Joe Wilcox

Apple's march of the lemmings

Apple store logo

So the Apple media invites are out, and I am laughing my ass off at how effectively the company manipulates the Fourth and Fifth Estates and how willing are the lemmings to be led. (I got no invite, by the way, and didn't expect one.)

So what? We've got the same venue where Steve Jobs unveiled the Mac in 1984. Thirty-year anniversary. Check. The hall is considerably larger than the two others more typically used. Check. Add them together and you have a writ-storm of speculation -- and soon purported, unconfirmed leaks -- about something really big coming on September 9th.

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ASUS C300 Chromebook Review

ASUS C300

This summer, I took a break from Chromebook, to conduct an experiment going "Microsoft All-In". After using the browser-based concept for about two years, I even gave up Google products and services for awhile. What terrible timing! There's a sudden shift in the winds, as Chromebook heads away from x86 and towards destination ARM and competing Intel processor Bay Trail. These lower-power consumption, lower-heat producing chips also illuminate new Chromebook form-factors: 13.3-inch displays. The first of these -- from Acer, ASUS, and Samsung -- started shipping in June, July, and August. I tested the ASUS C300.

Like the other two manufacturers, ASUS offers Chromebooks with 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch screens. I review the larger laptop. Both compete with the ARMs by adopting Intel’s Bay Trail processor, which offers similar benefits and performance pitfalls. There's nothing exceptional about the C300, which strangely is a benefit. The laptop's attributes are quite balanced -- design, performance, and price.

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I'm tired of my Microsoft PC breaking down on the Information Superhighway

breakdown car

Ninth in a series. User experience is an ongoing series of surprises -- discovery of something unexpected and useful when positive and discovery of annoying glitches when negative. Both evoke emotional responses. The latter is devastating as little frustrations build to crescendo. That's the state I near with my "Microsoft All-In" experiment. Dissatisfaction grows.

I started this journey on July 1, after buying Surface Pro 3. The tablet-hybrid promised so much, and my overall experience with the hardware is excellent. I can't say the same about the operating system, web browser, or supporting services. Clunky is good word. Think old car that runs well on the highway but sometimes stutters and stalls at stoplights. The overall UX is nowhere as smooth as Chrome OS or OS X.

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Surface Pro 3 marketing is spot on target

Surface Pro 3 Keyboard

I understand that it's the dog days of summer, when news is light, readers vacation, and writers struggle to produce current content. So I'll forgive colleague Mihaita Bamburic, for his misguided attack against Surface Pro 3. He asserts that Microsoft markets the computer to the "wrong crowd". If that would be tech writers, he gets a nod. Otherwise, I shake my head and point a finger.

I've read this misguided diatribe before, from tech reviewers switching to the Microsoft PC from an Apple, but never expected it from him. As someone who has bought and paid for MacBook Air and Surface Pro 3, I say that Microsoft's marketing is spot on target. The problem isn't the potential consumer buyer but geek writers, particularly those already using Macs.

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Don't fall for phone phishing scams

stock broker panic phone

Yesterday, I received an automated call from Barclays Bank warning about suspicious purchases. The number: 877-935-2427. The message asked for the card number to proceed. This morning, my wife received a call from 800-888-8804 indicating our AT&T account had been breached and asking to provide the last four digits of her social security number. We don't have accounts with either company.

Both calls phished for personal information -- something I'm used to by email but not to our cell phones. The proximity -- less than a day apart -- and the first of them ever disturbs me. I don't recall receiving these kinds of bogus calls before. To be clear: You should never give out personal information to automated systems. When there is a legitimate security breach, the service provider will ask for verification information already on file, not request account numbers or any portion of a social security number.

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Windows Phone is like OS X a decade ago -- gaining respect, finally

Windows Phone logo street

Four years ago, I asserted: "Windows Phone 7 series is a lost cause", and it was. But you gotta give Microsoft credit for persistence. Today the foundation is solid, and app developers are finally starting to notice, like they did in 2004 with Apple's flagship operating system.

But pundits howl like the zombie apocalypse, which is pretty good analogy for mindless Android and iOS users constantly clicking and scrolling. Microsoft's Windows Phone "glance-and-go" design philosophy is all about living beings and interacting with them rather than cold plastic and metal slabs. (Say, isn't that where we lay the dead before burying them?)

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Why is iPhone so destructible?

Shattered iPhone 5s

It's the question I keep asking, wondering whether to blame the device or my daughter. Last night, she texted: "My screen cracked again. I'm so sorry". That's the third shattered iPhone 5s since May; two 5ers busted before that. Clearly, she's fumble fingers, but something just doesn't seem right. The college student sticks the damn device in a protective case. Did Apple put pretty design before damage durability?

I spent several hours searching for smartphone breakage data today -- on the web and contacting several sources compiling stats. Strangely, the most compelling comparisons are years old. For example, in late 2010, SquareTrade reported that iPhone 4 accidents exceeded the 3GS and devices from competing smartphone manufacturers. In a 2012 survey of 2,000 iPhone users, 30 percent had damaged their device in the previous 12 months.

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The best thing about San Diego Comic-Con

Trekkies

The world's most lively pop-culture event reaches the half-way mark today. Four glorious days of geekdom concludes tomorrow at 5 pm PDT, but there's lots to come before the end. Saturday is typically Comic-Con's busiest and brightest day. With the masquerade ball coming tonight, cosplayers will be everywhere. I reflected on "the roles we play" three years ago and adapted the post into the introduction to my book Comic-Con Heroes: The Fans Who Make the Greatest Show on Earth.

About 130,000 make the pop-culture pilgrimage. They come for all different reasons. Some love comics. Others want to see their favorites stars, close up or in celebrity panels. Collectibles draw many people -- those free or purchased. Others want to meet those whom they idolize, which might be getting an autograph from an actor or chatting with an artist. Then there are the artists, writers, and other storytellers who want to learn something that will turn what they love into successful careers. But most attendees share something in common: They are fans. Many are geeks, while others see themselves as misfits -- non-conformists who aspire for something greater.

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I cut cable's cord again and mean it this time

TV cat Netflix

Overnight, AT&T U-verse went dark in the Wilcox household. We're cord cutters once more. A year ago, we let the service go for about two weeks but returned after Cox Internet failed to deliver constant connection. When going back to AT&T for just the Net, the company made an offer I couldn't refuse: Hundreds of channels, HD, DVR, and Internet for $99 a month. Cost would be $69 without the television service.

But with Game of Thrones and Walking Dead behind, and the 12-month contract expired (yesterday), streaming is once again high on the thrifty list. I made several phone calls looking for an AT&T deal that would keep us customers, but no offer matched Cox, which guarantees pricing for a year without locking me into any commitment. We set up service about 10 days ago, hoping the Internet would stop yo-yoing around.

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Nokia Lumia Icon Windows Phone goes to San Diego Comic-Con

Super Girl

Eighth in a series. What goes around comes around. It's cliché but describes my return to Nokia after abandoning the brand five years ago. I never expected to come back, and the app experience, while a backwater compared to Android or iOS, is little different than when I left. Cameras are great and app selection limited, but it's hugely improved because of Microsoft.

Nokia was in 2009 still the world's mobile handset leader, except for one major market: The United States. As such, Symbian dominated mobile app development, even as iOS rose in prominence. (Remember: Apple opened its app store in July 2008, and the first Android phone shipped a few months later.) But the majority of apps and supporting services, developed by Nokia and third-parties, best suited the rest of the world. Americans had limited choices on the company's handsets.

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QPlay is closing -- good riddance

Store Closing

In February, I foolishly spent 50-odd bucks for QPlay, the streaming TV player for iPad, which I used with the Air. The user experience was terrible from the start and never got better over the miserable months that followed. Slow. Stuttering. Stopped.

Today, the startup sent me email that the service bustup. Doors close July 25, so lend your QPlay to your worst enemy while you still can for some streaming mayhem and frustration.

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Chromebook kicks OS X and Windows out of school

Dell Chromebook in School

Get ready for another rash of "Year of the Chromebook" stories. It isn't, but tongues will wag. Today, NPD released new data about U.S. commercial computer sales which, like the last set, is sure to be misquoted. Spurred by educational buying, Chromebooks accounted for 40 percent of U.S. commercial channel notebook sales for the three weeks ended June 7. But some nitwits are sure to claim all sales, as they did following December's data drop. Commercial sales are more limited and represent those to businesses, educational institutions, governments, and other organizations.

That's not to diminish Chromebook's success, considering the category is but three years old and supplants OS X and Windows sales in the coveted education market. Users gotten young often stay with a platform for life. The browser-based computers aren't singular entities, either. Android and stand-alone Chrome platforms benefit, too, from halo sales going both ways.

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What don't I understand about Xbox Music?

Xbox Music Widnows 8.1 App

Seventh in a series. I ask because the user experience can't be this bad. Can it?

My "Microsoft All-In" experiment continues, and on Day 10 I must finally gripe about Xbox Music, which experience on Windows Phone 8 is pretty good, while the desktop app really sucks. I've got Pass, which should be as much about music discovery as streaming. I see some of both, but nowhere as much as core competing services, on Nokia Lumia Icon, while Surface Pro 3 disappoints. If I'm missing something, please correct my perception and also assist anyone considering Xbox Music.

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I am Microsoft All-In

road cloud

Sixth in a series. On July 1, I officially started my "Microsoft All-In" summer sojourn. Surface Pro 3 is my PC and Nokia Lumia Icon my smartphone for the next couple of months. Google gets the boot -- at least for awhile. I now largely use Microsoft products and services and third-party apps available for the company's platforms. Many commenters wonder why, so let me explain.

I last used Windows as my primary platform in 2010 -- never for Windows Phone. Like other BetaNews reporters, I tend to write about products used regularly. Writing is more authoritative from experience, and often only long-time use reveals hidden problems or benefits. The reality, and it's something obviously seen in comments: Microsoft platform users largely make up BetaNews readership.

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I declare independence from Google

Monopoly-game

Fifth in a series. Two years ago today, I stepped away from Apple, following a boycott later abandoned. My problems were philosophical, regarding the company's aggressive patent litigation that thwarts innovation. This July Fourth I seek freedom from Google, and not for the first time. I don't oppose the search and information giant, nor like fanboy rally for it. I declare independence as a practical exercise; an experiment. Can you -- OK, I -- do without Big G's expansive portfolio of products and services? I want to know.

In many regards, Google is the Internet gatekeeper U.S. trustbusters asserted Microsoft would be, in their late-1990s court case. Big G is unquestionably a monopoly that integrates features and products for competitive gain. In the United States, Google's search share is about 67 percent (3.5 times greater than second-ranked Microsoft), according to ComScore, and as much as 90 percent in some countries. Android's worldwide smartphone share is about 80 percent, according to IDC.

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