Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch – some initial impressions

Samsung Gear 2 Neo home screenLast month, I bought a Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch. It’s been on my wrist every day over the past few weeks, replacing my usual traditional watch that tells the time and shows me the date.

Of course, a digital smartwatch can do a lot more than just that, one of the reasons why people buy them.

You want to check your heartbeat? Count how many steps you take walking, or running or hiking? Track your sleeping time? The Gear 2 Neo does all of that and more. I’d argue, though, that dedicated fitness devices such as a Fitbit or Jawbone Up do that much better and in greater depth – that’s what they do.

So if such health-focused activity-tracking uses are of primary importance to you, a smartwatch like the Gear 2 wouldn’t be your best choice.

But if you want to do things such as receive notifications of messages from social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Yammer and more; receive texts from your contacts on WhatsApp, Hangouts or via standard SMS; get reminders from your calendar on upcoming appointments; read email from your Gmail or corporate email accounts; or receive (and make) phone calls from your wrist, then a Gear 2 Neo might be right up your street.

And, as I use a Samsung smartphone – a Galaxy S4 at the moment – the fact that this smartwatch is geared  to work seamlessly with 17 supported Samsung smartphone models including the S4 was a big selling point.

So that’s what I want today from a smartwatch.

All of the above was the primary reason why I went for a Gear 2 Neo rather than any other comparable smartwatch currently on the market, many of which will also do some or all these things with other brands of smartphones: iPhones as well as Android-based devices.

In my view, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo is at the most favourable price point for what you get with your device, better than anything comparable I looked at.

You use a Gear 2 Neo in conjunction with your Samsung smartphone and the Gear Manager app you install on your phone. The first thing you do is pair your two devices via Bluetooth, and you’re set – from that point on you’ll get all the notifications you want on your Neo, from any of your installed apps, once you’ve set them up with the Gear Manager on your smartphone.

Samsung Gear ManagerManage Notifications

As long as your two devices are within range of each other, you won’t need to whip out your phone just to see a notification. It’s a very handy feature, possibly more so than you first realize.

One thing I find really appealing are the extensive ways in which you can customize your Gear 2 Neo, from the obvious and visual (wallpapers or coloured backgrounds) to the useful (watch styles and faces), and a great deal more, from how you’re notified and by which apps, to privacy locking and finding your Neo using your smartphone.

WallpapersClocks

I’ve experimented a bit with the aesthetics! At the moment, my Neo screen has a November the fifth effect as the wallpaper. I expect to change that in the next week or so, once I’ve found a good alternative (a good resource for Gear 2 wallpapers is Tizen Experts website).

I’m only scratching the surface of the Gear 2 Neo at the moment, not yet having explored in depth the apps that come with the device – some of which are tuned to Samsung smartphones, eg, S Voice and Voice Memo – never mind what’s in the Samsung App Store. And there is a surprisingly large quantity of apps in that store.

All that’s yet to come. Meanwhile, a handful of quick impressions:

  • Battery life is excellent in my experience, at least two days between charges, sometimes three days. Much depends on how you use it, of course, but this is my experience by and large. Only once did I use up all the juice in one day when I was doing a huge amount with the device including making and receiving quite a few phone calls and playing around with the various screens and options. But for typical usage, I’d say you can expect about two days on a single battery charge.
  • The way you charge the battery is via a little clip-on charge pack that fits on the back of the device. It’s small and very light = very easy to lose; I’m taking special note of where I put it. You can’t just plug your device in to a power source as you do with your smartphone – the only way to connect a USB cable is via the clip-on pack, and it’s the only way to charge your Neo.
  • The huge battery hit is on your paired smartphone because of the Bluetooth connectivity. In a typical day, I need to charge the phone during the day and again at the end of the day (where, usually, it’s only once at the end of the day when I charge it). Much depends on what you use your smartphone for and how you use it, as well as how long or how frequently you connect to your Neo via Bluetooth. Being permanently connected, with Bluetooth running all the time, is a nice convenience but maybe not really essential. So short battery life isn’t a device issue, it’s a battery issue – and extending battery life is undoubtedly one of the next key development frontiers to cross with battery technologies for mobile and wearable devices.
  • Usability as a device paired with a Samsung smartphone is excellent where the two devices work hand in glove, pretty seamlessly from my experience so far. If you think about how you use a smartphone where some of your time is spent just looking at it to see notifications, with limited interactions, then a smartwatch surely is a more convenient way to do that especially in some situations, eg, in a meeting, on a bus or train, etc, where a gentle vibration alerts you that a notification is coming, and you can give a discreet glance at your wrist.
  • The Gear 2 range including the Neo run the Tizen operating system, not Android. From my experience, that’s not an issue at all as Linux-based Tizen is actively supported by many mainstream manufacturers (including Samsung) and has a growing developer environment with more apps coming all the time, with plenty of incentives for developers.

The smartwatch market is getting most interesting now. Samsung just launched its Gear S in the US, an advanced-level smartwatch and health/fitness tracker with built-in cellular communications functionality – no paired smartphone required; Apple’s much-anticipated Apple Watch is reportedly coming in Spring 2015; more devices within Google’s Android Wear framework are coming soon; and news keeps popping up of more brands releasing their own smartwatches.

There are also developments with useful things you can do with your smartwatch. For instance, I look forward to flying with an airline where I can show my boarding pass on my Gear 2 Neo, as you can do with Iberia – far easier than grappling with a bit of paper or a smartphone along with all your hand baggage when you board.

And in the workplace, think how useful it would be to get notifications of events from your ERP system, such as the working proof of concept from enterprise software vendor IFS (a client) that they developed to deliver notifications from their IFS Applications software to the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.

This is just the start. So I’m happy to be in a good place to learn right now with a Gear 2 Neo.

Putting a Samsung Gear 2 Neo to the test

Samsung Gear 2 Neo

I speak and write quite a bit these days about wearable technology, a topic I have a keen interest in.

While the overall tech is a major part of my interest, it’s also largely about how people use it, especially in one area that’s getting a lot of attention – smartwatches.

As I don’t have one myself, I’ve been thinking about which one to get. It surely is hard to talk about a device with even a little credibility if you don’t use one yourself.

After spending time these past few weeks in considering different devices, including asking friends for opinions and reading many reviews, today I bought one – a Samsung Gear 2 Neo, pictured above.

Of all the smartwatches currently on the UK market that I considered – the list included not only direct competitors like the Pebble Smartwatch, Sony SW2 and the LG G at the premium-price end, but also really low-cost brands out of China such as Foxnovo, Lemfo and Lenofocus – I kept circling back to the Gear 2 Neo.

Part of the reason is trust in the Samsung brand as someone whose other mobile devices are Samsungs. And the big plus – the Gear range is geared, as it were, specifically to Samsung devices to enable a range of rich features, many of which I find compelling.

These include:

  • Seamless pairing via Bluetooth with my Galaxy S4 smartphone (Samsung has made 17 smartphone models able to pair with the Gear 2 Neo).
  • Receiving notifications of incoming messages, etc, from a wide range of apps installed on the S4 smartphone including Twitter, WhatsApp, Google+, Facebook and many more.
  • Ability to manage and customize many aspects of the smartwatch from the smartphone with the Samsung Gear Manager app.
  • The Gear 2 Neo has 4 gigs of internal storage so you can store lots of content, from video and audio to installable apps from Samsung’s App Store.
  • Very easy-to-understand interface – you don’t really need to read the manual.
  • Excellent hardware build quality including dust and water resistance.
  • Beautiful screen size and resolution – 1.64-inches, 320 x 320 pixels, Super AMOLED touch screen.

I expect to discover more as I get to know the Gear 2 Neo.

The device also lets you interact with it for a range of fitness-type activity such as heart-rate monitoring, a pedometer, etc. Those don’t interest me at all – so played no factor in my purchasing decision – and as a Twitter friend mentioned to me earlier today, devices like Fitbit do a far better job of that.

Where I think the Samsung Gear 2 Neo will excel is in areas like notifications of events from apps (how seamless will that be especially in a workplace environment or when out and about?), customization and installing third-party apps.

One other device I did briefly consider was also from Samsung –  its entry into the Android Wear market with the Samsung Gear Live, coming very soon. In my view, that’s one for the very early adopters (see this review by TechRadar), which I don’t want to be for my first smartwatch.

The Samsung Gear 2 Neo is a really nice device; I am pleased with it and feel I made a good decision. Still, time will tell: review to come once I’ve kicked its tyres a while.

iPhone 6 review: Is this the most desirable smartphone in the world?

iPhone 6I don’t think many people would disagree that Apple creates some of the most beautifully-made products in their range of mobile devices.

None currently is more desirable than the iPhone, a smartphone that is held in high esteem by the millions of people around the world who have used one or more of the evolving models since the first-generation device was launched in 2007.

The iPhone and Apple’s iOS operating system, together with smartphones running Google’s Android operating system, collectively accounted for over 96 percent of global smartphone shipments in August 2014, according to IDC, a market intelligence firm. Such a metric has been so for a significant period of time. Windows Phone, Blackberry and others are mere blips by comparison.

It’s an impressive market position for iOS and Android devices.

What’s probably more impressive to note is that smartphones that run iOS – ie, iPhones – are made only by one manufacturer: Apple. On the other hand, Android-powered smartphones – think of dominant player Samsung’s Galaxy range, for instance – are made by ten different companies.

Such light analysis of the smartphone market and where the iPhone sits in it runs through my mind when thinking of the latest generation of the iPhone launched in early September – the iPhone 6.

I was fortunate to be able to examine an iPhone 6 up close up a few weeks ago for this review thanks to mobile operator Three UK.

In the few days I had to get to know the iPhone 6 – it arrived on the day when the fiasco of Apple’s iOS 8.0.1 upgrade began – I focused mostly on the device itself rather than the apps you can run on it. As an ex-iPhone user (I was a firm iPhone fanboy with an iPhone 3G many years ago) and now a firm Android user with my current Galaxy S4, I was interested in what this latest generation of iPhone looked like and how it performed, and how it compared to my own experiences with my Galaxy S4.

In a nutshell, these are key specs that most people might ask about when considering an iPhone 6:

  • Overall size: 138.1mm high x 67mm wide x 6.9 mm thick (5.44 x 2.64 x 0.27 inches).
  • Display: 4.7 inches (diagonal) Retina HD display, 750 x 1334 pixels – bigger than any previous iPhone model.
  • Processor: A8 chip with 64-bit architecture, plus M8 motion coprocessor.
  • Internal memory: 16Gb (the model I reviewed); other capacities: 64Gb, 128Gb.
  • External memory: None (and no capability for any, eg, SD cards), in common with all Apple mobile devices.
  • Cameras: 2 – primary (rear) 8 megapixels; FaceTime (front) 1.2 megapixels.
  • Video: 1080p HD video recording (30 fps or 60 fps), Slo-mo video (120 fps or 240 fps), time-lapse video.
  • Cellular and wireless connectivity: 3G, LTE 4G (depending on model and plan with mobile operator); 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wifi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC.
  • Battery: 14 hours talktime on 3G; 10 hours online (internet) use; up to 10 days (150 hours) standby time.
  • Sensors include: Touch ID for optional secure sign-in to the device and to your Apple account using your fingerprint (first introduced in 2013 with the iPhone 5S).
  • SIM card type: Nano-SIM. iPhone 6 is not compatible with micro-SIMs and other card types used in iPhone models earlier than the iPhone 5S.
  • Colours: Space Grey (the colour of my review unit), silver and gold.

Would my getting to know the iPhone 6 in a short space of time make me desire one?

Here’s a concise overview of my impressions of the iPhone 6 with photos, and with my conclusions at the end.

[Read more…]

Broadcasting the wow factor

The Graham Norton Show

TV chat shows can be great platforms to introduce a new product, create interest in going to the cinema and see a hot movie, or any manner of things celebrity guests talk about and likely to attract a big audience.

In today’s sharing society, you also want to extend the reach of a topic and its wow factor by building buzz online.

A cool product that played a big part in the latest The Graham Norton Show last night – undoubtedly the preeminent TV chat show in the UK, broadcast every Friday night on BBC1 – was a little robot that wowed Graham Norton, his three guests – Gary Oldman, Toni Collette and Nick Frost – and the studio audience.

Check out the video of the four-and-a-half-minutes segment in the show that featured the robot: I bet you go ‘Wow!”

(If you’re in the US and not able to see the video, possibly for copyright reasons, check out the copy uploaded to YouTube by BBC America.)

Norton said the robot is called “Nao,” which made it an easy matter to Google it and come up with details about it:

NAO is a programmable, 58cm tall humanoid robot with the following key components:

  • Body with 25 degrees of freedom (DOF) whose key elements are electric motors and actuators
  • Sensor network, including 2 cameras, 4 microphones, sonar rangefinder, 2 IR emitters and receivers, 1 inertial board, 9 tactile sensors, and 8 pressure sensors
  • Various communication devices, including voice synthesizer, LED lights, and 2 high-fidelity speakers
  • Intel ATOM 1,6ghz CPU (located in the head) that runs a Linux kernel and supports Aldebaran’s proprietary middleware (NAOqi)
  • Second CPU (located in the torso)
  • 27,6-watt-hour battery that provides NAO with 1.5 or more hours of autonomy, depending on usage

    NAO

If that’s all a bit dry, there is a video:

The company behind NAO is Aldebaran Robotics, whose website says it’s the first French company focusing on humanoid robotics. Its founder and chairman is Bruno Maisonnier whose LinkedIn profile starts simply with, “I’m interested in everything linked with robotics.”

I noticed that the video showcasing NAO was made in 2008, indicating that this humanoid robot has been around for at least five years.

Maybe mainstream focus such as The Graham Norton Show will help propel NAO into mainstream interest. Incidentally, nice work by the PR firm who got the BBC’s interest in NAO leading to its being the star of The Graham Norton Show.

It certainly knows how to dance Gangnam Style.

And it (he) has a Twitter handle: @NaoRobot.

But as Aldebaran Robotics says themselves, “There remain major challenges to overcome before robots become true personal assistants.”

So, some work to do to evolve on from a robot dancing Gangnam Style to getting closer to the concept of Sonny from I, Robot, never mind David from A.I.

Still, wow!

The thrill and heartache of BlackBerry: employee perspectives

BlackBerrys

Whether Canadian mobile technology company BlackBerry has a viable future or not is still a big unknown.

The company fell from grace during this year as sales of its smartphones plummeted in the face of competition from Apple and Android devices, plus a collapse in confidence in the company,  in the brand and in its leadership, and a knock-on effect on its lucrative software and services business.

The cost was catastrophic. Calling BlackBerry “a company in crisis” would be an understatement.

While some reports now talk about success with its BBM messaging service, others paint a dire picture of a company whose market share in hardware devices had all but collapsed by the end of the third quarter 2013 in key markets – to near zero in the US, China, Spain and Japan, for example, as the Guardian reports, also highlighting one ray of sunshine in one market: the UK.

Meanwhile, interim CEO John Chen affirmed in an open letter last week that BlackBerry Ltd is “very much alive, thank you” as it rebuilds itself as a niche player concentrating on the enterprise market.

Whatever the future for Blackberry, its past is a rich library of compelling memories and stories told by employees, former employees and others with strong connections to the company from its founding as RIM in 1984 to the present day.

You’ve heard the massaged and nuanced PR stuff from company leaders past and present: now hear the unfiltered stories of employees.

Such stories have been captured by Bloomberg Businessweek magazine in a feature report that paints a picture of the people of BlackBerry and their perspectives of their lives and connection to BlackBerry:

Over the last two months, Bloomberg Businessweek spoke to dozens of current and former BlackBerry employees, vendors, and associates. Here is their account of the thrill of BlackBerry’s ascension – and the heartache of watching its demise.

It’s a series of powerful vignettes of people and their experiences. It brings BlackBerry into life – it’s about ordinary people, not inanimate objects like phones – as it presents a timeline of events in the mobile-device marketplace, from its early days and, especially, over the past decade, as seen from the perspective of people who made up the once-12,000-member workforce.

Two handfuls of those experiences:

Gary Mousseau, eighth employee at RIM and software developer and manager, 1991-2007: I first met [founder and ex-CEO] Mike Lazaridis when he interviewed me. Mike is a very good orator and communicator of technology. He was a convincing-enough soul that I ended up taking a 13 percent pay cut to join RIM. I started in 1991. My first job was to build my own desk. There was no more room for me. They put me in the fax reception area. I was the guy receiving packages. I sat beside the fax machine, which was not fun. It was a small place. It was crowded. We were above a pizza joint.

Jim Estill, member of the board, 1997-2010: In the early days at RIM, people had no idea what a smartphone was. People had no idea what two-way pagers were. But they had such a cool factor. You’d take one out, and everybody would want to touch it and play with it and see what it was.

Chris Key, global account manager and carrier sales and relationship manager, 2001-09: In 2004, I shipped off to India. I became very active in feeding devices to Bollywood celebrities. I recall going to Bombay fashion week, and I took a box-load of BlackBerrys. A friend of mine is an editor for Vogue. She put me in the VIP section, and I drank Champagne and ate strawberries and handed out BlackBerrys to all the celebrities.

Lidia Feraco, senior marketing manager for Latin America, 2005-11: In the Jamaica/Trinidad launch, we did an exclusive campaign where people would come into a discotheque. We would give them temporary henna bar code tattoos, and people could use their BlackBerrys to scan the tattoos to get people’s [personal identification] numbers. People would say, “Scan me, scan me.” And as the evening went on, people would get more risqué and put the tattoos on different parts of their body. So instead of asking, “Hey, can I get your number,” the conventional line in a nightclub, it was more, “Hey, can I get your PIN?”

Brendan Kenalty, customer base management, 2007-10: I was in the loyalty and retention group. People would be, like, “You’re in BlackBerry retention? Why would anyone need that?”

Jesse Boudreau, vice president, BlackBerry software excellence, 2004-08: In four years we went from [approximately] 2,000 to 12,000 people. Having been at Nortel, the politics that get played is exponential. I was starting to see it be like Nortel. There was bureaucracy. There was pointless process. You were getting decisions by committee.

Vincent Washington, senior business development manager, 2001-11: One thing we missed out on was that Justin Bieber wanted to rep BlackBerry. He said, “Give me $200,000 and 20 devices, and I’m your brand ambassador,” basically. And we pitched that to marketing: Here’s a Canadian kid, he grew up here, all the teeny-boppers will love that. They basically threw us out of the room. They said, “This kid is a fad. He’s not going to last.” I said at the meeting: “This kid might outlive RIM.” Everyone laughed.

Ray Gillenwater, managing director, 2007-12: If BlackBerry was going to be serious about consumers, they needed to make a fundamental shift in the way products were thought about, created, iterated, marketed, and sold. This was done but never to the extent necessary. It was always a partial effort. There was a period of time when this could have been corrected, but when it became apparent that HQ and senior leadership were not addressing systemic issues, people like myself left.

Jeff Gadway, current senior manager for product marketing: When you go into the focus groups, and you talk to customers about brands in the technology space, there are brands that don’t come up at all anymore. And then there’s BlackBerry. People have fond sentiments about BlackBerry. If people didn’t have that affinity toward the brand, I would be challenged to really believe in what we’re doing. People want to see BlackBerry succeed.

‘Thrill’ and ‘heartache’ are indeed the sum total of much of these experiences:

Much more at Bloomberg Businessweek: The Rise and Fall of BlackBerry: An Oral History.

I was never a BlackBerry user. I never bought into the “doing my email wherever I am” culture. Yet, today, reading those emotive snapshots, I say: Good luck, BlackBerry.

(Photo at top via the Guardian.)

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Amazon’s drone delivery service: not science fiction

Amazon Prime Air

A story that’s all over the news web today is about Amazon’s plans to start a delivery service that will get your package directly to your door straight from an Amazon fulfilment centre via a drone pilotless aircraft.

No middlemen – no postal service, no couriers – just Amazon. And delivery within 30 minutes.

amazonprimeairlogoKnown as Amazon Prime Air, the service looks to be in an advanced planning stage – drones have been made and at least one test flight carried out – with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos saying that he hopes to start service in 2015.

[…] It looks like science fiction, but it’s real. From a technology point of view, we’ll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is actively working on rules for unmanned aerial vehicles.

[…] We hope the FAA’s rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015. We will be ready at that time.

So, the service will launch in the US to begin with. I imagine Amazon’s long-term plans would be to bring it to its other markets including the UK.

Calling the service Amazon Prime Air is interesting: Amazon Prime is the Amazon delivery service that you pay an annual subscription to and then get free delivery for your orders (and other benefits, too). The name suggests that would include deliveries by drones.

If they’ve got to this stage in their planning, it’s clear Amazon have worked out how to meet the logistical challenges in enabling a service like this that says it will deliver your order within 30 minutes if you’re within ten miles of a fulfilment centre.

I guess it also suggests expansion plans by Amazon to extend its network of fulfilment centres so as to extend its direct reach to more customers. I also guess that the definition of "fulfilment centres" will evolve – not only those gigantic warehouses that we see pictures of every Christmas, but also smaller places from which drones can be used; and, looking at unusual places where opportunity arises to deliver consumer orders for them to collect  – the London tube, for example (obviously not for drones).

To see what Amazon Prime Air may look like, here’s a video Amazon published showing a recent test flight and delivery:

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, watch it at YouTube.)

Lucky it wasn’t raining. And the dog was indoors.

Good timing for the announcement when everyone is focused on online shopping: we had Black Friday last week, and today is Cyber Monday – two events where Amazon already plays a massive role in getting goods to customers.

Innovation and imagination – two ingredients that add context to the technologies that shape our lives and influence our behaviours. And vice versa.

(Via The Verge.)

[Later] And so, the jokes begin… :)

We attempted a drone delivery...

[Update Dec 3] This story certainly has attracted widespread reporting and commentary and, most of all, strong opinion.

Among the handful of people in my networks I spoke to yesterday, all of them expressed cynicism and disbelief in varying degrees. None of them believed Amazon’s reported drone idea will become reality. All of them saw the news as a PR stunt.

You can get an idea of that sentiment in some of the comments to this post.

Pro, con or indifferent, commentary and opinion about drone delivery has focused great attention on Amazon, opening up a public conversation about its business, its model and what might be next. That conversation has been largely positive so far, with nary a credible mention of the alleged dark side of Amazon, eg, its working practices and allegations of treating product-picking fulfilment centre employees like robots.

From a PR point of view, Amazon must be quite pleased with the coverage across the mainstream media and the social web over the past 48 hours.

Some reporting is looking more closely at the very feasibility of the idea, casting doubt on that feasibility. Looking, too, at the likelihood or otherwise of getting regulatory approval in the US. And alternative ideas are beginning to emerge from rivals, such as Waterstones Harry Potter-like concept.

Now there’s a PR stunt.

So, does Amazon Prime Air look like an eagle poised for lift off. Or just a turkey? Maybe Jeff Bezos’ 2015 target is just too optimistic. Maybe it will be 2020.

Or maybe it could take off as planned. From today’s FT reporting on divided opinion in the drone industry:

[…] Amazon had to announce a drone initiative long before its launch, [Dustin Boyer, a San Francisco entrepreneur,] adds, because if it did not, a rival such as Google – which is already testing self-driving cars, a harder technical challenge than airborne autopiloting – would beat them to it.

Rumours in Silicon Valley suggest Google is already working on its own UAV technology, though it is not clear for what purpose, while one Australian start-up is reportedly planning drone deliveries on college campuses early next year.

However, Jonathan Downey is more cautious about Amazon’s idea. As chief executive of Airware, which is developing autopilot "brains" for drones, he believes that using UAVs for delivery is something better suited to remote parts of Africa than dense, built-up environments such as US cities.

"We definitely think things are going to be delivered by drones," says Mr Downey. "Whether it’s books and whether it’s by Amazon I’m sceptical, certainly within the next three or four years."

[…] "We’re really excited because we get a big player to basically sponsor the validity of having a drone business," says Christian Sanz, chief executive of Skycatch, another UAV start-up. "It makes it easier for us to fight the war with FAA."

I’m keeping an open mind.

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