Tagreview

Nike+ First Impressions

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So I got around to testing out the Nike+ Fuelband for a few days. Instead of a full on review, some quick, off the cuff impressions, thoughts & notes as long as they’re fresh:

The Fuelband is smooth, feels nicely heavy and well made. The rubbery surface is comfortable to wear, if maybe a bit too clunky, especially if you work on a computer a lot.

The display lights up only if you press a button, so usually you just walk around with a black wristband. The display is a set of LEDs and can show time, steps, calories as well as Nike’s own “currency”, the so-called “Fuel”. Below the display you see a status bar that starts with a single red dot and grows with your activity, going from yellow to green until you reach your daily goal. It’s fairly subtle and works intuitively. Having a watch on the wrist was a pleasant change as I usually don’t wear watches much.

Taking this for a spin. #fuelband Starting out, the Fuelband shows just a red marker: Go get a move on!

The battery lasts for a few days before you have to recharge via USB. Data upload works through USB, too, so it’s simple but not terribly elegant.

To set your goals, you enter your desired activity levels through an app on your desktop or iPhone (I use Android, so no mobile app for me). The default “normal” active day is set so low that I reached it even though only starting my test at 4pm the first day. Ramping it up to “active” days helps a bit, so you actually have to at least walk a bit during the day to meet the goals. I assume if you commute by car and work at a desk all day, it might be a challenge. If you’re somewhat active anyway it feels like you have to set the goals somewhat inflationary. Or maybe I just happened to have a particularly active week.

Over time, you can gather a number of stats, accessible through the Fuel app. Examples for the kind of stats you get, besides some graphs to indicate the overall development, would be Best Month, Best Wednesday, Average Activity etc. It’s intuitive, but doesn’t go very deep it seems.

I expect this will change if the API ever really opens up and more developers can play around with it. If you could use alternative interfaces like the Pebble for example that might become more interesting. As it stands, it feels a bit… how do I phrase it… American? I know this doesn’t quite capture it, but it’s this very Nike-ish tonality that I always personally find a bit off-turning. Then again, it’s their product and it’s a fitness product, so I guess that’s alright.

Right now it’s still in the novelty phase, and several people actually approached me at a restaurant to ask about it.

So in short: It’s a smooth, well produced gadget. Having tested it for about a week, it feels like the novelty and effect are wearing off already. I caught myself not even putting it on anymore after 4-5 days. The API might change that once it’s there, if it’s ever going to really open up.

Thanks & Happy Holidays: 2011 Wrap-Up

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It’s become a tradition for me to write a little wrap-up at the end of the year, both to remember, and to remind myself what the year was like. So this is mostly for myself, but I hope you enjoy it, too.

magical science creature capture
Image by Goopymart, some rights reserved.

Crazy travel

I love traveling, so I do whenever I can. Luckily, my job allows me lots of trips. According to Dopplr, in 2011 I took some 33 trips to 8 countries. Which come to think of it doesn’t sound that crazy, but it’s an average of almost 3 trips per month, which is nothing to scoff at.

Third Wave

My company Third Wave recently turned one. This is certainly the biggie in this annual wrap up: This year for me was largely dominated by our company, which I’m told is normal. Last year this time we had just kicked off, and were just getting organized. This year we have a bit more than a full year under the belt, and that’s a different story altogether. For one, it means that our little enterprise made it through the first year, which is when most new companies fail. So that’s good.

There’s a lot to learn when starting a company, so I’m learning a lot. Some things are more explicit (how does book keeping work?), some more implicit (leadership, criticism, self-analysis, presenting and representing, and overall thinking more like a CEO than a freelancer). All of these are very useful skills way beyond work, so I’m thankful to be learning more about them in this context, for this purpose.

Also, after 15 months we know that not just the company works, but that the three of us also work well together. Obviously we were confident that the team dynamics would work out, but that’s the hardest of all things to plan. I’m enjoying it tremendously to be working with Igor and Johannes, and to see where we can take this whole thing. 2012 will be a good & exciting year.

Cognitive Cities

Early in the year, I had the chance to co-organize a conference, Cognitive Cities Conference, CoCities for short. We did that between our company Third Wave, our office mates Your Neighbours (now Gidsy) and a loose group of friends and freelancers. It was an intense and quite excellent experience. Once you accept that sleep is overrated and go all in, nothing beats the adrenaline high you get from a conference going strong. Plus, I got the chance to meet a big group of very smart and interesting folks both at the event and in the aftermath, which I’ll always be thankful for. In 2012, we won’t run CoCities again, but we’re putting together a number of smaller events.

Friends & Family

In 2011, a number of excellent personal things happened. After a few years, M. and I found a nice place and moved in together, which turned out great. In a relatively rare family trip, my sister and I took our mom to Amsterdam, good fun all ’round. In terms of friends & family celebrations, my dad turned 70 with quite a party, close friends got married and other friends pregnant, and there were some job-related level-ups. I’m happy for all of you!

Tacky Gift Contest

In unrelated news, I was crowned as winner of the Tacky Gift Contest (2005-2011). Two friends from Australia and I have been having an on-going contest on who could find the tackiest gifts possible (certain rules apply, and the budget is set in advance). In each round, two would buy gifts, the third would judge. It’s much more fun than it might sound like, and it’s a tremendously social experience. In fact, I didn’t manage to stay in regular touch with many of my friends from when I lived in Australia, but I still am in touch with 100 per cent of the Tacky Gift Contest contestants. Anyway, I won, and I have a PDF to prove it and all. We’ll open up round two of the contest, and this time it won’t take six years to complete.

Happy Holidays!

I’m writing this at the beginning of a series of short trip to visit friends & family. For the next week or two, I’ll be largely off the grid, but friendly words and friendly faces are always welcome. That said, enjoy your holidays. See you on the other side.

Former annual wrap-ups: 2008, 2009, 2010.

Thanks & Happy Holidays: 2010 Wrap-Up

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??? - Maneki Neko

“Two is a trend, three is a tradition”, I once heard. If this post makes my annual (#2008, #2009) round-up of the closing year a tradition, then so be it.

As round-ups go, they tend to be more interesting for the author than the readers. Like every year I say:

The longer version below will be more interesting for me than you, probably. If you skip this post I won’t be disappointed. I promise ;)

So bear with me, and feel free to skip this one. Or comment away, whichever you prefer. I always enjoy hearing from you.

So here’s my 2010, a year that turned out to be a nodal point for many vectors going on in my life, and that I certainly won’t forget. Also, a year that felt like it set the course for a whole lot of awesome stuff over the coming years. Onwards, in bullet points!

Biz! Business-wise, it was a year that had a (surprising, for me) focus on broadcaster clients. As opposed to 2009, which was all about politics and political campaigning, 2010 brought plenty of work for public broadcasters, and a few publishers. You could think I turned into a media guy. (Fear not!) Super interesting to learn more about the ways large broadcasters work, and learn about the challenges and opportunities they face adapting to the social web. That was the first half of the year, as a freelancer. The second half was dedicated to starting a new company – see below.

Learnings! Early 2010 also brought some insights into long-term planning (diversify!), as well as the notion that good tax advice is totally worth it (ouch). Note to self: read this, every year. Some mistakes are too dumb to repeat.

SXSW! Early 2010 also brought me to Austin, Texas, for SXSW, and before to NYC for a few days. My close friend Igor Schwarzmann joined in on that trip, and of course we had a blast both in New York and in Austin. What none of us were expecting at that point is that our conversations there would eventually lead to Igor, Johannes and me founding a company just a half-year later. (More on that later.) Also, until about 48h before the conference kicked off I had no idea I’d be hosting a panel at SXSW. Phew. Good stuff, but phew.

Trips & travel! According to Dopplr, 28 trips lead me to 15 cities in 6 countries. Roughly the same as the year before (and likely much less then next year), but what a time I had.

Conferences & conventions! I had planned for a while to cut down on conferences and only attend the ones I definitely wouldn’t miss. This year, the conferences & conventions I attended were SXSW, republica, reboot/Ersatz, Picnic and Mozilla Drumbeat – not a single one I would’ve wanted to miss! In addition I co-organized Ignite Berlin and TEDxKreuzberg, both of which I enjoyed a lot, too, thanks to our great speakers and audience.

Punditry! Just kidding. I’m not a pundit (haven’t ever been one). However, I was psyched when my friend and long-time collaborator Dr. Max Senges invited me to be a member of the Google Collaboratory on Internet & Society. Also, much more media attention for all my pet projects than expected.

Research! Somewhat missing the kind of in-depth digging you can do in an academic context while studying, Christoph Fahle and I did a mini study on the social situation of coworkers at Betahaus Berlin. This wasn’t just one (of many!) collaborations with the fantastic Betahaus crew, it also shows that the good folks working at Betahaus and in coworking spaces across the city are advancing the city’s creative industry against some pretty messy circumstances (in terms of support by the government). Keep it up folks! The same goes for Betahaus – these folks have established themselves so firmly in the city’s landscape, and become such a focal point for all kinds of awesome activities: Thank you guys!

Third Wave Berlin! Before heading over to SXSW in March, Igor, Johannes and I had joked about collaborating at some point, but I believe that none of us had ever considered it for real, or anytime soon. (I certainly hadn’t.) But energized at Austin, and after a quick round of emails and conversations, it dawned on all of us that we all were at a point where we knew it was time to move on to the next level. And not just that, but also that we were at a perfect point in time, and pretty darn great position to start our own thing. And after some brainstorming and hand-wringing, and a lot of laughing, we found a name for this gig (Third Wave) and founded the company as quickly as our planning and our ongoing contracts allowed. From the very first idea (mid-March 2010) to launch (4 Oct 2010) it was hardly half a year. (Not bad, given that most work contracts in Germany won’t allow you to quit in less than 3 months.) And after the first (almost) three months I have no doubt that this was the absolutely right decision. There isn’t a day where I’m not happy about how things are evolving. (Thanks, guys!)

Thanks! So 2010 has been quite a ride, and I learned plenty. It was an intense year, and a fast one, and for next year I’ll probably change gears again and turn it up another notch (“to eleven!“). But what really blew my mind was the incredible support I got throughout the year from a whole bunch of people (none of who owed me anything), who just shared so many things, including the insights, experiences and nerves of steel, with me, and also with my co-founders. I really hope I can pay all this back, or forward, at some point. (Thank you so much – you know who you are.)

Awesome Foundation! One of the small ways I found of paying it forward is the Awesome Foundation, of which we set up a Berlin chapter. We already gave out our very first grant, so watch out for more! Also, I hear that the chapter is about to grow by quite a bit – and it makes me really happy to see so many people in Berlin (!) are willing to pitch in with their private cash (and with absolutely no business interest whatsoever) to foster awesome projects that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Go Awesome Foundation!

Next year! Next year will bring next steps on all these axes lined out above. One I’d like to point out (besides of course going back to NYC and Austin for SXSW) is an event I’m co-organizing: Cognitive Cities Conference (#CoCities), a conference focusing on the future of cities and technology, that we’ll hold at the end of February 2011. It’s kind of a nodal point (in Gibson speak) for me, the manifestation of both a group interest (emerging from Cognitive Cities blog), the topic cluster around smart cities, tech, data and urban planning, and a stress test for our company’s multi-tasking abilities ;) I’d love to get more involved, both privately and through work, in this field, and running this non-profit conference through our company allows me to do just that. Also, it’s a proof of concept, so to speak, insofar as the way CoCities came about might also work as a template for future emerging interests and ways to apply these interests, or rather to transfer them into actions.

Private! While I share plenty online, I’ve always felt that some aspects of personal life should stay largely off the web, and I’m standing by that rule of thumb. So let’s just say I’m very happy. (Again, thanks to all my friends and M. – You all rock!)

Off the grid! All that said, as of next week I’ll be off the grid for a few weeks, on a serious vacation with no (ok, maybe a little) connectivity. Thanks for the ride, and talk soon!

Photo by mr.beaver (some rights reserved)

Tron:Legacy

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Last night I had the chance to watch the press screening of TRON:Legacy. In case you’ve lived under a rock over the last six months, here’s the trailer – pure visual pr0n:

For you to compare, and to appreciate the eye candy it is, here’s the original Tron trailer from 1982:

First thing first: I’m a big fan of the Tron franchise, and I enjoyed Legacy tremendously. So whenever a question arose, I’d give the movie the benefit of the doubt. If you didn’t like the original Tron, you won’t enjoy this one either.

That said, let’s dive into some questions and thoughts, mostly on a meta level. (Warning: There are some plot spoilers in the text below. Read on at your own risk.)

The Open Theme Most notably is the pro Open Source & Sharing stance the movie takes. While awkward in it’s rhetoric at times (the movie is aimed at a mainstream audience after all), the message is clear: The turned-evil Encom Corporation, built on the legacy of Tron inventor Kevin Flynn, claims that “the era of sharing software and giving it away for free is over”. Flynn’s son Sam however, the heir and biggest shareholder, who’s lack of interest in the company allowed the evil board to take over, turns out to be a free software advocate: “You can’t steal what’s designed to be free”, he says while leaking the brand new proprietary operating system by Encom called “OS XII”, one of many nice swings at Apple.

This theme of Openness vs Closed (as software paradigms) is present throughout the movie, and the sides are clearly attributed: open = good, closed = bad. (Quite funny, given that the movie is produced by Disney, who aren’t exactly known for their openness.) It surfaces many times: “Users”, humans who move inside “the grid” (the internet), have no rights. Hacking is not encouraged, and the few who are able to access the system on a deeper level have to leave the slick & glossy user-interface and find themselves in rugged terrain, visualized as a rugged, black mountains not unlike Mordor in Lord of the Rings. The off-grid areas, i.e. the intestines of the net, are of course where the real action happens, whereas the user interface, on-grid areas are what makes the movie look so fantastic.

A set designer’s wet dream The look & feel of Tron:Legacy is fantastic; nothing short of it. It looks breathtaking, stunning, gorgeous. The whole setting is constructed and designed with a level of detail, and with a mix of both physical and plenty of CGI elements, that makes me want to watch it again and again.

What I found particularly interesting is the many elements it quotes from the physical world – in the way “vehicles” (which are of course just software metaphors) move, how the competitive games are held in what resembles a giant football stadium, how a character is using digital qigong balls: all these might be deeper metaphors, or maybe a hat tip that helps us associate certain characters or scenes with certain stereotypes. Sometimes it’s a bit painful to watch, often it works wonderfully. It’s definitely interesting to watch.

A handful of actors and a slab of wood Tron:Legacy features possibly the worst & weakest lead character of all times (or at least the most recent decade). Which is such a wasted opportunity, as the rest of the crew are doing a great job. But let me quote Wired UK, who phrased it better than I could:

Garrett Hedlund is the worst offender — coming across not as a gifted hacker, but as a bewildered meathead. At the start of the movie he’s portrayed as a young man who’s never really grown out of being a petulant child — an image that he utterly fails to shed when he’s called upon to be heroic. Hedlund’s supporting actors, Jeff Bridges and Olivia Wilde, do their best to prop him up, but they’re fighting a losing battle. Bridges, who starred in the original, reprises his role, but doesn’t bring the gravity to any scene that he ought to with that pedigree. At several points, a little bit too much of The Dude slips through instead. Wilde is the only cast member who really stands out. Her character initially appear to be a stereotypical “badass chick”, but you swiftly discover that she’s actually a mega-geek. A spark of delight comes when you realise that, in Tron’s universe, being a mega-geek involves a fascination with paper and books, rather than computers. Although she spends a little too much screen time in awe of Hedlund’s character, she brightens any scene with an infectious enthusiasm for the world around her.

The same sadly goes for the dialogs, too: they’re so wooden, so stiff, that at one point I had to double check in which language I was watching the movie: I had the creepy feeling I was watching it in a badly dubbed German version – but I wasn’t, it was the English original alright, the dialogs are just the way they are.

There are a number of quotes, mostly by Bridges, that help break the tension – no doubt that’s what Wired mean when they say The Dude shows through Bridges’ performance – like when he ends a lengthy dialog about a philosophical conundrum with the line “Human form in a digital space. Heavy stuff.”

The Uncanney Valley is deep Speaking of actors: Jeff Bridges features in a double roll: As Kevin Flynn, the aged hacker who has resided inside the Grid for the last 20 years; and CLU, the program he developed “in his own image” to run the Grid, which looks like Flynn 20 years younger. This was done doing some massive CGi magic, and looks remarkably life like. Not quite enough though: this is total Uncanny Valley territory. This is particularly creepy (and interesting to watch) when the two differently aged versions of Jeff Bridges have a show down, engaging one another directly. Like so many times, it’s hard to tell if the crew just couldn’t get the CGI version of young Mr Bridges any better or if they allowed it to preserve a slightly creepy look because it makes sense in the context of the story. I tend to going with the latter.

Timeless or multi-dated? The Kevin Flynn that resides in the Grid is a pretty fascinating, or rather it’s fascinating how the character was designed. He’s portrayed as an aging electro hippie, living in his digital Bond villain’s penthouse lair, overlooking the Mordor-like sections of the Grid. His lodgings are glossy, slick and white, very minimalistic besides a few decor elements: some 19th century chairs, some 1960s chairs, a book shelf full of old books – tomes almost – and a large dinner table decorated with silver (silicone?) apples and the like. It’s both timeless and multi-dated, so to speak: minimalist style that could last ages, or a whole series of cultural references that make it look dated beyond its age. It creates a weird effect, I could never stop wondering if the designers were serious or pulling the viewers’ leg, challenging them to call that bluff.

A nice detail: the CLU, the almost fascist software ruler of the Grid, plans to leave the Grid and conquer the physical world (following word by word its programming that ordered it to “create the perfect world”), he assembles a massive army of (very Stormtrooper-looking) software soldiers – placing CLU clearly in a Cold War military mindset, totally consistent with when it was programmed in 1989. No asymmetrical warfare for CLU, no sir!

Clichés Galore It’s these references – often clichés, really – that also put this movie in our days: it’s a movie for the remix generation. It quotes, in wild order, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, the Fifth Element, all kinds of the more recent vampire movies, the Matrix and plenty of the original Tron. Like I mentioned before, I had a nagging feeling I might be tested here, quizzed almost, and at some point someone would pull up the curtain and say: “Gotcha! Now on to the real stuff!” But it’s actually quite consistent that way, and it works if you let it work for you. (Which is why I meant earlier that you need to like the Tron franchise, or you won’t enjoy it.)

Full integration If there is one lesson to learn from Tron:Legacy, then it’s about integration. The way the movie integrates all these references; but also how integrated the soundtrack is into the movie. The very atmospheric, dark OST by French electro duo Daft Punk (video for the track “Derezzed” below) holds the film together, but very much stays in the background. Then, in one longer, very prominent club scene, you see Daft Punk DJ-ing in the club, and the main character in the scene actually talks to them, asking for music to support the next scene. It works brilliantly; and that’s despite it being so totally blatant, in your face.

In short: It’s hard to imagine that the movie would sustain itself in the cinematic history. But if you like TRON, it’s a must see, and pure visual pr0n.

Thanks & Happy Holidays: 2009 Wrap-Up

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Happy Holidays!

It’s almost the end of the year, and that means it’s the time to take a minute to think back to what happened during the year, and remember the good stuff, so to speak.

As is always the nature with this kind of posts, it’s more interesting for the author than the readers, so like I said in last year’s post:

The longer version below will be more interesting for me than you, probably. If you skip this post I won’t be disappointed. I promise ;)

So, here’s my 2009. A year which I’m sure will always remember fondly. For me it was a year full of political campaigning, coworking and events galore.

Work-related, I had the chance to work with many new and old clients and partners, and it’s been great. Thank you all – I really feel privileged to be able to have the kind of live I have and get paid for doing stuff I love to do, and I’ve been having an awesome time working with you guys. Thanks, thanks and thanks!

One project I found particularly interesting, and I spent a good deal of time and energy on it: Together with Thomas Praus & Panorama3000 I helped Jusos (the youth organization of the Social Democratic Party, in short SPD) run their federal election campaign. It was, as far as I know, the first time that the Jusos ran their own campaign independently from the party. Even though the election results were disappointing in the end, we experienced a great community of politically engaged young adults and we all learned a tremendous deal.

What else? According to Dopplr, I went on 25 trips in six countries. One of them was to New York, where I spent the whole month of May, working from the great Brooklyn-based coworking space The Change You Want To See. (My friend Matthias, who designed the waving cat xmas motif above, also spent some time there.) The community at The Change inspired me so much that upon return to Berlin it didn’t take much convincing to be one of the first members of a new coworking space in the making in Berlin-Neukölln: When we were introduced to the location, it was a matter of weeks until Studio70 opened up.

At Studio70, a great crowd ranging from fashion designer to tinkerer to journalist and many more gathered, and it wasn’t long until it became clear that an event needed to be held to celebrate this mix. Atoms&Bits Festival was born, and within just a few months we pulled together the whole thing that in the end had reached out to some 30 locations in several cities. It was a lot of work, but also very rewarding to see all these different scenes and subcultures mix and mingle. Atoms&Bits culminated in a weekend of events the same day as the federal elections in Germany, so the weekend of the 26/27 September 2009 was kind of a big day for me. If I had a paper calendar, this weekend would have been circled in a thick, red circle. (But I don’t, and Google Calendar doesn’t do this kind of stuff, so it became just another weekend ;)

Right after Atoms&Bits and the elections, it was time for a little break, so off to a vacation I went. Luckily, a good friend and former housemate from my university time in Sydney happened to get married just then and I had the honor to be one of the brothers/best men, and even more luckily he lives in Singapore, so the destination of the trip was easily decided. After a blast of a time there and seeing many faces I hadn’t seen in years, I came back to Berlin, just in time to receive a notice from the TED crew, informing me that our request to run a TEDx event was approved. So we putTEDxKreuzberg on the map, to be held at, and more importantly with, Betahaus. Again, great fun, and we’re still processing all the things we heard and saw there. (And the videos, too.) And just like last year, we had a monthly Likemind kaffee klatsch at good ol’ St Oberholz. Thomas and I have been having a great time with this and we’ve both met so many cool folks, we’ll definitively going on doing this, so make sure to drop by (3rd Friday of the month, 9am).

To finish the year off, the most recent turn of events led me to Strasbourg, France, where I’ve been spending the last couple weeks (and until some point in January 2010) at Arte, a German-French public TV station, doing some behind-the-scenes concept work.

So that was my 2009. Definitively not bad. And since 2010 always has been the start of the future, we’re bound to see another cool year in just about a week. Hope to see you there.

Image: The lovely xmas motif was done for me by Matthias Pflügner. (Thanks!)

Tools I Use: MediaTemple for Hosting

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MediaTempleFed up with your hosting service prodider’s lousy service, endless hotline calls and slow email response times? Been there, done that. After almost 10 years at 1&1, I’ve had enough. Lucky for me, I had a chat with Johannes Kleske who recommended MediaTemple. I switched, and I don’t regret it a bit.

To call MediaTemple (MT) a small indie host wouldn’t really do them justice, since they aren’t so small after all (MT’s about page). However, it feels just like you’re talking to your local corner hosting shop, so to speak. You drop them a line, you get your answer right away. You don’t get annoying marketing emails. The help section and FAQs work, and in fact contain solutions to most of your problems. (Take that, 1&1!)

What’s more important, though, is that everything just works a charme and is set up very smartly. Example? One-click installations for tools like WordPress or Drupal give you a fresh WordPress when you need, it hardly takes a minute. No more screwing around with FTP or your databases (unless you want to). I’m told MT’s hosting architecture scales very well in case your blog ends up on Digg or Slashdot, but haven’t tested that one yet. Oh, and if you have other users’ email accounts to manage, worry not: You just send them a link to their own admin panel and they can take care of it themselves, you won’t even be involved in their password retrieval process.

MT give you reasonable (bordering excessive) data limits. My hosting plan (MT’s smallest, the GridService) gives me 100GB of storage, 1TB of transfer, and what seems to be a very stable architecture for a mere $20/month.

I switched to MediaTemple, and I’m not planning to leave them anytime soon. If you’re unhappy with your host (or maybe just not overly happy), my recommendation goes to MediaTemple.

What is all this about? Quite often I get asked by friends and colleagues what tools I use for certain tasks. Just as often, I ask them the same question: Word of mouth recommendations top most other research when it comes to getting things done. That’s why I started collecting my recommendations in a loose series of posts titled “Tools I Use” (see more recommendations).

Nokia E71: You won’t fall in love, but it’s rock solid

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I just switched from Blackberry to a Nokia 71. Since I asked a lot of questions during the switch and the Twitter crowd was incredibly helpful and kind in sharing their tipps, I’d like to share my experiences for those who are trying to decide if they, too, want to switch over to Nokia. So here’s what I noticed, the pros and cons, as well as a few hacks and software tipps to get it up and running as painlessly as possible.

Super-brief summary up-front

Pros:

  • Beautiful, premium, awesome hardware.
  • Great form factor. Very, very slim.
  • Good software support (runs on Symbian S60).
  • Great feature set. (Private/business mode, connectivity etc)
  • Strong battery (3 days).

Cons:

  • Slow, awkward browser.
  • Disappointing camera.
  • Haven’t found a decent Twitter client. (Tipps?)

That said, here’s what the Nokia E71 looks like:

Nokia E71

E71 keyboard

Pros and cons There’s a raving Nokia E71 review on WIRED where you can get the basic info about the phone. After using the E71 for a few weeks, I don’t share all their excitement, but agree: It’s a pretty darn good phone, “rock solid” as a friend pointed out.

First, a look at the hardware: The E71’s form factor and hardware is awesome. It’s plenty of metal and no cheap plastic. It seems very scratch-resistent. It’s super slim (10mm). It just feels great. It has a full QWERTY (or in my case QWERTZ) keyboard. The keyboard has a nice click (maybe just a tad too light) and keys that are kind of small, but still work pretty well. Switching from Blackberry, they feel a little crammed, but it’s lightyears ahead of typing on a touch screen. The keyboard, like the rest of the phone, feels solid and premium.

This picture gives you an idea how the form factor compares to the Nokia’s direct competitors in the field, the Blackberry Curve and the iPhone:

Nokia E71, Blackberry Curve, iPhone

It has a 3.2 million megapixel camera, which sounds great, but delivers surprisingly disappointing quality. The built-in light, it seems, can’t be switched off, and it seems that the camera definitively needs it. Compared to the Nokia N97, the E71 certainly scores low. Particularly in low light, the white noise makes the pictures look really sad. For comparison, two pictures taken with my E71:

Nokia E71 shot of some tags Image: Some tags in the subway shot with the E71 cam in low light. The white noise is unbearable. (Open photo in full size.)

Nokia E71 shot of an airport display Image: An airport display shot with the E71 cam. In bright light, the image quality is ok, but certainly could be better. (Open photo in full size.)

Wireless support and all work a charme. Also, I fell in love with the battery life. Depending on use, the phone lasted between two and three days per charge. After my one-day Blackberry battery, this feels grand. (Good thing, too – the E71 doesn’t charge via the mini USB cable but needs the extra Nokia charger.)

Let’s look at the software side. The E71 runs on Symbian OS, S60 more precisely, meaning it’s open source. (The iPhone’s walled-garden mentality really deterred me from getting an iPhone.) There’s plenty of software and apps available for S60, with more coming out every day.

Applications are plenty, get them wherever you want. You don’t need an Apple store to buy authenticated applications. That said, I’ve been trying to use Twibble as my Twitter client, but I’d love something faster and less awkward. (Can you recommend any alternative? Twibble is no comparison to Twitterberry goodness. I haven’t found a good WordPress blogging app yet. Google Maps, Google Mail and the Nokia software suite are pretty awesome, and even though I haven’t really tested it I hear the office support works a charme. The built-in browser seems slow and awkward at best. Certainly, the browsing experience could be improved a lot. (Strangely, that’s a point the Wired review doesn’t even mention.)

Syncing is a strong side of the E71. It comes with built-in Microsoft Exchange functionality, and a dual mode that allows you two separate private and business life, including separate calendars and email. Neat! My setup as a freelancer is built completely without any of the bigger corporate solutions, and based heavily on the Google suite. It took some tipps, digging through forums and tinkering, but I got the phone to sync with my Gmail address as well as Google Calendars. Mail syncing was easy. (I did screw briefly: Switching from POP3 to IMAP, I accidentally had the phone try downloading some 40.000 messages, which broke it a few times. “Breaking” in this context means anything from freezing to deleting the email profiles and settings, as well as a lot of rebooting.) The calender was a bit tricky, but in the end I got it working with some outside help by using Nuevasync with the phone’s Microsoft Exchange syncing tool. (That way you can sync up to 8 Google Calendars two ways.) It now seems to be working fine.

So where does that leave us?

Nokia E71

Nokia E71: You won’t fall in love, but it’s rock solid The phone does everything it should, and most of it very well. You won’t find anyone worshipping it like an iPhone, though. It’s a tool, and a good one. It’s not the kind of gadget that invites you to play around with it constantly, though. If you’re looking for something a little more playful, you should go for the iPhone instead. If just the camera could just be somewhat better. Besides, I’ll be happy with it the moment I find a better browser and Twitter app. For freelancers it can definitively replace a Blackberry. The full keyboard and the awesome battery life make it a decent choice.

In other words: Don’t expect to love this phone. But you certainly won’t regret getting one.

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