Friday, September 30, 2011

Nokia 500 - Take Symbian for one last dance?

With the release of the Sony Xperia Mini in the Philippine this month we saw our first smartphone powered by a 1GHz processor priced at under Php10,000. The Sony Experia Mini has a suggested retail price of Php10,500, but a little smart shopping should net you one at just under 10K. Now Nokia joins the fray of 1GHz  budget phones 

This phone which is a successor to the C5 series is well equipped for the price. It has a 3.2-inch nHD (360 x 640) capacitative display, 2GB or internal storage, WiFi and 3G (HSDPA/HSUPA) connectivity and GPS, all for Php9,000. I am not sure that the suggested retail price on this model is, but it can be found in the market for 9K, with an official Nokia warranty.

What might be a concern to many is the amount of RAM at just 256MB. That is not a concern, since the phone runs Nokia's Symbian operating system which really does not need a lot of RAM to run efficiently. The other point of concern is the operating system. It is a Symbian Anna device, which will be getting upgraded to Belle by the end of the year. While Symbian S3 was positively Jurassic and Anna was a definite improvement, Belle is a very impressive operating system.

The problem is Nokia already committed to move the Windows Phone 7 platform and Symbian devices will be phased out over the next two years. This means you can expect third party app support to diminish over time.

If Nokia had come out with this last year, I think things might have been very different today. No Windows Phone 7 and Nokia and its Symbian OS would be in the thick of the fight for smartphone supremacy.

If you are an Android, Bada, BlackBerry, iOS or Windows phone user, it is hard to recommend this phone or any other Symbian Nokia phone for the matter. No point moving to a ecosystem which is about to be phased out soon. On the other hand, if you are a long time Nokia user, and rely on Nokia apps and services, this phone is priced low enough so as not to make you regret not investing in a different ecosystem earlier. It would be the perfect phone for one last dance with Symbian.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

New iPhone on Oct. 4, new Nexus on October 11

October 2011 is going to be one interesting month. On October 4, we expect to see Apples iOS5  and the new iPhone's. We are expecting to see the iPhone 5 and a modified iPhone 4, with the new name iPhone 4S. I am not sure what the "1" in the image released by Apple indicates. Some have speculated only one iPhone will be announced on October 4.

A week later, on October 11, Google will launch its Samsung built Nexus Prime, with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). After that we expect to see HTC's and LG's own Android 4.0 devices.

Let the games begin.

The Amazon KIndle tablet - An Android tablet done right

Amazon has launched it long awaited tablet, the Kindle Fire. The Kindle Fire is a Android powered tablet with a 7-inch (1024 x 600 resolution) screen, a dual core processor, 8GB of internal storage which uses WiFi and Bluetooth for connectivity. The Android operating system on the Kindle Fire is heavily customized by Amazon.
The Kindle Fire does not have 3G connectivity, GPS, cameras and a mic. From a hardware standpoint, it does not compete with the Apple iPad 2, RIM's PlayBook or any of the Google Android Honeycomb Tablets. It makes no pretense of being a productivity device, and squarely defines itself multimedia entertainment device which hardware wise is more of a competitor to the Nook Color. 

As a multimedia device the Kindle Fire offers much more than the Nook Color and  does take aim at Apple iPad market with its access to Amazon Books, Movies, TV shows, music and Android apps. While Amazon's Kindle Fire does not compete against Apple iPad 2 in terms of hardware, it does so content wise. At US$199 the Kindle Fire takes aim at the iPad for US$300 less.

The Kindle Fire also offers an interesting web browser service with Amazon Silk, which seems to offer a server side compression, similar to what Opera provides for its browser, which Amazon promises will give users an incredibly fast experience. This is the first device specific service implementation of that kind of service that I know off.   

I do not know if the Kindle Fire will affect Apple iPad 2 sales. I am sure a fair number of people who were thinking about buying an iPad 2 will look at Amazon's offer and will consider it a better deal. What the Kindle Fire is sure to do is broaden the tablet market. It is the first Android tablet done correctly.

The Apple iPad was released as a multimedia device. With the popularity of the tablet, Android Honeycomb tablets, the iPad 2 and RIM's Playbook, have been marketed more and more as the modern personal computer heralding the "post-PC era". Newer tablet designs replicate the technology already found in our mobile phones. Some Android tablets even offer voice call and SMS functionality.  Other Android tablets designs try to replace laptops.

Biting into this "tablet frenzy", tablet manufacturers seem to think the consumer will be willing to pay nearly any amount of money for a shiny new tablet for as long as it bundles it with more and more cutting edge features.

The Kindle Fire makes a nice addition to your smartphone and personal computer and is priced as an accessory device.  While I expect the Kindle Fire to take a fairly large bite off the Apple iPad market share, it really will put more pressure on Android tablet manufacturers.  The Kindle Fire redefines the tablet as to what it originally was, a dedicated multimedia platform and not the overpriced post-PC device many have been making it out to be. 

In the end, the post-PC era is not about replacing the PC, but just that the PC really is no longer the only game in town as a tool for web access. It really means little more than that. All the rest is tablet hype. Amazon seems to understand this better than anyone else right now, and it will sell millions of these things.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Linux users rant

Does Linux have a future on the desktop? I think not. My opinion is Linux users are very intelligent but very fickle bunch. I happily run Ubuntu, but if there was no Ubuntu I would not mind using Fedora, or Mint, or Debian, or SUSE or Mandriva, or something else. They all work.
The Gnome 3.20 desktop
My preferred desktop environment is the Gnome 3.20 shell, but am no less productive using the (busy) Unity Shell on Gnome 3, the older Gnome 2.x, KDE or something else. Yes, they all work too.

The Unity Desktop Environment

With Windows and Mac users, well they may not like some changes, but ultimately they adjust to the new OS or desktop. With Linux, when the users start to get agitated by change, a fork is on the way.
What you have is a operating system with over a dozen desktop and scores of distributions. Android fragmentation is nothing by comparison. 

Maybe one day, Linux users could agree to rally around one flag, or a company can create enough of a stir to get the majority to rally around one distribution. If that happened, Linux on the desktop might stand a fighting chance. One could expect better driver and hardware support. Mainstream app developers would find the Linux environment friendlier The consumer oriented distribution are kick-ass and user friendly operating systems, in all their iterations.

Rant over.

Is the tablet at toy?

Sara Yin of PC Magazine has an interesting article entitled "Tablets Are Still Seen As Toys, Survey Says". I am not replicating all the data reported there in this post, so you may want to read that article first before this commentary. 

The article cites data from a CitiGroup survey. The most important findings I think are the following:
"Sixty-two percent of the 1,800 consumers surveyed said that if they do buy a tablet within the next 12 months, it's because they want a new "toy or a gadget." That figure is even higher than the sentiment captured in November 2010, when only 44 percent of those surveyed checked the "toy or gadget" box.
A large portion of the buying public has always questioned whether tablets are really serious tools for doing work with good reason. 

First is the absence of a keyboard. Sure there is a virtual keyboard, but that puts us back to the situation of typing on a small cramped device. Many of us never enjoyed typing on netbooks, why would we enjoy typing on a tablet. 10-inches diagonal is just too small for a proper keyboard.

Second, although this is limited to the Apple iPad, and not tablets in general, is that it does not even have a built in file manager. No way I could keep track of the 4,000+ documents I have on my laptop there (although Dropbox can fix this problem to a great degree for this willing to go the cloud route). 

So, is it a toy or not. I think it depends on who you are and what you do. If you spend a lot of time on documents and spreadsheets, well a tablet is not going to become your primary work machine. If you need a device to do on-line research,  taking notes in meetings and conferences and the like than it could be a very productive tool. They should really bring back the stylus though.
"Citigroup surveyed 1,800 users interested in tablets from the U.S., U.K. and China. Those in China signaled the most interest in buying a tablet; 26 percent said they were 'very likely' to buy a tablet, compared to 12 percent in the U.S. and Britain."
From this I gather that where tablet penetration is greatest, the interest in tablets declines. People who have not owned one and only tried one for a few minutes are impressed by the new device. Many owners eventually find out they really wont replace their laptop and its track pad, relegating the tablet to a alternative device that serves no particular purpose.  

In the end, it is more of a big smart phone than a PC replacement.
Between my wife and I, we have three laptops (one serves the function of a desktop), two smart phones, a feature phone and a tablet. The tablet gets the least use among the three, but it does go with us pretty much wherever we go. Being a small 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab it is always tucked in my wifes handbag. 

So while not used to much, its greatest value is that it keeps the laptops at home more often serving as a less than capable device that can sub for a laptop when a unexpected need arises. That being said, if it broke, well we probably would not replace it. If one of laptops our smart phones died on us, they would be replaced in 24 hours.

In sum, I do not see a tablet as a toy. Whether it is a toy or not, depends on the needs of the user.

One issue not covered by the Citigroup survey is whether there is a tablet market or just an iPad market. The dominance of iPad's does hint at the toy theory, that people just want a tablet if it has an apple on its back. I think it is not that simple.

The demand for non-Apple tablets is really going to be less by nature. Let me explain.

1. Those who are comfortable with the Apple ecosystem do not really have low cost laptops as an option. The cheapest MacBook cost 50K here, and the cheapest iPad is less than half of that at 24K.  Those not invested the Apple ecosystem could get a 24K (or even cheaper tablet) or a 11.6-inch AMD Fusion powered ultraportable for 24K or less. An Apple netbook might sell really well too.

2. iPhone users do not really have larger screen options. I think the iPhone's being limited right now to 3.5-inch screen actually boosts iPad sales. Android users who feel 3.2 to 3.7-imches is not big enough constant use, might simply opt to get a larger 4.3-inch to 4.7-inch smart phone which they might find big enough to do and forgo a tablet. If Apple started offer monster iPhones, some iPad buyers may feel that it big enough.

Basically, people invested in the Apple ecosystem have the best reasons to buy tablet. Windows users and Android users really have more hardware options. 

Around the web: Mobile phones

iPhone 4S &5. PCMagazine reports that the invitations have been sent out, Apple invites the tech elite to "Let's talk iPhone" to be held on October 4, 2011 (US time). Exactly what it coming out is speculative. Pictures of Otterbox iPhone 4S cases which leaked on the net would seem to indicate that there will be an iPhone 4S, which is similar in appearance to the current iPhone 4. Leaked pictures of a Casemate case seen to indicate something completely new. Basically, I am expecting two phones to be announced, an iPhone 4S and iPhone 5.

We also do know that the new iPhone will be getting iOS 5 and the commands (hence the "Lets talk" thing).

Windows Phone 7 Mango. TechRadar reports that Windows Phone 7.5, a.k.a Mango, is officially out. While we did see the new HTC Titan and Radar and a new Samsung W phone this month, there was much less fanfare than expected. With the new iPhone coming out in a few days, Windows Phone 7 will soon be forgotten. I cannot help but feel that Microsoft missed a critical marketing Window and Nokia is moving too slow. 

Such a pity, because Windows Phone 7 is an amazing mobile phone operating system.  Engadget has a good review of Windows Phone 7.5 at this link.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich. While there is not word of the exact date of the release of Google's Android 4.0, another Ice Cream Sandwich phone has been announced, the Samsung Galaxy S II HD. The Galaxy S II HD boast a 4.65-inch 720 x 1280 Super AMOLED display, a dual core 1.5GHz processor and LTE connectivity.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Clash at 13-inches: Acer Aspire TimelineX 3830T-2412G64nbb, Sony Vaio S VPCSB26FG and 13-inch MacBook Air 128GB

Three interesting options for someone looking for a laptop small and light enough to carry around and big enough to be your daily driver: the Acer Aspire TimelineX 3830T-2412G64nbb, Sony Vaio S VPCSB26FG and 13-inch MacBook Air 128GB. 

Apple slim and light MacBook Air

Processor. All three laptops are state of the art Intel Sandy Bridge laptops, all powered by Core i5 processors. The Acer and Sony have faster Intel Core i5-2410M processor running at 2.30GHz with Turbo Boost up to 2.90GHz, while the Apple has a slower but cooler running Intel Core i5-2557M processor running at 1.70GHz with Turbo Boost up to 2.70GHz  In terms of pure speed, the Acer and Sony units are faster. If you don't need all this power, there are cheaper options powered by lower power Intel Core i3 processors.

Winner: Acer/Sony 

Acer's value minded TimelineX 3830T

Price. These three laptops are at different price points, such that the selling price would be the deciding factor for many buyers. The Acer is priced at Php37,900, which is much lower than the Php54,999 price for the Sony and the Php65,990 price for the Apple. 

Winner: Acer

Weight. Laptops are meant to be carried around, so the weight does matter. The Acer is the "heavyweight" of the three weighing in at a light 4.1 pounds (that is half a pound less than a MacBook Pro). The Apple is the lightest at 3-pounds. The Sony weighs in a 3.8 pounds although it has a lot more kit than the other two, but more on that latter.

Winner: Apple

Endurance. Battery life is important in a portable. Among the three the Apple has the largest battery at 6800 mAh which can deliver on the promised 7 hour battery life. The Acer has a smaller 6000 mAh battery. The Sony comes with a disappointing 4400 mAh battery, which will be hard pressed to deliver on its 6 hour battery life. Four hours in real world use is more likely. 

Winner: Apple

Operating system. The Acer and Sony are Windows machines. The Acer runs Windows 7 Home Basic while the Sony comes with Windows 7 Home Premium. The Apple of course runs Mac OSX, in this case the newest 10.7 Lion. 

Winner: Apple/Sony 

Display. All three laptops have 13.3-inch screens, the Acer and Sony have 1366 x 766 displays, while the Apple comes with a higher resolution a wonderful 1440 x 900 display. The only issue about the Apple's screen is that Mac OSX seems to be optimized for 1280 x 800 resolution screens at 13-inches so some menu's and buttons on even pre-installed Apple software (like Safari) seem a bit too small. Still, overall the Apple has the best display.

Winner: Apple  

Storage. The Acer has a 640GB hard drive. The Sony comes with a 500GB hard drive. The Apple has a smaller capacity 128GB drive, but this is a faster more power efficient SSD drive. If I could chose to configure a system with one of these drives, I would select the 128GB SSD. For many the 640GB drive on the Acer is the better choice as it offers far more storage.

Winner: Acer/Apple  

Sony portable but powerful Vaio S

Graphics. All three laptops come with Intel HD 3000 graphics. The difference is the Sony has a discrete graphics option, the AMD Radeon HD 6470M. When more power is needed, the Sony can deliver more graphics punch at the flick of a switch. 

Winner: Sony

Connectivity and ports. All this laptops have WiFi, Bluetooth and the usual ports you find in a laptop. For high speed data transfer the Acer and Sony come with USB 3.0, while the Apple comes with as Thunderbolt port. While Thundrebolt is faster, you wont be able to take advantage of it for lack of accessories. USB 3.0 accessories are getting pretty common these days. 

The Acer and Sony have  HDMI out ports. The Apple needs an adapter to connect to a HDMI device.

Winner: Acer/Sony

Optical Media. While I am not big on optical drives on laptops, since I have found no need for one in three years, the Sony has a DVD-RW drive while the Acer and Apple do not have optical drives. Still, a OD is still useful to many people. 

Winner: Sony

Others. The Apple and Sony have back-lit keyboards, and the Sony also has a finger print reader.

Winner: Sony

Conclusion. In the end there is no winner. Each has its own merits.

The Acer is 17K less than the Sony and 28K  less than an Apple. In terms of productivity, there really is nothing you can do with the Apple that you can't do with the Acer, and these is little you can do with the Sony that you can't do with the Acer. In terms of money for functionality, the Acer is king.

As a pure portable, the Apple is the smallest and lightest with the longest battery life, at the highest price. 

The Sony is the most powerful and best equipped of the three at a price point in the middle. 

Ubuntu 11.10 to include Gnome Classic?

I installed the Gnome Shell on the latest beta release of Ubuntu 11.10 and I noticed that the Gnome Classic interface option seem to be available again.

There are a few glitches with this interface, notable I could not get the Bluetooth icon to display properly, but it did work. Underneath, the Gnome "Classic" shell is Gnome 3.

Update: I was informed this is the Gnome 3 shell fall back mode which Ubuntu just now calls Gnome Classic.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sony Vaio S VPCSB26FG

Sony seems to be trying to make a push for a bigger marker share in the Philippines, opening up concept stores and more importantly more aggressive pricing on their current YB, E and S series laptops. The new AMD E-450 power Sony Vaio YB and AMD E-450 and Intel Sandy Bridge powered Sony Vaio E's are 10-20% less than the previous models. 

Sony Vaio S VPCSB26FG
Given that Sony Vaio laptops are very nicely built, albeit at a premium price, the lower pricing is very welcome. The new Sony Vaio S model have also been released with a lower price. Particularly, interesting is the 13.3-inch Sony Vaio S VPCSB26FG which is now priced at Php54,999. The is S VPCSB26FG is identical to the older Vaio VPCSB16FG, but the new model comes with a larger 500GB hard drive and is priced Php5,000 lower.

Sony Vaio S VPCSB26FG

I previously compared the Vaio VPCSB16FG to Apple popular MacBook Pro, and preferred  the Vaio VPCSB16FG because of several reasons. First, was the discrete  AMD Radeon HD 6470M graphics which scores 5185 points in 3DMark06 verus  Intel HD 3000 which does 3760 in the same test. The Radeon adapter also gives you DirectX 11 support. Second, the Sony Vaio S was 0.8 pounds lighter. Third, the Sony Vaio S has a USB 3.0 port. 

Sony Vaio S VPCSB26FG

With the new Sony Vaio S VPCSB26FG being Php5,000 cheaper, which makes it now all of 7K cheaper than a MacBook Pro, and with a larger hard drive, I think the Sony Vaio S VPCSB26FG may well be the best 13.3-inch ultraportable business laptop in the Philippine market. 

Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray

The Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray is now available in the Philippine market for as low as Php16,200. The Xperia Ray is another Google Android phone, running on the Android 2.3 (Gingerbread). It is a rather unique offering. With a high resolution 480 x 650 LCD display, 1GHz Scorpion processor, Adreno 205 graphics and 512MB of RAM, the Xperia Ray's specifications equal or exceed other mid-level Android like the LG Optimus Black, Samsung i9000 Galaxy S and HTC Desire S. The 8MP camera on the Xperia Ray is actually the best in the price range.  What makes it different from other mid-level Android is a small 3.3-inch screen. This allows the phone to be built on a small 111 x 53 x 9.4 mm case.  

Is this the phone for you. I would think most buyers would prefer the larger 3.7-inch screen of the HTC Desire S or the larger 4-inch screens of LG Optimus Black, Samsung i9000 Galaxy S. But if you want a small Android with higher end features than the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray is the only game in town.

Another reason you may want the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray. Smaller screens mean longer battery life. With a relatively small 3.3-inch display and a 1500 mAh battery, the Xperia Ray should have move endurance than other mid-level Androids. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Impressions on Windows 8 Developer Preview

I used to think there was some kind of conspiracy between Intel and Microsoft. Intel would create faster processors, and Microsoft would release new operating systems and updates which needed more and more resources. I am sure that someone uses all the new features that they have placed in the new operating systems, but I never really appreciated all the new features. All things considered, I would be perfectly happy reverting to Windows XP. In the end, all I really want is an operating system that boots fast, resumes from sleep quickly, shutdowns in an instant and launches applications quickly and get out of the way as quickly as possible. On laptops and desktops, the operating system is really just a platform to launch apps. It is the apps that we really use to be productive.

With the failure of Windows Vista, Microsoft realized that it cannot continue to expect customers to continue buying and upgrading hardware just to runs Windows. With the need to get into the tablet space, I think Microsoft has realized the need for a lighter operating system. After a few days on the Windows 8 Developers Preview release, it think Windows 8 is shaping up to be a worthy successor to Windows 7. Lets forget about the Metro Interface for a bit, you really should not spend to much of your time staring at your operating system.

This early Windows 8 release boots 3-4 times faster than Windows 7 and uses less RAM. In other tasks it does not really feel all that much faster than Windows 7. But if Microsoft is able to cut down application launch times, that would be enough of an improvement I think. I also have not encountered stability problems running Windows 8 on a laptop natively. 

Going back to Metro. Some will like it, some won't. All-in-all I think Metro is a good next generation interface for Windows. Replacing the start menu with what is effectively a full screen start menu, is beneficial to laptops with smaller screens. 

I think the biggest challenge to Windows 8 is how it will handle the ecosystem of Metro apps and traditional desktop apps. It seems to make a lot of sense to give users the option to actually use it without Metro and revert to the traditional Windows Start Menu, as an option

Friday, September 23, 2011

Is Windows 8 a modern day Janus?

In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions. He is depicted as having two faces on his head, facing opposite directions. Symbolically Janus looks simultaneously into the future and the past. Windows 8 represents the most major transition in Windows since Windows 95. Part of it hold on to its past and rich store of applications. Part of its looks to the future, giving a nod to modern touchscreen devices.

Windows 8 adopts the new Metro interface, from Microsoft's own Windows Phone 7 devices. But it is more than that. It is like having two different desktops with their own apps running on one operating system. One example is Internet Explorer. You have Internet Explorer for Metro and the desktop version of Internet explorer. Here is how the two look like displaying the same information.

Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer for Metro

I really do not have a problem going from the desktop apps to the Metro apps, but I spend so much time going from one operating system to another, I am pretty much OS agnostic. With the desktop apps you have your menus, minimize, maximize and close controls on the right side and the familiar task bar at the bottom for multitasking. With Internet Explorer for Metro all the control are hidden and are revealed (on a non-touchscreen device) via a right mouse click. You get fewer options than on the desktop version but get nice big finger friendly buttons.

A user could use Windows 8 with the traditional desktop apps or in the future rely fully on Metro apps. But I think many will use both not realizing which are Metro apps and which ones use the traditional interface. Does Microsoft have a firm eye on its past and its future, or do you think this will just cause confusion among Windows users?

Acer Travelmate TimelineX 8372-484G50Mnkk

Acer has released a very nicely priced thin-and-light laptop in the Philippine market, the 13.3-inch Acer Travelmate TimelineX 8372-484G50Mnkk. The laptop has the following specifications:

  • Linux O.S.
  • Intel Core-i5 480M, 2.66GHZ, 3MB Cache, 1066FSB (35W)
  • Mobile Intel® HM55 Express Chipset
  • 4GB DDR3 1066MHz Memory, with two memory slots up to 4GB max
  • 13.3"  HD 1366 x 768 pixel resolution, high-brightness LED-backlit TFT LCD
  • Intel® HD Graphics with 128 MB of dedicated system memory
  • Integrated High-definition Audio support with two built-in stereo speakers
  • 500GB SATA HDD
  • 8x DVD SuperMulti Double Layer Drive
  • Built-in  Fingerprint Solutions
  • 2.1kg (4.63 lbs.) with 8-cell battery pack
  • 87W 6000 mAh 8-cell Li-ion Standard Battery pack
  • Up to 6 hours battery life
  • Integrated Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000, Wake-on-LAN ready
  • Integrated Wireless 802.11a/b/g/Draft-N Wi-Fi CERTIFIED® Network
  • Multi-in-1 card reader (SD™, MMC, MS, MS PRO, xD)
  • Acer Crystal Eye high-def webcam, 1280 x 1024 resolution
  • With Bluetooth® 2.1+EDR
  • Three USB 2.0 ports
  • HDMI™ port with HDCP support
  • External display (VGA) port; Ethernet (RJ-45) port; DC-in jack for AC Adapter
  • Headphone/speaker/line-out jack; Microphone-in jack
  • 13.5 x 9.6 x 1.03 to 1.31 inches
  • 4.6 pounds
  • Multi-gesture touchpad, supporting two-finger scroll, pinch, rotate, flip
  • Acer Carrying Bag

At a retail price of Php29,999 it is very reasonable priced even if the pre-isntalled operating system is Linux. Notable are the 4GB of RAM and the 8-cell 6000mAH capacity battery. This is a 2010 model or early 2011 model, and is not a Sandy Bridge laptop. Still at 30K, it is a very good deal.

Windows 8 goes mobile: Another desktop environment says "hi" to the touchscreen world.

Another desktop environment says "hi" to the touchscreen world. I am pretty much an operating system agnostic. I am happy with the Mac OSX interface on my MacBook. If it has any real weakness, it is that is relies to much on fancy gestures, when a simple keyboard shortcut is more comfortable to use. Past two months I have spent most of my time on Fedora 15 and Ubuntu 11.10 Beta 1 Linux, both running the Gnome 3 Shell desktop environment. Gnome 3 is my favorite operating system desktop environment, it does not appear to be very popular. If Gnome 3 Shell ceases to be a viable option  I have no problem switching to Ubuntu Linux and the Unity Desktop environment. The one operating system I have not used in over 9 months, is the most popular of all. Microsoft's Windows. I recently installed Windows 8, and like the Gnome 3 and Unity desktop environments, it has also migrated to a more graphical desktop which could be used for both devices that rely on finger manipulated touchscreens and physical keyboards.

Gnome 3

The old guard is not happy. When you talk of desktop environments, in Linux at least, you find scores of angry voices objecting to the new graphically oriented Gnome 3 Shell and Unity Desktops. Apparently it is the same on the Windows side. With the new touchscreen and keyboard friendly Windows 8, the sentiments seem to be the same. For many the preferred desktop for Linux was Gnome 2, which is actually rather similar to Window 98 or XP in form and function.  

Windows 8 goes mobile. I have a strong suspicion that those who object to the new desktop environments spend most of their time on computers with large screens. You can manipulate font and icon sizes in Windows 7 for smaller screens, but in the end there is only so much you can do, and it really works better on larger screens. Install Windows 8 on a 14-inch or larger machine, and you will think it looks different. On small 10 to 11  inch laptops, Window 8 really shines. 

And I think this is the correct way to go. With internet having gone mobile and prices highly portable devices having dramatically gone down in the past few years, more and more computing will be done on "the road" with devices with smaller screens. At this point in time, how many people really want a large desktop sitting on a desk attached to a large screen, when you can plug any modern laptop directly to your giant LCD TV via HDMI?

For the average Joe, having a interface on their phone, nearly identical to the one in their tablet and which looks almost the same as the one in their desktop would be preferable.  

Windows on the Phone
Windows on the desktop

If you are the kind of person who reads blogs like this, having one unified desktop environment may not seem that important to you. Why change what had worked well for so long? 

Canonical (Ubuntu), Gnome and Microsoft are going with one size fits all interfaces. This may not be too appealing to old hands who have been using computers for the better part of one or two decades and cut their teeth on a big bulky 14-inch desktop. The new interfaces target the new younger generation of users who will cut their teeth computing on a small 3-4 inch screen. 

It's a whole new world. Get used to it.

Globe CloudFone Ice: Android @Php4,990

With a price of Php4,990 the Android powered Globe CloudFone Ice with a 3.2-inch 320 x 480 screen looks like a steal. The Globe CloudFone Ice is actually a Huawei U8500, which was released in 2010. It runs Android 2.1, Eclair and is not upgradeable to Android 2.2 (Froyo) or Android 2.3 (Gingerbread). While specifications online indicate that this phone runs on Android 2.1, the version being sold by Globe Telecom runs Android 2.2.

These days we only recommend phones running Android 2.2 or higher. Why? Android 2.2 runs 4x faster than Android 2.1. Android 2.2 allows apps to be stored on the SDCard. With Android 2.1, apps can only be installed on the internal memory.

The Globe CloudFone Ice was clearly launched to challenge Smarts Netphone. The Globe CloudFone Ice it is not an equivalent to the Smart Netphone. Smarts Netphone is a new phone with a service package built around it. The Globe CloudFone Ice is really just an obsolete Android phone sold for a low price. Still  Php4,990 for an Android 2.1 device is not bad, but I really would not recommend it. for an Android 2.2 device is not a bad deal.

Article updated.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

AMD Fusion E-450 shootout: Sony Vaio YB VPCYB35AG v. Samsung Series 3 305U1A

Sony Vaio YB
I got word from the Sony Concept Store at the Mall of Asia that the updated Sony Vaio YB, model number VPCYB35AG is now available. The laptop has the following specifications:

  • AMD Dual-Core E-450 APU with AMD Radeon™ HD 6320 Graphics
  • Genuine Windows® 7 Starter 32-bit
  • 11.6 inch wide (WXGA: 1366x768) TFT colour display
  • 2GB RAM
  • 320 GB (Serial ATA, 5400 rpm) hard drive
  • Weight: 3.2 pounds
  • HDMI Output
This is an upgraded version of the AMD Dual-Core E-350 powered Sony Vaio YB released last February. It is offered in the same three colors as before: silver, silver with a green lid and silver with a pink lid. Is is also offered in a new color, with the entire laptop in a nice stark corporate looking black.

The retail price is Php26,999, which is 3K less than the release price of the Sony Vaio YB released last February. 

Subjectively, the Sony Vaio YB was my favorite AMD Fusion powered ultraportable. Objectively, in comparison with the HP Pavilion DM1-3016AU, the HP DM1 was the better deal. 

Samsung Series 3 NP305U1A

How does the new Sony Vaio YB fair? The new Sony Vaio YB challenger is now the newly released Samsung Series 3 305U1A. Both laptops are powered by AMD E-450 APU, have 2GB of RAM and 11.6-inch screens. Here is a quick comparison of their other specifications:


Sony Vaio YB - 3.2 pounds
Samsung Series 3 NP305U1A - 2.7 pounds


Sony Vaio YB - 320GB
Samsung Series 3 NP305U1A - 500GB


Sony Vaio YB - 3500 mAh
Samsung Series 3 NP305U1A - 4000 mAh

Operating system

Sony Vaio YB - Windows 7 Starter
Samsung Series 3 NP305U1A - Windows 7 Home Basic


Sony Vaio YB - Php26,999
Samsung Series 3 NP305U1A - Php23,900

Not much of a competition actually, the Samsung wins in all the categories where the two laptops differ. On subjective matters, I like the Sony's keyboard better.

What about the HP Pavillion DM1? Well it still runs on the older AMD E-350. While the E-450 is just a 50MHz bump on processor speed it it support DDR1600 memery and the graphics chip can overclock on demand 200MHz faster than the E-350. The E-450 is substantially faster, taking the HP Pavillion DM1 out of consideration until it gets its own upgrade. Check of the E-350 v. E-450 benchmarks here at Mobility Update.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Now on Windows 8

Windows 8 Developer Preview runs surprisingly well on my old laptop which has only 1GB of RAM and is powered by a dual 1.8GHz Intel Core2 Duo processor. Basically, four year old specifications. Before going any further, I installed Windows 8 on a laptop which is essentially now just a back-up machine. I do not recommend that you install it in your primary PC. This is a Developer Preview Release. It is not even a beta yet. That being said, it works well and I have not had any crashes so far. The only thing I had to do was to install a the Intel Graphics driver (you can use Windows 7 drivers).  I am actually posting this while running Windows 8. Well, that is all for now. Here are a few screenshots.

Here is the start screen. To get here you hide to "swipe" up
 on the screen with the mouse (or less spectacularly tap the space bar), just like on a mobile phone.
Clicking on the icon (er... Tile) labled Desktop brings you to a familiar looking desktop. 
The traditional Windows Start menu is gone.
To find your Apps (yep... no longer call programs), go to Search.

If you use a Windows Phone 7 device, parts of it should look pretty familiar. If you use both a Windows Phone 7 device and a Windows 7 PC you should have no problem getting use to the new set-up. Initial impressions? It is different. I am not sure whether I like this or not, but it does work, and it is surprisingly fast. Will use it for a few weeks to give it a fair shake.

Sony Vaio YB AMD Fusion E-350 laptop on sale

The AMD E-350 powered 11.6-inch Sony Vaio YB is on sale, now priced at Php22,999, which is a 7K discount from its original price. The Php22,900 price is for up to 12-months deferred payment. If you pay cash, you can get another 2K off. 

The discount is to make way for a new E-450 powered Sony Vaio YB. The newer model will be priced at Php26,999 and will be available in one additional color scheme, all black.

For more details on the Sony Vaio YB, follow this link.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Google Nexus Prime specifications

The next month should be pretty exciting in the mobile phone world. I would expect that the long awaited iPhone 5, or iPhone 4x at least be announced before the end of next month. It is already more than two months behind schedule. We might even see a new lower cost sibling accompany it. What the specifications will be are subject of numerous speculative articles spanning the web.

Last years Google Nexus S

The next generation Google Android reference phone (the "Nexus") will be announced at about the same time. We speculated on that phone in a previous post.  The specifications of what people have started calling the Nexus Prime is getting clear now. Based on the technology Samsung displayed on the Galaxy Note and GSM Arena's information on the upcoming for Korea only (for now at least) LG LU6200. From this we can expect that any next generation Nexus phone would have the following specifications. I am guessing the LG LU6200 was actually LG's submission to Google as the next Google Nexus phone. HTC would have something similar going through the pipeline by now too. Samsung, well we heard they got the contract to build one.
  • Screen size: 4.5-inches or larger
  • Screen resolution: 720 x 1280 or 800 x 1280
  • RAM: At least 1GB
  • Processor: 1.4GHz dual core or faster
  • Camera: 8MP or higher

We might even see USB-on-the-go. I am personally hoping for a stylus so we can take full advantage of some great software like Autodesk Inc.'s SketchBook Mobile Express.

iTyphoon for Android - Philippine typhoon tracker

When you live in a typhoon belt like the Philippines, keeping track of typhoons is important. I wanted an app that would display the data from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center and could not find one. But a new Android App called iTyphoon is probably the best you can get for Philippine based users. It is a free add supported app (the add is well place and unobtrusive), so there is no reason not to try it.

iTyphoon gets its info from the official Philippine weather bureau, PAGASA. The app will give you weather forecast for the next 2-5 days and the official Public Storm Signal Warnings.

iTyphoon by Neuca Techologies is a very nice made and very professional looking app. Hoping to see more from this developer.

Best budget utraportable? The Samsung Series 3 NP305U1A-A02

Characteristics of a good ultraportable. Last year our favorite low cost ultraportable laptop was the Intel Core i3 version Acer Aspire TimelimeX 1830T. We like this a lot, because its 11.6-inch screen and keyboard are big enough to comfortably do productive work. Weighing in at just 3-pounds with a 6-cell battery it is light enough for something to be carried around daily while providing more than 6 hours of real world battery life. We also appreciated that fact that at a price of a bit over Php30,000 it was not too expensive. 

A low price is important for us insofar as an ultraportable laptop is concerned. While out office bound desktop replacements last for years (this article is being typed on a four year old HP Compaq 6510b which has never had any repairs made on it), our daily carry machine are replaced every year or two. Being carried around daily, they are more prone to damage from accidents, wear and tear from being lugged around in a sleeve or bag the whole day, and also are more prone to loss.

For a daily carry machine we recommend something inexpensive.

From Intel Core to AMD Fusion. When the AMD Fusion was announced at the end of last year, I was really excited about it. It is not as fast as even the slowest Intel Core i3 system, but it is fast enough, certainly much faster than any Intel Atom based system. And it should result in lower priced options.

While Intel love to markets the speed of its processors, for a desktop replacement or larger laptop used to play games, encode video or music and other intensive tasks I do appreciate the power.
But for a small ultraportable which I will use to edit documents, check my mail browse the web and maybe at most kill time with watching a movie or playing a casual game while traveling for work, do I really need all that power.

The AMD Fusion platform brought the price down from what we considered a good low cost ultraportable from a bit over 30K to a bit over 20K.

HP DM1z (HP Pavilion DM1-3016AU and DM1-3205AU). We were hoping that Acer would release a E-350 AMD Fusion version of their Acer Aspire TimelimeX 1830T but that did not happen. Acer did release a AMD Fusion power Acer AO722, but with the lower powered C-50 and C-60 AMD Fusion APU's at a price that made other options look better.

Ultimately, the best local option for a budget ultraportable for the past seven months has been HP's DM1z. But I think we may have a new king.

Samsung Series 3 NP305U1A-A02. Initially, I was concerned about the keyboard of the Samsung Series 3 NP305U1A-A02. With a 1.65GHz dual core processor and Radeon 6320* graphics and 2GB of RAM it has enough power for what I would normally need from an ultraportable. Storage at 500GB is sufficient and it has all the modern features you would expect like HDMI. All that is missing is USB 3.0. All this in a near MacBook Air like 2.7 pounds and much lighter than the 3.4 pound HP DM1z.

*The spec's sheet we saw says Radeon 6310, but being an AMD E-450 I think that may be an error.

The price of Php23,900 is a very good price for this unit, and that is on 12 months deferred payment. On cash or straight credit card payment, you should be able to get another 2-3K off the price.
Being smaller than you typical 11.6-inch laptop being 10.9 x 7.7 x 1.1 inches as compared to the more typically sized is smaller than the  HP DM1z'a is a bigger 11.4 x 8.4 x 1.2 inches, I was worried it might feel to cramped. After getting a close look at Samsung's NP305U1A-A02, the Samsung NP305U1A-A02 keyboard is fine in terms of key spacing, but the keys are small even for an 11.6-inch laptop. I could work with it though.

The other area of concern is the 4-cell battery. It is a powerful 4-cell battery rated at 4000 mAh. Still the Samsung NP305U1A-A02 battery is weaker than the 6-cell units in the  Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T (5,800 mAh) and HP DM1z (4,770 mAh), both of get over 6-hours of real world battery life. Feedback from users indicates that you can expect 4 hours of real world use from the Samsung Series 3 NP305U1A-A02.

I guess it had to have a chink in its armor. Still, it is my favorite budget ultraportable at the moment. But in the end, it is a matter of priorities, with the Samsung NP305U1A-A02 you get 0.7 pounds less weight than the HP DM1z, but also 770mAh less of precious juice.

Hopefully Samsung will offer an extended 6-8 cell battery for it in the future.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ubuntu Linux Unity Desktop - Multi-tasking with the launcher

Ubuntu's Unity desktop no longer has the bar on the bottom of the screen which would display open windows. You can multi-task with with Ubuntu's Unity desktop using the other traditional ways by using the nearly universal "Alt + Tab" key combination or using the workspace switcher you can use in Linux and Mac OS, but I think most Ubuntu users will multi-task using the launcher.

We already took a look at the launcher in Unity is where you place your most commonly used apps, and it will also display any open apps which are not place on the launcher permanently. The behavior is similar to the dock in Mac OSX. An active app in the launcher is indicated by a marker on the left side of the icon of the app.

Unity does add some new tweaks.  If you launch two instances of the same up, it will have two markers, three or more instances of the same app, will be indicated by three markers.

In the next screen shot, it displays two instances of Mozilla and one instance of LibreOffice Writer running.

To go from one app to another, just click the icon and that app will come to the front of the screen. When you have two instances running it will show you both windows in a reduce sized and you can click on the one you want to focus on.

It's that simple.

Metro Manila Traffic Navigator

Metro Manila Traffic Navigator

The Metro Manila Traffic Navigator app is now available for iOS. The Metro Manila Development Authority, in collaboration with Interaksyon of TV 5, gives you which gives you comprehensive and accurate updates of the traffic conditions on six major thoroughfares in Metro Manila. You can access also the service by pointing your browser to this link: Metro Manila Traffic Navigator

Unfortunately there is no Android version at the present time. Android users can try out Mark Perez's Metro Traffic Live!

Metro Traffic Live!  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Making the Gnome 3 empty desktop more useful

When you boot into the Gnome 3 desktop you get an empty screen. There are no icons on the desktop and no way to put icons on it at the present time.

The empty Gnome 3 desktop on startup
I guess the Gnome development team is planning to place widgets here in the future. In order to get productive work done, you have to go into the activities menu, either by (a) pressing the Windows key, (b) moving you mouse to the top right corner or the screen, or (c) by clicking the word activities on the top right of the screen. Doing this place you in the Windows view which gives you access to your launcher and work spaces.

The "Windows" view
I do not see the point of booting up into a screen which requires an additional key press to be useful. Since I pretty much use the web browser every time I boot my computer, one way to make Gnome 3 more useful at startup is to autostart the web browser.

To do this launch the application called Startup Applications and Add a new startup program. Just type in "Firefox" the box for name, "firefox" in the box for command and click "save". Next time you boot, Firefox will autostart so this is what you will see after the computer boots.

Ubuntu Linux Unity Desktop - Application and System indicators

In our previous article, we took a look at the Ubuntu Linux Unity launcher. On the right upper corner of the desktop you have application and system indicators.

Ubuntu Linux 11.10 Unity Desktop

Ubuntu calls the information area the Application and System indicators. 

Clicking the icon of the right most point of the bar gives you access to settings, informs you if updates are available or it you need to restart your computer, switch between accounts and "power" down your system.

From here you can configure your instant messenger, email, check your battery life and configure power settings, Bluetooth, WiFi and speakers. On the computer in the screen shot, Dropbox has been installed and the indicator icon shows up on the same area.

Notifications from your email, messenger apps and system will pop-up in this area.

To take a look at multi-tasking follow this link.
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