Portable sound using the Soundwave SW50

So tonight I got my hands on a new fun gadget – it’s a portble bluetooth speaker – the Soundwave SW50.

The unit itself is very small – about 7cm triangular base and a little less than that in height. Its got a smooth stylish finish, an on-off switch, USB charger input, single button and an LED.

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I took the unit out of the box, switched it on and had it paired to my phone and playing music in less than 2 minutes. I love the fact that the unit came already charged and that the pairing was automatic (no 4 digit pin entry). I also connected the unit to my laptop and wife’s iPod. The only slight annoyance was that in order to pair/connect it with a new device I first had to disconnect any existing device.

Of course the entire point of having a unit like this is because speakers on most mobile devices (including my laptop) are terrible. Usually I resort to headphones – but there are occasions where that simple isn’t feasible. For instance, sharing a video on a laptop/phone with the kids, or if I’m doing some serious coding at home but don’t want the hassle of tangled headphone wires as I move around. I used to have a dedicated set of speakers hooked up in my study, but since I’m now living in a cramped apartment a portable speaker unit, paired with a mobile device is really very practical. In fact my Samsung Focus (WP7.5), Zune subscription and the SW50 make a great combination.

The sound quality of the SW50 really surprised me – in a good way. When I saw the size of the device I was worried that the quality and volume would both be underwhelming. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, the little unit really does deliver in both these areas. The only criticism I have is that the sound is very… well… unidirectional. Compared to a good pair of headphones or a set of 5.1 surround speakers – but that’s not really a fair comparison since neither of those can be had for around $30 . (It did make me wonder though whether there is a market for a pair of similar devices each playing a single channel).27017

The unit’s single button can be used for answering or ignoring incoming calls on the connected bluetooth device. To be honest this isn’t a feature that I can really see using – but it may appeal to some.

I guess for those that are more serious about their portable sound experience, forking out some extra cash on something like a Jawbone Jambox would be the preferred option. Me though – I’m really happy with the SW50.

Thanks very much for www.mobilefun.co.uk for  sending me this unit to review – you gals rock!

WP7 Backgrounds

I’ve taken to swapping my Windows Phone 7 background to match the season, or to remind me of a recent vacation. Here’s some of the backgrounds that I’ve used to date, each cropped from a photo that I’ve taken over the last 15 months. One of these photos was even taken with the phone itself!

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tyle='vertical-align:bottom;outline:none;border-style:none;padding:0px 5px 5px 5px;margin:0px;width:76px;height:76px;' >View album View album View album View album View album
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Windows Phone ‘Reserved Space’

My Windows Phone is showing that almost half its paltry capacity of 8 GB is consumed by “reserved space and content from other computers”.

Windows Phone - Reserved Space

I’ve gone into the Zune desktop software –> Settings/Phone/Reserved Space and set the amount reserved to zero.

Windows Phone - Reserved Space of 0

So if the 3.36 GB isn’t “reserved” then it must be “content from other computers”. Hmm…. well I’ve never paired the phone with any other computer other than my awesome laptop, so what’s going on? This article strives to explain what could be going on. You might have to read that twice – I know I did.

I tried the “Erase all content” button. The phone and Zune desktop software both showed zero music, video, pictures and podcasts. This had the following effect:

Windows Phone - Reserved Space with no Media

I also found a few other links that asked the obvious question – how do I free up this capacity? Plenty of people questioning – but I didn’t find an answer that worked for me.

http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/winphone/forum/wp7-sync/how-to-shrink-reserved-space-or-content-from-other/5d81707a-ee5a-e011-8dfc-68b599b31bf5

http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/zune/forum/music-pc/reserved-space-and-content-from-other-computers/11ba50dc-d8b8-40f7-b0c3-2bd3a4af836c

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/953593

http://forum.xda-developers.com/archive/index.php/t-904321.html

The last link offers some hope. It suggests that the number may actually be nothing whatsoever to do with “content from other computers” or “reserved space”. Its actually space used by the installed applications and games. Of course this now seems perfectly obvious. Not only is there the cost of installing the applications – but also the data that each keeps locally – for instance the mail boxes, map cache, saved games etc. What’s strange though is how much this allocated capacity seems to fluctuate. I tried uninstalling some apps, deleting the mapping history and removing one of my outlook mail boxes. That reduced the number a fraction – down to 2.6 GB.

It would be great to be able to get more insight into what has that space allocated. Aside from resetting the phone (removing all apps) I’m not too sure where to go from here. Suggestions anyone? [Oh – and I’ve already tried installing a 32 GB memory card – that didn’t end well either].

Smugmug API

Smugmug Logo SmallMy photo sharing site of choice is Smugmug. I can upload and view images at their original size, they offer effectively unlimited storage, support video streaming, protected sharing facilities and the website doesn’t suck. It comes with a price tag but I’m fine with that.

Over the last six months I’ve been playing with the Smugmug API. To date its been a somewhat painful experience. Roughly three months ago they introduced an additional security measure that meant most of the API calls required an additional parameter – which wasn’t documented on the API wiki (the _su cookie).

RestSharp LogoThere are a number of helper wrappers already written for the API (though some are out of date) – but I figured it would be a good learning experience to put together something small for my own requirements. I decided on using the REST flavour of the API and initially implemented it with WebClient. However, after following up on a tip I got from attending the New York Windows Phone User Group I switched to RestSharp (using VS NuGet package installer) which made the code much more concise.

My most recent attempt was to add a feature to the application I’m writing that would allow me to view statistics for my Smugmug galleries. The website offers access to these statistics but in a pretty limited fashion. Having found an API (method.albums.getStats) I figured I could create a stats summary that was exactly was I was after. After several frustrating hours of tweaking the API call and getting nothing but zero hit counters back I resorted to Google. Sure enough – it seems that the API method doesn’t work, and in fact has been broken for months. Would be nice to have that kind of information on the API Wiki page, no?

Silverlight Firestarter 2010

Silverlight Firestarter 2010 Banner

Spawned from a communication at the recent PDC that was then somehow twisted and blown well out of proportion by the blogosphere, Microsoft recently held a Silverlight Firestarter event on campus in Redmond (and streamed live). The “main event” was the keynote which was primarily dedicated to talking about the future of Silverlight, and specifically show casing Silverlight 5.

What was announced

The current feature set of Silverlight 5 is impressive – see Scott Gu’s blog post for a comprehensive overview, the official futures page, or better yet go watch the keynote here.

Here’s what I’m looking forward to the most:

  • Implicit DataTemplates. How do Silverlight developers survive without this!?
  • AncestorType support for RelativeSource binding.
  • Data binding debugging. This looks awesome and could be a real time saver. Simply place a breakpoint on the binding declared in the XAML. When the debugger stops it gives you full access to the Target and binding results or error. This surely has to make it into WPF in an upcoming Visual Studio service pack, or at the very least vNext.
  • For shear, jaw dropping visual effect the 3D medical modelling and globe demos were spectacular. Though it was a very quick portion of the demo the 3D globe – with separate land and cloud layers looked great. I hope this is the future for Bing maps now that they’ve scrapped the 3D plug-in version.
  • BI with Project Crescent. So this offering was shown at the recent PASS 2010 Summit and its seriously cool.

Timing

The problem of course is that the release date for Silverlight 5 isn’t until late 2011 – effectively a year away. Its understandable that Microsoft hadn’t originally planned on showing off Silverlight 5 until they were closer to the release – probably at the time the first beta (scheduled for Spring 2011). It seems they felt that their hand was forced by the recent “Silverlight is dead” debacle. What I saw demoed was certainly impressive but it really makes me crave those features now – and makes Silverlight 4 seem more incomplete as a result. It isn’t helped that Silverlight for Windows Phone is currently not even at Silverlight 4 level. So for now I get to develop on Silverlight 3.5 and 4.0 whilst eagerly awaiting the promise that is Silverlight 5.

Of course any serious development I do is in WPF – ‘cause lets face it – browser dependent apps are just toys right?

Intro Sessions for Silverlight

The rest of the Firestarter event was devoted to standard presentation sessions. It started with a Silverlight Binding 101 session given by Jesse Liberty. This should have been dull, but Jesse was very entertaining. If you’re very new to the Silverlight scene I strongly recommend his session as an introduction. John Papa also did a very good introduction to MVVM session.

Each session gradually increased in terms of depth of coverage. The last session by Jamie Rodriguez was a fast and furious dive into potential performance issues when developing for Windows Phone 7. It covered many pragmatic tips and tricks on monitoring and resolving these issues. Despite having seen much of this content previously presented by Jamie on Channel 9 I still found it to be a great session.

The Venue

Microsoft Campus SignThis was my first trip to Seattle and unfortunately I was on a very tight schedule. I arrived very early Thursday morning and left the same night (with 6 hours of flight time either side). I caught the local bus from my hotel in Bellevue to the campus and the area looked very suburban, yet very beautiful too (certainly compared to the concrete jungle that is Manhattan). I also had a detour through downtown Seattle on the way back to the airport in a taxi I was sharing. I was impressed with the city, though I’m told the real test as to whether you could live in Seattle is being able to live through your first winter there.

The event was held in Building 33 at the Conference Center. The room used to host the keynote and the developer sessions was a lecture theatre layout. This was awesome ‘cause it meant everyone could have their laptops set up the entire day, plugged in to power, recharging phones etc. I think about one third of the attendees at the keynote were Microsoft employees from teams other than the Silverlight team.

Is Silverlight Resuscitated?

So will this Firestarter event satisfy the seemingly fickle Silverlight development community? Will they be prepared to wait more that 12 months between versions (shock, gasp)! I heard someone in the audience complain that there wasn’t enough Windows Phone content – which was kind of amusing. Too much focus on Windows Phone would have probably been exactly the wrong message to send to the community.

So where does this leave WPF? No mention in the PDC keynote, no separate Firestarter event – is WPF dead!? Bring on WPF Firestarter 2011 Smile with tongue out

Windows Phone 7 Launch

Today I finally purchase a Windows Phone 7 device. I choose the Samsung Focus on an AT&T plan.

The Purchase

First – I took the day off work. That may sound a little extreme – and certainly wasn’t my original intention. The day off work was actually due to a culmination of things*.

I got to the store just a fraction after early opening time at 8am. I saw a line of people queued up at the counter and walked inside ready to join the end of the queue. Instead I was pounced on by about three sales staff. [The line of people turned out to be there to grab the free Katy Perry tickets as part of the launch event promotions.]

I was in the store for about 20 minutes and during that time I was the only customer purchasing a Windows Phone (or any phone for that matter). It wasn’t a small store in some out of the way town either – this was a fairly large store on Madison Ave, midtown Manhattan. There were no free Xbox 360s either, just some Katy Perry tickets which apparently anyone could grab – no purchase required. AT&T were selling the phone on its ludicrously priced plan – around $80 per month for 450 minutes and 2Gb data.

I asked the salesman to install a 32Gb micro SD card to boost the memory from 8Gb to 40Gb. He was helpful enough to insert the card for me, but not knowledgeable enough to know that this requires a phone reset.

The Hardware

The Samsung Focus is quite a nice piece of hardware. It’s very light and thin – which I like, and the 4 inch screen means that its quite a big device – in my opinion its too big. The finish is better than I was expecting given that its a predominantly plastic body. It isn’t as sexy (or effeminate) as an iPhone 4 – but its better looking that a lot of the other smartphone devices out there.

The super AMOLED screen lives up to the hype – it is very beautiful – especially the blacks which blend perfectly into the black frame.

Windows Phone Samsung Focus registered in Zune

What’s working

Exchange, Windows Live and POP accounts syncing and merging. The Calendar merging is great. I’m very fortunate in that I’m not really a calendar power user so I only have one calendar in exchange and one in Live that I really use a lot – the merging works well. Email setup was very easy – as easy as the Blackberry in fact. I’m still coming to terms with not having a unified Inbox – I’ll have to wait and see how that works out.

Games – not really my highest priority but the AT&T bundled Ilomilo was a real hit with the kids. I downloaded the Harvest demo and the graphics are certainly quite impressive.

Picked up some basic free apps (mostly from Microsoft) and even purchased a NYC subway application ($0.99) that looks promising (but haven’t really tried it out yet).

Bing map application works great on Wi-Fi but was too slow on 3G. That’s no different to the experience I’ve had with Google maps though on other phones – and says more about the network than the platform/app.

Once I got everything synced with my PC the Zune software worked nicely. I’ve been looking forward to streaming media on the go – in addition to just having my podcasts etc. synced wirelessly.

Marketplace client is much improved on the Windows Mobile 6.5 version. Browsing is now actually quite a pleasant experience. The only thing that I’d like to see is some way to launch an application from the store. It’s annoying that you can download and install a small app almost immediately – but in order to run it you have to exit out of the Marketplace back to the start screen and find the newly installed application in a long list. [Maybe I’ve missed something here?]

What’s not working

How do I view or upload to Smugmug? I’ve got 10Gb+ worth of photos sitting in Smugmug galleries. I linked my Live ID to Smugmug a few months back but haven’t been able to figure out how this achieves anything. I was hoping that it just meant the Live web-site and Messenger were just behind the times, but it doesn’t seem that Windows Phone makes any use of this association either. I’d love to know how this is supposed to work – I’m being optimistic and just hoping that I’ve missed some simple setting somewhere. I need access to my photos – please!

There were heaps of little things that didn’t work. Facebook integration gave me an “Oops” message with a “try again later”. At least three of the hyperlinks took me to a “Sorry can’t find that page” – these were Microsoft and AT&T links. Some things didn’t work how I expected because I spent the first hour or so playing with the phone in a coffee shop prior to connecting it to my computer. So when I signed into Zune using my Live ID (with Zune subscription) I couldn’t play any non-purchased music. I understand that the device has to be linked to my account but why can’t that be done from the phone itself?

The on-screen keyboard is horrible. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve never really used a finger based on-screen keyboard before, so I’m not suggesting its any worse than the competition. I’m forever hitting the wrong letter and the auto-correct only seems to be available in some scenarios – certainly not for users names and passwords which I did a lot of in the initial setup. I also couldn’t figure out how to position the cursor within a word – it would always either highlight the entire word or move just before or after. Makes me wish for a stylus – I could be much quicker and more accurate (and I find its also a lot more comfortable). Anyway – guess I got to move with the times {sigh}…

Development

At first I just connected my phone, fired up Visual Studio changed the deployment target to Windows Phone 7 Device and pressed F5. This generated a deployment error – something about developer unlock required. The embedded URL (which I had to manually retype into the browser) wasn’t much help…

Windows Phone App Hub Page Not Found

Doing a Bing search on the app hub didn’t get me anywhere either. I quickly resorted to googling for the answer and came across this blog post…

http://www.istartedsomething.com/20100611/windows-phone-7-developer-phone-unlock-detailed/

Windows Phone Developer Device Registratio<br />
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Once that was done, I hit F5 again and hey presto Word Puzzle is deployed to my phone. Nice!

First Impressions

Based on what I saw of the “launch” I’m not sure how well the devices are selling, nor how effective the marketing has been. I keep reading posts about low supply due to high demand which I find hard to fathom. My main priority was to get a device that I could easily write applications for, that had a decent media player and could keep me connected via e-mail and popular social networks. From that perspective I think the phone’s going to suffice. It also means I can get rid of my company Blackberry which is a semi-functional (it does e-mail OK but that’s about it) and truly un-inspiring device.


* Those things that led to me taking a day off included:

  • Finding out my company adheres to a barbaric but seemingly fairly common policy of not allowing staff to rollover annual leave from one year to the next (As the Windows Phone 7 adverts would say – Really?).
  • Having worked so many hours in the last few months that my hourly wage is roughly on par with what I used to earn delivering pizzas when I was 18 (OK – slight exaggeration). The main cause of working all these hours of course is that the work has just been so awesome. Having just pumped out a kick-ass version 1 release the product owner decided we should each get a day off this iteration to ‘recharge’.
  • A bunch of odd-jobs that I’ve been putting aside finally needed some attention. Tedious stuff like buying new work clothes, getting a hair cut, landlord duties.

Windows Phone 7 Trivia

OK – so yesterday I had a bit of a rant. Today I figure I’ll make up for it by sharing a few quick pieces of Windows Phone 7 trivia that I’ve learned over the last couple of days.

Limited number of developer apps deployed to a device

As a developer you can only have up to 10 of your own apps (deployed via Visual Studio) on your device. Of course you can uninstall some to make room to install others – but no more than 10 at a time. Probably not an issue for most people but a little quirky nonetheless.[I haven’t been able to confirm this myself].

No video out capabilities

The OS comes with a pretty neat version of PowerPoint. It lets you playback your PowerPoint slide deck and whilst you can’t create decks from scratch there is limited edit capability for last minute changes. So how cool is this – you sync your slide deck with your phone (say via SkyDrive) walk into your next meeting. Rather than having to lug a laptop around with you its simply a matter of taking out your phone and plugging it into the projector. Or at least it would be… if any of the hardware devices supported video out in this fashion. This really makes me wonder how useful having PowerPoint on the phone is without this feature? [Sure there is PowerPoint streaming etc. but what’s wrong with just plugging the phone into a projector/TV – e.g. via mini HDMI].

Buying a phone

Telstra HTC MozartOf all the retail package/plans I’ve seen to this point Australia’s Telstra seems to have the sweetest deal. They are doing the HTC Mozart for $0 up front on a $49 per month plan that includes generous call/sms caps plus 500Mb of data. So all up that’s AU$1176 for two years of Windows Phone goodness. (The Aussie dollar is currently a fraction under the US dollar). Telstra have plenty of flaws (there billing website is the worst of any I’ve had to use) but there network is 4G in all major Australian cities and is by far the best network in that country.

http://www.telstra.com.au/mobile/phones/windows7/index.html?ti=TR:TR:Oct10:htcmozart:TCOMindex:325×200

There is currently no official word on US pricing other than both AT&T and T-Mobile want to slug you $199 up front. Given the current US phone plan prices and the ridiculous cost of the iPhone I don’t expect to be getting anywhere near such a good deal as with Telstra.

http://htc.t-mobile.com/hd7/

http://www.att.com/shop/wireless/devices/windowsphone.jsp#fbid=8IXHCXcT8z7

Charles Petzold at the NYC .NET Developers Group

Tonight I went along to the New York City .NET User Group to watch Charles Petzold presenting on Windows Phone 7. It was fun to see Petzold in person and though its obvious he’s more an author than a public speaker he still did a great job. He was very well prepared for the talk and did his best to accommodate the somewhat rowdy crowd. The talk was an introduction to the Windows Phone 7 development experience with a focus on the application lifecycle – specifically tombstoning. This seemed to be at the right level for the crowed as far as I could tell – it seemed the majority of people there knew very little about the new platform.

I’d never been to a NYC .NET Developers Group meeting before. There was a pretty good turnout, well over a hundred people. For me though the event was certainly tarnished by the general lack of organization and some inane questions/observations from the audience.

Firstly the pizzas. Charles did a very polished job of starting his talk with a reflection on how mobile devices have become ubiquitous. He then manoeuvred this into an introduction of Windows Phone 7. He had his talk prepared on a set of notes which he would keep glancing at, but I began not to notice that as I was drawn into the talk. At about 10 minutes in just as he has found his stride and captured the audience the pizzas arrived. Some people didn’t even wait for Charles to stop speaking, they just got up and went to the back of the room to help themselves. Eventually one of the organizers walked up the front and cut Charles off mid-sentence – suggesting now would be a good time for a break. I think his response was something like “ah… err… yeah ok”.

Then there were the questions from the audience. A few people asked questions during the talk. In my mind it wasn’t really appropriate given the size of the audience and the style of presentation – more of a keynote. However, Charles hadn’t asked people to leave questions to the end and I understand that people are probably used to asking questions during a user group presentation. What was really annoying though were some of the questions themselves. Interrupting someone to ask them whether xyz is supported when it should have been clear he was just about to get to that. At the end of the session one guy from the audience went on a completely misinformed rave about the price of phones (including the prices in Pakistan!) , another was asking what video formats were supported, etc. These questions couldn’t be answered by Charles and the organizers (or Microsoft) hadn’t thought to have someone up front with him to answer them. Charles managed to stay very well composed throughout.

One more amusing crowd moment was during the impromptu pizza break. Charles was patiently waiting for us all so a few attendees quite understandably took the opportunity to get a book signed, introduce themselves or ask some questions about the phone or his upcoming book. Charles was actually using his Windows Phone 7 device to run the PowerPoint presentation for his talk. He had the device setup at the front on a stand with a video camera so it could be projected onto the screens. So he’s standing there talking to a few people with the phone next to him on the stand at the current PowerPoint slide. One guy walks up and asks if he can play with the phone. “What now? Err.. . no.”. I’m sure the guy was just eager to get his hands on a real device but imagine someone asking you if they can play with your laptop half way through giving a well scripted talk/demo to a packed room of people? Seriously? Oh well… I got a chuckle out of it.