Amazon Fire: Um… no.

Posted by & filed under Technology.

fire phoneSo, the Amazon has now introduced its very own kinda-Android Fire Phone. Neat. Except I keep wondering, why?

One of the primary differentiating function is, apparently, the Dynamic Perspective. Which requires several cameras and lets you “look” at kinda-3D things in your phone. It’s interesting but not really ground-breaking. Remember all those apps for iPad from 2010? Yeah, just like that:

Okay, maybe it’s a new thing for Android phones? Well, not really. Looky here:

So you don’t really need all those cameras, it just adds expense (though some of those parallax live wallpapers do cost a dollar on Play Store).

Tilting and twitching to get menus is not for me — I sometimes use my phone on the go so accidental page flips and menu toggling would be rampant. I don’t even use auto-rotate because of that.

Firefly is a very interesting app — like Google Goggles on steroids, plus insta-buy ability. But the question is — will they really never release it for regular Android, or incorporate the functionality into regular Amazon app for Android or iPhone? Remember, the idea is to help Amazon customers to buy something they’ve found in the real world. Forcing them to buy a phone to do that is a bit silly, so I expect this app to go Android-wide in a few months at most.

Mayday is a good service, and that could entice some people not familiar with technology to buy the phone. Or they could get an iPhone and get help from Apple — not in real-time over the video chat, but in person instead. I can’t objectively judge if this would be crucial for non-tech-savvy users, as from my perspective you only need such service a few times at the beginning when you are learning how to do something on your phone. It’s a crutch for weird and non-intuitive interfaces, mostly — users can’t figure out how to find music, or disable ringer or something so they are forced to ask online assistant — that’s a total UX failure right there.

Good camera and a dedicated camera button is great, and I hope we’ll see f/2.0 camera in other phones. Dedicated button is common on Sony phones, but that’s about it.

So hardware-wise I don’t see any significant reason to buy new Amazon phone. A year worth of Prime service is enticing, but $650 for an unlocked version of the phone? No way. And it’s just on AT&T — I thought we were past that ever since Facebook Phone? If it’s a GSM (+ LTE) device, it has to go on T-Mobile too. I can imagine all those wonderful sync services and FireFly (and even Mayday) sucking up data at an alarming rate, so users that have no chance of buying unlimited data from AT&T might get a very unpleasant surprise.

Ideally, I hope Amazon will have a fire sale on Fire phone soon, where the price will be dropped to more reasonable Nexus-like levels (after all, we get castrated version of Android, with full Amazon lock-in on services and apps). Then it might make some sense. But for now — no. Either a Samsung or LG flagman would be a better choice.

Too bad, though, I had high hopes for Amazon device.

Straight Talk: slight trouble in MMS paradise

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Straight TalkSo, after months of good service, Straight Talk / TracFone suddenly sent me “Please restart your phone to apply settings” type of message. Looks like they have modified their APN settings (used to be AT&T MVNO and now it’s more “TracFone”-like “tfdata”). I rebooted my phone, and everything seemed to be fine. Except my MMS is now somewhat wonky.

Specifically, looks like there are problems with larger image sizes — service refuses to download picture MMS for whatever reason and everything was consistently failing. I saw some people claim that “resetting their billing cycle” helped, but I don’t think this is relevant.

So far the shamanic way to make MMS work again is:
1. Make sure your APN is set to “new” stuff (APN: tfdata, MMSC: http://mms-tf.net, MMS PROXY: mms3.tracfone.com,
MMS PORT: 80, MMS_APN: tfdata)
2. Turn off WiFi
3. Send yourself a small MMS message. Tiny picture. A short audio file. Something that would still make an MMS but also would be small
4. Wait for it to be received by your phone

At this time phone should be able to successfully retrieve the picture. After that you can re-connect to WiFi and it will still work, plus you can download all previously failed messages too.

Hopefully this will help you too 🙂

Frankly, I’d rather then fix their finicky MMS service center 😛 Come on, it’s almost 2014. Having weird issues like that is inexcusable. We used to have to send MMS to ourself to indicate to service center that phone is MMS capable, but these days it shouldn’t be necessary.

Now, on a good side, data is still quite fast, albeit in the middle of the night. Almost 20Mbps down and 2Mbps up on AT&T’s LTE network for same price…
speed_dec_6

Still worth it 🙂

p.s. the other thing I’ve noticed was that from time to time browser gets redirected to some IP address but then goes back to original page. I am not yet sure if this is related, but just opening a web page could be one of those “magically helps to resolve non-downloading of MMS” thing. I wonder if they are trying to clamp down on people trying to tether “unofficially” via their sim cards, and in the process broke MMS delivery (which is incapable of downloading content unless APN is happy with the device)

Microsoft finally buys Nokia. Bye, Nokia

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Lumia 900
It’s been a loooong time, but the moment everyone was waiting for is finally here. Stephen Elop’s work is done, and crippled, bloodied, slightly twitching corpse of previously all-powerful cell phone giant Nokia has been sold off to the Microsoft for a measly 5.66 Billion Euro in cash.
Measly, because just a little while ago Microsoft has bought Skype for more than that ($8.5 billion, to be more precise). The Moor has done his duty. The Moor can go.

Now, will it change anything on the market, and what does it mean to Windows Phone platform? I don’t think it means much. Up until Now Nokia seemed to be in a daze, absolutely sure that they are “winning” and that magical moment when everyone is going to use Windows Mobile phone is just a few months away. Well, that short distance just kept getting longer. Yes, thanks to Nokia, WP made some progress by convincing feature phone owners to give it a try (and purging all other manufacturers from the Windows Phone market). But iPhone and Android users didn’t march into stores to demand their MTV Windows Phone, and so far nothing on the platform seems to be convincing enough to entice them to switch.

I believe the Metro UI is just not attractive to that many users. It’s not bad, but it has a rather steep learning curve. And given absolute rigidity of the platform in UI aspects, those who don’t like the way phone looks have no choice but to turn to Android (or iPhone). Forcing users to learn by bolting Metro onto Windows also didn’t seem to go over well, so now we know that theory “users will love it if only they were forced to use it” isn’t correct either. Otherwise we’d see massive spike as soon as Windows 8 went live on new computers (instead the new computers’ sales went down, and even tablets with Windows RT, that are supposed to be replacing the computers, are not selling that well).

Hopefully WP will persevere and offer an alternative to Android/iPhone duopoly (especially given how hard Blackberry crashed) — three is always better than one. I may not like it, but I know a few people who enjoy their phones, and a new option is always good to have. It’s just sad that Nokia’s potential was wasted so dramatically. And yes, I would love Nokia’s hardware to run Android, but now that will never happen, for obvious reasons…

Now, on a more technical (and somewhat paranoid) side of things is the part where Microsoft gets to have a bunch of Nokia’s patents. And when silly users will continue to ignore wonders of WP world, they may get tempted to try to kill off the competition. Or at least squeeze as much money as possible, so I expect Android manufacturers to nervously flick through their address book looking for patent lawyer’s number.

Elysium: Um…. 2 stars

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ElysiumSo, I’ve watched The Elysium this weekend. And results are rather mixed.

I mean it’s a nice action movie with standard “self-sacrifice” and “for the greater good” and “think of the children” message (that’s probably why the score is so high in Rotten Tomatoes — unless you have self-sacrifice themes you’re doomed to be labeled as a mindless flick). And I guess if you like to turn off your brain while watching the movie, it’s fine. However if you think just a bit you run into a heap of troubles. Spoilers ahead.
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Defiance, the SyFy series: kinda okay

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defianceSo, the SyFy is celebrating the most-watched scripted series premiere of the Defiance with 2.7 million viewers. Good sign? Probably. But how good?

They reached back into 2006. Seven. Years. Ago. That’s how long it’s been since a new and interesting serties got a decent rating. Practically while Stargate SG-1 was giving up it’s last Goa’uld ghost. When SciFi channel used to show, I don’t know, science fiction and not being obsessed with “ghost hunters”. Well, technically they did get obsessed with them even before then — cheap production costs, drama, ratings!

And as series itself it’s not bad, but rather boring and not engaging. Unshakeable feelings of “seen it” and “are they really going to go there” with “ugh” and “don’t really care” didn’t let me fully enjoy the first episode. Technically everything is there, all the ingredients. Defiant alien daughter (the rhinoplasty weird nose and forehead), soldiering father that just has to stay in this town “to keep the order” (hello, Jack Carter, your talking house misses you). Many aliens (including albinos) and some weird mutant things. Accidental techno-disaster, as a base for inter-species tensions. Mafias, fighting for the control of the city. Betrayal. Grand Conspiracy for the Sake of the Greater Good of Whole Humanity. Mediocre visual effects. Yet the combo doesn’t bring the joy 🙁

A bit more humor would be nice, a non-forced sense of self-irony, a bit less predictability. Oh, and probably less forced buzz about the fusion of game and on-screen content. Mostly because game seems to be rather rough around the edges right now (especially comparing to Guild Wars 2). Spartan content. Traditional server troubles. And bonus — rather low initial sales.

I’m judging by numbers from the SyFy’s press release that boasts about “six million hours of gameplay” since April 2nd. The game sales chart says first week had 173,399 + 65,174 + 53,551 = 292,124 copies sold. Being generous let’s presume the second week followed overall role-playing game pattern and sales dropped 72%. That’d be extra 81,794 copies. Total of about 380,000 copies and about 16 hours of gameplay per user. Not that much 🙁 (compare that to a million players and 31+ million hours in one week for Halo 4).

I’m afraid that by splitting their resources between game and series, we got two rather mediocre products instead of one strong tv series. For the sake of grandiose tv sci-fi series, I hope I’m wrong. And that second week will pick up and the Defiance will improve and become more interesting.