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
Powered by Android

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.

The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Google Coloured!

With Google’s announcement of their Grand Central aquisition I see another slice of the mobile operators’ pie being taken away… and yet another push for the network providers to become nothing more than bit-pipes.

Some pie
Google take another piece of the pie

Today Grand Central…

Grand Central offer terminating telecoms services such as ‘visual voicemail’, call screening and ListenIn™. These (what I would perceive to be) rich services are not widely – if at all – yet offered by the majority of mobile operators.

These services are facilitated by the offering a new single telephone number which I presume you offer out as your main contact number. There is no sign (that I’ve seen) of number portability yet but I would think it would not be too long till you’ll be able to move your mobile number over to Google’s service.

And these services are just the things that could start to replace the mobile operators very own value added services and systems such as their IN and Voicemail.

This latest move follows Google’s launch of location based services for mobile users back in November 2007 which nabbed one of the most sacred (yet amazingly under-used) pieces of information which the mobile network providers held… Location.

Tomorrow the World?

What is different about this latest move from Google though is it’s not just the mobile operators who are having their toes troden on… this time the impact appears to have a much greater reach and it is infact the fixed-line providers who are under threat as well. With terminating services being taken care of the whole telecoms network and service provider industry has a new competitor.

And with rumours of a Skype purchase by Google floating around we could really see one big VoIP service provider to rule them all. In such a world your traditional fixed line and mobile telephone numbers could be used by no one else other than the providers themselves for billing you for your bit-pipe usage.

So what are the traditional networks to do? I suppose they need to look at what ‘value’ they still hold and can uniqely provide to their customers. To be honest I’ve not yet thought about this in any kind of depth but whatever they do they need to move quick and strong to even stand a chance in the long term. These “bit-pipes-to-be” used to be able to say “We know our customers… we know who they are and where they are” but what Google may soon be able to say is “We know OUR customers… we know who they are and where they are… and not just when they’re using their mobile phones”.

I can see an Orange pay-as-you-go customer making a call on their Android powered handset to one of their Gmail contacts (to their global Grand Central number) over Skype (all transparent to the user of course) which calls the destination’s very own Android phone (over VoIP) as well as their Skype client on the netbook and their fixed line phone (over VoIP too)… and all the originating user pays is their “all you can eat” data bill.

Deleting Gadgets from iGoogle

I’m not sure if I’m the only one who’s had trouble with this or not but I’ve found that since the new iGoogle layout launch (I think I’ve winged about this before) I’ve been unable to delete gadgets. Quite simply when I clicked the “delete” link in the gadget menu nothing happened.

A solution (or rather a work around) was stumbled upon when I changed the iGoogle address to use a .co.uk domain suffix rather than the .com I normally use. Bt doing this I was able to see the old iGoogle layout and once again delete gadgets without a hitch.

That is all.

Google Chrome… and the corporate environment

So today Google announced that their browser Chrome was out of beta… sadly they appeared to have missed one of the primary complaints of the earlier versions which was that the installer has to connect back to the internet to download supporting files. This is all fine apart from if you’re behind a proxy that requires authentication… and this is a very real situation for many corporate users.

Chrome Logo
Google Chrome

A quick search on the net revealled that many users are already complaining about this (and many actually raised this during the beta phase too). There is, at least I don’t think there is, anyway of installing behind a proxy. I hate to say it but this time Google seem to have missed a trick.

New iGoogle Rant

This is not going to be a long and exhaustive review of the update to iGoogle but more of a quick “these things annoy me lots” rant… apologies.

The new iGoogle
The new iGoogle

The update supports a few added features along with the option to have a full canvas view of a single gadget but these are not the simple changes which bug me. These are:

  1. I generally have a few gadgets minimised to allow me more gadgets on the one page. For example I generally have my gMail gadget minimised and only open it when I know I have a new mail and quickly wan to see who it’s from. The problem now is that there is no longer an “expand”/”maxmize” button on each gadget heading… I now have to click into the menu of that gadget and click again to alter the display (minimized or not).
  2. The old “tab bar” has now been moved to a sidebar on the left hand side… this takes up a great deal more of my screen real-estate and to be honest really is a waste. I would have thought that keeping the tabs across the top is a much better use of space especially when the whole idea (or at least I thought it was) of iGoogle is to have as much useful stuff in one place.
  3. Along with each feed title you use to be able to view more info (the excerpt or summary if you will) by clicking on the button associated with that particular item. This has now been removed and by default all of these summaries are visible. This is once again not allowing me to have the quick “snap-shot” of the web that I used to.

So that’s it… rant over. And of course I do expect to be eating my own words once I realise that the benefits of the new iGoogle far out-weigh by petty complaints.

Review: Sennheiser CX 500s

I’d had a pair of Sennheiser CX 300s for a couple of years and thought they were great. Sadly they’ve started to succumb to my abuse and mal-handling and one of the earpieces started to fall apart. It was time, I said to myself, to buy a new pair… and perhaps upgarde whilst I was at it.

I had been more than happy with the CX 300s… the sound quality was excellent in my opinion and their sound cancelling was ace. Travelling on buses, trains and airplanes was made easier as I could pop the headphones in and instantly be in my own quiet world where only the dulcit sounds of Elbow could reach me. Seeing how happy and I’d been I decided to stick with Sennheiser and go for the obvious upgrade choice of the Sennheiser CX500s. I found a pair for only £18.95 on the web (might”ve been ebay but I can’t remember now) and snapped them up… and as usual with new toy purchases I was excited already.

Sennheiser CX500s
Sennheiser CX500s

Once they arrived I immediately got them out and noticed that unlike the CX300s the wires from the split point to the earpiece were of uniform length. This for me was a slight dissapointment as I generally have the right earpiece wire go around the back of my neck. This is done so that if the earpieces are not in my ear then they don’t hang right down but simply dangle from my neck. Not a major issue though and I was sure I could overcome this niggle.

Next up came a real test run on the bus I get to work… having read reviews on amazon I would have thought that the noise cancelling was excellent… sadly in my experience this was not to be. I tried all of the buds that were supplied and couldn’t find a single pair which cut out the school kids’ ramblings… so another failing.

To be honest I probably could have lived with these headphones since the sound quality was (as expected) very good in my opinion… but one last issue was to come to the surface. The CX500s came with a volume control built in and this was something I thought would come in very handy. Unfortunately I tend to wear my headphones so that the wire is concealled under my jacket/shirt. This tended to me the volume was accidentally altered by the rubbing of the material… and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I now use my girlfriends old CX300s and my 500s have been relegated to the “box of things that might one day come in handy”.

Todget

Ok, so Todget is able to check balances, allowance information as well as paying bills and topping up by debit or credit card but I thought that the title would be too overwhelming. Oh I forgot that it provides jokes too 🙂

Todget is simply a front end to all those confusing SMS commands that you can use on your mobile phone to manage your phone account. It as mentioned above supports the following services (only currently available on T-Mobile UK):

  • Check you balance (this is for pay as you go as well as for contract customers including flext
  • get allowance info (such as Roaming minutes, number of MMS)
  • Pay you bill by credit/debit card for contract customers
  • Top up your account (for prepay customers)
  • Get a nifty joke… and maybe help you pull

OK, here’s my ‘get out of jail free card’… at the time of writing all the above (except the Joke service) are free.

Since it’s a nifty little java application for your mobile it is supported by the majority of cell phones.

I heard there’s rumours that support for other networks would be supported… let’s hope so.