heyrick1973 -at- yahoo -dot- co -dot uk

Welcome to the fast lane

Mom has a phone with around €100 credit. You see, credit here has a timed validity, and she doesn't have many people to call - especially as there's a free hour each month using the Livebox's phone. So in order to prevent the credit being lost, more credit must be applied. I'm sure you can see where this is going. And, frankly, I have no idea what mom plans to do with this. Maybe SFR ought to run a scheme where you can trade in some credit for a new phone.

Mick gave me his old Nokia 6230i. While nothing like today's gadgets, it did offer a J2ME environment meaning OperaMini could be used. Very basic compared to modern web concepts, but it sort-of worked and was suited to an itty-bitty one-and-a-half inch screen.

What kept me away from playing too much with Internet on a mobile was the shocking cost of data. Until very recently it was €0,15 for 10KiB. That means downloading a program for a BBC micro would cost as much as a cup of coffee from the vending machine! Don't even ask about larger things - I visited the BBC News home page and ate through a €5 in a heartbeat.
It is now €0,01/10KiB which is a lot better, but we're still looking at a shade over a euro per megabyte. Not something you can do anything serious with.

So on Friday I signed up for a contract with Orange called Origami Style. Mom and I decided to opt for the one year contract at €35/month. The alternative was €29 for two years (and around €26 for a SIM-only version). It is a little pricey, but then this isn't unheard of in France. The next cheapest useful offer was about a fiver cheaper, but offered a fair bit less.

What I get, per month:

  • One hour of national calls to fixed phones
  • Unlimited called to three mobiles of my choice (don't need to be Orange)
  • 500Mb data
  • ...and can pay €6 extra for an additional 200Mb
Obviously calls to other mobiles and international will cost, as Mick pointed out, but why send a fiddly text message if I can belt out an actual email and express myself better than the 140 characters afforded you by an SMS?

But, wait, you're kidding right? All that capacity and an antique phone?

No. That's changing too. In part because of its age, and in part due to the battery starting to lose its capacity and the ringer no longer working. But I'll always have fond memories of that phone, for it was the one that got me started on the idea of Internet access on a mobile, pretty much anywhere.

The phone I opted for, for €69 (with a €50 rebate) was partially because it promised a lot of nice stuff, but also because it is Rick-proof. There's a video on YouTube of a guy running the phone in video record mode as he dunks it into his fish tank. Instantly fried? No, it's quite alright. Actually it is a bit surreal to think it was recorded on this guy's mobile as an Angel Fish drifts by... That, plus something called "Gorilla Glass" which is supposed to be scratch-proof. I ought to have some of this stuff on my glasses.
Obviously I won't try to test either, but ask me in a year and I'll let you know if the display is still nice and shiny.

 

Welcome to Android

Please excuse the utterly crap photos. Despite being a geeky phone designed by geeky people, there is no way to take a screenshot without either "rooting" the phone or downloading a gigabyte of SDK to a desktop computer and putting the phone into debug mode. Google - this is an appalling state of affairs! What kinda system can't take a screenshot of itself!?

The first thing you notice is, after a boot period, a colourful interface. You need to "unlock" the phone by sliding your finger across the screen to 'open' a padlock. The other way can be used to mute the phone.
You may now be asked to tap in a number if your SIM is locked. As my contract doesn't kick in until Friday evening, I have disabled SIM lock for the time being.

Once we're into the phone, the display looks a little like this:

Android's main menu

This is the central 'menu'. There are seven, swiping left and right allows you to choose them. I guess it'll be useful to set up as "main stuff" in the centre, "lesser used stuff" on the left, and "shortcuts to web pages" on the right. Well, that's pretty much how I have set my system up. The other four panels? Err... They're blank. I can gaze at the backdrop. ☺

Let's look in more detail. The very top is the status bar. Don't remember what the left icon is for, sorry. The next one is WiFi, the blue bars showing strength. It seems my phone is obsessed with connecting at 54mbit, so it has a shorter range than my eeePC which syncs down to maintain a connection. The next two icons warn of SIM error and mobile network error. This will be sorted once my phone is activated on Friday. Then a battery indicator. I'll have to play around to see if I can get an idea of how long the battery lasts. I will have to charge the phone daily, but then I use it more like a PDA than a phone. For example, it is playing Kawaii-Radio (Shoutcast) as I write this. It really needs a thing that will say something like "Battery: 66%, 4h05 remaining".

The next two things down are "widgets". The big one on the left shows unseen emails. The smaller one on the right gives a weather forecast from the American Accuweather network. The screen shows what to expect soon, and tapping it will allow a four day forecast to pop up, with links to their website for up to 15 day forecasts.

Below this are program icons. These depend on what your phone provider has installed, and what apps you have chosen yourself.
Briefly - gallery and camera are related and obvious. There is a link to a camcorder function, but it's just as easy to call up the camera and change to video mode.
Adobe Reader is for PDFs, YouTube is... obvious. Messaging allows access to the various inboxes, with emails and SMS being grouped here. The next one over is a Kana flashcard app to help me with learning katakana. Then there's the web browser, a link to Google Maps, Google's Sky Map - an application available from the app store which is a nice map of the celestial bodies. And finally the music player offering MP3s, Shoutcast, FM radio, and music videos via YouTube. There's also a "Song Identification" feature which listened to about ten seconds of "Sailing By" from Radio 4 just before the shipping forecast, and it correctly identified it. It was, however, totally flummoxed by Ryugu no tsukai by Chitose Hajime. ☺ [it is an interesting and quirky song - YouTube link]

Make no mistake, there's loads more. On my left screen - a route tracker for plotting where I go (via GPS) onto a map, an SFTP client, a telnet client, an RSS news feed reader (TheRegister and BBC News), Amazon Kindle, a useful little barcode reader (OCR's from the camera!), a program to fetch and display pages of scanlation manga, an English-Japanese dictionary with a third of a million entries ("have a nice trip!" is "yo i tabi wo" - and it has mini-kana over the kanji to help with reading, it's pretty nifty).

I know, you probably have little interest in the Japanese stuff, but it just goes to show what's available, and it's a fairly open platform so all sorts of stuff can be written for it. And while the controls and checks are nothing like Apple's AppStore, on the other hand you wouldn't have to deal with the gestapo...

 

The bad points

There are several bad points. Let's get them out of the way so we can drool over the cool stuff. That isn't to say these points aren't important, it's just I often pick on flaws so I thought it would be nice to be more upbeat.
Okay...
  • How about a god-damned user guide?
    Excuse my language, but it is a bit annoying to have to Google, trawl forum posts and such to find out some fairly basic things about the operation of the system. There is a built-in help, but it contains an awful lot of single-sentence descriptions. My God, my first mobile (which was so old it could barely even do texting) came with a book larger than this phone. This phone came with a get-you-going pamphlet. So, yes, it is a voyage of discovery which isn't a bad thing, but I wonder how much I'm totally missing by simply not knowing it. If you've used Android awhile, please drop your top tips in a comment!
    I (eventually) found a sixty page user guide (PDF). It is American and for T-Mobile (I think?) so some things are different, but close enough that it ought to explain most of the features of this phone.
  • Tasks and stability
    There seems to be an 'issue' where all of a sudden the thing pretty much stops responding to my finger presses. It is still operational as pressing volume keys or plugging in USB has instant effect, but it takes patience to get any UI stuff to respond, and then it usually misreads a tap as a tap-hold and does the wrong thing. I installed a taskmanager and found out I had only around 50Mb free RAM, and dozens of old applications were still running. Is this the cause? Is the finger-swipe-thingy a victim when memory runs out?
    Why does Android not have a way to tell a task "I'm done, thanks." Some apps offer a quit option, but otherwise you have to back out or call up the home menu, and in that case the app will hang around. Sometimes this is useful, it's the closest we have to multitasking the Alt-Tab way, but sometimes you just don't need that app any more so the megabytes it has claimed could be returned.
    The fix is to switch the phone off, and back on again. It is ironic that I've done this about a dozen times already, yet I can't remember the last time I had to force-reboot my eeePC. Yeah... what's wrong with that picture?!?
    As an idea, a long-tap on the home icon will pop up the last six apps to allow you to easily reselect them. How about a long-tap on that dialogue (anywhere) will pop up a list of running applications, and I don't mean crap like "DRM Protected Content Storage" or "OMA Client Provisioning" and all the other background stuff, just the apps the user has started, so they can be closed if no longer needed.
  • Please fix the music player!
    Some sound effects, like the camera shutter click, overlay the music. Other stuff (like, oops, no connectivity) seems to cancel playing music.
    Pressing (accidentally) the hands free button prompts you to "please speak now" for voice recognition of various commands. It would be better if the music player is running for this button to do something like pick the next song.
Some other points will be mentioned in the text, but those above are the biggies.

 

Display

It doesn't strike you at first, but this little display is actually an insanely high resolution. A rather odd 854×480, it is sort-of widescreen. Pretty bright even when it is half-dim, and a full 16 million colour display. I'm trying to recall those ancient monochrome LCD panels that had a resolution barely better than teletext, and thinking how much stuff has changed in such a short time. If I took this phone back to school in the mid '80s, everybody would think it's so futuristic I must be from the year 2500 or so.
Anyway, it's an ass-kicking display.

 

Network coverage

No idea. The thing isn't active yet, so I am using this device off WiFi. In terms of this, it is fairly good at scanning, but a little slow to connect. Also the phone doesn't seem to like to step down to slower rates. My eeePC is synced at 18Mbps, while the phone is running at 54Mbps, which explains why it is more prone to losing the connection. I tried to Google to see if there was a way to slow it down, but World+Kitten seems to want to speed theirs up. I don't see much point for a 2Mbps line...
Around here I ought to get EDGE. It isn't the super-sexy high-speed 3G, but then I don't live in Paris. This place is practically Hicksville! I'll need see how it fares, my digging around gave me an expected data rate from 19.2Kbps to 384Kbps... which isn't terribly useful. I think EDGE is supposed to be in the order of 112Kbps,

 

Everybody needs a web browser these days

Obviously the Google OS will be supplied with the Google browser! It is a fairly capable browser, but very sadly it lacks useful controls for restricting what you permit on to your phone. You can disable Flash, plugins and scripting, but it is an all-or-nothing basis. I understand Google, who has made a pile of cash from on-line advertising, won't be overly willing to permit users to block what they receive. NoScript is probably the bane of their lives. On the other hand, while the embedded adverts in apps are small and fairly low bandwidth, those on web pages are often bandwidth hogs. I will be fairly careful where I go when I am using mobile data. I would like to waste my bandwidth reading manga and mapping my current position, not having junk thrown at me for products/loans(!) I am not interested in.

My b.log as seen on the phone

It is possible to rotate the phone to display 'wide' or 'tall', the browser will reformat accordingly. Some sites, like Amazon, are targetted specifically to support devices such as this and it looks good upright. Other sites, such as the one you're gazing at right now, are aimed at more traditional devices so work better horizontally. You can finger-pinch to squeeze more in, or flick your fingers apart to zoom into the details. You can go from stupidly tiny (but thanks to the display, still readable) to stupidly big where a single eight letter word stretches the width of the display (upright mode).

Satsuki looks good too

The browser is capable and can display pretty much anything you'd expect to see on a desktop machine.

 

PDFs

Out of the box, the phone can't do PDFs. It is a simple enough matter to go to the market and find Adobe's official PDF reader.
I don't know how well this reader would do with unnecessary crap like fields and scripting, but for the normal stuff in PDFs, it renders faithfully. And I wasn't kind, I hit it with complicated datasheets with hundreds of pages. It works either way up, zooming is fluid, and there's a page slider bar and a text search. This is one of the things I wanted this device for - all my datasheets in my pocket. The only thing that would top this is a bookmark facility.
There's a "reflow text" display option that throws away the layout and shows you text formatted for the display like an ebook. It makes a mess of datasheets, but might be a boon for more traditional style documents.

The PDF viewer is capable

 

YouTube (and video playback)

You might have noticed the YouTube video in the screenshot above of my b.log. You can, astonishingly, play the video in the YouTube player in the browser. It is slow, clumsy, and horrible. Or you can tell the browser to shift itself aside so you can watch the YouTube video full screen. Like this, it is perfectly fluid. I think the video options are 240p for HQ off and 360p for HQ on. The hardware ought to be capable of the 480p format, this might be an issue of the YouTube player predating recent YouTube changes.

Here's the lovely Chihiro Onitsuka in the YouTube player. Full-screen, looks good. The screen is quite shiny (and really really prone to fingerprints), and as such you can see me holding the camera in the reflection. ☺

Chihiro Onitsuka in the YouTube player

Obviously you don't want to do this while you're using a mobile network, you'd burn through the allocated data in no time at all!

This leads us to video playback. Now there doesn't seem to be a dedicated video player application, so you need to open the File Manager, locate the video, and tap it. If it is a recognised format, it will load. I have tried it with normal sized (576×320) AVI DivX and it played fine. It also played a 640×480 H.263 MP4 with AAC sound recorded with my Neuros OSD. It won't play an anamorphic recording because, well, because there's no control over what aspect to force. The hardware ought to be capable, it's a control issue. [I downloaded a movie player called mVideoplayer which allows stretch-to-fit]
For a laugh I threw an HD 1280×720 DivX AVI at it. Well, the video was jerky every time there was movement, but astonishingly it actually played it. It would be unpleasant to watch like that, but... wow...
There is a minor tendency for audio sync to be lost if you skip around a lot, though for end-to-end playback it ought to be okay. I saw "minor" as I noticed it when skipping in a few files. To get some info for writing here I loaded up one of them and skipped like crazy and it kept in sync... Typical!

I'll need to try long video (plus seek sync), ogg and mkv. The ogg ought to be interesting as it contains two audio tracks. Both ogg and mkv contain embedded subtitles. wmv and mjpeg are other things to consider.

 

Photography

The phone has a built-in 5 megapixel camera with auto-focus, a macro mode (yes!), a very bright LED for 'flash', plus a video mode.
Some people have reported the camera to be a little lacklustre. I noticed this myself when taking pictures of a foggy day (!) that there were noticable artefacts in the picture. I'll need to try some normal photos, though keep in mind it is a tiny camera on a mobile phone, not a big serious digital camera...
You can see this here with my McDonald's order. On the left, the entire photo.
McDonald's order Close-up on the photo showing (lack of) detail

Not bad. But on the right, you can see a full-size snippet, and the blurring is evident. I'm not sure if it is just slightly out of focus, or if the JPEG compression is a bit excessive. Perhaps a bit of both as the photo is 622KiB, which by my reckoning is around 88% quality, though it will suffer slightly for being 4:2:2 subsampled. This is also not taking into account the quality of the encoder. If the encoding is quick'n'cheerful, it could spit out a photo that feels like 88%, but is really something rather less. To see what I mean, look at the blockiness around the white 'm' label on the cream. Here's hoping a later firmware can make things better, at least give us some choices...

There are several scene modes: Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Sport, Night portrait, Sunset, Macro, and Steady shot. There are a number of effect options (but no white balance control), plus flash on/off/auto.
Here are examples of the effect options. Some, I'm sure you'll agree, are a little less useful than others. Its a bowl of noodles...

Effect mode example - noodles, normal  Effect mode example - noodles, black and white
Effect mode example - noodles, negative  Effect mode example - noodles, sepia
Effect mode example - noodles, solarise  Effect mode example - noodles, red tint
Effect mode example - noodles, green tint  Effect mode example - noodles, bluetint

In video mode, we're looking at 640×480 recorded in AVC H.264 at 29.947fps with stereo (!) audio sampled at 32kHz and encoded with 128kbit AAC. The only drawback here is it is in a .3gp wrapper instead of something more usual such as .mp4 or even .avi.
I've made a few test recordings, and the output wasn't bad. The video quality is reported to be approximately 2500kbit, though remember as it encodes in realtime it will more resemble an encoder running at around 1600kbit - though to be honest the results aren't bad. It doesn't cope well in low light, but show me a domestic CCD camera that does...
Here is a still from a video taken after sunset while the sky was still light. The grey is editing out location-specific things. ☺ It gives you an idea of the sort of quality you can expect from a video.

A still from a recorded video

 

Lost? No you aren't!

This phone not only offers tilt sensing, but it also contains a compass. Oddly, a quick'n'simple compass app is missing from the selection. I guess they figure you're more likely to hook into the GPS network to get a complete and total fix on your location.
GPSing seems accurate, but there is - I should point out - a rather lengthy delay before a lock is obtained. While a delay is inevitable as the receiver syncs to a satellite, downloads the almanac, and works out the orbital positions, you should count on it taking 2-3 minutes.
There are two applications on the phone. The first is RouteTrackerLite. This application will allow a route to be tracked, with the track being displayed upon a map (either map-like or satellite imagery). One of the best things about this application is that it will work quite happily with no data connection, it will just record the route and log it for you to look at later. We did a journey on Sunday, from 16:33 to 17:26. It was 51km which translates to 466 waypoints. I can, later, see these laid on to a map, and tapping any will show information such as height, bearing, average speed...

There is also a "Navigate" app, but I've not played with this at all.

Google Maps are probably available through the browser, but there's a stand-alone app to make it pain-free. You can either locate yourself by GPS, or search for a place...

Google Map, Akihabara

As is expected, you can select a map, or a satellite view. The usual levels of zoom. Some places also provide real-time traffic reports.

Here I have calculated a route from somewhere in Akihabara to the Tokyo Tower. It is 6.2km and Google reckons it will take 1h14.

Google Map, showing my route

The route is extremely detailed. Head south, 21m; Take the crosswalk, 96m; Turn left, 230m; Take the crosswalk, 190m; Turn left, 42m... I'm not entirely sure what a "crosswalk" is, I guess I'd be spending a lot of time crossing roads or something as there are many.

But reading a list of instructions is a bit sucky, so here it is overlaid on a map:

Google Map, my route in detail

Street View is also available. Now it is quite funny as the Android app store entry for this add-on is full of comments like "crap, won't even run" or "installed but no icon, useless". No, the crap and useless labels belong to those who wrote such comments. Here's how it works. It is really quite simple. Once the Street View thingy has been installed, go somewhere... let me suggest Ginza Station, Tokyo. I suggest that as you only need to type in "gin", the autosuggest will do the rest.
See to the north west is a patch of green called "Hibiya"? Double-tap that to zoom in. Keep on going until a lake appears on the green bit.
Look where the green ends, there's a yellow road and in red it says "A10".
Hold your finger on the "A10" and it will search for an address and come up with "Japan, The Peninsula Tokyo & more".
Tap that address label. You will get information, a little picture, and some options. Oh, and of the option buttons, the one of the right is peg-guy. Tap on him. Nice trees, huh? Just don't look the other way, bloody great tower blocks to remind you you're in one of the most crowded cities on the planet. Reality isn't quite like how Miyazaki depicted it... unfortunately.

Thanks to a beta-test tool, I can also tell you that about 16 miles (yes, a mash-up of measurement systems here!) north west of Akiba is a town called "Shiki", ho ho ho.

 

Email

On the whole, email works fairly well. It is quite a bit simpler than PC-based mail software, but it handles POP/SMTP effectively, and while I only have a few mailboxes defined, it would appear to not be arbitrarily limited. There is a "widget" which displays unread mail, if you have any, once it has logged in and discovered which messages are outstanding. You can see this in the example near the top of this document.
Unfortunately, for all the niceness of having reasonable email support on the go, it suffers two fundamental quirks. The first is that messages are sent out base64 encoded. They aren't only "rich" with markup, but on plain text clients they will look like complete gibberish. The second, and this one is enough to start flame wars, is that you can write your reply at the top of the message. Below, the entire original message is quoted. Oh... my... God. There's no way to either interleave quote and reply, or to delete the quote. Please, guys, firmware fix!
At least it gets the "Re: " correct on replies, which is more than can be said for Yahoo!'s webmail.

There is also a concept called the Universal Inbox which is sort of like a copy of all of your mailboxes and text messages and such rolled into one big heap. I think it sounds ghastly, but I bet tweenie girls would get wet over having absolutely everything all in one place. If it does "Status updates" (i.e. Facebook) too, then it's game over for sanity. <tap><tap><tap> Yeah, it has a "Social Messaging" option. Twitter too? Argh!
This phone is completely unaware of my Facebook profile. But, then, given as it is for some people from work who sort of expected me to be on Facebook (being a geek and all), pretty much the entire world is unaware of it. That's how I want it to be [hint: don't contact me asking for me to "Friend" you, I won't, I keep that part of my life and this part of my life in clearly defined and separate areas... the people at work think I'm strange enough without reading through all of this!]

In other messaging, obviously I won't comment on how well the social messaging works.

There is apparently a threaded SMS reader/writer. This is good for it is a pain to get a reply to an SMS and have to think about what it is replying to, exactly. I'll let you know how this works once I've played with the SMS capabilities.

 

Language tools

Another potentially useful Google offering is easy access to their translation. But unlike the web-based version, this takes it a step further. As you type stuff in, suggestions are provided to make life easier.
Google translate, searching

They're all good suggestions, but I'm looking for the cute girls in the oh-my-god outfits. Come on, what geek wouldn't want to try this out at least once?

Google translate, result

For hapless people like me, there's even a "how to say it", though such a trope as this is, I would probably get directions and lots of giggling if I just turned up and said "maido?". Which in a way is a shame as while I'm not into the whole "welcome home, master" part of it, I've had some pretty lousy service in my time and it seems that too many people these days are only polite for as long as necessary (before they can invariably slope off and puff on a ciggy). It would be nice to be attended by a girl that either genuinely wants to spend a little bit of time with you, or can fake it convincingly. There's no need to write messages with my food (apparently this is something frequently done ... with what? ketchup!?) because I think Westerners have a rather different concept of "cute". The Japanese guys will be looking at the "cute" behaviour. Those Westerners like myself will just be looking at the Maid. I guess if a Japanese guy grows up surrounded by girls that look like that, it'd seem ordinary. <sigh>

I will leave it to a native Japanese speaker to tell me the translation actually says something like "where is the least furthest café like a maid?" or something else close-but-no-cigar.

But we're not done yet. No, I'm not going to shoe-horn more J-musings in here, I will ask you to look at that weird little symbol to the right of the entry area in the above picture, the one that looks like a big sausage stuck in a wine glass. It is actually a microphone symbol - I guess somebody at Google is a fan of Larry King. Tap that (assuming you have connectivity) and you can speak what you want translated. one comma two comma buckle my shoe (if you don't speak the commas, it will take one-two to be twelve!).
On the other hand "you're 'avin' a laaaarf" came back as "Anata ga ikite iru", or "you're alive". Mmmm... I'd love to throw some Scouse and Scots at it, see how well it copes with accents. [no, no Black Country, that's incomprehensible to people, never mind machines!]

 

Google Market

There are many nice apps available for free. The majority of them, however, are "Lite" versions and contain embedded advertising. While this isn't something I am going to make a big complaint about, for those who spend time developing an application will invariably want some sort of return on that, it says a lot about the whole setup that everything is "monetized" from the get-go. It is sort of the antithesis of the penguin scene on the desktop machines.
On the whole, the Market functions well and integrates effortlessly with the phone. If I was to change anything, I would include an option that you're only interested in free applications. Because while many are inexpensive (there's an app called Easy Katakana for €0,99), I think it could be troublesome sorting out the payments.
It would also be nice if the Market had some options for sorting content. I'm not entirely certain how they're ranked when you search. It doesn't seem to be popularity. It isn't price...?

That said, I have installed:

  • Adobe Reader - one of the essentials
  • AndFTP - an FTP/SFTP client
  • Android Task Manager - will probably uninstall, I can do this stuff myself
  • Barcode scanner - boring for EAN barcodes, but fun to poke around those square pixel-map ones on parcels and such!
  • BBC Radio - can play the BBC Radio 4 rtms stream, so nerr!
  • Google Sky Map - loads of fun
  • Google Street View - nifty to play with
  • GPS Status and toolbox - to check GPS is working well
  • JED - Japanese Dictionary - plenty of words and easy to use
  • Kindle for Android - could be good, but too many things are "not available at your location"
  • Laputa Reader - for eBooks, I'm currently reading an odd book called "Tokyo Zero"
  • mVideoPlayer - because I can stretch to fit to make my anamorphic recordings appear in 16:9
  • Notepad - simple text editor
  • Pic Paint - there's no doodle app built in, so I downloaded one ☺
  • Telnet - there's a clue in the name
  • Tux Rider - skiing penguin game!
  • TV-Guide UK - will probably uninstall, www.tvguide.co.uk works okay on the browser
  • Vanilla Kana Flashcards - could be nice, but has some bugs
  • Wifi Analyzer - pretty useful

What I would like, but can't seem to find:

  • A mini office kit, basic word processor (pref. with some sort of RTF support) and database. Think of the applications that are part of the Psion 3 / Acorn Pocketbook II. I do not need Word/Excel compatibility! I'm only asking for something a little better than a Notepad app, something to which I can apply some basic formatting and such.
    If you're an Android programmer looking for ideas, see what the Psion could do - spreadsheet, database, word processor. Nothing overly complicated, ought to be well within the range of a reasonable Android coder, especially given as some of the features (print preview?) are not really a factor.

Special kudos to Victor Barrancos for his Mango manga reader. Not only is it advert free, it is quick, reliable, and It Just Works. There was a minor issue in that the text display was ridiculously tiny. I dropped him a line, explained the problem, and got a personal reply in minutes plus a fix available the very next day. When he gets around to making his pay version (will allow downloading for offline reading, etc), I will let you know how the whole payment process works...

 

Abandon Privacy All Ye Who Enter Here

I've already made mention of advertising in apps. The thing is, to "monetize", the advert will need to know which app. And it will probably know which user/phone (if only by a cookie ID), and perhaps also a rough location. So every time you run the app, it will be tracked.
Other things relate to profiles, data sharing, and such. This phone might be a great tool for stroppy teenage girls that dont care, but those of us raised in an era where privacy was a recognised concept might find some of the behind-the-scenes stuff to be, well, frightening.
Especially, as I have pointed out in the past, because you so often get to "Agree" to stuff before you can use a service, yet your behaviour/habits/etc seem free game for who-the-hell knows?
I just loaded the Notepad app. It says in an unpleasantly large banner mid-screen: FlirtMaps RENCONTRE SINGLES [app gratuite], and it then changed to another "FlirtMaps" advert. Now, like some sort of mini attempt at Bladerunner style advertising, it says "Use the ON map to track exactly where your contacts are!". I will leave it there as that advert pretty much represents the entire argument.

There is a good/bad side. So long as you have GPS running and connectivity, you will be tracked by Motorola (this is specific to the Motoblur service. While there's a very creepy side, it can also be used to locate your phone if it is stolen or mislaid (it's a shame they didn't take this a step further to make it ring and take photos upon movement, that would be the ultimate gotcha!). It is also possible to lock down the phone and ease personal data, remotely, so your info (or porn-filled SD card?) is not passed to the world at large.

 

Input

The main input method is a pop-up virtual keyboard. This works in one of two ways. The first way is peck and tap to spell out words.
The more useful way is something called "Swype" where you drag your finger around the letters in a word. So to write hello, you put your finger on "h", drag to "e", then to "l", shake it (to register another "l"), over to "o", and pick up your finger.
Unfortunately there are two fundamental problems affecting Swype. The first of these is that it uses a custom user dictionary (instead of the phone's default built in one). Hiding in /data, this is not accessible to normal users. There are ways to remove words from the dictionary, but no way to view it.
As if that isn't bad enough, tapping out words with the keys will "enter" it as a new word if you press space. This needs to be made an option that can be turned off, so it is possible to use the benefits of Swype while allowing direct entry for less common, specialist, foreign words that you might not want cluttering up the dictionary.

But Swype is a pretty new technology and it is fairly good at what it does. It is not perfect, but it is tantalisingly close to being so!

 

What no comms review?

I received a message telling me the phone number will be transferred on Friday between 3pm and 7pm. Until then, it simply doesn't work as a mobile phone. I'll write more after some playing.

 

Nerdy nutshell

With 512Mb RAM, 2Gb Flash onboard, plus a micro-SD slot (and a 2Gb card preinstalled), it is all managed by one of TI's numberous OMAP processor family. In this instance it is an ARM and DSPy stuff chugging along at 800MHz.
The display is 3.7" with a 480x854 resolution. Even with my glasses off, it is difficult to distinguish individual pixels when decent dithering is used. It is a very clear, bright, nice display. I've just dropped two recent episodes of The Mentalist onto the SD card...
2G, 3G, all the expected.
Other connectivity is WiFi b/g/n (with DNLA) and Bluetooth (2.1/A2DP). USB slave can be a sort-of-server for config, or just a dumb device for SD card access. It also, interestingly, sets itself up as a fake CD-ROM on first connect in order to allow you to install the drivers. Kinda clever, that.
5 megapixel camera, 2592x1944, with LED "flash". For an LED it is insanely bright. Can geo-tag photos.
Runs Android Eclair (v2.1). Motorola might have a v2.2 ready by the time the rest of the world is using v2.5....
FM radio with RDS support. Unlike most of the digital devices I have with FM radio support, this one actually works!

 

And finally...

Last but not least, in lieu of (cute) female bodies, celestial ones will have to do!
Google Sky Map in action

 

 

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Rick, 21st January 2011, 06:33
Tip: To save battery when you only want to use it via WiFi (i.e. turn mobile comms off), you can switch the phone into airplane mode (all radio activity disabled), and then re-enable WiFi manually. ;-)
opal, 21st January 2011, 16:28
Hello Rick, 
 
My congratulations! Looks like your new toy excites you enough ;)  
 
I was considering the Android powered device too but it is not that stable yet as for me. Besides I prefer some simple cell phone plus the tablet (like iPad) rather than all-in-one solution.  
 
By the way my friend has written the WiFi manager for Android. So if you are visiting places with open WiFi access points you can give it a try. As far as I am aware there is not something like that provided out of the box. Here is the link: "http://www.androidzoom.com/android_applications/tools/zakus-wif i-profiles_qptf.html". Your feedbacks are welcome. 
 
By the way you have ended up with unused 6230i, so you can fetch the camera from it and mount on the helicopter. As I remember the camera is I2C-capable. You are also going to provide the micro controller with some flash for captured photos. This will add not more than few grams to the overall weight. 
 
Regards
Rob, 21st January 2011, 17:19
Nice review. For a task manager and app killer, I'd recommend "Advanced Task Killer" - it sticks an icon in the status bar so you can get to it quickly, and you can close everything useless with a single click.. 
 
What telnet client are you using? I've got ConnectBot, which does ssh too. Also recommend AndExplorer and AndFTP. I think I've even got a game installed on mine..
Anon, 22nd January 2011, 14:24
I'm assuming it's the Motorola Milestone?  
 
Unfortunately, you may have committed a bit of a boo boo by buying that particular phone. 
 
Unlike other Android handsets, Motorola has opted to use a bootloader that will only boot images that are signed with Motorola's key. This means that only Motorola updates will work on your phone. 
 
So, when Motorola inevitably stops supporting your phone (which may be sooner rather than later), you will be stuck on wbatever version of Android they've used (I think it is 2.1) complete with whatever bugs it has. 
 
Other phones have a wealth of custom and third party firmwares thanks to the efforts of others, with bugs worked out, more features, and more importantly, newer releases of Android. 
 
Oh, and someone mentioned using a task killer. You aren't supposed to do this - Android automatically manages this - by closing programs you aren't using and "pre-loading" what it thinks you will use. A task killer is good for closing crashed or broken apps, but you should let the OS deal with it.
Rick, 22nd January 2011, 15:49
Hi, anon. It is the new(ish) Motorola DEFY. But, yes, not an up to date Android. And probably a signed boot loader... That said, I'm up to my eyeballs in code working out my video recorder, I just want this to work, not to start a hack-a-thon on it. 
I get why a task manager is a bad thing, but when your 512MiB phone has a tiny amount free and the UI stops being responsive, you have to figure the operating system isn't doing its job as well as it should, plus it is a pain to have an app say "sorry, no memory" and when you look, there's at least a hundred megabytes tied up with apps you don't need to have active...

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