Monthly Archives: November 2017

Backroads UWP helps plan off-road treks

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The intersection of Windows 10 Mobile users and outdoor enthusiasts always seems higher than the average – maybe it’s the opportunity to use the great Lumia cameras? Anyway, we’re seeing more and more UWP utilities designed to help you when away from the roads and civilisation in general. Well, maybe the odd hotel at night and then back out into the outdoors? All planned and visualised here in a brand new application, Backroads UWP.

From the Store description:

Prepare for adventure!

Backroads is the definitive trip planner and trip companion app for the obsessive trip planner. It is designed to be the place where you gather and organize all the information you gained during planning, so that everything is readily available at your fingertips when you’re on the road.

Have you ever found yourself writing down GPS coordinates for some obscure point of interest? Saving off GPX or KML files to guide you to that unknown wonder in the wilderness? Writing down a detailed day-by-day plan for your hard-earned vacation? Or simply wishing you could visualize your upcoming trip in one place? If so, this is the app for you: Backroads was designed by obsessive trip planners to help you prepare for your own adventures.

KNOWN ISSUES: The Windows 10 Creator’s Update has a number of map-related bugs which can cause the app to crash. The Fall Creator’s Update appears to have fixed most of these issues.

Features

  • Trip planner
  • Trip companion
  • Road trip planner
  • Weather forecast
  • GPS tracker
  • GPX track viewer
  • KML track viewer

Normally I’d head outdoors and try this for real, but it’s heading into winter here in the UK, so I’ll content myself with annotating the developer’s example screenshots:

Screenshot

This being a full UWP app for all Windows 10 devices, Backroads is equally happy in landscape or portrait modes. Here a trip is visualised in overview, this is one day’s planned trek (see the tabs along the bottom)

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The built-in Calendar keeps track of everything, with a Logistics view picking out the hard and fast booked items, along with details on each.

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Invidual trek legs can be plotted on Windows 10 Maps’ satellite views, both in terms of planning and (later) where you actually went.

 

You can grab this in the Store here. Comments welcome if you get to try it for real.

PS. See also GeoMeterPro 10 UWP, a direct competitor, reviewed here.

Source / Credit: Store

Action Note UWP brings your notes to Action Center

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OK, so this isn’t exactly what Microsoft had in mind when it created Action Center for Windows 10 – it’s meant for notifications, but Action Note keeps content from your created notes as entries there instead. OK, so you can argue that each note might be an action of sorts, i.e. something for you to do.

From the Store description:

Action Note is not just another note taking app. It integrates into your Action Center and enables the fastest access to all of your notes. Even with photos and across all your Windows 10 devices. Bring your productivity to the next level!

  • Action Center integration
  • Attachments
  • Categorization and ordering
  • Cross-device sync
  • Offline support
  • Personalization
  • Beautiful design
  • Scan QR codes

As usual, I gave this a whirl on the Lumia 950:

Screenshot Action Note UWPScreenshot Action Note UWP

Notes are created and auto-saved, with titles, content, attachments, priority flags, and categorised by colour, pick the latter from the top right pick list. You can also pin a note to your Start screen, if appropriate.

Screenshot Action Note UWPScreenshot Action Note UWP

Your notes appear in a collapsible list in Action Notes UWP itself, all laid out clearly, just tap to edit as needed; (right) Action Note appears prominently in Action Center, with a shortcut to create a new note and your top two action notes (here I’ve tapped on ‘more’ to expand the list).

Screenshot Action Note UWPScreenshot Action Note UWP

There’s not much on the hamburger menu, but you do get to browse notes you’ve archived away, plus you get to upgrade to the Pro version – with the cross-device sync, this is pretty much a ‘must’ once you’re actually using the program for serious notetaking.

Screenshot Action Note UWPScreenshot Action Note UWP

Plenty of configurability in Settings in terms of what appears in Action Center, plus you get to set defaults for new notes and also change what the live tile does.

You can grab Action Note UWP here. It’s very slick and a way of taking OneNote-style freeform notetaking further into your phone’s interface and making sure that you ever forget anything!

Source / Credit: Store

Server speed often the biggest issue – and Microsoft is now a ‘Cloud’ company?

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On the whole, I really enjoy using Windows 10 Mobile, which is why AAWP continues to exist and be updated. However, it’s not all roses, and there’s one thing I’ve never publicly complained about. Until now. One of the biggest frustrations I have with the operating system has nothing to do with the OS at all and more to do with Microsoft making a complete pigs ear of the software on their servers. Let me explain…

How many times have you seen any of these scenarios:

  • You open the Store client, you open up ‘Downloads and Updates’. There’s a pause. Three seconds later, ‘Recent activity’ starts to get populated. You tap on ‘Get updates’… and wait some more. Perhaps 30 seconds later some updates appear. You tap on the download control and… wait some more. Eventually there’s a message about getting license information, then the download starts and even a small 10MB application can often take tens of seconds to arrive and install.
     
  • Still in the Store client, you tap on a new application or game that looks promising. You get the title and… wait a couple of seconds… a brief description. Wait a few more seconds…. look, there are some screenshot thumbnails. You’re trying to swipe further down, to see user reviews. The UI doesn’t let you, because it hasn’t got the data yet. Finally, after fifteen seconds, you have everything you need.
     
  • You open OneDrive and open a folder that you’ve been in hundreds of times before. Yet the thumbnails for each item don’t seem to have cached and you then have to wait 10 or 20 seconds before you can see (for example) which image is which.
     
  • You’re in Photos, trying to find an image (perhaps auto-added on another phone?) and you swipe down a number of screen-fulls. You’re faced with a grid of grey squares and have to wait five seconds before the thumbnails appear. No, the image you want isn’t there. So you swipe down another screen-full and rinse and repeat. Five seconds each time, it all adds up.
     
  • You head into Feedback Hub, intending to give Microsoft feedback (such as ‘Your servers are too slow!’) and tap on ‘Feedback’ in the hamburger menu, to see what’s trending. Fifteen seconds go by, while you stare at spinning dot animations. Fifteen. 
     
  • In any online application running under Windows 10 Mobile, seeing dots flying across the screen, and then flying some more…. and then more dots spinning around. Never a progress bar, to give you hope, just dot animations that are open ended…

Now the examples above apply on even the fastest phone hardware. We’re talking Snapdragon 810, 820 chipsets with plenty of RAM… and there’s no WAY that the simple operations above should take more than a fraction of a second. These chipsets are (here) programmed with a 32-bit OS and measure their speed in GigaHertz. That’s thousands of millions of operations PER SECOND. And then factor in multiple cores. So why are our Windows 10 Mobile phones being so slow?

As implied, the inefficiencies are in the cloud, on Microsoft’s servers. We’re not talking a lot of data here – much of the examples above only involve kilobytes worth of information. Multiply this up with metadata and formatting and there’s more than plain text, I agree. But the chipsets here are capable of handling and rendering all the information in a fraction of a second.

We’re not talking connectivity issues here either. I normally test these phones within a metre of a 200Mbps connection with 5GHz Wifi. There’s bandwidth coming out of every port in sight.

My contention here is that, for a cloud-first, services-based company (under Nadella – sigh), Microsoft has been doing a spectacularly (and consistently) bad job of managing the load on its servers. This should be the one thing they do best in 2017 – have server farms that can respond to millions of queries per second, from round the world, and deliver data smoothly.

Servers

Google, Microsoft’s big rival, seems to know how to do it – Google Drive, the Play Store, Google Photos, are all much quicker on Android, even on low or mid-range phones, than my Windows 10 Mobile flagships. 

And that’s frustrating. Which is why I’m surprised that more people haven’t complained about Microsoft server speed and efficiency before.

Heck, this can’t be rocket science – surely whole books have been written on distributing network load and providing fast response times… on all platforms. What about you – can I get a seconder on all this? Do you think Microsoft’s servers have been a factor in the perceived slowness of their operating systems generally?

Podcasted UWP is a straightforward podcast player

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The number of UWP podcatchers for Windows 10 continues to grow – introducing Podcasted UWP (also called ‘PodPro’ in some placesm confusingly), spotted in the Store recently. It’s minimalist in terms of user interface (just tap and play) but is functional in many ways that are not obvious, with skip controls, speed variation, a sleep timer, and more…

From the Store description:

Podcasted is set to be the most immersive podcast app on Windows Universal platforms. You can build or import your own podcast library. Sync across devices. And of course pick up your listening progress. The user interface of Podcasted aims at modern and minimalistic. Differentiate itself from old Windows app pattern. Making you experience it instead of using it.

  • subscribe and download podcast
  • variable speed: change the play speed from 0.5x to 2x
  • cast to different devices via Wi-Fi
  • sync app data via cloud

I gave Podcasted UWP a run on my Lumia 950:

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Favourite podcasts (those you’ve starred) appear at the top of the main Listen list, followed by popular suggestions and recommendations. In each case, tap through to see episodes and then they auto-download when tapped on, as needed. There’s no indication of any kind of background checking and downloading, but in this always-on day and age, this isn’t necessarily a showstopper anymore?

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The playback controls are tiny and stay at the bottom of the screen, while space is somewhat wasted above – definitely a few UI tweaks needed still. Early days? Note the skip, volume and speed controls down the bottom too…. (right) the Settings pane has several tabs, offering OneDrive import and export of your favourites, cleaning up when listened (though I suspect you’d have to go right to the end to qualify?), and so on…

You can grab Podcasted UWP here in the Store, the IAP is to remove the banner ads and some limitations and is £2. Worth keeping your eye on and, yes, I’m overdue revisiting my UWP podcatcher round up feature here on AAWP!

Source / Credit: Store

Tapershot UWP a capable full-res effects and editing utility

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Photo effects applications are fairly common on most platforms, but this one’s pretty well done. Tapershot (or Tapershop in the Store description, confusingly!) UWP has a vast array of effects and filters, many fully configurable, outputs at full resolution, and works on any Windows 10 phone, tablet or desktop.

From the Store description:

With Tapershop, apply professional and nice effects, filters to your photos. Pick a photo on your device or take a photo from your camera, tap on filters (more than 80 available) and give your shots some improvements!

  • Apply filters and effects
  • Import a photo from your device or camera
  • Save as PNG, JPG, GIF, TIFF, BMP
  • Display a default photos folder
  • Share
  • Crop and save
  • Set as wallpaper
  • Set as lock screen

I gave it a whirl on my Lumia 950 XL:

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File and sharing controls at the top, editing controls at the bottom. Just pick a photo and then get fiddling. The Settings control brings up different sliders, depending on which editing function or filter is selected.

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The range of adjustments, filters and effects is enormous, with the filter control bottom right letting you switch between banks/categories…

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A wide range of formats to save to, though JPG is best and safest, of course, in terms of quality/size; (right) confirmation in Photos that the processed images are at full resolution (in this case, 8MP)…

With just a few UI bugs here and there (cough, portrait photos) and some updates needed, this is a great new little UWP application. There’s an in-app-purchase, but it’s only to buy the developer a coffee to say thanks. So, please do that, at least.

You can grab Tapershot UWP here in the Store.

Source / Credit: Store