Reviews

Review: Nokia Lumia 920

Overview

This is a detailed review of the Nokia flagship Lumia 920 after using it for half a year. I’d cover as much as I can without too much commentary.

Summary: (still in progress)

Pros:

  • Fast
  • Good battery life
  • Easy to use
  • Great screen
  • Great camera
  • Nokia exclusive apps
  • 29GB available for user
  • Solid build quality
  • Qi Wireless charging

Cons:

  • Heavy & large for some
  • No MicroSD
  • Audio output below par

Issues:

  • Top apps like Instagram not available, Skype not integrated yet
  • NFC for payment only available in very limited markets (Singapore – coming soon)
  • No way to move Apps settings & data from between phones
  • Not all WP7 apps are compatible with WP8 despite MS claims
  • Accidental touching of 3 buttons still bring you out of app

Nitpicks:

  • 3 buttons glows brightly at night, distracting

The 2012 flagship

2013 saw the launch of more than 5 Lumias from Nokia & that is a good thing to target low & high-end markets. Mid-end still belongs to Android. Still, the Lumia 920 holds it own against recent flagships like Lumia 925 & 928. Then there’s the HTC One & Samsung Galaxy S4.

I’m in the group of users who prefer a more handy phone in the 3.5-4″ screen size. However, all these new phones are above 4″ in screen size so I chose the 4.5″ Lumia 920.

Having a bigger screen means you can put a bigger battery behind as shown by the fantastic battery life of 7″ & 10″ tablets. Anything below 4″ wouldn’t allow anything more than a 1500mah battery without undue thickness.

The Lumia 920 is the FIRST mobile phone to have an Optical Image Stabilization system or “floating lens” as Nokia calls it. This technology allows the sensor to continue to capture light even though your hand & body is not steady. The main benefactor is night time. The system is superior to digitally stabilized images as those tend to be soft with a corresponding loss of detail. Unfortunately, OIS doesn’t seem to kick in during subject in shade or under overcast sky. Those image still experience camera shake. This is something Nokia should fix by improving the sensor driver to take faster shutter speed like 1/1000 or faster.

After using the Lumia 920 for 6 months, I found it to be really big but not heavy. It’s thinner than the L800 with case & it doesn’t weigh down my pants. So I’m comfortable with the weight but I can’t reach the very top parts of the screen without shifting it in my hand. This is a bit precarious as the white glossy one that I bought can be very slippery, especially after it’s cleaned.

The battery is a monster! This thing can easily last me a whole day. It lasted me 6+ hours of continuous usage on WiFi on my first charge! 2nd day, with normal usage, it lasted 13 hours on my second charge. Since Lithium batteries have controllers that control the charging/discharging, the cells need to be calibrated. The best way to do this is to use the phone until the critical battery warning comes up, then charge continually till 100%. You only need about 2 cycles to be good to go.

The Lumia 920 has a Peta-band 4G radio so it should work in all markets with LTE. M1 4G is super fast currently & my entire contact list (1000+) & calendar was synced completely soon after I step out of M1 Tampines Mall!

Windows Phone 8 is based on the mature NT microkernel that has proven itself in Windows 7 & 8. As such, preemptive multithreading on multi-core CPU is no stranger to WP8. Any app that fires Async threads works super fast, like the Supertube youtube downloader function. It was very slow on my L800 due probably to the single-core & Windows Phone 7 inadequacy. Even our local Xin Video app is also super fast thanks to WP8 & the dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4.

The IPS screen is fast but the colour is not as beautiful or black as the AMOLED on the L800. (However, after 1.5 years, the Lumia 800’s AMOLED is starting to yellow.) After Portico update, the screen refresh is noticeably faster than the Lumia 800’s. Viewing angle is also a lot poorer as per LCD screens. That said, the screen is definitely brighter on Hi-boosted (under direct sunlight) but optimum viewing angle is only 30degrees. Colour is more “natural” but I’m spoilt by the L800 & my Samsung LED TV colour gamut.

However, because the pixel density on the L920 is much higher than the L800, surfing web & reading is better especially for people who are annoyed by the L800’s Pentile pixel arrangement.

The Lumia 920 is also the first smartphone to use the new Super sensitive capacitive screen from Synaptic. It allows your finger to still control the screen when wearing thin gloves or using metal objects. Since I’m not using it with gloves, I switched display+touch to Normal. Unfortunately, it’s so sensitive, it can get activated in my pocket occasionally.

IE10 is super fast although it’s barebone. I switched the icon to Tabs so it’s a lot easier to switch tabs & close pages I don’t use. Note that some webpages can be active in the background & drain battery.

One of the best thing about WP8 is, OEM updates for Apps, Settings & Lens are delivered OTA through the Store! This means there is no more Telco interference, allowing a timely update of critical bugs affecting the smartphone. Sounds great in theory but realistically, important updates are still slow to reach users. More later…

The Lumia 920 finally comes with a 7-band Graphics Equalizer function, which is great! But this only works for the Line-out. Besides the EQ, it also comes with Dolby Mobile which should come in handy for watching movies. However, I’m not a fan of Dolby Mobile because it makes music sound compressed. I prefer SRS compared to Dolby Mobile or nothing at all when using good headphones. My favourite is still QSound because of its ability to create a 3D soundstage.

On the topic on sound, the Lumia 920 Line-out is definitely not Audiophile quality. I tested the Lumia 920 with my Monster Purity headphone. It’s quite obvious that the stereo separation is not there as mentioned in reviews due to Far-end Crosstalk. SNR is still ok. The instruments are still quite distinct (not distorted much) & not as bad as the review make it sound but some distortion can still be heard on louder music with many frequencies. Of course, hearing is subjective so you should bring your own headphones if you’re an audiophile.

WP8 is great but the FB integration can be enhanced further by allowing Delete & Edit for comments & Posts. Rooms only works with another WP8 unfortunately.

The Camera app can really use more control. It’s a step backwards from L800. That said the quality is very impressive. Most of the stuff that are “not on par” can be easily solved in Windows Photo Gallery (part of Windows Essential 2013), which I really recommend for anyone who’s using their WP for photography. It’s so powerful, yet easy to use! & no matter how good your camera, you will almost always need to edit a bit, be it Photoshop or Instagram.

If you integrate Live Photo Gallery with Photosynth & Image Composite Editor in Win7/8, it’s even more powerful. The Windows Movie Maker on Win8 can even do digital video stabilization if the L920 OIS is not enough.

The speakers are not loud enough for notification/speakerphone but too loud for music. MS still need to do some more work but at least the Volume doesn’t suddenly change when notification comes in.

GPS is fast to lock even under some shelter. (Nokia) Here Drive+ Beta is fantastic in Singapore. Malaysia still need a lot of work. LEGOLAND & Hello Kitty at Puteri Harbour is still not in the map. Here Map now features Indoor maps for many shopping malls + now includes LiveSight which improves your situation awareness when walking, especially in cities. Here City Lens is also becoming more useful & very soon may be integrated into Here Maps.

Live Tiles from WP7 apps like My Stocks are still using low res so it’s a bit blurred from scaling 200% but that should be solved with an upgrade.

Whatsapp 2.9.3 is largely stable with most features enabled but we’ll like to see the end of the Audio streaming being used for background transfers. That will save a lot of power. Viber is here but still buggy. Skype is stable & contacts are integrated into the People Hub but it still use its own dialer instead of the native one. Maybe that will come in WP8.1?

After 6 months, I’ve managed to scratch the Gorilla Glass, there’re micro-scratches on the white polycarbonate body & there’s a lot of dust in the Front-facing camera & proximity sensor. This caused the infamous “screen blacken when in a call” problem which prevented people from even hanging up a call!

Fortunately, firmware 1308 solved it but not before making a lot of users wait very long or had to take their phone in for a 2 day repair. These showstopper firmware updates should be pushed out IMMEDIATELY after Nokia QC has approved it, instead of waiting for Telco’s approval again.

Final thoughts

Even with the launch of so many new phones, I’m still going to keep the Lumia 920 as my main phone. Let’s see whether the rumoured 41megapixel Nokia EOS will sway me next month.

Opinions

Why Microsoft shouldn’t release Office for other platforms

Updated (16/06/2013) – Scroll down for update

Overview

Yes, the general buzz among the press & some analyst is that Microsoft should release their Office suite for Android & iOS because it could make them an additional USD2.5 billion a year of revenue. PC is in decline with sharp YoY reduction in shipment & Windows will soon be irrelevant.

I disagree on all these points because I think the short-term gain will actually hurt the overall Microsoft eco-system & is a bad business decision all round. Wintel is in a transition of shifting to full-mobile with Microsoft betting on Windows 8, RT & WP8 and Intel betting on going low-power with minimal performance increase with Haswell & Bay Trail CPUs.

The world economy is also slowing down & more people are upgrading their current PCs than buying new ones because for the 2nd time in history, Windows 8 can run on lesser hardware than Windows 7, just like Windows 7 can run on lesser hardware then Windows Vista.

I’ve been upgrading my PC for more than 10 years with a motherboard/CPU/RAM change every 3-4 years & other peripherals as and when my PC games requires.

So why do I disagree with these analyst? Maybe because of hindsight…

Time for some history lesson

In 1996, Palm Pilot was launched as a simple organizer with a touchscreen + handwriting input. It was a hit very quickly due to its simplicity, small size & light weight, and it soon replaced many paper organizer. The PDA moniker was born.

Microsoft quickly realize that there was demand for a mobile version of Windows on small touchscreen devices & soon launched Pocket PC in 2000. Many professional soon realize the power of having Windows in the pocket. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy to use & it’s also impossible to use without a stylus so initial marketshare wasn’t very high.

Palm very quickly updated their OS capabilities & greatly improved the hardware on a yearly basis & very soon, they’re the dominant smart devices on the market. However, when the phone & Internet was introduced into the hardware, Palm started to struggle against more general-purpose operating systems like PocketPC & Symbian.

As the PDA & mobile phone converged allowing the convenience of wireless Internet access through GPRS data connectivity, Microsoft quickly secured many vendors to make Windows Mobile & Windows Mobile Phones & opened their development tools for free to encourage developers to make apps for it.

This resulted in some of the best apps coming to Windows Mobile first or exclusively. This on top of the capability of the OS being able to run on very underpowered ARM CPU of the time soon saw Windows Mobile surpass Palm as the dominant platform.

*Symbian is more of a smarter feature phone than general-purpose smartphone that we recognize today so I don’t regard Symbian as a true smartphone until late 2000 when it was too late*

One of the reasons is MS Office Mobile + the huge amount of free apps + some very high quality paid apps. For serious smartphone users of the day, the only platform to consider was Windows Mobile. It’s also well-known that many Palm users “graduated” to Windows Mobile as they found Palm too restrictive.

Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t take iOS & Android seriously enough & Windows Mobile 6 was not a big change from Windows Mobile 5 resulting in 2 years of stalled development & lost of the market.

Current situation

So it’s well-known that Microsoft is trying to win back marketshare & mineshare with Windows RT, Windows Phone & Surface devices.

Many professionals have tried iPad & Android tablets for work & many are feeding back that these touch-devices should have many features that Windows 8 & RT already have for years like Windowing, robust Networking stack with Enterprise level encryption support for Active Directory, device management & Microsoft Office.

In fact, many professionals & students who are more savvy are putting aside their iPads & Android tablets for the new Microsoft Surface & Surface Pro because these are viable tablets AND laptop replacement devices that runs Microsoft Office!

One of my clients just picked up his Surface RT in Singapore soon after launch because after years of iPad & Android tablets, he hasn’t found a suitable replacement for Microsoft Office which he needed for work. He said that he can finally sell his iPad & Android tablet.

Besides the Microsoft Surface devices, there’re also pretty decent hybrids like the Lenovo Thinkpad 2, HP Envy X2, Acer Iconia W510/700 & Samsung ATIV Smart PC. If you like exotic flavours, there are the Asus Taichi & Dell Yoga to consider as well.

These devices running Windows 8 & to some extent Windows RT can already do more than iPads & Android tablets because they’re full OS & not stripped-down mobile OS. So in terms of entertainment, Windows tablets is already well covered. You can run VLC player or Media Player Classic which can play almost all known audio & video format & connect it to your Full HD TV for large screen goodness. Since there’s an HDMI connector in every Win 8/RT tablet, you can connect to your AV Receiver & replace your media boxes like WDTV & A.C. Ryan.

At the same time, you can get work done because these devices all support Microsoft Office. Windows RT even bundles it for free with the exception of Outlook.

The future

So we can see that Windows is intricately tied to Office & vice versa. Microsoft is trying to secure Windows future by going “Metro” or “Modern” or the Tile thing that flips all the time. It looks daunting & different and people are scared of change but trust me… It’s the right way forward. Icons are so 90s & Widgets can consume battery like crazy.

This means that for Microsoft to succeed in the future, Windows must succeed & for that to happen, people mindset must be change & this education/perception takes time. Once people have accepted & embraced Metro, Microsoft can think about releasing Office for other platforms, or not…

If Microsoft were to release Office for other platforms now, they would basically be shooting both feet off Windows 8/RT proverbial legs. This is similar to the situation now with Windows Phone 8.

Microsoft should strengthen WP8 by releasing more first-party Xbox games like Halo. They should also have released 1st-party apps like the fantastic Photosynth on WP first, instead of iOS. And don’t even get me started on Skype. After almost 1 year, the dream of free video calls or VoIP just like a normal phone call hasn’t been fulfilled. Skype should already be integrated into WP People & Message Hub by now!

Let’s hope Windows Blue brings all these together & don’t let Office leave the family. There’s no turning back once MS Office is outside Windows. It’s as good as losing control of your best property.

Update 1

On 14/6/2013, Microsoft announced Office Mobile for iPhone, which is very similar to what Windows Mobile had since 2003 and Windows Phone since 2010. You need an active Office 365 account to use Office for iOS and yes, editing is possible but clumsy on a small screen (same problem in Windows Mobile & Windows Phone). Office for iPad is still not available, which is a smart move.

I think Microsoft did the right thing. On one hand, they’ve shown that Office for iOS is 100% ready, to appease pesky institutional investors, but at the same time, they aren’t giving Office away (yet) to the iPad to solidify Apple’s growing foothold in the Enterprise market.

Microsoft have the responsibility to ensure that traditional PC ecosystem players from software houses & hardware OEM have figured out how to transition to a purely mobile PC platform before they allow Office to move to other platform (if ever, hopefully never.)

Reviews

Microsoft Windows Phone 7.8 is here but could have been more!

ImageMy Lumia 800 updated to WP7.8

Nokia delivers!

As promised by Nokia, Windows Phone 7.8 was released this morning & many people are already receiving the notification to update. I didn’t so I had to use the Network cable unplug/disable method to “trick” Microsoft update servers. It worked albeit I had to babysit the entire process since the update came in 3 parts & I had to perform the trick 3 times.

General Impression

If you’ve read my previous article about whether MS is shortchanging WP7 users, you’d see that I concluded the article with we’re not shortchanged unless it’s just the Start Screen & nothing else. Well…

The truth is somewhere in the middle. It’s the Start screen but with not much else…

I like it that the Tiles are bigger & support all the new Windows Phone 8 Tile sizes, I also like that the screen refresh rate *seems* to be 60hz making transitions & scrolling smoother.

There’s also the Bing Lock screen that refresh your Lock Screen picture everyday but I very much prefer my Lumia 920 Facebook Lock Screen.

Nokia Bluetooth Share seems to appear in Marketplace after WP7.8 probably due to more Bluetooth profiles being implemented.

Other than that I haven’t found any other differences. MS Windows Phone Team must have dedicated a very small group of developers for so little changes.

Battle for 3rd place

I feel that this is a wasted opportunity especially with the successful launch of Blackberry 10 yesterday. BB10 came out guns blazing & seems to be a more complete platform than when MS launched WP7 in 2010. Bad publicity from a mediocre WP7.8 release will just backfire on the entire WP Eco-system as a whole.

Granted, Windows Phone 8 seems to be pretty successful with tons of compelling features with much polish, and early indications of good sales figure gave WP8 a good head start. But, to gain market share rapidly in 2013, MS & partners must compete with Android on the Flagship to Mid-range with WP8 and Budget to Entry-level with WP7.8, while battling with BB10.

BB10’s 2 new devices Z10 & Q10 seems to be targeted at Mid-range market currently. Having seen it’s feature sets, it’s not a bad start from a technological point of view. It’s GUI & UX is somewhere between Android’s wild west customization & Windows Phone integrated experience. Diehard BB users will no doubt upgrade to BB10.

A strong WP7.8 would show MS is still giving very strong OS support & grab more developers. Positive media coverage will also give buyers sitting on the fence more reason to switch. No doubt WP7.8 IS generating a lot of news but imagine what it’ll be like if MS surprised everybody with a major overhaul. THAT will definitely steal the thunder from BB10 in the months to come. As it stands now, MS share prices dropped 1.44%.

What’s missing?

So what will bring WP7.8 up to present standard based on the limited hardware & dominate in the Budget/Entry-level market? Here are what I think will do it.

1. Kid’s corner
2. Number pasting in dialer
3. Lock screen customization (Including API for developers as well)
4. Screen capture (come on MS, is it so hard?)
5. Backup (In some form like in Zune, Skydrive would be even better but may not be as practical for target market with limited broadband access)

I do hope that MS will upgrade WP7.8 some more soon so that we can see the above missing features in WP7.9.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I’m a bit disappointed WP7.8 didn’t turn out to be more. Maybe Qualcomm has let MS know that Snapdragon S4 will soon be priced like the Snapdragon S2 now. So next year, even Budget WP will be dual-core & can support WP8.

By that time, Lumia 900 users’ contract will be up & it’ll be time for them to move on. Maybe if WP7.9 is good, they’ll consider to stick around for WP8+ or else, MS can expect a mass exodus of users who’re soured by WP7 just like many did with WM6.5.

Here’s hoping…

Solutions

How to be productive in Windows 8

Overview

Microsoft launched Windows 8 to much fanfare on 25th to 26th Oct 2012 worldwide & the reception has been pretty good overall. Steve Ballmer mentioned at the Windows Phone 8 launch that Windows 8 takeup rate was faster than Windows 7 was back in 2009. There are, however, still concerns that it will leave behind a big group of enterprise users who have a problem with the learning curve involve with the Start Screen.

Yes, the Start Menu & Start button are gone & there’s no way to get it back without buying some third-party software, which business will, no doubt, hesitate in spending extra on.

If you’re wondering what made Microsoft make such a major change, read my opinion piece here.

How to be productive in Windows 8 on older PC

Many PCs are still running great or are acceptable. Most of them don’t have a Touchscreen or Pen digitizer. The biggest concern for many users is, can the new interface be used with Keyboard & Mouse without sacrificing productivity? The answer is a resounding YES!

Now, let me qualify that I’m going to teach you how to use WIndows 8 using an average keyboard & mouse, not the new generation of keyboard with Windows 8 keys or the new mice that has Touch surfaces or even Trackpads that mimic a Touchscreen. Just you plain old familiar stuff. You’re welcome to upgrade your keyboard & mouse if you want some of the new features but they’re not necessary. Microsoft has taken care of us.

The new Start Screen

Your new playground to drive away the Monday Blues & welcome TGIF!

 

Well as mentioned, Start button & Start menu are gone. In its place is this beautiful, cheerful full screen & scrollable page with tiles arrange in neat grids. The first reaction is the information overload if you’ve configured your Windows 8 to sync with your MSN/Xbox/Hotmail/WP7 account. Next is the shock of not being able to find your favourite software & perhaps Desktop!

Start Typing on the Start Screen & you get Auto Search!

No worries, let go of the mouse & start typing the name of your software right at the Start Screen. A panel will appear on the right & the result will be shown on the left. You can select your program by using the Up/Down arrow keys & pressing Enter.

By default, Windows 8 will search your keyword under Apps, Settings & Files. This means that you can easily find anything on your App list, Windows settings & even files on your HDD without leaving the Start Screen! You will also notice that beneath the 3 system defaults, there are some apps that you’ve installed. By clicking them, you’re actually asking the App to search your keyword within the App automatically! How convenient is that!

The All Apps screen…

So what if you just want a list of All your apps & programs? No problem! Just right click at the a blank area of the Start Screen & a panel will pop-up from below. You can also press the Context Menu key to bring it up. To the right, you’d see an “All Apps” icon. Click it & all the apps are displayed alphabetically & in groups where applicable.

The Windows Key on your keyboard becomes extremely important in Windows 8. Pressing it always switches you to the Start Screen or between the Start Screen & the Desktop depending on what app is in the foreground.

The Start Screen & All apps list is also the place where you uninstall stuff. No need to open Control Panel!

Charms Bar

More useful for tablets but serves a purpose with keyboard as well

Now you may have heard of the Charms bar which appears from the right. Just move your mouse to any of the right corners to bring it up or press Win+C. This is where you find more shortcuts like the before-mention Search.

The Charms Bar is also where you’d find the Share button. Share allows you to share stuff from one app to another, similar to copy & paste; Windows Icon acts like the Windows key; Devices shows some currently connected peripherals; Settings is where you can change the Settings of the current Metro app or Start Screen.

The Charms Settings Bar is also where you can change Networking, Volume, Brightness, Notifications from Apps, Power & Keyboard language.

Multitasking

Next major change is regarding multi-tasking between different Apps & Software.

Move your mouse to the top-left corner to bring up the last used Software/App. Slide down to bring out the multitasking screen or press Win + Tab to bring it up on the Left & cycle through opened software & Apps.

Another great & useful way to multi-task

Right-click on the App & you can close it. You can also move the mouse to the top of the App, then drag down to close.

Alt-Esc still works in Desktop by cycling through non-minimized software windows.

Alt-Tab still show Live Preview of your software & Apps in an overlay on top of Desktop or Start Screen.

The invisible Start Button

Preview instead of Start Button

The Start Button may be gone but by hovering your mouse over the bottom-left corner of the screen, a mini Start Screen will appear. Clicking it brings you to the Start Screen, giving the same functionality as the Windows key. Sliding up also brings out the multitasking screen.

Finally! All the Power User functions grouped into a menu!

Now the best part is for power user, right-clicking here brings up a context menu with all the administrative tools like Computer Management, Mobility Center & Control Panel, etc. The old Mobility Center shortcut, Win + X now bring up this menu.

Snap!

Shamelessly ripped from Microsoft demo video because my old laptop doesn’t have at least 1366 horizontal pixels

For Windows 8 with a minimum of 1366 horizontal pixel, you can use a new Snap function to “snap” a second app to the edge of the screen to allow multitasking. Just move the mouse to the left corners of the screen, slide down, drag one of the apps out & hover for a while. It should expand & snap to the edge that you hover over.

Ending notes

If you’ve any questions on other problems not listed above or you’d like me to show more features, please leave your comments & I’d try to answer them.

Opinions

Why Microsoft risk alienating 1Billion users by overhauling Windows 8?

Overview

If you’re reading my blog, you’d probably know Microsoft released Windows 8 & RT on 26th Oct 2012 & it looks nothing like any Windows before it. So why is Microsoft willing to risk causing computing mayhem & potential sales by making such a drastic change?

If you’re looking for tips on navigating the new Windows 8 Start Screen, come to my tutorial page to get up to speed.

Windows 8: A bigger more cheerful environment to work & play in

With the rise of Apple iOS & its simple uncluttered design philosophy for iPhones & iPads, consumers have been flocking to buy up every new version even though a typical iPhone/iPad cost as much as a netbook. The smooth & fluid transitions is both appealing to the eyes as well as help to mask the loading time of apps or webpages. iOS works because much attention has been paid to simplicity & emoting the senses.

Microsoft Windows on the other hand has always been about getting the job done in the fastest possible time & letting you get on with your work & personal life. Little effort was made to connect with the user on an emotional level.

Sure, Windows allowed tons of customisation. Windows Vista introduced a prettier shell called Aero with all its transparency but that was all just copying Mac OS X, which does connect to the user on an emotional level with tons of fancy animations.

Much debate has been made about a pretty interface versus getting the job done, and iOS has proven you can have both & feel good about it.

In the past, many Windows XP/Vista users would just revert to the classic shell because it was much faster, especially for older hardware. Microsoft didn’t make it a point to make the XP Luna & Vista Aero shell work faster even though the GPU supports it. Windows 7 changed that but the battle was already lost to OS X with many migrating to the Mac during the mess Vista made.

Many people are already drawing parallels between Vista & Windows 8 but as you’d read later, this isn’t the case at all.

Microsoft knew they screwed up with Vista

Microsoft knew way back then they screwed up big time with Longhorn (the codename for Vista). Some major features like WinFS had to be dropped & unpopular features like UAC introduced.

The minimum requirement was too high for hardware and the (perceived) improvements didn’t justify such a drastic increase in CPU & RAM. However, in the name of better security, these painful changes had to be implemented but it was poorly executed & explained despite the massive Beta programme.

During this whole time, Microsoft had been streamlining their kernel with the MinWin initiative to breakdown the Monolithic NT Kernel into a modified Microkernel platform to allow easier maintainance of code, with emphasis on security.

Windows 7 was the fruit of that labour & for the first time in Microsoft history, you could run Windows on LESS hardware than its predecessor.

One of the design goals of MinWin was to allow Microsoft to scale the NT kernel for less powerful CPU to super-high-power CPU clusters. On the low-power end, mobile was definitely a target ever since Bill Gates introduced the TabletPC in 2001.

Microsoft has been monitoring the situation closely & according to reports, Microsoft had to delay entering the Mobile market due to viruses & other malware targeting Windows. We’re all aware that using Windows without Antivirus & Firewall is suicidal if you’re online. Fortunately, according to this report, Microsoft products now much more secure than before. (Scroll to the bottom for the list).

Having said that, I wouldn’t advise you to uninstall your Antivirus software anytime soon.

Windows 8 Build on Windows 7 security strength

With Windows 8, Microsoft seek to make it even more secure by promoting their curated “Windows Store” to ensure that in future, most software (called App) must be checked by Microsoft before they’re published for download.

Microsoft has also built-in an Antivirus called Defender beside the Firewall that came bundled since XP SP2. Users of the free Security Essentials will feel right at home.

If that didn’t catch the virus, the Windows 8 Remove everything function will basically wipe out everything including your data & any viruses that may be present, thereby returning it to pristine condition.

After using Windows for a year or two in desktop mode, bloat & junk build up & slow Windows down. You can use the new Refresh function to wipe out all these unnecessary stuff without losing your data.

In theory, Apps should not have this problem because they exist in their own sandbox environment with no access to the underlying system except to save files.

Now that Microsoft has solved the most pressing issue with Windows in a mobile & hostile internet environment, the next step was to be competitive with new players like Apple’s iOS & Google’s Android.

Microsoft saw in iOS & Android the same tired icon interface that everyone has been using for the past 20 years. Granted, the resolutions are higher & the colour richer, but it’s still rows of static icons. They decided to adopt a design philosophy that has been extremely successful for public transport & road signs. It was called “Metro” after the subway train services across the world.

Changing for the Better

Many people are afraid of change. A lot of these people are very vocal about staying within their comfort zone. And yet, time & again, it’s change that drive growth, financially, philosophically & functionally.

Steve Jobs is the embodiment of how doing what’s right & needed in a timely fashion is what drives innovation & growth. Unfortunately, his death seems to have diminished the spark Apple had during its bull run.

Microsoft on the other hand, is just coming out of its Antitrust funk, with many good leaders coming out of that difficult time. Many of the current leaders are following Bill Gates aggressive way of doing technology, if not his business practise.

Microsoft knew there has been many calls to fix many of the shortcomings of the Windows interface, both functionally & aesthetically.

The Start Menu becomes a big mess after you install & uninstall many programs & games over time, and there was no obvious way to organise & clean it.

Many of the software are buried in levels of sub-menu & there was no description for what they do. Over time, your desktop will have so much useless files on it, it becomes unmanageable & you can’t find your programs or files anymore.

Vista introduced a Desktop search function but it was slow & clunky. Windows 7’s version was better but not by much.

According to usage data collected from millions of PCs around the world, Microsoft start to see an emerging trend. People like to pin stuff to the Taskbar & Windows 7 Live Preview were GUI hits that receive universal compliments.

On the mobile front, people were responding well to the new interface on the critically acclaimed Zune HD, which flopped commercially due to Apple’s entrenched iPod & iTunes. The final nail came after iPhones became a huge success.

TabletPCs were still doing poorly because as the resolution becomes higher, it becomes increasingly difficult to use Windows software with Touch, which was the next paradigm in user interaction.

So Microsoft started an experiment by putting an enhanced Zune interface on their next smartphone OS called Windows Phone 7.

Windows Phone 7 & Metro

WP7 launched to mixed reviews due to a lack of critical features & lack of apps but reviewers were mostly positive about the Metro interface because it was fresh & completely different from iOS & Android. It was also smooth & fluid even though the hardware was 3 years old.

The design philosophy lends itself well to the underlying message of sharing in a social context, things that happen to you & how you respond back.

It’s a level of emotion that’s both deep & personal because the idea is for you to connect to the people & things that are important to you while at the same time, not linger too long on the phone.

In & out of the phone and get on with life. This philosophy is completely different from iOS & Android, which wants you to stay with the phone for as long as possible, either to make you spend more money on apps & accessories, or to drive ad revenue.

With WP7, Microsoft was attempting to combine both emotion & productivity into a single expression. Currently, WP7 is hampered by inadequate hardware & legacy software since WP7 OS was descended from WinCE which shares many of the architectural features as the obsoleted Windows 95 16-bit operations.

Things like lack of multi-cpu support, cooperative multitasking, unprotected memory management, etc. prevented Microsoft from using the latest hardware available. Fortunately, the user experience was generally positive with high marks of user satisfaction on Amazon & other e-commerce portals.

Unfortunately, the blogging & Tech publications were unforgiving when comparing the hardware, citing WP7 single-core CPU as being obsoleted even though WP7 run smoother, faster & more stable than many dual-core Android phones & even iPhone 4 in some areas. This negativity has heavy leanings on sales staff who read them for information, because they can’t test every device they sell, which in turn result in poor sales because sales people are not willing to push WP7.

Extending WP7 experience to a larger screen

Lessons learnt from WP7 were directly transferred to Windows 8/RT. The pinable & sizeable Live Tiles, the tight integration of the various apps provided by the OS like People, Calender, Messaging, Email all sync to the cloud & popular social services like Facebook, MS Account (including XBox), Skype, LinkedIn & Twitter. The smooth & fluid interface that works well with Touch & Pen, as well as Keyboard & Mouse.

In terms of hardware, Microsoft never expected iPad to become the huge hit it was. So it was a shock when iPad quickly overtook TabletPC as the dominant tablet within less than a year in 2010. This was just after Windows 7 was launched. Something had to be done!

The answer was the Microsoft Surface & Surface Pro. After years of uninspiring hardware design from OEMs, Microsoft decided to build their own Tablet, answering the calls of TabletPC users worldwide. Granted part of the problem was the Intel x86 CPU but I believe more could be done by the OEM.

Now that Intel’s Clovertrail & Ivy Bridge CPUs are low-power but fast enough for Enterprise & Power users respectively, Microsoft can craft a desirable tablet that is actually productive. The next half of the equation is a desirable software platform to use it with.

The new Start Screen as your new “Desktop”

The Start Menu has been a mainstay since Windows 95 introduced it in 1995. That in itself was a big deal when icons & windows were all there was. Third-party shells like Central Point Desktop (part of PC-Tools for Windows 2.0) extended the Windows 3 Program Manager when power-users like me wanted a more extensible Shell with features like lists & Multi-desktops.

As more people started using Windows & more software becomes available, it’s painfully obvious Program Manager isn’t going to be able to keep up & provide the platform Microsoft wanted to take Windows.

It’s the same with Windows 8. With the number of things you can do with a PC + the usage scenario projected for the new Microsoft Surface, they needed a new Shell. But this time, there’s a new wrinkle… Capacitive Multi-Touch screens.

The Touch interface was inherently inaccurate with your finger covering most of the area you’re targeting. The Windows 7 Desktop interface was modified to compensate for this but it was still frustrating if your TabletPC was very small or has very high resolution.

Windows Phone 7 Tile Based Metro Interface neatly solves this problem & by extension, Windows 8’s as well. These Tiles aren’t useless squares and rectangles. They display Live information that are periodically downloaded from the Internet or corporate intranets so only updated information is presented.

The information is also relevant for the App so you don’t get useless information like Ad bombarding you all the time. However, this concept required traditional Windows developers to learn new skills. Something Microsoft has been pushing since WP7.

It is also the new “Desktop” because if you pick up a Windows RT tablet from November 2012 onwards, you can only run Windows Store app. Traditional Windows software cannot run on Windows RT at all except for a few Microsoft native software like Notepad, Paint & Office 2013.

The good news is, whatever App you bought from Windows Store can be installed on up to 5 devices, be it Windows RT or Windows 8 devices. Yes, Microsoft has made it possible to share apps on many different classes of devices irregardless of their CPU!

For developers, this is huge because if you write a Windows App from 2012 onwards, it can run on ARM, Intel & AMD CPUs! For consumers, they can select computing devices without too much consideration to the underlying CPU architecture. This has never happened before in computer history.

(Note that Windows RT is not compatible with every ARM licensee because each of them add certain features which are incompatible with other licensees, unlike Intel/AMD.)

Insurance against a shift in CPU architectural dominance from Intel x86

This is the future that Microsoft is envisioning & is a bet that eventually, all Windows software will become Apps & legacy desktop software is retired, allowing Microsoft to retire the Desktop for Windows RT completely.

Microsoft is also working with ARM directly to support 64-bit operations to allow for larger RAM & Storage for future Windows RT devices even as Intel is continuing to lower their power consumption while providing more processing power to these new generation of CPUs based on “Haswell”.

This is necessary to ensure the survival & proliferation of the Windows platform in general just in case the market moves towards ARM as the dominant CPU instead of Intel x86 since ALL competing tablets on the market currently are running on CPUs based on ARM.

Of course, for Power-users who need the Desktop for the foreseeable future to run information intensive tasks, we have Windows 8 which runs both legacy software & Windows Apps giving us the best of both worlds.

Seeing that Intel & AMD will always have the more powerful CPU/GPU, x86 isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon.

For naysayers of Windows RT, having Windows 8 support Windows Apps will ensure that whatever developer create for Windows 8 will (almost) automatically be available for Window RT creating a real Halo effect & ensure Windows RT will have a large number of Apps in the near future.

Windows App & Windows Store as the new preferred distribution channel

Apple iOS introduced the concept of a centralised location where you can download all your apps. For the user, it is much easier to discover useful software. For Apple, it is a huge revenue generator. For developer, the ability to tap the entire installed base of users was an enticing proposition!

In the Windows world, discovering software usually means a trip to the Search engine, which more often than not, throws up a huge list of webpages, some of which have questionable reputation.

Microsoft had success in courting many developers to the WP7 marketplace & they’re confident developers will do the same for Windows 8 & RT due to the humongous Windows installed base. Steve Ballmer recently announced 4 million Windows 8 Pro licenses bought within 4 days of launch. This number did not include Windows 8 licenses that were pre-installed on hardware already & Microsoft Surface 32GB being sold out everywhere. Not a bad start.

Customising YOUR Start Screen

Usability of the new Start Screen will require a new way of thinking but in terms of getting things done & getting to your software or apps, it’s faster than the Start Menu especially if you use Windows keyboard shortcuts a lot.

Management of the various software is also much faster. You can uninstall anything from the Start Screen. You can pin & unpin Software & Apps you use quickly to the Start Menu. You can Group them together so that you can see at a glance where everything is & if there are any updates on their Live Tiles if they’re Windows 8/RT Apps.

It’s also a full-screen affair so all your personal stuff are up front & ready for you to Touch/Click, creating a deep connection between yourself & your Start Screen. Even your name & Account Picture is displayed prominently on the top-right corner making your Start Screen uniquely yours.

You can change your Desktop wallpaper but the Start Screen background is restricted to specific design. Because the Live Tiles take up over 70% of screen real-estate, you can’t use your photos for the Start Screen’s background nor would you want to anyway.

Beyond the Start Screen

Your Start Screen is also synchronised with the Microsoft cloud called Skydrive, which allows you to have a familiar environment across any devices that you login to with your Microsoft Account. You’ll also automatically have 7GB of online cloud storage which you can easily access from your Windows 8 PC or using a browser on any platform.

Neat touches like Picture Password also adds a layer of personalization not common on other platforms.

The new Search also allow the Search bar to find not just Software, Apps, Settings and Files, but also any items within the Apps & its cached and online data.

For example, if you search for “Paris” & click the Weather App, the App will immediately show all cities named Paris & display their weather.

One of the issues with iOS & Android is you can’t copy & paste complex information between Apps. Windows 8/RT allows an app to share information in a pre-determined fashion, allowing users the flexibility of sharing information, not just to friends, but between Apps as well, negating the need to sync to the cloud & back with another app.

One of the things that most people take for granted is printing. iOS & Android printing is severely limited requiring compatible eco-system. Windows 8 naturally support any printers that ever existed with a Windows driver & Windows RT supports many of these same printers with Microsoft converting more printer class drivers for Windows RT as the platform matures.

Since Windows has the broadest peripheral support, you are insured against a piece of hardware not having a corresponding Windows driver. For Windows RT, driver support will hopefully come when the user base increase.

International support

Windows 8/RT also have much better International support versus Windows 7. You no longer need an “Ultimate” license to change Display language & you can even switch it on the fly!

You’d also get the multi-language IME including secondary touch/pen-based handwriting support free of charge for Windows 8 Pro. This used to be an expensive upgrade to the Ultimate version.

Bilingual people like me can finally use Chinese handwriting to input an unfamiliar Chinese word instead of using the much slower hand-stroke method. I assume this will work for many stroke-based writing like Japanese & Korean as well. Just install the Language Pack!

Conclusion

I think you can tell from my article that I’m pretty impressed with Windows 8 Pro. I’ve already upgraded my Fujitsu T4215 TabletPC & have not encountered any problems so far.

However, this TabletPC is 5 years old & lack a Touchscreen. This isn’t something I can upgrade unlike the CPU, RAM & SSD. So, I’m waiting for Microsoft Surface Pro to be launched next year.

There’re many Windows 8 tablets already launched but so far, only the Lenovo Thinkpad 2 excites me besides the uber-cool Surface Pro. Let’s see how Microsoft price the 64GB Surface Pro. If it’s priced too high, I might just buy my first Lenovo.

Opinions

Samsung losing patent case is Good for consumers!

So the jury has ruled that Samsung has lost the patent case against Apple.

Apple, as expected, is on the victory march & Samsung has come out with a sourpuss respond that “consumers will be hurt.” Samsung lawyers are obviously misguided.

Firstly, I’m for innovation & being paid for my ideas. I used to develop software with GUI meant for people with zero computer experience. Thus, I do admire iOS simplicity despite the fact that I wouldn’t develop for it. (That’s another story).

I remember a time when Linux advocates are criticising MS OS/software as bloated. Many of these developers probably aren’t programming for ease-of-use. It was extremely tedious to develop a software that is intelligent enough to accept inconsistent user input or to accept errors & NOT crash. It takes a lot of error checking & data shaping at the point of user input & MS software does this very well. It also takes a lot of thought into how the user will interact with the GUI to ensure it’s not annoying to use due to constant error prompts ruining the experience. Having lots of graphics also make software bigger & somewhat slower.

Of course, these days, all these checking are abstracted into the background & developers don’t have to spend time doing human input checking anymore. It’s all automatic in MS & Apple software. Smartphones are also more powerful & have more memory than PCs 15-20 years ago so program size is no longer any issue. But for Google’s software, the GUI is less mature due to its reliant on Open Source Software, where developers are still not as concern about writing software for end-users.

Secondly, the Koreans are very good at copying others’ success stories & make themselves successful. They are also very aggressive when their neck is at stake. Just look at Korean car makers. They are out-competing Japanese car-makers by making cheaper cars with more features which also happen to look nicer (or at least unique.) Granted, the designers of these cars are usually Germans but consumers gain by having cars with near Japanese quality with more features at a lower price!

This will be the likely scenario now that Samsung & other Android phones are found to infringe on the patents that makes iOS unique. Google will have to make Android more unique & eventually, consumers win. Android makers like Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola will have to improve their customizations, which only means better user experiences for those phone.

Nokia has shown that it’s possible to create a smartphone with a compelling user experience without copying iOS. Apple lawyer even showed a Nokia Lumia at one point as proof, there are good smartphone OS GUI that don’t infringe on any Apple patents.

Let this be a wake-up call to Google to stop ripping off other people’s ideas. It’s ok to copy & improve on the design & value-add to the consumers. Make the new design your own instead of doing a poor job plagiarizing prior art.

Opinions

OEMs can’t do it, so Microsoft DID IT!

This is a follow-up for my previous post on What I think a Windows 8 Tablet should be like.

Intro

Finally, our prayers have been answered. While Computex showed some interesting Windows 8 tablet concepts. Most of it was just gimmicky (Asus Taichi) or rehash of a failure (Acer W510/W700) or plain uncomfortable (Lenovo Yoga).

Before Microsoft Surface

The Acer W700 looks like it may be the closest to my wishlist but then they added that huge useless stand. I sure they can squeeze a couple of Lithium cells in there.

The Acer W510 is interesting because the keyboard has an additional battery & based on the battery life it’s an Atom but is it dual-core? Acer isn’t saying.

Asus Taichi looks very impressive & I’m sure some people is going to love the dual-screen, but can you imagine the current draw on the battery? Even when the screen is off, there’s current leakage which can absolutely kill the battery!

Lenovo Yoga has a flip to the back 360° hinge, so in tablet mode, your hand is caressing the keyboard keys. Very nice if you’re an accordion player, not so nice for the rest of us.

The Future

What is Microsoft to do? Well, they did this!

The Microsoft Surface

Not to be confused with the Super-cool but super-expensive coffee table, the new Surface(s), one for Windows RT & one for Windows 8 Pro, is targeted at the iPad & Android tablet market & the TabletPC market respectively. (The coffee-table is now called PixelSense.)

Microsoft worked in secret for this tablet & the engineering effort shows in the precision in the whole thing. Unlike the iPad, the Surface is also easily repairable like all Microsoft hardware products. See the torx screws at the bottom?

The Fully magnesium-alloy chassis is also used in many hi-end tablets/Ultrabooks from Lenono Thinkpad X series to Fujitsu T & S series because of strength & toughness, but this is an expensive material to use & machine. In the Surface, it’s basically magnesium & Gorilla Glass 2.0 protecting the thing. So this thing is NOT going to be cheap. BOM cost is going to be high. So I’m hoping this is like the 1st-gen Xbox & Microsoft sell at or below cost to secure market share. (Me dreaming…)

Why is Microsoft doing this now?

Some bloggers & tech journalist mentioned threat to the Windows eco-system. What do they mean? Windows is installed in more than 1 billion PCs around the world. When you add up all the Macs + iPad, it’s only 300million. (Phones not included). What threat?

Well, Microsoft’s Windows is 1 of the pillars of profit. Over the years, it’s profitability has reduced slightly. One of the reason is iPad is good enough for many people’s needs + iPhones has 30+% of worldwide smartphone market. Many of these people still need a PC to connect & manage these devices. A big portion has chosen Mac OS to be THAT device. Granted, many of them still buy Windows licenses to run in Parallel, but that’s because they NEED to, not because they WANT to.

The soonest their work don’t need Windows, they wouldn’t even boot up or upgrade their Windows license. Microsoft knows this, hardware makers know this, Apple knows this & now, so does Google with their Chrome OS.

After the uninspiring show at Computex, Microsoft announced this ultra-secret press conference to salvage developers’ interest. Remember, without apps & hardware, the eco-system is dead. Just look at RIM, lotsa BB 10 demos but no devices yet. Developer interest is low.

Apple just finished their WWDC & Google is doing their thing next week. On Wednesday, Microsoft will share Windows Phone 8 Apollo with the rest of the world. Monday was the best time to drop the bomb.

Mostly good reception but doubters exist.

Some bloggers criticized Microsoft for always announcing things way before product availability unlike Apple. These bloggers must not have covered the tech industry for very long or they’re only covering Apple, who deal mostly with consumers.

Microsoft has to announce things early so that companies can set the direction & upgrade path for the next few quarters. CTOs cannot have disruption to their business because a vendor suddenly change or discontinue product lines, something Google is famous for, or new features which are incompatible with company infrastructure, Apple’s forte.

Yes, BYOD is on the rise. But in many industries, accountability & compliance is still paramount. Microsoft is successful because they do not disrupt their product lines like Apple do. Surface is the most logical way of moving forward & setting the bar for OEM to follow, just like how Intel set the Ultrabook reference design. Microsoft is also not withholding any special software features so OEMs can play on even ground when they get their acts together.

Another mitigating factor is, Surface is unlikely to be cheap (assuming Microsoft sell at a premium), so OEMs can differentiate themselves using price & features like the laptops & PC.

Research houses like Ovum pointed out a jarring & horrible user experience. Jarring maybe, horrible? Hardly. If you’re using Win RT, the chances of you dropping to Desktop is low & only for Office 15 which you’d use when you’re sitting down & working with the keyboard cum cover. I’d like to ask Ovum researchers, when you’re on the move, will you be formatting your text & checking grammar or generating numbers of Excel or Access, or will you be taking hand-written notes, audio notes & shooting the event with the camera?

For Surface Pro, a stylus is included so you can still use all your Enterprise software that uses ink. When used as a laptop, the keyboard/mouse is still used & Aero is still easy to navigate. When on the move, Metro takes center-stage. Jarring? Yes, but humans are adaptable.

Will Surface cannibalize OEM tablet sales? Just look at why Google came out with their Nexus series of phones. The OEMs can’t make it well. Look what happened to Samsung after helping Google? Their Galaxy line of smartphones benefitted greatly from getting frontline support from Google & Google’s vision.

In Microsoft case, Microsoft Hardware division designed the tablet in-house, according to Pinoys, the actual device is probably made in China by Pegatron. If we look at the hardware market for Mice & Keyboards, you still have a very healthy eco-system with Microsoft, Logitech & Razor on top, & tons of China/Taiwanese brands serving the mid-to-low end market.

Remember, we’re talking about Windows PCs here, which has more than 1 Billion physical devices. Right now, Microsoft has to grow this tablet market so that eventually these OEMs can rejoin at a later date with compelling products.

If cannibalization is the worry, I think the Surface (& subsequent OEM efforts) may wipe out the OEMs’ own Android tablets & overtake iPads. With a wide variety of Windows tablets to choose from, Microsoft’s vision is to beat the iPad the way they beat the MacIntosh 20 years ago.