Sunday, 10 January 2010 20:26

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?

Published in Gadget Blog
Wednesday, 02 December 2009 08:01

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.


Published in Gadget Blog
Monday, 22 October 2007 18:00

Crime preventing skirt

In Japan women are attempting to stop being victims of crime by hiding from their pursuers in plain site. They wear a skirt that turns into a full size cloth vending machine!







Hopefully they don't avoid one criminal only to find another breaking into vending machines. Original story at the New York Times .

Grant

Published in Tech Blog
Monday, 20 November 2006 16:00

Flash card backup

When I travel I take lots of pictures and it always makes me nervous to only have them on flash. I've lost two flash cards in the last couple of years to file system errors. Considering how much it costs to travel it's nothing to buy a backup harddrive or extra flash cards. I bought

a harddrive case for about $12 like the one above which works great with a 60 GB 5400 rpm Hitachi laptop drive in it. The only problem is I still need my laptop because my camera can't talk directly to the drive. AP25-U-unit

I also need to bring along my memory card reader too because my daughter's camera uses CF cards and mine uses SD cards. I've found a new device that may help me. I've been considering not even taking my laptop to Ecuador in the winter because I don't want it to get stolen. Anyway the device I just purchased is a combined laptop hard drive and memory card reader. It's a lot bulkier than my other drive case but it can work without a computer. It's made by BAFO and I got it from thetechgeek.com which had it for $14.95 without a drive. I inserted a 60 GB drive into it and was thinking to myself I wonder how I format it. I was about to take the drive back out and plug it into my PVR client since it has a ribbon cable that takes 2.5 inch drives when I realized that I could just plug it in via USB (duh) and format it that way. I plugged it in and used mkdosfs to format it which took all of 3 seconds. Now that it was formatted I plugged in an SD card and pushed the Copy button and away it went. It beeped twice when it was done. This would be a great backup tool for my flash cards. I've mentioned that I'm a little paranoid about losing data and for good reason. The summer of 2005 we spent in Paris and I only backed up my pictures to my laptop and uploaded little 1024x768 versions to this website. This summer I did the same but brought along the portable harddrive and it was a good thing too because my laptop got rained on in Poland and I lost the data on the hard drive. Had that been my only copy I would have been toast. Thankfully that was one of three copies. So back to the BAFO device.BF-6010-unit This thing is so easy to backup flash cards with it should be a crime not to do it. You plug the flash card in and push the Copy button. That's it, really! It copies the contents to the hard drive and beeps twice.

I only have two complaints.

  1. It could be smaller
  2. the batteries could last longer

The battery is good for 1.6 hrs and it's about the size of an old
portable walkman. The power adapter is made for continental europe but comes with an adapter for the U.S. It's a bit bulky but not heavy.

To test the speed I created a 1 GB file and copied it to my 2 GB 120x SD card across a USB 2.0 connection.

  • Copy from PC to SD card - 5 minutes (3.3 MB/sec)
  • Copy from SD card to BAFO internal hd - 14 minutes (1.1 MB/sec)
  • Copy from PC to BAFO internal hd - 3 minutes (5.6 MB/sec)
  • Copy from BAFO internal hd to PC - 5 minutes (3.3 MB/sec)
  • Copy from BAFO internal CF card to PC - 4 minutes 53seconds (3.9 MB/sec)

So it's not the fastes thing on the block.. I then plugged it into my USB controller and used hdparm to test the internal hd. It clocked at about 4 MB/sec. It looks like the little device just doesn't have enough oomph to read and write at the same time. Copying from the PC to the hd is almost 5x faster than copying from the flash to the hd. The flash can't be the problem because I can write to it fairly fast. The interesting thing is it's actually faster to copy to the internal hd than from it! This is completely backwards from what it should be. The internal hd shoould be able to sustain 20 MB/sec and our fastest time was 5.6 MB/sec which is about 40 Mbits/sec so clearly we are using USB 2.0. So it appears that something internal to the device hits a roadblock about about 5 MB/sec.

None of this matters unless you're in a speed contest. You can figure that it will take about 10 minutes a day to backup your digital pictures if you're on vacation. The battery is good for 100 minutes so it theoretically could last you a week and a half without recharging...

Published in Photography Blog
Friday, 20 November 2009 03:05

Google Android and Palm WebOS - mobile Linux

Linux has taken the mobile world by storm. About 5 yearas ago I mentioned in one of my classes that at some point Linux would dominate the entire embedded devices world. A student (who was an ameteur embedded developer) laughed out loud and when I asked him if he didn't believe me he replied "It's not that, I'm a realist and this is never going to happen".  I'd like to dedicate this post to that student and I hope wherever he is he's decided to join my reality.

Years ago there was a group of Cell phone manufacturors that joined to make the LiMo foundation - an organization for a unified Linux OS used for mobile applications. Members of LiMo include NEC, DOMOCO, Orange, Panasonic, Vodophone, Samsung, LG and Ericson. With a member list like that you'd think they would take over the world. Palm at the time was making their ancient 16 bit OS still but had decided to spin the OS portion of Palm into another company to focus on making a replacement for the PalmOS. That company, ACCESS announced that it's replacement would be based on Linux and they in turn joined LiMo. Intel on the other hand decided to go it's own way and created a Mobile OS called Moblin. The Moblin project is now under the Umbrella of the Linux Foundation which has members from all over the world. I'm not going to list the Linux Foundation members because that list includes virtually every major Tech company that you've ever heard of.

Nokia is missing from all of these lists because they had invested heavily in their own mobile OS - Symbian which came from the EPOC os of the 90s. Nokia dominated the smart phone market with about 80% saturation so they had no intentions of changing OSs just yet. About a year ago Nokia was down to about 35% saturation and released Symbian to the open source world thinking this was going to help developement. They also started working on Maemo a Linux based Mobile platform for Mobile Internet Devices (not phones).

Palm in the meantime was getting tired of waiting for ACCESS to create their new Linux based OS so they created their own - WebOS. At about the same time ACCESS announced they had finished their Linux based mobile OS but apparently nobody cares.

The big announcement was when Google decided to enter the Mobile Phone OS market with their Android. There was much fanfare and HTC released an Android phone then things got quiet again.

Windows Mobile continued to suck, Symbian continued to lose marketshare and the iphone continued to take that share because it was just awesome (even though it couldn't do copy and paste or multi-task, two features of just about every other OS out there).

Enter fall 2009. Palms new WebOS is amazing but unfortunately saddled to a lackluster phone. Nokia decideds that they will afterall release a Linux phone using Maemo 5. Verizon decides to sell a phone that someone actually wants and goes with the Motorola Droid - the first Android 2 device.

To summarize. The market leader in smart phones uses nothing but open source operating systems (Symbian and Maemo), the second place finisher that's eating up the market is using an mobile OS based on BSD (iphone), Google's Android is a steam roller destroying everything in it's path and will probably be number 2 in as many years and Palm will probably survive thanks to WebOS.

In 5 years I see all Smart Phones having a BSD or Linux OS. Who would have every thought that a 40 year old mainframe OS would become the market leader Cell Phone OS?

I'm currently running Android and WebOS in virtual machines on my desktop. I'll say it again, I love WebOS, they just need to put it on a phone I want.

 

 

 

 

 

Published in Gadget Blog
Wednesday, 05 September 2007 18:00

Gorillapods for cheap!

 I just ran across this news item a minute ago. Some of you know that I love my Gorillapods and take them everywhere. There are many shots that I just wouldn't have gotten without the gorillapod. Actually I don't use it quite as much as I used to since I got optical image stabilization which helps a great deal.

Anyway Deal Extreme has the original gorillapod on sale for about $6 including shipping! That's about 1/3 what I paid. Buy one now.


Published in Photography Blog

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.

Published in Gadget Blog

I've been pondering a smart phone since they've been getting better and it's not because I want a phone but I want a MID (Mobile Internet Device) that connects everywhere so I have constant connectivity to IM, email, web etc.. With the n800 you have to be near an open wifi access point which gets irritating to say the least. Using DNS tunnelling you can connect through many access points that are open but require monthly fees but since AT&T opened their access points at Starbucks and Barnes & Noble this is less useful. I was really excited about the n810 wimax edition but Nokia pulled it because of a lack of wimax network. Now I see Sprint advertising 4G with their Palm Pre which is wimax. We still don't have access in the Seattle area although it's coming. So I've narrowed my choice down to an Android phone (not the G1) the Palm Pre or Nokia's new MID/Phone the n900.

To be honest the Maemo OS on the n800 isn't that great but it gets the job done. It can be unstable, the apps are amateurish and it needs to be reloaded every so often so I wasn't that excited about the n900 but it seems that Nokia has actually gotten serious about Maemo. The screenshots look wonderful and it looks like they've decided to actually make an interface for a small device instead of a tiny computer Desktop.

 

Published in Gadget Blog
Tuesday, 02 February 2010 15:39

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.

Published in Gadget Blog
Saturday, 08 August 2009 03:22

Mobile 3G wifi hotspot

When I'm in an airport for work I have my work laptop which has a 3G cell modem and I can connect to the internet fine (sort of thanks to poor 3G coverage). This is a great thing and allows me to become "untethered" from wifi hotspots. However if I'm not lugging my laptop around I'll have my nokia n800 on me which only has wifi. I was really excited about the n810 WiMax edition because that would allow me to have internet access in metropolitan areas but unfortunately WiMax rollout was way too slow and Nokia figured their next device the n900 would be released before people could connect with the n810 WiMax edition so they pulled it. Some time later I think this was a wise decision because WiMax still isn't available outside a limited area of the US and there are problems in the way it works with treating it as a mobile service. The Nokia n900 just got submitted to the FCC so I figure by Christmas it will be out with wifi, smaller size and 3G access. However if you have a device like an n800/n810, ipod touch, laptop or any other Mobile Internet Device that relies on wifi then the MiFi may be of use to you.

Introducing the MiFi series of mobile wifi hotspots. They come in several flavors (EVDO, HSPDA US, HSPDA EU) but all work the same way. They connect to the 3G network and act as a wifi router for wireless devices. You can only connect 5 wireless devices to it at a time but considering the intended audience I don't think that's a problem. It's so small too that you can just place it in your shirt pocket and become a mobile hotspot yourself. I was just thinking how fun this would be to walk up to someone with a laptop and let them connect to the access point but then slowly move away to see if they would start to point their laptop in different areas to get a better signal.  The real fun part would be getting them to move closer to you as they figure out which direction the signal is coming from. If you were bored you could lead them around all afternoon.

Enough of my demented mind. Here's the skinny..

 

Published in Gadget Blog
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