Blogs

RedMonk

Skip to content

Thirty Days With a Fitbit Flex

tl;dr: I like the Fitbit Flex and recommend it.

My order for the Fitbit Flex was originally placed in early March, a few days after I’d reviewed the Lifespan treadmill desk I’d gotten for the office. I didn’t get mine until late May, however, the 18th, as Fitbit’s vague “Spring” release for the device almost turned into summer.

It was in part because of the treadmill desk that I originally considered a fitness tracker. I was capturing my time on the machine at work, but there was far more activity lost than otherwise. And given my affection for both spreadsheets and making evidence based decisions, devices like the Flex were not a hard sell.

Before purchasing the Fitbit, I considered both the Jawbone Up and the Nike Fuelband. What tipped me towards the Flex were two factors. First, the fact that Fitbit explicitly designed for scenarios like the treadmill desk – where you are walking, but your hands remained stationary. This is, at least from reviews I read at the time, a problem for the other two devices. Because a significant portion of my activity per day would be on a treadmill desk, this was a critical feature for me.

Second, and nearly as important, was support for the Android platform. Nothing against the iPhone or its users, but I’ve been Android on both phone and tablet for several years now, and I had no intention of switching platforms just for the sake of fitness tracker compatibility. Jawbone has Android support, I believe, but Nike – perhaps not surprisingly as Tim Cook sits on their board – after initially claiming that Android support would arrive last summer, backpedalled and in February committed to an iOS only path.

Winner Fitbit Flex, in other words. But not just by default. I’d played with their Android app and their dashboard ahead of the purchase, and found them more than acceptable. Nor has anything in my experience since altered that opinion; I’ve enjoyed the Flex and recommend it. The sleep logging in particular has been intriguing.

The Good

  • Fit and Finish: The Flex is a well made piece of hardware. It’s light weight, relatively unobtrusive on the arm and waterproof – meaning that you can basically put it on and forget about it (unless you’re a diver). Removing the device from the wrist sleeve and reinserting it is simple, though putting it back on your wrist is a challenge as I’ll get to.
  • Accuracy: While it has some issues with activity recognition that are discussed below, in general I’ve found the Flex to be remarkably accurate in capturing strides – even when I’m on the treadmill desk. That was one of the first tests I put it through, in fact, and over the three minutes I measured it, the Flex recorded my strides on the treadmill desk more accurately than the treadmill itself. It will occasionally under or over-report an activity, but from my usage the Flex seems to do just what it’s supposed to do: record when I’m moving and how much.
  • Battery Life: With one phone, one tablet, a battery pack and a set of noise-cancelling headphones to keep charged ahead of a trip – not to mention the laptop – good battery life is crucial. I don’t want to have to charge a tracker every day or even every other day, and with the Flex, I don’t. Reviews I read claimed a five day battery life, but I’m consistently getting around seven. I charge it every Sunday night, and then I forget about it until the following week. It’s great.
  • Android Support: As mentioned, the Android support was one of the tipping factors for me with the Flex, and while that’s a selling point, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a caveat. For reasons that are unclear to me, Google has been comfortable ceding the wearable fitness market to both Apple and specific Android partners like Samsung by declining to support, to this point anyhow, the Bluetooth Low Energy / Bluetooth 4.0 standard most devices in this category and others are beginning to rely on. Google, in fact, closed comments on the open issue in June. Even more oddly, a member of the Android team has publicly stated that even older devices like my Galaxy Nexus that have the hardware to support Bluetooth 4.0 will not be getting that support moving forward. Google’s approach here baffles me, frankly, but be advised that Flex’s Android support will not be universal. As I plan to purchase a supported phone eventually, it’s still a plus for me, and Fitbit is to be commended here for at least trying to support Android here, unlike many of their counterparts who are iOS only.
  • The Dashboard: While the Fitbit dashboard could use some UI help – extracting weekly or monthly history is a particular challenge (look under “Log”) – in general, it’s pretty easy to navigate, aethetically well put together and simple to configure.

The Bad

  • Activity Recognition: The most common complaint I’ve seen about the Flex is that it’s poor at recognizing different activities, and this is a fair complaint. Setting aside the things it cannot handle at all – like using a sawzall or hammering which bounces it into and out of sleep mode – it rates mowing our tiny lawn as a more vigorous activity than a brutal crossfit-style workout. Which I can assure you is not the case. My hope is that over time Fitbit is able to improve their algorithms to the point that they can make at least an educated guess as to what you’re doing. In the meantime, expect that whether you’re hauling two trees up a steep hill or walking though a parking lot, it’s just going to count the steps. Though to be fair you can enter you activites into the dashboard manually.
  • Band Fitting: Another common complaint is that the wrist band is difficult to fasten, and again this is an accurate statement. The first time I tried to put it on, I almost bruised the inside of my wrist trying to seat the teeth of the band. One trick is to rotate it slightly so you’re pressing into the side of your wristbone, which should have less give than the arteries and veins just south of your hand, and with a bit of practice this becomes a non-issue. Still, it’s an area where Fitbit should and presumably will improve.
  • Timezones: Something of a First World problem is that Fitbit, at least on an automated basis, has no notion of location and thus no idea about timezones. Which means that if you fly coast to coast, for example, the sleep and activity cycles get crossed up such that while walking down 3rd St in San Francisco in search of a late dinner it will register those steps as the first of the day. Not a big deal, but it can skew your data.
  • Elevation: I believe that Fitbit’s non-wrist style devices have on-board altimeters in order to understand whether you’re climbing a flight of stairs, say, but the Flex does not. This would be a welcome addition to future iterations of the product.
  • Sleep Mode: Lastly, one of the things I’ve been surprisingly interested in is tracking my sleep. How long I’m sleeping, when I go to bed and wake up, how restless I am and so on. And the Flex is, in general, excellent at capturing that data. The catch is that you have to tell it – manually – when you’re going to sleep and have woken up. Predictably, I forget every so often creating a gap in my data. As with activity recognition, my hope is that the Fitbit can at some point in the near future at least hazard a guess at when I went to sleep and woke up with no intervention from me.

The Net

The above concerns notwithstanding, I’m comfortable recommending the Flex. It’s been a tremendously useful tool for me in understanding when I’m active, how active I am and if that pattern is beginning to trend in the wrong direction. The only time I take it off a month into this experiment is when I’m doing home improvement work; it just cannot handle the simple act of hammering a nail. It’s not perfect and has some obvious areas for improvement, but it’s more than justified the $99 price tag for my usage. Depending on your needs, and maybe your mobile platform, it might work for yours as well.

Categories: Accessories, Wearable Technology.

Seven Days With a Chromebook Pixel

Screenshot 2013-05-29 at 10.32.34 AM

Tl;dr: I liked the Pixel, but don’t recommend it at the price.

If I’m being honest, my first reaction to the news at Google I/O that we were getting a Pixel was apathy. Having been part of the original CR-48 release, and having received a Samsung Chromebook at a previous I/O, I was familiar with the idea behind the Chromebook – I just didn’t like it.

Because I spend most of my time, particularly my workday, in the browser, a computer that only runs a browser is theoretically viable for me. There are a few things I can’t do – like sync my Fitbit Flex, or use RStudio and Sublime Text – but with most of my media accessible via interfaces like Google Music and Plex, for example, life without a desktop is not hugely problematic for my usage.

But the devices themselves were singularly uninspiring. And in an age of sleek, elegantly designed hardware either made by Apple or designed to compete with it, that’s a problem. A problem the Pixel was almost certainly intended to address, or help address.

Appearance

If Google set out to create a benchmark, one for its Chromebook-building hardware partners to shoot for, it has succeeded. The Pixel is a very well designed machine, one that’s equal parts form and function. The form is a matte gray square slab of a machine, broken up by a thin, Cylon-like status bar that glows blue during usage and the Chrome rainbow at shutdown. Fittingly, in a machine aimed at least in part at developers, the status bar is programmatically manipulable. The display more or less lifts with one finger, exposing a backlit keyboard mostly distinguished by its lower case letters and the omission of a caps lock key (it’s replaced by search).

Overall, it’s not Apple, but it’s definitely a premium design.

Display

Functionally, everything comes down to the display, which is every bit as impressive as you’ve heard. With a greater pixel density than even the Retina MacBook Pros, it can make even Apple’s flagship laptop “look like crap.” The bigger problem, as a caveat for those considering the machine, is that it makes non-Retina displays – such as the one on my MacBook Air – look even worse than crap. After having studiously avoided seeing Retina-style displays for fear of having them destroy my appreciation of the majority of my devices which don’t possess Retina-level displays, the Pixel has basically done what I feared it might: it’s ruined them all. Beware, then, what the Pixel will do to your other devices. In the meantime, be sure to watch live sports on it. Like so.

Screenshot 2013-05-19 at 5.13.40 PM

Many have asked about the touchscreen-nature of the display, but to be honest, I don’t really use it all that much. It’s cool to demonstrate, but the only application I really use in touchscreen fashion is Google Maps. Very few other web applications have adapted for desktop touchscreens, limiting the appeal. This will undoubtedly change over time, but for now, the touchscreen is like coverflow – a beautiful and impressive, but mostly useless, feature.

Weight

When the Pixel was released, I thought it was too heavy. It is. It’s over a pound heavier than my 11” MBA, and almost a half a pound heavier than the 13”. That might not seem like much, but when you travel with any frequency, it adds up. And considering that the Pixel can’t compete with highly portable devices like tablets by offering the ability to us, say, Microsoft Office as a Mac or Windows laptop could and the problem becomes more acute.

In my case, I briefly considered bringing the Pixel instead of my MBA on my trip out to Gluecon in Denver last week, but discarded the idea simply due to the weight. It simply wasn’t worth it.

Usage

In terms of usage, the Pixel is much more laptop-like than previous Chromebooks I’ve tested. Google has abandoned, apparently, the browser-only UI conceit in favor of a more traditional
operating system type experience, even down the background with selectable wallpaper (all of a sufficiently high resolution to show off the display, of course). This is a good decision, in my opinion, as it makes the total experience less jarring. True, the only application you can run (essentially) is a browser, but it’s not as in your face as with Chromebooks where the entire UI consists of a browser window.

Compared to previous editions, then, the Pixel feels much more like using a traditional operating system – albeit at a much higher resolution. And for those of you, like me, that spend the majority of your time operating within the context of a browser, it really won’t feel that different at all.

Complaints

When I first began using the Chromebook, the performance was surprisingly poor. Like the first edition of the MacBook Air, which was memory-starved, the Chromebook would constantly idle neglected tabs, forcing a reload. This is inconvenient when you’re trying to use applications like Gmail – no one wants to reload that interface every time you switch back to the tab – but it’s a killer with streaming media. Whether it was Google Music or Pandora, the Pixel would eventually kill the tab, and thus the music, until the page was reloaded. And this was with a very manageable number – ten or less – of tabs open.

At first I suspected, like the original MBA, that this was a memory issue. But Wikipedia claimed that the Pixel was built with 4 GB of memory. How a modern machine with 4 GB of RAM running nothing but a browser could be perpetually so low on memory was a mystery, but eventually I discovered a setting in about:flags called “Don’t discard tabs.” Once that switch was flipped, the experience improved dramatically.

Otherwise the experience has been mostly painless. The Netflix plugin worked initially but has not since, and intermittent errors regarding the Google Drive “client” pop up, but in general the machine works without issue.

Audience

At its pricepoint, it’s not entirely clear who the audience for the Pixel is. Certainly it is more than adequate for those who exist mostly in a browser based environment, and the overall experience is impressive enough that it may widen that audience. This resolution coupled with an operating system-like interface makes the Pixel far more accessible than previous Chromebook iterations.

But the price generally precludes it from being part of general usage conversations.

The Verdict

The Pixel has absolutely exceeded my expectations – destroyed them, in fact. Against long odds, it has become the first laptop I reach for when I’m at home, taking over that role from my MBA thanks to the advantage it has in display quality.

But I cannot recommend the device to others simply because of the price. At a list price of $1499 – the version I have comes with on-board LTE – it’s simply too expensive for a machine of its type. If cost is no object, than the Pixel is a marvelous machine for a wide range of tasks, but for the cost it would have to be either much lighter in weight or substantially more capable. I’m very happy to have one, but if mine were to be lost or stolen, I would not spend $1500 to replace it. I’d want to, because the screen is that good, but I would not be able to justify the cost.

As prices inevitably come down, however, particularly for displays, pay very close attention. Google’s close to delivering the kind of experience that will begin to make Chromebooks a realistic laptop replacement. Which should make things interesting.

Quick Hits

The Good
* Incredible display
* Improved, more OS-like UI
* Aesthetically attractive hardware package

The Bad
* Machine is heavy (3.4 lbs)
* Performance can be uneven (particularly Discard Tabs)
* Plugin errors (e.g. Netflix)

The Ugly
* Price is just too high

Categories: Laptops.

Treadmill Desk Review: LifeSpan 1200DT / DT-5


(Yes, I have a giant mural of Fenway Park next to my desk)

Tl;dr: I like the unit and recommend it, with the caveat that long form writing may be difficult.

According to my Google Docs spreadsheet (I’ll get to that), I’ve walked just shy of 61 miles on my Lifespan 1200DT / DT-5 treadmill desk. Since taking delivery, I’ve been in the office for sixteen days, thus averaging a bit below four miles per day with a high of 9.64 and a low of 1.63 – the delivery came late that first day. Calorically, the treadmill desk claims to have burned off almost 10,000 calories, or a bit less than 600 daily. It’s been only a month, so definitive statements about usage over time can’t be made, but thus far a treadmill desk has fit into my workday seamlessly.

The first I can recall hearing about a treadmill/desk hybrid was in 2006 when Brad Feld wrote about his. Candidly, I found the concept outlandish at the time. It seemed like a set up made possible only by Brad’s stature and the nature of his profession; when people are asking you for money, rather than vice versa, they’re likely to be more accommodating.

Over the years, however, demand for treadmill desks has increased to the point that there are commercial options like the Lifespan – several of them, in fact – and major media outlets are beginning to cover the trend (see the Atlantic, BBC, or NPR). Part of the demand, of course, derives from the increasingly dire warnings about the health risks of prolonged sitting. The dire warnings being one of the primary reasons I’d been considering the idea more seriously over the past year or so. It was Neal Stephenson’s 2012 piece “Arsebestos” in his collection Some Remarks, however, that pushed me over the edge. He’s rather unequivocal in his advocacy:

Let us be clear about the import of this research. It’s not just that a bit of exercise is a good thing. It’s not the usual suggestion that deskbound office workers might want to spend a few minutes out of every hour on leisurely stretching activities. What we have here is hard scientific data telling us that if you sit for any significant amount of time per day, it will kill you. Maybe with a heart attack, maybe with a stroke, maybe with cancer, maybe with diabetes. The reaper comes for those who sit.

Even if one concedes that some of the risks of sitting are overstated (remember when eating eggs was considered dangerous?), and that the risks of alternatives are underappreciated, it can’t be argued that the basic metabolic exchange of sitting for walking is a positive one. Particularly if you do a lot of sitting, which I have to – or had to, I guess – to be any good at my job.

While I don’t care to speculate on the relative fitness of treadmill desks for wider adoption (I don’t, for example, agree that they’re for everyone), nor whether they will prove to be another passing healthcare fad (a more expensive version of the thighmaster), after a month with one I’m comfortable commenting on my usage. For those considering the jump, here are some thoughts on the pro’s and con’s of the device.

Cost

In the TechCrunch review of the same device I have, cost was apparently the number one complaint among commenters there. And at a $1500 retail cost, it’s easy to understand why. For businesses used to paying close to a thousand dollars for high end desk chairs, it’s not a big leap. For an individual, it’s pricy.

Certainly it’s possible to assemble one on the cheap. This was actually the first route I considered, but I wasn’t able to find a match for the treadmill component on Craigslist: everything was either cheap and terrible, or much more machine than I needed and much higher cost.

In restrospect, I’m glad I bought the Lifespan rather than going the DIY route, simply because it’s been much easier to adjust desk height, and it’s nice have the treadmill controls integrated into the desk.

Two other notes on cost: first, most of the available retailers are eating shipping costs. This is significant because the shipped weight is over 200 pounds. Second, several of the available retailers have promo discounts available, and a little creative Googling may well turn one up. The cost of my unit, in fact, was $1350 rather than $1500.

Build Quality

The first thing I noticed when extracting the unit from the packaging was the build quality. The treadmill looks much like you’d expect a treadmill to look, but the desk is heavier duty than I’d anticipated. Structurally, the unit is quite sound and has no problem with my 30″ and 27″ monitor setup – weight-wise at least. It’s rated to hold up to 110 pounds, in fact.

General Installation & Setup

Installation was actually relatively straightforward. It comes in two large packages.All of the necessary tools – Allen wrenches, primarily – are included with the unit, and assembly is uncomplicated. I was able to complete it in maybe a half hour. The only tricky part, particularly if you are smaller, is bolting the desk surface to the desk legs: it’s somewhat heavy and unwieldy. I was able to complete it solo, but if you’re worried about it a second set of hands would help.

Lifespan has also thoughtfully provided wheels for the heaviest component, the treadmill unit, so that’s relatively easy to move and slot into place.

What They Don’t Tell You About Setup

One unanticipated issue was that none of my cabling – whether it was the USB cord for my keyboard/mouse or the power/DVI cabling for my monitors – was long enough for the new height. A USB hub and a couple of low cost 10′ cables from Monoprice solved this problem for me.

Desk Height

The one aspect of setup that is a bit of a challenge is determining desk height. It’s easy to do logistically, because the desk is designed to easily slide up and down with a series of predetermined slots. I’ve tried a number of different heights, and eventually settled on the calculation provided here, but I do occasionally experience some wrist pain so it may be that I have some tweaking ahead of me.

Usage

The unit is, in general, very quiet. The only real noise I’m making while underway is from footstrikes, as the motor and belt operation is present, but pretty minimal even at higher speeds. Getting going is simple: enter your weight and click On/Start. After a three second delay, the belt kicks in and you’re off to the races. Pausing is likewise straightforward: click Stop, and the belt starts slowing immediately. Starting up again will resume from where you were in terms of accumulative metrics; because I’m looking for metrics on a daily basis, I tend to stop and start a bunch each day, then reset it each morning so I can record the day’s numbers fresh.

Speeds

One of the things I set out to do after getting the unit was determining what I could and couldn’t do at various speeds. This is roughly what I’ve come up with, though it changes as my experience with it grows.

  • .5 – .8 MPH: Longer writing (email, posts), participatory voice calls (more on that later)
  • 1 – 1.5 MPH: Research, reading, browsing, medium length writing (email)
  • 1.5 – 2.0 MPH: Reading, browsing, shorter writing (Tweets)
  • > 2.0 MPH: Light reading, non-participatory voice calls

The unit technically will get up to 4.0 MPH, but I’m almost completely unproductive above 3 MPH, and my downstair neighbors would probably kill me.

What I Can’t Do on the Treadmill (Thus Far, Anyway)

I’ve been able to acclimate most of my work responsibilities – reading, researching, email, Twitter, even my work in R – to treadmill usage, and I’ve even managed to write a few shorter pieces while walking. Longer writing tasks, however, are more of a challenge. At this point, pieces that require significant concentration – whether it’s for content, organization, or both – I do off the treadmill. Because I spend more time researching than I do actually writing, for better or for worse, this hasn’t been an issue for me. This may change over time – certainly it sounds like Stephenson has no issues with this, but for now long form writing is the one task for me that hasn’t translated yet.

I also haven’t tried development on the treadmill, so I can’t speak to it in that capacity. I will note, however, that I’m able to do my analysis in RStudio while walking with no real issues.

Voice Calls

The first week or so I had the unit, I took all of my voice calls from a chair. Over the weeks since, I’ve gradually begun incorporating voice into the mix with zero issues. If you’ve spoken to me on the phone in the past few weeks, the odds are good that you’ve spoken to me on the treadmill. It may be that the Polycom speakerphones I use – I get them used off Craigslist and eBay for < $50 – is actively cancelling out some of the noise, but to date no one has been able to detect the noise of the treadmill while on a call. Or if they have, they’ve chosen not to mention it.

Issues

  • Over the month I’ve had the unit, it has locked up twice displaying a “DC – 1″ error, and Googling that error message has been generally unhelpful. A simple power cycle of the machine is enough to remedy things, but I’ll be opening a ticket with Lifespan to make sure I don’t have a real problem on my hands.

  • This is probably a complaint relatively unique to my setup, but I do wish the desktop space was slightly larger. It’s 46.75″ x 36.5″, which means that with my 30″ monitor centered, my second 27″ monitor has to be closer to perpendicular to me than is ideal. I have to turn enough to view the second monitor, in fact, that it affects my gait on the treadmill. Another inch or two would allow me to use a much more shallow angle and thereby improve the usability. I may eventually try to mount an arm on the desktop surface or even do away with the second monitor entirely, but in the interim, it’s a bit crowded.

  • My only other real complaint is connectivity and data access. My unit is equipped with Bluetooth, which theoretically should be able to sync data to my phone or laptop. As far as I can tell, however, my treadmill will only talk to the LifeSpan app, which I can only get if I’ve joined the “LifeSpan Fitness Club.” I’m hoping that LifeSpan will eventually open up access to their APIs and allow integration with other services, be they Nike+, FitBit (I’m contemplating a FitBit Flex) or otherwise. LifeSpan clearly makes excellent quality fitness equipment; I have less confidence in their ability to build and grow a competitive software and services business. So in the interim, I’m manually recording all of my statistics in a Google Doc spreadsheet.

  • One discovery made a result of getting the treadmill / desk is that there is one live/work space in my office building, and that it happens to be the unit directly below me. After using the unit late one night, I had a visit from the downstairs tenant the next morning. Fortunately, he was quite understanding – particularly about usage during the day – but it remains an issue. I’ve cushioned the legs of both treadmill and desk with hard furniture pads and some vibration absorbant under-carpet material from Home Depot, but if I’m to use the unit at night I’ll probably need a different approach. Or an office on the first floor.

The Verdict

Overall, I’m very happy with the purchase. Whether or not the “SITTERS DIE” academic studies prove to be completely correct or not, turning what would otherwise be sedentary portions of my day into periods of at least mild exercise is a win in my book. In spite of the issues just mentioned above, it’s my opinion that the 1200DT / DT-5 is a good value for the money. It is a solidly built and easy to use piece of hardware that can improve your overall health without negatively impacting your productivity. If budget permits, then, I’d recommend it.

Disclosure: There’s nothing to disclose. This was not a review unit, but one purchased straight from retail.

Categories: Desk.

Seven Days With a Nexus 7

In February of last year, I purchased a Motorola Xoom Android tablet from Verizon the day they went on sale. Intended to serve as a travel machine for shorter trips – same days to Boston or New York, as an example – it adequately served in that role until November of 2011, when I purchased a MacBook Air 11″. While that machine was intended to replace my dying Thinkpad X301, not my Xoom, in the end it did both.

For a half pound more weight, I could bring along a keyboard. And while I, like Apple, believed that the 10″ form factor was ideal for tablets, the reality was that the Xoom was just big and heavy enough to dissuade casual usage. The Xoom was still great for trips, both because of the built in LTE and the battery life, which was roughly double that of the MBA, but I used it more and more rarely outside of that context. Which was not the end of the world, having been purchased as a travel machine, but certainly not what I had originally envisioned.

When Google announced its Nexus 7 tablet at Google I/O, I was initially underwhelmed. First, because I already had an Android tablet. Second, because the form factor seemed small; little bigger than my Galaxy Nexus, in fact. And last because Android tablets have, in general, underwhelmed. The more I thought about it, however, the more interesting it seemed. A smaller unit would mean even less weight for travel, the pricepoint was very aggressive, and the reviews were good. Excellent, in fact. When I solicited feedback on Twitter, it was immediate and universally positive and I was sold. Last weekend I walked out of the Staples in Brunswick, Maine with their last unit (most venues were already sold out).

A week later, and I’m that much more sold. Here are a few questions and answers on my seven days with a Nexus 7.

Q: First, what are you going to do with your Xoom and the Verizon contract?
A: It’s headed for eBay, and as far as I can tell should – with the free stand Motorola provided as an apology for the delay in the LTE upgrade process – more than offset the purchase price of the Nexus 7 ($249). The LTE contract, meanwhile, will be maintained via the Verizon MiFi Google handed out at Google I/O last year; I extracted the LTE SIM from the Xoom, popped it into the MiFi and my Verizon hotspot lives on.

Q: Which model Nexus did you get?
A: The 16 GB. 8 GB is, to me, too small. Even 16 is a little light, though fine if you stream most of your video and audio. The extra $50 is well worth it here, IMO, because the device does not include expandable storage.

Q: Is the Nexus 7 unboxing as hard as everyone says?
A: The fit was pretty tight, but not that big a deal.

Q: What stands out about the Nexus 7 on unboxing?
A: The build quality is solid, and the unit feels good in your hands. The matte-like covering on the back is perfect; neither slick nor tacky. The speed of the UI, also, is impressive. It’s very responsive.

Q: How’s the activation and setup?
A: For Android users, it’s pretty straightforward. You feed it your account details, and it will begin populating inboxes, browser bookmarks, calendars and so on. It will also list all of your available Android applications, although I was sadly unable to find an option to bulk install multiple applications.

Q: What surprised you about the device?
A: The vertical orientation, although it shouldn’t have, because that was how everyone I saw using one interacted with it. But coming from the Xoom, which was designed to be held horizontally, the vertical orientation of the Nexus 7 was mildly surprising at first.

Q: And how do you feel about the orientation after using it for a week?
A: It’s perfect. Typing, for one, is dramatically improved. It’s a bit like using the keyboard of a very large phone, the result of which is a dramatic increase in both the speed and accuracy of typing on the device. I probably won’t be using it to blog, as has Tim Bray, but there are things I would not consider typing on my phone that I’ll happily compose on the Nexus 7.

Transitioning to a horizontal layout for applications that require it – Evernote, MLB At Bat, and so on – has been a non-issue thus far. The vertical orientation seems perfect for the 7 inch form factor.

Q: How do you use the Nexus 7 differently than you used your Xoom?
A: Mostly, I use it more. It’s just small enough that it will fit in my shorts pocket (though admittedly sagging them to dangerously teenage levels), so if I’m walking over to lunch at the sushi bar, I’ll bring it. It’s replaced my Galaxy Nexus as the device I carry around the house or the property for browsing, Twitter and so on. And once I start traveling again, it will be making every trip, not just the long haul ones the Xoom was relegated to by the end. And it will replace my MBA for the short duration visits, an up and back to NYC, let’s say. In short, I think Tim is correct: the 7″ form factor is the correct one for personal use. My personal use, at least. Portablility might be its most compelling feature.

Q: When you use the device, it’s still primarily about consumption, I assume?
A: Correct. The Nexus 7 is much easier to type on than either my Galaxy Nexus or the Xoom, but it is still no match for a full keyboard. If I’m writing sentences, the Nexus 7 is fine. When I’m writing in paragraphs, I’ll use something with a keyboard.

Q: What are your specific use cases for the device, and how have you organized it?
A: In setting it up, I’ve tried to build three basic screens. The home screen is populated by applications I use regularly (Calendar, Dropbox, Maps, Skype, Untappd, etc) as well as widgets for weather and so on.

The screen to the left of that is half entertainment (Plex, Roku, Rdio, etc) and half utilities (ConnectBot, GitHub, WordPress, etc).

And the screen to the right of home is oriented towards travel. The TripAdvisor widget tells me what’s around, the TripIt widget my schedule details and applications like FlightTrack, GateGuru and Wi-Fi Finder are a boon on the road.

Q: Speaking of applications, how have you found the Android application experience?
A: Mixed, and I know that iPad users I know like Alex King have found this frustrating:


And you can see why. Almost two years after the Galaxy Tab was launched, Twitter has yet to release a tablet specific Android application. The majority of applications similarly take no advantage of the larger screen size; some look just plain weird when blown up on a screen that might be twice the size of a smartphone’s.

In general, this hasn’t been too much of an issue for me. First, because I haven’t been spoiled by beautifully designed custom iPad applications. Second, because the application I care the most about – MLB At Bat – actually does have an Android tablet version. And last, and most important, because I believe this will be transient. Application builders could be forgiven for not building for Android tablets in years past, because none of them sold particularly well. But with the device sold out at retailers all over the country, and applications like Instapaper seeing spikes in demand based on the Nexus 7, more and better Android tablet applications seem likely.

Q: How is the browser? Hasn’t the Android browser been average, historically?
A: The Android browser has been replaced by Chrome on the Nexus 7, and the experience is excellent. I’ve got 37 tabs open on my Nexus 7 at present, with no observable issues.

Q: How’s the battery life?
A: Seems to be as promised. I’ve been getting a day out of mine, under heavy usage. The best battery related feature of the device, however, might be the fact that it charges over USB. Unlike the Xoom, then, which required me to pack a separate charger just for it, the Nexus 7 requires nothing extra as I already carry a USB charging cable for my phone. I can charge the device off my laptop as easily as a wall outlet then, not to mention the USB specific chargers that are showing up at more and more airports these days.

The only caveat to the above is that car chargers apparently don’t put out enough juice; my Nexus 7 won’t charge off the one I carry in my car.

Q: Anything you wish were different?
A: While I’m happy to tether and or use a MiFi with the device, cellular connectivity options would be welcome, as would more storage. And even better battery life, as always.

Q: What are the advantages of the Nexus 7 compared to your other portable devices?
A: The Nexus 7 is about a third the weight of my MBA 11″ with, conservatively, twice the battery life. And it fits in a pocket (if barely). Compared to the Galaxy Nexus, it’s got a bigger, brighter screen which is better for reading, video and application UIs. It’s also nice to have two portable devices rather than one for battery life reasons. By splitting usage between devices, rather than just relying on my phone, both of their batteries last longer during the day.

Q: So would you recommend the Nexus 7 overall?
A: For straight Apple households, probably not. They’ll probably be better off waiting for a smaller iPad, assuming the form factor is a draw. But for everyone else, it’s an excellent device, one that has outstripped my expectations thus far and more than justified the modest purchase price.

Categories: Tablets.

Tags: , , ,

Seven Days With a Galaxy Nexus

Announced in October and first sold in the US in December, this review of the Galaxy Nexus is late, even by my standards. But it took me longer than expected to get one, because AT&T still hasn’t offered it and I’m averse to spending north of $600 on a device whose shelf life is maybe two years and which is more likely to be lost, broken or stolen than a laptop. Switching to Verizon to get one wasn’t an option because they have no coverage on the island I currently live on: for better or for worse, I’m stuck with AT&T. And frankly, I’d prefer to have a GSM version of the phone; I don’t travel internationally a lot, but it happens enough that a CDMA handset would be suboptimal.

Eventually, I worked out an upgrade path. Purchase a Galaxy Nexus, then renew my contract with AT&T using my upgrade to get a subsidized Galaxy Note, which when sold on Craigslist or eBay should more than offset my cost for the Nexus. The net for the Nexus then, is my AT&T upgrade price: a far more palatable sum than $600+. Having used the phone for a week or so, here are my thoughts. In Q&A style, naturally.

Q: Why a New Phone?
A: I never loved my previous phone, a Nexus One, the way that I understand that Hilary Mason did. But it was – is still, in fact – a fine phone, if one showing its age. It was limited to 3G, but that wasn’t enough of an issue for me to upgrade. Instead, my primary issue with the phone was storage space. Unlike the Galaxy Nexus, the Nexus One allowed you to upgrade the onboard MicroSD card, so that you could expand – dramatically – the amount of available storage. But pre-Honeycomb versions of Android distinguished between internal and external storage. Later improvements allowed applications to be moved to the larger external storage card, but many – like Twitter – did not. With only 190 MB of available application storage, then, things got crowded. Crowded enough that by the end, when I wanted to install one application I had to pick another to uninstall. Which isn’t handy if part of your job is evaluating mobile applications. So a new phone was in the cards sooner or later.

Q: Why the Nexus?
A: First, because Android fits my needs better. Second, because I advantage Nexus devices.

Q: Taking those in order then, why Android?
A: A few reasons. First, most of my services usage is Google centric. I use Gmail, and we’re a Google Apps shop, my music collection currently lives in Google Music and so on. The integration of those services on Android is better than it is on competing platforms. Second, while I’ve been an iPhone user in the past, owning a first generation and then a 3GS and enjoying both, I prefer some of Android’s conventions, most notably the back button. Third, the competition. Apple still makes, in my opinion, the best devices, but their services don’t deliver the same experience. MobileMe was, by Apple’s own admission, a failure, and the early returns on iCloud and Apple’s second generation services are mixed. Which would be less of an issue if I wasn’t consuming these at an accelerating rate, but more on that later. As for Windows Mobile, they’ve gotten a lot of positive press lately, and while it’s generally well earned, this is enough to make Windows Mobile a non-option for me.

I kid, but only sort of. As I’ve told reporters repeatedly, Microsoft’s biggest problem in mobile isn’t product, but time. They were very late to market, and the result is a vicious cycle of fewer apps equals fewer sales equals fewer incentives for application developers to create new applications. We’ll see what role Nokia can play in changing those fortunes; for now, Windows Mobile wasn’t an option for me, and not just because my @hotmail.com address is my spam address.

Q: Ok, so why the Nexus?
A: A few reasons.

  • Google, while not Apple’s equal in software design and usability, is better at that than Samsung, HTC, Motorola and any of the other Android manufacturers. I have no more interest in what OEMs do to Android to differentiate themselves than I did in what Lenovo did to Windows. Features intended to differentiate are, you can be sure, not features put there solely for the user.
  • The Nexus line comes with full, uncrippled functionality. While iPhone users, for example, are required to pay extra for the ability to tether their connection, I can do that out of the box. And before someone says to the above that I could always swap a carrier ROM for something custom, I get that. But the days when I had time to sift through the various phone ROMs and play with various combinations for pleasure are, in all likelihood, gone.
  • Nexus devices are first inline for operating system updates; a not insignificant advantage given the well documented problems with Android version fragmentation.
  • Nexus devices are unlocked, so when I’m in Europe I pop in a different SIM: no need to pay for unlock codes from sketchy vendors on eBay.

Q: The GSM Nexus is HSDPA only. Didn’t you want LTE?
A: I actually have LTE on my tablet – itself a Google Experience device, and it is every bit as impressive as people say it is. It’s one of the fastest connections I’ve used outside of universities, in fact. I consistently get 13-15 down in LTE services markets. HSDPA, by contrast, has clocked in at a little less than half of that; 4-6 down, though I haven’t tested it in a major market yet.

But you know what? That’s more than enough. Besides being faster than what I had, it’s actually 2-3X faster than my DSL connection at the home office. Which, yes, is an indictment of our internet speeds on island, but also confirmation that I don’t need to get too greedy. LTE for my handset would probably be overkill, in fact. And given the battery life issues with LTE at the moment – its extremely thirsty – I’m happy to trade a few extra download ticks I won’t notice on a handset for more usable device time.

Q: The other major complaint about the Galaxy Nexus is the size. News.com’s Stephen Shankland, for example, would “exchange some screen size for a secure one-handed grip.” Any issues with the size?
A: I don’t have Koufax-sized mitts, but the size has been a non-issue for me. Every so often there’s a dialog in the extreme upper corner of a screen, which requires a bit of a stretch, but in general I haven’t noticed it. Part of that is the weight.

Q: What about the weight?
A: The first thing that people – iPhone users in particular – notice about the phone when I hand it to them is the weight, or rather the lackthereof. It’s a mere 5 grams lighter than the iPhone 4S, but because it’s physically larger the difference between expectation and actual makes it seem even lighter than it is.

Q: How about the camera?
A: It’s no match for the iPhone’s, as I understand such things; 5 megapixels. It’s fine for my basic usage, but I’d recommend against the Nexus if the camera’s a priority for you.

Q: How’s Ice Cream Sandwich?
A: It’s got its rough edges here and there, but I’m a fan. The notifications remain good, the application tray metaphor is a big step up from Gingerbread, and lots of little things have been improved like access to Settings and the voice recognition UI (the latter being one of Android’s most underrated features, IMO). Something long overdue – the ability to take screenshots – has finally been added, as well. Personally, I don’t notice the lag or latency that iOS users point to – it feels quick to me – but your mileage may vary.

I still don’t think believe it to be the equal of iOS, but I like it.

Q: What about the storage size?
A: This has been one of the more interesting epiphanies I’ve had; after thinking about it, I got the 16GB model. It used to be that I obsessed over the on device storage, because I wanted to have the majority of my music, at least, with me as I did on the iPod it replaced. These days? I’ve got maybe a gigabyte’s worth of music on the device, to be employed on planes, at the gym or other places I can’t get bandwidth. Otherwise? Everything is streamed, and I’m not worried about maxing the device out. The obvious problem with this is bandwidth costs, as I’ve written about before. If everything is streaming, your data consumption adds up quickly. According to the phone, in the last week Google Music is the leading bandwidth consumer at 151 MB. But what happens when I start watching NetFlix when I’m on the road? Or MLB.tv?

When I asked Google’s Andy Rubin about this at I/O, he was unconcerned, saying that we were a step function away from this being a non-issue. The Verge’s Chris Ziegler would, presumably, be skeptical of this claim. It will be interesting to see who’s right.

Q: How about something you don’t like about the phone?
A: The battery cover is flimsy and difficult to remove, which will be a problem if (when) I get a second battery. The placement of the headset jack on the bottom of the phone is also inconvenient; if you want to listen to music at the gym with the phone on a treadmill or elliptical and use the Kindle app at the same time, you’ll be doing so in landscape.

Q: Speaking of, how is the battery life?
A: I’ll know more when I’ve traveled with it, but when I get up in the morning, an hour and a half’s heavy usage knocks it down to around 70-75% from a full charge. Which theoretically means that if I’m not on the device constantly, I should get a full day out of the device. Even so, I will probably still employ a two battery system, the device’s suboptimal battery cover notwithstanding.

Q: What’s the thing I should do first when I get a Nexus or another Ice Cream Sandwich handset?
A: Install Chrome for Android and replace the stock browser. It’s a vast improvement, and if you’re using experimental builds of Chrome on the desktop, you can even access their tabs.

Q: Tl;dr – thumbs up or down?
A: Thumbs up. This is the first phone I’ve really liked since my first iPhone. If you can find one, I recommend it.

Categories: Carriers, Mobile Data, Smartphones.

Why I Got a MacBook Air

11" MacBook Air

Seven years ago this summer, I switched from Windows to Linux as my primary desktop operating system. And while there have been ups and downs, I have no real regrets about that decision. Linux, or more specifically Ubuntu, remains, in fact, the operating system on my primary machine, a Dell workstation.

But as of August 24th, I became a (part time) Mac user for the first time since college. Because I’ve been using Linux for so long, a few people have asked why I made the decision to get a Mac. This is my answer.

Hardware

It’s been said that Apple’s single biggest competitive advantage isn’t its devices, but rather its supply chain. The iPad revenue stream alone would support this argument, but the reality is that Apple can make better hardware, cheaper than anyone else. Like Jeff, the single most compelling reason to get a Mac was the hardware.

It’s not perfect – the battery life in particular on the 11″ Air (i7) is disappointing – but the overall package is light, performant and aesthetically attractive. It’s close to perfect for frequent travelers; the battery’s the only major flaw.

Unix

While I actually like Windows 7 – I have a few virtual instances of it running on my workstation – it’s not an option for me simply because I don’t want to deal with Cygwin. I’m not a developer, but I use a lot of tools that require a Unix core, so for me that means Linux or Mac. There are little differences between the userlands, but overall most of the scripts, libraries and applications I use on Linux run comfortably on the Mac out of the box.

OS X

I’m not as comfortable on OS X as I am on Linux, but that’s to be expected: I’ve been using the latter for seven years, the former for three months. I cannot, therefore, objectively evaluate the usability of OS X. Nor can I comment on the ‘bloat’ that frustrates Tim O’Reilly, as I have no basis for comparison.

I can say, however, that the Mac has been substantially less stable than anticipated. My MBA is crashing about once a week, where crashing means I’m required to power cycle the machine. Whether this is Apple’s fault or the fact that I push my hardware very hard isn’t clear, but either way the experience has not been as advertised.

In general, OS X is nothing more or less than opinionated software. It is heavily prescriptive, and while its approach is inconsistently successful, it is difficult to look at the application breadth and polish and build the case against. And love or hate their individual design decisions, like the omnipresent top menu (I’m not a fan), Apple is by most measures the best in the world at user experience.

Apps

One of the interesting discoveries of my brief Mac tenure has been that the App Store is, by and large, a failure. Of the 93 items in my Applications folder, the App Store claims to have installed 11. By rough count, then, 12% of my applications are installed and managed through the App Store. Anecdotally, this experience seems common; most of the people I speak with are not relying on the store as their primary installation mechanism. On Ubuntu, by contrast, all but a handful of my applications were centrally installed, managed and updated. The App Store application itself, meanwhile, has been buggy, particularly when installing or updating very large applications such as Xcode.

While the store experience has been poor, however, the individual applications themselves are impressive. Conventional wisdom argues that Mac apps are, as a rule, more polished aethetically than their Linux or Windows counterparts. In this case, the conventional wisdom has born scrutiny. Apple makes it comparatively easy for their developers to construct attractive applications.

Apple’s own apps, meanwhile, have exceeded my expectations. While the import/export options are disappointing, I already prefer Keynote to Powerpoint, which in turn I prefer to OO.o’s Impress. Numbers, meanwhile, is not a functional match for Excel, but from a charting perspective I find its graphs and visualizations far more appealing than the Excel defaults.

And then there are the applications that are available on OS X but not Linux, such as the Adobe Creative Suite.

The Net

I like the MacBook Air. The hardware is elite, and while the operating system occasionally frustrates, it’s generally well thought out and aesthetically without peer. I have no plans to abandon Ubuntu on my workstation, but I am somewhat concerned about the state of the user interface on that platform at present as the fragmentation of effort has negatively impacted its direction, in my opinion.

That said, OS X has its own challenges; when high profile users like Tim are frustrated, you have a problem. Bigger picture, there are concerns about Apple’s appetite for control of application delivery. If sandboxing is required, for example, for applications delivered through the App Store, the logical next is either requiring it for all applications or restricting installation to the store. Either of which would be problematic for developers and users alike.

In the meantime, however, I’m happy to have added OS X to my technical arsenal.

Categories: Laptops.

Using the iPad as a spare battery. Any tablet?

I could write about five different iPad reviews – all on different aspects of the machine. For example – how the iPad inveigled its way into my wife’s affections with a game of Sodoku. But I wanted to say a little about the amazing battery life of the iPad.

Like my founding partner Stephen – I find the constant scurrying for plugs at conferences (and kvetching when there aren’t any) to be a real drag. So his talk of long battery life on the Android-based Motorola Xoom was compelling. Unlike Stephen however, I am not looking to replace my laptop as a note-taking device any time soon. But when Adobe gave me an iPad ( seriously! so I could keep tabs on their tooling for IoS) I started taking it to conferences to augment my ancient, creaking, two hour on a charge Thinkpad. I’d be sitting in a session taking notes when suddenly the Thinkpad shut down. When that happened I just pulled out the iPad and carried on taking notes. The cloud-based Evernote note-taking software is really helpful in this regard (thought not auto-saving on IoS sucks, and caught me out a couple of times).

As I travelled with the iPad I kept expecting it to run out of charge, but it never did. I would go away on Sunday, and still have juice left for a few games of Angry Birds on the flight home Thursday afternoon. Thing is with the iPad is that at rest, if its not registered on a wifi network, it just doesn’t draw any power. Taking a device on a trip without needing a charger – its like going back to the Nokia 6310i.

I explained here why the Dell Streak’s limited battery life is a deal breaker; so while Ian Lynch argues in a comment on that post that this won’t be the case for Android tablets in general I haven’t had any hands on experience yet. My HTC Desire phone is certainly power hungry, for example – and perhaps surprisingly Google Docs background sync is a big part of the problem there. Protip- turn off background updates when you’re travelling for better Android battery life.

To be fair, Android tablet reviews indicate power consumption on tablets is not a show stopper.

However in summary – the iPad basically won me over through the simple expedient of having really good power usage. When I took the iPad on holiday to Greece, and we had power cuts, my son could still have ten minutes of digital entertainment.  And so on.

Am I still in the market for an Android tablet? At some point sure. I am an Android. But the family has certainly taken to the iPad, and it sure makes a great spare battery.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Tablets.

Withings Scale

Withings scale

The problem with scales is their ephemeral nature: it reads your weight and once you step off, the measurement is gone. You can record it, but that seems so tedious. The Withings scale neatly solves this problem: it’s a scale for the app generation. First, it’s connected to wifi so it uploads your weight to the cloud, as it were, where it keeps a historic record. Not only is there a website, but also a iPhone and iPad apps with nice graphs of your weight and the the other measurements it tracks.

These other measurements seem like some kind of voodoo: lean mass and fat mass, some kind of BMI thing. I don’t really trust that those can be measured through your feet, so just ignore them (clearly from my not knowing what they are).

It works with more than one person, too. It tries to identify by weight, and the weights are too close, the scale asks you to step on the left or right side to identify yourself.

Withings iPhone app

There are some awkward things: the scale is so pretty, with a glass top that you’re alway afraid you’ll break it; the setup over a USB cable is weird (there’s an iPhone way to do this, but I stopped short of doing it least I screw it up); and you have to wait around 30 to 60 seconds between measurements.

But overall, if you’ve always found scales kind of not, well, updated to the rest of the world, you’ll like the Withings Scale. I actually find it very helpful my weight losing: it’s fun to take your weight and check out the pretty graphs. Once you build up several months of data, it gets even better.

I got the scale as a birthday gift, my wife knowing what kind of dork I can be. It’s expensive, compared to unwired scales, but I’d go for it.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Tags: , , ,

The iPad Revisited – a liminal device

When nerds pack

After several months with a tablet, the iPad, and trailing different uses, I revisit where an how it fits into my daily workflow and life.

The iPad finds itself most useful to me as a second computer. I leave my laptop – my “main” computer at work and just use my iPad and iPhone at home. From time to time I borrow Chrome with sync on my wife’s laptop (getting all my settings, plugins, and such through sync), but the platform provided by my two iOS devices gives me everything I actually need at home in the evenings and weekends.

Those needs are simple: checking email, checking my calender for what meetings I have tomorrow, reading news (GReader’s mobile web), taking notes in Evernote, bookmarking in Pinboard.in (mostly via email), Flipboard, and entering to do items in OmniFocus. I don’t print or edit pictures or movies, do much with music (which I miss a great deal), or even have a reliable way to get podcasts.

I’ve used the iPad as a travel device, and it’d doable, esp. with the Zagnut keyboard case I have (that case suffers from two things: being $100 and not having a way to “lock” the iPad in while using it, meaning the iPad easily falls out). I actually type a lot “on the road,” using the lonely time away from family and the open schedules to write in the evenings and during the day – but also, writing in near-real time during keynotes and conference sessions…drafting, at least.

I’ve stopped bringing just my iPad on trips as I did for awhile. The portability of an iPad isn’t too appealing, but the battery life (4-6 hours) looks tasty. Portability doesn’t matter too much as I have MacBook Air so size and weight isn’t much a problem as other laptops (I have a Samsung QX, for example, that would be I’ll suited for light-weight travel). And while I’d love to have my iPad with me, I leave it at home if I’m bringing my Air: it’s just a bit too much to have both.

Recently, I’ve noticed that my iPhone (3gs) is the primary device I use at home: I can go days without getting the iPad out of the drawer. Email, Kindle, OmniFocus, Evernote (I wrote the first draft of this post on the iPhone), and GReader works just fine on the phone. I miss having Flipboard though. The iPhone is really “the remote for the cloud”: if you have most of your services and files in the cloud, as I do with things most things I use, that metaphor works.

In truth, I end up spending less time “on the computer” in this laptoplass, tablet-lite mode. I still use computers all the time: there’s lots of Google TV for Netflix, for example. To some extent, I do “create” less, but that’s more my chosen laziness than the form-factors fault. And, creating is for work, where there’s plenty of time for all sorts of things like marking up blogs posts (HTML or otherwise formatted text on iOS is still terrible compared to a real computer), or video and podcast editing that require a “work-station,” not just a desktop.

The verdict: the iPad is a fun, useful device as I’m sure most modern tablets would be. Reading text off it is not only fun, but productive. Apps like Flipboard actually make you more productive, and if you wire-up all of your services to the cloud, the overall system is working well for accessing the data and services you need (see all the apps mentioned above). If you have one of those lurking, dark-plastic covered laptops, the iPad is going to be a much better travel computer and you should try it out. Similarly, if you’re carrying your laptop back and forth to work, chances are you could just leave it at work (if the software you need to use allows for it) and rely on the iPad and/or iPhone.

(Having just gotten a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 at Google I/O, it’ll be interesting to revisit all this after using an Android-based tablet. It’ll be fun to see if my “10 things iPad rivals must do to compete with the Apple” piece holds and water.)

Categories: Tablets.

Tags: , ,

Google Voice iPhone App

Google Voice is an excellent service, but the iPhone app is too slow to be usable.

I’d been waiting for the release of the Google iPhone App for a long time. I’ve used the service for many years and find it incredibly useful: call screening, ringing all your phone at once, call recording, the (relativly new) click to call funcionalty in Chrome, and the record keeping are just some of the things I like about the service. The issue was always that you really couldn’t use it from you phone, it was overly clunky and overall not worth it.

Sadly, even though there’s an app, that’s still the case for one reason: the Google Voice app is slow, in almost all dimensions that matter.

Opening the app itself is slow: I often wait several seconds with waiting for the white-screen of waiting to get filled in with contacts to dial.

Dialing someone take much too long: there’s some sort of telco hack going on that with dialing other numbers and connecting you to the original number, but, you know, I’m not interested in dancing bears.

And then there’s a slow design: to call someone, you had to select their name and then select dial. On the iPhone, you just tap their name. This my seem petty, but two step dialing adds up, and having one step dialing is helpful in the car, on a bike, or while you’re otherwise not moving.

The txting interface is odd too: when you’re staring a new txt, it likes using phone numbers instead of names and doesn’t auto-complete on typing in names.

Aside from a couple odd UI workflow choices (like double-step dialing and txting), the overall patterns of use are nice. There’s push notifications for txt messages, the history log is exactly what you’d like, you can browse the voicemail transcripts (and listen to them). There’s things I’d love to see like integration with my GMail and GCal accounts to show me information about people I’m on the phone with (from calling or being called). Here, I really like what Windows Phone 7 has with its integrated Facebook and, soon, Twitter information about contacts.

Google knows most everything about me and my contacts, and it’d be very helpful if Voice integrated that info together. Of course, oddly enough, Google isn’t very good at integrating all its services together: they seem to suffer from high silo walls that prevent such integration – just guessing.

The final verdict

After using the app as my primary phone interface for several months, I finally switched back thinking, “I just want dialing to be fast and easy.” And with the native iOS phone app, it is. There’s much potential with the Google Voice app, but without fixing the performance issues, using the app is not worth the waiting.

Categories: Apps.

Tags: , , ,