Lumia 800

I got my Lumia 800 a few weeks before Christmas. Since then, I’ve used it on a daily basis. I just realized I never actually got around to doing a review. Since I work for Nokia, it is always a bit awkward doing reviews since I can’t basically do a negative review without upsetting some of my peers in Nokia. So, disclaimer: I work for Nokia, any opinions you read here are my own and do not necessarily represent any official Nokia position.

My general solution to this problem has been to simply not do a review of any Nokia product unless I actually like it and won’t have to lie to you. So yes, I’m biased and definitely not objective but at the same time I don’t work for marketing, and definitely would feel bad about propagating lies.

I had no problems doing an N900 review a while back or reviewing the N8. So, now it is the Lumia 800’s turn. The good news is, I like this phone. In fact, like it so much I’d recommend this phone and its little brother the 710 to anyone, including close friends and family whom I definitely would not want to burden with a bad product. To be clear, I don’t take this type of recommendation lightly because if I’m wrong, I basically have to deal with the consequences of people complaining about embarrassing short comings, etc.

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macbook pro, cons and pros

Having had my new mac for a few weeks now, it is time for a review.

In a nutshell, consider me switched. Overall it’s great and a huge improvement over my slow XP based laptop.

However, since everybody seems to focus on how great macs are,  I’m going to first focus on everything that I think sucks or otherwise annoys the hell out of me. Aside of course from Steve Jobs launching new models right after I got my mac.

  • Key bindings. A matter of taste, habit, and also a matter of consistency. My main gripe is with the latter. I use Mac Office (entourage, word, powerpoint), eclipse, a terminal window and of course firefox. Mac Office is the only of these which preserves the quite sensible behaviour for the home and end key that you find on just about any platform: home means beginning of line, end means end of line. The default in mac applications is different: beginning of document and end of document. I need the former functionality dozens of times per day and the latter … well never actually. So it’s a mess. I ended up reconfiguring eclipse because looking at the java imports each time I press home gets old real quick. Thankfully eclipse is fully configurable. I also attempted configuring the mac itself. Very few applications seem to pay attention. The Terminal application also has its settings, and ignores mac defaults regarding this anyway. Which leaves firefox. Annoyingly still looking for a solution to that one.
  • Delete. The backspace is called a delete button. My usb keyboard has two delete buttons and a clear button. One of the delete buttons is actually a real delete button. Command+delete only works with the backspace variant. The clear button seems equivalent to the (real) delete button. My laptop has one delete button but it is not a delete button. I normally use the delete button almost as much as the 26 letter keys. Gimme back my delete button! If this doesn’t sound very logical, consistent or usable that’s because it isn’t.
  • Mighty Mouse. Of course I got a Mighty mouse with my mac usb keyboard. Nice experiment this touch sensitive surface but I really mean left click when my index finger clicks left of the wheel/ball thingy. Likewise for right clicks. This goes wrong a lot. Middle clicks are annoyingly difficult. The side buttons require quite a bit of grip to press. Yet, it is surprisingly easy to click them accidentally. In short, strongly considering to hook up a reall mouse now.
  • Alt+tab. Expose is nice but often I just want to switch back and forth between two windows. This works fine as long as they are application windows, but not if they are document windows. So open two mails in separate windows and you can’t switch with alt+tab between them.
  • Window management. You can minimize windows. But then it is a lot more difficult to switch to them. Double clicking a window title minimizes (on win32 this means maximize). So I accidentally minimize loads of windows which I then need to find back in the dock. Annoying. When minimized, windows are nowhere to be seen in alt+tab or expose. This sucks if you want to switch back to them. Which is the whole point of minimizing vs. closing a window.
  • No file move supported in finder. This stinks. No select file, command+x, command+v. No right click, move. No file->move. Apparently possible to do with drag and drop and option key. Defaults to copy though :-/.
  • Finder. In general, the finder is a bit underpowered if you are used to windows explorer. I miss my folder tree.
  • Time machine + file vault. Loads of trouble to get this working properly. It’s sort of backing up now, finally. But not exactly ‘it just works’.
  • No VGA connector. This means I need to drag along a converter whenever I go to meetings because most beamers come without a DVI cable. Annoying.

In all fairness, three weeks is not enough to get rid of my windows habits. Especially since I still have an XP machine at home.

However, I’m getting more efficient on the mac by the day. I’ve absorbed tons of new tricks and have had loads of fun figuring out little issues. Here’s my list of big grin on face causing stuff:

  • Display arrangement. I have my laptop left of my 20″ screen. It’s slighly lower. I managed to arrange the screens such that when I move my mouse horizontally, it moves to the other screen at more or less the same altitude. Cool.
  • Display settings persist. The display settings survive me unplugging the laptop, using a beamer for some presentation and plugging my monitor back in. Great & just the way it should be.
  • Ambient light adjustment. Quite funny when I covered the right most sensor while pressing the delete (or rather backspace), the screen dimmed. Turned out that with the desklight shining on one side of the laptop, covering the lit sensor with your hand causes the screen to compensate for the sudden darkness by dimming. Had a good laugh about that. It actually has two sensors so this is only an issue if you are sitting in the dark next to a desk light.
  • Photo screensaver. Looks great with my vacation photos. Apparently my efforts to calibrate my windows PC at home were reasonably successful since the photos look excellent on the laptop, which of course is properly calibrated (being a mac and all that). Of course it dislays different photos on both screens, at the same time. Same for my desktop background, which updates every few seconds (without apparent performance hit).
  • Expose. Love it, partially compensates for the alt+tab. Inexplicably, they only show one desktop if you use spaces. I have it hooked up to my side mouse button.
  • It’s fast. It should be for this price of course. But still. It is fast. Gone is the endless disk churning that comes with windows.
  • It’s silent. This is the most silent laptop I’ve ever worked with. No vacuum cleaner type fans activating and deactivating all the time.
  • Multi touch touchpad. This is a really nice feature. Tap with two fingers -> context menu, drag with two fingers -> scroll. So much fun.

Google Chrome – First Impressions

First impression: Google delivered, I’ve never used a browser this fast. It’s great.

Yesterday, a cartoon was prematurely leaked detailing Google’s vision for what a browser could look like. Now, 24 hours later I’m reviewing what until yesterday was a well kept secret.

So here’s my first impressions.

  • Fast and responsive. What can I say? Firefox 3 was an improvement over Firefox 2 but this is in a different league. There’s still lots of issues with having many tabs open in Firefox. I’ve noticed it doesn’t like handling bitmaps and switching tabs gets unusable with a few dozen tabs open. Chrome does not have this issue at all. It’s faster than anything I’ve browsed with so far (pretty much any browser you can think of probably).
  • Memory usage. Chrome starts new processes for each domain and not per tab. I opened a lot of tabs in the same domain and the number of processes did not go up. Go to a different domain and you get another chrome process. However, it does seem to use substantial amount of memory in total. Firefox 3 is definitely better. Not an issue with 2 GB like I have and the good news is that you get memory back when you close tabs. But still, 40-60MB per domain is quite a lot.
  • Javascript performance. Seems fantastic. Gmail and Google Reader load in no time at all. Easily faster than Firefox 3.
  • UI. A bit spartan if you are used to Firefox with custom bells & wistles (I have about a dozen extensions). But it works and is responsive. I like it. Some random impressions here: 
    • no status bar (good)
    • very few buttons (good)
    • no separate search field (could be confusing for users)
    • tabs on top, looks good, unlike IE7.
    • mouse & keyboard. Mostly like in Firefox. Happy to see middle click works. However, / does not work and you need to type ctrl+f to get in page search
  • URL bar. So far so good, seems to copy most of the relevant features from Firefox 3. I like Firefox 3’s behaviour better though.
  • RSS feeds. There does not seem to be any support for subscribing to, or reading feeds. Strange. If I somehow missed it, there’s a huge usability issue here. If not, I assume it will be added.
  • Bookmarks. An important feature for any browser. Google has partially duplicated Firefox 3’s behaviour with a little star icon but no tagging.
  • Extensions. none whatsoever :-(. If I end up not switching, this will be the reason. I need my extensions.
  • Import Firefox Profile. Seems pretty good, passwords, browsing history, bookmarks, etc. were all imported. Except for my cookies.
  • Home screen. Seems nicer than a blank page but nothing I’d miss. Looks a bit empty on my 1600×1200 screen.
  • Missing in action. No spelling control, no search plugins (at least no obvious way for me to use them even though all my firefox search plugins are listed in the options screen), no print preview, no bookmarks management, no menu bar (good, don’t miss it)
So Google delivers on promises they never made. Just out of the blue there is Chrome and the rest of the browser world has some catching up to do. Firefox and Safari are both working on the right things of course and have been a huge influence on Chrome (which Google gives them plenty of credit for). However, the fact is that Google is showing both of them that they can do much better. 
Technically I think the key innovation here is using multiple processes to handle tabs from different domains. This is a good idea from both a security point of view as from a performance point of view. Other browsers try to be clever here and do everything in one process with less than stellar results. I see Firefox 3 still block the entire UI regularly and that is just inherent to its architecture. This simply won’t happen with Chrome. Worst case is that one of the tabs becomes unusable and you just close it. Technically, you might wonder if they could not have done this with threads instead of processes.

So, I’m genuinely impressed here. Google is really delivering something exceptionally solid here. Download it and see for yourself.

Posting this from Chrome of course.

Browsers

Normally when I play with a new browser (like a few weeks ago when I tried out Flock 1.0) I usually post at least something. In the past week I played with no less than three new browsers.

I started out by installing opera mini 4.0 on my N95. Earlier versions of this program were already quite nice and I used it a lot on my E70 before I switched to the N95. This new version adds some impressive features again. Overall quite nice but I’ll probably use the S60 browser on my N95 most of the time regardless.

The second browser I played with was Apple’s Safari 3.0.4 beta. Unlike earlier betas, this one is actually quite usable and stable. I think the UI stinks and feels really awkward on windows but aside from that it is a fine browser. My main issue with it after a few hours of browsing was that I started missing my firefox extensions and some of its behavior. Additionally the fonts it uses are different from what I’m used to and I’m not sure I like the way it renders them. It uses its own antialiasing which gives a weird smudgy look to the fonts. But to be honest, I think I could get used to using Safari full time. A nice bonus feature is that it integrates Bonjour support. This is really useful because as you may have deduced from some recent publications on my publications site, I’m working with mdns based service discovery mechanisms at work. So I installed this at work and my aptly named foobar.local N800 portal website showed up in the windows Safari browser. Cool!

Speaking of Firefox, I just switched over to 3.0 Beta1 released last night. I’ve been using it all evening and it seems a quite nice upgrade. Most of the feature work is not that important to me but the performance work is really noticeable. I’ve caught myself several times already thinking “hey this used to be slow/laggy”. It’s mostly subtle differences of course and not having most of my extensions (due to lack of 3.0 port) is great for performance probably. But still, works great and seems really stable so far.

To compensate for the loss of extensions I was able to enable the most essential ones using the nightly tester tools. This allows you to override the version check. Since in many cases, a version bumb was all that was needed, many extensions work fine. So far I have just enabled del.icio.us support. What would be really nice is a new version of that that integrates with the new places system in Firefox. Until that happens, I’m posting to del.icio.us using the old extension.

A bit of a disappointment is that none of the exciting stuff regarding ms cardspace, openid and microformats that was more or less promised a few months ago, has made it into this release. There’s no openid support, microformat features are not integrated and I have not found any UI for MS Cardspace either. It could be that this is due in later betas. There is probably still a few months until the final release.

Feature wise, most of the changes are minor tweaks and most of those were not in Alpa 7 that I tried when it was released in October?. The biggest change is the new places functionality which is nice except (as mentioned) that I use del.icio.us instead of bookmarks so this not something I will use a lot. The rest of the changes are quite nice but not that essential changes to stuff like the downloads windows, various settings screens and the url bar. For the rest it is good old Firefox, and what’s wrong with that? Next betas will introduce an updated theme. I was less than enthusiastic last time they changed it and still am rather indifferent to the 2.0 theme, so lets see what comes out.

Anyhow, unless something major crops up, I’m keeping this as my main browser.

Flock

I just installed Flock – The Social Web Browser. Right now I’m trying out the blog editor included with it to write this little review. To cut the review short, I’m planning uninstalling it after publishing this post.

Lets just start by saying that this feels like a nice bunch of concepts and potentially useful Firefox extensions but not as a drop in Firefox replacement. Besides, the default theme feels rather amateurish and I already miss my dozen Firefox extensions. And while I am pleased that it supports Facebook, I find the lack of support for much else a bit disappointing. For example, I’m also on Linked in; phib; claimid. I have several openid logins; I use several Google services, including reader, gmail and calendar. All of these are unsupported by the self proclaimed social web browser. Hell, it doesn’t even integrate webmail from e.g. google, yahoo or microsoft (I have accounts with all three). You can find an overview of social networking sites I use on my blog: http://blog.jillesvangurp.com/my-other-sites/. Most of the stuff there is unsupported by Flock.

An exception seems del.icio.us. However, the extension functionality I get in Firefox is much better than the bundled del.icio.us support in Flock which is rather useless. Similarly, the blog editor is nice but nothing I can’t get using several Firefox extensions. I suppose the facebook sidebar is nice, but again there is also a firefox extension for that.

A rather novel feature seems to be the media bar. However, in its current incarnation it is limited to harvesting media from just a handful of popular sites like facebook (again), youtube and flickr. That’s nice but not all that useful to me.

So overall I have a bit mixed feelings. On one hand, this feels like a polished product, on the other hand there’s not much that I can’t get installing a few Firefox extensions. With Firefox 3 around the corner, I’m not planning to use Flock 1.0 based on the old Firefox without most of the extensions I can’t do without. Nevertheless, there’s some good ideas that I would like to see adopted in the form of Firefox extensions.

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QR codes

I just found this cool mobile barcoder extension for firefox that displays so-called QR codes that encode the url of the page you are currently looking at. QR codes are like bar codes, only 2-dimensional. For example:
QR code for my blog
(generated using this site: http://qrcode.kaywa.com/)

It so happens that my Nokia N95 (hey, there’s some benefit in working for a market leading mobile phone manufacturer 🙂 ) includes a bar code reading application that is damn near useless reading old fashioned bar codes in dark supermarkets. The problem is partly with the optics in the camera which do not support macro mode photography very well (i.e. photographing subjects from something like 15cm doesn’t really work wel). A second problem is that while hovering with your camera over the barcode you generally block the light that falls onto it. This combined with real world situations where bar code equipped objects are generally indoors in possibly poorly lit places doesn’t make it easier. A final problem is that the old vertical bar codes are actually quite hard to scan properly with a camera since the thickness of the bars has meaning (four different bars) and the bars tend to be quite close together.

However, I just discovered the software handles QR codes displayed on a nice bright LCD screen a hell of a lot better. Just hold the camera about 30 cm from the screen, press scan code and almost instantly you have the url in the phone and can then proceed to open it in the S60 browser. QR is short for quick recognition and it really is quick. QR codes don’t have all the problems listed above and are basically optimized to be scanned using a camera. They include error correction. The three big squares are used for indicating the dimensions of the QR code to the software.

So, why is this nice? Well T9 is OKish for sending short messages to people with all vowels omitted but sort of sucks for entering urls. So if you quickly want to browse a url with your N95 (or any other phone with QR bard code scanning software), this is a pretty neat way to do it.

porsche gets some good testdrive

It’s only two days ago that I bought myself a Lacie Porsche 0.5 TB usb drive. Yesterday evening, after a reboot caused by an apple security update weird shit started to happen. Basically windows informed me that “you have 3 days to activate windows”. WTF! So I dutifully click the activate now only to watch a product key being generated and the dialog closing itself, rather than letting me review the screen and opting for a internet or telephone based activation. After that it informed me that I had three more days to activate. Very weird and disturbing news! A few reboots and BSODs later (which had now also started to appear on pretty much every reboot), I took a deep breath and decided that the machine was foobarred and I needed to reinstall windows. I suspect the root cause of my problems was a reset a while back which resulted in a corrupt registry and repeated attempts by windows to repair it before booting normally. I thought the problem was fixed but apparently the damage was more extensive than I originally thought.

Considering I had a few more days to reactivat, which despite my attempts I could not do, I decided to back up everything I could think off. I.e. I have about 100 GB left on the external drive, bought it just in time :-). Copying that amount takes shitloads of time. Basically most of the backup ran overnight with the assistence of the cygwin port of rsync. After re-installing windows earlier this evening (which activated fine, to my surprise), I got to work reinstalling everything (I have a few dozen applications I just need to have) and moving back all my data. Some interesting things:

  • Luckily I thought of backing up my c:\drivers dir in which I stored various system level drivers for my motherboard and other stuff that I downloaded when I installed the machine a year ago. This included the essential driver for the lan, without which I would have had no network after the install and no way to get the driver on the machine (or to activate it). Pfew.
  • I reapplied the itunes migrate library procedure I described last year (and which still gets me loads of hits on the blog). It still works and my library, including playlists, ratings and playcounts imported fine in my new itunes install. Would be nice if Apple was a bit more supportive of recovering your stuff in a new install.
  • After installing firefox 2, I copied back my old profile folder and firefox launched as if nothing had happened. Bookmarks, cookies, passwords, extensions all there :-). Since I practically live in this thing, that pleased me a lot.
  • Then I reinstalled gaim and copied back the .gaim directory to my user directory. Launched it and it just worked. Great!
  • Same with jedit.
  • Then I installed steam, logged in and ran the restore back up tool that was created along with the 13GB backup. Seems to work fine and I’m glad that I don’t have to wait a few weeks for the download to finnish. Ok the restore was not fast either but it got the job done.

Lesson learned: backups are important. I had the opportunity to create them when it turned out I needed them. But I should have been backing up more regularly. A more catostrophic event would have caused me dataloss and much more annoyance.

So a big thank you to Bill Gates et al. for wasting my precious spare times with their rude and offensive activation crap. Fucking assholes! I’m a paying customer and very pissed. I will remember this waste of my time and genuine disregard for my rights when making any future microsoft purchasing decisions. And yes, that probably means lost revenue for you guys in Redmond. I’ve adopted opensource for most of my desktop apps by now. There’s only two reasons for me to boot windows on my PC: games and photoshop. I understand the latter is now supported by wine and I’m much less active with gaming than I used to be. Everything else I use either runs on linux or has great alternatives. But for the moment, I’ll keep using windows because I’m lazy.