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Thoughts about Windows, TV and technology in general
Having installed Windows 8 Pro, Visual Studio 2012 Premium and the new Windows Phone 8 SDK, I was keen to make sure that my Windows Phone 7.1 project still built & worked. That meant getting all of the references to work again.
Most of the references were for packages that I could install through Nuget. However, one was for a Zip file that I had to download and unpack. Upon browsing to the appropriate DLL and selecting it as the reference, Visual Studio promptly reported:
A reference to a higher version or incompatible assembly cannot be added to the project
The ultimate solution was to right-click on each of the files that had been contained in the Zip file, choosing Properties and then clicking on the Unblock button. Once that was all done, Visual Studio then allowed me to add the reference, although it did warn me that it might be unstable! Not a lot I can do about that J.
Getting ready to go on holiday is often an interesting exercise … have I got all of the cables? Have I got all of the chargers? Have I got enough video to watch?
My entertainment library is a mixture of programmes recorded off TV (WTV format, which Zune can transfer easily), DVDs (which SlySoft’s CloneDVD Mobile handles readily enough) and Blu-Rays.
Now there are actually quite a few tools out there that can convert Blu-Rays into different formats and different containers. Some of the software is free, some of it costs money. The tricky thing is finding something that works!
And after a bit of trial and error, I have found something that works – and works well. VidCoder is a nice, simple application that can actually handle both DVDs and Blu-Rays, using a built-in copy of the Handbrake engine to transcode to MP4 or MKV. It does not remove any of the built-in copy protection mechanisms so you may need additional software and the VidCoder site provides some useful pointers if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
So I pointed VidCoder at one of my Blu-Rays, created a new profile for Windows Phone 7 that basically set the width to be 800 pixels (leaving the software to automatically calculate the correct height) and let it chew on the film. 2 hours later and I had a 950MB file. I transferred it to my phone using Zune and it plays beautifully! The image is crisp and looks fantastic, even on such a small display.
One of the nice things is that, as far as I can tell, Zune literally just transferred the file and did not have to transcode it again. So, in other words, WP7 is happy to play an MP4 with the dimensions I specified.
Interestingly, I used CloneDVD Mobile to convert a DVD copy that came with a Blu-Ray into a film for WP7. That film is shorter (1:42 compared with 2:06), the output resolution is lower (640×360 compared with 800×334) but the resulting file is bigger! I’m now going to through VidCoder at the Blu-Ray version of the film and see how that output compares. (Oh, and both files are MP4).
I might even try letting it loose on a DVD to see what the results are like.
Update: so the transcoding of the Blu-Ray whose DVD had previously been encoded using CloneDVD Mobile resulted in a file that is 800MB compared with 1.14GB, and a resolution of 800×340 compared with 640×360! This is starting to put me off buying those Blu-Ray packs with different playback options (DVD, Digital Copy).
Update 2: I’ve now completed a transcode of a DVD using the tool. The movie runs for 2:13 and the resulting file size was 1.19GB with a resolution of 800×340. The picture quality is, like all of the other transcodes, really crisp and of high quality.
As Microsoft continue to steadily increase the level of communication with Windows Phone 7 end users over what is in the NoDo update and when they might be able to expect it, the comments back to MS on their blogs continue to be equally increasing in negativity and anger.
The frustration is understandable, given that it was announced around November last year that we’d be getting a really good update pretty quickly and we’re now almost in April and that update still hasn’t arrived on most phones. To date, you can get it on brand new handsets and MS have confirmed that they are currently deploying the update to unbranded phones.
The main problem here is that end users are drawing comparisons with what happens on the iPhone – Apple announce an update and, hey presto!, it appears.
By all accounts, though, things aren’t so rosy for Android owners, where updates might never appear, which is pretty much how it was in the days of Windows Mobile 5.x and 6.x. So it does look as if Microsoft have improved the situation with Windows Phone 7 in that they are rolling out updates … they are just taking a darn sight longer that most people would have liked.
In an effort to improve transparency, Microsoft have now released a couple of web pages that show where your handset should be in the process, one page for US customers and one for International customers.
The picture for International customers doesn’t seem to be too bad at the moment, with most carriers in the Scheduling phase. I guess time will tell when that column switches over to Delivering update and we’re still waiting for it …
Hopefully, Microsoft will learn from this experience and do something in time for the publicised Mango update that is due later this year (perhaps!). Customers will continue to draw comparisons not only with the iPhone update process but also the Windows Update process and, based on current experience, MS are falling short of both at the moment, with no really clear explanation as to why there are the differences.
The day has finally come! I turned on my phone this morning to be greeted with:
An update is available.
Updates can make your phone work better and add new features. They can make your phone more secure too.
To learn more and install this update, connect your phone to your computer.
I have now done this and the first thing the Zune software wanted to do was to update itself. That didn’t take too long and restarting the Zune software
Upon connecting my phone to the computer, Zune wanted to update itself first of all. I did that, restarted Zune and then saw this:
Time to click the Update Now button …
Zune says there are 9 steps … and it is already on step 6 – rebooting my phone. Barely got a chance to see what steps 1 through 5 were!
The computer is installing a device driver for the phone … not sure what has changed there.
Step 7 is installing updates. The phone is showing a nice graphic of the phone connected to the computer with a progress bar moving across the screen. Curiously, there is an arrow pointing from the computer to the phone but with a red “no” circle across it. I wasn’t watching the phone the entire time so I don’t know if the circle wasn’t there to begin with (i.e. while data was being transferred) and then got added to show that no more data was being sent.
The progress bar isn’t moving very quickly … hope I shouldn’t be worried about this. Nope, shouldn’t be worried. The update has installed and step 8 is to reboot the phone again.
And that’s it! Zune is now saying the update was successful and I can disconnect the phone.
I know that this was the pre-update update but the process was pretty painless and reassuring. The phone now reports it is running version 7.0.7008.0.
I’m a long-term user of Microsoft Money on my home PC but I’m keen to find an app for my Windows Phone 7 that would allows to manage my various accounts, transactions, etc. Having just read a brief review of moBudget, I thought I’d give ot a try as the trial version will let you use it for 15 days.
The developers have done a great job of keeping to the WP7 UI concepts, particularly using sideways scrolling to move between the different sections. There is great use of colour to show, at a glance, how you are doing.
I found, however, the concept of budgets not to be what I’m looking for, unfortunately. For example, I want to know how much I’ve spent on my credit card (which seems to be reasonably possible) but I also want to know what my current and savings account balances are, which doesn’t seem to be possible. The application is very focussed on budgets but I don’t manage my money in the way that the software is structured so it has, unfortunately been uninstalled.
This is, however, an application that has been well designed and may suit you, so why not give it a try?
Posted from WordPress for Windows Phone
LG are continuing to deliver on their promise of free applications to anyone that has an LG Windows Phone 7 device with the second batch of applications now becoming available:
Overall, LG are providing quite a value here. A great incentive for picking an LG handset if you are still torn over which model to get!
What was a somewhat pleasant surprise was the fact that the apps from the first 60 days also seem to be available still.
Having used the on-screen keyboard that was implemented with Windows Mobile, I have to say that Microsoft have done a great job with the keyboard in Windows Phone 7.
The keyboard adapts slightly to where it is being used. Normally, for example, there is an emoticon button on the bottom row between the comma and the spacebar. However, if you are writing an email and the cursor is in the To: field, that button gets replaced with .com to simplify the entry of addresses. If you hold down on that button, it expands to offer .co.uk, .com, .org and .edu.
The keyboard has different layouts, with the primary one being the standard QWERTY alphabet keys (assuming you’ve got an English keyboard layout!). Pressing “&123” takes you to numbers and punctuation. Some of these keys, like the .com button, will give you other choices if you press and hold. Alternatively, there is a left-pointing arrow that changes the set of punctuation characters offered.
Moving from an HTC device with a physical keyboard to an LG device with just the on-screen keyboard was, I felt, going to be a challenge. I think, though, that the keyboard is really responsive and works well. I was worried about the lack of cursor keys but I have recently learnt how Microsoft got around that problem: if you press and hold in the text, a large caret appears just above the top of your finger. As you move your finger around, so does the caret move and, when you take your finger away, wherever you left the caret is where the cursor moves to. If you have a lot of text and vertical scrolling is required, the ease of use here depends entirely on how the underlying application has implemented the text interface. Email, for example, handles it well as the text body is part of the larger pane. WordPress, on the other hand, doesn’t do it quite so well because the post body is a rectangle within the larger pane. They may need to alter the UI there …
Some applications enable the word suggestion bar, which works really well. As you type, words are suggested and, if the software thinks that you’ve actually misspelt a word, the first word in the list is in bold to indicate that this is what the phone thinks you meant to type. You can also drag the list sideways to see other words without needing to type more letters. Unfortunately, not all applications enable this feature – I don’t know why and I wish that they all did it.
The keyboard makes a short sound when you type but, nicely, it makes a different sound when you press non-letter/number keys, e.g. punctuation.
Another nice touch in the design is that upper-case is automatically selected when a new sentence starts. The keyboard also tries to be helpful when you’ve selected the “punctuation/numbers” mode. It stays in that mode until you press “abcd” to swap back, or if you press space, or even if you press certain punctuation characters, such as the single quote. It takes a little while to learn that behaviour and realise that you don’t have to manually switch modes, otherwise you end up straight back in number mode .
I have managed to get to the point where I can type fairly quickly with my fingers. Using my thumbs is much harder because the part of my thumb that touches the screen is often positioned differently from the part of my fingers that would touch first. I end up making too many mistakes as a result.
All in all, though, a big thumbs up to Microsoft for the keyboard implementation.
Just downloaded an update for the WordPress app and the good news is that they’ve fixed the bug where pressing the style buttons would wipe what you’d typed.
The bad news is that the stats options don’t work. I get an error about the API key. Off to report that …
Posted from WordPress for Windows Phone
A few weeks ago, I put together a list of the applications on my phone. This was a combination of what comes with WP7, what was provided by LG, what was provided by Vodafone and what I’d installed.
So, what has changed since then?
I’ve uninstalled 360 My Web. This really didn’t do anything other than take you to Vodafone’s web portal which, in itself, seems to be pretty un-useful to me, if that makes sense!
I’ve added Beezz, which has got a positive following for an alternative Twitter client. The new release has live tile updates so I’m looking forward to trying this out instead of the Twitter app.
I’ve added BigOven which is a free app that provides access to over 170,000 recipes … not that I cook myself but I do like having suggestions for my lovely wife . I haven’t used the app much yet but quite like the feature where you can specify three ingredients (they suggest using up leftovers) and it finds recipes that use those ingredients.
I’ve removed GeoTrackster and gps. I didn’t really get to use either of these to any great degree. I’m not sure what I’m looking for in a GPS application but these didn’t seem to fit the bill. I may go back and take another look once I’ve firmed up my thoughts here.
I’ve removed Metro Scanner. I thought that I might get the opportunity to try it out when I was in London, but I didn’t. I may re-install it if I go down to London to an area that I’m less familiar with.
I’ve added ShopGlider to try out alongside the previously installed Shopping List. Both apps provide shopping list functionality but in different ways. One of the things that has attracted me to ShopGlider, although I haven’t got it to work yet, is you can update the list through their web site and it resyncs with the list on the phone. So, in theory, I ought to be able to update the shopping list whilst the wife is in Tesco .
Finally, I’ve added Microsoft’s free Weather application. Although I like the way LG integrated weather reports into their ScanSearch application, it takes too long to start up that app and then tilt the phone towards the sky in order to get the report. Weather does what it says on the tin, as the saying goes. It gives you the weather report, initially for your current location but you can add either locations. In addition to a simple single icon summary, you can drill down to get more atmospheric information or get a forecast for the next 10 days!
So no major changes yet. I’m pretty happy with the apps that I had initially installed and continue to use. I’m looking forward to a planned update for Freda which should fix some of the bugs I’ve been hitting but I do enjoy reading books on my phone.
I really enjoy using Shazam. It provides such a great way to find out what music you can hear playing and then it acts as a memory bank for you – remembering all of the songs you’ve tagged. You can, from the app, go straight to the Zune marketplace to buy the track or album if you are so inclined. Really nice application that should be on everyone’s phone.
I just saw a blog posting that hinted at using Windows Phone 7 with a Windows 7 computer over Bluetooth:
Using Bing to translate it from German into English revealed that when you pair a Windows Phone 7 device to a Windows 7 PC, you get some great options for audio control between the two devices:
Once paired, if you go to the Windows PC, right-click on the phone and choose Control, you’ll see a window like this one:
From here, you can enable the use of your Windows 7 computer as a speakerphone interface to your phone, and/or to play music from your phone onto your computer! You also get a minimal interface to allow you to control playback:
Pairing has also been greatly simplified. From my Windows 7 PC, I chose Bluetooth > Add a device. When it discovered my phone, I selected it and clicked Next:
The computer then displayed the following, and my WP7 handset displayed a notification asking me to confirm that it was displaying the same code number.
A couple of acceptances later (one on the PC and one on the phone) and the two devices are paired! On the phone, tapping on the entry for the computer connects them and you can then start playing from Zune on the phone to the PC!