Tag Archives: mobile phones

My table tennis racket sized phone

I upgraded my Nexus 5 to a Nexus 6 the other day. It is a biiiig phone, and just to show you how big I made a little picture showing all my Android phones so far using the correct relative sizes. It certainly isn't very far away from a table tennis racket in size now. My Android track record so far goes like this: HTC Magic, HTC Desire HD, Nexus 4, Nexus 5 and now Nexus 6.

my-androids

As shown, this latest step is probably the biggest relative size change in a single go. If the next step would be as big, imagine the size that would require! (While you think about that, I've already done the math: the 6 is 159.3 mm tall, 15.5% taller than the 5's' 137.9mm, so adding 15.5% to the Nexus 6 ends up at 184 - only 16 mm shorter than a Nexus 7 in portrait mode... I don't think I could handle that!)

After the initial size shock, I'm enjoying the large size. It is a bit of a clunker to cram down into my left front-side jeans pocket where I'm used to carry around my device. It is still doable, but not as easy as before and it easily get uncomfortable when sitting down. I guess I need to sit less or change my habit somehow.

This largest phone ever ironically switched to the smallest SIM card size so my micro-SIM had to be replaced with a nano-SIM.

Borked upgrade procedure

Not a single non-Google app got installed in my new device in the process. I strongly suspect it was that "touch the back of another device to copy from" thing that broke it because it didn't work at all - and when it failed, it did not offer me to restore a copy from backup which I later learned it does if I skip the touch-back step. I ended up manually re-installing my additional 100 or so apps...

My daughter then switched from her Nexus 4 to my (by then) clean-wiped 5.  For her, we skipped that broken back-touch process and she got a nice backup from the 4 restored onto the 5. But she got another nasty surprise: basically over half of her contacts were just gone when she opened the contacts app on the 5, so we had to manually go through the contact list on the old device and re-add them into the new one. The way we did (not even do) it in the 90s...

The Android device installation (and data transfer) process is not perfect yet. Although my brother says he did his two upgrades perfectly smoothly...

I’m with Nexus 4

About two years ago I purchased my Desire HD made by HTC, which has indeed been a trusted work horse of mine. Even if does lack on the battery side and the micro USB connector has gotten a bit worn out so that most cables fall out unless I take precautions to avoid it.Nexus 4

Back then I upgraded from an HTC Magic to a rather high end device of the time. This time the bump goes like this in pure specs/numbers, and it is interesting to see how two years have changed the scene...

Size and weight

HTC Desire HD: 164 grams, 123 x 68 mm and 11.8mm thick. 4.3" LCD

Nexus 4: 139 grams, 133.9 x 68.7mm and 9.1 mm thick. 4.7" LCD

Two years ago many people asked me about the "big" phone and had objections. Today, that old 4.3" thing is small in comparison. As you can see, the Nexus 4 is basically "only" a centimeter taller than the old one, while a bit thinner and much lighter. The extra centimeter and the removal of the bottom buttons basically gave the extra screen reel estate.

htc-desire-hdPixels

HTC Desire HD: 800 x 480

Nexus 4: 1280 x 768

Roughly 2.5 times the number of pixels on screen.

Battery

HTC Desire HD: 1230 mah

Nexus 4: 2100 mah

70% more battery juice. Should come handy but won't stop me from dreaming about some real battery evolution!

More!

CPU: 1GHz single core is now a 1.5GHz quad-core.

RAM: 768MB of RAM has now grown to 2GB.

Price: The price on this new phone is lower than the old one as new!

Buttons: I find it interesting that I've gone from 6 buttons, to 4 to none through my three Android phones.

HTC Sense vs Stock Android: I've never been particularly upset with Sense, and now when the Desire HD is stuck on Android 2.3 and Nexus runs 4.2 they feel very different anyway.

A feature my HTC phone has and that I like, but that stock Android lacks is the ability to completely block (ignore) certain contacts on incoming calls. I can add sales people or telemarketers and then completely not see HTC Magic them at all, no matter how many times they phone me - not even as missed phone calls.

One thing I've actually been slightly annoyed with in the Desire HD is its really crappy camera. I believe the Nexus 4 camera has the same amount of pixels but I do have hopes that it'll allow me to take better pictures while being out and about.

I figured this posting wouldn't be complete without also include a picture of my first Adroid phone, the HTC Magic.

From Magic to Desire HD

htc-desire-hdI got into the world of Android for real when I got my HTC Magic in July last year, as my first smart phone. It has served me well for almost 18 months and now I've taken the next step. I got myself an HTC Desire HD to replace it. For your and my own pleasure and amusement, I'm presenting my comparison of the two phones here.

The bump up from a 3.2" screen at 480x320 to a 4.3" 800x480 is quite big. The big screen also feels crisper and brighter, but I'm not sure if the size helps to give that impression. Even though the 4.3" screen has the same resolution that several phones already do at 3.7" the pixel density is still higher than my old phone's and if I may say so: it is quite OK.

The Desire HD phone is huge. 68 mm wide, 11.8mm thick and 123 mm tall and a massive 164 grams makes it a monster next to the magic. The Magic is 55.5 mm wide, 13.6 mm think and 113 mm tall at 116 grams.

So when put on top of the HD with two sides aligned, the HD is 10mm larger in two directions. Taken together, the bigger size is not a problem. The big screen is lovely to use when browsing the web, reading emails and using the on-screen keyboard. I don't have any problems to slide the phone into my pocket and the weight is actually a pretty good weight as it makes the phone feel solid and reliable in my hand. Also, the HD has much less "margin" outside of the screen than the Magic, so the percentage of the front that is screen is now higher.

The big screen makes the keyboard much easier to type on. The Androd 2.2 (Sense?) keyboard is also better than the old 1.5 one that was shipped on the Magic. The ability to switch language quickly is going to make my life soooo much better. And again, the big screen makes the buttons larger and more separated and that is good.

The HD has soft buttons on the bottom of the phone, where the Magic has physical ones. I actually do like physical ones a bit better, but I've found these ones to work really nice and I've not had much reason to long for the old ones. I also appreciate that the HD has the four buttons in the same order as the Magic so I don't have to retrain my spine for that. The fact that Android phones can have the buttons in other orders is a bit confusing to me and I think it is entirely pointless for manufacturers to not go with a single unified order!HTC Magic

I never upgraded the Magic. Yes, I know it's a bit of a tragic reality when a hacker-minded person like myself doesn't even get around to upgrade the firmware of his phone, and I haven't experienced cyanogenmod other than through hearsay yet. Thus, the Android 2.2 on the HD feels like a solid upgrade from the old and crufty Magic's Android 1.5. The availability of a long range of applications that didn't work on the older Android is also nice.

Desire HD is a fast phone. It is clocked at twice the speed as the Magic, I believe the Android version is faster in general, it has more RAM and it has better graphics performance. Everything feels snappy and happens faster then before. Getting a web page to render, installing apps from the market, starting things. Everything.

The HTC Magic was the first Android phone to appear in Sweden. It was shipped with standard Android, before HTC started to populate everything with their HTC Sense customization. This is therefore also my introduction to HTC Sense and as I've not really used 2.2 before either, I'm not 100% sure exactly what stuff that is Sense and what's just a better and newer Android. I don't mind that very much. I think HTC Sense is a pretty polished thing and it isn't too far away from the regular Android to annoy me too much.

HTC Desire HD under a HTC MagicI've not yet used the HD enough in a similar way that I used the Magic to be able to judge how the battery time compares. The Magic's 1340 mAh battery spec against the HD's 1230 mAh doesn't really say much. The HD battery is also smaller physically.

USB micro vs mini. The USB micro plug was designed to handle more insert/unplug rounds and "every" phone these days use that. The Magic was of the former generation and came with a mini plug. There's not much to say about that, other that the GPS in my car uses a mini plug and thus the cable in the car was conveniently able to charge both my phone and GPS, but now I have to track down a converter so that I don't have to change between two cables just for that reason.

The upgrade to a proper earphone plug is a huge gain. The Magic was one of the early and few phones that only had a USB plug for charging, earphones and data exchange. The most annoying part of that was that I couldn't listen with my earphones while charging.

The comparison image on the right side here is a digital mock-up that I've created using the correct scale, so it shows the devices true relative sizes. I just so failed at making a decent proper photograph...

The Rockbox future is an app

We rarely discuss what the future of Rockbox looks like, as it rarely actually matters. We work on whatever we think is fun and all things are fine.

Now, I'd like to do something different and actually lift my nose and stare towards the horizon. What's in the future for Rockbox?

Dedicated mp3 players vanish

I claim that the current world of portable mp3 and music players is dying. Within just a few years, there will only be a few low-end players left being manufactured and most portable music will be done on much more capable (CPU and OS wise) devices such as the current smartphones, be it Android, Maemo or iPhone based ones.

While maintaining Rockbox to work and prosper on the existing targets is not a bad thing, the end of the line as a stand-alone firmware is in sight. I say the only viable future for Rockbox when the players go very advanced, is not to make Rockbox handle networking etc, it is to make sure that it can run and function as an app on these new devices and to take advantage of their existing network stacks etc.

HTC Magic

An app for that?

Rockbox as an app has been a story we've told the kids around the campfires for a good while by now and yet we haven't actually seen it take off in any significant way. I'm now building up my own interest in working on making this happen. In a chat after my Rockbox talk at Fosdem 2010, two other core Rockbox developers (Zagor and gevaerts) seemed to agree to the general view that a Rockbox future involves it running as an app.

Out of the existing systems mentioned above, I'd prefer to start this work focused on Android. It has the widest company backing combined with open source and it's also the most used open phone OS. I don't think there's anything that will prevent us from working on all those platforms as the back-bone should be able to remain the same and portable code we already have and use. Heck, it could then also become more of a regular app for common desktops too.

Challenges

Changing Rockbox to become an application instead of a full operating system and application suite involves a lot of changes. Some of the things we need to solve include:

  • We need to make sure we can use the OS' native threading without any particular performance loss. The simulator shows that there are might be problems with this right in the current code as it runs dog slow on a Nokia n900.
  • The full suite of plugins and games and so on doesn't really fit that well when Rockbox is just an app in itself.
  • Different screen sizes. Lots of stuff in Rockbox assume a compile-time fixed screen size, while a good phone app would have to be able to work with whatever size the particular happens to feature. I don't think we need to care about live resizing (yet).

Rockbox

Update, July 2010: The app part II.

Open Android Alliance

In the past: cyanogenmod made one of the most popular 3rd party Android ROMs for HTC devices. Personally I haven't yet tried it on my Magic, but friends tell me it's the ROM to use.Android

On September 24th 2009, Google sets their legal team on the ROM creator, asking him to stop distributing the parts of Android that aren't open source but in fact are good old traditional closed source apps - made by Google. Cyanogen himself (Steve Kondik) responded something in the spirit that since the ROM only runs on hardware that already runs the apps users already have a license to use them. Google responded, saying they protect the Google Phone Experience.

This C&D act triggered a huge reaction in the Android communities as people suddenly became aware of the fact that A) parts of the Android core OS aren't at all open (source) and B) Google is not the cuddly Teddy Bear we all want it to be.

In the xda-developers.com front, where a lot of the custom ROMs are being discussed and users of them hang out, they created the Open Android Alliance with the intent of creating a completely open source Android.

In another end and indepedently of the xda-developers it seems, lots of participants in the google group android-platform pretty much decided the same thing but they rather started out discussing exactly what would be needed to do and what code there is and so on.

Currently, both camps have been made aware of each other and there have been expressed intents of joining into a single effort. I don' t think such subtleties matter much, but we just might see the beginning of a more open more free Android project getting started here. I'll certainly be interested in seeing where this is going...

Updated: they now have their own domain. Link in article updated.

My HTC Magic Review

This is my first "smartphone" I've owned myself so of course I have nothing else this fancy to actually compare against. I've played around with others' a few times but that doesn't really count. I've owned perhaps 8 mobile phones since I got my first one 1996, and they have all been Nokias and Sony Ericssons.

I was never really interested in iPhone due to many reasons. It is not open. It has a (very) restricted app distribution mechanism. It forbids apps from running simultaneously etc. And it has a pretty strong connection with itunes with no proper mass-storage syncing supported. But I admit that it has a slick UI and many cool apps.

My plan is to get some Android hacking going eventually and this is basically the first Android phone that has reached Swedish soil. I mean without requiring me to bend over backwards to get it, as I'm sure I could've bought previous Android phones from obroad if I really wanted to.

Random good things:

  • it's fast, most things run faster than on my previous Sony Ericsson thing and yet this is way more advanced with much bigger screen estate and fancier UI
  • it has a nice gui that you mostly can guess how to work with
  • I love being able to use a qwerty-style keyboard when messaging instead of relying on T9 etc
  • wifi is fun, but with a decent data plan it basically only brings me slightly improved speed and I often can't even tell the difference!
  • the integration with the Google services are nice, gmail and maps most noticeably
  • there really are a bunch of existing cool apps (I know iphone has lots more, but there are still thousands)
  • it has a much better approach to messaging, similar to what I've seen in the iphone, than I've ever experienced in a Nokia or Sony Ericsson. It focuses on conversations and keeps the "thread".HTC Magic
  • I really really like the feeling of it being a networked thing that also can make phone calls. I can browse, use maps, use gmail just as easily as I can message or call people. With my previous phones all the internet-related services always felt tacked on like a very late afterthought.
  • The notification system is nice, and the three-screen wide "home" with its widget-system is really neat.

Bad stuff:

  • I've had some apps crash on me on occasion. But it's rarely a problem as they're restarted automatically for me.
  • Toggling wifi on/off a lot can sometimes lead to me not getting any data network at all, and I've had to reboot the phone to get back to phone-based (Edge/3G) data.

On-screen keyboard

Of course any and all geek friend I have ask me about how I deal with the on-screen keyboard. I must admit I'm still quite fond of it. Mostly because a physical keyboard makes the phone clonky and it adds physical contraints and wear-points that I don't like. So the keyboard is a bit small, especially when the phone is in portrait mode, but the suggested completions are fine and I believe I'm already typing pretty quickly on the thing. When I ssh'ed from the phone to one of my servers I did find the obvious lack of cursor keys (to for example navigate an ordinary ncurses-based app or the command line history of a bash prompt) but other than that I really can't complain.

Background Applications

One obvious advantage compared to iphones is of course the ability to run applications exactly the way I'd like. I can actually run the irc client and then have it in the background while I go browse the web or answer a call or whatever and then at my choice go back to the still connected irc client. In fact when playing with this it feels like a really ridiculous restriction of the iphone.

Comparing to my SE w550i

My previous phone is 94 grams compared to the Magic's 116. The magic has a much bigger screen. The magic is roughly 11mm wider and 14mm taller. That makes it use 30% more volume (85 cm2) but still fits fine in the front pocket of any set of pants I use. The magic claims a lot longer battery life, but given that it has so much functionality I can't help to play with all the time I doubt it'll notice. It'll more likely run down fast simply because I'll use it more.

I'm also pleased that there's no problem to just plug in the Magic to my Linux desktop and copy/sync the photos and the videos etc.

Google Integration

I realize some people will feel that the very tight integration with Google and Google's services is a downside as it adds just another item that Google "owns" in your life. Still, it makes the experience very slick and as a user I get a lot of stuff "for free" as it just connects to lots of things that I already used and had accounts on. So gmail, sharing photos on picasaweb etc "just works".

Kernels on those phones

So Google says there could be 18 phones running Android by the end of this year. In Sweden we just days ago got HTC Magic, the first ever Android phone showing up here (tied to a ridiculous operator deal that makes me and lots of my friends not go that route). Then Palm shipped their Palm Pre just days ago, also based on Linux.

This has brought the interesting questions: how is the state of these kernel HTC Magicports in regards to the mainline Linux tree? They're both using ARM cores (of course).

The ARM kernel maintainer Russell King himself is not impressed. Apparently Google hasn't even tried to push their work upstream to the kernel in a long while. The tone in that discussion did make it sound as if they might be starting to work on this again now.

The Palm guys apparently haven't even yet shown any code at all, but is said to be releasing their code within two weeks to opensource.palm.com.  They have not even tried to push their work upstream, so I figure they're either not even going to bother or they are facing a rather steep uphill battle in the future.

Bright Mobile Open Source Future

There have been so many open source initiatives for mobile phones in recent years it's not even funny (limo, openmoko, Android to name some of the possibly biggest ones). The amount of actual phones on the market using one of them have been very very limited. Apparently there are some Motorola phones running Linux and you can get the Linux-based Nokia N800 tablets but they're not even phones!

Obviously something has happened in the market though. Perhaps all those initiatives have pushed the big ones into thinking in more open source ways. The most interesting part of today's news about Nokia buying the entire Symbian is their stated intension to open source it. (they've even already chosen the Eclipse Public License for it). It'll be intereseting to see if there's any interesting synergies coming up from Nokia's previous purchase of Trolltech.

Of course, even Symbian has but a small fraction of the entire phone market as they sold 18.5 millions units in Q1 2008. IDC says 291 million phones were sold in the world during Q1 2008, which thus should position Symbian on roughly 6% of the phones that are sold today in the world!

I'm also curious if this will mean that Nokia will use Symbian on a larger scale on their own phones, as currently they seem to use Symbian only on a very small portion of their high-end phones. With Nokia owning the whole thing, they might see a bigger motivation to consolidate their own use of operating systems.

3gp movies on Debian

Sony Ericsson w580iI recently shot a little video with my phone (SE w580i) and when I copied it over to my Debian Linux box I of course immediately realized I had no video players that would show a 3GP film. Or rather, they all showed it but none of them played the sound! It seems the phone uses the 'amr_nb' codec for audio, which is a non-free thing that my "Debian unstable" players (not very surprisingly) don't have built-in support for...

Anyway, if you close your eyes for the problems with closed proprietary evil, I got pointed to the cool site www.debian-multimedia.org and then I could add the following line to my /etc/apt/sources.list

deb http://www.debian-multimedia.org unstable main

... and do a plain plain "apt-get update" and "apt-get dist-upgrade" and wham, my mplayer could now show the 3gp video with sound.Film and Sound icon

The only slightly quirk remaining is that I didn't manage to transcode the movie with audio nicely with mencode, but I didn't really spend enough time to figure out why.