Friday, December 6

WatchNote - Pebble Smartwatch - Evernote integrated!

I finally feel like it was worth buying a Pebble, with recent support for Amazon MP3 music (where all my music lives), and now, more importantly, an iPhone and Android app that had somehow escaped my attention since August: WatchNote.

One of the biggest reasons I carry a big-screened smartphone (still packing both my Droid Razr MAXX and now my new Google Nexus 5) is for notes! Grocery notes, work notes, to-do-lists, miscellaneous notes, notes, notes!

Keeping Evernote live up on the phone screen is a bit annoying however, not to mention the frequent required sacrifice of a hand while shopping, and the "here's my phone steal it" aspect of things, or "I set my phone down to pick something up where did it go" anxiety.

WatchNote, at under two bucks ($2USD) from Google Play, is an awesome complement to my $5/month Evernote subscription. You can sync your WatchNotes to Evernote, edit them in Evernote on your preferred Evernote devices, and sync back to WatchNote for display on your Pebble. Only a tiny bit Goldbergian :)

I wish I could select existing notes in Evernote to sync to WatchNote. For now, I'll just copy old Evernotes into the new Evernotes in the Pebblenotes folder for WatchNote.

The synchronization when notes get updated is a little clunky, as it has to go between Evernote client, Evernote server, WatchNote app, Pebble app, but it works. (Again, only a LITTLE Rube Goldberg here.) I wish the WatchNote app had a manual sync/refresh function like Evernote itself does, but I can't seem to find one presently. I have been shutting the app off and restarting it to force a sync, which lead me to realize (perhaps it should have been obvious) WatchNote needs to be actively running in order for the Pebble app to retrieve/update notes.

All in all very well worth a coupla bucks! I highly recommend it to all Pebble owners, ESPECIALLY Evernote users - but it's standalone note client would also suffice for most basic note needs.

Monday, February 18

Seven days with Pebble: E-Paper Watch for Android and iPhone

So after MUCH ado, and much waiting, my Pebble finally arrived, about a week ago. I was in the first 1/5th or so of backers on Kickstarter, and I ordered black, so I lucked into a fairly early delivery. My only disappointment here is that the item was delivered sometime between a Friday afternoon and Sunday -- I happened to notice the small package on my porch returning from grocery shopping Sunday morning -- and shipping notification from Pebble showed up 24+ hours later, on Monday. I'm just happy it didn't disappear, or get soaked in rain or snow. It did manage to show up a bit dirty/greasy however, needing to be wiped with a rag when I pulled it out of otherwise clean packaging.

My seven-day impression remains about the same as my 24-hour impression. It's a nice toy, it brings out my childhood Dick Tracy gadget dreams, and I eagerly await availability of the SDK so I can put my own apps on it. It's convenient while driving, and in meetings. It's a security bonus when you're traveling public transportation and have to worry about thieves snatching cell phones out of hands.

The E-Paper screen is pretty quick and responsive, but definitely has an oily sheen at some not overly aggressive viewing angles. It's also very prone to glare, and to fingerprinting and smudging. So far, no scratches, but I have yet to pull my typical clumsy wrist-smack in a doorway that I manage to pull almost every time I'm wearing a watch.

Battery life seems pretty impressive. Not impressed with the waterproof magnetic mechanism for the charging cord, however -- it falls out if you look at it funny, much less try to move the watch around on your desk while it's charging.

I would recommend this to geek friends, but I'm guessing most iPhone types will be happier awaiting the inevitably more expensive smartwatch that Apple is rumoring.

Monday, January 7

CES: Magisto "magical video editing" - the next Instagram

Fresh from CES, we have Magisto. I strongly suspect this is going to blow up and get acquired like Instagram, as long as the proportionately higher overhead of video vs. static images does not prove to be a serious handicap.

Available for both Android and iOS.

Quick test/demo/sample:

Monday, December 24

Roku 2 XS: Big upgrade

Some readers may recall I'm a longtime Roku owner -- I turned my family on to them the first Christmas the original model was on sale, I picked up a Roku XD a year or two later, and finally this month I upgaded to the Roku 2 XS.

I didn't need WiFi vs. Ethernet as I already have both options, and both work well. I was on the fence until I learned that my long-desired Amazon Cloud Player was only available on Roku 2 models with more recent firmware than my Roku XD, so the audio capabilities of the Roku 2 XS are a nice plus. 1080p vs. 720p resolution is of course a big bonus too, especially now that Comcast appears to have stopped shaping my streaming video traffic to the point of serious stream downgrades (think Web 1.0 pre-Flash pre-broadband video).

The new device is nice. It boots faster, it has a MicroSD card slot to increase memory/storage capacity -- older models like my XD have trouble handling a large number of channels. The interface itself is snappier, noticeably more responsive. The Instant Replay feature performs much better, much quicker, much less likely to pause due to a need to buffer when you hit it three or four times in quick succession. I have a 2 GB MicroSD card in the slot, I'm not certain what the max capacity is, or where the threshold of real benefits is reached for the unit vs. memory card size.

Perhaps most importantly, the Roku 2 XS does not have the completely random and intermittent audio cut-out problems I experience with the Roku XD. I had blamed my low-end Onkyo network receiver for this, as others have seen similar issues with the same Onkyo receiver model, but eventually I determined the audio issue only seemed to arise on the Roku input. Since going to the 2 XS, I have had no audio cut-out issues at all, over several days of heavy, near-constant streaming. The cut-out problem would happen repeatedly over the course of any given day, sometimes clumped together in very annoying bunches, so several days of no cut-out is a huge improvement for sure.

One improvement I was hoping for but am not seeing is in terms of overall system stability. These Roku media hubs seem to have a tendency, particularly after lengthy/heavy use, but sometimes also not long after a fresh reboot and a period of no use, to occasionally stop responding to remote input reliably, after which they freeze, and eventually reboot. This has happened once in the four days or so I've had the Roku 2 XS online. It would be nice if at least it were to happen less frequently than my Roku XD crashes, but that remains to be seen.

The new remote is nice, packed with better networking gear (no line of sight required anymore) and stuff like gyros and accelerometers. It's a heavy remote, and I have to wonder how long batteries are going to last. It's also something of a usabiltiy fail: in the semi-dark or dark of a TV viewing room, it's difficult to orient the remote in the dark, because it's overly symmetrical. The cord that designates the "bottom" is invisible in the dark and no use at all. A simple upgrade to the case design would make this a rockin' little accessory.

Game offerings seem to remain pretty limited. I played me some Angry Birds. It might be good for drunks at parties ... safer than the XBOX 360 with the Kinect going after the party gets started perhaps.

Finally, Amazon Cloud Player channel on Roku: freakin' sweet, and about dang time! I love having my entire music collection available without having to explicitly download it through a PC to my DLNA-capable QNAP NAS device. That being said, I will continue to, and recommend other Amazon MP3/Amazon Cloud Player customers do the same, download my entire collection to local physical media, just in case Amazon ever does something funky with my cloud collection, or something bad happens to the Internet.

Tuesday, November 6

My initial impressions of the Microsoft Surface RT

I've had a 32 GB Surface RT in my hands for about 18 hours now, 11 or so of them waking, 6 or so of them working, so apologies if this review is a bit light.

It's also not going to be overwhelmingly positive.

First, I'm very disappointed in the pre-order process. I placed my order the second day of pre-order, and was told my device would be delivered by October 26th, the standard message displayed when you went to pre-order. Nothing was said about backorder, yet I didn't receive shipping notification until Friday, November 2nd. Thanks, Microsoft, way to burn a fan. If I had known it was going to backorder, I would have bought it the minute the doors opened over at the Oakbrook Terrace Microsoft Store.

Second, the activation process. Having Binged this a bit, I see I'm not the only one whose Surface refused to go beyond "limited connectivity" after being provided valid WiFi information. Connectivity couldn't be established without a restart, which as far as I know means you need to complete signing in before doing a restart via software. Therefore, I'm forced to create a new local user to sign in as, instead of using my Windows Live account like I did with my Windows 8 Pro installation process. You win no points, Microsoft, for the awkward WiFi and non-uniform sign-in and activation experience you thereby force on users.

Those are my big beefs. The rest of the experience is OK. I don't really understand the extreme PR around the hinge mechanism. It's OK. It's not great.

How do I see all active applications? How do I decide to kill/exit from an application? This is not obvious to me at this point in time. I feel like I leave a lot of applications running in the background. Maybe user deficiency here, remains to be seen.

The Maps experience is OK, could be pretty good ... but I wish it had GPS and 3G/LTE. How truly useful is a Maps application on a mobile device without GPS? And how useful is a mobile device with only WiFi connectivity? Microsoft needs to at least offer the OPTION to stick a SIM card in there, even if it's not a feature of the basic model.

The gestures afforded by the interface and software are growing on me, as is the screen sharing between apps. The gestures feel more intuitive to me than Mac trackpads and iPads I've used occasionally in the past.

The 1.0 MP cameras are disappointing.

The Windows Store experience is OK. The Office RT experience is OK but not great, not highly touch-centric.

I did two conference calls to a free VoIP teleconference services yesterday using Skype with a USB headset over 802.11n. Seemed like there was a fair amount of noise that was due to my client, other people on the calls said their ends sounded fine. I do Skype calls over the same Wireless-N access point using different hardware (HP laptop usually) all the time without these issues.

The fit and finish is pretty nice. The screen is pretty decent. The resolution seems pretty appropriate for the screen size, especially when held at arm's length. Video viewing at same distance was pretty good. Can't envision a lot of setting this up on a table and watching from a distance however. Will eventually explore the HDMI-out capability as well. I had thought it was supposed to be proprietary, but it looks like it's simple MicroHDMI?

The Touch cover is ok ... not loving it, but it may grow on me. Judgement not yet rendered. Not necessarily feeling better than typing on glass right off, but it's nice not to obscure the screen with a keyboard.

Finis for now.  If you have not, and you're in the US, please go vote today!