German tech journalist Volker Weber has an N900 to play with and he already has some insightful observations:

“I like it. Not as a phone, but as an adventure. This will be a fun ride. [more..]

The N900 has zero navigation buttons. The iPhone has one. While the iPhone is easy to understand, the N900 is not. A beginner will have a steep learning curve. The first thing you have to learn is that the Maemo 5 UI has four distinct layers you need to be aware of: [more..]”

The Smart Q5 MID – now this might be a device for Mer: ARM11 cpu, WiFi, Bluetooth, 1G storage, SD-slot, 800×480 screen, touchscreen and a sub-150$ price tag. (Now that price sounds way too good to be true!) Originally designed to run Ubuntu for ARM, but seems to have everything needed for Mer / Maemo.

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By the way, where is the next Nokia tablet hardware?

When it comes to portable electronic gadgets, there are three major annoyances.

  1. The three hour limit must fall

    Photo by AndyArmstrong via flickr

    There is an unwritten rule when designing portable computers:

    The battery will last three hours.

    Once technological advances allow the next generation to run longer – be it thanks to more efficient hardware or more powerful battery technology – the manufacturers decide to shrink the battery, capping the device back to the three hour limit.

    Three is a nice psychological figure. “Lasts three hours? – not too short!” “Less than three kilogramms? – not too heavy!” After all these years, today’s 3 kg laptops usually still run for 3 hours or less.

    This must end.

    Three hours is not enough for a true mobile device (especially since the advertised three hours of battery time usually result to less than two in real use).

  2. Batteries should be replaceable

    Photo by merfam

    A rechargeable portable device that doesn’t allow the user to replace its battery is a disposable item, it was made to break.

    Enforcing planned obsolescence by making it hard to replace the device’s consumable parts is a design choice that should be opposed.

  3. We need a standard battery for gadgets

    Photo by Eva the Weaver

    This is the hardest task for the future and it’s unlikely to happen soon. But we desperately need a new battery standard.

    Good luck when you try to find the battery type used in a laptop or cellphone at a reasonable price just few years after its release.

    The AA battery‘s format was standardized 60 years ago. Battery technology has improved since then, yet you can still use today’s AA in a 1980s walkman or a 1950s flashlight.

    There are several manufacturers. You can buy AAs anywhere in the world. Recycling is possible.

    It’s insane: Gadget manufacturers keep a stock of fast-aging device-specific batteries for a limited time and sell them at premium prices. There are no or few competing offers and formats change with every new device generation.

    We need standard battery formats just like AA for laptops, cameras, cell phones and other portable gadgets.

#1 is just my personal requirement. The technology exists to design sub-500-gramm computers that run for a whole day, but few customers buy them, so unless people decide that a three hour MID isn’t really such a mobile internet device, the industry has no reason to change.

But #2 and #3 are ecologically disastrous and I’d even welcome government regulation to enforce these if the industry doesn’t come up with solutions by itself.

Photos via flickr by AndyArmstrong, merfam, Eva the Weaver.

This article was written for umpcportal.com.

Several requests for OGG in Internet Tablets, but no definitive answer why not.

Now there is an answer: According to Nokia, Ogg is “proprietary technology” and they fear that it is “encumbered”. The reasoning behind this appears to be “risk of submarine patents”.

Which is curious, since Nokia is one of the supporters of software patents in Europe. So do they like software patents or not? It’s not clear. This particular choice of OGG being risky is also curious, since Linux, Gnome and Mozilla and other software foundations of Maemo Internet Tablets are IMHO equally at risk of being plastered with submarine patents.

There are other companies happily selling OGG-capable hardware and software. Why is (e.g.) Samsung not afraid of the very risk that Apple and Nokia fear?

So, what is the problem with OGG? The whole explanation doesn’t add up. And the way we handle patents still sucks.

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If you have a table, this keyboard is really fine. But without a table…

The Nokia SU-8W keyboard has been here for several months now. It wasn’t much fun to use with the Nokia 770 internet tablet’s original operating system, which back then required inofficial drivers, but the Nokia N800’s OS supports this keyboard by default. Pairing is easy, yet a little confusing with the N800 sometimes, and typing in applications is straightforward. The keys have a very good feel and yes, you can comfortably touchtype with it. It has an integrated folding stand that is designed for cell phones which can hold the N800, as well.

The SU-8W runs forever on one set of 2 x AAA batteries and a reason other than its low power drain might be that I hardly ever use it. Let me explain why.

Originally I expected to use this keyboard for extensive typing while on the go. But Maemo isn’t made for keyboard use (if it is, this user didn’t see the clues needed to learn it), so the N800 needs to be in touch distance since you have to use the pen or a finger for GUI interaction every now and then.

The SU-8W folds in the middle. There is no lock, so if you try to quickly type a longer note while on the subway and just whip out the keyboard to write it down, this is the result:

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It’s no fun to use the SU-8W on the subway in a hurry.

Obviously, you can’t use the N800 with the keyboard while walking or standing. An absurd situation resulted when I once needed to send an important long message by email while at the train station. So I sat down cross-legged on the concrete floor, put the N800 on the floor in front of me, put a book on my lap and the keyboard on the book. That worked, but definitely wasn’t comfortable.

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Oh no, an FN-key, designed to drive me mad!

The keys have the near-perfect size for touchtyping, but the SU-8W has only three rows of keys, with the fourth row of numbers accessible through a green FN-key, which is inexplicably designed to act similar to caps-lock instead of shift.

You can pair the SU-8W with PCs (it works with the Everun). But the German SU-8W keyboard has non-standard label locations for some special characters such as @ or ß, so that you won’t easily find those while using XP. My wife called her attempt of writing a short email with that setup a “maddening experience” and I still haven’t gotten used to the the FN-key function, either.

That fourth row of keys is missing. There would have been enough space for a fourth row with non-square keys and the keys still would have been big enough. (Then again, having touchtyped on a Libretto 50ct, I may be more tolerant than others when it comes to key size.)

Nokia’s Maemo-Team seems to be using Bugzilla primarily as a tool to collect hints where they should improve the firmware. Would be nice if they would comment on Bugzilla more often, though.

So submit your bugs and enhancement requests, but please make sure that noone else already did! And vote for those you want fixed!

Here are my favourites. Vote for my bugs, please! 😉

  • 673 Maemo browser crashes when getting results from IMDB.com search
  • 1052 The image viewer should cache the previous and the next image
  • 1129 Media player doesn’t save the timeposition on close
  • 1210 video playback on Media Player gets jerky or freezes
  • 1228 Media player does not offer practical ffwd & rewind buttons

Didn’t expect that… What a surprise: Intel and a few hardware partners are betting on a hildonized Linux-UI for a new class of consumer devices very similar to Nokia’s Internet Tablet. Check out UMPCPortal’s coverage of the news from IDF. The first batch of these devices is slated for summer 2007, but they claim that even smaller devices will be possible with their new chipset in early 2008.

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A PSP-sized x86 UMPC prototype, scheduled for 2008. Image via Golem.de.

It’s nice to watch feature-films on the N800 while on the bus and subway; usually, I record them from TV using vdr and transcode them using 770-encode (with slightly higher bitrates, since the N800 can handle higher quality settings than the 770 could).

Problem is that other commuters on the subway notice that you are watching a film, especially if the player screen is as big as the N800. They’ll try to catch a glimpse of it.

Recently I recored John Carpenter’s Vampires from German TV and transcoded it for the N800 to watch it later. Didn’t know much about the film. Expecting a tongue-in-cheek B-movie, it turned out to feel uneasy to be on the subway, watching a film about a group of professional vampire hunters on a gory killing spree, using a bitten prostitute to lure the vampire master…

Never thought of that situation before.

vampires-on-n800.jpg

The media player for the N800 works nice, but it needs a bit of polish, though. It doesn’t save the position to continue watching a film later, playback can get jerky or freezes, the player sometimes turns unresponsive for unknown reasons. And once again: Please, Nokia, with the next hardware revision, please make 800×480@30fps playback possible. That’d be wonderful!

An interesting article on LWN about the “WONTFIX. No fixes to N770 anymore.” dispute and Nokia’s closed / open source dilemma:

Two examples of abandoned hardware (subscription required, non-subscribers have to wait a week.)

“It’s tempting to say that, since the 770 is a Linux-based device, the community should be able to support it into the future. As long as people care about the platform, it should continue to work. The problem is that the 770 contains a fair amount of non-free software at all levels. [..]”

“That will severely limit the degree to which the community can support the platform; it’s a slow death sentence for the 770 tablet. [..]”

“There are hints that more components will be opened in the future as well, but no promises. The end result is that the 770 will, for many users, hit the end of its useful life much sooner than it should have, and that the N800, while hopefully lasting longer, may well encounter similar issues. This state of affairs is unfortunate, it makes a nice piece of hardware less valuable than it really should be.”

It’s a chicken and egg problem, though. Developers and users claim that they would like to work on the 770 sources to extend the hardware’s usefulness beyond Nokia’s support.

But do they? Nokia counters that even those driver sources they did release haven’t found much response from outside developers.

In the meantime, users enjoy insulting Ari Jaaksi in his blog because of this issue. Yeah, I’m sure that will help the community making friends at Nokia…

“I saw the N800 and fell in love.. but then i saw the Sony UMPC… and wanted marriage… but saw the price tag and decided I was too young for marriage…” (from IRC)

The Origami project began with a lot of hype and the promise of a windows-XP-based mini computer for less than 500$ that will run for a full day on one battery. This hasn’t happened: Now in 2007, we have a number of bulky and heavy tablets with 7-inch-screens, usually priced around 1000 Euro.

Some smaller devices such as the Oqo or the Sony UX are closer to the originally promised device dimensions, but come at a price tag way beyond that.

So nothing revolutionary yet: Less-than-1kg Subnotebooks such as the Toshiba Libretto or the JVC XP were sold years before the Origami announcement.

The Nokia 770 and N800 came much closer: Just a bit more than 200 gramms, a full day or two on one battery for average mobile use. Thanks to the ARM-based chipset made for low-power systems and a Linux system that has been taught to conserve energy whenever it can.

But there are some interesting advances in x86-based UMPCs these days. Intel decided to make low power consumption a priority and wants to come up with a special UMPC CPU and chipset:

[..] Intel announced that they will make a dedicated CPU / Chipset platform for the UMPC that [..] will get the average power of a UMPC down to SUB 4-Watt. [..] The low-power screen component looks like it will come from Samsung who have developed, specifically for UMPCs, a 7″ screen that drains just 0.6Watt. That’s about 30% of what today’s screens typically take. [..] 4W average drain is amazing. It means that a 2006 UMPC that ran for 3 hours could potentially run for 9 hours. It also enables smaller devices to be built. It means that x86 architecture is becoming so efficient that RISC/ARM based tech loses a lot of its advantage.

The cynical result of these improvements might be smaller devices with smaller batteries that still last the magical 3 hours, only, but here’s hoping.

Intel is competing with AMD. Their Geode chipset is already used in PDA-sized windows XP computers such as the Raon Digital Vega or the upcoming Digital Cube G43 UMPC. A working prototype (it was functional and ran XP, but the case design will change) was on display at CeBIT: Twice the weight and a bit bigger than the N800, but still fascinating:

digitalcube-vs-n800.jpg

Of course, ARM CPUs will also continue to be improved. 2007 and 2008 will be interesting years for mobile computing, as ARM-based PDAs continue to become more like mobile PCs while x86-based PCs turn into PDAs.

In the meantime, Intel wants to push new UMPCs on the market. Here is an image and a video of a prototype of one of these upcoming devices, announced for this year.

According to Harald Welte, Intel has a company policy of releasing Linux drivers for all its chipsets. x86-based Linux will be an actual, well-supported alternative operating system.

A full Gnome desktop with Firefox on this? If it’s significantly less than a 1000$, count me in!

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(Image via pocketables.net)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMsM8ku9CZ0]

(Youtube video from UMPCPortal)