Cloudy Days and Connected Nights

With tablet and iPhone in hand and head in the clouds

Archive for the ‘Facebook’ Category

Archos Internet Tablet 101: very interesting…

with 22 comments

[I am adding a note here to clarify right up front: I am not a power user. As stated below, my main purpose for this tablet is displaying images from my SmugMug galleries, showing an occasional video, playing music, working email and my twitter and facebook accounts, reading a bit, and general messing around on the internet. I do not play games. If your usage is going to be more intense than that, then your conclusions may well be different than mine. That said…]

Though, as you know if you read this blog, I am convinced iPhone user (4), I have, so far, been able to resist the iPad. I have had one to play with for several weeks on two different occasions (to facilitate app reviews) and it simply does not do enough, in my opinion, beyond the iPhone to justify a minimum investment of $500.

That does not mean, though, that I don’t suffer, in this pre-CES season of tablet fever, a certain amount of tablet envy. And there are a few specific things I could use a tablet for where neither my iPhone or my laptop will do as well.

For one, I travel to a variety of birding destinations each year, and do a lot of photography and videography. It would be excellent to have a device that could easily display what I had shot that day for folks I meet, without having to fire up the laptop. And, of course, web surfing, while possible on the iPhone (and actually quite good by any reasonable comparison) would obviously be better and easier on a larger screen. (Oh bananas, lets be honest, almost anything beyond making a phone call would be easier on a bigger screen.)

The difficulty, as you know if you have been paying attention to tablet fever this year, is that there are not many good alternatives to the iPad out there. There have a slew of Android tablet introductions and announcements over the past 6 months, but the actual products that have made it to market range from disappointing at the lower price end (most are truly cheap China iPad knock-offs)…to just as expensive as an iPad at the somewhat more satisfying end (the Samsung Galaxy Tab). CES may see some movement here, but my feeling is that devices that have anything like the performance of an iPad are going to be priced at least in the same range as the (so far disappointing) Viewsonic G…$400 plus…or at the iPad level (Galaxy Tab), and the under $300 offerings are going to continue to be poorly designed toys with marginal performance.

Which is what makes the new Generation 8 Internet Tablets from Archos stand out. The Archos 70 and the Archos 101 are particularly attractive iPad alternatives. They share the same relatively powerful ARM 8 processor running at a gigahertz, Open GL graphics acceleration, and both have been upgraded to Android 2.2 lately. With a simple hack (provided by a passionate Archos fan), you can have the full Android Market, and all the Google apps. And this from a company that has been making touch screen multimedia players for many years, and internet tablets for several…a company that has shown itself to be responsive to customer needs, and which has fan community that is just as passionate, if not as large, as the Apple folks.

It was the last two factors, actually, that convinced me to order a 101, one Saturday when they had them in stock for about 4 hours on the Archos.com web-store. Some of the China Pads look like they could be made to work, especially for my purposes, and they are considerably less expensive, but you have absolutely no assurance of on-going support. Android is a moving target, with frequent version upgrades (2.2 is just out, and already folks are readying 2.3 upgrades) and with each upgrade someone has to design custom firmware for your particular machine. I have confidence, based on history, that Archos intends to keep up. And, with the active fan community, you are not totally reliant on the company at that…a visit to the ArchosFans forums is vastly reassuring to the potential buyer…or at least is was to this potential Archos owner.

And a word about the obvious differences between Android and iOS. Android is clearly not as polished or as tablet ready as iOS, which Apple tweaked specifically with the iPad in mind. However, as mentioned above, Android is an open source operating system in rapid development, and stands to make significant tablet related gains over the next few upgrades. Then too, it is an open source, open system, vastly different than Apple’s closed system. You can customize and adapt to heart’s content. And, given the fanatical Android development community, if you can conceive of an improvement to your user experience on an Android machine, someone has probably anticipated you, and there is already an app for that. As I will detail further in, I have already replaced the stock Android keyboard, the home screen/app launcher, the stock internet browser, and the Gallery and twitter client supplied by Archos, etc. etc. It is easy, and it certainly appeals to my inner geek!

Don’t get me wrong. It is not that the out of the box Archos experience would not be satisfying to most people…I think it would be…it is just that it can easily be improved. To put it another way, those looking for a first internet tablet experience at less than the cost of an iPad are likely to be satisfied, out of the box, with the Archos gen8 machines. If your expectations have already been colored by some exposure to the iPad, and you are hoping for iPad like performance or better, then you will need to make a few changes to the basic user experience by installing the Market hack, and switching out or replacing some apps, and adding others…but, given the will, in very short order, in my opinion, you will have an internet tablet experience that rivals that of the iPad, for just over half the price.

You can have all the fun of customization, or you can be guided by my experiences…which I will detail later on.

First a few notes about the machine itself. Build quality is very good, a mixture of metal, plastic, and glass, but clearly not up the quality of the iPad. Price you pay for the lower price. It feels solid in your hands, but the plastics creak a bit when handled. The capacitive touch screen, full multi-touch, is excellent: As responsive as my iPhone 4, and certainly as responsive as the iPad. The screen is bright and sharp, with a resolution of 1024×600…fully adequate for viewing images or videos. The viewing angles have come in for some criticism on the various forums and review sites, and, while it may be more limited than the iPad, it is, imho, perfectly adequate* for almost any use. The built in kickstand is excellent for adjusting the angle of the screen for maximum quality and ease of use. (Tip…invest in an inexpensive mouse pad and put it under the 101 and kickstand while it is standing…this will make the whole thing much more stable.)  In my experience so far, it handles video up to 720p HD fairly well. The Video player becomes sluggish and unresponsive with large (10 minute) H264 HD, but it plays them fine. It is just difficult to pause or change volume. The only vids I have not been able to play smoothly are the native Motion JPG (.mov) HD files right out of my Canon cameras. The speakers are barely adequate, but actually a cut above most found on laptops.

General performance for applications is pretty snappy. The latest firmware for Android 2.2 (released on December 16th) allows you to set the processor speed and performance to three different levels, including full on 1GHz, and on that setting the 101is as responsive as the iPad or iPhone 4 on most applications.  The one exception is the stock Andriod launcher, which can develop an annoying lag when returning from an app, but that is a software issue and easily fixed by installing any number of free launcher alternatives (more on that later).

Archos is still waiting on Adobe certification of their own Flash 10.1 plugin, but the stock 10.1 from the Market will at least allow most flash based websites to display properly, and will play standard embedded YouTube video fairly well…though it struggles more with HD. (The dedicated YouTube app works fine for any YouTube video I have thrown at it so far.) I check the Archos website daily to see if Flash is ready. No joy so far.

Other really nice hardware touches are the Micro SD card slot for expanding internal storage (up to 32G), the Micro USB port for connecting to your computer and mounting both internal storage and Micro SD if you have one installed, and the standard sized USB host port, which allows you to use USB sticks, Flash Card Readers, and even external drives if they are low power or have their own power supply (I have a feeling even a low power drive would drain the 101 battery pretty fast and might give unreliable performance…but self powered drives should work fine). USB support is a bit spotty in my experience, with mount and unmount issues frequent, but I am learning to work with it for the most part. My general impression is that it is better to unmount from the Archos instead of the computer…and you need to use the Notifier Unmount for the USB host, not the one in the settings panel :).

The 101 also has HDMI out, though I have not experimented with it. Archos claims it is the only implementation that allows you to put the whole Android experience on your HD TV (while using the 101 as a control pad). I am not a gamer, so I can’t say how this works with games, but it does seem an attractive option.

Of course it has an accelerometer and position censor so everything (or most things) auto rotate from landscape to portrait and back, and you can use the devise itself to control many games.

Okay..so lets talk about the apps that transform the 101 from an satisfying Android internet tablet to a superior internet tablet experience.

The first thing to do is to make sure your firmware and version of Android is up to date. Eventually Archos will start shipping units with 2.2 installed, but if you have a unit with 2.1 it should tell you an update is available when you first boot up the machine. If not, go to Settings > About > Firmware Update and initiate the process.

Once 2.2 is installed, you should go online on your computer and find the latest version of gappsinstall.apk. Try ArchosFans.com or the Archos gen8 forum on XDA Developers or just google it. As of this writing, the current version is v5, but the author says v6 is near. Find the latest one. You should find instructions with it, but just in case, download it to your computer, mount the 101 via USB cable to your computer, drag the downloaded file into the top level of your internal storage (as in, in no folder). Unmount your 101 (press Stop USB on the Archos screen) and unplug the USB cable. Using the Files app, find the gppsinstall file, touch it and choose install. Then, find the app itself in your main apps window, and run the app. That will install the latest version of the Market app, and a few other google basics. (You will have access to the majority of apps, but some will still be hidden. There is a fix for that.  More on that later).

The first app I downloaded and installed was GMail. If you use GMail, and especially if you are already addicted to threaded conversations, Google style, there is no point in using the EMail app Archos bundles with the 101.

IMG_8323IMG_8324Since I intend to use the 101 as a photo viewer, the Gallery app got attention next. The stock app is okay, but there are better viewers out there. QuickPic is amazing, very like the photo viewer on iOS, and based on folders, which it automatically locates by contents, even if they are on your expansion Micro SD card. It does everything I need it to do and does it really fast. I like it.

If you use SmugMug for online image storage and viewing, SmugFolio does a good job of automatically downloading your galleries (unattended) and displaying the contents even when you are not on-line. Somehow it stores the images in a fraction of the space the real jpg files would take, so it is practical even if you, as I do, have thousands of images on SmugMug.

You will want the official YouTube app if you do any YouTube at all. As above, it handles any YouTube video with aplomb.

And, while on video, find Adobe Flash Viewer 10.1. it is not optimized for the Archos machines, and eventually Archos will replace it with one that is, but the one in the Market works for now, at least for viewing lower resolution embedded video and your usual flash animations.

Again, the stock Android browser is okay, but there are better browsers out. Dolphin HD is my favorite…fast, tabbed, themed, excellent all around.

It is maybe a matter of taste, but I do not like the stock Android keyboard. The offset space bar drives me crazy. I found Better Keyboard in the Market and downloaded it. It is pretty good, but…

The keyboard you really want is Swiftkey, and you have to do the Market fix mentioned above to find it. Searching for Swiftkey before the fix returns no matches. Here’s how to fix it.

  1. Settings–>Manage Applications–>All–>Market (Clear Cache then ‘Force Stop’ — DO NOT clear data)
  2. Settings–>Manage Applications–>All–>Google Services Framework (Clear data then ‘Force Stop’)
  3. Return to the Home screen.
  4. REBOOT

Once you do these steps, you will find all kinds of previously hidden apps in the Market the next time you run it. I am not sure why, but there it is.

IMG_8321Search for Swiftkey now and at least download the trial version. I ran the trial for about 10 minutes realizing I could not live without it and buying and installing the full version…despite the fact that I had already bought Better Keyboard. (Follow onscreen prompts when you first run Swiftkey to install it as your default keyboard, and download the correct language module for predictions.) Swiftkey fits the 101 screen better…is way easier to type on…has superior prediction…has a much more intelligent number and alternate keys system (you don’t have to shift to number for numbers or other symbol keys…just hold the key down just a bit longer and the secondary character will be entered (ie, hold T down and 5 is entered…hold ? down and ! is entered…it is so IMG_8322brilliant!). If you do shift to numbers, you get a new keyboard with a number pad on one side and symbols on the other…so intelligent! Going a level deeper with the symbol key gives you a full set of left/right/up/down keys to move the cursor around in your text…which is a real blessing for those of us with large finger tips). If you are like me, you will never return to stock!

And speaking of stock…the stock 2.2 launcher/home screen is kind of creaky. It has strange lags and does not always respond as expected. There are better alternatives. The two I tried are Launcher Pro and Zeam, both free apps. Launcher Pro does not quite scale to the 101 screen, probably because of Archos’ use of soft buttons on the right side of the screen. Still it only takes a slight drag to make it align itself. Launcher Pro is, all and all, an improvement over stock, but the one I settled on is Zeam. It uses picsay-1293458954less resources, is slightly faster, and scales to the 101 screen perfectly. I have mine set to a single home screen, since I don’t intend to use many apps, and since most of my common apps fit in the app tray on the right side of the screen (or bottom if you run in portrait…and you are not limited to 5 apps in the tray as you are in LP). Adding actions and widgets is dead easy…I even added the Show Notifications action to my tray, since I will be using it often to unmount USB stuff (as above).

IMG_8325What else? If you have to move large files, you will need a better file manager than the stock Files. I looked for one that had drag and drop…I mean we are a touch machine here…and found ScaliCommander. Despite some luke-warm reviews, it works well, and allows me to drag files from my camera’s SD card in a Card Reader in the USB port to internal storage. Move does not work for files and folders of any size, but Copy does, even for massive Video files. It will also allow you to view the full file system, not just the storage level as the stock app does. You can open folders in multiple panels and literally drag and drop as you do in Windows or the Mac OS. I tried others first, but Scali is the only one that let me copy large files.

Weather apps? Weather Channel, hands down. The most complete display of info by far, including hourly and 10 day forecasts, the ability to turn off GPS (necessary on the 101) and enter locations manually, and three sizes of widget…widgets that don’t hang the machine up on launch when there is not yet a wifi connection (which WeatherBug does…I even took WeatherBug off my laptops, since it gave me lots of trouble there too). Accuweather just won’t run without the GPS. So, despite the fact that Accuweather is in the unfixed market and it requires the fix to find Weather Channel, it is Weather Channel all the way.

The only Facebook app I have tried is the official free one, and it is fine, though I miss the ability to add bookmarked profiles or pages (as you can do in the iPhone version).

picsay-1293459614Archos ships the 101 with the free version of Toutier, which is not bad, except in comparison with the best of the iPhone twitter clients. I liked it well enough to buy the full version, but I soon noticed that is very slow to update the lists on launch compared to other Android clients, especially if have more than one account. I will, by the way, offer an expanded comparison of twitter clients for Android on tablets in the near future, but for now, I tried the official free Twitter inc. app (not well suited to tablet use), the free and Pro versions of Twidroyd (not bad but somehow clunky, reminiscent of the ultra powerful but interface-challenged Twittelator Pro for the iPhone), and finally settled on Tweetcaster Pro…which has, imho, the best mix of features and usability. It is, for instance, the only one to give you unread counts for tweets and replies. There is some funkiness when you first open the app as the splash screen forces portrait…but as soon as that clears the app works fine in landscape on the 101.

Of course I have Hootsuite on there for its unique ability to post, and to schedule future posts, to multiple twitter, facebook, and facebook pages accounts. (With a scroll to top feature Hootsuite could be my full time social media client.)

I downloaded and used Google Reader for a while…but like the web app on the iPhone, GR for Android is just a bit clumsy to use (well, more than a little bit). To read a post, you have to open its folder, then select the feed, or chose all, then select the title, which opens the title alone on a screen, then select the title again to open the post. Not pretty.  If you are reading a post and want to go back to the main menu to open another folder, you have backtrack through way too many screens to get there. The same thing happens when you mark a post or group of posts read…you have to back all the way out to get to another folder. Not pretty and not inspiring.

Though it is relatively expensive, the pro version of NewsRob is everything Google Reader should have been. Easy to use, displays the feeds attractively (much like they appear on the Google Reader web site on the computer), fast, and simple to navigate. NewsRob was designed by someone who must spend considerable time reading feeds, and it shows.

If you are Kindle user, the Kindle app, though it only works in portrait, will allow you to read your Kindle books on the Archos. Nook is also available. What I can see, is using the Archos for reading color books and magazines as they become available…and if you are considering the Nook Color for Christmas, you really might want to check out what $50 more gets you from Archos (though if reading were my primary purpose I would look a the Archos 7o instead of the 101.)

I have found a few more apps which I may review in more detail later on: PicSay Pro is an excellent photo editor, Tripit is its generally elegant self, there are calculators and converters for travelers, etc. etc,

I have only had the Archos 101 Internet Tablet for 4 days now, and I am still figuring the thing out. Besides being my first tablet, it is my first Android device of any kind. There are, apparently, all kinds of hidden features to Android 2.2. It took me 3 days to find the Notification panel (accessible by pulling down the Notification bar at the top of the screen), and someoneon ArchosFans forum (Brownrat, thank you) had to point out the Unmount function of Notifications for USB devices. I don’t think I would have ever have found that. Just a few moments ago I discovered that there is a menu on the main apps page that gives instant access to Manage Apps and Uninstall. I am not sure if that is a feature of Android or of Zeam but it is something I know I will use, now that I know where it is.

Then too, my other primary discovery already is how very, very small the iPhone 4 is :).

Already I can see that the Tablet is going to be an essential part of my internet and social experience. I have a little pay as you go MiFi from Virgin Mobile that should work most places I visit. Makes an ideal companion for the Archos 101.

And I have to say that all those companies who are pinning hopes on an imminent introduction of yet another Android tablet are going to have difficulty matching the functionality, the quality, and value of the Archos gen8 Tablets. Archos has pretty well hit the sweet spot with a combination of powerful hardware; a flexible, adaptable, perfectible, OS and software package; and a price that makes it an easy, almost an impulse, buy.

No wonder no one can keep them in stock.


*Screen angles: there is a lot of discussion of how bad the Archos screen is, with some people getting pretty heated about it, on the forums. The best viewing angle on my screen in landscape mode is about 15 degrees below perpendicular to the surface, which puts the tablet at just about the ideal angle (about 30° to the surface it is resting on) for typing or working with it propped up on its stand on a table. It is also the angle that tablet assumes when held naturally in my hands. Though I lose some contrast when I view from either side of screen I don’t see any significant change in brightness or contrast through an angle of about 60°, 30° on either side of straight on. If I tip the screen back so I am further below the ideal angle, I have an additional 20° before I lose significant contrast. If I tip the screen up toward me, I begin to lose brightness at the bottom edge of the screen almost immediately, but it is usable through about 10°. That amounts to a vertical viewing angle of about 30°. In Portrait mode, the angles are the same, though the ideal angle moves to straight on perpendicular to the screen. That means that I have more angle to the right than I do to the left, with the tablet held normally with the ports up, and lots of room for tipping the screen in the vertical dimension. I could, of course put the more generous angle on the other side by tipping the whole device over. For my use this is “adequate” viewing angle.

Advertisements

Written by singraham

December 22, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Real-time on the Social-web for the World Series of Birding

leave a comment »

Suppose, just for fun, that there was a 24 hour event happening, covering the whole state of New Jersey from end to end, and you, single-handedly, wanted to document it in real time, using the social web…twitter, blogs, and associated tools…so that anyone who wanted could experience it from, shall we say, ground level? Suppose. What tools would you use?

In my work life, I am the Observation Product Specialist for Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, makers of binoculars and spotting scopes used in birding, and all types of wildlife observation. For 27 years we have sponsored a team, Team Zeiss, in the yearly World Series of Birding competition, and for 6 years we have been the sponsor of the Carl Zeiss Youth Birding Challenge. The WSB raises funds for conservation through per-species pledges to your favorite team of birders, who then go out for 24 hours, midnight to midnight, in the state of New Jersey (or some designated sub-section there-of) to count as many different species of birds as they can identify by sight or sound. It draws well over 200 of the best birders in the US, in over 50 teams, to Cape May, NJ each May. Most teams come in a few days (or weeks) early to scout the area where they intend to count…then there is the day itself…24 hours of driving crazy distances to hit the hot-spots and staked out birds…the Finish Line were, just before midnight, the teams bring in their totals for verification…and then, the next morning at 9AM sharp, the Awards Brunch where, after a lavish breakfast, the highest totals are recognized with various awards, and each team gets to briefly tell its best story of the day. It is marginally insane, considerably inspiring (if you are into birds…they have raised over $9 million for conservation in the 27 years of the event), and a whole lot of fun!

This year, I decided to try to document the whole thing in something approaching real time. I planned to be in a chase car, and follow Team Zeiss through some of the scouting and preparations, then through the 24 hours of the event to the Finish Line, and to the Awards Brunch the next morning. I planned to twitter and FaceBook the whole thing, with sound-clips, pics, and maybe some video…perhaps to do some live blogging on our WordPress blog…and, of course, to bring back enough photos and video for follow-up blog posts and web pages. It was only slightly more insane than the event itself.

You can see the results, all of the posts from the field, considerably expanded with images, video, and bit of commentary added after the event, at Team Zeiss: A Complete World Series of Birding Saga.

If you want to know how I did it, read on.

I have an iPhone 3G (not, unfortunately for these purposes, the 3GS with video), a Canon SX20IS which shoots excellent stills and HD video, an very portable Aspire Timeline 1810TZ CULV netbook/laptop, a Verizon USB mobile broadband doggle, a cigarette lighter power supply that puts out both 110 volt AC for the computer and USB power for the iPhone, and, obviously more enthusiasm than sense.

Experimenting before-hand I settled on the new Hootsuite app for iPhone for my twitter and facebook posts. I knew I would be twittering on 2 accounts: my own @singraham and the Zeiss account @zeissbirding_us. The facebook posts were going to my own profile. I needed an app that would post to all three simultaneously. Hootsuite looked like it would do the job. Since you can open it in menu mode, without downloading any streams, it is quick to post from. When I got to Cape May, I found that the Hootsuite app, on AT&T’s 3G network, was failing about half the time when I attempted to post a pic with the tweet/facebook update. Trying again sometimes worked, but I needed something more reliable.

I already have a Posterous blog set up, and have used it to post instant galleries of images via email when I have more than one image to post at the same time. You can set up Posterous to auto post to any number of twitter and facebook accounts, and if you make the title complete, it can act as a tweet or post in itself. You can even include hastags for twitter in the title. Posting from the iPhone is as simple as taking the pics with the camera app, opening Photos, selecting the ones you want to send and choosing email. You enter your Posterous address, and it is away, and posted to your twitter and facebook accounts soon after. The advantage is that Posterous automatically formats multiple images into a galley with an index and viewer.

Posterous will also take video, directly or as a link from YouTube…which is good, since I encountered the dread “caught in the processing loop” YouTube bug when attempting to upload video from Cape May. Not via 3G either…this was from my hotel room over a wifi network. I tired many times. Nothing worked. While Posterous video is not has high quality as HD on YouTube, it is certainly serviceable for my purposes with the WSB.

Posterous does have its own app for the iPhone, which allows you take pics directly and upload them into galleries on your blog, but I find that it is actually much easier to do it from the Photos App via email.

As it happens, Hootsuite updated their iPhone app while I was in New Jersey, and the new version seemed to work much better with pic uploads, even when I lost 3G and had to work on EDGE in the far reaches of the state.

I ended up using both Hootsuite, and Posterous via email, as the situation demanded and as the spirit moved me. 🙂

When I picked up my rental car, the first thing I checked was the number of cigarette lighter sockets, as I anticipated having to use my iPhone part of the time as a GPS. The Jeep Compass they gave me has only one cigarette lighter socket…but low and behold, it has an actual 110v, two prong socket, just like your wall sockets at home. I could plug the Acer in directly, and, since i use a Kensington Ultra Compact Power Supply while traveling, which has its own USB power port, and was packing a Griffen PowerJolt Dual with two more USB power ports for the cigarette socket, I was all set for power. I did not even have to set up the excellent Radio Shack compact power inverter I always have in my laptop bag.

As it turned out, I never even plugged the Acer in. It was just too close quarters with 3 of us and all our stuff in car, I was driving at least a third of the time, and we made stops too frequently to consider the laptop useful. That meant that I did not upload any video until the event was over.

Most of the pics were uploaded direct from the iPhone’s camera. I am impatiently waiting the arrival of the 4G iPhone with what one hopes will be a decent camera (rumors say maybe even HD video), but you make do with what you have. Since I was shooting most of the time with the SX20IS as well, the pics from the field were more or less placeholders anyway…I replaced most of them with SX20IS shots when I built the blog post…though I hope the iPhone shots added at least a little to the experience for those following my tweets and posts in real time.

I did process a few of the more marginal shots using the Adobe PhotoShop app for the iPhone before I posted them. I used, until this most recent version of the Adobe app, PhotoGene, which I really like. PhotoShop is just a bit faster on most operations, at least on my 3G phone, and, in the field, where you are posting mostly while hurrying back to the car or between stops, even that little speed difference can be critical.

While I had not planned to do it, since I was using Posterous, it occurred to me on a hill far into the outback of Sussex County, New Jersey, moments after mid-night when the team was listening for high flying migrants in the dark, that I could post audio. I made a few recordings during the night at various stops, while it was still too dark for photography, using the built in Voice Memo app on the iPhone, and uploading them to Posterous via email. Of course, since the Team was using their ears, I could not play them back to see what I got. They went out over twitter and facebook just as they came from the iPhone.

It was not long into the dark night when Hootsuite and Facebook stopped cooperating. I never did figure out what was happening. The app gave me a “failed to post on Facebook” message about 2 out of 3 tries. This was from the hinterlands and I suspected the EDGE connection, but when I got back to civilization and 3G it was no more reliable. It could have been an issue with Hootsuite at that particular time, or with Facebook, or with the iPhone. All of which make me rely more on the Posterous connection than I might otherwise have.

I am hoping, of course, that the folks who followed the tweet stream in real-time got a sense of how the event unfolded that is never available in hind-sight. (Though, honestly, I am pretty sure no one caught my tweets posted from midnight until 4 am. 🙂 )

Tuesday, safe at home with the Acer firmly anchored to a desk, and my wifi connection humming, I processed all the images (Lightroom) and some of the video (NeroVision) I shot with the Canon SX20IS. I also used Tweetake to capture all my @zeissbirding_us tweets into a spreadsheet, where I could sort and edit them into something like a coherent narrative. Using the tweets as the skeleton, I added images and video from the Canon, and a bit of commentary, to fill out the story. I used a few of the original iPhone shots where I did not have something from the Canon, but when I did, I grabbed them from Posterous or Ow.ly into Picnic for a bit of improvement before posting them back to the blog.

I intend to do a more reflective and thoughtful piece on the whole experience, the WSB experience that is, not the technical experience, when my mind fully recovers from sleep deprivation. (If my mind ever recovers…) But for now, the post referenced above stands as one man’s view of the World Series of Birding as done by Team Zeiss in May of 2010.

Next year I hope to have an iPhone 4G and even better apps. (I also hope, of course, that AT&T will have improved service throughout New Jersey, though I have to say, there were very very few places where I could not tweet!) In hindsight, and maybe foresight if the technology does not change much before then, I would set up a unique Posterous blog for the event, and post everything there, with auto post to twitter and facebook. Of course with the 4G iPhone posting live to WordPress may be practical by then. Who knows.

Much may change by next year’s running of the World Series of Birding. Team Zeiss is already committed to doing it again…for conservation…and for the fun of it…and I plan to be there, making the best use of Social Media I can, to give those who can not be there a ground level view of the World Series of Birding. As it happens. In real time.

Which is one thing, certainly, the Social Web can do better than any other tool we have ever had to work with. It can only get better.

Maybe I can take pledges: So much per tweet for conservation. That will make the birds happy. 🙂

Written by singraham

May 20, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Zensify Revisited

leave a comment »

Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr in the same list on the same app: Zensify

Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr in the same list on the same app: Zensify

Back in the Managing Social Aggrivation piece I promised to revisit Zensify periodically to see how it is developing.  Zensify you might remember is the ambitious project and app that, when perfected, will allow you to manage all you social netwooks, from Twitter and Facebook to Flickr and YouTube, from one application on the iPhone.

My major concern first time around was simple speed. It took forever for the your networks to load, and the app was a bit buggy. But then it was a Preview copy…not yet claimed to ready for market.

Today Zensify released v1.2.3, the first without the Preview splashed across the icon. It is indeed faster…much faster…those little coding elves must have really worked their magic on this one…and, so far, it is completely stable.

I really like the way it handles images, from Flickr or from Facebook, putting a group of image thumbs in the same message box and providing you with a little slide show viewer when you open the message. Better by far than any of the dedicated Flickr clients for iPhone.

And in general the interface is attractive an efficient. Of course, the tell-tale empty comment (reply) icon on the Flickr and Facebook pages does indeed tell the tale. You can reply and retweet Twitter posts, but you can only open Facebook and Flickr posts in the built in browser. You can of course, comment fairly easily on Flickr images, since the browser opens the m.flickr.com interface, but commenting on a Facebook update is ardous, since you have to read really really small, or pinch and spread the page to legible size. Slow process too.

You can now post pics to both Twitter and Facebook, and make simultaneous, or single updates to those services too. You can Direct Message your twitter friends. You can retweet a tweet, or twitter a link to Facebook updates and Flickr images (and YouTube videos I presume).

photo 2photo 3photo

And, of course, there is still no ability to really manage your accounts. No follow or friend, block or unfriend, etc.

So, Zensify gets credit for moving forward with an ambitious project. The increased speed (even, by the way, on my 3G with OS 3.0) demonstrates the potential even more clearly. This could be huge. (Provided TweetDeck does not implement the full Facebook API and stays away from Flickr…and that Seesmic for iPhone does not come along and blow them both out of the water.)

I am actually use Zensify as a front end for my Flickr contacts.

And I am watching closely to see where it goes. I am intrigued by those empty comment/reply icons everywhere but Twitter!

Written by singraham

July 9, 2009 at 10:51 am

The new seesmic desktop vs. the new TweetDeck

with 7 comments

Hot topic. Yesterday saw the release of the new and improved TweetDeck and the matching iPhone TweetDeck, hard on the heals of the first non-preview version of seesmic desktop. Seesmic has been slowly overtaking TweetDeck in the features race, if  not in actual user base, and clearly TweetDeck is fighting back hard.

Let me say right up front that in my mind seesmic has been the app to catch for quite a few releases. I never warmed to TweetDeck, and therefore I am not addicted to its UI or feature set. I don’t have an investment in TweetDeck groups, etc. On the other hand, seesmic has been my desktop twitter (and Facebook) client for several generations now, and I, maybe, am biased through habituation to its UI and feature set.

So, lets just say that TweetDeck would have to try really hard to win me over. Did they try hard enough in this last release?

The primary reason I invested my time in seesmic in the first place was the ability to follow and manage multiple twitter accounts. TweetDeck, until this release, could not do that…so it was, for me, a non-starter. With the new version, TweetDeck not only adds multiple Twitter accounts, but establishes an master TweetDeck account (one account to rule them all) which allow you to log in to all your accounts with a single log-in, and, allows TweetDeck to sync your account info (groups, columns, read/unread etc.) across multiple computers and devices.

Of course, along the way seesmic began to add Facebook features. First the ability to post updates to your FB account, view your stream and like updates, and then, wonder of wonders, full integration, with the ability to comment on friends’ updates. With full FB integration, seesmic desktop became the one app I always have open on my desktop.

I even began to use the UserLists (groups) features and the saved Twitter searches. All very easy and very useful. To add a user to a list/group, just click on the gear icon in the atvar, choose add to Userlist, and pick your list from a dialog.

Seesmic also, to my mind, has the most natural way of managing @ (mentions), DMs, your posts, and favorites. Little icons across the bottom of the Twitter columns are one click fast in pulling up the selected items for your view. No new columns to deal with. When done, just click the Home icon to return to the normal view of your friends’ tweets.

It should be noted that you can have all tweets, from all accounts, as well as your Facebook updates, appear in the same column if you want, and use the navigation panel provided to navigate to @, DM, Favs, etc.

Then too, seesmic makes finding individual users profiles dead simple. You can click any @user and their profile and recent tweets appear in the column, or you can type in a user search field and find anyone. So easy.

This last release (o.3rc) fills in a few of the remaining gaps. You can now simultaniously post to any combination of your open Twitter and Facebook accounts. You can set the app to intelligently reply only to the account where you hit the reply icon (very slick).  And, for UI fanatics, the Update bar now sits narrow and restrained at the top until you click it…then it expands to a two line text entry box.

Of course, seesmic has full integration with url shorteners, including (new this release) the ability to use your own bit.ly account for statistical purposes. Seesmic can post pics to any one of  5 different services, using either personal (generally Twitter) accounts or the default account.

So what does seesmic not do? There is still no way to view a list of your friends (a la Tweetie or Twitterfon or Twitter.com for that matter). There is no conversation view for @ or DMs, so to find out what tweet some cryptic Reply is referring to, you are booted out to the Twitter.com site, where you see the single referenced tweet and nothing else. We are spoiled by the iPhone clients who manage @ and DM conversations much more elegantly.

And no Trends, though the very effective Twitter search makes up for it somewhat.

Both seesmic and TweetDeck, of course, suffer from what is, in my opinion, the major frustration of AIR apps…flaky browser integration (at least with Chrome…I have not tested other browsers). When you click a link in a tweet or update, it really looks like the app has died while it is sending the url to the browser and the browser is dealing with it. And it takes an unacceptably (imho)  long time to deal.  (seesmic, at least, is developing a browser-based version which may eliminate this issue.)

The major advantage, to my mind, for TweetDeck at the moment is the iPhone version and the ability to sync between iPhone and desktop…and between any number of desktops. That is cool!

However, on first impressions, I just can not like TweetDeck desktop a whole lot. I don’t like separate columns for @ (mentions), DMs, and Favs (even if you can hide them). I do not like the Facebook integration, which lacks the ability to post or view comments (a killer for me).

So, okay, with use I might come to accept the way TweetDeck does its business. In fact, I am certain that I would, and especially if I began using some of its deeper features. What you can do with individual tweets, for instance, is impressive. And the though neither seesmic or TweetDeck have trends in the usual sense of Twitter.com or the iPhone clients, TweetDeck has some unique tools: TweetDeck recommends, StockTwits, and TwitScoop. I will admit I have not experimented with them much at all. And, of course, you might actually prefer the TweetDeck way out of the gate…and you are certain to favor it over seesmic if TweetDeck is already your client of choice.

So, what about the iPhone TweetDeck.

Way cool!

The interface is elegant (with some obvious, not to say glaring, lapses), fully functional, and does a very good job of translating the desktop TweetDesk experience to the smaller screen of the iPhone. Columns appear first as smaller windows (very like pages in the Safari browser multi page view) which you can flick through (or even rearrange using the same metaphor used for rearranging apps on the iPhone screen), and which open to full screen with a tap. Once open you can flick sideways to move between columns. Here we have one of those glaring UI things. There is a huge arrow at the bottom of the column that you can tap to move to the next column if you don’t want to flick…two arrows if you are in a center column…which is, imho, a total waste of space. A little popup telling how to navigate columns on the first use  (or until you turn it off) would eliminate the need for the ugly (and huge!) arrows.

Major fail! No Facebook in the iPhone app. Not even the limited integration of the desktop version. Massive fail! Worse. You can’t even post to Facebook from the iPhone app. Can you hear the sorrow in my voice as I report this inexplicable fail?

Also, I managed to crash the iPhone TweetDeck already, while viewing a linked web page in the in-line browser.

So, no, as far as I am concerned, TweetDeck did not try hard enough to overcome the lead seesmic desktop has in features and UI on the desktop (unless you really need TwitScoop, etc.). Facebook integration alone, even if there were no other differences, would decide it for me. And even though the TweetDeck iPhone app is one of the most inventive uses of the OS I have yet seen, it offers no compelling reason to switch from the much more fully featured Tweetie or Twitterfon Pro.

I am waiting, with bated breath, as they say, for seesmic’s iPhone app. I only hope they manage to shoehorn Facebook in there as they have on the desktop, and that they preserve the one column multi function model made popular by Tweetie and Twitterfon (and seesmic desktop for that matter). That would make it a killer social client for the iPhone, and make seesmic the clear choice for both desktop and mobile applications.

Written by singraham

June 17, 2009 at 5:45 am

Managing Social Aggravation on the iPhone and Desktop

with 2 comments

Seesmic Desktop Preview, feedalizer, zensify, Darkslide, Mobile Foto (with Tweetie and TwitterFon thrown in the mix) and a brief encounter with PeopleBrowser.

Seesmic Desktop Preview: Twitter accounts and Facebook in one app.

Seesmic Desktop Preview: Twitter accounts and Facebook in one app.

In this day of multiple social networks and multiple social network personalities, the task of keeping up with your Facepeeps, Tweeps, and Flickr buds can be daunting,  even for the least social.

And then too, many of us are multiple device folks: desktop, laptop, netbook, internet connected smartphone, etc., etc. so we are often tracking our networks from two or three directions at once.

Of course there are several good desktop and iPhone clients for Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr…in various combinations.

My favorite for  Twitter and Facebook is Seesmic Desktop Preview, which handles multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts, updates, replies/comments, friend/news feeds, follow and unfollow on Twitter, and most of the essential features of both sites. It is still a work in progress (it lacks the ability to view your own friend/follow list for instance), but it is excellent already and only stands to get better as it develops.

Recently I discovered zensify on the iPhone. zensify is a social network aggregater  that puts my Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr feeds in the same list on the same app, and allows me to update, reply, comment, etc. on each of them, with more or less ease.

Twitter interaction is pretty good, on a basic level, mimicking closely the functionality of  other iPhone Twitter apps like Tweetie and TwitterFon. You can choose to Reply or Direct Message. You can post images.

zensify: one stop social aggreation for the iPhone

zensify: one stop social aggreation for the iPhone

Flickr interaction is very good also. zensify displays single or multiple new image posts from your contacts list, and at it also captures images with new comments. In cases where there are multiple images opening the viewer provides a slide show effect where you can flip through the offerings. To comment you have to tap the image (lower right corner seems to work best) and the Flickr .m site opens with the image displayed. Commenting is quick and easy and relatively fast.

Facebook interaction is the weakest so far (though there are hints they are not done with this section).  It collects your friend’s status updates just fine, and you can view them the viewer, and like them, but to make a comment (so far) you have to open the friend’s profile in the browser. Awkward.

One good feature is that you can make simultaneous posts to Twitter and Facebook.

Of course, there is a whole layer of functionality provided by dedicated clients for these networks that is missing so far in zensify. You can not view followers/friends, follow or friend, unfollow or block, view friend’s/follower’s timelines, view follower’s followers, see the update that was replied to, etc. etc.

zensify takes a while to aggregate all that information too, and clearly strains the limits of what current iPhone hardware is capable of.

Therefore, wonderful as it is being able to interact with all my important social networks in a single app, zensify will not be replacing Tweetie or TwitterFon for Twitter, or the Facebook app for Facebook until it reaches a more complete level of development (and maybe not until I upgrade to a new iPhone).

But that leaves me without an easy means of keeping up with my flickr account. I can easily fall 400 images behind on my contact’s submissions if I am away from the netbook for more than a few hours!

Darkslide: list view, Mobile Foto: grid view of contact's recent images

Darkslide: list view, Mobile Foto: grid view of contact's recent images

I have had the free, ad supported, version of Darkslide on my iPhone for some time, but never gotten into the habit of using it. After zensify I gave it another try and liked it so well, I ended up buying the paid version.

Darkslide implements the full feature set of Flickr, including image uploads, groups, sets, etc. etc. but for me the best part is that it  gives you quick easy access to your contacts’ recent posts, with an excellent viewer and easy commenting and is just the thing for keeping up with the image flow on the iPhone.

Unfortunately Darkside has two annoying habits. 1) when you reopen it, it stalls and refuses to reload whatever you were viewing last until you manually initiate a reload by tapping, for instance, My Photos if you are in Contacts, and then retapping Contacts. Annoying! Then too, Darkside is evidently working without a parachute (no local cache) so it has to reload everything every time you work with it. That can take a while if you have a lot of contacts, and forever if you have a lot of images yourself. Annoying. (Interestingly there is a Cache size readout in Settings, but it is always blank.) [Note: v 1.6.1 (current in the app store) is apparently broken in several ways, prone to crashing, and to hanging up internally when switching functions. The company is aware of the problem and working on a fix.]

Which lead me to search for alternatives. Mobile Fotos presents itself as a full featured Flickr client, and it is just that. Since it does cache locally, it is much faster than Darkslide, and it auto reloads on launch. I do not like the way it displays Contacts’ images quite as well as Darkslide, which groups multiple images from a single contact together under the contacts name in a list view, and it has one glaring omission (shocking!): there is no Activity function to look at activity on your own images.

Which lead me back to Flickr’s own m.flickr.com site, which is, afterall, very good. Not as fast as Mobile Foto, but in many ways the layout, look and feel, is just about as elegant as Darkslide (except no dark background view of images!!!, and the new postings are not grouped by contact), and it actually works better than the standard web version in that it returns to the actual page of contacts you were commenting on when you complete a comment…rather than poping all the way back to the first page of contacts’ images. For now, it might just be the easiest, fastest, way to keep up with contacts’ new postings.

zensify did make me wonder about developments in similar functionality for the desktop. FriendFeed I find somewhat limited from the interactive aspects, and I don’t enjoy being tied to my browser, but the availability of Adobe AIR has spawned quite a few social aggregation desktop apps beyond Seesmic Desktop.

You may have seen postings around the net for PeopleBrowser. People browser looks to be the ultimate be all and end all for social networking: once it is finished. Though a beta was announced this week, all I can find is the most recent alpha, which shows the potential. Unfortunately it appears unnecessairly complex and seems to produce inconsistent results at best. I will be tracking development on this one but it does not seem ready for prime time yet.

feedalizr: one stop desktop social aggregater

feedalizr: desktop social aggregation

feedalizr is an older, more mature app that looks like it might have been the inspiration for zensify.

Functionally they are much the same. You set up your accounts and then feedalizr aggregates them into one list. Filters are provided so you can see just what you want in the primary list, and you can open all kinds of things (other accounts, individual tweeps or Facepeeps, groups, searchs, etc.) in tabs beside the primary list. So far, I have not found a way to show new images of those who are not classifed as Flickr friends…all my contacts are missing.

Interaction with the various networks, updates, image posts, comments, replies, etc.  is pretty easy and works well, with pop down posting boxes, drag and drop for images for Twitter and Facebook, and image titling, tagging and description fields for Flickr uploads (up to 10 images at a time).

As with zensify, feedalizr appears to lack the second layer of functionality for Twitter and Facebook: friend/follow, unfollow, etc. (You can do these things but it kicks you out to the main Twitter site or Facebook to do them.) It does have a groups feature which is quick and easy (or was, until it mysteriously stopped working for me).

So, just as on the iPhone, the all in one solution on the desktop does not seem to be quite there. Seesmic Desktop still comes closest, but lacks the Flickr feed.

And I have yet to find an equivalent for Darkslide or Mobile Foto on the desktop. There is an Adobe AIR program called DestroyFlickr which attempts to be the equivalent for the desktop, but it will not run well on my netbook’s 1024×600 screen (AIR seems to still have trouble with windows).

The upstart of all this is…with the really strong social networking apps on the iPhone, it is getting to be more fun, and faster, to track my networks on the phone than it is on the netbook. This does not, somehow, seem right, but there it is!