Joe Wilcox

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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10 things Microsoft should do with Nokia

Nokia Lumia Icon

In April, Microsoft concluded acquisition of Nokia's Devices and Services division, announced in September 2013. With ownership comes responsibility, which starts with Microsoft preserving and reviving an iconic brand. Before the phone maker fumbled touchscreen smartphone market, the brand dominated the world -- commanding overwhelming cellular handset market share across Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America.

Some competitors strayed from the path Microsoft follows. For example, Google wrongly sold Motorola to Lenovo, which is reason for big smiles up Redmond, Wash. way. Hardware's research and development value to software and services cannot be overstated. Apple gets it, and I thought Big G did, too. Nokia is a vitally important asset to Microsoft that goes way beyond Windows Phone.

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With Surface Pro 3 as mediator, Windows and I reconcile our differences

Surface Pro 3

Fourth in a series. Before adopting the Chromie lifestyle and declaring independence from Apple two summers ago, I primarily was a Mac user. I wrote most of the so-called anti-Apple stories (so some commentary say) on the company's laptops. Chromebook still warms my heart, but for the summer -- and likely longer -- we part ways. On June 20, I walked out of Microsoft Store San Diego with a free Surface Pro 3. But I am accidental thief; that story later.

In April, I wrote about "My two years with Chromebook", giving loads of praise. I might still use Chrome OS as my primary platform today, if not for sudden partial loss of vision -- non-diabetic macular edema in both eyes. The ailment compelled a reevaluation of my computing needs. I purchased a refurbished Surface RT preinstalled with Windows 8.1, because of the free Word, which will ease ebook publishing. I really enjoyed the user experience, much more than the Surface Pro reviewed in February 2013. Updated operating system is major reason. Also, Microsoft's ClearType improved my diminished reading ability.

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Smart consumers will be Android Wear wary

panic hands due man afraid

I find the whole smartwatch craze rather amusing, even more so now that Google has officially announced Android Wear, with two models, made by LG and Samsung, shipping next month. One-day battery life? Bwaaahaha. Do they never learn? Microsoft-powered smartwatches got better than that a decade ago, and short battery life still turned out to be one of the main reasons the timepieces failed.

In product design you can never ignore existing behavior. A watch is a set-it, and forget-it device. I suppose some gadget geeks accustomed to daily smartphone charges (or less) will be dumb enough to buy. But smart consumers will be Android Wear wary. Just ask Microsoft about the road to ruin, which is paved with the best intentions, the right manufacturing partners, and concept seemingly smart that isn't.

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Microsoft is cooler than Apple

cool frog sunglasses

Third in a series. In business perception is everything. Many companies succeed or fail not because their products are great but their brands are perceived to be that way. Apple is a remarkable perception manager. Consider iPhone 5s, which features and benefits fall far behind many competing devices. Rather than innovate, the fruit-logo launches an evocative marketing campaign -- "You're more powerful than you think" -- that makes the smartphone look better. Improved. The ads are compelling because they communicate: Your life will be better, you shall achieve your dreams, by buying iPhone 5s.

Meanwhile, competitors like Microsoft truly innovate and take the kind of risks that once defined Apple. Last year I asked: "Will 2013 be another year of Apple iteration masquerading as innovation?" Yes, and halfway into another year, little is changed. The answer is the same. Last month I explained "Why Apple no longer innovates". OS X Yosemite and iOS X 8 are prettier, but so what? Meanwhile, Windows 8/8.1 is a radical rethinking of the platform -- as is Surface, which delivers refreshing change to computing. What's that long-forgotten Yellow Pages tagline? Let your fingers do the walking. They do on Surface.

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My Nokia Lumia life begins

Nokia Lumia Icon

Second in a series. Sunday started an unexpected journey long anticipated. I walked out of Microsoft Store San Diego holding my first Nokia since abandoning the brand in 2009. Before Nokia imploded, first unable to respond to Apple innovations and next by adopting Windows Phone as primary platform, I preferred the handsets -- using over the years the N95, N96, N79, N97, and N900.

I am the proud owner of the Lumia Icon, which marks my family's slow migration to Verizon from T-Mobile. AT&T would make more sense, since the iPhones my daughter and father-in-law use would work unlocked. If the Lumia 930 were available, I could go to the Blue rather than Red network from Pink (which becomes Yellow if purchased by Sprint). My initial reaction is surprisingly good, of the handset and Windows Phone 8.

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Microsoft breaks the Surface tension

Microsoft Surface

First in a series. My preference is to write about tech that I use -- an attitude shared among BetaNews reporters. We like to get hands-on and write with authority, from experience. That's one reason I write so little about Microsoft now, not being immersed in the company's products. Lately, mine is the Google lifestyle.

But yesterday I started using the original Surface -- the one frequently maligned by critics for so-called limitations associated with Windows RT. This is my first experience with the tab, although I reviewed and frankly loved Surface Pro. Out-of-the-box impressions are great. This is a hugely satisfying tablet, and surely the experience is better with its successor. I was right to ask 5 days ago: "Why not Surface 2?"

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Why not Surface 2?

Microsoft Surface 2

Colleague Wayne Williams is right to call out Surface Pro 3 hidden costs necessary to make a reasonable laptop replacement. There is another choice, which geeks often overlook. Surface 2 is a great value for the price, and everyone considering Apple iPad Air as a laptop replacement should look to Microsoft's tab first.

Before explaining, I start a diatribe that will continue to future posts. Geek reviewers hung up on specs and the fanciest features missing what matters more: Benefits -- to whom they are important and in what circumstances. Not everyone needs the fastest, coolest thing, or can afford it. Lower-cost is a benefit, too, and it's one too often ignored by fanboys and tech reviewers. Wayne gets it. So should you.

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HP Chromebook 11 without Google is less appealing

freaking out omg no shock surprise

Let me start by thanking HP public relations for quickly responding to my information request, even after my warning the story would likely be ugly -- and it is. Today, the company unveiled a new Chromebook 11 model that is less than the original. As widely-rumored last month, the beautiful, 300-nit, IPS display with wide viewing angles is gone. "It’s an 11.6-inch screen with standard display technology", according to HP. That means dimmer and duller.

HP designed the first Chromebook 11 "With Google", which is branding appearing on the computer's underside. The laptop without Google matches the look of the 14-inch model, adopts similar fantastic keyboard, reduces display quality, and keeps the same aged ARM chip and puny 2GB of memory. The panel and processor choices perplex. If I had to choose between the original, which I reviewed in October, and its successor the choice is simple: Last year's model, which debuted at $279 and is available from Amazon for $225. The newer Chromebook 11 lists for $279 and sales start next month. Even if priced the same, I would choose the original.

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