Monday, December 6, 2010

My New Phone

So this weekend, I was officially pushed off the Blackberry bandwagon, and dragged on to the Windows Phone 7 (WP7) Microsoft bandwagon.

"Why?" you might ask.
1. Because M$ + AT&T is giving us a great deal.
The phone is buy one get one free, M$ reimburses the buy one, and the plans are hugely discounted.
2. Because Adam wants it, and everyone else in his office has it.

There were three choices at AT&T for the WP7: Samsung Focus, HTC Surround, and LG Quantum.
For some odd reason, Samsung has been the phone of choice for everyone, probably because it has the best resolution. And, of course, we went with Samsung. I had no objections with that since I've always been a Samsung lover, since my stint with Telus Samsung phones.

To be honest, I'm not a huge phone person. I don't need to have the latest technologies, it just has to do what I need it to do (phone, txt, and now email, internet, and chat), so when Adam was all excited about what a great deal it is to switch, I said okay without putting up much of a fight.

So what is my initial review of the windows phone 7 on the Samsung Focus after having it for two days?

Preface, Disclaimer, Message.

It’s important to remember that my review is hugely biased. One of the reasons why I chose a blackberry for my first smart phone was because I was attracted to the chat functions. First there was E-mail, then there were the IM apps, and of course BBM was something that was irreplaceable. What made it all even better was that I had one inbox where all my msgs were combined into a single spot, be it SMS, Email from various accounts, or BBM. One push notification, one button.

My biggest gripe with the windows phone is that it doesn’t have any of that luxury. Currently there aren’t any, and I mean none, messaging applications. No BBM is a given, no whatsapp is understandable, but no Live Messenger? No Yahoo!? No Googlechat? Not even E-Buddy, which is what most iPhone users have been relying on. My relationship with Google Voice also ended, which was an app that allowed me to call and SMS Canada for FREE. Also, I have my work e-mail and gmail sync’ed to the phone, they are separate apps, which totally sucks. I’m sorry, but this really hurts. Considering those were the only things I ever used my Blackberry for, this phone leaves me bored and wanting.

But, like Eddie said, the market for this phone has not matured yet, and I really do see great potentials for it. The chats are hopefully coming, and either way I’m going to be in front of my computer for most of the days anyway.

UI, Home, Live tiles.
If there is one thing that Windows Phone should be boasting about, is its clean, simple, and elegant UI. It’s really just gorgeous. However, I do have my reservations about whether it would stay this clean once all the apps are available. The hardware consists of three buttons: back, home, and search.

The Home button brings you to the home page, where there are live tiles – sets of squares that are updated in real time. That’s a pretty good feature. So you can see my weather bug app tells me the temperature right now, Adam’s square shows his most status and picture, and the basic msging apps (emails and sms) pushes the updates to the live tile. You can pin as many apps, people, webpages to your home page and order them easily, but I can picture it being confusing once you have too many apps pinned and no other way to organize them. Similarly, if you swipe left, you are at the “all” applications page, where each application that exists on your phone is listed in alphabetical order; again, no way to organize it any other way. Apparently, MSFT wants you to search.

UI, Search, Voice command
No matter where you are in the phone, you are supposed to be able to search for what you are looking for. If you are in the all-apps page, then pressing search allows you to search for the app. If you are in your browser, the search button brings up Bing. Search in the “People” app brings you up a search for your list of contacts. The search window provides you with a little microphone icon for voice command, click on it and you can say what you are looking for out loud. I tried it a few times and it always performed accurately, including “New York Times Magazine” and “Hardware”. Pretty darn cool. You can also command the phone to call by saying something like “Call Adam Mobile”, all of this working very accurately and there’s no fear of accidentally calling your mom when you want to call your girlfriend…

UI, Back, Setting.
To be honest, this simple and clean UI can be a little hard to get used to. First off, there's no OK button. Instead, it's replaced by a Back button, which is very confusing. Every time i do something, I keep clicking the home button instead. Apparently, the idea is that you dont need to SAVE anything. But what is counterintuitive is that there are no shortcuts when you are in a screen. So for example, I write on someone's wall in FB. I touch Post, to send the msg, and then i'm still on the person's wall. Okay, what can I do now? Besides clicking on some random person's name who's posted on the person's wall, I can only press the Back button, which will obviously bring me to an error msg telling me that the msg cannot be posted, since I just posted it. It's also confusing when I'm in any settings. There's no Save or OK, if you click on a setting, it changes it, and then you have to guessed it, Back. Awkward. In general, figuring out where the settings are for each app has been a pain. Generally there is a bar at the bottom where you can touch to get a menu, but sometimes if you touch and hold the title of the page, you can be taken to a setting too. Another problem is that there are so little settings available that you can spend all your time searching for something, only to find out you’ve searched in vain. No, there is no setting that allows you to “like” someone’s comment in reply to your status, nor is there one for changing your wallpaper, they simply don’t exist.

Feature, Basics, Beta
Adam has been loudly complaining about why msft hasn’t been crazily marketing this phone; my theory is that it’s because there have been too many features that have been cut prior to a release so the phone is too embarrassing to be marketed. To illustrate, before we got the phone, I read an article about how there's going to be an exciting OS update in the next month.

The article: It will include customized ringtones, cut and paste options , and turn by turn navigation.
My assumption: You can assign ringtones to a specific person, every call shares the same ringtone. Cut and paste option will be enhanced. Turn by turn navigations--i'd never use it anyway, i always use Google Maps app on the phone.
The reality: There really is no cut/copy and paste. In fact, there's no highlighting either, since that's only useful for copy and pasting. You can't add your own ringtones. It comes with set ones and you deal with it. And there's no Google Maps app. I feel like I’ve been transported to 2001.

To be fair, all that you would expect from a phone is actually there, such as phone, messaging, email, etc. It’s the little luxuries that we never thought were luxuries that are cut. Can I live without copy and paste? Of course I can. Can I live without Justin bieber ringing when my bbf calls, yeah I guess. The upcoming OS update is promising big updates—let’s hope it lives up to expectation.

Integration, People, Calendar.
Another selling point, or the main selling point, of this phone is its multi-platform social integration. This feature is actually a bit hard to explain. There’s an app, or a hub, called “People”, which essentially is a supercharged address book. The settings allow you to link your Gmail account, exchange account, Windows live account, and Facebook account. Once you sign in these accounts, the phone will pull your friends/contact list, all the information associated with them, and your schedules together. When you go to People, a list of your contacts show with their pics from FB next to their name (you can change the setting so that only the manually add show up and not all your entire facebook list of “friends”). Click on a name to see their contact information, touch to call a number, view a website, or write on their wall; swipe left to see their facebook wall. Currently Twitter cannot be integrated, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes out in the next OS release. The calendar app is also very cool. It will poll your facebook events, google calendar appointments, and exchange schedules into one calendar and provide you with reminders. Also cool is that all your pictures albums from FB is linked to your Pictures app/hub, which is similar to the “People” app/hub, essentially a folder that stores all the pics you’ve taken and saved.

Hardware, Images, Sound.
The quality of the camera is amazing. The quality of the sound, whether from music or phone or movie, is phenomenal. The youtube and its 3rd party supplementary app works great. Adam says there is apparently a TED app. I’ve been watching movies using the Netflix app and I just love it. My biggest gripe with the hardware is how ridiculously sensitive it is. The buttons at the bottom are WAAAY too sensitive. Every time I am doing something, I'd end up at some other screen because my palm hit the back or the search button. As Matt chan put it, it’s rather infuriating. Imagine by anger when I’m watching Maid in Mahattan and every time I had to move my phone to a more comfortable position only to accidentally brush the search button and I’m all of a sudden staring at Bing. GAH! But I don’t know what’s worse, accidentally clicking Back/Search, or accidentally sending msgs when I’m not ready because I accidentally touched Send on the screen, which is just as sensitive. I have a screen protector on the phone, and it makes things worse for some odd reason. When I want to move my screen up or down, it acts like I clicked on something and i'm in some application i dont wanna be in. If i'm in a browser, where there are no links on the page for me to click on, then it will enlarge or minimize the page. Perhaps it just takes time to get used to, but I’m really feeling the frustration.

Apps, Work, Play
What else is worth noting? Today I discovered a few things about my phone. If I’m in the Facebook app newsfeed page (which has very little features as well, no push notification, cannot save images other ppl uploaded of you, cannot like someone’s comment, etc.), I can shake my phone to update. Today when I received an Email with an attached PDF, I was prompted to download Adobe PDF reader app, and now when I click on the Adobe app, all PDFs I saved on my phone is listed there. There is an MS Office app I have yet to try, but it has access to onenote, word, excel, powerpoint, and sharepoint, and it works like the Adobe app where you click on the type, and a list shows up allowing you to access your files. The Games Live app allows you to sign up for a live account, link your Xbox Live games, and download games. I haven’t looked into it deeply other than design my avatar, but it certainly looks promising. Oh, and the browser! Works wonderfully!! It renders webpages beautifully. When I click on a drop down menu, it actually takes me a an options page where each option is enlarged and rendered pretty.

Bottom line, Conclusion, Hope.
The phone is no doubt aesthetically pleasing. The performance is fast, it doesn't lag, and it doesn't bluescreen (!!!). I haven’t found anything that’s broken or doesn’t work on this phone yet. If the feature is there, it will work beautifully. I think that’s definitely something to be said in this fast-paced world where things are released before they are perfected to ensure no one else will steal the market. The phone can be the most awesome thing in the world, unfortunately, at this moment, it’s still pretty far from reaching its potentional. I’m definitely looking forward to discovering new things about this phone in the next few weeks and, of course, the next OS release.

Friday, December 3, 2010

You're Not Like Other Girls

The other night, I watched Sex and the City 2 from the DVD I ordered from NetFlix. The movie was horrible... I mean I watched the entire run of SatC and loved the show, I even watched the first movie and rather enjoyed it, but this second one just dragged on and on and on without any plot. Every guy character that had some important relationship with the girls from the show had a tiny stint in the movie without a full storyline and yet there are a bunch of plot fillers like some old famous woman performing the ENTIRE "All the Single Ladies" dance routine.

But I digress, as the point of this post is not a review of the movie, but about a very singular part of the theme of the movie. Admittedly, it appears that when making this movie, the producers seemed to have realized that they don't have a very strong plot, so they will have to sell it by luring women with all the ideals in life a woman wants achieve, though pragmatically unattainable. This includes:
  • A closet that looks like this:
  • with the rest of the apartment looking like this (in NYC of course, and this image doesn't include their gigantic kitchen:

  • a husband with a name like "John James Preston" who is a financial tycoon, tall, handsome good looking, and just wants to stay home and cuddle with the wife (i.e., Mr. Big in the movie)
  • an ex-boyfriend like Aiden, who is sexy, fun, laid-back, travels around the world and is still in love with you even though he's married and have three kids
  • a group of girlfriends who can drop everything in their rich and busy lives at three week's notice to go to Abu Dhabi with you.
  • Have a career that allows you to have flexible schedule, including two published books and freelance for Vogue
  • Go to your gay best friend's wedding and have people go up to you and tell you how much they admire you
  • Dress up glamourously everyday even when you've been at home all day
  • Dress up even more glamourously for the evening, when you got to a huge Hollywood premier
  • Have both the men your life (husband and ex who is still in love with you) tell you that you're not "like any other girl"
Of course, the list goes on, but I stop here because this was something that really resonated with me.

In the movie, Carrie runs into Aiden at Abu Dhabi, and she goes out to dinner with him, and while chatting, they have a moment and Aiden looks into her eyes and says, "you're not like any other girl", and ten minutes later, though he loves his wife and kids, Aiden cheated on them by kissing Carrie. Mr. Big, after finding out that she has kissed Aiden, decided to buy her a huge black diamond ring when she got home from Abu Dhabi to remind her that she is married.

"Why black?" She asks.
"Because you're not like any other girl," he replies.

Beyond the fact that Mr. Big did something so fairy-tale like that this story-line really belongs in Twilight (zone, too, if you will, pun intended), what really behooves me is that Carrie appears to be just like any other girl, and when she does deviate from being like every other girl, it's a trait that no men want.
  • she spent her life chasing after Big and wanted to tie him down
  • she doesn't know anything about the world, doesnt care about anything in the world besides her shoes and her clothes, and can't have a conversation with Aiden about worldly matters
  • she doesnt cook, at all, because, she tells Big, "you knew that I'm not that type of girl when you met me"
  • she drags her husband out after a long day of work to a hollywood premier that he doesn't want to go to and gets upset cuz he's flirting with Penelope Cruz
  • she goes to Abu Dhabi and makes out with her ex-boyfriend because Big hurt her feelings
I'm not saying that Carrie's character in this movie has no redeeming qualities, but to say that she is not like any other girl would be a bit of a dramatic stretch. Similarly, every time I hear a girl say that they don't think they are like other girls, it's usually a gross generalization on their part where they have specific traits that don't align with social expectations of female roles.

What Carrie embodies here is a fulfilled desire where some of her traits deviates from the social expectations of how a girl should behave, and therefore she is desired by men (there is, of course, some general sexism going on here that I won't get into).

The reality is, to have this desire is completely normal, and to some extent, benign. Women don't want to be like every other women because it would make them special. Who doesn't want to be special? Every girl wants to hear that they are not like anyone else and that they are special.

So in this case, what makes one special? Should you have to work on being special? There is definitely something to be appreciated when women are able to do extraordinary things in life, such as become the first female president or abandon their common life and perform charity work with people that need help. But plain janes like us, what can we do to make us special?

I have met people who go out of their way to be unique. Unfortunately, some who trash other girls and say they are nothing like the regular girl. I have also met girls who do illogical things to get attention and make them stand out from the crowd.

Should you have to try to be special and unique? Or is everyone already special and unique in their own ways?

And here, I think, is an interesting lesson from SatC2. There is nothing special about Carrie in this movie, in relations to the girls in the entire world. In fact, no one in the world would say that Carrie is a unique character (especially when most girls who watch SatC identifies with her). What Carrie does have though, are people whom she loves who also think that she is special....And isn't this what love is? To have people who love you appreciate you and find you to be unique for just being you, no matter how plain you really are.

And if we are still so inclined at working to become a different person, perhaps the thing to do is just to work at self-improvement, rather than work on being unique? Would that be more unique? Maybe that's why Carrie is special in the movie, because she is always self-reflecting and always trying to figure out what the right thing to do is?