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…]

Test driving Samsung’s new 28-inch 4K UHD monitor

Samsung U28D590D 4K UHD 28-inch monitor

An important item on my tech shopping list is an ultra high definition (UHD) monitor to go with the new desktop PC I’m planning to buy for the home office. So when Samsung UK’s PR agency asked me if I’d like to test drive Samsung’s new 28-inch LED UHD monitor just launched in the UK, why would I say no?

And so late last month, a big box arrived containing a brand new Samsung U28D590D 4K UHD monitor manufactured in May 2014, a sticker on the back said. And it’s been the primary display screen connected to my Dell home office desktop PC for the past few weeks. It’s certified for Windows 8 (the Dell mine is connected to runs Windows 7).

One key thing to mention straightaway – this is not a touch-screen monitor.

Here’s a quick summary of what I noted and was particularly impressed with from the moment I hooked it up to the PC:

It’s simplicity itself to set up. Unpack from the box, peel off all the protecting plastic film, affix the stand, connect to the graphics card port on your PC, plug in the mains lead, turn it on. Your PC or Mac will recognise it and set up a monitor driver. You should then install the specific Samsung monitor driver for this model that comes on a CD or let your operating system find it online. That’s basically it to get started.

One preparatory step I did take beforehand was to update the graphics card driver on the PC. It has an Nvidia card installed and, if you run a Windows PC, it’s always a good idea to have the latest WHQL-approved driver whatever brand of card you have.

The screen resolution is fabulous even if you can’t get the full 4K UHD experience and have to settle for what your PC and graphics card is able to support, which will likely be full high definition (FHD, also known as 1080p), the native resolution of many modern LCD or LED monitors, typically 1980 pixels wide by 1200 pixels high for a 24-inch monitor (which is the size of the AOC LED FHD  monitor I have that the Samsung replaces).

Absolutely gorgeous colours – a billion, says Samsung, if it runs at 4K UHD resolution if you connect with the DisplayPort 1.2 interface – along with crisp and clear graduation of colours and shades of grey. This is the best I’ve ever seen on any monitor.

4K UHD is stunning compared to FHD – rich, vibrant colours and four times the resolution. The peacock picture below tries to illustrate this to show the difference in colours and resolution between FHD and UHD.

FHD vs 4K UHD

Screen refresh is literally instantaneous with no visible pauses or juddery imaging, which is what you might expect to experience if running a program, watching a movie or playing a game that is extreme in its demands of the graphics processing system and memory of your computer. This is where a powerful graphics card with a fast GPU and lots of video memory is important, along with a DisplayPort interface ideally, or an HDMI port to connect the monitor to the PC. (The Samsung monitor has one DisplayPort interface and two HDMI ports, both to the version 1.4 HDMI standard. I’m currently connected via HDMI.)

That works on a similar principle you may already be familiar with on televisions – you need the biggest bandwidth connection between the TV and, say, an Xbox or even your cable TV box to pump the significant amount of audio-visual data at the highest speed you can get. Hence DisplayPort or HDMI, both far superior for this than the typical DVI ports you find on most computer monitors (and many TVs).

I haven’t yet played any contemporary games with this monitor, but I have watched quite a few movies, both on high-definition Blu-ray disc and streaming via Netflix, as well as live TV from the BBC and catch-up TV via iPlayer. In every case, the viewing experience has been an awesome one with smooth, crisp and clear images that make the most of the monitor’s capabilities (plus the PC’s processor and memory,  graphics card and HDMI connection, as well as a pretty good 154Mbps wired broadband internet connection).

And I’ve created, edited and watched a fair number of PowerPoint presentations. The ones I create tend to have lots of graphics, mainly screenshots, so saving content and displaying it can be quite resource-heavy on the computer’s graphics system. With this monitor, it’s a breeze with hardly a lag in screen refresh when I open up a typical 80-meg PowerPoint deck.

In case you’re wondering what’s the big deal about UHD and 4K, let’s address that.

UHD means that the monitor can display content at 3840 pixels wide by 2160 pixels tall resolution, which is four times as many pixels as full high definition (FHD), the resolution typically at 1920×1080. The American Consumer Electronics Association has a great definition of both terms of direct relevance when it comes to computer monitors like this Samsung one.

Okay, I suspect some of you reading this may be at the start of eyes glazing about now. To me, what’s important is that this monitor delivers on the essential elements of resolution, colours and screen refresh times that combine to make a terrific experience whether you’re playing TitanFall, watching House of Cards on Netflix or making a fabulous PowerPoint deck.

So here are some key features:

  • UHD resolution 3840×2160 pixels - 4 times the resolution of Full HD
  • 1 millisecond response time – that’s almost instantaneous
  • Minimalist design
  • Display port interface plus 2 HDMI 1.4 ports
  • UHD upscaling – great when watching HD video
  • Game Mode for a terrific gaming experience

I’ve not yet explored everything this monitor is capable of – things like picture-in-picture, picture-by-picture (two PCs connected to the single monitor to see the desktops of both simultaneously on one screen that’s divided into two), or game mode (detects the changes in scenes, enhances the colour and alters the screen’s contrast to make dark spots darker and light spots lighter so you can see all the action at all times).

Picture-by-picture: two PCs connected to the single monitor

Such experiences are still awaiting me in the coming months.

In summary, the Samsung U28D590D 4K UHD monitor is an excellent display device. Its sleek minimalistic design fits my expectation of a piece of advanced technology that I like to have on my desk. It’s beautifully made and looks pretty good.

The U28D590D is on sale in the UK now (Amazon UK has it at around £460) and you can see it soon in retailers like PC World. Its feature set pits it extremely well amongst competing products from the likes of Dell, Asus and AOC whose similar-spec UHD monitors cost more, significantly so in some cases.

On the Samsung UK website:

With Nomad, you’ll always find juice

ChargeCard

The bane of contemporary mobile life is your smartphone running out of juice sooner than you expect (what many would undoubtedly see as a classic ‘First World problem‘).

It usually happens to me at a conference or other event when I’m using my device a lot for tweets and pics and sharing them online, and there’s no nearby power outlet; or, more typically, I don’t have a charging cable with me that I can plug into a PC’s USB port.

So when the good folk at Nomad in California asked me if I’d like to try out their ChargeCard and ChargeKey micro USB cables, I was more than happy to say yes. Here’s what each device is –

  • ChargeCard: A thin smartphone cable in a credit-card-sized format casing that’s designed to fit into even the slimmest wallet.
  • ChargeKey: A key-shaped smartphone cable that fits onto your keychain.

They work like normal cables for charging the battery and syncing your phone – in both cases, you plug one end into a computer’s USB port and the other end into your mobile device. There are versions for iPhones and for other devices that use the near-ubiquitous micro USB standard connector (almost everyone else). As all of my mobile devices are Android, I chose the micro USB versions.

The package from Nomad arrived just before Easter so I’ve had a chance to try out both devices. They work better than I expected.

As the photos here show, you plug the micro USB connector into your phone, and the end of the charging cable into a USB port on your computer.

ChargeCard

Above is the ChargeCard connected to my Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone, plugged in to a USB port on the side of my Toshiba laptop.

As you can see, the cable connector plugged in to the laptop’s USB port looks like (and is) a very flexible rubber-and-silicon material that’s built in to the more rigid hard plastic of the credit card-sized casing.

Below is the ChargeKey on a keyring with my car key.

ChargeKey

As the ChargeCard image above shows, the connector part of each device is amazingly flexible – here below is what the ChargeKey looks like with the S4 connected to the laptop’s USB port.

ChargeKey

Note how twisted the connector cable is. It’s designed to cope with that, Nomad says, and it connects and works fine. It’s an issue you encounter with many mobile devices and charging/sync cables where each connector only fits one way, so you can end up with some contortions such as you see here.

At least part of the equation will be fixed as and when the new reversible USB connector standard makes its way into the cables and connectors we’ll see and use in the coming years when new reversible-connection USB ports get built in to PCs and other devices.

I’ve now ditched all but one of the USB cables that had homes in my various bags and that usually got tangled up in something. Having one is for the time when you can’t use either of the Nomad products – no flat surface, for instance, or it’s just too awkward, so a long cable may well serve you better.

For me, by far the most comfortable-looking of Nomad’s two devices is the ChargeCard. But both are very good and would likely serve different needs. I’m not sure keeping the ChargeKey on a carkey ring such as I have is best – it’s a bit awkward aligning the various devices on a table. I find the ChargeCard to be a better bet for that.

Still, both of these devices are really great. Did I mention sync? Not only do they charge your device, but also they let you synchronize data on your device with what’s on your computer, if you have it set up for that and if that’s what you want to do. Otherwise, they’re devices that enable you to charge up your battery – and very good ones for that purpose.

The built quality is outstanding, a best-practice example of innovative design and manufacturing – and great examples of the kind of flexible wearable technology that’s beginning to emerge: imagine the wiring within the twistable connector in each of Nomad’s devices that does its job no matter how twisted the connection, so to speak.

I did wonder about how exposed the connectors are – how easily might they potentially suffer damage without covers? Nomad addresses that one in a credible set of FAQ on their website. So I’m reassured.

And I like Nomad’s philosophy:

[…] We’re focused on building simple solutions to simple problems, problems that shouldn’t slow us or you down. ChargeCard and ChargeKey are just the start of our modern, minimalist, mobility movement.

Nomad began as a Kickstarter-backed project, exceeding its fund-raising goal by a factor of more than three. It became fully funded in August 2012.

Nomad sells the ChargeCard and the ChargeKey for $29 each in the US, with discounted pricing on quantity orders and referring a friend. They also have an affiliate program (I haven’t joined that so no links here are affiliate links). There’s good news if you’re in the UK – as well as in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain – as you can buy either device from Amazon and get your purchase quickly.

Products that get you juice. What’s not to like?

FIR Book Review: Age of Context by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel

Age of ContextAge of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy explores the convergence of five technological factors – mobile, social media, data, sensors and location – and their present and future impact on everything from commerce to medicine to transportation.

FIR co-hosts Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz review the book in the context of an earlier FIR interview we conducted with the authors, and two book launch events including one in London in which Neville recorded Robert and Shel’s presentation as an FIR Speakers & Speeches podcast.

Listen Now:

Get this Podcast:

Age of Context: Mobile, Data, Sensors and the Future of Privacy by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
248 pages (print edition)
Published: September 5, 2013
Price: US: $22.49 (print edition), $10.43 (Kindle edition); UK: £13.55 (print edition), £6.43 (Kindle edition).

About the Authors

Robert ScobleRobert Scoble is an American blogger, technical evangelist, and author. As a startup liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, he travels the world looking for what’s happening on the bleeding edge of technology.

Robert has interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators, and reports for Building 43 and in social media.

He is the co-author, with Forbes columnist Shel Israel, of Age of Context. Their previous book, Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers, published in 2006, has been called a watershed work in introducing business to social media.

Shel IsraelShel Israel helps businesses tell their stories in engaging ways, as a writer, consultant and presentation coach.

He is the author and co-author of five books including Age of Context – his latest book, co-written with Robert Scoble and released in September 2013 – Naked Conversations and Twitterville.

Shel currently writes the Contextual Beat column for Forbes.com. Previously he has contributed to BusinessWeek, Dow Jones, Fast Company and American Express Open Forum.

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This FIR Book Review podcast is brought to you with Lawrence Ragan Communications, serving communicators worldwide for 35 years. Information: www.ragan.com.

(Cross-posted from For Immediate Release, Shel’s and my podcast blog.)

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