Never have to remember your charger again

This could be great news for any occasional (or not so occasional) travellers… one type of mobile charger to suit them all. I read today via PC World that the GSM association have agreed that mobile phone chargers of the future will have a USB mini-type interface. This would mean that when you get a new phone you won’t need a new charger as well (good on a green note) and hopefully will mean a drop in the price of chargers too.

I also hope that this won’t only be a move that the mobile phone manufacturers take up but also one that is followed by the producers of other portable devices such as MP3 players and SatNavs (of course these products may actually just be one piece of equipment by this point in time).

EeePC – First Thoughts

I’d been contemplating buying one of the Asus ultra-portable notebooks ever since the launch of their 701 model last year. I thought it’d make an ideal travel companion and a nice light-weight alternative to me having to haul around my relatively large Sony Vaio (an enormous wide-screen beast). The benefits are such a device – aside from the physical size) include the super efficient Intel Atom processor, the solid state storage (which means more power saving, less heat generation, less noise and a more shock proof system when compared to a standard hard drive) and of course weight. I’d been extremely tempted by the Linux variety as it would provide me with the development requirements I’d need and a more suitable test bed (as most running apps/websites/etc. I build run on Linux servers).

So now, 2 and a half years on I’ve finally got round to getting myself one. I lumped for the 901 Linux model which offers a 8.9″ screen in the same overall case size as the 701. It has a 20GB SSD, built in wireless and Bluetooth, SD card slot , 3 USB2.0 ports, a 1.3 mega pixel webcam and a host of other features. The little beauty set me back just over £210 exc. VAT.

Asus Eee PC 901
Asus Eee PC 901

The Physicals

As previously mentioned the 901 comes in the same sized shell as the 701 model but offers a ncie 9.1″ screen giving a 1024×600 resolution. It seems to certainly be bright enough too ( even on the lower brightness settings). The keyboard is small, there’s really no getting away from this. But after practice it seems usable for sure, in fact I’m writing this very article on it whilst travelling back from work on the bus. To be honest though the pot-holes and erratic swerving by the bus driver are making it slightly more difficult than it should be. Overall the kit feels solid; the hinge attaching the screen doesn’t seem to be flimsy at all and everything else most definitely does not echo of a rushed cheap product.

The OS and software

Of course being a fan of open source software (and hardware – see the Arduino board) I opted for the Linux version of the Eee. It comes with Xandros – a debian derivative I think – pre-installed and is setup in an “Easy Mode” which offers nice big buttons for “Internet” and “Email” and the like. The default mode is very simple to use and users could be surfing the net and emailing pretty much straight out the box. I should probably mention that I’ve not yet come across a wireless network I couldn’t use (so far used a Sky connection, my N95 and a couple of hotspots)… though reading up on the net it seems that there are connections out there that perhaps do make life difficult for Eee users.

Other notable software which come with the Linux version include Skype, Star Office, and the Pidgin IM client.

The Performance

With a 1.6 atom powering the little gem it doesn’t seem to suffer at all when wanting to do some basic browsing, word processing or mailing. These tasks are likely to be the primary tasks undertaken on my Eee… with perhaps the odd movie viewed and maybe even some development (I’ve yet to see how it copes with the Eclipse IDE which I use for my Android work).

There are three “performance” options available from the system tray which include “Power Saving”, “High Performance” and “Super Performance” as well as an “auto” option which chooses the mode depending on whether or not you’re running the Eee under battery power. If you’re watching a video clip or film then I suggest not using the “Power Saving” mode as this appears to make the images a bit juddery.

The Battery

So far battery life seems good. With the wireless on I get about 5 hours (though not using it much) and as a (yes, pretty large) MP3 player I got more like 8 hours. In fact at present I’ve been typing for about 30 minutes with the wireless off and I’ve used 6%..

The bottom line

I’m overjoyed with how good this little puppy is so far. I have made some few tweaks to be fair (like enabling the full desktop mode, removing some unwanted packages and installing some more software) but this is of course one of the plus-points of the Linux system. I’ll be detailing how I performed these tweaks in later posts… so keep ’em peeled.

T-Mobile Android G1 – First Thoughts

My G1 arrived just before Christmas (in fact just 1 day after my Birthday) after many, many months of pestering work to order me one. To say I was excited would be an understatement (Yes, I am a self confessed geek), the thought have having such an open device really was blowing me away.

T-Mobile Android G1
T-Mobile Android G1

For those that don’t know the T-Mobile Android G1 was the first released mobile device which runs the open Android operating system (developed by Google). The OS is open source which essentially means that all the code monkeys out there can dig right into the device and develop applications for it to their hearts content. The G1 hardware wise is actually a branded HTC device. HTC prior to this move are probably most famed for their Windows Mobile handsets such as the MDA/XDA ranges.

Anyhoo, back to my first thoughts…

Form Factor

Lots of folks think the G1 isn’t a pretty phone… perhaps they’re right, but to be honest I’m not one of them. And after much much use I actually think the phone is nice and well built. The sliding full qwerty keyboard is extremely usable and feels solid. The small angled portion of the phone helps it sit nicely in my pockets too. It doesn’t seem to big or fat even. One thing that does bug me however is the fact that one handed use is a tough. I don’t think I put this down to the fact that I have small hands but just that the “back” or “return” button is too far left to reach with your left thumb. This small niggle could be resolved by adding a “soft” button to the OS and applications… and given that this phone appears to be a developer’s dream it’s probably not long before this starts to appear.

The battery is poor… there’s no denying it. It would get me through a day of modest use with certain precautions taken like turning off bluetooth, WLAN and turning down the screen brightness but this seems absurd when I think that my old SE P910 would last for days even with extreme use levels. A fair point maybe the use of 3G which is known to be a real battery drainer and has plagued other handsets such as Nokia’s N95.

One thing that does really bother me about the G1 is the lack of a 3.5mm headphone socket. As someone who doesn’t want to have an MP3 (or OGG) player as well as my phone this is a real pain in the derrier. Adapters are available but that’s not really the point.

I suppose that I should make it clear that the hardware for me is certainly at the bottom of my thoughts when I talk about the G1… so lets move on and you’ll find out why.

The Goods

Because of the G1’s open-ness the “Market” (Android’s sister to the iPhone App Store) was full of applications very soon after the phone’s launch. Scores of developers had been using the Android SDK to make all sorts of pieces of software (many useful, many not so much) that could be downloaded directly to the phone. The open-ness also meant that many of the core phone features could be accessed by these developers… things such as the GPS, WLAN, contacts and SMS are all available to be used. Another key benefit that the Android OS offers is that internal architecture is extremely flexible and expandible. Basically if there’s something you don’t lke about any of the software (including the pre-installed apps from Google such as their Contacts applicaation) then these can be re-written and replaced.

The Bads

At the moment there’s only a couple of things I don’t like about the G1 when it comes to the OS and software, these being the lack of Outlook syncing, Bluetooth being limited to audio use (I.e. no PIM transfer) and no inbuilt support for using the phone as a modem. What we have to remember here is that these are (hopefully) only short-term issues thanks to the Android OS (in fact some clever folks have already come up with a tethering work around). Another point to remember is that support for “paid for” applications in the Market Place should be available in the first quarter of 2009 and that a whole host of offerings including an ActiveSync application should be available very soon after.

Android Logo
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The Bottom Line

It’s amazing… yes it is. The G1 itself has a few faults – which I quite happily forgive it for – but this I suppose isn’t what I think is amazing. It is in fact the Android OS that creates a whole world of possibilities. If you don’t like the look of the G1 then don’t worry, they’ll be scores of Android powered terminals coming out over the next year and I’m sure they’ll be one that you’ll feel happy about getting out in the pub.