my Twitter app or web page. I can check-in again in the future to re-create.  Mad Men may not be the best example but replace that with Presidential Debate, X-Factor, TED Conference, New Zealand Earthquake, etc…etc…

I think it would offer better options for companies or shows to ‘own’ their check-in areas and provide info and offers while not being able to necessarily filter comments or feedback unless profanity was used. This could also be revenue generating for Twitter. So e.g. your local book store wants an advertised tweet to display with the latest offering upon each check and it pays a simple very small fee as with promoted tweets per check-in.

I could talk and talk about specifics about how each piece should work but think it really would be a great facility and help to easily connect people across this great medium. There is very little new above. The problem is some of it is in Foursquare, some in Twitter and some in other apps that try to link your TV viewing with conversations. It’s disjointed and awkward. If Twitter offered it in one place it would a great addition to what it already offers us. I think Twitter should purchase Foursquare and incorporate it nicely into your current offering. It goes back to that comment on social media ideas and solutions – ‘Is it an app or a feature’ and I think Foursquare should be a feature of Twitter.  What do you think?