Category Archives: General

The Case for OneNote on Your Smartphone

OneNote is a tool for taking notes. It is called OneNote because it allows you to keep all your notes in One place. If your notes are stored on OneDrive (which is the default) in the Cloud, you can access your notes from anywhere and using any computer, tablet or smartphone.

OneNote comes in several versions: OneNote 2016 for desktops, a OneNote app for tablets, and OneNote for smartphones. You can also access your notes using browser-based version of OneNote using the onenote.com website.

In this article, we will discuss why OneNote on your smartphone is an ideal tool for note taking.

Strength in Weakness

OneNote Desktop is a very powerful, complex program with many features. By contrast, the tablet version has fewer features, and OneNote on the smartphone has quite a limited set of features. That exactly is its strength!

That must be a handicap surely? Well no, 90% of note taking requires only 10% of OneNote’s features. You guessed it—those are the ones included in your smartphone’s OneNote. That makes OneNote ideal for note taking on your phone—there are no complex features to get in your way.

Add to that you are not likely to always carry your desktop or laptop with you, but you are likely to have your smartphone close at hand.

The Notebook Metaphor

If you are going to put all your notes in one place, you better have a way of organizing them. OneNote uses the traditional notebook as its metaphor for organizing notes.

A Traditional notebook

The notebook is divided into sections using coloured tabs. Each section can have as many pages as you like.

Your notes, obviously, are placed on pages. Each page has a title so that you can see at a glance what the notes are about that you put on that page.

When you create a note, OneNote automatically places the note in a container. You can place the container anywhere on the page that makes sense to you.

What Are Notes?

Notes are things you jot down so that you can remember later. When does one take notes?

  1. When you are thinking creatively
    • brainstorming
  2. When planning
    • Planning a project, a book, a vacation, a course
  3. General things you need to remember
    • Lists (shopping, books to read, movies to watch, things to do), passwords, expenses, bank accounts, how to instructions, etc.
  4. Doing research
    • Genealogy, assignments, reports, documentaries
  5. Remembering what was said
    • Meetings, lectures, church services
  6. Events
    • Tradeshows, exhibitions, accidents, news events, demonstrations, press conferences, etc.

Once you are familiar with OneNote, you will probably come up with novel applications of OneNote not listed here—and that’s ok too.

Generally, notes are for your benefit. They do not have to be perfect prose or even full sentences—as long as they help you to remember your thoughts and where o access information sources referred to.

The missing link

When creating notes, one often needs to refer to information in other documents or websites. Rather than repeating the entire document in your note, you simply provide a link to the document. All that is needed is to title the page and add a few lines of text why the document is important or relevant.

Many programs have Share option. When you choose Share with OneNote as the destination, this will generate a link to the information in OneNote, either as a new page or added as a note to an existing page.

Remember, OneNote was not intended for creating documents. For example, when you are doing research for your new book, you keep your notes in OneNote, but you lay out your book in Word or InDesign. Your notes would include things like the list of characters, sample copyright statements, the story out line, etc.

Smartphone Advantages

We now know that OneNote on a smartphone has a limited set of features compared to the desktop version. But it also has some unique advantages.

  1. So, you have a very creative brainstorming session with a friend or colleague. Now you have all these scribbles on a white board or Starbucks serviette. No problem—you can simply take a photo and it goes right into OneNote.
  2. No time to stop and take notes? Again, you can use your phone’s voice recorder.
  3. Is a procedure or demonstration complicated? Use your phone’s camera to record a video.
  4. You can view and edit notes almost anywhere, even if they were created in one of the other versions of OneNote.

A Caveat

Many people don’t like to type on a smartphone. However, typing is an essential part of note taking. There are three solutions for this:

  1. Use the WordFlow feature of the on-screen virtual keyboard. It needs practice, but if you persist, you will soon be able to type as fast as a traditional keyboard. There are many videos on YouTube that will show you how.
  2. Use a foldable Bluetooth keyboard. They are small and take up little space.
  3. If needed, you can use your earbuds’ microphone with your phone’s dictate tool.

Conclusion

  1. Although OneNote on a smartphone has fewer features than the desktop version, it has all the tools necessary for effective note taking.
  2. Your smartphone has the additional advantage that it is always available.
  3. Features unique to smartphones allow for ways of note taking not possible with other devices.

So yes, your smartphone and OneNote should be an essential part of your note taking workflow.

Thank You Microsoft

My Lumia 950

I would like to take a moment to personally thank the team at Microsoft for giving us the wonderful Windows phone!

My first phone was a Lumia 620—it taught me what a smartphone was. Then I got the fantastic 830 which was amazingly powerful and allowed me to do so much more.

For the last while I have been using the brilliant Lumia 950. With its elegant design, it turns heads in Starbucks: “What is that old lady doing with that neat phone, wonder what it is?” I love showing it off!

Yes, I am a senior with shaky hands (thanks to WordFlow I am able to “type” quite fast). I heard rumours that Microsoft is going to discontinue Windows phones. If there is a business reason for that, I’ll understand and it’s OK. However, I need to tell you what an important part the beautiful Lumia 950 plays in my life.

With my phone, I stay in touch with family and friends by SMS, email and Facebook. As a senior, the one thing I have lots of is time. I fill it with the Lumia in many ways. I have been learning a new language, imagine at my age, using Duolingo. Of course, I read a lot with the Kindle app—I like how I can adjust the size of the text. A confession, I like to relax by watching movies on Netflix, and I can adjust the volume of the headphones without bothering anyone else.

Then there are the mundane things like checking the weather, finding out when the next bus is due at my stop (I have a tile for that), adding doctor’s appointments in the calendar (my memory is not so good anymore). Shopping online is wonderful.

I like how easy the phone is to use, and how I can set up the start screen with large tiles for the things I use. I deeply appreciate the attention to detail that has gone into building this wonderful phone and software.

So, thank you Microsoft!

Continuum Projects

In a previous post discussing computers for seniors, I had suggested three options: 1) a desktop computer, 2) a laptop, and 3) a smartphone.

Then I stated that if I had limited funds and could only afford one of the three choices I would choose the smartphone. I backed that up by creating a series of courses on how to use your smartphone for leisure and work.

Enter Continuum
I have since upgraded my phone to Lumia 950 and with that got the Continuum feature as part of Windows 10. Continuum allows you to connect your phone to a large display (either a TV or computer monitor) as shown in Microsoft’s promotional video below:

The video shows the husband connecting his phone to a monitor to work, and then still being able to use his phone as a phone. In the mean time the wife, on business, walks into her hotel room, connects her phone to the hotel’s TV to work on an Excel spreadsheet. Once back home they enjoy a video on the living room TV.

It is clearly easier than working on the smaller phone screen. But it is a promo video – is it really practical?

Practical Continuum
There are many articles and videos on the internet discussing the merits of Continuum but very little on how to actually use it in real life.

With that in mind I have developed a series of online courses, Practical Continuum, to show what you can achieve with a Windows phone and Continuum. These cover formatting a Word document complete with images and table, managing local and online files with File Explorer, and many more.

A Challenge
I am very excited about these courses—they really show how much one can do with a Windows phone!

There is a technical challenge that I have yet to overcome. It turns out to be difficult to video the monitor screen so that the resolution is high enough to read the text, and not have the screen flicker in the video. If anyone has suggestions, please let me know.

Make Good Videos with Your Windows Phone

Whether you have a Windows, Android or iOS phone, it does not matter—you can make good videos with them. Smartphones can be used for making videos for both business and pleasure. In fact, full-length feature films have been shot entirely on smartphones.

Olive (shot on a Nokia phone)

In this post, I am going to discuss briefly what it takes to make good videos with your smartphone and how you can start.

Your smartphone is smart enough to make it easy to shoot high definition video footage, point your phone and press record. But that alone does not a good video make. Hence the title of this post, one makes good video—shooting the video footage is only a part of it.

The key

Good lighting and good sound are important, for sure. But the key to good video is having a story. You have to put your video footage together during editing in such a way that it tells an effective story. And you need to know what the story is going to be so that you will know what video footage to shoot.

The bottom line is, yes, your smartphone can cut it but there is a learning curve! The good news is that learning how to make good video with your smartphone is fun and free. Aim to shoot and edit a video each week. In the beginning most will be awful—remember the only way of getting experience is by going out and doing it.

Resources

There are excellent smartphone videography courses online:
• www.lynda.com
www.thevj.com
www.tutsplus.com

A must-read book is How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck by Steve Stockman – available from Amazon.

Whether you need to make promotional videos for your business or shoot your child’s birthday party, knowing how to make good video with your smartphone is a powerful skill to have.


Making Good Videos with a Windows Phone

What I’d Like in an Ideal Windows Phone

The Lumia 950
The Lumia 950

In a recent article by Jason Ward, he posed a rhetorical question: “what does the perfect Windows Phone look like?”

The many comments the article received, reflect the varying requirements and preferences of the readers. Clearly there is not a single ideal phone that would suit everyone.

In the final analysis, they all look pretty much the same, right? As long as they do the job.

It is hard to cover the subject adequately in a short post comment. In this rather long post, I will express my thoughts on the matter.

My History

I have owned three Lumia phones: a 620, 830 and now a 950. The first two I bought because that was all I could get in Canada. I really liked the size of the 620 – it was with it that I learned what a smartphone could do. I was excited to learn that I could actually browse the web, and send emails and texts.

After a while I bought the Lumia 830 and was pleasantly surprised how much faster and more fluid it was – the 1GB of memory and newer processor made a difference. While I was happy with the 620, I was now much happier. With the better phone, I discovered I could do Netflix and read Kindle books; I was now a very happy camper. And I really liked the design of the phone, although the relatively sharp edges can become painful when holding the phone for long periods.

I did not need another phone, I was happy with the 830. But it did not have Continuum, which I did not really need anyway. Then Microsoft had a huge discount on the 950 and included the dock for free! So, I succumbed to the temptation and bought it. That was really a good move. Compared to the 830, this phone was even faster and smoother, a real joy to use! And Continuum turned out to be really useful – just ask my senior citizen eyes.

The Ideal Phone

So, what would the ideal windows phone look like? For me, the 950 is pretty close to it size and performance-wise. But I recognize that some people might prefer a smaller phone. Therefore, the phone has to come in several sizes. The 950 case design works for me as it is easy on the hands and allows for the battery to be replaced which is a huge advantage. I did like the looks of the 830 at first but the plastic 950 case is more practical and still looks professional.

While I think that the 950 is more than powerful enough for my needs now, experience tells me that more memory and a faster processor would be appreciated provided that the cost is still reasonable.

I believe that the camera is an important part of the ideal phone, both for business and pleasure use. A Zeiss lens and optical stabilization is essential. Being able to use an external microphone during video shoots is key (this is both a hardware and software issue). The front facing camera is used for more than just selfies so it should also be high quality.

Front-facing stereo speakers would be nice, though not essential, as long as the headphone drivers are good.

Software

Software is not really part of the phone but the operating system and core apps do determine the functionality of the phone.

Overall, I find Windows 10 mobile very nice. However, I would like to see the promised improvements in Continuum. In particular, it would be useful to have windowing and more features for the Office apps such as table of contents in Word for example.

In many ways, the native camera app is very good. I would like to see monitoring and manual adjustment of audio levels for video work added, as well as an option to select either internal or external microphones.

Part of the “ideal windows phone” would be for Microsoft to use its resources to 1) enhance marketing, 2) encourage third party app development, and 3) provide real technical support. This would be the subject of a separate post.

In Summary

While it would be presumptuous to tell Microsoft what to do. I believe they should still cater for the consumer on a budget though. I would like to see an affordable phone similar to the 830 but with more memory and a bit faster processor for around $200. This must be capable of running Continuum.

Next level up I would like to see a 2017 version of the 950 series (970?) with an 835 processor, and optionally capable of 4/6K ram and running Windows 10 Mobile Creators Update. This should still be “affordable” i.e. in the $400 – $600 range depending on options selected.

Like most people, I think incrementally and find it hard to imagine a new category of device like the rumored surface, phablet-sized, phone with foldable screen and what not. Maybe once I have one, I will again discover why it is useful as I had with each upgrade of my old phones. That said, I feel that a smaller but powerful 970 phone, with Continuum for when I need to work more productively, is the best of both worlds.

Rainy Days Are Here

It is autumn and the dreary rainy days are upon us. What can you do? Go for a walk, “just singing in the rain? That gets old quickly. Fortunately, your smartphone can come to the rescue!

In this post I will describe just three ways of how your smartphone can take the dreary out of rainy days.

Learn a Language

My first suggestion is to learn a new language. What, that is hard work you’d say! Not so. With the Duolingo service  – it is not only easy, it is fun and free.

So maybe your neighbours all speak Polish, or your company is starting a branch in Turkey. Or perhaps Greek or Hebrew tickle your fancy—whatever, Duolingo has a course for you.

So take your brolley and smartphone, and head off to Starbucks. Over a large latte you can forget about the rain while you immerse yourself in your new language.

When spring comes you’ll be chatting with your neighbours—in Polish.

Read a Book

My second suggestion is rather traditional—read a book, but with a difference. Amazon has millions of eBooks in their Kindle library. With a free Kindle reader app on your phone you can literally carry dozens of books with you, right on your phone.

Personally, I like to curl up on my couch with a murder mystery. But perhaps romance or a historical novel is more up your street—Amazon will have something for you, either free or for just a few dollars.

The beauty is that you can whip out your phone wherever and carry on reading where you left off. This can be at the doctor, while you wait at the bus stop, or at your favourite coffee shop. Rain, what rain?

Edit Your Photos

Summer is over, now is the time to edit those photos. Creating good graphics is a valuable skill to have, whether it is an illustration for a report or presentation, or just tweaking photos for your scrapbook. You will be surprised what you can create with the powerful PicsArt app!

Doing all those fancy photo edits is difficult, right? It can be, but PicsArt have you covered. On their website they have many step-by-step video tutorials arranged from Easy to Advanced. You will be amazed how quickly the rainy day hours go by while you learn how to do fancy edits with your phone.

So spend a little time each day with PicsArt and, when spring comes, you’ll be quite an expert phone graphic artist!

In Summary

These three, quite different smartphone suggestions, will help you chase the rainy day blues away. In fact the graphic at the top of the post was inspired by a recent spell of rainy days, and was create on my phone with PicsArt.

You don’t have to do just one of these, you can do all three – I do.

The Future is Continuum

I just had an unexpected “ah ha” moment. It was particularly unexpected as I was not looking for it. It started with a post on computers for seniors.
In this post I will describe how I came to believe that continuum is the future of smartphones.

What is Continuum?
Continuum can mean different things at different levels. At one level it means your Windows experience is the same no matter which size of device you are working on as the code is the same. On another level it means if you connect your phone to a large monitor, the display adapts accordingly (see Microsoft’s explanation here…)

I think this video of Jamie Ramsay illustrates it well:

My Experience
No, I have not actually used continuum. My old Lumia 830, even though it runs Windows 10, its hardware is not continuum-capable, however…
A while back in a post on computers for seniors I stated that if I could only afford one device it would be my Lumia smartphone! I was already using my Lumia extensively but then set about creating a series of online courses to formalize what I knew. The result is a spectrum of courses covering both everyday fun stuff as well as work-related stuff.

For the sake of completeness, I added a Bluetooth keyboard to make entering lots of text in Word easier. I was surprised how well it worked. Then for the Excel course I added a Bluetooth mouse and again I was pleasantly surprised.

At the end of the PowerPoint course, I felt I needed to show how one would actually do the presentation. For that I got a wireless display adapter for a large monitor.

It was then that it hit me—even though my Lumia 830 is a very basic smartphone by today’s standards, I was actually using it in “continuum” mode, and I liked it!

The Future
As manufacturers become more acquainted with continuum, I can imagine a range of accessories and services becoming available for continuum-ready phones. At the same time the corresponding continuum-ready programs will become more prevalent.

I have seen that I can be entirely productive with just my Lumia 830 on its own. Adding the Bluetooth accessories, when needed, enhanced what I could do.

New Smartphone Courses

After my comment in a recent post, that if I had to limit myself to just one device, I would choose my smartphone – I decided to create  courses for my smartphone.

notaphone
It does not look like a phone because it isn’t

The starting point was that a smartphone was not really a phone but indeed a portable personal computer, that can also take photos.

The difficulty

When I started planning for these courses, I soon discovered just how difficult it was to videotape a smartphone screen successfully!

If the focus is not spot on, then the text on the Lumia screen becomes blurry. Add to that reflections on the Lumia screen and that my head accidentally getting in the way of the camcorder.

The Solution

Fortunately, I found a better way. Microsoft has created a marvelous desktop program: Project My Screen. This program allows one to mirror what is on the Lumia screen on the desktop screen.

100_0726w

100_0717wAs the photo shows, the Lumia is plugged into the desktop USB port and its screen is mirrored on the desktop monitor.

Not only that, I can operate the Lumia normally using my finger and the desktop monitor follows. Also, I can use the desktop mouse on the monitor and the Lumia follows!

Now I can use my regular screen capture program (Camtasia) on the desktop to record the course videos—the result is clear text, no reflections and my head never getting into the video.

It is still a lot of work but it does open all kinds of possibilities as I believe smartphones will play an increasingly important role in every day business and play.

New Courses

So far I have developed two courses:

The first is an introductory course intended to give a sense of what is possible, while the second course covers a rather specific application for smartphones.

The thing that amazed me most was what could be achieved with the Lumia 830. A few years back it was an “affordable flagship” but by current standards it is more an entry-level phone.

 

The Smartphone Miracle

lumia 830 The phone that I use, is the Lumia 830. At its release Microsoft billed it as an “affordable flagship”. It was actually quite expensive but I closed my eyes and bought it—it was the only Windows flagship available in Canada at the time. Over time I learned what Microsoft has packed into to the phone, I was surprised that they could sell it for the price they did.

In this post we will look at what goes in to make a smartphone and why I think it is actually a technical miracle.

Under the Hood
Let’s look at the main components of the phone. As the diagram below shows, it is essentially the same as any computer.

underthehood

If we take a look at the specifications on the Microsoft site, we see that the main memory is 1GB, the microprocessor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, and the main storage is 16GB.

Your operating system, Windows 10 in this case, as well as all your programs (called apps in mobile world) are stored in the C drive which is a solid state drive so it is fast and has no moving parts.

What is really amazing is what is packed into this small device. A quick look at the specs tells us that we have a graphics processor, global positioning (GPS), magnetometer, accelerometer, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, antennae for cell phone, Wi-Fi, Blue Tooth, a main camera with Zeiss lens and optical stabilization, an FM radio, noise cancelling microphones, and more.  In our diagram these are collectively represented by the Hardware Connections box.

Many of these components are included on the microprocessor chip, which is why it is called a SoC or system on a chip.

The most obvious hardware component is the high definition Corning Gorilla Glass display, which has 24bit true colour and a pixel density of almost 300 pixels per inch.

How It Works
When you turn your phone on, the essential core Windows modules are loaded into the main memory. The phone then displays the Start Screen. The icons on the Start Screen represents the programs (apps) you use most often. You can customize the Start Screen to suit your particular needs.

When you tap on an icon on the Start Screen, the corresponding app, is loaded into main memory and the microprocessor executes it. The program will talk to and activate the hardware components as needed.

For example, when you select the Phone app, the microphone and small speaker are activated, allowing you to speak and listen to the phone conversation.

Multitasking
You can load several apps into memory but because the main memory is only 1GB, only one app is active at a time. Open but inactive apps take up very little memory as only the essential information is stored. You can switch to the other open apps quite easily. The phone simply deactivates the current app, and loads the new app back into memory from the C drive.

So the main memory has the core Windows components, your selected app, and any data it uses. You can set the phone to store the data on the SD card (D drive). This is particularly helpful for big files like photos and videos. On my phone I have a 32GB card.

A Trade-off
When you put all these things into a smartphone, you still need to leave some space for a battery. The Lumia has a 2200 mAh battery which is adequate but does not last long when doing power intensive tasks like watching videos. The phone allows for wireless charging which is useful.

So the Miracle?
What I find a true miracle is that one gets a full PC in such a small 140mm package that can run full-featured programs, and then it can still do all the other things like shoot photos and videos, make phone calls, send text messages and emails, listen to music, and browse the web!

For more information, visit previous posts on the Lumia:

Why Choose a Windows Phone?

lumia650
The Lumia 650, the current replacement of my first Lumia 620

In a recent blogpost I wrote that a smartphone was a good candidate as a computer for seniors and I showcased my Lumia 830. Some readers commented that nobody uses Windows phones anymore. But is that true?

In this post I will make the case for why you should consider a Windows phone.

Not Popular
Firstly, it is really true that Windows phone is not popular, it has a 1% market share. You would have a hard time finding a Windows phone in many of the big box stores, and if you do, the sales people are not very knowledgeable about the phone. They will probably discourage you from considering a Windows phone lamenting the cliché “there are no apps”. Surely they must be right…

My Story
Everybody I knew had a smartphone, so I decided I wanted to be “with it” and get one too. So off to the Telus store I went and they recommended a Samsung Galaxy. Oh my, was it ever confusing! So I dutifully got a book (300 pages) on the Samsung Galaxy. Many coffees later and a well-thumbed manual, I was not really more clued in—but at least I had worked out how to make phone calls.

Then I saw an interview on TV with Kevin O’Leary and he mentioned a Windows phone – I had not even heard of it up till then. So I ordered a cheap Lumia 620 on Amazon just to try it I out. I was amazed at how easy it was to use! Even though it was a low end phone, it did everything I really needed in a way that I intuitively could understand. My expensive Samsung ended up in desk drawer where it still remains.

The App Gap
When I bought my first Windows phone, I had not even heard of the “app gap”. What is it? Most articles on Windows phone will state something like this “Apple and Android have 1,500,000 apps but Windows has only 500,000”. And that is probably correct, give and take a few thousand, but what does it mean? Does it mean that one will have a less satisfying experience when using a Windows phone? Not at all. The core apps that people use 90% of the time are available on all three platforms.

In real life, people don’t spend a lot of time perusing the app store and downloading a suite of apps—it would take a lifetime to check even just the 500,000 Windows apps. Research shows that most people use Facebook 50% of the time, and a few other apps, the rest of their time on their phones. So the app gap is not a real factor when considering a Windows phone.

Finally
Don’t let technical review articles, or incompetent sales staff quoting the app gap ad nauseam, put you off. Windows phones are readily available from the Microsoft store, as well as online from Amazon.

You will appreciate just how easy it is to learn and use the phone. Your real life experience with Windows phone will be a pleasant surprise.

This old video, dating from the time I heard Kevin O’Leary mention Windows phone, still explains it well.