Saturday, December 05, 2009

Early Impressions of the E72

As the successor of the E71 (duh) - the E72 retains the svelte dimensions and long list of features, but with a faster processor and a slightly redesigned chassis. So does the device live up to the expectations of this E71 owner? Unfortunately not.

Things I don't like:

Build quality. For something slated as a business phone, and with fairly high RRP the E72 feels cheap in the hand, especially when compared with the E71. The percentage of plastics used in the chassis has been increased, and moreover the plastics used seems to be of a lesser quality as well. The metal accents are also thinner than on the E71, from the rear battery panel, to the border that frames the front of the device. It could be argued that Nokia went this way to reduce the weight of the device, but according to the Nokia website, the E72 is supposedly 1gram heavier!

This is very disappointing indeed as many reviewers expressly stated that the quality of the E72 had not changed, or have been improved on. So the question is, are these people on the take, or are they getting a different phone that the production model? Either way, you just have to hold the two phones in your hand to realise that the quality is NOT the same standard.

Unfortunately this decrease in quality has extended to the most important part of the phone - the keys. Unlike the E71, which have springy keys with a very precise travel and weight, the keys on the E72 are the exact opposite. The keys in the middle of the qwerty are fine and springy, while the ones on the edges are spongy and have less travel. The shortcut keys to are fine, and so are the call accept and end, but the two softkeys are lack are spongy and lack the clickyness of the others - this is even more obvious since you have to click those two keys in order to lock/unlock the phone keyboard each time. So basically you have a mess of keys that all require different pressures to register a click, and also feel differently, which makes typing on the phone difficult and frustrating. Very poor indeed for an email/messaging phone, and even more so since they got it so right with the E71.

Just as test to see if the issue is an inherent fault with the different keyboard layout, I compared the keys to the E63, the cheaper brother of the E71, which have identical keyboard layout. I must say that even the E63, with its rubbery and more spongy keys, still offer a superior and consistent experience than the E72. If this hardware inconsistency is a result of Nokia's recent decision to manufacture their phones to China (they were previously made in Korea) - then this does not bode well for the future of Nokia, as it degrades the reputation they have for making solid phones.

Lastly, the E72 has the new optical navigation key which is a first for Nokia, and perhaps other phones - it relies on essentially a small touch sensitive square in the middle of the fairway navigation key, and allows you to scroll through the screen and through menus by swiping your finger over it. In theory at least, this interface was supposed to offer some of the touch-screen goodness that is lacking in this non-touchscreen phone, but alas, the optical navi key is a gimmick.

Swiping the key like a deranged person doesn't really get you much further - I find it was less effort and more accurate to just press and hold the navigation key. Scrolling websites was a little better, as the navikey allows you to scroll diagonally on pages, but with the way the Nokia browser was designed, the little cursor is always being pulled towards the nearest clickable link as you scroll, so it effectively stops scrolling whenever you hit one. Perhaps the only redeeming quality of the navikey is that it offers the option of haptic feedback, so you know when the phone has registered your swipe - but it only seems to highlight how finicky the whole system is, and how many false 'swipes' it can register. You can turn the navikey off, but this means that it disables the one use of the navikey which I actually like, which I'll discuss more in the positives section below.

Things I do like:

But there are some redeeming features to the E72, though I'm still not sure it is enough to win me over. Firstly, the phone now runs on a 600Mhz processor with more RAM and ROM than the E71 - this doesn't really translate much to performance, except that the UI of the E72 has more eye-candy, with animations for every little thing. I'll resist the temptation to bag Nokia on the eye-candy, since some people might like it, but its a bit of a waste of CPU cycles to me.

The phone also comes with a 4Gb microSD card, which is handy for storing the photos and video you take with the 5MP camera. Ignoring the increase in pixel count, the camera on the E72 is noticeably superior to the E71's, rendering colours more accurately, and now employing the LED light as an autofocus lamp (a feature I first saw in the E75). The camera interface is also improved, which allows the user to engage the autofocus feature just by placing your thumb on the navikey, then pressing the button to take a photo. Having said that, the navikey's seemingly inherent sensitivity does mean that sometimes the autofocus is activating when you don't want it to, or more worryingly, not registering a touch when you do. If the navikey is turned off, the autofocus is engaged by pressing the navikey down, then releasing to take a picture. However, if the camera feels that it hasn't got the right focus (indicated by the red rectangle on the screen), it won't take the photo…which is annoying for the times when the focus is either good enough, or you don't care.

Ok, focussing again on the good (can you see where this is all going?) the E72 has more improvements on the E71, which I'll just list:

- 3.5mm headphone jack

- USB charging (with supplied proprietary cable)

- HSUPA (theoretical 10.2Mbps)

- more battery life (more efficient processor + same big battery)

- access to the secondary camera


If you haven't guessed already, I'm pretty disappointed with the E72 - having had such a stellar experience with the E71, I was really excited to have a phone which built on that foundation, with improved guts and features. Instead, what I have in my hand is a phone with a solid feature set, wrapped in a cheap, plastic case that I'm seriously worried would not last the two year contract I have it on. And frankly, for something with a RRP of $729 AUS, I expected more.

I'm not a Nokia fanboy as such, but I've always appreciated Nokia's solidly built handsets, great battery life, and their useful yet utilitarian UI - but if the E72 is indicative of the direction Nokia is going, I seriously question Nokia's longevity as a top tier handset manufacturer.

Quick early review of the MBP 13' with Mac OSX Snow Leopard

After having the MBP for just about 5 days, I thought I'd give my impressions of using the shiney apple laptop from the perspective of a long time windows user (this is my first Mac). To make it easier for me, I've broken my review down to three sections: Hardware, Software and Usability. Enjoy and be nice if you're commenting!


Probably don't need to say too much here, since its obvious that this is a beautiful piece of design and engineering. The fit and finish is stellar, the backlit keyboard is glorious, and the screen is nice and sharp. The device is compact, but feels solid - I'm still in awe of how Apple could fit so much computer into a thin and attractive package, while many other laptop manufacturers fail so miserably. I used to scoff at Mac apologists/fanboi's attempts to justify the Mac's higher pricing - but having scrutinised the build quality of the MBP's hardware, I can see what those extra dollars are getting me.

I was a bit worried how I'd get on with the depressible touchpad, but my fears were unfounded - using the touchpad either by tapping or pressing was accurate and precise - and for the times when my brain forgot, I could still use the touchpad as per usual, by clicking on the bottom left or bottom right for a left and right click respectively. I'll talk more about the touchpad later, because the most impressive thing about the touchpad is the underlying programming that makes it work.


Despite working almost exclusively with Windows PCs, I have had some experience with MAC OSX Tiger before, so I knew there were subtle differences in the way Macs and PC interfaces worked, things like the screen close/min/max buttons being on the top left, and using the command key vs ctrl for keyboard shortcuts. I did get a bit put off by the absence of a "My Computer" equivalent on the Mac Desktop, but you can actually activate that option in the preferences anyway.

The dock is nice for accessing your most commonly used apps, but I keep it hidden just to reduce clutter, though it doesn't matter so much day to day, but for things like iMovie and iPhoto, you need all the screen real-estate you can get.

I've not really played with many of the supplied apps that came with the MBP, with the exception of iMovie which I used to edit and post the unboxing video (taken with the iPod Nano!), but trying to move the video from the Nano to iMovie was a little more complicated that I expected. In the end, I found out that you actually download the movies from the Nano using iPhoto, which was a little counter-intuitive. Regardless, iMovie was a quite useable editing tool, though I was a little frustrated that it didn't work the way I wanted it too, but I'll chalk that up to being too used to using Windows moviemaker and Corel VideoStudio on the PC.

I had a brief play with Garageband (I was thinking of using it to make a soundtrack for the unboxing video) but it was a little too difficult and too much work at 12am, so I left that alone. I suspect that its complicated nature means that its quite a powerful audio editing and creation tool, but I may need to see a few more video tutorials before I tackle it again.

Safari is usable as a browser. So far I've only encountered one website it doesn't play completely nice with (Nokia website), but there's Google's Chrome and Firefox if I need them.

TextEdit works fine for my basic word processing needs (I'm typing this review on it) - and seeing as I'm expressly NOT going to use this computer for work, I'm not going to bother with getting Office or OpenOffice/NeoOffice on it right now.

But far and away the killer app for me has been the touchpad gestures. OMGWTFSWEETJEEBUS! You've got one finger tap, two-finger tap, two-finger scroll, pinch and stretch, three finger swipes, FOUR finger swipes! Ok, so beyond the use of two fingers it get's a little crazy, but the way Apple has implemented all these gestures is very clever, and done in that classy Apple way. Another on these apple touches (was that a pun? I dunno) were the mini videos that demonstrated the gestures and what they did - these are found in the touchpad preferences screen, where you can choose to deactivate the different gestures individually. My favourite gesture so far is the four finger swipe: swipe up, and it clears all your windows to expose the desktop; swipe down, and it lays out your opened screens, and you mouse over and click on the one you wish to view. No lag, no stuttering. Now usually I don't go gaga over all this kind of fluff - I turned off all eye-candy on XP and VIsta - but when something can be pretty AND functional, I am the first to admit that I'm impressed (and maybe a little aroused).


Now by usability, I guess I'm really posing the question "Can I function with this as my primary/only computer?" - and my answer would be a definite "Yes". Now as far as PC users go, I'm probably one of the more flexible in terms of needs, since all my email is on the cloud, and there isn't one app that I am absolutely bound to. Sure, I could think of some peripherals that I won't be able to use on OSX such as my current HDTV dongle, Nokia and Windows Mobile phones (for syncing purposes), but if I need to, then I can either install XP via bootcamp, or virtualise it via VMWare Fusion. Either way, any hurdles to switching are easily solved.

Final thoughts

Like them or loathe them, Apple knows how to make a good-looking device with a great user experience to boot. You may have to pay more for it, but you only have to use one to see exactly what your money is paying for.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A comparison of three Nokia E-series phones

The Nokia E-Series Smartphones: E63, E71 and E75.

I got inspired to do this comparison because my friend Erk was thinking of the Nokia E63 as an upgrade, a phone which my mum herself had recently purchased. I also still had the E75 for a few more days (on loan from @aussienick) , as well as the E71 to I own. Now being all Symbian S60 devices, the interfaces are all very similar between the three phones, so I've only concentrated mainly on the hardware. Here's how they stack up, noting that as their name suggests, the E63 is the cheapest, followed by the E71 in the middle, and the E75 being the priciest (and also the newest).

Build Quality:
E63 - its plastic body and light weight does make it feel slightly toy-like, but the tight seams between the different layers of plastic, and the soft touch material they've used gives the impression of quality. The rubberised material they use for the keys are a nice touch too, making them easier to press with either the meat of the fingertip, or with a fingernail (a plus for the user with long fingernails)

E71 - Its all metal construction gives the E71 a really sleek look and feel, and its probably the reason it was possible to make the phone so thin (its about 1cm at its thickest point) . The keyas are made of a textured plastic that feels like it last, but is a bit slippery. It looks expensive, but the use of shiney metal all over does make it a fingerprint magnet.

E75 - This phone is a bit of a mixed bag, with the all plastic front face and number keypad bordered with chrome-painted plastic giving the impression of a cheap and cheerful Nokia candybar phone. But turn it around and the stainless steel etched back combined with understated matte silver plastics is more keeping with a phone that's at the top of the E-series family. The keys on the QWERTY keyboard are also made of nicer material than the keypad.

E63 - standard fare for an entry-level smartphone: 3G (no HSDPA though), WiFi, Bluetooth.

E71 - similar to the E63: 3G (but with HSDPA), WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS.

E75 - identical to the E71.

E63 - it has a 2.34 inch landscape screen QVGA, which is smallish, but very usable. Its also quite bright.

E71 - has very similar specs to the E63 (the two look almost identical), but the screen on my phone wasn't as bright as the E63.

E75 - it has a slightly wider screen than the other two (2.4 inch) at the same resolution, but I didn't see that the extra 0.06 inches of screen is really made a difference. Screen is also nice and bright like the E63.

Battery Capacity:
E63 - 1500mAH
E71 - 1500mAH
E75 - 1000mAH
Bottom-line: based on anecdotal testing, the E75 runs out of juice in a day and a bit, whilst the E63 and E71 can go for about two days before needing a recharge.

Keyboard and keys:
E63 - it has a lot of keys, and they're all at the front of the phone - there is no volume buttons on the side, or power buttons at the top. What I like with the QWERTY keyboard here is that Nokia has catered to the SMS'er and Twitter, with all the common symbols having their own button (instead of having to sift through the menu for them), just as the @, ( and ). It also has a 'ctrl' button, so you can use functions like ctrl+x to copy, etc. The keys are all squished together, they are raised in the middle so its easier to press the right one.

Overall, the keys are nice and clicky, though slightly spongy compared to the E71.

E71 - very similar to the E63, with the majority of the buttons present in the front of the phone. The E71 does have volume buttons to the side, and a dedicated power button at the top. The keys are even more squished together than on the E63 (since the latter is a tad wider), and the some of the symbol keys are missing on the E71. Again, the QWERTY keys are raised so that its easier to discern individual keys by touch.

Keys are hard and 'clicky', and spring back immediately after you press them (versus the spongey E63 buttons) - but you do have to press them with a bit more force, which could lead to more tired thumbs in time.

E75 - This phone has buttons everywhere: at the front, on the side, and in the middle! Starting at the front, the keypad consists of strips of plastic, so that none of the numbers or functions have a single piece of plastic dedicated to them. Nevertheless, the keys are nice and clicky, but since they're all flat and flush with the surface of the phone, its hard to discern the different buttons by feel, and the reference 'bumps' flanking the '5' button doesn't really help. The direction button is a tad spongey, and there is a lot of give with the direction button before it registers.

There are chromed plastic keys on the side, as well as a dedicated camera button, with the latter having two stages like a camera ie pressing to the first stage pre-focuses the camera, and pressing to the second stage takes the picture. I like it, but the camera button is very easy to press to the first stage.

Slide the phone sideways and you've got a QWERTY keyboard. Its made of a nice rubberised material, but the keys are all flat and flush, and there is very little travel in them. Another criticism from my point of view is that there is no secondary direction pad on the QWERTY, so you have to move your right hand from the QWERTY to the direction pad on the front of the screen - you also do the same for the left and right softkeys.

E63 - your run-of-the-mill cameraphone. Fixed focus, 2.0MP sensor gives typical camera phone images, though its white balance processing is pretty good. LED light is there, but not really good for close-up or far away.

E71 - close but just misses the mark - auto-focus, 3.2MP at least renders sharp images, but it suffers from a blue tinge in all of the images captured - typical of cameraphones, its crap in low-light situations, and the LED light is useless far away, and blows out the images close-up.

E75 - The best of the three - auto-focus, 3.2MP has the sharpness of the E71, but it renders the colours more accurately, like the E63. A clever innovation by Nokia is that the LED flash is also used as an auto-focus assist lamp, so that the camera can focus in absolute darkness as long as the subject can be illuminated by the LED. The LED is useless for faraway subjects (no surprises there), but does a great job of compensating the exposure of the image when using the flash at close range.

Audio output:
E63 - it has a mono speaker that fires from the top of the phone, and also has a 3.5mm headset/headphone jack, so you can use normal headphones on it.

E71 - it too has a mono speaker that fires from the top of the phone, but uses a 2.5mm headset/headphone jack. My attempt at using a 2.5mm to 3.5mm adaptor my own headphones didn't work, so its the proprietary nokia headset, or nothing.

E75 - it has a mono speaker, but fires from the back of the phone, so its easily muffled if the phone is sitting on its back on a desk. It does have a 3.5mm headphone jack though.

Extras in the box:
E63 - as the 'budget' model, the only thing you get with the phone is the charger, headset and a 1Gb microSD card. The phone can plug into a PC via USB, but you'll need to buy a nokia data cable for it.

E71 - you get quite a bit more here: charger, headset, 2Gb microSD card, leather slip case (form-fitting and very nice), data-cable, CD containing Nokia PC Suite

E75 - almost exactly the same as the E71, but with a more capacious 4Gb microSD card (very nice indeed), and a suede slip case that was frankly too snug to get the phone out of!

Overall I think Nokia have done a pretty good job with all three phones, though there isn't a clear winner between them, which is kinda scary with the case of the E75, which at the most expensive (double the price of the E63) should really be blowing the other two handsets out of the water.

In terms of build quality, features and price, I'm glad that I bought the E71, though its hard to look past the E63 as a great entry level smartphone or texting phone (I've seen it available at$279 Aus prepaid with Three). As for the E75, I think Nokia kinda dropped the ball with that one, packing a lot of great features (and a great camera) into such a ergonomic mess of a handset.

Bottom line: if you want a pure smartphone and won't use the camera except for emergencies, go with either the E63 or E71 - the latter if you can afford it. I can't really recommend the E75 for anything, unless you must have a big QWERTY keyboard in small handset that runs Symbian; for the price, there are really better phones out there.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

E75 - makes a great camera phone

As I mentioned in the last post, the E75 has a really good camera. Yes, the images still look like they've been taken by a phone, but there were several key hardware and software elements employed by Nokia which helped make the E75 in my mind, a very capable point and shoot.

For a start the camera has auto-focus, and you can pre-focus by simply pressing the camera half-way. Unfortunately, pressing the button all the way down without pre-focusing bypasses focusing altogehter, but it does mean that you can take a photo quickly if you need to. But to me, what separates the focusing mechanism of the E75 from other phones - and indeed, other point and shoot cameras - is the use of the LED flash as an auto-focus lamp at low light settings. This brilliant choice by Nokia means that even in complete darkness, the E75 can produce a shot like this:

Seeing in the dark: Full marks to Nokia for employing the LED flash as an auto-focus lamp - this photo was taken at night in complete darkness, but the flowers are in focus, and despite being very close to the camera, the image is not washed out and the colours are close to life.

the correct render of the colours, and the absence of overexposure in the photo leads me to suspect that the white balance and exposure of the image is also calculated during the pre-focusing stage (see example below for more evidence). Honestly, I reckon Nokia should sell this technology to camera manufacturers if they thought of it, because I have stand-alone cameras that don't perform this well with a flash so close to a subject! It may be a hasty call after just using the cameraphone for a day and a half, but I think the E75 may be the best camera I've ever used in low-light conditions with the flash on!

As proof, I've added some macro shots taken of my laptop keyboard by my canon point and shot (A410, 3.2MP) compared to those of the E75 (3.2MP), another auto-focus cameraphone (E71, 3.2MP), as well as a fixed focus camerphone (Dopod 838, 2.0MP). To make things fair, all shots were taken one after the other, and with the flash activated and all settings set to automatic. The plan is to take more photos on the weekend (weather permitting) in a larger variety of situations (both indoors and outdoors), but for now, let us marvel as the prowess of the E75.

Umm, this is the standard?! : The Canon powershot A410 is a point and shoot camera with an auto-focus lamp, which definitely helped with the focusing. Unfortunately, the camera didn't/couldn't throttle down the exposure enough, and the "J" key has been completely obliterated, with some collateral brightening of the sorrounding keys. Colour is accurate where the image is not overexposed.

E75 : Subject is sharp, colours are accurate, and the LED flash has produced a bright section in the image, but nothing too severe. Auto white balance did its job well, with only a slight yellow cast compared to the Canon A410.

Dopod838 : Subject is reasonably sharp (macro setting on), but the black is washed out, and the LED flash has completely washed out the "B" key. White balance is correctly applied by the camera.

E71 macro shot: Where do I start? The image is more out of focus than the Dopod (auto-focus had trouble in low-light setting and dark subject), the image is the most overexposed of the three, and to add insult to injury, the white balance is completely wrong (my keys are not violet!)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Playing with the Nokia E75 - Preliminary thoughts

Thanks again to @aussienick, I have another shiney toy in my hands - the Nokia E75. Half candybar, half QWERTY slider, this phone straddles the boundary between feature and smartphone, and while having some a pretty capable multimedia features as well.

Having just played with the phone for a few hours, here are a few things that I've noticed:
Front on, you might mistake the E75 as another run-of-the-mill freebie Nokia phone
The Good:
-The E75 can be charged by USB (I think it may be one of the first Nokia phones to have that ability)
-It uses a standard 3.5mm headphone jack for sound output
-The camera is very good, with auto-focus, accurate colours, and proper compensation for when the flash is used (ie it throttles down so that the light from the flash doesn't wash out the image)
-It takes video in 640x480 at a high frame rate (30fps?) - the video is saved in .mp4 format.
-The fit and finish of the device overall is very high - the back of the device looks a million dollars - and the sliding mechanism is nice and precise
-The screen is bright and crisp.
-The QWERTY keyboard is spacious, and the materials for the keys look and feel high-grade and durable

From this side, the fit and finish of the E75 is closer to the standard of other E-Series phones

The Bad:
-Although charging is via usb, the port in the phone is proprietary, so you have to use Nokia cables (no microusb here unfortunately)
-The battery capacity is quite small - only 2/3rds the capacity of the E71 - I will test this more tomorrow to see how the battery copes with heavy use.
-The QWERTY keyboard lacks arrow keys (you're only method of navigating on the non-touchscreen phone) - so to enter text and navigate the screen, your right hand has to move back and forth from the QWERTY and the direction pad at the candybar face of the phone - you also do the same for the left and right shortcut keys.
-The phone automatically locks the keypad when you close the slider, which makes it annoying if you want to quickly switch from QWERTY to keypad/direction pad use in portrait mode (amendment: You can turn this off), as I often do when I want to switch from two-handed to one-handed use.
-Whilst the two halves of the slider are pretty solid when closed, when the QWERTY keyboard is slide out, the screen half of the phone does have a bit of wobble, and its the time when the phone feels the most fragile.

The Ugly:
-The front looks and feels like a cheap throw-away nokia - the thin bands of cheap feeling plastic that make up the number keys are ricketty, really close together, and the bottom left and right keys are very hard to press. They feel so fragile and such an afterthough, that Nokia maybe have done better without them, and just extended the length of the screen.

Keys made out of thin, flimsy plastic ruins the otherwise stylish E75

I think there is so much to love about this phone, but even just after a few hours of use, I can see there are a few hardware and functionality choices that may make it hard to live with this phone. Anyhoo, I'll keep an open mind, and report my findings while I have the phone.

I've posted some more images of the phone below, and I'll do a few phone camera tests later in the week.

Note the brighter screen of the E75 (versus the Dopod 838), and the classier look and feel of the device with the slider open

The smaller capacity battery on the E75 (left, versus the E71) may be a limitation and potential dealbreaker for business users

The E75 (bottom) is shorter, but thicker than the E71

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Quick and Dirty Review of the Viliv S5

Thanks to my generous friend (and fellow gadget geek) @aussienick, I got the chance to spend a few days playing with a really cool gadget, the Korean made Viliv S5. Since the S5 has been reviewed more comprehensively by more reputable people, I won't bother doing the product shots and long musings, and just distill my impressions of the device based on what I like and what I don't like.

The Likes (ie. WANT!):
  • Long battery life - at least 4 hours (haven't really tried to do a battery drain test yet)
  • Crisp 5' screen - 1024x600 in a 5' screen = high pixel density = awesome!
  • Stereo speakers - still a bit tinny, but loud enough for viewing videos without headphones
  • Build quality - feels good, looks good, and provided (?) case looks good.
  • Built-in 3G (as an option) - makes sense in a device you can actually use whilst walking
  • Touchscreen - because I love touchscreens :)
  • SSD - makes the device rugged, and provides faster boot-up and stand-by times.

  • Stubby telescopic stylus - the device is pretty wide, so it would have been nice if they could provide a stylus that was the same length as the width of the device, and had a silo on the hardware itself, instead of having it attached to the case
  • Touchscreen calibration issues - which I hope is only because the drivers for XP is not playing nice with Win 7 RC1 (installed in this unit), and not a hardware fault
  • Comes with plain XP - using Win7 on this emphasises how much more usable this device would be for me if it ran at least XP tablet edition
  • Small fonts - the trade-off of a high rez screen in a smaller screen - my eyes get quite tired when reading text
  • Onscreen keyboard - the buttons are nice and large, but the touchscreen can't really keep up with my thumbs unless I really slowed it down...and at that point, I'd rather use the tablet input panel for text entry (which I did)
  • Direction pad instead of a stick-type mouse - would have been so much better for the times when you want to keep both hands on the device, but still be able to navigate the whole screen
So there you have it, my impressions of the Viliv S5 so far. Overall, I do like the concept of the device, but for me there were just too many factors that prevented me from falling love with this device. In the end I felt a little disappointed, not because the device was a failure (because it did a lot of things right), but because it was so very close being my ideal gadget, but not quite getting there.

I do have a few more days to play with the Viliv S5 before I hand it back, so I'll update this post I find more things I like/don't like about it. Also, if you have any questions about it, or things you want me to test for you, just let me know and I'll post the answers up as soon as I'm able.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A good match: Twikini for Windows Mobile and my Dopod838

A lot has changed with my web habits in the last few years, and I've noticed more and more that Twitter is forming the majority of the web content I consume, especially on the mobile.

When I upgraded my phone last year, I switched from my WM dopod 838 to a Nokia E71. For me the choice was both due to the experience and the hardware - basically, symbian S60 worked better as a phone, and WM worked better as a PDA, and unfortunately for the Dopod, the phone part was more important to me at the time.

Now, I'm considering moving back to the Dopod 838, at least as a mobile web device, after I've found a really good twitter client available for Windows Mobile called Twikini, which works well with how I like to use my WM device.

Scroll wheel FTW!
Being the twitter addict that I am, I almost impulsively wake up and immediately check my twitter feed in bed (you've all done it - Don't you judge me!!!). Currently, I perform this task on my 1st Gen iPod Touch (using Twitterfon), which works really well, except for one exception (which shows off the depths of my laziness): I have to use two hands to scroll through my feed*!

Why does this matter? Well, because I surf/view my twitters while lying on my side in bed, which means that I usually have one arm under my pillow or under the covers (especially important in winter, where its good to limit the number of limbs exposed to the cold to the bare minimum). Also, if you've ever lost grip of your phone and have it smack you in the face, then you understand why body positioning is important when using a portable device in bed! Anyhoo, in the case of one-handed operation (oh grow up), this is where the Dopod 838/Twikini combo shines.

Twikini on my Dopod838 - Scrolling is easy with the little scroll wheel on the side. In portrait mode you can view 4 tweets at a time
(conveniently positioned for my thumb)

With Twikini (which offers my feed in a convenient running screen), all I have to do is use the scroll wheel on the side of the Dopod to scroll up and down my feed - the scroll wheel also works as a select button, so when I'm just passively surfing through my feeds, selecting links is a breeze and completely one handed. Unfortunately, if I do have to create a tweet or otherwise need to input some text, I will have to use two hands since the onscreen keyboard built-in to WM is not at all finger-friendly, and the Dopod's QWERTY keyboard is of the landscape variety. But again, Twinkini comes to the rescue by providing some intuitive and clever UI choices to make tweeting a breeze, and addresses one of my pet peeves with WM devices.

*Okay, so that's not strictly true - I have mastered the "hold with 4 fingers and flick up and down with thumb" manouever, but after a while it does get uncomfortable, and my thumb isn't especially flexible, so having the thumb moving around in such an unnatural position does hurt after a bit.

Keeping a firm grip
With twikini, there are several options available for replying or DMing - you can either select the option on the menu screen, or simply scroll to the twitterer u wish to converse with, and tap on the left arrow key to @reply, or right to DM. This simple UI choice might not seem that exciting, but its a godsend for me, since I loathe having to switch between using my QWERTY keyboard and the touchscreen to interact with my devices.

Twikini on Dopod in Landscape mode: In this position, keeping the device in your hands really requires two of them (but I needed one of my hands for taking the pic)

This may not be an issue that people really care/think about, but it really matters to me since I'm one of those people that constantly has their phone out and surfing the web while walking. Because I'm on the move, I like my phone to be as secure as possible in my hand/hands. Now in the case of the E71 and the Dopod 838 (in portrait mode), keeping a firm grip with one hand is a cinch because both fit equally snug in one palm. However, in the case of the Dopod in landscape mode (QWERTY keyboard in use), a firm grip can only really be achieved with two hands, so in that usage scenario, I prefer that both of my hands are holding onto the Dopod (thumbs on the keyboard) as much as possible - and with Twikini and its left/right shortcuts for @reply and DM (correction: right arrow actually performs a RT, not a DM), I can interact and with my twitter friends whilst keeping my device stable in both hands.

Anyhoo, if you want to try Twikini, they have a 14 day trial period available so you can see if you like it, at

A friend (@jodiem) did note some issues with scrolling, where use of the inertial scrolling sometimes selects a tweet instead, so its good to take advantage of this trial period to see if the device works well for your device and use case scenario. But I'll say that having used Twikini back when the app was still in beta, I've found the developers to be pretty receptive to suggestions, and are also good with updating the features on their program, so it pays to make your voice heard and provide constructive feedback.

Finally, before you all "get up in my grill" (fo shizzle my nizzle - wow, did I really say that?) - I do know of (and will be reviewing in turn) alternative clients for other platforms, such as Gravity for Symbian s60, and of course, twitterfon and tweetdeck for the iPod/iPhone. I'll also get around to reviewing some web-based, mobile-optimised twitter clients like dabr and slandr, but do let me know if there are others floating around, and I'll check them out too. Cheers!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Quick Battery Life Post

Since battery life is such an important consideration for any portable device, I thought I'd stress test my various gadget to determine the minimum battery life I could get from my current smartphone (Nokia E71) and my netbook with its shiney new 9 cell battery (Acer Aspire One).

Nokia E71:
With Wifi-on, 3G on, continuously downloading podcasts and web surfing whilst listening to said podcasts over its mono-speaker, I got just over 7hours of battery life before the phone shut itself down :) This is pretty impressive, and certainly explains why I usually get about 2 whole days with moderate use with this phone.

Acer Aspire One (with 9-cell battery):
With wifi-on, screen at 40% brightness and on 'home/office desk" mode, tweetdeck constantly on and itunes downloading podcasts every so often, the battery would last 4 hours and 50 minutes before the netbook would forcibly go into hibernation mode (at 3% battery life). I think this is phenomenal, and infinitely better than the paltry 1hr 30minutes that I used to get when using the supplied (2-cell!!!) battery. Since having the battery, I've found that I'm using the AAO a lot more, and now I'm tempted to get a USB dongle so I can take the web with me :)

Anyhoo, that was all, except that I am interested to find out what the battery life is on the shiney new iPhone 3Gs under the same conditions - I'm interested in getting one, but I have to see whether it can come close to the numbers I'm getting on my current phone, otherwise I could potentially be disappointed.

Monday, June 08, 2009

E63 vs E71 - pics!

Just a quick and dirty post comparing the Nokia E63 and the E71, two qwerty phones from the Nokia E series. Apart from the chassis (plastic vs metal), there are some subtle, but potentially important differences - and not all of them swing in the favour of the more expensive E71 (which kinda sucks since that's the phone I own :P) Actually this post will be especially quick and dirty, since I'm just gonna throw some comparison pics for now (and blurry ones at that - sorry!) and add some comments later. Enjoy the phone pron :D