Archive for October, 2008

Skyfire now available to Canadians

Yup, it’s finally available to Canadians.

Read my thoughts on it here.

Add comment October 31st, 2008

Nokia to now officially offer Ovi in Canada

I just got an annoucement from Nokia Canada about Ovi. First we got the n95 8GB, then Nokia Maps and now Ovi.

While you could always get Ovi for Canada the fact that they’re mentioning it more is a good sign. Hopefully it’s a sign we’ll get more S60 devices up here.

For those who don’t know Ovi means door in Finish (Nokia being a Finish company). With Ovi you can sync your calendar, contracts, notes and tasks with more features coming.

Add comment October 28th, 2008

Skyfire Browser

Here is the Skyfire Browser; a browser that tries to bring the desktop browsing experience to your mobile phone.

I used to think Pocket Internet Explorer on Windows Mobile devices was pretty decent. Of course this was years ago. Not much has changed with PIE since. In fact, some manufacturers have started bundling Opera as the default browser on their WinMo devices.

Opera comes in 2 flavors for mobile devices; regular Opera and Opera Mini. The main difference is that regular Opera downloads the entire webpage to your device and lets your device sort things out. Opera Mini is java so it’s generally meant for less powerful devices and uses a proxy server. It’s basically a server that sits between you and the website you’re viewing. The Proxy takes pages, reformats them, resizes the images, compresses files – that sort of thing. This way, some of the heavy lifting is done by the server which is usually more powerful than your phone.

While I prefer regular Opera on my WinMo devices over PIE and Opera Mini, it can run slow at times. Also, it doesn’t really support Flash which means it’s not so useful for YouTube and other Video sharing sites.

Here’s where Skyfire comes in. Skyfire is more geared towards more powerful phones. For now WinMo (professional and personal or PPC and Smartphone) and S60 devices. Where it differs from regular Opera is that it uses a proxy. However, the proxy does a lot more than Opera Mini’s. Besides reformatting pages and images, Skyfire goes another step and supports stuff like Flash, etc.

The Skyfire essentially marries the power of a smartphone with the efficiency of a proxy which allows it to become even more powerful.

I tested Skyfire on my Motorola Q9h. When you install it, it also installs a custom Today screen which has a Skyfire search/address bar – useful.

Skyfire identifies itself as Firefox to websites so servers will send full versions of their sites. Sometimes websites have mobile versions that automatically get loaded. This prevents the mobile version from getting loaded.

When browsing a large regular webpage (like it will render the page as an image (I think) which fits the width of your screen. There’s a box which you can move around. When you press select, it will zoom into the box.

Since Skyfire uses a proxy the initial load of a site is faster than normal but this doesn’t take into account the time it takes to scroll around which is sometimes slower since Skyfire only seems to send small part of the page at a time. still, overall Skyfire is faster than a regular phone browser.

When you’re moving the box around, it automatically resizes based on what’s in it. For example; if you’re browsing YouTube and move the box over a video, it will increase in size so that it’s around the video. If you’re reading text, it will resize so that you can read text without having to scroll sideways – very smart.

Again I’m not 100% sure, but I think when you zoom in you’re still looking at an image; this allows Skyfire to be more flexible with how text looks though sometimes it also means text might be slightly fuzzy looking (this isn’t a big deal – more of an observation).

I tried it with YouTube. For some reason, the audio wouldn’t work (remember it’s beta, I’m sure they’ll fix it) but video quality seemed acceptable, however, it did get jerky if I was viewing higher quality video.

What’s neat is that you can view the videos as they would look on your computer rather than having to launch a separate application.

Since the Skyfire server is probably on a much faster connection than your phone, it can download the page, do the reformatting and then send it to your phone fairly quickly.

Feature wise it has bookmarks, ability to send pages via SMS or email, save images, pretty standard stuff.

Skyfire is currently in beta. When you fire it up, it first has to connect to the Skyfire server. That usually takes anywhere from a second to a couple of seconds. If you switch apps or idle the connection for a while, it will disconnect and reconnect when you use it again.

One neat thing about Skyfire is that since it uses a server to send you pages, sometimes the people at Skyfire are able to add features without requiring you to download a new client. Apparently they managed to add SilverLight (some Microsoft thing used to cover the Olympics) without requiring a new client – cool!

It’s still in beta so things may change but the only real problem I had with Skyfire is that it doesn’t support tabbed browsing. I also looked around and couldn’t find a way to set a custom homepage. I’m also not crazy about using proxy servers when it comes to logging into sites because I don’t want to send my password information through them (ones that aren’t SSL protected). Also, Skyfire requires a powerful device so you probably won’t see one for say a Motorola RAZR v3 or something similar. Otherwise I don’t really have anything bad to say about it.

That said, for now I’ll probably stick with regular Opera because I’m addicted to tabbed browsing though I’ll give Skyfire another long hard look if they add this feature.

3 comments October 27th, 2008

myPair from Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile Canada has launched  their newest line of plans-myPair.  myPair allows you to share a pool of minutes between two people plus gives you unlimited calling to each other.  Only one option is available costing $50/month (with no SAF or 911).  

The $50/month plan features:

  • unlimited calling between partners
  • 350 anytime minutes (shared between partners)
  • call waiting, call forwarding, conference calling
  • unlimited evenings (7pm-7am) and weekends
  • or choose one of the four other options
    • myTime (6 hour calling block)
    • myCrew (unlimited text & talk to five numbers)
    • myText&Talk (unlimited text)
    • myCalls (unlimited incoming local calls)

To learn more about Virgin Mobile Canada and their services or to subscribe, head over to Virgin Mobile.


Add comment October 24th, 2008

LG Voyager Coming to Telus

Despite what the Telus website claims-the LG Voyager is coming soon.

Currently listed on the LG Canada website, the Voyager cannot be far from a Telus launch.  According to HowardForums member “RileyFreeman” it should be available by early 2009.


Add comment October 23rd, 2008

Motorola ROKR E8 Review

Here’s Motorola ROKR E8. It’s a pretty normal phone with one very special feature…

Without a doubt the E8′s main feature is it’s changing keypad.

When it’s off you can’t see any of the keys – then It changes depending on what program you’re using.

Numbers show up when you’re dialing a number, they disappear and other buttons appear when you’re listening to music, taking a picture, etc.

I’ve also noticed that the keypad lettering is red (when it’s on) in sunlight while it’s glows white indoors. Cool!

The keypad is actually a touch sensitive surface with bumps where the ‘buttons’ are. The buttons don’t move in when you press them but thanks to the E8′s haptics it sure feels like they do.

Unlike other touch sensitive buttons, the E8′s keys don’t respond till you actually put pressure on them. So they won’t work if you accidentally brush your finger across them – amazing!

It’s kind of freaky how good the haptics are. Even though I know the front of the E8 doesn’t go in when you press it.

I suppose one could argue that while as cool a trick that it is, the keypad serves little purpose and at least from a functionality level it sort of does. That said, it’s new and really neat – I love it. However, I’d probably hate it if Motorola brought it out for all their phones (it’s that sort of thing).

Around the nav pad is a dial you can put your finger on and slide around (similar to what you find on some iPods). The dial doesn’t actually go all the way around, it stops at the bottom. Unlike the keys, the dial doesn’t require much pressure to use so there’s a hold switch on the side which turns the keypad off. If you don’t use it, you might find that the E8 will keep turning on in your pocket and drain the battery faster.

There is a micro USB port on the right side that’s used for charging and for connecting to your computer. On top is a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The left has a volume switch and a camera button.

Software wise the E8 runs Linux.

Menu speed is kind of slow. To be honest I kind of remember the ROKR being much faster. So I don’t know if the slow speed is due to firmware customizations or due to my bad memory.

There are 3 different menu layouts; Grid, List and Spinner.

You can quickly jump to menu items using numeric shortcuts plus you can change the order of menu items though you can’t seem to remove/add items to the top level menu.

As a phone, the E8 seems pretty competent. You can search the phonebook by entering as many letters of a contact’s name as you want. You can also start searching your phonebook by entering part of a phone number/contact name from the standby screen.

The E8 has a talking phone feature which can read you your messages, read the menu to you etc.

The default music player (on the Rogers branded E8) is the Rogers one. You’ll want that if you want to use the Rogers music store. The Rogers music player will play your own music as long as you store it in the MyAudio folder on the memory card – otherwise it won’t see it. It can sort your music by album, artist, etc and it will automatically pause when you receive a call.

I was a little surprised that the Rogers music player is able to use the E8′s mode shifting keys.

My complaints about the Rogers one is that every time you want to do something else, you have to tell it to run in the background plus you can’t seem to fast forward/rewind in a song – you can only skip backwards or forwards to the next song.

The Motorola music player is much better; with the exception of being able to buy music over the air, the Motorola can be put into the background by just pressing end. You can control it from the standby screen plus it has an equalizer.

The Motorola music player can be found under the Media menu under Media finder.

There is a 2 megapixel camera. There’s no flash or self portrait mirror. It’s nothing special.

The video recorder is also unremarkable. 144×76 resolution videos with no time limit.

The built-in browser is called Symphony (older Motorola Linux phones have Opera). It’s a full HTML browser so it can handle regular websites. I like how it has tabbed browsing so you can load more than one page at a time. I’m not sure how many tabs you can open at once but I found the browser would crash if you had too much stuff open at once.

Symphony renders pages so that they fit on the E8′s screen without requiring you to scroll sideways.

I’m not sure if Symphony uses a proxy (like Opera Mini) to reduce the sizes of images and compress text before it gets sent to the phone. Normally this is done to speed up the time it takes to load webpages. Based on the time it takes to load pages I’d say it doesn’t which is kind of disappointing since the ROKR is only an EDGE phone.

You can use the scroll dial to scroll or you can just use the nav pad. You can quickly switch between tabs by pressing the 4 button or open a new url using the 5 (there’s no option to open a new url in the menu, you have to use 5).

Overall while I thought Symphony was a decent product, it takes a long time to load regular pages and that sours the web browsing experience.

I’m a little disappointed you can leave the browser running in the background if you switch to a different program because you can do that if you load Opera Mini … just double check that your data plan covers browsing with Opera Mini.

Normally Motorola’s Linux phones come with a decent (for a regular phone) email client. For some reason I can’t find it on the E8. All I see is a Rogers one. I don’t mind carrier email clients but I’d like to see users have a choice so I’m pretty annoyed that the normal email client is missing.

The Calendar, Task and phonebook can synchronize with your PC if you have Mobile Phone Tools.

Calendar, File Manager, Alarm Clock, World Cock, calculator, task list, notepad.

The alarm is slightly confusing if you just want to set a one time alarm. The way the interface is setup it looks like it wants you to choose an alarm that goes off on certain days of the week. To set a one time alarm, ignore the days of the week and just choose a one time only alarm. Otherwise I like how you can choose which days of the week to have an alarm sound.


Incoming sound quality is quite good, there’s a tiny bit of background hiss but it’s not obtrusive. RF performance is average.

Maximum earpiece volume is adequate.


Haptics aside, the ROKR E8 is a pretty normal phone. I liked the included HTML compatible browser and the built-in music player isn’t bad. I’m not impressed with the limited Rogers email client and I’m even less impressed that the email program that is normally built into Motorola phones is missing. You can change the softkey shortcuts or the music key. The menus are also slower than what I’ve come to expect from Motorola.

That said I still liked the E8. The keypad is a much better conversation starter than pulling out a Smart phone and trying to explain how fast the processor is, how much memory it has, that sort of thing. Anyone can appreciate it when you turn the E8 off, turn it back on and let someone play with it while it’s turning on.

Howard Chui

2 comments October 23rd, 2008

Sling Media update

I had a chance to meet up with the folks at Sling Media earlier today.

I asked them how SlingPlayer Mobile for the Blackberry and iPhone are coming along. They are coming along though they’re not quite ready yet. It looks they’ll be getting Sling Player Mobile 2.0.

I checked out 2.0 on a Blackberry Bold it was playing a stream over HSDPA and it looked pretty good. The big changes with 2.0 is that the interface has changed so that there are some icons on the bottom. There will also be support for your Sling account so you just have to remember your login and not your SlingID. The interface speed seemed fine.

You’re going to need OS 4.5 at least to use it on a Blackberry

After they roll out 2.0 for those 2 platforms expect Sling to update the existing players for Symbian, WM, etc.

Going forward they are looking at supporting higher streaming resolutions. Currently Slingplayer Mobile maxes out at QVGA (320×240) with a bit rate of around 500kbps. Next up should be half VGA (640×240) and then VGA eventually. You’ll need a powerful enough device of course.

I asked them about Android and they said it was on their radar. I also asked them when Slingplayer will work on my Nokia e71 – they said they were working on it (I’m guessing that means wait for 2.0).

The real interesting thing was the SlingCatcher. I’ll be honest. I thought the SlingCatcher was just for watching your Slingbox on a TV. On the back are component video, composite video, S-Video and HDMI outputs along with a SPDIF and regular audio out. Along with a network jack and 2 USB ports.

Besides watching your Slingbox it has a few tricks up its sleeve. Besides letting you watch your Slingbox without a computer it has 2 other neat features:

First off you can load media files onto a FAT32 formatted USB storage device, connect it to the SlingCatcher’s USB slot and watch them on your TV. Apparently it supports a wide range of file formats: avi, vob, ifo, pc, ts, mpg, wmv, asf, mov, mp4, m4v, mp3, mp4a, wav. It also supports the following codecs: wmv, mpeg 2, mpeg 4, h.264, Xvid, mp2, mp3, wma, aac and ac3.

There will a program for your PC which will check your files to make sure that the Slingcatcher can play them and if it can’t the program will transcode them into something the catcher will understand.

The other thing is called SlingProjector. It’s software for your PC that will play whatever you’re watching on the PC on your TV. So if you’re watching YouTube you just fire up the program, click on the YouTube video and it will show up on your TV. If you’re PC can decode it, it will play on the Slingbox.

Mac users should know that SlingPlayer 2.0 will come to mac eventually.

Before I move to the next subject I should mention that at this time SlingCatcher only outputs video at up to 640×480, 1080i support will come soon.

Finally is currently in beta. When it’s done you’ll be able to watch your Slingbox via their website so you don’t have to install a client on your computer.

It’s good to see SlingMedia is adding new features to their stuff.

1 comment October 21st, 2008

Samsung CLEO QWERTY flip phone

Here’s the (unfortunately named if you remember Ms Cleo) Samsung Cleo:

  • Bell exclusive
  • CDMA
  • QWERTY keyboard
  • 1.3 megapixel camera
  • microSD card slot (SDHC presumably)
  • launches Nov 7th
  • $49.99 on a 3 year
  • Champagne and Pink at launch with Baby Blue to come later
  • Pink ones will come in a gift set with Cake brand cosmetics and a phone charm.
  • Everyone who purchases a Cleo from Nov 7th thru Jan 15th has a chance to win a day with designer Katya Revenko . The winner will get a custom fitted dress from Katya Revenko, plus travel to and accommodations at the Drake Hotel in Toronto.

It kind of looks like a compact – so I’m a little surprised the inside display doesn’t double as a mirror.

23 comments October 20th, 2008

My Motorola Comic Book

Occasionally I’ll get media kits from companies in the mail. They’re generally not very interesting. Some print outs of phones and a USB flash drive. I generally look over the print outs, recycle them and add the flash drive to my collection of flash drives. Today I got something slightly different (click images to see full size):

Pretty sweet huh?

2 comments October 14th, 2008

Slingbox PRO-HD is here

So I just got a new Slingbox PRO-HD. If you don’t know what a Slingbox is, it’s a device that hooks up to your favorite video source (like a PVR, satellite receiver, DVD player, etc.) and then allows you to watch it elsewhere on your computer or compatible device. It works on Windows, OSX, Windows Mobile devices (2003 SE and newer), Palm OS, S60 plus it has been demonstrated on Blackberry and Apple iPhone.

To be honest, if you use your Slingbox mostly on your phone, then the Slingbox PRO-HD won’t be very relevant for you. The main point of the HD is to let you watch your high definition source elsewhere. To do this you’ll need a really fast connection and a really fast processor; two things you won’t really find on a phone. A Slingbox Solo will work just fine if you just want something for a phone.

Get one if you a) have a SlingCatcher or b) a fairly new computer.

You place the HD between your video device and your TV. The HD can handle up to a 1080i signal.

I was upgrading from a Slingbox Solo, so I was able to reuse all the same cables. I had to add one more cable for the coax digital connector.

I connected the component video out, coax digital audio out and regular audio out on my HD PVR to the Slingbox PRO-HD. Next I plugged the IR flashers in and placed them near my HD PVR’s IR receiver. Then I connected the component video and regular audio out to my Sharp LCD TV. I could also connect to another source using the composite/s video connectors.

The coax is for the built-in cable/ATSC tuner.

I could also hook up a video device to the composite video connectors or just connect the Slingbox PRO-HD directly to my cable (so up to 3 devices).

Next, I connected the Slingbox PRO-HD to my home network via network cable (gigabit ethernet).

Once I hooked up the Slingbox PRO-HD, I fired up SlingPlayer on my computer. It found the new SlingBox PRO-HD immediately and then proceeded to update the firmware – I should point out that SlingMedia has one of the coolest firmware update utilities I have ever seen. Instead of just a simple progress bar they also have a really stylish animation.

The setup was ridiculously easy.

There are 2 qualitative ways to measure video quality, resolution and bit rate. In the short time I’ve had the PRO-HD, I’m not sure what resolution the streamed video is (I suspect it’s whatever signal is being inputted) but I can tell you about bit rates.

I tried it on 3 different computers: a Mac Mini running Windows Vista (1.66Ghz Core Duo), regular Vista computer (3.0Ghz Quad Core), and a Lenovo X300 also running Vista (1.2Ghz Core 2 Duo). I didn’t bother listing more specs because to be honest, the only thing that matters is the processor speed and to a lesser degree the network connection.

The Slingbox PRO-HD player software is called SlingPlayer. From playing around with the settings, it seems the maximum supported bit rate is 20 mbps. However, from my experience, it won’t go past 8 mbps. At 8 mbps, image quality is really good unless you’re viewing a scene with lots of action (such as explosions, outdoor concerts with a big audience, etc). When there’s too much action, you might start seeing compression artifacts – there will be little squares in areas with fast motion.

One thing I noticed about Slingplayer is that it only uses one processor. So it won’t help if you have multiple cores.

*UPDATE* I’m watching TV right now and SlingPlayer is at 50% CPU utilization (that’s 2 out of 4 cores).

I found only 3.0 Ghz quad core could handle 8 mbps fairly easily. When I say easily, I mean that the video is smooth and doesn’t stutter or anything. SlingPlayer would try to stream video at around 6 mbps on my Mac Mini and laptop but video would stutter occasionally. Both of them can only handle around 4 to 5 mbps.

At 4 mbps, image quality is still good provided there isn’t much action. When there is action you’ll see more blocks than at 8 mbps.

I’m guessing you’ll need around 12 mbps for almost perfect video.

SlingPlayer 2.0 has one neat trick – it allows you to timeshift up to 60 mins (of high def video). So even if you’re watching a movie or sporting, you can pause and replay parts without having to control the source. You’re pausing/replaying video that’s stored on your computer.

I did find SlingPlayer to be a bit buggy at times. When you change channels there won’t be any video for a few seconds. Occasionally the video would stutter and once or twice it disappeared from my Windows taskbar.

There is support for 5.1 digital audio but I haven’t figured out how to get SlingPlayer to output it yet.

To be honest I love my Slingbox PRO-HD. I’ve always hated how I’d have to watch stuff in HD in the same room as my HD PVR. Over the years I tried to fix this by running a really long HDMI cable from upstairs to downstairs (it didn’t work). The Slingbox Solo was nice but it didn’t stream high definition quality.

The software isn’t perfect but SlingMedia is usually pretty good about releasing new versions of their software. For example, SlingPlayer 1.0 and 1.5 didn’t have the time shifting feature. Hopefully they’ll also have version 2.0 for Macs soon.

Now we just need mobile networks and phones that can handle HD streams.

Howard Chui

2 comments October 12th, 2008

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