My thoughts on the Lumia 900

For a few weeks, I gave up my iPhone 4S and used a Lumia 900.  Overall, the experience was pretty good, but not good enough to keep me away from the iPhone.

On the positive side, the big screen is a real beauty.  The email application worked pretty well, and the animations were well done.  The size and shape of the phone itself was pretty good.  I figured that over time, the outline of the Lumia would replace the outline of the iPhone that seems to have ingrained itself into all of my jeans.  Syncing to a Mac was shockingly easy.

However, after the first few days, the shortcomings of the device and the Microsoft Phone operating system started to become too glaring to ignore.  Here they are in no particular order:

  • When you have headphones plugged in, but no music playing (or no call going), the normal system sounds play through the phone itself, rather than through the headphones.  This means that if you are wearing headphones that insulate your ears pretty well, and the music stops or you just want some quiet time, the other system sounds (like email being received) will blast out through the phone speaker, and not through the headphones.
  • There are no different volume settings for speaker versus headset.  On the iPhone, when you are listening to music (or more likely in my case, a podcast) through the headphones, you can adjust the volume and it only affects the volume for when you are using the headphones.  Once you unplug them, the volume through the phone speaker is where it was at when you last set it.  Plug in the headphones, and the volume changes to the last setting for the headphones.  On the Lumia 900, you had one volume setting.  This means that if you turn up the volume on the phone, so you can hear the ringer, and then you plug in headphones, you might blow your eardrums out (not literally of course… the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert did that for me.  What? WHAT? I can’t hear you!).
  • Frequently, you cannot use the headphones to start the last thing you were listening to when you turn off the device.  On the iPhone, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away from it, when you click the button on the headphones, the music (podcast!) resumes.  This is huge for me as I try to listen to podcasts while walking the dog, and those walks are somewhat far apart.  With the Lumia 900, I think it background kills the music app, so if its been more than five minutes since you last listened to it, you must get the phone out, find the app and relaunch it.  As I recall, this was also a problem for giving the system voice commands (you had to wake it up before it would “listen” to the headphone buttons), but I’m not 100% on that one.
  • The positioning of the phone is poor when you have to hold it to your ear.  In the unlikely event that you use the Lumia as a phone (seriously, who uses their smartphones for calls these days?), you have to move the unit very far down on your ear in order to line up the speaker hole with your ear hole.  On the iPhone it just seems much more natural.
  • BlueTooth streaming is inconsistent.  About half the time, I could get the Lumia to stream audio over Bluetooth.  The other half the time, it was a frustrating dance of trying to figure out what incantation I needed to mutter in order to make it work.  And very quickly it resulted in leaving the phone in the drink holder and just turning on satellite radio.  This is not okay as I like to listen to podcasts during my drives.  And given that most of my drives are short, spending 10 minutes dinking around with Bluetooth streaming is just too much.
  • My car doesn’t understand the Lumia 900 (related to the above). Okay, this isn’t the Lumia’s fault, but it does speak to the huge lead that Apple has.  My car understands iPhone just fine.  I plug it into the USB port in the center console and a second or two later, blammo, my podcast picks up where I last left it off, or I can easily change what I’m listening too with the car’s display.  With the Lumia, it didn’t recognize it at all.  Again, I know this isn’t the Lumia’s fault, but *everything* understands the iPhone.  This is huge in a world where sometimes just getting something to work can be a battle, and people are sick of having these technological fights.  I hate to say it, but mosttimes, Apple stuff does just work (the memory in my previous blog posting was not Apple supplied).
  • No mute switch – many phones are guilty of this, and I’m baffled by it.  Having a physical switch to toggle between muted or not is a huge feature.
  • The camera wasn’t nearly as good as the iPhone 4S’

There were a few more things I could write about, but to be honest, they don’t matter.  What brought me back to the arms of the iPhone was the fact that Apple got all of the little details right.  These are the things that eliminate friction in our lives and the way we use our gadgets.  I think this is why Apple has been so successful over the past 10 years.  Their products don’t do everything that their competitors products do, but they usually do it much more smoothly and more consistently.

So, I went back to the iPhone fold, and have been listening to my podcasts quite happily (as well as making the occasional phone call).  The bad news is that I ended up getting a 16 gig unit that we had lying around, since I didn’t want to redo a contract.  And I didn’t want to redo a contract, because the iPhone 5 is right around the corner.  It will be very interesting to see what they come up with this time around.

Thanks for reading!

Mac, diagnose thyself!

Over the past few years, our household has turned from a Microsoft Windows centric one, to one that is populated almost entirely by Apple Mac’s, along with iPhones, iPads and Apple TVs.

While over the years, the Macs have proved resilient reliable machines, our experience has not been without problems.

The only one that has been big enough to matter is the one that has affected my personal iMac.  It’s a 27″ monster, with 16 gig of ram, and a 500 gig SSD (not factory standard!).  This machine is super fast with its quad i7 processor and the SSD.  Unfortunately, over the past three months or so it has become unstable.  The symptoms started with random kernel panic’s (think Windows BSOD), and then moved forward to include drive corruption and the machine just failing to wake up.

Troubleshooting a problem like this can be a real bear!  I started with checking the SSD for errors, and it found quite a few.  After repairing those, things stabilized for a while, but then it resumed having problems.  I then thought that it was perhaps an issue with Parallels (which I use to run Windows and various Linux distributions).  I uninstalled and reinstalled Parallels many times, including doing the full uninstall process as documented here.

At this point, I began to run into corruption problems on the drive so bad that it was corrupted beyond a simple repair, and I had to restore the whole system (back up your systems kids!).  Fortunately this was easy to do because of the Time Capsule that we use to back up our desktops and laptops.

I then decided, since most issues seemed to be drive related, to upgrade the firmware on the SSD.  After downloading a bootable image and “burning” it onto a USB stick, I upgraded and the problem was solved!

For a few days. <sigh>

Continuing along the path of thinking that it was a Parallels problem, I downloaded VMWare Fusion.  I tried to migrate the Parallels VMs over to it, but it failed again.  This reinforced the idea that perhaps the problem was with Parallels.

I finally decided to “start over”.  I wiped out the machine, reformatted the drive, and did a clean install of OS X Lion.  Fortunately this was pretty straightforward and only took about 30 minutes, including the time to download it over the Internet.  I started installing applications (leaving out Parallels) and everything remained stable.  Hooray!

Until I installed the FitBit application.  Within minutes, the machine Panic’d again!  Okay, so clearly the FitBit application is the culprit!  I uninstalled it, and four hours later, the machine went down again.

I decided to try to find a way to stress test the SSD to force an error to come up so I could get a replacement.  After some searching around, I discovered the Mac’s have “built in” diagnostics.  The newest ones have it in eprom (or something similar) and you can get to them simply by pressing and holding D (for Diagnostics – those clever Apple people!) at the chime.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t on mine, so I had to figure out how to get into it from a Snow Leopard boot CD (these are what originally shipped with my iMac).  After several false tries, I figured out that it was on disc 2.  So to get the diagnostics to work, I just put in disc 2, rebooted, held down the D key and voilà, a few minutes later I was looking at diagnostics.

Now, let me tell you, these things look like they are from 1985… and I don’t care!  They are obviously written to diagnose a computer, not to have a super looking experience.  Here’s where things get interesting. I don’t have a wired mouse, and it turns out that the wireless one doesn’t work (I had a wired keyboard plugged in at the time, so I can’t say if a wireless would have worked or not – I’m guessing not), so I had to use keyboard shortcuts to navigate the app.  It only took a moment to figure out tab and up and down arrow were my friends.  I tried to check the “thorough” diagnostics flag, but couldn’t make it work, so I figured I would just run the normal ones.  I kicked them off and sat on the couch for a few minutes and… BAM!  An error came up!  Oh happy day!  I can prove that my SSD has a problem and get it replaced!

Wait, hang on a second, this error says “MEM” in it?!

So get this, after spending months thinking my SSD was unreliable, the problems were coming from one of the memory chips!  Son of a…

To make an already way too long story somewhat short, I then had to uncable the iMac, pull out some memory chips, hook it back up (just assume this part happens a lot), run diagnostics again, find no errors, swap the memory chips (using the same slots to make sure I was testing the chips, and not another set of slots and chips), run diagnostics and it repeated the error – consistency!  It is my friend!  Finally, I pull one of the chips out, ran diagnostics, got a clean bill of health, put that chip aside, reinstalled the other ones, ran diagnostics, clean bill of health and…

Five days later it hasn’t had a glitch.  OH HAPPY DAY!

Posted from my now healthy iMac.