People Appreciate Moderated Facebook Groups

love-communityHere’s a small collection of comments from  members of my beloved opera group. I’ve discussed the management of that community in detail in two previous posts: The Value of Curated Content on Facebook, and Administering a Gated Community on Facebook.

The members of Met Opera Live in HD Fans Facebook group give me a few reasons to make a group really great:

So happy to think of spending the afternoon with my favorite group at my favorite activity! Do you know I have mostly given up going to the movies and mostly watching TV because nothing compares to Met Live in HD? I’d rather be reading or going to the opera with my 7000 buds!

I think this list has gotten me through this past year. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

The wonderful insights from folks re singers and performances are so delightful.

Thank you for reasonable administration and for setting out the ground rules clearly.

Thanks for all your hard work, Ann and administrators.

Thank you immensely for establishing the ground rules for this exceptional group.

Your hard work and sensible rules are what have made this such a wonderful, enjoyable group. Bravo, tutti!

Thanks so much for doing this. What an interesting and informative group!!

Thank you for help making this group possible! You guys ROCK!

Many thanks for establishing this page.

Thank you for this and for the recent doubling down on the group’s focus and curtailing off-topic posts. It has helped tremendously.

Very appreciative to be added to this group. Thank you.

Thank you for having me. I look forward to sharing the joy of opera. Pretty much a newcomer to your group, I thoroughly enjoy every last one of you. Thanks for putting out the “welcome mat.”

This page is an invaluable source for me; in helping to accomplishing my goals. Thank you.

Thanks to all you Admins!! This is one of the best run groups I’ve seen on FB.

This is a most wonderful group of interested and informed opera lovers and I love being part of the daily conversations that enrich my love of opera. Thanks for your founding of this forum and group of opera fans!

Thank you…Thank you…Thank you..for my opera lifeline.

Congratulations and well done – I really love this group!

Thank you everyone! This is a wonderful group to be a part of.

Grateful you took the plunge! Love this group.

Thanks to Ann and all the volunteers and fellow members who make this group so fantastic. Listening to Lucia di Lammermoor on BBC Radio 3 which I wouldn’t have known about it not for this group.

Having fallen in love with opera when I was fifteen….(and now am 90)…I must be among the oldest opera “buffs” in our wonderful group! I have been a member of Met Opera Live in HD Fans for about two years, and never miss a single observation or conversation on Facebook… I may not always agree with some opinions, but my horizons are broadened by them and I am still learning about this fascinating art form. I personally thank you and your partners Ann, for opening this window to hundreds of 15 year-olds who, without you, might never even wonder what “opera” is all about.

I love this group. Thank you 😉

Thank you for inviting me to join in. I have been enlightened, Entertained ,educated and appreciate the dialogue! Congratulations!

Thank you, everyone. This is a wonderful group and you all mean a great deal to me. I joined in 2012-ish and was so happy to discover a group of fans with whom I could share my renewed passion for opera. I’ve met a few folks here and formed solid friendships, and gained insight into opera that I otherwise would not have. Happy dance!

This is my favorite group of people.

Thank you so much for creating this group.

Simply incredible accomplishment Ann Caldwell Adair!! Well done!

I’m thankful for your creative vision. It’s enjoyable and very informative

Thanks everyone… It is a joy and an honor to be able to participate!!!!

I can’t remember when I joined but enjoyed it from the start!

Thank you so much dear Ann, and all of the wonderful administrators!!! You are all so wonderful and much appreciated, and the enthusiasm of this group is contagious!!

Thanks and congratulations, Ann. You are to be commended for your diligence in forming and administering this fabulous group. I look forward every day to reading the posts — the best way to keep up with the opera world. Bravo tutti to you and all of the administrators that keep this group on the right path. You are the best!

I joined here two years ago, in the Spring of 2014 , and it is one of the best things that ever happened to me! This group is and will always be my favorite of Facebook. I have met and gained many wonderful friends in these two wonderful years of being a member of this extraordinadry group. I enjoyed and keep enjoying all wonderful comments… we all agreed in many things and we also disagreed in many others and that is the magic of this group, we can all discuss, learn and have different ideas or opinions, whatever if is about our favorite (or less favorite) Opera singers, favorite conductors, stagings, performances, etc, etc… we always had so many interesting conversations! This group is so rich!!! We all have different minds, likes, we all are from different places, we all are so diverse BUT what gathered us here together is our love for our favorite art form, THE OPERA, and thanks to the Live in HD from the MET. Thank you, Ann Caldwell Adair, Pastor S. Blake Duncan, Nigel Gallimore, Kathleen Crisp, Ariadne Sophia Auf Naxos and Theresa McCarty for the wonderful , excellent work as administrators!!! This group is a TREASURE!!!!! <3 Congratulations!!!!! BRAVI TUTTI!!!!!!

Congratulations, Ann. This is an important group.

It’s great to be a member, Ann. People like you make this world of ours a much more pleasant place! Thank you.

My FB fav. Congratulations to all, but especially Ann for such a great achievement. Also love that this is a knowledgeable and civil group.

Love this group and all the comments and fascinating information that gets shared. Thanks for your insight in creating this group, Ann.

Thanks for all the work and time you’ve put into this very enjoyable group.

Thank you dearest Ann Caldwell Adair and all the administrators Pastor S. Blake Duncan, Nigel Gallimore, Kathleen Crisp, Ariadne Sophia Auf Naxos great job! I love this wonderful group. I learned so much here, there are so many people around the world willing to share their knowledge of the Opera, many thanks and continue to enjoy.

Thank you for such a great job. LOVE being part of this group. All best wishes.

 

Administering a Gated Community on Facebook

This is a bit of an update on my post about The Value of Curated Content on Facebook, which you should probably read first.

To recap, I’m the founder/creator of a Facebook group called Met Opera Live in HD Fans. It’s an international group of fans of the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series which is transmitted live to over 2000 movie screens in over 70 countries. The Facebook group is public so anyone can read the posts and comments, but you must join the group to participate in the discussions.

Since my previous article from October of 2014, the group has tripled to nearly 7500 members. I’ve added 3 administrators for a total of 5. They help with a wide variety of tasks, especially membership.

We verify each new member. Why?

  1. Nearly eliminates SPAM.
  2. Helps keep content focused.
  3. Helps to identify any VIPs joining the group.

How do we do this?

  1. Facebook users wishing to join the group must do this themselves by visiting the group page and clicking on the “Join Group” button. We do not approve members who were added by someone else. We’ve had instances where a well-meaning friend added 20+ of their friends to the group. We did not approve them. 99% did not even like opera and I’m fairly certain they would’ve been angry to start getting a fair number of opera posts in their Facebook feeds. The group has a high volume of activity especially around live transmission dates. It can be overwhelming even for people who love opera. When an unsuspecting soul has been added, they usually add to the high volume with posts like “How do I leave this group?” “Why am I here?” and other similar posts that compound the problem.
  2. We verify that they are a real person by examining their public Facebook profile. If the page is on the tightest security lockdown and we can’t see anything, we may likely deny membership. Sometimes they will request to join again and we will try to engage them in a private message conversation before admitting them. Here are some things we look for:
    • Does the name look legitimate?
    • Do they have a real picture on their profile?
    • Do they have friends?
    • When did they join Facebook?
  3. We verify that they are actually an opera fan by looking at their Facebook profile. We look for signs of opera and classical music in a few places.
    • Work – Are they a musician/performer/teacher?
    • Groups – Do they belong to other opera-related groups?
    • Likes – Do they like opera companies, composers, singers, etc?
    • Checkins – Have they checked in to a performing arts venue?
    • Public photos/posts/comments – Are they arts-related?
  4. Some signs that they are fake accounts/spammers/or trouble.
    • Majority of public posts are cause/political/military related.
    • No friends.
    • Joined Facebook recently.
    • Facebook name is suspicious.
    • Absence of a profile photo.
    • Belongs to more than 50 groups.
    • Belongs to many groups beginning with the letters “Met” that are completely unrelated.
    • Anything that looks suspicious.

As an admin group, we have looked at thousands upon thousands of profiles and get it right 99.9% of the time. When the rare spammer gets through the gates, they usually post right away, multiple times, and one of our admins removes it and bans them almost immediately.

Once we have determined that an applicant should be admitted, we send a private Facebook message that looks something like this:

“Welcome to the Met Opera Live in HD Facebook Group. Please read the “Pinned Post” at the top of the page and “Like” it once you’ve read it. I hope you enjoy our community! — Met Opera Live in HD Fans Admin Team
https://www.facebook.com/groups/metliveinhdfans/

This is an imperfect system because many people do not see Message Requests from people they don’t know, so they miss this welcome message. We have started tagging them in comments attached to the pinned post so they will read it. This seems to be having a positive effect.

We need new members to read the pinned post to understand how the group operates and our community standards. This is what the current pinned post looks like:

Welcome Letter – Revised January 5, 2016
Please read this entire document and click “like” once you’ve done so. Enjoy!

Welcome to the Met Opera Live in HD Fans group. I highly recommend reading through a few days of posts to get a feel for the group before posting. The cultivation of this group has been a labor of love for many years. My hope is that you find a respectful, spirited, curious, knowledgeable, and interesting community.

VOLUNTEER ADMINISTRATIVE TEAM
Ann Caldwell Adair, Fearless Leader and Founder
Kathleen Crisp, Pastor S. Blake Duncan, Nigel Gallimore, Theresa McCarty, and Ariadne Sophia Auf Naxos (on leave)
We reserve the right to remove comments, posts, or members that are inappropriate.

GROUP ETIQUETTE
– Be kind and respectful of other members and the Admins at all times.
– Comments and posts should be constructive.
– Include commentary with links and photos or risk removal.
– Duplicate and unrelated posts will be removed.
– Vulgar, political, sexual, and religious posts will be removed.
– Posts should be written in proper English.
– Problems? Message the Admin Team. We are very quick to respond.

Behavior that will result in removal and possibly banishment includes, but is not limited to:

– Repeated posting of unrelated or offensive material.
– Name-calling.
– Illegal activity.
– Inflammatory behavior.
– Deliberately picking a fight.

EVENTS
Please check out the events tab for the current HD transmissions and other events.

AFFILIATE GROUPS
– If you like to play-by-play opera conversations, you will want to check out the new group Sirius Opera Fans at http://facebook.com/groups/siriusoperafans/

This pinned post is extremely helpful with maintaining community standards and making determinations when a post or user must be removed.

Another huge help with all of this is our Secret Admins Facebook Group. It has been an invaluable tool in being able to discuss problems, train new admins, maintain a unified front (like parents!), and keeping an informal record of repeat offenders.

The end result of all of this work is to have an active, content-rich community that adds to people’s lives in a positive way.

I think our members would agree that we’ve succeeded.

The State of Computer Science Education

As a technology entrepreneur who is active in the Tampa startup community, I hear repeatedly from other entrepreneurs about the difficulty finding local talent to fill positions which require deep technical skills. The younger people coming out of college just don’t have the employable skills, particularly in iOS programming and web development like Ruby on Rails. These tend to be aftermarket educational add-ons where someone would either enroll in a coding bootcamp like The Iron Yard or teach themselves. Both of those situations benefit greatly from having basic coding skills from which to build. A person with a degree in computer science is not going to learn these skills in most universities. One exception is the highly popular iOS programming course at Stanford.

A student who graduates from high school with a solid basic understanding of coding can successfully go directly into a coding bootcamp and find work as an entry-level full stack developer. This bypasses the traditional career plan of attending a university where costs continue to escalate at a staggering rate. While this could be a great plan for some individuals, it remains elusive due to the fact that less than half of the local high schools offer AP Computer Science as a part of the curriculum. In some cases where the courses are offered, highly qualified teachers are in short supply. Why would an excellent coding teacher accept public school teacher pay when they could double that by teaching at a coding school or becoming a developer in their own right? This is an area where partnerships between industry and public school systems would greatly benefit each other. Industry could mentor students and teachers or even partner with instructors and institutions by offering informational, financial, and/or technical support. In my opinion, partnerships are the most efficient way to mobilize a coding workforce quickly.

On a much broader scale, the need for a basic computer science education for all students is a necessity.  Computing is used in virtually every field. To withhold that basic knowledge puts our workforce at a distinct disadvantage, which, in turn, puts our nation behind. Consider the ramifications of this on a much larger scale like national security. What happens when we can’t provide our own citizens to fill those positions in the military and financial systems?

>>>  New report from ACT | The App Association
Six-Figure Tech Salaries: Creating the Next Developer Workforce

Please write to your representatives in support of computer science education initiatives that provide direction and support to our students.

Where is the talent?

In Tampa Congressional District 12, approximately 10 percent of software developer positions remain unfilled. More specifically, for the 9,960 employed developers, there are 985 open positions waiting for talent. The average salary for these jobs is $88,781. Where is the talent?

With less than half of Tampa area high schools offering computer science education, it comes as no surprise that local firms can’t find local talent.

What needs to happen next

Florida is on the right path with establishing rigorous K-12 computer science standards and clear certification pathways for computer science teachers. The course is set, but support is lacking.

Four areas for improvement

  • Provide dedicated funding for rigorous computer science professional development and course support.
  • Offer incentives for institutions of higher education to offer computer science to preservice teachers.
  • Have dedicated computer science positions in state and local education authorities.
  • Require that all secondary schools offer computer science.

In Tampa, please write to Congressman Gus Bilirakis in support of computer science education for all.



Ann Adair
is co-founder of Thinkamingo Inc, a mobile applications development firm, which she co-founded with her husband Jon.  They have two children, one of which is a senior in high school currently enrolled in AP Computer Science.

 

App Economy Conference

In April, I had the honor and privilege of representing small-to-medium-sized technology companies in Washington, D.C. again this year. This was my fourth year to participate in what is now called AppCon (App Economy Conference), formerly known as the ACT Fly-In.

Overview

What is it? About 50 technology entrepreneurs from all over the country come together in DC, learn about important issues that affect their businesses, then meet with policymakers about those issues.

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AppCon16 attendees

This year, the main topics were 1) Computer Science Education, 2) Encryption and Cybersecurity, 3) Government Access to Data, 4) Internet Governance, and 5) The Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Monday was spent getting up to speed on hot topics and how they affect our businesses. The day opened with remarks by Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas. He offered a much appreciated perspective on the issues as he has a background in computer consulting.

Next up was the “Anatomy of a Hill Meeting.” This session was particularly important for the new people. I remember my first year there and wondering why I was there and what I was going to do. The big takeaway from this is that as business people, we are there to present our individual voices to policymakers. The ACT staff handles all of the policy experts. I am always relieved to know that I don’t need to be an expert on the law to share how that law affects my business specifically.

ACT | The App Association gave us a report/update on what they’ve been up to since last year. They’ve been especially busy with the whole backdoor business with the FBI and Apple. Other notable topics were LEADS, KWI, Connected Health, COPPA, HIPAA, #ACTWearsIt wearable challenge, and FRAND.  Checkout those links to learn more.

Throughout the day we had briefings on Computer Science Education, Data Security (Encryption and Government Access), Health, ICANN, Logistics of Capitol Hill,  and Social Media.

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U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman with ACT Executive Director Morgan Reed

To break up the day, we had a field trip to the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center where U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman chatted with ACT Executive Director Morgan Reed about a variety of topics related to trade agreements and encryption.

***

After briefings on Monday, we each received our meeting schedules for Tuesday. Since my company, Thinkamingo, makes educational apps, my past meetings have mostly been with the Federal Trade Commission discussing the development and implementation of COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.) This year was much different for me.

My schedule included meetings with the offices of Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Bill Nelson, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Sen. Al Franken, Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen, Dept. of Education Office of Educational Technology, Dept. of Education Statistical Privacy Advisor, and the House Committee for Education and the Workforce. These meetings took place over Tuesday and Wednesday.

It is unusual to actually meet the Senator or Representative and highly likely the meeting will be with one or more staffers. I find this to be a good thing. The staffers are policy experts who are ready to talk about the issues facing constituents and listen to their stories.

Ann Adair in Sen. Bill Nelson's office
Ann Adair in Sen. Bill Nelson’s office

Trip Highlights

  • Encountered great support for K-12 Computer Science Education, encryption, and cyber security throughout my meetings. These are all issues of national security and must be addressed with the appropriate gravitas. The consequences are an unthinkable scenario of outsourcing NSA jobs to China and building backdoors for the FBI whenever they choose. I do think the majority of our politicians are on the right track here. The trick, especially with computer science education, is to put support behind the rhetoric. Walk the talk, people.
  • In his office, Sen. Bill Nelson has a model of the new rocket scheduled to launch in 2018, along with a treasure trove of astronaut and space memorabilia.
  • FTC Commissioner Ohlausen’s office has a patio. The weather was stunning, so we met out there.
  • Rep. Bilirakis’ Chief of Staff Liz Hittos is a fellow Countryside High School graduate. We discussed getting together with Bilirakis and tour the tech entrepreneur scene in the 12th Congressional District of Florida.
  • The brilliant people I met at the Office of Educational Technology in the Department of Educaiton are former classroom teachers.

Taking an active part in government energizes me as an entrepreneur and citizen.  Developing relationships over time is key to being heard. I’ve learned so much through actively engaging with policymakers. Each year, I reflect on what we’ve accomplished as a business and as a family over the last year and I have new stories to share, both personally and professionally.

This conference is also an important time for me to feel really connected to my business and other business colleagues. Working from home either alone or with your spouse can actually be pretty lonely and can feel disconnected. Sometimes the business doesn’t feel real since we don’t talk directly to customers or have other employees or contractors. Finding those opportunities to have real conversations with people who completely understand you is a relief, frankly, and a reminder that it is reality. Actively participating in The App Association community through the App Economy Conference is a way for me to give back to such a supportive group of people, especially through the Know What’s Inside program.

 

Capitol Hill 2015

ACT Fly-In 2015

This past week, I made my 3rd annual trek to the ACT | The App Association’s Fly-In with about 50 other technology executives from around the country. I represented my company, Thinkamingo, Tampa, Florida, and Moms With Apps.

I became involved with ACT through my association with MomsWithApps, the largest organization of family-friendly app entrepreneurs. My areas of special interest are COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act), Intellectual Property, Patent Reform, and STEM education. My main work has revolved around meeting with the Federal Trade Commissioners over the last several years on various aspects of COPPA and issues of compliance and enforcement. Deciding that you want to protect kids’ privacy by preventing data mining and targeted advertising is easy. I think we all want to do that, but how that exactly works in practice is complicated when you start getting into the nitty gritty of personal identifiers, verifiable parental consent, and adaptive or tracking technology. We want to protect kids and do it in a way that still allows for technology innovation. At the Federal Trade Commission, I met with Maneesha Mithal, Director of the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, and policy experts and counsel from Commissioners Maureen Ohlhausen and Terrell McSweeny. In the past couple of years, we’ve made a lot of progress in kids’ privacy and this year was mostly a checkup on how things are going, especially with enforcement of COPPA.

Federal Trade Commission

This year, we also met with Education Deputy Director and Senior Counsel, Mandy Schaumberg, and had a great time with her and her staff talking about what we do as technology innovators in the education space. My friend and colleague Betsy Furler did an especially amazing job of really demonstrating how important technology is to her special needs patients and how her non-profit organization BridgingApps. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room!

CareSync CEO Travis Bond and I met with our local Congressman Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Legislative Counsel Jeremy Pederson, Esq. where we shared stories of our businesses and the apps we make. CareSync is an amazing health app that helps patients coordinate their care with providers and family members. Travis and I first met years ago when our sons were in the same Cub Scout Pack. It’s been exciting to see our companies grow over the years.

Ann Adair, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Travis Bond
Ann Adair, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Travis Bond

I was fortunate to have such excellent colleagues in every meeting, including (in no particular order) Morgan Reed, Sara Kloek, Betsy Furler, Marta Snow, Patrick Larsson, Scott Weiner, Ashley Johnson, Tricia McKenzie, Donna Wilson, Joshua Wilson, Libby Curran, Melissa Lee, and Jake Weatherly.


This year, I built in some time before the Fly-In to see a couple of performances at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. I hope to make this a tradition! Friday night, I attended a performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christoph Eschenbach in the Concert Hall.  Before the concert, I was able to take in the Picasso ceramics exhibit and have dinner at the KC Cafe.

Hall of Nations Picasso NSO-Mahler9

On Saturday night, I was fortunate to get a ticket to the National Opera’s production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. It met all of my expectations! Eric Owens was a brilliant, powerful, and tragic Dutchman. In contrasting roles, Jay Hunter Morris was shimmering Erik who was hopeful, though heartbroken. The jewel of the evening was definitely soprano Christiane Libor in the role of Senta. I don’t believe I’d heard her before this performance and she certainly got my attention with her soaring lines and sensitive interpretation. The acting was full of subtleties and interactions that made this much more than a traditional park and bark. The set design, costuming, and lighting were all exceptional in enhancing the music and story.

Opera Hall Opera Stage dutchman

This pre-Fly-In mini-break needs to become tradition!

Women in Tech Event

Today, I had the opportunity to attend Hillsborough County’s Women in Tech Event at the Seminole Heights Library.  906078_10155513265585627_7150999103416311588_o Overall, it was an interesting afternoon and very well organized! Kudos to the whole team of planners and speakers! You can read about all the presenters and sessions through the link above. What I want to do here is share some observations about this event and events like it. FYI – these are GENERAL comments on women’s events, not this one, in particular. I thought today was really excellent!

  1. Women in Tech Events need more men. I like men. I like them to see more than one woman in tech at a time. It’s good to see a big group of them and the variety of people present. Whatever the one woman is like at their company, there are 50 more out there who are different. There were a few men at the event today, so not invisible.
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  2. I love Pecha Kucha presentations. Reminder: Make the last slide your social media contacts in a font big enough and clear enough so the audience can take a picture or read it quickly to write it down. Wrap up on the penultimate slide and say thank you on your final social media slide. Don’t add on a minute of random comments after your last slide. That’s not PK-style. The best part of PK is that it keeps speakers on topic and tight. Hallelujah!
  3. Women, the next time you say you hate math in front of your kids, or act like operating a television remote control is too difficult for you to figure out, think about the example you’re setting for your kids, girls AND boys. Stop being a victim. Take a class and learn to do something new. Become an expert at something and talk that up rather than talking yourself down. Of course, if you are reading this article, I’m probably not talking about you. You get it.
  4. Take a page from general-audience tech events regarding families and children. Don’t turn a women’s event into a moms’ event. Plenty of women aren’t moms or wives. Just because an event is for women, don’t add a kids’ activity. Do events with mostly men do that? Good God no. Can you imagine?
  5. After Party. I love the purely social aspect of the After Party. After you do something serious and are busting your butt networking and listening to heavy discussions, having a cocktail hour afterwards is a great idea. Don’t assume with a women’s event that everyone has to run home, pick up kids, and cook dinner. Of course there will be people who can’t make it, but if someone has already carved out the day/afternoon to attend the event, they will want to maximize that effort and the benefits of such a networking opportunity by continuing it on into an After Party situation. Plus, we all like to party.
  6. What is the followup to the event? Is everyone expecting an invitation to a monthly gathering or is it an annual thing? Have opportunities in place for people to reconnect after the event.
  7. Ladies, (and men, too!) please put your picture on your business card. It doesn’t have to be a Glamour Shot(!) or even a studio picture, but if you want me to remember you after the event, put your face on your card. I received just one card today with a picture. Everyone else’s cards are just in a big pile of I’m-not-sure-I-know-who-this-is. It’s way worse when you get a pile of government and tech company cards. Civil servants have seals on their cards and tech workers have cerulean swooshes with made up names on them. Do something to stand out and be remembered. Put your face on it.
  8. Finally, go to Women in Tech events. If you are a woman or a man, go. Be present. Support each other.

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Product Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 4

If you’ve been reading my other Samsung reviews, you should know that I’m not a fan of their hardware design. Until now.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is a stunning device. It looks good, feels good, and is super fast.  The AT&T LTE coverage was excellent everywhere I went.

Selfie with the Note 4

I’ve been using this phone, in addition to my iPhone, for a couple of weeks now, and I don’t want to give it back. I chaperoned a high school band trip involving 100 kids, freezing weather, and a 30-hour round trip bus ride. I thoroughly tested the camera, videos, battery life, cold weather use, navigation, and just general feel, and it never let me down.

10922672_10155008415045627_89166737912906907_nAgain, once you get to this class of phone, it is hard to be disappointed. It is not much smaller than the Mega 2, but that little bit makes a huge difference in usability. I found this size much easier to handle. It still requires two hands, but it doesn’t feel like I’m holding a waffle.

Another different aspect to this phone is the stylus. Tucked away, it’s invisible. It did come in handy using the phone in cold weather. I didn’t need special gloves or have to take mine off to use it. The stylus has a couple of useful functions that would be extremely handy for someone who needs to make handwritten notes, drawings, or markup images. I would probably utilize this with critiquing apps, websites, and other media viewed on the device. I think this would take some getting used to in order to maximize use of these features. Purchasing an additional stylus is not a bad idea. If you become accustomed to using it and you lose it, waiting seems costlier than having a backup.

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Traveling on the bus during the band trip gave me the chance to test out the hotspot. Let me just say I was everyone’s new best friend. The wifi was fast and reliable compared to the charter bus setup, even out in the boondocks. This is a wonderful feature for meetings, classes, family vacations, and more.

I’m sad about handing this device over to AT&T this week. Who knows? Maybe I’ll pick up one for myself. Don’t tell my iPhone.

 

Disclaimer: I was given this phone to review by AT&T without any conditions or remuneration.

Product Review – Samsung Galaxy Mega 2

Before I received the Samsung Galaxy Mega 2, I knew it was going to be big, but this thing is huge. I have large hands for a woman and I cannot operate this phone with one hand. It absolutely requires two hands to use.

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My kids said it looks like I’m talking into a waffle. Yes, a waffle. That being said, I quickly adapted to it over heavy use for a week and my iPhone 4S seems woefully inadequate in the size department. Of course, I can still read on the 4S in bed or play Candy Crush with one hand. I can’t even use this phone unless I put it in a charger stand on my nightstand or prop it up somehow to watch a movie or something.

The reality is that it is the same square footage as a checkbook cover and twice as thick.

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I had opportunities to use many of the features on the phone, but mostly tested it out for feel and general use.

I would love to see the AT&T FamilyMap app in action. It looks like a great idea for families with teenagers, especially.

Once I got used to the size (and it’s a big one!), I enjoyed nearly all aspects of this phone. This is a lot sexier than the Galaxy Alpha I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Even though it still has some of those Samsung bumps in the case that mold around hardware features, it’s not as annoying as on a smaller unit.  It feels sleek and light with an interesting back that looks like stitched leather.

Battery life was excellent with heavy usage. Coverage was very good in the Tampa Bay area, as well.

I really could go on and on listing the specs that are available on thousands of other websites, but it comes down to this. If you want a big phone/phablet and you understand the reality of that size, this is a great choice. If you aren’t sure you’d like the size, give it a try. If you don’t like it, take it back. You usually get 30 days to try phones. I’m a pretty solid iPhone user, but I’m also a hardcore Google user (Drive, Gmail, Calendar, etc.) I run my life through Google services. I could see being happy with a switch a phone like this. Seriously.

The quality and features of so many smartphones now are so amazing that as long as you stick to popular brands, it’s hard to go wrong. Utilize those first 30 days of your new phone to really see if you are in love with it. You just might be surprised.

I feel a bit spoiled by this phone/phablet and look forward to upgrading to something much larger than my old iPhone 4S.

Disclaimer: I was given this phone to review by AT&T without any conditions or remuneration.

Product Review – Samsung Galaxy Alpha

Image (c) Ann Adair

This past week, I had the Samsung Galaxy Alpha in my hands.

Let me begin with some positives: One of the nicest looking phones from Samsung, period. Screen is gorgeous!  Processing speed is nice and fast. Generally, the phone is very responsive.

Google’s new Inbox looks fantastic. I’m a hardcore Google user and I wish it was this pretty on my iPhone. Sometimes I forget what the Android platform is really like. It’s quite nice, actually.

The size of the phone feels good in your hand. Not too big and unwieldy like some of the super-sized phones around.

(c) Ann Adair — Shown is Thinkamingo’s Lists for Writers app available on Google Play.

Some cons? Battery life could be a little better.

My biggest issue with this phone is that while it is one of the best looking Samsung models to date, it’s not very sleek. It wants to be sleek. It’s light and thin, with a beveled metal edge, but what annoys me is the assortment of bumps in the case to facilitate the camera, the headphone jack, and the power cable. I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t be able to keep my hands off this phone because of the picking I would do with these little anomalies.

Basically, that’s the worse thing about this phone, which means if that doesn’t bother you, you’re golden. This is a great lower-priced phone that packs a lot of power. It’s fast and pretty with apps-a-plenty on the Android platform. This is a great value for a casual phone, but not not want you want if you are looking for a flagship-type model for heavy business use.

Disclaimer: I was given this phone to review by AT&T without any conditions or remuneration.

Product Review – Nokia Lumia 830

Last week, I had the opportunity to test drive the Nokia Lumia 830.

The 830 stands out from the crowd with the beautiful Windows Phone live tile OS and the sleek case design. It feels substantial in the hand, but not nearly as weighty as the 920.

Cortana, I love you. You are Siri-ous competition, my lovely. Cortana displays text as you go and also includes punctuation. Really brilliant. Setting up favorites to maximize the efficacy of Cortana takes some time, but it’s worth it. Cortana could change your mobile life.

Setting up the phone to use was very easy since I already had a Windows Live account, and all of my information loaded quickly. Setting up Gmail and Facebook took no time at all, as well.

I loaded some of our Windows Phone apps (Name Dice, TampaMom, Thinkamingo) to play with and they all looked very good. The processing speed is nice and fast.

The navigation apps on this phone were rubbish. Honestly, if it’s not Google Maps or Waze, I don’t have time for it. I tried HERE+ and it was not easy to use. There was another navigation app that I can’t remember the name of, but in order to really use anything worthwhile on it, it wanted me to upgrade or subscribe. Nope.

The camera. Wow. The camera on the 830 is spectacular. You will not be disappointed with it. The one good/bad feature is the manual camera button on the lower right side of the phone.  I hold my phone in such a way that I repeatedly turned the camera on by depressing that button. If this was my permanent phone, I’m sure I would alter my behavior to accommodate that, but as it was my phone for a week, I couldn’t get past it. Sometimes, it’s awfully handy to have that button so that your phone feels more like a camera, but for me, it was a pain in the butt.

Being in the Tampa Metropolitan area, mobile service coverage is generally pretty good across the board for all providers. There can be some challenges on bridges across Tampa Bay, or in other topographically-challenged areas where the signal just can’t dip down into an area. On the whole, this AT&T phone had excellent LTE coverage in this area, making the whole experience fast and fun.

The overall sound and volume level was impressive. I setup my own MixRadio personalized station and was impressed by the acuity of picking music I might like.

This phone came with a neon-green back cover which was a little too bright for my taste, but would definitely be more fun for someone else. It was very easy to find in my dark purse!

Battery life was very good for my use. I didn’t notice any unusual battery drain or problems with an average day of using the internet, texting, and a voice call or two.

You can read other more detailed, more technical, and more biased reviews around the web, but here’s the bottom line. An average user would not be disappointed with this beautiful and powerful phone. The overall design is attractive and feels good in the hand. Windows has the most striking mobile OS with the live tiles and eye-catching contemporary design. Finally, Cortana is brilliant.

One area I didn’t talk about was the availability of quality Windows Phone apps. If you rely heavily on a specific app or set of apps for your work, you should buy a phone that supports those apps. As far as anything else goes, be flexible. What apps do you currently use all the time? If you don’t buy or download apps, then it’s a non-issue for you. If you are a casual gamer, there are plenty of apps that fit the bill in the Windows Store.

Overall, this phone is worthy of high praise on nearly every level. It would be a nice upgrade to my Lumia 920!

Disclaimer: I was given this phone to review by AT&T without any conditions or remuneration.

Complicated, but worth it.