All posts by Liwen Guo

Fascinated by technology and good design. Also developing for Windows Phone. Visit my website and follow me on Twitter.

Joe Belfiore: WiFi sleep issue in Windows Phone will be fixed

One rather annoying Windows Phone “feature” is that it turns off WiFi when the screen is locked, which means that push notifications and other background tasks have to use mobile data even when a WiFi network would be available. This is especially problematic if you don’t have mobile data – when you’re abroad, or run over your data plan, for example – as you don’t get any background updates in that case.

However, that is set to change, as Joe Belfiore, VP of Windows Phone, has tweeted in response to a user complaining about this issue that a “fix is coming”. He doesn’t say when the fix is going to come, nor if it will apply to Windows Phone 7 as well as 8, but nonetheless it’s good to see Microsoft taking user complaints seriously. His quote in full:

Someone is gonna yell at me for saying this, but… fix is coming. :) Sshh. Just promise me a little patience though.

Source: @joebelfiore (Twitter), via wendoman (comments)

No universal data counter feature in WP8 as Data Sense is carrier-dependent

Data Sense in Windows Phone 8

There’s no reason for this to be carrier-exclusive

Data Sense, a new data-saving feature in Windows Phone 8, has to be supported and enabled by the carrier – Microsoft says it “will roll out to select mobile operators this holiday and additional partners next year”, with Verizon currently the only confirmed carrier in the US. After all, the feature compresses web pages to save data, so it makes sense to let the carrier do that instead of Microsoft setting up servers itself.

But, that’s not the whole story – Data Sense also tracks data usage on the phone and shows you which app has used how much data. Considering it even tracks data over WiFi, it’s clear that there’s no way this specific feature actually depends on carriers. Indeed, Android has had a similar data counter baked into the settings app since version 4.0, but in Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has decided to make this useful feature carrier-dependent – ironic how the roles have changed.

Adding insult to injury, Windows Phone 8 still hasn’t solved some of the painful problems of Windows Phone 7: it still leaves mobile data on even when connected to WiFi, and turns WiFi off when the screen is locked, which together can lead to completely unnecessary usage of mobile data. Arguably, solving these two trivial problems would be much more useful to the majority of Windows Phone users than introducing carrier-exclusive data-saving features.

However, we’d be happy too if Microsoft simply did the right thing and released those features that don’t depend on carriers to all Windows Phone 8 users.

Good price: blue HTC 8X for 437€ in Germany

If you’re living in Germany and looking for a new Windows Phone 8 device, here’s a good deal: you can get the Windows Phone 8X by HTC in California Blue for only 437,22 €, considerably less than the official price of 549 € and well below the usual retail price of 480 € and up.

Sounds good? The HTC 8X is listed at 489,00 € on MeinPaket.de (a shopping portal run by DHL). Using the voucher code “12RABATT” saves you 12%, resulting in 430,32 € plus 6,90 € for shipping.

We took advantage of this deal earlier this week with a “10RABATT” voucher (which still works) and received our HTC 8X only two days later. So far, we can say that the 8X is a great choice for those of you who don’t need all the bells and whistles of the Nokia Lumia 920, as it features an extremely elegant design with probably the best in-hand feel of any smartphone on the market right now.

The only caveat is the T-Mobile branding, which means that the handset will have a T-Mobile boot logo, some additional apps (that can be uninstalled) and some additional ringtones (that can be changed or deleted). Physically, though, the device has been left untouched, and the phone is unlocked too, so this is not a dealbreaker by any means.

Warning: Streaming Xbox Music on WP8 can use mobile data instead of WiFi

Want to stream some music from your Xbox Music cloud collection to your Windows Phone 8 device, over WiFi? Not so fast. You might end up eating through your data plan, like I just did.

The fundamental problem here is that Xbox Music is unable to switch to a different connection once it starts streaming – so if you start streaming via mobile data and then connect to WiFi later, it’ll continue to use the mobile data connection. But I’m at home, so my phone should be connected to my WiFi network already, right?

Wrong. One langstanding bug/annoyance in Windows Phone is that it turns off WiFi when the screen is locked. Which means that if you start streaming Xbox Music during those several seconds that it takes the phone to reconnect to the WiFi network  – right after unlocking the screen – it will use the mobile data connection. And ignore the WiFi connection.

Now, this might sound like an edge case, and it may well be; all I know is that I already encountered this edge case twice: yesterday, just after I received my HTC 8X, and today. Thanks to this behavior, I’ve already used up my monthly data allotment of 200MB, which usually lasts me for at least half of the month.

Hopefully Microsoft will fix this issue (and add an option to keep WiFi alive when the screen is locked), but in the meantime, always make sure that your WP8 phone is already connected to a WiFi network before hitting that “play” button to stream music from the cloud.

“Metro” has apparently been renamed to “Microsoft design style”

Various terms have been tossed around as replacements for “Metro” – Microsoft’s authentically digital design launguage – due to trademark problems. The new class of WinRT apps (which can only be used in Windows 8 and Windows RT and take over the full screen), previously referred to as “Metro-style apps”, have already been renamed to “Windows Store apps” – but now Microsoft seems to have settled on a new name for the design language itself too: “Microsoft design style”.

The new term popped up a few days ago on the “Index of UI guidelines for Windows Store apps” and “Make great Windows Store apps” MSDN pages, which are part of the documentation for Windows 8 developers, where it has – along with a “Microsoft design language” variation – replaced all mentions of “Metro”.

While there is no official confirmation of the change yet, a search for “metro” on microsoft.com only turns up pages where the term “metro” is in fact nowhere to be found – it’s clear that the term “Metro” has been hellbanned from Microsoft.

So, what do our readers think of the new name? We personally would’ve wished for something like “Modern UI”, but we guess that using Microsoft’s own name will at least avoid any and all trademark issues.

via @ColinEberhardt (Twitter)

Huawei Ascend W1 render leaked

We’ve already seen leaked photos of the Huawei Ascend W1, but now the notorious @evleaks Twitter account has posted what appears to be an official render of the upcoming mid-range Windows Phone 8 device. The brightly colored cyan chassis follows the design style Nokia popularized with their Lumia devices, which has been picked up by HTC and now even Huawei.

Spec-wise, the Ascend W1 is comparable to the Lumia 820 and HTC 8S, with a 4 inch WVGA screen, 1.2G dual-core CPU, 400MHZ GPU, 512 MB RAM, 4 GB storage, 5 megapixel rear and VGA front camera and a 2000 mAh battery.

Source: @evleaks (Twitter)

In Windows Phone 8, 1280×720 is actually better than 1280×768

1280x768 and 720 app list comparison

Notice something in the two screenshots above – on the left 768×1280, on the right 720×1280? That’s right, the 720p screenshot actually shows more content – ten instead of nine apps – despite having a lower resolution. Even though a non-final Windows Phone 8 SDK leaked a while back, this fact seems to have been consistently overlooked, so we reinstalled the leaked SDK to shed some more light on the differences between these two new resolutions.

The different resolutions as shown in the SDK

Basically, the two new HD resolutions Microsoft introduced with Windows Phone 8 operate at different dpi scales. Since 768×1280 has the same 9:15 aspect ratio as 480×800, it also shows the exact same amount of content, only with more pixels – 160%, to be exact. Everything is sharper.

Now, it would be easy to assume – too easy, in fact – that the lower 720×1280 resolution behaves identically, except that it shows less horizontally as it has 48 less columns of pixels. Nokia also rather strongly implied this with their “PureMotion HD+” branding for the Lumia 920′s display, the only Windows Phone with 768×1280.

However, there’s one problem with this approach: it would break compatibility with existing WP7 apps designed for 480×800, as there simply wouldn’t be enough horizontal space once you scaled them up to 160%.

So, Microsoft had to add a third dpi scale for 720×1280: 150%. If you do the math, you’ll notice that 150% of 480×800 is 720×1200 – this resolution will be used to display the exact same amount of content as in 480×800 and 768×1280, while the remaining 80 rows of pixels become additional vertical (in portrait) or horizontal (in landscape) space.

This creates the counterintuitive – and frankly ridiculous – situation that the nominally lower 720×1280 resolution actually shows more content and will thus be more useful in most cases than the higher 768×1280 resolution. Sure, the latter does allow for slightly sharper graphics, but it’ll probably be impossible to tell the difference between 150% and 160% anyway.

We can’t help but wonder why Microsoft decided to add two instead of just one new resolution in Windows Phone 8. It could be because of OEM demands: maybe Nokia insisted on a way to differentiate their Lumia devices from the rest so it could apply the (actually misleading) “HD+” moniker, maybe HTC and Samsung wanted to reuse as many components from their Android flagships – the One X and Galaxy S III, both of which have 720p screens – as possible. In any way, it creates an unnecessary inconsistency for developers and consumers alike.

Keeping in mind the subtle difference between 768×1280 and 720×1280, would you now consider an HTC 8X or Samsung ATIV S for their additional screen space, or does the Lumia 920 still have enough selling points? Let us know in the comments.

Two more comparison screenshots after the break.

Continue reading

Rumor: Microsoft built its own factory to produce Surface tablets

Microsoft has built a dedicated factory in China to produce its new range of Surface tablets, according to a source close to Microsoft employees familiar with the matter. The factory is said to be “huge” and will also be used for production of retail devices in addition to producing the prototypes.

Building its own factory may have enabled Microsoft to cut down on leaks, thereby enabling the software giant to keep the Surface secret till its official unveiling in June earlier this year. However, since Microsoft’s other hardware products, which include mice, keyboards and the Xbox, are manufactured by contractors like Foxconn, this move seems rather unusual – even Apple, which has notoriously tight control over its supply chain, uses contractors to build its devices.

While this would indicate that Microsoft is indeed serious with the Surface tablets – as opposed to only positioning them as a “north star” for other OEMs to follow –  it also fits in nicely with rumors that Microsoft is developing its own Windows Phone device, as reported by BGR and WPCentral.

Indeed, in his recent letter to shareholders, Ballmer said that “there will be times when we build specific devices for specific purposes”. Our source also mentioned that “Surface is just the beginning of a new product range”, though it didn’t go into any more detail.

Windows Phone 8 to be officially revealed on October 29

Microsoft has sent out invites for the Windows Phone 8 launch event, which will be held in San Francisco on October 29. Microsoft is expected to finally reveal all of the new features in Windows Phone 8 at this event.

While Windows Phone 8, codenamed Apollo, was first unveiled at the Windows Phone Summit back in June, most of the new consumer-facing features have been kept under lock, with only leaks of the SDK providing us further glimpses of the new OS – even as Samsung, Nokia and HTC have all introduced their Windows Phone 8 devices since then.

As the event takes place one day before the start of the BUILD developer conference on October 30, a release of the final Windows Phone 8 SDK on the 29th or 30th is very likely.

via ZDNet, image credit The Verge

Nokia may sell Espoo headquarters, but it’s not moving

Nokia says it’s considering a sale of its headquarters located in Espoo, Finland. “We are evaluating different options for non-core parts, such as real estate holdings, and that includes the headquarters”, a company spokesperson told Reuters. The news was first reported by Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.

The headquarters building, named The Nokia House, is estimated to be valued at €200-300 million, according to Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat.

However, a sale of the building would not mean that Nokia is moving its headquarters elsewhere. “Divesting real estate is an entirely different thing compared to the location of the headquarters. As we have said many times before, we have no plans to move our headquarters”, a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

In case of a sale, Nokia would likely lease the building back, as The Verge points out. While it’s easy to speculate about Nokia’s dire financial situation, so-called leasebacks are not at all uncommon, especially since they often come with significant tax advantages.

Source: Helsingin Sanomat, Ilta-Sanomat, Reuters, also see TechCrunch, The Verge

Nokia 808 PureView gets Gold award from dpreview

 

Nokia 808 PureView

Image credit: dpreview

The Nokia 808 PureView has been available for about a month now, depending on where you live, and as such, it has already been reviewed quite a few times. With its standout feature being the 41 megapixel camera, we’ve also seen some photography-centric tests from the likes of CNET, who compared the 808 to a Panasonic Lumix LX5 high-end compact camera. A much more detailed and comprehensive review, however, has now been published by renowned photography site dpreview, which focuses exclusively on the camera.

They note that image quality is generally very good, with “excellent detail resolution in all modes”. Even at the maximum 38 megapixel setting, pixel-level image quality is “up there with some of the best cameras around”, at least with low ISO. While higher ISO settings produce noticeably worse results with the full resolution, the scaled-down 8 megapixel PureView mode is still able to match and even exceed most compact cameras. The biggest issue in regards to image quality seems to be highlight clipping, which results in a limited dynamic range compared to ‘real’ cameras.

In the end, the 808 received a Gold award, being lauded as the “most important breakthrough in mobile photography” since the smartphone era. We highly recommend you to read the full review on dpreview, which includes lots of sample pictures and an interesting interview with Juha Alakarhu, head of imaging technologies at Nokia.

Since Lumia PureView Windows Phones are expected to be introduced at Nokia World on September 5, have any of our readers already decided what phone to get next?

(I know I have.)

AdDuplex for Windows 8 launches with 250,000 impression bonus for first five apps

AdDuplex, the Windows Phone cross promotion network that aims to help developers get exposure for their apps by exchanging ads, has now made the jump to Windows 8. Launching today in beta form, it is currently available for XAML-based Metro-style apps written in C# and Visual Basic, while support for HTML/JS and C++ based applications will be added later on. As a bonus, the exchange ratio will be upped from 0.8 to 0.9 during the beta phase, which means that for every 10 ads displayed in your app, you’ll get 9 instead of 8 impressions of your own ad.

Additionally, the first five Windows 8 apps to use AdDuplex will get a 250,000 impression bonus, which can be even used for advertising existing Windows Phone apps. Developers who want to sign up for the new service can do so at beta.adduplex.com (via AdDuplex blog).

Windows Phone 8 devices to use Snapdragon S4 Plus

For those who feared that Windows Phone 8 devices will still lag behind the competition in raw power, well, good news: Qualcomm has told The Verge that the upcoming generation of Windows Phones is going to use the company’s line of Snapdragon S4 SoCs, or more specifically the Plus version with upgraded graphics. One of the most powerful and efficient ARM chips today, the dual-core S4 as found in AT&T’s version of the recently launched HTC One X Android device is able to match and even beat the quad-core Tegra 3 of the One X’s international variation in most benchmarks. Since Windows Phone 8 is being touted as having great multi-core capabilities, there’s even the possibility of even faster, if more power-hungry, quad-core S4 chips.

Source: The Verge