iOS Mail app lost its settings? Try this…

Over the weekend, my iPhone suddenly “forgot” how to access my email. I hadn’t changed the configuration (just left it on the kitchen counter for a while!) so I was pretty confused.

I tried to add an Exchange account for my Office 365 connection but it said I already had one and, sure enough… it was still there in Settings. So I turned to Twitter, where @TheoCarpenter came back with a suggestion:

Sure enough, that did the trick (if you don’t know how to kill tasks on iOS 7, this post will help) and within a few seconds I was reading email again. Thanks Theo!

Unable to install Xbox Live Arcade games on the 360’s hard drive

I’m not a big gamer, but I do have an Xbox 360 and there may be some video evidence on the ‘net of me sampling a game or two at an MVP event a few years back…

These days, much of the console’s use is from my children and, last weekend, my 9 year-old son was keen to buy Minecraft for the Xbox 360 after spotting it on sale in Sainsbury’s.  After coming home and researching, including prices elsewhere, we decided that it was a good deal and I took him back the next day to buy a copy.  One happy little boy.

Unfortunately, when we got home, I was having difficulty installing the game on the Xbox’s hard drive. I do this to avoid wear and tear on the DVD drive in the Xbox, as well as to keep down the noise whilst playing. I expect to supply the optical media to verify that we have a copy (for any piracy purposes) but, from then on, our games run from from the hard drive.

Unfortunately, that option didn’t seem to be available for Minecraft and it seems that it’s the same for all Xbox Live Arcade games. Ludicrous – bizarrely it’s possible to buy the game online and download it to the Xbox via that route (and it would have saved some of my son’s pocket money)!  Unfortunately I don’t think this counts as “faulty” for return to the retailer…

An evening with Sony, at their 2014 consumer electronics product preview

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself heading to Brooklands, site of the world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit, except that the purpose of my visit was not to experience any form of motor sport, but to spend an evening with Sony, at their UK headquarters, taking a look at the consumer electronics products that the Japanese giant is bringing to market in 2014.

Working for another Japanese technology giant, as I do, it’s easy to forget just how big Sony is in the consumer electronics space.  Happily, in the UK, we don’t really compete (except maybe around PCs – and even then we focus on different markets). As news since my visit suggests that Sony is looking to dispose of its Vaio PC business and transform the TV business into a wholly owned subsidiary (perhaps to resolve the issue of the innovators’ dilemma?), I’m happy that I could learn about the sound and vision, photography and computing devices that Sony is bringing to market this year without any conflict of interest.  And Sony started the evening off by telling us how they are concentrating on the user experience – on the best picture and sound quality – be that for televisions, cameras, projectors or other digital devices.

TV – forget 3D – 4K is where it’s at

It has to be said that Sony’s 4K TVs are stunning.  I first saw 4K Ultra HD images whilst visiting The Design Museum late last year and my trip to Brooklands re-enforced my view – whether it’s for watching films or sport.  Quite how I’ll be able to receive a 4K signal at my house is another issue (I have “up to 8Mbps” ADSL2) and whilst I like the idea of a 65″ TV, our living room is not really large enough… but hey! (It should be noted that Sony’s X-Reality processing engine can upscale some content too).

Sony X9Sony explained some of the technologies that their mid-high end 2014 TVs feature and it’s clear that it’s no longer just about being “super slim”.  The quest for enhanced picture and sound quality includes a range of technologies such as:

  • X-Reality PRO image enhancement for increased realism, texture and a more refined output
  • Triluminos imaging (launched last year – but now with increased colour range and much improved viewing angle – as shown in this image from Sony with, from left to right,  a 2013 Sony TV, a 2014 Sony TV and a Samsung TV)
  • X-tended Dynamic Range – improved brightness, whilst retaining detail and colour.
  • Long duct speakers with a new wedge shape to increase speaker capacity and sound quality – including software to adjust the settings depending on whether the panel is wall or table mounted (wall-mounted units use the wall for reverberation – I pity the neighbours!)
  • Front mounted speakers on some models for better sound direction, a magnetic fluid system as coolant and conductor for efficient sound transfer – and an RF-connected subwoofer option for those who don’t want a 5.1 system.
  • ClearAudio+ sound processing, to separate dialogue from sound effects, reduce/increase sports commentary volume, or provide virtual surround sound.

And, when one Sony representative was asked a question about the future of 3D TV:

“Our focus is 4K”

I think that says it all really (the 3D glasses for my TV have never come out of their box)!

Smart viewing

I have a mid-range Samsung TV, which, on the whole I’ve been very pleased with but I do have to admit that the SmartHub is a little less smart than I would like at times. Clearly Sony seems Samsung as a leading competitor (their competitor comparison units are all Samsungs!) and, from what I saw of the developments in Sony’s Bravia software, it seems that they have a much better user interface – and an interesting approach to control with their “One-Flick”gesture-based remote (a standard remote is provided too). Whilst some of the apps seem a little gimmicky (e.g. “Football mode” for “less ghosting and more immersive viewing” because of Sony’s tie up with the 2014 World Cup), the usuals are there too (iPlayer, etc.) as well as Sony’s Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services.

The features I found most interesting were Social Viewing (integrating social media use with television-watching, albeit with some issues around content filtering) and Photo share (using the TV as a hub to share images between devices, scanning a QR code or using NFC to connect, with no app required).

As for the full range of 2014 Sony TVs, rather than rely on my notes being correct, why not get it straight from the horses’ mouth, as it were.

Getting connected

I also had some time to spend in Sony’s “network room” and whilst I have to say I was pretty impressed with the range of Vaio laptops in touch and non-touch forms (including the lightest ultrabook in Europe), all with NFC and some featuring ClearAudio+ (which really made a difference using the PC speakers), the potential sale of Sony’s PC business and my own professional IT links made these no more than a “ooo – that’s nice” view…

There were Xperia phones and tablets too but the real items I found of interest were the wearables – a Smartband that pairs with an Android phone for “life logging” and the SmartWatch 2 which acts as a remote screen for an Android phone, but also runs some of its own apps.  Wearables are big right now and I find this a particularly exciting market – it will be interesting to see how Sony’s devices take off…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CMiSK7ENlA]

 

Digital imaging (and a date for my diary)

A few years ago, Sony bought Konica-Minolta’s digital imaging business and they’ve clearly used it to good effect, expanding the Sony range to cover everything from digital compacts to high-end DSLRs (and of course expanding their own range of digital still and video cameras).  As a Nikon DSLR-shooter, I found the range confusing, with seemingly competing models using two different lens mount systems:

  • The A-mount is effectively the old Konica-Minolta system.
  • The E-mount is used by the modern, small form factor cameras.

Thankfully there are converters available, which means A-mount E-mount users can use adapters for Nikon and Canon lenses.  I guess I’m a bit of a Luddite too – I like a solid full-frame DSLR with high quality (often heavy) glass up front and am unconvinced by the new ranges of small cameras with interchangeable lenses (possibly because I got burned by Minolta in the late-1990s with an interchangeable lens APS film camera!).  Having said that, I increasingly find myself using the camera in my pocket (my phone) and it was interesting to see how Sony is enhancing the user experience with seamless integration between devices, including built-in NFC and Wi-Fi communications, together with iOS and Android PlayMemories apps for a range of photography uses).  I was also impressed to see that Sony is really moving ahead with behind full-frame cameras – be that the DSC-RX1, the prosumer ?7/7R or the ?99. Indeed I’d be happy to have an RX1 as my carry-everywhere camera (albeit a rather pricey one!)

On the video front, Sony has always been a leader and I was impressed to see both the NEX-VG900 full-frame interchangeable lens camcorder and the AX100 – a 4K Handycam targeted at home film-makers, using a 1″ sensor and class 10 SD card storage (that reminds me, I really should find a way to stream all of the raw footage off my collection of DV tapes onto a disk somewhere!).

Oh yes, and that date for my diary? Sony sponsors the World Photography Awards, and the 2014 exhibition will take place at Somerset House in London from 1-18 May.

Wall of sound

The last demonstration of the evening was focused on audio.  I didn’t check out the high resolution audio systems (although I heard others doing so, and they certainly sounded good) – I was interested in something portable – like the Bluetooth and NFC SRS-BTS50 or the higher-end SRS-X5 unit.  After all, when all you’re playing is compressed MP3 files, or music streamed from Spotify, it’s amazing how good it can sound on a small speaker setup. Then there were earphones, modern Walkman digital music players (I didn’t know that brand still existed but it seems you can get everything from a USB stick to an iPod competitor and even an MP3 Walkman built into a set of headphones!), clock radios, docking stations, DAB radios, all in one Hi-Fi systems – the works.

<tl;dr>

I’m pretty impressed with Sony’s consumer electronics plans for 2014.  Sure, what geek wouldn’t be interested in huge super-high definition TVs, some smart PCs and wearable tech, a selection of imaging devices that meet the needs of most, if not all, consumers and some seriously big sounds. But it’s more than that.  Maybe I drank the Sony Kool-Aid but I really did leave with the distinct impression that Sony is out to create a user experience that transcends devices and simply delivers the best picture and sound quality.  If I didn’t already have a Samsung Smart TV, Apple and Samsung phones, a Lenovo PC, Nikon cameras and an Xbox 360, I might well be persuaded to make my next consumer electronics purchase one from Sony…

[Update 19 Feb 2014: corrected statement re: adapters for third party lenses with Sony cameras]

Adventures with Android: a few “tweaks” on my Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini

I’ve been using an Android phone for work for a few months now (a Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini: GT-I8190N) and, on the whole, I’ve been pretty disappointed.  The user interface is clunky (and downright confusing at times) and the battery life terrible – but I’m also more than a little aware that there is a certain amount of OEM- or carrier-supplied software on the device and that a “stock” Android phone might be a little more “polished”.

I started to look into wiping the device and starting afresh but, after consulting with Dan Delaney (@dan_delaney), who knows more about this stuff than I do,  I decided not to bother as it looked as though I’d need to root the device – something I’d be happy to do on my own phone but am not permitted to do on a company device that’s connected to our corporate infrastructure.

Even so, I’ve made a few tweaks over recent months that have slightly improved the experience, and I thought I’d make a note of them here…

First up, battery life.  Three things that have made an enormous difference:

  1. Firstly, I dropped the polling interval for email in the settings for TouchDown (the app used for ActiveSync connectivity to my Exchange email and calendar).  Instead of push email, I poll every 10 minutes, or every hour during off-peak times (I have peak times set as 07:00-19:00 Monday to Friday).
  2. Secondly, I removed the native ActiveSync connection to my Office 365 account as, between them, Exchange Services and TouchDown were drinking a lot of juice.
  3. Finally, I installed the free Battery Doctor app, which not only intelligently charges the device but also watches out for apps that are draining the battery and gives me the ability to disable them.

Another change I made was to install the Android 4.4 Kit Kat Launcher. I may be stuck with Android “Jelly Bean” 4.1.2 but I can at least have some of the latest bits – although I now have such an odd collection of widgets that it looks a complete mess (sorry guys, Microsoft has tiles nailed in Windows/Windows Phone).  The process for installing the Kit Kat parts is described on WonderHowTo and I have Google Play Services, Google Search and the Google Launcher all running happily now.

Still bogged down with Samsung and other bundled software, I decided to follow Jon Spriggs (@jontheniceguy)’s guide to stripping a UK O2 Samsung Galaxy SIII Mini down to the bare essentials.  Jon’s guide is based on a “clean” device and mine has a load of extra apps I’ve installed, plus the customisations I mentioned earlier but I used it to disable some of the built in apps that I don’t use (if you can’t disable them, uninstall updates first, then the disable option should be available).  Unfortunately, I can’t see how to hide the unused apps, now that I have changed the launcher!

My Android adventure continues… but it’s still very tempting to wipe the device and start again!

Short takes: Android screenshots; LinkedIn invitation preferences; and hiding Excel headings

Every now and again, in an attempt to close down some “must blog about that” tabs in my browser, I write one of these “short takes” posts… here’s the latest snippets from the world of Mark…

Screen-grabbing on Android

There have been a couple of occasions recently when I’ve wanted to take a screenshot on my Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini… but couldn’t find how to…

Having to Google to work out how to take a screen shot in Android is… a little odd… but there are a couple of methods mentioned in an Android News post (and six more methods here).  And the reason for the most recent screengrab?  This:

Why does LinkedIn sometimes need an email address before you can send an invitation to connect

I’ve noticed a few times recently that I’ve needed to supply someone’s email address (to prove I know them) when connecting on LinkedIn.  Whilst some Internet reports suggest this is because you’ve been marked as having too many “I don’t know this person” reports, it seemed to be inconsistent for me so that’s not the only reason this happens.  It turns out that there’s an option deep within LinkedIn’s preferences to only receive invitations from members who know your email address.  Now that I know about it, I’ve activated it on my profile too…

Displaying/hiding row and column headings in Excel

I received an Excel workbook recently where all of the row and column headings were missing.  Confused? I certainly was (especially as I wanted to add some columns) but it seems it’s a simple configuration option (just maybe not that commonly used?!), at least in Excel 2013 (your mileage may vary with other versions).

Microsoft’s new focus on solutions…

Throughout its history, Microsoft has relied on a partner ecosystem to drive their business forward.  Now, as the Redmond giant transforms from a software/platform company to a devices and services company, that’s starting to change – and multiple teams are focusing all or part of their time on developing and publishing lab-tested, multi-product, end-to-end solution content.

As an employee of one of Microsoft’s largest partners, we can either ignore this, or work with Microsoft to ensure that we benefit from their solutions content and use it to improve our own, value-add services.  With that in mind, a colleague alerted me to the presence of Microsoft’s Solutions Advisory Board (SAB) and, yesterday, I attended the first of the bi-monthly webinars that the SAB team are hosting.

In an hour, we briefly covered 4 topics – at a very high level – but to give some idea of the scenarios that were discussed:

  • New Office Solutions Content – content that’s been created by Microsoft to help customers make the most of integrating Office client and server products (and, to move towards the cloud at their own pace).
  • Using Windows Azure for disaster recovery of an an-premises SharePoint farm.
  • Integrating Lync Server on premise with Exchange Online.
  • Hosting Internet websites (on SharePoint) in Windows Azure.

I plan to follow up with more detail next week (after the slides have been published) – but this could well be a very interesting forum to take part in…

In the meantime, check out the solution guides for IT professionals section on the TechNet website.

Publishing an Exchange calendar from Outlook to Outlook.com – not as simple as it should be

Despite the existence of standards, Calendar synchronisation is not easy.  I did once have a convoluted system that worked (sort of) but it fell apart when I switched away from using Google products.

Last night I was trying to work out why an old recurring calendar appointment from years ago was still popping up in the Windows 8.1 Calendar on my family PC.  It turned out to be quite simple: my outlook.com account was still subscribed to an old Google calendar that I don’t keep updated.  Unfortunately, what followed was about an hour of trying various solutions to get my calendars in sync again when I should really have been sleeping…

Removing old calendar subscriptions from outlook.com was fairly straightforward but I wanted to allow my work calendar (on Exchange) to be visible in Outlook.com (and hence on my family PC).  Access controls mean that a “pull” approach won’t work but, in the past, I’ve “pushed” a calendar using Outlook’s publish to a WebDAV server feature. When I had this working before (probably several PC rebuilds ago), I used a private URL for a Google calendar in the format  http://www.google.com/calendar/ical/user@domain.com/private-longstring/basic.ics but Outlook 2013 refused to use that location last night, telling me that “The address you typed is not valid. Check the address, and then try again.”

I could just maintain two calendars and overlay them in Outlook, but, whilst that will show me my personal and work appointments in a single view, it doesn’t help with free/busy time (i.e. stopping someone from booking an appointment with me at work when I’m not available to work). So my work calendar has to be the “master” and I simply sync it to another location so I can view it on other devices.

So, I set up an account with iCal Exchange (iCalShare is an alternative), creating a private calendar that Outlook was happy to publish to.  Result. Except it seems that outlook.com can only subscribe to calendars that are not password protected.  Meanwhile, Microsoft’s advice for sharing an Outlook calendar on Outlook.com would be better described as “export a point in time copy of an Outlook calendar to Outlook.com, and then share it”.

With my bed calling me, I set up a public calendar as a workaround but I’d rather keep my calendar private – even if I’m not sharing the full details of my appointments.  So, it looks like I’ll have to set up my own WebDav server (security by obscurity is not ideal either) just to publish from Outlook (connected to Exchange) to Outlook.com (and on to my family’s Windows 8.1 PC).

Incidentally, whilst working on this issue, I stumbled on an interesting post about “private” items in Outlook/Exchange – they may not be as private as you think!