Categories
GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source personal

New media reading habits on tablets and ebook readers

eBook reading

With the latest releases of ebook readers and tablet devices (iPad, xoom, galaxy tab, etc) reading habits are changing from paper based to digital in a faster pace than before.

I’ve been using my Samsung Galaxy Tab for reading a lot more. I enjoy more reading my social media updates (Twitter, Google+, Facebook) on this device than using my laptop. Sometimes I even prefer to use that device even when having my laptop in front of me. Maybe touch scrolling feels nicer than wheel or trackpad scrolling. I still don’t know what exactly it is that makes it feel better.

Broken Kindle

I once borrowed a Kindle from work and one day, right before a 6hr long flight, the screen got damaged. On that trip I wanted to try out travelling with only the Kindle and no paper books, so I was left without any reading material. It was a frustrating waste of time. The advantage of travelling light is no longer very attractive to me over the advantage of reliable reading material.

On the other hand, I’m also very concerned about DRM in ebooks and the volatility of digital goods. Being in a “third” world country, I’m not used to buying digital goods, since there hasn’t been much services available and many US based services are blocked or restricted. The good side of it is that with free software like Calibre, I can convert any PDFs I find into Kindle format easily.

Google Books

I am yet to try out the Google Books app in the tablet. I found a lot of excellent classic reading material for free so I can try before spending any buck like books from Jules Verne and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The advantage I see on reading on the Kindle over reading on my Android tablet is that the Kindle is a distractions free gadget. On my tab I’ll get easily distracted with new email notifications, app updates, status updates, etc.

Some friends claim to be reading more now that they have a Kindle than when having paper books. While other friends who own an android tablet or iPad device tend to use their laptops less at home after work is done.

So I still wonder why is ebook reading on these devices more and more attractive lately. Is it because of the novelty of the gadget? Is there a real advantage or commodity over paper books or is it just techie fashion?

Categories
GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source personal

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 review

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition at Google I/O 2011

I got the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Limited Edition at Google I/O in May. Its now mid September and I’ve been wanting to give it some use before giving an opinion about it and review it.

### The technical aspects ###

– Big display of 10.1 inches.
– Its got a fast processor, applications and games run very well.
Honeycomb is a nice operating system.
I couldn’t imagine this device with the Samsung Touchwiz that comes in the Galaxy S phones and the previous tablet. Its horrible! This one came originally with 3.0, which crashed applications frequently and had some bugs like not being able to change the clock’s timezone after setup. Now I understand they come with 3.1 by default. I’ve done the upgrade and its a lot more stable and smooth.
– 32GB internal memory, but no expansion slots.

One feature that I haven’t heard much talking about is that Honeycomb has a very nice security feature: it allows you to encrypt the whole tablet. I hope this feature makes it into Ice Cream Sandwich because its a lot more needed on the phone. I guess loosing the phone is more common that loosing a tablet.

### The uses ###

So far I’ve used it to watch videos on Youtube, playing Angry Birds and trying out some other games since the screen size is a lot more comfortable for gaming. I’ve been using it a lot for reading links from social networks, blogs and generally all my RSS feeds. It has become my casual browsing and social media device. With its big screen size and low weight its ideal for “couch computing”.

I bought a small generic base for it and some cheap desktop logitech speakers to put it in the kitchen counter to listen to music or watch and hear conferences, videos and South Park episodes while cooking or washing dishes.

### Apps ###

Although there are still many apps that haven’t upgraded their interfaces for tablet display using the latest Android toolkit, the ones that do look great. Here are the apps I’ve been frequently using on my tablet:

Plume for Twitter updates
Pulse for news and RSS feeds
– Gmail, this app has been optimized to look beautiful in the tablet
– Google+ is not optimized for tablets but its UI layout is okay
Mustard for my Identi.ca microblogging updates is not optimized for tablets
– Google Music in combination with external speakers or my home theater its a great music listening device
– Google Talk, video chatting from the tablet is very comfortable and handy
– Youtube
– Google Reader with its recent tablet layout version is now much more enjoyable to use

### The downsides ###

– Known factory defect of the corner glue. Haven’t heard of the issue on the new retail models.
– Lack of apps optimized for Honeycomb and general tablet layout
– Low sound
I don’t know if this is true to all android devices or just Samsung ones, but when I use external speakers with the Galaxy Tab 10.1 or my Samsung Galaxy S phone, the max volume is still low (even more with Flash videos) compared to when I plug in an iPhone or iPod device (even with Rockbox) on the same speakers.

### Final thoughts ###
I’m glad to have it. I like playing with it and having it around, its a handy device, but it is not a computer. I wouldn’t spend that much money for a gadget like this, but my mexican economy is not the same as the one from a “developed” country. But even then, gadgets here in Mexico cost twice as much (the first galaxy tab is $800 USD plus a two year contract).

I hope in the future prices will drop to netbook level prices (~$300 USD) and more interesting apps emerge optimized or made specifically for tablets on the android platform.

Do you have an android tablet device? I’d like to know how other people are using their tablets and what apps they recommend to get the most out of it.

Categories
Events GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source

Robots and Gadgets at Google IO 2011

There were a lot of robots and gadgets at Google IO 2011.

This machine was a very cool implementation of a 360 degrees view of Google Earth. The sensation of the view was fantastic, you could almost feel like flying in there.
Google Earth 360

I got to play a little with the Sony Xperia Play, and it was very nice. The screen size and buttons felt good and the phone has a good size and weight. Graphics are not exactly the best thing ever, but decent enough for a casual game. I’m not an expert gamer, so lets see how others review it now that its out in the market.

Sony Xperia Play

There was also exhibitions of the Google TV platform with some new demo products of companies developing interesting apps for it.
Google TV

Another cool thing was the giant labyrinth operated with a Motorola Xoom Android tablet using the Arduino Android Development Kit. I was not able to get one of the free Google Android Development Kits but the possibilities of what you can build with it are pretty exiting. That and the Android Open Accessory Platform, which will make it a lot easier for manufacturers and amateur developers to create great accessories compatible with any Android device.

ADK Labrynth

Robots were everywhere! And most were all connected in one way or another to an Android device.

Android Robot

The PR2 Robot is a robotic experiment platform. Its very expensive, but its equipped with a lot of tools (and an Xbox Kinect). On the talk they demonstrated how with the cloud robotic api and a few lines of python code you can manipulate and program this robot.

PR2 robot platform

This little robot was remotely operated and it had a Nexus S as its head.
Robot with a t-shirt

There were also automatic gardening implementation demonstrations.
robotic farm

These two wheel robots were roaming around everywhere. They look very cool and remind me of Rosie from the Jetsons. Only that Rosie had one wheel instead of two, and did lots more than just roam around. The interesting thing was that none of these robots bumped with the people at any time.

Robots

This is a hydraulic muscle robot, completely inflatable and could walk around and move.
hydraulic robot

This robot was improvising music playing the xylophone, or as I like to call it in Spanish: “marimba”. I hope to see someday a demo of this robot playing along with the mexican marimba players from the Veracruz state, where its a popular traditional instrument.
Marimba playing robot

This robot from the iRobot company (the guys who make the Roomba) was taking video testimonies about the event and asking attendees to answer polls. Now that’s a cool way to gather marketing material!

Video and poll robot

Soda serving robot

This is a modified roomba with an XBox Kinect and some more powerful processing that you can buy from iRobot as a home robotics platform to build interesting things. Such as a robot that can serve sodas in a party, or better yet, bring you beer.

The following video is of Sphearo, a robotic sphere that you can control like a remote control car using your Android device via Bluetooth. It seems like a very fun and probably pricey little toy.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a video compilation I made of the dancing android that spent the whole night dancing around at the after party, making everyone smile with its moves.

Categories
GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source Tutorials & Tips

Restore Samsung Galaxy S to Original ROM from Telcel Mexico

Flash Samsung Galaxy S with Odin

Two weeks ago, I messed up my Galaxy S phone. I was having trouble with the back key activating by itself without touching it. As I’ve said before, I use Darky’s ROM instead of the crappy Samsung/Telcel default one. So searching for a possible solution, I found out that you could update your touchkeys firmware.

Well, I went ahead and updated it. To my surprise, it completely disabled my touch keys (the back and menu buttons). So, if you have the same problem with you back button key, DO NOT upgrade your firmware if you’re using a custom or unofficial ROM…or keep reading… Now my problem was worse than before! I then searched for a solution on that, and the only answer was: return to the default ROM and upgrade the touchkeys again, then revert back to your custom ROM.

That’s when my long journey began. Back when I changed to Darky’s ROM, I used Clockwork Recovery to do so. And of course, I made a backup of my current ROM. Turns out that, to restore from a backup, you need to be on the original ROM (or the ROM that backup has). And well, I had no other place to get that, since I thought my backup would solve it all. So I ended up spending almost all saturday looking for the original Samsung Galaxy S ROM from Telcel Mexico, until I finally found it!

To flash your Android device, you’ll need a program called Odin which is a leaked Samsung application that unfortunately runs only on Windows machines. There’s an open source, cross platform flashing software called Heimdall, but I couldn’t get it to work correctly, there’s not much documentation, so I couldn’t figure out my problem. I hope that project grows and evolves into a more stable alternative to Odin. So, I had to borrow a Windows XP netbook from a co-worker for a day so I could use the Odin software to Flash my phone.

I wanted to share my finding with some friends who have asked me about the same problem. So follow this forum post if you need to revert back to the original ROM, or recover your phone from a backup and you have a Galaxy S from Telcel. The post makes reference to this unofficial guide to upgrade to Froyo in case you loose your 850Mhz band.

I hope this solves your problems and helps you save all the time I had to invest to get to this solution. Changing the original ROM on your Android device is a risky move, but I find it worth it.

Photo is Creative Commons by fraencko on Flickr.
Categories
personal

Arriving late to the mobile computing era

mobile computing

As I’ve mentioned on previous posts, I recently got an android phone. And I don’t say “smartphone” because I had a Nokia N95, which was considered a “smartphone” back around 2007 or so. But this phone is different. Ever since the BlackBerry and the iPhone got out and then the Android OS devices, the small device in your pocket was no longer “just a phone”.

I know, I’m VERY late to write about this topic as if it was today’s novelty. The fact is that at the time of this writing, not everyone yet has joined the mobile computing world. I would like to share some of the things I’ve been using my phone, for others who, like me, are joining late the smartphone world.

So, for those who are still thinking on getting a smartphone, and wondering what’s the big deal or the big buzz around the topic, here are three basic ideas that I’ve found out after I got my android device:

Your device is not a phone, its a pocket computer.

That’s the first paradigm I noticed to be a big shift. What’s the big deal about it? Well, you can install and create lots of applications that you can use as entertainment, but specially to assist you on the go. You would never have on your desktop/laptop an application to split the restaurant tab, or remind you your grocery list, or aided with GPS and accelerometers to track your exercises. Its a different kind of computing you’ll be experiencing.

Your device is an extension of your desktop/laptop.

With applications like Chrome2Phone, you can easily extend what you’re doing on your computer to your mobile device. I sometimes search for an address on my computer browser, since the normal keyboard is more comfortable, and use this app to send the map to my phone, so I can use it on the road to get to my destination. Once I traveled to Mexico city for 7 days and did not used my laptop at all! Games, browsing, socializing, were all done from my phone (I did no programming those days, I was on vacations).

Your device is an extension of your memory and yourself.

Having a computer in you pocket handy for whenever you need it and packed with applications for many uses, you can have a better control of your time and tasks. Your to-do list, your calendar, your contacts, your social network notifications, your camera, all this in real-time sync with the online world and your computer can help you not miss anything, from attending a meeting, tracking your health or saving a moment through a video or photo and immediately sharing it to get real-time feedback.

For those who have already been in the mobile computing era for a while, what has been your experience? How has your life changed since you got your smartphone?

Photo is Creative Commons Licensed by Johan Larsson on Flickr
Categories
GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source personal

Thoughts & Tips on the Samsung Galaxy S from Telcel

Samsung Galaxy S
After a couple of months of having the Samsung Galaxy S from my carrier Telcel, I now feel I can write a few lines about it and give you some heads up if you’re in Mexico and planning to get one as well.

The Good

First of all I’d like to start saying that it is a great device. Its a very light and slim phone. I used to carry around a Nokia N95, and switching to the Galaxy S is like switching from carrying a brick to a small pebble. I actually had some jeans with the mark of the N95 stretching the denim, now I wont worry about ripping my jeans with my phone. The screen size is great and the Super AMOLED resolution is very comfortable and bright. If you’re used to the iPhone’s screen, you’ll definately love the Galaxy S bright and high contrast screen. Also its a very fast phone with its 1Ghz processor and a very fast GPU unit, its the most decent Android phone offered by the largest carrier Telcel (at the time of this writing).

The Bad

That said, now to the bad sides of it. First, it comes with Eclair and the Froyo update is yet to be announced in Latin America (or at least Mexico as far as I know). But mainly, the bad part is: its from Telcel. And I’m not talking about the carrier service (which is very questionable, but off topic). What I’m saying here is that Telcel “crippled” it. The phone is loaded with crapware, and is missing key android OS ingredients.

They decided to remove Google search and replace it with Yahoo! (Bing). They removed the Gmail and Gtalk apps, and replace is with a Samsung email app doesn’t support Gmail at all, Gtalk is completely abscent. Oh and forget about trying to install them through the Android Market; its been filtered so these Google apps and others (like Firefox and Adobe Flash among others) are not available.

And last but not least, they removed the Voice Dialler app. Now why would they do that? For me its a security risk, since I drive a lot and I’m used to voice dial via my Bluetooth headset. Now I have to turn my sight off the road to see the phone in order to dial a phone, risking myself (and others) while driving.

I contacted Samsung Mexico and they answered back saying that those changes were made by Telcel, so they are really the ones to blame for this atrocities.

Samsung Galaxy S

The Ugly

The good news is that custom ROMs are the solution to these problems. If you don’t mind the warranty and all that, you can “safely” use Darky’s ROM which is based on Froyo with some nice improvements (thanks to @weymaster for helping me with my fear to install it). So far its the only ROM I know that works well with Telcel in Mexico. It makes the phone very fast, improve battery use and fix some GPS issues the Eclair based original firmware has. It also restores all the Google apps that Telcel removed, removes the carrier’s crapware and unfilters the Android Market. I really recommend the “upgrade”.

The Darky’s ROM page has all the instructions on how to upgrade. On my experience, I recommend you to use the Wipe version, which will delete everything on your phone, so be sure to make a backup first, of the data and an image of the original firmware, just in case you need to take it to warranty and you have to restore the phone’s original state from the carrier.

Conclusion

Overall its a very good choice if you’re in the looks for a smartphone of this kind and don’t want to buy an iPhone. I’ve been very happy with it, and even more after I “upgraded” it.

If have one, share in the comments your experience with it, maybe give out some tips on must have apps. I’ll be posting more on android and mobile computing now that I finally joined that bandwagon.