Motorola Xoom

Posted on May 8th, 2011 by Luke Sheldrick.
Categories: IT / Tech.
Tags: , , , , , , .

8 05 2011

Last week, a colleague at work bought a Motorola Xoom, I had a quick play in the office and was very impressed.

I’d previously owned the original iPad, however had grown quite bored of it’s lack of customisation ability. I found my self using it less and less, and eventually sold it, luckily just before the iPad2 was announced. I’ve been an advocate of Apple kit for quite some time, having owned every iPhone since they have come out, however last week whilst I was waiting for my number to port over to Three UK, I was using my ZTE Blade (running Cyanogen 7), and was really surprised how much it had come on from when I had last properly played.

motorola xoom

So when I had a quick go on the Xoom, I was quite impressed. Being the impulsive gadget lover, I went after work to buy one. At the moment they’re only available on the high street from Carphone Warehouse, on a 24 month data contract. Unfortunately I managed to get a parking ticket as I was being slightly optimistic that I would only be in the shop for two minutes, however it was more like forty.

The only tablet I have used before is the original iPad, running iOS 4.3, so my opinion and comparisons are limited. I’ve used the Galaxy Tab, but not in any great detail.

The Xoom is the first tablet to be released to the mass market running Google’s Android operating system, 3.0 aka Honeycomb. The Xoom has all the usual features you would expect from the tablets on the market today, these include front and rear cameras, 3G, wifi, bluetooth, HDMI output, 1G DDR2 and based on the Nvidia Tegra 2, which is a 1GHz dual core processor.

The first impressions of Honeycomb are very impressive. It’s been well designed for use on the tablet platform and feels very smooth. However after a bit more use, my opinion has changed somewhat.

What I like

  • Honeycomb is a big improvement over v2.x of Android, on a tablet.
  • In comparison to iOS, the ability to customise Android is far superior. Widgets, shortcuts, themes, application integration, all are much superior.
  • The inbuilt browser is very fast, and well presented. Has all the features I would expect.
  • The aspect ratio at 1280×800 (wide-screen) works really well, and the screen is almost as responsive as Apple’s multi touch sensor.

What I didn’t like

  • The device has the Tegra 2 chipset. A dual-core processor, which supports up to 720p. However no video player is included in the OS. Many of the ones I tried from the market, either didn’t work, or didn’t fully utilise the GPU, so getting the full 720p didn’t work.
  • Honeycomb crashes quite a bit, having to force apps to close and settings windows quite often.
  • The device has a micro-usb port for connectivity, however doesn’t charge from this. Instead they use a proprietary connector to their custom power brick. This in my opinion sucks. I have a Micro, a Mini and an Apple charger, by my bed, in my bag, on my various desks, and by the couch. Having one of these chargers just is a big draw back for me.
  • The speakers are on the back of the device. That’s a bit of a design flaw to start with, however even worse, is they’re right where I hold the device, so even worse.
  • The device seems heavy in the hand. The original iPad was 1.6lbs for the 3G model, which is the same as the Xoom. However in comparison the the iPad2, which is 1.33lbs, so seems much heavier.
  • At launch flash wasn’t supported. Something iOS has come under fire for, and something the Android lovers have always commented on. This should have been there at release.
  • The Micro-SD card isn’t supported as yet. I’m not quite sure how you can release a product without full support of the hardware provided.
  • The Micro-SD card is on the same adapter and slot as the SIM card, so when it is supported, to swap the card over, you’ll also need to power down, as the SIM isn’t hot-swappable.
  • There are very few apps designed for honeycomb and even less for the tegra2. This is to be expected, as they’re both only just out.
  • Accessories for the device are very limited. When the iPad came out, this was exactly the same, however I very much doubt they’ll be quite as much choice.

There is one more annoyance, but that is neither to do with the device or the OS. Why mobile providers feel the need to sit proxies in front of their customers, which resample images to almost unviewable versions is beyond me. Sure you may save a few KBs, but really? The device is supposed to be use as a consumer device, however if I look at flickr I want to see a decent quality version of the photo, not some re-sampled crap version.

Overall, it’s an ok device, but it isn’t amazing. Honeycomb I expect will be really very good once it has some more time to mature. The overall experience of the device is it just hasn’t had the thought and attention into how it will be used. A few small changes could have really changed this. Honeycomb feels like an initial beta release. In my opinion it’s not quite there, in both stability and support (of other apps). Given time, I honestly thing I would prefer Honeycomb to iOS on the tablet, it just needs to mature somewhat.

I’ll be exercising my 14 day cancellation period tomorrow, and taking the device back.


My ‘cloud’ IM setup

Posted on August 18th, 2010 by Luke Sheldrick.
Categories: IT / Tech.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

18 08 2010

For a long time now, I’ve had a number of different applications I use to connect to various different IM (instant messaging) mediums, such as Irssi for IRC, Pidgin for Jabber/MSN/etc on my desktops/laptops and usually BeeJive on my iPhone when I’m out and about.

This has all ‘kinda’ worked, it hasn’t been the most elegant of solutions, but it did do what I need it to. Until you add something like the iPad to the mix.

The problem I had, was I’d be signed on to say MSN on my MacBook, and then decide I’ve worked enough for the day, so sign off. Then whilst watching TV in the evening, want to send a message to someone, who only uses MSN, so grab my iPad and sign on via BeeJive. Well that kind of works, except, if I forget to sign off BeeJive, it keeps me online on their ‘cloud’, so I can connect back at any time via the iPad, only the iPad though.

If someone was to send me a message when the client is closed on the iPad, sure it sends a push message to it, but no other device. If I go out, and I know someone has sent me a message, I can’t connect to it via BeeJive on the iPhone, as it doesn’t keep them in sync. Same as if I wanted to log in with the MacBook, I can’t see what that message was.

So I decided this doesn’t work how I want and need it to. So I set about designing my own solution. The aim was to set something up running on my infrastructure, at little or no cost (not always easy when you add any iOS devices in the mix), and reliable.

What I came up with, works really well for me, so thought I’d document what I put together.

The server components run on a machine that is always on, the is the core of the solution. The underlying OS I used is a Fedora 14 box (so Fedora rawhide – the development branch). The packages I’ve used are widely available on pretty much every Linux distribution, ports (OS X, *BSD), so the OS here, really doesn’t make much of a difference.

Server side:
Irssi – a cross platform IRC client.
ZNC – a cross platform IRC bouncer.
BitlBee – a cross platform IM gateway for IRC.

Client side:
Colloquy Mobile – iOS IRC client – use this on the iPad and iPhone.
Adium (Beta) – OS X IM client – use the beta version as it supports IRC.
Pidgin – a cross platform IM client – use this on any Windows or Linux machines i happen to be on.

Again the client side really doesn’t matter, just as long as you have something you can connect to an IRC server with, it should be all good.

The setup uses BitlBee to connect to MSN, G-Talk, Jabber, Facebook chat, and pretty much any other IM network you’d want to connect into. BitlBee presents it’s self as a IRC server, and you contact list is all shown as a room. When you chat to someone you do so as you would traditionally. That part worked a treat.

At first I just had Irssi running with the proxy module enabled, this allows you to reconnect into your Irssi session, with a local client, and ‘pose’ as remote session. This worked well, so I just left Irssi running in a remote screen session, then when I wanted to connect in and chat, I would just open say Pidgin locally, and it would connect to all the rooms the Irssi session had.

This was fine, however, Irssi on it’s own doesn’t support playback. What I mean here is, if someone had sent me a DM, Irssi would have it, but when I logged in with Pidgin, Irssi wouldn’t send me a copy of that message, it only forwards new messages. For these kind of features, I’d need to employ a bouncer, not the thuggish type that stand outside nightclubs, but an IRC bouncer.

I tried a few, but settled with ZNC. I should point out here, that when using ZNC, there isn’t really any need to use Irssi in the equation any more, I just kept it as have a few custom scripts, and all my historic logs are there, so decided to keep it.

ZNC will connect to all your favourite IRC networks, keep you online, and when you connect to it with your client, it will replay all the conversations and DMs you missed since you last connected in. this was exactly the functionality I was looking for.

There are also a host of other cool things you can do with ZNC, so I have mine configured to set me away everywhere 5 minutes after my client disconnects. Also if you team colloquy mobile up with ZNC, you can have it push message your iPhone or iPad if you’re mentioned in a chat, or if someone sends you a DM, I have mine set to only do this if there are no other clients connected, else when I’m at computer having a conversation, both my iPhone and iPad have a bit of a push message spasm. This push message function was exactly what I was looking for to replace BeeJive, except this pushes it to all my devices, not just the one that has my account singed in.. neat I thought.

This my no means is the simplest way to set up your MSN, but for if you want all the prerequisites I did, it really works.

The server topology may be a bit complex so have (for my sins) put together a diagram of how it’s set out, along with a few screenshots.

Any questions, please feel free to ask.


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