Intel’s Ultrabook campaign is quite rapidly transforming what consumers can expect from a PC laptop. They’ve driven prices and weight down, and performance and features up. I’d argue that PC laptops are looking the best that they have in recent memory thanks to Intel’s Ultrabook project. But that’s just the hardware. On the software side, we’re still dealing with Windows and the same frustrations it’s shown us for several years now. Can Microsoft up the ante with Windows 8 to bring software quality in line with Ultrabook hardware? Read the full story
Microsoft hopes that Windows 8 will be able to bridge the gap between desktop, laptop, and tablet computers. Personally, I would have liked to see Microsoft scaled Windows Phone 7 up rather than Windows 8 down to fit onto tablets. I’ve experienced Windows 7 on a slate (keyboardless/mouseless tablet), and have to say that it is far less than an optimal experience; this might be Microsoft’s last chance to try to capture part of the tablet market before giving up with the ‘one OS fits all’ strategy.
The Windows 8 Consumer preview is available in five languages (English, German, Chinese (simplified), French, and Japanese). It’s also available in 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x64) flavors which are 2.5GB and 3.3GB respectively and offered as ISO files. There’s also a ‘Windows 8 Consumer Preview Setup’ download which will check to see if your hardware will run Windows 8, select the right version of the Consumer Preview for you, and assist in creating Windows 8 bootable flash drive for easy instillation.
System Requirements for Windows 8 Consumer Preview
Windows 8 Consumer Preview works great on the same hardware that powers Windows 7:
Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device or higher
To use touch, you need a tablet or monitor that supports multitouch
To access Windows Store and to download and run apps, you need an active Internet connection and a screen resolution of at least 1024 x 768
To snap apps, you need a screen resolution of at least 1366 x 768
We’ll have more for you once we have a chance to test drive the Windows 8 Consumer Preview for ourselves. Stay tuned!
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I’ve spent the last several days with the HTC Titan, a WP7 phone with a zippy 1.5GHz CPU and a huge 4.7″ screen. I’ve been keeping a running list of areas where WP7 is lacking, or places where they could push it to really excel. If these things were fixed, I would switch from iOS (which I’ve chosen to use for my last 3 phones) to Windows Phone 7 and recommend that others follow. And just so it is clear, all information in this article pertains to Windows Phone 7.5, AKA Mango.
To start, I want to point out that I’m extremely impressed with WP7. This is one of Microsoft’s biggest consumer facing undertakings in the last few years, and I see massive potential in the OS. WP7 is beautiful and unique. I’d call it the best looking OS on the market today, hands down. It makes Android and iOS feel like they were designed in a veritable stone age of mobile OS design.
Most unfortunately, it’s lacking in a number of vital areas. A friend asked me what I thought of WP7 the other day. Because he isn’t a tech-geek like myself, I used a metaphor. I told him to imagine the most attractive sports car he’d ever seen. With the car come a few caveats: the steering wheel sucks and it doesn’t have any tires. Although my choice of steering wheel and tires weren’t supposed to represent specific issues with the iOS (but rather say: it’s missing stuff), looking back now perhaps mentioning the tires was a good choice, after all, the OS is lacking traction.
If I didn’t think WP7 had tremendous potential, I wouldn’t be wasting my time or yours with this article. But I truthfully think that WP7 has something special going for it. Microsoft just needs to hone it and push it hard. My hope is that this list gives them a good place to start:
Core Social Applications — Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, are necessary to offer the majority of users access to their preferred social networks. Even more if you hope to include everyone. Official Facebook and Twitter applications exist, and while they look nice, the functionality is quite weak. Facebook has hardly any native support for the things that users actually do within it. You’ll find that you are constantly getting kicked out of the app and into the browser to a mobile site, and half the time you’ll be met with a frustrating error message once you arrive there. Both Facebook and Twitter suffer greatly from the fact that notifications in WP7 are poorly implemented. Google Plus doesn’t exist as an app on the app Marketplace, and the browser doesn’t support the most modern version of the Google Plus web app, instead dropping you back to a version that would likely still be supported by my Palm OS running Sony Clie UX50.
Multi-calendar Support through Gmail — This is simply frustrating. You have the option to configure a Google account directly in WP7, and you can select if you want to sync calendars, contacts, and email when you create it. This makes the user believe that all of these things are fully supported, but there is no indication that there is no support for sub-calendars in Google calendar. If you are a serious Google Calendar user, you likely have a number of sub-calendars under your main calendar for better organization. Unfortunately, only the main calendar will sync over, so if rely on sub-calendars, you are out of luck.
Notification System — It is claimed that WP7 has notifications. Evidence of these notifications, however, are completely absent. I’ve spent nearly a week very close to WP7 with Facebook, Twitter, and Email accounts configured on the device, and I’ve not seen one single notification unless I explicitly look at the Me hub (more on that below). I actually had my iPhone sitting next to the HTC Titan and was using the iPhone as a notification system to decide when to check the Titan; this was almost comical!
Expand the ‘Me’ Section — The ‘Me’ section of WP7 would be the notification center of the OS, if notifications actually existed. This brings together your notifications into one place and let’s you interact with them. Between iOS, Android, and WP7, the Me hub is the only native system that I would actually consider using, but it needs a lot of work and it will require maintenance. The promise of the Me section is to bring your life into one place. The Me hub is unique beyond Apple’s Notification Center and Android’s Notification Menu because instead of dishing you out to other apps, you can interact directly with the notifications. For twitter mentions, you can send a reply, and for Facebook posts, you can comment, like, etc.. This is really awesome, but it needs deep support if people are actually going to use it. At the moment, it really only consists of Twitter and Facebook. Why email isn’t included is beyond me. When I wake up in the morning, I grab my phone to see what I’ve missed. Usually there are a few texts, emails, and some social network notifications. These should all go into the Me section so I can see everything at a glance, and respond to them if needed, without jumping out to other apps and becoming distracted by noise within. In order for the Me section to prosper, it needs support for a greater number of social networks, needs to (optionally) wrap in email, and it needs to be on it’s toes about updates. I will always use a first-party or third-party app over OS=level implementations if the OS level implementation lacks support for the stuff that I actually want to do (like posting to a Facebook group, or including a photo in a tweet). When new social network features come about, users are not going to wait 6 months or a year for the OS to be updated to support them, instead they are going to leave for a readily available app. Keeping the Me section on its toes could be done in two ways: 1) having an internal team dedicated to making sure that every way that a user might want to interact with a notification is covered. This will require the ability to do automatic OTA delta-updates. 2) alternatively, make the Me hub completely developer driven by allowing applications to push info into it. This way, you’ll never end up with broken or missing functionality, because once the app gets updated, its interaction with the Me hub will be updated as well. The Me hub also needs to alert the user that there are new notifications from the lock screen. Currently, an unread email count is the only info you get on the lock screen with regards to notifications.
Skype — Microsoft owns Skype and yet it is on every major mobile OS (yes even WebOS) except for WP7. Do I need to say any more?
Quick Jump to Top and Bottom of Start Screen — Because of the design of the Start screen can cause it to get rather long, there needs to be a way to quickly jump to the bottom. Currently, you can tap the Start button while on the Start screen to jump to the top of the list, but there is no way to quickly get to the bottom. If you are at the very top of the Start screen, the Start button should send you to the bottom of the screen and vice-versa.
Next/Last Input Field Navigation — When entering text into a text field in the web browser, it can sometimes be difficult to select the next input field because it has the tendency to get cut off by the keyboard (which has a hit-zone that expands beyond where the keyboard stops visually). This means that you see a sliver of the next text box and try to tap it, but end up pressing a key instead. Having buttons to navigate between input fields (like on iOS) would be very useful.
Faster Access to Tabs in Web Browser — I don’t think any serious computer user has used Android and asked, “Why is it so annoying to manage browser tabs?”. WP7 is making the same mistake. Getting to the tab menu in the browser requires that you pull up the URL bar, tap the tab button, then make another input to close, select, or create a new tab. This is too many taps to get to tabs and the result is that tabs become underused and the person using the browser uses it less efficiently than they should be able to. Improving interaction with tabs in the browser quickly and easily increases the productivity of those using it; they will thank you.
Better Standards Support in Browser — It seems that Internet Explorer will never be able to shake free from the chains of its past. Yes, I said it: standards support in IE on WP7 sucks, and that’s not surprising to anyone. Between WebOS, Android, iOS, and WP7, I bet you can guess which one scores the lowest on the HTML5 test. Having weak standards support means that when you don’t have native apps (and let’s be honest, this is a problem for WP7 right now), at least users can fall back to modern web apps which are usually a decent replacement. Unfortunately, because of the lack of standards support and a useragent that no one seems to care about, users get stuck with simplistic web offerings. Having a browser that works as expected is also tied to the confidence you have when using it. If I want to buy concert tickets through some no-name website through iOS, I’d put my money on it working with no problem. With IE on WP7, I’d bet against the process going smoothly. I want to have confidence that I can do anything on my mobile browser (within reason) that I’d be able to do on my desktop browser. IE on WP7 does not give me that confidence. Just for reference, here’s the current HTML5 test tally for modern mobile browsers:
Open in Background Tab — In addition to making tab interaction faster, there really needs to be a way to open a link in a background tab. Unless you have the attention span of a hyperactive child, you probably choose to read information online while opening relevant links in the background to check through after you finish the current material. Opening in the foreground is just distracting and forces the user to navigate back to the original tab.
Global Landscape Support — Windows Phone 7 has the most responsive and best looking transition from landscape to portrait of any mobile OS. Show it off! Landscape support is a scarcity throughout the OS. At very least, the multitasking menu needs landscape support so that when you pull it up from one of the few apps that do support landscape, it is oriented the right way.
Deeper Live Tile Functionality — I think Live Tiles are a great idea, but they aren’t being used often by developers. Where they are used is often for eye-candy rather than functionality (like the People hub which flips through a bunch of photos that are too small to really see). Talk to developers and find out what tools they need to best use Live Tiles, and encourage them to make use of this unique functionality!
Expand Pin to Start and XBL Friends List— Pin to start is another great idea. On iOS, there are specific albums that I love to listen to, but every time I want to play them, I have to launch the Music app and navigate through some menus to find them. In WP7, I can ‘pin’ these directly to the home screen and play them with a single tap, which is awesome. I want to see more of this. Specifically, you need to allow Xbox Live users to pin their friends list to the start screen, and then, using Live Tiles, you should be able to see how many friends are online. Invites, messages, and friend requests from XBL friends should probably end up in the Me hub, but I think a case could be made for leaving them in the XBL hub.
Change Accent Color Automatically — The accent color (configurable in the Settings app) is a cool way to spice up your phone, but it’s bothersome to change manually. There should be an option to have the accent color change by the day, week, or month. This way, instead of finally deciding, “I’m bored with this color,” and then finally changing it manually, you can be surprised by a new color on a new day, week, etc.
Use LED Light for Notifications — The HTC Titan has an LED on it which does nothing more than indicate charge status. This should be tied into the Notification System, should one ever actually exist.
Quick-scroll to Top of Page — Some webpages are long (like Wikipedia articles), this is a fact of life. Please find a way to allow the user to jump to the top of the page quickly because that’s where most websites’ navigational elements are found.
Folders — I understand that ‘folders’ might feel outdated; call them Magnets if you must make them sound as trendy as the rest of the OS looks, but they are necessary on the start screen regardless. I know the folks responsible for WP7 can think of a beautiful way to display folders to the user on the Start screen. Make it happen, otherwise my Start screen is going to end up being 5 miles long. Additionally, newly installed apps should be highlighted on the app list, instead of making you hunt them down through their alphabetic sorting. Offer pin-to-start at app install so that the user can skip the step of installing, finding in the list, then pinning.
Hire the people From Lazy Worm to Make Your YouTube app — or license their existing app and include it with all windows phone 7 devices. This is the one dev I’ve seen that’s making full use of Live Tiles and Pin to Start functionality, check out this video demo of his upcoming Metrotube app which lets you pin your favorite YouTube subscriptions and see when they are updated through the Live Tile.
Faster way to Return to Root of App — When you are 5 menus deep within an app, it’s annoying to press the back button 5 times in order to return to the top level of the app. There needs to be a way to jump to the top level in just one press or gesture. Pressing at the heading of the app might be an option, or perhaps a pull down gesture might do the trick.
And that’s what I’ve compiled over just several days of using Windows Phone 7.5 Mango, there will certainly be more to come. I submit this as an earnest list of what I hope Microsoft can fix and improve with WP7. The OS has massive potential, and I would like to be able to call myself a WP7 convert, and confidently tell others to follow me, but there is work to be done by Microsoft before that will happen.
Have anything to add to the list? Please drop a comment!
Microsoft tells us that Mango updates began this morning around 10AM PST. The process is beginning gradually and will slowly ramp up — they hope to have the update available to most existing customers within 4 weeks. The update is being deployed globally, across all carriers and phones. They say that 98% of existing Windows Phone 7 devices will have access to the update when all is said and done. Kudos to Microsoft for getting the update to nearly all devices, rather than just to a specific carrier or specific phone before everyone else (*cough*Google/Android*cough*).
If you want to find out where your update is, Microsoft has a page which will give you some detail as to the status of the update for your particular carrier. If you’re on a US carrier, you’ll want to check here.Â InternationalÂ folksÂ shouldÂ give this link a try for Windows Phone 7.5 Mango update status. You’llÂ receiveÂ a message on your phone when the update is ready, and you’ll need to plug it into your computer for the update to commence. If you don’t already have the Zune software, or Windows Phone 7 Connector (OSX) installed, you’ll want to do that as they are required for update instillation.
As mentioned, previously not revealed facets of Windows Phone 7.5 include tethering functionality and a web version of the App Marketplace. ReportsÂ indicateÂ that tethering will only be coming to new phones with Mango installed; it’s unclear whether or not this is a software or hardware problem (my vote is on the former). The web Marketplace is already available for browsingÂ and is part for the course — offering ratings, screenshots, top app lists, and the ability to download apps to your phone wirelessly, thanks to your phone’s association with your Windows Live account.
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Not satisfied with letting Samsung steal the spotlight completely today, HTC had scheduled a number of media events around Europe where they revealed two brand new Windows Phone 7 devices, both of which will run the oft-previewed (and enjoyed) but yet to be released, Windows Phone 7.5 (aka Mango). HTC has a knack for making beautiful hardware and these devices don’t look like they’ll disappoint in that respect. The real question is whether or not WP7 Mango is enough to keep people interested.
Just based on the name alone, you know I’m going to rip on this phone for its screen size; before that let’s at least look at what it brings to the table:
Single-core Snapdragon MSM8255 @ 1.5GHz
512MB of RAM
4.7” capacitive LCD touchscreen @ 800×480
8MP rear camera (BSI sensor, dual-LED flash), 1.3MP front camera
1600 mAh battery
160 grams (5.6 ounces)
9.9mm thick aluminum body
So yeah, the phone looks great, it’s quite thin, and though I haven’t held it myself, I can tell from hands-on reports that it is going to have that classic HTC hardware build-quality to it.
And while WP7 doesn’t use the same interface paradigms as Android, there’s still a lot of issues with a 4.7” and near-16:9 screen which you can read about in detail here.
It seems like people are finally starting to catch on to what I’m saying about these huge phones. This Is My Next makes the following note:
…although the Windows Phone Metro UI keeps things relatively centered and easy for one-handed usage, it’s still not necessarily easy to reach the top of the screen with your thumb when holding the device in one hand, and accessing the power button required a bit of in-hand shuffling in order to climb a finger up to the button located along the top-right edge of the device.
That’s also a mighty big screen for the 800×480 resolution; it might not look as crisp as some of the other devices that have launched or are launching soon (ie: iPhone 4 [960×640], Atrix [960×540], Galaxy Note [1200×800]).
As seen in videos of the phone taken by Engadget and This Is My Next, the single-core CPU running at 1.5GHz runs Mango very smoothly and I that doesn’t surprise me as the 1GHz HTC Surround that I played with last March was able to run the WP7 UI with impressive fluidity.
This is My Next has a massive gallery and a hands-on video of the Titan, take a look.
The Radar appears to be for people like me, who actually want to be able to use their phone effectively with one hand. Instead of the classically too-big 4.3” screen, they’ve actually brought this one down to 3.8” which I’m quite thankful for. The annoying part, however, is that this smaller phone offers lesser specs, so the idea of top end phones being required to have giant ergonomically crippling screens is still firmly in place. But hopefully we’ll see a lesser price than the Titan as well.
Single-core Snapdragon MSM8255 @ 1.0GHz
512MB of RAM
3.8” capacitive LCD touchsceen
5MP rear camera (BSI sensor), front facing camera (currently unspecified MP)
1520 mAh battery
137 grams (4.83 ounces)
The Radar actually looks a lot like a mini HTC Flyer, and it doesn’t have a user-replaceable battery, which is a point of contention for some but not all.
Viewing angles on the phone look really good and even if the contrast ratio isn’t as ridiculously impressive as the Galaxy Note or Galaxy Tab 7.7’s AMOLED displays, I’ve found that the high-contrast visual design of WP7 negates that problem by a large degree (of course you’ll probably be quite upset if you try to watch any movie with a dark scene on the phone).
This is My Next also has lots of great shots of the Radar as well as a hands-on video. If you’re interested, take a look.
HTC says that the Titan and Radar will become available beginning in October with initial releases in Europe and Asia. Pricing hasn’t been announced and it’s uncertain when/if they’ll see a US release, but we’ll keep you posted.
Nokia Sea Ray (alleged; photos courtesy of product-reviews.net)
It seems like we cannot go a full calendar month without one of the tech companies holding some event to make a major announcement. Not that I am complaining one bit. This month we have not one, but two giants partnering to bring us some new juicy gadget promises. At least that is what we assume Microsoft and Nokia’s intentions are for the press conference they have just called for the 17th of this month.
The event is to take place in Cologne, Germany, just as the Gamescom convention kicks off. The truth is, we have no idea what M&N intend to announce at this event. But it is a safe bet that it will have something to do with the Nokia Sea Ray and Windows Phone 7. The announcement flyer, atÂ least, indicates that they will be giving away 3 vouchers for a Nokia handset running Windows Phone “as soon as available”. Â If the announcement is profound enough, it might just pull Windows Phone and Nokia out of the funk they have been for the last several months.
That is the optimistic view. Now for a little pessimism. What concerns me is that this announcement does not have the feel of a planned reveal. It feels rushed and reactionary. So it makes me wonder if this press event is being held in response to pressure. The pressure of Samsung and Apple’s quarterly earnings statements. The pressure of increasing rumors of an impending fall launch of potentially two new iPhone models. The pressure of Nokia continuing toÂ hemorrhageÂ money.
This is not to say that doing somethingÂ to staunch the flow is not the right move. It is more a recommendation to temper expectations of what may come out of this announcement with a good dollop of skepticism. It is likely that this is just another announcement confirming M&N’s previously advertised timeline for the release of the first Nokia phone running Windows 7. Nothing new.
It will be great if I am wrong. Nokia’s handset arriving early would be an awesome way to bring in the final quarter of the year. I spent the better part of the first half of this year on a Windows Phone 7 handset, the HTC HD7. I am a big fan of the OS and rank it second on my personal ranking of mobile OS’ for phones, behind Android, but ahead of iOS. Still, it is hard to envision M&N pulling off a major reveal at this juncture given what we have seen of the pair in the mobile space so far this year. A big event that does not really reveal anything new or unexpected could be just as harmful to the Windows Phone movement as a delay in the Sea Ray. Let’s hope that whatever M&N have planned, they do it right. The launch of the Fujitsu Toshiba IS12TÂ may be reason to hold on to hopes for something great.
Either way, you can rest assured that we will cover the story here on Carrypad. See you on the 17th (and hopefully every day in between).
Hey folks. Here’s an excerpt of of my recent HTC Surround review that I wanted to highlight. It’s way more broad than the HTC Surround alone; it applies to every Windows Phone 7 device thus released. I think it deserves its own place for discussion so I’m offering it up for viewing here in this article. If you’ve spent some time with Windows Phone 7, please join us in the comments after reading. Even if you haven’t yet played with WP7, I’d be interested to hear what people think about the platform after realizing what it has become. Here it is:
I really like the Windows Phone 7 interface. I’ve been really impressed with it ever since I got my hands on the Surround. The Surround doesn’t have the top-of-the-line CPU, nor does it have the most RAM of any smartphone out there. Still, it powers the WP7 GUI with ease. You’ll find slick and smooth animations throughout the core parts of the OS. Particular apps vary in their performance and are sometimes sluggish on the interface side of things.
Though I’m very impressed with the unique interface of WP7, there’s one thing that’s really bugging me. To explain, you’ll have to watch this:
This was the video used to announce Windows Phone 7 a little while back. The analogy of apps being rooms that you can only be in one at a time was a great way to poke fun at Apple’s iOS which, at the time, only ran one application at a time with no apparent backgrounding/multitasking. Microsoft promised that they were going to avoid this and let applications work together and provide glance-able information rather than asking you to jump between different apps.
Now here’s the sad part: While iOS went on to provide a great multi-tasking experience by freezing applications in the background and providing the ability to quick-switch between them, Windows Phone 7 actually became exactly what it was mocking in the WP7 announcement video.
Apps in WP7 function exactly like they showed in the video; as individual rooms. Apps cannot run in the background (beyond your typical email/sms/music). Many don’t even run while the phone is locked! For instance, if I lock my phone while viewing the official Twitter app, then come back to the phone a few seconds later and unlock it, I’ll be greeted with a several second pause and a â€œresumingâ€ message as I wait for the app to get going again. If I see something online that I want to share on Facebook, I have to exit the browser and wait for the Facebook app to get started.
The video also mentions that apps on other platforms â€œrarely work togetherâ€. In WP7 they neverwork together. Because of the individual â€œroomâ€ nature of each app, and the lack of cut/copy/paste, WP7 doesn’t feel like it’s geared toward productivity.
â€œI need to get this address from the web browser into the Maps applicationâ€¦ well with no way to copy text, or even switch quickly between the apps, I guess I can’t do that.â€
â€œWow this is a great webpage, I’d love to share this link with my twitter friends. Wait a minute, can’t do that!â€
â€œI’ll just record this meeting while I reference some notes from my email. Oh no, that’s impossible on WP7!â€
Ok, I think you catch my drift. All of the above is quite possible on iOS or Android, but impossible on Windows Phone 7. Clearly, they haven’t delivered on their promise to prevent the app â€œroomâ€ analogy.
Considering that Windows Phone 7 is a total restart of Microsoft’s mobile OS offering, and that’s it’s just out of the gate, it’s impressive. But in a world full of several mature and maturing mobile operating systems, WP7 needs a serious 2.0 update if it hopes to make a dent in the space. If Microsoft doesn’t deploy such an update soon, they might get knocked out of the race all together.