Phone Choice

Free Software, Gadgets 18 Comments »

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My phone contract renewal is up in about a month and I’ll be eligible for a new phone. I’m not sure I know what exactly I want yet, but I thought I’d blog about my thinking around new phones and the contenders.

I love my current phone. Probably enough that I can use it for another 2 years. It’s showing its age though, and it feels so unprogressive getting the same one again. It’s a Motorola V8 (RAZR2). What I like about it is that it works great as a phone. Many devices have so many gadgets, features and gimmicks but somehow they neglect the phone part. This phone has good sound quality and reception and I like the way I can read SMS’s on the outside display and how it reads out who send me an SMS. While there’s lots of things I like about the phone, it’s pretty much in the past soon so I’ll lay out what I want in a future one.

I like clamshell phones (no need to lock keypads). I have a friend with a very fancy looking smartphone where he has to press more than 5 buttons just to enter a number to call. That sucks. Good sound quality and a good (GSM) radio is important. That was where it started, some basic requirements for a simple phone that does the job well. However, playing with my friends’ iPhones, Android devices and Blackberries, I’ve realised that I might actually have some use for a decent smart phone.

Nokia E71


I had a Nokia E61 previously and didn’t like it. The sound quality was horrible and I found Symbian to be incredibly annoying. A while back I played around with a friend’s Nokia E71. It’s a major improvement. It’s not as clunky or plasticky as the E61 was. It’s actually a very solid phone, and it has a beautiful big display for the size of the phone, which is just slightly larger than my RAZR2. Its metal finishes are great and I’d daresay that it’s the best built Nokia phone I’ve ever handled. Symbian is also being open sourced, so hopefully many of the old annoyances would also be cleared out. It also has a nice (although slightly gimmicky) feature where it remembers where you parked your car using its integrated GPS. This was the phone I was thinking of buying a few months back when I first started looking at phones. I can’t say that I have very strong feelings for or against this phone otherwise.



The iPhone has been revolutionary and has made a big impact on how we think about smart phones. They’re also readily available and quite cheap. It has a massively wide variety and amount of applications available for it. It’s not the proprietary system that it runs that bothers me so much, it’s more the freedom hating nature of Apple’s products. I’ve heard of someone from the UK visiting South Africa and plugging in their iPhone just to get it charged, and it changed the country settings automatically not allowing the person to access any of the apps they downloaded in the UK. While the iPhone seems like a nice device, I can’t say that I’m particularly interested. I have an iPod and have used OSX quite a bit to see what all the fuss is about, and I’ve found it quite underwhelming.

Palm Pre


I enjoyed reading Matthew Garrett’s thoughts on the Palm Pre, it seems like a nice little device. What I particularly like about it is that it seems to stick to typical Linux stuff for doing things, instead of writing it’s own weird things from scratch that some devices do. It uses things like Upstart, Pulseaudio and GStreamer. I can’t say that I particularly like what the phone looks like.

HTC Hero


I played with a friend’s HTC android phone last week. There’s already a large selection of apps available and the phone is very responsive and fast (unlike any other HTC phone I’ve ever used). Android seems to have come a very long way in such a very short time. The HTC Hero isn’t available locally yet, but if it is available shortly it’s certainly a strong contender. There’s lots of Android development tools available, and with increasingly more manufacturers adopting it, it would be easier to share my applications than it would on something like a Palm Pre.

Motorola Cliq


The Cliq is another currently unavailable Android phone. Even though Android isn’t a “typical” Linux system, I’ve really warmed up to it. I’m currently downloading the Motorola DEVSTUDIO tools to see what it’s like, handset emulators is also available that makes it possible to try out the device’s interface. It’s display resolution is a bit underwhelming, and I think the phone is a bit ugly, the Motorola logo seems badly placed.

Nokia N900


I’ve tried out Nokia N800s and N810s before. They’re great devices, even though they lack GSM radios. Nokia is soon releasing the N900, and it seems to be a gorgeous device. It has a 800×480 display, which I can imagine being useful for many many things. It runs Maemo, yet another Linux based system. Perhaps Webkit would’ve been a better choice for the device than Gecko, but besides relatively small things like that the device seems like pretty much the best device in my list. I also like that it’s Debianish and that I can very easily install things like lighttpd or irssi with just a few keystrokes.


Meh, I really don’t know. The N900 will probably take a while to get here and will probably be out of range for my simple phone contract. I’ll probably end up going for a HTC Android phone.

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Education, Free Software, Gadgets, Games, Jonathan, Music, Politics, Project Mayhem, Sport No Comments »

When I started my blog, I used to post about 2 posts a month. Over the last few months, this has increased quite a bit, and it is likely do continue. Wordpress (the great blogging software that I use) has support for multiple feeds, so I decided to make use of it, and created a page containing links to feeds that Wordpress automatically generates based on categories and tags.

Selecting a feed for a specific category/tag may be useful if you only want to read posts about certain topics, or if you want to add my blog to an on-line feed like a Planet while only filtering through relevant posts.

A list of the available feeds are available here:

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Nokia to buy Trolltech

Free Software, Gadgets 6 Comments »

Wow, Nokia is about to acquire Trolltech. Some people might be worried about the future of QT, but in an open letter to the open source community, they state:

“… We will continue to actively develop Qt and Qtopia. We also want to underline that we will continue to support the open source community by continuing to release these technologies under the GPL …”

I’m currently running Qtopia on my OpenMoko, and I think it has loads of potential. I wish Nokia would create a drop-in Qtopia replacement for Symbian, which I currently have on my E61. Phones deserve to have free software too!

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One Laptop Per Adult?

Education, Free Software, Gadgets 12 Comments »

People just love the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project. The hardware is great: It’s water-resistant, dust resistant and even to a large degree child resistant. The project have made huge innovations, especially in terms of the unique user interface developed for the machine, as well as large amounts of development that have gone into it’s mesh networking technology and the display that has a super-low-power black and white mode that is clearly visible outside in the sun. The project also aims to develop it at US$100 when it is produced on large scale, which makes it a great cheap and durable machine for the developing world.

Jenni with OLPC Laptop

Jenni with OLPC

Then there’s the slightly lesser well-known Classmate PC. Another low-cost machine intended for use by children. It has a nicer keyboard (although I don’t think it’s water-resistant) and has better processor (the OLPC seems to be a bit underpowered for some of the Python applications people want to run on it). The Classmate PC’s are even capable of running Compiz, which is quite impressive for such a small device. The Classmate PC costs more than US$200, and will probably be more appealing to youth who would already have at least computer at home.

Ogra with classmate
Oli with Classmate PC

Both these laptops use flash memory for storage, which generates less heat and uses less power than a traditional hard disk. In some cases, performance is even increased, since the storage is solid state and there is no seeking that has occur. The innovations in both laptops will benefit young humans everywhere, but why stop there? There are literally billions of adults on this planet that don’t have access to basic information technology and the technology used in the machines mentioned above could certainly be used to create a low-cost, low-powered machine for adults. Or can it?

Yes, it can, and the ASUS Eee is the answer. It contains a Celeron-M Ultra Low Voltage CPU, up to 1GB of RAM, and up to 8GB of flash storage. Just like the OLPC, it also contains a built-in webcam. The great thing about the Eee is that it will make access to information cheap and accessible to people from around the world. Don’t get me wrong though, I don’t think that this is a machine that will only be used by the less fortunate. The compact size and the low power consumption makes it an ideal machine for the traveler. It’s also easier to carry along than the traditional bulky laptop (weighing less than 1KG), and it even has a smaller power supply. What it misses though, in my opinion, is an integraded GPRS/EDGE card. It would probably only cost US$10 per machine to build it in, and would go a long way to help people stay in touch. Eee stands for “Easy to learn, Easy to work, Easy to play“. It will be available with either Xandros (tailored version for this device) or Windows (not that ASUS was really keen on Windows on the device in the first place). The Eee costs around US$400, depending on which options you select.

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Eee PC (Photo from ASUS Website)

This is probably not the last low-cost laptop we’re going to see. There will be plenty of manufacturers who will follow, and the great thing is that these machines tend to love GNU/Linux, which should improve uptake of free software everywhere. I suspect that Microsoft will also use its bad business tactics to try to circumvent this, we’re in for interesting times!

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Microsoft spreads more misery in Africa

Education, Free Software, Gadgets, Politics, Project Mayhem 13 Comments »

I’m quite saddened and disgusted to read this open letter to “Steve” (I would guess Ballmer) from François Bancilhon from Mandriva. The Nigerian government made a deal with Mandriva to supply a localised version of their system for 17000 classmate PC’s that have been ordered for local schools.

Unfortunately, Microsoft got to the government, and those classmate PC’s will now be running Microsoft Windows instead of Mandriva. How utterly disgusting. I can’t believe that a government could make such a bad decision. I wonder if the Nigerians are actually paying for the software, it wouldn’t surprise me if they provided the software for free, simply to undercut Mandriva. And if the Nigerians did pay for licenses, they should be ashamed of sending more money out of the continent on something that’s such a big waste.

From a technical perspective, those machines are very nice. However, they are heavily underpowered for running current versions of Windows. Does this mean that those machines will be running the quickly aging Windows XP? What an injustice to the poor kids who will be using those laptops, especially after effort has been put in to give them an optimised, localised system for the machines. Support for the current versions of Windows XP ends on 14 April 2009, which means that the operating systems on those machines will have an even SHORTER lifecycle than a short-term-support Ubuntu release. Do anyone want to place bets whether Microsoft will care enough to upgrade 17000 machines in Nigeria by then? My bet is that they won’t.

If you’re in Nigeria, please write to your local government and express how you feel about this (write to your vice president, his name is Goodluck Jonathan, so he must be good for something!). Send a copy of your appeals to Mandriva too, maybe they could set up a “wall” page where all these letters are posted. I don’t think the people of Nigeria should simply accept this. Nigeria deserves better. Africa deserves better.

Edubuntu running on Classmate

Classmate PC running Edubuntu

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One month with the Wii

Free Software, Gadgets, Games 7 Comments »

I have my Wii console for about a month now (bought it the moment it was launched in South Africa), and I’m very impressed with the system. Even when unpacking it, I could feel that the materials are high quality. The console and the controller feels solid and there’s nothing cheap or plasticky about it. This is the kind of quality I first expected when I first bought an iPod. It comes in very decent packaging, and with high quality full-colour manuals.

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The Wii challenges some of the elements of the traditional console metaphor. All the features and tools you would want to use on the Wii, are split into channels. Initially, the Wii has very few channels. The Disc channel is where you can load games via the optical drive, and the Mii channel is where you can create characters that you can use in your games. With the Wii, instead of playing with pre-defined characters (like Mario and Luigi), you can play many of the games as your Mii. Your Mii can also travel to other Wii’s over the Internet and mingle with them. The controllers have built-in flash memory, and you can store your Mii on your controller, so that when you play at a friends house, your Mii will go with you.

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The console ships with the Wii Sports pack. It’s a collection of sports games, of which some remind me of the old Track & Field game that was available for the NES. The boxing game left me with sore arms by the second day I had the console. The controllers are wireless and motion sensitive. Some games you play without even touching a button. I bought a second wiimote which includes the Wii Play Pack, and I quite like the crazy game where you destroy scare crows with a raging stuffed cow – also, without pressing a single button.

When I got the Wii, I wanted to add more channels, and connected it to the Internet. The problem is, it didn’t want to connect to the Wii services, and displayed a message that Wii Internet services aren’t available in this country yet. I e-mailed the local Nintendo representatives, and they said that the local Wii services will only be available in the second half of 2008- which is very disappointing. I lied to my Wii and told it that I live in the UK, and connected to the UK version of Nintendo24 and the Wii Shop. I then downloaded Super Mario Brothers 2, which got added to my Console channel. The Wii is backwards compatible with every other Nintendo console made, including the NES, SNES, Nintendo64 and the GameCube. I also added the News channel, which works almost like an RSS reader (except that you can’t define the feeds :/) and the Weather channel, which has a Google-Earth feel to it.

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I also downloaded the Internet Channel, which is basically a full-screen Opera browser with a Wii interface. It displayed all the web sites I could find fine, and YouTube (uses Flash) and GMail (uses AJAX) worked completely fine.

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I read today that China and South Korea are only getting Wii consoles officially next year. So we’re not the only market that left behind compared to Europe and the U.S.A.

It seems quite clear at least that Nintendo has a long-term strategy for the Wii, and we’ll probably see lots of cool add-ons for the console in the following years. I’d like to see a dedicated RSS channel that can be customised more. It would also be a huge improvement if they allowed 3rd party channels. I think the demand (from users and development houses) for that will grow tremendously. If you consider the success of third party applications in utilities such as Facebook, I think that it is inevitable. I’d also like to have an SSH client channel, with support for Xorg, so that I could log in to remote machines using the Wii. Even nicer (although I could understand that technical limitations could prevent it), would be to have a Linux channel, where you could boot from a system stored on CD, SD card, or USB (the Wii has a built-in SD card reader and USB ports too) and boot Ubuntu or Debian or your favourite distribution. There are several projects that have started to get Linux running on the Wii, but they are mostly stalled or are making slow progress.

Overall, it’s an impressive combination of hardware and software, typing on the on-screen keyboard with the Wiimote is surprisingly effective, and it’s clear that a lot of design and thought went into this console, it’s something that I’d certainly recommend for any family who wants a fun and safe home entertainment machine. On top of that, there’s a lot of non-games things you can do on the console, so in many ways it replaces some functions of a personal computer.

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GPS Device

Gadgets 2 Comments »

Last night, I finally bought a GPS device, a JNC Navig8 GPS351. I’ve been meaning to get one for ages, but it’s just been too expensive to justify buying one. This one costs under R2000, and since I will be driving around in Jo’burg for about a month soon, I think it will be quite a handy device.

Just after buying it I saw Joe’s post on GPS’ing in Joburg, where he says “Don’t go to Jo’burg without a GPS device”. It seems that I got one just in time!

For an entry-level device, it’s better than I expected it would be. It was 2 voices a male and a female, although the male voice has a bit too strong Asian accent in my opinion. It’s quite accurate and comes preloaded with all the local maps, which is stored on a removable SD card. The only bad thing about it (which I only learned after buying it), is that it runs Windows CE. I’ve even managed to get a Fatal Exception Error in one of the applications. It seems that most of the mobile GPS software runs on Windows CE. I think this was a good choice in GPS, I’ll blog again about how useful it was in Jo’burg!

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