Category Archives: windows phone

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)

ScreenshotScreenshot

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.

ScreenshotScreenshot

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?

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:

ScreenshotScreenshot

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.

ScreenshotScreenshot

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

ScreenshotScreenshot

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

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:

ScreenshotScreenshot

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?

ScreenshotScreenshot

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

Another Twitter storm, Windows 10 Mobile lifespan unaltered

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I’ve had so many emails in asking me to comment on Joe Belfiore’s stream of tweets over the weekend (and the reaction to it on tech sites) that I felt I had to, at least, update my ever-extending and hopefully still clear Windows 10 chart, showing what’s happening to the OS. In summary, there’s nothing in Joe’s tweets that’s new. Nothing to see, back to your homes, etc.(!)

The tweets themselves were honest, but the only thing ‘new’ in them was their very existence, since Microsoft’s executives rarely speak frankly on Twitter. Anyway, for the record, the main ones, in response to the the initial ‘Is it time to leave Windows 10 Mobile?’ were:

So nothing too shocking, in short, support will continue, but building new ‘features’ into Windows 10 Mobile and building new first party hardware based on W10M ‘aren’t the focus’. I.e. won’t happen. But then we knew this already and have done so for at least a year. Microsoft is ‘out’ of first party consumer/phone hardware and Windows 10 Mobile, in its current ‘feature2’ state, is essentially ‘feature complete’.

On with an updated chart anyway. The thing to note is that Microsoft has promised Windows 10 Mobile updates and security patches until at least Autumn 2019 (my chart only goes as far as the end of 2018) and that it will keep up with the core Windows 10 ‘branches’. So we currently have ‘1709’ in the Fast ring for Insiders at the moment, for example.*

* whether this will be formally pushed to a wide range of phones is open to question, of course. I suspect that the ‘push’ will be to the same limited device set as the Creators Update

The relevant portion for Windows 10 Mobile then is the heavy red dashed area:

I’m not apologising for Microsoft’s strategy and ‘mistakes’ in all this, note. They’ve bungled so much in ‘mobile’ over the last 15 years, but that’s covered in other editorials. What I want to get across here – again – is that Windows 10 Mobile isn’t ‘dead’, it’s still supported. For another two years, at least, by which time other options should have presented themselves.

And the dearth of ‘new features’ is almost completely irrelevant – new features will come to Windows 10 Mobile users each week, each month, through the still improving UWP applications on the platform, both from Microsoft and from third parties. 

Nothing lasts forever in the tech world, let alone the tempestuous mobile world. Let’s take your average Lumia 930 user (something of a median on AAWP):

  • The phone was released in 2014 under Windows Phone 8.1
  • Updated to Windows 10 Mobile officially in March 2016
  • Updated to the ‘Anniversary update’ (Redstone) in Autumn 2016
  • Update-able to the ‘Creators Update’ (via the Insiders Release Preview ring) in Spring 2017
  • Useable with CU security updates and UWP app updates until Spring 2019

That’s, for an enthusiast with a humble Lumia 930, a fairly full five year lifespan, for a single device. Just one data point, but five years on a single phone is unusual in the smartphone world, perhaps only a couple of iPhone models can match it for longevity.

Anyone with a Lumia 950/XL will fare better in terms of future proofing, getting the ‘Fall Creators Update’/’1709’ and support until Autumn 2019 and perhaps beyond, though not the same ‘life span’ as the 930 above.

In short, we’re not blind at AAWP, we can see that the times, they are a changing. But let’s not go off half-cocked, your Windows phone isn’t going to suddenly stop working, it’ll carry on getting important updates, new apps and app updates via the Store for quite a long time yet. 

Anatomy of a Lumia photo #11: Going wide

The idea of this series is to give you an insight into the thought processes that went into achieving each image, in the hope that it might inspire you to better photos too. Here’s today’s snap from my Lumia 950 XL:

Photo

Nothing too special, you might think – except that you’ll notice an unnatural curve along the bottom and top of the frame, giving the clue that all is not quite as it seems.

The mural shown is on the side of the Brewhouse theatre in Taunton and is huge. Around 20m long and 10m high – really rather impressive, and still in great condition. Worth a snap, I thought. So, mid-morning, standing around 20m away I pointed my Lumia 950 XL at it, square on:

Photo

Hmm… this also meant shooting into the sun, which was behind the mural/building. Resulting in the ugly flaring in the lens seen here. Now, in an ideal world, I’d have come back at the end of the day, hoped for some sunshine still and maybe even sun on the mural itself. But life’s not like that, I was only in Taunton for an hour and so I had to improvise.

I didn’t want to shoot off at an angle, i.e stand in the shade but not square on to the mural, because the graphics would be skewed horribly. So I stepped in closer to escape the sun into the phone camera lens:

Photo

But this meant that I was now too close and that the edges of the mural were lost. 

Time to improvise. I switched to the ‘panorama’ mode in the Windows 10 Camera application. This is really designed, as the name suggests, for subjects quite a bit further away and for wide sweeps of a landscape, but I wondered whether I could sweep around the mural from only about 10m away and get an interesting result:

Photo

It’s true that the panorama taking process has its own share of optical distortions, especially when your subject isn’t at ‘infinity’, but on the irregular shapes and patterns of the mural I was on pretty safe ground and I was pleased with the photo I’d obtained.

I wasn’t quite done, though, since there was too much foreground, plus taking this in the shade made for colours that were too muted. Happily, all Lumias come with the (ex-Nokia) Lumia Creative Studio application, and it’s a doddle in this, from the ‘Edit’ menu in Windows 10 Photos, to crop out the foreground also to punch up vibrance and clarity:

Screenshot

With the final result shown again here:

Photo

I was happy anyway. Who needs a LG G6 Android phone (with dedicated wide angle lens) when you can get decent results by improvising with the ‘panorama’ mode under Windows 10? (OK, tongue in cheek, the results here aren’t a patch on what the G6 would have achieved…!)

I wanted to see what else could be achieved with this technique, so tried a few more subjects. Shooting from the footbridge by the theatre, here’s a standard photo looking down the river:

Photo

And here’s the same scene, but using panorama mode and sweeping around through about 90 degrees:

Photo

So, quite effectively, I’m getting wide angle shots without a wide angle lens. Interesting.

There are downsides, of course. Overall resolution is lower, since panorama mode is limited to around 1000 pixels in vertical height, for obvious reasons. So you typically end up here with a 3MP or 4MP image at most. Plus you don’t get the usual Rich Capture options and you don’t get focussing refinements. 

One more example, I was up on the hlls nearby and loved the open feel, with a dramatic sky and some hill ponies to add interest:

Photo

True, this is more of a traditional panorama, but by limiting my sweep to not much more than 90 degrees again, the end result is more photo-like than the typical long-and-thin ‘panorama’ image, which is often so stretched in shape that you can never do anything with it.

So, shooting in panorama mode and limiting your sweep round turns out to be surprisingly effective. Comments (and examples) welcome if you’ve ever done anything like this!

Tile Rider UWP impresses as a physics epic

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Super-polished and with perfect physics, this top-down arcade Windows 10 puzzler is also free for the next three weeks, so grab it soon. It’s designed for touchscreens first and foremost, so it’s great on the phone under Windows 10 Mobile.

From the Store description:

A high-speed adventure game with puzzle, racing and battle elements. Have you ever wondered what life inside your phone is like? Did you know that it’s quite puzzling and requires you to BE SMART? You also have to BE STRONG there and hold your gun tight! And finally, you’d better BE FAST

Here’s Tile Rider UWP in action on my Lumia 950 XL:

TileRider screenshot

Slick and animated from the start, TileRider was available first on other platforms, explaining the sheer investment and production values….

TileRider screenshot

There’s a back story of sorts, but what you really want to do is get into the action…

TileRider screenshot

With the action auto-zooming as needed, you control a little car by swiping in the direction in which you want it to go. Obstacles and dangers all obey the laws of physics and the puzzle difficulty level is very high.

TileRider screenshot

Beautifully animated and lit, TileRider is a must-download – all the more while it’s completely free!

You can grab TileRider UWP free in the Store here – for phone, tablet or desktop.

Source / Credit: Store

Weirdo Attack UWP is free retro arcade

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For any fan of the likes of Space Invaders and Galaxians, Weirdo Attack is an alien-themed shoot ’em up. Just dodge the nasties, shoot your various weapons, collect power ups, and so on. Level by level, getting harder and harder. It’s classic arcade gaming and it’s implemented here as a UWP game for all Windows 10 devices.

From the Store description (sic):

Experience the amazing digital experience of Weirdo Attack. Retro weirdos from the past are blasting into the future. I don’t know why they are here and we don’t care. Blast them away as their increasingly harder waves introduce new and varied weirdos. See how far you can go. How many waves? How many different weirdos are there? Get power-ups and higher scores. Are you ready for this adventure through time? to the galaxy of angry attacking birdy bug thingies. Make no mistake, just like ye oldie games, it will be hard – the rewards are not given with endless lives of jumping stuff n’ that.

Will the future survive these retro dumb dumbs. Will you get a chance to blast the master weirdo?

There are various ways of interacting with the game, see the Settings pane for some hints and options. Here’s Weirdo Attack in action on my Lumia 950 XL:

Screenshot

Ah, memories of a bygone coin-op age!

Screenshot

The game in full flow. The graphics look a bit retro, but then they’re designed to be – and the action is pretty smooth.

You can grab this new UWP game here in the Store.

Source / Credit: Store

Dropbox UWP hits v5.0, gains facelift, new layout

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Last covered here back in May, Dropbox UWP continues to shine on Windows 10 Mobile, with this week seeing the release of the big v5.0. In fairness, the app was already pretty slick and the overhaul here is minor, but there’s an extra layout/view, plus everything looks… ‘fresher’!

Here’s the official changelog for Dropbox version 5.0 for Windows 10:

  • Display your files with 3 different layouts: gallery view, list view and content view
  • New design
  • New features for Dropbox Business users

And here’s v5.0 in action on my Lumia 950 XL:

ScreenshotScreenshot

Dropbox was always very white and clean – it’s just a bit cleaner still now, though there’s no sign of translucency or Fluent Design – on Mobile anyway; (right) there’s now a choice of three views/layouts: list, content, and gallery. Something for everyone!

Dropbox UWP app for Windows 10 is something of a star in the ecosystem. Perhaps even the best Dropbox implementation in the mobile world? It’s free anyway, as is a Dropbox account. You can grab or update the Dropbox UWP here in the Store.