Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

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.


Friday, December 25th, 2009

I know; only children excitedly brag about their Christmas gifts. Maybe I’ll do a proper review, instead?

If you’ve been following Swiss Miss, you’ll have seen a bunch of beard-related stuff. I just received a Beard Head, and it’s about as wonderful as I could have imagined. It’s a perfect fit for my head, and the moustache-customization feature is simple ingenuity. Wearing a coat, I can see that the whole of the engineering is planned out: The back of the Beard Head comes down to my jacket’s collar, but isn’t so long that it gets pushed up by it. There’s room at the front-sides so that I can turn my head easily. The moustache can be taken off and buttoned elsewhere into the natural weave of the wool.

I can’t wait to wear it out and about!

I got a Lexar 8GB class-6 microSDHC. I had half-expected it to be a bit slow, from what I’d heard on forums, but it turns out to be faster than the 2GB card I’ve been using this year. I had gotten a 4GB class-4 card last christmas, but the slowness of it ruined my expectations of these cards’s speed and was useless for my every-day use.
In short: The 8GB microSDHC is great. It also seemed to get slightly faster when I filled it up with stuff.

          MAX(µs) AVG(µs)
  512 B -   430 /   235 (Sequential)
    4KB -  1830 /  1820
   16KB -  7280 /  7265
  512 B -   500 /   480 (Random)
    4KB -  1895 /  1875
   16KB -  7335 /  7320

I also got a cheap black-and-red Chinese console with two slots which lets me play NES and SNES games. The S-video is low quality (and plays NES games in greyscale), my mom apparently had to glue together a broken part, and one controller has a faulty R button, but it’s otherwise good enough quality. I spent a couple hours last night (this morning?) playing Super Metroid (which I also just got), and it’s as fun as I remember.
I only have about three or four games, but still.

I saved the best for last: Handcrafted CSS, by Dan Cederholm and Ethan Marcotte; Content Strategy for the Web, by Kristina Halvorson; and Painting the Web, by Shelley Powers. I’ll save those reviews for after I read the books. I think I’m starting with Handcrafted CSS, because the cover is just so tactile. It’s also pretty short, and reads like a blog entry (complete with links to other peoples’ blogs).

It raises a question, which I might later remember and go into in more detail: Are books like really old blogs? I’m reading this book in 2009, but it’ll be as irrelevant as today’s blog entries after a few years.
(That is to say, not entirely irrelevant; but still kind of “What?”)

I’ve still got to get Designing with Web Standards, 3rd Edition. Maybe for my birthday? Is John Resig’s book out, yet? (Never mind, I’ll google it myself. It seems that it’s not quite out, yet.)
Oh, I also want Transcending CSS.

I’m going to have to introduce some of the students at the college to these books. I’ve read so many blogs everything in them will likely seem old-hat to me, but the new students will find them invaluable. Or supervaluable.

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.