[UPDATE] Pimp My Band Update Adds Features We Requested – Then Does Us Two Better!

Update – December 17, 2014 1:02PM – Pimp My Band app has been updated today with a couple of improvements bringing the app version to 1.2.0.1.

Here is the full update bulletin:

• Modified color picker interface
• Better light theme handling
• Minor bug fixes

—————–

Pimp My Band – it seems like only yesterday we were enthusiastically recommending this great app, well actually is was just a bit more than two days ago. This great little app allows you to set a custom background for the Me Tile, essentially the Start Screen of your Band.

We really liked the easy to understand interface and simple to follow process to upload a photo from your Windows Phone to your Band. It works quickly and easily, so much so that we could only find a couple of little quibbles with it. The first was that while you could change the background to the picture of your liking, you couldn’t change the accent stripe on the right side of the Me Tile. To do this, you had to go back to Microsoft’s app, change the color, which would also wipe out your lovely Custom image, and then go back to Pimp My Band to re-set the background to your custom picture.

We also suggested that on occasion the on-screen instructions were a tad confusing in that they told you to touch a control below, but there were a couple of options to chose from.  The Developer of the app spotted our Review and Tweeted he would be making some changes very soon. Well, soon turned out to be very, very soon. Version 1.2 has landed in the Store and it has very neatly addressed the quibbles as we requested, and in fact, has added two new features that are really very cool!

MS Band LegoHead
“OK LegoHead. Time For A Change”

Right out of the gate the instructions have been simplified, leaving no uncertainty about what exactly to do. Score One for MSPR and Band Owners everywhere!  Then guess what, you can now set the accent stripe color from within the app.  Score Two for MSPR and the app Developer, Fela Ameghino (@FrayxRulez)!

"The Running Mandy and Orion Nebula Look Great! Not Crazy About the Dominant Color Accent Stripe In This Case Though"
“The Running Man and Orion Nebula Look Great! Not Crazy About the Dominant Color Accent Stripe In This Case Though”
"Pick a Color. ANY Color!"
“Pick a Color. ANY Color!”

But Fela didn’t stop there, oh no, this guy’s serious about his updates. Version 1.2 has also added the ability to change the Accent Stripe to match the dominant color in your image – chosen automatically by the app itself!  Now that’s slick, and it’s a nice original idea.  I wish we could claim to have thought of it first, but this one’s all the Dev’s! Well done!

And, it’s not over yet.  Just in case your artistic vision doesn’t match the “Dominant Color” the app chooses for you, you can select a custom color from, well, any color in the universe. Just like before, the app is simple, fast and does everything as advertised. The original Pimp My Band was a really solid piece of work, well worth the $0.99 price, and this update is an impressive bit of work that shows off the Dev’s creativity and commitment to customer satisfaction.

"Yes! That's All Limped Out!"
“Hydrogen Red -Yes! That’s All Pimped Out!”

Given how well this worked last time, I’ll make just a couple of suggestions.  First, the “Dominant Color” automatic selection is amazing!  I really like it. But sometimes what you are looking for is a contrasting or “Complimentary color” that would really stand out and truly accent the image.  I would love it if an option could be added to automatically select either the Dominant color, or its Complimentary color. The other suggestion – World Peace.  Like last time, you’ve got 48 hours – Go!

[UPDATE] Want a Custom Start Screen on Your Microsoft Band? Pimp It!

Update – December 15, 2015 – We’re happy to report that the Pimp my Band app developer has confirmed to us on Twitter there is an update with great features coming coming soon.

If you are one of the lucky ones to have scored a Microsoft Band here in the US then you know this is an impressive device. Bristling with sensors and sophisticated abilities, like App Notifications, Cortana integrations and Band-specific Apps, it’s a highly functional and useful device.

Nice, but this could use some pizzazz
Nice, but this could use some pizzazz

One thing it isn’t though, is particularly attractive. It has a minimalist, Utilitarian design that is similar to many less capable fitness bands, and stands in complete contrast to what is expected from the upcoming Apple watch which is much more about form and less about helping you live a better, healthier life.

Still, Microsoft has tried to allow for some customization of the Me Tile display in order to allow you to make your Band pleasing to YOUR eyes. You can choose between 10 Colors (plus 3 Black with a different colored stripe) and 12 different wallpapers out of the box – a healthy start.

But what if you are used to putting your favorite photographs on your device displays? Well it’s been hinted that this would be possible, however the still somewhat limited interfaces available for the Band (basically the Microsoft Health App) have not allowed this.

"Like me, You Need a Dragon On Your Band. Admit it!"
“Like me, You Need a Dragon On Your Band. Admit it!”

Besides, what would you be able to do with such a small display, right? It’s only .43” x 1.3” inches, so there would seem to be little worth doing with it. Considering that a lot of the available space is understandably taken over with text, particularly if you enable the “Watch” function, it might seem not worth bothering. And what about the display resolution? Surely such a small and utilitarian device would not have a very high resolution, the kind that would make a photograph a useful background. After all, Microsoft didn’t include any photos in the display choices, and their not shy of loading such photos onto Lumias are they?

Looking a bit at the display specs, you get a hint that photos might not look too bad. The Band has a 320 x 106 ppi display. That gives it an overall resolution of 240 ppi. That’s not exactly High Def video, but its higher than the 3rd Gen MacBook Pro (227 ppi) and almost as good as the 4tth Gen iPad (264 ppi). In more MS terms, it’s the same as the current Lumia 530 (245 ppi), way better than the Lumia 630/635 (218 ppi). You have to climb up the Lumia Ladder all the way to the 700 top get a better resolution (312 ppi)! And the full color TFT LCD technology used in the display is no slouch either. Clearly, this was built with the capability to do more than a simple geometric pastel background.

"Much Better than that Kid kicking the Soccer Ball"
“Much Better than that Kid kicking the Soccer Ball”

After looking thru all this I became interested in customizing the displayed image on my Band. As a semi-pro Photographer I have a large library of personal images I rather like, and all my capable electronics immediately have the manufacturers’ stock backgrounds replaced with ones of my own I find pleasing. The inability to do the same with my Band was a little irritating, particularly once I realized that it should have the capability to do a good job with an image of the correct proportions.

So I was very excited to discover that an App to do just this, “Pimp My Band” was just released into the Windows Phone Store. It’s a very simple, easy to use App that does just one thing, allow you to crop (the original image is untouched) and upload photos from your Windows phone to your MS Band Me Tile.

"It's a Start"
“It’s a Start”

Upon opening the App it connects to your Band and shows you an image of it with your current Me Tile displayed. Tapping on the image opens your photo library on your Windows Phone. You can swipe up or down, left or right as usual in order to find a photo you like. Tap on one, or press the camera button on the bottom if you would rather take a new photo. After selecting the picture you wish, the App will move on to the next step.

You are then presented with the photo you selected, which is scaled to fill a frame of the dimensions of the Band’s display. Using you finger you can then slide the photo up and down to frame the photo as you would prefer to look on the Band. When you’re done, tap the checkmark on the bottom of the screen. You are then taken back to a page that looks like the one you started on, except that there is a “Save” icon at the bottom.

"10, 9, 8, 7..."
“10, 9, 8, 7…”

Thumba_2014-12-14_02-49-46

You tap on that, the screen dims and it report that it is “Changing your background” and the familiar moving dots fly across the top of the screen while the data is uplinked to your Band. Meanwhile your Band screen indicates that it is syncing with the App. Once this is complete, which takes 10-15 seconds, and then a splash screen shows up confirming that he screen background has been changed. Tap the “OK” and you are done! That’s it!

 

If you like texture, now you can have it.
If you like texture, now you can have it.

I’ve played around with the App for a few days now, uploading dozens of images. I’ve found it to be fast, predictable and stable. Only once did it seem to hang for a bit, then reported a failure and suggested that my Band wasn’t connected and I should verify that Bluetooth was on and my Band paired. I checked, and everything was fine. I killed the App, reloaded it and all was well. I’ve not seen an error again, which is a pretty good track record for a Bluetooth data transmission. I’ve demonstrated it working from about 10 feet away, but not sought out its limits. It’s certainly reliable enough to allow you to update the display from your chair while your Band is charging on your desk. Oh, and I checked, it works while your Band is charging.

"I have a thing for Leaves. Now you know."
“I have a thing for Leaves. Now you know.”

In terms of image resolution, I’m actually very impressed with how good photos look on the Band. Of course taking megapixel images and reducing them to a (cropped) 320 x 106 pixel image scaled down many times can eliminate many image quality issue, but at the same time the downscaling can be done well or badly. In this case it’s exquisite – so far I cannot detect any artifacts in the resulting backgrounds on the Band. Color replication is more than acceptable, and to my delight, the black levels on the display are excellent, regardless of whether the brightness is set to high or low or automatic.

"NOW I've got my Badass Band on"
“NOW I’ve got my Badass Band on”

The real challenge is picking an image that will look good cropped and overlaid with the text on the Me Tile. If you have the Clock option on as I have, a lot of the left side of the Me Tile is dominated by white text. Best not to put your Wife’s face in that area, or a bunch of white clouds either. So choose your photos with care, but with Pimp My Band, it’s so easy and quick to change backgrounds that it’s no bother, really kind of fun actually to change to a new one until you’re happy with the new look of your Band.

wp_ss_20141213_0001I have only a few quibbles with PMB. At the moment the colored stripe on the right side of the Me Tile cannot be changed from within the App. If you want to change it to go better with your photo you have to go back to the Microsoft Health App, change it, which will also change the background, then return to Pimp My Band and reload the Photo. This may be a limitation imposed by Microsoft, but if not it would be a good thing to improve in the next version. Sometimes the taping on the image is not clearly called out, it’s just referred to as “below”, which could be called out a bit more clearly as there are other action icons in the bottom of the page at the same time. These are small issues that could easily be tweaked and shouldn’t cause anyone to wait before trying the App.

Pimp My Band is available in the Store for $0.99, and its well worth the Buck!

Download Pimp My Band for Windows Phone here

VLC Beta for Windows Phone – first and second impressions

wp_ss_20141208_0003

Well, everyone, we finally did it! Well, actually, they did it. Two years after the initial kickstarter and 8 months after the Windows 8 port, VLC has arrived for Windows Phone…. well, sort of. Currently, the app is in a closed beta with about 10,000 of your fellow Windows Phone users, and of course we at Microsoft Product Reviews just had to get our hands on it to show you. So let’s take a look at what could arguably be the app to replace Xbox Music and Xbox Video.

First off, let me say that I realize this may be about a few days late, but prior to this morning, there was a technical glitch in the app that made it so audio wouldn’t work at all. I tried in on a variety of hardware, yet none of them worked. I, however, didn’t think that it would be a fair first-impressions review if the app was incomplete in basic functionality, so I decided to wait until they fixed that particular issue. The app has since been updated from version 0.0.1.0 to 0.0.1.1 and has since fixed the audio issue.

When you first load up the app, VLC begins by collecting your entire music collection and populating it inside the app. If you’ve got a large music collection, it might take a while, so if you’ve got 500+ songs, you might want to put your phone down and go get a drink or something because this app doesn’t do this in the background like Xbox Music (which has a similar process, except it makes you wait until it’s done while VLC does it in real time).

When you open the app, it includes four menus: Home, Video, Music, and SD card

Home: This screen shows “top albums”, and “top videos” and lists what appear to me to be random. How are these top? What metric does it use? I don’t think I’ve played some of these songs in months, and two of them are podcasts that I’ve listened to once. I’d honestly prefer these be for “recent played” songs.

wp_ss_20141208_0004
Like, seriously, I haven’t done anything with these in months. Why are they “top”?

At the bottom, you’ve got options to search, open file (read: photo), and open a stream (say you wanted to watch an Apple keynote, but didn’t own an Apple devices, you could do that).

Video: This one is pretty straight forward. It’s just a list of all of your videos, although one of the videos that was apparently a top video on the home screen is gone from all videos. At the bottom, you have the option to decide whether you want to view shows or all videos, which is a nice option if you like to watch series on your phone.

Music: Like video, is pretty straight forward. From the menu, you have a vertical list that is three columns wide that shows all of your music. The difference from Xbox Music is that they’re categorized by albums, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to change that to default. To sort by other metrics such as songs or artists, you have to go to the bottom and sort it that way, but once you enter the app, it will go back to viewing by albums.

wp_ss_20141208_0006 wp_ss_20141208_0005

SD card: Again, pretty straight forward. This just shows you a list of the media on your SD card. It only looks for media and can’t display documents, obviously, but it’s pretty clean and straight forward.

wp_ss_20141208_0008Amusingly, the settings is quite barren, including only the option to enable a sidebar, which is something borrowed from the Windows app, yet it only appears when viewing video. It’s basically a way to use the main menu while watching a video or listening to music. The music settings merely says “coming soon!”

wp_ss_20141208_0002

What do I think of it after spending almost a week using it?

Let’s start off with the positive. For starters, this app is one of the nicest looking media players apps I’ve ever used. It wonderfully uses Microsoft’s modern design language and puts Xbox Music and Video to shame. It borrows design elements from the VLC for Windows 8 app, so users of the Windows app will be immediately familiar with the Windows Phone app. Once the technical issues get sorted, there’s going to be two Xbox-shaped blank spaces that use to be tiles.

Now onto the negatives… remember those technical issues? Yeah, there’s a lot of them. The app is quite prone to crashes. I even decided to do a test to see if the app could stay open long enough to finish Trapped in the Drive-Thru by Weird Al (it has never passed this test). You can’t use this app in the background to play music. It crashes constantly on my Blue Win Jr.

But you know what? I don’t care about those glitches at all. Not one bit. Anyone who is using this app in its current state had to sign up for a Beta registration and knew exactly what they were getting into. I’m honestly just happy it’s here. Now that the audio problem is fixed, the team is going to begin fixing bugs, then they will get to adding features that will make this the best media player on Windows Phone.

Windows Phone VLC beta

What do you think of VLC? Are you excited to have this app on your phone?

Microsoft Wasn't Lying About Battery Life For Their New Smart Band

Oh it gets great gas Milage. Trust me!
Oh it gets great gas Milage. Trust me!

One of the vexing aspects of modern wearable electronics is that they are electronic. Hence, they require batteries, and batteries have finite capacities. We’ve all seen and read of the claims and counter-claims about this phone or that one’s battery life, and in many cases have found that such claims are about as accurate in the real world as a Hyundai mileage sticker in the dealer’s showroom.

Your mileage may vary indeed.

So when the Microsoft Band burst upon the scene two weeks ago the question of its battery life was of concern. Surely a device keeping track of up to 10 sensors including GPS would need a huge battery to keep it going, and where was there room in the Band’s sleek packaging?

MS Band w Batteries LabeledWell it turns out that Microsoft has been very clever, packing in not one but two batteries into places you might not have expected. The wrist band contains two batteries, one on each side of the wrist, that also serve to ‘grip’ the Radius and Ulnar bones in a form-fitting cradle that keeps the Band from slipping around the arm without having to be too tight.

So, two batteries, but what about those sensors? Well Microsoft has released a bit more information about the clever power-sipping scheme they have devised to make optimal use of the Band’s sensor capabilities while maximizing its endurance.  In the case of the heartbeat sensor, it is turned on and off at intervals that vary depending on the activity and setting of the Band. It is turned on a lot when you are running, less often during the day, and even less while you sleep. In each case a useful heart rate profile is captured, without wasting battery life on unnecessarily high resolution. Clever.

First CarBut hopefully, not too clever.  It would be of little consolation if the resulting device was too limited by its electrical frugality to be effective for its intended use. So far, the MS Band is getting rave reviews for its functionality, so the only question would seem to be, what about those battery life claims?

Well Microsoft told us to expect 2 days worth of battery life in typical use, which included a run with GPS activated and sleep monitoring.  I’ve been wearing my Band for 10 days now with a use profile very much like the one Microsoft suggested would be ‘typical’. To be frank, I actually use it at least as much as a smartwatch, receiving notifications, Texts, Alarms and Reminders all to my wrist, with the Haptic feedback on the “High” setting.  Throw in occasional Cortana use as well and I’m demanding a lot from it, with Bluetooth enabled 24/7.

"Seems a Bit Excessive"
“Seems a Bit Excessive”

In my experience so far, Microsoft’s claims are quite accurate.  Unlike certain car companies, Microsoft’s claims that the Band will last 2 days have been completely in line with my experience. On days where I have charged the Band fully at night, the battery holds between 60-40% at the end of the day.  Running it for two days flat takes the battery down to 10%.

Ten days and one user is hardly a statistically valid sample but at least so far I’m happy to see my Band delivering on the battery life Microsoft claimed.

Microsoft hummerNow if only they made cars…

 

 

 

Well, maybe it’s better if they stick to electronics.

Using mobile payments on Windows Phone – first impressions

Softcard Mobile Payments now accepted at McDonald’s - Android ___

Earlier this week, Softcard announced support for Windows Phone. For those unfamiliar with the service, Softcard (formerly ISIS wallet) is a joint venture by AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. The service is meant to be a way for these companies to get a little slice of the mobile payment pie (against Apple, Microsoft, and Google via their respective wallet solutions). Currently, it is only available for AT&T customers who have an AT&T branded phone.

I’m not sure why it’s only available for AT&T at the moment. On one hand, since the publisher is AT&T, it could be that AT&T has been trying to get the other two to push out their mobile payment apps for Windows Phone and AT&T is the only one who cares enough about Windows Phone to make an app, while Verizon and T-Mobile just don’t care. On the other hand, this could be a sign that all three apps neared completion at the same time and AT&T has pushed their first with Verizon and T-Mobile versions coming very soon.

Whichever it may be, I decided that I wanted to try it out. I would’ve tried it out a few days ago, but I didn’t have the necessary card that contained a secure element. I recently purchased the amazing Lumia 830( and I agree that it could just be the best Windows Phone yet) so I decided to just kill two birds with one stone and get them both at the same time.

Getting Started

Before you can do anything, you need to make sure you have all of the necessary components. To properly use Softcard, you will need:

  • A phone that is NFC compatible.
  • A secure SIM card from AT&T (you can just go into any corporate store and they’ll give you one for no charge)
  • The Softcard app downloaded onto your phone (link here)
  • An American Express, Chase, Wells Fargo or a debit/credit card
  • Trust in the system

As soon as you have all of these things, you can begin the process.

  1. First you have to create a Softcard account. You have to setup a pin (which you will have to enter every time you open the app) and give them your email address.
  2. Next you’ll have to set up your card. If you have American Express, Chase, or a Wells Fargo card, you have to go to the mobile website and add your card. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how difficult it is to deal with those three since I don’t have any of those cards. If you’re like me and want to use a debit card, go to the next step, otherwise just skip the rest of this.
  3. For a debit card, the process is kind of tedious, but thankfully you only have to enter this information once. First you have go to add a card at the bottom, but this time you add an “American Express Serve card”. You’ll be creating an account here, then linking your debit card.
    1. First you have to create an account with American Express. They’ll require the usual email and password, but it’ll also require your social security number. (For the privacy conscious: I completely understand the reluctance to give out your SSN, but keep in mind that AT&T, your bank, and any other credit card company also has this number, so it’s really not a huge issue).
    2. After you create your “Serve card”, you simply tap on the card and it will flip over. You click on “Add Funds” and it will take you to your American Express serve account on the mobile website. From here, you can add your credit or debit card (Side note: you’re also to direct deposit money via checks into the account, link your bank to your account, or directly deposit cash from a participating website. Amusingly, you’re able to do that last part from CVS or Walmart, which are places where you can’t use Softcard, but moving on)
  4. After that, you’re good to go! Just make sure that you have NFC and tap-top-pay turned on.

Using mobile payments

After you’ve got everything set up, now you’re ready to go out and make your first mobile payment. The process isn’t exactly seamless and certainly not as easy as Apple Pay, but you may just find it easier than using a card, plus I think that more people forget their wallet than forget my phone, but that’s just my guess.

To pay with the Softcard, you have to open up your phone, which may be inconvenient if you have a long passcode, but since you’ll probably have your phone out while waiting in line, I suppose it’s not that big of an issue. You then open up the app, type in your pin code, then just hover your phone over the terminal, and that’s it! To save time, I would probably recommend pinning the app to the start menu. When you’re close in line, just get everything ready, then just tap and you’re done.

Initial thoughts

I must admit that I felt kind of weird, but also kind of cool. It feels like you’re in the future, like you’re in a new era. Entering a new era, however, doesn’t come without some hiccups.

First off, once again, this currently only works on AT&T. Since only 11% of Windows Phone users are from the US and only 31% of those Windows Phone users are on AT&T, that means that only 3.4% of every Windows Phone user in the world is able to use it. Still, that’s vastly more than have been able to use it in the past and while I would like to see all of the carriers release their respective apps, at least the largest Windows Phone carrier in the country with the most users is a pretty good start. There’s also a matter of the fact that many retailers are now blocking NFC payments to support their own proprietary (and apparently clunky) system

WP_20141108_14_06_22_Pro
“And what’s Call Of Duty without some Mountain Dew that you bought with your phone?”

While I think this is a very nice stop-gap, I do wish that Microsoft would make deals with more carriers and more banks to not make consumers have to go through hoops. Ideally, with access to the entire OS, Microsoft could conceivably make it like Apple Pay where you simply hold your phone up to the machine and it works very seamlessly. Maybe even do what Apple does and put the secure element in the phone itself instead of relying on carriers.

Regardless of what happens, I’m just glad that Windows Phone users now have a way to make mobile payments. Previously, Orange in France supported a way to make these payments, but Microsoft seems to have stripped this ability in Windows Phone 8.1, so that system doesn’t even work anymore.

While I’ll still have to carry around my debit card for the places that won’t accept mobile payments yet, I’ll definitely be using this system if I have the chance.

Microsoft Band Unboxing & First Impressions Video

Microsoft has just entered the wearable market with a bang, and their take is rather interesting. The Microsoft Band is a wearable fitness tracker and smart watch which they say will make you a healthier person.  Microsoft wants to create a way to help you stay healthy and change your life for the better with providing useful information to you through the data that Microsoft Band is able to capture.

Here’s our quick unboxing and first impressions of what may be the start of something big in the wearable market.

Microsoft Band Unboxing & First Impressions Video

Microsoft has just entered the wearable market with a bang, and their take is rather interesting. The Microsoft Band is a wearable fitness tracker and smart watch which they say will make you a healthier person.  Microsoft wants to create a way to help you stay healthy and change your life for the better with providing useful information to you through the data that Microsoft Band is able to capture.

Here’s our quick unboxing and first impressions of what may be the start of something big in the wearable market.

Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard Review – a true joy to use!

It happens to all of us – you see something that you like but don’t really need so you keep pushing the actual purchasing of such a thing away. Sometimes you forget about it, sometimes not and when it keeps popping up in the back of your mind… it is time to act. This happened to me with the Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard – I gave in and after using it for more than a week I can only say that I wish I acted when it was first released because I am really impressed with this little jewel that is worth every penny.

Here are my findings:

Opening the box was actually a pleasure by itself. Microsoft starts to understand that this is where the journey begins and that first impressions are very important.

In the box you find, of course, the keyboard, 2 AAA batteries, the manual and the cover that can multitask as a very good stand for your tablet.

1

Size:

It is small (10×4 inches) about 60% of the width of a regular desktop keyboard and not even 50% in depth of the keyboard I currently use for my desktop weighing in about just 1 pound so it’s easy to bring around.

2

Connectivity:

Works like a charm (pun intended) and very easy to connect – turn on Bluetooth on your device/tablet and hold the Bluetooth button on the wedge (underneath the keyboard on right side) for about 3 seconds, a little LED will start to blink (red and green) under the devices key and the connection will establish.

Although this keyboard is developed with Windows 8 in mind (see the charm icons in the top row) it will work with any Bluetooth enabled tablet and even with many phones and therefore it is a truly (almost truly, as some Apple and Android functions are not there) a universal keyboard.

3 4
The stand:

This is something I am really impressed about, it is really sturdy and will support all devices in landscape or portrait mode, even my Lumia 1520 is really well supported by the stand (will be great if Microsoft will also support Bluetooth connectivity between my phone and this keyboard).

Another great thing from the cover is that once you put it back on the keyboard as a protector of your keys that it will automatically turn off so there is no need to push the on/off button on the keyboard – it just turns off instantly, and because of that it ensures a longer battery life.

The stand is so sturdy that it almost does the same as the kickstand from the Surface Pro 3 – you can position it in almost any angle.

5 6 7
The looks:

Not sure how to put this because everybody has his/her own preferences of what looks good but what is there not to like about this device? The aluminum body looks very professional and very sleek and fits with any device you use it with.

The wedge that holds up the keyboard at a slight but perfect angle reminds me of the form of the wedge mouse Microsoft released about two years ago so there is some consistency and people really liked that mouse. The small rubber line at the bottom of the keyboard prevents it from sliding around but gives it a real finished look design wise…

Just look for yourself.

8 9 10 11 12
Actual feeling of using this keyboard:

I think it is great and I type more relaxed on this keyboard than the keyboard from my Surface Pro 3 (which I like a lot btw). The feedback from the keys is fantastic and almost feels like there is nothing better out there and makes me think Microsoft should promote this keyboard first as an option for the Surface lines. It is at least $50.00 cheaper than the Surface keyboards and connects just as easily, combined with a mouse it is just the perfect match.

Two things are missing if you decide to go this way – no protection of your screen and no back-lit keys, the latter is the main reason why I will not go this way but it truly is worth considering. I am not sure how this keyboard will work with Windows 10 and Continuum (automatically detecting a keyboard present) but I can only imagine Microsoft thinks about this before releasing Windows 10 in the wild, it should work!

If this Keyboard had back-lit keys it would absolutely be my favorite one to go to and I will probably use it all the time. For now I will definitely hold it next to my current keyboard that I will use at night or in dark environments (the times I do most of my typing).

I for sure recommend it and I feel very strong everybody will love this keyboard. I bought it at Microcenter for $79.00 because I could not resist picking it up but there are more places to buy from for better prices:

Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/Microsoft-U6R-00001-Wedge-Mobile-Keyboard/dp/B008OEHPKM$49.00

It’s a NO-brainer and enjoy a few more images.

13 15 16 17 18

Lumia 830 Video Review: The Best Windows Phone Yet

The Lumia 830 is Microsoft’s newest Windows Phone and it’s also the last Nokia-branded Lumia device. We thoroughly tested the Lumia 830 and pitted it against the Lumia 920 and Lumia 1020. We also conducted an in-depth camera comparison with the King of smartphone photography, the Lumia 1020.

Pros

  • Gorgeous high quality design
  • Great flexibility
  • Phenomenal battery life

Cons

  • Noticeable performance drops in high-end games
  • No HDR mode (coming soon)
  • Price is high on some carriers

The Affordable Flagship play

The Lumia 830 is dubbed as an affordable flagship with a very high end design, but when someone says affordable, one may think it has some compromises. Many of you are also wondering if this is a worthy upgrade over the two-year old Lumia 920 as your contracts are now expiring. We’ll answer all these questions in our full review of the last Nokia branded Lumia device ever. So let’s take a look at what we think is the best all-around Windows Phone yet

Design

The first thing that’s immediately noticeable is the premium design. Lumia 830 looks gorgeous.  It’s very thin and has a modern look with it’s metal squared body. It has a curved glass display and the iconic Zeiss Pureview camera circle is reassuring when thinking about the camera.

WP_20141026_10_48_30_Raw

When held in the hand it has a strong presence, it feels rich. It’s also incredibly sturdy and feels masculine due to the squared design and the flat aluminum sides. It’s definitely not a curvacious phone, and because of that the screen may be a little harder to handle with one hand when comparing to designs like the iPhone and Galaxy series.

It’s also easy to pick up and hold on to firmly with the sides being flat. The buttons are all on the right side of the device, just as all Lumia have. We’re happy to see the inclusion of a dedicated camera button as we feel that this is just a must. The top of the device features the micro USB charging port, and 3.5mm headphone jack.

The other two sides don’t have any buttons, and really contribute to the overall clean modern design. The buttons also feel premium and sturdy, and the two- stage camera button clicks in just right which is a pleasure to use.

WP_20141026_10_43_59_Raw

The beauty of this design is that the back cover looks like it’s part of the phone, giving you the feel that this is a unibody design but it actually snaps off.  The covers are completely interchangeable with ones of different colors.

These covers come in black, white, orange and the green one you see here. They also feature wireless charging which is such a convenience, if you’ve already invested in wireless chargers, and they support both the Qi and PMA charging standards.

WP_20141026_10_49_37_Raw

Once you pop it off, you’ll have access to the battery, the nano sim-card slot, and a slot to add a micro SD card, allowing you to add as high as a 128GB micro-SD card. The design of the removable back plate is something we think is extremely well implemented, as phones with removable back covers usually look like they have a removable back covers. It’s something that really cheapens the look and feel of the device. However, this is extremely well implemented on the Lumia 830 and we hope it’s a design feature that makes its way to higher end models.

Screen

This is an LCD display, and not the OLED display you’d find on the Lumia 930. The blacks won’t be as deep and the colors won’t be as saturated, but it feels more balanced than that of the OLED screens. It measures in at 5 inches and features all the bells and whistles, from the curved (cornering) Gorilla Glass other high end Lumias have, to Nokia’s clear black display tech. It even features super sensitive touch technology, so using it with gloves just works.

WP_20141026_10_47_21_Raw

However, we noticed that we couldn’t use just about anything to work the screen like on the Lumia 1020. We could use cutlery to operate the display on the Lumia 1020 but not on the Lumia 830. Gloves work just fine , but we’re not sure why it doesn’t work with everything.

The only non-flagship feature of this display is that it’s a 720P screen rather than 1080P. Nevertheless, it’s still a beautiful and sharp display with a pixel density of 296PPI, which is nearly identical to the iPhone 6 .

The only complaint we have is that the screen isn’t as bright as it can be on other Lumias, even on the highest brightness settings.   However it’s still very useable outdoors in sunlight and does a great job at adjusting the brightness levels to accommodate for change in conditions.

Performance

The Lumia 830 is powered by a 1.2GHZ Snapdragon S400 series CPU and has 1GB of RAM, which is not a significant increase from the Snapdragon S4 1.5GHZ dual core on the Lumia 920 and Lumia 1020.

However, when it comes to real world performance the Lumia 830 performs quite well, and the performance increase is definitely noticeable over the Lumia 920 and 1020. The differences are especially noticeable when resuming apps, as resumes are now instant, and app launches are also slightly faster. You’ll also notice that that browsing is slightly faster. Keep in Mind that this is an 800 series Lumia, not the high end 900 series, but overall we’re very happy with the performance.

If you were looking for a big performance boost over the Lumia 920 or the 1020 this is not what you’ll be getting with the Lumia 830.

When playing high-end games such as Modern Combat 5, you may notice minor slowdowns at times, but this is perhaps the most extreme example as this is a very resource heavy game.

For the users who expect a massive performance boost, I’d suggest you wait for the next flagship Lumia which shouldn’t be too far off, otherwise the Lumia 830 is a solid performer.

Camera

When it comes to the camera, this is definitely a flagship camera offering(but we have to leave Lumia 1020, 1520, and the 930 aside) . It comes with a 10MP PureView branded six-element Zeiss lens and features optical image stabilization.

WP_20141026_12_37_26_Raw

Optical image stabilization makes a massive difference and it’s something that many don’t understand the importance of. This is something that Lumia devices have pushed smartphone photography to the limit with in the last two years. Only now (two years later) are we starting to see high end non-Lumia devices implement this technology.

We conducted an in depth camera test and comparison with the Lumia 1020 which is considered to the pinnacle of smartphone photography from a quality standpoint, and the results were impressive. The Lumia 830 takes very sharp photos in the daylight, and has fantastic low light performance with a much improved camera over the Lumia 920.

We did notice that daylight images were a little on the oversaturated side while low light images, although fantastic, ended up being a little on the cooler side when comparing to the Lumia 1020, which had the opposite effect in both scenarios.

Lumia 830 Low Light Still Balls No Flash
Lumia 830 Low Light No Flash
Lumia 1020 Still Balls 100ISO (5MP)
Lumia 1020 no flash

The Lumia 830 also focuses on the entire image rather than having  most of the detail on the subject like on the Lumia 1020.  This is less noticeable when the subject is at a larger distance but very noticeable at closer distances, which can be good or bad depending on the type of image you would like to achieve. For most circumstances it’s suited better.

It’s an overall impressive camera across the board, when considering speed and quality, its better balanced than on the Lumia 1020.

Lumia 830 Bench
Lumia 830
Lumia 1020 Bench (5MP)
Lumia 1020

One thing that is a significant improvement over every other Lumia device is the automatic focus. It makes shooting a breeze as it eliminates the need to focus, and makes the overall camera experience much faster. It acts like the iPhone and Galaxy devices with its pre-focusing and the fact that there isn’t a need to do oversampling, the camera is significantly faster between shots when comparing to the Lumia 1020, 930 and 1520.

There is a lack of HDR mode and it’s something that Microsoft is set to roll out in the Lumia Camera update, which will also improve the overall speed between shots. Implementing HDR mode will surely make a difference in photo quality and were surprised that it wasn’t ready out of the box.

Call Quality and Speaker volume

Call quality is very good, we haven’t experienced any dropped calls and we’ve noticed callers sound clearer and louder as the earpiece is also very strong. People I usually talk to on the phone also noticed I sound clearer on their end compared to my Lumia 1020.

The speaker is on the back of the device and at times it may not seem as loud as the down firing speaker on the Lumia 920 and 1020, but that’s only because your hand tends to cover it when holding the phone, otherwise on its own its noticeably louder on its own.

Battery

The battery life on this phone is phenomenal. We’ve really pushed the 2200mAH battery hard with heavy usage and we’ve managed to end the day with 35%-45%, depending on the situation. Our Lumia 1020’s battery was completely drained by 6PM under very similar conditions.

It just feels unreal to have such incredible battery life and it really manages to spoil you once you get accustomed to it. Even apps such as Viber, which are considered heavy battery drainers when making calls, it barely impacted the Lumia 830’s battery at all. The  Lumia 1020 battery on the other hand would experience significant drainage.

Is it a worthy upgrade from the Lumia 920?

For Lumia 920 owners who can’t wait to upgrade, we recommend this as a worthy upgrade. It may not be the spec monster you were waiting for, but our  advice to you is to get a little hands on time with it as its design and flexibility offer many more options and that alone are a reason to upgrade despite not having a significant performance boost. It’s the little things which add up in there end that make a significant difference.

Is it a worthy upgrade from the Lumia 1020?

For Lumia 1020 owners who don’t mind the decrease in camera quality, this is definitely a buy as well for the exact same reasons it’s superior to the Lumia 920.

However, if the camera is of concern, then we suggest you stay on the course as you’ll definitely notice a downgrade in picture quality. This especially noticeable in scenarios where you’d be using flash, as the Xenon flash makes a significant difference in your results.

We did a rolling ball test to really highlight the difference between Xenon flush on the Lumia 1020 and the LED flash on the Lumia 830.

Lumia 1020 Ball Roll 5MP (1) Lumia 830 Ball Roll Flash

See our full in depth camera comparison between the two if you’d like to see an in depth comparison.

As you can see in the example above the Xenon flash on the Lumia 1020 has a significant advantage in being able to freeze motion.

Verdict

Microsoft has done something that has never been done before in the mid-range segment of the smartphone market. By creating such a high-quality device with so many flagship features at such a great price, they’re exposing the high prices many pay for smartphones that don’t really offer much over the Lumia 830, and it something that should be noticed.

This a highly impressive device and we feel confident to say that this is the best all-around Windows Phone to date. It’s a high-end design, fantastic camera and the flexibility and customization options make this the most complete Windows Phone ever.  If you consider the price point, it’s at an amount that actually makes buying the phone outright a possibility on most carriers.

We’re hoping that Microsoft continues this design strategy going forward at this price range, as this is a market that Windows Phone could really perform well in. Of course we also love to see the next big thing, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed for what Microsoft surprises us with next.

Check here for our in depth camera comparison between the Lumia 1020 and 830

Lumia 1020 vs Lumia 830: A very in depth camera test

lumia 830 vs lumia 1020

Update (October 27, 2014) – Watch our Full Video Review of the Lumia 830 – This Lumia is the Best Windows Phone Yet

Microsoft is currently releasing the Lumia 830 worldwide, and it’s dubbed as an affordable flagship with its high-end design and its 10MP PureView six-element Zeiss lens featuring their thinnest version of optical image stabilization.  The Lumia 830’s camera competes with the iPhone 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S5 and we’ll also do an in depth comparison with it and the iPhone 6 in the near future.

For now we’ve decided to put it to the test against the Lumia 1020 which represents the benchmark of smartphone photography from a pure quality perspective.

The images below should cover most types of photography scenarios showcasing the full capabilities of both smartphone cameras.

It’s worth mentioning that the Lumia 830 comes pre-installed with Microsoft/Nokia’s latest firmware “Lumia Denim” which has the latest photo processing algorithms, while the Lumia 1020 currently doesn’t have the firmware update which is said to significantly enhance its photo quality and increase speed between photos.

The Lumia 830 will get an app called “Lumia Camera” in the next few weeks which will enable HDR mode and video recording in 4K. HDR mode will enhance the photo quality of the Lumia 830 and it’s something the iPhone 6 shoots in by default.

Detailed Area

Lumia 1020 Bench (5MP)
Lumia 1020 Bench 5MP
Lumia 830 Bench
Lumia 830 Bench

While the Lumia 1020 is known to produce saturated images which really stand out and have that “pop”, the Lumia 830 in this case seems to have an even more saturated look in this photo.  However, it’s not the good kind – it looks darker overall and some colors seem off.

The Lumia 1020’s image just feels more refreshing and has a better overall contrast while the Lumia 830 has a much more oversaturated and darker look.

The Lumia 1020 clearly has the sharper image here but not everywhere, as the Lumia 830 tends to focus better on the outer edges of the scene despite the subject of focus being the bench.  This is something that is common on all photos between the two, but even more noticeable when the subject of focus is at a closer distance.

Lumia 1020 Bench Zoom (5MP)
Lumia 1020 Bench Zoom (5MP)
Lumia 830 Bench Zoom
Lumia 830 Bench Zoom

When zooming in, although the Lumia 830 performs well, this is where the difference in detail becomes very apparent between the two.  The Lumia 1020’s image manages to retain much of its original detail and still looks very sharp, while the Lumia 830 clearly starts to show detail loss.  We used the 5MP oversampled image for the Lumia 1020 Zoom in this photo.

Lumia 1020 Bench HiRes Heavy Zoom
Lumia 1020 Bench HiRes Heavy Zoom
Lumia 830 Bench  Heavy Zoom
Lumia 830 Bench Heavy Zoom

With a heavy zoom, we choose to use the Lumia 1020’s 34MP image as it manages to retain more detail despite producing more noise, while the 5MP image would start to deteriorate at this point. This zoom really shows just how having a high resolution sensor can be beneficial and the difference between the two devices is significant at this point with the Lumia 830 looking very pixilated.

HSBC

Lumia 1020 HSBC (5MP)
Lumia 1020 HSBC (5MP oversampled)
Lumia 830 HSBC
Lumia 830 HSBC

With this photo, the same type of oversaturation occurs with the Lumia 830 and the photo seems to have a yellowish tint, while the Lumia 1020 produces the more natural colors and doesn’t oversaturate any one particular color.

Lumia 1020 HSBC Zoom (5MP)
Lumia 1020 HSBC Zoom (5MP)
Lumia 830 HSBC Zoom
Lumia 830 HSBC Zoom

The Main focal point of this photo is the HSBC sign and when we zoom into it, the Lumia 1020 once again has the much sharper image quality.

Macro Test

Lumia 1020 Macro Flower (5MP)
Lumia 1020 Macro Flower (5MP)

Lumia 830 Macro Flower

Macro photography has always been a weak point of the Lumia 1020, as its lens design doesn’t focus on anything closer than six inches.  This is something the Lumia 830 does a much better job at as it’s able to focus two inches from the subject.

Playground (Vibrant Colors)

Lumia 1020 Park (5MP)
Lumia 1020 Park (5MP)

Lumia 830 Park

This scene has bright vibrant colors and it’s a great example of how the two devices see them differently.

The Lumia 830 once again has a darker tone with much more saturated colors compared to the 1020, which gives it more of an oppressive feel as the sky is also darker.  Overall the Lumia 1020 produces a much more natural tone and also has a much better representation of the actual colors despite it too being a little on the saturated side.

Sign (Zoom)

Lumia 1020 Sign (5MP)
Lumia 1020 Sign (5MP)
Lumia 830 Sign
Lumia 830 Sign

We used this photo to really push the zooming limits on both devices, as you can see the distance from the sign is pretty far.  We used the Lumia 1020’s hi-resolution photo in this example.

 

Lumia 1020 Sign Zoom (HiRes) Lumia 830 Sign Zoom

It’s quite incredible to what the Lumia 1020 can achieve with digital zoom and there isn’t a better example than this one.  The sign is very pixilated with such a massive zoom the  Lumia 830 makes it unreadable while the Lumia 1020 is still clear and very readable.

This is not a fair comparison with the Lumia 1020 having such a higher resolution camera, but it’s a perfect example of its zooming prowess.

Low Light Without Flash

Lumia 1020 Controller Low Light No Flash (5MP)
Lumia 1020 Controller Low Light No Flash (5MP)

Lumia 830 Controller Low Light No Flash

Both phones focused at the centre of the controller, but at this distance,  you’re able to tell a major difference in the way each device focuses on the subject.  The Lumia 1020 tends to have a shallower depth of field and the focus on the subject is much shaper than the rest of the image, while the Lumia 830 keeps its sharpness all around.

The wrinkles in the leather are very visible in the Lumia 830’s photo while the Lumia 1020’s image is softer everywhere else except the centre of the controller.

Lumia 1020 Controller Zoom Low Light No Flash (5MP)
Lumia 1020 Controller Zoom Low Light No Flash (5MP)
Lumia 830 Controller Zoom No Flash Controller
Lumia 830 Controller Zoom No Flash Controller

Even in the zoom we can tell just how much shallower the depth of field the Lumia 1020 produces at this distance. When looking at the “Microsoft Studios sign” which is in focus on the Lumia 830, while the primary centre of focus (Controller) is a lot sharper on the 1020.  The Lumia 1020 even keeps the detail in the joysticks visible while the Lumia 830 doesn’t capture any.

This is something that can be good or bad, depending on what effect you would like to achieve when taking photos.   The Lumia 830 keeps more of the photo in focus compared to the 1020, especially when the subject is at a closer distance, while the 1020 is the opposite.

However, when a shallow depth of focus is preferred, the Lumia 1020 preforms beautifully in this regard as the Lumia 830 doesn’t do as good of a job in blurring the background as in the example below.

Lumia 1020 Perrier

Lumia 830 Perrier


Controller with Flash

Lumia 1020 Controller Low Light Flash (5MP)
Lumia 1020 Controller Low Light Flash (5MP)
Lumia 830 Controller Low Light with Flash
Lumia 830 Controller Low Light with Flash

Lumia 1020 has a very powerful flash compared to virtually every other smartphone due to it using a Xenon flash rather than the traditional LED flash.  The Lumia 830’s flash performs quite well in this scene and keeps the whole image in focus even though the primary subject is the centre of the controller once again.

The color reproduction is good, actually, and nowhere near as saturated as the photos it produces in daylight.  The 1020 on the other hand produces the more saturated photos in low light situations, and especially with the flash on.

Lumia 1020 Controller Zoom  Low Light Flash (5MP)
Lumia 1020 Controller Zoom Low Light Flash (5MP)

 

Lumia 830 Controller Zoom with Flash
Lumia 830 Controller Zoom with Flash

The Lumia 1020’s Xenon flash combined with the higher resolution sensor completely outclasses the single LED flash on the Lumia 830 when zoomed as the texture on the joysticks is clearly visible.

Absolute Low Light Performance Test with ISO@100

In the test below we’ve set something to hold the phones so that there’s absolutely no movement and set a timer of 2 seconds so that even a slight shake from the screen press goes away before the camera goes off.  We selected the red & blue ball as the primary focus before taking the shot.

We’ve also set set the ISO at 100 for maximum light with the lowest possible noise production. The shutter speeds automatically adjusted and were just above 2 seconds on each phone.  This is not ideal but it gives us a way to test the maximum potential of these devices in low light photography.

Lumia 1020 Still Balls 100ISO (5MP)
Lumia 1020 Still @100 ISO (5MP)
Lumia 830 Low Light Still (ISO100) Balls No Flash
Lumia 830 with ISO@100

The same thing occurs in this photo as many others before it with the difference in focus between the two devices.  The Lumia 1020’s photo keeps the balls super sharp with everything else being out of focus while the Lumia 830′ spreads the focus across the whole image, despite manually focusing on the blue & red ball.

The Lumia 1020’s image is clean and keeps noise very low, while the Lumia 830 image is generally noisier all around but still manages to produce a clean overall image.

Lumia 1020 Still Balls 100ISO Zoom
Lumia 1020 Still Balls ISO100 Zoom
Lumia 830 Low Light Still (ISO100) Balls Zoom No Flash
Lumia 830 (ISO100) Zoom

When zooming in on the objects, the Lumia 1020’s image is significantly sharper as it focuses all its imaging capabilities on the subject while the Lumia 830 spreads focus to the entire image and doesn’t perform well in zoom situations.

Xenon Flash VS LED flash

When it comes to low light situations, especially at parties where subjects are moving or even taking pictures of your kids who never sit still, a Xenon flash makes a world of difference compared to an LED flash as it’s able to completely freeze the subject in motion.

In the example below, we’ve focused on the white round speaker and let a ball roll off a ramp at equal speeds in both situations and took the shot as it passed by the speaker.

Lumia 1020 Ball Roll 5MP (1)
Lumia 1020 Ball Roll 5MP
Lumia 830 Ball Roll Flash
Lumia 830 Ball Roll Flash

This is the perfect example of just how powerful a Xenon flash is when comparing to an LED flash, and as you can see, the Lumia 1020’s Xenon flash managed to completely freeze the rolling ball and capture a staggering amount of detail.

Overall we’re very impressed with the Lumia 830’s camera and how well it performs in both daylight and low light scenarios, although we expect Microsoft to adjust the color output to be a little more neutral in daylight scenarios and a little less cold in low light scenarios.

These results go to show just how far the Lumia 1020 is ahead of every other smartphone from quality perspective and just how big of an advantage a Xenon flash is over an LED.  However, it’s not a fair comparison with a device like the Lumia 830, but according to others who have compared it to an iPhone 6 camera, it’s pretty evenly matched.  Although we can’t confirm this until we perform an in depth test our selves, we look forward to putting the three smartphones through a similar test.

The Lumia 830 is a very capable smartphone shooter, and with a price tag much lower than flagship smartphones with imaging capabilities in the same category, one can’t go wrong with the Lumia 830.

We’ll also be conducting a video and audio test between the Lumia 830 and Lumia 1020 to see just how capable the Lumia 830’s Dolby Digital recording microphones are compared with the 1020’s, so stay tuned for a lot more coverage on the Lumia 830, including our full in depth review.

Watch our Full Video Review of the Lumia 830 – This Lumia is the Best Windows Phone Yet