Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Using the Droid Incredible

I've had my Droid Incredible for a few days - long enough to put it through its paces so I can put down my general impressions.

First, size. The screen is nice. It is almost exactly the same size as my Zune HD although the whole package is larger (after all, the incredible does everything the Zune does plus it is a phone and camera and it has speakers).

The phone is very responsive. Programs just come up. The only time there are waits is when an application is refreshing its data. The phone is fairly intuitive. I figured nearly everything out by myself although I still recommend reading the manual.

It works well as a phone. Calls are clear.

I've only taken a few pictures but they look good. There is an option to upload photos to a variety of common sites. It did have some trouble uploading the photos to Picasa. It would make it part-way through and fail then repeat a minute later. This runs in the background and I might not have noticed it if I wasn't paying attention to the process. The camera was set to its highest resolution (8MP). I reduced it to 5MP to see if it helps the upload time but I have not tried it yet.

I don't have any hand-on experience with the IPhone but my understanding is that you have to do some functions through your PC. Droid is not like that. You can connect it to a PC and it will function as a USB disk but everything else is stand-alone.

I've tried playing a little music and a few videos on it. They work fine - as good as on my Zune. It comes with a 2 gig MicroSD card and I want to replace this with a larger one before loading it up. I probably will not use it to replace my Zune since the Zune has much better battery life (that may be inaccurate - I keep my Zune turned off when I'm not using it and the phone is on all the time, so the Zune may only appear to have better battery life because it is used less and usually does not have WiFi on).

I got spoiled with my previous phone. I had a long-life battery on it and it could go for days without charging. The Incredible needs daily charging. I used it a fair amount of time yesterday. I checked emails, did a little web-browsing and a lot of poking around the Marketplace. That used up around half the battery.

I've check out the Android Marketplace. Supposedly the IPhone has several times more apps than Android. I suspect that a lot of these are duplicates of each other. There are a lot of duplicate Android apps. Many of them are add-supported but the ads are subtle.

I downloaded a couple of ebook reader apps and some free ebooks. I already had the Borders one for my PC and it downloaded the books to my Droid that I already had on my PC. My only complaint with this one is that it will only display in portrait.

The virtual keyboard isn't too hard to use in landscape mode but I have a lot of trouble with it in portrait. Good thing that most applications support either orientation.

I was able to compare web browsing between my Droid and my Zune. Both reformat according to orientation and both support pnching to resize the display. The Droid does a lot better job with this. On the Zune, zooming does not reformat the text, it just pushes it off to the side so you have to move the display back and forth. The Droid reformats the text which prevents this.

I can check my home email but in text only. It is not formatted for HTML.

Android is a full multi-tasking operating system. You can leave a program, return to it, and it is still open with all of its data. This is a strength but there is no explicit way of closing many programs. There is an app that will list running programs and allow you to close them. My battery would probably have lasted longer if I had installed that earlier. This is about my only complaint with the android implementation.

Android 2.2 (Froyo) has been released for the Incredible but was not installed yet on mine. Even without it, I was able to play some video but I didn't do enough to really test it out. I will update this when Froyo arrives.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Choosing a Droid

I spent a while at a Verizon store comparing Droid models. There are currently three top-of-the-line Droid models - the Droid X and the Droid 2 from Motorola and the Droid Incredible from HTC. All have similar CPU and memory and all have or will have the newest version of Android.

I eliminated the Droid X right off the bat. This model is just too big. I know that some people want the biggest phone they can get but this is too big to carry in a pocket.

The Droid 2 and the Droid Incredible are similar size. The Incredible is slightly smaller and the corners are more rounded. The Droid 2 has a slide-out keyboard which makes it a bit thicker. The Incredible has a better camera, the Droid 2 comes with more memory.

Originally I thought that the keyboard would be the deciding factor but after trying the Incredible's virtual keyboard I decided that I could live with it.

Outside of the keyboard, the biggest difference between the two is the user interface. Both makers have made their own tweaks to Android. This ended up being the deciding factor. The Incredible was a bit more intuitive. Even after I figured out how to do the same thing on the Droid 2, it still seemed a bit more complicated. Also, I preferred the Incredible's smaller size and rounded edges. I use my phone for taking pictures so the higher-definition camera should come in handy.

The store had the Motorola models in stock but the Incredible had to be shipped. This was fairly painless. It arrived the next day.

More after I've had some hands-on.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Windows 95

I got an invitation to the live-via-satellite launch of Windows 95 which was held 15 years ago today.

Prior to that most people used a variation of Windows 3.1. Gaming was a nightmare. Most games ran from DOS and needed a custom boot disk in order to get the right configuration.

I was using IBM's OS2 which was a big improvement. It could run Windows programs from within OS2. You could also set what configuration DOS programs were to have so you could run most games without having to reboot with a special disk. In many ways, Windows 95 was a step back from OS2. Regardless, it overcame so many problems that OS2 became irrelevant overnight.

Windows 95 had four main advances. One was the new GUI featuring a Start Bar which Microsoft still uses. Another was that it allowed long file names. Prior to Windows 95, you were limited to eight characters plus a three character extension. It had a new memory manager which solved the problems with boot disks for games. Finally, it supported networking, out of the box.

It is hard to believe but prior to Windows 95 most PCs were stand-alone. If you wanted to connect to another local PC then you had to install a network card and special drivers. If you wanted to connect with the Internet then you normally needed a modem (which was usually built-in by then) and different drivers. Windows 95 came with network drivers. It also came with drivers for most CD-ROMS and some other common hardware.

Technically, Windows 95 was two products - Windows and DOS. Microsoft decided to package the two of them together to sink OS2 and DR-DOS - a strategy which worked perfectly.

The launch event didn't go perfectly. At one Bill Gates picked a couple of people from the crowd at Microsoft and sent them off to install Windows 95. This was supposed to show how easy it was. When they checked on the installers a while later they said that everything went perfectly but you could see that one of them had gotten the Blue Screen of Death.

With Windows 95, Microsoft squelched its competitors. I already mentioned DR-DOS and OS2. It also took over the office suit world. Prior to Windows 95, most people used Word Perfect and Lotus 1-2-3 for their word processor and spreadsheet. The Windows launch was delayed for more than a year. During that time, corporate purchases dropped. Businesses did not want to buy new software that would be obsolete as soon as the next operating system came out. Microsoft had deeper pockets than it competitors and could handle the lag in sales better.

When Windows 95 finally did come out, a new Office 95 suite was released at the same time. There was a long list of programs written for Windows 3.1 that did not run perfectly on Windows 95. Rather than waiting for new versions of the programs, many businesses switched to Microsoft. Consultants recommended that this was the only safe approach.

In 1994 Microsoft was the dominant desktop operating system vendor but was, at best, second place in office suites. By 1998 it was a near-monopoly in operating system and office software, all because of Windows 95.

Late in 1995 it became obvious that Microsoft had missed something important - the World Wide Web. Windows 95 came with a buggy web browser. Most people used Netscape instead. Somehow Bill Gates had become so focused on upcoming technology that he missed the importance of the existing Internet. In his book, The Road Ahead, he only mentioned the Internet a couple of times.

Back then, Microsoft was nimble. By 1998 they released a new version of Windows. This one had a perfectly good web browser pre-installed. In fact, Microsoft swore under oath that it was so deeply embedded in the operating system that it could not be removed. Netscape quickly lost market share after that and eventually ended up providing the basis for the free Firefox browser.

Te last few years have not been kind to Microsoft. It has lost desktop market share to Apple and Linux. Firefox is challenging its browser share. The "cloud" has made the operating system irrelevant. It's smart phone operating system, which was originally based on Windows 98, is dated and the replacement is not due out for weeks or months. It had a couple of operating system flops with Windows ME and Vista.

Still, on this anniversary, we can look back fifteen years to when it seemed like Microsoft was unstoppable.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Somewhat Surreal

Yesterday I was watching the movie International House on my Zune HD. This movie written as a vehicle for as many comedians and performers as possible. Ostensibly it stars W. C. Fields but he only has a cameo appearance until half-way through.

The plot revolves around various people coming to a Chinese hotel to bid on a new invention - the television (also called the radiovision a few times). The cast includes Burns and Allen as the hotel's doctor and nurse, noted character actor Franklin Pangborn as the hotel manager, notorious gold-digger Peggy Hopkins Joyce as herself and Bella Lugosi as one of her ex-husbands.

The Chinese inventor tries to demonstrate his television by showing the six-day bicycle races but keeps tuning in on musical numbers instead - things like Cab Calloway's band doing a number about the "Reefer Man" (yes, this is just what it sounds like) and Rudy Valley singing a slow love song to his megaphone (before electronic effects, singers used things like a megaphone to change their voice).

the movie came out the year before the Hays Code was created so many of the jokes and situations are fairly adult for the time.

The movie is a great way to see some of the best talent of the 1930s, even if tastes have changed considerably since then.

The surrealism came when I thought about the difference in technology. Here was a movie about television, a product which was still in its infancy, and I was watching it on a device that makes a television look like a tinker toy. I doubt that anyone who watched the movie when it came out in 1933 ever dreamed of a pocket-sized device that could store hours of movies and music and play it back.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How Does ST:TNG Hold Up?

Star Trek, the Next Generation has been in syndication for several months. It is interesting to see how the show holds up around two decades after it was produced (it ran from 1987 to 1994 so some episodes are more than 20 years old and others are less).

My memory of the series was that the first season was awful but that it improved a great deal half-way through the second season and continued to be a good show after that. Re-watching it confirms that impression. Some of the first season episodes are painful to watch and the second season had some really strong episodes.

Not everything holds up. In retrospect, a lot of the techno-babel was just that, terms thrown at the viewer to justify a plot point. Data is more annoying than he was during first runs but Wesley is not (this may be a personal preference).

Many of the weakest episodes relied on the formula of strong A and B plots. Sometimes the B plot seems to be thrown in just to include more cast members. The best episodes either skipped the B plot or blended it into the A plot seamlessly.

The various members of Star Fleet seem a little too perfect with little room for personal quirks or failings. Any episode with Lt. Barclay is a relief since he is the closest to an regular person. His first appearance was a classic, involving holo-addiction. Let's be honest, if holodecks really existed then we would all be holo-addicts.

The holodecks have always been a complaint of mine. In one episode, Pickard, Barclay, and Data are unaware that they are in the holodeck. You would think that one of them would bounce off of an unseen wall at some point.

TNG managed a difficult balancing act. On one hand, the original show looked pretty dated by the 1980s. TNG is nowhere near the period piece that its predecessor was. On the other hand, the follow-up shows often went over-the-top with regulars dying during an episode only to be revived at the last minutes. In general, TNG holds up fairly well 20 years later, far better than most other shows from the late 1980s.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Superman Saved Family for Real

Actually, it was a copy of Action Comics #1 that turned up just in time to save the family home. See here.