The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for the 'Windows CE' Category

Psion Netbook Pro – An Informal Review

Posted by Deliverator on 17th February 2006

For the last week, it has been my great pleasure to play with the newest HPC in my growing collection, a used Netbook Pro. I have been eyeing the Netbook Pro with envy for quite a while, but was intimidated by the sky high price (~$1300 new) and lack of availability in the US. I finally managed to find one used on eBay for a reasonable price from a reputeable dealer. The Netbook Pro is very sought after and is a frequent target of eBay scammers, so I did my research before ordering.

I received my unit this Monday, but wanted to spend some time with the unit before conveying my thoughts. Here they are, in no particular order.

Pros:

-Bright 800*600 touchscreen with good daylight visibility
-Lots of connectivity options (CF type II, SD/MMC, PCMCIA, USB)
-Modern OS (Windows CE 4.2) with ongoing support from the manufacturer. Flashrom allows for updates. An update was released just a few days ago, in fact.
-Fast processor and lots of ram compared to other HPC options. Carries a 400 MHZ Xscale PA255 processor and 128 MB of ram (though only 80 someodd is available to the user).
-High quality, touch typeable keyboard.
-Much better application compatibility with modern Windows CE applications, without the need for as much hex-editing of executables and stub dll files.
-IE 6 properly renders almost all the websites I commonly use and has good ssl support for banking/ecommerce sites. In addition, the latest Minimo (a port of Firefox for mobile devices) builds run with the simple addition of a cellcore.dll file. This is a huge improvement over browsing on the Jornada 720, which was fairly limited with IE 4 and Netfront 3.3 as the only real options.
-High quality Java support through Insignia’s Jeode JVM opens the Netbook Pro to a much larger pool of applications. I am currently using the excellent free Mindterm JAVA SSH client from AppGate for my SSH needs.
-Remote Desktop client and VPN connectivity make for excellent remote admin capabilities.
-USB connection supports mice, flash drives and other UMS devices.
-Novel screen hinge design allows for a much larger screen than typical on such a small device. Also allows for the screen to be tilted to almost any angle without projecting backwards from the unit. This would be very useful on cramped airline food trays and the like. Also allows the unit to be easily held by its “spine” for one handed use/book reading.
-Battery life is ~8 hours with my used battery. The Netbook Pro callibrates each battery to give a very accurate estimate of remaining battery life.
-Includes Windows Media Player 9, letting you play back a wide variety of audio and video media formats.

Cons:

-Much larger than a Jornada. Not pocketable. At 2.2 pounds, it is in the same class as some sub-notebooks. The NB Pro’s excellent battery life and instant on/off serve as good compensations, though. I bought an excellent Targus carrying case designed from holding a portable DVD player, which comfortably holds the Netbook Pro, charger, portable wireless mouse, my digital camera and all accessories, while still being much smaller than a notebook bag.
-USB port is a sub-mini type, so to use a USB device one needs a short adapter cable. There seems to be adequate space for a fullsize USB port on the side, so why was one not included. My unit did come with the adapter, though.
-Stereo headphone port is a 2.5 mm mini port instead of a standard 3.5 mm port. Again, there seems room for a standard port, so why was it not included. A chance to sell yet another pointless accessory? – Update – The required adapter is sold by Radio Shack for $4 and actually kinda “locks” into the recessed port on the Netbook Pro, so no additional strain relief is needed.
-Official accessories are hard to find in the US. PsionTeklogix, the Netbook Pro’s maker is based in the UK and doesn’t seem to go out of its way to participate in the US market. The HPC form factor is much more popular in Europe and Asia and never really caught on in the US, so this is understandable, if not convenient.
-Includes viewer applications for PDFs, Images, Office Documents, but does not include Pocket Office applications for document editing, except for Pocket Word. Includes spreadsheet application, SpreadCE from Bye Design, if you update to the newest rom image (which you should do anyways). Microsoft’s “Pocket” Office applications are of limited use, anyways, as they require conversion from the desktop version of the file formats, often stripping out major formatting features like tables and embedded images. Your best option for mobile Office document editing is the excellent Textmaker and Planmaker applications from Softmaker software. These allow one to work with documents in Microsoft Office format, without any conversion needed to “pocket” formats.
-The Netbook Pro does not include a graphics accelerator chip, so play back of video is extremely CPU dependent. XVID and other modern codecs are extremely processor intensive. Decoding anything greater than quarter VGA is out (320*240), unless you use a less processor intensive codec like MPEG-1. The Netbook Pro has a beautiful, high resolution screen. It would have been nice if Psion had included better support for video and other tasks that require a graphics accelerator chip.

Tips and Tricks:

-The key marked delete on the upper right of the keyboard is really just backspace. To produce the equivalent of a true delete, hit the FN key next to the spacebar and the “delete” keyboard. Extremely useful while plowing through the spam in your inbox.
-Upgrade to the latest rom image. It adds some applications, features and drivers not found in earlier version of the Netbook Pro rom image, as well as fixing some bugs. To gain access to the files on the Psion site, you need to log in to the “Teknet” section of their site. You can bypass the mandatory registration by using the excellent bugmenot plugin for Firefox.
-Get an SD card and use it for storing all your applications/data. This leaves your memory free for running applications and leaves your CF and PCMCIA card slots free for Wifi and Bluetooth cards. You can get Wifi and Bluetooth SD cards, but they are more expensive than CF and PCMCIA ones and as the SD card slot is in the front, the antenna for such cards would interfere with your typing. I highly recommend the Socket CF Wifi and Bluetooth cards. They are well supported by Windows CE, use very little power and don’t extend out too far from the side of the Netbook. In fact, the bluetooth card doesn’t extend out at all! You can use either card in the PCMCIA slot by getting an inexpensive (<$10) pcmcia to CF adapter. -Back up your Netbook using the "Total Recall" application found in the control panel and place the backup file on your SD card. A lot of the system data is stored in ram. If you loose both your main and backup batteries, it is possible for your system to be "hard reset" back to factory default settings. Using Total Recall you can restore all your preferences in a few minutes. I highly recommend creating a backup before installing any new, untested application. It only takes a minute and it can save you a lot of time if something goes wrong. -Get the TCPMP media player. It plays back many more formats than the included Windows Media Player. Install GAPI from Wincesoft and select GAPI. Play back video files at their native resolution (zoom 100%). Do not play back video at anything other than native resolution, as the math to scale the video to fit the new size will increase the burden on the CPU and will likely greatly slow the framerate.

Posted in General, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff, Windows CE | 5 Comments »

GAPI 3.02 for HPC’s

Posted by Deliverator on 26th December 2005

The unofficial 3rd party implementation of the Microsoft Gaming API (GAPI for short) from WinCEsoft recently received a .01 version upgrade from 3.01 to 3.02. Despite the modest version incrementation, this release is a huge upgrade in terms of functionality and number of supported devices. Around a dozen new devices are supported, including the Branium WiBook – mentioned previously. I had a chance to beta test the new version on my Wibook thanks to Frank at WinCESoft and thus had a chance to preview some of the cool new features in this release.

Probably the biggest feature is that GAPI now works alongside Nyditot, allowing one to adjust the screen orientation even in graphics accelerated games and applications. Prior to this release, one could use Nyditot to rotate the screen and specify an arbitrary resolution, but could only do so in non-accelerated applications. This put a whole lot of PPC games, applications and even web browsers that could otherwise be made to run on the HPC platform tantilizingly close… but just out of reach. I can now confirm several games, including the amazing Snails from PDAmill now run happily on my Jornada 720 (upgraded to a 728 with one of the rom boards I am selling). I am in the process of checking out other promising applications such as the Thunderhawk Web Browser.

Posted in General, Tech Stuff, Windows CE | No Comments »

Jornada 720 to 728 ram/rom upgrades now up on eBay

Posted by Deliverator on 21st December 2005

I have started selling off the remaining Jornada 728 ram/rom boards on eBay. They were a pretty big hit on the HPC Factor forums, with boards being sent as far as Poland and Hungary. I am still happy to sell them at the special reduced price if you can convince me that you have been an active HPC Factor forum member or reader of my blog, prior to now. If not, you can get one through my eBay Auction

Posted in General, Windows CE | No Comments »

Jornada 720 -> 728 rom+ram upgrade

Posted by Deliverator on 15th December 2005

Ok, I received the boards today and tested a few out by upgrading my J720 to a J728. I have 44 total upgrade boards. All are new in original, foam lined boxes and in anti-static bags. I opened 10 of them enough to check the region codes, but did not remove them from their anti-static bags. So far all the units are ABA (USA) boards.

Using these boards to upgrade your J720 to a 728 is pretty easy:
1. Removed main system battery
2. Remove backup battery and any CF/PCMCIA cards.
3. Turn unit over and remove the 3 screws at front edge of keyboard using a T-6 bit
4. Turn unit right side up and open the screen. The keyboard should now be removeable
5. Be careful with the ribbon for the keyboard. I suggest using a small flat head screwdriver to move the tabs on either side of the ribbon and then remove the keyboard entirely.
6. carefully pry up the old rom board and put new one in its place
7. Put everything back together again in reverse order.

The only hitch I ran into is that once upgraded, I wasn’t able to restore any of my old 720 backups. The backups would restore, but the keyboard would stop responding after the data was restored. So, anyone wanting to upgrade will have a “hard reset” unit. I keep all my programs on my CF card, anyways, so this wasn’t much of an issue for me.

If you would like one of these boards, I am going to be charging $75 + $5 S&H as a special price for HPC Factor community members and readers of my blog. Please contact me at dmarsh@speakeasy.org to ensure I still have enough of them left. I will reply by email at which point you can send me payment through paypal at the same email address. I am willing to ship outside the US, too, but will have to make individual shipping arrangements. Please shoot me an email if you want to try and arrange alternate payment/shipping options.

Posted in General, Tech Stuff, Windows CE | 4 Comments »

Seattle Wireless Hacknight – 12/13/05

Posted by Deliverator on 14th December 2005

Tonight’s Seattle Wireless Hacknight was held at Redline, just a few blocks away from Rob’s place. Despite this fact, for some reason Hacknight has wandered far and wide without ever holding a meeting there. Hacknight has been hopping between venues the last month or so, after the sudden and inadequately explained closure of the Capitol Hill Internet Cafe. The only public notice of the closure was a sign on the door saying (more or less) “closed due to electrical problems – hope to open Monday.” Several Mondays have passed and CHIC remains closed, so this explanation really doesn’t hold much water. Casey hit on a likely explanation after a search revealed numerous escalating health violations. The Redline on the other hand has a pretty clean record. So far, I really like Redline. The food and drink was good, tablespace adequate, wifi reasonably stable for a Linksys box, etc. Outlets up front were scarce, but were plentiful in the back.

Tonight’s Happenings:

Eric Butler showed off some of the work he has been doing to visualize SWN node links & perspective links using google maps.
– Casey and Rob discussed possible hardware configurations for the new tower node. The current though seems to be to use a omni with an electrical downtilt in conjunction with a 400 mw Senao WiFi card.
-Rob was interested in whether a magnetic motor/battery utilizing only permanent magnets (not eletric) could be formed. His interest in this controversial idea that some say borders on “perpetual motion” was peaked due to more powerful Neodymium magnets becoming available to the public through companies like United Nuclear.
– Joe Towner proudly donated the last $100 needed to make the tower node possible.
– I monkeyed around with the wireless camera on my Vex trike, checked out application (in)compatibility with Win CE 4.2 on my new Branium WiBook. Everyone found the WiBook quite comical, but what do I care IT PLAYS DOOM!
– bumped into several people that we had met previously at Seattle Mindcamp. They were meeting to discuss/work on Ruby on Rails development and offered to share with us their cushy backroom with its plentiful power outlets (albeit malfunctioning ones).

Branium Wibook Joe Triumphant in Giving!

Posted in General, SWN Hacknight, Windows CE | No Comments »

My “New” HPC

Posted by Deliverator on 7th December 2005

I just purchased a Branium WiBook on eBay. The WiBook is a very interesting class of HPC. It was designed as a thin-client for use in low-ball educational markets. This concept caught on even less than those HPCs designed for vertical enterprise markets like health care. The WiBook’s design is novel, to say the least. It is thoroughly ruggedized, has an integrated handle for carrying and has indentations to fit the contours of one’s lap. At over 3 pounds, it is definitely one of the heaviest HPCs ever designed, although it still is lighter than the vast majority of laptops. It might make a good machine for someone that is hard on their gear, yet wants a device that would be in the typically fragile sub-notebook category.

I doubt I will make much use of it, myself, as I have become very hooked on pocketable computing – being able to put on my jacket and go without having to carry around a backpack. I bought it mainly because it has remarkably similar stats to the oh so svelte Netbook Pro. Both use a 400 mhz Xscale PA255 processor and run the Windows CE 4.20 core OS. I should be able to get a fair sense of what software will run on the Netbook Pro by testing against the WiBook.

Today:

Jornada 720

1 week:

Branium Wibook

1 Month?:

Netbook Pro

Posted in General, Windows CE | 2 Comments »

Netfront 3.3 now for Jornada 720

Posted by Deliverator on 16th November 2005

Getting a modern web browser to run on older HPCs has been seen by many in the community as the holy grail in keeping these wonderful devices alive and relevant. While there is considerable hope for a port of Minimo in the near future, up until now the best solution has been to hack Netfront 3.0 to run on HPCs. Attempts to hack newer versions of Netfront have failed.

Someone named rgisondi recently posted on hpcfactor that he had been able to get the preview release of Netfront 3.3 working on a variety of StrongARM based HPCs through some clever hex editing. The instructions were a bit too vague for me, but Cmonex, one of the most experienced resource hackers in the HPC community was inspired by the claim and managed to get it to work! Download the Netfront 3.3 technical preview package here. Run the setup program. It will fail, claiming that your device is not supported. No problem! Simply copy the .cab installer from C:\Program Files\ACCESS\NetFront v3.3 for Pocket PC (PPC3ARENR102TP) over to your hpc and double click it to install. Your HPC will probably complain, but install anyways. Do a soft reset and than overwrite all the files in the directory you installed the program into with the ones found here. Launch the program and you should be good to go. You will need to use WinWatch to adjust some of the settings in Netfront’s options menus, as they are “off screen.” I had no difficulty moving Netfront 3.3 out of ram and over to my Compact Flash card, unlike Netfront 3.0 which requires a few files be left in ram. The only current limitations with the technical preview is the inablity to open more than two tabs and lack of JAVA support. Netfront’s excellent JAVA support has always been one of its top selling points for the PPC crowd and it will surely be in the final version. If the final version is hackable, I will definitely be making a purchase.

Posted in General, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Windows CE | 7 Comments »

If only XP were this easy to reinstall…

Posted by Deliverator on 15th November 2005

I did a complete reformat/reinstall on my Jornada today. On a normal PC, reinstalling the OS and all associated applications would have taken the better part of a day, but it only took me about an hour on my Jornada. The Jornada’s OS (Handheld PC 2000 – based on the Windows CE 3.0 Core) is stored in ROM, with applications and user data installed in ram or to a storage card. I have been careful to store everything that can possibly be installed on a storage card, rather than waste precious ram. This and a LOT of tweaking has enabled me to keep a couple hundred apps installed on my Jornada while only using up 5-6 MB of the Jornada 720’s 32 MB of ram. Windows CE is a real fun OS to tweak and I have gained a pretty solid understanding of Win CE OS internals in the process. I have managed to screw up my Jornada a number of times from all the tweaking, but the ROM includes an excellent backup utility. I store my backups on my 512 MB CF card. If I manage to hose the OS while out and about, I can simply reset the unit, run the restore utility and have all my settings restored in a few minutes. Despite my best care, I have been accumulating cruft from applications that I have tried and subsequently uninstalled, leaving behind orphaned .dll files, registry entries and misc detritus. I decided it was time do a hard reset, wiping the ram and bringing the unit back to factory defaults. Most of my programs were installed to my storage card, so reinstalling was just a matter of reinstalling the drivers for my bluetooth and compact flash cards, reconfiguring a few programs whose settings were stored in the registry database (and were thus reset back to defaults when the registry got zapped) and installing a few applications that insist on being run from ram. I now have 3900 KB of ram in use, compared to ~6MB before the reset and my Jornada seems far more responsive than before.

Posted in General, Tech Stuff, Windows CE | No Comments »

First Jornada hardware issue – I hope to have many more

Posted by Deliverator on 31st October 2005

I have always been hard on my mobile computing gadgets. I, as some of you may have noticed, am not a delicate person. I have destroyed a number of laptops (including my beloved Libretto) and have done so with enough frequency that I no longer want to even own one. Survivor’s guilt is the worst sort. It looks like my Jornada 720 may be my latest victim. Thankfully, it looks like I will be able to fix it. For the past few weeks, while typing, spaces having been inserting themselves with increasing frequency. It looks like the Microswitch under the left side of the spacebar is broken and is being activated if I so much as brush the spacebar. I can still use the keyboard just fine, but it has lead to an inordinate number of backspacing while typing. It looks like I can replace the keyboard with only minimal disassembly, although it will result in a hard reset of the machine. Restoring the ram contents from a backup is trivial, though, so I won’t be out of commision for more than a few minutes. Being able to reset back to a know good snapshot nearly instantaneously is one of the Jornada’s high points, imo. While a virus or general winrot can leave a laptop user helpless, I can tinker with the Jornada’s OS internals to my heart’s content and if I break something – so what. It looks like I should be able to use a keyboard from a Jornda 680 to replace the one on my 720. The internet explorer and email hotkeys are reversed on the 680, but I can live with that. 680’s can be had very cheap on eBay these days. The 680 is near physically identical to the Jornada and most peripheral (batteries, stylus, etc.) are compatible. The 680 has a slower SH3 processor, less ram, and runs an earlier version of Win CE. For those reasons, the 680 is a much less desireable machine to most and can be had cheaply on ebay. Unless I indulge myself and buy a Netbook Pro, I intend to be using my Jornada 720 for a long time to come. I have never found another machine that so closely fits the way I want to compute while mobile. I may have to pick up a few dead Jornada units on eBay for parts.

Posted in General, Windows CE | No Comments »

Wikipedia to go!

Posted by Deliverator on 25th September 2005

I have found Wikipedia to be a wonderful quick reference and jumping off point for more serious research. Being, as Ryan so aptly puts it, “crazy,” I set out to figure out how I could carry this veritable Encyclopedia Galactica with me at all times. An older, offline version of Wikipedia is available in different versions of the Tomeraider ebook format, but there is as yet no reader for this format available for older ppc/hpc devices like my Jornada. While tomeraider’s formatting abilities have improved in more recent versions, it still mangles complex tables and other more layout-dependent data. I looked into alternatives and found a script that goes through a downloaded copy of the wikipedia database and extract all the articles out as html flat files. Another alternative may be to use the Wikifilter apache filter to generate the html on the fly. This would require me to run apache on my Jornada (which is doable), but I would probably have to do the indexing elsewhere. I tried a PHP based extractor, but ran into too many issues. For now, I have stuck with the most recent downloadable output from the tero-dump script and after some curiosities relating to NTFS reserved words and FAT FS supported characters, I now have a copy of the Wikipedia on a 2.2 GB CF Microdrive for use on my Jornada! This version does not include any images, but manages to maintain most of the same formatting as the online version. The total number of html files produced by the script totalled 208,000+ files taking up some 1.25 GB in size (more with FS overhead). That is a whole lot of text :0

Wikipedia to Go!

Wikipedia to Go!

Posted in General, Portable Computing/Gadgets, Tech Stuff, Windows CE | 2 Comments »