Band 2

So Microsoft announced a bunch of new devices, Surface 4 Surface Book yada yada yada. The one that caught my attention was the Microsoft Band 2.
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I have blogged about my experience with the original version and the new features made it a natural upgrade, well aside from the price.

The original Band served me well and became my watch, so many watches collecting dust on my dresser now, as well as my activity tracker. I liked the device because it was my watch, a good activity tracker and then add the ability to interact with text messages and get the calendar notifications. Most of the day I have my phone in my pocket as I listen to podcasts, with the Band it could stay there and I was still able to interact with notifications.

Eager for the new model, well I added and removed it from the cart a few times because of the price but eventually pressed the buy, a pre-order. Watching the order status and hoping for an update… it shipped, then it sat then it went back to where it shipped from, in the meantime colleagues of mine received theirs. Uggggh.

Calling Microsoft and FedEx just furthered the confusion. I thought about cancelling the order and just going to the local BestBuy and picking one up but held off.

Finally in my hands or should I say on my wrist. The device is certainly an upgrade in terms of looks and feel. I do have to say the sizing of these things is not an exact science. I probably needed to go to a Microsoft store and done a real fitting but that just isn’t convenient for most. I went with the Large because I was using that size with the original model. Large does fit for me but barely, so I will wonder how accurate the heart rate monitoring is as I use it.

The look of the device is great, a little geeky and a little stylish. As with the original you can place it in a mode where it is always displaying the time, hmmmm a watch acting like a watch. The clasp is functional and looks good, there is an upgrade there. After a few months there are no blemishes or sratches, another upgrade. On the original it would get white marks on the rubber of the face, easily fixable with a Sharpie but something you couldn’t ignore. The Band 2’s more flexible strap and curved structure do make for a nice fit.

When I received the device I was still a WindowsPhone user. Nice and seamless connection and operation.

The interaction with the device did not change which was nice because it was already well thought out. Some differences where additions not changes, such as how you acknowledge calendar notifications.

A new update has come out and I have to get into that but sadly I have not gotten on my bike or hit the Bowflex in a few days so that will be a later post. The new Band tracks stairs climbed. A small thing but this was a frustration I had going back to Fitbit when they removed it from the Flex.

So for all of the talk of Windows Phone not having apps… for a few reasons I moved from WindowsPhone to an iPhone. Wow do I miss two Band specific apps. fanband for starters (no Powershell logo on my Band is very saddening), there is a windows app alternative but then your Band has to be paired via Bluetooth to that computer so I have gone without so far. Then there is  “Clear My Band” which is a very simple utility but something I used several times a day. The Microsoft Health app on iPhone is nice and effective but the daily use going from a WindowsPhone to a iPhone is just missing something.

Another cool upgrade is the mode. So before you picked workout, run or bicycle tile to start a training session. I have to say I ignore the analysis the Band does for my Bowflex workouts. I understand why but still frustrating after a gruelling workout to be told it was a Light or Maintaining workout. Now when you select the dumbell tile you start a workout, there are options. I need to test that not to mention get back to working out 🙂

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Yeah not a big fan of the iPhone camera but this image shows the Band interaction to select a workout type.

Back to apps, I really miss Gym Builder and have not found an iPhone app that compares. That leads me to another post and something I have to look into but… one reason I stuck with the band is the software and service. The Microsoft health dashboard is great. I wish it had the social feature that fitbit has, hey seeing your friends stats can be a great motivator. One of the new features of the Band and the service is building workouts. In the past you could select from some pre-defined workouts but I am an old dog stuck in old habits. I have tried to build a workout and use it. I am still learning but it is pretty cool but I am not sure I want to interact with my band that way so we will see but that the feature is there and could replace some apps (which sadly with an iPhone you have to buy without trying) is enticing.

 

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What’s new.. so much

I have been away for quite some time… and really don’t have much time for this… but I want to get two new “What I am using” posts but to test this new WordPress app (still trying to get the new LiveWriter working) here is a quick blurb. First post I am working on is the new Microsoft Band and the other one… hold on yeah it’s an iPhone. The quick statement for this post is, I love the Microsoft Band (1 and 2) but pair it with an iPhone and it really gets boring, IMHO. For all of the chatter about no apps, wow do I miss the apps I used on WindowsPhone (hmmmmm I sense another post on that one).

Activity monitoring devices

I wrote a quick post about my Lumia 1520 and it’s ability to track activity, much like a Fitbit. I have been really enjoying the Nokia Motion Monitor beta eventhough it was local to the phone unlike synching up to a cloud service like fitbit.
Well yesterday I received an email from Nokia Beta Labs to inform me the beta has ended. Before I get into what I am looking forward to I have to complain a little. I have been using WindowsPhone 8.1 since the developer preview release and really liking it. There is one piece that is missing and that is the Cyan firmware upgrade. Why does that matter? Well in order get the value of Nokia Motion Monitor into the Bing Health Fitness the phone needs that firmware in order to enable the sensor data to be recorded. The data is still recording to the phone so not a major issue just odd timing.
Okay, the goodness is the tracking data will be posted to the Bing Health and Fitness app. This is an app I already like, despite it’s workout tracker is a little too limited. The beauty is there will be no sync, no need for a USB dongle or Bluetooth Low Energy. This SensorCore technology should also open it up to other apps (looking at you GymBuilder Pro).
Since adding friends to my fitbit profile I have found it to be a much more useful device or should I say service. The peer pressure to get up off your butt is huge. The dislike I had for the fitbit had been mostly because I am a windowsphone user and the sync process was less than optimal. However they recently updated the software and it now synchronizes as a background task. I found that out by accident… Recently moved into a new residence so lots of steps. I received a notification on my fit that I had taken the lead within my Fitbit friends… wait how is that possible since my laptop was packed away and I certainly not gone in and performed the steps to sync the data. Ahhhh the other laptop in the house, with the fitbit dongle attached was online. To have this same thing with a device that I seem to always have nearby conjures up thoughts of discarding my fitbit as just another device.
That thought is flawed in my experience. As I mentioned above I recently moved so I hit my goals and more for a few days. Now yes I have the 1520 which is a large phone, but even if I had my 920, there were times when I wouldn’t want to risk phone when lifting boxes and furniture. I have mentioned something similar in the previous post about continuing to use my 920 for things like working out or mowing the lawn. Conclusion, these types of service are a useful tool for monitoring your activity (recent health issues it is something I am very focused on again) and the peer pressure factor is huge. Neither solution is perfect (I have mentioned fitbit seems to fail for activities like strength training and bicycle cardio work) but I can see combining them for the near future but if my Fitbit dies I will go with a phone only solution.

Devices Advancing, even small steps

So this one probably ties in with my health stuff as well as my recent technology upgrade.

When researching the 1520 there was a news article about an app that would track your steps. I didn’t see the need at the time. How does this apply to anything? When Sarcoidosis hit this time it really wiped me out. Between the discomfort, energy drain and working conditions I really had to make a conscious effort to focus on not stopping.

I got a FitBit flex, and while it works there are some flaws in the whole concept.  Aside from the fact that the company couldn’t keep enough replacement bands in stock (hmmmm wonder why, maybe because they ripped too easy) and the fact that shortly after releasing the Flex they came out with a new one with all of the things they left out of the original, such as counting stairs and showing the time. Some of the limitations are simply the mechanics of doing it, there is only so much detail you can gather. Granted the arm swing is the most logical, so a device hanging on your wrist makes sense. The issues I found are:

  • You have to be careful of how tight the band is otherwise it doesn’t move and therefore records nothing.
  • It doesn’t record activity like weight lifting very well. Bike riding, as long as you put your hand on your thigh as you peddle it works well but not very practical.
  • Carrying something, where you arm is not swinging, while walking doesn’t record anything.
  • Pushing a shopping cart in the grocery store triggers it to record sleep mode for some reason.

None of this is for detail tracking so those are just the limitations and just the general tracking and visual reminder is handy.

So now I can get a similar function with my phone. Considering all of the sensors a phone has that certainly makes sense. I know there are other apps but most of them seem centered around running, and running is still something that is really not possible for me. I can see the same impracticalities appearing but one less device seems to make sense. So I installed the app from Nokia Beta Labs and gave it a few days to see what it would do. Without expecting it to be perfect, I have to say it is a well designed app, although it does not have the back end data/web services of something like Fitbit, and simply works.

Live tile shows current data, app is well laid out to give a nice representation of the activity, and the system adds what appear to be some timely notes (too soon to tell).

Live Tile for Nokia Motion MonitorNokia Motion Monitor AppNokia Motion Monitor App - app interjected notes

It has only been a few days so it will be interesting to monitor this app as well as compare the data against the data my Fitbit collects.

Big Phone–Lumia 1520

So, I heard all the chatter about the 920 and “that won’t even fit in your pocket” (oh how wrong) but I just went from the 920 to the 1520. No doubt this one doesn’t just slide into your jeans pocket but it does fit in the pocket. The 1520 is substantially lighter than the 920 despite the major difference in size. Oh you want to see the difference?

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So on the left is the Lumia 920 and to its right is my new Lumia 1520.

So aside from the size difference… the 1520 is lighter and the edges are rounded cleanly and comfortably. I love my 920, so much I kept it and plan on using it as my media player, especially for times when I don’t want to risk my phone, like working out, riding a bike, mowing the lawn, you catch my drift. I had been looking for a 520, oh how I miss my Zune, but hey keeping my 920 is a much better option. Even with no cell service, the wifi is great, I can run the apps and more importantly use the great media player and all of my XBox Music content.

First things I would like to point out about my 1520:

  • So I got my phone at the AT&T store… figured being there would be great for the initial install and sync of data since I was in their location and on their network. Bad idea. Their guest wifi is way too saturated and LTE signal abysmal, go figure.
  • Going from the 920 to the 1520 was more than a device upgrade. With it came GDR3 and the new Nokia firmware. Personally for me this was huge. Little details like giving contacts a ringtone, not just for calls but also for text messages, something I had voted many times for on http://mywindowsphone.uservoice.com/ ; the Glance screen shows new messages, emails and other notifications. Just some real nice enhancements and much sooner than I had come to expect considering how long it took to get GDR2.  I still have to go through http://mynokiablog.com/2013/08/09/wp8-gdr3-features-list/ but being able to close tasks from the multi-tasking screen is nice.
  • Performance – there is no doubt this is an upgrade. All aspects of performance are markedly better, as one would expect when upgrading. Seems self-explanatory but isn’t always the case when upgrading.
  • Button layout… that the back button and the search button, the search button more importantly, are more to the center of the capacitive bar is huge. In just a few hours it was easy to see how less frequently I will be aggravated when I inadvertently hit the search button when simply picking up the phone and rotating it in my hand.
  • Accessories. This issue I am torn on. Considering how often a new device is released I can only imagine that developing accessories is something that is just not feasible. By the time a manufacturer designs one, and puts it into production they have probably already heard about a new model. The lack of accessories is an issue in my mind. For starters the Qi charging is not in this phone so there go several of my already purchased accessories. I am not a fan of putting a case/shell on my phone, but a case so I could clip it on my belt would have been nice.

I continue to be a fan of this platform. With the Lumia devices it has grown even stronger. Even the apps issue, not something that concerned me from day one, is improving in large measures. Now I have to do some more testing with this device.

Windows Phone 7 – The Good parts of Media Player

My last post pointed out why I won’t be retiring my ZuneHD64.  With all of that said I do have to point out to some very good features.

The media controls from the Lock Screen is a very convenient feature.  Without un-locking the screen you can manipulate and see the volume controls, you can also pause, play, move forward or go back.  Using the volume only control you can raise or lower the level without even bringing up the lock screen, but with the lock screen up you can see the number and graphic representation of the volume level.  With a password associated to unlock the lock screen, the ability to access the media controls without unlocking the screen is very convenient.

Some of this might be hardware specific, so let me repeat that I am using a Samsung Focus.  The video is incredible on this device.  Just watching the trailers from Zune’s Movie Trailers video podcast stream shows off the display strengths.

Streaming to my Ford Sync equipped vehicle is flawless (although the interface needs some work on Sync or maybe a Sync WP7 app). 

I find myself using a wired headset when using my phone for media playback.  The phone handles the transition from media playback to handling phone calls.  The lowering of volume to alert you of an incoming call is nice, when you take the call the media pauses, allowing you to pick right up where you left off when the call ends.  One should expect that I guess, but it is nice when it is implemented cleanly.

The Zune software has always been strong in my opinion.  Connecting the phone to the established zune collection is seamless and the sync time is very clean, and even the conversion some content requires is efficient. 

Windows Phone 7 – Media Player

So I took some time to work with this topic.  I upgraded my Samsung Focus to 32GB anticipating the use of this device to replace or at least supplement my Zune64HD.  I have been using the Zune system (players and software plus Zune Pass) since Gen1 Brown Zune.  Admittedly I don’t like the Zune, iPOD/iTUNES device management concept but the days of my iRIVER are over, right?!

I do like the Zune software and marketplace.  I have used an iPOD and while the device was nice I deplore the iTunes software.  Yes I am running it on a PC, not a Mac so that is probably to be expected.  My biggest annoyance with Zune is using the software on multiple machines.  Primarily with the Zune Pass music in my collection.  One of the steps of building a new Zune is restoring all of the Zune Pass content related to your account.  So it knows what content you have access to, why do I have to manually perform the steps to download it?  Now that I have two machines (desktop and laptop), why doesn’t my collection on one machine update when my account shows activity or recent history?  Yes I could move my Zune collection to a shared drive, and I did that at first, but with all of the talk regarding “cloud” computing this seems like a no-brainer.

Okay, so back to the post.  I wanted to see if I could go with just my Windows Phone 7 device, leaving my Zunes home and safely in their cradle.  The normal routine is listening to podcasts during the morning hours and then eventually playing a playlist until I get in the car for the ride home.

Unable to fit my whole collection on this device I created an “Auto” playlist that is comprised of all the songs in my collection that I have marked as liked and named it “Phone Playlist”.  That is very nice feature as it allows me to keep the playlist current without managing the actual playlist.  I set that to synch to my phone and then configured all Podcasts to synch to my Windows Phone device.  All loaded up and ready to go.

After a few weeks, my observation is that this will not replace my Zune.  Yes it is very convenient, especially when a phone call comes in, the media pauses automatically, the call is tended to and when the call is ended the media picks right up.  The menu system, as the Zune interface always has, works for me and I find it easy and intuitive to navigate my collection for podcasts or music.

Where it fails is playback.  Now I have to admit that I added memory to my device via MicroSD.  For that reason my results might be expected and certainly fall into an unsupportable situation.  That said, I have found that playing music the playback will begin to skip and stutter near the end of the track.  This does not occur on every song and I really have not been able to piece together any real pattern.  I remember that the early Zune had a similar issue that was quickly addressed and resolved with a firmware fix.

Another playback failure is video podcasts.  I have always had an issue with how Zune handled video, such as the play stopping when you lock the screen.   This is especially true with video podcasts.  Most of them seem to have gone video for no specific purpose (my guess would be ego) and are just a waste of bandwidth.  However I have found playback of these podcasts (using Redeye or even Microsoft’s Channel 9 Hot Apps) quickly becomes skewed where the video does not match the audio.  I had seen something similar on my Zune64 with a few CNET podcasts (again, there is really no reason most of them are video) but just wrote it off to “HD” or not.

Since this is about the Zune-like features of Windows Phone, I have to gripe about the connector.  I have a nice cradle for my Zunes, makes it so easy to synch my device up, even use my small zune as the media source for my alarm clock.  On this phone device there is no such connector.  Just one more cable to keep track of and playing connection carousel with my connected USB ports.  Yes it is nice that they are using a standard connection as I have usable cables and chargers from my Blackberry Storm and Motorola Droid so if I lose one I should be able to find another.  I bought a bundle with my Zune 64 that included HDMI out, would’ve been nice to provide that capability with Windows Phone 7.

I upgraded the OEM ear buds with microphone to a pair of Skull Candy Full Metal Jacket which work very nicely.  However I was a big fan of the Zune premium ear buds and hoping they offer a new model of those with microphone and media controls soon.

It hasn’t been a complete loss.  Considering this is a phone, camera, internet access device the general media player features are admirable, just need some refinement.

Update:  I had to include a recent article on wpcentral as it talks about the Sound issues and it might not be limited to the Samsung Focus.

Update: I did fail to update this one.  NoDo update did seem to resolve the audio stutter and video playback issues.

Windows Phone 7–Focus and MicroSD

So, the list of approved MicroSD cards was published and it was time to get this phone to the level it needed to be.  Looking at the part numbers listed, I was able to find the card on Amazon much cheaper.  Card arrived, I checked through the instructions I had seen posted here.

Setup for adding the approved microSD card to a Samsung Focus

As the About screen shows I had consumed half of the 8GB of the base memory.  Because of the 8GB limit I had been very judicious in terms of what Zune content I synched to the phone, and since I hadn’t really started testing the camera (still preferring my camera only device) so there was not much in pictures and I really hadn’t gone beyond a few standard applications.

 

Phone About/Storage information after installing MicroSD and performing a Reset

Physical installation is pretty easy and the card really isn’t visible once installed, so it was pointless to post a picture of that.  Powered the phone up, did the reset and after the phone rebooted the card was online (as shown in the picture).  Luckily I have only had the phone for a few days and was waiting for word on the upgrading, knowing a reset would have to occur, because the phone is completely wiped.  Now that isn’t as bad as it seems since most of the content was in either my Windows Live skydrive or Zune collection. 

Phone is backup, appears to be functional with the added storage available.  Now to reinstall a few apps.  Attached to my laptop for the Zune synch, added it back in and the synch started flawlessly.  Next test, can I leave my Zune at home and just carry this device as my phone and media player for music and podcasts…..

Windows Phone 7– Just Having Fun

Admittedly I have not really been able to explore this phone.  I will say the user experience is real nice.  A few things that I need to focus a little more on but with work and school I just haven’t sat down and played with it.  That says something, right out of the box it has done what I expect my phone to do and a great deal more.  Not a knock but being a Windows Live fan and user trying to get an Android device to access what I wanted to access was just not easy.  Well one of the small features that I think just makes it a cool device is the lock screen.  With a quick glance (not playing on those “Really” commercials but they do make sense) you have the vitals such as calendar items and the message counts, missed calls.  Again not a knock but with my Droid experience it was there but not as clean. 

So today, being a veteran, I really thought the image on bing.com here in the United States was worth respecting.  So with the Bing Pictures Download app installed I was able to find the picture and save it to my phone.  Then I changed the Lock Screen Wallpaper.  Like the heading stated I was just having fun….

wp7_vetlock

Windows Phone 7– Calendar

Early review – day 2

As my previous blog entries may bear out that I am a long time user of what is now acctcalsWindows Live.  The calendar has always been useful but a odd little ball of wax.  Things like birthdays are considered a separate calendar, want to import calendar items (i.e. the schedule for a favorite NHL team) that goes into a separate calendar. 

Tying that into Windows Phone… the Live tile has a nice calendar tie in… Well it would be superb if Windows Live EAS included all calendars, or at least let you pick a number of calendars.

There is a way to get easy access to your full calendar.  It lacks the live information and display niceties but helpful.  Navigate your phone’s browser to http://calendar.live.com, since your phone is authenticated it should go right to your calendar.  Notice it shows the items for all calendars in that view.  Click on the “…” option on the bottom of the screen and pin the page to your start page.  Not ideal but a little more convenient.