Sunday, June 14, 2009

Palm Pre Review - Part II - Software

This post is taking much longer to write than I had expected. It is due, in part, to the fact that there are so many basic apps available. In an attempt to get thi completed I have decided to cover conversion in a 3rd post. I had some interesting challenges which might be helpful to others. Here I will just focus on the software specifically and how it works.

Obviously software from other developers can be added to the pre. The app store for the pre is in Beta but fairly robust. There are a few apps available now and for the first week I had seen one or two new apps appear a day. The rate of app release seems to have slowed down, but the pre existing apps have been updated. I suspect once the developer platform is release this summer there will be a large number of apps the spring up.

The pre doesn't have the developer base that the iphone has but as long as good apps get turned out who really cares if I can donwload a flashlight or iFart. In all honesty the apps the come with the pre make it fully functional. It appears that some time this summer we will see the developer platform released which should lead to an increase in available apps. Also fortunately for the pre the iPhone went through the same phase during its initial release. During that time there were many webkit apps developed that are still out there. Almost all of these apps work on the Pre as well. The one app I needed was a password keeper which is available. Coincidentally it is "the same" app I use on my Treo so I am even happier.

As the 3rd party apps have their own review capability i will dedicate this entry to the base software that comes with the pre. I am breaking these down into sections to make it easier to read parts of.

Generic interface --

I love the wallpaper welcome screen. It probably seems silly, but it is great to have a very clear palmtop in which I can bring up an application launch menu. The background image can be either a default image or something you have added (or snapped with the camera) although I haven't really played with that yet.

I probably should have mentioned this in the hardware section but the screen is split into 2 sections. The main screen is most of the face of the device. Just below the main screen is the gestures section (no snide comments form the peanut gallery :-). The gestures section is where the home button is located. One uses this section of the screen to interface with applications. There are a number of gestures that can be used. The one I use most frequently is the "back" gesture which is just a swipe (from right to left) across the home button. This brings you back to the last screen.

In e-mail, for example, it brings you from the message view to the inbox view, then if you went back again you would go to the folder view. One final swipe would bring you back to the card view where you can switch between applications. If you swipe up across the home button it will also bring you into card view from any screen (a message view for example).

Swiping down form card view will bring you into an application screen. The final gesture I will call the launch menu. In any application if you tap one finger in the gesture area and slide up it will bring the launch menu up and you can open the phone, mail, launcher, etc. This is a very smooth and easy to operate interface even if I am not doing a great job describing it. It really doesn't take long to get the hang of either.

The notification section is a great feature. When you have a new text message, e-mail, missed call, or a number of other alerts. The bottom of the main screen moves up a small amount and displays an icon that shows you what you might want to pay attention to. You can tap on the icon to get more info then tap further to read the mail, sms, etc. You can also slide the notice to the side to dismiss it. This all happens without interfering with what ever application you are currently working on. This notification system seems to be extensible as well. Pandora for example has an icon. You can listen to Pandora while you are composing an e-mail. From the e-mail compose screen you can tap the icon and give a song a thumbs up or thumbs down then go right back to editing the e-mail. I am impressed to see that the notification system seems to have an API which means other apps can use it as well.

Universal Search --

The universal search is a great feature. I find myself starting to type application names rather than paging through to find them. So popping open the keyboard and typing "we" will instantly get me to the "web" browser. It was also, coincidentally, find all my contacts that have some combination of "we" (maybe a "wendy ..." or a "william edwards" for example). The latter example is a carry over form my Treo functionality and it is a near must have feature for quickly dialing someone. I can generally dial, sms or e-mail anyone in my phone book by entering 3 or 4 letters. In addition you can add contacts (and web page book marks) to the launhcer screen. This will allow you to access contacts and web pages even quicker.

If you keep typing and there are no matches on the device itself you get an option to search google, wikipedia or a few other options. One disappointment is the "universal search" isn't so universal. The search function doesn't search in all applications. Specifically I would love to search calendar appointments. I do understand that this might clutter the screen up so even a button that says "search calendar" would be a welcomed addition.

Memos --

The memo application looks a lot better than the memo app from the treo, but I really miss some of the functionality that previously existed. I probably over used the memo app on my treo storing directions, phone numbers, lists of things to get(there is a task app which is great for this), measurements, and a bunch of other stuff. I had all of these notes in different categories and I could usually easily find a memo. The new memo application has 4 categories you can use and they are designated by color only. I suppose the idea is to eventually use some cloud note app. This would be great if they had a synergy version that plugged into google notebook, or some other app program (there is an Evernote app available but you need network access to get the data). I suppose I will have to look into this.

For now I have far to many notes and only 4 categories. Finding a specific note is a challenge. Once they are paired down this will be a great app for quick notes, like a hotel room number or a flight times. I will need to find something else for my longer term note needs.

EDIT - After writing this section I discovered that you can search your memos from the memo application. This functionality is actually even quicker than the category method I used to use (assuming you can remember what it is you are searching for :-) ). So this Memo took a big step up in functionality in my mind. I should point out that it has always been there. Maybe I would have found it earlier if I had red the Manual.

Other Apps --

The other Apps you would expect to be there are in fact there. There is a Camera app which works fine. The camera does have a flash (again I probably should have mentioned that in the hardware). I haven't tried many low light situations but it can't be worse than my treo in low light. The photo application will automatically upload pictures to facebook or flickr right now. I am guessing more services could be added. You have to put in your user info then it is just a matter of selecting the menu item and selecting upload then picking the account you have activated.

There is a calculator app which is fine for quick calculations. I would like a more advanced one, but probably don't need it. I used a scientific calculator on my treo to convert miles to meters and farenhight to celcius. I would like similar functionality. I can get the info on the web assuming I am conneted.

There is a doc and pdf viewer which seem to be okay. The screen size isn't great for pdf reading but it is the same on my ipod touch. I just don't like paging around to read the document. It seems as if the doc viewer is a viewer only. It did allow me to look at files but not edit them.

There is a YouTube interface as well as a google maps interface. It all works as expected. There doesn't appear to be a latitude app yet, but again I would expect one eventually. The location services are a big improvement to my Treo (which had none). You can get directions from google apps, geo tag photos. Other apps can use the location services as well. You get a proper warning for any app that can track your location.

I would like more features in the clock/alarm application. You can set multiple alarms and they can be of varying frequencies (Once, Daily, Weekdays, Weekends). There isn't however a stopwatch or countdown timer similar to the functionality of my iPod. Again while these features are not something I use all the time on my ipod they would come in handy for cooking, and other things.

Web Browser --

Like sports or the weather I have saved the best (or perhaps the most interesting) for last. The brower is based on the same code base (WebKit) as the iPhone, so the browser functionality is almost exactly the same form a rendering standpoint. There is no flash, but many flash sites are probably bandwidth intensive any way. I would prefer that sites move to a more mobile friendly programming model. I do like some features of the iphone browser a bit better. The iPhone gets around not being able to multi-tasking by allowing you to have multiple "tabs" or pages open in the browser application. The pre assumes you will open a new instance for each "tab" you want. Really the only problem is on the pre all of the browsers are then running at once and you can quickly run out of memory. The pre does have an initial "bookmark" or thumbnail view where you can save frequently visited pages. This has similar functionality to leaving a bunch of tabs open on a iPod.

The difference is there isn't a convenient way to get back to this view. You can eventually navigate to the screen using the back gesture to go all the way back to the first page you viewed. There is a separate software based back button to allow page navigation. The only way (it seems) to get that view quickly is to open a new instance of the browser. I would love it if the the back gesture to get me back to the thumbnail view and teh software back buttons were used for page navigation.

The browser is also the only app right now that is orientation aware. It stinks that the standard apps aren't orientation aware yet. I would expect e-mail, memo,contacts, etc. to also be orientation aware. Right now the browser seems to be the only app that will switch into landscape mode. (There does appear to be an EASTER EGG/Hack to allow you to turn orientation awareness for e-mail right now it lasts until you close the program).

One nice thing about the landscape mode is the gestures area become a page up/down area which allows you to scroll without having your fingers in the middle of the browsing area. It make it fairly easy to read and scroll at the same time. All in all the browser is great and works well. There are reports that the browser is a bit faster on the pre than on the iPhone, but I don't know how noticeable this is the the basic user.

e-Mail --

Another great improvement over the email program on my treo. The e-mail app knew about gmail and just set everything up for me. All I needed to supply was my user name and password. I can get gmail to my inbox as it arrives without using any relay server or 3rd party service to get push e-mail. I have also set up a work account which is a generic imap server. The configuration wasn't as automatic as gmail, but it was straight forward. I set this to check manually.

Reading e-mail is great. The treo didn't do great at formatting html messages. The pre is excellent at it. Deleting messages is a breeze. From the mailbox screen you can just swipe an e-mail to the left or right to delete the message. Form a message view there is a trash can. You can get a quick view of your different inboxes form the main mailbox screen. It is easy to see which accounts have new mail. You can select to "star" certain folders to make them appear at the top of the list as well. You can also select to have your inbox automatically starred or not. This would allow you to add a junkmail account that you don't want to check that often.

I have yet to figure out what "check manually" actually means. There does seem to be some automation going on. I will randomly get notifications that my work mail has new messages despite the fact that I haven't asked it to check. I am guessing that when I launch mail it checks all inboxes (or maybe all starred folders)

Calendar --

This is an amazing impementation of a calendar solution. The Synergy view really shines here and in contacts. The basic idea is that eveyone has multiple databases for names and events so why not provid eone consolidated view. So for the calendar application i provide my gmail and facebook username and password and the calendar app goes and gets my events. It keep s a copy on the pre for access while I am not on a network and changes are uploaded every 15 minutes or so. One can for a sync form the options menu. The great thing is it make it very easy to operate multiple calendars.

I now have 3 google calendars that I operate. A work account where I put all my work events, my plan is to eventually share this with colleagues. This calendar I can share so people can only see that I am busy but no details about events. I operate a personal calendar, which isn't getting much use now and I may scrap. Finally I have a family calendar which has most of my out of work events (social gatherings, trips, etc.). The Synergy view make it easy to enter appointments and move them around. I can have something in one calendar and very quickly move it to another.

The facebook integration is similar. You can't change events but it will poll events you have accepted and show them to you in the calendar view as well. From any overview screen you have the ability select which calendars you want to see.

Contacts --

The final application is the contacts database. As this is a phone PDA I would say this is probably one of the most important "applications" for a business user. The synergy funcationality helps you out here also. The address book pulls contacts form the different sources you select (Exchange, Google, Palm Profile, and Facebook are the intial ones). I am using Palm profile, Google and Facebook. The synergy functionality allows contacts to exist in multiple places but have one view. Youc an force records apart, and join others it seems to join by name so this is a good feature to have if you know multiple people with he same name.

I actually keep my main address book in google. I had an interesting time converting form the palm desktop to google which I will cover in another post. However, now that the google address book is set everything is working well. If a person has a profile picture in google or facebook it will actually use that as the pictures for their address entry which is nice. It looks like you can choose the facebook picture, google picture or your own picture (form the camera or uploaded separately)

You can assign certain numbers to character on the keyboard. So holding down "h" from main screen will automatically call my house. You can also put any contact as a launcher so they are quicker to dial. All in all getting a hold of someone is fairly quick. The only major frustration is that to do most of this you need to have the keyboard popped out. I would love to have a quick dialing method without popping out the keyboard.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Palm Pre Review - Part I - Hardware

So I received my Palm Pre on Monday and I have had about a week to get used to the new device and play around with it. I will say in general I am very pleased. It is a very worthy upgrade form my older Treo 700p. I will split this up into two reviews to make it a bit easier to read. Hardware first as this is an easier topic to cover.


Palm got the hardware right this time and it has been a long time in coming! The pre includes bluetooth, Wifi, a real head phone jack (bye bye, silly head phone adapter which I hated). The Wifi quickly discovered my home network and let me log in through the secure connection. I haven't tested a public wifi service yet but it should work fine. A final test would be a hotel/private network, one that requires you to go to a web page and accept their terms and conditions. I also haven't tested the bluetooth connection. I have read that it supports a number of profiles (wireless headset, hands free, etc.) which if it works will be an improvement over the Treo which was very limited.

The first thing I noticed about the pre is that it is small. It is about half as thick as my older Treo the same width and a bit shorter. If I line the pre up with the top of the Treo I can read the last 2 rows of keys on the Treo keyboard. The pre exterior is a glossy plastic which seems to be a fingerprint magnet. The fingerprints don't interfere with the screen view but I have found myself constantly wiping the pre down. Fortunately the suede case it comes with also does a fair job at wiping the pre down. A positive and negative feature of the included case is that it is grippy, which means it won't slip out of your pocket (or off a flat surface like the dash of your car). Of course trying to fish it out of a pocket quickly is a challenge. I think a bluetooth headset would be a plus here.

The shape of the pre is a bit odd. It is fairly symmetrical, except for the speaker at the top and home button bottom center center. I sometimes find that I am holding the pre upside down when I first pick it up. I will probably get use to the look but the speaker and "home" button make it tough to immediately determine the top/bottom.

The home button doesn't appear to turn the device on, which will take some getting use to. It may be that I am used to using the button on my iPod Touch, or just that the home button is the first thing you see when you pick it up. It would be nice if this button activated the device. Since the button is raised above the face of the screen there may be a concern that you could inadvertently turn the pre on with the home button. I have had a few friends ask to see the pre and they have all tried to turn it on with the home button. I find the most common method I use to turn the screen on is sliding the screen up to expose the keyboard.

Alternately to turn the screen on you can press the power button on the top right of the case. I have found that pressing the power button with the keyboard exposed is a bit challenging. Not usually an issue unless the pre shuts it self down due to inactivity. While it is extended the back of the screen is another fingerprint collection point. There is a silence switch right next to the power button similar to the Treo which is great for meetings, movies, etc.

The pre is a bit smaller than my iPod touch but again this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The screen is smaller, this is most noticeable in the web browswer, however, the smaller device makes it muct easier to hold and carry. The pre is very comfortable in one hand. I find one hand operation of my ipod, especially for typing, difficult. Typing on the pre keyboard is fine. Again the keyboard is a bit smaller than the treo but they keys are soft which is a nice touch. my thumbs are big enough that I couldn't use them for the treo keyboard either. I generally used my thumbnails. I found after an e-mail or two my thumbnails would be sore. Not to mention that my nails would slip off the treo keys. I find my thumbs to be useless for my touch keyboard and I hunt and peck with my index finger. The soft keys are easy on the thumb nails and prevent slipping. I can type much faster on the pre than on my ipod. I also find myself making far fewer errors on the pre than on the ipod keyboard.

The only small annoyance is a few keys have changed. The changes all seem to be for the better, however, after 4+ years of the treo key placement I have to get use to the new "@" location. Oh and shift is no longer required for "@" or "," (but 0 requires the number key). Once I get used to the new layout I will like it.

Another hardware win from viewpoint is the inclusion of an industry standard connection. The pre had a micro USB port for connecting to the computer and charging. I really can't stand any device that has it's own proprietary connection. Standards based interfaces are the only way to go.

It did take me a but to discover where the micro USB port was located. I find that the port cover, while nice, is difficult to get off (at first I though I was going to break something). I have to slide the phone open to get my thumbnail under it enough to flick it out. The cover has gotten easier to get off over time. I have a touchstone charger on order (maybe another review) which should allow me to eliminate the need to access the USB port on a daily basis.

I have mentioned the screen sliding to expose the keyboard. This operation is smooth and quick. It isn't so quick that I feel the device will jump out of my hand. but you know when it is open and when it is closed. There are also external volume buttons that allow you to turn the ringer volume up and down. Or the speaker (call, or music) volume when you are on a call.

Finally I have only used the camera twice and the pictures seem to be good. Time will tell how the camera responds to different situations, low light, landscapes etc. But it is a camera on the back of my phone so I don't plan on taking portraits with it. I generally use the camera to update facebook, or this blog with silly snapshots. I have to believe it will be as good or better than my treo camera.

The Software segment should follow in a few days.

EDIT - 06/18/2009 I forgot to include a section on battery life. I guess forgetting to include it should be a good sign. It seems like I will get about a day out of my pre under moderate use. That probably doesn't sounds good, but in honesty I think that is a fair expectation. I am not using the pre in a battery friendly mode. I have Gmail set to get e-mail "as it arrives" so this could be a large factor in battery power. I have location services on, again more battery, I stay logged into google chat, which keeps a connection to the chat servers going all the time. I do have bluetooth turned off, so I probably get some time back there. You name it I am probably using it to drain my battery... so in the long run i don't think a full day is so bad. I am sure if I needed to save battery I could turn off location, chat, e-mail, and more.. but where would the fun in that be :-)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Wii Web - So close yet so Far

So I downloaded the web browser for the Wii. I was honestly pretty
excited. I have always wanted to have a PC attached to my tv and sound
system but it never seemed worth it to go out and buy a whole computer to
do this. Not to mention the negative of having a new 300 watt space heater
in my living room.

There are only really a few things I want to be able to do with this
system. Almost all of them revolve around surfing the web:

1. A quick view of imdb for times when the person on TV or in the movie
looks really familiar.

2. A lot ofTV shows are on line now so being able to watch a show that I
forgot to DVR or something that I'm just not that interested in is very
interesting to me.

3. Being able to play my MP3 collection through my tuner without a bunch
of hardware would be awesome!

4. Being able to view or listen to other media that requires a browser.
For example: we are members or Red Sox Nation which gets us acess to mlb
gameday audio. There are times when we would love to be able to listen to
the game.

So when I saw that there was a browser for the Wii I thought it would be
able to provide a sloution to a number of my desires.

However, I quickly discovered that really this browser isn't an optimal
platform. Most of the sites I wanted to use required plugins that weren't
available for the Wii. Imdb was really the only site that worked well.
Everything else just got me blank pages with plugin not available. So if
Nintendo and the plug-in community is listening... Develop some plugins
there are probably millions of people out there running into the same
issues I am and I am sure they would use the browser more if multi-media
was an option.

So what now? Well I am formulating an idea that may work. Sun has just
released XVM server so I am thinking I can stand up a Solaris 10 guest on
my home computer and use SunRay software to get my desktop to a sunray
(using RDP) at my TV. This should meet my needs well and all I need to
pick up is a SunRay. I might even be able to find a cheap used on Ebay.
Not that thay are expensive to begin with. And since they are low wattage
and have no fans I don't have to worry about the pwer and fan noise!

Now all I need is free time to set this all up :-)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Bottom of Waimoku Falls

On our recent trip to Maui I was able to convince Mary to go on another hike with me. Fortunately for me she is always willing to go (at least she hasn't said no yet). I love getting to places that require a little bit of work. Partially because I feel rewarded once I have gotten somewhere. Additionally, going to places that require a bit of work usually weeds out the casual tourist.

I am happy to report that this hike (even though it wasn't nearly has arduous as our Pu'u O'o hike 2 years ago) was very rewarding. At the end of the Pipiwai Trail is a wonderful waterfall. We visited during the dry season so there was only a little water in the pool below. This made the falls and the pool approachable. There were a few people swimming and enjoying the massage from the plummeting water.

This is a great place to visit if you are in Hana for more than a day trip. We stayed at the Hana Kai Maui which was a great place. The hotel is right on the water and it totally has a remote tropic feel. There is a more upscale hotel in town too.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lava Ocean Entry


This is one of my best/favorite pictures from our night at the lava ocean entry near the end of Route 130 (Kalapana). The light show was amazing. Aside from the lava which you see here we were treated to a couple of lightning flashes in the steam as well.

We were much closer to the lava this time than we were on our Honeymoon in 2004.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hawaii.... Again!

We just got back from another visit to our favorite place. I have quite a few pictures but they are probably going to take a while to convert to jpg (I took a lot of RAW images) and a few have to be messed with.

Above is a early morning view of the Haleakala "Crater". There were some amazing colors to view here. We were joined by a few friends for the second week. It was a fun to show them around our favorite island and have some new experiences too. The ocean entry from the TEB vent was very active just outside Volcanoes National Park. We were treated to an amazing evening fireworks show. It looks like a few of my pictures turned out decent despite the lack of a tripod. I totally wish Troy was there with his high powered Digital SLR...... Maybe next time.

I will post more photos as they are ready....

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Corn Hole Video Game

That's right a corn hole video game at a bar here in Houston, TX. Golden
Tee watch out. People will be dropping golf and darts like hot potatos in
order to play a round or corn hole. You heard it here first. The
nightlife scene is changing for the better.