Archive for the ‘Mobile’ Category

Surface Pro Key Combos using AutoHotKey

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

I was catching up on Penny Arcade today, and Gabe was talking about his Microsoft Surface Pro. I like reading these, because only people who have one truly know what the device is like. I love mine, and it seems everyone who has one loves it.

Right at the end, he mentioned how he wished he could map some functions to the volume keys when drawing. This made me giddy, because I could help! I’ve spent full days programming AutoHotKey for use on my Surface Pro in various circumstances, so I could talk at length about the subject.

The regular stuff is easy, so I won’t spend much time talking about that. The hard stuff is platform-specific quirks, and how buttons on specific devices work. So here’s a list of things to keep in mind when programming AutoHotKey on Surface Pro.

Surface Pro has a one-piece volume rocker flimsy enough that you can press both buttons at once, a power button, a capacitive Start button, and a capacitive touch-screen. Microsoft got around some limitations by including their own hotkeys and implementing some good touch events.

Here are the keys and the associated scan codes in AutoHotKey:
Volume Up: SC130
Volume Down: SC12E
Start Button: LWin
Tap the screen: LButton
Tap and hold: RButton
Pinch: Ctrl + WheelDown
Spread: Ctrl + WheelUp
Start + Volume Up: LControl + LWin + F14 (Assistive Tech)
Start + Volume Down: LWin + F15 (Save screenshot)
Start + Power Button: LAlt + LControl + Delete

You can capture any one key plus modifiers (Ctrl, Alt, Shift, Win) in AutoHotKey, and then send some other events when those buttons are pressed. You can also specify one button and another button, which turns the first one into a modifier. After that, holding the first button down won’t do anything until you press another key or release the first one.
So if you did something like this:
SC12E:: SendEvent ^{z}
An ‘undo’ command would be sent again and again while you held volume-down, as if you were holding Ctrl and Z on your keyboard.
But if you then did this:
SC12E & SC130:: SendEvent ^{l}
The volume-down button would only work when you released it, so you’d have to click-click-click-click-click to undo several steps.
There are workarounds, but keep that in mind.

Seeing as you can’t do anything complex like Volume Down + Ctrl + Volume Up, we’re a bit limited with what we can capture. Here’s a list of all the current possibilities using only the tablet buttons:
SC130 (Volume Up)
SC12E (Volume Down)
SC130 & SC12E (Volume Up and down)
SC12E & SC130 (Volume Down and up)
LWin (Start button)
SC130 & LWin (Volume Up and Start)
SC12E & LWin (Volume Down and Start)
*F14 (Start and Volume Up)
LWin & F15 (Start and Volume Down)
LButton (Tap)
RButton (Tap and hold)
LButton & LWin (Tap and Start)
RButton & LWin (Tap-and-hold and Start)
SC130 & LButton
SC130 & RButton
SC12E & LButton
SC12E & RButton
LButton & SC130
RButton & SC130
LButton & SC12E
RButton & SC12E
^WheelDown (Pinch together)
^WheelUp (Pinch apart)
!^Delete (Start and Power)

24 possibilities. 15 Good ones.
(You don’t want to put LButton or RButton first, or your taps won’t do anything. Also, the Ctrl+Alt+Del combo sends that even when you change it, so you’ll always be confronted with the annoying option screen.)

Note that the Start button cannot be held down. It only activates when you release it, ignores touches it thinks you made by mistake, and only activates once every half-second with repeated taps.

Obviously, using LButton & Something else means your clicks are going to be intercepted and you won’t be able to click on anything. Likewise with RButton, but in something like Chrome that’s already disabled.

Even if you keep things simple, you can get several handy shortcuts by using AutoHotKey. It’s pretty nice! If you’re struggling to remember all those volume combos, I think of Volume Down + Volume Up as an uppercut, and Volume Up + Volume Down as a drop-kick. You start in one direction, but end up in the other.

Here are a couple lines of code for things I did to fix a couple things I changed:

; ‘IfWinActive’ matches based on keywords anywhere in title
SetTitleMatchMode 2

; By pressing Alt and the volume key, it acts normally (note you need the ‘virtual key’ code as well as the scan codes)
!SC12E:: SendEvent {VKAESC12E}
!SC130:: SendEvent {VKAFSC130}

; Just making sure that I can swipe open the charm bar anytime I want to change the volume.
#IfWinActive Charm Bar
SC12E::SendEvent {VKAESC12E}
SC130::SendEvent {VKAFSC130}

Samsung Galaxy Note II Review

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Having upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy Note II in December, I noticed a few things right away. Any upgrade is going to be felt through the changes from your old system, and these are the differences from my drowned-and-rescued hand-me-down Samsung Galaxy S Captivate:
-This is a lot faster at basically everything, and fixes all the performance issues.
-No Fingerprints! The screen is treated with an oleophobic coating, which may or may not have existed on the Captivate (it could have worn off over time).
-Using the S-Pen, I can draw whenever I like. I’ve taken up playing Draw Something with my family.
-The screen area is much-improved. I can fit more icons or text on-screen, and the screen has more detail. It’s a big upgrade.
-This is running Android 4.1.1, which adds quite a few things Gingerbread didn’t have. Going back for a while was difficult, because I couldn’t do some of the things I’ve come to rely on.
-The phone itself is new and unbroken. My Captivate was given to me as garbage after it fell in calcium-rich well water, and I spent days with vinegar, Q-Tips, distilled water, and a syringe to get it booting properly. The charging port still only works with certain micro-USB cables, and until I found one that worked I was actually strapping the battery to a dismantled Samsung Hype feature phone to charge.
-The battery life is great. I don’t know what it was about the Captivate, but turning it on at all would drain the battery. I had to be careful to make sure all apps and wi-fi were off, or it would only last a few hours instead of all day. The Note II lasts up to five days, and can even get a full day with heavy usage.
-The size difference is interesting. It’s wider and taller than the Captivate (and the pouch I kept it in), and because I got the flip cover I don’t need to keep it in anything, so it’s pretty thin. It actually ends up fitting better, because there isn’t as much thickness.

The flip cover is really neat. Just closing it lets me hold the phone by putting my fingers all over where the screen would be, which completely changed the feel compared to delicately grasping the edges. Given most designers’ penchant for rounded edges, I’m thankful I don’t have to struggle too much with holding the edges of mine.
The flip cover is pretty expensive, from $30-$40, considering it’s just a few layers of stuff. I guess it’s also the back and an NFC circuit, so that kind of justifies things.
The build quality is actually really good. I expected something that would bend or fall apart within a month, and when my fingers mushed off the thin part between the earpiece cutout and the edge, I wasn’t surprised. But then that piece re-adhered itself, and you can’t tell there’s any sort of damage.
The rubber edging came off pretty quickly, so the edges of the outer textured plastic and the inner soft material open to show the yellowish material that forms the main structural sheet between those two layers. That glue shows no signs of letting go, though.
There’s no such strip in the part that makes up the spine in the cover, so all that’s holding the cover onto the device’s plastic backing is the dual layer of outer plastic and inner felt. Despite that, there’s been no warping and the cover still sits perfectly atop the screen. Despite being used outdoors in winter, there’s no cracking in the spine. In general, this is a relatively-cheap item that is made to absorb the brunt of wear, and it’s holding up really well.

The camera is really terrible. After five years of ever-improving cell-phone cameras, I expected something on par with the pictures my seven-year-old point-and-shoot camera would take. As it stands, I think we’re a little ways away from that. Maybe the more advanced systems, like the sensor in the HTC One, or the optics in the iPhone 5.
I’m seriously sad about this camera, though, because I had high hopes and I’m just kind of embarrassed to take photos with this one. At the very least, I’d like to take out all the post-processing, like the sharpening filters and such. If I wanted to do that, I’d do it myself in an editing program.

The Note II looks really nice. It doesn’t have quite the character of the Galaxy S III, but it uses the same design language. The tapering at the edges of the glass face on the white face make it look like glossy candy. I love the single button with the soft-buttons beside it. I got the white one, and I looked at the blue one, but that slate background just doesn’t work with the glossy glassy feel. It makes it look like it’s wrapped in a layer of plastic. Funny how design works.

The battery is really big, and so it lasts for quite a while if you’re not using it. When you’re using it, though, the screen and processor take up enough extra power that you don’t get any boost in active use compared to other phones.

The Note II comes with a stylus (the S-Pen), which is a Wacom passive pen that works with any Penabled device (at least, so far that I’ve tested). This allows synergy with other Wacom devices: Microsoft’s Surface Pro doesn’t have a place to keep its pen, so I actually just use the one from my Note II.
Android is a fairly wide OS, with support for extra features being added by OEMs and not being supported by most developers, so something like pen input is only really useful in certain apps. Even a keyboard and mouse only get you so far in Android, it seems. I’d like to see more apps integrating Air View (like, say, the browser? I’d like to be able to hover over links). Sketchbook Mobile works really well, though. I can disable fingers and just use the pen, then use my fingers to move the canvas.

Since we’re getting into software, I should mention the power button. The button itself isn’t really bad (though they still insist on putting it directly opposite of the volume buttons, so it’s hard to press one without pressing the other). When you hold the button for a second or two, a menu pops up with some options for sound, airplane mode or turning off the device. If that’s all it did, that would be fine, but holding the button longer will reset the device. Because of the button’s position and prominence, it’ll constantly be pressed while in your pocket. Every once in a while, I’ll hear the familiar start-up sound. Obviously, I can’t take calls during this. I’ve had thoughts of gouging out the button or using some kind of resin to build up a solid dam around it so that it can’t be pressed accidentally.
This could be fixed by firmware, though. There’s no need for a hard reset, because the battery is removable.

Android itself
Past the phone, we get Android itself. It’s a pretty decent operating system, these days, but there are a couple annoyances:
-The battery level indicator isn’t very accurate. When it shows 60% battery I’ll have between 40% and 50%.
-There’s one main marketplace you search for all your apps, and each app is pretty crappy. I’d like more opportunity to try the good apps, and to pay for them if I like them.
-It crashes quite a bit, really.
-It doesn’t seem to have a high-level API that supports basic things like text selection or keyboard shortcuts. This means that people are implementing their own conflicting styles, and apps won’t have keyboard shortcuts unless the developers program them in. Even things like text selection (Ctrl+A) or copy and paste (Ctrl+ X or C or V) or undo (Ctrl+Z) are missing from many apps. We need properly-designed Google apps for things like filesystem browsing or managing services. It seems like the basic OS apps just don’t cut it right now.

I’m not sure if this is Android or my provider, but the mobile internet seems dodgy. Things will fail to load when I have full bars, or switching wi-fi off will cause my connections to close without even trying to connect. When my computer is connected via wi-fi hotspot, the internet connectivity on my phone sometimes stops working entirely until I sit in airplane mode for a bit.
I’d like to be able to rely on it if I need access to a scrap of information quickly.

All that said, there are a couple things I would have wished for:
-Better speakers. Something on the front or the side would be best, I think, because there’s no reason to have something on the back where you can’t hear it.
-Squarer edging. The sides of the device are curved toward the back, so it’s hard to grip. If you’re trying to grip the sides a bit lower to let the flip cover flip open, it’ll slip from your grasp. I’d like something that flares out just a bit before curving to the back.
-MicroHDMI port. I can buy a dongle that attaches through the micro-USB port at the bottom, but that requires me to buy something extra (on a device that’s already $700).
-Text reminders. I can set an option that pretends I get a new text message every ten minutes, but then I think I’m getting a new text message every ten minutes. There’s also an option that causes the device to emit a tiny buzz if you have a text when you pick it up, but that’s not quite enough. I’d like an option to just give a small vibration every minute or two, so that I’ll feel it when I sit still for a moment.
-Detachable flip cover? The flip cover is great except for the edge-case where I’m trying to use the camera. If I fold it back, it blocks the camera. I have to let it dangle as I’m shooting, but if I lean forward for a macro shot it might get in the way. This is one of those problems where it’ll probably be easier for me to just deal with it.
-Screen brightness? I’d like it if it could go darker, especially in automatic. These are OLEDs, so they’d be more efficient driven at lower powers. I’ve never understood why we can’t lower the brightness further than we can (unless they’re scared some users would do that in bright sunlight and be unable to see well enough to increase their brightness).

Microsoft Surface Pro: Tablet Mode

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

I’ve reviewed Microsoft’s Surface Pro and how I feel about Windows 8, the Surface Pro hardware, and the type cover. I bought it for laptop use, and so I never much used it as a tablet. It’s been a couple months, and so I’ve gotten enough experience to discuss how I use it without the keyboard.

Windows 8 and the RT environment is designed around touch, so everything in that part of Windows 8 works without a hitch when it comes to tablet use. This is a full Windows device, though, and so I wanted to touch (ha!) on the things I do when I’m on the desktop.

I rarely have a problem with media. VLC uses a double-tap on the picture to go full-screen, and they’ve got a touchable volume dial and seeker.

I’m the type of person who’ll open a bunch of tabs in my browser and switch between them. Sometimes I need to close them, and sometimes I want to go back to a previous one, and sometimes I want to skip the current one to go to the next. On a keyboard, you can press Ctrl+Tab (or Shift+Ctrl+Tab for reverse) to cycle through open tabs, and Alt+Tab (or Shift+Alt+Tab for reverse) to cycle through open programs. Obviously, this is a bit difficult when there’s no keyboard, and so I rely on having my taskbar visible and having tabs easily clickable in my programs.

I often view my browser in full-screen mode, to get the most out of my screen area. As dense as this screen is, it’s still only 10.5 inches diagonally, so I usually increase the size of the text to fit the full size of the window. In a good browser, I’d be able to pinch and zoom, but in Chrome that doesn’t seem to be an option. I’m honestly thinking of changing, but until then I need to use the Ctrl key with either – or + to decrease or increase the size of my pages.
I also need the F11 key to pop out of full-screen mode, unless I want to fiddle with the edge of the screen to end it or swipe-tap-tap-tap-wait-tap-tap to call the keyboard and press F11. I’d like to be in full-screen mode to browse, but there’s no way to switch between tabs easily.

So now, the fixes!
I wrote earlier about using a program called SharpKeys to change some scan codes and remap my keyboard, but there were things I couldn’t do. I just installed AutoHotkey, which allows me to work with keyboard shortcuts of up to two keys or one key and any modifiers.
Also, as it turns out, I don’t really use SharpKeys anymore. Microsoft rolled out an update to fix all the function keys, and so now they work on their own.

I found out that the charms keys—search, share, devices, and settings—were Alt+Win+F21, Ctrl+Win+F21, Shift+Win+F21, and Win+F21, respectively. (Yeah, I know, F21?) I had remapped those keyboard combos to F5-F8, but I don’t need to anymore. Still, the more you know.

As I was trying to get F1-F4 back, which are media keys, I found something really interesting: the volume rocker on the tablet itself uses the same scancodes as the volume-up and volume-down buttons on my keyboard, and I could remap them. Then I had a flash of brilliance and realized I could map the Volume-up + Volume-down and Volume-down + Volume-up combos, as well as combinations of either volume button and the windows button, either direction. I essentially have eight possible combinations.

For the ease of use, I mapped Volume-up to Ctrl+Tab and Volume-down to Shift+Ctrl+Tab, so I can use that to quickly browse through tabs or open documents.
Pressing Volume-down and then Volume-up refreshes my current page, and Volume-up then Volume-down closes the tab I’m on.
The tablet’s Start button takes me in or out of full-screen mode.
Using the Start button with the volume rocker can be annoying, so I’ve mapped them to less-used functions; namely, zooming the page in or out.
I did some stuff with the volume buttons + Left-click, so I could hover over links or right-click easily (it’s really annoying to do on Chrome).

I can make several scripts to load for different purposes, so I could have one specifically for photo editing, or one for text-editing. I could probably even add some functions for certain games, so I can play them without the keyboard.

My code for Chrome is as follows:
SetTitleMatchMode 2
#IfWinActive ahk_classChrome_WidgetWin_1
!SC12E:: SendEvent {VKAESC12E}
!SC130:: SendEvent {VKAFSC130}
SC130:: SendEvent ^{Tab}
SC12E:: SendEvent ^+{Tab}
SC130 & LButton:: MouseMove, 4, 4, 1, R
SC12E & LButton:: SendEvent {RButton}
SC130 & RButton:: SendEvent {MButton}
SC12E & RButton:: SendEvent ^{0}
SC130 & SC12E:: SendEvent ^{F4}
SC12E & SC130::SendEvent {F5}
LWin:: SendEvent {F11}
LWin & Space::SendEvent {LWin}
*F14:: SendEvent ^{=}
*F15:: SendEvent ^{-}
RButton & SC12E:: SendEvent !{Left}
RButton & SC130:: SendEvent !{Right}
RButton & LWin:: SendEvent {RButton}

A Bit of Perspective

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

And math!

Everyone who sees it loves the iPhone’s Retina Display, but there are new 720p smartphones coming out that are getting some people to gabber joyously.

And so I asked myself the question, “What would the screen size need to be for a 720p Retina Display?”
First, what is Apple’s Retina Display? The screen is 960 x 640, and is 3.5 inches diagonally. As we’ve been taught by Pythagoras, the area of the square drawn on the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sums of the areas of the squares drawn on the other two sides, so we can find out how many pixels there are diagonally.
960 * 960 = 921600
640 * 640 = 409600
The root of 921600+409600 is ~1153.8

So, diagonally, we’re talking about 1153.8 pixels per 3.5 inches, or 329.65 pixels per inch.

Now we work backwards. If a phone had a screen of 1280×720, and had a resolution of 329.65 pixels per inch, what physical size would that be?

Pumped through the Pythagorean theorem, 1280×720 is 1468.60478 pixels diagonally.
That many pixels at 329.65 pixels per inch is about 4.4 inches diagonally.


A smartphone with a 720p display who wants to say it’s competing with Apple’s display must have a screen size of 4.4 inches or smaller. If a 4.5″ screen is touted the same way, they’re lying.

Pixels Per Inch

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

When dealing with screens, the density of the dots that make up your picture is referred to as ‘pixels per inch’. This measures how many pixels, lain end to end, fit along a one-inch line. A screen 10.24 inches wide and 6 inches tall, at 100 pixels per inch, would contain 600 rows of 1024 pixels each. (The diagonal measurement of such a screen would be 11.86 inches, by the way.)

Here’s an example:
Because it’s hard to show high-resolution samples on low-resolution screens, I’ll show you a low-resolution example. This illustrates the difference between two screens; but the size depends on your own screen’s density, so the numbers aren’t absolute.

Take Monitor #1 and Monitor #2. Both are about 11.8 inches; but Monitor #1 has a resolution of 1024×600 pixels (1186px diagonal) while Monitor #2 has a resolution of 341×200 pixels (395px diagonal).
Pixels per Inch. 1186 pixels per 11.8 inches is about 100 pixels per inch. 395 pixels per 11.8 inches is about 33.4 pixels per inch.

Having few pixels per inch means your computer has very little to work with, and the images will be blocky. Having a large number of pixels to work with means your computer can display hairline textures, possibly at the limits of human perception.

Monitor #2 has only 33 pixels per inch, or a little over 1000 pixels in an entire square inch. Monitor #1, meanwhile, has 100 pixels per inch, which is 10000 per square inch. Nine times as much detail!

If you want to see how a hypothetical screenshot would look, see Monitor #1 and Monitor #2.

Some other numbers: Most monitors today are around 100 ppi. Laptop screens might be a bit more high-detail, at 120 ppi or so. At 280 ppi, you’re nearing the edge of human sight. Some people can see more, and others less. The iPhone 4’s screen is about 320 ppi.

So, now that you’ve seen the difference of high vs. low, you’re probably wondering what it all means.
When you look at the example above, you see how the text went from nearly-illegible to crisp and neat. You can probably still see pixels, though, if you looked hard at those letters. In the near future, monitors and screens will all be nearing 300ppi, and those letters will look beautiful. We’ll also have more design options than ‘no line’, ‘thin line’, and ‘thick line’.

Here’s the thing: There is little support for high-density devices.
Windows, the most popular operating system, has only the barest functionality, and is only truly usable on screens with height of at least 720 pixels per hundred ppi (720 for 100 ppi; 1440 for 200 ppi). (Rough numbers, of course.)
Most web-pages automatically set your text to something like 12 or 16 pixels, which is too small to read on a 300ppi screen (think of reading 5px font on your current screen). They also usually set elements of the page to specific pixel widths, which means the proportions will be all wrong and the text will overflow from their boxes.

We need to call on web designers to design for the multitude of screens we have, and to put the power into the browser’s hands. Front-end developers need to work with designers to make their layouts flexible.

My Future Computer

Friday, July 30th, 2010

I’ve been looking at the new technologies coming out, and I’m making a list of what I expect to see in my next computer, in about 2012:

  • 1.8 GHz “Medfield” Atom (Z7xx?)
  • 2GB DDR2 low-voltage RAM at 800 MHz
  • At least 48 hours standby
  • About 12 hours light work
  • About 8 hours video playback
  • 1080p HD playback with HDMI output
  • 720p HD recording
  • 1366 x 720 screen at 5.5″ or so
  • About 1″ x 3.5″ by 7″
  • Far better graphics power than the Z5xx series
  • One or two USB ports
  • Wireless B/G/N
  • High-definition sound

I’m kind of expecting that they’ll cap the battery life at six or seven hours, and then just scale the battery down, but I hope they don’t. There’s a magical point where you can go an entire day without worrying about the battery, as long as you charge it overnight, and they should bring the battery to that level.

As well, I’m pessimistic about the screen. Most likely, they’ll keep the old 1024 x 600, especially for such a small screen as I’m looking for. The next step up is 1280 x 720, which is HD 720p, but most of these devices have a wide-screen aspect ratio that would put it at 1366 x 720. Meanwhile, some old games allow a step in resolution from 800×600 to 1024 x 768, so I’d want something at least 1280 x 768. And that’s why you don’t hard-code these numbers into your programs, kids: ten years down the road, aspect ratios and such will change and your programs won’t work as well on systems that would otherwise support it. I’d be 48 pixels away from being able to play certain games, if I had a 1280 x 720 or a 1366 x 720 screen.

Another thing about the screen:
Those who know me know I’m excited for OLED technology to make it to the mainstream market; but OLED screens are just light coming out of the diodes, which means you can’t see a thing when bright sunlight (or another source) washes it out. I’m wondering what happened to the screens we saw on the Gameboy Advance and similar systems, where bright sunlight was actually beneficial. I’m also wondering if it’s possible to use a thin reflective LCD, without a backlight, on top of which sits a thin OLED screen, which renders the same view and is visible in darker climes. You’d get the best of both worlds; because you wouldn’t even need the OLEDs’ light when you’re in direct sunshine, and you wouldn’t see the LCD (much) when using the OLED screen in the dark.
There may be engineering problems limiting those LCDs to 16K colours (also, price; also, OLEDs at high densities), so I’ve got to do more research on the matter.

Also, on that note, I’m kind of annoyed that we’re restricted from turning the brightness down to near-zero on these devices. Sure, I wouldn’t do it often, but the option would be appreciated.

Viliv N5 Review

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

I received my new Viliv N5 at about 10:30 Monday morning. I was excited!

After days of installing stuff and trying it all out, I’ve gotten a handle on what I’ve just bought. Originally, I was looking for something to replace my netbook and my DS as “the thing I carry around.” As it turns out, the netbook is simply better at some things—Keyboard, ethernet cables (LAN), and touch-pad navigation (I’ve gotten good enough to play Diablo II on it).

It turns out there’s also a really big difference: Wi-Fi range. The N5 can’t see access points my HP Mini can, which is a breaking-point.

Long story short, the N5 simply cannot replace my netbook. I’ll use the Mini at home and pack it in my bags when I go places.
Meanwhile, I’m finally able to carry a PC in my pocket wherever I go, no matter where that might be (besides the sea-floor).

Since 2008, I’ve been carrying a Nintendo DS as my pocket-thing. It’s served me well, and it has let me play music, view re-encoded video, or play a couple games while I was on the go. It’s fairly limited, however, and has no good text-editing capabilities. Its touch screen is only 256 x 192, and the second screen isn’t touch-sensitive. It has only 4 MB of RAM, and the two processors are 33 MHz and 66 MHz.

All in all, the N5 blows the DS out of the water. Not only does it emulate most of the games I’d play on the DS (though DS games play a bit slow on an emulator), it doesn’t require me to re-transcode video and will play 720p. The storage space is tremendously larger, too. I’ve found a program called GMapCatcher that lets me save Google Maps offline, so that replaces the mapping program I’d used in my DS.
The DS is slightly smaller and has controls suited to gaming, but that’s about it. I can make due.

A good netbook can, for all intents and purposes, replace a desktop machine. The Viliv N5, though, can’t replace your main system. The wi-fi is too weak, the keyboard is borderline crappy, and the navigation methods slow you down too much (unless you’ve got a good stylus).

So, my original intent was to replace my DS and my netbook. What would I need?
Basically: something about two inches longer (the real killer is that some keys are smaller than others, because they couldn’t fit everything), with slightly-better battery life, strong wi-fi, and a more responsive touch screen.

I’m disappointed that the Viliv N5 isn’t absolutely perfect, but it’s still a good machine. I’ll be using it a lot in the next few years (until Medfield devices start coming out)!

There are a few things the N5 does fantastically:

  • An infra-red nub for mousing, rather than some sort of capacitive bit. Also, resistive-touch screen. Those two combined means I’ll be able to use the device perfectly while wearing gloves in the winter.
  • Deliciously high resolution. I’m getting iPhone 4 syndrome, where I look at my regular monitor and do a double-take at all the blocks everywhere.
  • Those tiny keys are actually almost perfect for playing games. I can nearly use the W/A/S/D keys as a directional pad, with my thumbs. I’ve been playing NES games.
  • The form factor is a joy to hold. It’s not glossy, so you need to be pretty greasy before fingerprints start showing up. The screen is sheer plastic, though, so I have to keep my hands off the front of it. (I usually use a fingernail for the touch-screen.)

There are a couple things I’d have changed, if I were them. First, there’s no ‘context menu’ button on the keyboard, so you have to get the cursor to an item and right-click. The rest of the keyboard makes enough sense. Also, the thing cost over $700, so does it really have to come with Windows 7 Starter? You can’t even change the desktop wallpaper. I futzed around with the settings and services and performance options enough that I somehow ended up with a much-more-compact classic look (Win98-ish).

Final recommendation: It’s a nice device, but it competes more with smartphones than with laptops and netbooks. It can do nearly everything you want, but it’s weaker in some areas. Meanwhile, it also has far less battery life than a smartphone, and doesn’t generally take calls, so you’ve got to carry some sort of phone around anyway.
This is best for someone who’s out and about a lot. There’s nothing better than being out of the office and still being able to do everything you’d usually do with a laptop (albeit more slowly).

Viliv N5

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

After reading a review, I decided to buy Viliv’s new N5. It was released today (or was it yesterday), and there’s currently a promotion where you get a free extra battery worth $50.

I’m normally the most thrifty person ever, so $760 is a lot. Really, though, it’s better in almost every way (except where it’s equal [except for the keyboard]) and fits some of my other requirements: It’s small enough to fit into my pockets, the battery lasts six hours or more (I’ll see how much I can squeeze out of it), and the SSD is fast enough that I’ll probably see some good speed from it.

I’ll also be able to sell two other devices for a total of $500, if I want to, so that lowers the price.

It’ll probably arrive in two weeks, so I’ll look at it thoroughly when I get it!

Netbooks are Great!

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

I’ve said similar things before, but it wasn’t until today that I realized how much I love netbooks. Someone showed a bit of interest, so I threw up a great tirade of excited chatter.

Netbooks are good for nearly everything you do on a computer. If you want to do high-level rendering or leading-edge gaming (by which I mean something made in the last ten years), you can get a desktop system with a powerful CPU for only a few hundred dollars.

If you really need a lot of storage, well, that’s not what a netbook is for. You can very well get a two-terabyte external USB drive, and either lug it around or not. With the netbook itself, 40 GB is plenty (16GB SSD + 16GB SD + 8GB USB Drive).

It has a great keyboard, it has a powerful wireless card, and its—to use Steve Job’s favourite word—magical to tilt and flip in your hands. And for $200? You’re getting more than you paid for, certainly.

A couple things:

  • The battery isn’t perfect. I’ve come to realize that the power cord really holds me down, like an anchor on a boat. It’s also kind of long and gangly, and isn’t a joy to pack up between plug-ins. The battery should last about sixteen hours, in a perfect world; then I could just plug it in at night.
  • I got it at such a low clearance price because the tech is kind of old. The SSD performs a bit worse than a hard-disk drive, which is really saying something. An upgrade would only cost $100, and it’ll be zippy as hell, but I have to find the right offering, first, and get it shipped to me (PATA ZIF SSDs are relatively uncommon, and slower than the newer interfaces). Then I’d have to reinstall Windows.
  • It’s great to have with you, but… no-one has yet thought about how to carry it? I need some sort of Netbook Holster. Backpacks are unwieldy, and I want both hands free. My custom-made extra-pocket is kind of crappy, and rips too often to walk around with it like I want to.

Those are minor complaints. SSDs are incredibly young, and I can just upgrade the drive. I can make a better holster within a few days, with the proper materials. I can get an extended battery, which would last six hours, at least, and that number would increase if I installed a power-smart OS.

There are two things the iPad did that seems to completely fly over everyone else’s heads: The battery life is all-day, so there’s no power cord tying you down; and the entire experience is snappy and smooth, due to its speed.
Netbooks could do those things, and then they would be awesome. Plus, you’d be able to use all your Windows executables; that’s something the iPad can’t do.

Mac Mini

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Have you seen the new Mac Mini? It’s a tiny little seven-inch-square box, an inch-and-a-half high. And yet it’s got a Core 2 Duo (2.6 GHz) processor, two slots for DDR3 RAM, and a massive video card, all for $699.

I’ve never bought a Mac, but this certainly makes it tempting.