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Updated: 14 hours 28 min ago

The Fitbit Surge: Watching Where the Super Watch Puck Goes

Mon, 2015-04-06 10:26

Editor’s note: Here’s a review of the Fitbit Surge from Ultan (@ultan, @usableapps); if anyone can road-test a fitness tracker, it’s him. As luck would have it, the Surge is on my list of wearables to test as well. So, watch this space for a comparison review from a much less active person. Enjoy.

I’ve upgraded my Fitbit experience to the Fitbit Surge, the “Fitness Super Watch.”

Why?

I’ve been a Fitbit Flex user for about 18 months. I’ve loved its simplicity, unobtrusiveness, colourful band options, and general reliability. I’ve sported it constantly, worldwide. I’ve worn out bands and exhausted the sensor until it was replaced by the help of some awesome Fitbit global support. I’ve integrated it with the Aria Wi-Fi scales, synching diligently. I’ve loved the Fitbit analytics, visualization, the badges, and comparing experiences with others.

The human body makes more sense for me as a dashboard than a billboard, as Chris Dancy (@servicesphere) would say.

But I wanted more.

The Flex didn’t tell me very much on its own—or in the moment—other than when a daily goal was reached or the battery needed attention. I had to carry a smartphone to see any real information.

I am also a user of other fitness (mostly running) apps: Strava, MapMyRun, Runcoach, Runkeeper, and more. All have merits, but again, I still need to carry a smartphone with me to actually record or see any results. This also means that I need to run through a tiresome checklist daily to ensure the whole setup is functioning correctly. And given the increasing size of smartphones, I am constantly in need of new carrying accessories. I’m a mugger’s dream with twinkling phablets strapped to my arms at night, not to mention asking for technical grief running around in European rain.

The Surge seemed like a good move to make.

Spinning up the Fitbit Surge in the gym

Spinning up the Fitbit Surge in the gym

Onboarding the Superwatch Experience

I tested my new Fitbit Surge right out of the box in Finland on long snowy runs around Helsinki and have hammered it for weeks now with activities out in the Irish mist and in gyms, too. My impressions:

  • I love the fact that the Surge is standalone. I can record and glance at activity performance quickly, without the whole smartphone connectivity checklist thing.
  • The UI is intuitive with just three buttons (Home, Activity, and Select), and it incorporates swipe gestures and click interactions to get through the little cards that make up the UI paradigm. Familiar. Easy.
  • The Surge records and shows my heart rate, something that I realize should always be part of my fitness plan (duh). I discovered a resting heart rate bpm of around 50 BPM. Read. Weep.
  • The Surge has enhanced notifications capability, and I can see SMS messages or cell phone calls coming in. Nice.
  • The Surge has options for choosing between predefined activities. Fast.
  • The battery life (charging is via USB) is a major bonus over other smartwatches. The limited battery life of the Moto 360, for example, drives me crazy. The Surge battery life gives me about three days (although that is less than that advertised).
  • Having GPS is awesome, as I like to record and see where I have been, worldwide.
  • I am happy with the recorded data, and it seems comparable to the data quality I demand for my runs. I’ve had concerns about the Flex and other devices in this regard.
2_gps_surge 3_cardio_surge 4_ios_app_surge 5_ios_app_overview

On the downside:

  • I don’t like the fact that the Surge is available only in black (as of now), that the display is monochrome, and that there are no interchangeable band options. I’m a #fashtech kinda guy.
  • You can only use one Fitbit device at a time. (I’m like that; I might like to wear a different device on different occasion.)
  • The predetermined activities are slightly limiting. Who knows, maybe ironing in the nude burns lots of calories? (I don’t, by the way.)
  • The call notifications and text notifications are great, but to do anything in the moment with those alerts means that I need to turn to my phone, unlike say my Android Wear Moto Motorola 360 that lets me respond using voice.
  • Having to actually tell the watch what you’re doing first is pure Age of Context denial. Google Fit, for example, does a decent job of automatically sensing what activity I am up to, and where and when I am. Plus, it lets me enter data manually and plays nice with my Moto 360 for a glanceable UI.
  • And then there’s the “unlearning” of the Flex invisibility. I’ve walked off quite a few times forgetting Surge is still in action, and only hours later realized I needed to stop the thing.
 Fitbit Surge versus Motorola Moto 360

Relative glance: Fitbit Surge versus Motorola Moto 360

Thoughts on the Surge and Super Watch Approach

An emerging wearable technology analyst position is that upped smartwatches such as the Fitbit Surge or “super watches” will subsume the market for dedicated fitness bands. I think that position is broadly reasonable, but requires nuance.

Fitness bands (Flex, Jawbone Up, and so on), as they stand, are fine for the casual fitness type, or for someone who wants a general picture of how they’re doing, wellness-wise. They’ll become cheaper, giveaways even. More serious fitness types, such as hardcore runners and swimmers, will keep buying the upper-end Garmin-type devices and yes, will still export data and play with it in Microsoft Excel. In the middle of the market, there’s that large, broad set of serious amateurs, Quantified Self fanbois, tech heads, and the more competitive or jealous wannabe types who will take to the “super watches.”

And yet, even then, I think we will still see people carrying smartphones when they run or work out in the gym. These devices still have richer functionality. They carry music. They have a camera. They have apps to use during your workout or run (be they for Starbucks or Twitter). And you can connect to other people with them by voice, text, and so on.

I like the Fitbit Surge. Sure, it’s got flaws. But overall, the “super watch” approach is a sound one. The Surge eliminates a lot of complexity from my overall wearable experience, offers more confidence about data reliability, and I get to enjoy the results of my activity efforts faster, at a glance. It’s a more “in the moment.” experience. It’s not there on context and fashion, but it will be, I think.

Anyone wanna buy some colored Fitbit Flex bands?Possibly Related Posts:

Conference Recaps and Such

Fri, 2015-03-27 09:28

I’m currently in Washington D.C. at Oracle HCM World. It’s been a busy conference; on Wednesday, Thao and Ben ran a brainstorming session on wearables as part of the HCM product strategy council’s day of activities.

brainstorm

Then yesterday, the dynamic duo ran a focus group around emerging technologies and their impact on HCM, specifically wearables and Internet of Things (IoT). I haven’t got a full download of the session yet, but I hear the discussion was lively. They didn’t even get to IoT, sorry Noel (@noelportual).

I’m still new to the user research side of our still-kinda-new house, so it was great to watch these two in action as a proverbial fly on the wall. They’ll be doing similar user research activities at Collaborate 15 and OHUG 15.

If you’re attending Collaborate and want to hang out with the OAUX team and participate in a user research or usability testing activity, hit this link. The OHUG 15 page isn’t up yet, but if you’re too excited to wait, contact Gozel Aamoth, gozel dot aamoth at oracle dot com.

Back to HCM World, in a short while, I’ll be presenting a session with Aylin Uysal called Oracle HCM Cloud User Experiences: Trends, Tailoring, and Strategy, and then it’s off to the airport.

Earlier this week, Noel was in Eindhoven for OBUG Experience 2015. From the pictures I’ve seen, it was a fun event. Jeremy (@jrwashley) not only gave the keynote, but he found time to hang out with some robot footballers.

robot

Check out the highlights:

Busy week, right? Next week is more of the same as Noel and Tony head to Modern CX in Las Vegas.

Maybe we’ll run into you at one of these conferences? Drop a comment.

In other news, as promised last week, I updated the feed name. Doesn’t look like that affected anything, but tell your friends just in case.

Update: Nope, changing the name totally borks the old feed, so update your subscription if you want to keep getting AppsLab goodness delivered to your feed reader or inbox.Possibly Related Posts:

Time to Update the Feed

Thu, 2015-03-19 11:40

For those of you who enjoy our content via the feed (thank you), I have news.

Next week, I’ll be changing the feed’s name, so if you want to continue to receive AppsLab goodness in your feed reader of choice or in your inbox, you’ll need to come back here and subscribe again.

Or maybe it’s time to switch over to our Twitter (@theappslab) or Facebook Page, if that’s your thing. I did nuke the Google+ Page, but I doubt anyone will notice it’s gone.

Nothing else has changed.Possibly Related Posts:

OAUX Tidbits

Wed, 2015-03-18 10:32

Here come some rapid fire tidbits about upcoming and recently past Oracle Applications User Experience (@usableapps) events.

Events of the Near Past

Laurie Pattison’s (@lsptahoe) team (@InnovateOracle) has been organizing events focused around stimulating and fostering innovation for quite some time now.

I’ve always been a big fan of group-think-and-work exercises, e.g. design jams, hackathons, ShipIts, code sprints, etc.

Our team frequently participates in and supports these events, e.g. Tony O was on a team that won a couple awards at the Future of Information design jam back in early February and John and Julia served as mentors at the Visualizing Information design jam a few weeks ago.

You may recall Julia’s visualization analysis and thinking; John has an equally informative presentation, not yet shared here, but we can hope.

Watch Laurie’s blog for information about more innovation events.

Events of the Near Future

It’s conference season again, and we’ll be bouncing around the globe spreading our emerging technologies user experience goodness.

Fresh off a hot session at UTOUG (h/t OG Friend of the ‘Lab Floyd) and gadget-hounding at SXSW Interactive, Noel (@noelportugal) will be in Eindhoven, the Netherlands for the Oracle Benelux User Group Experience Day, March 23 and 24.

Our fearless leader, Jeremy Ashley (@jrwashley) will be there as well giving the opening keynote. Bob Rhubart (@OTNArchBeat) recorded a video to tell you all about that. Check it out here:

While Noel enjoys Europe, I’ll be in Washington D.C. speaking at Oracle HCM World, along with Thao and Ben.

After that, we’ll have boots on the ground at Oracle Modern CX and Collaborate 15 in Las Vegas. Stay tuned for more, or if you’ll be at any conferences during Conference Season 2015 and wonder if OAUX will be there, check out our Events page.

Update: Here’s what OAUX will be doing at Collaborate 15. If you’re attending, come by and say hello.Possibly Related Posts:

Three Weeks with the Nike+ Fuelband SE

Wed, 2015-03-11 11:42

I don’t like wearing stuff on my wrist, but in my ongoing quest to learn more about the wearables our users wear, I have embarked on a journey.

For science! And for better living through math, a.k.a. the quantified self.

And because I’ll be at HCM World later this month talking about wearables, and because wearables are a thing, and we have a Storify to prove it, and we need to understand them better, and the Apple Watch is coming (squee!) to save us all from our phones and restore good old face time (not that Facetime) and and and. Just keep reading.

Moving on, I just finished wearing the Nike+ Fuelband SE for three weeks, and today, I’m starting on a new wearable. It’s a surprise, just wait three weeks.

Now that I’ve compiled a fair amount of anecdotal data, I figured a loosely organized manifest of observations (not quite a review) was in order.

The band

The Fuelband isn’t my first fitness tracker; you might recall I wore the Misfit Shine for a few months. Unlike the minimalist Shine, the Fuelband has quite a few more bells and whistles, starting with its snazzy display.

Check out a teardown of the nifty little bracelet, some pretty impressive stuff inside there, not bad for a shoe and apparel company.

I’ve always admired the design aspects of Nike’s wearables, dating back to 2012 when Noel (@noelportugal) first started wearing one. So, it was a bit sad to hear about a year ago that Nike was closing that division.

Turns out the Fuelband wasn’t dead, and when Nike finally dropped an Android version of the Nike+ Fuelband app, I sprang into action, quite literally.

Anyway, the band didn’t disappoint. It’s lightweight and can be resized using a nifty set of links that can be added or removed.

IMG_20150217_121004

The fit wasn’t terribly tight, and the band is surprisingly rigid, which eventually caused a couple areas on my wrist to rub a little raw, no biggie.

The biggest surprise was the first pinch I got closing the clasp. After a while, it got easier to close and less pinchy, but man that first one was a zinger.

The battery life was good, something that I initially worried about, lasting about a week per full charge. Nike provides an adapter cord, but the band’s clasp can be plugged directly into  a USB port, which is a cool feature, albeit a bit awkward looking.

It’s water-resistant too, which is a nice plus.

Frankly, the band is very much the same one that Noel showed me in 2012, and the lack of advancement is one of the complaints users have had over the years.

The app and data

Entering into this, I fully expected to be sucked back into the statistical vortex that consumed me with the Misfit Shine, and yeah, that happened again. At least, I knew what to expect this time.

Initial setup of the band requires a computer and a software download, which isn’t ideal. Once that was out of the way, I could do everything using the mobile app.

The app worked flawlessly, and it looks good, more good design from Nike. I can’t remember any sync issues or crashes during the three-week period. Surprising, considering Nike resisted Android for so long. I guess I expected their foray into Android to be janky.

I did find one little annoyance. The app doesn’t support the Android Gallery for adding a profile picture, but that’s the only quibble I have.

Everything on the app is easily figured out; there’s a point system, NikeFuel. The band calculates steps and calories too, but NikeFuel is Nike’s attempt to normalize effort for specific activities, which also allows for measurement and competition among participants.

The default the NikeFuel goal for each day is 2,000, a number that can be configured. I left it at 2,000 because I found that to be easy to reach.

The app includes Sessions too, which allow the wearer to specify the type of activity s/he is doing. I suppose this makes the NikeFuel calculation more accurate. I used Sessions as a way to categorize and compare workouts.

I tested a few Session types and was stunned to discover that the elliptical earned me less than half the NikeFuel than running on a treadmill for the same duration.

Screenshot_2015-03-09-23-31-12 Screenshot_2015-03-09-23-31-52 Screenshot_2015-03-09-23-31-47 Screenshot_2015-03-09-23-32-14 Screenshot_2015-03-09-23-32-23

Update: Forgot to mention that the app communicates in real time with the band (vs. periodic syncing), so you can watch your NikeFuel increase during a workout, pretty cool.

Overall, the Android app and the web app at nikeplus.com are both well-done and intuitive. There’s a community aspect too, but that’s not for me. Although I did enjoy watching my progress vs. other men my age in the web app.

One missing feature of the Fuelband, at least compared to its competition, is the lack of sleep tracking. I didn’t really miss this at first, but now that I have it again, with the surprise wearable I’m testing now, I’m realizing I want it.

Honestly, I was a bit sad to take off the Fuelband after investing three weeks into it. Turns out, I really liked wearing it. I even pondered continuing its testing and wearing multiple devices to do an apples-to-apples comparison, but Ultan (@ultan) makes that look good. I can’t.

So, stay tuned for more wearable reviews, and find me at HCM World if you’re attending.

Anything to add? Find the comments.Possibly Related Posts:

Development on Windows 8.1 Phone and Tablet

Mon, 2015-03-09 14:59

This is a follow up to my previous post (“Where are the Mobile Windows Devices?“) in which I gave my initial impressions of mobile windows devices.  As part of our assessment of these devices we also developed a few apps and this post details how that went.

Getting Started

Windows Phone 8.1 applications have to be developed on Windows 8.1.  I am using a Mac so I installed Windows 8.1 Enterprise Trial (90-day Free Trial) in a Parallels VM.  In order to run the Phone Emulator (which is also a VM and so I was running a VM in a VM), I had to enable Nested Virtualization in Parallels.

Development is done in Visual Studio, I don’t think you can use any other IDE. You can download a version of Visual Studio Express for free.

Finally, you’ll need a developer license to develop and test a Windows Store app before the Store can certify it. When you run Visual Studio for the first time, it prompts you to obtain a developer license. Read the license terms and then click I Accept if you agree. In the User Account Control (UAC) dialog box, click Yes if you want to continue. It was $19 for a developer license.

Development

There are 2 distinct ways to develop applications on the Windows Platform.

Using the Windows Runtime (WinRT)

Applications build with WinRT are called “Windows Runtime apps”, again, there are 2 types of these:

  • “Windows Phone Store apps” are WinRT apps that run on the Windows Phone.
  • “Windows Store apps” that run on a Windows device such as a PC or tablet.

What’s really cool is that Visual Studio provide a universal Windows app template that lets you create a Windows Store app (for PCs, tablets, and laptops) and a Windows Phone Store app in the same project. When your work is finished, you can produce app packages for the Windows Store and Windows Phone Store with a single action to get your app out to customers on any Windows device. These applications can share a lot of their code, both business logic and presentation layer.

Even better, you can create Windows Runtime apps using the programming languages you’re most familiar with, like JavaScript, C#, Visual Basic, or C++. You can even write components in one language and use them in an app that’s written in another language.  Windows Runtime apps can use the Windows Runtime, a native API built into the operating system. This API is implemented in C++ and bindings (called “projections”) are created for  JavaScript, C#, Visual Basic, and C++ in a way that feels natural for each language.

Note that this is very different than the Phonegap/Cordova approach that also let you write apps in JavaScript. Universal Windows Apps do not run in a UIWebView/WebView, they are native applications for which (some of) the application logic gets run through the JavaScript engine. This means that they do not suffer from the challenges we face with Phonegap/Cordova (you can’t use cutting edge features, performance issues, etc.), yet you still get the benefits of using the language you are already familiar with.

This also allows you to use existing JavaScript libraries and CSS templates, no porting requires. You can even write one app use multiple languages, leveraging the dynamic nature of JavaScript for app logic while leveraging languages like C# and C++ for more computationally intensive tasks.

Traditional (Not using the WinRT)

Applications that do not use the WinRT are called Windows desktop app and are executables or browser plug-ins that runs in the Windows desktop environment. These apps are typically written in Win32 and COM, .NET, WPF, or Direct3D APIs. There are also Windows Phone Silverlight apps which are Windows Phone apps that uses the Windows Phone Silverlight UI Framework instead of the Windows Runtime and can be sold in the Windows Phone Store.

Deployment

To deploy to my device I had to first “developer unlock” my phone (instructions).

Deployment is a breeze from Visual Studio, just hook up your phone, select your device and hit deploy. The application gets saved to your phone and it opens. It appears in the apps list like all other apps.  You can also “side-load” applications to other windows machines for testing purpose, just package your application up in Visual Studio, put it on a USB stick, stick it in the other Tablet/PC and run the install script created by the packaging process.

I created 2 simple application, one was a C# Universal Application and one was a JavaScript/CSS3/HTML5 Universal Application. I was able to deploy and run both on a Tablet, Desktop and Phone without any problem. They were very simple applications but I could not see any performance difference between the C# application and the JS application.

Additional Findings

For best User Experience when developing Universal Apps using JS/HTML5/CSS3 you should develop Single Page Applications (SPA).  This ensures there are no weird “page loads” in the middle of your app running.  Users will not expect this from their application, remember, these are universal apps and could be run by a user on his desktop.

State can be easily shared between devices by automatically roaming app settings and state, along with Windows settings, between trusted devices on which the user is logged in with the same Microsoft account.

Applications on the Windows App Store come with build in crashanalytics: This is one of the valuable services you get in exchange for your annual registration with the Store, no need to build it yourself.
<h3Conclusion

As a JavaScript developer myself I am extremely excited by the fact that I can develop native applications on the Windows Platform using tools that I am already familiar with.  Furthermore, with Windows 10 it seems that Microsoft is doubling down on Universal Apps and with that OS Upgrade, my JavaScript apps can soon also be deployed to the HoloLens, Surface Hub, and IoT devices like the Raspberry Pi 2!Possibly Related Posts:

Where are the Mobile Windows Devices?

Mon, 2015-03-09 09:27

That was one of the questions one of the Oracle’s Executives asked when we presented our new Cloud UX Lab.  The short answer was that there were none.  As far as I am aware, we never did any testing of any of our prototypes and applications on Windows Phones or tablets because, frankly, we thought it didn’t matter.   Windows Phones (and tablets) are a distant third to the 2 behemoths in this space, Android and iOS, and even lost market share in the year just wrapped up compared (2.7%) to 2013 (3.3%) according to IDC.  However, they are predicted to do better in the years ahead (although these predictions have been widely off in the past) and it seems that there is some pressure from our Enterprise Apps customers to look at the Windows Mobile platform, hence the question.  Never afraid of a challenge, we ordered a Surface Pro 3 and a Nokia Lumia 1520, used them for a few weeks, ran some test, wrote some apps and jotted down our findings, leading to this blog post.

Initial impressions Surface Pro 3

I’m going to be short about the Surface Pro 3, it’s basically a PC without a physical keyboard (although you can get one if you want) but with a touch screen and a stylus.  It even runs the same version of Windows 8.1 as your PC.  I must admit that the Tiles seem more practical on the tablet than on a PC, but I could do without the constant reminders to “upgrade Windows” and “upgrade Defender,” complete with mandatory reboots, just like on your PC.  The most infuriating part about this is that the virtual keyboard does not automatically pop up when you tap on an input field, just like on your PC that doesn’t have the concept of a Virtual Keyboard.  Instead you have to explicitly open it to be able to type anything.

Fortunately, there are some advantages too, e.g. anything that runs on your Windows PC probably will run fine on the Windows tablet, confirmed by our tests.  It has a USB 3.0 port that works just like … a USB port.  Plug in a USB Drive and you can instantly access it, just like on your PC, quite handy for when you have to side-load applications (more on that in a later post).

The whole package is also quite pricy, similar to a premium laptop.  It’s more of a competitor for the likes of Apple’s Macbook Air than the iPad I think.  I’m thinking people who try to use their iPads as little laptops are probably better of with this.

Lumia 1520

The phone on the other hand is a different beast.  The Windows 8.1 Phone OS, unlike the tablet version, is a smartphone OS.  As such, it has none of the drawbacks that the tablet displayed.  My first impression of the phone was that it is absolutely huge.  It measures 6 inches across and dwarfs my iPhone 6, which I already thought was big.  It’s even bigger than the iPhone 6+ and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.  My thumb can reach less than 50% of the screen, this is not a phone you can handle with one hand.

iPhone 4S vs iPhone 6 vs Lumia 1520

iPhone 4S vs iPhone 6 vs Lumia 1520

Initial setup was relatively quick, it comes “preinstalled” with a bunch of apps, although, they are not really installed on the phone yet, they get installed on first boot.  It took about 10-15 minutes for all “preinstalled” phone apps to be installed.

The screen is absolutely gorgeous with bright colors and supreme fine detail, courtesy of a 367ppi AMOLED ClearBlack screen.  It also performs very good outside, in bright light.  It has an FM Radio which uses your headphone cable as the antenna (no headphones, no radio), a USB port and a microSD port.  It also has a dedicated, two stage camera shutter button.  There’s no physical mute button though.  The Tiles work really well on the phone.  They are much easier to tap than the app icons on either Android or iOS and you can resize them.

I tried installing the same apps as I have on my iPhone, but this was unfortunately where I hit my first giant snag.  I knew the ecosystem was underdeveloped compared to Android and iOS, but I didn’t know it was this bad.  Staples on my iPhone like Feedly, Flickr, VLC, Instapaper and Pocket don’t exist on the Windows Phone platform.  You also won’t find a dedicated app to listen to your Amazon Prime music or watch your movies.  If you want to watch the latest exploits of the Lannisters, you are also going to have to do it on another device, no HBO Go or XFinity on the Windows Phone.  There is also no version of Cisco VPN, which means it’s a non-starter for Oracle employees as that is the only way to access our intranet.  Weirder still, there is no Chrome or Firefox available on Windows Phones, which means I had to do all my testing on the version of IE that came with the phone (gulp!).

Impressions after a week of usage

I used the Lumia as my main phone for a week (poor pockets), I just popped in the micro SIM card from my iPhone into the Lumia and it worked.  I really got hooked to the constantly updating Live Tiles.  News, stock prices, weather, calendar notifications, facebook notifications etc. get pushed straight to my main screen without having to open any apps.  I can glance and drill down if I want to, or just ignore them.  They are a little bit of a distraction with their constant flipping motion, but overall very cool.

The other thing that was very noticeable was that the top notification bar is actually transparent and so it doesn’t seem like you lose that part of your screen, I liked that.

The Windows Store has a try-before-you-buy feature, something that would be a godsend on the iPhone: my kids love to buy games and then drop them within a day never to be used again.  You can also connect the Windows Phone to your XBox One and use it as an input device/remote control.

Another feature that I highly appreciated, especially as a newbie to the Windows Phone, was the smart learning notifications (not sure if that is the official name).  Rather than dumping all the help-information on you when you open the app for the first time, the phone seems to be monitoring what you do and how you do it.  If there is a better/easier way of doing that task, after repeated use, it will let you know, in a completely non condescending way, that “You are doing it wrong.” This seems to be a much better approach because if you tell me the first time I use the app how to use all its features, I will forget by the time I actually want to use that feature, or worse, I might never use that feature so now you wasted my time telling me about it.

As for overall performance, there was some noticeable “jank” in the phones animations, it just didn’t feel as buttery smooth as the iPhone 6.

The camera

The camera really deserves its own chapter.  The 1520 is the sister phone of the Lumia 1020, which has a whopping 41 megapixel image sensor.  The 1520 has to make due with 20 megapixels but that is still at least double of what you find in most smartphones.  Megapixel size isn’t everything but it does produce some wonderful pictures.  One of the reasons that Nokia went with these large sensors is because they wanted to support better zooming.  Because you can’t optically zoom with a phone camera, you need a much bigger lens for that, a phone does digital zooming which typically leads to a pixelated mess when you zoom in.  Unless of course you start with a very high resolution image, which is what Nokia did.

One of the interesting features of the photo app is that it supports “lenses.”  These are plugins you can install in the photo app that add features not available out-of-the-box.  There are dozens of these lenses, it’s basically an app store in an app, that add features like (instagram) filters, 360 shots, panoramic pictures etc.  One lens promises to make you look better in selfies (it didn’t work on me).  One really neat lens is Nokia’s “Refocus” lens that brings a Lytro-like variable depth of field to your phone, and it works great too.

Refocus

In the same lens app you can also filter out all colors except for the object you click on, called “color pop,” so you get this effect:

color pop

Color pop in action

In the app, you can keep clicking on other objects (e.g. the table) to pop their color.

Other than the 20 megapixel sensor, the phone is also equipped with a top notch Carl Zeiss lens.  The phone has a physical, dedicated, two-stage shutter button, half-press for focus and full press for taking the picture.  It also has a larger-than-usual degree of manual control. You’ll find the usual settings for flash mode, ISO, white balance and exposure compensation but also parameters for shutter speed and focus. The latter two are not usually available on mobile phones.  The camera also performs really well in low light conditions.

Summary

I like the phone and its OS, and I really like the camera. The Tiles also works really well on a phone. I dislike the performance, the size and the lack of applications, the latter is a deal-breaker for me. I had some trepidation about going cold turkey Windows Phone for the week but it turned out alright. However, I was happy to switch back to my iPhone 6 at the end of the week.
I’m a bit more on the fence about the tablet. If you get the physical keyboard, it might work out better but then you basically have a laptop, so not sure what the point is. The fact that it runs windows has it’s advantages (everything runs just as on windows) and disadvantages (keyboard issues).

I can’t wait to get my hands on Windows 10 and a HoloLens :-)

Happy Coding!

Mark.Possibly Related Posts:

Automatic: Nice, but Not Necessary

Fri, 2015-02-20 14:35

Editor’s note: Here’s the first post from one of our newish team members, Ben. Ben is a usability engineer with a PhD in Cognitive Psychology, and by his own account, he’s also a below average driver. Those two factoids are not necessarily related; I just don’t know what his likes and dislikes are so I’m spit-balling.

Ben applied his research chops to himself and his driving using Automatic (@automatic), a doodad that measures your driving and claims to make you a better driver. So, right up his alley.

Aside from the pure research, I’m interested in this doodad as yet another data collector for the quantified self. As we generate mounds of data through sensors, we should be able to generate personal annual reports, a la Nicholas Felton, that have recommended actions and tangible benefits.

Better living through math.

Anyway, enjoy Ben’s review.

When I first heard about Automatic (@automatic), I was quite excited—some cool new technology that will help me become a better driver. The truth is, I’m actually not a big fan of driving. Which is partly because I know I’m not as good of a driver as I could be, so Automatic was a glimmer of hope that would lead me on the way to improving my skills.

Though I will eagerly adopt automated cars once they’re out and safe, the next best thing is to get better so I no longer mildly dread driving, especially when I’m conveying others. And one issue with trying to improve is knowing what and when you’re doing something wrong, so with that in mind (and for enterprise research purposes), I tried out Automatic.

Automatic is an app for your phone plus a gadget (called the Link) that plugs into your car’s diagnostics port, which together gives you feedback on your driving and provides various ways to look at your trip data.

Automatic Link

The diagnostics port the Link plugs into is the same one that your mechanic uses to see what might be wrong when your check engine light is ominously glaring on your dashboard. Most cars after 1996 have these, but not all data is available for all cars. Mine is a 2004 Honda Civic, which doesn’t put out gas tank level data, meaning that MPG calculations may not be as accurate as they could be. But it still calculates MPG, and it seems to be reasonably accurate. I don’t, however, get the benefit of “time to fuel up” notifications, though I do wonder how much of a difference those notifications make.

The Link has its own accelerometer, so that combined with the data from the port and paired with your phone via Bluetooth, it can tell you about your acceleration, distance driven, your speed, and your location. It can also tell you what your “Check Engine” light means, and send out some messages in the result of a crash.

It gives three points of driving feedback: if you accelerate too quickly, brake too hard, or go over 70 mph. Each driving sin is relayed to you with its own characteristic tones emitted from the Link. It’s a delightful PC speaker, taking you way back to the halcyon DOS days (for those of you who were actually alive at the time). It also lets you know when it links up with your phone, and when it doesn’t successfully connect it outputs a sound much like you just did something regrettable in a mid-’80s Nintendo game.

App screenshot

One of the main motivators for the driving feedback is to save gas—though you can change the top speed alert if you’d like. From their calculations, Automatic says 70 mph is about as fast as you want to go, given the gas-spent/time-it-will-take-to-get-there tradeoff.

Automatic web dashboard

Another cool feature is that it integrates with IFTTT (@ifttt), so you can set it up to do things like: when you get home, turn the lights on (if you have smart lights); or when you leave work, send a text to your spouse; or any other number of things—useful or not!

Is It Worth It?

The big question is, is it worth $99? It’s got a great interface, a sleek little device, and a good number of features, but for me, it hasn’t been that valuable (yet). For those with the check engine light coming up, it could conceivably save a lot of money if you can prevent unnecessary service on your car. Fortunately, my Civic has never shown me the light (knock on wood), though I’ll probably be glad I have something like Automatic when it does.

I had high hopes for the driver feedback, until I saw that it’s actually pretty limited. For the most part, the quick acceleration and braking are things I already avoided, and when it told me I did them, I usually had already realized it. (Or it was a situation out of my control that called for it.) A few times it beeped at me for accelerating where it didn’t feel all that fast, but perhaps it was.

I was hoping the feedback would be more nuanced and could allow me to improve further. The alerts would be great for new drivers, but don’t offer a whole lot of value to more experienced drivers—even those of us who would consider themselves below average in driving skill (putting me in an elite group of 7% of Americans).

The Enterprise Angle

Whether it’s Automatic, or what looks like might be a more promising platform, Mojio (@getmojio), there are a few potentially compelling business reasons to check out car data-port devices.

One of the more obvious ones is to track mileage for work purposes—it gives you nice readouts of all your trips, and allows you to easily keep records. But that’s just making it a little easier for an employee to do their expense reports.

The most intriguing possibility (for me) is for businesses that manage fleets of regularly driven vehicles. An Automatic-like device could conceivably track the efficiency of cars/trucks and drivers, and let a business know if a driver needs better training, or if a vehicle is underperforming or might have some other issues. This could be done through real-time fuel efficiency, or tracking driving behavior, like what Automatic already does: hard braking and rapid acceleration.
If a truck seems to be getting significantly less mpg than it should, they can see if it needs maintenance or if the driver is driving too aggressively. Though trucks probably get regular maintenance, this kind of data may allow for preventive care that could translate to savings.

This kind of tracking could also be interesting for driver training, examining the most efficient or effective drivers and adopting an “Identify, Codify, Modify” approach.

Overall

I’d say this technology has some interesting possibilities, but may not be all that useful yet for most people. It’s fun to have a bunch of data, and to get some gentle reminders on driving practices, but the driver improvement angle from Automatic hasn’t left me feeling like I’m a better driver. It really seems that this kind of technology (though not necessarily Automatic, per se) lends itself more to fleet management, improving things at a larger scale.

Stay tuned for a review of Mojio, which is similar to Automatic, but features a cellular connection and a development platform, and hence more possibilities.Possibly Related Posts: