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Plantronics Marquee 2 Bluetooth headset review

IMG_20150921_185510382

Some years ago I wrote about the first version of this Bluetooth headset and it was great. Since then, Plantronics has launched a second version, the Marquee 2, model name is M165. It is not new, it’s been a few years already in the market, but the reason why I’m writing about it now is because it simply is the best Bluetooth headset out there.

The battery is great: it lasts 7 hours of talk time and about 14 (or more) of idle time. One time I dropped it while turned on at my wife’s car and found it a day and a half later with still about 2 hours of battery life!

On to the practicality of the device. It has voice commands to answer calls, so if you’re driving or washing the dishes, you don’t even have to touch a button. Now, there are other devices that have this too, but most of them are above the $50 USD price. The Plantronics Marquee 2 is only $35 USD.

IMG_20150921_185432988_HDR

Another good feature is the physical switch to turn it on/off, a button for volume and a button for commands. This is very important for reliability. I have a Moto Hint, it’s a beautiful piece of hardware, but it is extremely unreliable. With the physical buttons you are sure that the device is on/off and that it does exactly what you want when you need it. No accidental presses, no battery drain surprises because you thought you turned it off and it wasn’t. Also every time you turn it on, a voice tells you how much battery time is left. No need for an app with an indicator or a special button press to get that info.

The hardware design is roughly the same as the previous M155 version. It now comes in white and black and it has a matte finish. It is very light and comfortable. It comes with several ear holder sizes to adjust it and also a loop if you feel more secure with that. It’s not long like the famous top quality Plantronics Voyager, which I wouldn’t feel comfortable using in the street. This one is very discreet and small, and you can put it safely in your jeans right side pocket (yeah, that small one that almost no one uses).

About the sound quality, for $35 USD it is surprisingly good. A decent high volume, loud enough to hear music or conversations in a busy street. Noise cancelling is not the best in the market but you get a clear sound across. I’ve done tests with the Jawbone Icon HD which is almost twice as expensive and every time my test subjects on the other side of the line tell me that when I’m on the M165 it sounds like I’m using the handset microphone and with the Jawbone Icon HD I sound very far away. Oh and you can also use it to listen to music, not only calls.

In general, I can’t stop recommending this device for price, sound quality and reliability. If you’re looking for a Bluetooth headset, you won’t be disappointed with this one.

If you would like to buy the Plantronics M165 you can get it for a good price at this link. Buying it from that link will also support this blog.

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Tell me your experience with this or with any other headset you recommend in the comments section. Also if you like this bluetooth headset review.

Say hi to me on Twitter: @gabrielsaldana or on Instagram: @gabrielsaldana.

Categories
GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source

Debian on Lenovo Thinkpad X240

I recently got myself a new computer, the Lenovo Thinkpad X240. It’s my first Thinkpad so I cannot compare it to previous models. My old laptop is a Dell XPS m1530 that’s about 5 years old by the time of this writing. Still very functional but I wanted an upgrade in hardware and a lighter computer to travel with.

The pros:

– weight
– matte screen and higher resolution
– keyboard
– speed (processor, RAM, SSD, USB3)

The cons:

– GNU/Linux compatibility
– wireless
– brightness controls
– FN key and FN Lock

So let’s go and review the whole thing:

### BIOS

It came with Windows 8 pre-installed, but I immediately installed Debian Testing (Jessie) on it. This machine comes with UEFI boot, but fortunately it has a Legacy mode to behave like normal BIOS. Installing like normal boot instead of UEFI boot is a lot easier and you don’t have to struggle with the disk partitions and boot options. On the boot configuration settings, disable secure boot and set it to legacy boot first instead of UEFI boot first.

### Hardware

Lenovo X240 open

The X240 is very light, even with the additional 6 cell battery instead of the default 3 cell battery. It is a 12.5″ computer, so it can be comparable to a Macbook Air or similar computer. The case is plastic, but feels very well built and durable.

X240 width

There are no indicating LEDs anywhere except for the power button LED that indicates if the computer is on, off or suspended (blinking). There are no hard disk writing indication, battery charging indicator, wireless, bluetooth or any. Just an additional led behind the screen, the dot in the “ThinkPad” logo lights following the power button LED and that’s it.

This is a bit confusing specially when charging the laptop, since the charger also lacks any LED indicator, so the only way to know if your computer is charging is with the software indicators in your desktop environment (the battery monitor icon in your system tray).

It has no HDMI port, but it has the old VGA adapter and a mini digital port for external monitors. Only 2 USB ports, both are USB 3.0, and one with power over USB. My model came with a fingerprint reader, an SD card reader, a 720p webcam and an Ethernet port.

### Keyboard

Lenovo X240 Keyboard

It seems that all new Lenovo models are coming with the new “chicklets” style keyboard and its new layout. I’ve heard some criticism about it, but since this is my first Thinkpad, I’m not biased. Comparing to other laptop keyboards, it is nice. The keys feel good and not fragile and is very silent. My only compliant was the strange placement of the Fn key where I usually expect the Ctrl key. Fortunately for me as an Emacs user I map my CapsLock key to an additional Ctrl and use that instead, so my key stroke memory doesn’t get much affected by that. What I didn’t like is that the F keys are now by default media keys and to use them as F keys you need to press Fn+key or Fn+Esc to activate ‘Function key lock’ then press the F key you need. So, for example, if you want to reload your browser and immediately lower the volume of the speakers, you have to strike additional keys.

The screen brightness control keys by default didn’t work for me, but there is a fix. You need to load the thinkpad acpi kernel module on boot. So edit /etc/modules file and add:

thinkpad_acpi

Then you’ll need to add this to your /etc/default/grub file and check that your kernel options are as follows:

RUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet acpi_osi=!Windows2012 acpi_backlight=vendor"

This will enable the volume, mute, brightness and wireless media keys. I haven't been able to make the microphone mute button work.

The keyboard backlight works by default using FN+spacebar and it looks nice. It has three states: dim, bright and off.

### Pointers

As many other previous ThinkPads, the X240 still keeps the nipple mouse or clit mouse or however you've heard it's called. The downside is on the trackpad, now called clickpad which has no hardware buttons but does have a larger surface area. By default on Debian Jessie + KDE the clickpad works but it's not precise. When trying to press for a click it inevitably moves from the target area, so clicking is hard. Right click worked out of the box for me by just pressing the pad on its bottom right area. Clicking can be fixed by addding:

sudo apt-get install kde-config-touchpad

and configure single tap clicking, two-finger scrolling and three finger tap for middle click. If you like to use the /nipple/ pointer and miss the buttons for it on the top of the pad, you can configure the button area to be on the top part instead of the bottom part in the X config file.

Make sure you have the following in your file /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/50-synaptics.conf

    # This option enables the bottom right corner to be a right button on
    # non-synaptics clickpads.
    # This option is only interpreted by clickpads.
    Section "InputClass"
            Identifier "Default clickpad buttons"
            MatchDriver "synaptics" 
            #Option "SoftButtonAreas" "50% 0 82% 0 0 0 0 0"
            Option "SoftButtonAreas" "60% 0 0 5% 40% 60% 0 5%"
    #       To disable the bottom edge area so the buttons only work as buttons,
    #       not for movement, set the AreaBottomEdge
            #Option "AreaBottomEdge" "82%"
            Option "AreaTopEdge" "4%"
    EndSection

I found this solution at this blog

### Wireless

The wireless card is an Intel 7620 rev 6. After having to struggle with a Broadcom card for many years I thought my wireless card struggle days were going to be over. Well, turns out that the 7620 card is a very recent card and is not very well supported yet. By default it doesn't work with Debian. To make it work you need to enable the non-free repository and install

sudo apt-get install firmware-iwlwifi

This will enable your card and make it work, but if you suspend the computer, you'll loose bluetooth conectivity. To fix that you need to disable the 802.11n compatibility in the driver configuration. Add this to a file in a new file called: /etc/modprobe.d/wifi-disable11n.conf

options iwlwifi 11n_disable=1

I have experienced some instability with it. At random times the driver would just stop working and your card will seem working and connected but no traffic goes on. If you suspend the computer with the card in that state, it will not suspend and will hang the system. Once the wifi card is stuck the only way to bring it back is with a restart. I've tried rfkill, unloading and loading the module, but nothing works.

Another issue is that it will not connect to a wireless-n router, even when disabling n-band in the driver configurations. I had to configure my home router to only use b/g bands for it to connect.

**UPDATE**: Debian Jessie has upgraded to the Linux kernel 3.13, enabling the use of the iwlwifi driver version 22.24.8.0, which doesn't need any of the changes mentioned and doesn't crash anymore.

### Conclusion

Not being able to compare to other previous Series X Thinkpad models, I cannot say if the X240 is an improvement or not. I've seen a lot of criticism to it, and I don't blame them. Some indicating LEDs would be nice to have, and why does a new computer model in 2014 doesn't have an HDMI port and has the old VGA port instead? There are weird hardware choices in this, but overall I'm enjoying the portability and speed of the computer. I'm hoping that my GNU/Linux compatibility issues (specially the WiFi card issues) get fixed over time.

Do you have some other configuration or fix tips for Debian on the X240? What to you think of this model? Share some ideas with me on the comments.

Categories
GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source personal

Debian and the girlfriend

Ada with the laptop

We got a new computer for the girlfriend some months ago. Since her old laptop was running Debian Lenny and she loved it, but the software packages were quite outdated, I decided to install Kubuntu 10.10 on her new laptop. Assuming that it would be easier to use with all of Canonical’s and community customizations, handle and detect new hardware drivers better and will have more updated software.

Turns out that she barely used her new laptop, complaining a lot about it. First, she had to get used to the new KDE 4 environment, when she got so used to KDE 3.5 on Debian Lenny, but change is something we all have to face. But the real problems were that hardware was not working properly, the touchpad had no scrolling and since its a single button pad with virtual buttons, the right button click didn’t work. Also, the Dolphin file manager would sometimes not refresh the files on the folders, so she couldn’t see some files that were recently saved. When trying to shutdown it would freeze up or the KDE shutdown menu window would not draw any options. When finally shutting down, it sometimes hanged at the end of the process, thus not turning off the computer.

After about a month of complaints and frustrations, she demanded me to install Debian back. I explained to her my initial decision to go with Kubuntu and that a new version 11.04 was coming out in a few days and that might fix her problems. But her argument was strong: “I need stability, and I don’t like to be on the bleeding edge since I’m not technical, I can’t troubleshoot the issues. Its fine for me to stay with the same stack of software for two years until the next Debian stable release.”

Ada, ballet & GNU

So I went ahead and installed Debian Squeeze on her laptop, expecting a lot of time spent in forums to get her new hardware working, configuring files, compiling drivers, etc. To my great surprise, everything worked out of the box, with very minimum custom configurations. She immediately started installing all her favorite software and was very happy with her new system’s stability and fast responsiveness. Software was (to the time of this writing) decently recent, and very stable so now she has completely ditched her old computer, feeling perfectly comfortable. Although she still misses KDE 3.5, she’s getting used to KDE 4 and customizing it her way.

Oh, and she made it all pink.

Categories
GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source

Debian Lenny on Dell XPS m1530

dell-m1530
I got a new laptop in February. I wanted to get a Dell because of GNU/Linux compatibility in the hardware, but after seeing my available options at the time, I couldn’t get exactly what I was looking for.

But its a great machine after all. I got a Dell XPS m1530 the model that comes with a Blue-ray reader/writer, 4GB RAM, an nVidia card and a Broadcom wifi chip with a/b/g/n support.

So to get all of my hardware working on Debian Lenny, I had to do the following:

Wireless card

I got a Dell XPS m1530, with broadcom 4328 wifi card. This card is ugly because its Broadcom and you need to install a binary blob to make it work properly. Technically it is a good card and supports a/b/g/n bands.

To make it work you will need to compile the broadcom drivers provided on their website. But before you do that, you need to get these packages: sudo aptitude install module-assistant

Then blacklist ssb module by adding this to the file /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist
blacklist ssb
and update the init file with sudo update-initramfs -u

Graphics card

The graphics card is an Nvidia. You can get it working by using the debian way of installing the driver. Then install nvidia packages:

sudo aptitude install nvidia-glx nvidia-settings nvidia-xconfig

Then generate the Xorg config file with nvidia stuff:

run sudo nvidia-xconfig and restart X (press Ctrl+Backspace).

Suspend to ram

Both suspend to RAM and to disk work perfectly, but first you need to install uswsusp package:
sudo aptitude install uswsusp

and edit /etc/hibernate/ususpend-ram.conf by setting:
USuspendRamForce yes

SD card reader

It also works perfectly but only after adding the proper drivers:
sudo aptitude install libccid pcscd

What didn’t work

  • Multimedia keys
  • What I couldn’t get to work properly was the multimedia keys (volume, play, stop, forward, rewind) Eject works out of the box, but the rest don’t. They all worked when I installed (K)Ubuntu on a separate partition, but for some reason they don’t work on Debian Lenny. I’ve managed to make them work via xmodmap, but after a while of use, the xmodmap settings somehow are “forgotten” and I have to load my xmodmap file every certain amount of time.

    If someone has found a way to make the multimedia keys work, please let me know.

  • Sound through HDMI output
  • Getting video out worked after installing the nVidia driver (actually I didn’t test it before), but I couldn’t find a way to get sound. Not even with the latest nVidia driver.

  • Touchpad two-finger middle clicking
  • For some strange reason, after installing the nVidia driver, tapping with two fingers on the touchpad to do what you do with the middle click button on a mouse stopped working. I haven’t been able to get that functionality back, or enable other touchpad functions like two finger scrolling, that would be very nice, since the edge scrolling on this touchpad is not very sensitive and sometimes you must press very hard for it to respond.

I think that’s it. Other parts I didn’t mention, like the webcam, work out of the box, so I have nothing to say about that.

I really recommend the machine, it has great hardware and its GNU/Linux compatibility is good. You can find useful information on the Debian wiki page for the Dell m1530 too.