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Twitter: downtime as a matter of course

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

What is it about Twitter that makes it such a success in spite of frequent and continued service availability issues? If you ask me it’s a rabid user base (like me) willing to use the service in the face of hour after hour of downtime, tweet after tweet lost to the ether. Any other service this unreliable would be hard pressed to keep the numbers of users around that are causing Twitters instability in recent months.

Why so rabid a user base? You have me at that one – I’m hooked and have no clue why.

iPhone 3G initial experiences

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Now that I’ve officially had my iPhone 3G for 2 days I thought I would write up some of my experiences and impressions on it. As with any consumer product the retail purchasing experience is an integral part of the device. As previously posted I went a little gonzo and showed up 12 hours before the Apple store opened and managed to snag myself the 1st spot in line. In true Apple style every single one of the employees in the Apple store at the Alderwood Mall in Lynwood was ecstatic to see me, and seemed genuinely thrilled that their line had started. They even came out to pose for a picture with the head of their soon to be lengthy line.

First in the iLine

Shortly after taking that photo the Apple store closed to transform it into an iPhone 3G store. The first step was the erection of a large black velour curtain of mystery to shroud the store and prevent prying eyes from glimpsing the goodness being assembled inside. Other than the occasionally Apple employee emerging from the curtain to go home and sleep (lucky them) the velour curtain of mystery was the only thing to be seen until 8am graced the Pacific time zone.

Waiting in line
The 12 hours in line actually wasn’t so bad. Much to the horror of the Apple Store the Alderwood Mall Security and Administration announced that folding chairs, sleeping bags, tents, and in general having fun were forbidden on property. They seemed to think that even allowing us to be on the property after the malls 10pm closing time was a special treat and yes, could we ask for another cup of porridge sir?

Aside from having to choose between sitting on the cold outdoor concrete and standing all evening we had a blast. The Gear Live crew came out in force to film the event and do some product giveaways for some iPhone cases and accessories. The night passed relatively quickly bringing us to 8am with a line of 250+ excited people iWaiting for the iPhone 3G.

The curtain drops
The velour curtain of mystery dropped and the doors flung open to an Apple store filled with excited Apple employees clapping and cheering us on. Being first in line provided a larger thrill than I expected – leaving my heart racing as I walked through their gauntlet of proffered high-5′s, cheering iAcolytes, and my own sleep-starved imaginations addition of a glowing visage of his holiness Jobs floating in the middle of the store looking down upon his dedicated flock.

The thrill was unfortunately short lived – the internet had indicated prior to opening that system problems had been making the launch difficult for those in time zones ahead of PST. Those problems had far from been worked out by the time us on the west coast were blessed with the coming of 8am. Due to the glitches it was roughly 45 minutes from the time I entered the store until I had been able to successfully purchased my 16GB white iPhone 3G. Even after the purchase the in store activation failed completely leaving me with a sleek and sexy hunk of plastic, plaintively begging to be plugged into iTunes for activation.

Time passes, the 30 minute drive home ensues…

The first several hours home were bittersweet. On the up side I was home and able to shower and sit on comfortable furniture. On the down side I was iPhone-less. Due to a glitch (which has been dubbed the iPocalypse by our beloved main stream media) everyone transitioning from a 1st generation iPhone to an iPhone 3G had their 1st generation iPhone deactivated during the process, so due to the unavailability of the Apple activation server neither the old nor new iPhone would work as a phone leaving me (and 100′s of thousands of others) phone-less and unable to make or receive calls.

While catching back up on work mail remotely I was forced to repeatedly plug my pearly white new toy into my iMac to wait several minutes for the dreaded timeout dialog to inform me that no, I couldn’t use my new toy, and no I couldn’t have a pony either.

An iBrick 3G waiting for activation

After begging use of a neighbors condo and phone line for a few conference calls my precious toy suddenly popped to life upon one of my connection attempts to iTunes. The server-gerbils must have finally gotten their second wind as my iPhone 3G activated, and the sync process begun to restore all of my settings, applications, and media.

Lunch with a friend ensues during the <1 hour sync…

Finally home, and with a working iPhone 3G in hand the process of playing with my precious new toy could begin. Although a little rough around the edges (more on that in a minute) the experience is overall very positive. The 3G antenna provides fast data – combining the stunning software functionality of the iPhone with WiFi like internet access anywhere in a major city makes for a highly functional and productive experience. The two big new software features – Microsoft Exchange support and the iTunes App Store – add significant functionality and usability for both business and consumer users of the iPhone alike.

Although highly subjective I would venture to say that the iPhone 3G feels faster than the first generation iPhone. I’m unaware of if the processor it utilizes is any faster, or if this is merely a psychosomatic effect, but many tasks seem to execute faster. On the flip side a few of the new features seem to have regressed performance – the contacts application now takes several seconds to load as opposed to the nearly instant launch on my old iPhone. Also in the subjective category the iPhone’s virtual keyboard seems improved, although I would be hard pressed to put my finger on exactly how. The keyboard just seems more accurate and easier to use with the new phone.

Another highly subjective trait of the iPhone 3G is it’s sleekness. While the iPhone 3G is actually a millimeter thicker than it’s 1st generation predecessor it feels significantly slimmer and more comfortable in the hand. Much like it’s big brother the Macbook Air the use of organically curving sides hides it’s true heft and girth from the users perception.

Microsoft Exchange support
Exchange support is baked in to the iPhone 2.0 firmware. This feature is available to first generation iPhones and the iPhone 3G alike. After entering your email address, domain account, and password directly into your iPhone and accepting any domain policies (such as a PIN lock) from the Exchange Server you are set to go. Email, contacts, and calendar updates push to the iPhone from your Exchange Server as advertised keeping any business user in touch with their work. Full Microsoft Office support has also been added allowing the reading and review of all Microsoft Office formats including Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents.

The iTunes App store
The App Store provides the other killer feature – or is that features. While many have decried the iPhone previously for missing various functions those naysayers have been silenced through the ad-hoc addition of functionality. The App Store allows for the browsing, downloading, and updating of applications over WiFi or the cellular network and brings a host of more than 500 new applications to the iPhone. While many of these applications lack the polish of the Apple built applications a few do have that level of sophistication and as time goes on and the iPhone platform gains momentum the signal to noise ratio will surely get better and a plentitude of stunning and functional applications filling any hole left by the Cupertino designers.

Several of the highly polished apps that have impressed me are Twitterrific, Loopt, and Remote. I also downloaded a few games and was impressed by the general level of polish, however as a general rule I don’t engage in mobile gaming so I’m mostly ignoring them for now. I have a few loaded onto my iPhone should I ever find myself with a few spare moments to burn and no productive tasks I can accomplish (unlikely with an iPhone in hand).

Location based services
While the built in A-GPS service was far from my most anticipated feature of the iPhone 3G it’s instantly grown on me. I had thought of the GPS capabilities primarily in turns of mapping and turn by turn directions, however the iPhone 2.0 firmware and the iTunes App Store have proved me wrong: location based services can be so much more.

A rash of location based applications have sprung up, and to my surprise they are all amazingly useful. Loopt provides a service similar to Dodgeball or BrightKite allowing users to check in with their friends and see what’s up but it improves upon it’s predecessors by being entirely automatic. Users can set up contacts and determine what level of location awareness they want to grant to each of these contacts and then view the location of their friends on a Microsoft Virtual Earth powered map. By updating your location without having to search for a location or manually enter one in the use of Loopt can be quick and simple – open the app, check what’s up, and get on with your day.

Other less flashy uses of the location services on the iPhone 3G don’t fail to impress. Even something as simple as a weather location can be improved by automatically knowing where you are. After getting used to weather applications, restaurant review sites, and other miscellaneous applications starting up defaulted to showing me information contextually relevant to my current location I’m struck by how “dumb” the non-location aware web is. Somehow it now seems downright primitive to have to enter my zip code into a web form to view movie times.

The downside to the iPhone 3G
While the App Store, Exchange Support, and location based services are impressive the new iPhone 3G and iPhone 2.0 firmware still have their less rosy facets. The 2.0 firmware lacks the rock solid stability of the 1.1.4 firmware I had been using previously. My iPhone has randomly rebooted 4 times in the last two days – usually in association with one of the App store downloaded applications. Luckily this is likely just some growing pains with the new 2.0 firmware and hopefully a patch will be delivered soon which resolves the stability issues I’m seeing.

In addition to the crashes the iPhone 3G has a fraction of the battery life that the 1st generation iPhone had. This is undoubtedly the fault of the addition of 3G and GPS. I’ll have a more complete idea of how big the impact is after a few more days of usage, but I certainly have seen a reduction. Yesterday while out and about I was torturing my iPhone with 3G data and GPS usage tacking our groups progress through downtown and Greenlake using the Google Maps application. In less than 2 hours I had lost 60% of my battery life.

I’ll be the first to admit that using both the 3G and GPS radios simultaneously is likely the worst case scenario but it’s frustrating to see the battery drop so quickly given the stellar battery of the 1st generation iPhone. Luckily if it gets to be more of a problem than 3G is worth I can turn off the 3G radio and push mail to theoretically get the same or better battery life that I’m used to in exchange for losing out on the increased speed.

Final thoughts
While Apple and AT&T faltered with a very rough launch with activation server failures the iPhone 3G hardware combined with the iPhone 2.0 software make for a very big change to the mobile market as a whole. Apples vision of the iPhone being the personal computer of tomorrow is starting to show through the smoke and mirrors. The iTunes App Store will allow developers freedom to create amazing new experiences, and the well implemented support for Microsoft Exchange will help the iPhone venture into the enterprise and tap the booming market for business-oriented smartphones.

V-Moda: worst customer service ever

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

When they work I love my Vibe Duos, but unfortunately they are not working so well right now. I raved about them as the best iPhone headset on the market in my review on Gear Live and my follow up post about the 2nd generation Vibe Duos with an answer/hangup button. Unfortunately I can no longer say I recommend either the Vibe Duos or any product made by the V-Moda company.

While their earbuds are amazingly comfortable and sound great they have severe build quality issues which results in frequent failure. After repairing the headphone sheath as described in the review and then replacing them entirely when they stopped working I have had to replace them two more times directly through the V-Moda warranty program for a total of three replacements in under 9 months.

The first time I replaced them through RMA I was a little irked that the process took almost two weeks. This time around V-Moda has gone silent once I shipped the defective earbuds back to them. UPS has proof that they were delivered and signed for, however V-Moda initially couldn’t find them (and wanted the tracking number again), and now refuses to even respond to emails regarding the warranty program.

It’s sad really – the Vibe Duo’s are the most comfortable, and among the best sounding headphones I’ve ever used. When they work I sing praises to my fellow man about the glory that is the Vibe Duo, but since in the last 9 months since I bought my first pair I’ve been through 3 pairs, and without their delicious sound for more than 6 weeks I can’t honestly recommend anyone purchase them if they in the slightest value reliability or customer service.

I’ve filed an official complaint with the Better Business Bureau to see if that might get me traction on getting my promised replacement pair. The full text of the complaint is below for public record.

Complainant Information
About 3 weeks ago my Vibe Duo earbuds stopped working and I contacted the company asking for a replacement pair. They sent a form letter with a ticket number (Ticket ID: ZWL-207849) and asked that I mail the broken earbuds to their mailing address. (V-Moda, 6464 sunset blvd. suite 500, hollywood ca 90028)

I sent the earbuds back via UPS (tracking number: -tracking number redacted-) and then didn’t hear anything back for 2 weeks. UPS confirms that the package was delivered 2 weeks prior, 2 days after shipment.

I re-contacted them asking for status and they took 3 days to respond and their response was that they needed the tracking number. I sent an email providing the tracking number and have not heard back from them. I have sent them two additional emails asking for status updates and to complete the RMA with no response. Each of my last 3 emails has included all of my contact information as well as the tracking number.

Resolution Sought: I would like the RMA to be completed and to receive the replacement earbuds for the ones sent their way (at their instruction).
Date Problem Started: 05/28/2008
Date of Transaction: 05/28/2008
Amount in Dispute: $110.00
Invoice Number: ZWL-207849
Complaint Type: Refund Promised
Product or Service: V-Moda offers “high end” earbuds.

Update: Mere hours after the posting of this article V-Moda got back to me with status on the warranty replacement and the happy news that they would be shipping the replacement Duos right away. The communication did not mention if the Better Business Bureau or this article had any influence on their response but the timing certainly is suspicious. The note included an apology stating that they had moved offices which had caused delays. While finally getting contact is nice V-Moda’s inability to properly set expectations was inexcusable.

Good customer service does not always mean instant resolution on an issue, but it always means rapidly responding to contact and setting expectations properly. After 9 days of sending mails to V-Moda with no response any customer is going to be frustrated – a frustration which could have simply been avoided with a quick email on day one stating that they had received the communication and would have an official response within two weeks.

In conclusion I can no longer heartily recommend the Vibe Duos to iPhone owners seeking headsets. Don’t get me wrong – I love my Vibe Duos, they sound great and are super comfortable but after 3 failures and such abysmal customer service I’m left with both a sour taste in my mouth and a sadness in my heart that if history is any indication my replacement Duos won’t last longer than 3-4 months .

We could start a fund for you

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

A short video interview with Nate on the ride to the airport from the end of the Berlin trip. The fund is started – send me money to contribute!

Back from Berlin

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

Sunrise church

I’ve been back in the USA for about 36 hours and I’m finally pretty much caught up on sleep and free of jet lag. As great of a time as I had in Berlin I’m quite glad to be home. I’ve finally got the last of the photos from the trip that are worth posting uploaded to my Berlin photoset on Flickr.

The HP event was actually really fun and informative to attend. To be honest I was a little worried that it would be a pretty mundane event announcing 5% faster this, and 8% smaller that but my fears turned out to be unfounded. HP launched both a massively improved Touchsmart as well as the stunning and lustworthy Voodoo Envy.

Another one of my 101 goals is completed and I’m left with a desire to return to Europe and explore more of what it has to offer.

Firefox zen

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Download DayAs I’ve mentioned here and there on Twitter I’m super impressed with the latest Firefox 3 Release Candidate – it’s a fantastic browser. The memory utilization is far more reasonable than with Firefox 2, and the new address bar and bookmarking system has changed the way I interact with browsers for the better.

See something I like and think I might someday want to return? Click the star to bookmark it, and forget about it. If it’s something I’m likely to use frequently then another click of the star lets me add a few appropriate tags to speed up the search.

No longer do I have an organized collection of bookmarks, and a bookmarks bar crammed with common links and folders of bookmarks. With the ability to search my history and bookmarks from the address bar an entirely keyboard and search based browsing habit has evolved. A few Quicksilvr like keystrokes reveal an impressively accurate and intuitive list of what I want, culled from the URLs, tags, and titles of the visited pages.

The Firefox user interface has become minimal, The address and search bar, a list of my open tabs, and nothing else. Pure efficiency and elegance in internet consumption. I have achieved Firefox zen:

Interestingly enough it would seem that my visitors have as well. A quick look at the last few months of visitors shows that over half of my visitors have selected Firefox as their browser of choice with Internet Explorer coming in 2nd and Safari trailing in 3rd.

With the Mozilla Foundation putting so much effort into setting download records at the release of Firefox 3 I wonder how that percentage will grow in coming months both on Futurist Now as well as the internet as a whole.

Side note: yes, I see the irony in cheering for Firefox given where I work. I don’t actually see a problem with that – I think Firefox has given Internet Explorer a lot and the more recent versions of Internet Explorer have been better for the competition that Firefox and Opera have provided. I strongly believe that competition is the key to any successful market and am always happy to see multiple contenders reaching for the stars – the biggest winners in this kind of technology arms race are almost always the consumers.

The EeePC 900 vs. the Macbook Pro

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

After mentioning my new EeePC 900 in my memorial day catchup post a few people emailed me to ask how big (or small) it really was. To hopefully answer the question about my delightful little netbook I present the following pictorial evidence of the diminutive EeePC stacked atop it’s big powerhouse of a brother, my 15″ Macbook Pro.

EeePC and Macbook Pro

The Something Store delivers

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

A week or so ago I heard about the latest web-meme: the Something Store. It’s a surprise store asking for $10 and in exchange they will send you something. The gimmick: you won’t know what that something is until it arrives at your door. I caved to my impulsive ways and today two somethings arrived at my door, ready and waiting for de-packaging and personal contents enlightenment.

A something has arrived

As you can see the box that arrived is not terribly big. Even my wee EeePC is larger, and both are dwarfed by the 15″ Macbook Pro they alight upon. I immediately rip the box open with the only sharp implement handy.

Obviously I need a better package opening solution

Obviously I need a better sharp implement for my desk, or at any rate one less dangerous. Note to self: pick up giant serrated blade that will look good on a glass desk.

Two somethings taken from the box of multi-something

To help elongate my personal mysterious something experience both something’s came individually wrapped. Within seconds I had ripped into my smaller something, eager to divulge it’s contents.

A small black box

A box! A tiny black box! Heart contain thyself. The box is constructed from pleather-clad cardboard and proclaims ‘Di Capri’ in embossed silver letters. What could be inside?

Cufflinks!

Cufflinks! Reasonably well put together and styled cufflinks at that. Luckily blue is my favorite color, and rectilinear forms are my favorite shapes. Worth the $10? For something #1 an enthusiastic yes. But what could the other (and ominously larger) something be?

A blue disturbing something

This is either something fantastic, or something horrific.

Yup - it's panties New work uniform?!

It would seem the latter: something horrific yet delightfully soft. Either this is my new lounge wear, or the best white elephant gift for the upcoming holiday season. Worth the $10? For something #2 the verdict is a not so definite perhaps. It should be worth noting that the Something FAQ even specifically calls out the scenario of a feminine something going to a (somewhat) masculine guy so I can’t say I wasn’t warned.

End verdict: the Something Store gets a thumbs up in my book. Don’t bet the farm on them with their specifically random product delivery but for a fun way to blow $10 that’s likely less damaging to your liver than an evening out on the town check them out.

For a few more pictures of the Something Store unboxing extravaganza check out my Flickr set on the topic.

Catchup post: Memorial Day edition

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

I’ve been busy the last week and haven’t been doing much long form writing and Futurist Now has suffered for it. What’s been keeping me busy?

My new EeePC
I picked up one of Asus’s delightfully tiny new netbooks, the EeePC. A netbook is a new category of sub-notebook device with low end specs designed primarily for browsing the web. The EeePC clocks in at a measly 900Mz, but at 9″ and under 3 lbs it’s easy to forgive it’s specs in lieu of it’s ultimate portability. So far I’m finding it an ideal email machine for use at meetings at work, and as a great bedroom/couch machine for keeping an eye on the tubes while relaxing or watching movies.

Being entirely solid state (the EeePC 900 series comes with 12GB of flash memory rather than a hard drive with spinning platters) it’s shock resistant, and gets surprisingly good performance for it’s diminutive specs. Due to the random access nature of flash memory the EeePC boots quickly and gets great battery life (3 hours of real use). While solid state drive (SSD) technology is still not competitive in price or storage capacity to typical hard drive (HDD) technology I can see the potential and am starting to get excited about the predictions that in 2011 or so SSD will all but completely replace HDD technology in notebooks and desktops.

While the EeePC 900 I picked up came pre-loaded with Windows XP I’ve done some experimentation with putting Ubuntu on it. As with my typical annual cycle I attempt to put some variant of Linux on my computers to see how the OS X/Windows competition is doing. This time however I was surprised – the latest Hardy Heron (8.04) release of Ubuntu is slick, polished, and works ‘out of the box’ on all the hardware I had laying around. While Ubuntu might be getting attention as a decent desktop alternative where I think it really shines is on a low end PC like the EeePC – it’s limited feature set and lean architecture work perfectly on a device with CPU and memory constraints.

Movies
Being a 3 day weekend I took the opportunity to see a couple of movies with Brien and Brian. We saw both Indiana Jones 4: The Crystal Skull, and Iron Man. Both movies were excellent (if not over the top) and fun movies to see while on holiday. I was never the hardcore fan of the Indy series that Brien was, and much to his horror I actually liked the newest one best from the series. It captured the fun essence of the earlier flicks while maintaining a fresh and modern feel even while being set in not so modern times.

Iron man also kept a modern feel, although it did so with a very modern setting. Having never read the comic book I assume I missed out on a lot of the back story, but still found the story presented in the movie touching and engaging. Having grown up idolizing gadget superhero (Hello, Inspector Gadget) it’s nice to see a modern take on a technological super-hero. Final note on the movie: I need a flying metal suit, that looks fun!

Lensbabied sneaker opus
Last but not least, a quick shot I took with my Lensbaby 2G while out on a photo walk on Saturday. I’ve been using my 18mm and 50mm primes a lot and decided to take the Lensbaby out and go for a stroll. I’m certainly glad I did as one of the resulting shots is a clear winner in my odd little abstract world.

Footwear abstract

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