12 March 2007

Stand-alone mp3 player and internet radio

I was busy tapping away in Open Office Writer when my partner came into the room and asked me to play a "Autumn Leaves". I was, of course, recording a TV show at the same time, so even though the combination of these programs didn't totally kill my PC (AMD XP processor, yes, it is old), poor Eva Cassidy had a serious case of the stutters.

Of course, the answer is to upgrade the processor, but that, being totally against my philosophy of exhausting antiquated equipment, is out of the question. The alternative is to get a standalone mp3 player. One which certainly looks good is the Logik IR100 internet radio. Not only can it access internet radio stations, it can play mp3 files stored in network folders.

But naturally, my desktop will slow to a crawl if it has to feed an mp3 over a network to another device, which means some form of local storage is necessary. I just checked my music folder and I have over 30GB of music, so that puts most last generation digital audio players out of the equation.

Ideally, I'd like to put all my music on a portable hard drive and plug it into something which has a USB host. It should also have WiFi connectivity for internet radio streaming. At present, after some research, I have decided to with a PDA that has USB-host and WiFi, like the Toshiba e800, or something like a Fujitsu Stylistic LT which can also do both.

Watch this space!

09 March 2007

It ain't easy being green

Although it is just about to get easier.

I am all for avoiding waste by maximizing the lifespan of your tech gear, especially through repair and reuse, so it is timely that a report (caution: PDF link!) from the trial of open source software in government has concluded that:

A typical hardware refresh period for Microsoft Windows is 3-4 years. A major UK manufacturing organisation quotes its hardware refresh period for Linux systems as 6-8 years.

A world in which people upgrade their computers once every 8 years? Now that would be amazing and great for the landfills of the world.

What would really be great is if the hardware itself was ecofriendly and recyclable. There are loads of personal casemods using biodegradeable components, and there are a number of companies looking at different materials. Asus have recently created a laptop shell made from bamboo which actually looks beautiful. Being environmentally friendly is a definite consideration for future tech purchases.

07 March 2007

Don't believe the hype

This is a quick post, linking to a report by the Onion about Apple's new product launch.

Today, Apple is releasing a piece of innovative new technology that will forever change the way innovative new technology is released.

Worth a quick peruse, and a hearty chortle. Couldn't have said it better myself.

A dedicated Skype phone

After a few fits and starts, Phillips will finally be making their VOIP841 available to buy in Europe and presumeably the rest of the world. Their tagline is that it is the "world's first PC-Free Skype-certified phone", meaning that unlike most other dedicated Skype handsets out there, the computer does not have to be on to make or receive calls.

If this doesn't sound revolutionary, it really isn't. Ever since Skype became available as a Pocket PC application, people have been creating their own special VOIP phones. The ingredients are simple: all you need is a WiFi enabled Pocket PC capable of running Skype and a WiFi connection (of course).

My setup uses my multifunctional and ubiquitous iPAQ h4350. It has built-in WiFi which means that even when the computer is off, it can quite happily connect to my wireless access point. The biggest problem was in trying to find the version of Skype most suited to it. The download page is rather unintuitively arranged according to brand, and something as prehistoric as the h4350 is clearly not listed in the HP section.

In the past there used to be two versions of Skype, one optimized for low CPU devices and one for high CPU ones. I'm not sure that distinction still applies, so for the sake of consistency I went with the Dopod 700 download since it at least runs Windows Mobile 2003. Once it is installed, you just need to log in and you you are ready to go.

I leave my Pocket PC logged-in all the time. It sits next to my regular phone and rings when someone tries to call me, and because is PC independent. It really is like a dedicated Skype phone. What is using it actually like? Well, as with all Skype calls, your mileage does vary according to the quality of your connection. That said, with echo reduction on, the sound quality is perfect for speech.

In terms of hardware, the h4350 is not really set up to be a phone. The microphone, for one, is at the top, while the speaker is located below. I use it as you would a speaker phone, but if you want a little more privacy then it would be a good idea to invest in a headset. It also takes a while to get over the thin-but-wide feel of the PDA.

WiFi enabled Pocket PCs can be had for much less than the Phillips VOIP841, and you get a load of extra functionality too!

Handheld PCs reborn

At the recent 3GSM conference in Barcelona two interesting phones made the headlines. The first was Nokia’s new E90 smartphone, the natural progression of its own 9000 series phones. The second was iMate’s new Ultimate 7150. To judge by the press coverage of the event it was as though a whole new form factor had suddenly been invented, quite forgetting the fact that clamshell devices, albeit sans phone module, have been around for a very long time.

In my mind, this form factor has always had a special appeal. Quite apart from protecting the screen, it also allows you to have a near full sized keyboard, with keys which actually have some travel. None of those press-and-they-barely-move keys you get with slide-out keyboards.

The very pinnacle of such devices, and I realize that I will no doubt rile the EPOC fanatics out there, were the Handheld PCs. I say ‘were’ because the platform is no longer supported, and has not been for nearly seven years. Like its Pocket PC and Smartphone counterparts, Handheld PC runs on Windows CE. Unlike them though, the native build closely resembles a Windows 95 desktop. With the help of skinning tools you can actually make it resemble any Windows desktop you like, including Vista.

I have a Samsung Izzi Pro, a Handheld PC developed at the height of interest in these devices when there were many companies churning them out. There were later, better specced Handheld PCs released subsequently, the Jornada 720 being one of the best, but never again would there be the range of manufacturers or hardware variations. The Izzi Pro has a great swivel and fold form factor which allows it to convert between a traditional laptop and a tablet, and it has a near full size keyboard, which I can type faster on than my more conventional laptop!

01 March 2007

An iPhone super skin

Interface is, allegedly, king. At least that is what technology seems to be pushing at the moment. Windows Vista, Mac OSX and Linux/Compiz/Beryl all seem to be emphasizing looks, and hopefully usability, on the desktop.

In the mobile phone space this has hardly been ignored, but the sheer number of different platforms means that there is no unity of interface across them. I used to use a Nokia phone for instance, and was really reluctant to leave the Series 40 interface because all other interfaces were unfamiliar to me. The more cynical will suspect that manufacturers are doing a Microsoft (or an Apple for that matter), that is, making people so used to one interface that they are reluctant to switch to something different.

Currently, I am on my second Windows Mobile device, a Ubiquio 501 running Pocket PC phone edition. My previous Windows Mobile phone was a Motorola MPx200 running Smartphone edition(s) (see previous post), but even though the two platforms share a name, there was still a learning curve in the move between the two.

The iPhone interface, of course, has the web in a bit of a tizzy, and even I have created an iPhone skin. However, the chap in this video has taken it even further and gone as far as programming an iPhone-looky-likey screen lock and the flick-scroll interface for his Eten M600, another Pocket PC phone. I don't find either of those UI ideas particularly useful, but you have to admire the dedication and skill, and to a lesser degree the obsessiveness of the guy.

I also have a Samsung D830 which runs an Adobe-designed flash-based interface. This is pretty and works well. What I found most interesting though, is that Samsung have decided to copy their own interface, allowing it to run on Windows Mobile, and created a launcher for the new Samsung i718. While this is undoubtedly because they want to keep the user experience consistent whatever the platform, at the same time I can't help suspecting that no-one was going to rush out and slavishly copy the Samsung interface any time soon.

The real moral of this story? Interfaces come and go, what's fashionable now, may be unfashionable in a year. Go for hardware which is durable, and for software you can customize. You'll win every time!

Edit: Oops, it looks like Apple's aggressive legal team have forced YouTube to remove the video. However, you can download it here.