Grant McWilliams

Tech Gadgets

Gadgets

I have a weakness for various gadgets. I'm usually the person that has the imported phone before they're available locally. 

Android a flop?

I've had my Samsung Intercept for a week now and my first impression is that Android is a beta project that's not ready for production. This might be a bold statement since it's had 7 major updates since inception and phones manufactured by many different companies are being sold on all four networks in the states but it's true. I don't think Google has spent 5 minutes on usability testing. I'm a huge Linux fan and 100% of my income comes from Linux and open source so I'm really stepping out saying this but the fastest growing Cell Phone OS is a bit of a pile. It's not that I think the underlying OS is bad it's just that the interface leaves a lot to be desired. Since this is my first Android phone I also need to separate what may be Samsung Intercept issues, MY Samsung Intercept issues and Android issues.  I've reset my phone to defaults twice in 4 days because after installing a few apps it just stops installing them. You'd think that I'm out of space for apps but I get no error message and even after uninstalling all the apps I still can't install apps. Other Android users are not experiencing this and I don't yet know if it's a Samsung Intercept problem or MY phone is bad or Android is shite.

Without considering this I have to say the notification system on Android is a pile of cow dung and the installed apps remind me a bit of Linux in the early days where multiple apps of the same type would install in the hopes that ONE of them worked. I have by default an email app and a gmail app. I use a standard gmail account and then I have accounts on two google apps for domains accounts. The email app I like a lot and it makes it easy to look at my labels but I can't get the google apps for domains accounts to work. The gmail app however, picks them right up and they work perfectly. Why have two apps that do the same thing? Because you need both of them because neither are that great.  The settings are all over the place too, to reset your phone you will probably have to google it - seriously. I found the reset to settings to default under Settings -> Privacy. Privacy? Why in the world would it be under privacy? Notification is another story. If you have multiple email accounts and you click on a notification that says you have email on one of them it clears the notifications for all of the others.  I could go on for hours but I'll end here. I used to thrash on Maemo 4 saying it was old, slow, buggy and disorganised. In comparison to Android Maemo 4 is a wonderful OS. It makes me very interested in MeeGo on a Nokia n900 replacement.

Thinking of the n900 brings me to the topic of finger friendly interfaces too - they suck. I spent 10 minutes trying to make a lesson in Moodle visible using Android, had I had the nokia n810 on me (and Internet) I would have been done in 30 seconds because you can just click links - no reason to zoom, zoom, zoom, click on the wrong one, go back, scroll down, zoom, zoom, zoom and then repeat as needed. Thats enough for now but so far I'm fairly disappointed in Android to be honest.

 

 

 

 

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Maemo to Android

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.

 

 

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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.

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Mac OSX on Nokia n900? Sometimes I wonder..

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.

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Access Linux Mobile platform first hand report

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

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Another Linux Cell Phone OS?

LG unveiled their new GW990 Smartphone and guess what OS their using - Intel's Moblin! As if my articles about Nokia going Linux, the flood of Android phones, Palms WebOS and the Access Limited wasn't enough LG which is a very large manufacturor of phones is going to be selling a phone using Moblin - a Linux OS. This phone will use Intel's Moorestown chipset which basically means it has an Atom CPU not unlike what's in my Netbook. It has a 4.8 inch, 1024x480 display, and boasts about 4 hours of talk-time and 300 hours of standby period. A 4.8 inch screen and a netbook cpu in a phone? After Google released the 1Ghz Nexus One phone I thought we'd plateau for a while. I don't know how big this thing is but it would seem that having a screen 1/2 inch bigger than my Nokia n800 (and 1.3 inches bigger than an iphone screen) would make for a phone that's quite large.

I don't have a lot of information but they've not said whether they're bringing the phone to the US or not. Does ANYONE (and I mean anyone including Microsoft and Apple execs!) have any doubts that Linux will dominate the future smartphone market?

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Wanting what you can't have (without importing)

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.

 

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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.

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Are cell phones getting out of hand?

The frequency of smart phone news is quickening. With the release of the Palm Pre running on the 600mhz ARM cortex A8 processor we've been jetisoned into a different era. The iPhone 3GS was released quickly after using the same CPU and faster 3D acceleration.  Motorolla followed up with the Droid and now it seems weekly we have more 600 mhz cell phones being released. Not only do I wonder about having 600 mhz in my pocket I wonder about the effeciency of the software. There was a time when a 50mhz Motorolla 68060 was a screaming cpu that did everything you ever wished. Now we 600 mhz in our cell phones and are yearning for more. I think there's just too many levels of abstraction.

Anyway the purpose of this post is to comment on a new announcement by Ziilabs, a division of Creative Technology. The interesting point of their Concept phone is the cpu is a dual core ARM 9 (mhz unknown). This is the current generation CPU. The next phone they'll put out will migrate to a 1 ghz Cortex A8 based System on Chip. This would roughly be a 1 ghz iPhone. Not only that but the concept phone has the following specs.

  • Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, Tri-band WCDMA, HSDPA Cat 8 at 7.2mbps
  • Linux-based Zii Optimized Android and Plaszma Support
  • Accelerated OpenGL ES 3D Graphics, Video and Imaging
  • 3.1" 480x800 16M colour Active Matrix OLED with capacitive multi-touch
  • Mini HDMI port for 1080p video output
  • Xtreme Fidelity#8482 X-Fi audio technology
  • 5M pixel rear facing, auto-focus camera
  • VGA forward facing camera for video conferencing
  • USB 2.0 Micro port for connectivity and charging
  • MicroSD storage expansion and SIM card slots
  • 256MB low-power DDR memory
  • Integrated Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, Bluetooth 2.1 EDR and Hardware GPS
  • Composite Video output
  • 1130mAH lithium polymer battery

From this list you might have an idea where they're going with this phone since it has both HDMI and Composite Video output. They also mention Xtreme Fidelity audio and accelerated 3D support.  With the dual ARM 9 cpus they are able to support  1080p playback using H.264, plus 1080p, 24fps encoding, and simultaneous H.264 encode and decode at 720p for videoconferencing. When they move to the 1ghz ARM cortex A8 SoC they'l be able to support full Blu-Ray at 60fps. Get the picture yet? This is something thats very hard to do with the most powerful desktop PC. In addition to that the new cpu will provide 3D acceleration with up to 1 Gigapixel fill rate.

As a side note it runs two versions of Linux (of course) - a specially optimized version of Android and their own Plaszma Linux which I know nothing about.


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