18 December 2008

Who is the Nokia N800 for?

I bought a Nokia N800. This being Spurious Starlight, we never acquire the latest tech, and the N800 originally came out at the start of 2007. So now the N800 is just shy of 2 years old, and can be had for just shy of £100 eBay. If you've not heard of the Nokia N800 I don't blame you. Nokia is one of those companies who, although they make more than one produce more than one item, are really only well known for their mobile phones. The N800, however, has no cellular radio within it, but in terms of hardware is actually very similar to a phone both in terms of size and components. Instead, Nokia calls it an 'internet tablet' (NIT). Two years ago when the N800 was released, one of the overriding questions was: who is it for? Two years later is the answer any clearer?

Going by my past posts, you will gather that what I do on the internet revolves around browsing news, staying in touch with friends and family through Facebook and IM, checking email, listening to podcasts (both audio and video) and listening to internet radio. I would say that those few actions account for 90% of what I do on the net - consumption of media rather than creation. What I've discovered the N800 is, is a device which allows me to do all of that in a pocketable form factor.

Surfing the internet is possible on my phone, and using an HTC Touch Diamond with Opera 9.5 really isn't a bad experience, but with such a tiny screen, even with a high pixel density, you can't avoid a degree of claustrophobia. In contrast, the N800 has a huge screen both in terms of size and resolution. It is WVGA 800x480 which means that you can see most webpages without scrolling side to side, and because it uses a Mozilla-based browser, the rendering is near-identical to what you would see on a desktop. It handles javascript and flash which is really impressive too. Pages render relatively quickly via WiFi, but I will say that certain pages do cause it to choke, especially the 'infinite' pages like Google Reader.

Facebook is a bit of a weird one on the N800. If you just enter the facebook URL you get some kind of weird message. Facebook clearly has never heard of the N800 and assumes that it is a mobile web browser, and tries to divert you to a WAP page. If you put the http://www.facebook.com/login.php specific URL in, however, you can go to the desktop version which is what the N800 excels at. Once you are there you get the full fat version of Facebook with every function known - so much better than the mobile or iphone variants of the site.

Communication via Skype works really well, and you can even use the video camera which pops out of the side of the device. You can also instant message using Gizmo which connects to the Windows Live Messenger service. I don't use the other IM services which are supported so I wouldn't know how they work. My onluy concern is that the built-in keyboards are pretty unfinger friendly. Even the big QWERTY keyboard, which is far better than most on-sceen keyboards I have ever used, takes a bit of getting used to. As a result, typing is just a little bit slower and more frustrating. This goes for emailing too. The email clinet is very easy to set up and inludes imap for GMail which is basically what I live on. Multiple accounts are also posisble, and the client polls the servers regularly, witht he D-pad glowing blue when a new mail comes in.

I am not going to discuss media consumption at the moment because I am still exploring the device, But sufficeth to say the built in media player is adequate, but the downloadable player Canola, is amazing!

10 December 2008

Fennec browser and Origami Experience running on Windows Mobile!

I apologise for the somewhat misleading title of this post, because, sadly, it is not true in the strictest sense of the word. However, at the same time it is not entirely false either. I get bored very easily by my devices, and rather than buy a whole new one every time I want a bit of eye candy, I try to explore different ways of trying out another user interface. UIs involving touch are the subject du jour, but neither are particularly new.

For instance, in Microsoft's initial, but now sadly dead, vision of the UMPC there was a UI designed to be finger friendly on relatively small screens. It was called Origami Experience. Sadly, Microsoft in their infinite wisdom decided that it could not be downloaded as a separate overlay of Windows XP. No, they wanted it to be exclusive to the new generation of UMPCs. Thankfully, an enterprising young woman called Neotechni decided to take matters into her own hands and came up with a clone called Mobile Home. She details it in the Origami Project forum.

I downloaded it, and it is indeed feature complete and runs beautifully, but having installed it, I can't make full use of the functionality as I do not have a touch screen desktop. That is where the magic of remote desktop on my HTC Universal comes in. By firing up a remote session, I can use the touch screen on my PDA to really try out the UI. So far I love it! It sure beats the traditional start button-cascading menu-task bar paradigm on such a small device.

Using the same technique I can actually get Fennec, Mozilla's new mobile browser, to run on my HTC Universal too. Fennec builds run on XP but not Windows Mobile at the moment, but by "putting it onto" my phone via RDP I can try it out is it is meant to be. I have to say that being an alpha build most of the functionality is sadly limited, but I do like the screen sliding paradigm of browing and tabs.

I have also used my old tablet Windows 98 Fujitsu LT in this way to try out both Mobile Home and Fennec, and have to say that there is a great novelty value in seeing an entirely different user interface on this prehistoric device.

One more top tip, if you are using Firefox, even remotely, on a touch screen device, then I strongly recommend the Grab and Drag add-on. It makes surfing the web that much easier.

Edit: I added a video of RDP in action on the HTC Universal showing Mobile Home, Firefox and Fennec.

09 December 2008

A review of the Creative Inspire T10i speakers

Quite a while ago I reappropriated my old HTC Magician as an internet radio. The set up was a bit convoluted, but worked quite well. in the interim, however, the phone was requisitioned by my parents and I went back to listening to my internet radio on the PC. I still think this is a bit of an overkill, and there is something vaguely annoying about having to boot up my desktop to listen to a bit of streaming Christmas music. Time to come up with another solution!

While I no longer have the phone, I still do have the SanDisk WiFi SD card and indeed the bluetooth speakers. The bluetooth connection was a bit wasted though, since the only PDA I have lying around at the moment is my old hp iPAQ h2210. This has bluetooth but does not support A2DP. In truth, the Acoutic Energies don't have the best sound anyway, with rather muddy basses and wooly highs. So I figured it was time to look for a new pair of speakers.

In the end I settled on a pair of Creative Inspire T10i speakers. I have had a really good experience with Creative's before and I know that in their price range their speakers really are unparalleled. I originally wanted to get one of the fancy X-Fi speakers since the music playing out of my PDA will have been digitally compressed. Most internet radio streams run at a feeble 96kbps I believe, and it would have been great to have some of that fleshed out using the X-Fi crystallizer system. I'm not going to argue the case for X-Fi, but suffice to say that response to it is a bit subjective - I love it for digital music.

Unfortunately, X-Fi systems come at a price premium and I didn't want to spend more than fifty quid on it. I found one review of the T10is on line and it was really positive, so I figured I would give them a shot. Even so, I was heading rather blindly into the purchase. I ended up spending just under £30 for the speakers on eBay and have to say that for the price the sound really is stunningly good.

The speakers themselves aren't particularly huge but they have a tweeter and a mid-sized cone, as well as a bass port exiting at the top. The right speaker has the volume and tone control knobs, and at the back a power and audio in port. This being the T10 'i' variant, it also came with a dock for an iPhone or iPod Touch - clearly this is something I do not need. As I mentioned, I am streaming internet radio through it at the moment, and the basses are rich and punchy with clean, crisp highs and rounded mids. The sound is really beyond what one would expect for speakers in this price range. Strongly recommended and well worth it: if only because I can now listen to O Come All ye Faithful without first hearing the Windows startup sound!

07 December 2008

Odd phone designs #1

The brand 'not specified' in the mobile phones section in eBay is a veritable Burgess shale of hardware designs which may or may not evolve to the big time. I get a weird thrill from having a look to see what the Chinese designers consider a viable look, and while some of them are truly wacky, there are many which are quite clever. Now and then though, the odd phone really catches my eye, and I just had to post this one: a weird amalgamation of the Nokia 8800 Arte and the LG KT610.

In principle, QWERTY phones need to be long to accomodate the keyboard, so it baffles me just a little that whoever drew up the blueprints decided that this phone also needed a hideaway number pad. Mind you I guess it does make for a sleeker look. The added bonus? Gaming keys because this phone also has a SNES emulator built in!

06 December 2008

A review of the Krussell touch screen pointer

This is a bit of an odd review because I'm discussing an accessory, not some piece of techie kit. But with my new WWAN modem I received a £10 voucher from the 3 accessories store. I had a quick look around, and frankly, a tenner really doesn't go very far, and how many phone socks does one person really need? On the other hand I am indeed a lanyard person. As someone who is clumsy at the best of times, it has stopped my expensive toys from falling onto the floor and smashing into a million pieces on many an occasion. When grabbing the phone from my pocket I also find it gives something handy to grasp onto. I hasten to add that I am not one of those people who like to add dangly bits of jewellery to their phones. I am strictly Corbusier-ian in that sense in that I belive that from is function.

Anyway, to cut a long and not very interesting story short, I decided to go with two Krussell touch screen pointers. The original designers are a company called Triforce based in Sweden, and I remember reading about them quite some time ago. The "triforce" allusion is not to Zelda but to a trangular piece of plastic which is looped through the nylon strap. It is this which you are supposed to pick up and use in lieu of a stylus.

Does it work? Well, yes, and very well indeed. The stylus is durable and sturdy, and the strap itself feels very durable. Do I actually use it? Sadly, given that I have a Touch Diamond which has TouchFlo 3D, an interface designed for the use of fingers, I would have to say no, not very much. If you are the kind of person who prefers to use the stylus, and are constantly losing it, then this would definitely appeal to you. Otherwise my muscle memory makes me reach of the stylus on those rare occasions that I actually need to use one.