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Friday, 14 January 2011 13:37

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.

 

 

 

 

Published in Android
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

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
Saturday, 08 January 2011 03:16

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.

 

 

Published in Gadget Blog
Tuesday, 08 September 2009 03:59

Nokia n900 live

I've been a maemo MID user for several years and when I bought my Nokia n800 I was amazed at how easy wireless networking and bluetooth were. At the time Linux was very difficult to setup in this area. Times have changed and the Maemo OS has pretty much stood still. Each successive release we got a new set of bugs and not much else. Things have gotten slightly more stable but for the most part the n800 is underpowered and the UI is aimed at desktop users but with a 4 inch screen. The new Freemantle is supposed to be a drastic change from the past and by this video it looks like it. From the beginning Nokia wasn't committed to the Linux based mobile Internet devices and put all of their resources behind the Symbian OS they own and the Linux OS always seemed more like an experiment than anything. I guess the experiment is over because they've done a ton of work on Freemantle. I've read that it's the first of the next gen Linux MID OSes but it isn't the final one. Freemantle will have a GTK gui and the next one after that will be QT which Nokia now owns. The one improvement that I think they need is to stabalize the software. I don't know if a Communist/Apple approach is best but you have to admit that iphone apps generally work and maemo apps don't. Anyway check out the video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrYqemylpIo
Published in Gadget Blog
Thursday, 10 December 2009 04:35

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.

Published in Gadget Blog
Friday, 01 July 2011 20:17

Travel/Work Laptop comparison

As any of my readers know I travel a lot. I also blog a lot, take photos a lot and research a lot. That’s a lot of lotting. Thus when I’m travelling I need a computer. I know people who rely completely on Internet Cafes but I really like editing photos using my own computer late at night in my apartment in Paris, or Venice or Budapest or anywhere else as opposed to paying by the hour to use some age old slow Windows machine. Not to mention I can upload all of my photos while I’m sleeping via secure copy instead of having to babysit it.I also like to travel light thus I’ve always leaned toward small lightweight laptops.

My first travel laptop was a Sharp MM20 that I purchased in 2004 for my trip from London to Istanbul. This is probably my favorite still. However, it came to an untimely end in Krakow Poland when I left it running in our apartment while we went out to dinner. It was an unusually hot day and roof tiles peeled up on the roof followed by an equally unusual downpour. Our roof as you would expect only leaked in one spot - right over my Sharp MM20. The poor thing continued running under a direct stream of water for an hour. It took me a month to dry it out and then it continued to run for another year although in somewhat of a crippled state.If memory serves me the wifi card stopped working and it took several tries to get it to turn on. I still used it though until it finally gave up and died for good.

The Sharp MM20

The Sharp at .8 inches thick (at it’s thickest) and only 1.99 lbs was ultra-sexy. That 0.01 lbs was crucial in differentiating between sexy as opposed to ultra-sexy so I’ll emphasis it here - 1.99 lbs! It had 512 MB of ram which was a lot at the time and a minuscule 20 GB ipod sized hard drive. The battery as you can imagine was tiny and even if the Transmeta CPU was efficient I got about 2 hrs of life out of each charge. To solve this issue I bought the “9 hr battery” which lasted about 6 hrs. It added about half a pound to the size and protruded out the bottom like a large wart so I actually carried both batteries, one for transport and the other I’d swap in when I decided I wanted to work for a while. Not ideal but it did work. I also used a USB mouse and since the hard drive was so small I backed up all of my photos and videos on an external USB hard drive. The Sharp had no memory card reader so I had to use an external USB and it only had two USB ports so I had to carry a mini USB hub as well. The laptop, 9 hr battery, USB hub, USB memory card reader and external hard drive weighed 3 lbs, 5 oz. I paid $1850 for everything which at the time was a good deal. One year I took my USB DVD drive too and even a USB Dye Subliminal postcard printer. The latter was really fun since we could send out customized postcards with us in them but I couldn’t justify the extra more than once.

Pluses for the Sharp MM20

  • Small and Beautiful
  • Decent screen and keybaord for the size
  • PCMCIA slot in a .5/.8 inch laptop!

Minuses for the Sharp MM20

  • Poor battery life
  • Not enough USB ports
  • CPU not very fast
  • VGA port needed a dongle
  • Small slow hard drive

The MSI Wind

After the Sharp died a friend gave me an MSI Wind Netbook. Netbooks are wimpy little Notebook computers that go for a song - in this case free because my friend didn’t like the touchpad. It had a 160 GB hard drive, memory card reader and 3 USB ports so I didn’t really have to bring anything with me. Although the idea of having my photos in one spot still made me nervous so I carried the external USB drive anyway. Total cost was $0 but had I purchased it I would have paid about $299. Netbooks are an interesting breed. Technically speaking this thing had more CPU, more ram, way more hard drive and more expansion than my Sharp and cost ? as much. What 5 years makes in the IT industry. They are however built cheaply. It’s about twice as thick as the Sharp and all plastic. The Sharp feels like a really nice, well engineered product. The Netbook... not so much. Also battery life sucked and there’s not much I could do about it - 2.5 hrs tops. An added note is that the MSI screen was 10.1 inches. The Sharp screen was 10.4 inches but if you compare them side to side you’d think something is a little fishy. The Sharp’s screen was way more useful. With the MSI they went with the wide screen format and technically it is a 10.1 inch screen but vertically it’s nearly two inches shorter than the Sharp’s. The Sharp’s screen resolution was 1024x768 and the MSI 1024x600. That’s valuable screen real estate lost. A great example of why small 4:3 screens were better than small 16:9 screens.The netbook still works and still sucks the same. It’s slow, attracts fingerprints and the battery life is still poor. I might note too that the keyboard layout is less than desirable. I remember cursing the Sharp’s tiny keyboard but now in retrospect it was quite nice. Total weight 2 lbs 15 oz with the external hard drive.

Pluses for the MSI Wind

  • Cheap
  • Reasonably small
  • Lots of hard drive space

Minuses for the MSI Wind

  • Slow CPU
  • Poor keyboard layout
  • Cramped wide aspect screen
  • Maddening touch pad
  • Poor expansion - 3 USB ports, that’s it.

The Toshiba r705

Earlier this year  I decided that I needed to get some work done and it pained me to do it on the Netbook so I bought a Toshiba r705. This is the grown up successor to the Sharp MM20! It has a 3 inch larger screen (13.3) is still fairly slim in relation to it’s size and feels a lot like a bigger Sharp. It includes a memory card reader, 500 GB hd, 4 GB of ram, DVD writer (so I don’t have to carry an external USB drive now) and a 6 hr battery life. The Toshiba is all I need by itself and only weighs 3 lbs 3 oz. Travel weight was roughly equal to it’s 10” brethren but had a dual core 2.4 Ghz Intel i3, lots of ram, lots of hard drive and a writable DVD drive. I could actually WORK on it and it was light enough to travel with. It’s size is a bit of an issue because it’s quite a bit larger than the two smaller laptops but still manageable. With the Sharp I used to just slide it between my vacuum packed clothes because it was so slim. Neither the MSI or the Toshiba have this luxury as they’re a bit more than an inch thick.

Pluses for the Toshiba r705

  • Great screen size - 13.3 is near ideal in my book
  • Great touch pad
  • Large hard drive
  • eSATA, VGA, USB, HDMI, Ethernet
  • Optical Drive
  • Excellent weight for this size of laptop

Minuses for the Toshiba r705

  • Quite wide. Probably can’t get around that with a 13.3” wide aspect screen
  • Chicklet keyboard
  • Battery life could be better
  • Needed AES-NI (that’s the only reason I’m selling it)

The Lenovo X220

I mentioned I bought the Toshiba so I could work right? Now work required me to have a new thing in my CPU called AES-NI. This allows lightening fast hard drive decryption. Had I just paid another couple hundred dollars I could have gotten an r705 with it but at the time I didn’t know I was going to need it. By the time I knew the relevant Toshiba r705 wasn’t being sold anymore and it’s replacement was $1500. My search brought me to the Lenovo X220 - a mid 3lb laptop with AES-NI, lots of ram, decent hard drive, decent expansion and incredible battery life. I could have bought the lightweight 6 hr battery and my travel weight (and battery life) would have been identical to the Toshiba. However, there was the standard 9 hr battery or the extended 12 hr battery. Knowing that you never get as much as they say I bought the 12 hour battery which gets me 10 hrs. That’s still a LOT. It would allow me to use it on a trans-Atlantic flight or any cross country flight without plugging in! It also added about half a pound. Crap, I would work for an entire day just on the battery. This is the first practical laptop I’ve ever had in that regard.

The Lenovo’s screen is 12.5 inches (smaller than the Toshiba, larger than the others), has 8 GB of ram (!), a 320 GB hard drive, PCI Express slot (which I filled with an eSATA card), three USB ports (one of them ultra-fast USB 3.0), HDMI, VGA, SDHC memory card slot, ethernet and headphones. Basically everything I need. It’s a bit of a brute and as ugly too. The Sharp and Toshiba’s are pretty laptops, the Lenovo - only a mother could love. It is however durable and the keyboard has the best feel of any of them. It will make a great work laptop and I think a decent travel laptop as soon as I get a chance to take it somewhere. It’s a tad shorter than the Toshiba and would have less depth to if I’d ordered the standard battery. It’s a tad thicker though. I think overall the size difference is a wash. I kind of wish Lenovo would look over the trade show booth at just about anyone’s products though because this thing looks like an IBM Thinkpad from 1992. It even has the red rubber eraser pointer tool in the keyboard which is a bit irritating as I keep bumping it. I think I saw in the BIOS that I can turn it off. It also has a very strange bumpy touchpad and strangely shaped mouse buttons between the space bar and the touch pad in addition to the touchpad acting as mouse buttons. If you took all the input methods by ALL the other manufacturers and crammed them into one Laptop you’d have the Lenovo. However, the feel of the keyboard is great (like an old fashioned non-Chiclets keyboard!), the cursor keys, home/end/PgUp/PgDn and function keys are placed well. The shift, delete, backspace and enter keys are very large as well which is a huge improvement over other laptops.

Pluses for the Lenovo X220

  • Great screen size - 12.5 is near ideal
  • Battery life, battery life, battery life.
  • Even the light battery is great!
  • PC Expresscard slot, USB 3.0
  • Great keyboard feel
  • Decent sized hard drive
  • AES-NI - the reason I bought it
  • LOTS of ram - 8 GB. That’s more than my workstation or server
  • Great wifi reception

Minuses for the Lenovo X220

  • Weird keyboard layout
  • Weird red eraser pointer
  • Funky touchpad
  • No eSATA
  • Heavy and a bit bulky too
  • Ugly as sin
  • Extended battery protrudes
  • No optical drive!

Here are all four lined up in the following order (from left to right), Toshiba r705, Lenovo X220, Sharp MM20, MSI Wind. If you look closely at the screens on the Sharp and MSI you'll see that the Sharp looks to have a screen much larger than the MSI. This is what I was talking about earlier about wide aspect ration screens - you lose a lot. The Sharps 10.4" screen is as tall and nearly as usable as a wide screen 12.5. Also I think you can see from this photo how thin the Sharp is.

My Dream Laptop

If I could have anything I wanted I’d take an updated Sharp MM20. Stretch the screen a bit from 10.4 to 12.5. Expand the keyboard a tad, give it more oomph and increase the battery life. Yep, that’s what I’d order if I were Mayor for a day. Some people might think I just described the MacBook Air 13 and maybe they’re right so let’s look at that for a moment.

  Sharp MM20 MSI Wind Toshiba r705 Lenovo X220 MacBook Air 13
Dimensions 9.9 x 8.1 x .8 10.3 x 7.1 x 1.1 12.4 x 8.9 x 1.0 12 x 8 x 1.4 12.8 x 9 x .7
Weight 1.99 lbs/2.5 lbs with 9hr battery 2.8 lbs 3.2 lbs 3.8 lbs 2.9 lbs
Screen 10.4 10.1 13.3 12.5 13.3
CPU 1 Ghz Transmeta 1.6 Ghz Atom 2.4 Ghz Core i3 2.5 Ghz Core i5 2.13 Ghz Core 2 Duo
Ram 512 MB 1 GB 4 GB 8 GB 4 GB
Hard drive 20 GB 160 GB 500 GB 320 GB 256 GB
Ethernet 10/100 10/100/1000 10/100/1000 10/100/1000 None
Wifi 802.11 b/g 802.11 b/g/n 802.11 b/g/n + WiMax 802.11 b/g/n 802.11 b/g/n
Battery Life 3/9 hrs rated
2/6 hrs real
with 9hr battery
3 hrs rated
2.5 hrs real
8 hrs rated
6 hrs real
13 hrs rated
10 hrs real
7 hrs rated
Expansion PCMCIA, 2 USB, VGA, Ethernet, headphone 3 USB, Ethernet, SD card, VGA, headphone, mic 3 USB, Ethernet, SD card, VGA, HDMI, eSATA, headphone, mic, bluetooth 3 USB, Ethernet, SD card, VGA, HDMI, Expresscard, headphone, bluetooth 2 USB, SD card, Displayport, headphone, bluetooth
Price $1500 $299 $899 $1500 $1829

It’s interesting to see how closely Toshiba tracks the MacBook Air. Toshiba seems to have taken a 90/10 plan in that they will provide 90% of the coolness for a fraction of the price. It’s almost as light and thin ( ¼ lb and ¼ inch) but has far greater expansion and included equipment. Battery life is arguably better, CPU is faster, storage is double, plus it has a great deal more expansion for... wait for it... half the price!

How does my current choice stack up? It’s physically smaller in width and depth but twice as thick (thus half as sexy) and nearly a pound heavier. It’s clearly built for a different purpose. It has double the memory, more storage, double the battery life and double the expansion for …. wait for it... half the price!

So in short the MacBook Air is a neat bit of kit but it’s got some shortcomings - namely expandability. The other issue (and it’s a big one) that I haven’t even touched yet is running Linux on it won’t be nearly as easy. Yes, I’d put Linux where the Oh So Fancy MacOS was but I’m sure I could coax Linux on the MacBook but my options are more limited.

The other other really big issue is eSATA. I need eSATA for my current job and the Toshiba had it built in. The Lenovo has an Expresscard slot in which I placed a dual eSATA card. And the MacBook Air doesn’t have AES-NI in the CPU either which is the main reason I’m getting rid of the Toshiba. In short it wouldn’t work for my situation. However, for just a travel laptop it looks like a great deal if the price was significantly lower (or the Toshiba didn’t exist).

Published in Gadget Blog

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.

 

Published in Gadget Blog
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