Friday, December 31, 2010

Samsung Focus Review

I've had not quite 24 hours to fool around with my new Samsung Focus. I haven't unlocked it or rooted the thing yet, just played around with it like your casual consumer. I'll comment on it's capabilities as a developer phone in a different post.


The primary purpose of the device is to make a phone call. It's clear many smart phone manufacturers forgot about that when they manufactured their devices. The Samsung Focus performs admirably in that regard. I had a 30 minute conversation with my Mom (a fellow technophile) who was impressed by the clarity of my voice. She said that it was almost indistinguishable that I was on speaker phone when I switched over to that setting.


I read about a dozen reviews on the phone before I bought one. One thing people consistently commented on was the plastic construction and how cheap the phone feels as a consequence. I don't wholly disagree with that assessment, however the phone is extremely light and thin. Truly, when the whole of the device is glass, any drop is likely to be catastrophic regardless of the case material.

When you pick yours up make sure the battery cover snaps on and off fitting together properly. Also, get the $5 a month insurance, especially if you're a developer. Rooting the device (of course) invalidates the warranty.


It has physical +/- Volume, Camera, and On/Off Screen lock buttons. It also has the usual WP7 Back, Home, and Search buttons, but these are touch sensitive positions toward the bottom of the handset. The buttons aren't great or bad and they seem to have enough stiffness to resist getting pressed accidentally. The WP7 buttons are responsive even with the inviso-screen protector on the face.

I'm glad they gave the camera a hardware button that's pressure sensitive. Press to focus, then a little harder to actually snap the picture. Software buttons for phone cameras are generally a bad plan. I wish they'd done the opposite with the volume buttons but I understand why they did relative to the WP7 OS.


Yep, it takes a picture and shoots video. I'm not a fan of devices that combine design elements. I don't think the world is a better place as a result of combining cameras with phones, mp3 players, and other devices. Being that I'm largely outvoted in that assessment, I can say with some confidence the Samsung Focus take a crappy picture and shoots similarly unfortunate video as compared to a real camera designed for the purpose.

Charging & Battery Life

I haven't had a chance to put the battery to the test. Getting the thing to charge was an adventure. Even after pulling the battery and a reboot, I can't get it to charge via USB. It seems to take a charge from the wall but it's very slow to charge. Hopefully this is just one of those initial glitches that goes away after a full charge and discharge.

I got the device with half a charge at 11:00 am or so yesterday. That charge allowed me to setup my contacts, install and play games, text and talk until about 9:00pm when I went to sleep. By then the phone was very low on power. When I awoke, the phone had only charged a very small amount off the USB cable plugged into my Mac. It took almost 2 hours to pull a full charge from the wall socket.


It played back my favorite Frank Sinatra tune, downloaded a game and allowed me to surf the Facebook App at the same time without any slowdown. I tried a bunch of different things to get the phone to bog or stutter. The only time it got sluggy was after my first factory reset when it was trying to sync all my email accounts, Live ID, and Facebook contacts at once while I was surfing in the browser.

Windows Phone 7 OS

Every app native to the WP7 operating system is gorgeous, responsive, easy to use and learn. From the perspective of someone who designs visuals for apps, Microsoft's Metro UI scheme is as beautiful as it is minimalist. If you don't like the way the media is displayed, side swiping or tapping the search key generally gives you alternatives. That being said, every app seems to have it's own means of navigating content.

The good thing is that relative to each app, the content is usually displayed in a way that showcases it and allows you to easily browse. The bad is that you have to mess with each app to learn how to use it. I think the benefits generally offset the drawbacks relative to the user interface.

I don't think it is any easier or harder to use than Android, WebOS or iOS. Aesthetically speaking, WP7 is far more attractive than it's competitors. WebOS and Android have the same ease of navigation but they look junkie and clunky by comparison. As a mobile computing OS for tablet style devices, iOS soundly defeats WP7. As a mobile gaming platform and an OS designed for a Cell Phone, WP7 soundly defeats iOS.

I had high hopes for Apple's Game Center, but it pales when compared to WP7's xBox Live game application. All my games are stored and accessed within that app so they aren't cluttering up the UI with icons, and all my achievements are tracked within the same app.

The People App is similarly useful. When I tap one of my contacts it pulls up their phone numbers, email addresses, what they posted on Facebook recently, and similar. I can link their Gmail and Facebook web presences together and add information that is then displayed all on one screen. I don't have to thumb through multiple apps to see what my friends are up to or send them email, text messages or a phone call.

WP7 was designed to run on a cellular device to facilitate it's operation as a means of communicating with others. It performs that task better than any other smartphone in my opinion.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Samsung Focus WP7

I've only had my new handset a couple of hours. Firing off a few observations.

Observation #1 - Setup is easy

If you have a Facebook and a Gmail account it's incredibly easy to populate your contact list, update phone numbers, and email addresses. If you don't, it'd be about the same degree of difficulty as any other smartphone.

I can easily link the contacts from my Gmail to my Facebook list and add phone numbers and email. For a particular contact I can link all this information together so that it displays together on the screen without having to switch apps or thumb between clients. WP7 organizes my data for me in an easily accessible way.

Observation #2 - Do it right the first time

If you have an xBox ID make sure you enter the information in correctly the first time. The only way to reset your Windows Live ID (that I could find) was to factory reset the phone and start over. Super cool being able to see my xBox stats, Avatar and so forth on my phone.

Observation #3 - Windows Phone 7 + Macintosh = Harmony

The WP7 Mac sync software works like a charm. I can drop pictures from my iPhoto or iTunes to my phone with relative ease. If you have a Mac and you're worried about not being able to sync your content to a WP7, you can rest easy from what I've seen so far.

So far it's just iPhoto and iTunes, no Contacts or Calendar events. (sad face)

Observation #4 - Gaming

As a gaming platform it has the potential to be superior in every way to Android or Apple because of xBox Live integration. Apple's Game Center looks tacky and useless next to WP7's xBox Live App. I've only played three games so far, but I'm sure I'll be downloading a lot more.

I can't wait to play Master & Student on it.

Observation #5 - UI

It isn't as cluttered as iOS or as junkie looking as Android. Every App I've used so far seems to conform to WP7's metro interface scheme. None of them have a single pixel of useless screen-hogging chrome.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Dangers of Opening Presents Early

My Wife and I had a bet about one of the gifts from her Father. She asserted that it was "just duct-tape" wrapped up in some newspaper. Knowing her father Jay like I do, I was just as certain this was not the case. On Christmas Eve she decided her one present would be the roll of duct tape.

Indeed, it was a roll of silvery tape as she had thought, but there was peculiar writing around it's circumference. It was clearly not Jay's handwriting and it appeared to be signed by "Red Green". The following morning, she opened her other gifts and discovered a first edition, and signed copy of the new Red Green book, with this photo inside the cover.

I guess I won the bet. It wasn't an ordinary roll of duct tape after all.

Jay Kent & Red Green ->

Friday, December 24, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Notion Ink Adam

From reading their blog and watching the videos, this device could be a serious contender in the tablet market, particularly in enterprise. I don't see this being a person's first mobile computing device, as it looks marvelously complex. All those people who didn't buy an iPad because it wasn't driven by a cursor or festooned with ports will probably look hard at this device.

The most expensive one doesn't break $600. That's huge.

They claim it'll have 15 hours of battery life. At 1.6 pounds? This would be awesome... but I doubt it's true.

8GB Flash Memory. This seems low, but it has all sorts of ports to plug external storage into.

Transflective (65FPS) Screen. Wish you had a device that could deliver the iPad's multimedia experience and the Nook's readability? Allegedly, this device has screen technology at work that does just that. Color me skeptical.

Aesthetically, it's very hard edge and industrial looking. It looks like you could hold the thing, drive it with a small wireless mouse, and never have to wipe it down... and wipe down... and wipe it down... and... huhh

Link & Stinky Low-Quality Video:

Notion Ink

Friday, December 17, 2010

Indie Developers, Mobile Applications

When you're a kid, if you're lucky, you'll have your first experience building something with other people. Your crew will gather together with whatever they could find hanging around their father's workshop or their mother's sewing rooms. Then, in a quiet place you'll build that go cart, fort, or handful of wooden swords and have marvelous fun in the aftermath.

Indie Game Development is like that.

We aren't working out of a cubical farm or under the thumb of penny pinchers and bureaucrats worried about what the stock holders will think. We are our own audience, and we're creating something that is to entertain ourselves. To that end we must to know to the end of the project, it is for us to enjoy alone.

Indie Game Development is pure and completely ethical selfishness.

Our first fort wouldn't keep out the rain. Never could find four wheels the same size for that go-cart. Only the wooden sword my brother made of oak survived the fullness of our backyard battlefield. The memories I built are far more valuable to me.

Indie Game Development isn't perfect. Thank God for that.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

An Accounting of Almost

I have so many things I've been working on since summer that are in the final phase. Literally a week devoted to one or the other would top off one thing or another. The process of building yourself up as a creative person amounts as much to one's portfolio as it does to their confidence in creating it.

I look at the false starts, the first drafts and the outlines and I desperately want to have a completed work. Objectively, fourteen months isn't long enough to have garnered the expertise to revise my own works. Literally, I want to be my own worst enemy and critic, but I lack the experience.

I acquired an Oxford Classical Dictionary from Trip Taylor's Booksellers. It's what I really needed to start approaching the very arcane writing style I approached in my first work. There is only so much Shakespeare and Tennyson one can read before you realize you'll have to coin your own phrases and words as they did to express yourself.

The weight of not being finished with my first or second book is a heavy burden made lighter by certain realizations. I'm a vastly better writer than I was even six months ago. Waiting was difficult, but the right choice. I was blessed to have other creative endeavors to occupy me during that time.

-- Sent from my Tech Envy Generator

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Blue & Green

These two have been in my thoughts constantly since July. Did a quick sketch of them earlier to give me some perspective on some low-rez artwork I'm trying to pull together. The stuff for Blue is great.

Green deserves so much better than I've given him so far. Click to embiggen the image.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wikileaks vs. US Government

Let me say this out front. I think that Wikileak's unfiltered release of US Diplomatic Cables was deplorable, irresponsible and incredibly damaging to the country in which I live. I don't condone what they did in any sense. I think the power of the written word and the internet should always be used for good, and what Wikileaks did could be described as anything but.

That being said, I think the US Government response has been exactly what you'd expect from a group of people largely populated by old, out-of-touch white guys. Congressman Peter King (New York Republican), the guy supposed to be heading up Homeland Security has suggested we make Wikileaks a Terrorist Organization. Senator Joe Lieberman (Independent Democrat, CT) thinks we should look into prosecuting (for espionage?) the New York Times for publishing some of the same Diplomatic Cables.

I don't have to look at the pseudo-legalese behind what these two Government Officials are suggesting. What the New York Times and Wikileaks did is, like it or not, protected by the First Amendment. Read the Constitution, it couldn't be more clear. Neither organization conspired to acquire these documents, paid to have others do so, or were involved in the commission of the crime committed by whoever did leak those documents. If they did, let's see the proof.

(Update: Yes I'm aware Julian Assange is not a US Citizen and may not be privy to the same protections. I just don't think depriving him of what we consider basic rights is a good plan, legal or not.)

I understand that because Congressman King and Senator Lieberman head up committees responsible for Homeland security, they probably think they're just doing their jobs. That fact isn't lost on me, and I'll bet the pressure for them to act is unreal. Sarah Palin using those same Cables to criticize President Obama has probably lit a fire under everyone with anything to do with making sure such leaks don't happen.

Wikileaks was cooperating with many news affiliates, national and international when it leaked those documents. I wouldn't be surprised if a great deal of their funding came from the Associated Press and other high profile news agencies. Given the aggressive stance the US has taken, legitimate news organizations would certainly fund and foster proxy (not-for-profit) media outlets like Wikileaks for the purpose of generating news.

How much money and traction have international news agencies gotten out of this debacle? What's the phrase here? "Field day"?

The US Government needs to appeal to the people who elected it for accountability for those guilty of irresponsible journalism and make those same people "below" the diplomatic level understand why these leaks were bad. Most people, I don't think, fully understand what's at stake here. To that end, they should appeal to the common man's patriotism instead of acting like Big Brother. Finally, they should completely stop using words like "Terrorist" and "Espionage Act" in reference to organizations designed to protect and preserve the First Amendment. Deserved or not.

What would be more embarrassing than having those Diplomatic Cables leaked? Getting Julian Assange extradited to the US for trial on espionage crimes and giving him a win on a landmark First Amendment Case. The outcome for the US, according to diplomatic sources and anyone with a third grade reading level is uncertain. Prosecuting either the New York Times or Wikileak's Figure Head for terrorism or espionage is far from a sure thing. Given the way our own highest law is written, they could win by hiding behind the First Amendment.

Those are big dice I don't think our Government should even roll.

Obama and Friends should start acting like leaders instead of petty bureaucrats and appeal to the American people's patriotism and sense of right and wrong. Do I think my friends and family operating overseas on behalf of my Government were possibly endangered by what Wikileaks did?

Yes, I do. If I ever saw Julian Assange, I wouldn't say a word. A punch to the face would more accurately express my feelings for him and his actions.

Do I see a US Politician, at any level of governance, willing to represent my voice relative to the matter that isn't currently in full ass-covering mode? Someone who would appeal to me and my patriotism to take action and boycott those news agencies that supported Wikileaks?

No, I don't. I can't even hear them over all the sabre rattling.


Did some more thinking about it in the shower. The thing to do might be waiting to see if Sweden can extradite Julian Assange and see how that plays out. If he's a convicted sex offender, it at least precludes him from being a very good martyr for various anti-US causes, individuals, etc.

If Sweden can put a smudge on that worthless reprobate, I'd feel better about pulling him on charges in the US.

Friday, December 3, 2010

iPad vs. MacBook Air

I've had a few people ask me via phone, comments to this blog, and email whether my MacBook Air would replace my iPad in my workflow. My mom is currently debating as to which she should purchase in the near future. It's a hard question given the MacBook Air possesses some key features of the iPad and vice versa.

I still think for the majority of folks, especially if you've already got a Mac, the iPad is the way to go. For everyday computing, checking email, web browsing, consuming content and playing games, the iPad wins. It just does. If you're a creative professional that works the back end of web design, visual and textual content, and similar you'll probably want a MacBook Air.

The iPad (64GB Wi-Fi Only $699 version)

This device has some features that make it almost unbeatable as a mobile computing device.

- 10 Hours of Battery Life
- Instant On (No Boot)
- Touch Screen Interface
- Large Selection of Quality Apps on the Cheap
- Best Email Browsing Experience of any mobile device (I've used)
- Beyond Portable

PlainText, Things, Sprite Something, Looptastic HD, iMockups and Instapaper are just a few apps I use regularly that wouldn't be the same on a standard Mac OSX Machine. Sketchbook Pro, Brushes, miniDraw HD, TouchUp, Filterstorm, Impression, and Diptic are all great visual creation apps that I've used and continue to use in my work.

After a successful wandering with my camera, I can easily hook up an SD card reader and pull the photos to my iPad, mess with them and store them until I get home. For consuming content on the go, via Netflix or iTunes the iPad is likewise unmatched for it's ability to store and summon what you want. Coupled with a ziplock bag, it a great companion in the bathtub.

The iPad is (for me) an indespensible tool and toy.

The Macbook Air 11.6 (64GB $999 version)

I think what Steve Jobs and others have said about the MacBook Air is more or less correct, it's the future of laptops. I think optical drives are on the way out, SSD's and downloadable media is on the way in. Yes, I had to use my iMac's optical drive (shared over the network) to load many of the programs now resident on my MacBook Air. I don't see optical drives disappearing from desktops anytime soon.

- Solid State Drive (Makes an otherwise slow computer quite capable)
- 5-7 hours of Battery Life
- Full Size Physical Keyboard + Multi-gesture Trackpad
- Instant On (from Sleep)
- Nimble enough to allow you to use Big Programs to handle Small Content
- Makes other Laptops, including it's 13.3 cousin, look like clunky junk

If I need to use Dreamweaver to mess with the website for Raging Rickshaw or alter a graphic for my Dad in Photoshop, my iPad cannot easily accomplish those tasks. When I need the functions my powerful iMac can provide while on the road? My MacBook Air can provide.

When I'm on the back end of a project and I'm doing a lot of editing, text formatting and arranging in Pages, the iPad version is just not up to speed yet (c'mon Apple!). You simply can't switch documents and edit text as quickly as you can with a full Mac OSX Machine equipped with a physical keyboard.

I store only audio content on my MacBook Air, just enough music to have something to listen to should I desire, and while it handles Netflix, Video and Audio like a champ, it's not as personable a device as the iPad. It runs Diablo 1 and Starcraft 1 like a champ, but there's not room on the SSD to have Starcraft 2 (20GB) or World of Warcraft (32GB) loaded and have room for much else.


Because of their size, I can carry them both in my tiny man-purse without a problem. However, I don't see my MacBook Air, for all it's wondrous portability, replacing my iPad for a few reasons:

1. App Store

Now, my position on this might change a little when the Lion OS is released. However, a Mac OS App Store would have to come a long way to achieve what the iOS App store has.

2. Battery Life

10 Hours? For a guy who carries a lot of anxiety about being caught somewhere without a mobile computing device to record ideas, doodles, and other information, the iPad is a great antidepressant.

3. Bathtub

I've tried to figure out a way to get my MacBook Air into a ziplock bag without impeding my ability to use the interface. The iPad is simply the best device for watching Netflix or doodling in Sketchbook Pro, while in a bathtub.

4. Unexpected Bonuses

What some people are beginning to figure out is that old ideas seem to work well with this new device. Here's one example:

The game Monkey Island is an oldie, but a goodie. I loved playing it on my friend's Amiga back in the day. To that end it was always really slow having to enter text and click with the mouse. The game was fun but laborious to play without a six pack of coke and a bag of gummy worms to make your limbs twitchy.

The revamped version of Monkey Island for the iPad is incredible. It's like the game was made for the iPad, years before the device reached the public. Also, like before, it keeps losing my saved games. It's nice to know some things never change.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

MacBook Air 11.6 Review

As an early Christmas present, my wife acquired a MacBook Air for me. I'd been wanting one since they came out. I spent some time with both and decided to go with the $999 model as opposed to one with more ram or a bigger SSD.

I swung it open and loaded Sketchbook Pro 2010 using my iMac's optical drive. It worked like a charm and pretty soon I had my tablet drivers, Bean, Starcraft 1, and iWorks loaded on as well. I proceeded to open programs and as many windows as I could, a bit beyond what I would ever use at one time.

The tiny machine never stuttered, juggling as many as ten programs without any visible sluggishness. It switched between programs and loaded content as quickly as my MBP and in some cases more quickly. I could easily have Mail, iChat, Pages, and several windows in Safari open at once without suffering a hit to performance.

I decided to open up one of my book projects. My latest work is up to 101 pages, has graphics, and a great deal of formatting. It takes a couple of moments to open on my MacBook Pro, almost three "steamboats" of counting. It took about 1 and a half on my MacBook Air.

It'll piss you off when you realize how much of a bottleneck a standard hard drive is to the performance of a computer. My MacBook Pro should be twice as fast as my MacBook Air looking at their specifications. The SSD really does make that big of a difference.

Keyboard, trackpad, screen clarity and manufacture are all what you'd expect from Apple. The screen isn't covered in glass like a MacBook Pro, which I somewhat miss just for the protection it grants the screen. I thought the lack of a backlit keyboard would bug me, but I've been typing on that particular type of keyboard for 14 months. Light or dark, doesn't matter anymore.

I wouldn't recommend the 13.3 MBA to anyone unless they really need the SD Card Slot. The screen resolution and performance for the money isn't worth it having seen how well the $999 version performs first hand. The 11.6 defines portability because of how thin it is.

The only major drawback I've found is that the 11.6 MBA is like a half inch too wide to fit in most cases designed for an iPad or standard Netbook. There really aren't too many laptops out there that are the same size, thus not too many options for cases. Thank goodness for Waterfield Designs.