Was your first mobile phone a Nokia too?

The first cell phone I ever owned was a Nokia 5190. I was moving down to Edmonton, away from my family, and my Dad wanted to make sure I had a cell phone. I remember going to the Fido store at Londonderry Mall and being quite excited to own something so futuristic!

nokia 5110

My phone was green, and it served me well for a few years. I used it mostly for phone calls, but also for Snake! Eventually I upgraded to a Motorola Timeport (the popular silver flip phone, I think it was a P8767). From there I went to a BlackBerry, then an LG, and now an HTC. Many people have gone to Apple or Samsung of course, but I bet the vast majority of us started with Nokia phones. They’ve shipped billions of devices over the years!

As a Windows Phone fan, I think it’s safe to say my next phone will be a Nokia, though it’ll be from a different company than the one I started with:

“Microsoft Corp. has announced the completion of its acquisition of Nokia Devices and Services business. The completion of the acquisition marks an important step in bringing these two organisations together as one team, a process that is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete.

Stephen Elop, former Nokia President and CEO, will serve as executive vice president of Microsoft’s Devices Group, reporting to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Elop will lead an expanded team made up of Xbox, Xbox Live, Microsoft Studios, Microsoft Hardware, Surface and Nokia Devices and Services.”

This is really exciting. Nokia pretty much owns the Windows Phone market already, and all of the exciting hardware and feature advancements seem to come from Nokia. I’m happy with my HTC 8X (especially with the new Windows Phone 8.1), but there’s no question that Nokia devices are the way to go for Windows Phone.

Nokia Day One

Officially the division is now called Microsoft Mobile, but they do have an agreement to continue using the Nokia brand for a period of time. No word yet on what the branding of future phones will be, but it’s safe to say that Lumia will be the primary brand name.

Microsoft now controls the entire stack, from device to operating system to cloud, just like Apple, and just like Samsung is rumored to be exploring. Should make for interesting times in the mobile market over the next few years!

I’m not sure when I’ll switch phones, but I have found myself looking longingly at the new Lumia Icon. We’ll see how long I can hold out…

I’m loving my HTC 8X with Windows Phone 8

I dropped my phone back in September. I was getting my coat and shoes on and accidentally dropped it on the stone tile in our doorway. The screen was cracked pretty badly, but surprisingly everything still worked (well, everything except the proximity sensor). I had a spare screen protector, so I put that on to make sure I wouldn’t cut myself. I dropped into the TELUS store to check out my options, but being on contract I found I would basically have to buy out the old phone and then either pay for a new one or sign a new contract. I kept thinking to myself, why couldn’t this have happened in November?! I had been growing impatient for the arrival of Windows Phone 8 and had been planning to upgrade anyway.

I decided to stick it out with the cracked screen, but trust me, it wasn’t easy. Not just because of the screen either, but because despite Windows Phone 8 being released on October 29, devices were not available until weeks later (at least here in Canada). Being a TELUS customer was even worse – they have only just made the Samsung ATIV S available. I knew I wanted one of the two premier phones – Nokia’s Lumia 920 or HTC’s 8X. As luck would have it, just after they became available, one of my colleagues got the Lumia 920 and another got the 8X. That gave me the opportunity to see and hold each one in person. With its slimmer, lighter build, I decided the 8X was the phone for me (this piece from The Verge helped too).

HTC Windows Phone 8X

I spent a few hours trying to track one down at a Bell or Rogers store, but they either didn’t have any in stock or wouldn’t sell it to me. Thankfully I remembered hearing about OmegaCell, and that’s where I ultimately ordered mine from, unlocked. I picked up a $10 Micro-SIM from TELUS and a couple of hours later, I was up and running (for some reason the online site wouldn’t accept the new phone and SIM, so I had to call TELUS to get it activated, but that was quick and painless). There’s been a huge advertising push lately and I have seen more and more displays for Windows Phone, so I hope it becomes easier to get one of the devices.

I’ve had my “California Blue” 8X for a little over three weeks now, and I love it.

I think it’s a beautiful device. It’s just 10.12mm thick and weighs 130 grams (lighter than my LG Optimus 7 which weighed 157 grams but not as light as my BlackBerry Curve which was 115 grams). It features unibody construction, Gorilla Glass 2, a pixel density of 342ppi, and a soft polycarbonate back (full specs here).

HTC Windows Phone 8X

With its tapered edges, it truly is a comfortable phone to hold. I will say that this is the first phone I’ve owned that makes people go “wow, let me see”.

HTC Windows Phone 8X
BlackBerry Curve, LG Optimus 7, HTC 8X

The camera on my LG Optimus 7 was usable, but it wasn’t very good. The camera on the 8X is spectacular. Here’s a photo I took earlier this afternoon:

Downtown Edmonton

I think The Verge did a great job of highlighting the hardware in their review, so check that out for more detail.

Everything I loved about Windows Phone 7 still applies and in many cases has been improved:

  • Information at-a-glance with live tiles! It really is great to see upcoming appointments and the temperature without having to open separate apps.
  • Easy setup with all of my accounts including Microsoft/Windows Live, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Hotmail, Google, and Office 365. This lets me sync email, calendars, contacts, and social alerts. It intelligently links contacts, which is awesome.
  • The “Me” tile is still just fantastic. Quick access to post an update or see mentions on Twitter and Facebook.
  • The combination of SMS, Messenger, and Facebook inside the messaging hub means I can use whatever service is appropriate, and I don’t have to open up separate apps to switch.
  • I can take photos and have them upload to SkyDrive automatically, or I can post them to Facebook and other services with a couple of taps. No need to open an app. The new camera saves settings and supports Lenses too.
  • Xbox integration for games and achievements, SkyDrive integration for photos and other files.
  • The keyboard on Windows Phone is just awesome. I’ve used the iPhone’s keyboard, and I don’t know what it is exactly, but the experience of typing on a Windows Phone is just so much better. No crazy autocorrect here! There’s some great detail behind the keyboard here.

WP8 Home Screen There’s a ton of under-the-hood improvements in Windows Phone 8, but there’s some fantastic, more visible new stuff too:

  • It seems like a small feature, but having three sizes of live tiles is great (as you can see in my home screen). For example, I like to keep the calendar tile large so that I can see the full details of upcoming events, but the messaging tile small so I just see the number of new messaging.
  • Internet Explorer 10 is included, thankfully. I’ve had far fewer issues browsing websites than I did before.
  • OneNote has been promoted to its own tile. I use this all the time and I love that my notes are automatically synced to SkyDrive across all my devices.
  • The 8X supports NFC so it has the Tap+Send feature which makes it easy to share photos and files with other devices.
  • I like the improved lock screen. I have mine set to use Bing’s images, so I get a beautiful new photo every day.
  • The new Skype app is beautiful and works really well. My old phone lacked a front-facing camera, but that’s no longer a problem!
  • Xbox Music is the improved successor to Zune. I can make a playlist on my desktop and have it sync automatically to my Xbox and phone.
  • Xbox SmartGlass enables me to control my Xbox 360 with my phone. This isn’t exclusive to WP8, but it is a fantastic feature.
  • I haven’t really used the Wallet feature yet, but it does seem promising.

Yes there’s fewer apps on Windows Phone, but the gap is closing. I would love to see an Instagram app, and maybe a Pair app. I know the lack of a Dropbox app is a big deal for many people. But there are some truly great apps on Windows Phone such as 4th & Mayor, a much better Foursquare app than the official one, and Baconit, a Reddit app. New apps appear all the time (more than 75,000 in 2012), and the improved Store make them easier to find than ever.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Windows Phone 8 and the HTC 8X. As I have said before, you should probably pick your device based on your ecosystem, but if you are in the market for a new phone and aren’t sure what to get, take a look at Windows Phone. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Three months with Windows Phone 7

I wrote about my first week with Windows Phone 7 back in January, and I meant to post an update but never got around to it until now. I’ve had my new phone (LG Optimus 7) for about three months, which I suppose means it is no longer new! I’m still really loving the platform, but I do have a better sense of what’s missing and what could be improved.

LG OPTIMUS 7
Photo by suanie

Fortunately I didn’t have to wait very long for the “NoDo” update (poor AT&T customers) so I have been enjoying copy & paste and the other benefits for a while now. It works as expected, without any issues. The only oddity is that the paste icon disappears after you paste something, and you have to swipe to get it back. I did notice an improvement in speed after the update, but that’s pretty much it. Oh the GAL for my one Exchange 2003 account now works as well, which is handy.

The real update is known as “Mango” and is slated to be delivered later this year, perhaps as “Windows Phone 7.5”. It’ll contain a ton of new features, such as IE9 Mobile, Twitter integration, improved SkyDrive integration, third-party multitasking, more Live Tile functionality, and improved software capabilities (making apps like Skype possible). Obviously IE9 will make a big difference to the overall experience, and the Twitter integration is nice, but I hope they fix a number of the outstanding issues in addition to delivering new features (such as the problems with Live Tiles).

There’s a giant wishlist thread on the Microsoft Answers site, but here are the things I’d like to see improved:

  • The camera app needs to be fixed to remember my settings. It’s so annoying to select anti-shake every time I want to take a picture.
  • Apparently custom ringtones are coming in Mango (finally I get a basic ring) and I hope it also provides the ability to change the ring volume independently of the other sounds (like alarms or reminders).
  • SkyDrive integration in the Office Hub would be great, so that I can open and save documents on SkyDrive. OneNote already syncs with SkyDrive, but not the other document types. Fortunately this is slated to come in Mango.
  • On the topic of the cloud, I’d love to have Windows Live Mesh support, if only to synchronize bookmarks in IE (which I already do across my computers).
  • I still can’t quite believe that Windows Phone 7 shipped without a Windows Live Messenger client. An official client still doesn’t exist, though there is a third-party one available. This is a pretty glaring omission, especially considering there are official clients on other mobile platforms!
  • There are a few things I’d like to see improved in the calendar app. A weekly view would be really handy, and the ability to sync more than just the primary calendar for an account would be great. I’d also love for both the calendar and Exchange to support the colored categories. I use them all the time in Outlook and Outlook Web Access and would love to see them on the phone.
  • An option for a unified email inbox would be really useful.
  • Something needs to be done with the Bing Maps app. I never use it, because it is so useless for me. Why do I have to specify “Edmonton, Alberta” for it to know I mean the Edmonton I am actually located in? It has my location information! Other issues include:
    • I have to enter actual addresses, rather than business names (which I can do with Google).
    • Directions only work maybe one out of every five attempts, and take forever to load (directions always load, and quickly, with Google).
    • There is no ability to get transit directions (which I can get with Google).
  • Maybe the solution would be to have a Google Maps app, but that doesn’t seem likely, at least not an official one.

It has been really encouraging to see the number of apps growing significantly, though it would be great to see a few more “official” ones (like Skype, coming after the Mango update). I still haven’t found a news app that I really love, nor a weather app (I am using The Weather Channel right now because WeatherBug’s live tile stopped working). That said, the apps I use most are all there and work really well (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc). The only app I have issues with is Flickr, it always seems to crash for me. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a few apps as well, such as TuneIn Radio and LG’s QR Reader.

Overall I’m still really happy with my decision to go with Windows Phone 7. It helps me get things done on the go, easily and efficiently. It is also fun to use (Sharon and I play a lot of Fruit Ninja)! The platform works well today, and the future looks bright!

My first week with Windows Phone 7

A week ago I finally decided to replace my aging BlackBerry Curve with a more modern smartphone. I have been talking about this for a while, and for the longest time I was pretty convinced I would join the iPhone crowd. As I thought more about what I wanted in a mobile device however, I started leaning more toward Windows Phone 7. That’s ultimately what I decided to go with.

I don’t think my decision should shock anyone – it is fairly well-established that I am a Microsoft fan! As a result of that, Windows Phone 7 made sense for me for a variety of reasons:

  • I hate iTunes. So much so that I haven’t installed it on my new computer (which means I haven’t synced my iPod touch in months). All of my music is organized on my computers using Windows Media Player, which IMHO is a much better app than iTunes.
  • I have thousands and thousands of songs, photos, and videos all organized on my Windows Home Server.
  • I have an Xbox 360 that truly is the centre of my home media experience. It plays everything from my Home Server, and is my portal into Zune, Netflix, and other services. And though I am not a huge gamer, I do use Xbox Live regularly.
  • All of my email, calendar, and contacts are in Exchange (both personal and for Questionmark).
  • I use Windows Live quite a bit, such as to sync OneNote notebooks.
  • I’m a Microsoft platform developer, so the idea of being able to easily port existing code to the phone platform is appealing.

So for those reasons, it made sense to go with a device that is definitely going to work with all of my stuff. But there were some other key reasons that I was attracted to Windows Phone 7 as well:

  • The “hub” concept made a lot of sense to me, especially the “People” hub. It integrates with both of my Exchange accounts, with Windows Live, with Gmail, and importantly, with Facebook. So far, this is the killer feature for me. I simply added all of my accounts, and now I have one master contact list, without duplicates, that is updated on-the-fly when friends update their Facebook information. It’s incredible.
  • Xbox Live integration is such a smart idea, and is really well implemented for a first version. A few simple clicks and I had Fruit Ninja on my phone, and as soon as I started playing I was earning Xbox Live achievements. That’s a big value-add.
  • Everyone has an iPhone!

Once I had decided that Windows Phone 7 was the way to go, I started looking at devices. I have to admit that it’s nice to not have to worry about this extra step in the iPhone world. I wanted to stay with Telus, so that meant I had a choice between the HTC 7 Surround or the LG Optimus 7. I went with the much more attractive-looking LG phone:

  • I would never use the SRS slide-out speakers on the Surround.
  • The Optimus 7 features Gorilla Glass, yet is still slightly lighter and smaller than the Surround.
  • Specs otherwise are mostly the same (which is the case for most Windows Phone 7 devices).
  • And importantly, the LG Optimus 7 received a positive review from Engadget.

As a nice surprise, there are a few LG-specific apps that are really cool too. Notably, the “Play To” app flawlessly plays photos or videos I capture on my phone on my Xbox. Really awesome for sharing with others without having to go to the computer. Engadget was right, the Optimus 7 feels solid and well-made. The only thing I don’t like about it is that the USB cover is hard to open.

LG Optimus 7

I’d say my first week has gone incredibly smoothly. I remember the first few weeks with my old BlackBerry Curve – figuring out how to accomplish stuff was difficult at best. But even Sharon, who swears by her “dumb” phone as I like to call them, had no problem picking up my Windows Phone and figuring it out (she loves Fruit Ninja). It’s incredibly intuitive. Here are some of the really positive things from my first week:

  • Setup was simple and painless. In a matter of minutes I had all of my accounts syncing and was on to downloading apps.
  • One of the things I hated most about my BlackBerry was notifications. If I missed a call and someone left a voice message, I would have FIVE notifications: the blinking red light (which I don’t miss at all), an entry in the call log, a message, a text message, and an icon that shows that I had voicemail. Windows Phone 7 is just simple. A simple update on the lock screen and the live tile, and that’s it. If I happen to be using the phone when a text message comes in, there’s a “toast” notification at the top. Tap it, reply, press the back button, and I’m right where I left off.
  • Wireless synching with the Zune software is awesome (podcasts sync automatically in the morning, for instance).

Of course, there have been a few negative things:

  • I would rather sync music to my phone using Windows Media Player than the Zune software. At least I didn’t have to do anything to get Zune to recognize my existing collection.
  • The volume control on the phone is annoying. I want to set the ring volume separately from the keyboard volume and separately from the alarms volume. Either it can’t be done or I am missing something.
  • Bing Maps, at least as it currently exists on the phone, sucks. I can’t ever get it to find places let alone directions. I really hope they do some work on the app.
  • The camera app doesn’t seem to remember settings, which means extra taps to get what I want.
  • There are some basic apps that should have been included, like Weather, Stocks, and a Timer. I shouldn’t have had to download them.
  • I don’t like the ringtones. Why can’t I just have a plain old ringing phone? I don’t want music.

And yes, I have a wishlist:

  • More apps! I know this will happen over time, but it is the most attractive thing about the iPhone. Most of the apps I use regularly (Twitter, Facebook, etc) exist on Windows Phone 7, but there’s not much variety right now.
  • More advanced calendar settings would be nice. For instance the ability to ignore categories from a particular calendar, or to sync multiple calendars from Google Calendar.
  • I wish the “Share” feature of the camera supported Twitter (or could be customized to support other services).
  • Opera Mini. I use Opera everywhere, and I love the ability to sync bookmarks, speed dial, and other settings across devices. I’d love to see Opera Mini on Windows Phone 7.

Overall, I’m really happy with my Windows Phone. So far at least, I can confidently say it was the right decision for me. I can’t wait to see the platform grow and evolve!

Telus and Bell team up, plan to roll out 4G

Big news today in Canada’s wireless industry. Telus and Bell announced they are partnering to upgrade their wireless network to 3G nationwide, laying the groundwork for an eventual move to 4G. The move should put both companies on equal footing with Rogers, but playing catchup is expensive:

Although both companies declined to provide any clear insights to the cost of the upgrade, analysts expect it to be approximately between $750-million to $1-billion, split two ways between Bell and Telus. Mr. Entwistle said that initial capital expenditures for the new network are included in Telus’ original guidance of approximately $1.9-billion this year and is expected to be $750-million higher than historical levels in the following year.

I’m not sure how I missed it, but apparently rumors of this specific deal actually surfaced back in July. The first rumor, that Telus would switch to GSM, started back in January. The announcement today covers the launch of a network with High Speed Packet Access (HSPA/GSM). Bell and Telus hope to have the network ready just in time for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. After that the goal is to move to LTE (4G), which is in line with the plans of most other carriers around the world.

Clearly this is great news for Canadians. Having a single network standard will bring cost benefits, and faster time-to-market for hardware. I’m looking forward to it.

Here’s the Telus press release, and here’s the Bell press release. Both are incredibly similar, though neither one mentions the other! I guess we should use the term “partnership” lightly.

Text messaging is not dangerous, get over it

cell phoneThe people who create violent video games must be breathing a sigh of relief at the moment – text messaging is the new enemy. Increasingly the media has been publishing fluff pieces about the apparent danger that text messaging poses. With news that the train engineer at the centre of the crash in California last week was text messaging at the time of the accident, things are only getting worse for the technology.

Maybe it’s just the natural progression of things – become popular enough and you’ll undoubtedly gain enemies. Text messaging is more popular than ever, with over 75 billion messages sent in the US in the month of June alone. That’s an awful lot of messages! In fact, Nielsen Mobile estimates that more Americans send text messages than make phone calls. I would guess the numbers are similar here in Canada and elsewhere in the world.

Of course, there are no facts that prove text messaging is dangerous:

Though there are no official casualty statistics, there is much anecdotal evidence that the number of fatal accidents stemming from texting while driving, crossing the street or engaging in other activities is on the rise.

“The act of texting automatically removes 10 I.Q. points,” said Paul Saffo, a technology trend forecaster in Silicon Valley.

I am sure Saffo is completely qualified to make such a statement as a “trend forecaster” so let me make a few statements of my own. I would venture to say that you lose I.Q. points while using the good old fashioned voice functionality of your phone. You probably lose 10 I.Q. points while rocking out to music on your iPod. You undoubtedly lose I.Q. points while stirring your Frappuccino as you cross the street too.

My point is that text messaging is no different than any other distraction. You’ve always got to remember to pay attention to the task at hand.

I love Facebook Mobile via text messages

facebookBuilding a mobile application that works really well is hard. In general, I think we put up with sub-standard mobile applications simply because they offer convenience, not because they blow us away. The iPhone is definitely changing things but for the most part, I still cringe when I need to use most mobile apps. Especially ones that claim to work over text messaging. There’s only one SMS app that I really like – Facebook.

I think Facebook has absolutely nailed the text messaging experience.

Use it for a while, and you’ll realize that the SMS functionality of Facebook is so much better than everything else. Take Twitter, for instance. One of its original claims to fame was that it worked well over SMS. Except that compared with Facebook, it absolutely sucks.

Here are a few of the reasons why Facebook over text messaging rocks:

  • You can do many different things. You can update your status by prefixing your message with the @ symbol, or write on someone’s wall by prefixing the message with “wall Name”. Similarly, you can send messages by prefixing with “msg Name”.
  • Facebook will ask for clarification. If I send a message prefixed with “wall Kim” it will ask me which Kim I mean if it can’t figure it out automatically.
  • Context! Let’s say someone sends me a Facebook message, which I have set to come to my phone. All I need to do is reply, and it will send a Facebook message back. Same goes for wall notifications. I don’t need to specify the “msg” or “wall” because Facebook understands the context.
  • Taking that to the next level, Facebook over text messaging is “multithreaded”. By that I mean, there is more than one number. If I get two messages, they’ll come from different shortcodes, so that when I reply Facebook knows which one I am replying to.

The key difference between Facebook SMS and other applications, is that idea of a session. The way that my reply to a notification is not isolated – Facebook understands some of the context around it. It makes the whole experience so much better.

Another major plus with Facebook over text messaging is that it’s both fast and reliable…unlike Twitter. I’ve never had any problems with it – it just works.

If you don’t already make use of Facebook Mobile, I encourage you to give it a shot. You can learn more about the SMS features here.

Telus Mobility surprises me with a free gift!

I received an interesting package in the mail today from Telus Mobility. A little white box with the phrase “Happy Anniversary” on the front was waiting for me! I opened it up to find a letter thanking me for being a customer since 2003. Actually, I’ve been a customer since 2000 but my first three-year contract was under my business partner’s name. I’ve written about Telus quite a few times on my blog, sometimes because of something bad, sometimes because of something good. This is obviously one of the good things!

Happy Anniversary from Telus Mobility

Wondering what was in the box? In addition to the letter, they sent me a three-in-one phone charger! It’s a pretty neat little gadget, plugs into the wall or a car outlet, and has a couple of cables with different connectors on it. And a little bag to store the cables in.

Letter from Telus Unboxing! 3-in-1 Phone Charger Cables & Charger

Thanks Telus! My current contract is up around November, and while it’s unlikely I’d have gone through the hassle of switching anyway, this makes it even easier to decide. Combined with some customer service improvements recently, Telus Mobility is starting to do more things right than wrong. Now if only they could get the cool new phones sooner 🙂

Did you have problems with Telus Mobility last night?

I just got off the phone with a client service representative at Telus Mobility. The good news is that their support service is still fast and effective, as I mentioned back in May. The bad news is that the Telus network doesn’t seem incredibly stable.

Around 9 PM last night, my phone stopped working. I couldn’t make or receive any calls, nor could I send or receive text messages. Every attempt was greeted with an annoying “beep beep beep” and text messages just disappeared into the unknown. I was kind of lost without my phone, and I mentioned to Megan that I should almost buy a backup pay-as-you-go phone on another network for precisely this type of thing. She just laughed!

Calls started working again around midnight, but text messaging still was not working this morning. Hence the call to Telus. The service representative asked a bunch of questions, and by the way I was answering, I think she got the hint and asked if this had happened before. I said yes, unfortunately, and asked her to send the clearing message. She did, and also said she was going to “do a reset” which means I have to turn my phone off for twenty minutes. Stange, I know. Hopefully it works.

I wasn’t the only one with problems it seems:

I’d like to know what happened, and if it was limited to just Edmonton and area or whether it was more widespread. Too bad they suck at communicating that sort of thing. Telus needs a blog!

Telus Mobility Impresses

Post ImageAs you may know, my mobile phone provider is Telus Mobility. I have used them for years and for the most part, I’ve been content. Not excited, not angry, just content. I did write about some text message troubles I had back in January though, and noted:

…there was absolutely no wait time to talk to someone (minus the stupid speech recognition menu which took a couple minutes). This is a BIG improvement for Telus…normally you have to wait forever!

On Friday, I had another somewhat similar experience. My text messaging was not working as expected, so I called support. Right away I talked to a friendly lady who told me they were experiencing troubles in Alberta and B.C. with text message delivery. She connected me to network services anyway, to see if my problem was something more.

After about 15 minutes of waiting to talk to someone, I gave up. I hoped the problem was simply what the first lady had told me – temporary delays. Turns out she was right – my messages started working again late on Friday, and I started receiving a bunch of messages yesterday and today that were not delivered over the weekend.

As I walked in the door tonight around 7 PM though, it got even better! My cell rang and when I answered I was greeted by a recorded message from Telus Mobility. Turns out they were very sorry for the delay I had experienced Friday, and to apologize, they credited $5 to my account.

That’s the kind of thing that will make me a happy customer instead of a content customer. They went the extra mile. Well done Telus Mobility!