Weekend Tech Scan: Time to look at Windows phones

Interesting developments in smartphones, shopping apps, "cutting the cord" and reading, yes, real books.

Crosscut archive image.

Microsoft's Windows Phone is winning fans. This is a Samsung model using the Microsoft operating system.

Interesting developments in smartphones, shopping apps, "cutting the cord" and reading, yes, real books.

For more than a year, virtually every cell phone discussion in these pages has been about phones built on either Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android format.  It’s time, however, for me to start expanding these conversations to include hardware and software for Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.5. 

After spending significant hands-on time with an HTC Titan smartphone, on loan from AT&T’s Seattle PR office, attending the CES electronics show in Las Vegas, and speaking to savvy tech watchers in and out of Microsoft, I’m convinced that the Big Two in smartphones has a good chance of expanding to the Big Three.  There's no question that Windows Phones are far behind the competitors, but this is Microsoft, and Microsoft is known for creating several versions of a given product until it gets it right.  

I’m not alone in my belief. No less than Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, recently noted in reference to the cell phone marketplace, "There's a horse in Redmond that always suits up and always runs, and will keep running."

Putting my money where my mouth is, I plan to purchase a Windows Phone, adding it to my cell phone arsenal that currently includes a 3GS iPhone and Motorola Droid Bionic Android phone.  I’ll wait until a model capable of handling 4G LTE cellular network speeds becomes available, but I’ve moved it from “well, maybe” to “gotta have” on my technology shopping list. 

I’ll have more to say in coming weeks, but from here forward, I’ll attempt to include Windows Phone technology where appropriate.

Speaking of which . . . ShopSavvy 5, available for iPhones, Android and Windows Phone smartphones, just announced it has a service called SavvyListings, which lets mobile phone users sell products directly to other mobile phone users.  Call it Craig’s List on steroids.

I tried it out on both my Android and iPhone — the function isn’t yet available for Windows Phones but should be available shortly.   My test subject was a boxed Canon Vixia HF G10, a camcorder selling anywhere from $1,100 to $1,500.  (Weirdly, the first price that came up on both phones was $149 but that was a fluke; other price listings were more accurate.)  I scanned in the bar code; the software immediately recognized it, and it offered me the option of selling the camcorder with a suggested price ($880) and four descriptions of the camera's condition including “gently used.”

Prospective buyers would see the listing in the app's search results, then would email me to set up a meeting.  All very simple.  If you don't have a bar code, you can look up a keyword for your product, then list it on the app's "savvy listings."

The app has several functions.  As a shopping aid, scanning in a bar code on most consumer products will give you comparative pricing.  For example, we’re fond at home of Ocean Spray Light Cranberry/Grape Juice, a product currently selling at our local QFC for close to $4; ShopSavvy tells me it’s available at eight online stores for $2.98, and in two local stores for $2.84.

Other services include long lists of deals in categories ranging from coupons and computers to groceries and women’s apparel.  It also serves as an electronic wallet: you see an item via the app, and you can buy it directly from the app with a credit card you list on the app.

ShopSavvy is far from the only app shopping service—look for “grocery” in any app store and you'll see a slew of them — but ShopSavvy appears to be one of the best provisioned apps around.  The company claims it has partnerships with more than 40,000 retailers including Seattle’s Nordstrom Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Sears, and Barnes & Noble.

Onto other news  . . . The “cutting the cord” movement continues: this time from a set top box company called Boxee.  Boxee is the Rodney Dangerfield of set top boxes, a lesser-known competitor to Roku, Apple, and Google TV devices.

It sports a new eyecatching feature that is sure to attract attention from strapped consumers: the ability to add live network television stations to your TV in standard-definition or HDTV with Boxee content. 

The Boxee TV Tuner, a USB device ($49) plugs into your Boxee box, which connects in turn to either an outdoor or indoor HDTV antenna.  That means you can watch KIRO, KING, KOMO, KCTS, and KCPQ free in HD without cable, and still enjoy all the other services offered by Boxee including Netflix, Pandora and other Internet/TV outlets.

The basic Boxee box is $179, and gives you access to some TV shows carried on Internet channels, access to various Internet sites, and a variety of social network sites including Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.  Once you’ve paid for the box, and worked on your antenna installation, you’ve got a pretty decent TV entertainment setup.  You will need, of course, broadband Internet WiFi service to your home for Boxee.

If you’re not philosophically opposed to cable, check with your local cable company for basic cable package tiers that will give you some cable channels but at reasonable prices.  At Comcast, for example, a package with some basic cable channels such as Lifetime, Disney, CNN, Fox News, and others costs $29.95 a month.

The TV plug-in is a nice addition, but if you’re looking to record your programs, as you can with a digital video recorder, Boxee doesn’t have a port to add on a recorder — at least not yet.

Finally, for you book readers who really are not fond of technology — but have read this far — take heart: book-reading from actual books is far from dead. In fact (or factoid), 74 percent of book buyers have never bought an eBook, though 14 percent of these people own either a tablet or an eReader.  According to Kelly Gallagher, VP, publishing services at R.R. Bowker, the book services company,  who recently presented his research to the Digital Book World conference in New York, “They may have gotten them as a gift, but haven’t used them yet.” The prersentation was discussed in the eBook Browser blog. 

Gallagher also noted that eBook sales vary across genre, according to a fall, 2011 survey, with fiction comprising 26 percent of ebook sales. Cookbooks, on the other hand, earned only 3 percent of book sales.

And who are these readers? Mostly power readers: roughly a third of all buyers who buy about 4 books a month.

Readers like you, perhaps?


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