Nokia 635: The Doorway to the Smartphone World

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Nokia 635

Foster Braun, 9/4/14

Foster Braun

Most of us Americans are so used to the array of smartphones with all the bells and whistles in every 7 Eleven, Best Buy or AT&T store that it’s hard to imagine a world without them. We ho-hum the latest version of the Yazoo phone because it only has 16 GB of internal storage, quad-core processor etc. Unfortunately for manufacturers that razzle dazzle end of the smartphone market is slowing down because in our country and most of the “First World, markets are saturated. However, there are literally billions of users around the world just waiting for the right device to move up from their feature phones. Enter the Lumia 635 offered in the US on AT&T.

This creates a strange dilemma for this reviewer. To wit: Do I compare apples to apples or mix up my fruit selection? On the face of it, for the majority of US smartphone users, this device would be a step down. It sports a mere 8 GB of internal storage (up to 128 GB more on a micro SD card), just 512 MB (that’s right campers MB) of RAM and no rear facing camera! What?! No selfies?! BUT for folks who have only been able to afford feature phones this is a massive step up with a 4.5” LCD Touch screen made of Gorilla Glass premiering the new and improved Windows Phone 8.1 with Nokia Cyan Mod.

As in past reviews, I will leave the technical review to the experts and one of the most thorough ones I have ever found is at GSM Arena. My focus is on the personal experience with the Nokia 635 on AT&T (who kindly provided the device for testing.) Now with full disclosure made, let’s get to the point.

Getting Down to Details

You need to understand that at the time I was using the 635 I was also using an iPhone 5. They are identical in size and outward appearance; so the “hands on feel” i.e. tactile experience is pretty much identical. What was a bit disorienting was Nokia’s decision to move all the buttons to the right hand side. On previous Nokia devices and the iPhone, the rocker buttons for the volume are on the left and the power button is on the right, which is very handy for a righty like me. On the other hand, the rubberized texture of the 635 was much more comfortable in the hand than the iPhone 5.

Buttons on the 635 are all on the screen and have the unique Windows 8.1 functions attached, e.g. holding down the left button for a second brings up a screen with all the active windows allowing you to scroll to the one you want to use or to simply “X” out of the single windows one by one. As with most smartphones, holding down the center button brings you back to the home screen with the unique Windows live tiles that are being imitated with varying degrees of success by Android and Apple.

Walled Gardens

A quick word here about smartphone operating systems. Increasingly phone OS are becoming the determining factor in device selection. Every one of the big players: Android, Apple and Microsoft are shooting for hooking you on their system. I won’t go into a long dissertation about the respective merits of the individual systems except to say that I believe that Windows 8.1 with rare exception can run with the best of the OS’s, particularly following the recent Windows Phone 8.1 upgrade. For instance Microsoft recently introduced Word Flow keyboards to Windows Phones that will work just like the immensely popular Swift Key on Android (also soon to be imitated in Apple’s iOS 8). The bottom line is that if you enjoy the Windows Phone 8.1 OS then you will love this phone. It is worth noting that the Nokia 635 (along with two other devices) are the only Windows Phones to come with the most recent version of Windows Phone 8.1 installed out of the box.

App Rhymes with C***

One outstanding problem, however, are the applications which are carbon copies of main Android and iOS programs…without the polish in many cases. The most glaring example for me is the horrible version of my favorite note taking app, Evernote, which is just plain buggy, slow and clumsy. However, it is hard to blame the current leaders at Microsoft for this since the problem is twofold: 1. the competition was way out front in the development of money making apps and 2, the original Windows Phone 8 team deliberately kept developers from seeing the OS until it was launched for “fear” of someone stealing their “secret sauce”. This handicapped the Windows Phone developers and was hardly enticing to them since they could already make a ton of money on Android and iOS. Why develop anything for Windows? The result has been a lot of low grade knock offs of existing software (e.g. Evernote) or pure misleading apps and scams. Microsoft is finally flushing out the garbage, but it’s too little, too late for many.

There is a redeeming factor in the Nokia 635 and that is the excellent Nokia software on board:

Windows Phone 8.1 brings a plethora of new features and UI improvements, while Lumia Cyan build on that and delivers Nokia’s exclusive apps such as the Nokia Camera, Creative Studio, Storyteller, plus it adds some additional options on selected Lumia smartphones, such as Miracast Wireless Display support and Dolby Surround Sound capturing.” (GSM Arena).

This is not the typical junk that Samsung and/or the carriers slathers on user interfaces, but really helpful, well done programs (like the Here mapping programs and Drive+) you find native to this and pretty much all Nokia devices.

Hello Cortana

Finally let us not forget Cortana, the new vocal assistant which is mounting a serious challenge to both Apple’s Siri and Google Now. I won’t go into detail but I will say that I found this to work much more smoothly on the 635 than Siri does on my iPhone 5. Personal taste perhaps but you should keep this in mind as an increasingly important component to any phone device.

Limitations

Before I wrap this up, I do need to admit that there are some hardware limitations to the Nokia 635. The processor runs on just 512 MB of RAM but is not noticeably sluggish. There is only one camera and it is just 5 MP but with the excellent Nokia Camera software it was more than a match for the iPhone 5 I use on a regular basis and has been horribly disappointing. Obviously if you are a photog, this little phone won’t fit your bill, but then neither would a little Kodak Brownie! Remember, this is an entry level device in the smartphone category.

Summary

I think the decision to buy a Nokia 635 boils down to two things:

  1. Your comfort with the Windows Phone 8.1 OS, which in my opinion is a match for either of the other contenders except in terms of some software and that is improving daily.
  2. Your price point. Right now AT&T, the primary Nokia 635 carrier, is offering mind-bending deals that range from $.99 (2 year contract), to $5.84/mo. “Next” installments (24) or the very reasonable $139.99 No contract deal.

The Nokia 635 is a sound piece of hardware from the leading smartphone device maker in the world. It is an entry level device without a lot of restrictions for someone who is just getting into smartphones, seniors on a fixed income, college students with financial restraints and kids just breaking out of the feature phones and into the “big leagues”. At the prices AT&T, one of the biggest cell providers in the country, is offering, this is a virtual no brainer unless you “owe your soul to the company store”, i.e. Android or Apple.

AT&T 4G LTE NETWORK REACHES MORE THAN 300 MILLION PEOPLE

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DALLAS, sept. 4, 2014AT&T* announced today that its 4G LTE network – the nation’s most reliable — now reaches more than 300 million Americans.*

“The strong performance we saw in our mobility business in the second quarter is continuing, not only because of our new service and device plans, but because more customers can get it all on a fast, reliable 4G LTE network that now covers more than 300 million Americans,” said Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO. “Great service and strong customer loyalty begin with having a great mobile network for customers where they live. That’s our number one priority and that’s why our mobile business is hitting on all cylinders.”

Apple TV Live Streams iPhone 6 Release

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On the off chance that you can’t tune in to the usual witty banter between yours truly and our own editorial director, Jason Snell, as we live blog September 9’s Apple event, good news: Apple will be streaming the whole shindig on its site, in living color.The page, posted on Thursday, features a countdown clock, merrily ticking away the seconds, minutes, hours, and days until Apple releases, well, whatever the heck it’s going to release. Apple promises that live video from the event “will be right here,” adding tantalizingly, “And so will a whole lot more.” The stream kicks off at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern on Tues.

Full Article

Cortana vs. Siri vs. Google Now: AI Cage Match

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Hi Cortana

by    @jdolcourt  April 14, 2014 5:00 AM PDT

Not everyone likes speaking commands into their phone, but for those who do, Microsoft’s new Cortana voice assistant for Windows Phone 8.1 is exactly the viable competitor to Apple’s Siri and Google Now that the company needs to keep its Windows Phone OS current.

Like Siri and, to a lesser extent, Google’s voice actions, Cortana is a personable (or vaguely person-like) voice-activated system for taking dictation, looking things up, and opening apps. (Yes, Halo fans — Cortana is named for Master Chief’s AI companion, and even voiced by the same talent: actress Jen Taylor.) Even in its early beta stage, Cortana mostly keeps pace with its rivals, and introduces one or two minor innovations that Apple and Google can learn from.

While Cortana isn’t revolutionizing the field of voice assistants, it does give Windows phones a sorely-needed boost in the voice option department — the previous generation, fueled by TellMe, was limited and impersonal. Out of all the additions to the Windows Phone 8.1, it’s Cortana that pulls the most weight keeping the Windows Phone in the OS game.

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Five ways to keep your student’s digital life safe

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As students return to school, technology goes with them. That technology—and the data generated by it—is valuable not simply as a means for getting school work done, but also as entertainment for those brief hours between one assignment and the next. It’s for this reason that it pays to plan for disaster. With a single massive power burst, storage media that suddenly heads south, or interaction with a light-fingered ne’er-do-well, the technology your student depends on can vanish. Take these five tips to heart, however, and the loss of a device or data need not be catastrophic.

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What to expect from Apple’s September 9 event

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Roll them bones, strain the tea leaves, and consult your crystal balls. WithApple’s September 9 event now a matter of public record, the only sensible way to while away the hours over the next week and a half is to speculate about what precisely the company might have hidden up its sleeves strange temporary building.There are any number of rumors afoot about what Apple has in the works, but that doesn’t mean that every single theoretical device from Cupertino will pop up at September’s event. But there are certainly plenty of options to choose from, especially given Apple’s coy “wish we could say more” invitation.

 

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Gizmodo Comparison Chart of TV Streaming Devices

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Click on the Chart to ExpandGizmodo comparison Chart

Will Roku bring smart TVs into the cool crowd?

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Low-price Hisense and TCL sets with Roku’s brains built in may have the best shot yet at moving smart TVs from niche shopping consideration to popular norm.

Steve Balmer Leaves Microsoft Board

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Former Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer quit his post as a company director after 14 years, giving new CEO Satya Nadella an even freer hand to reshape the company.

Mr. Ballmer, fresh off his $2 billion purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball franchise, indicated that his duties as team owner, among other interests, wouldn’t leave enough time to stay on Microsoft’s board.

“I think it would be impractical for me to continue to serve on the board, and it is best for me to move off,” Mr. Ballmer said in a public letter to Mr. Nadella, who became CEO in February. “I see a combination of the Clippers, civic contribution, teaching and study taking a lot of time.”

Full WSJ Story

Meet the new, reversible USB!

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USB 3.0 Promoter Group has announced that it has finalised its redesign of the USB.

Called USB Type-C, the specification — which was announced last December — aims to solve several problems with current USB design; possibly the most exciting of which is the eradication of “right way up” with a reversible plug. Like Apple’s Lightning connector, it can be plugged into its port either way.

The new USB is also designed both to be small enough to fit mobile devices, yet robust enough for laptops and tablets.

“Interest in the USB Type-C connector has not only been global, but cross-industry as well,” said USB 3.0 Promoter Group chairman Brad Saunders. “Representatives from the PC, mobile, automotive and IoT industries have been knocking down our door anticipating this new standard. This specification is the culmination of an extensive, cooperative effort among industry leaders to standardize the next generation USB connector as a long-lasting, robust solution.”

The USB is comparable in size with micro USB 2.0 Type-B connectors, with a port size of 8.4 by 2.6mm, yet will be compatible with SuperSpeed USB at 10Gbps (USB 3.1). It will also support USB Power Delivery up to 100W, with additional support for scalable power charging and future USB performance needs

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