Archive for the ‘Mobile’ Category

Netbook Redux

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Since I got my netbook, I’ve used my big desktop machine two or three times. The desktop has a larger screen, which is nice (I really wish this netbook had video-out), but there’s really nothing special it can do that my netbook can’t. I guess there’s an old game I wanted to play, which needs at least 1024×768 resolution (this has 1024×600), but that’s about it. Graphics files would be easier to work with on a large screen, too.

I’ve never used much disk space, and I have a combined 44 GB of space on my netbook.
I can’t remember when I last maxed out my CPU, besides when I’m encoding movies, but that would just take a bit longer than usual. On really slow CPUs, I can’t play emulated SNES games at a good speed, but this netbook plays them perfectly. I think the only time I’ve run into CPU limits on this device is when I had several pages open with embedded video, and tried to watch them.
I have as much ram in this as I have in my desktop, and I plan to double that sometime.
The write speeds on my drive are terrible, and that’s about the only problem I can see with the netbook. Truth be told, the SSD is likely using technology from 2008, and is undoubtedly from the lowest end of the price scale. When I get an upgrade, for a couple hundred dollars, it’ll be an order of magnitude faster.

The battery also runs out too quick for my tastes, but that’s a null argument when talking about a desktop; if I unplugged the big machine, it would cease operation immediately.

So… when you get right down to it, a netbook is actually all people need. I think a VGA port is needed, so people can buy bigger, higher-quality displays, but otherwise there’s really no argument.

I wonder when they’ll have netbooks with DDR3 and Super-Speed USB?

Future-Tech? More like Now-Tech

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

While recently discussing with a friend what you can do with certain technologies these days, I realized we’re on the verge of amazing things. Not a paradigm shift, or anything quite so cliché; but certain things which will be put into handsets (smartphones, superphones, whatever) in the future.

  1. Convergence : You won’t need to carry around any other camera, phone, computer, or multimedia device
  2. P-Ink displays : or some variant. They won’t need backlights, so that’s a tremendous boost to the battery-life and helps outdoors
  3. Wireless Power : There are pads that will charge gadgets placed on top. If that technology becomes more ubiquitous, you could charge any device just by laying it on the counter-top
  4. Mobile Internet : Connect on the go! You’ll be able to access all the information on the internet from anywhere
  5. Solid-State Technologies : With all moving parts disappearing, devices are becoming smaller and smaller, faster, and more resistant to damage
  6. Batteries : In the near future, you will be able to last all day on a small battery and then charge it within minutes

We’re close to a new class of personal computers that are always on and always with us, usable everywhere and anywhen. When I look at what’s available to us today, I estimate that we’ll see these devices within five years.

Moar Netbook

Friday, January 8th, 2010

In my last post, I tried to do some sort of real review, which I’m sure sounded a bit boring and normal.
This time, I’m going to put it in real-world terms (much like music players, with their “how many songs can it hold”).

What can you do with this Netbook?

  • Travel around
  • Play old games
  • Emulate NES, SNES, or PSX games smoothly
  • Move and shake about
  • Run image rips of CDs or DVDs
  • Play music or video from a flash-drive or SD card
  • Office computing
  • Small-size graphics editing
  • Connect to the internet through Wi-fi (b/g), cable, or mobile
  • Install and use your USB devices
  • Use an external SATA drive.

What can’t you do with this Netbook?

  • Play newer games
  • Do anything for longer than three hours
  • Color-correction (the quality is crappy)
  • High-powered rendering
  • Use it in the shower


Really, just don’t expect things to be too fast. Gaming takes lots of speed, so nothing too new will work well. Other applications, like rendering or coding movies, will just take more time. Working from flash drives or SD cards takes some time.
Other than that, it’s incredibly capable and very broad-ranged. Waking from sleep mode only takes about three seconds, and the keyboard is nearly flawless.

HP Mini 1116nr

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

I decided to get a netbook; the $200 refurbished HP you can order from Future Shop.
It’s actually kind of amazing. The specs are as follows:

  • Intel Atom N270 (with hyper-threading)
  • 8.9″ WSVGA (1024×600) anti-glare display
  • 16GB SSD
  • Windows XP Home SP3 for ULCPC
  • Wireless b/g
  • 3-cell battery (approx. 2.5 hours)
  • Webcam + Microphone
  • SD/MMC Card slot
  • An amazing keyboard

This is actually better than I had hoped it would be. The entire width of the netbook is taken with the keyboard, which means the keys are larger than usual and aren’t squished into any odd configurations. It’s pretty much a full-width keyboard. I can type on it perfectly fine, unlike with other netbooks.

The screen is pretty bright, even on its lowest setting, but the colour quality is abysmal, which I fixed by altering the colour profile in the included Intel options panel. This is the same for other HP laptops, from what I’ve seen; the gamma is almost too high, the colour washed out, and with just a bit too much blue in the mix. I’ve just turned the brightness down and the contrast up, and that almost fixes most of it.

The solid-state drive is some old, small, cheap model from who-knows-when, probably with a J-Micron controller. It’s not very fast, and takes forever to do things when it’s taxed (I believe this is what people meant when they say it ‘stutters’). I was planning on getting a new, fast SSD, sometime; one of those able to outperform hard-disks in all aspects. The netbook came with a backup for Windows, so I’ll be able to reinstall everything on the new drive.
I’m not using it as my main system, and I’m not keeping bunches of movies on there, so the 16GB of storage is just fine, along with an extra 16GB SD and 8GB flash drive.

It came with 1GB RAM, but apparently Kingston has a 2GB module out for $40 or so, which I might end up ordering. It’s got a fast little access panel on the bottom for RAM.

Another surprising little tidbit: It usually comes with a mobile modem. There’s a slot for the SIM card, under the battery, but it doesn’t currently have a modem installed.

Windows is running fine on it, and I haven’t had any problems. It came with a load of bloatware, but I’ve turned most of that off.

The charging brick is small! It’s capable of 30 watts, and is built like a regular laptop charger, but is about three quarters the size. I can carry it around in my pocket without too much hassle.

The microphone is above the screen, out of reach of the whirring fans in the body. I’ve had to use a laptop where the microphone was right beside the disk, and anything that I recorded would have whirs and clicks throughout.

Downsides: No VGA-out, which means I can’t use my HD monitor. Only two USB ports, though there’s a hidden one that’s more-or-less inaccessible (for the Transcend-made ‘Expansion Drive’).

Other: It comes with an HP Expansion connector, but I’d have to get the cable elsewhere. That would allow me to plug a monitor into it, and would give me some extra USB ports.

Overall: For $200, this is a lot of computer. I couldn’t do everything on the limited screen and drive, but then I’m not trying to make this my main machine. It’s for when I’m on the go, and need to do some work from my flash drive, or surf the internet, or download things while I’m at my parents’ house.
I give it five stars. Out of… five.

About Netbooks

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009
Nicholas Aylsworth
Submitted on 2009/12/29 at 5:27pm
I bought this netbook about two months ago to replace my old Dell Inspiron which had begun having the “white screen” problem . There were several reasons I went with this netbook:

1. 93% keyboard is a absolute must
2. 160 GB (more like a 142 GB) of memory
3. Integrated Bluetooth work great with my Phone, which also happens to be a SamSung
4. Battery life is amazing, 6-10 hours depending on what you’re doing
5. This thing is lighting fast compared to my old Dell laptop

I use it daily to surf the web, check e-mail, watch movies, and talk via the webcam. I installed Word, Excel, and Powerpoint and have yet to experiencing any slow downs. The only program that I use regularly that I have NOT install onto my netbook has been Photoshop. Though I haven’t, I have heard that a massive program like CS4 has been know to work very sluggishly on netbooks. Not a real problem for me because I still have my Dell laptop with the Photoshop loaded onto it.

This is easily the best purchase I have made in a long, LONG time. And for under $400 dollars, it is definitely worth the money.

That comment was spam, but it sounded like something a real person would say. So I figure I’ll reply to the things they said.

1. 93% keyboard is a absolute must
The keyboards on netbooks are fun, but I’ve found that it’s easy to get used to the size. Besides, people work with Blackberrys on a daily basis. The most important thing is the keyboard layout, variations of which you’ll also find on full-size USB keyboards. Some have an Enter key that spans two rows, and the ” key is placed somewhere else. The ‘Delete’ key might also be in a very strange spot. As a programmer (and one who needs to use the backslash frequently), I couldn’t stand that setup.
When you’re dealing with a non-standard keyboard, you have to re-learn the layout. If you spent a lot of time on that machine and then switch to another you’ll notice that you keep pressing the wrong keys because you’ve gotten so used to doing it that other way.
So, ignore the size, but make sure it’s a keyboard layout you can live with.

2. 160 GB (more like a 142 GB) of memory
A netbook isn’t meant to be your main machine, and I’d urge you to at least get a $500 laptop before the netbook. A netbook is made to be a fast, light, cheap, weak computer with tremendous mobility, which is kind of dulled-down with the bigger screens and the heavier, slower, break-it-if-you-shake-it hard-disk drives.
Most of the drive space on your main machine will be taken up with movies, music, and games (or other installed programs). You really shouldn’t have a lot of movies on a netbook, because it’s just a little thing you grab with you when you go somewhere. If you’re on a trip that’s long enough to need movies, you might as well bring your big laptop with an expansive drive. You can also get a small external drive, and maybe an MP3 player for music.

In other words, get a 16GB SSD (or higher, if you can afford it; they go up to 80GB for a couple hundred dollars) with your netbook. They can be tremendously fast (booting in ten seconds or less), and you don’t have to worry about losing data if you drop the netbook. They don’t hold nearly as much, but you’ll still have gigs and gigs of space. You can also get a 64GB SD card if you need it.
My core files (all the archives of my past, et-cetera) fit into an 8GB flash drive.
(And, considering you can have your main drive, an SD card, a flash drive, and an external hard-drive, there are a lot of memory options.)

3. Integrated Bluetooth work great with my Phone, which also happens to be a SamSung
Okay. I’ve not used Bluetooth at all, myself, and I have no idea if netbooks really do come with built-in bluetooth, but I assume you’d then be able to connect a bluetooth keyboard/mouse to it.

4. Battery life is amazing, 6-10 hours depending on what you’re doing
Battery life is a sticking point. Keep the brightness low (unless you’re in the sunlight), keep always-on peripherals, such as mobile modems, out of the USB ports when you don’t need them, and solid-state drives will take less power than hard-disk drives.
Different netbooks have different battery lives. Because they’re so mobile, you really do need a good battery in your netbook. Look for something with more than three hours, if you want more.

5. This thing is lighting fast compared to my old Dell laptop
These last few points may have been spammy lies to make a long list of great-sounding stuff; I have no access to benchmarks, and the spammer didn’t leave a link to the netbook in question (instead, they left a link to a review for a 15.4″ laptop backpack).

If a laptop is getting very old, the operating system will become bogged down with all sorts of stuff. You’ll find that the drive is constantly being used by one service or another, and it’ll take forever to load programs. Something as simple as opening a menu can trigger a search through the registry, which might take a few seconds to complete if things are accessing the drive.
A new netbook (or laptop, or desktop, or even just a fresh install of Windows on your old computer) will be faster, but only for a couple years. Try not to install too many things, and have someone reinstall windows for you every couple of years. A refresh is always good, and might help you clean up old files, too.

In closing: Netbooks are secondary computers, for when you need to grab something light to use around town, and when you need more power than a smart-phone can give. They’ll be fast and responsive with a good SSD, but you should make sure the keyboard layout suits your needs. A long battery life is good to look for.

And for under $400 dollars, it is definitely worth the money.
You can find them for $200. In fact, you can get one for $50 on a two-year contract with a mobile internet provider. Keep an eye out!

Laptop Portability

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

While using a laptop, this past month, I’ve come to realize some basic things which ruin my mobile experience and degrade it to merely a portable experience.

I’m really tired of ordered lists, so I’ll just put this in paragraph form:

The battery life on laptops is atrocious. Batteries have been improving steadily for the past ten or twenty years, but computers have been growing in power to match. Actually, the newer CPUs (especially Core 2) should only be using half to a quarter of what the old Pentium IV chips used. We’re talking savings of 150 Watt-hours.

A battery that lasts three hours (and, to be frank, that’s only if I’m conserving battery by keeping the screen dim; otherwise it’s two hours) is meant to be used only for emergencies. Essentially, the laptop is made to be plugged in. You unplug it, take it elsewhere, and plug it back in. You can use it while you’re travelling from one plug to the other, but that’s almost just an aside.

Now, the way they’re doing it isn’t all that bad. Not really. There are a few ways, however, that we can make it better. (And here I’ll use an ordered list.)

  1. End-user optimization – Installing a solid-state drive will reduce electricity usage, and you’ll get work done faster—which means you’ll use less battery waiting on things. You could also not use the CD drive (if what you’re using comes with one), and keep USB peripherals to a minimum. These things aren’t large power drains, though, and can only extend your battery life a bit. The more important things are accessible interfaces:
  2. The plugs – When you plug your laptop in, the prongs of the plug slide into narrow spaces inside the outlet. There they’ll be stuck until King Arthur comes along to help. What would help the ordinary person more is if manufacturers made a sort of finger grip that people can use to pull the plug out without yanking on the cord and fatiguing the wires. It might sound like a small thing to you, but think of it this way: If you have a box of cookies beside you, you’ll eat a bunch. If they’re in a jar plastered to a table in the next room, you might swing by a couple times for a couple handfuls, but then you’ll become too lazy. My point is this: It’s kind of hard to just pick up a laptop and go.
  3. The power adapters – I understand a laptop is a delicate piece of machinery, and that there must be all sorts of regulating electronics in that tremendous block of black whatsit, but does it have to be so unwieldy? All those gangly wires that you can only scoop up into a tangled mess? Nothing fancy has to happen with the cord. Having a spring-loaded spool to store any unused cable would be pretty beneficial, because I could just unplug, hold a button to slurp up the cords, and put the adapter back into whatever I use to carry my accessories. Maybe laptops can have a short cord that clips snugly to the back, so I can just plug it in whenever I sit down, without lugging anything else around?
  4. Weight – The industry has made great improvements in this area. Congratulations! I’ll also note that a hard-disk drive is a lot heavier than a solid-state drive, so that’s another reason to get an SSD.
  5. Devices – Things like mice and keyboards add a lot of bulk. The better idea is to have a well-designed keyboard and good trackpad. Both are limited, but there’s room for improvement. (I’ll talk about keyboards next). I think a good idea would be to make a usb port that swings flush along the side of the laptop, so you can plug in a flash drive and have it flat where it won’t stick out. SD cards can also be nice, and you can get those bluetooth mice with the usb button that only barely sticks out of the port. Because trackpads are so much worse than a mouse.
  6. Keyboards – The keyboards on all laptops today have settled into a crappy standard where the delete key is crammed into the top-right corner, and all those other keys are kind of mushed around the right side of the keyboard, wherever manufacturers can fit them. Then you’ll have a good inch of blank space around the entire keyboard, as if to say, “See? We weren’t cramming, because we fit it all with room to spare!” If they actually did have room to spare, they’ll cram the keys in as tight as they’ll go and then add a keypad. Most laptop users are used to not using the keypad, because there is none. If they wanted one, they would add a USB extension. Get a proper keyboard in, and the numpad out.
  7. Hinge – Way too many laptops have a solid hinge that you have to pry apart with both arms. That means it’s impossible to open if you’re carrying something, eating a sandwich, laying on one arm, holding peripherals, holding the laptop, or are otherwise not in a position to apply gravity-defying force. I’m waiting for the day the screen itself snaps in half when I put the laptop’s full weight on it. Rule of thumb: The screen of a laptop should open with less force than is required to overcome the weight of the laptop. In other words, I should be able to open it without wedging a finger under the lid and yanking upward on the screen several times, sending my laptop desperately prancing atop my desk. While running.
  8. External infrastructure – This has nothing to do with a laptop; but it’s still important, because your laptop experience will be ruined without the proper setup. Your wireless should work. Laptops today let you push your wireless switch to automatically connect to your wireless and get an internet connection. Without wireless, you have no internet, and that’s half the experience (it’s probably what you’re doing right this moment). If you have another computer with a larger drive which hosts all your files (and movies and such), then you’ll want some sort of network set up, and you’ll want the proper sharing permissions. This way, you can move seamlessly from computer to computer.

In the end, you’d be left with a laptop that you can easily pick up, use on the go, and plug in to any nearby socket. It doesn’t require you to lug around anything else (besides the power cord, and maybe an internet cable), but you can if you want. You can easily move from one machine to the other without losing your productivity.
Sounds great!

Netbands? Armbooks?

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Imagine you were in the coffee shop, waiting on a friend. You decide to check your email. You put your coffee down, and press a button on the armband covering your arm from the wrist to the elbow. The screen uncurls from your arm, revealing a keyboard. You press the mail icon, and see a note from your friend that they’re running a bit late.

The technology for this is here, today. It’s possible to find slightly curved screens, despite the popularity of flat screens. The thinnest netbook screens on the market today are so thin you can bend them a considerable amount. By combining the two, you could have a screen that folds over your arm and snaps into place.

However, I can’t see it being manufactured for a few reasons:

  • I’ve never seen rounded or curved motherboards, so existing fabrication methods wouldn’t be adequate.
  • Big armband things are gaudy. There’s no way we could convince everyone it’s a trendy thing to wear.
  • The screen would have to be well protected. Arms get bumped by things all day, and something worn on the body will be crushed without thinking about it.
  • There’s no way to make it two-handed, so it’ll be a one-handed device only. That’ll make it hard for people to type on for any length of time.

Opera Mini 5 Beta

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

I few days ago, I downloaded the Opera Mini 5 beta. The Download page told me they didn’t know if my phone would handle it, so I figured I would write about my experiences.

My Phone

My phone is a cheap Sony Ericsson W200a, which is the pay-as-you-go version of the W200. The screen is 128×160, though I use the 160×128 horizontal setting.


When you first start the program (after installation), you get the “OperaMini” splash screen (which is cut off to “peraMi” on mine) while it loads, and then the speed-dial page. This page has been completely retooled with a 3×3 grid and a big, beautiful UI, which works great with a large touch-based device. My phone, however, is neither large nor touch-based, and the UI takes up the entire screen. In 128×160 mode, the ‘Exit’ button is completely cut off, and only the first option in the pull-down menu can be seen. In 160×128 mode, the ‘Exit’ button is half-visible, but you can’t see a single option in the pull-down. It’s easy enough to blindly scroll through them, try them out, and remember what each does (reminds me of playing a Japanese version of Final Fantasy), but that’s not something the average user wants to do. The large amount of padding around the different UI elements is part of the problem, and the screen is so small that the element sizes feel too big and out of proportion.

Opera Mini 5 gives you some standard browser controls, such as Back, Forward, Home, and New Tab.
The forward button is handy, because Mini 5 switches around the Back and Menu softkeys. That’ll take some getting used to.
Even on my cheap phone, switching between four tabs was quick, with only a hint of lag. There was a bit more lag when I had two of those tabs loading data, but the fact that I can switch between a number of tabs and refresh many of them at once is pretty impressive, and will be wonderfully useful. In Opera Mini 4, I was constantly returning to the Speed Dial to go to another site, and was relying on my sessions to keep me logged in.

Opera Mini 5 saves passwords for you, too! When I log into something, I get the confusing message, “Password m…” which I suppose means “Password memorize?” or something.

This brings me to a big problem of mine: System font size. Even when I set the size to extra-small, the UI stays the same, such that in the Settings (or any other menu), I can see only two options on the screen at the same time. The padding, again, is also using up half the screen.

The extra-small font in Opera Mini 5 is a lot better than in Opera Mini 4. It’s very solid and readable, though the letter ‘d’ tends to look like ‘cl’. The difference is that there is only one column of pixels between the bowl of the ‘d’ and its ascender, while there are two columns separating a ‘c’ and an ‘l’.

I had a bit of a finicky time trying to select a small checkbox, but it’s otherwise very good at navigating through links.


In summary, there are a couple problems with my experience:

  1. It’s not made for my screen. The splash image is too big, there’s too much padding on the UI elements, and the Back/Forward/Home/Etc. icons are very, very large.
  2. The system font is a bit big. Text notifications get cut off with ellipses, and I can only see two menu options at a time.
  3. The smallest font setting has some invisible hairlines.
  4. Some fields (such as when entering a web address) only use the abc method, with no T9 option. It’s a lot slower, even though most websites use english-based names.

I propose some solutions for my problems:

  1. Have a ‘small’ option which strips away most of the padding and shrinks the icons down to size.
  2. Allow the user to change the system font size, so that words don’t get cut off. Alternatively, use multi-line notifications (there’s no reason you have to fit two long words on one line, when the screen is 160px tall).
  3. retool or otherwise optimize the smallest font setting so that the hairlines in the ‘d’, at least, are visible. The rest of the letters look fairly goocl.
  4. Allow T9 in the web address bar, even if it uses abc by default.

Overall, it’s quite a change, and I think it’s a lot better than the previous version.

My phone’s ‘return’ button, which would usually be either ‘back’ or ‘cancel’, based on the context, is completely unusable throughout my entire experience. I suppose that’s something that has to be added on a per-phone basis, which is why I only added this as a foot-note.

Opera 10

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Most of you know, by now, that Opera 10 is out. They’ve updated their engine, have gotten a new icon, and have had the UI redesigned by the very talented Jon Hicks (the guy who rendered the Firefox icon).

What does this mean for you?
Opera 10 introduces a bunch of new features. Opera Turbo gives you extra speed and less data-transfer, if you don’t have all the bandwidth in the world. Unite allows you to host documents on your own computer. Support for web fonts and advanced styling means you’ll see well-made pages as the designer intended them to be seen.
You can also put the tabs wherever you like—top, bottom, left, right; it’s all fine! You can even stretch the tabs to reveal thumbnails of each page you’ve got open.
Meanwhile, you get all the Opera classics: the ability to disable images, the option to do away with min-widths (and thus horizontal scrollbars), a whole host of accessibility options, and a relatively quick start-up (something that Firefox can’t brag about).
And did I mention that it’s beautiful?

So check it out. You can have any number of browsers installed on your system without affecting any of the others (and, in fact, I’d recommend it).

If you have a cell-phone, I recommend also trying Opera Mini. You’ll realize that most cell-phones have something so shameful it shouldn’t be called a browser. Opera will fix that right up.

Download Opera, the fastest and most secure browser

Opera Mini 4

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

As I sat in the mall, today, I wished I had a laptop or something. I wasn’t in range of an open wireless hotspot, which I’d be able to use with my DS, and my phone was just generally crappy on the internet.

When I was downloading Opera, I had browsed around and found Opera Mini, which told me to visit a certain URL with my phone. I remembered that, and decided to try it.

As it turns out, everything about it is ten times as amazing as what my phone came with. I could set the text size down smaller, and was able to rotate the screen so I hold the phone sideways. I thought my phone had really poor memory, but it turns out to be perfectly capable. Pages suddenly load fast, and I can switch between small pages in the blink of an eye. I can visit large sites, which gives me an overview, and I can zoom in to regular size when I want to see things close up. The text containers are all squished to my screen’s width, and the cursor auto-snaps to those thin columns, which makes all the text very easy to read.
The '1' button acts as a right-click, and then I can use * and # as function buttons to refresh the page, load bookmarks, or change the settings.

I had never been able to log into Twitter, and I was never able to post on some other sites. Now I had no troubles at all. Everything worked perfectly!

Really, I can’t get enough of it.