Grant McWilliams

Tech Gadgets Blog

Gadget Blog

Due to the fracturing of the  (remaining)  open mobile platforms I thought I'd do a brief history and where they've ended up now. When I refer to open mobile platforms I primarily mean Linux based mobile operating systems, most of which come from one tree - Maemo.

The Early Years of the MID

Maemo is/was largely an unrestricted Debian based Linux operating system. There was no reason to "root" it as we have to with other Mobile Operating systems outside of just installing a package and typing sudo gainroot. From that point on you could treat it like any other Linux platform.


Nokia named this OS2005 (Mistral) starting the yearly mobile OS release pattern. A year later OS2006 (Scirocco/Gregale) came out improving performance and allowing it to access 2 GB memory cards. Both of these operating systems were used on the Nokia n770 MID. OS2007 (Bora) was released for the n800, arguably the first usable MID from Nokia. I had an n800 and used it for several years. The OS would remind a lot of people of Ubuntu's Unity desktop, although not as irritating.

The Late Years of the MID

OS2008 (Maemo 4 - Chinook) was released on the new Nokia n810 but also worked on the n800 if you wanted to install it (I did). Maemo 4 was a much more matured product which also switched out the Opera web browser for a cut down version of Firefox (MicroB). Maemo 4.1 (Diablo)  was released as Diablo and offered as an upgrade to OS2008. This included the ability to update the OS without reflashing and a WiMax stack for the n810 WiMax device that didn't survive long because the WiMax network was virtually non-existent.

I owned both an n800 which I upgraded from OS2007 to OS2008 and eventually Diablo. I also owned an n810 although at that time I was getting ready to move onto a more powerful device that would give me Internet all the time - a smart phone.

 

Open Smart Phones

Maemo 5 (Fremantle) was released on the Nokia n900 smart phone and had a completely redesigned user interface. It looked less like a computer desktop and more like a mobile device interface. It did however, still have a real Debian based operating system underpinning it. Nokia bought the QT interface system and announced they were moving all platforms to it. All previous versions of Maemo used Hildon (GTK) so Maemo 5 shipped with the QT libraries included although they weren’t really used for anything. This meant Maemo 5 could run QT applications.

I own an n900 and love the hell out of it. I don't have apps for Yelp or some of the other things I need but I do have a real ssh terminal, Xchat, rsync and most anything else I want. The multitasking on it is amazing and more powerful than virtually any other Mobile OS platform. Overall it's a great little operating system.

Maemo 6 (Harmattan) was a Debian based OS released on the Nokia n9/n950 mobile phones with an entirely new interface. At this point Nokia had decided that teaming with Intel to create one Linux based mobile platform was a great strategy. This merging of Nokia's Maemo and Intel's Moblin was named MeeGo. Confusingly enough Nokia labeled Maemo 6 - MeeGo 1.2.  Maemo 6 moved the interface to QT which opened up a lot of mobile apps because Symbian also used QT. I would buy a Nokia n950 in a heartbeat if I could find one. It was released only for developers. I may buy an n9 anyway.


The Death of Maemo

With Maemo 6 (Harmattan) Nokia started using the MeeGo label even though it was really Maemo underneath. The official MeeGo spec existed and used a Redhat package based Linux distribution as it’s base. Maemo 6 (Harmattan) was clearly a Debian based revision of Maemo.

MeeGo
MeeGo was announced by Nokia and Intel in 2010. The real MeeGo also existed at the time Nokia released Maemo 6 (Harmattan) but wasn’t ready for production. The merging of Maemo and Moblin set back the release of MeeGo by at least a year, some say two.

MeeGo was a very aggressive movement that was going to be THE mobile platform for everything from phones, entertainment systems, handsets, netbooks, tablets and in-vehicle-entertainment. Underneath would be the same MeeGo operating system using different graphical interfaces. The Netbook interface was basically Intel’s Moblin. The Smartphone interface was all new (and not the interface Nokia developed for Maemo 6 (which they dubbed MeeGo too).

MeeGo continued the use of QT as it’s graphical interface and used RPM as it’s package format. The last version of MeeGo released was (confusingly again) version 1.2. The official MeeGo 1.2 has very little to do with Nokia’s MeeGo 1.2.

 

Update: I bought a Nokia n9 with MeeGo on it and have been using it for the last year. The gesture based interface is nice, the screen is gorgeous and the OS overall works very well although I think it was probably pushed out the door too early as it's not as rock solid stable as the n900 was. It's even more vertical oriented like a phone should be and doesn't have a keyboard which is an issue for me. My two biggest issues with it have been the lack of keyboard and a bug in the system that keeps it from recognizing when the headphones are plugged in or not. Someone made a app that hacks the state of the headphone jack so I can go back and forth between music and phone. Although the n9 is fairly well built it's not to the same tank quality that the n900 was. In one year of use (and unknown bumps) the camera stopped working. The n900 went through several years of severe abuse before something broke.


The Death of MeeGo

Nokia hired a former Microsoft guy named Stephen Elop as it’s CEO. Elop decided that it would be in Nokia’s best interest to kill off MeeGo and Symbian smartphone operating systems and adopt Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.  At this point Symbian had 22% of the cell phone marketshare, Windows Mobile had 3%. Symbian though, was on a downward spiral as it had 73% in 2006. In those 5 years it had lost 50% to Android and Apple’s iOS. Nokia before Elop planned on MeeGo taking over the torch. Nokia after Elop planned on offering ONLY Windows Phone devices.  Nokia’s stock went from $10 in early 2011 to $3 in late 2012.

Nokia started work on yet another Linux based Mobile platform called Meltemi to replace low end series 40 smartphones which they sold 1.5 billion of. In 2012 Nokia laid off the Meltemi development group and canceled Meltemi. All non-Windows mobile operating systems are now dead at Nokia.

After Nokia’s announcement Intel immediately responded with a message pledging its support for MeeGo. Several months later after realizing they haven’t written one single line of decent software in decades they realized they were in trouble and canceled MeeGo.


Open Mobile Linux Phone Branches

The first open Linux mobile platform LiMO (which went mostly nowhere) changed it’s name to Tizen in 2011.

Samsung the second largest manufacturer of phones after Nokia and lover of every operating system on the planet wants to better control it’s destiny so enters into a deal with Intel to develop -
Tizen. Tizen will have a lot of MeeGo and LiMO underneath but use HTML5 as it’s graphical Interface. A bunch of companies sign on to produce Tizen devices just like they did for Symbian and MeeGo. Supposedly the first devices come out Q1 2013. Last year they said Q2 2012. We’ll see.

Samsung announces that applications created for it’s other open source mobile OS -
Bada will work on Tizen. Bada is reportedly based on BSD but I don’t know much more.


The open source
Mer project which had focused on bringing Maemo 5 to Maemo 4 devices changed it’s focus to continuing the development of MeeGo.  Mer should be considered MeeGo core only and will be used as the foundation for other Open Mobile devices.

Nemo Mobile is one such project.
Nemo uses Mer as the core and the user interface is based on MeeGo Handset.

Plasma Active a KDE group uses Mer as the foundation for it’s mobile OS. Plasma Active gained fame for being the OS of the Spark Tablet which due to legal issues was renamed the Vivaldi tablet. There were issues with the Chinese manufacturer changing the hardware and then not offering the kernel source code for it. Thus the Vivaldi tablet never made it into production. You can however, make your own Vivaldi Tablet by buying a Zenithink C71 Android Tablet and install Plasma Active on it. The C71 is no longer available and there's no garauntee that Plasma Active would work on a newer tablet.

 

A Finish company comprising mostly of ex-Nokia developers called Jola has announced that they’re developing an OS called Sailfish using Mer and Nemo and sporting a custom phone interface. I may be that Sailfish is the first Mer device to be in production.

Update: The Jola Other Half went on sale in late fall of 2013 in Finland. They opened up sales to the rest of Europe in January so I had my daughter who lives in Paris order me one which she then sent on to me in the US. So now I have a Jola Other Half running SailfishOS. I'll be doing a article on my impressions later but just for a quick teaser I'll say this - the quality of the phone is nowhere near Nokia level as it's made by a Chinese company and is fairly generic. The back of the Other Half is 3d printed and way to slick to use in daily life but I'm covering it with something to make it grippier. SailfishOS is not quite ready for primetime but I think it has amazing potential.



Plasma ActiveWhere does that leave us if we want an Open Mobile Linux device?

You have several options if you’d like to have an Open Mobile Linux device.

There are supposed to be Tizen devices by Q1 2013 so wait.
There are supposed to be Sailfish devices by Q1 2013 so wait.
There is already supposed to be a Plasma Active device (hardware supply problems) so wait.
You can always use a Maemo 5 (n900) or Maemo 6 (n9, n950) phone like do while you wait for these solutions.
You can try your hand at Open WebOS which isn’t based on Maemo is an Open Mobile Linux platform using javascript as it’s user interface. It doesn’t actually seem to run on anything but you can always hope.
You can keep using Android hoping that at some point Google will improve it instead of just moving widgets around. After-all you do have Connectbot for ssh so why are you complaining?





Add a comment

As a long time Maemo user (OS2007 on a Nokia n800, OS2008 on a Nokia N810 and Maemo 5 on a Nokia n900) and really like having an open Linux mobile platform. Even though I get shorted on all the Android apps out there I have virtually everything I need (short of Yelp and OneBusAway apps) and a whole lot more. Having a full featured Linux OS on my phone is very useful for a variety of reasons one of which I get a real terminal. I have an app that uses rsync to synchronize my media server to my phone so I never have to manage my music/podcasts via the mobile interface. Multitasking on the n900 is amazing in comparison to Apple's iOS or Android.

However, the n900 keeps getting older and I'd like to have something newer. I'm not about to give up my awesome mobile OS though for a nice piece of hardware running a Java stack. Let's not forget that Nokia make phenomenal hardware even if it was expensive. Their stuff is rock solid and I've had to reboot my n900 fewer times in the last 18 months than I did per week on my Android 2.2 phone.

With all of that in mind I've been waiting for a replacement for Maemo 5. Nokia was working on Maemo 6 then merged their efforts with Intel's Moblin which proved to be a disaster. It took an extra 2 years to get nowhere before Meego 1.2 was released. Nokia put it on one phone, the n9 (which I'd still like to have) and then abandoned it. Intel then announced it was going to carry the torch alone which nobody believed since Intel can't design a piece of software to save their lives. Soon after they too abandoned it. The community project of Mer picked up the source code and started working on it which was supposed to be used by the Vivaldi tablet which never went anywhere. 

Intel then partnered with Samsung to work on Tizen which hasn't gone anywhere either. So where does this leave me? Using my couple year old n900 for a bit longer. However, there may be yet another ray of hope (but I'm not holding my breath) - Sailfish OS. 

Apparently Sailfish OS from Jola is based on MeeGo but I'm not sure if it's using the Mer codebase or they forked it from MeeGo. Here's a video of Sailfish OS running on a Nokia n950 (my dream phone) and it looks pretty neat. They're saying that they will be able to release in early 2013. Until I see something I can buy or use I'll wait patiently and try not to get too excited. 

Add a comment

As any of my readers know I travel a lot. I also blog a lot, take photos a lot and research a lot. That’s a lot of lotting. Thus when I’m travelling I need a computer. I know people who rely completely on Internet Cafes but I really like editing photos using my own computer late at night in my apartment in Paris, or Venice or Budapest or anywhere else as opposed to paying by the hour to use some age old slow Windows machine. Not to mention I can upload all of my photos while I’m sleeping via secure copy instead of having to babysit it.I also like to travel light thus I’ve always leaned toward small lightweight laptops.

My first travel laptop was a Sharp MM20 that I purchased in 2004 for my trip from London to Istanbul. This is probably my favorite still. However, it came to an untimely end in Krakow Poland when I left it running in our apartment while we went out to dinner. It was an unusually hot day and roof tiles peeled up on the roof followed by an equally unusual downpour. Our roof as you would expect only leaked in one spot - right over my Sharp MM20. The poor thing continued running under a direct stream of water for an hour. It took me a month to dry it out and then it continued to run for another year although in somewhat of a crippled state.If memory serves me the wifi card stopped working and it took several tries to get it to turn on. I still used it though until it finally gave up and died for good.

The Sharp MM20

The Sharp at .8 inches thick (at it’s thickest) and only 1.99 lbs was ultra-sexy. That 0.01 lbs was crucial in differentiating between sexy as opposed to ultra-sexy so I’ll emphasis it here - 1.99 lbs! It had 512 MB of ram which was a lot at the time and a minuscule 20 GB ipod sized hard drive. The battery as you can imagine was tiny and even if the Transmeta CPU was efficient I got about 2 hrs of life out of each charge. To solve this issue I bought the “9 hr battery” which lasted about 6 hrs. It added about half a pound to the size and protruded out the bottom like a large wart so I actually carried both batteries, one for transport and the other I’d swap in when I decided I wanted to work for a while. Not ideal but it did work. I also used a USB mouse and since the hard drive was so small I backed up all of my photos and videos on an external USB hard drive. The Sharp had no memory card reader so I had to use an external USB and it only had two USB ports so I had to carry a mini USB hub as well. The laptop, 9 hr battery, USB hub, USB memory card reader and external hard drive weighed 3 lbs, 5 oz. I paid $1850 for everything which at the time was a good deal. One year I took my USB DVD drive too and even a USB Dye Subliminal postcard printer. The latter was really fun since we could send out customized postcards with us in them but I couldn’t justify the extra more than once.

Pluses for the Sharp MM20

  • Small and Beautiful
  • Decent screen and keybaord for the size
  • PCMCIA slot in a .5/.8 inch laptop!

Minuses for the Sharp MM20

  • Poor battery life
  • Not enough USB ports
  • CPU not very fast
  • VGA port needed a dongle
  • Small slow hard drive

The MSI Wind

After the Sharp died a friend gave me an MSI Wind Netbook. Netbooks are wimpy little Notebook computers that go for a song - in this case free because my friend didn’t like the touchpad. It had a 160 GB hard drive, memory card reader and 3 USB ports so I didn’t really have to bring anything with me. Although the idea of having my photos in one spot still made me nervous so I carried the external USB drive anyway. Total cost was $0 but had I purchased it I would have paid about $299. Netbooks are an interesting breed. Technically speaking this thing had more CPU, more ram, way more hard drive and more expansion than my Sharp and cost ? as much. What 5 years makes in the IT industry. They are however built cheaply. It’s about twice as thick as the Sharp and all plastic. The Sharp feels like a really nice, well engineered product. The Netbook... not so much. Also battery life sucked and there’s not much I could do about it - 2.5 hrs tops. An added note is that the MSI screen was 10.1 inches. The Sharp screen was 10.4 inches but if you compare them side to side you’d think something is a little fishy. The Sharp’s screen was way more useful. With the MSI they went with the wide screen format and technically it is a 10.1 inch screen but vertically it’s nearly two inches shorter than the Sharp’s. The Sharp’s screen resolution was 1024x768 and the MSI 1024x600. That’s valuable screen real estate lost. A great example of why small 4:3 screens were better than small 16:9 screens.The netbook still works and still sucks the same. It’s slow, attracts fingerprints and the battery life is still poor. I might note too that the keyboard layout is less than desirable. I remember cursing the Sharp’s tiny keyboard but now in retrospect it was quite nice. Total weight 2 lbs 15 oz with the external hard drive.

Pluses for the MSI Wind

  • Cheap
  • Reasonably small
  • Lots of hard drive space

Minuses for the MSI Wind

  • Slow CPU
  • Poor keyboard layout
  • Cramped wide aspect screen
  • Maddening touch pad
  • Poor expansion - 3 USB ports, that’s it.

The Toshiba r705

Earlier this year  I decided that I needed to get some work done and it pained me to do it on the Netbook so I bought a Toshiba r705. This is the grown up successor to the Sharp MM20! It has a 3 inch larger screen (13.3) is still fairly slim in relation to it’s size and feels a lot like a bigger Sharp. It includes a memory card reader, 500 GB hd, 4 GB of ram, DVD writer (so I don’t have to carry an external USB drive now) and a 6 hr battery life. The Toshiba is all I need by itself and only weighs 3 lbs 3 oz. Travel weight was roughly equal to it’s 10” brethren but had a dual core 2.4 Ghz Intel i3, lots of ram, lots of hard drive and a writable DVD drive. I could actually WORK on it and it was light enough to travel with. It’s size is a bit of an issue because it’s quite a bit larger than the two smaller laptops but still manageable. With the Sharp I used to just slide it between my vacuum packed clothes because it was so slim. Neither the MSI or the Toshiba have this luxury as they’re a bit more than an inch thick.

Pluses for the Toshiba r705

  • Great screen size - 13.3 is near ideal in my book
  • Great touch pad
  • Large hard drive
  • eSATA, VGA, USB, HDMI, Ethernet
  • Optical Drive
  • Excellent weight for this size of laptop

Minuses for the Toshiba r705

  • Quite wide. Probably can’t get around that with a 13.3” wide aspect screen
  • Chicklet keyboard
  • Battery life could be better
  • Needed AES-NI (that’s the only reason I’m selling it)

The Lenovo X220

I mentioned I bought the Toshiba so I could work right? Now work required me to have a new thing in my CPU called AES-NI. This allows lightening fast hard drive decryption. Had I just paid another couple hundred dollars I could have gotten an r705 with it but at the time I didn’t know I was going to need it. By the time I knew the relevant Toshiba r705 wasn’t being sold anymore and it’s replacement was $1500. My search brought me to the Lenovo X220 - a mid 3lb laptop with AES-NI, lots of ram, decent hard drive, decent expansion and incredible battery life. I could have bought the lightweight 6 hr battery and my travel weight (and battery life) would have been identical to the Toshiba. However, there was the standard 9 hr battery or the extended 12 hr battery. Knowing that you never get as much as they say I bought the 12 hour battery which gets me 10 hrs. That’s still a LOT. It would allow me to use it on a trans-Atlantic flight or any cross country flight without plugging in! It also added about half a pound. Crap, I would work for an entire day just on the battery. This is the first practical laptop I’ve ever had in that regard.

The Lenovo’s screen is 12.5 inches (smaller than the Toshiba, larger than the others), has 8 GB of ram (!), a 320 GB hard drive, PCI Express slot (which I filled with an eSATA card), three USB ports (one of them ultra-fast USB 3.0), HDMI, VGA, SDHC memory card slot, ethernet and headphones. Basically everything I need. It’s a bit of a brute and as ugly too. The Sharp and Toshiba’s are pretty laptops, the Lenovo - only a mother could love. It is however durable and the keyboard has the best feel of any of them. It will make a great work laptop and I think a decent travel laptop as soon as I get a chance to take it somewhere. It’s a tad shorter than the Toshiba and would have less depth to if I’d ordered the standard battery. It’s a tad thicker though. I think overall the size difference is a wash. I kind of wish Lenovo would look over the trade show booth at just about anyone’s products though because this thing looks like an IBM Thinkpad from 1992. It even has the red rubber eraser pointer tool in the keyboard which is a bit irritating as I keep bumping it. I think I saw in the BIOS that I can turn it off. It also has a very strange bumpy touchpad and strangely shaped mouse buttons between the space bar and the touch pad in addition to the touchpad acting as mouse buttons. If you took all the input methods by ALL the other manufacturers and crammed them into one Laptop you’d have the Lenovo. However, the feel of the keyboard is great (like an old fashioned non-Chiclets keyboard!), the cursor keys, home/end/PgUp/PgDn and function keys are placed well. The shift, delete, backspace and enter keys are very large as well which is a huge improvement over other laptops.

Pluses for the Lenovo X220

  • Great screen size - 12.5 is near ideal
  • Battery life, battery life, battery life.
  • Even the light battery is great!
  • PC Expresscard slot, USB 3.0
  • Great keyboard feel
  • Decent sized hard drive
  • AES-NI - the reason I bought it
  • LOTS of ram - 8 GB. That’s more than my workstation or server
  • Great wifi reception

Minuses for the Lenovo X220

  • Weird keyboard layout
  • Weird red eraser pointer
  • Funky touchpad
  • No eSATA
  • Heavy and a bit bulky too
  • Ugly as sin
  • Extended battery protrudes
  • No optical drive!

Here are all four lined up in the following order (from left to right), Toshiba r705, Lenovo X220, Sharp MM20, MSI Wind. If you look closely at the screens on the Sharp and MSI you'll see that the Sharp looks to have a screen much larger than the MSI. This is what I was talking about earlier about wide aspect ration screens - you lose a lot. The Sharps 10.4" screen is as tall and nearly as usable as a wide screen 12.5. Also I think you can see from this photo how thin the Sharp is.

My Dream Laptop

If I could have anything I wanted I’d take an updated Sharp MM20. Stretch the screen a bit from 10.4 to 12.5. Expand the keyboard a tad, give it more oomph and increase the battery life. Yep, that’s what I’d order if I were Mayor for a day. Some people might think I just described the MacBook Air 13 and maybe they’re right so let’s look at that for a moment.

  Sharp MM20 MSI Wind Toshiba r705 Lenovo X220 MacBook Air 13
Dimensions 9.9 x 8.1 x .8 10.3 x 7.1 x 1.1 12.4 x 8.9 x 1.0 12 x 8 x 1.4 12.8 x 9 x .7
Weight 1.99 lbs/2.5 lbs with 9hr battery 2.8 lbs 3.2 lbs 3.8 lbs 2.9 lbs
Screen 10.4 10.1 13.3 12.5 13.3
CPU 1 Ghz Transmeta 1.6 Ghz Atom 2.4 Ghz Core i3 2.5 Ghz Core i5 2.13 Ghz Core 2 Duo
Ram 512 MB 1 GB 4 GB 8 GB 4 GB
Hard drive 20 GB 160 GB 500 GB 320 GB 256 GB
Ethernet 10/100 10/100/1000 10/100/1000 10/100/1000 None
Wifi 802.11 b/g 802.11 b/g/n 802.11 b/g/n + WiMax 802.11 b/g/n 802.11 b/g/n
Battery Life 3/9 hrs rated
2/6 hrs real
with 9hr battery
3 hrs rated
2.5 hrs real
8 hrs rated
6 hrs real
13 hrs rated
10 hrs real
7 hrs rated
Expansion PCMCIA, 2 USB, VGA, Ethernet, headphone 3 USB, Ethernet, SD card, VGA, headphone, mic 3 USB, Ethernet, SD card, VGA, HDMI, eSATA, headphone, mic, bluetooth 3 USB, Ethernet, SD card, VGA, HDMI, Expresscard, headphone, bluetooth 2 USB, SD card, Displayport, headphone, bluetooth
Price $1500 $299 $899 $1500 $1829

It’s interesting to see how closely Toshiba tracks the MacBook Air. Toshiba seems to have taken a 90/10 plan in that they will provide 90% of the coolness for a fraction of the price. It’s almost as light and thin ( ¼ lb and ¼ inch) but has far greater expansion and included equipment. Battery life is arguably better, CPU is faster, storage is double, plus it has a great deal more expansion for... wait for it... half the price!

How does my current choice stack up? It’s physically smaller in width and depth but twice as thick (thus half as sexy) and nearly a pound heavier. It’s clearly built for a different purpose. It has double the memory, more storage, double the battery life and double the expansion for …. wait for it... half the price!

So in short the MacBook Air is a neat bit of kit but it’s got some shortcomings - namely expandability. The other issue (and it’s a big one) that I haven’t even touched yet is running Linux on it won’t be nearly as easy. Yes, I’d put Linux where the Oh So Fancy MacOS was but I’m sure I could coax Linux on the MacBook but my options are more limited.

The other other really big issue is eSATA. I need eSATA for my current job and the Toshiba had it built in. The Lenovo has an Expresscard slot in which I placed a dual eSATA card. And the MacBook Air doesn’t have AES-NI in the CPU either which is the main reason I’m getting rid of the Toshiba. In short it wouldn’t work for my situation. However, for just a travel laptop it looks like a great deal if the price was significantly lower (or the Toshiba didn’t exist).

Add a comment

I started out with Virgin Mobile cell phone service this year because they had an unlimited Internet/Texting plane for $25/month. It was limited to 300 minutes of talk which is a great deal for me since I don't talk on the phone much anyway. This plan was contract free as is all of Virgin Mobile's plans and uses Sprint for the carrier. I've had good luck with it but the one caveat is that you have a limited number of phones you can use. When I bought mine they had some crappy cheap phones, one Android phone and a Blackberry phone - I chose the Android unit. It's served it's purpose but not satisfied with Android 2.1 and later 2.2 I really wanted to try a Nokia n900 which is a GSM phone and I really didn't want to sign a contract especially since I was just trying it out. After some searching I found Simple Mobile which uses T-Mobile as a carrier, has contract free plans from $40-60/month and worked with the Nokia so I jumped in. I've decided to write this article because unlike Virgin Mobile it's not "Simple" to get Simple Mobile to work. Here's what I had to do.

  1. Buy a Sim Card (Called a Sim Kit on their website). I bought mine off of Ebay for $4.

  2. Buy Re-Up money on the Simple Mobile website.

  3. Activate your Sim Card by going to Simple Mobile's website and

  • Inserting your 19 digit SIM card number

  • Inserting your 15 digit Phone ID number

  • Inserting a 16 digit pin number (Re-Up minutes)

  • Inserting a numeric 8 digit password

Once that's done you should be able to make phone calls. Data (Internet) however, will not work quite yet. With Sprint/Virgin Mobile your data and cell connection appear to be the same thing. With T-Mobile/Simple Mobile your cell connection is seperate and your data connection looks like a  WIFI hot spot connection. However, you can't just select the 3G data connection quite yet.

To setup Internet access for your phone

  1. Point a web browser to http://simplemobile.wdsglobal.com/phonefirst

  2. Insert your phone number, the make and model of the phone and a security code

  3. Insert the pin number shown into your mobile phone, select Internet connections and choose Simple Web

All of this in comparison to just entering the number off a Virgin Mobile card bought online or at any Best Buy or Walmart. I think Simple Mobile has something to learn from Virgin Mobile. However, once you get it working you have unlimited T-Mobile internet for $60/month without a contract. A straight T-Mobile plan will cost you $80 for "truly unlimited" (plus taxes and fees) which includes up to 2 GB of data and requires a 2 year contract. How they can call it truly unlimited and then limit to 2 GB is a mystery to me. To be clear they won't shut you off after 2GB but they will throttle you back. My other choice was to use AT&T since they use SIM cards too. Their cheapest unlimited plan with data (200 MB) was $85 and also required a contract. To bump up to 4GB of data the price goes to $115 and also requires a 2 year contract.

For the chart below I tried focusing on my needs which are primarily Internet access everywhere and enough minutes to call home and ask if we need milk. I've included the cheapest plans to offer some sort of data and some minutes and then also Unlimited plans for reference. Some plans don't actually include unlimited data plans no matter how much money you pay. Some have unlimited data (T-Mobile) but throttle your speed after you star abusing it.

 

 

 

Cost

Data

Texting

Talk

Contract

Notes

Virgin Mobile

$25

Unlimited

Unlimited

300 minutes

no

Limited phone selection, 3G only

Virgin Mobile

$40

Unlimited

Unlimited

1200 minutes

no

Limited phone selection, 3G only

Virgin Mobile

$60

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

no

Limited phone selection, 3G only

Simple Mobile

$40

None

Unlimited

Unlimited

no

Any GSM phone, 3G only

Simple Mobile

$50

100 MB

Unlimited

Unlimited

no

Any GSM phone, 3G only

Simple Mobile

$60

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

no

Any GSM phone, 3G only

T-Mobile

$59

200 MB

Unlimited

500

2 year

Any GSM phone, 3G only no matter what they claim

T-Mobile

$109

Unlimited

Unlimited

500

2 year

Any GSM phone, 3G only no matter what they claim

T-Mobile

$119

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

2 year

Any GSM phone, 3G only no matter what they claim

Sprint

$55

450

None

Unlimited Web

2 year

Not clear what data isn't included in Unlimited Web, 4G

Sprint

$65

450

Unlimited

Unlimited Web

2 year

Not clear what data isn't included in Unlimited Web, 4G

Sprint

$99

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

2 year

4 G

AT&T Wireless

$55

450 Anytime

None

200 MB

2 year

Any GSM phone

AT&T Wireless

$85

450 Anytime

None

4 GB

2 year

Any GSM phone - supports tethering

AT&T Wireless

$105

450 Anytime

Unlimited

4 GB

2 year

Any GSM phone - supports tethering

AT&T Wireless

$135

Unlimited

Unlimited

4 GB

2 year

Any GSM phone - supports tethering

Verizon

$70

450

None

Unlimited

2 year

4G

Verizon

$90

450

5000

Unlimited

2 year

4G

Verizon

$120

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

2 year

4G

 

So a long story short I'm saving $480 over Sprint, $720 a year over T-Mobile and Verizon and $900 over AT&T and they require 2 year contracts.  Even though Sprint and Verizon are not compatible with my N900 I compared their plans just out of curiosity.

It's worth noting that for Virgin Mobile and Simple Mobile you have to buy your phone ahead of time. Is it worth it to have a restricted set of phones to choose from (Virgin Mobile) or a lengthy setup (Simple Mobile) and having to buy your phone seperate? After buying my n900, an extra 32 GB memory card (for a total of 64 GB), a new case, screen protectors, extra stylus and 2 extra batteries I have hundreds of dollars left in my pocket at the end of one year. Yes, I think it's worth it.

Add a comment

I've been very excited about Android for quite some time. It's nice to see a form of Linux take over the mobile device market. Until the beginning of the 2011 year though hadn't personally experienced Android. For the couple of year before I got my phone I'd been using Nokia's Mobile Internet Devices (n800/n810) which have served me well outside of not having Internet connections everywhere. Nokia understood this and made the n900 a cell phone and released a new more finger friendly Maemo 5 operating system for it too. Because they needed to get the phone out as soon as possible they kept Maemo 4's Hildon (gtk) based gui with the idea of going to a QT based GUI for Maemo 6. Nokia had just purchased QT for millions of dollars. And then something happened, Android started to gain traction so Nokia did what any smart company would do - join resources with another large corporation getting the snot beat out of them - Intel. Intel had a mobile operating system called Moblin which was designed primarily for tablets. Nokia's Maemo had largely been a small tablet OS and since both were based on Linux it made sense to merge and form MeeGo. This however, put an already late project (Maemo 6) an additional year behind in the merging Maemo and Moblin into MeeGo. This resulted in Nokia being in a bad position as their Symbian OS was getting very long in the tooth.

Years ago I had a Psion Revo+, the forerunner to Symbian which I liked a lot. I wrote applications for it in the included OPL language. Then Psion spun off the OS and every major cell phone company jumped on the bandwagon but it was really Nokia that carried the torch. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when a company called MobilePC accidentally sent me a Nokia N97 instead of a Nokia N900.

Without knowing it was a mess-up I took the Nokia from the box and immediately I thought I'd been ripped off. The phone said N-Series and felt very very cheap. My first thought was that it was a Chinese clone of the N900. I powered it up and the operating system looked like it was from a different era, it felt very clunky and not very intuitive. It was only then that I looked under the LCD screen and saw that it was a Nokia N97. Having only dealt with the Nokia MIDs I was shocked that this hunk of junk could be a Nokia. Looking at the specs it looked great - 32 GB of flash, 5MP camera with Carl Zeiss lens,  3.5 inch screen, Quad Band cell radio and more. This appears to be a thoroughly modern phone - however, I'd be ashamed selling it. Without thinking (or doing a proper review) I put it back in the box and sent it to MobilePC then waited patiently for way to long for my N900. In hindsight I probably should have spent a day or two with it so I could give it a proper chance but since I didn't my opinion that it's a hunk of junk stands.

As soon as the N900 arrived I took it out of the box and immediately knew I was dealing with a completely different animal. Even though it is only 1 ounce heavier it feels good. It feels like it was made of good solid materials. The screen is sharp and clear, the keyboard slides with a satisfying clunk and the plastic case even feels better. They clearly are spending more money making this phone than the N97. The specs look similar with a 3.5 inch screen, 32 GB of flash, Quad band, same lens and so on but boy is there a difference. Powering it up introduced me to Maemo 5 which is definitely different than Maemo 4. A lot of the same applications are available in updated versions, the gui effects show off the beefier hardware and it's way faster than my old N810 tablet. It however, doesn't have the "start menu" for lack of better term. Instead it has desktops not unlike Android and it has a "view all applications" mode just like Android. What's different though is how widespread widgets are and how easy it is to switch between running applications. I'll be doing a video later but for the record Maemo is a breath of fresh air after using Android for 5 months. My biggest concern going back to Maemo was that Android has about 160,000 apps and Maemo has about 400. What I'm finding out is that if an OS is designed properly you only need about 10 apps. With Android I spent a lot of time just trying apps and finding out none of them did what I wanted. Things like having a weather widget on the desktop showing the next 4 or 5 days weather forcast. I can glance at it while I'm getting ready to launch an app without having to start a weather app, then leave it running because Android doesn't shut anything down. With Maemo I have more than one weather widget that does exactly what I want. There will be apps I miss though like Yelp and OneBusAway. I'm looking into writing a version of the latter for Maemo though.

Overall it's a very nice piece of hardware. I LOVE the stylus (any screen under 5 inches needs a stylus no matter how clever the interface designers are), the OS is fast and shows no noticeable slowdown when multitasking, it doesn't need to be "rooted" to work right, it's Linux so if you want to overclock the CPU to 1100 mhz you can, it has Video Out, FM radio, FM transmitter, 32 GB built in memory and expansion for another 32 GB, decent audio, a really nice camera for a phone and it seems very stable.

Update two weeks later:

I've now been using my n900 for a couple of weeks and I'm very frustrated, not with the n900 or Maemo but with Nokia. Are they really that stupid? Their plan was to move to QT for Maemo 6 then that got shelved for the MeeGo joint venture with Intel. The reason I'm frustrated is that Maemo 5 is a very very nice product. Once in a while you'll find an app screen that doesn't look finished (the app manager) but it's rare. The overall user experience with Maemo 5 and the apps built into it is so much nicer than Android (I have 2.2) that I'm just speechless as to why Nokia couldn't make a decision or stand behind a product. I just don't know what to say. Really Nokia, are you on drugs? I'll do a proper review of the n900 when I calm down. :-)

Add a comment

After using a nokia n800 then an n810 for the last few years I've wanted a couple of things, more speed, more applications and internet everywhere. The n810 Wimax would have given me at least one of those things but they pulled it after Clear/Sprint took too long to roll out Wimax. Maybe the handwriting was on the wall for Wimax anyway since it's pretty clear now that it will probably be steamrolled by LTE. Nokia released the n900 which is a very interesting device and I considered it but at $400 and requiring a $60-$100 a month cell phone contract it's a big decision. Since I really only want to call once in a while I really need cell phone access that gives me unlimited data, some call minutes and as low of a price as possible - enter Virgin Mobil. The Virgin brand has been very disruptive overall especially in airlines. Virgin Mobile USA is a contract free cell phone service which is a boon to the cell phone industry. I really really hate the idea that my cell phone provider can lock me in for two years. We used to do this with dial up internet and thankfully that practice has gone away. I can remember having to sign a 2 year contract for modem access to the internet. Crazy. So if you buy an iphone/n900/droid etc and you add up the costs of the service for 2 years you're looking at somewhere between $2000 and $2500 just to have internet on a bus.. This to me is a bit steep but until recently Virgin Mobile wasn't a good choice because they just had crap phones. Recently they added the Samsung Intercept, an entry level Android phone so I bought one.  It's not a high end phone but it does have an 800 mhz cpu, 3.2 inch screen, up to 32 GB of flash storage, Android 2.1, 3.2 MP camera and can record video. A year ago this would be a kick butt phone, now it's entry level. It's good enough for what I want and the cost of entry was $219 at Best Buy plus $25 for a month of service. Yes, $25 a month for unlimited data with limited minutes. I get 300 minutes of call time which isn't much but I hate phones anyway so for me it's fine. For an extra $15 a month that goes up to 1300 minutes and add another $15 again and it's unlimited everything. For $60/month you get unlimited calling and Internet with NO contract and a fairly decent phone.

So far so good. Later I'll do a review of the phone and service.

 

 

Add a comment

I've been a long time user of Nokia's Internet tablets and have been looking at upgrading to something that has a cell and/or wimax connection to the internet so today I started googling. I've heard of people getting iphones refurbished for under $100 and just signing up for a data-only plan at AT@T so they essentially have an ipod touch with a cell connection (as apposed to wifi only) for $15 a month. I considered that but have issues with Apple's policies concerning what *I can do with the device that *I own.

Anyway as you may remember from past articles I've also been looking at Nokia's n900 phone. It's more Mobile Internet Device than phone although it does make calls. This is very similar to the iphone being a better media player than phone. The n900 though is still pretty pricy and there's questions about it's future since Nokia and Intel have merged their mobile OS efforts into Meego. Some n900 owners don't know if the n900 will be able to run MeeGo or not so I'm undecided on it. However I did turn up this "N900 Style" cell phone device made in China. From a distance it's pretty convincing until you read the comments and the FAQ. I'm providing a link but also giving an excerpt.

Interesting Specs

  • Support Extend (Memory) Card  2G
  • Camera Pictrue Resolution  640×480/240×400/400×240/160×120/80×60
  • Screen Resolution VGA(240×320 pixels)

Question and Answer

Can anyone tell me if the N900 style phone being sold by LightInTheBox has the linux based Maemo operating system like the actual Nokia N900? If so this is the tech deal of the century.

Sorry - this phone is based on the MTK operating system.

Does this have resistive or capacitive touch functionality?

Sorry, but this device does not have a touchscreen function.

Does this phone has a wifi ??

Sorry, this phone doesn't have WiFi.

Interesting device but there sure a lot of sorrys in the answers. It looks like an n900 down to the bulge around the camera bezel. However, where the n900 has 32GB of ram built in with support for another 16GB this pile of crap can be *expanded to 2GB max. Instead of the 5MP camera on the n900 this thing has a .7 MP webcam. Instead of Maemo Linux this has something called MTK operating system which nobody knows anything about and more than likely is also crap. The nice thing is it only costs $125 or so. It's even compatible with your Nokia charger.

Add a comment

Sometimes I don't know why people do what they do outside of the fact that they can. Here's a Youtube video of someone who got Mac OSX to work on a Nokia n900.

Add a comment
Add a comment

Intomobile has a new first hand experience video of the Access Linux platform.

Add a comment