Category: Tech tinkering


I believe it was in the 2nd half of 2008 when I stumbled upon  Phones Show when scouring the interwebs for mobile phone reviews.

I was impressed by the quality of the presentation and content of the video podcast. It was everything a gadget enthusiast could ask for: A well edited, succinct review of a mobile device .

Make yourself a cuppa and watch the Phones Show as Steve Litchfield, its  architect and presenter, provides you the salient points of the device under his scrutiny!

Steve is someone who “Think(s)Different(ly)”. He is a firm believer in the power of a mobile device providing an all-in-one solution to the user. As proof, he uses his smartphone to film the Phones Show and I believe, does not own a separate digital camera device. The latter functionality has almost become the mainstay of most mobile phone users in this day and age.

He is fair and accurate in his assessment of devices. Getting a “thumbs up” from Steve is high praise indeed. He is a perfectionist through and through. I would know, as it took forty takes of my prerecorded mini-review of the Nokia N86 before it passed Steve’s exacting standards.

Steve’s fan base has grown and he has expanded The Phones Show to include its companion audio podcast , The Phones Show Chat ( co-hosted by the inimitable Tim Salmon) which provides an extended avenue for tech conversation.

He has an excellent smartphone grid that provides a suggestion of the smartphone best suited to your needs. This is just one example of his many noteworthy en devours.

The Phones Show and Phones Show Chat are advertisement free and Steve depends on subscriptions  to keep the show going. There is of course, no stopping someone from watching and listening to these shows for a song. That said, it would be a shame to see good work go unrewarded.

Please support Steve’s excellent work via this link.

The Shows must go on.

Image source: Ars Technica

 

Solid state drives are pretty prominent in the consumer sphere these days.

It’s the form of memory that is present in our flash drives, mp3 players and our smartphones.

However, there has been an increasing number of consumer computing products such as the MacBook Air, the ultrabooks using SSDs , thus ditching the traditional hard drive.

SSDs aren’t cheap but they increase the speed of your computer. Indeed, a MacBook Air with a slower processor feels faster than the incumbent MacBook Pros with their traditional hard drives.

What are SSDs and what is the technology that makes them tick?

Ars Technica has posted an in-depth article on SSDs which is worth a read.

The article can be accessed via this link.

And whilst you’re going through this article over a cuppa, be sure to read another quality article by Ars Technica  on Redundant Array of Inexpensive Discs (RAID).

I must admit that I was truly taken by the Nokia N9 upon its announcement in Singapore a few months ago.

I was impressed by this device and I, like many tech enthusiasts was ready to put my hard earned cash to own the N9. I have read numerous commentaries viewed multiple unboxing videos of this device over the last few weeks. The impressions were overall, good.

There is nothing in the mobile phone world that resembles the N9 . The Swipe UI, in my mind, is a unique implementation of a true all- touch screen based user interface. I was proclaiming, many times over, that this UI marks an evolution of touch interface for touch screen mobile devices.

Malaysia is one of the countries which will receive shipments of the Nokia N9. I live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and I thought “Lucky me, I will be able to own an N9!”.

It was the 1st of October and a chance trip to a nearby Nokia retail center led to chance encounter with the Nokia N9. The demonstration units were on display and Nokia was ready to take pre-orders. I ran through the various functions of the phone and decided to return 2 days later to do a further run through its features.

The following commentary reflects my general impression of the device based on two 20 minute sessions.

The design

The N9 is truly distinctive in person. The body may be made out of polycarbonate material but it had an all metal heft to it. It is reassuringly solid in the hand. The curved glass screen is a joy to behold. There is nothing out there like the Nokia N9. This is Nokia at its  best. That said, hardware design has always been Nokia’s strong-suit.

The software

The device runs on the MeeGo Harmattan version 1.2. MeeGo, as of last week, has been reincarnated into Tizen. MeeGo is essentially extinct. The version on the Nokia N9 is a variation of MeeGo and Nokia has pledged support for the Nokia N9 upto 2015. How extensive this support will be, seeing as this phone is the last of the MeeGo line, is questionable.

The User Interface(UI)

Swipe UI uses three homescreen, one for applications, one for notifications, and another for open applications ( task manager screen). The concept is overall interesting and there is a small learning curve to surmount when using the N9. It’s not difficult and once you get used to this UI, it is quite intuitive. It reminded me of the way one would swipe the screen on the current iPod Nano.

Applications

There are several applications on board including a customized Twitter and Facebook client for the N9. There is, of course,  Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive. The latter two applications are simply stellar and are the current aces in Nokia’s application suite.

My interaction with the device

NOTE: THIS IS NOT A FULL FLEDGED REVIEW. These are thoughts and opinions that I have formed based on two separate run usage times with the device.

Every aspect of this device, both software and hardware, reminded me of the iPhone. No, it is not a copycat device but a device that eschews the concept of the iPhone. The N9 is a closed shell ( no user replaceable batteries, no memory expansion) with a simple interface of applications and a limited set of customizations. The packaging of the device is very Apple-esque. It is not a blatant copy but more in keeping with the current device packaging trends.

Application iconography takes on the squircle design cue that Nokia has taken on board and is something that we will see in future Symbian and lower end S40 devices. Of note, the latter is probably being replaced by a Linux distro called Meltemi, perhaps something that we will see in the medium-term.

The inconsistencies began to show when I delved into the applications. Some applications chose to live resolutely in portrait mode. The music application is an example of this. Auto-rotation for a cover flow type interface or something uniquely intuitive was not there. The album art appears with a track progress bar. There is a link to the Nokia Music Store and that’s about it.

Messaging used the now popular word bubble UI. This works in both portrait and landscape modes. There is a nifty option of adding attachments. Emoticon insertion is included.

The Twitter app was simple enough was a doddle to set up. However, when I tried to log out, it did not allow me to do so. Instead, I had to go to the Accounts application and wipe the entire account off the phone. A simple logout option would have sufficed,I think. I did not delve into the native Facebook application.

I tried this again the second time around and I had discovered that there is a simple way of disabling a particular account by tapping the virtual toggle switch. Simple. Again, this point reiterates the  small learning curve.

The browser is decent and is on par with the best of them. No real issues here.

This is good time to comment on the typing speeds on the virtual keyboard. Its not bad at all. I could match speeds close enough to the iOS keyboard on the iPhone, which is the gold standard for virtual keyboards.There is haptic feedback. The cut, copy and paste UI is quite like in iOS but a little less polished.

I was reminded once again of iOS when all the settings of the device rests in a unified Settings application of the device. You can’t manage the settings of the application from the application itself.

Contacts and calendar management is something that imperative for me in a mobile device. My mobile phone(currently, the HTC Desire) is my all-in-one PDA and my mobile internet device. I was disappointed with the contacts entry fields. There was limited label customizations . The only mobile OS that does this very well is iOS. Android recently introduced label customizations in Gingerbread. You can launch onto to Nokia Maps from the address book which is a standard feature seen in all mobile OSs. Integration with social networks does not appear to be a feature.

The calendar application was pretty decent and combines a to-do list. The appearance of this application is somewhat similar to Symbian. Nothing groundbreaking here.

The video application is easy to use and the feature of swiping the screen with the video still running is something that has been seen in numerous demonstration videos. It’s nice but I see it as a novelty feature that could  wane with long term usage of the phone.

The gallery application is smooth but nothing out of this world.

The loudspeaker on the phone is placed at the bottom and sounds decent. It’s loud enough in a moderately crowded area but sounds somewhat tinny. I did not test this device with the headphones, and hence did not get to test with the Dolby Headphone feature. There are no equalizer customizations.

The camera is fine and the UI is very easy and intuitive. The camera is pretty sprightly and I could snap images in a relatively fast pace. There is no dedicated camera shutter button but the on-screen shutter button is very responsive.  Image quality is something that I could not  assess and it would be unfair to comment given my time with the device. Based on the samples I have seen on the internet, it is seems pretty good. Particularly good was the camera menu. The latter is extensive and allows multi aspect ratio options, geo-tagging, choice of modes and flash options.  It won’t be in the Nokia N8 territory but it is decent enough. This aspect of the phone is well executed indeed.

I did not try the Near Field Communications(NFC) feature on the phone which is a technology that Nokia is actively promoting.

The spin

Now, here is where I get cynical. Nokia decided to release this device in selected markets that was deemed conducive to achieve successful sales. This includes countries such as Saudi Arabia,Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.

The US and UK will not be getting this device.

Basically, Nokia thinks that the customers in the said countries will willingly buy the Nokia N9.

Nokia Malaysia is focused on promoting this device for the month of October. I was told by an enthusiatic Nokia sales assistant that Nokia’s first Windows Phone device would be arriving roughly next month after the rumoured announcement at Nokia World at the end of October.

Nokia Malaysia, essentially, has one month to achieve solid sales of the N9.

It is not competitively priced. The 16GB model retails for RM1799 (419 euros) and the 64GB model retails for roughly RM2100 (494 euros). This is Samsung Galaxy S2(SGS2) territory. In fact, the S2 is now retailing for the same price as the 16GB model. The SGS2 offers more functionality at this price point.

That said, Samsung Galaxy S2’s hardware cannot hold a candle to the superlative build quality of the Nokia N9.

Verdict

It is difficult to simply sum up the Nokia N9 as being either recommended or non recommended. On one hand, you have the device hardware with an interesting software to match. The UI is unique and despite the learning curve- not a huge one- it is easy to get used to. I found myself swiping away with ease after a few minutes.

On the other, there is the inescapable fact that this device marks the end of the line for Nokia. It is all Windows Phone from here on for the high end devices. MeeGo’s demise is another factor. Though that said, the phone actually runs on Harmattan with a MeeGo layer compatibility which means the loss of MeeGo will not impact the OS. Nokia has pledged support for this device up to 2015.As to what kind of support this would be remains to be seen.

iOS users may not be tempted due to the lack of an extensive application catalogue. Android OS users may balk at the limited customizability of the N9.

The phone is not competitively priced which another issue that may affect its sales.

Ultimately, it depends on what you wish from a modern 2011 smartphone. For me, this phone has most of the core functionalities which I utilize in a mobile device. There are missing applications, such as an E-reader, a password encrypted notepad application to name a few.

What I fear most is the anaemic ecosystem for the Nokia N9 and the software update schedule from Nokia. Will Nokia address the major shortcomings of this phone?

The Nokia N9 should not be merely judged as a failure or triumph for Nokia. It is too simple to sum it up in this fashion.

The N9 is probably best summed up as  a PROOF OF CONCEPT. Think of it as a working concept car  which marks a sign of things to come. The design DNA,both hardware and software , marks a significant departure for the Finnish company.

So, whilst the N9 itself could be a hollow triumph for Nokia, it is merely the first salvo in its road to renewal.

But this still does not answer the question as to whether I would be buying one.

Let’s just say that the decision is still in its conceptual phase.

Logicboard has reached its 100th post and what better way to commemorate this milestone other than with a Logicboard App which is available on Nokia’s Ovi Store.

The Logicboard App is an RSS reader which provides the user with the latest updates on Logicboard directly on their Nokia device. This application was easy to create thanks to the Ovi App Wizard which is now in its beta phase. Below is the screenshot of the application.

Logicboard

LogicboardUtilities

  1. by: SriGK
1 star2 stars3 stars4 stars5 stars

Application for the technology blog Logicboard. The website covers various themes on technology with a more specific focus on mobile operating systems and tablet computing. Each post/article sets out to provide the reader with a one stop information on a particular topic with links to the relevant source websites. Editorials on tech trends also provide the reader with an overview on where the tech industry is going- on both macro and micro levels.

 

You can download this app on your Nokia device once you set up an account with Nokia’s Ovi Store. Click on this link to access the application page. Otherwise, just enter “Logicboard” in the search bar within the Ovi store.

Thank you for your continued support.

I had upgraded my HTC Desire to Android OS version 2.2 (Froyo) in the beginning of August. The Desire and I were living with Froyo on board for the past three weeks.

So, how does the HTC Desire fare with its much awaited serving of Froyo? Read on.

Froyo is a significant but an incremental update on the Android OS platform which is being updated at a ferocious pace. The changes are somewhat subtle and given the fact that the HTC has its Sense User Interface(UI) on board, the changes are less noticeable than on Google’s Nexus One. Ars Technica reviewed Froyo on the Nexus One in great detail with performance benchmark tests.

This post gives a qualitative overview of the changes that I’ve noticed in my day to day usage of the HTC Desire.

General feel

This is more a qualitative assessment of the changes. I feel that my HTC Desire starts up and shuts down faster and has a noticeably longer standby time. Battery life is definitely longer and is consistent with the purported changes brought about in Froyo. That said, active usage of the device still takes its toll on battery life. Imagine surfing the net, using the GPS and Bluetooth radios and making a few calls while downloading new applications and streaming music via the net. Judicious management of widgets and daily usage is key in maximizing battery life. No doubt.

General appearance

The Sense UI has not gone through massive changes. The changes in the UI, as with the rest of the device, is subtle. The screen pattern lock grids have received a minor tweak in appearance. The appearance of applications on the launcher menu on double pressing the home button has also received a minor tweak as well. They have a tad feel of refinement to them.

Applications

Applications is an area that has received a noticeable change in Froyo. Prior to Froyo, applications could not be stored on the expandable SD memory. Well, that is somewhat alleviated with the new update. Yes, you can move your apps to the SD card but no all apps support this as yet. Some apps, notably Astrid Tasks, a fantastic tasks organizer application could not work when transferred to the SD card. The developers as a result had to release an update to negate the SD portability function. I am still waiting for comic books to be transferrable to the SD card as they take up plenty of memory on the miserly 512MB of internal storage provided in the Desire. The reality of the issue is this:the more popular apps will be updated promptly and the more obscure apps will be updated with time. Patience is key.

The stock application manager view now includes multiple tabs to view your downloaded in the various locations.

The other feature that is of note is the ability to download all available updates in one go with the “Update All” button.

Messaging

The messaging application has a nice addition. You can now place contact cards and multimedia attachments using a nicely laid out touch screen menu in the messaging pane. That’s a nice touch.

Google Toolbar

The Google toolbar has changed and categorizes the search to the Android Market, Web and the all encompassing All search.Voice search is integrated into this new toolbar.

HTC additions

HTC has made some nice additions to its applications. The FM Radio has RDS functionality. You can now listen to a broadcast via the external speaker. Of course, you still need have bundled earphone/antenna piece placed in the 3.5mm jack. There is new HTC Flashlight application with a unique HTC screen torchlight which allows the user three levels of light intensity settings. Nice addition for those sudden darkness moments.

720p recording

The Desire’s camera now allow a 1280 x 720 resolution recording(HD 720p) recording. To be honest, this resolution is merely a numbers game and the video capture is decent in daylight but is noticeably grainy in low light conditions. Cancellation of background noise isn’t the best. It’s good enough for casual video recordings. Those looking for decent HD recording on a mobile device should look to the iPhone4 and the upcoming N8 (very promising samples!).

3G Wifi hotspot (MiFi)

The star of the show is the ability to convert the Desire into a mobile hotspot modem. This functionality is simply super and allows the user to access the net using a laptop or netbook to send the that all important email or for casual surfing. I tried this functionality out to buy some air tickets online and it worked fine. The Wi Fi hotspot allows the user to configure the security so it is a relatively secure network. The standard caveats apply, such as the data cap of your mobile data plan, strength of your 3G network and the all important battery life issue. Usage of the 3G Wifi hotspot drains the Desire’s battery life. The feature is no doubt of great utility when you need a network for viewing some important online documents and emails.

So, there you have it! The Froyo on the Desire increases the functionality of device and makes it a Swiss Army knife of a gadget. Battery life issues aside, the judicious usage of these functions will enhance the usability and appreciation of the HTC Desire. Just remember to keep that charger handy.

Upgrading to Android 2.2

The highly anticipated notification finally appeared on Sunday night when I had checked my HTC Desire for software updates.

Yes, the much vaunted update to Android OS version 2.2 has finally come to the HTC Desire. The HTC Desire is now up-to-date with the latest version of Android and it now increases the value proposition of owning the device. HTC, apart from Motorola is a prime handset manufacturer spearheading the Android platform. HTC’s advantage over Motorola is its more widespread distribution and its unique HTC Sense UI(user interface) which is by far, the best UI out there gracing the Android platform.

I had postponed the upgrade to Monday, lest a problematic upgrade leading to a sleepless night.

The upgrade process was quite straightforward and painless. It was update was performed via Wifi as it was an over-the-air update(OTA update). There was no need to perform the update via a software updater on your PC or Mac. Magic!

Several pointers prior to the upgrade process:

  • Make sure your phone has a healthy battery capacity (at least 60%).
  • Do not perform the upgrade while your device is connected to a computer via a USB charging cable. You may be merely charging the device but the phone’s system will read the device as a mounted SD card and will abort the upgrade. You will not encounter this problem when the device is being charged via a wall socket.
  • Make sure that you have at least 25MB of internal memory space. If you need to free up the internal memory of the phone, you can either delete unwanted applications or back up applications with programs such as the ASTRO file manager.

Here are sequential pictures of the upgrade process.

1. The upgrade notification window with some standard caveats from HTC.

2. The download is in progress.

3. The built in backup utility process is underway.

4. The phone restarts.

5. The standard screen lock appears. So far, so good.

6. The install window appears.

7. Update successful!

8.The device restarts and my backed up data is being restored.

9. The standard keyboard tutorial begins. You can skip this process if you have done this before.

10. Ready to go!