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4th November 2010

HTC HD7 (Windows Phone 7) vs Apple iPhone 4 (iOS 4)

Filed under: Reviews,Windows Phone 7 — Tags: , , — Alex Holt @ 10:08 pm

4.3inches of beautyI’ve been a fan of the iPhone since the 3G came out and it’s been the first phone that I’ve actually enjoyed using throughout its entire lifespan. Upgrading to the iPhone 4 was something of a massive upgrade at the time as well – the speed difference alone is outstanding when compared to the 2 year old 3G! However, the one thing that’s always bugged me was the fact I needed an MacBook to develop on it. I can’t afford one basically, so that means I can’t develop on their platform. Fair enough, it’s their call and I’m not overly worried about it for now. However, when Microsoft announced that they would be launching themselves into the mobile phone operating systems market (and Windows Mobile 6.5 doesn’t count as “being in the market – I’m sorry) and that I’d be able to write apps written in Silverlight and C# – I was sold. I had to get one of the devices. I whittled down the time to launch by drinking coffee and occasionally leaving the house. Eventually, I managed to get hold of a device and begin to use it. I thought I’d write my observations down for anyone interested to know how they both compare.

Why did I get the HTC HD7:

There were a number of reasons. Primarily because the 4.3inch screen is great (it still fits in my pocket just fine) and more importantly, it had 16Gb of space. With none of the WP7 devices offering SD Card readers at launch (in the same way iPhone’s do not), space was at a premium. Having been limited by the iPhone 3G 8Gb before, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again quite so lightly. All the reviews I’d read had given the device good reviews and it seemed like one of the best devices that I could have got at launch time.

How did they compare?

Screen Quality: You know, I really can’t find any differences between the two devices. Maybe it’s my untrained eyes, but the WP7 is definitely in the league with the iPhone 4 and it’s retina display. Touch wise, they both behave remarkably well and are extremely responsive. I haven’t found myself pressing harder because my gestures weren’t detected correctly.

Sound Quality: I was surprised about this one and I never actually thought about it too much in the run up to buying it, but the quality of the audio produced by the HD7 far outstrips that of the iPhone 4. I listed to a bunch of my songs, including Bat Out Of Hell (which I’ve listed to on countless different formats) and the richness of the sound is amazing. Coupled with the good use of surround sound, the HD7 made for a great listening experience. I didn’t particularly like the earphones that came with it though, but then, the same can be said about the iPhone ones… so Meh.

Maps: I think unfortunately, this might something odd with my location, but the HD7 picks up my location as 12 miles from where I’m actually sat. A touch inconvenient for a “where’s my nearest” feature. The Windows Phone 7 devices all use Bing maps and the iPhone uses Google maps. For the most part, they behave exactly as you’d expect them too and they are good for what they do. The iPhone really begins to excel again with it’s built-in street view.

App Store: Unsurprising I guess that iPhone would win this battle – it’s had almost 2 years of a headstart on the Windows Phone 7 market and in that time has amassed a horde of really amazing apps. As for the Marketplace itself, I think neither really excels at helping users find the applications that they might like. Genius in the Apple AppStore has never really given me much luck, and while the Microsoft version is currently an easily navigated setup, I fear that once content begins to flood in, some of the ease-of-use will quickly wash away.

App Development: As an ASP.NET and C# developer I’m going to be bias on this one. But I do consider the platform to be a much more simplistic way to develop. The pain of Objective-C is that the developers must delve quite low to the OS, performing their own garbage collection and other similar tasks. Silverlight, which is used by Windows Phone 7, is a very different experience indeed and you can spend the time concentrating on your App. Visual Studio 2010 – it really is awesome and to be able to have a truly awesome free development environment cannot be under estimated. And while Microsoft is untested in this water, it’s Application Acceptance Guidelines appear to be a lot more black and white than Apple’s which are a notorious issue.

Camera: To be honest, I’ve not really exausted the tests on the camera yet, but from what I can tell – the iPhone wins this battle. It’s HDR function is actually pretty nifty and as a result, the pictures seem to be some of the best I’ve seen from camera phones. The HD7 isn’t quite as good. Sure the pictures are ok, but inside, I’ve found things are a little grainier than the iPhone which has been frustrating.

Web Browsing: The experience is quite similar between the two browsers. Certainly both are able to pinch and zoom and scroll and throw themselves around the pages without too much hassle. But I have found that currently, a lot of websites (including Google Reader for example) treat the HD7 as a primitive mobile browser and show it a very reduced and scaled down browser experience. This isn’t an issue with the phone and given time, I’m sure that Google will update their detection mechanisms and there will be fully fledged Smart Phone RSS reading. Other than that, I would say that I’m a little disappointed with the limitation of the favourites (there appears to be no way of organising the list) and more specifically at O2 for making Yahoo! the default search engine when typing into the browser address bar (an horrific pain in the posterior given that Yahoo! don’t detect that it’s a decent phone either!).

Other things I’ve noticed about the HTC7:

  • The Calendar is great. In additon to putting things in your diary with alerts to remind you when they are about to happen – your events in general appear on your home screen, showing you today and tomorrow’s events. Giving me a fighting chance of remembering the cat’s vet appointment more than 15 minutes beforehand!
  • The ringtone’s couldn’t be changed, or at least, not that I could spot.
  • No iTunes means no stupid updates pestering me to install Safari or Mobile Me or other Apple products which I have absolutely no desire to use. iTunes is like the modern day equivalent of Real Player from a few years ago. Zune is a nice enough experience. I found being about to sync my phone with the music I wanted was a lot easier and less hassle than iTunes. The same with my Podcasts and Videos – a great step forward from the alternatives.
  • Facebook integrated with my contacts is fantastic – it makes the whole experience seemless. While I don’t frequent Facebook overly often, I have a good number of friends and with all this merged into my phone book, I can on a whim simply write on their wall as easily as sending them a text. You can of course, take the alternative route and only import Facebook contact information for the people you already have Contacts for – which might tickle the fancy of more people.
  • The context search is useful. One of the three touch buttons at the foot of the phone (“Back” and “Home” being the other two) is for search and depending on what you are doing at the time, it searches different things. E.g. when in your People Hub (phone book) is searches for a contact, or when in the browser, it searches the web. Useful.

Summary:

The bottom line is that currently, I’m missing all the Apps that I had on my iPhone. Plain and simple. For that reason alone, the Windows Phone 7 is second favourite at the moment. But as this is something that I imagine will change in time, I do think that the phone will get better and better. And I for one, am really looking forward to seeing if Microsoft can whip Android into a real challenge to the iPhone and more importantly, challenge the iPhone itself! More competition in a marketplace is often a great thing – and I that’ll be true here.

14th February 2010

eBook Readers Thoughts (by a developer)

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , — Alex Holt @ 10:26 pm

Amazon Kindle DXI’ve had a few discussions lately about eBook Readers with a number of people, with most people having a strong opinion either way. As a developer, a significant portion of my reading material is textbooks and other technical documents, but at the same time, this doesn’t stop me wanting to read the greatest book of our time.

In the blue corner, weighing in about 500g we have Mr Electronic!

  • You can carry hundreds, if not thousands of books around with you at any time.
  • Smaller and more compact than a single book in some instances.
  • Can provide it’s own light source and you don’t need to find a lamp.
  • You can change the font size for the book you are reading if it’s too small to comfortably read.
  • You can take notes without defacing it.

In the red corner, weighing in at a massively varying rate: Mr Paper Copy!

  • Has the “touch factor”. The intangible benefit of purchasing something solid every time you buy a book. Its smell, its feel and the excitement that can bring.
  • Significantly easier to skip to certain points in a book.
  • Harder to accidentally break or ruin.

I think the story of the book will go the way of the CD (and the Vinyl record before that). I think it is inevitable that in 10 years or so, as many people that have have MP3 players now, will have an electronic book reader then. But, in just the same way that people still buy CDs, I don’t think they will ever be able to stop making books as they offer a great deal that eBooks never will. So is now the time to start on the eReader bandwagon? Hmmm, I’d say not personally – at least, for my potential reading library it’s not.

You see, good as some of them are, eReaders are burden somewhat with a number technological problems they must tackle firstly. In general, eReaders can be broken into two categories: those with eInk & those without. Those with include the two heavy hitters of Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader eBook, while two of the main other rivals would be a netbook (a standard laptop or PC would be ok, though less portable) and the Apple iPad (with the HP Slate coming soon it seems).

eInk is an absolutely fantastic technology which is very early in its lifespan and I imagine we haven’t seen the end of it and its children – nor will me for a number of years yet. eInk is significant because it gets around a problem that has plagued electronic devices for a long time: Battery Life. When used within eReaders, eInk only consumes battery power when the page is changed (or the display changes). This means that the device can hold its power for not just days, but weeks of usage! The other advantage of the eInk is that it causes around and about the same amount of eye strain as a standard book. Because the screen technology is not based on the intensely fast flickering of pixels, the screens appear to be paper and lack the issues of glare from other bright light sources. The article over on the manufacturers website, it works like:

The principal components of electronic ink are millions of tiny microcapsules, about the diameter of a human hair. In one incarnation, each microcapsule contains positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles suspended in a clear fluid. When a negative electric field is applied, the white particles move to the top of the microcapsule to become visible to the reader. This makes the surface appear white at that location. At the same time, an opposite electric field pulls the black particles to the bottom of the microcapsules where they are hidden. By reversing this process, the black particles appear at the top of the capsule, which now makes the surface appear dark at that location.

Apple iPadFor about a year, another “Format War” raged between the ePub format and the standard PDF. While each format has it’s pro’s and con’s – the big thing that has become an issue is the failure of PDF to scale well with the eInk. While the Sony device does a better job, the Amazon Kindle plain old can’t be bothered to try and limits the text scalability and in some cases offers almost illegible text to it’s reader. When you way all this together, the eInk devices have a really big failing, and that is the displaying of Images and Diagrams. They just plain suck at offering zoom-able content. The quick amongst you may have realised that books also don’t offer this feature – however, this is generally less of an issue because the dimensions of the images on printed copies are within the publishers control. They can control what size their image is being viewed at, which is not true with the different sized eReader screens (the Kindle alone offers a 6″ and 9.7″ version). As a side note, as printed copies have a significantly higher DPI ratio, a magnifying class would aid in the instances that the text became too small to read on a diagram – this isn’t likely to be often true of the eReaders). This problem is where my issue with eReaders lies. I can’t read my copy of Code Complete on an eReader because I wouldn’t necessarily be able to see the diagrams that accompany the text – a potential disastrous flaw.

This problem is solved though! Along with the potential issue that eInk can only currently display grey-scale. Hurrah! The Apple iPad will allow you to zoom and otherwise get bigger versions of these diagrams and providing the document was prepared by a sane person who knows what they are doing, you’ll have absolutely no problem. Let’s all go buy an iPad! All hail Steve Jobs!… Not quite just yet, you see, they implemented a flaw. Battery life is back and although not crippling like the iPhone’s can be at times, 10 hours compared with longer than 10 days is a massive difference! The argument is that no one reads for 10 hours straight, maybe not, but people could easily use 10 hours of the device without having the chance to charge it.

A bonus however, is that with the iPad you get a plethora of other features (iPod, usable Internet, picture gallery, email, pretty much what you’d expect a low end PC to be able to achieve without too much hassle). Is this something you’d want – it would depend what you already have I guess.

So overall – what’s the bottom line? Well, I guess that the market doesn’t have a great product at the moment. If you are going to read mainly novels and you would benefit from being able to carry around a number of books around with you rather than just one or two (frequent long train journeys or other travelling), then maybe the Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader would be a great choice. However, if you prefer a device that is capable of displaying images and photographs in full colour and to the detail that they were intended, as well as offering the benefit of other multimedia functions, then the Apple iPad, HP Slate (when it arrives) or just a standard netbook (if you can cope with the discomfort and less than ideal user experience) would be the choices for you.

12th July 2009

Nerd Dinner

Filed under: C#,MVC,Reviews — Tags: , , , — Alex Holt @ 12:30 pm

I was going to write a review on a great book I read over the last month or two called Professional ASP.NET MVC 1.0 which is published by Wrox and written collaboratively by Scott Hanselman, Scott Guthrie, Phil Haack and Rob Conery. Then I decided that one of the main things I really liked about the book was the first chapter “NerdDinner” which is a great tutorial on ASP.NET MVC 1.0.

I will first of all prefix this review with the very relevant disclaimer that I am (at this moment) a novice when it comes to MVC, which my background strongly in Classic ASP and PHP. I have a fair understanding and beginners comprehension of a lot of the core elements – but I’m still almost always looking up answers to very simple and run-of-the-mill problems.

The chapter is available online, free of charge, from ScottGu’s blog and the entire project has been added to version control at NerdDinner @ Codeplex (a useful tool when typing large amounts of text!).

The chapter covers a number of topics in addition to the core functionality of MVC, this includes things such as LINQ, Unit Testing, AJAX, Memberships & Roles and mapping software. Starting off with an empty Visual Studio, you can have a fully working NerdDinner website within an afternoons worth of work (or if you are me, a couple of nights worth).

I would highly recommend making some time to do this chapter if you are a ASP.NET developer. It will help show you the benefits and disadvantages of MVC. However, there are a few pitfalls as you are progressing through the chapter and I feel that the testing of the chapter could have been improved as there were errors and omissions scattered around as I was trying to complete it. There weren’t lots and errors were mostly ones which could be guessed and fixed without too much stress. Even in instances where you are unable to find the mistake, a look through the CodePlex site would give you a good indication as to what you were doing wrong.

I found the most frequent errors were that of ensuring the using statements were made, or a variable named differently on one page to the pages preceding. It takes me back to the good ol’ days of copying BASIC code from the back of computer magazines to make a spider walk across the screen and go up on a string from its web. Ahh, that’s classy stuff.

The book and the chapter do a great job of letting you know the key advantages and disadvantages of using MVC, outlining some of the core differences and changes to the ways in which applications are designed/developed. I particularly liked the way the application was grown and improved, simulating actual software development. Instead of the application being coded to the full application, it is initially built very basic and as the chapter goes on, layers of complexity are added bit by bit. This served for a greater understanding of how you might approach such development.

Overall, it’s one of my favourite and relevant tutorials and I highly advise finding the time to have a go at it. I’d also go so far as to say it’s very much worth spending the pennies and getting yourself a copy of the book too. It’s even sticks to the age old tradition of having funny pictures of developers on the cover and that alone is worth the dosh! :)

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