Experience Report: Sony S tablet versus the iPad

I expected to love the Sony S tablet; I had eagerly waited for the tablet arrival but wow, it didn’t turn out to be a good experience at all.

I’m detailing my personal account of a Sony S tablet versus an iPad in hopes it will help someone else who might be on the edge of trying to decide what tablet to go with.

I was curious how the unboxing experience would be because even the initial opening of a device seems to set the tone. When I opened the device and powered up, the opening screen of the Sony S tablet was a system crash message. A restart and the device turned on fine; I completed setup with no further issue but geez that first bad experience left me with doubts.

Like any new device – beyond the setup, I seem to have the same reaction – ok, cool now what? It half makes me smile because I think the issue is data – devices on their own don’t do much – instead it is the applications combined with either our own data or the data we look up that makes a device so interesting. I have no doubt that the commercial market and users whose occupations are outside of the tech arena don’t see it that way – but think about even the iPad ads – it’s the photos, the videos, the books, the contacts, and other bits of data that make a device interesting. It is not the raw merits of the technology as much as the sweet combination of technology and data that make technology compelling.

Ok back to the Sony S tablet experience – the screen was dark, I adjusted the device to be as bright as I could but it just didn’t matter. The Sony S tablet is dark. Also in almost all cases – from using an app to watching video – the entire viewing screen of the device is not put to use – which adds to a disappointing visual experience. Each time I used the tablet, I had this inclination (if not need) to put my reading glasses on because I just couldn’t interact with the device readily and easily visually. I was surprised, I mean this is Sony – shouldn’t the visual experience be great?

After mucking around with the device for two days and having about the same reactions of “not being wowed” I decided I needed to do something. I needed to take my Sony S tablet and go to the Apple store and do my own side by side comparison, app by app if it took that – to compare the Sony tablet versus the iPad – which of course is not just a device comparison but a fundamental OS comparison. It is after all, almost a religious difference to be on a Droid (Google) vs. iPad (Apple) device. It might seem more logical that I would go to Best Buy or somewhere else and compare the Sony S tablet to say the Samsung or Motorola tablets but it wasn’t the comparison I wanted. And as much as I love my Droid phone, I was willing to give up a Droid tablet and move to Apple if I was happier with the device.
Meanwhile I have several issues with Apple’s interfaces and there are some aspects of working with either an iPod or an iMac that I find flawed and not as intuitive as Apple touts. But I do own and use a mix of PC and Mac, Droid and Apple (even before this tablet experiment) – so I’m religiously a bit undefined. In fact, I believe in building and maintaining some knowledge in both technology camps because I test in the mobile space and to completely disavow either part of the market would render me too much of a zealot which I think is inappropriate in my role as an independent consultant and as a software tester in general.

I was a bit concerned how I might look in the Apple store smuggling in an Android tablet but figured I wasn’t stealing anything and besides if a company is so confident of their own product, wouldn’t they welcome the challenge?

Somehow I found a corner of the Apple store and was able to step through what I wanted to in my own side-by-side comparison. Since it was Christmas Eve and the store was busy with last minute shoppers, not too many people cared what I was doing which was perfect for me. In fact the best holiday gift I gave myself this season was the time to run my own comparison tests – this was important to me. If you haven’t noticed by now, I like my gear.

Here goes, first stop: You Tube. The experience of comparing the iPad to the Sony S was almost a closed case by comparing video display and handling on You Tube alone, the iPad has it hands down. The Sony S has a yellow hue to all video, graphics and display – it’s not just the overall darkness but an additional coloring that renders sepia-like-experience. I found myself wanting true coloring. I queued up several videos in a side by side checking visuals as well as sound.

Second stop. Photos, same disappointing graphical experience. What’s with the yellow hue Sony?

At this point, I knew everything else would pale. I figured the data – mail, contacts and calendar would be easy with the Sony S and it was – as long as you have a Google account and use each of those (email, contacts and calendar) then loading up data on the Sony S was easy. But that easy data loading is not compelling enough because Apple handles that too – although Apple’s limited handling of Google calendar is annoying.

Next: device handling and covers. This seems like a minor point but I know that a large amount of ongoing ownership time gets spent in pulling out a device, turning it on/off and that the device cover or protection can influence and impact the overall device experience. So much so I don’t know why most smartphones don’t have a more rugged shell to begin with so we can stop buying cheap plastic cases for devices worth so much more.

After having one phone case that left me disliking a phone, I know the wrong device accessory/case can influence how I interact with the device itself. The Sony S tablet case is one of the worst cases I have experienced. There’s a large Velcro strip loud enough to hear across a room – that’s a deal breaker itself because at this point there are no other cases designed for that particular tablet and the Sony case is awful. One of the most important aspects of owning a tablet is to be able to access and use it quickly – so if it’s a hassle to pull out the tablet and embarrassingly loud – then the case is a detriment to the device.

Meanwhile in addition to being loud, the case itself is not snug enough to protect the device. And finally, the Sony case does nothing to help if the device is left on, the case will store the device and happily drain the battery if you forget to shut the device off before stowing it away. The iPad’s smart cover is cool, works well and it is that simple.

At this point, an Apple staff person came over to help me. Her eyes widened when she realized what I was doing – comparing devices right in the store. Then she asked if she could join me, seems she’d never held a Sony S tablet and she was curious too. My daughter arrived in the store at the same time and I asked both of them to help me with the comparison. It was an interesting hour and at the end, I bought an iPad2. Wow, I’m surprised, still surprised because my Droid phone has been great.

The last step was to remove all my data from the Sony S and return the Sony tablet. I was able to uninstall apps and handle some cleanup easily but not my Gmail. Looking up what other people have written I discovered a horrible “feature” of Gmail – and that is there is no way to sign out or remove your account from a tablet. Search for what other users have discovered and you’ll probably find what I did – people furious because they can’t share their Droid tablet with anyone else because there is no way to switch what Gmail account is logged in. And there is no way to remove email, contacts or calendar data without a factory reset. Not cool, not acceptable.

I have an iPod Touch and iMac so the Apple is familiar but I have been “adjusting” to having an iPad, and have to say, I’m becoming pretty attached to my iPad and have to admit, it is simply amazing.

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Call me …?

Software testers have assorted job titles such as Quality Assurance Analyst, Software Test Engineer, QTP Specialist, Lead Quality Assurance Engineer to list a few. Some people care deeply about their job title feeling their title is part of their identity professionally both at the office and within the greater software testing community. Other people don’t particularly care what their title is.

At the Belgium Testing Days conference, I’ll be giving a keynote called: “Why it matters what I’m called: Quality Analyst or Software Tester.”

I’m conducting a survey on job titles in our field. It would be great if you could help me. Here’s what I need: your name, country, job title and if you’d like to add your company name and any comments – comments relating to how you feel about your job title, that would be great.

I’ll probably out the data together in Excel so if you could send this information like this:

Karen Johnson, USA, Software Test Consultant

And comments like this would be helpful:

I care deeply about my title. I feel my title sends a message to my team mates about what I do and what my role is.

Or –

I don’t care about my title. I just want meaningful work. My team mates know what I bring to the group and the company.

Leave a reply. Email me (if you don’t want to share this information publicly). Or reply in Twitter @karennjohnson

-Thanks Karen

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sites for mobile testing, news, etc.

A few people have asked me what sites I follow and read to keep up on mobile news.

mobile usage stats

To use the service, you need to apply and setup the service – from there you can track device statistics.

mobile manufacturers

mobile browsers

mobile design
A worldwide community with local chapters for mobile design – Mobile Monday, known as MoMo.

mobile testing communities

mobile testing
Product offerings to test mobile devices remotely.

mobile news

quick tests for mobile readiness

mobile device detection

Posted in mobile | 4 Comments

Three words on time management: focus, clarity and transparency

There are three words I say to myself on a constant basis: focus, clarity and transparency.

These are the three words that straighten out most of the rough days I encounter when my schedule gets overloaded and when the demands on my time get too high. And yes, I still have to work at saying “no” but that’s a topic for another day.

When it’s to late to say no, I’m already committed and life has become chaos, I go back to those three words: focus, clarity and transparency. Here’s why:

Focus. If I can make a task small enough, I can do it. When I look out at a 12 or 15 hour work day – sometimes even longer work day – and trust me those days happen – then the only way I can deal with looking at a large long block of a work day like that is by breaking it down. Compartmentalizing helps as well.

I’m one of those people who has a surprisingly small desktop but I work with piles of work around me. In fact, I’m a “pile” person. Well, yes, there’s plenty of other office equipment around me, but I only pay attention to those when I need them. I keep my desktop clear, I put one task on my desk at a time. I do this as a reminder to focus on one thing. Sometimes when I juggle too many things and I feel like I have ADD (no offense meant to people who truly have this condition), I tell myself – focus, focus, focus. I chant it to myself.

Now I could be concerned that I sound crazy but nearly everyone I know juggles some steep stacks of work especially since over the years of I’ve become a small business owner and nearly everyone I know owns a business or is an executive of some type. Workaholics seem to find one another, that’s all I’m saying.

So I remind myself. One thing, just one thing – do one thing now and do it the best I can. I set small timeboxes for some activities and that time-driven sense helps as well. Chanting the word focus, telling myself to stay on task and do my work well helps me. When you own a business – even more than being an employee – your reputation is your business. I can’t get sloppy. So focusing and bringing my focus down to a small task and ignoring everything else enables me to think. Do one thing well – then worry about the next “one” thing. It helps.

My second word is: clarity. If you’ve done business with me, you know I use this word frequently. I can get obsessive about it and for one simple reason: if I don’t know what I’m working on, if there is any confusion – then how will I be able to work that task? What have I promised to deliver? And even better – what do you think I promised to deliver? Clarity. I often say you can be a lot of things around me – agitated or amazed, irritated or inspired but please don’t ever be confused around me. I try my absolute best in every situation – personal and professional to be clear about what I think, what I’m committing to and what I will do and what I won’t do. If there is doubt about that – let me correct that confusion, let’s us correct any confusion because life is short and confusion wastes time. Clarity fixes issues.

Transparency. I’ve found this word helps me when I’m dealing with the nasty bits of politics. Come on – we all work with politics – so let’s be direct about it. If I can avoid contributing to situations, I try to. If I’m transparent with everyone and everyone gets to know that’s how I work … then it just keeps getting easier. When someone came to talk to me recently, aka complain about someone else – my first question was have you talked to them about it? Its ok to complain to a friend, its ok to need to vent but its not ok to add to politics. When I found myself wanting to vent to someone about someone else’s behavior in recent days – I told myself the same thing. Ooops I thought, now I know who I need to talk to. If I can keep talking and work through tough situations and have tough conversations (go see the book Crucial Conversations because that book rocks) then I can help to keep “stuff” clear and that feeds back to clarity.

Time is up. I allotted only so much time to write this post. There are more tasks waiting for me so I won’t perfect this post – instead I’ll move on – to the next “one” thing.

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Search Testing with Different Languages

I started work on a new project and need to address search testing with a wide assortment of languages. And geez, this is a puzzle I’ve worked with before so I thought I would share some thoughts around the topic of search testing with multiple languages.

At the start, I look into how many languages and what languages I’ll be working with. Based on past (and current) experiences, I have certain reactions – from a testing perspective – to some languages.

Latin-based languages fall into one group. I used to think of English, Spanish and French as “different” languages but now I see these languages are rather similar from a test perspective. The same is true for any languages that use the Latin-based character set.

While Swedish, Slovenian, Romanian and other languages seem to me to represent languages with a heavy use of diacriticals. Yeah, I know the word diacriticals has a daunting sound to it but it’s the term to describe all those little character marks that some languages seem to use with more frequency. If you’re gone to test with different languages, it’s worthwhile to read up a bit on diacritic marks to understand what they are.

I’m highlighting diacriticals in the same way I think of certain characters in Latin-based languages – like names and words that use an apostrophe or an ampersand – two characters that still encounter issues frequently. It’s amazing how often ampersands and apostrophes are not handled well by software. Case in point, importing names and emails with apostrophes in Gmail from CSV files. If these examples seem far-fetched – consider the last name O’Brien and a company name like Smith & Bros.

Then I think about Right to Left languages like Hebrew and Arabic. And even after testing years (yes, years) of exposure to testing with right to left languages, I get disoriented having scrollbars appear on the left side of a screen as my eye is so trained to expect scrollbars on the right. Both entering characters and having the characters appear in the opposite direction on the screen as I type takes a mental adjustment. I adjust, and make UI checkpoints like scrollbars, bulleted listed and text alignment on search results.

Still there are more languages. There is another set of languages that I think of as more “symbolic” than character-based. This interpretation may be my own or widely-shared, I don’t know. But I think of Chinese, Singhalese and Tamil this way – there is no remnant of a Latin character. Instead these languages are more symbolic looking; in the case of Singhalese and Tamil, the languages seem lyrical and flowing while Chinese appears as singularly posed symbols, each with a story and meaning of its own.

From a database perspective, it would be more accurate to discuss the use of Unicode chars and using UTF8 vs UTF16. But I test with a mix of technical and logical insights as well as and instinctual reactions based on experiences.

So when it was time to choose a handful of languages to test with, my reaction was to choose:

  1. one or more Latin-based languages
  2. one or more languages with a heavy use of diacriticals
  3. a RTL language

  4. a language that is more symbolic than character-based

A common problem in testing with these languages is the lack of keyboard or a means of entering characters from different languages. Cut and paste can work if you’re careful.

As for where I get text from in all these languages – these three sources seem to have kept me supplied well.

  1. content from the application I’m testing which is both handy and means that I’m using words are used within the application and likely to be words found in search results
  2. user manuals -when I buy something like a new external drive, it often comes with a user manual in a mix of languages – I keep the manuals and use chunks of text
  3. Wikipedia. The overview of a language generally includes a few phrases I can use and points out diacritics and other insights on a particular language.

It would be great to hear how other people address this type of testing.

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Building Alliances: a presentation recording

I gave a presentation called Building Alliances. It was a non-technical talk focused on working with people. The talk focused on positive alliances we can build at work as well as some of the realities – the good, the bad and the ugly of office politics. The talk was recorded at the Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference (PNSQC) 2009. The recording includes the audio, the video shows the slides from the talk. The recording can be downloaded and played through iTunes.

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Can-Do List: One way to get unstuck. Really.

I met a person working as a test contractor on a project recently who said to me: “There are no requirement documents so therefore I cannot write test scripts. And this means, I cannot test.”

I’ve heard this before from other test contractors. I don’t understand the logic being applied.

I tilted my head and was speechless. I thought I should keep listening to see if I could better understand. But I didn’t. In this case, it seemed the tester believed the only way to approach testing was to read and review requirements, write test scripts, and then execute test scripts. Since this one approach was not an option in the environment at that time, the tester felt dead-ended with his work.

Meanwhile I had my own immediate roadblocks to attend to. So here’s what my problem was, how I solved it and then I’ll loop back to the test contractor’s problem.

I was contracted to execute performance testing of an application. I didn’t have access to the application I was testing – by which I mean I didn’t have the needed permissions to access the application. I did not have VPN permissions so up to that point; I had not seen the application or knew much about the app. I had no previous experience with the application. In fact, I didn’t know what the application looked like or how to navigate around the application, the type of data the application worked with. So I was feeling a bit stuck to be certain. But I did have access to the physical environment, other people on the project and to a SharePoint site although the SharePoint site had so many documents on it that I was overwhelmed with no sense of where to begin.

But I’ve been in those shoes before – meaning I’m at the start of a body of work but all I can see is a dead end not a beginning.

I was so frustrated at one particular point that I sat myself down and kept asking myself one question over and over in an internal (admittedly loaded with mix of frustration and somewhat sarcastic internal voice) brainstorming style. My question: What can I do? Note the word can is in italics as I felt painfully aware of what I could not do.

I’d prompt myself, well … what can I do? I pulled out a pen and notebook and decided to write a list. A list of possible next steps that I could pursue on my own would certainly make me feel better. And maybe unlock my problem somehow. Here are some of the items I wrote:

  • I can talk to person X, the lead project expert on the application and see if she can give me an overview of the application.
  • I can listen to the other contractors – not the testers but the developers and designers and learn what project concerns they have (including concerns that don’t make it project status reports).
  • I can call the Help Desk again and appeal to them to escalate my request for access.
  • I can begin writing a test plan because even without access to the application, I know what I want to test and what I plan to do once I can get started. I can update the plan later as I learn. And writing always helps me clarify my thinking. And with this client, written material will end up being needed so sketching out a draft now might be useful.
  • I can pretend for a moment that I have access to the application. What is it (one item or a list of activities) that I so badly wish I could do?
  • I can talk to the project manager to hear what expectations she might have of me. (And see how it matches or does not match to the person who brought me onto the project.)
  • I can talk to the other testers and see if I can hear their thoughts on testing, the application, performance concerns, anything – who knows where that might lead me.

I shut my laptop off. I walked around. I talked to people. I started learning whatever I could. I felt better. The physical movement helped. Not feeling trapped at a desk focusing on what I could not do helped.

I did as much as I could that day and then I left. I had another project for another client to work and I told myself maybe tomorrow would look better.

It was days before my access was granted and I was finally able to login and see the application I was scheduled to test. When I finally logged into the application after so much aggravation getting to the starting point, I froze for a few minutes – now what? But instead of feeling stuck, I thought about what the project expert had taught me about the app. I pulled out my notes from our session together. I found my way around the application. I started to become unstuck.

So now let’s wander back over to the test contractor’s problem. He believes that having no requirement docs means he cannot create test scripts and therefore cannot test.

In the language of my teenage daughter: Really? (Really is a favorite word of hers and as a result (sadly) is deeply injected into my language as well. Note that the tone of the word “really” is the essential ingredient.) You really cannot do anything to proceed because you don’t have a document. Really?

To-do lists are common. We all slave away at battling to-do’s versus the amount of hours in a day – nothing new there. But a can-do list is empowering. It reminds me to seek another path, find another way. It doesn’t fix roadblocks that need to be resolved but building a can-do list (versus a to-do list) helps strengthen me when I feel down or defeated or stalled out – really.

I don’t need a document to learn an application. I can investigate in ways I identified, and there are other options for learning as well – blogs and forums can help with the reality of an application over a requirements doc any day. As a tester, I should have enough curiosity to get learning and start my work with more than one approach – I may have a favorite approach or a familiar approach to my work but I should be able to see beyond one approach. Next time you think you are stuck ask yourself: really?

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More articles on software testing

Here are two articles I published this month on testing.

“Improve Your Testing and Your Testers with Paired Testing”
Ideas and stories on paired testing
InformIT, April 2010

“Insights from Running UAT Sessions”
Four insights you can gain from user acceptance test (UAT) sessions.
SearchSoftwareQuality, April 2010

And a recent article of mine on regression testing was translated into Russian “A Heuristic for Regression Testing.”

You can find a full list of articles I’ve published on the publications page of my website.

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recent articles on software testing

This afternoon I was talking with a friend and colleague who asked me about my writing, more specifically about software testing articles I’ve written. He was surprised to learn that I had published six articles in the past couple of months – he hadn’t realized that I wrote so much or so often. I thought most certainly I had listed the articles on my blog as each article had been released but it doesn’t look like it. Here’s a list:

“A Heuristic for Regression Testing”
SearchSoftwareQuality, March 2010

“Women of Influence: A Diverse Group of the World’s Top Women Software Testers Share Career Highlights And Insights Into the Profession, Past, Present and Future”
Software Test & Performance Magazine, January 2010

“Testing SMS Texting Applications”
SearchSoftwareQuality, January 2010

“Manipulating Business Intelligence to solve dense data warehouse testing issues”
Understanding the testing challenges associated with data reconciliation on a Business Intelligence (BI) project. Part I.
SearchSoftwareQuality, January 2010

“Testing data fields in business Intelligence projects”
Testing data reconciliation on a Business Intelligence (BI) project. Part II.
SearchSoftwareQuality, January 2010

“Tips for Better User Acceptance Testing”
InformIT, December 2009

You can find a full list of articles I’ve published on the publications page of my website.

I have an article about working on virtual teams that will be coming out on InformIT soon – probably within the next two weeks. I have another article on user acceptance testing (UAT) to be released by SearchSoftwareQuality soon. So yes, I have actually been quietly writing quite a bit about testing in recent weeks/months.

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Someone asked me recently why I don’t participate more in software testing forums. Why I don’t blog more often. Why they don’t find me “around” virtually as often as they used to. Balance was my answer.

My online life was becoming consuming. And it’s easy to get out of balance especially when you live in a climate like Chicago where its winter for eight months (or at least feels like it.)

But I’ve been pushing in my chair and walking away from my desk, focusing on other parts of my life. I’ve been exercising more. Reading novels. Writing short stories. Spending more time with friends. I decided this would be the winter I would learn to cook and wow, what a difference that has made. I’m gearing up for another furniture restoration project, a hobby of mine.

What does balance have to do with software testing? Plenty. Software testing is largely about being observant. If your eyes aren’t fresh, if you’re not rested, if you haven’t exercised or moved in hours (and perhaps days), then how alert or observant can you be?

I understand the long days in software testing. I’ve burned through many and I feel certain I will again.

James has blogged about using time to learn when business is slow. I admire that. I admire it for a couple of reasons: 1) it’s important to keep learning and 2) it’s true that as a consultant and business owner, there are lulls in business. I’ve seen the cycles myself a few times over now that I’ve been independent for a couple of years. I learn a lot in those quieter business stretches. Sometimes I learn a lot about myself.

I have gained a better sense of what my real interests are. When my energies are waxing and waning. I’ve gotten comfortable with my notable cycles of intense focus (whether reading or writing) and times that I feel like I have attention deficit disorder. I’ve identified activities I really don’t like to do but that I used to blame lack of time as the reason. Imagine removing time as your block to find (and admit) that you just never get to some activities (or magazines) because you just don’t enjoy them that much or perhaps not at all. It’s freeing to admit, I’m just not that interested in X (insert activity here) than using lack of time as a shield.

Sometimes when business is slow, I read books in software testing and explore new tools. Sometimes as in recent time while business has been quiet, I haven’t read anything in software testing – and that break – unexpected and unscheduled has been a good one. I find I’m hungry now to test again. I miss it and I think that’s a great thing. It means I’ve had a real break and when I’m back to working more, I’ll be ready. Rested and ready.

I use colors on the activities on my calendar. Client time, time to write, time to exercise, time to attend to activities related to having my own business, time to update my class materials … I have several ongoing categories in my life. Now a fairly quick glance at my calendar reveals days and weeks that are well balanced versus time or days that are heavily focused in one direction – which is perfectly fine as long as days heavily-loaded in one category don’t stack up to too many days in a row. Using a color-coded calendar has helped me more readily observe balance issues (it’s just another form of data visualization but I’m not going there today.)

So I could fine-tune this blog, fuss over it but it’s time to move on. When you balance your time well, there is actually time for everything you care about.

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