Archives for posts with tag: software

I got the Google/Verizon Droid yesterday on launch day and here’s my review. It’s clearly not adding anything to the dozens of other review posted, but I hope it helps my friends decide if it’s worth a bunch of money and a 2-year commitment. Also, I haven’t heard anyone make the very obvious Star Wars nod, so there you go.

Background: I’ve been a Blackberry user for 5 years through three models (two through work), the last was the Curve. I’m a big fan of the devices and focus most of my time reading emails and rarely responding. The web experience was frustrating and generally used only to settle bar bets. My last Curve had 2 years on the clock and was much worse for the wear – missing side panels, failing to answer calls or unlock – it was ready to be put down like Old Yeller.

Further background: In addition to the dying phone, I was in need of some Gadget Therapy (an adaptation of my wife’s “Retail Therapy”, although I suppose gadgets are a subset of retail… look – buying stuff is fun). I’m a big user of all Google products since they’re free and work really well for me. It seemed to make sense to get an Android phone rather than just keep installing Google software built for other devices. Also, I’m a big nerd – I’m sure that factors in this decision somewhere.

Initial impressions

I picked this up at Best Buy for one two reasons. 1) It’s across the street from my apartment and 2) They process the rebate instantly rather than charging you $300+tax, having you apply for a rebate from VZW, getting a debit card, then trying fruitlessly to spend the last few dollars on that stupid piece of plastic. This was the right decision, in spite of the 1.5 hours it took to get set up – I’m chalking that up to launch-day nonsense.

I keep all of my numbers and contacts current on Gmail, so getting my numbers ported just meant logging in with my Google account and waiting about 10 minutes. It picked up my mail immediately and started telling me about new messages from the alert bar at the top. Most of my time is spent opening my phone, checking the messages, sometimes responding, and deleting emails – so this alert bar is doing great things for me so far.

This sound dumb, but it looks really good. The screen resolution is amazing, the design graphics are not flashy but look good, and the animations are simple and fun. I’ve never had an iPhone, but the wife has one and the design was the thing I enjoyed the most about it. A bunch of user-generated themes are available which are fun although I’m going to stick with the default for a while. Also, the touchscreen gives a little buzz when you hit buttons, so while there’s no physical give, you get the vibrate to tell you that the buttons’ been hit. Small but helpful and cool.

The big downer is the keyboard. Right away, you’ll notice that slider keyboards that are East-West like the Droids are less comfortable than North-South keyboards (like Blackberry or the Palm Pre). It’s hard to reach the keys with your thumbs from further out than a narrower lengthwise approach. Also, the keys are flat and don’t give you much give like a Blackberry does. The experience makes typing less than awesome, although when doing so, I still prefer to have a physical keyboard rather than the virtual one on the screen, maybe just because I’m not use to it. If you’re huge typer (I’m not) this would be the thing I believe should give you the most pause.

The camera is better than my portable at this point, and the video is supposedly HD quality, which is cool, although I cant see myself using it.

Android

I’m a big fan of the OS for a few reasons. First, I like that there isn’t too much control over the apps available by Google – I think it’ll lead to more (and better) free apps. Second, the open-source nature of the OS makes me believe more eyes will help spot bugs, fix user interface issues, and add new features on a more rapid development cycle. I generally feel better when my device software is updated more frequently. I realize that’s not rational, but it makes me feel like there are good things on the way. Finally, it’s pretty robust – the apps are responsive, there’s no discernible hangs or delays, and no app failures yet. I’ve seen iPhones look like useless bricks after they have some mileage on them so I’ll be curious to see how this wears over time.

As I mentioned, I use Google stuff pretty heavily (mail, calendar, IM, especially) and I have a good feeling about how Google Voice + Android will evolve over time. I think at some point, it’ll remove VZW from having to sell me minutes and charge me absurd fees (See below) and I’m working to see if I can use the phone with just a data plan (~$40) vs. with a voice+txt plan (another $40+). I like having to read my Gmail in one place rather than on the Blackberry where I had to mark emails as read twice (on the bberry messaging app and the gmail app). I also enjoy having all of my contacts in sync.

EDIT: I failed to mention this initially, but the turn-by-turn directions from Google Nav which comes installed is as good if not better than standalone GPS systems. A huge benefit that largely gets overlooked.

Without going on for too long about it, you can tell in the mobile world that devices are taking second stage to Operating Systems, in the same way your laptop OS became more critical than the manufacturer, I suspect it’ll go the same way with mobile phones.

Verizon

Here’s a big bummer for me. I switched from T-Mobile with a year on the contract, so I paid the penalty for early withdrawal. But I figured last time I was a Verizon customer, I loved the coverage and (comparably) fewer dropped calls, although that was 2003. So far, in my apartment (which I believe has a cell tower on the roof) I get 0-1 bars of service in the apartment. No big deal, since I usually connect through the WiFi at home to make sure I have a solid signal. However…

Calls made WiFi connections on T-Mobile are not charged against your minutes (This privilege cost me $5/month). This makes perfect sense since it costs them next to nothing to route calls over the internets. Verizon allows me to call with WiFi connections, but charges them against my minutes? Really? Irritating

Also I’m a medium-heavy texter, so the SMS plans seem outrageous to me ($5 for 250, $10 for 500, $20 for unlimited) especially since they cost carriers literally next-to-nothing. Seriously? This is an inane amount of money. This alone may push me to change my main number to the Google Voice to avoid the SMS charges. I’m pretty cheap and I’m looking to get my monthly bill down as far as I can. Maybe I’m just mad because I committed to almost $100/month for 2 years. That could be it.

EDIT: My other gripe with Verizon is that free night calling goes from 9pm-6am. This coupled with the expensive per-minute plans means I’ll have to keep an eye on my voice usage which will drive me crazy, especially since most calls are made from home.

Conclusions

Good times – I think at the least it heralds an upcoming era of more interesting and useful phones. I’m not sure it’s an iPhone-killer since this is built a little more for dorks who like to constantly customize stuff, while the iPhone is more for the normal public who has better things to do with their time. I’m glad for my purchase but I can’t say it’s for everyone.

I’ve been thinking a lot about networking, largely because I’m trying to get to know more folks in a new industry and in a new geography. Becoming familiar with a totally new universe of companies, trends, people, brands, and media sources is quite a task in and of itself. 

Without belaboring the point, I agree with the old axiom “It’s not what you know, its who you know.” My friend Greg put it this way “Networking is what you do constantly when you don’t need it, so it’s there when you do.” Networking is clearly the best way to get a new job, source new business, learn more about pretty much anything, and I’m beginning to suspect it probably helps the love life. 

Okay, so we all agree it’s important to do, but what’s difficult is actually doing it. It takes a LOT of energy and time. I’ve been to a few industry networking events recently, and he experience reminded me of middle school dances. A lot of awkward glances and smiles, some forced chitchat, and lots of cookies. You have to force yourself into conversations, meet people with whom you have potentially nothing in common, and hold a conversation for 5 minutes. Even if you suck, you’ll get a business card out of it, which you then have to connect to your linkedin/doostang/etc acct and email them to make nice. 

If you do it right, it’s not disingenuine and helps you get to know more folks in the right places. But its certainly hard work. 

So I’m not going to tell you networking events, linkedin.com, or just plain coldcalling is not necessary, because it is. However, I found a good way to keep contacts warm once you’ve made them. I use Google Reader occasionally to keep up on a few different periodicals I like, especially industry specific blogs and other random things I’m interested in. 

Google Reader is great with keyboard shortcuts (much like most GOOG products) and my favorite one is “e” which quickly lets you email something interesting to someone you know. I use it 4-5 times a session and work a little harder to email people I haven’t talked to in a while. The critical part is to keep the forward relevant to the recipient and to add a note indicating as much to them.

It takes about 30 seconds and the effect is to keep yourself in the forebrain of people you’ve met and help you sell, forge partnerships, and get jobs. Hope it works for you as well as it’s worked for me.

Okay, I got really excited by Google Sync for the Blackberry when they announced the new feature syncing not just your calendar with your device but also your contacts.

Happy day – I could now exist entirely on Google-Blackberry and they work well together (sort of). Except when I started using the app in my Blackberry, it started mangling my addresses.

I ended up finding a few fun things such as contacts duplicated 3-5 times, some contacts deleted, and my favorite, a contact’s address repeated 50-60 times in one entry. Other people also had this problem.

So now my contacts are all jacked up and the only way to deal with them is to go through every @!@$% contact (over 700 right now) and edit them to make sure they are all set. Also, editing contacts in the Gmail page is less than easy or fun to do. I’ve been looking into exporting everything to CSV, editing in Excel, and reimporting, but I think that still leaves all of my bad contacts intact.

Last complaint – Lots of my contacts are the same person but with two email addresses, however Gmail won’t let you have two different contacts with the same email address. This means you have to copy the email address and any other info, delete the second contact, and add the info to the first contact hoping you don’t lose it from the clipboard. A simple “combine contacts” feature would save a lot of hassle.

Come on, Gmail. You used to be so solid and made me want to get everyone onboard. Lets keep the innovation coming at a better pace than it has been.

Cute themes are a lot less important than contacts

My post from BWL main blog on tools we use. Original found here

What we Use

Our business model is based on a local interaction front (Ranvir and I are between Cambridge and New York, Greg is mostly in San Francisco) for our distributed (US and international) team of Rails and PHP developers and designers.

It’s been a very interesting process up until now, and safely we can say it’s definitely challenging to run an office where people work in many different places. There are many pitfalls to avoid and decisions to make to avoid attrition and keep efficiency up, but I’ll save those for another post.

To manage a distributed organization well, occasional in person contact is obviously important, however when you’re not on the ground, communication needs to be regular, seamless, and organized. Now being known as “the tools guy” in the office, I thought I would give a quick rundown of the products we use to help run our business.

We focused on a few elements when looking for software tools: service model with low monthly fees, simple to use and learn, and complex enough to handle our tasks. This keeps us out of big software licenses and enterprise-level complexity which we don’t need and would actually probably reduce productivity.

Not everybody uses everything, but this is a good sampling of the tools we use to manage on a day-to-day basis. It was inspired by Lifehackers similar post.

  • Google Apps
    • Mail, documents, chat, and pages for very little money. This is a no-brainer for any startup
  • QuickBooks Online
    • The entry-level bookkeeping software, hosted version. This one is taking us a bit longer to learn and become familiar with, and is likely because of my low knowledge of accounting to begin with. I’ve used Quicken for my personal finances for years, but business accounting can be much more complicated.
    • You start with two admin and one accountant login, which we’ll make use of once we have a much bigger operation
  • Basecamp
    • The classic entry-level communications and project management tool from 37 Signals. The big upside for Basecamp is the ease of communications – if you post a message, everyone you select gets an email copy, and if they reply to the email, it gets attached to the message thread.
    • The big advantage is allowing client access to files and messages. Our clients are mixed on the usability of BC and often run into some of the same issues we have.
    • You can set up todos and milesones with due dates, but time tracking is weak and tasks are not organized well. Tasks are easy to comment on, however, once again proving the ease of communications.
    • The other big downside is that files tend to get lost easily. The search functionality is weak and the freedom for anyone to post anywhere means that message threads and files are not easily located.
    • We are migrating our task management away from Basecamp and toward Intervals in the short term
  • Intervals
    • One of several new competitors targeting Basecamp’s strong foothold in the SAAS simple project management market. The flavors vary from more communication-focused like Basecamp to more straight bug ticket tracking.
    • Intervals does both well and adds in a strong time-tracking functionality which allows billing hours to individual tasks. This is the perfect model for a software company like ours so we can get a sense for how our devs are spending their time, something crucial for us when we’re abroad
    • Prioritization is strong with four levels to start with which are customizable. This is great for our devs who can filter down to their task lists and just pick them off from the top and help keep them on task
    • Client access also exists here and is largely restricted to viewing data rather than adding in unnecessary comments. I think this is the right approach – most communication should take place outside of the software and it keeps the information on the service less cluttered
    • Another big plus is the responsiveness of developers – they appreciate bug fixes and feature suggestions, like all good software devs.
    • The only downside is the lack of bulk editing of a task list (for example export to XLS and import of edited tables). Apparently they are going to implement these features in Q4, which will be a huge help
    • No offline version, which is always a pain with SAAS options
  • Yammer
    • Twitter for your company – won the TC50
    • Works as an Adobe AIR application on your desktop
    • Does exactly what you expect – good for light communication, but lacks file sharing and anything beyond twitter-level posts
    • Integrates with mobile devices by SMS and has iPhone, Blackberry applications
  • Evernote
    • This post is written on it 🙂
    • Note-taking destop app which syncs with the online version so you can be seamlessly integrated
    • Has web, iPhone, and mobile versions, all of which synchronize
    • Has good character recognition software, so encourages you to take photos and email them into evernote, which will then decode the text and make it searchable in the note index. Pretty cool but I don’t have an iPhone so this is less relevant
    • Big downside is lack of sharing – I want to collaborate through Evernote but no options exist
    • No spell checking (blame this if there are errors in this post)
  • RTM
    • Remember the Milk is the classic “Getting things Done” todo list
    • Allows emailing in individual and bulk tasks which go into your inbox list or specified todo lists
    • Biggest upside is the sharing of lists and tasks between contacts so you can give people todos and see what they’re upto
    • Really solid keyboard shortcuts, which work well if you get the hang of them
    • Downside – usage of the mouse is awkward – could be an AJAX drag/drop resorting and moving between lists but doesn’t exist
    • They’ve pushed a lot to integrate with other apps (Gmail, Gcal, Twitter, iPhone, Blackberry, Google Gears, Netvibes, OS X, Jott, IMified, Quicksilver, etc etc etc http://www.rememberthemilk.com/services/). I wish they focused more on making the app 100x more usable