Here’s my preview of Microsoft’s new My Phone service. While My Phone is in private beta right now, its infrastructure is currently being scaled out for a wider availability public beta and eventual release version. No firm date on when this will be other than ‘the next couple of months’
So just what is My Phone? It’s a service that allows you to upload your contacts, calendar entries, tasks, text messages, photos, videos, music and documents onto Microsoft’s servers. From there you can log into a encrypted website (everything is SSL’d, not just the login) to edit, view and delete them. You get 200MB of online space – this amount may change between now and launch.
While it is currently only available for Windows Mobile 6.0 and up devices the plan is to eventually make this service multi-platform so that you can use on non Windows Mobile feature phones. So it won’t just be a tool to migrate to WinMo.
The service will be free to all though carriers may try adding their own services and charging a premium for their branded service.
Eventually this service will feature Windows Live integration.
If you’re currently using Exchange My Phone will know to leave your contacts, calendars, tasks alone.
When synchronizing My Phone will look for WiFi and tethered Activesync connections before trying your cellular connection. That said, you can’t currently tell My Phone which explicit order you want to try your connections or, if there are certain connections you don’t want it to use.
So how is it? To start you have to install the client on your WinMo device and sign up online at the My Phone website.
Once you’ve installed it you launch it and choose what type of information you want synchronized. I choose everything except video and music.
Next you choose when you want to synchronize. You can specify a time of day or a day of the week. You can also do it manually. What My Phone doesn’t do is automatically synchronize when there are changes. So, if you’re using the web interface to manage you address book you need to hit synchronize on your phone manually.
Right now there is ability to filter your information by folder location. For example, let’s say my WinMo device saves pictures and videos from my camera to a specific folder. There currently no way to tell My Phone to only synchronize pictures and videos from those folders. Another example is when I choose to synchronize my documents; My Phone uploaded all my browser cookies to the website. So, it’s an all or nothing sort of approach. I’m told MS is evaluating whether to add this functionality.
While easy to use the web interface lacks some polish. Again, since My Phone is in beta these problems could be fixed between now and when the service launches officially. When browsing contacts you can only see 15 at a time. There is a search feature but being able to see more contacts at a time would be nice.
I found the web interface to be a little inefficient on space. On my Eee PC which has a resolution of 1024×600 the interface wouldn’t fit without requiring a horizontal scroll bar.
The calendar has a monthly, daily and list view. The calendar, tasks, text messages features all have a find duplicates feature.
The pictures feature has really small thumbnails and lacks the ability to sort photos by when they were taken. Currently you can download the photos to your computer. Eventually you’ll be able to upload the photos to social networking sites. There is a slideshow feature.
For now the amount of space you get is 200MB. While nothing to sneeze at 200MB can be filled quite easily if you have a phone with a 5mp camera and take lots of photos and video. The lack of filters when uploading exacerbates this situation.
The music and video features aren’t very useful right now since there is only 200MB of space available plus there are no filtering functions when choosing what to upload.
You can sync documents on your phone. When I choose this option it uploaded the one word document I had on my device along with a bunch of browser cookies.
I’ve said it a few times already but My Phone is beta so I wouldn’t take these problems that seriously till they roll the service out. And remember, My Phone is free and the plan is to keep it that way, that’s a price everyone can agree on.
April 29th, 2009
In Canada there haven’t been many Windows Mobile devices from Samsung. Their first ones were the forgettable Samsung Jack and Ace. Now we have the Omnia i910.
Will it make more of an impression than the Jack and Ace? Read on!
The Omnia i910 I’m testing is on the Telus network. It’s a Windows Mobile Professional CDMA phone with Bluetooth Wifi, 8GB of built in memory, SDHC card slot, optical mouse and a 5 megapixel auto focus camera.
Let’s take a tour:
On top we have a power button along with a hole to reset the Omnia
Here we have a menu, volume buttons and a camera button.
On the left we have an lanyard eyelet and the USB/charging port.
The front has talk/end buttons plus an optical mouse which you can press in to select. To use the optical mouse you have to turn the mouse pointer on. Then you can move it by sliding your finger on it – it’s like a tiny trackpad. If you don’t care for the pointer you can turn it off at which point the optical mouse acts like a navpad. You use it by sliding your finger in the direction you want to move.
While the optical mouse is a neat feature I didn’t find it adds much from a usability standpoint.
The display has adequate brightness. It has a resolution of 240×400 which is taller than average.
There is an orientation sensor which works most of the time. There’s an animation (which you can turn off) whenever the screen layout changes
There is no where to store the stylus in the Omnia, instead you attach it to the eyelit. This arrangement is less than ideal because a) the stylus is constantly hitting and rubbing the Omnia when you carry it around b) the stylus often gets in the way of using it, especially if you’re holding the Omnia to your ear. Indeed after using the Omnia for 2 weeks I can see some small scratches on the send/end buttons as well as on the back of the screen. So it’s something to think about if you don’t like scratches.
Whenever you touch the screen the Omnia vibrates (Haptic feedback). At first I found the delay from when you touch the screen to when it vibrates to be too long but after a while I got used to it and found it’s actually a nice feature.
Now the Omnia has 2 different types of memory; 8GB of built in storage and the SDHC card slot. If you want the Omnia USB to connect in mass storage mode you can only access the built in storage OR the SDHC. You can’t access them simultaneously unless you connect in Activesync mode.
I found the Omnia kept disconnecting from my computer when it Active sync mode. This made it tough to test the speed. That said the mass storage mode is much faster (3 or 4x) at transferring files. I observed speeds of 4.5MB/s read, 2.5MB/s write for the built in storage and 6.5MB/s read, 2.5MB/s write with the memory card. The memory card was a regular 16GB Sandisk SDHC card.
The speaker on the back isn’t very loud. I let my wife borrow the Omnia when we were at the mall. She never answered any of my calls because she couldn’t hear the phone ringing.
While there is no headphone jack on the Omnia there is one on the microphone so you can use it like a headset. There’s also a dongle which lets you connect a pair of headphones plus it has a pass through so you can connect a Samsung to USB cable.
There are 7 different ways to enter text. Besides the usual, Block Recognizer, Keyboard, Letter Recognizer and transcriber you also get Samsung Keyboard (a QWERTY keyboard), Samsung Keypad (sure type) and Samsung Phonepad.
When using the Samsung Keyboard the space button is off to the right. So if you’re not used to it you’ll find yourself hiding the keyboard a lot because of how Windows Mobile is laid out.
You can bring up the menu by pressing the menu button on the right side. It’s not the usual WM menu – that is brought up by pressing the start button. Instead is a menu which has a decidedly Samsung-ish look to it. You can move between screens of buttons by sliding the screen up or down as well as sideways. This menu only has some programs, if you want to access all of them there’s another list that has everything on it. This list is pretty long and not very user friendly.
Instead of the today screen Samsung has a display which you can customize using widgets.
Here’s a list of included widgets: Analog Clock, Digital Clock, World Clock (digital clock with 2 times on it), Game, Calendar, Photo, Music Player, FM radio, Phonebook, Messages, Profile, Web Browser, Note, Wireless Manager, Operator, Help, Sports, Youtube, Window Live, Sharepix, AccuWeather, Yahoo Finacne, Google, YahooSearch plus a links to Telus’ webpage.
Yup, there are a lot of widgets. To narrow down the list you can select which Widgets you want to show up as icons on the left side of the screen. Of those you can tap and drag them to the right so that you can see them.
The widgets work well but they also really clutter up the standby screen. I also found they would slow down the Omnia if you have a couple of programs. What happens is the Omnia will sometimes close the widgets so you have to wait for them to start up again if you return to the standby.
Personally, I prefer the widgets over the regular standby screen.
Besides the usual WM stuff Samsung has some neat extras: Touch Player, Opera, Photo Slide, Media Album, Smart Reader, Digital Frame, TV Out, Podcasts, Smart Converter, Smart Memo, Video Editor and The Sims 2 (the video game).
Samsung has given a pretty good shot of prettying up or covering up a lot of the default built in Windows Mobile apps. Of course if you prefer the built in apps they’re still around.
The phone app is from Samsung. The screen can be pretty sensetive at times so the Omnia makes you press the optical mouse in before you can touch the screen during a call. Like most smartphones the phonebook lets you search your phonebook, recent call list by entering part of a name or number.
Touch Player handles music and video duties. With the exception of widget from the standby screen you can’t really control music playback unless you have the app active.
There’s an FM radio. I didn’t try it.
Opera is a html web browser which renders pages closer to how they’d look on a computer. You can scroll through pages by sliding your finger/stylus around – there are no scroll bars. Compared with higher resolution WinMo devices (like an HTC Touch Diamond) The Omnia’s screen resolution feels too low for Opera. Most of the time you have to scroll in so text is a bit larger. Opera supports tabbed browsing.
You can zoom by double tapping the screen or by sliding the side of the screen up or down. When you zoom the text automatically reformats to fit the width of the screen.
The clock application actually has a few nice tricks. Besides having an alarm it also has a World clock plus stop watch features – nice.
Smart Reader is pretty cool, basically it’s an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) program; you take a picture of a business card and it automatically places the contents into your phonebook. I found it’s accuracy varies a lot depending on the business card. Obviously plain looking business cards will be recognized more accurately while complicated ones will be less so. Regardless, double check before you save!
Digital Frame, is a picture frame app. It’s a cute app that would be more useful if the Omnia shipped with a docking station of some kind or had a built in stand. I had a hard time seeing the screen when the phone is just lying on my desk because the viewing angle isn’t wide enough.
Since the Omnia has a very decent camera the TV Out is some what useful. It’s also useful if you do a lot of Powerpoint and aren’t strong enough to lift a laptop (or are too poor to own one).
If you want to view pictures or video stored on the Omnia on a TV and don’t want to fiddle around with memory cards you can view them provided you have a DLNA compliant TV. I don’t have DLNA TV but I watched a demo where it worked with a Samsung TV from the 2007 (I think) model year.
You can launch the camera application by pressing the camera button on the right side. The volume buttons serve as zoom controls in this mode. The camera can sometimes take a few seconds to launch but the controls are pretty responsive after.
The camera has a resolution of 5 megapixel with autofocus and a really bright flash. Despite being a phone you don’t really give up any features with the Omnia’s camera.
You get shooting modes like burst mode, panorama plus a smile detection mode. While it does work sometimes I didn’t find the smile detection worked well. Scene modes adjust certain camera settings so that their optimal based on the mode you select; they include portrait, landscape, sports, beach and snow, sunset, etc.
There’s a timer, white balance settings, different metering centers, digital image stabilization and even ISO settings. The ISO settings go up to a claimed 800.
The lens takes about 1.5 to 2.5 seconds to focus.
Image quality is excellent – as long as you don’t use the flash. It’s among the best I have tested. It takes very good pictures regardless the lighting condition
I found the flash had a tendency to blast everything out if you leave it on. It’s as if the Omnia is incapable of adjusting for the flash. Luckily the Omnia has excellent low light performance if you turn up the ISO.
There is a video editor which you can use to edit or create videos using pictures/video on the phone.
If you want to tether via Bluetooth the Omnia only supports Bluetooth PAN.
Besides the Samsung apps you also get Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, PowerPoint Mobile and OneNote Mobile.
Messaging is handled by the built in Windows Mobile messaging client. The Client supports SMS plus email. You get IMAP, POP and MS Exchange support.
Smart converter is a very easy to use unit converter. Smart memo lets you draw on the screen and then save the drawings.
Sound quality is very good
RF performance on the other hand is pretty poor. I tested the Omnia against a Motorola v3c on the same network and found the Omnia dropped calls where the v3c was cutting in and out slightly. Ouch.
Battery life is okay, you should get up to 2 days with moderate usage with Bluetooth and Wifi on.
One thing I really noticed when I was testing the sound quality/RF is that the stylus is a real nuisance because it always gets in the way when you’re holding the Omnia to your ear. If you’re going to talk a lot on the Omnia use a headset.
More Thoughts and Conclusion:
The Samsung Omnia i910 is one of the most exciting Windows mobile devices that I have used in a long time. And while adequately featured I’m not excited because it has monster specifications. Instead it’s because I found Samsung’s applications to be a huge breath of fresh air. Address book, media player, picture viewer, clock and browser are all different from the default. You also get Widgets (including a weather one),
The camera is outstanding, easily the most capable with the highest image quality I have tried.
There also decent amount of memory (8GB + a memory card), haptic feed
That said the Omnia has some serious usability issues. The stylus is a total nusance if you make a lot of calls and are not using a headset. The low speaker volume also causes problems.
The RF performance is nothing to write home about.
In the end the Omnia is a real mixed bag, if you can accept it’s weaknesses you’ll find it an interesting phone.
April 20th, 2009