Cloudy Days and Connected Nights

With tablet and iPhone in hand and head in the clouds

Archive for the ‘iOS’ Category

Changes: Are Tablets the New Netbooks?

with one comment

I am wondering if this same sea-change that is happening in my life is happening in others, or is about to?

When the first Netbooks arrived on the scene in 2007, I was an early adopter. I had an EEE PC while they were still 7 inch screens and Linux was still the only OS. The combination of affordability, portability, and functionality was irresistible for me, especially as one who spends 170 days a year on the road. I have moved to a 8.9 inch Windows XP machine with a 16G SSD (Asus EEE PC 900XP), then, when that died a catastrophic death on business trip, to an 8.9 inch Atom machine with hard drive (Acer Aspire One), then, when I felt the need for more graphics ability, to an 11.1 inch machine with a dual core Pentium chip and integrated graphics (Acer Timeline 1810TZ)…seeking, always, that happy, that perfect, balance of portability and power.

Along the way, I bought into the whole iPod Touch, and then, iPhone thing…with the iPhone 4 (my second iPhone) finally becoming what I consider the best pocket sized, always connected, cloud portal and e-social interaction device yet conceived of. Twitter and Facebook, email and text, don’t get any better than on the iPhone (imho), and it plays music and makes phone calls too (not to mention being an instant pocket reference on birds, mammals, mushrooms, holy Scripture, wildflowers, or whatever else takes your fancy…as well as my always-with-me travel guide, itinerary and calendar organizer, and GPS.)

With the Netbook to take care of my photography and video, and more heavy duty web surfing (and the occasional ppt for work), and the iPhone to take care of all social business, I was, I thought, pretty well set.

Then I got more heavily into video…HD video…capturing and editing. The Acer Timeline was supposed to handle that, and, for a year I made it work, but it was not easy. This fall I began eyeing the Core i machines, but at that level, though I could still buy the Netbook from-factor, the affordability element was gone, gone, gone. I found that for the same price as a hopped up Netbook, I could buy a 13 inch laptop with a Core i processor twice as fast, and both the integrated Intel graphics and a dedicated GPU and accelerator (and an optical drive).

At the same time, I began to look at tablets. I had had an iPad to work with for several weeks on and off, but I knew that the affordability and functionality equation was not there for me…especially as an iPhone user. I just needed a device to carry to my shows and workshops that would let me find and show my pics and videos quickly and easily, on a considerably larger screen than the iPhone, but with that same degree of ease when compared to my netbook. It had to be something I could easily hold in my hands and even put in the hands of viewers.

There are lots of Android tablets out there today (and will be lots more announced and demoed next week at CES) but they are either 1) cheap, somewhat junky, marginally functional and totally without support of any kind, or 2) just as expensive as an iPad (or mostly as expensive as an iPad). Certainly I was not willing to invest a lot (especially when looking at laptops at the same time) on a device I was not sure I really needed or could (would) use.

The one exception to the current Android Tablet equation is the new Generation 8 (gen8) Internet Tablets from Archos: Fully supported by a real company with a decent track record, fully upgradable to new versions of Android (already upgraded twice since introduction), and under $300…exactly the price point that has been most effective for Netbooks, and a price I could afford, not exactly on a whim, but certainly as a calculated risk.

If you read my review you know I took a chance on the 10.1 inch Archos, and that, so far, I am both impressed and happy. It is a lot of fun. It does what I expected it to do, a lot of things I had only hoped for, and a few things I had not even thought of. And it is the right price. There will be better tablets in a year…of course there will…but, I predict, not better values.

And, what you don’t know yet (unless you read the fine print under my photo up there in the corner of the blog) is that I bought a 13 inch Asus U30JC, with a Core i3 processor running at over 2 ghz, Intel HD graphics, and a dedicated NVidia graphics accelerator. It is a compromise on both affordability and portability, but it is everything I could have hoped for in functionality. On the affordable front, it is still well under $1000, which is a good value for a machine with this kind of power. On the portable front, while it is indeed larger and heavier than my Acer Timeline, once it is in the pack and on my back as I travel, there is not much difference at all. And you should see it whip through HD video with Sony Vegas Studio HD! On the photography front, even processor hogs like Photomatix Pro HDR run at double the speed they did on the Timeline. Overall, I like it. Overall, in fact, I love it!

The only issue I have is that I am not, after all this, a Netbook user anymore. This is, after all, Cloudy Days and Netbook Nights you are reading. The tablet, I can already see, is going to take over about 90% of the non-photo/video work (play?) that I used to do on my Netbook, and it will do it with considerably more grace and fun. There is nothing to compare to a multi-touch interface for making the most mundane tasks fun. Twitter? Facebook? A blast. I can even do emergency photo editing on it PicSayPro, and read my Kindle books. How cool is that!

And as a photo and video viewer, it is simply brilliant!

In a very real sense, with a laptop for power applications, a tablet for fun, and an iPhone for connectedness (and fun), I no longer need a Netbook. I have a little Virgin Mobile MiFi that I used with my netbook at need, so even for connected fun I am set to go with the tablet.

True, I am up one machine on my total machine count, since I used to use the Netbook for both my photo/video work and fun, but the increased functionality of the laptop, and the increased fun factor of the tablet, imho, more than make up for it.

And I have already figured out that I can slip the tablet between the zip apart halves of my TSA Friendly laptop backpack where it will be easy to deal with at security on my next trip, and it will actually add practically nothing to my road-load or fuss.

Point? I, personally, would never have gotten to the tablet without passing through the netbook and iPhone phase. I don’t see myself giving up the iPhone (or some equivalent) in the foreseeable future, but with the tablet, I can easily give up the netbook.

I have a feeling that folks just entering this wonderful world of connected, cloud-centric, mobile technology may just skip the netbook phase altogether, and never miss it.

The one critical factor in success for tablets is, as I see it, price! If tablets are going to be the new netbooks, they need to hit the same magic price-point…the value point where affordability, portability, and functionality meet in happy harmony: and that is…

$300.

No more. No less. If main-line manufactures want to create another netbook boom, only this time with tablets, they are going to have to keep them right around $300. Archos has, arguably, proved it can be done. Tablets at $400 and $500 and $600 are just not going to do it. Apple might get away with it, but Acer, Asus, HP, and Dell will not. At $400 and up, they will take a little market share from Apple. At $300 they will create a whole new industry, as netbooks did. Simple.

It is perhaps unfortunate for the tablet world that the first successful tablet out was from Apple. Apple devices always set a high performance and polish bar…and come in at a relatively high price. Once that performance level becomes the standard, and that price accepted in the market as what you pay for that performance, then it is next to impossible for other manufacturers to compete a lower price points while matching the performance, let alone the polish. Look at the iPod. Look at the iPhone.

Netbooks had the advantage of being introduced by what were, at the time, relatively unknown players in the US computer market. Oh sure, both Asus and Acer had lots of laptops out, but, honestly, they would not have been on many peoples’ short list of top laptop makers…before netbooks. Because they came from scrappy companies looking for quick market share, the EEE PC and Aspire One established both performance and price standards that were highly aggressive…and which keep the affordable in the Netbook equation even today.

Not so tablets. Apple has seen to that.

So, are Tablets the new Netbooks? Maybe. If the makers are smart enough, efficient enough, and aggressive enough. Maybe just.

What do you think: Cloudy Days and Tablet Nights? Nah. Maybe: Cloudy Days and Connected Nights!

Advertisements

Written by singraham

January 1, 2011 at 6:13 pm

iBird Pro HD: iBird Pro for the iPad

with 4 comments

IMG_0123If you take my recent review of the latest version of iBird Pro for the iPhone and shuffle it together with my review of iBird Yard for the iPad, you would get just about a perfect review of iBird Pro HD. To put it another way, iBird Pro HD builds on the exceptional user interface of iBird Yard, one of the most effective uses of the iPad’s potential we are likely to see. It has the same amazing search engine, with instantaneous predictive search…but it includes iBird Pro for iPhone’s full 924 species, the full set of illustrations and photos, all the photos, the extensive identification and conservation notes, and and the new expanded set of sound recordings from Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It also, like iBird Pro, allows multiple sets of notes on the species, multiple “Life Lists”, and multiple “favorites lists”.

So, to simplify matters, here are pertinent portions of the previous reviews, edited for iBird Pro HD.

Like most programs I have tied on the iPad, iBird has very distinct portrait and landscape modes, Portrait mode presents the information in slightly larger format…text is bigger, images are bigger, etc., and relies on pop-overs accessed via buttons to display the index of species, while landscape uses the extra width of the screen to display more information, and especially, more options simultaneously. Compare the two screen shots below. In landscape mode you can view the species index/search panel (in numerous different formats) at the same time. This makes switching species especially fast and easy, and gives you instant access to species search within the index. The Gallery alternative index view provides what amounts to an index for the highly visual. And because of the size of the iPad screen, the illustrations in the Gallery index are large enough to make finding the right bird as easy as flicking through the index until you see something that look right. While that might not sound like much, it gives the non-linear, non-text based folks among us a way of finding the right bird that is roughly equivalent to flipping through the field guide, but a lot more efficient, elegant, and practical.

The species index is a work of programming art. It provides 4 ways to view the index: Compact (name only), Icon (illustrated), Album (like icon but with larger images of the bird, and the above mentioned Gallery view. It also provides 4 ways to sort the index: first name, last name, family and taxonomic, and 3 ways to search for specific species within the index: common name, Latin name, and band code (a system of abbreviations used by bird banders).

ipb3 ipb4

ipb5

Lets take one more look at the Overview page to demonstrate just how much information is presented in this view. Expand the annotated screen shot to full size by clicking for an easy view.

OverviewFeatures

The illustrations, as mentioned, expand to full page size by touching the Portrait control. This opens a new view with the illustration full sized and the index next to it (screen shot 1 below). Or you can just touch the illustration in the Overview view and it will open as a separate view (screen shot 2).

ipb7ipb8

And of course that is just the beginning. The Identify page presents information on Body shape, size, color, and patterns, the same for the Head, a detailed description of the flight characteristics, and a panel of Interesting Facts.

ipb6

The Photos page presents 1 to 5 images contained within the program’s data base as iPhone sized shots, and a panel which automatically searches flickr for images of the species. It can pull down hundreds of images, thousands of some species. There are, for instance, 44 panels of images of Baltimore Oriole. Touching any image in the flickr panel opens the m.flickr.com page for that image. Unfortunately that is as far as you can go. It would probably be too much to ask to be able to view the flickr images at larger sized too. :(  🙂

ipb21

While we are on internet resources, there is also a page to display the Birdipedia info on the species, which includes current conservation status (actually the Wiki page for the bird reformatted).

Where the iPad interface really shines though, is in the Search features. Search on the iPad is both easier and more intuitive than the same experience on the iPhone.

ipb15ipb16ipb17

The search view on the iPad uses pop-overs and multiple panels to good effect, and you are presented with an instantaneous and continuous view of matches that updates as you specify new criteria. Want to know what you have already set. There is a little red dot that appears on the icon for every criteria set you have already used, and, for details, you can simply touch the History button and a pop-over appears with your criteria so far. The list of possible search criteria, by the way, are already pre-qualified . Selections that would result in 0 matches are grayed out. Each criteria that would yield matches displays the number of matches under its icon, so you have some idea what you are selecting (this is such a unique feature that it is patented!). And, the color criteria allow both And and Or searches…both colors or one or the other of the colors you choose. And all of it is very graphical. Song and flight patterns have drawings to illustrate the patterns. Bill lengths have sample birds. Colors are bright swatches. All together it makes the search process, to me at least, much more intuitive and fluid: and powerful.

Nothing shows the difference between iBird Pro HD search and iBird Pro (iPhone) search better than a little demonstration. Search on the iPhone is, compared to search on the iPad, somewhat linier. Without multiple panels, you select a criteria from the master list view (say Common Location), make your selection on a separate screen (say Arizona), return to the master list, select another criteria (say Shape), make your selection on the Shape view (say Hawk-like), return to the list, select another criteria (say Size), make your selection (say Medium)…etc. The count of birds that match is only displayed after each selection in the header on the master criteria list…so you don’t know if a choice resulted in actual matches until you return there. On the master list view there is also a button to switch to a view of the matching birds. That is a lot of back and forth between screens, and your results are not visible until you make your final selection. It works, but it is not a lot of fun. See if you can follow the selection process in the screen shots below.

photo 9photo 4photo 5photo 6photo 7photo 8photo 2photo 10

On the iPad, you make your first selection in a panel that contains the criteria list. The panel next to it fills with the selections for that criteria. Below each selection is the count of matches for that selection, and selections which result in no matches are grayed out. As soon as you make your selection the third panel fills with the birds that match. You can then tap another criteria and the selection panel refills (note the little red selected indicator on the first criteria we selected), again with the number of matches for each selection displayed. At any time you can tap the History button to view all previous selections in this search or to clear your search. As soon as you make your selection the third panel again fills with the matching birds. Very easy and very intuitive. Take a look at the screen shots.

IMG_0127IMG_0128IMG_0129

In addition to the more elegant search, there is a completely new feature, not included in the iPhone version. Compare allows you to display up to four species, along with an illustrated list of the search attributes that apply to each species. This is an amazing learning tool. Comparing species, whether close in appearance or widely separated, will build a sense of what distinguishes one bird from another…of exactly what to look for in the field when you are working without your iBird handy. Using it as a study aid will, in my opinion, build your field skills faster than any method short of observing the living birds…and even with the living birds in front of you, you rarely get a chance to do such comparison, since the species only very rarely cooperate by sitting in the same binocular field. In my opinion, the Compare feature of iBird Pro HD makes it a must have for any iPad owning birder attempting to improve his or her id skills.

ipb22

And then, of course, there are the Audio features: a complete set of sound recordings for the species included: over 5 hours of reference standard sounds from the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, both songs and calls, with multiple recordings for many birds.

IMG_0125

Special note should be made of the Help system, which amounts to one of the most complete instruction manual/tutorials I have yet seen for an application, let alone one on the iPad. It is worth paging through. In fact I would say that if you do not use the Help screens, you will, without doubt, miss some of the most powerful features of iBird for iPad.

I missed two. Totally. Until they were pointed out to me. Both the Notes and Favorite features, long available in the iPhone version, have been considerably augmented in the iPad version. Notes can now be synced with iTunes, edited on your computer, and synced back to the iPad. The limitation I still see in Notes is that it appears you can only have one note per species at a time. You could, of course, after syncing with iTunes, sore the existing note in a unique spot (a new folder) and rename it,  create a new one, etc…which you could then save somewhere else (another folder) on sync. That way you could have multiple note sets. It is also possible to insert multiple date stamps in the note to separate entries in one longer note.

In addition, the Favorites feature now becomes really useful for listers, as the iPad version allows you keep multiple lists of Favorites. You can even give each Favorite list a unique name. This opens the possibility of a Life List, State lists, trip lists, etc. etc. all kept within the app, and all available for syncing through iTunes to your computer. This is a considerable advance! (And is also now available in the latest version for iPhone.)

If you have studied the screen shots above, you might have noticed that there are two ways to navigate between the various views and functions. There is a sliding menu along the bottom of the screen with buttons, like an animated task bar on a computer, or you can turn that off and use the pop-over menu under the open book icon on the bottom left of the screen, as shown in the screen shot below.

ipb18

So, bottom line. iBird Pro HD for the iPad is everything iBird for iPhone is…and more. It uses the features of the new platform to present a vast amount of information about birds and birding in a totally unique way. The iPhone version is also unique, but the differences are as subtle as differences between the two devices. The iPhone version, with most of the same features and information, on a device that fits in your pocket, is what I think of as the perfect digital, multi-media field guide: the first really effective, complete, and superior alternative to the printed guide. In fact, iBird on the iPhone is the first field guide I have actually carried in the field in years.

iBird on the iPad, however, is more like an encyclopedia and bird study course rolled into one. Though the iPad can be carried in the field (it is not much more bulky than the National Geographic printed guide, and certainly less bulky than the full Sibely), personally, I would be unlikely to do so. I can tuck my iPhone in my pocket, more or less out of harms way, but, while I am sure gorilla glass is wonderful stuff, I would be paying way too much attention to keeping my $500 iPad safe to really enjoy using it in the field. Again, just me. Your take may be totally different. And, of course, this is not so much a comment on iBird as it is on the iPad itself.

Let me make it clear here, that what I am expressing is a preference for the device, the iPhone, and not for the applications. There is no doubt that iBird Pro HD on the iPad offers a better user experience, overall, than iBird Pro on the iPhone, and that the features unique to the larger platform make it, overall, the more useful app…but I still do consider any app that runs on the iPad  a field guide…in the sense that I would not carry the iPad, no matter how good the app, regularly in the field. On the other hand, if I were a birder with both an iPhone and an iPad, I would not even consider running iBird Pro on the iPad…iBird Pro HD is simply a superior program on the iPad platform.

As a home reference and learning aid, with occasional field functionality (which is, actually, exactly what I consider both the National Geographic and Sibely printed field guides), iBird for iPad is totally unlike anything we could have even imagined a few years ago. Sure, we had multi-media birding programs on DVD and multi-media birding sites on the web. But as Steve Jobs says, the iPad is magic. There is something about interacting with the information using your fingers that elevates the experience to a whole new level of satisfaction, of ease, and of fascination. Someone said iBird for the iPhone represented the first true digital book…but he had not seen iBird for the iPad. I have seen the future of information publishing. It is iBird on the iPad. Oh there are other great examples, and more coming, but someday our children will look back to 2009/10 as the year publishing went digital. They will remember the iPad as the first device to really take it there…and they just may remember iBird Pro HD for the IPad as the first truly convincing demonstration of the potential. Certainly they will if they are themselves birders…or the children of birders. I have seen the future. It is here in the iPad, and it is here in iBird Pro HD…and it is going to be good.

Written by singraham

September 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Posted in app, iBird, iOS, iPad, iPhone 4

iPhone Navigation in an iPhone 4 / iOS 4 Age

with one comment

photoAs I have mentioned before, I seem to collect Navigation apps for the iPhone. Back in the days of my 16GB 3G, I only had room for one at a time on my iPhone. With my new 32GB iPhone 4, I have them all loaded on there temporarily, while I sort out which one I like best and will keep on the device. And, since Navigon was slow getting to the iOS 4 upgrade, I seem to have added another paid app, and, oh, I picked up another free one as well (why not?).

iOS 4 has added a whole new dimension to turn by turn GPS. No matter what other app you have open…iPod, Phone, Maps, Around Me, etc, etc. you nav app will continue to keep track of where you are on your route and give you turn by turn instructions. In fact…you can’t shut it off unless you open the App Tray and specifically quit the app. The Home button just puts the app in the background. Sounds simple, but it is truly revolutionary!

So right now I have the following Navigation apps on my iPhone 4 (in the order in which I acquired them).

Navigon North America (iOS4, $79.00 + lifetime traffic subscription charge)
CoPilot Live  (iOS4, $19.99 + yearly traffic subscription charge)
MotionX GPS Drive (iOS4, $.99 + monthly turn by turn and traffic charge)
Magellan RoadMate (not iOS4, $59.99, no traffic )
TomTom USA (iOS4, $39.99 + yearly traffic subscription)
MapQuest (free with free traffic)

Let me say up front that any one of these apps will get you where you are going relatively painlessly, most of the time. With the exception of MapQuest, they all have similar basic feature sets. MapQuest is the odd app out in that it does not have destination up mode, which for me is a deal breaker, no matter how good the rest of the implementation is or how cheap it is. That said, each app brings at least one or two unique, or at least rare, features to the navigation experience…and one app (not, interestingly enough, the most feature rich) has definitely emerged as my favorite for day in day out navigation.

What you can expect from all of them: audible turn by turn instructions with at least one voice that does text to speech and reads street names. Music controls with in the app (though is is far less critical in iOS4). Routing with at least some customization. 2D or 3D map display. Day and Night modes. Navigate to Contacts (the most problematic feature on any Nav app). POIs. All the apps that offer live-traffic (that would be all of them except RoadMate) also offer live local search (generally via Google).

So briefly, app by app.

Navigon Navigator: on-board maps.  The first turn by turn navigation app on the iPhone, and still the clear leader in the features war. Now fully iOS4 able. Not only 3D maps but Panorama View 3D, with elevations (hills, valleys, mountains, etc) mapped in a realistic landscape. You have to see your road wind up a mountain pass. Way cool! The most comprehensive speed limit information with speeding warnings (Caution she says, gently but firmly). Excellent lane assist on major highway intersections. Well implemented traffic and local search. And, very unique, a my route feature that maps 3 routes for you to choose from and learns from your choices. The life time traffic and local search subscription somewhat mitigates the high initial cost of the app.

On the down side, the most complex, awkward, and slow UI of any navigation app. Maxes the processing ability of any phone less able than the iPhone 4, and pushes the limits there. Noticeable lags in typing, choosing, searching, etc. Occasionally, in my experience, makes questionable routing decisions. Only reads one of the possible choices for a street or road name with more than one name on the map…and often not the most logical or helpful. And, another little thing, the text to speech voice has no way of saying “continue on this road” so she is always telling me to keep left when she means go straight ahead.

I pretty much trust this app, and really like the slick Panorama display…but I find that I do not use it due to the slow interface, if I have an alternative available.

CoPilot Live: The second turn by turn app on the iPhone, and always among the most affordable of the apps with on-board maps. I really like the look of the maps…colorful, cartoonish, fun…however this is not an door to door app. It gets you to a section of a local street with a range of numbers and that is as close as it gets. Also, in my experience, the maps are, by a narrow margin, the least accurate of any of the nav apps. And there is no real lane assist for most intersections. The turn by turn voice gives more complete instructions than Navigon. Despite its limitations, the price is right for a app with on-board maps, and it will do a credible job of getting you there.

Motion X GPS Drive: another absolute bargain, even if you pay the monthly subscription fee for turn by turn and traffic. However, this app depends on a live internet connection (wifi or 3G) for maps and routing. No on-board maps.  While in most urban situations, that is not a huge drawback, where I often travel it makes this my back-up app of choice, but not my primary choice.

The UI is among the slickest and quickest, the POIs are, of course, since they are always live, the most up-to-date., address entry is the simplest and most logical of any app…you type in the address naturally…number, street, city, state, zip…rather than the reverse pick one at a time method all the other apps apply. There is a lot to like. The Bing maps as quite good. If you are on a budget and don’t travel where 3G gets thin, then there is really no reason to spend what an on-board map app would cost you. Motion X will get you there just fine.

Magellan Road-Mate 2010. Don’t go there. Slick interface, but slow and limited turn by turn (no turn now for instance, just a beep). The least accurate rendering of where you are on the maps. No iOS 4 ability. Just don’t go there. A real disappointment from one of the leaders in stand-alone GPS.

MapQuest: a great app for free. No destination up mode (North is always up, which means you are traveling across the map horizontally much of the time). Not for me.

TomTom USA: So, the last is, imho, the best. This is the app I use 99% of the time, and the more I use it, the more things I find to like. Fast, logical, elegant and attractive UI that is a pleasure to interact with. Excellent maps. Comprehensive lane assist. The most complete turn by turn directions of any app by far: she reads all the names of streets or roads with multiple possible names, just in case…gives audible warning of close second turns, directs you toward signed landmarks, tells you when to go straight on, gives multiple warnings of upcoming turns, gives audible lane guidance (in addition to the excellent lane assist diagrams), etc. etc. The first time she said “at the end of the road, turn left onto Ridge Road, State Route 6 , Maine Street, toward Lancaster College, and keep in the left lane…” it was love. This lady knows how to tell a fella where to go!

Though the speed limit system is not as comprehensive as Navigon’s (less rural roads and village streets), the warning system (visual and audible) is great. The maps are attractive and, in my experience, remarkably accurate…and TelNav (supplier of the map data) maintains and easy site for users to submit updates. I have submitted three and gotten responses confirming my input and promising revisions on the next issue of maps.

Live traffic is handled well. Traffic and time of day is taken into consideration in all routing, and, when a  route slows down enough for there to be a quicker alternative, you are offered the option of taking it.

And routes are highly customizable. The app computes the most logical and fastest route (if that is what you ask for) but you can tell her you want to go via some POI or address (including an address from your Contacts) and she will reroute you that way. You can also call up a map of the route and touch to select an alternative routing, and she will obediently send you that way. This is a great way, by the way, to test alternative routes. Very very cool. (And that is in real time…there is a Planning mode that allows you to do all this at your leisure and save the route for when you need it…amazing!

Finally, like Navigon, TomTom is integrated with Around Me, my favorite alternative to Google search on the iPhone for finding specific types of POIs by category or name…restaurants, convenience stores, drug stores, doctor’s offices, etc. Around Me will often find an obscure POI like a state or regional park when nothing else will, and you can instantly send the destination to TomTom for routing. I use it a lot.

I have now used TomTom in rural Maine and urban California, and it is yet to let me down. I trust it. It gets me where I am going, and makes the trip as stress free as possible.

I have, almost literally, tried them all, and TomTom just does what I need it to…which is, basically, to get me where I am going…better than all the rest. Motion X GPS Drive will stay on my iPhone for backup, but TomTom will be the app I keep on board for all my day to day navigation needs.

There. that is done. Now I can take about 6 Gigs of apps off my iPhone!

Written by singraham

August 8, 2010 at 3:51 pm

iPhone 4!: living up to expectations

with one comment

iPhoneI skipped the iPhone 3GS…it just came at the wrong time in my AT&T contract, and the reasons to upgrade, video and a slight speed bump, were just not compelling enough to shell out what it would have cost me for the early upgrade.

Of course, that made me particularly eager for Apple’s next iPhone offering. I followed every rumor for more than a year. The leaked iPhones, with their tantalizing mix of new features and new look, along with tidbits gleaned from the developer versions of iOS4, only built my anticipation and solidified my determination to upgrade. I followed the actual iPhone 4 announcement on live-blogs and twitter. And, of course, after a frustrating hour with Apple’s site, I preordered my iPhone 4 upgrade direct from AT&T at just after 5AM on the 15th.

Ordering from AT&T meant that I was not one of the folks who got their iPhone 4 on the 22nd or the 23rd. Mine came on the 24th, when I was 300 miles from home, with a daughter at her college orientation. Sigh. Still it was there when I got home on Friday night, and I had it activated and all my apps and music loaded before bed-time.

I have now lived with it for 3 weeks, and I can honestly say, despite all the flap about the antenna problem, it has lived up to every expectation.

Lets get the antenna issue out of the way right up front. My impression so far is that the actual performance on both voice and data is slightly to greatly better (depending on where you are) than my iPhone 3G. It is really had to tell. Though 3G coverage in Southern Maine is pretty good, we live in an AT&T pocket, where reception has always been a problem. I have tried antennas and signal boosters. Nothing helps much. I show maybe one bar more with the iPhone 4 than I did with the 3G…maybe…the signal comes and goes (I think the technical term is breathes)…but then it has always done that here. On a visit to Rockland this week, which is outside the 3G coverage, I was able to get emails and send texts over EDGE in areas where I had not been able to 6 weeks ago with my 3G. This is a good sign. I have yet to drop a call or have a data transfer fail. This is also a good sign.

[Note 7/16: iOS 4.0.1 cured this particular problem…I can no longer make the bars drop with the case on! This is good, I think.] On the other hand, even with a case on, I can, in some situations, especially when the phone is showing high bars, make the bars drop by shielding the bottom left side of the phone with my hand. Maybe it is my aura? If I change my grip, I can watch the bars climb back up. On the other hand, in these same areas the bars fall and climb even with the phone lying flat on a table not being touched at all.

I will be traveling to the west coast the week after next, so I will give the phone and AT&T’s network a real workout. I will report back. So far, though, while I admit that I would be happier if the signal were always at 5 bars, I am pretty pleased with the iPhone 4’s performance as a phone.

[Note 8/7: I have now taken several trips with the iPhone 4 and I can definitely say that overall phone reception is better than my iPhone 3G. Quite a bit better. Even in north coastal California, where EDGE was all, the phone still worked fine. And I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of 3G I was able to pick up, even in the more rural areas of CA. This is good.]

Lets be plain: in every other way, the iPhone 4 and iOS4 simply blow away any other portable computing device or platform I have ever owned or imagined. The iPhone 4 is blazingly fast compared to my 3G. Apps open faster, even from a cold start. When iOS4 compliant apps return from saved state (that is when they have been open and active already) it really does feel like they were running all the time in the background. Apps that would barely run on the 3G (say Navigon or the Audubon Field Guide series) simply cruse on the iPhone 4. Even apps that were already fairly snappy on the 3G (my twitter clients like SimplyTweet or Osfoora) are noticeably snappier on the iPhone 4. Switching views, for instance, is instantaneous. Pop. This speed makes using useful apps just that much more enjoyable. Smile

I am, in fact, loving the app launcher tray, the folder system, the whole look and feel and logic of the new OS. It works for me.

Then there is the camera. You have to remember I am coming from a 3G, not a 3GS, and the improvement in the photo quality is simply stunning. The camera, like the OS, just works for me. I would never have considered my 3G camera a serious substitute for a real camera: crappy lens, no focus, iffy exposure, etc. On the other hand, if caught out in the world with just my iPhone 4, I could easily be a happy photographer. I would miss a zoom lens, but except for that, the camera does a very respectable job of capturing the world. And HD Video. It even works behind the eyepiece of my spotting scope for some emergency HD Vid  and decent stills of birds. [Note 7/16: In addition to the above, I have discovered new apps like AutoStitcher and Pro HDR that allow me to do things with my iPhone 4 camera that would be impossible (or at least much more difficult) with most conventional cameras.]

Oh, and did I mention the screen? Sharp. Vivid. Pretty okay outside (though not great…this is no OLED). It looks as good or better than the screen on my 11 inch laptop.

Finally, though it may seem silly, one of the things I especially like about the iPhone 4 is that I can carry it in a case without it taking up any more pocket space than my naked 3G…and this is good for both antenna reasons and for protection for that lovely, but fragile, glass back! (Not that I intend to drop it, even in the case! You see my iPhone in it’s iFrogz silicone case in the pic above.)

So…yes…the iPhone 4 is living up to my expectations and then some.

Written by singraham

July 10, 2010 at 4:14 pm