Archive for April, 2010

Android 2.1 update now available for Motorola Milestone on TELUS

Motorola just released their Android 2.1 update for Milestone users on TELUS. Here’s what’s new:

  • Animated Wallpapers: This additional wallpaper option enables you to select from a number of wallpapers that can move on your home screen<s>. A selection of animated wallpapers are bundled with the software update – further wallpapers are available on the Android Market.
  • Multiple home screens The number of home screens you can have now also just got bigger – you can choose to have 3, 5, 7, or even 9 home screens – plenty of space for all your widgets and icons.
  • Facebook App and Widget A free Facebook App and Widget is included in this update. The Application enables contact importation including Names, Profile Pics and Status into your phones’ contacts. The Widget can be placed on one of your home screens to stream live updates from your Facebook account.
  • Google Maps Updates** Personalized suggestions: Google Maps on your Android device suggests (auto-completes) locations based on your personal search history on maps.google.com.
    Sync with desktop: synchronizes starred items between Google Maps on your Android device and maps.google.com. Sync and personalized features require a user to be logged in to myGoogle account while on maps.google.com
    Multi touch is now also enabled within Google Maps.
  • Other Enhancements Help : A new Help Center app is included that provides mobile access to your user guide, video tours of key features, tips and tricks, and FAQs to help you get the most from your device.
  • Bluetooth support: support for headset multi function for initiating voice calls and other voice recognition commands ( French & English)
  • Security: Prevents unauthorized pattern lock bypass, allows for Exchange security remote wipe
  • Music Player: Album art 3D gallery view supported in landscape orientation
  • Battery life: ongoing battery life optimization
  • Email account removal: Improvements to manual removal of email accounts
  • Word completion: for hard QWERTY: ability to enable word completion when the hard QWERTY keypad is used
  • MP3 audio playback & camera improvements

**Turn by turn navigation and text to speech from Google are not available since Google is not supporting those applications for Canada yet.

You can read all the notes here.

You can download it over the air (settings -> system updates) note that it didn’t work for me, or you can go download it here (that’s what I did) provided you have Windows.

2 comments April 22nd, 2010

Sony Ericsson X10 Review

When I think of Sony Ericsson and smartphones the first thing that I think of is that they were all late. The P800, was late, so was the P900, P910, etc all the way to the Xperia X1. Now we have the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, an Android phone. On paper it’s a nice phone; 4″ 854×480 display, 1Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.  SE also launched it in a timely matter. So how is it? Read on.

As I just mentioned the display measures an impressive 4.0″ with a resolution of 854×480. Compared to the Google Nexus Ones which has a 3.7″ 800×480 displays you get an extra 54 vertical pixels. While 0.3″ doesn’t sound like much I can really tell that the display is  larger. That said I don’t really notice the extra resolution. Sometimes the X10 uses really small text which can be difficult to see; particularly at the top of the screen. I think it’s a Sony-ism; they think small text is cool. That’s why some of their laptops have relatively high resolutions for their display size. It’s an LCD display (as opposed to a OLED one) so compared to my Nexus one the X10′s screen’s colour isn’t as intense but at the same time it works better outdoors in direct sunlight.

Check out my first impressions which includes a quick tour of the device.

The X10 feels lighter than it looks which makes it feel slightly cheap but really build quality is fine. The back is covered with rubberized paint.

It has slight curves on it and fits well in your hand.

I only have 2 minor complaints, first off the micro USB port has a cover on it. I’m not a fan of those. Secondly none of the physical buttons light up! For the 3 menu buttons in front there is a light behind them but it only lights up the space between the buttons so you can’t see the markings above them when it’s dark. Basically it’s like light seeping through on a cheap phone.

The keyboard is slightly different from the default Android keyboard. The X10′s keyboard has more keys along the bottom of the keyboard including left and right buttons which are useful since the X10 doesn’t have a navigation pad. There is also a smiley button. When you’re typing the predictive text has up to 2 rows of guesses. There is an option that will vibrate the phone when you type (it was off by default on mine). There’s also an auto-correct option which didn’t work for me even though it was turned on – That was really annoying.

Given the size of the X10′s display I wish the keyboard was a little bit taller but this is really a minor thing. One problem I have with the Nexus One is that its sides are too curved which makes it difficult to type on – the X10 back of the X10 is curved but the front isn’t so it’s easy to type on.

The X10 comes with Google customizations so you get Google Maps, Google Talk and Gmail. On every Google customized Android device I have tried signing into a Google service automatically populates my phonebook and calendar. On the X10 you can choose to sync with Google or Sony Ericsson (or presumably you can use Moxier to sync with Exchange). You have to pick which one you want to choose before you can sync.

Sony Ericsson is really touting their Mediascape and Timescape applications.

Mediascape is basically a media player with some extra functionality. It will let you view pictures/video/music on your device.

The X10 has facial recognition so it recognize faces (up to 5 per photo) so once you’ve tagged a photo with someone’s name it will automatically recognize them in the future so you view all pictures with that person in them. You can also view pictures by date plus there is a section where you can view your Facebook (wall, profile and albums) and Picasa photos.

When listening to music Musicscape  can go out and download album covers (provided you’re connected to WiFi) plus you can search Google and YouTube for similar content. Particularly you can search YouTube without having to leave the application. It will launch the YouTube app if you click on a result. The Rogers X10 has integration with their music store (which apparently has some DRM free music) so you can buy music from there. Music can be viewed or searched by Track, Artist, Album and Genre.

Another thing I like about the X10 is that you can move skip forwards/backwards by pressing and holding the volume buttons.

Mediascape is a very cool program and reasonably well thought out. My only comment is that sometimes I don’t want all the features turned on; it would be nice if there was a ‘simple’ mode which is just a music player.

Timescape is an even more interesting program. Basically it takes your SMS, Email, Facebook, Twitter, Call History and even photos and music and ties them together. It’s sort of a history of what’s going on with each. There’s a list of what happened to each of them in chronological order. So let’s say you got a SMS from someone then you listened to some music and then a friend updated their Facebook. Timescape will have in order the Facebook update followed by the song you listened to and then the SMS.

You can sort the list by each SMS, Email, Facebook update, etc or you can view them all on a list as they’ve happened. It actually a really efficient way of managing all of them since you can do it all from within the Timescape.

Like I mentioned the X10 automatically runs photos through facial recognition so photos will automatically be associated with their specific contact.

If you click on a list item there’s a context sensitive list of things you can do; you can call them, send SMS, etc.

One thing I noticed about Timescape is that there is no instant messaging support plus it doesn’t integrate with the Gmail app (I’m not sure if it integrates with Moxier) so you’re stuck using it with a POP3, IMAP4 or Hotmail account. Of course you can always enable IMAP on your Gmail account.

Overall Timescape is a really useful application. It’s a real time saver since you only have to open one program instead of separate Facebook, Twitter, SMS, Email, etc programs.

You get the Android web browser which works well. It’s good if you like to browse multiple webpages at once. The X10′s version of this browser doesn’t support multi-touch which is a shame since some HTC Android devices, the Motorola Milestone and Nexus One all support it.

As far as Email goes you can check your Gmail/Google hosted email using the Gmail app. IMAP and POP3 can be checked with the mail app while Exchange functionality is courtesy of Moxier Mail. Moxier also handles Exchange calendar syncing thought I didn’t test Moxier.

The camera has a resolution of 8 megapixels and is capable of capturing some decent pictures. It does fine outdoors but it’s not that great indoors. Indoors it uses very slow shutter speeds so pictures have a tendency to be blurred. I’ve noticed this problem on pretty much every single Sony Ericsson phone I have ever used. It really needs its flash indoors but I noticed that you have to access the menu if you want to use the flash as opposed to just pressing a flash button on the screen. And when you want to use it you basically leave it on or off all the time so it’s kind of annoying. It would be nice if the X10 could decide when the light is need and when it’s not.

In camera mode the display has icons for resolution, scene ,modes and whether you want to touch the screen to trip the shutter. You can toggle between photo or video mode plus there are thumbnails of recently taken photos/videos. There’s also EV compensation. I wish there were more icons because there’s a lot of room on the sides of the display for things like flash control, self timer, etc. My guess is this camera program is also meant for lower end Sony Ericsson Android powered phones with 480×320 displays (that’s just my speculation). so they can’t cram too many icons in there.

Video can can be captured at 800×480. I found video quality isn’t terrible but there seems to be too many compression artifacts. I also found the microphone picks up a lot of handling noise (noise your fingers make when they move against the phone). There is image stabilization but the catch is that IS doesn’t work in the highest video mode. I don’t know about you but when I’m taking video I prefer to capture it in the highest quality and then shrink it if I’m going to send it. I do understand that the X10 doesn’t have optical IS and that digital IS degrades quality a little but still…

As far as call handling goes the X10 I’m not sure if the X10 has a presence sensor because it doesn’t shut the screen off when you put it to your face (at least not for a while). However, once the screen is off it seems to know when I’ve moved it away from my face because the screen turns back on (I’m guessing it’s using the accelerometer to sense when you move it away). Anyways this is really annoying if you’re using the dial pad since you can accidentally dial numbers when you put it to your face. Anyways I was annoyed when I had to use the dial pad. Of course if you’re using a headset then you don’t really need to worry about this.

I compared the X10′s RF performance to the Motorola Milestone. I found the Milestone cut in and out less in areas with low signal.

Compared to the Milestone the X10 sounds more natural but has noticeably more hiss.

Battery life

Conclusion:

Sony Ericsson likes to point out that they won’t design a plain jane Android phone. This isn’t a bad thing but it means the X10 only ships with Android 1.6 (Milestone has 2.0, Nexus One has 2.1) since apparently Timescape and Mediascape aren’t compatible with newer versions (or so SE have told me) which makes the X10 kind of dated compared to the existing completion. That said both Timescape and Mediascape are pretty useful applications. Timescape especially is a really convenient and a big time saver. Indeed if you like them than go out and buy an X10.

I was surprised that the X10 has is no multitouch support – the Milestone has it, the Google Nexus one has it, the X10 which launched after them doesn’t. There’s also no presence sensor so the screen doesn’t shut off when you hold it to your face (Though it will time out eventually). The fact that the buttons don’t light up is also pretty cheesy.

Other thoughts; the 4″ LCD is nice and it works in sunlight. That said I’d rather have an OLED display. The 8 megapixel camera doesn’t have the greatest camera software. It’s not efficient to use and video looks very compressed.

In the end I liked the X10 and am happy Sony Ericsson managed to launch it on time but I thought it looked better on paper.

Howard Chui
04.17.2010

3 comments April 18th, 2010

Free BlackBerry 9700-WIND Mobile

WIND Mobile is getting ready to open their 50th retail location this Saturday.  In celebration of the Yorkdale Mall (Toronto) opening, WIND will be giving out Yak calling cards (to the first 50 customers on Saturday) as well as holding draws throughout the weekend for a free BlackBerry 9700 with one month of service (15 chances to win).

Be sure to stop by the Yorkdale Mall location this weekend to get in on the celebrations.  Doors open at 10am on Saturday, April 17th.

live_strong

Add comment April 15th, 2010

Rogers Launches SE Xperia x10

Rogers Wireless has officially launched the Sony Ericsson Xperia x10.

Experience a whole new level of connectivity with Sony Ericsson’s flagship Xperia X10. The signature Timescape™ application pulls all your emails, texts, Facebook or Twitter updates into one place so you can intuitively flick through. Mediascape allows you to manage photos, videos and music easily – jump from your favourite song on your X10 to instant YouTube or Google search results with one quick tap.

Featuring a 4″ high resolution touch screen,  8.1 MP camera, WI-FI, GPS, and Google Android (v 1.6) operating system the x10 is currently listed at $150 on a 3 year term with voice and data.

3-year contract: $149.99 (voice and data)
2-year contract: $449.99
1-year contract: $499.99
No contract: $549.99

http://www.howardchui.com/2010/04/10/sony-ericsson-x10-hands-on-and-unboxing/

Add comment April 15th, 2010

iPad Price Plans coming to Rogers at the end of May

Rogers has just announced that they’ll have plans for the 3G versions of the Apple iPad at the end of the May. Rogers can’t confirm yet if they’ll also be selling the Apple iPad.

Add comment April 14th, 2010

Nokia 5230 Coming to WIND Canada

Nokia and WIND Mobile have announced that the Nokia 5230 will be launching in the immediate future.  The Nokia 5230 is a “stripped down” version of the Nokia 5800.  Look for the 5230 to launch in around the $150 mark.

3.2″ (640×360 pixels) touchscreen
70MB on device memory
microSD up to 16GB
3.5mm headphone jack
2.0 MP camera
free Ovi Maps turn by turn navigation
A-GPS

live_strong

1 comment April 13th, 2010

Apple Approves Opera Mini

Apple has allowed Opera Mini into the App store.  Apple had previously denied 3rd party browsers to be part of the Apple App Store.  Opera Mini will be free of charge and should be avaliable for download within 24 hours.

Follow the “more” link for some screen shots of Opera Mini.

live_strong

Add comment April 12th, 2010

Sony Ericsson X10 Hands on and Unboxing

Here’s the Sony Ericsson X10:

It’s coming to Rogers next week.

Add comment April 10th, 2010

MOTOBLUR Event: Hands on with the BACKFLIP, DEXT, QUENCH plus a MOTOBLUR demo

I was at a Motorola MOTOBLUR event earlier today. I got to check out the Android 1.5 powered BACKFLIP, DEXT and QUENCH. The BACKFLIP will be on TELUS, DEXT on Bell and QUENCH on Rogers. I also got a demo of the MOTOBLUR Social networking software.

Here’s a tour of the BACKFLIP:

Motorola MOTOBLUR demo:

Hands on with all 3 devices and comparisons with some competitors:

Both the BACKFLIP and DEXT are similar software wise. Hardware wise both have QWERTY keyboards though their physical design is quite different. The QUENCH lacks a physical keyboard but gets a few extra software features; a special on screen keyboard, multi touch support and a nifty music app. Check out the last video to see those features in action. All run Android 1.5. Motorola is saying that they’re evaluating whether they’ll offer an upgrade in the future so that’s a no for now. While the Quench has the most features software wise I thought the BACKFLIP had the most interesting design. All will be available later this year.

Add comment April 8th, 2010

Nokia N900 Review

When I reviewed the N810 a while back I thought it was an interesting data only device. I’d say the user experience was somewhere in-between a phone and a computer. Now this is not normally a good thing but the n810 had a large enough display with enough resolution that I didn’t mind it. Anyways the n900 runs a newer version of the n810′s software, the screen retains the same resolution but is smaller (3.5″ vs 4.3″), has a faster processor (600Mhz vs 400Mhz), more memory and storage and most notably a built in phone so you don’t need to worry about finding WiFi or tethering anymore.

The n900 is a thick phone. It reminds me of some of HTC’s older phones like the TyTN. Personally it doesn’t bother me much but your mileage may vary.

Here’s a quick tour of the N900 along with some comparisons with comparable phones:

The display has a resolution of 800×480 and is a resistive (you can use a stylus) touch screen. One the N900 I found the resistive touch screen works well and never really found myself wishing it was a capacitive one. This is mostly due to the fact that most of the time the user interface is designed so that it doesn’t matter if you’re using capacitive or resistive.

The only real exceptions are when you’re switching programs and if you’re using the on screen keyboard. Depending on your dexterity you might find it difficult to close programs. Anyways there is a stylus located on the bottom left of the keyboard – I never really used it.

The keyboard is excellent. The keys have a nice feel and shape to them. It’s easy to type quickly on the N900 keyboard with 2 hands and much harder if you’re just using one. I do wish there were separate number keys.

There is an on screen keyboard which isn’t that great since the N900 has a resistive touch screen so entering text is slow.

While I’m fairly proficient with the n810 I found the n900 software to be very different. This isn’t a bad thing since it didn’t take me long to learn the new menus. If you’re also a S60 user (like myself) the N900 is very different in that there are no buttons to control the menu. For example S60 always has a menu button and 2 soft keys. The N900 just has areas that you press to access menus and options.

Like the lack of menu buttons another Nokia paradigm which is not present are send/end buttons. I’ll be honest it took me a while to get used to this even though I regular switch between different phones like the iPhone or various Android phones which also lack send/end buttons.

Overall I thought the UI while being somewhat different from what I’m used to does work well.

There is a home screen which supports widgets but to be honest I rarely used the home screen. You can customize it plus there are 3 different home screens which you can scroll through.

You can dial from the phone book but the easiest way is to go to the standby display and start typing in a contact’s name (like some the E71, E72). This will bring up a list of matching contacts. Tapping a contact will bring up their information which you can tap to call, SMS, email, etc them.

While the phone function isn’t bad it wasn’t very intuitive to me at first because once I started using it a lot I found I never needed to be on the home screen.

With the exception of the phone app one thing missing from the N900 is a portrait mode. Nokia really expects you to use the N900 in landscape mode. While apps do work well in landscape mode it would be convenient to have a portrait mode since it’s a more single handed user friend form factor.

One aspect about the N900 that I really like is that when you’re using a program that can spawn new windows (like if you’re opening multiple browser windows or have multiple SMS conversations the new windows can be switched to via the task switcher rather than having to switch between them from within the program.

The first thing that jumps out is that Nokia is very confident in the n900′s multitasking abilities and indeed they’re quite impressive. When you tap the top left you’re presented with a list of currently running programs. Press it again and you’re at the main menu where you can launch more programs. Multitasking comes at a cost, if you keep to many programs open the N900 can be slow to respond when you switch from one program to another.

One thing sort of new to the N900 (as far as Nokia phones go) is that there is a built in threaded SMS application. It”s called “Conversations”. Converstations can also thread IM though you can only choose from Ovi Chat, Skype, Google Talk, Japper protocol or SIP. It works well.

The N900 supports IMAP, POP, Exchange and Nokia Email. Exchange and Nokia Email are both push email services. I used Exchange to sync with my Google Calendar and Nokia Email to push my Gmail and Hotmail to the N900. One thing that I didn’t like is that my Gmail and Hotmail don’t show up as separate windows. Instead I have to hit back, back, back to switch between the 2 email services.

The N900′s main feature is it’s Mozilla based browser (Mozilla also underpins Firefox). I like how the N900 treats each browser window as a separate program so you can switch between browser windows the same way you would switch programs. The display doesn’t support multi-touch (it’s a resistive display) so you zoom using the volume buttons.

There is flash support but it’s not as straight forward as flash support on a computer. First off not all flash is supported. Secondly while I wouldn’t say the N900 is slow it’s not fast enough to handle flash well. For example I can pull YouTube up on the N900 and it does work but it doesn’t playback really smoothly.

If you have a webpage that is all flash the N900 probably won’t do a good job with it. Now I use FireFox on my desktop and one thing I’ve found is that sometimes webpages will freeze – I suspect because of certain flash elements/ads. The same thing can happen on the N900. A few times I’ve tried using the N900 only to presented with a message that the application has become unresponsive and if I want to close it. In the end while the flash support isn’t as useful as you’d think it’s one of those things where it’s better to have it than it is to not.

The browser supports plugins including Ad Block and Flash Ad Block. Let’s hope they port XMarks to the N900 browser.

The Media player supports music and video. You can listen to music stored on the N900′s 25GB of available storage space or internet radio. You can watch video stored on the device or stored on local UPNP servers. I tried watching a few videos on my UPNP servers and got video not support messages. That is not to say it won’t work with any video but you’ll probably have to do some tinkering to get it working. Music and pictures should work just fine over UPNP.

There is 32GB of storage built in but only 25GB of that is available for media storage. You can connect to the N900 to your computer via micro USB cable. I got around a respectable 17MB/s when copying a 350MB file from my computer to the N900. Smaller files will probably copy slower.

You can start the camera by sliding open the camera lens cover. While it’s 5 megapixels is quite common it’s still decent as far as 5mp cameras go. There is a shutter button which you can half press to autofocus. The autofocus is quite slow (this is normal for most camera phones). After you’ve taken a picture you can upload it to Flickr or Ovi.com.

The camera app doubles as a camcorder app. Video is recorded at 848×480. Quality is decent though I couldn’t find an option to turn the light on when you’re recording in low light.

You get Ovi Maps. Unfortunately the N900 doesn’t appear to have free navigation. You should be able to connect the N900 to your computer to download maps.

As I mentioned before the N900 actually runs on Linux. 2 giveaways are that you can get a shell prompt plus there is support for repositories. The UI is called Maemo but it’s actually based on Debian. When you download programs the N900 actually uses apt plus the files have a .deb extension. The Linux nerd inside me was drooling when I noticed this.

App manager is a front end to a Maemo respository where you can download more software to your N900. Some cool Linux-y programs you can download include Pidgin (an IM client), an rsync front end, Mplayer, OpenSSH, OpenVPN, and of course you also get VIM (Did I mention I love VIM?). Other useful program is a tether program (so your computer can use the N900′s internet connection).

While the N900 has 32GB of memory built in only 2GB of it is available for installable programs. 2GB is plenty but but it would be nice if you could change the allocation if you need more.

Docs to Go is included though you have to click the icon to download it. You get a free viewer version of Docs to Go. If you want to create your own files you’ll have to buy the full version.

Other included programs are Notes, PDF reader, File manager, RSS Reader, Sketch (a sketch pad), and 4 games; Blocks, Chess, Mahjong and Marbles.

Now the N900 has a 600Mhz ARM Cortex A8 processor which is similar to the one found in the iPhone 3Gs and Palm Pre. While I’d say the N900 multitasks really well it’s not as responsive as the 3Gs and Pre.

Now the N900 supports 3G on 900/1700/2100. Up here in Canada the only network that supports 1700/2100 (that I can use anyways) is Wind. I have extremely weak Wind network signal in my house. The N900 seems to have network signal more often than my Nexus One or Blackberry Bold 9700 did.

Sound quality is quite good.

Battery life is not that great though it will probably get you through the day. Remember to charge it at night.

It took me a while to review the N900. While part of is due to the fact that I’m quite busy lately part is also because it took me a while to get used to the N900.

As a person who has used a lot of Nokia phones it took me a while to get used to the lack of menu buttons. In the end I had to crack open the manual to learn how to use some functions (normally my manuals never get touched). It’s not to say that the N900 isn’t intiutive but rather it’s quite different from other Nokia phones, even previous Maemo devices like the N810. That said the N900 would benefit from a single button that takes you back to the menu or home screen at least (like on the iPhone). It doesn’t kill me that the N900 doesn’t have it but it would make the N900 a more user friendly device.

That said once I got used to it I really like it. The Linux geek in me likes how similar to a desktop Linux distro the N900 is, it’s powerful and while it doesn’t have tons of program available for it it has many of the popular ones. Browsing the web works well and while it needs to support more IM protocols the Conversations program is a nice start. It’s a powerful multitasker to the point that once it’s been on for a few hours I never need to launch any new programs. For the next version of the N900 I really hope Nokia gives it a lot more CPU power. While it’s not a slow device I get the sense that it could really utilize a much faster processor. A capacitive display may make the on screen keyboard more useful (if you want to use an on screen keyboard – I never used it personally).

One big problem I have with the N900 is that it’s the only one of it’s kind right now. While it’s true the N810 and previous version run Maemo the N900 is the first with version 5 of Maemo which isn’t completely backwards compatible. Indeed Maemo 5 has some good bones but is Nokia going to support it enough? Time will tell.

Howard Chui
2010.04.05

1 comment April 5th, 2010

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