The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for October, 2007

Updated information about Nokia N810

Posted by Deliverator on 19th October 2007

Thoughtfix just got back from the Web2Summit event where the N810 was announced. He managed to take home a retail boxed demo unit and held a live interactive video “show and tell” with the Internet Tablet Talk community using ustream.tv which allows for live syndication of video content using flash based video. You can chat with the host(s) of the show using an integrated flash based chat room. About 80 people showed up for Throughfix’s impromtu show and almost everyone came prepared with a ton of questions.

Here is what I learned from Thoughfix’s show:

-The 2 GB of flash that is built in is 80% full of maps to begin with and is likely fat formatted, so those hoping for expanded storage space for Linux applications can look elsewhere.

-The memory card slot is indeed Mini-SD. The slot insertion/removal mechanism is difficult to operate. The maximum theoretical overall capacity of the unit is 10 GB when combining internal and external flash.

-The battery door is difficult to open, but without an internal card slot there isn’t much point. Door is solidly in place and doesn’t rattle in its frame like on the n800.

-The top keys have been improved with the full screen and +/- buttons seperated as on the 770. There is a hardware lock key on the top that locks the device from coming out of power saving mode due to accidental key presses or bumping of the screen while it sits in one’s pocket.

-The camera appears to use a higher quality sensor than on the n800. I spoke with him over my n800 using google talk video during his show. There was very little “speckled” ccd noise evident in his stream, whereas my image was a noisy mess despite a lot of overhead lighting.

-The screen is brighter and also appears to be transflective a.k.a. direct sunlight viewable.

-The keypad has a nice back lighting feature that is activated/deactivated automatically by the ambient light sensor.

-The casing/construction is almost entirely metal and has a very solid feel to it.

-Despite not being an officially listed feature, the N810 paired with a set of Bluetooth stereo headphones (A2DP). When attempting to use for voice calling, got a lot of stuttering/poor quality noise.

-Would pair with a bluetooth mouse, but does not support the profile.

-The new Firefox based web browser seems to work better with a lot of Web 2.0 websites, but also crashed on a number of occasions.

-The revamped Desktop Applets/Plugins functionality looks to be cool and applets can now be resized and can overlap.

-The UI skins look nice and utilize transparency well. Best default visual theme of any NIT yet. Navigation and opening of programs was quite responsive.

-The GPS was able to lock onto five satellites indoors at Thoughtfix’s house. Software was extremely slow in plotting a route for a 600 mile trip within the same state. The 3d view still doesn’t show street names. The N810 comes with a cradle and a basic screw-type mounting bracket for in car use. It sounds like many GPS features will only be functional for an additional price.

-Keypad seemed to be slow and cumbersome as an input method due to chiclet sized keys with a very stiff response. Hitting keys along top row is somewhat difficult due to the overhanging lip of the screen. Several common keys like tab are simply not present (arg!). Many common keys including number keys are on a second function and there isn’t a function lock/sticky keys mode for more efficient entry. Nor will holding a key down longer activate the second function for that key. This has become a common convention on compact qwerty devices. Hopefully Nokia will improve this in a software update.

-The D Pad positioning is as awkward as it looks and the center “enter” key of the D Pad is too large. Hitting up on the D Pad is difficult as it is against the side of the screen when extended. It sounds like Nokia needs to make the slider extend more.

-The soft slip case is pseudo-seude leather and is made in turkey and better fits that N810. There is no official hard case in the works as far as anyone knows.

-The speaker volume seems adequate and the N810 has the same special jack that allows one to use a standard set of headphones or a special set of stereo headphones with a built in microphone.

-Expanded video format support has not been shown in my mind as the N810 crapped out on a number of attempts to play formats listed in the new specifications. I would like to see a systematic testing of a wide variety of formats under rigorous conditions. I would like to see an official statement as to what resolutions and bitrates the N810 is capable of playing and what subversions of formats are supported (i.e. if you state WMV support, does that mean WM8, 9, 11, etc.?)

-There is no FM radio tuner on the N810, a disappointment to many people that used that feature on the N800.

-Despite long promises of an improved email client, the default mail client on the N810 is the same POS as before. I recommend installing Claws Mail and forgoing the built in client altogether.

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Latest Ubuntu Linux Now Available!

Posted by Deliverator on 18th October 2007

The latest release of one of the most popular Linux operating systems just hit the web. I have used Ubuntu through several generations on a wide variety of different hardware platforms (this server runs it) and I have been really impressed by how each new release introduces technically ambitious, substantive new features and integrates them into the look and feel of the OS in a consistent, thoughtful manner, which is a lot more than I can say about the Windows OS space. Also unlike the most recent version of Windows, Ubuntu feels fast and responsive on even fairly modest hardware. This latest release, codenamed “Gutsy Gibbon” introduces a slew of new features. Some of my favorite include:

-Latest version of the Gnome desktop environment with 3D visual effects turned on by default. Also, unlike Vista, the 3d environment can actually be put to good, functional use.

-Much better support for detecting and configuring your graphics settings without needing to modify arcane text configuration files

-Plug and play printer installation. I know this has been in the Windows world for ages, but Linux has had a different focus for a long time. To be able to just plug a printer into a Linux system and have it work with no fuss is a big deal.

-Supports reading and writing to NTFS formatted disks, which makes cohabitation with Windows formatted drives much easier.

-Ability to encrypt the full hard disk.

-Improved power consumption for laptops and desktops

-First version of Ubuntu to support AppArmor which allows one to place strict boundaries on what files/devices (on Linux the distinction between the two is muddled) a program can access. This is great as it allows one to confine programs to only the resources they need, so that they can’t harm the rest of the system. It is fairly common in the Windows world in particular for an undocumented vulnerability in a program such as a web server to be used to gain access to the broader system. In this era of internet worms, exploitation of common vulnerabilities can lead to millions of affected computers in a very short time. Not everyone keeps their systems patched and up to date, and even those that do can fall prey to an undocumented exploit. Technologies like AppArmor help to seriously limit the potential fallout of such an attack.

Anyways, download Ubuntu and give it a truly no risk free trial via its bootable cd mode and when you are ready to install it on your computer full time, your pocketbook can rest easy as Ubuntu is free then too. If you aren’t ready to commit to Ubuntu entirely, you can even install it in a dual-boot mode which will allow you to preserve your existing Windows installation.

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Introducing the Nokia N810 Internet Tablet!……meh

Posted by Deliverator on 18th October 2007

Yesterday, Nokia soft-launched their 3rd internet tablet product, the N810.

Nokia N810

The device will be available for purchase in about a month for around $470. I have been an avid 770 and N800 user, but I am not at all convinced that I need one or that the changes made to this latest device are for the better. I am definitely going to have to hold it in my hands and spend some quality time with one before I consider buying. Here is some of the good and bad:

Good:

-An OS release that will bring IT OS closer to desktop Linux parity. This will hopefully make for easier porting of applications. Commitment to maintain OS parity on N800 for at least several revisions. Thinking in terms of “platforms” and not products is good.

-Somewhat smaller, making it more easily pocketed

-Supposedly a 20% brighter screen, which some have said is transflective. I have yet to hear this direct from someone who can speak with authority.

-Ambient light sensor might help more intelligently use battery by auto-dimming screen in darker environments. I hope this functionality is directly exposed so that I can overide it.

-Faster processor

-More formats listed for media support (although I will believe it when I see it)

-Integral GPS is nice, although the GPS on my N95 absolutely sucks, so a lot depends on the quality of implementation.

-They got rid of the pop-out camera in favor of one mounted on the screen bezel. Remains to be seen if the quality is as atrociously bad as the one on the N800 though.

-Keyboard will be nice for quick replies to emails, im’s, etc. For serious typing, I would still carry a bluetooth keyboard. Keyboard appears to be backlit.

-Dedicated hardware lock key. This will make the N810 insensate to accidental key presses and screen taps while in your pocket. Having the device come alive in your pocket all the time was a big battery waster on the N800. The 770 had the best solution, a magnetic switch as part of the hard case. Put the hard case on, device goes to sleep. Take it off, device wakes up. Simple genius. In many ways, Nokia seems to have forgotten many of the things it learned in designing the 770.

Bad:

-The new OS breaks compatibility with OS 2007 in a way that will require that basically all existing 3rd party apps will have to be rewritten. If they were going to force this break, I wish they would have given me a real window manager and let me use almost any Linux app without major modification to support the joke that is HILDON.

-Moving the D-PAD onto the slide out keyboard is a BAD BAD idea. On the N800 and 770 the D-pad and all other buttons were within easy reach of your left hand’s thumb and index finger. This made it possible to access most device and software functionality one handed. Now, some of the primary device control keys are on the screen and some are on the slider. This NIT is a two handed device. Not only that, but as a two handed device, the positioning of these keys is rather poor. It will be very difficult to use the D-PAD easily while holding it naturally. I hope you all have very flexible fingers.

-VERY high price at launch, much much higher than the n800 while only delivering two major feature upgrades. Keeping the device at a lower price point makes it much more attractive to many people and a lot of people will look at the price and say “if I am spending this much already, I might as well spend a little more and get a MID or an ultra mobile pc of some sort.

-Previous Nokia GPS solutions have been atrociously bad performing compared to even garden variety $30 bluetooth GPS units that are scarcely bigger than a box of matches these days. While the unit comes with GPS mapping software, it sounds like certain route guidance and POI features will cost extra. Nothing worse than getting nickeled and dimed especially when cheap alternatives exist.

-N800 had two SDHC storage card slots allowing for a staggering amount of storage in a portable device. The N810 has only one and it is a smaller type, meaning it is no longer useful for viewing photos from cameras. A lot of N800 users have invested significant $ in storage cards and to have to make further card purchased and not be able to get as large a card capacity is a real kick in the teeth.

-2 GB of internal flash ram is nice, but is no substitute for a swapable card. Flash is also know to go bad from time to time, which makes this unattractive. I am also willing to bet that the flash is not formatted with a linux FS, but rather FAT, making it useless for program storage.

-Nokia has moved the speaker from the user facing front to side emitting. I bet the perceived volume will have gone down significantly and it will be easy to cover the speakers with your fingers while holding it. I think Nokia has placed too much emphasis on making the device smaller by moving things off the screen bezel and has significantly compromised device usability in doing so. I would have much rather seen a slider of similar size to the N800 with the D-PAD and speakers left in place, which would have also provided more space on the sliding keyboard for larger keys. The keys are extremely chiclet sized and don’t appear to be convex. Top row of keys is right against the side of the screen, which will make them particularly difficult to hit. I hope those emails you have to write are short.

-N810 uses a micro-usb plug instead of the much more common mini-usb. Still no ability to charge the battery via USB or hostmode USB support for use of USB keyboards and low power flash drives. Gee, another cable to carry around. Thanks Nokia! :(

-N810 lacks a hard cover case, which was also one of the major, widespread complaints about the N800 compared to the N770. I know 770 users for whom this was a deal-breaker in upgrading to the N800. The N800 also had a lousy slip case and the long promised flip over screen protector took a long time to appear and then never really showed up at market. If I am going to spend $500 on a device, I want to know that it isn’t going to get broken in my pocket after a week or have the screen scratched by my keys.

-While they have increased the processor speed to 400mhz, from the sound of it, the N810 is internally almost exactly the same beast as the N800. This likely means that the video sub-system issues that lead to inferior video playback performance are likely still present. The 770 actually had a faster video sub-system than it’s sucessor, the N800, despite having a slower processor.

-No listing of A2DP Bluetooth stereo support

-There is no integrated WWAN and No Bluetooth PAN support. PAN is increasingly becoming the standard for phones to share their internet connectivity. Bluetooth DUN remains the only option for WWAN support.

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