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Saturday
Jul192014

Three Months with Windows Phone

A few notes on Windows Phone. I’ve had my Samsung ATIV S Neo for about 3 months now so I guess it’s fair to make some observations. First, this hasn’t been my primary phone. I still use my iPhone 5 for day-to-day communication like calling and texting. I have, however, made an effort to use the Samsung when I can.

It’s running Windows Phone 8.1 and for the short time I had it with 8.0, I can say that this is a great upgrade.

Below are a few observations and comparisons between these two phones and their operating systems.

Advantage : Samsung

Screen

The 4.7” screen on the Neo is big and bright. It looks great and feels like an improvement compared to the iPhone 5’s 4-inch screen.

Advantage : Windows Phone

Keyboard

Word Flow. The “Swipe” style of text input is outstanding. Besides having physically more real-estate for the keyboard, this input method works surprisingly well. It’s impressively accurate and when there are mistakes, suggestions are displayed for quick changes. This is the Number 1 complaint I have with my iPhone’s on-screen keyboard. The AutoCorrect suggestions are OK, but this is a clear win for Windows Phone.

Home Screen

Live Tiles. It seems that people love them or hate them. I’m in the former camp. I like the style of app placeholders that can update their content and change dynamically. I’m happy to see the improvements Microsoft has made in this area. I don’t hate my iPhone’s home screen (Springboard), but it does feel a bit long in the tooth even with the iOS 7 update.

Advantage : iPhone / iOS

Apps

This is a huge differentiator. The Apple App Store is full of great applications. Sure it’s got it’s share of tip calculators and fart apps, but for the most part whatever you can think of there really is an app for that. My biggest complaint with Windows Phone is the Store. If you’re looking for an app, it’s probably not there. This isn’t really the fault of Microsoft it’s just the nature of the market. Developers follow the money. They go after the larger market shares for iOS and Android and WP is an afterthought at best. The curation of the Store, however, is entirely Microsoft’s fault. Search for Gmail… you’ll find about 200 results that range in price from FREE to $29.99. And though most of them use the official Gmail icon, NONE of them are from Google. I don’t care that Google hasn’t gotten around to writing a native WP app for Gmail. What I do care about is the terrible user experience this gives the user.

Camera

The Neo’s 8MP camera takes great pictures and burst mode is nice… but it’s frustratingly slow to focus… sometimes refusing to focus at all until you close and re-open it. With a 6-month-old I’ve missed more shots than I care to admit. The iPhone 5’s slightly lower resolution (5MP) camera takes photos that are just as good or better and I’ve never had an issue with focus or delay.

Printing

Bonjour/AirPrint is built into iOS. It really does just work. Wi-Fi printing is not even an option in WP8.1. In order to print a PDF that I’d downloaded on the Neo I had to save it to OneDrive and then open it again with OneDrive for the iPhone to send it to the printer. It’s the simple things that make the experience. This makes the WP platform feel like it’s not quite ready for primetime.

VPN

Admittedly not something that every user cares about but I do. For all my devices (laptops, iPhones, iPads, Surface Pro, Surface RT) I use OpenVPN to secure traffic when I’m on shared wi-fi. After some research and trying to figure out if it was even possible in WP8.1 I finally just gave up.

Conclusion

I like the Samsung hardware and I like WP8.1. I’m hopeful that the mobile OS continues to improve and gain market share as I think that’s a win for everyone. However, 2 of the 3 advantages listed above are likely to disappear this fall when Apple announces the iPhone 6 w/ iOS8. They’ve already announced 3rd-party keyboard support in iOS8 so there goes my top frustration. And if the rumors are true, a 4.7” (and possible a 5.5”) screen should alleviate my concerns with the smaller screen size.

At this point I think I’m on track to pick up the iPhone 6.

Sunday
Jul062014

Happy Birthday, UnFriend!

You may recall that I have a Facebook Rule concerning how I add friends. I'm weighing adopting another practice that I've been hearing about for a while : birthday unfriending. Instead of a devoted undertaking of re-evaluating all FB connections in a single sitting it's a simpler prospect; When Facebook reminds you of your "friend's" birthday you either wish him/her a happy birthday or unfriend them. The thought goes that if you can't be bothered to type a simple one-liner and hit Post, you're probably not really friends anyway.

It's an interesting idea. I've been meaning to clean up my friends list for some time anyway. Maybe this is the way to go.

What do you think?

Tuesday
Jun172014

Giving Up the Grandfather?

The new "Family Plan" offer from AT&T may just be enough to finally get me to give up my unlimited plan. Maybe.

Since my iPhone 3G I've been on the unlimited data plan. I've never been able to change plans before because I didn't want to have a 5GB cap. Even on the "Unlimited" data plan, I still get a warning at 5GB that the data for the remainder of my biling cycle "may be throttled". I've gotten the warning a few times and haven't really noticed any speed reductions.

My average usage is around 3GB/month, but it spikes during baseball season... Love my MLB.TV app. The new "Family Plan" they're offering is 10GB/month that's shared between 4 lines. And, it's about $30/mo less than I'm paying for 3 lines now. Since the other lines on my plan are low data users, this may be a deal I can finally live with...

... but it's hard to give up a plan that I can't get back if I change my mind.

 

Saturday
Jun142014

Not a Phone Review

Today was another "Boys' Saturday" so I headed downtown with my little man for a cup of coffee and a walk. I took a few snaps with my new Samsung ATIV S Neo.

It's not my primary phone, but I'm starting to kind of like it. Maybe it's just that it's different from what I've been using for the past few years, but I'm pretty impressed with how Windows for mobile has evolved.

The gallery is here. They're un-retouched straight out of the phone. It's an 8MP camera. I'm not sure the quality of the photos are any better than my iPhone 5, but I think they're pretty good.

 

    

Sunday
May182014

Microsoft TechEd North America 2014

A few (ok, more than a few) words (and images) on this year's TechEd North America held in Houston, TX.

Check out the entire gallery here

The Content

"Cloud". That pretty much sums up this year's event. Nearly everything was Cloud/Azure focused, including the Keynote... which I had to watch from an "Overflow Room" (Seriously? If I wanted to watch it on a screen I could have stayed in my hotel). This doesn't have a lot of direct application to my current role so I wasn't overly excited about it. But, I understand the movement in the industry and I didn't really mind either.

My particular passion is security so that's where I spent most of my session time. I saw a lot of familiar faces from pervious years : Marcus Murray, Hasain Alshakarti, Paula Januszkiewicz, and Mark Russinovich. I also saw a couple of sessions from folks I hadn't seen present before : Erdal OzkayaMilad Aslaner, Sami Laiho.

Marcus & Hasain Giving Away their Laptops

As usual, the live demo format of the sessions from Marcus & Hasain, and Paula were the most interesting for me. It's one thing to talk about security vulnerabilities. It's another to see them actively exploited. This is the best type of learning for me as it exposes the real-world scenarios. And, of course, Mark Russinovich is THE rockstar of TechEd. You have to get in early to grab a seat at his sessions... because it's worth it. The depth of knowledge and attention to detail he brings is amazing.

My Signed copy of Rogue Code from Mark Russinovich

There was another presenter on the Security track this year that I've seen in years past. I won't name him, but this year I intentionally skipped his sessions. I've seen a couple and it doesn't seem like he brings a lot of new info. The sessions are (possibly) worthwhile as "Intro" sessions and should be classified as 100 level sessions.

To my surprise, my favorite session of this year wasn't what I would have expected. It was DCIM-B213 TWC: Pass-the-Hash and Credential Theft Mitigation Architectures with Mark SimosNicholas DiCola. The information about building a secure management & administration architecture was great and the format was even better. They spent equal time on the prepared slide presentation and taking audience questions. Considering the size of the audience, this was ambitious and they totally pulled it off. Well done!

The People

The primary reason for attending TechEd is not the content. At least I don't think so. After all, after the event you can view the slide decks and recordings from nearly all of the sessions. The reason to go is the atmosphere and getting to interact with people. I met a lot of new folks... mostly during meals. Just strike up a conversation. Find out where people are from, what they do, what they're here to learn about. While I haven't made any lifelong friends this way (at least not yet), it's a great way to interact and meet new people.

I did take advantage of the "Ask The Experts" reception this year to get some very timely questions on SCCM architecture answered from the people that know best. This is invaluable one-on-one time with industry experts to explain your specific question or situation and get valuable insight. This was definitely a highlight for me... and the free booze didn't hurt either.

Prior to the conference I joined a group called "The Krewe of TechEd". But, not knowing entirely what it was about I didn't make much of an effort to seek out other members and meet up. Based on their photos and postings from the event that seems like my loss and I will definitely make a point of being more involved next time.

The Vendors

Much like my previous TechEd experiences, there were lots of vendors and lots of SWAG. I got some t-shirts both for myself and to pass out to my teammates at the office. As well as some USB drives, stickers, some sort of wind-up robot, etc. etc. etc. Via raffle, I won a Samsung ATIV S Neo phone from Microsoft for sitting in a session on shared social content. I've been thinking of doing some Windows Phone development so this might just come in handy.

The Facility / The Crew

What to say here?... The facility itself, The George R. Brown Convention Center, seemed mostly up to the task of handling such an event (apart from the Keynote). They did a good job of getting everyone through the meal lines without too much of a wait. The deficiencies seemed to be in the planning and the staff. On a positive note, the session rooms were all within relatively close walking distance of each other making it easy to get from one to the next without the "death marches" ala New Orleans. That said, though, numerous times escalators or doors were blocked off or marked "Crew Only" and severely impacted the flow of attendees.

As for the crew, most of my interactions were not positive. When they weren't indifferent they were rude. I had to walk outside in the rain to go to another door to get onto the convention floor after coming downstairs from a session... for no apparent reason other than the security person there was apparently told to not let people enter those doors... from where they would then be IN THE EXACT SAME AREA as where they would be by going in other doors.

I nearly got run over by a food service worker during the opening reception. He was pushing a cart with coolers on it and shouting "coming through" and just barreling ahead. As someone who paid (albeit out of my company's education budget) to be here, this seemed inappropriate and rude. At the Closing Party a staff member put his hand on me to block my way as I was walking by. Apparently he was trying to help someone get a photograph. OK, I don't mind people taking photos and if I had seen the person, I would have politely slowed or stopped to let them take their photo. But, and let me say this clearly, DO NOT PUT YOUR HANDS ON ME! Got that? I reflexively batted his arm away, made eye contact and glared. He said nothing and the photo taker must have waited another 2 seconds or so to get that prized shot of a cowboy juggler on stilts.

The City

I'm not going to judge an entire city based on a single event where I shuttled between an outlying hotel and a downtown convention center. I heard stories of downtown being a ghost town, but honestly didn't get out to explore for myself. I did not, however, encounter anything that made me feel like I needed to get back on my own time to look around. Unless there's another convention, I doubt I'll find my way to Houston again anytime soon.