Tag Archives: mobile

Bose SoundLink II review – gadget purchases are rarely 100% rational

Bose Soundlink Mobile Speaker II

I’ve went through a somewhat irrational journey last month that started with me completely dismissing the sound quality of the Bose Soundlink Mobile Speaker II — and ended with me shelling out $349 for the premium/leather edition and even starting a Spotify Premium subscription. While my cognitive dissonance is still fading, I thought I’d share the journey in case there are others out there looking for similar audio solutions.

It all started when a friend demoed his Bose SoundDock Portable in his appartment. That’s a relatively small sound dock for the iPhone, but it produced impressively rich sound quality. I already have a pretty sophisticated home cinema system in our living room that I’ve proudly owned for the last ten years, so I consider myself spoiled with very high fidelity audio at home. The only problem is that this system is limited to the living room. I don’t have any reasonable way of playing music anywhere else like the bedroom or in my office — other than cranking up the volume of the home cinema downstairs to insane levels. Seeing and hearing this SoundDock Portable system made me compelled by the basic idea of having a secondary sound system that I could use to enjoy music and radio when I wasn’t in the living room.

Inspired by the SoundDock Portable, I started to look for an equivalent sound system that wasn’t tied to Apple’s proprietary standards but used Bluetooth instead. The two Bluetooth speakers that kept coming up everywhere in online reviews described as the “best” portable speakers were the Bose Soundlink II and the Jawbone BIG Jambox. I read countless of reviews and I really didn’t like that both of these systems seemed to be optimized for size and weight, rather than sound quality. These speakers are actually quite expensive when you consider the limited fidelity they output, but what you’re paying for is the portability factor — including built-in battery, microscopic footprint, and rugged durability. Well, I wasn’t really looking for that at all — I wouldn’t mind a slightly larger system that wasn’t as portable, but was still “carryable” so I could move it across different rooms in our house.

The Samsung DA-E670. Better sound, less portable.

The Samsung DA-E670. Better sound, but less portable.

I then found systems like the Samsung DA-E670, which is in the same price range as the comparatively tiny Bluetooth speakers, but less portable and supposedly higher fidelity. However, the more I looked at those options, the more I started to actually like the idea of ultimate portability. My wife (who is surprisingly supportive when I have an urge to buy new gadgets — maybe because she knows that makes me more forgiving about her own shopping habits?) started to talk about how nice it would be to be able to bring a speaker like this with us on vacations. Also, there was something with the look of the Bose speaker that clicked with me on an emotional level already the first time I saw it — it reminds me of those old radios that people had in their garage or kitchen back in the days.

This isn't a particularly old radio, but it sure is beautiful. (Sony IFC-J40)

This radio isn’t old, but its beauty reminds me of one. (Sony IFC-J40)

So I decided to go to a store and test both the Soundlink II and the BIG Jambox — and I was immediately disappointed with both of them. Just like I had feared, they sounded great for their size, but ultimately nowhere near hifi quality. The salesman was quick to demo a larger machine that only supported Airplay (the Bose SoundLink Air) and it definitely sounded better but was out of question for me since I specifically wanted a Bluetooth speaker (Bluetooth is far more universal than Apple’s proprietary wifi solution and I have no plans to ever buy an iPhone). I got so upset about the fact that it was so hard to find something relatively portable that didn’t sound like crap and wasn’t coupled with Apple’s proprietary solutions that I had to post that rant about bluetooth speakers a month ago.

But even after being disappointed with the Bose Soundlink II in the store, there was still this emotional urge left in me that made me want to give it another try at home. After all, the speaker probably would sound better at home than in the large store where I tried it. And besides, Bose offers you to try their products out at home for 30 days, so I figured I had nothing to lose. So I brought one home and tested it without all the noise in a busy store — and yes, the difference was definitely noticeable, it sounded better. What’s more, when placing it close to a wall in the bedroom and putting on some music at a moderate volume level, the sound quality was what I’d call good enough. I enjoyed discovering new and old music via a trial of Spotify Premium, and after over two hours of listening, the best testament of the sound quality is that I sometimes forgot that I was playing it from a TINY battery-powered bluetooth speaker!

So let’s talk about sound quality. The soundstage is definitely limited/narrow, and just like many other reviews point out, it lacks a bit of clarity in the mids and treble. As I was experimenting with a trial of Spotify Premium for Android, I found that just increasing Spotify’s built-in 5-band equalizer to (0, 0, +1, +1, +1) made the sound just perfect for my taste. That said, I also noticed that the sound quality depends on the device you’re playing from too — if I stream audio from my MacBook Pro, the mids and treble sound clearer than when streaming from my Galaxy Note. Another thing I noticed is that the speaker sounds better if you step back a few meters and let it fill the whole room. If you stand too close to it (e.g. a meter or less), the stereo sound is rather narrow and directed — the sound feels more natural and wide/rich if you take a couple of steps back.

The bass? It’s incredible considering the size of the speaker. If you place it up against a wall, it’s boomy all the way down to around (I’m guessing) 50 Hz, but below that there’s nothing — definitely no subwoofer magic hiding in this book-sized speaker here, but still impressively deep bass. For certain genres like classical music, this speaker can sound almost as good as my home cinema system (though with a much narrower stereo sound). As I was enjoying some scores by Hans Zimmer (Inception movie soundtrack), I even forgot that I was playing it from the same speaker that I completely dismissed when testing it in the store. If you listen to house or pop, it’s easier to tell that compromises had to be made in order to make the speaker this small — but it still sounds good.

Waking up American style: radio and unhealthy but delicious food.

Let’s get real though: although I was never able to actually test the Samsung DA-E670 and similar systems, I’m pretty sure that those sound better than the tiny portable speaker I ended up buying. It’s just that as I went through this research journey, I started to actually like the idea of being able to bring the speaker with me to more places than just between the bedroom and home office. Case in point: I wrote the bulk of this blog post from a hotel room in San Francisco while listening to Swedish podcasts, thousands of miles from home!

As a side note, this speaker is also what made me decide to get Spotify Premium. As I was listening to music when testing this speaker, I started to really see the benefits of having access to almost all the music in the world. It even works while offline since you can use its download feature to store songs and play them when in flight mode. The combination of this Bose speaker and Spotify has changed the way both my wife and I listen to music and podcasts in very real ways. (The only problem is that I now have to come up with a solution for when at the gym, because using an mp3 player with actual mp3s suddenly feels very old and fiddly — does anyone know of a good Android-based music player that is tiny and lightweight?)

Btw, for those interested in the differences between the BIG Jambox and the Bose Soundlink II, my impression in the store was that the Jambox had a more even/flat EQ curve, while the Bose had slightly weaker treble but richer bass. With richer, I don’t just mean louder — the Bose seems capable of reproducing lower frequencies than the Jambox (i.e. like the Bose gets down to 40 Hz and the Jambox only to something like 60 Hz). The Bose sounded slightly better in my ears. The thing to keep in mind is that the slight loss in treble/clarity of the Bose can be fixed with a small tweak of the EQ of your phone/tablet/computer, but you can never get the same deep bass back in the Jambox since the frequency range just isn’t there. So for me, the choice was very simple, especially since the Bose is also about ten times more attractive (in my very subjective opinion).

The bottom line is that there are two ways of describing the Bose Soundlink II: it’s either OUT OF THIS WORLD, if you consider the small size and design of the speaker — or it’s simply “good enough” as a secondary sound system in your house if you close your eyes and judge it based on sound quality alone. Given the added benefit of portability that this form factor enables and the remarkably sleek design, the Bose Soundlink II really deserves the highest marks.

If you’re still not sure why you need this speaker, check out this awesome video that I found as I was downloading the internet to go through all reviews of it (yes, I’m still 100% a nerd in that sense).

The mobile web is broken — and Firefox OS will fix it

Ten years ago the web was broken, but Mozilla fixed it with Firefox. Today, the mobile web is just as broken — and Mozilla will fix it again with Firefox OS. Read on to learn how.

Monopolies are bad for customers

A common sight in 2003.

Not everyone has been around long enough to remember it, but the web used to be dominated by a single company that dictated most of its terms. Ten years ago, most dynamic websites were built using ActiveX, a technology developed by Microsoft that only worked in Internet Explorer on Windows due to its close ties with the underlying APIs of the operating system. For customers, this meant that in order to use the (then) modern web, you had to use Internet Explorer 6 — and you had to use Windows. Over time, other technologies like Flash and Shockwave eventually replaced the role of ActiveX, and this opened up interoperability across platforms a little bit since those technologies worked on Mac OS as well, but minority OSes like Linux were still in the dark with either non-existent or obsolete versions of these proprietary technologies.

At Mozilla, we saw these problems and understood the importance of cross-platform interoperability and standards on the web. Standards are good for customers, developers, and the whole industry because they promote freedom, choice, and innovation. In Mozilla’s eyes, having one for-profit company continuing to dictate the terms of the web would lead to a very dark future. So we created Firefox.

Mozilla fixed the desktop web with Firefox

Few people believed back in 2003 that an open source web browser built by a tiny non-profit would stand a chance to beat a giant like Microsoft at its own game. The odds were certainly against us — Microsoft’s combined market share exceeded 95% the year before Firefox 1.0 shipped. But we all know the history that followed: Firefox quickly disrupted the monopoly and introduced a kick-ass web browser that focused on users’ needs by creating a truly delightful browsing experience — and more importantly, one that actually followed web standards. This had enormous effects on the web: suddenly developers started to innovate again and created new experiences that no one had seen before (pre-Firefox, innovation on the web was basically limited to figuring out new ways to annoy users with pop-ups and scrolling marquees).

As a result of our success with Firefox, Microsoft woke up from its self-declared hibernation of IE6 and decided to pick up the development of their browser again to catch up on some of the new web standards that developers were now using extensively thanks to Firefox. This pushed the innovation forward even faster because the lowest common denominator on the web (IE) slowly became a browser largely following the latest web standards. It also made it possible for other players to enter the web browsing market. And this is what makes the web as cross-platform compatible as it is today. It’s still not perfect, but the difference since 2003 is dramatic.

coffeeLet’s be clear about this: the reason why you can buy just about any desktop computer or mobile device today and expect websites to work without hick-ups is because Mozilla created Firefox! We take this interoperable web mostly for granted today, but it’s important to remember that just ten years ago, this was a utopia.

Web sites → Apps

Fast forward to today and the landscape and definition of the web has changed. The web is turning mobile and people increasingly use phones, tablets and other mobile devices to get online. But it’s not just the usage of the web that has changed — the web itself is different too. The most notable change is that the majority of the time spent online using mobile devices is happening in native web apps developed specifically for the platform of that particular handset — not on actual web sites viewed through a traditional web browser. For example, instead of going directly to http://www.twitter.com, people download the Twitter app for their phone. In other words, native apps are increasingly becoming the lens through which the web is viewed these days. Why is this? The short answer is historical reasons.

The slightly longer answer: Native apps were faster and more capable than web technologies when smart phones started to become mainstream a few years ago. The web itself didn’t have capabilities like offline storage or technologies optimized to create snappy and app-like user interfaces. Web standards also lacked direct hooks to crucial hardware like the camera and other important parts of the device. (It’s relevant to point out that today’s web technologies do have all of these app-like capabilities; more on that later.)

Duopolies are just as bad

If you consider the issues ten years ago with web sites that only worked on certain platforms, you begin to see the connection with today’s mobile web apps that only work on certain mobile platforms. Today’s situation isn’t any better than the monopoly we were facing on the desktop before Firefox came along.

For customers, these isolated vertical silos mean limited choice and freedom, because you can’t easily switch from one platform to the other without a lot of headache and changed workflows. For example, if you’re used to the iPhone and have purchased a bunch of apps for it, you will basically have to start from scratch if you decide to switch to an Android-powered phone. There might be some overlap, but there will no doubt be a handful of apps that you simply won’t be able to use anymore. And you’ll most likely have to pay for many apps again. This sucks. It’s a bit like not being able to access certain websites just because you switched to a different operating system. Déjà vu anyone?

Example of how the apps world is scattered and incompatible today.

Example of how the apps world is scattered and incompatible today.

For developers, the situation is a nightmare, since you have to almost double the development resources to reach most of your customers. And with Tizen and Windows Phone and other mobile OSes lined up and eager to get their own share of this old vertical silo landscape, it’s easy to see how this way of doing business on the mobile web isn’t financially viable for anyone but the largest app development houses. Who wants to develop an app five times?

And customers will of course continue to suffer just as much in this scattered model (“when is Spotify coming to Windows Phone?” and “Why doesn’t Instagram have the same art filters on Android and iOS?”).

Mozilla will fix the mobile web with Firefox OS

Enter Firefox OS. The whole idea with Firefox OS is to make the web itself the platform not just for traditional web sites, but for apps as well.  Apps are the new lens through which the web is mostly used on mobile devices today — and the new, modern html5-based web is more than ready to power it.

Crucially, Mozilla isn’t trying to create its own new silo — the goal is to demonstrate that the web itself is capable of powering apps on all platforms, and to bring web platform interoperability to the mobile apps world. This will disrupt the whole industry for the benefit of both customers and developers, and it will bring the same benefits to the mobile web that Firefox brought to the desktop web: freedom, choice, and innovation. Case in point: today you can choose between many modern browsers on the desktop: Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and IE — and you don’t have to worry about whether your favorite web sites will work or not. Firefox made that possible. And that’s exactly the future we are building for the mobile web with Firefox OS!

What does this mean for developers? Imagine writing an app once and immediately having it running on all major and minor mobile platforms. If you write your app using web standards like html5, that’s a possibility. The cost savings will be enormous.

What does it mean for customers? Imagine a world where you truly own the apps you’ve purchased and where you have the freedom to choose any mobile platform and even switch between them over time — and take all your apps with you wherever you go. You might start with an Android device in 2012, then switch to a Firefox OS device in 2013, and perhaps you want to try iPhone 7 in 2015 (only to dump it in favor of Firefox OS again in 2016). Regardless of your choice, your apps will follow along with you and work just as well on all of these devices. Sounds like utopia? Déjà vu anyone?

fxosphone

This is why I’m so excited about what Mozilla is doing right now to disrupt the web and open it up once more. We did the impossible ten years ago, and we’re ready to do it again.

And the best part of it all is that if Mozilla wins, everybody wins!

SUMO in 2013: Summary

This is the final part of the SUMO in 2013 blog post series — let’s wrap up:

If you read all previous posts, you probably noticed a few overarching themes throughout the series: Mobilization, Advocacy, and Scale.

Mobilization

With mobilization, I mean it in a non-traditional sense of the word: the web is becoming increasingly mobile, and this shift changes our efforts to support our users. We need to become mobile — we need to mobilize!

The Swedish term for a portable music player was -- freestyle!

The Swedish term for a portable music player was — freestyle!

I’m extremely excited about our plans to create a mobile support experience that no one has built before. Mozilla Support is already insanely cool to use from your mobile phone, but just imagine how awesome it will be once we hook it into your phone’s notification system and utilize some of the new web APIs we’ve worked on as part of making the web itself the app platform for Firefox OS (and, long-term, for apps across all major mobile platforms). With the direction the web itself is taking through efforts like Firefox OS, the opportunities to create awesome experiences are only limited by your imagination.

The closest comparison to what is happening with the web today that I can think of is the introduction of the Sony Walkman in 1979, which revolutionized the way people listened to music. SUMO is heading in the same direction and this will bring lots of new opportunities to help fellow Firefox users no matter where you are — and the karma this will give you will feel more rewarding than listening to your favorite mixtape!

Advocacy 

Over the years, we’ve gotten better and better at distilling user feedback from our support channels and reporting it to engineering and QA so they can prioritize their work on fixing the most annoying bugs our users complain about. Cheng played a huge role in kickstarting our efforts already back in 2008, and today we have a dedicated team responsible for this work. In 2013, we’ll institutionalize User Advocacy and partner even more closely with Product Management, UX, Engineering and QA to deliver on Mozilla’s brand promise: Firefox answers to no one but you.

We’ve already built in hooks to Input in Firefox OS so we can ensure high quality user sentiment and feedback reporting for the first handsets once we launch. Of course, our user advocacy efforts will go beyond our internal feedback tools — we’ll also be monitoring press, blogs, forums and social media throughout the product launch to make sure we aren’t missing anything. Our goal here is the same with Firefox OS as it’s been for desktop and Android Firefox: to proactively support our users by making our products better.

Scale

This is the glue that will tie it all together — at the end of 2013, our hope is that we’ll be able to look back at a year with significant community growth and where contributions went from just something you could do in front of your computer to something you could do anywhere you are as long as you have your phone with you.

SUMO staff, summer 2012.

We have awesome people in the SUMO community already — people like Alice, feer56, Scoobi, cor-el, Satdav, madperson, iamjayakumars, jscher2000, Tobbi, underpass, Swarnawa, smo, Nukeador, michro, and many many more (this is really just a sample of our incredibly passionate community!). At the end of 2013, I hope that these people will have taken even more ownership in their various areas of our support efforts — and I hope I’ll be able to list even crazier and impossible to pronounce forum nicknames for new people who joined our community this year!

As part of our quest to grow our community, we need to challenge our assumptions and traditions and be open to completely new processes and community governance models to scale our work to Mozilla’s growing product line. I’m envisioning a community where hundreds of people around the world help with everything from writing support articles that are read by tens of thousands of users, to helping users directly where our users are — the forum, social media, and in person. While I’m incredibly proud of the community we’ve been able to build so far around SUMO, I know we can do more.

Screen Shot 2013-02-15 at 15.46.20

SUMO superhero and his butler — awesome artwork by Sean Martell.

Thanks for reading thus far. If you haven’t already, please join our community and help us shape the future of the mobile web, get more involved with Mozilla, and help our users! It’s dead simple, fun, and can take as little as a few minutes to make an impact to thousands of people around the world.

Congrats, you made it to the end of the blog series about our Mozilla Support goals in 2013!

SUMO in 2013: Firefox OS

You’re reading the second part of the SUMO in 2013 blog series, and this time the focus is Firefox OS!

  • Part 1: Delight our users
  • Part 2: Firefox OS — you’re reading this one right now!
  • Part 3: Firefox Desktop
  • Part 4: Firefox Android
  • Part 5: Summary

So what exactly is Firefox OS? From mozilla.org:

Firefox OS will produce an implementation of new Web standards to free mobile platforms from the encumbrances of the rules and restrictions of existing proprietary platforms.

We’re collaborating with OEMs and carriers directly, giving them more influence to meet the specific needs of their users and market. Users and developers aren’t locked in to one platform, so they can access their info and use apps across multiple devices.

Developers will no longer need to learn and develop against platform-specific native APIs. [...] Consumers who use devices powered by Firefox OS won’t be locked into one specific platform giving them more choice, flexibility and freedom. With Firefox OS, the Web is the platform.

Create best-in-class mobile support experience for Firefox OS v1 launch

firefox-phone2013 is going to be an incredible year for Mozilla since it will be the year when Firefox OS and the open mobile web get into the hands of users around the world. At SUMO, we’re working hard to prepare for this and to ensure we’re ready to support users if they run into any problems.

However, some things will be a little different for us compared to how we’re supporting Firefox users. These Firefox OS phones will be sold in brick and mortar stores, and the user will have actually paid with real money for it. This raises the bar of the kind of support they expect for their device, and we need to be prepared for that.

Partner with carriers & OEMs

Luckily, we’re not the only ones who care deeply about Firefox OS users — since the phones will be sold in stores, we will rely on our partners for the first line of defense in supporting Firefox OS. This is a great start, but we still need to make sure that those who do come to our site get the best possible answers to their questions.

We also want to make sure that our partners have the best possible support material for our product so they can delight their customers just as much as we will. This means we’ll be working on delivering high-quality support documentation and training material as part of writing our knowledge base articles for users. In fact, we’ve already started and would love to see you join the efforts! Contributing to SUMO is a great way to influence the future of Firefox OS and to be a part of this brand new mobile phone experience.

Build localized support forums and communities and supply them with needed tools

Our support forum platform view from a mobile device.

For local communities who don’t already have a support forum and are ready to support Firefox OS users, we will be building the foundations to support localized forums on support.mozilla.org itself. This is actually something we’ve wanted to offer for a long time, so it’s very exciting that it will finally become a reality for the local communities who need it! Note that this foundation will also work for all of our other products like Firefox, but we’re building this primarily to support the Firefox OS v1 launch.

Another thing we did last year in preparation for the Firefox OS launch was to redesign the forum interface to look awesome on small screens. You can check this out today by navigating to support.mozilla.org/questions from your mobile phone.

Ensure excellent first impression by answering all user questions during our initial launch

You only have one chance to give a first impression, and we want ours to be an excellent one. We’ll be making sure that everyone gets an answer to their questions on SUMO, regardless of whether they found our site directly when searching online, or if they were sent our way by our partners.

We’re collaborating with our local communities such as Mozilla Hispano to ensure that we’re all ready for this big launch. Mozilla Hispano have done an amazing job already with preparing their community and website, and they’re just as excited about the launch as we are.

Expand our support offerings to include third-party Apps developers

UI Tests for Firefox OS (by tuuux)

The beauty of Firefox OS is that the platform used to run native apps on it is the web itself, completely unencumbered. This is huge for developers, because it means all they need to know in order to write apps for Firefox OS are the same skills they use to write websites: html5, javascript, and a bit of css. In fact, many developers already write mobile apps using these technologies on other proprietary mobile OS platforms like Android and iOS to make their apps work cross-platform. So the learning curve for developers to include support for Firefox OS will essentially be zero, because with Firefox OS, the web is the platform.

That doesn’t mean that no developer will ever need support, so we will be joining forces with the Developer Engagement team and implement a solution for those needs. This includes both administrative and purely development-related support.

That was an overview of what we’re working on this year around Firefox OS support. It’s all very exciting! In the next part of the series, I’ll present our goals for Firefox on the desktop. Stay tuned for more…

My mobile and desktop browsing habits are very different things

Browsing habits are the kind of things that gradually change over time without you even realizing it. If you look back a year ago, I’m sure some of the most visited websites today weren’t even on the top 20 list then. An obvious example is that quarterly goals page from Q3 2011 that you visited every day for a full quarter, and then suddenly never looked at again.

What’s even more interesting for me is how my mobile browsing habits have gradually changed into something very different from my desktop browsing habits. A couple of years ago, I used to visit roughly the same sites on both devices, but over time I found myself visiting some websites more from my mobile, and other websites more from my desktop computer.

Today, the separation is very clear: I almost exclusively use my desktop computer for work-related browsing (wikis, Etherpads, calendars, reports, etc), and I use my mobile phone mostly for casual browsing (news, social media, tech, blogs, etc). Another separation along the same lines is that I mostly use my desktop computer to write, and I use my mobile phone to read.

This actually makes me a little torn about the Firefox Sync implementation on Android today. On the one hand, I absolutely love the fact that I can have convenient access to all pages I visit on the desktop, and I simply can’t live without the pre-filled passwords. But on the other hand, I’m not sure I’m too crazy about the fact that all of those “Top Sites” are mixed together the way they are on the Awesome Screen. At the end of the day, I find it distracting to see ten different flavors of https://mail.mozilla.com/zimbra/#%5Binsert number here], or twenty different Etherpads or wiki pages all mixed up with the handful of sites that I actually do want to visit from my phone.

This is one of the things that I like about the stock Android browser on my Samsung Galaxy Note: it allows me to define exactly how I want the top bookmarks to look like, even in which order they should appear in the thumbnail grid.

Stock browser's bookmarks grid -- pardon the Swedish and poor reading taste.

Some things that would make my use of Firefox on Android feel more awesome:

  • An intuitive, quick way of arranging my top sites and bookmarks and ensure duplicates aren’t bubbling up at the top.
  • An option to view the top sites as a thumbnail grid instead of a list.
  • An option (or simply changed default) to not show the soft keyboard until you hit the text field again — I just want to click the top site rather than type on the keyboard.

Firefox Awesome Screen

All this said, I don’t know what I’d do without Firefox Sync. It really enables me to accomplish stuff on my phone that I previously had to use my desktop computer for. The only downside, I suppose, is that it also makes it that much easier to switch your mind back into work mode after stumbling on that interesting report, or Etherpad, or wiki page that you’re not supposed to read when trying to wind down after a long workday… :)