Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Project Dark?

I must ask, why "Project Dark?" Why did T-Mobile choose to cover their secret plans under the name "Project Dark?" What's so dark about it?

It's not like the name really matters, I suppose, but the so-called Project Dark certainly has my attention. First broken by the Boy Genius Report, Project Dark or "Project Black," as it was also thought to be named, was rumored to be a three-prong operation.

First, new unlimited plans, which T-Mobile has just set in motion with Even More Plus. A lot of people are wondering why the 2-year contract plans are more expensive than the no-contract plans. My guess is because the no-contract plan doesn't have the costs of a discounted (subsidized) new handset factored in. If that's the reason I applaud T-Mobile. T-Mobile has had problems in the past with customer service giving customers without a contract much less compensation for their problems than on-contract customers. Let's hope the new plans are a sign that T-Mobile will start treating customers without a contract the same way they treat all others.

Second, there was talk of bringing on three new handsets, one of which was the N900, two of which weren't so I can't be bothered to remember their names. Do remember that T-Mobile is the only US carrier whose network the N900 is fully compatible with.

Third, it was rumored that T-Mobile would very rapidly begin to upgrade their network to support data transfers as fast as 21 Mbps.

As I said, the first "prong" of the rumor is true (they've flaunted Engadget's warnings). I haven't seen any confirmation of the N900 being officially branded by T-Mobile yet, in fact I've heard some people now claiming it won't happen. The device hasn't even been released yet, not until November, so hope is not lost for those who wanted a subsidized N900. The 21Mbps HDSPA rollout seems to be taken as fact by many reporters, and it's projected to start in early 2010.

I wish T-Mobile would make an unlimited data only plan. I also wish I could find some info on what "unlimited' data means on T-Mobile. To Sprint it means 5 Gb/month. I've heard for T-Mobile in the past unlimited data means 10 GB/month. How are carriers allowed to blatantly lie like that? Unlimited means unlimited, no?

Anyway, I tweeted a while ago (can't be bothered to find it) that T-Mobile better release an fairly-priced data plan with no contract that I could use with the N900. They did, so I guess I'm stuck, and I have to buy one now.

By January of next year, I will be the proud owner of a Nokia N900, which I will be running on T-Mobile. Now to decide whether or not to keep my Sprint account as well...


Monday, October 26, 2009

Outbursts of Everett True

Check this out:

This comic strip is from 1906, and they all fall like that. Panel 1, somebody does something inconsiderate, panel 2, Everett True beats them up. There's a lot of them to read at Barnacle Press, a site I've just discovered and will be visiting a lot. Kind of reminds me of Milk and Cheese.




Monday, October 19, 2009

A few notes...

A few notes all across the board.

First, a while ago I read this interview with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. He expresses confusion that Google seems to be abandoning Android as a netbook OS in favor of Chrome OS. I was a little confused about that too, but Chrome OS does make more sense on a non-touch screen netbook than Android does. Also, the idea that an OS is really a browser is something Ubuntu needs to start thinking about. Windows 7's search-able start menu is arguably their best feature (yes, Vista had it too).

On my honor, I was just thinking about this very thing, a watch that could connect to a smartphone via bluetooth. This prototype is for Blackberry only, it isn't available now but may be someday. With the very long range of Bluetooth 2.0 this is a really good idea.

Verizon is blasting the iPhone in their new "Droid Can" ads in favor of the Android OS. Now it's rumored a 4G iPhone might pop up on Verizon. At least you're not burning any bridges...

Android is getting the advantage in the cell phone market now. It's not locked to any hardware, so people can access the large app base with the form factor they most want. Even Maemo, which I think is better, only shows up on Nokia phones despite it's being open source. I was hoping the Nokia N900 would position itself against the iPhone the way Verizon is doing with the Droid ads, but Nokia might already be a lost cause. Their last quarter reports are pretty bad. With smartphones, at least.

Android really is the techno-hydra. It's non-exclusive and I don't think Nokia can beat it in the US when their smartphone will only be fully compatible with one carrier. I mean really, the N900's success in the US seems to be dependent on how well T-Mobile's Project Dark goes. I don't know if I like that very much.

I'm fine with using Android over Windows Mobile or the iPhone, but I really, really would like to see Nokia and Maemo get the success it deserves.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Just finished switching outliners...

So I'm switching outliners, from the more recent and regularly updated The Guide to the ancient yet still very functional KeyNote.

What is an outliner? Look at a file browser, like Windows Explorer. The left pane usually shows a tree view, where each folder can be expanded or minimized to show or hide all the subdirectories it contains. The right pane shows all the files in the directory selected in the tree view. An outliner uses this interface design with a text editor. In the left pane, instead of folders, traditionally has nodes. Each node has it's own body of text that shows up in the right pane when selected. Click here for a picture of "The Guide" that might help you understand it better. The nodes are hierarchical, you have parent and child nodes, and they can be maximized and minimized just like folders in a file browser.

It might help to think of the left pane as collapsible a 'Table of Contents', and the right pane is the actual text the table points to. Outliners are very important, I think, because they're so adaptable. You can use them for addresses, recipes, brainstorming, note-taking, shopping and to do lists, anything really. Outliners are built to organize a lot of information and that makes them very useful.

The Guide is the first Outliner I've ever used, and I've since tried many more while searching for a cross-platform replacement. The Guide is the best out of all I've tried (only free and open source, I didn't try any commercial ones). The only reason I'm switching programs is because I needed an outliner that would work in Windows and Linux. KeyNote is Windows only, as is The Guide, but The Guide doesn't work under Wine (Windows environment for Linux) and KeyNote does.

KeyNote is very similar to The Guide, in fact I think The Guide is loosely based on it. The transition won't be hard, but the copying sure was. I just finished manually copying each node of my main file from The Guide to KeyNote. Probably 300 nodes. It wasn't fun.

I'm doing a lot more graphic design and video work lately, and Inkscape and The Gimp seem to run faster on Linux. Not to mention Blender loves crashing when I try to use sound in the sequencer on Windows 7. So I'm using Linux for this work, and my outline has all my notes for it, so my outliner should run in Linux.

Oddly enough, I only have 3 windows-only apps I regularly use: Exact Audio Copy (doesn't work in Wine), KeyNote, and a post-it notes app. I switch back and forth from Windows to Linux so much that it's something I pay attention to when looking for new programs. In Linux I tend to use abcde for ripping. I just started using this notes app and the concept has proven invaluable so I suppose I'll have to start looking for a cross-platform alternative for that, too.

Other cross-platform outliners I looked at: JreePad--couldn't get it to run on one Windows 7 PC, although it would run on another. KeepNote would be my next choice after KeyNote, if it didn't hang every now and then, and...well, it's just not what I'm used to. If you could hide the trash can, that would reduce a lot of the clutter and I think I'd like it a lot more. Both decent programs though and I'll keep an eye on them in the future.

But the cream of the crop really is The Guide. If you run Windows only, you should check it out.


PS I was about to pass out sleeping while writing this, apologies for any and all spelling, grammar, and logistical errors.

Notes on Uncharted 2

Uncharted_2_thumbI beat Uncharted 2 yesterday, here are a few notes (mostly comparing/contrasting with the first Uncharted game):

This game kicks ass. I was a little suspicious of some of the scenes I'd seen in trailers. Running on a train, for instance, while a helicopter is firing at you looked cool but I worried in the game it would be overwhelming and too difficult. For my money, they balanced it perfectly and it was great fun.

Like the first game, the first levels have very little fighting and shooting while the story is set up. I was all set to mark this down as a bad thing, as I was itching to hit the ground running, but I've come around to their side on this. These games are cinematic and story-driven. The only other games to draw me into the story this well were the Max Payne games and then the Half Life games.

A few differences between Uncharted 1 and Uncharted 2:

The game focuses on wherever your reticle (crosshairs) are pointed. If you're snapped in behind a corner and the reticle is on the corner, everything past it will be blurry. It your reticle is on an enemy, he will be in the sharpest focus. At first I didn't like this, but you adjust quickly. It communicates to the player what is being focused on, and this system allows for very accurate grenade throwing. Grenades are much easier to use and a lot more of a help in this game.

They moved the look/hint button from L2 to d-pad up. Pressing L2 now fires a grenade. This occasionally caused some embarrassing mistakes, but I'll get used to it. If you tap L2 it throws a grenade wherever your reticle is focused (see above paragraph). If you hold L2 it brings up an arc similar to the one in the first game, except instead of using the six-axis functionality (tilting the controller) you use the joystick to set the arc. You can also now set up the arc from cover, only breaking cover long enough to actually throw the grenade. Very cool. The only problem I had was in that you have to hit the triangle button to avoid throwing a grenade once you have an arc lined up. I would prefer that releasing L1 cancels the throw, and you'd have to hit R1 while L1 is still held to throw a grenade. It would prevent accidental throws in frantic situations.

You can also now move while aiming from cover. Finally! This was a large annoyance in the first game. Of course, this could cause problems when going back to the first game, since the grenade controls are different and the cover is slightly different. I'd like to see a patch that makes the controls on the first game mirror those on the second, so I can replay them both with less confusion. Uncharted 1 doesn't have the focus functionality, so tapping L1 may not provide an accurate throw, but you could still have L1 bring up an aiming arc.

The game seems to take a lot longer to launch, however like the first game there were no load times once you start playing that I remember. Unless you skip cut scenes, in which case you will be faced with some load times.

No more Brutal Combos. I didn't fully appreciate the hand-to-hand combat in the first Uncharted until I started working for trophies, where I had to do certain moves so many times. That showed me how useful the different combos could be. Not being able to use the old combos is disheartening at first, but the new combat system is really cool. Simple, yet capable and engrossing. The stealth system is cool. And when rushed by an enemy, as would happen in the first game, you can now pull the guy over and take him down with hand-to-hand moves without completely leaving the safety of cover. Also, being able to push people off a moving train is satisfying to no end.

All the improvements they have made keeps driving home the one they still need to make: they need a Mirror's Edge-style highlighting system for ledges and ropes you can jump to. Maybe only highlight ledges and things when in "Look" mode (up on the d-pad). I died so many times thinking I could jump somewhere I couldn't. I wasted so much time wandering around looking for a ledge when I was missing a rope dangling feet away. To their credit, a lot of times when you die looking for a way out they bring you back looking right where you need to go next, and that was a big help.

Yes, as most reviews said the first bit in the Museum was a bit of a pain. I was at a loss as to what to do sometimes, but that was at maybe two points in that whole level, and it's over quickly.

Doing something spontaneous and getting the "Marco Polo" achievement was a nice touch. Perhaps my favorite moment in the game. I wonder how many similar achievements exist?

EDIT--Right after submitting this post I remembered another point I wanted to make. I remember seeing a video for the game Wet where a big deal is made out of being able to jump from car-to-car while shooting during a highway scene. This looked really cool, however when I played the demo this turned out to be more rigid--the car hopping was controlled by quicktime events. Uncharted 2 has a similar scene, except not ruled by quicktime-events. You do have to jump within a certain window but it's much cooler, because it doesn't use quicktime events, which generally suck (except in boss battles). So if the car surfing in Wet (which is cool in it's own right) didn't float your boat, there is a level in Uncharted 2 where you're jumping from truck to truck shooting people. Yeah, it's pretty cool.

Also, no more jet-skis, which just became more and more annoying as I re-played the first game. To those that might miss it, just wait until you're on that train. ;) (winking smiley, we're friends now)

I am really looking forward to the next Uncharted game. The controls and graphics are so nailed down I would actually be happy if they left it all as is and focused on releasing new stories and adventures built on this engine. Hopefully that could get us more games faster. On that note, one thing I like about PC games is the ease of releasing mods, total conversions and fan-created stories. Half Life 2 has a handful of mods that are as good as, possibly even better than the original itself (Minerva: Metastasis anyone?). It would be cool to see this kind of content show up for Uncharted, but I doubt that's possible. Naughty Dog, the game's developers, gave users a nice set of tools for machinima (making movies with video games) this time around. Maybe in the next installment they could create a platform for fan-created content, like Little Big Planet but actually fun to play. Sorry, I had to say it.


PS-I really, really hope that Uncharted 3 is entitled "The Legend of Curly's Gold".

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Okay, a bit more on the N900.

Holy crap I am really talking up the N900, a device that I've never seen and hasn't even been released yet. It's apparent I'm a Nokia fanboy, even though the only Nokia device is own is the N800. I thought I'd write a post that better explains why I like the idea of this phone so much.

I currently own an HTC Touch Pro, my first smart phone ever. I was planning on buying a Titan for quite a while, but held off for various reasons. When I was finally ready to buy a new phone the Touch Pro just came out, so I bought that instead. I'm a pretty big gadget freak, but it's for legitimate reasons. Every time a new device comes out that can replace multiple devices in my pipeline, I take notice.

I will admit, my excitement for new gadgets does sometimes blind me. When the Touch Pro 2 came out, I was all for it. I even did some odd jobs to earn extra money so I could buy it on it's release date. However, I had a few nagging doubts about the device, and they ultimately won out. For one, the Touch Pro 2 would have cost me way more than a PS3 and a handful of games. This is exactly how I looked at it, and I ended up buying a PS3 instead. Second, the first Touch Pro is a buggy little phone. It's capable but fussy. Sometimes it doesn't ring, sometimes it changes it's ringtone on it's own, sometimes it registers screen taps but refuses to open the app I selected. No, it's not slowly loading the app, it's just sitting there not doing anything.

You can multitask on the Touch Pro, but it's a pain. Switching apps in Windows Mobile is troublesome and it can take a while. There's a lag just to pull down the menu to show you all your open apps, even if you're not running any. I've tried so many roms (different packaged configurations of Windows Mobile), both stock and optimized. Some are more stable than others, but they're ultimately putting lipstick on a pig. The Touch Pro really is a click-and-wait device. Click on something, wait for it to load. I realize it's got a dinky mobile processor, but sometimes I feel like even when I'm just making calls and sending text messages--the bare minimum--this phone is overextending itself.

The Touch Pro 2 disappointed me. It's got a "2" in the title, it should be a big improvement over the first, right? Wrong. Same processing power, same battery life (although it has a larger battery, they put in a less efficient but equally powerful processor). The reviews came in glowing, saying that the specs are the same but everything is much snappier. Even some highly respected rom creators said this, but I remain skeptical. For one thing, Opera is pre-loaded in the memory, perpetually hogging space so it loads fast. But what if I want to use a different browser? Okay, I know, not likely but still an issue. I wish there would have been hardware improvements beyond the speakers. That's reason 1 for digging the N900. It's hardware is at the high end of what most smart phones are equipped with.

Nokia has also put out a successor that disappointed me. The N810 was released with 1 SD slot instead of the N800's 2, a fixed camera instead of the N800's rotating one, and although it had a keyboard (unlike the N800) the top row of keys were too close to the screen, making them hard to use. Oh, and the d-pad was removed from the face of the device and placed on the keyboard, even though the screen was the same size and there could've been room for it. The N810 had a faster processor than the stock N800, but a firmware update for the N800 overclocked the device to match the N810, making them more or less equal. All things considered, the N800 is still the better device in my book.

All right though, let's talk practicality. What could the N900 do for me that would replace all my other devices?

Well, it's got a full 3.5" audio jack. When the iPhone came out I balked at the idea of using a phone as an mp3 player. I'm starting to come around to the idea. The N900 already comes with 32GB of storage, and a microSD expansion slot. I've heard that about 25 of that initial 32GB are free for non-system use. The largest microSD cards I've seen on the market are 16GB, so that means I could fit 41GB of music onto the N800. That's about 20GB too little, but I could take the essentials with me. Also worth mentioning, the N900 has a built-in FM transmitter, so out of the box it's ready to play over most car stereos.

Web browsing. The N900 houses the Holy Grail of smartphone web browsing. Check out this quick video that briefly touches upon Maemo 5's web browser gestures. This is as good as mobile browsing is going to be for a while. I've checked out many hands-on videos of the N900 in action, and it really does seem to be as responsive in person as it is in their demos.

The N900's got a bigger screen and higher resolution than the Touch Pro, and it's about 3/4" smaller than the N800's screen. The N800 is the last device I consistently used as an ebook reader. I tried it on the Touch Pro but it just wasn't convenient. Have I mentioned that the d-pad on the Touch Pro's face is hard to navigate with? Well it is. I'd have to look at the screen and controls to decide how well it would work, but I'm betting the N900 could serve me quite well as an ebook reader.

Twitter. I use PocketTwit on my phone to check tweets, but I use it very rarely. I mostly use my PCs for Twitter, though the service itself is best suited to something light and portable like a phone. It's actually frustrating to check Twitter updates on a mobile phone, because the lack of proper Flash support make many linked videos and sites impossible to view. I know that full Flash is coming to all phones soon, but there's no way the Touch Pro, and by extension the Touch Pro 2, can smoothly handle in-browser youtube videos. Silly as it seems, Twitter is a big reason why I want the N900. Nokia's slogan is "Connecting People" and this is a prime example. It should be touted as the world's first twitter-phone, a phone capable of viewing anything people tweet.

In fact, this phone could get closer than any other device to replacing my netbook. The only thing my eeePC 901 has over this device is it can play Max Payne 1 and 2 (and other games), I can watch movies off an external hard drive, and it has a larger keyboard. I haven't played any games on my netbook for years, and I watched any videos on it in months. Typing is a big one though. I can type faster on my netbook than I can on any other PC. I have some ideas for how a mobile device could get input that fast or even faster, but it would require a steep learning curve and then you have issues of new devices not adopting it years later. The idea of faster touch screen input may sound far-fetched, but hey, the world record for shorthand WPM is something like 4 times what is it for typing. Someday some genius will work out a faster touch screen input system. I'll be waiting.

The N900 seems like a completely new kind of phone. It looks like a standard smart phone, but it really seems to be a portable desktop. It's specs are very similar to the iPod, all things considered they're probably neck-and-neck hardware-wise. Where the iPhone has set itself apart as an entertainment phone, the N900 is a phone for power-users. The iPhone has great games, multimedia, and apps, the N900 has a solid OS, built for multitasking and information connectivity. That's not to say they don't meet in the middle. The N900 is in itself a multimedia powerhouse and I'm sure will have some decent games, and the iPhone has plenty of web apps and an interface famous for speed and accuracy.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. I hate it when people try to label things as "killers" of any Apple device. However, the N900 is the only phone I'm aware of that could go toe-to-toe with the iPhone. I'd wager that all Nokia would have to do is make a CDMA compatible model, then make the N900 equally available to all carriers. Slather that sick Maemo 5 video all over the airwaves, and then just try and clone as many iPhone apps as they can. They'd woo everyone who wants an iPhone that either can't or won't switch to AT&T. They'd woo all the Linux nerds disappointed with Android. They'd woo anyone that wants full access to the internet on a mobile phone.

As it stands now, the N900 is a phone that only fully works in the US with T-Mobile, and it doesn't look like it'll be subsidized (to be fair it isn't released yet). Are they even going to try and push this phone in the US?

It sucks for me to see how nice this phone is, how appropriate it is for my needs, and then to suddenly realize all the hurdles I'd have to leap in order to own and use it, the primary hurdles being cost of the phone and it's different network type than the one I'm on. I'm waiting with baited breath to see how this phone is made available and advertised once it's released.

I really hope Nokia gets this together.


PS-Hopefully I'll be able to shut up about this phone for a while now.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Micro Center


This post started out as a digression in an earlier post. It got a little too long so I put it aside and decided to post it as it's own article:

Micro Center is a very strange store. It's half tech paradise and half closeout store. Their clearance section has loosely stacked piles of nameless CDRs, keyboards, mice, etc. It's a little depressing. They have twenty or thirty different USB SD card readers, most of them dirt cheap, most of them from brands I've never heard of. I also think their employees make commissions, something else that's a little bothersome. One girl put a sticker with her name and ID number on a product she helped me pick out. She did help me out, but the countless other times I've gone there I'd been pestered without needing any help.

In spite of that, I do like shopping there. Micro Center is the first chain store I've ever walked into that has, from soup to nuts, every single component you need to build a computer from scratch. Best Buy's starting to go in that direction, but they're nowhere near as comprehensive as Micro Center. One downside is that the pricing is very inconsistent. Sometimes they're way overpriced, sometimes they're cheaper than Amazon or Newegg. In store they also have that pesky habit of displaying the price in a large font, and in a much smaller font saying "price after mail-in rebate." I've been burned so many times with mail-in rebates it's now a reason for me not to buy something. Luckily you can check the prices and sales out online, and the online price (after I choose my store online) has always matched up with the in-store price.

Micro Center was also the closest store to me that had eeePC 701s and 901s perpetually in stock, making them saviors when my 701 died and I had to buy a 901. Let me qualify what "closest store" means. Micro Center is 30 miles away. That makes driving there and back slightly cheaper than most online stores' next-day shipping, and I get whatever I've purchased immediately. If I can talk a friend into driving me, I get to play with whatever new toy I've bought on the way home.

I wasn't even aware of Micro Center until a few years ago. I don't know how long it's been around, but it's gotten me to go back and start buying computer components in a brick-and-mortar store, something I never thought I'd do again. No, that's wrong, I'd never gotten anything more than a graphics card and a handful of hard drives from physical stores before MicroCenter. Everything else I'd purchased online. Micro Center has managed to work it's way into my comparison circle. I'm in the habit now of checking it's availability and prices alongside Newegg, Amazon, Tiger Direct, Provantage, and various other online retailers.

I find it odd that such a store exists today, and that it actually competes with the online stores in price and selection. My guess is that it's kept afloat by a lot of sales from small businesses that either can't afford to or don't want to wait for replacement parts for their equipment. Every time I go I see dozens of men in suits, on their lunch breaks or something, with a monitor or a hard drive under their arms. It's odd that they should look so out of place there--what business nowadays doesn't have a computer? First, I think it's odd in general to see so many men in suits anywhere that isn't their place of business. I think the rest of the confusion lies with me because for the longest time, everyone I've known who works on computers has either dressed like a slacker or worn the IT uniform--Shirt, slacks, tie, no jacket. And usually glasses.

I'm not surprised how much I love shopping in a store full of tech. If any huge nerds out there have only bought components online, it's worth checking out. Walking in the first time and looking around can actually be a little breathtaking.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Windows Mobile 6.5 Reviewed (by Gizmodo)

In my N800 post earlier, I said this about Windows Mobile:

WinMo is an OS that has yet to acknowledge that most smart phones are now touch screen devices. That’s why every manufacturer of WinMo phones has their own interface, like HTC’s TouchFlo 3d–there are also third party UIs like SPB Mobile Shell (which I use).

I said this in comparison to Maemo OS 2007, which came out, well, in 2007, 2 years and 9 months ago. I still prefer that interface to any other today. It's built around browsing and multi-tasking, and you could easily do nearly anything in that OS with a stylus or a finger.

John Herrman at Gizmodo has put up a review of Windows Mobile 6.5, which says the same thing about Windows Mobile, but more intelligently. After talking about HTC's superior TouchFlo interface, he says:

Handset manufacturers have done more in the last two years to improve Windows Mobile than Microsoft has, which borders on pathetic. In the time since Windows Mobile 6.0 came out in February of 2007, Apple has released the iPhone—three times. Palm has created the Pre, with its totally new webOS. Android has come into being, and grown into something wonderful. RIM has created a touch phone and a revamped BlackBerry OS.

I just wanted to link to that review. I've been trying developer builds of WinMo 6.5 for a while now, and it's surprising how little's changed. How can the same company that's working on the potentially revolutionary Courier 'booklet' be the same company that just crapped out WinMo 6.5? How many Vistas do customers have to suffer through before we finally get a 7?

Microsoft has the benefit of producing the most popular OS. When Windows Vista came out, how many people considered moving to Mac? A few, but I'd bet that most, like me, stayed with XP and waited out something better. Who'd give Windows Mobile a second thought versus the iPhone? And don't BS me, I know the iPhone isn't advertised as a business phone, but it is very business capable. Isn't Microsoft worried that AT&T will one day lose exclusivity, resulting in the iPhone breaking even more records? Shouldn't Microsoft be innovating their asses off instead of just putting a bag on the side of WinMo 6.1?

Seriously, what are they thinking?


I ♥ my N800

This was originally a digression within a really long post about using my N800 as a 64GB mp3 player. That post was long enough so I've ripped this bit out and placed it here.

I posted some tweets about this over the past week, but it bears repeating and explaining, so here goes:

I bought my N800 used. The guy who sold it to me wanted the money to buy a then brand-new first generation iPhone. I bought it because I was away from home for work and I had no portable computer. My laptop was on it's last legs and wouldn't work outside of it's dock.

At the time I was crashing with a friend that didn't have internet, so I needed something small and portable I could take anywhere I could get online. The eeePC 701 was yet to be released for another few months.

Once I bought the N800, I would sit in Burger King for hours leeching off their free wifi (I boycotted McDonalds for about a week because they expected you to pay for theirs). I could watch Youtube videos, check email, have multiple web pages open, read ebooks, play games, etc, all on a device that fit easily in my pocket.

The interface was occasionally frustrating, but going back to it I can see that it actually spoiled me. My Touch Pro may be able to get internet anywhere I can get a cell signal, but all of it's available web browsers are really piss-poor compared to the N800's built-in one. It's shocking to go back to a device that's two and a half years old but still does things better than anything I've tried since.

In fact, Maemo OS 2008 is a much better mobile OS than Windows Mobile. They're not in the same ballpark. They're not even in the same galaxy. WinMo is an OS that has yet to acknowledge that most smart phones are now touch screen devices. That's why every manufacturer of WinMo phones has their own interface, like HTC's TouchFlo 3d--there are also third party UIs like SPB Mobile Shell (which I use).

Nokia built Maemo on desktop Linux, and designed the UI to work very well on a mobile device. It's got a desktop-based interface that is very finger friendly. It's got the standard long press context menu. It's got 2 on-screen keyboards: a stylus keyboard and a finger keyboard (I really wish my Touch Pro had a giant finger keyboard). The N800 has a browser based on Mozilla's engine. It had an "app-store" long before the iPhone, although it wasn't a store--most of the available apps are open source and all of them that I know of are free.

If it had a cellular modem I would be using it as a phone right now.

Looking back on this device it breaks my heart that I'm stuck on Sprint for one more year. Sprint, whose network Nokia's smart phones don't work on. T-Mobile seems to be the carrier to go with if you want to use Nokia phones to their full potential.

The N900 is the successor to the N8X0 line (the N800 and the hardware-keyboarded N810). It is most similar in size and shape to the Touch Pro 2. It runs Maemo 5. If you've been following my blog or my twitter posts at all then you'd know I want this phone very badly.

In fact, if I had $700 to burn on the phone itself I would gladly shell out the extra cash for Sprint's early termination fee though, as I've said before, Sprint's service and prices are both good.

The N900 is cool enough all by itself. However, looking back at how great the N800 was just makes me want the N900 even more. I know I won't be buying it anytime soon, I'm practically broke. Still, it's reassuring that Nokia is still putting out quality products, and hopefully when I do have the money to spend they'll have an even nicer phone out.

Till then,


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Flash Mp3 Players (64GB N800)


So my 120GB Zune broke. I admit it, I dropped it a lot. I went back to using my 80GB Archos 504, which has a few problems, but it served to remind me of all the ways it is better than the Zune. The only things I ever had against the Archos 504 were the large physical size and occasional freezes (freezes they've since fixed). The Zune requires Windows to transfer music, it requires it's own software which by default overwrites all your id3 tags and cover art (it seriously, seriously fucked up my collection and I will never forget it). I didn't like being forced to navigate music by id3 tag. I didn't like how big of a pain in the ass it was to put one album on my Zune--something I can do in half a minute from any PC (running any OS) with my 504. This 504, by the way, is the mp3 player I used to take with me to construction sites. It's been dropped a hundred more times than the Zune and is still going strong. Maybe that's because it uses a 2.5" laptop drive instead of whatever tiny custom drive the Zune has.

A few weeks ago I posted about 64GB flash players, wondering why there's only one on the US market and why it's an iPod. There are dozens of companies that only make flash mp3 players. Why has none of them released a 64GB model?

I started looking around at other players. I briefly considered buying an Archos 5, then I saw the Archos Android tablet, which wasn't released at the time but looks like it may be released now.

The highest amount of flash storage any Archos device has that I'm aware of is 32GB. I already have a functioning Archos HDD player, I was hoping to find something flash based. I started to wonder if I could find some cheapo mp3 player that had two full SD slots. I could get two 32GB cards for $70-100 each, so if I could find a cheap player that housed them that would satisfy my current desires.

Then I realized that my Nokia N800 has two full SD slots, both SDHC compliant. I did some research to make sure the device supports 32GB cards, it does, and I drove down to Micro Center to pick some up. Micro Center actually had 32GB SD cards cheaper than any online retailer I found. Class 6 even.

I couldn't find any info on the brand (IPSG cards re-branded as "Micro Center"), any benchmarks or anything, but I decided that as long as the cards worked without defect, no matter how slow they were they'd have to be fast enough to play mp3s. I had to tell the cashier they did in fact have 32GB SDHC cards. Then I had to tell the supervisor they did in fact have at least 2 in stock (web site said they had eight) but that's another story (the supervisor was kind of a dick about it). I asked the person who rang me up what their return policy was. He said the cards have lifetime guarantees, just bring the defective card in and they'll switch it out no questions asked. That actually confirms what I'd heard about them before.

I originally digressed here to talk about MicroCenter. I took so much space I decided instead to make it it's own post, which I'll throw online later.

I bench marked the cards, and they were tested at 9 MB/s write, 18 MB/s read, but that was on my eeePC 901, and I'm told processing power can affect benchmark results. On my uber-charged PC I actually got a consistent 11 MB/s write on these cards, physically copying 15 GB of large files, and it would even occasionally flutter up to 15 MB/s. If I have any major problems with these cards I'll be sure to post them online for the benefit of others, because Micro Center doesn't have an online rating system that I've seen. These cards were $70, BTW, and I think they were well worth it. I'm even thinking about buying another one and getting a USB enclosure to use it for all my personal files (making daily backups, of course).

Back to the N800. I updated the firmware, looked into a few media player apps, and started copying music over.

The program I've ended up using the most is Media Box. It's a little hard to get used to, but once you understand how it works it's pretty cool. You have to go to a folder in file browsing mode, open the menu, then add it to your library so you can navigate by id3 tag (you can choose to browse by file location or by id3 tag). You can choose whole directories or entire SD cards to be scanned and added to your library. The program is a little sluggish, but that's a problem with every single audio player app I've found for the n800. None of the programs I found could handle gapless mp3 playback.

My next choice would be the N800's built in media player. I didn't realize until using it for a few days that this program is constantly scanning your SD cards for media and adding it to it's library. I found 'Library Mode' under the View menu, and it actually listed all the music I had. This program doesn't show album art whether it's in the folder or embedded in the file (Media Box does), and it's a lot slower and less finger-friendly then Media Box, but it's still a good alternative. In fact, I would probably use Media Box while driving, and the built in Media Player while doing chores or playing video games.

The speakers on the N800 aren't super-great, but they are very nice. I hate that most video games don't let you integrate your own mp3 library so that you can easily listen to your own music while playing the game. Headphones are the most logical alternative, but what if it's a game where I need to hear notifications or gunfire before I'm killed? The N800 gives a great workaround. I can play the mp3s through the speakers, keep it next to me or in my shirt pocket, and not have to blast the game or the music over each other. I've said I would love a phone the size of the N800, with the screen covering the whole front of the device. However, I might be willing to sacrifice the larger screen size in favor of speakers this nice.

I was driving with my roommate Chris the other day, and I wanted to play him a Kinks song--he liked Lola, I wanted to play him some Village Green or Arthur so he could see how broad their styles were. His car's audio-in cable was broken and buggy, so I unplugged it and played the song through the speakers. I had to hold it closer to him than me so he could hear it well, but it's a nice option to have good speakers on a mp3 player--the 504 had a speaker on it, but not nearly as nice as the N800's. It does come in handy.

It was very satisfying to get myself a 64GB flash player, but ultimately the interface while navigating songs is a little to slow for me, and I do have that 80GB 504 available to me. I ended up taking out one of the 32GB cards and using it for my personal files instead of buying a new one. I will keep the other card in the N800 for music--to keep in my bag as a back-up player, and to constantly remind myself to show people the perfect size for a power user's smart phone.

I had another digression here about my N800 and how superior it's interface still is over anything else I've tried, but that got too long so it'll be it's own post. I'm wordy.

All in all, it was a fun experience, and it's totally workable if someone wants a 64GB flash player for much less money than a 64GB iPod Touch. Okay, the apps aren't as cool, but there are apps. And you can play games and read ebooks while listening to music on the same device. That's kind of cool. Isn't it?

Hey look, the end of the article. Could you imagine this post being any longer? If I hadn't re-purposed the other bits it would have been. Oh, I'm making it longer still. Oops.

Time to punch out,


Friday, October 2, 2009

All systems go!

Okay, site is up, plugins are working, feeds are a go, and the site is clocked at faster than it's ever been.

I have to admit, there was an easy way and a hard way to transfer this site over to a new server. I tried the easy way first, it didn't work. I tried the hard way next, and hours of work later had the same problem. Plugin conflict, I shit you not, the easy way would have worked after all.

The Dashboard is much more responsive, the page header now says 'Thrice∙berg' breaking it up for proper pronunciation, and I updated the 'About' page to be much more...uh...much more something. All appears to be right as rain for the moment.

I'll catch you folks on the other side,