Track Tech: Verizon Wireless’ HTC One M8

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Last month, I reviewed a particular smartphone per the request of a friend. He was really excited about the new HTC One M8 – and I was flattered that he wanted my feedback on the product before making his next Verizon Wireless purchase. I’ve greatly enjoyed doing product reviews for Verizon Wireless over the past few months, and hope to continue doing my Track Tech articles for as long as they’ll have me as a client, but I have to tell you… to hear a friend who’s opinion I trust on technology, say that that was mutual and that my experience and “take” on the phone could influence his decision, was a huge honor.

That is what I always hope to do with my writing – have others connect with my words and enjoy the subject of my focus as much as I am. To hear that my reviews actually have an impact on others and their decisions (especially about communication & phone purchases, which are actually very carefully made & personal choices) was humbling. I was lucky enough to receive the product I requested for review and from the minute I took it out of the box I could tell it was different.

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The brushed metal body of the phone, with its solid but light frame & curved edges set it apart from more “boxey” phones on the market. It was incredibly thin while still substantial enough that it did not feel fragile. And the screen… the full 5” touch-screen display created such a great canvas for work and play, that it was hard to put down. Obviously, at some point though, you will need to set it down – the cool part is how it remembers you like an old friend when you come back. The phone wakes up when picked up – actually sensing your handling. The need to search for or press down a power button to use your phone was eliminated. While holding it, the simple gesture of swiping your thumb across the screen turned the screen back on and it was ready for use wherever you had left off.

Social Media – Not Just for Socializing

Social media management is now a big part of work for many companies and individuals, whether the organization is local, national or internationally recognized… or maybe just trying to get on the map! For me, it’s crucial for promotion of our More Than A Fan Digital Network and the particular site I head: MTAF Wheels. Without Social Media, we don’t have a fan base or regular readers – and without them, we are just taking up (cyber)space without any real purpose. Having a phone that allows me to seamlessly transition between different social media sites, accounts and hubs in order to communicate with my writers and our followers, is not only convenient but essential.

The HTC One M8 with Android OS gave me an easy way to communicate from all three twitter accts I currently contribute to including my personal one, plus the four Facebook accounts I manage, the Google Hangouts that I participate in daily & weekly, as well as Hootsuite – a hub that allows all the editors on our network to cross-promote among the network’s multiple twitter accounts. This smartphone also made contacting my writers who are all around the US and in Europe, a breeze – by having quick communication via the option that was best for them, be it Facebook Messenger (with actual & instant voice recordings, similar to leaving a voicemail), Twitter direct messaging, texting, personal email, or our MTAF email on Outlook (which was so easy to set up on the M8, I was actually astounded, by the way). This made the coordination of posting schedules and delivering vital updates to everyone so simple and yet customized to each individual based on what I knew was best for them.

Communication was made even easier because the HTC One M8 allowed me to transfer contacts from my other phone via Bluetooth. I also loved that the contact cards included the contacts regular entry plus their Facebook, Twitter & G+ account information.

Wi-Fi Connectivity & Mobile Hotspot Capability

I covered the Verizon IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with the help of the HTC One M8. I found posting updates and tweets to be more timely on the 4G LTE network than the Wi-Fi provided at the track. During qualifying on Saturday, however, the phone had connected itself to the Wi-Fi from the media center because it was still picking up the signal outside in the pits. I didn’t realize until a few hours later, that 2 of my time-sensitive tweets never posted because the phone was using Wi-Fi at the time. I found out because we were having connectivity issues with the Wi-Fi in the Media Center, so I turned it off on my phone in order to only use the Verizon Network and all of a sudden I noticed two past tweets post. This was 2 hours past the real-time of their relevance because it was in regards to who might win the Verizon P1 Award that afternoon.

I then sent out a follow up tweet apologizing for the late tweets that were no longer relevant to interactions or breaking news on my feed, explaining that it was a connectivity issue. This was a good lesson learned and I opted to turn the Wi-Fi off when posting live updates going forward, to make sure that everything was posting in real-time.

The Mobile Hotspot option was very handy when we lost internet coverage in the Mid-Ohio media center for an hour or two. Thanks to the HTC One M8, I was able to upload my article to MTAF Wheels when I wanted to as opposed to when I had to, based on internet connection.

There were other elements of communication on the HTC One M8 however, that I found even more important – like the kind that helped me keep my family & home safe.

Emergency Alerts & HTC Blinkfeed

I live in the Midwest, so I am no stranger to inclement weather. In fact, I am a big fan of it – I’ll take a big thunderstorm and the crashing waves of Lake Erie over heat & humidity any day! But with a love of storms and grey skies comes respect & knowledge for what exactly, these cells are capable of producing. Thankfully, I’ve only been through two legitimate tornadoes in my life, but the athmosphere presents the perfect opportunity for them to materialize multiple times throughout the year & I for one never take it lightly.

One of these situations occurred while I was testing out the HTC One M8. The Tornado Warning came through the phone alert before my personal phone and well before anything on TV or radio. Our neighbors were still playing music and grilling outside when we were getting notified that evening – we were able to yell out and warn them as well. By the time we were settled in the basement with our TV on, the news channels were just starting to break in to programming to tell our town in particular, to take cover IMMEDIATELY.

I was already well informed and able to seamlessly keep track of additional/changing weather alerts as well as pictures of the storm posted by friends and news syndicates, thanks to HTC Blinkfeed. Blinkfeed is basically your own personalized newpaper on the “furthest left” home screen of the phone. It incorporates multiple feeds into one, giving you access to everything just THAT simply. Thankfully, the storm never produced a tornado in our little suburb, but the rain, wind and hail was pretty dangerous and we were thankful to have had the warning early, had the worst case scenario occurred.

All’s Quiet on the Technology Front

One aspect of a phone that many don’t mention is the silencing feature. Maybe that’s because many phones don’t ACTUALLY stay muted when you set them on “quiet mode” or “silent”. Some phones will still light up the screen when a text, tweet or phone call is coming through. Sometimes they still vibrate at notifications even though you KNOW you went through every individual notice in the menu and said “vibrate off”. If you work in a quiet setting or find yourself in & out of meetings all day, you don’t want the inconvenience of having the turn your phone completely off in order to ensure it’s complete silence. This is not an issue with the HTC One M8.

When set to silent, the HTC One M8 not only stayed quiet and refrained from vibrating in my purse or luggage, but it did not send out any bright blinking lights as a “heads up”, or turn the screen on when interactions were occurring. It truly stayed silent – visually and audibly.

PhotoGrid_1406591042245The perfect example of this was when I just needed an hour to myself to relax. In my life, that rarely happens… if at all. Maybe I get that kind of peace a handful of times a year – but that’s pushing it. One night after work, I had planned to run some errands that were much needed but I was also in great need of “me-time.” So I looked up my favorite spa in Cleveland on the HTC One M8 – checked their online schedule for availability and noted a time right after my office hours that I could squeeze in some peace, some quiet, and oh yeah, a massage! I simply clicked on the phone number on the site and the HTC One M8 dialed them up! I was booked and ready to go in a matter of minutes. The whole process took me, maybe 3 minutes? My usual routine is to get online on my computer, go to their site, and check times, then break out my Verizon Wireless Blackberry, pull up contacts, type in their name and then call.

Even though the HTC One M8 might only be saving me 3-5 minutes for this particular instance… that to me, is very valuable time. Many of you reading this might feel the same way – every single minute is precious and I don’t like to waste time doing something, when I could be handling it more efficiently! All that said, those 60 valuable minutes of relaxation that I paid for, were enjoyed fully, thanks to the HTC One M8 staying in true silence and not emitting any sound, rhythm or light. Om…

Efficient Time Management

Speaking of using every minute of the day wisely, it’s only fair that I admit to you how it’s nearly impossible for me to single-task. If I’m not physically taking care of multiple things at a time, I am thinking and processing more than I care to admit – plans, schedule changes, things I need to complete or update, ideas I have for a story or an anecdote I could use in an article… I like to think that’s why I love technology so much – sometimes I feel like I am wired the same way!

I believe I explained to you in a past blog how my lunch breaks from my regular job are rarely spent eating, but rather working on all my other projects, jobs & responsibilities. One of those tasks is rather enjoyable for me and happens roughly once a month – a Verizon IndyCar Series conference call. Each call focuses on a different race or piece of relevant and time-sensitive news & we are usually joined by a driver, owner, or sponsor on the call, for a live Q & A session. One thing I discovered with the HTC One M8 was the ability to set the call on speakerphone and still tweet out updates, quotes, etc. in real time without losing the call or having tweets go to drafts – it was able to do both at the same time! The 4G LTE network is incredible already, but when it is integrated with Qualcomm Snapdragon Processors like on the HTC One M8… well, quite simply, this is why we get along so well. The network can multi-task… it “gets” me!

Sidebar Fun Feature: TV Remote

While looking through all the pre-loaded and phone-specific apps that came on the HTC One M8, I noticed one labeled TV. I opened it up, utilized the very simple set up to sync it to my television & cable box and I was off & running. The guide on the app showed me all the shows that were on currently, and I could “favorite” particular series so that those would always show at the top of the screen when they were playing on any station. Simply clicking on the image and selecting “watch now”, would turn the M8 into a remote. I was able to use all the features of a regular remote – channels, volume, DVR menus, etc. This is a great app if you have a “remote hog” in the family!

Engaging Summer: Live Music, Baseball & Racing

PhotoGrid_1408147474655My personal experiences with the HTC One M8 are the things I remember the most about it. Attending multiple Cleveland Indians games – taking pictures & even being able to keep up with work between pitches was made easy by connecting to the reliable ballpark Wi-Fi w one quick prompt, allowing me to save on the data plan, and it made communication a breeze instead of a distraction. And let me tell you, when you’re sitting a few rows up from 1st base (like we were in one game) that produced a LOT of foul balls, you NEED to be paying attention! One of the games also ended up being rained out but watching the radar on the phone kept us in the know and we actually ran up to find cover just before it started pouring! I’m always appreciative to escape wet jeans!

PhotoGrid_1408246125839I was also really impressed by the ability of the phone’s camera to capture night images. I had to adjust the white balance before starting to shoot, but thankfully that option was easily accessed right on the camera’s touch screen menu. It was great to be able to add captions, hashtags and my own signature to collages, before posting them and with app software right on the phone. One of my favorite things to capture with this phone was the Cleveland Indians Rock ‘n Blast fireworks… as displayed here!

 

Another really fun event that the HTC One M8 was vital for, was the IndyFans Tweet Up at Mid-Ohio, the weekend of the Honda Indy 200 race. I was honored to be asked to help organize & host the event with Verizon IndyCar Series driver & IndyCar Radio commentator, Pippa Mann. Verizon’s great network gave me flawless coverage even far away from big cities and out in the hills of Ohio. Pippa & I both have demanding schedules and communication was key to making the weekend work and getting our plans accomplished. We met up and staked out a spot for the tweet up, and then got busy with spreading the word.

Mid-Ohio Indy Fans Tweet Up

Remember when I mentioned earlier, how important social media is in most industries nowadays? IndyCar is no different. No, wait, in fact it is different… because in a racing series like this, the fans are the biggest reason it is successful. Without fans, the series ceases to exist – so events like the IndyFans Tweet Up is incredibly important when it comes to fan engagement. Fans deserve to feel like they are a PART of the series that they love, because they are. And we (whether “we” means media, drivers, crews, or staff) can never forget how essential fans are to what we do. That said, this is proof of why social media is a huge part of IndyCar and why Pippa and I sat down after deciding the when & where of the event, and tweeted from multiple accounts, retweeted one another, instagramed & facebooked (complete with cross-sharing) to our heart’s content! We had so much immediate response it was amazing. And the proof was in the turnout – we had such a successful turnout, great mingling and meetings and tons of laughter with catching up and new connections – that kind of interaction is priceless and I am so proud to have been a part of it.

The only issue I had with using the M8 outside, was the screen being slightly too dark in direct sunlight, making it difficult to tell how some photos turned out, or having trouble figuring out where symbols were on the keyboard when needing to tweet or caption a photo. I found myself looking for shade pretty often, in order to verify that I was tweeting out the correct information.

I was not able to be a trackside at every race weekend this season, but this device assisted me in still being able to cover events fully from a distance. I watched the Milwaukee Mile feed on my laptop for practice and qualifications, and had IndyCar radio audio playing on the HTC while tweeting live updates from the phone as well. I know I mentioned it earlier, but it is worth repeating – I love being able to do two things at once on the M8! During the race itself, I listened to pit crew transmissions & the IndyCar radio feed thanks to the Verizon Wireless IndyCar 14 app.

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The last part of my summer trifecta is the live music aspect. I saw One Republic & the Script live at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio and it was a great opportunity to play with the Photo Grid App & try out the 360 panoramic feature of the HTC One M8. Those were pretty cool & they actually made it onto a fan photo site the next day! I thought it was pretty awesome that my photography was featured on a site thanks to the features available and live tweeting I was able to do from the venue. Of course, that’s just one example of the amazing things that happen when you’re a member of the most reliable wireless network in America!

Is there a device or product powered by Verizon Wireless that you are curious about? Let me know & I will do my best to review it for you in a future edition of #TrackTech! Feel free to get a hold of me via Twitter or Facebook!