Tuesday, 08 September 2009 03:59

Nokia n900 live

I've been a maemo MID user for several years and when I bought my Nokia n800 I was amazed at how easy wireless networking and bluetooth were. At the time Linux was very difficult to setup in this area. Times have changed and the Maemo OS has pretty much stood still. Each successive release we got a new set of bugs and not much else. Things have gotten slightly more stable but for the most part the n800 is underpowered and the UI is aimed at desktop users but with a 4 inch screen. The new Freemantle is supposed to be a drastic change from the past and by this video it looks like it. From the beginning Nokia wasn't committed to the Linux based mobile Internet devices and put all of their resources behind the Symbian OS they own and the Linux OS always seemed more like an experiment than anything. I guess the experiment is over because they've done a ton of work on Freemantle. I've read that it's the first of the next gen Linux MID OSes but it isn't the final one. Freemantle will have a GTK gui and the next one after that will be QT which Nokia now owns. The one improvement that I think they need is to stabalize the software. I don't know if a Communist/Apple approach is best but you have to admit that iphone apps generally work and maemo apps don't. Anyway check out the video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrYqemylpIo
Published in Gadget Blog

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. :-)

Published in Gadget Blog
Saturday, 24 March 2007 18:00

On the road battery power

I found this online today and think that it just might be what I’ve been looking for. It only weighs 4.4 ozs a

nd stores 4400 mAh at 3.7volts. It also provides 6 volts and 8.4 volts as well for devices that need more voltage.

It has about 30 tips to connect litererally hundreds of devices. I takes about 3hrs to charge from the wall socket or about 4hrs from USB. This is great for me because I could leave yet another wall wart at home and just plug in my laptop and charge it with that. Then when I’m out on a plane or train I could use it to power other things. I’m not sure it would help with my camera because my current one relies on batteries but in the future maybe.
Published in Travel Blog
Sunday, 02 December 2012 16:14

Open Mobile Linux History

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.


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.

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.

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.




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?





Published in Gadget Blog
Thursday, 10 December 2009 04:35

Rest in Piece Windows Mobile

Computerworld just did an article on Windows Mobile smartphones sales dropping this quarter by 20% while smart phone sales in general increased by 13%. This doesn't surprise anyone because Windows mobile 6 stunk and the update (6.5) just stunk in new areas. Blackberry has it's loyal corporate followers, the iphone has taken the world by storm and the Linux phones (everyone else at this point) are a steamroller coming. There 's a chance that Windows Mobile 7 could turn this around but most people agree that by the time version 7 comes out Android and the other Linux OSs will have trampled it. There's a chance it's not dead but I don't think it's a very large one. There was a time when nobody thought Microsoft could screw up. They were a machine that only a few companies were able to compete against. With Windows Mobile they had the opportunity to take the cell phone world by storm and replace Symbian (the market leader in the consumer sector) and Blackberry in the corporate sector because Microsoft already owned both of those computing markets. The fact that they blundered just shows they didn't understand that cell phone users don't wish to have Windows XP on their Cell phones. Apple proved this by providing a simple effecient gui that works without a Stylus.

A second announcement just surfaced that showed Samsung, the world second largest cell phone manufacturer (after Nokia) bringing out their own Smart Phone OS - Bada OS. My immediate reaction is "nobody would be dumb enough to create an OS from scratch anymore" and upon further examination my reaction proves sound - it's Linux. So lets recap here.

As of Q3 2009 according to Gartner

  • Symbian, the OS used by Nokia devices, finished first with 44.6%
  • Research in Motion's BlackBerry OS finished second with 20.8%
  • iPhone finished third with 17.1%.
  • Windows Mobile had 7.9% of the total smartphone OS market
  • Google's Android phones a 3.5% share

Palm I believe is in the 1.?% marketshare. What's interesting about this is that Android has only been on one widely available phone and it's been for the most part a sales failure and yet it still garnered 3.5% of the market. Windows Mobile is available on many phones by the biggest carriers and only garnered twice that and is losing it at a horrific rate. Verizon's (Motorola) Droid and Droid Eris has hit the mainstream running and has posted record numbers. This is the first Android phone that most people will ever hear of.

Gartner has predicted in the next 3 years Android will have 18% of the market putting it in second place behind Symbian. My personal feeling is that when Maemo 6 comes out Nokia will start to replace Symbian. I'd also like to see Palms WebOS do well but I also think it needs to a phone of equal stature to the OS. The Pre just isn't the phone I want to buy. I'd like to see Palm do a rotatable wide screen iphone/Droid style of phone and get the lead out of the app store. There still isn't hardly any apps and the ones that are there don't work.

Recap on Smart Phone Operating Systems

  • Google's Android - Linux
  • Samsung's Bada - Linux
  • Nokia's Maemo - Linux
  • Palm's WebOS - Linux
  • Access OS - Linux
  • LiMO R2 - Linux
  • Apple iPhone OS - BSD Unix
  • Blackberry - proprietary
  • Windows Mobile - proprietary

Do the proprietary OS's have a chance? I don't think so. I will reiterate my many statements toward the eventual dominance of Linux in ANY embedded market. At some point all custom and/or embedded devices will run variations of Linux.

Published in Gadget Blog
Tuesday, 27 July 2010 13:25

The Chinese are coming!

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.

Published in Gadget Blog
Friday, 01 July 2011 20:17

Travel/Work Laptop comparison

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).

Published in Gadget Blog

I notice that the Motorola Droid has been released in Europe as the Motorola Milestone.. This means that there's a GSM Droid running around out there! I will be checking out bringing an unlocked speciman here so I can use a pre-paid sim card in it. I found some sim cards that have free incoming calls and allow you to connect to 3G for data. My plan would be to use Google Voice to make all my connections but I'd be using a small amount of data access to connect. It seems that if you pay by the MB a pre-paid card could get expensive depending on what you are doing. I'd have to try it to see what kind of data I'd be downloading a month but if it was very small I theoretically could have a Droid for zero dollars a month. This I like.

Anyway once I started looking around to see where I could buy a GSM droid I thought I'd put together a list of the importers and all the cool geek toys they have. I used to surf these sites back in the Sharp Zaurus c-3000 days because Sharp never imported their very cool tiny computer. Later I wanted a Panasonic R-7 sub-notebook and again I was going to have to import it. There's several ways of doing that and some are cheaper than others (but more work).

Anyway Dynamism is one of my favorite importers but is also the most pricey. I just like wandering their site looking at gadgets. Also GeekStuff4U is pretty cool so spend some time there as well.  I'll wet your appetite with the photo to the right. A 4 lb laptop with dual monitors? Pretty cool.

Or how about a danger bomb clock? You need to diffuse the bomb every morning by severing the right wire. :-) Not to mention light saber chopsticks, R2D2 soy sauce bottle etc.. There's a lot of junk but still fun to look at.

 

A few other sites that I used to spend time at but haven't in a while are listed below.

Sometimes you get busy and forget these sites exist. If however, you're a gadget nut like I am you'll have fun there.

 

Published in Gadget Blog

A week or so ago I blogged about the future domination of Linux in the smartphone market. I mentioned that Palm spun off it's OS division into a company called Palmsource which was bought and renamed Access. Access then started working on a Linux replacement for the PalmOS to be used in Palm hardware devices. They took so long that Palm (the hardware company) created their own Linux based OS called WebOS which you can try out in the Palm Pre and Palm Pixie. Thought to be dead in the water without a hardware vendor Access just resurfaced on the First Else from Else Mobile. The interface is very interesting and new, a word that doesn't get used often in the smartphone industry these days. It seems since the iphone changed everything and became a sales hit everyone wants to mimic the iphone. Makes sense from a commercial standpoint but at some point you might want to be called "better than an iphone" instead of "as good as an iphone". Else is risking a bit but I welcome the diversity nonetheless.  I don't just blog about smartphones for the heck of it considering I don't even own one! I'm blogging about the Else because it's based on Linux. If this thing takes off we will have 4 major Linux platforms in the smart phone market - Android, Maemo, WebOS and Access Linux. This doesn't count the LiMo phones which never seem to materialize. I belive Access Linux is LiMo compatible though since they're a member.

The First Else has roughly the same hardware as an iphone/n900/Palm Pre/Droid which puts it on par with the best. The interface is really where it's at.  There's a video interview of Else Mobile's CEO at  TelecomTV.

Published in Gadget Blog
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