One of the primary benefits of being a technology writer is the ability to work in my home office, aka Mobile News Manor (MNM). It is a bustling place, with evaluation gadgets constantly arriving and going back to the vendors. As part of my daily work I spend a fair bit of time testing these gadgets for review, and also looking at new apps for various platforms to streamline my work methods.
This column is my look back each week to share pertinent experiences that I believe you might find useful. There is no telling what you might find in this column, but you’ll definitely get a feel for what it is like testing gadgets for a living. Welcome to the Manor.
Nine gadgets get an update, one doesn't
Having a focus on mobile, the Manor is always full of laptops of various sizes and capabilities. The bulk of these laptops (currently 8 in service) run Windows 7, so this week when Microsoft rolled out Service Pack 1 my hands were full with the first major update to the platform. For most folks, applying a Windows Service Pack is not a big task, but when you multiply the task by 8 it becomes a time sinkhole.
The biggest problem I had with updating so many laptops is that the Microsoft update servers were slammed with so many users applying the patch. On most of my laptops the update was only 80 MB or so, but downloading it on each laptop took well over an hour. In hindsight I could have downloaded the update once and applied it via USB drive, but I thought since the update was physically small it would be faster to apply it to each device through Windows Update. This would facilitiate applying it to 2 or 3 laptops at a time, a consideration with so many to update. Silly me.
The slow download made the process take far longer than expected, as each laptop took about 2 hours for the update. Even updating 3 laptops at a time (insufficient office space to do more), a big chunk of one day was shot. The process worked flawlessly as most Windows updates do, but after spending hours my brain was fried. When I apply system updates I nervously keep an eye on them just in case, and with so many going on simultaneously I was one nervous nellie for the day. Kudos to Microsoft for a smooth update process as usual.
Another Microsoft update rolled out this week and made big news as it didn't go as well as Microsoft or Windows Phone 7 owners would like. I watched the WP7 update debacle closely as it affected Samsung handsets and I am currently evaluating the Samsung Focus. I was trying to decide if I should apply the update or not based on the trouble some owners were having. It turned out to be a moot point as the test handset never got the update notification, and Microsoft has suspended it for Samsung handsets so it won't likely happen for a while.
It turns out suspending the WP7 update was a good thing as it requires connecting the phone to a computer to update the phone. I have been spoiled by BlackBerry, webOS and Android with over-the-air (OTA) updates that can be performed without connecting the phone to a computer. This makes handling evaluation phones much easier for reviewers, as the update process is contained completely in the handset. When you bring a computer into the mix (I'm looking at you, WP7 and iOS), the process becomes complicated as it turns an evaluation phone into a "real" one. I don't like having remnants of evaluation phones in my computers after the phone goes back to the vendor, but that's what I have with updates using a computer.
Apps this week
Two apps were released this week that I have been using and really like. The folks at Mozilla released Firefox 4 beta 5 for Android, and it is shaping up to be a really good mobile browser. I still use Dolphin Browser HD as my default browser on Android, but Firefox is getting close to knock Dolphin out of my home screen dock. Firefox is fast and has a nice interface that works well on touch devices. The only missing features that keep it from becoming my default is the lack of Flash support and its incompatibility with the SwiftKey keyboard.
I'm not a big fan of Flash, but there are a few websites I use daily in my work that make it necessary. I can't use those sites in Firefox, and it's a big deal. I'm sure Flash support is coming to Firefox for Android Real Soon Now.
The inability to use SwiftKey is also a deal-breaker for me, as I absolutely love this keyboard. The advanced predictive text of SwiftKey makes it the fastest way to enter text in Android, as it learns over time the phrases I use frequently. After using it a while I found that most of the time SwiftKey can accurately predict which word I am likely to enter next based on context, and a simple tap on the word enters it into the app of focus. It is hard to describe properly, you have to try it for a while and see it in action.
While testing Firefox I had to disable SwiftKey so it gave me the opportunity to go back to Swype for a while. I admit I had forgotten how good Swype is for text entry, and it is particularly good on the larger screen of the Galaxy Tab. I like it a lot, but it's not quite as fast for text entry for me as SwiftKey.
This week saw my favorite calendaring app leave beta status and go gold. Pocket Informant is now available in the Android Market for $5.99, and I ponied up the cash immediately. I love this app for serious calendar handling, and its task management is first-rate. Those who have been using the beta will find it no longer works and you must pay for the released version to continue using it.
E-book of the week
This week I discovered a new series by John Locke, and Now and Then starring Donovan Creed kept me entertained. Creed is a Homeland Security assassin who moonlights as a hit man for the mob. The government is not only aware of Creed's second job, it supports him doing it as it keeps him in practice for the "real" work. Assassin business aside, Creed is a likable guy who is very funny, and the series looks to be engaging. I really enjoyed this book and am already reading another in the series.
That's the week as it went down in Mobile News Manor, and I hope you enjoyed sharing it with me. Updates are never fun but are a fact of life, and a big fact when you have so many laptops lying around.