Nike+ Running App on Windows Phone 8

Sadly even though there seems to be a lot of demand, Windows Phone 8 users are left without an official Nike+ running app.  Thankfully Run+ is a very good alternative. I have never used the official app, but it seems to have most of the features, looks very good and also syncs with Nike's servers. There is another unofficial and cheaper app which I haven't tried, but since I am happy with Run+ I haven't felt the need to try it (Run+ also looks a lot nicer).

There's a trial and it is reasonably cheap, so definitely worth looking at if you want to use Nike+ or possibly even as a standalone running app.

The Great Windows Phone Migration pt. 3

Current Phones: Lumia 610 & 800, Xperia P
Current Phones: Lumia 610 & 800, Xperia P

See also part 1 and 2.

After a month and a half the great experiment has come to an end. Overall, I enjoyed the Lumia 800 with its smooth and mostly pleasant experience. I had some issues that I hoped would be addressed in Windows Phone 8, but unfortunately Microsoft announced that current phones will not get Windows Phone 8, so I have decided to go back to Android (Sony Xperia P).

Things that I will miss:

  • The Lumia 800 hardware design is more elegant and eye catching than any Android device (the HTC One X is pretty nice though).
  • The Metro user interface. Navigation is very responsive, fast and smooth (sometimes longer lists get bogged down though). Everything is easy to read with good contrast and a nice font. User interfaces are usually basic (in a good way) and consistent across applications. Basically, Metro addresses all of the problems with the Android UX (well at least pre 4.1 Android).
  • Stability. A few apps crashed, but the OS never locked up. My new Android phone locked up 5 minutes after turning it on and later again that night.
  • The Zune music player is very good. The functionality is good and the user interface looks amazing.
  • The email client. I will miss the user interface but not the functionality.
  • The keyboard makes better usage of space than the stock Android keyboard.
  • Skydrive. Android doesn't currently have an official application. The Xperia P comes with 50 GB of lifetime storage at box, but this is practically useless as you have to upgrade to a $15 per month account to use the desktop syncing application.
  • Locked down for developers. A malicious application cannot do much as it can't access much personal information or your emails or SMSes.
  • Development tools. Developing using C#, Visual Studio and Expression Blend is about 1000x nicer than the Android or Apple equivalents.

Things that I will not miss:

  • The notification system. The Windows Phone notification system is abysmal. The lockscreen can only show notification icons for SMSes, calls and 3 email accounts. If you get a notification sound from another application or from your fourth email account, you will have to unlock your phone and try to find where the notification came from. You can only tell which applications have possibly caused the notification if you have pinned the application to your start screen, it will then show the unread count on the application tile. You can see 8 application tiles at the most on the start screen before you need to scroll, so this starts to become annoying as you add more and more application tiles. You also cannot set custom notification ring tones for different applications. So basically you find yourself hearing the notification sound, unlocking your phone and then scrolling through the start page to try to find what the notification was for. There is no notification LED so you also find yourself periodically unlocking your phone and making sure that you didn't miss anything.
  • Windows Live primary account. Once setup, the primary account cannot be changed and certain services can only use the primary account. When I first setup my phone I used my Xbox Live account. Sadly this ancient account is different to my newer SkyDrive account. As such the Office application cannot access my SkyDrive account. I had to completely reset my phone (losing all SMSes) and set my SkyDrive account as the primary account, but of course I can now no longer use the Xbox Live application.
  • Insane Regional Restrictions. A mobile phone is mobile, so it is reasonable to assume that people may move countries. The platform has strict regional rules. The Zune service isn't available in most countries and for some reason a lot of application availability is limited to specific regions. As mentioned above I had to reset my phone to use my newer Live account, another reason for doing this was so that I could download bus applications for Singapore. Android seems to avoid this problem. The Zune music application has a nice feature that it will show the currently playing artist's image on the lockscreen...but this only works if the Zune music store is available in your country. So people like me are instead treated to a giant noisy orange lockscreen instead. You can change your Live accounts country, but you have to go through the lengthy and painful process of contacting customer support, and who knows what services changing countries will break.
  • Multitasking. There isn't really any multitasking, instead the OS will suspend the application when it is no longer on-screen. This is usually okay, but it doesn't work very well for a fitness app such as 'Sports Tracker' as it will stop tracking your position on the map when it gets suspended and your workout looks a bit funny when it thinks you ran through a highway and a few appartment blocks. The biggest problem is that it will only let you have 5 suspended applications, after 5 it will close the oldest one. The issue with this is that the definition of application is very broad. Opening a new tab in Internet Explorer is considered a separate Application. Each page under the system setting is considered a separate application. Each email inbox is considered a separate application. If you are stuck on an Angry Birds level, you go to setting and turn WiFi on, you press the search button to find a walk-through in the Bing app and you click the first item to open up IE, read the answer and want to return to Angry Birds, but in doing so you find yourself having just stumbled into a game of Russian roulette. Will my current Angry Birds game still be open or will it have been killed? The limit of suspended apps needs to be based on actual available resources and stupid things like the WiFi on/off page shouldn't count as an application.
    Another annoying thing is that you have to hold down the back button to fast switch to the suspended app, if you click the app tile it will restart the app rather than resuming it. There is also a slight-moderate delay when resuming suspended apps.
  • You cannot change the default applications. You cannot install a different SMS or email client. Even if you could you wouldn't be able to use it as the default application that gets opened.
  • You cannot reject calls with a default SMS reply.
  • Internet Explorer. I am not sure why Microsoft continues to develop their own mobile browser and not just base theirs on WebKit. This would be easier and cheaper for them and web developers. IE actually renders pages quite well, but my main problem it that it will only open tabs in the foreground and not in the background. Very frustrating, especially when on a slow connection. You can download other browsers, but these cannot be set as the default browser.
  • The email client. Is supports Gmail, but it doesn't support Gmail things like labels and reporting spam very well. It also has that annoying Outlook behaviour where you click reply but because the last email was from you, you end up replying to yourself rather than the other person in the conversation.
  • Crazy WiFi rules. Unless your phone is charging, WiFi is only turned on when the screen is turned on. If I am at home I want it to use WiFi for push notifications and not cellular.
  • Locked down for developers. Having 4 emails accounts I was very annoyed about having to add each email account to the start screen just to see the unread count for notifications. I wanted to create an application that could show your unread SMS and email count on a single tile. Sadly you cannot do a seemingly simple and harmless thing like this.
  • Twitter clients. Rowi seems to be the best but it doesn't support multiple accounts. Some of the other clients like Seesmic and Gleek are good but they don't remember your scrolled position in the timeline. It also means that an application to backup your SMSes doesn't exist.

 I guess that sounds overly negative and possibly nitpicking and switching back to Android has been a bit difficult (Launcher7 helps with the transition). But it feels like Microsoft has abandoned Windows Phone 7 before it ever got into a finished state. It still lags behind iOS and Android in features and it doesn't look like the 7.8 update will change that. My list of complaints probably isn't even relevant for most users. For most users Windows Phone 7 will provide a very slick and stable email, SMS, internet and Facebook mobile experience. Nokia was kind enough to give me a Lumia 610 for development purposes, so I will still be in the loop.

Nokia Lumia 800 Battery Life

I had been getting very bad battery life on my Nokia Lumia 800. The latest firmware was meant to increase the battery life 3 fold! But my battery was fearing worse than my previous device, the infamous Desire HD!

I suspected that the Windows Phone implementation of email push notifications was to blame. Opinion varies wildly on the web as to if push or pull/poll/fetch consumes more power. Most people state it as fact that push uses less power, but they don't provide any numbers and rather just explain why it should use less. I guess it also depends on many other factors such as implementation, polling frequency and amount of emails.

I decided to do a bit more testing and see which uses less power for me on a Nokia Lumia 800 running the 12072 firmware.

Unscientific

When using as items arrive on two of my email accounts (Gmail and Hotmail) the phone would enter battery saver mode in less than 24 hours.

When set to check hourly on two of my email accounts the phone would enter battery saver mode after 60 hours.

This is with similar usage patterns on 3G.

Slightly Scientific

I set the phones display to medium brightness and turned wi-fi off and 3G on. I opened up the Nokia battery diagnosis app and compared the current discharge results over a 30 second period. No background apps were running.

Two email accounts set to check hourly:

A minimum value of 62 mA and a maximum of 96 mA. The majority of the time was in the 78-84 mA range.

Hotmail account set to check as items arrive, Gmail set to hourly:

A minimum value of 81 mA and a maximum of 320 mA. It would stay around the 280 mA range for 10 seconds and then go down to around 90 mA for another 10 seconds. It kept fluctuating between these two ranges.

Hotmail and Gmail account set to check as items arrive

Similar to the above but it peaked at 421 mA.

Conclusion

While the tests are far from scientifically irrefutable, I am satisfied that my battery lasts a lot longer when I do not use as items arrive. Using as items arrive causes wild and frequent fluctuations in the current discharge. Try changing and see if it makes a difference for you.

The Great Windows Phone Migration pt. 2

The Search Button

 Android and Windows Phone 7 both have dedicated search buttons. The Android search button is context sensitive, so if the current application supports search then you will use whatever search functionality it provides. Apparently pre-Mango Windows Phone 7 was like this, but now when you press the search button the Bing search application will open. The Bing search results are presented in a very un-compact fashion, with only 3-4 results fitting on the screen at a time. You also only get 4 web results and 4 news results displayed before having to click the 'load more results' link, this is annoying for me as I normally want to search a reasonable amount of web results. Even worse is that you cannot open the results in a new tab, so you end up in a workflow like this:

  1. While in Internet Explorer you press the search button (or enter a search term into the address bar).
  2. The Bing search application opens up.
  3. Enter a search term and press the search button.
  4. Select a single result to open in Internet Explorer.
  5. To select another search result, hold the back button to open the recent applications and select the Bing search application.
  6. Select another result to open in Internet Explorer (or press the 'load more results' link if you can't find it in the top 4 results).
  7. Repeat steps 5-6 until you find what you are after.

It is very convoluted and it would be a lot simple if the search results were shown on a normal Bing search page in Internet Explorer and you could open the links in new tabs (even better would be to open them in background tabs).

There is also no option to change the default search engine to Google, Wikipedia or any other provider. Bing also does not search your phone for local content.

In conclusion, it is great to have a dedicated search button, but in reality such a button is wasted as the convoluted implementation doesn't save much time.

The Great Windows Phone Migration pt. 1

Introduction

It has been one week since I migrated from Android to Windows Phone 7. I was a reasonably satisfied Android user for the last 2.5+ years, from version 1.6 to 4.0 on the HTC Hero and HTC Desire HD, but I decided to move away due to the following reasons:

  • I really wanted an HTC One X, but after being burned twice by HTC's release and forget update policy I vowed never to get an HTC phone again.
  • Stock Android is ugly as sin (yes even 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich). HTC Sense is quite nice but see above point. MIUI Android is an amazing ROM, but I would like a more officially supported OS.
  • Android is not as polished as it should be. Still stutters on occasion, still get odd bugs, still feels very wild wild west. You shouldn't have to flash a custom ROM to improve performance and stability.
  • Just plain bored with it and wanted a new phone :)

After researching the many limitations of Windows Phone 7, I decided to accept its short comings and go with the Nokia Lumia 800 for the following reasons:

  • The Lumia 800 looks and feels great.
  • The Windows Phone 7 interface looks nice, consistent, smooth and easy to use.
  • Phones currently have similar hardware specifications so you can expect to avoid application fragmentation and get OS updates shortly after release and not 6+ months (if at all) like on Android.
  • Application development appears to be a pleasant experience. You can use C# and don't have to use a god-awful language like Objective-C or deal with the the dreadful Android UI designer. You also don't have to worry about obscure screen resolutions and all the other software and hardware combinations.

Some people have also told me that I should have waited a few weeks and gotten the Nokia 900 or even the Samsung Galaxy S III. But I didn't want to sign another 2-year contract and especially not with Starhub (so many annoying and ridiculous experiences with them). The Nokia Lumia 800 was actually quite reasonable to buy without a contract. I ended up paying $490 SGD from Shavy (adix82) at Mobile Hardware, Burlington Square, Singapore. He seems to be a trustworthy seller and was helpful, friendly and not pushy. A much better experience than getting harassed by a rude, cheating Ah Beng at Sim Lim Square.

So in the upcoming posts I will look at the gaps between Android and Windows Phone 7 which I find to be personally relevant.