Archive for March, 2008

Why I’m stupider than you

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So I was all set to go out when my wife noticed a funny smell. It turns out I put one of the batteries in my homemade PHS300 battery holder backwards. My batteries exploded, my man purse has a nice hole in it and now I’m looking for a place that sells the PHS300 and ships to Canada.

Remember, if you make your own battery pack, for the love of god put the batteries in the right way!

*update* I just tried plugging my PHS300 back in and it actually still works. Wow!

11 comments March 31st, 2008

Improving the CradlePoint PHS300′s battery life

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I love my PHS300. Being able to go out and having internet whenever I need it is really liberating. Of course there is one drawback; I’m talking about the battery life. I’ve turned the signal on the PHS down since it’s usually close by. I’ve found that typically I get 90 to 120mins connected time before my PHS300 battery gives up. Battery life is decent but it’s not long enough that I can leave it on whenever I’m out. I have to turn it on whenever I need it and remember to turn it off when I’m done.

When I’m out I usually bring a Toshiba Libretto (a small laptop with a 7″ display) plus the PHS300 and my modem. I carry it all in my man purse.

After reading a thread at EVDO forums, I was inspired to try making an external battery pack for my PHS. Rechargeable AA batteries have a voltage of 1.2 volts. 4 AA’s connected in series would yield a voltage of 4.8 volts which is close to the PHS AC adapter’s 5 volts.

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I happen to have tons of AA rechargable batteries lying around from my SLR camera gear and various video game controllers. I have two types of batteries – Sanyo 2500mAh NiMH batteries which are the regular kind that discharge if you charge them and they sit on the shelf for a while. The other kind is Sanyo’s newer ENELOOP 2000mAh NiMH batteries. These have less capacity but only lose 15% of their charge per year (so they claim). Since I’m guessing they will only last a day or two I’m going to be using my 2500mAh cells.

I recharge the batteries with a Maha C801D.

Regular alkaline AA’s have a voltage of 1.5 volts and will fit but I’m not sure if the voltage is too high. I didn’t try them.

Before you read my instructions, here’s my disclaimer. If you break your PHS300 using my instructions it’s not my fault. If somehow you manage to set your PHS300 on fire it’s not my problem but please do send me a picture.

Here’s my instructions on how to make your own external battery pack. They’re actually very simple but in the interest of helping total electrical noobs (like myself) I’m being very very verbose.

Needed:

  1. Soldering iron
  2. Solder
  3. Multimeter
  4. Heatshrink wrap
  5. 4 cell AA holder
  6. Compatible plug
  7. Wire stripper
  8. AA NiMH battery
  9. Hair dryer

Steps:

  1. Stick AA batteries into the holder
  2. Strip off some wire from the compatible plug. 1/4″ should do fine. Separate the wires for an inch or two.
  3. Put some small heatshrink wrap on EACH wire from the AC adapter plug. You don’t need that much.
  4. If you want a neater looking job, you can put a thicker piece of heatshrink wrap to cover the parts of wire that are separated.
  5. Connect wires from the battery holder to the compatible plug. Connect the red wire from the battery pack to one of the wires on the compatible plug. Do the same with the black wire and the other wire on the compatible plug. Make sure the 2 sets of wires don’t touch.
  6. Check polarity with the multimeter.
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    1. Here’s how you do it: The PHS300′s plug polarity is like this -c+ the outside is negative and the inside is positive (see the picture above).
    2. Set your multimeter to measure DC voltage, you want it at a resolution that will handle around 6 volts.
    3. While the batteries are in the holder and the wires are connected, place the black tip from the multimeter on the outside of the plug and place the red tip from the multimeter on the INSIDE. Make sure the red and black wires from the battery pack are not touching each other.
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    5. If the voltage is +5 (around there, mine read 5.2 volts) you’re good to go. If the voltage is negative, the polarity is wrong. Swap the red wire from the battery pack with the black wire from the battery pack and test again to make sure it is now positive.
  8. Solder the red wire from the battery pack with the wire from the AC adapter. Do the same with the battery pack’s black wire.
  9. Wait for things to cool and then move the two thin pieces of heatshrink wrap over the exposed wire.
  10. Use the blow dryer to shrink the wrap.
  11. If you wanted a neater job, move the thicker piece of heatshrink wrap over the two smaller wires and shrink it with the blow dryer.
  12. Check the polarity again. Make sure the voltage isn’t higher than 6 volts.

You’re done! Please note I don’t have any heatshrink wrap in my how-to pictures. I cut the wrap off of my setup to take pictures of it.

Using the new external battery pack I found my PHS battery life went from about 120mins to almost 7hrs. An increase of around 5 hrs. Please note I’m not constantly using the PHS300. A lot of the time it’s on but I’m not. 5 hr’s isn’t bad but it’s not quite enough for a long day. I ran out, got some more supplies and connected two 4 cell AA holders in parallel. Connecting them in parallel is the same as my instructions only you do this differently:

Connect the red wire from battery pack 1 to the red wire on battery pack 2 to the correct wire on the AC adapter plug. Do the same with the black wire from the battery packs, check polarity and solder. I connected the packs using some double sided tape and some parts I had lying around the house.

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Now you get the same voltage but double the run time. Now I can get close to around 12 hrs of battery life. That’s good enough for me. If it’s not enough for you to make a battery holder with D cells (D cell NiMH batteries have capacities of around 10000mAh)

Since the battery pack is not that thick I can fit it, my laptop, modem and router in my man purse no problem. Sweet huh?

Howard Chui
03.30.2008

18 comments March 30th, 2008

Lenovo Thinkpad x300 in the house

Here’s a quick background about me and laptops; I love Thinkpads. I’ve owned a T40 and T60. The new T61′s are nice but a bit too porky for my tastes while you can only get a higher res panel on the heavier X61 tablet.

Then came along the X300. It’s screen is larger than the X61 and X61 tablet, it’s got a fairly high res screen, a built-in optical drive (which I’m indifferent about), it weighs slightly less than the X61 tablet and best of all it has a SSD instead of a conventional hard drive. Ever since I first heard about this laptop, I’ve been waiting impatiently to order one. I finally got the chance late last month and after the customary 3-4 week wait, it’s finally here:

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It’s slightly wider, shorter and thinner than the Macbook (I’ll try to get a picture with a Macbook Air later).

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It’s slightly wider than my T60 and quite a bit shorter. There’s nothing but the screen hinge in front.

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The battery doesn’t stick out the back so Lenovo’s stuck the VGA out, network connector, wireless on/off switch and a USB port on the back. Like the T60, the X300 vents air out the side so you can leave it on something smooshy (like a bed) and it won’t overheat.

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On the left there’s another vent, 2 USB ports, headphone out and microphone in.

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The right side just has the optical drive (you can swap it out for a travel bezel to save weight or stick an optional battery for more runtime and the laptop lock slot.

My first thoughts were amazement at how light the X300 is given its size. I stuck it on the scale and it weighed 3.3lbs (X300 with optical drive and extended battery). Yes there are lighter laptops out there but most have smaller screens and less features.

I thought performance would suck because the X300 only comes with a 1.2Ghz dual core processor but actually it’s pretty snappy. If you use the X300 in a quiet room and the cpu fan isn’t running (it only turns on every now and then under normal usage) it’s eerily silent because the SSD doesn’t make any hard drive noises.

I’ll post more about the X300 later.

Howard Chui
03.26.2008

2 comments March 25th, 2008

Fujitsu u810 review

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I love computers. While I love phones my first passion is computers. One of the best things about being the Howard in HowardForums is that I get to buy and test tons of computer equipment. Another plus of being me is that I always need to be connected. Phones are a great way to be connected to the ‘net but the best way is still using a computer. Because of this I have a soft spot for small laptops.

For the past couple of years I’ve been walking around with a Toshiba Libretto. It’s a terrific little computer that allows me to fix any problems that may arise on the site. Still, I’m always on the lookout for something better. I think I may have found it with the Fujitsu u810.

It’s got most of the features of my Libretto (the Libretto has a bigger hard drive, higher resolution display, slightly more battery life, a PC card slot, physically bigger than the u810, has CF and SD card slots) but it’s even more portable.

Oh yeah, the best thing about the u810 is its price. I paid just under $900 Canadian for the u810 compared with over 2 grand for the Libretto. $900 isn’t cheap for a laptop but it sure is considering what other similar computers cost.

First Impressions:

Here are the u810′s specs. I’m doing this off the top of my head since you can just go to Fujitsu’s website to read them:

  • 800Mhz single core Intel A110 processor (apparently it’s similar to the Pentium M processor which Intel’s Core and Core 2 Duo are based on)
  • 1GB PC4200 RAM (not upgradeable)
  • 40GB 4200RPM hard drive (smaller than an iPod Classic)
  • 100mbps/VGA out via an included dongle
  • Compact flash slot
  • SDHC card slot
  • Swiveling 5.6″ 1024×600 LCD
  • USB slot
  • Headphone/microphone jacks
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Web cam

When you first pick the u810 up you can’t help but marvel at the size. Despite it’s diminutive proportions, there’s a (somewhat) proper keyboard and a twisting display. It’s a fairly solid unit because it’s so small. Here it is on top of a Macbook.

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The screen measures 5.6″ and has a decent resolution of 1024×600. While it’s not foggy or anything it’s not the clearest or brightest display out there. I suspect this is the touch screen’s fault. It’s reflective but is hard to see in the sun because it’s not bright enough.

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Despite the small size you actually get a couple of connectors and ports. Starting from the left side you get; wireless on/off switch, SD card slot (my 4gb SDHC worked fine in it), volume rocker switch, headphone out, microphone out.

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In front there is a lone connector for the network cable/VGA dongle.

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The right side has a Compact Flash slot (16GB CF card worked fine), a power switch and a USB port that’s hidden behind a cover.

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The keyboard is tiny – unless you have really small hands forget about typing like you would on a regular keyboard. I actually have pretty small hands and can touch type on the u810 (barely) but found cradling the u810 with my fingers and typing with my thumbs to be the best arrangement. If you have a flat surface you can hunt and peck.

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There are LEDs right above the keyboard that you can use when it’s dark. I found that they weren’t positioned in the right place/aren’t bright enough to be useful. You turn them on using the left button below the center of the display.

There are a couple of other horrible things about the keyboard; the direction keys, tab and page up/down, ‘f’ keys are all accessed via function button. I dunno if I’ll ever get used to this arrangement but sacrifices have to be made when the keyboard is so small.

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There is a small joystick on the right by the screen while the left and right mouse buttons are on the left side. If you don’t want to use the pointing device, there’s a stylus located on the top right of the screen.

If you open the screen to 90 degrees, you can flip it around and use the u810 in tablet mode. I’m not crazy about tablet PC’s and used the u810 as a conventional laptop.

When the u810 is in tablet mode, you can still access the joystick, mouse buttons, up/down keys, function button, 2 special buttons and a screen rotation buttons.

The battery that comes with the u810 sticks out the back. I actually like how it sticks out because it gives you something to hold onto which is important given the u810′s size. It’s especially useful if you’re using it as a tablet. Battery life is a decent 3 to 4 hours on a full charge. Trust me, you don’t want to use the u810 any longer than that.

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When you use the u810 for long periods of time, it gets warm but it’s never blazing hot – which is impressive given it’s small size. There’s microsuede on the bottom to keep it (I presume) cooler to the touch.

There’s a 65 watt power supply. It’s the same size as the one that comes with many other smaller, lower power laptops (like the Sony TZ series, Lenovo Thinkpad R series, Toshiba Libretto).

While Fujitsu includes a couple of extra programs with the u810, they didn’t load it up with crapware. The two most notable Fujitsu specific things they include are Fujitsu menu and a driver update utility. The menu program is really a sort of quick launch for when you’re in tablet mode. You can access it by pressing the function menu between the up/down buttons. It launched such things as a sound menu, LCD brightness, enable bluetooth, that sort of thing. You can add your own shortcuts to it.

There’s a finger print reader on the right side of the screen. You get Omnipass which is software that can log you into Windows and memorize website passwords. Omnipass is mildly useful – it has two drawbacks; Firstly, if you want to use it to enter your Windows password you’ll have to wait an extra 10 seconds for the Omnipass dialog to load when the Windows login screen shows up. Secondly it only seems to work with Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Performance:

Performance is horrible. There are two problems with the u810, it has a really slow processor and a slower hard drive. There isn’t much RAM either but I’d say it’s enough to do basic tasks such as checking email and surfing the web. If you want to do more, the u810′s RAM is not user upgradeable – go buy a bigger laptop with a bigger keyboard and more RAM if you want to do more.

The u810 has a 40GB 4200rpm hard disk that takes forever to do anything. It only has 1GB of RAM which is barely enough to run Windows Vista.

When I first got the u810 I thought it would make a brilliant digital photographer’s tool because it’s small and has both SD and CF card slots. Unfortunately both slots are so slow they’re pretty much for show IMO. It takes forever to read/write to the cards which makes them virtually useless. They’re so slow I wouldn’t even bother using them for listening to music/watching video. Another problem is that the CPU maxes out when you’re using them.

There’s a saying; small speakers, small sound. The u810 has a tiny speaker. Let’s just leave it at that.

I was going to benchmark the u810 but to be honest, I thought the u810 was so slow there’s no point to it. Every time I pick it up, I end up watching the hard drive LED blink non stop for what seems an eternity. If something is so slow that it affects its usage what is a benchmark going to tell you? Like I said before, the u810 really needs a faster hard drive, followed by more RAM and then a faster or dual core CPU.

Conclusion:

I struggle when it comes to figuring out if I love or hate the u810. It can handle basic tasks of surfing the web, checking email, SSH, VPN/Remote Desktop but it does the other tasks so incredibly slowly. Tasks such as starting up, virus scanning, opening programs, etc. The horrible performance is balanced by it’s amazing portability. But the amazing portability is balanced by a keyboard which requires you to use the function key to access many important features (tab, up/down/left/right, etc). One thing is undeniable though, the u810 attracts a crowd where ever it makes an appearance. Most guys think it’s cool and most girl’s think it’s cute, everyone’s amazed at the price.

Before I got the u810, I really really wanted to love it. But in the end I’m speechless. I guess I’ll be keeping my Libretto a little longer.

Howard Chui
03.23.2008

2 comments March 24th, 2008

CradlePoint PHS300 Portable Hotspot Review

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As time goes by, more and more personal devices are able to connect to the internet. Devices like your iPod, laptops, phones, etc. With the exception of phones, the connection of choice seems to be WiFi.

Now it’s cool when you’re at home where you have WiFi but when you’re out you won’t always have internet access. You also have to deal with the dilemma of which of your devices you want to pay to get on the net when you’re out. You could connect your phone to your laptop via Bluetooth but what about your iPod? If you pay for WiFi at a coffee shop what happens when you leave?

Here’s where the Cradlepoint PHS300 comes in. You connect your USB cellular modem (or certain phones) to it and then it allows you to share the connection with all of your WiFi enabled devices. It’s a brilliant idea.

It’s portable so you have to throw a battery into the mix. There’s a removable (sort of) Li Ion battery that lasts for around 90 mins if you’re using a USB modem. So you have to charge the PHS300 when you’re not using it. If you’re close to a electrical outlet then you can connect the router to the wall and won’t have to worry about battery life.

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The reason I say it’s sort of removable is because it’s virtually impossible to remove without using tools. It’s just such a tight fit. To make matters worse, the battery that Cradlepoint includes doesn’t have a ‘lip’ for you to use to pry out the battery. It seems a Kyocera Model TXBAT10073 extended battery is compatible and fits plus it has a lip though in practice the lip doesn’t help. To remove the Cradlepoint battery, I had to gouge the plastic with my car keys to remove it. The Kyocera battery is a little easier. I haven’t changed batteries since.

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There’s no network jack – which is fine by me since it makes the unit smaller but some may miss this.

There isn’t much to compare the PHS300 too but I thought it was acceptable as far as size goes. It’s not tiny, it’s not large. It’s similar in size to a portable notebook hard drive which means it is not an awkward shape (very important if it’s portable).

You charge the PHS300 with the included AC adapter. It’s slightly bigger than the average phone AC adapter. Since it’s a portable router it would be nice if you could also charge it using your computer’s USB port. There is also an optional cigarette lighter adapter for your car.

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There are 3 status LED’s; power, phone and WiFi. If the phone LED is red there’s a problem with the connection to your phone. Try unplugging your modem or phone and plugging it back in.

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I tested the PHS300 with a Novatel U720 EVDO modem. It works well but I often found that I could not get online if I left the modem plugged in when I powered the router on. I found I could get online sometimes if I’ve used the modem recently (like in the past 30 minutes) otherwise I’d have to wait till the router is on to plug the modem in. It’s not a big deal but can get annoying.

The router admin panel is pretty much exactly the same as a Dlink router’s. Option for option, page for page. Before I describe it I found it to be missing 2 important pieces of information; battery remaining and a cumulative data counter. These 2 things are pretty ‘portable EVDO router’ specific so I’m pretty disappointed they’re not included.

Otherwise you get lots of router-y options. You can find a complete map of the PHS300′s menu options after the review.

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Speed wise the PHS300 is pretty transparent (it doesn’t slow your connection down). Unfortunately my U720 modem broke half way through the review so I don’t have any numbers. The PHS300 has Wipipe technology that’s supposed to speed your connection up. I suspect it’s just packet prioritization software so that if you’re downloading a number of things and try to stream something, the stream packets will get priority.

Besides wireless security (WPA/hiding the SSD/MAC address filtering) you can require users to type in a password before they can access the net.

Battery life is claimed to be 60 to 90 minutes. I didn’t get a chance to test this (since my modem broke). I will update this review when I get it replaced.

There’s a chat function that people can use to talk with other people connected to the router.

One use I didn’t really discuss is if you’re somewhere where you have very weak network signal. You can put the PHS300 where there is a strong network signal (like in another room by the window) and get service elsewhere.

While not perfect, the PHS300 is a really useful device. Probably the worst things about it are (in order): Sometimes you have to plug your modem in AFTER you’ve turned the PHS300 on. The battery life is too short plus the battery is not easy to remove (would make the battery is too short point less important). There is no battery meter and cumulative data counter info in the router control panel.

Howard Chui

Menus

  1. Basic
    1. WAN
      1. Cellular Modem PPP Settings
      2. DNS and Advanced Settings
    2. LAN
      1. Lan Settings
      2. RIP
      3. IGMP
      4. DNS Relay
    3. DHCP
      1. DHCP server enable
      2. DHCP settins
      3. number of dynamic DHCP clients
      4. add DHCP reservations
    4. Wireless
      1. Basic wireless settings (network name, visible/invisible, 802.11b,g,b/g, auto channel select, rando channel select, super G Mode, channel, transmission rate)
      2. Wireless security mode (WEP/WPA)
      3. WPA (WPA or WPA2 or both)
  2. Advanced
    1. virtual server (aka port forwarding)
    2. special applications
      1. application level gateway configuration (IPSec VPN, RTSP, FTP, SIP, Wake-on-lan)
      2. Add special applications rule
    3. gaming
    4. traffic shaping
    5. routing
    6. access control
    7. web filter
    8. mac address filter
    9. firewall
    10. inbound filter
    11. advanced wireless
    12. schedules
    13. modem settings
  3. Tools
    1. Admin
      1. Admin password
      2. Internet access password
      3. Administration
        1. gateway name
        2. enable remote managment
        3. remote admin port
        4. remote admin inbound filter
        5. admin idle timeout
      4. UPnp
      5. Save and restore configuration
    2. Time
      1. Time configuration (time zone, DST)
      2. Automatic time configuration (NTP server)
      3. Set time and date manually (set manually, copy computer’s time settings)
    3. Syslog
      1. enable (enable logging, specify server to send logs to)
    4. Email
      1. enable email notifications
      2. email settings (from, to, SMTP server address, enable authentication)
      3. email log when full or on schedule
    5. System
      1. system commands (reboot device, restore to factory settings)
    6. Firmware
      1. firmware information
      2. firmware upgrade
      3. firmware upgrade notifications options
    7. Dynamic DNS
      1. enable
      2. dynamic DNS (changeip.com, DNSomatic.com, DynDNS.org, easyDNS.com, EuroDynDNS.org, no-ip.com, ods.org, OpenDNS.org, ovh.com, regfish.com, tzo.com)
  4. Status
    1. Device Info
      1. General (time/firmware version)
      2. WAN (connection type, connection up time, ip address, subnet mask, default gateway, primary and secondary DNS server)
    2. Wireless
      1. Number of wireless clients
    3. Routing
      1. Routing table
    4. Logs
    5. Statistics
      1. WAN statistics
      2. Wireless Statistics
    6. Active Sessions
    7. Modem Info

19 comments March 18th, 2008

Koodo Mobile is Live!

Koodo Mobile has been launched! Koodo has three ‘ready made’ plans or you can build your own.

 

Talk & Text Combo $25/month
Unlimited Text Messaging
Up to 100 Anytime Minutes
7pm Evenings & Weekends

Five Essentials Combo $30/month
Unlimited Nationwide Talk & Messaging to 5 Numbers
Up to 100 Anytime Minutes
Up to 50 Text Messages
7pm Evenings & Weekends

All You Need Combo $65/month
Unlimited Incoming Calls
Up to 1000 Anytime Minutes
Up to 50 Text Messages
7pm Evenings & Weekends

all combos include Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, Conference Calling and Per-Second Billing

Head over the Koodo Mobile site to learn more at www.koodomobile.com or check out the Koodo Forum on HowardForums.

live_strong

 

4 comments March 18th, 2008

Koodo Mobile

Canada’s newest cellphone service provider is on track for a launch on March 17. Koodo Mobile with a tag line of “Good Call” will be a CDMA MVNO of Telus Mobility. According to MobileSyrup Koodo Mobile features per second billing, cheap monthly plans (starting at $15/month), and no “chubby” contracts. HowardForums member ‘celltarded’ saw three Koodo Mobile phones on display at a local Wal-Mart.

From the pictures I identified two of the phones and their prices.

Samsung u410 $74.XX
Motorola w385 $124.38

Stay tuned for a follow up article once Koodo Mobile officially launches.

live_strong

4 comments March 16th, 2008

Sony Ericsson K850i Review

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In my opinion Sony Ericsson makes some of the best non smartphone phones out there. They’re so good I’d even recommend them to power users. They’re packed with features, have one of the most refined user interfaces out there and most of their features are well thought out and work well.

Here’s their newest, the K850i.

Physical Impressions:

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The K850i is a pretty solid phone because it doesn’t have a rear battery cover. Instead the bottom of the phone pops open similar to what you find on a digital camera.

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My second impression is that the K850i is pretty thick considering it’s not a smartphone. While it didn’t bother me one bit, the RAZR crowd may find the the K850i to be a bit much. In actuality the phone is a tiny bit thinner than my Nokia n95.

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The nav pad has been moved from right below the screen to between the spaces on the numeric pad. It’s not square shaped (it’s longer than it is wide). It took me a while to get used to but it’s not that bad. The shape is probably not conducive to mobile gaming.

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The softkeys and select are actually located on the bottom part of the screen. This allows the K850i to have a larger screen while not affecting the vertical spacing of the keys. I’m not fond of touch screens and the K850i is no different. That said I didn’t hate it either, it was okay I guess. You can use these buttons even if you’re wearing gloves.

The numeric keys are much smaller than usual and remind me of little chicklets. I wasn’t crazy about how they feel when you press them (because they’re so small) but they are easy to use and really stick out so they’re easy to find without looking. If you text message a lot you might find them uncomfortable to use after a while because of the shape.

The screen looks great; it’s pretty big and has a resolution of 240×320.

Hands-free usage:

There is support for Bluetooth headsets, fast port headphones, and a speaker phone. Included in the box is a fast port to 3.5mm headphone adapter that has a built-in microphone.

Speakerphone maximum volume was acceptable but I found it caused the phone to make a very slight rattling noise (like something was loose).

Miscellaneous:

There’s a memory slot that can take either Memory Stick M2 or Micro SD and SDHC cards. Included with my K850i was a 512 M2 card. If you want to add more memory do yourself a favour and get a Micro SD card since their compatible with more devices.

I switched the K850i to USB mass storage mode. I found it took 32 seconds to copy a 18MB file to the memory card which is about 563kb/s. This is a little on the slow side.When it’s connected to your computer’s USB port, your computer will charge it. So if you’re traveling with a computer all you need is the USB cable.

Menus:

You get Sony Ericsson’s standard phone menus. SE’s got one of the best looking and smoothest UI’s in the business. Transitions are very smooth and slick plus the icons are very attractive. Also, the look and feel of the menu pervades all aspects of it and not just the main menu.

There’s a shortcut button that you can use to switch between and launch certain applications, view missing calls/recent messages and open the built-in browser – it’s a great feature.

Rogers has made some customizations to the K850i I’m testing. Notably there’s a link to their Java based music player from the main menu. Unless you like buying music from your carrier just skip it and use the Sony Ericsson (it’s found under the Media menu item).

There’s also a link called Vision which is just a bunch of links to some services you can use with the built-in browser. Vision is just what Rogers calls services like Mobile TV, video calling, and things like that.
When you’re not using predictive text entry you can see a list of what characters are available when you’re pressing a number. This is useful when you’re trying to enter punctuation since you can see what’s next.

Phone Related Features:

You can quickly access the phonebook by pressing down on the nav pad.

The phonebook works well though, I sometimes feel like there are too many options when you’re entering a physical address. You have to enter the street and then press save, enter the city and then press save, etc.

I found one small problem, it seems you can’t enter postal codes because you can’t switch the text entry to letter mode (it will only stay in number mode).

You can quickly change the phone’s ringer and other behaviors using profiles. Profiles can be quickly accessed by pressing the power button.

There are some voice control features but you have to train the phone. One neat feature (which Sony Ericsson/Ericsson) phones have had for years is the magic word feature. When you activate it you can put the phone in voice recognition mode by saying the magic word.

Connected Features:

There is an email application that can check POP or IMAP accounts. You can configure the client to check them at a set interval.

There’s a small camera on the top right of the front of the K850i which you can use for video calling.
The built-in browser is from Netfront which is terrific. The browser plus the K850i’s HSDPA makes for a great combination.

It automatically resizes webpages so that you can read them without having to scroll horizontally. When you’re scrolling, the scroll speed increases if you press and hold up/down. There’s a useful History function plus you can find things on a page.

You can view pages like you were on a computer (lots of horizontal scrolling), landscape (sideways) and full screen.

Multimedia Features:

Multimedia features are found under the Media menu. The phone has an orientation sensor which will rotate the screen automatically when you’re in here. The user interface resembles the UI from some other Sony products like the PSP, PS3 and some of their TV’s and receivers.

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Probably the K850i’s most notable feature is it’s 5 megapixel autofocus camera with xenon bulb flash. The back looks a lot like a camera. There’s a slick lens cover that automatically slides open when you’re using the camera. While the lens cover is slick for some inexplicable reason, the lens cover is underneath the back cover. So if you scratch the back cover, it doesn’t matter that there’s also a lens cover.

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The camera is activated by pressing the power button next to the shutter button. You hold it horizontally like you would a regular digital camera. The K850i’s thickness helps it feel more camera like. The menu resembles the menu you’d find on a Sony digital camera.

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When you’re using the camera, icons next to the 3, 6, 9 and # buttons light up which you can use to adjust the flash setting, burst mode, auto timer, etc.

Besides the autofocus and resolution, the K850i’s other notable camera related feature is it’s xenon bulb flash. There’s also a bright LED. The LED and bulb flash give the K850i outstanding night performance. In a pitch black room, the K850i uses the LED to provide enough light for the autofocus, then the bulb flash does it’s thing.

Curiously I found the K850i would sometimes seriously underexpose shots. I can’t figure out why it does this.

Picture quality is very good for a camera phone. While it works well in the dark, it has to raise the ISO to compensate for the lack of light, it then has very aggressive noise reduction which results in pictures that have a water colour like quality to them.

There are many camera features; resolution, picture modes (like night mode), compressions, macro mode, flash (including red eye reduction), self timer, ISO, spot metering, colour balance, stabilizer among other features.

You can switch between camera, camcorder and playback modes by using a switch on the side of the phone.

The camcorder application has many of the camera’s features. It can take videos that have a resolution of 320×240.

You can use the music player while it’s in the background. You control it with the volume keys, pressing them controls the volume, pressing and holding them skips a song. I don’t think you can pause playback while the player is in the background. You can browse your music by artist, album, genre.

If you don’t like the included headphones you can use your own while still keeping the ability to take calls using the included fastport to headphone adapter. The cable that connects to the fast port has a headphone jack that also has a microphone built-in.

The built-in speaker isn’t as good for some of Sony Ericsson’s other phones (like the W600i).

Organizer Features:

You get the usual Sony Ericsson Organizer features: File manager, Alarms, Calendar, Tasks, Notes, Synchronization, Timer, Stopwatch, Light, Calculator, Code memo.

The light is useful if you drop your keys. The calendar and tasks (along with the phonebook) can be synced to your computer.

Apparently there is support for syncing over the air with Microsoft Exchange. I don’t have Exchange and didn’t try it.

Impressions:

RF performance is excellent.

Incoming sound quality was good but there was pronounced hiss. Outgoing sound quality is excellent.

Maximum earpiece volume is acceptable.The top of the K850i has a slight edge to it that can make it slightly uncomfortable when pressed against your ear.

Conclusion:

Just like the K790a before it, the K850i is a terrific phone. It looks and feels expensive plus it has a beautiful UI that works well.

On paper the K850i isn’t a huge upgrade from the K790a and indeed they are quite similar. That said it’s a nice upgrade.

I thought I would hate the weird navigation pad plus softkeys but really they actually work well together.

There are a few extra touches that aren’t easy to notice at first. Extras like the light up camera keys, the light up dial around the camera lens, the orientation sensor. They don’t do much but they are thoughtful extras that you’ll appreciate when you use them.

Ratings (out of 5)
Build Quality 4.5
Battery Life 3.5
Phone Related Features 4.5
Ease of Use 3.5
RF Performance 4
Degree of Customizability 4
Overall (not an average) 4
*Please note these ratings are temporal and are really only valid for the date they were assigned. A phone which receives a rating of 5 a year ago will probably get a lower rating today.

Pros:

  • Nice camera
  • Large screen for a small phone
  • Solid phone

Cons:

  • On the thick side
  • Unusual keys

Discuss this review at HowardForums.com
Written by Howard Chui 03.12.2008
This article may not be reproduced without the the author’s permission.

24 comments March 12th, 2008

Universal Remote MX900 Genesis Review

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Nothing is sweeter than having a nice home theater (along with a nice phone). However it’s a pain when you have to locate four different remotes before you can watch a movie. This is where a universal remote comes in handy. Problem is, most universal remotes are pretty basic and have virtually no customizability.

In my opinion the ideal setup would be a remote that you can connect to your computer to program. The programming software would be powerful enough to let you customize every button plus it would let you create custom macros and so on.

Universal Remote Control makes remotes such as the MX900 that fit this description. Is it any good? Read on.

First impressions:

The MX900 is not a small remote. Then again most universal remotes are quite large. The top and bottom of theMX900 are coated with rubberized paint.

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The shape is such that the buttons are split into four different sections which makes buttons easy to find without looking. The button sections include the LCD and soft keys at the top, volume and menu related buttons, the navpad and the play related and number buttons.

Button feel is pretty average; the mx900 has the typical mushy remote buttons. They stick out and are easy to feel. One nice feature is that the buttons beep when you press them.

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I would like to see the rewind and fast forward buttons (REW and FF) to the left and right of the navpad instead of next to the play button. Then again having those two buttons somewhere else allows for a large navpad which is a good thing.

The -SKIP and +SKIP buttons are great since they can be used to skip 30 seconds (the length of most commercials).

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There is a backlight button on the right side of the remote. The MX900 LCD and buttons are backlit with a blue light.

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Power is supplied by four AAA batteries. Personally I prefer a remote that has a cradle where you can recharge it. Then again, I guess AAA’s make the remote easier to use since you don’t have to return it to the cradle. What I dislike about AAA batteries is when they die while you’re watching TV.

I can’t say for sure but my Sanyo Eneloop NiMH rechargable batteries last about 2 or 3 months before they have to be recharged. When the batteries do run out, the MX900 will say battery on the LCD screen and you won’t be able to use it till you’ve put new ones in. When you’re taking batteries out you’ll find that the MX900 is a really tight fit so that they’re slightly difficult to remove.

Usage:

Here’s the paradigm of the MX900. At the top is an LCD screen with buttons next to them. Each slot on the LCD screen can handle words of up to x characters in length. The LCD screen indicates the function of the buttons next to them. You can create pages of buttons. The page buttons will take you to the next pages.

Underneath the screen are ‘Watch’ and ‘Listen’ buttons each of which take you to a sort of home screen. From the home screen you can see a list of devices on the LCD your remote is setup to command. When you press the appropriate device, the MX900 can control it.

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Like Universal Remote Control’s other PC programmable remotes, you have to connect the MX900 to your computer in order to program it before you can use it. Unlike Logitech’s Harmony remotes, the MX900′s program doesn’t use a wizard to make things easier. Some may find this intimidating but really the MX900 is not hard to program. While the Logitech Harmony’s don’t allow for much customization, you can customize every button on the MX900 if you want. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like programming things, the MX900 is probably not for you. While I found programming to be a snap you’ll probably need to program it a few more times to get it just like you want.

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First up is setting up the devices. What I like to do is use the built-in remote codes for my devices and then customize the functions of the buttons next to the screen so that my most frequently used buttons appear on as few screens as possible. I usually also remove some of the extra pages of buttons since I don’t generally need every single one.

Once you’ve added all your devices to the MX900, you’ll probably want to setup some macros. First thing is the power on macro – I suggest programming it so pressing the power button from the watch or listen screens sends the power on command to all your devices. If you have higher end equipment, your devices probably have separate on and off remote commands. Then setup the off macro the same way.

Chances are you’re either using the speakers built into your TV or your receiver. You can use the ‘punch through’ feature so that the volume buttons for each device control your TV or Receiver. This way you don’t have to have the TV/Receiver selected to change the volume.

Next up you probably want to make it so that the video and audio switch automatically when you switch sources. For this you’ll probably want to setup a ‘press and hold’ macro. Normally when you’re at the watch screen and press DVD, the remote will switch to your DVD player. If you press and hold DVD for a second (the duration is customizable) you can make it so the TV will switch to the input the DVD is on and do the same on your AV receiver.Some people with inexpensive TV’s may lack remote commands to jump to a specific input. With these ones you usually have to press input x number of times. In this case you can do something like select a channel on the TV (send the ’3′ command) – this will tell the TV to switch to the cable input, then you just need to know the number of times to send the ‘input’ command to switch to a specific one. If you’re TV is really slow you can vary the length of time you press a button as well as the pause between presses.

You can create whatever macros you want. For example let’s say you have to press ‘stop’, ‘right’ five times, ‘select’, ‘right’, ‘select’ to delete a video on your PVR. You can create a macro to execute all these commands.

Now that the MX900 is setup you connect it to your PC using a mini USB cable (the same kind you’ll find on many phones, digital cameras, etc.) and send the setup to the remote.

Now one problem with many universal remotes is what happens if not all the remote commands make it to your device successfully. In this case you’ll have to press ‘listen’ (or ‘watch’), select the device you want to control, send the command and then switch back.

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If you find this happens a lot there is support for RF base stations. RF base stations receive a RF signal from the remote and then send them to your devices using RF extenders. This is useful if your devices are far away, if there are objects in front of your devices (such as a door or a wall), if you have a wife who always cleans stuff in front of the TV, that sort of stuff. You can have multiple base stations and depending on the model you can assign each base station a unique ID. So if you have three devices of the same model in different rooms, you can make sure the command is only sent to the appropriate base station instead of turning all three of them on at the same time.

I used the Universal Remote’s MRF-260 base station. I’ll talk about it more in a future review.

Conclusion:

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I’ll be honest. While the Mx900 is no where near as cool as my MX3000, it’s perfect if you don’t have tons of equipment to control. The buttons mean you don’t have to look at the remote every time you want to use it plus the shape means you can use it easily with one hand. The RF support is a plus though you probably won’t need it if you live in a small space like a condo.

The software is extremely easy to use once you understand how the MX900 works (this won’t take long).

My only complaints are that I wish the MX900 had rechargeable batteries built-in with a charging cradle.

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Howard Chui
03.03.2008

13 comments March 3rd, 2008


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