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Windows Phone 7 heading for bigger launch in Europe than US?

Today’s announcement that Windows Phone 7 will launch on all five major UK carriers indicates that the platform is likely to enjoy success sooner in Europe than on home territory.  So far it looks like AT&T may be the only major US carrier to have a big Windows Phone 7 laumch, and with Verizon heavily invested in the Droid brand I wouldn’t expect them to rush in when CDMA handsets become available.  That leaves Sprint, who also have to hang on for a CDMA version and T-Mobile, who have traditionally offered one or two Windows based hamdsets at any given time.

So on home territory it could be a difficult holiday season for Microsoft’s new hope in the smartphone market.  They’ll be up against the iPhone 4 for upgrading customers on AT&T, and the whole gamut of established brands across the market for new subscribers.  To my mind, this holiday season will be about two dynamics in the top end smartphone space: 4G (Sprint WiMAX and possibly Verizon LTE) vs 3.5G (AT&T and T-Mobile both with HSPA+rollouts) and iPhone 4 vs Android.  Unfortunately I don’t see Windows Phone 7 factoring significantly in that mix in the US, which is a shame because it looks frickin’ awesome.

Neil Berman

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Sep 22, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile | , , , , , | Leave a comment

RIM, Apple winners in 2009; Windows Phone suffers

The recently published ComScore stats give RIM good reason to celebrate the holidays, and tell an interesting story about the US smartphone market overall. These stats show two clear winners this year in the form of RIM and Apple, while the company losing out was Microsoft which experienced a stagnation of Windows Phone users.

RIM’s user population seems to have skyrocketed this year, increasing from just under 10 million in February to almost 15 million by October. Apple also saw a big gain from 5 million to just under 9 million during the same period. Meanwhile Windows Phone tread water throughout the year around the 7 million mark, as it waits long and hard for Windows Mobile 7. It’s also worth noting the Google number, which represents Android. While the numerical increase from around 400,000 to just over 1 million may not seem significant, this platform increased its user community by over 100%, which is a phenomenal growth figure.

What I find most interesting about the RIM figures is that corporate purchasing was probably pretty low this year. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if corporate subscription growth was negative in the first half of 2009 due to companies terminating the BlackBerry accounts of fired employees. So this increase in RIM’s numbers this year tells me that it must be growing its retail consumer population successfully. If my analysis is correct then this is great news for the BlackBerry platform, which has traditionally been perceived as a corporate device. Perhaps the Love What You Do campaign has been more successful than I gave it credit for in a recent podcast!

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Dec 18, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Microsoft, Mobile, News | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hands-on with a pre-release Windows Mobile 6.5 Professional ROM from XDA Developers

The success of the iPhone has focused smartphone developers’ attention upon touch.  The Blackberry Storm, Palm Pre, T-Mobile G1 (Googlephone) and HTC Touch HD all looked to compete with the iPhone with large screens and touch interfaces.

Under the hood of the Touch HD was Windows Mobile with HTC’s TouchFlo finger-friendly overlay.  Like historical versions of the Palm and Blackberry OSes, Windows Mobile has generally been aimed at stylus+button input which has made it fast for savvy users.  However in an iPhone age greater accessibility is required and Windows Mobile 6.5 aims to achieve this.

We’ll be looking at a pre-release XDA Developers build of WinMo 6.5 Professional on an HTC Touch Pro (Raphael model), so the actual features I describe may be different to the ones available in the full future release.  We will also concentrate on the significant changes from WinMo 6.1, as much of 6.5 is closely related to 6.1.

Honeycomb application launcher

Many early photos of WinMo 6.5 showed the now-famous honeycomb lattice application launcher, designed to create more space between icons and make the easier to target with a finger.  In the version I’m trying the lattice borders are not present but the formation is there.  The icons are far easier to target than in 6.1, I haven’t missed any yet.

Swiping and scrolling

The scrolling action to reveal further pages of applications has been hugely improved.  Finger swipes now scroll the screen with ease, locking at each page if the swipe is gentle or scrolling through multiple pages if stronger.  The top/bottom bouncing effect has been borrowed from the iPhone and it works well.

This also extends within applications, such as Windows Live where mailbox scolling and mail selection has been made far more finger friendly.  Track forward/back changes in Windows Media player are also a side-swipe away.

Pre-6.5 applications currently have variable scolling implementations however.  AvantGo, for example, still scrolls as well as it did before but the new bouncing effect is not present.

Battery life

I’ve noticed a colossal improvement in battery life on the Touch Pro compared to it’s original AT&T 6.1 build.  The Touch Pro will now easily last a full day with regular periods of data usage.

It’s difficult to know what has caused this uptick, possibly it’s due to more efficient CPU or memory calls or perhaps the lack of HTC’s graphics intensive TouchFlo overlay means the system is being taxed less.  It’s certainly a welcome change and makes the Touch Pro a usable phone for my usage pattern.  YMMV.

3G stability improvements

Whilst 6.1 is a pretty stable OS, the Touch Pro previously had sporadic 3G connection issues which required a reboot.  These issues have vanished on this 6.5 version, and data seems to download significantly faster.  Note that I did not change the radio firmware when I installed 6.5.

So far 6.5 has not crashed on me once, but I have rebooted twice over the last two weeks to refresh the system.  Rebooting is definitely faster than with 6.1, but I put that primarily down to not having to launch TouchFlo following the OS boot.

Finger-friendly menus

All of the 6.5 menus have grown to be more finger-friendly.  It’s now easy to hit the target with confidence.  Even though 6.1 on the Touch Pro had some big menus in places, my hit rate in 6.5 has greatly improved and there might be better coding under the hood making this happen.

Everything else

Much of the remaining experience is similar to using 6.1.  The apps I’ve tried to download, such as Google Maps and AvantGo have worked perfectly.

Is it a game changer?

Whether you like the underlying Windows Mobile platform is a matter of personal taste.  Whilst this version of 6.5 has been great to use on the Touch Pro it continues to be hampered by the relatively small screen of most Windows Mobile devices compared to the iPhone.  This means that making Windows Mobile, Blackberry OS or any other small screen device close-in on the iPhone in terms of finger-friendliness will always be a huge task.

The continued breadth of form factors also hampers efforts, although Microsoft is now starting to get more specific on hardware which should help to standardize the platform for developers writing for a more consistent user experience.  RIM had a similarly diffcult experience taking the Blackberry OS and porting it to the Storm, which was received with mixed opinions.

So all I need now is a Touch Pro with a full length screen, same keyboard and only 3-4 oz in weight.  That’s not the Touch Pro2, but perhaps it could be the Touch Pro3…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jun 28, 2009 Posted by | Microsoft, Mobile, Reviews, Software | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Samsung Epix SGH-i907 – Blackjack’s big brother is an Ace

Samsung’s Blackjack II recently topped Consumer Report’s January 2009 smartphone ratings, beating both the iPhone and G1.  So this as unsung hero gets its due reward it’s time to check out its new big brother, the Epix.

Looking around the Samsung Epix SGH-i907

The Epix shares a family resemblance with the Blackjack and has a traditional keyboard below screen layout.  Samsung Epix ScreenThe keyboard can be extensively customized to give instant access to your favorite applications, which is great for people who like instant access rather than wading through screens or menus to find applications.  Soft keys sit under the large 320×320 haptic and touch sensitive screen and a volume rocker is on the left side.  The Epix feels good to hold, slightly heavier than the Blackjack II at 4.4oz, but lighter than the iPhone, G1 and Fuze.

On the media front, the rear houses a decent 2MP camera which also takes videos.  Unfortunately there is no flash or light.  There is a proprietary charging/headphone port, but the Epix offers stereo bluetooth connectivity so having annoying wires dangling around is not really a concern.  If you must stay wired in to satisfy some kind of 20th century nostalgia then there is an adaptor in the box.

The optical trackpad and other specs of the Samsung Epix SGH-i907

The real innovation of the Epix lives in the middle of the front of the phone – there’s an optical trackpad to aid one-handed use…and it’s awesome.

Samsung Epix Optical TrackpadThe trackpad is similar to the design on Samsung’s Omnia, but the superior placement on the Epix makes it an amazingly efficient way to navigate.  Steer with thumb impulses, click with a press and hold down to display context sensitive menus.  Sweet.  Precision is so good that the stylus is unlikely to get much use.  The trackpad can also be converted to a four way directional pad if desired.

The Epix is a powerhouse compared to the BlackjackII, packing a 624MHz processor, 25MB ROM and 128MB RAM.  It also has expansion capability via now-cheap MicroSD cards up to 32GB to satisfy your thirst for home videos/music/photos/applications.  The MicroSD slot is on the right hand side of the phone for easy access.

A big contributor to the total weight of the phone is the battery, and being a 3G device with a fast CPU the Epix needs need all the juice it can get.  In my mixed tests of light surfing, background IM, stereo bluetooth in transit and a limited amount of calls, the Epix easily managed a full day and two might be possible with bluetooth off.  Beyond that a charge will be required.

Using the Samsung Epix SGH-i907

The Epix ships with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, which means you get Office Mobile, Windows Media Player and Windows Live.  In addition to Messenger the phone also has IM clients for AIM and Yahoo and you can install third party applications to give access to more services.

Google Maps, AvantGo and Skype were one-click installs as were Opera Mobile and Skyfire to provide options for the aging Internet Explorer.  The Epix is easily powerful enough to run several applications simultaneously.  Samsung Epix CameraI had no difficulty sync’ing 1,500 AvantGo pages whilst walking down the street streaming music over bluetooth with IM and email active in the background.

The Epix can be used to access AT&T’s Cellular Video service.  So if you have the right plan or are prepared to pay then you get access to news, sports and entertainment from the likes of CNN, ESPN and Comedy Central.  The quality is pretty good as long as you are in an area with good 3G coverage.

The Epix has WiFi b/g is onboard, which is useful for Skype but for most other applications AT&T’s 3G network proved almost as fast.  The Epix can be tethered for use as a modem if you have the appropriate data plan.  There’s also GPS onboard.

What’s not so hot about the Samsung Epix SGH-i907

What didn’t I like about the Epix?  Well although the screen is big it pales in comparison to the resolution of the HTC Touch Pro’s, but then so do most other cellphone screens at the moment.  Squeezing VGA (and beyond) resolution into cellphone screens is definitely the way forward.

The 2MP camera takes good shots and videos were also good enough for occasional usage, but 3-5MP is quickly becoming the norm.  I don’t see any need for cellphones to replicate the compact camera megapixel wars (although this is inevitable) but Samsung should roll out the higher quality cameras now present in some of its other top end phones.

Whilst we are on the wish list, although 3G cellphones need big batteries it would still be nice to get back to the Blackjack II’s weight.

Is the Samsung Epix SGH-i907 a smart phone?

In summary the Epix is a great smartphone whose powers of endearment outweigh its ordinary appearance.  It’s an Ace follow-up to the Blackjack II.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Dec 30, 2008 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sony promises to increase prices, meanwhile Dell offers PS3 for $319.99

PS3 Dell HomeNow here’s a good holiday deal.  If you’ve been waiting for Sony to drop the price of the PS3 you may need to wait a little longer.  But…if you head on over to Dell’s US website pretty sharpish you can snag one for 20% off for a limited time.  Not sure if that will help Sony catch the monthly sales of 2 MILLION Wiis shipped in November alone, 360 Controller and Plantronics Headsetbut it might help prolong the PS3’s agony a little longer…especially as how it was crushed 2 to 1 by the XBox 360 and 5 to 1 by the Wii last month.  NPD’s reported sales figures for Nov were Wii: 2,040k units, Xbox 360: 836k units, PS3: 378k units.

Interestingly the ratio of Xbox 360 sales to PS3 in October was 1.87 to 1, whilst in November the 360 pulled ahead to 2.21 to 1, probably due to the price cut.  Microsoft clearly doesn’t need to do much to ward off the PS3 anymore, rather it seems to have it’s eyes on the Wii’s spot instead…although I can’t see it happening in this console generation.  It’s sure turned out different to the way we all thought back in 2005 though, the Playstation franchise needs something big now and these days Sony is in big trouble.

Back on the home front, I’ve been nurturing an ever-growing addiction to Halo 3 on the XBox 360.  I have trendnetbeen joining the faithful army of online Spartans and when I say army, think mass hordes…there are typically 250-300,000 Halo 3 gamers online each evening, US time.

Helping to make all this happen for me is a new Trendnet router.  Epix and FuzeReplacing a Trendnet 108mbps b/g, this 300mbps b/g/n speed demon has gigabit ethernet and flies along with rock-like stability.  Installation was a breeze, but pretty please Trendnet next time add a MAC address import feature; typing in all those addresses gets tiring!

I’ve also been giving the new HTC Touch Pro (at&t Fuze, the one the half gig ROM and 288mb RAM) and Samsung i907 (at&t Epix, the one with the optical mouse) a good workout recently…reviews to follow shortly.  Suffice to say they’re not too shabby.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Dec 13, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Gaming, Hardware | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Opera 9.5 Beta for Windows Mobile Review

The best mobile surfing experience out there?
Back in Feb Opera demo’d their latest Windows Mobile browser to oohs & ahhs from all corners championing it over the iPhone. Sporting a slick fullscreen mode, copy & paste, downloads and image saving, WM users couldn’t wait to get their mitts on it. It’s been a long wait but the beta recently went public. So is it really that much better than the iPhone? Let’s see…

After a straightforward installation and launch Opera 9.5 was happily loading pages over both WiFi and T-Mobile’s EDGE service. The browser fitted rendered pages to fill the whole screen perfectly and from there the finger pointing begins. Swipe up, down, left or right to scroll, double tap any area to zoom and again to zoom back out. The motion as the page moves is beautifully fluid and the zoom renders quickly.

Page loading was slower than my Nokia N810, which also runs Opera, but this is a pre-production version so it’s unfair to make a performance judgement just yet. As a guide over WiFi the NY Times website was half rendered in about 8 seconds and I was able to start swiping/zooming after 25 seconds while the pictures finished loading in the background. When I went to the site a second time, I could start swiping/zooming after about 15 seconds due to caching. Times were about twice as long with EDGE.

There are various display options, including full vs mobile view and screen font size. Images can be blocked to speed up page delivery.
Multiple tabs are also available, although your device’s capabilities will determine how many you can open before running low on memory. Opera 9.5 Mobile is a 8.9MB install which needs to go into main memory for this beta release. However the cache can be put onto a storage card, I allocated 50MB which speeds things up if you visit the same sites regularly.

So from this fully rendered CNet home page, you can zoom into something like this in a second or two…

…and then jump into a story…
…turn on text selection like this…
…and copy the text you want into an email or document just like a normal computer web browser. You can send it directly to someone via SMS as well as the page link, which is even better. You can also send links and images directly via MMS or email. Images and files can be downloaded to main memory or to the storage card for easy portability. Whole pages can be downloaded for offline viewing, for example when in the subway. Hmm, this is sounding like the daddy of convergent mobile internet…
Various other config optionsare included, including the ability to set a cache size. Here’s my 50MB cache in action, if you’re a heavy user you may want to go for more. I’m unaware of any cache limit, my TyTN has a 2GB memory card in it…that kind of cache size might be overkill but you get the idea!
Security options include proper password management.

With the current beta version there are a couple of missing bits, such as ActiveX and Flash so if you want these you might prefer to wait until the full production release. Also bear in mind that this is a beta version so if you do install it on your phone there may be compatibility issues or other freaky things happening – best to backup beforehand just in case!
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Overall there’s no smartphone browser I’m aware of which offers such a sweet all round browsing experience. The initial impressions in February were right: where the iPhone’s Safari once led the pack, it’s now in second place. Can’t wait to try the production version…

Neil Berman
http://www.neilberman.com/

Aug 3, 2008 Posted by | Mobile, Reviews, Software | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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