Ready to Upgrade

January 6th, 2008

Within the next few days, I expect to place an order for a new UMPC.  I think that the UMPC that is likely to best fit my needs is the Vye Mini-v S37 Model B.  I have had my TabletKiosk eo v7110 for almost 2 years now and I know that there are now a number of newer models out there that can offer a substantial upgrade in performance and features.  While my eo has served me well, I think it is time to get move up to something better.

I am paying attention to the UMPC-related announcements coming out of the currently running Consumer Electronics Show, but I don’t think it is too likely that anything will be a better fit for me than the Vye.  I’ve already seen the announcements from TabletKiosk and Samsung and their new UMPCs don’t appear to be better fits.  With the current trends, I have little expectation that anyone else will put something out that fits my needs either.  I probably will at least wait until the end of the first day of the show (Monday), but I expect to put in my order for a Vye in the next day or so.

The following is a run-down of the key criteria for my next UMPC purchase as well as the reasons why the Vye seems to meet them closely enough.

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The Future of Palm

November 5th, 2007

As I’ve mentioned before on this site, I have been a long-time user of Palm OS devices, starting with the Palm V PDA and going all the way up to my current Palm Treo 700p smartphone.  I have a great deal invested in Palm OS software as well as the high comfort level that comes from extensive experience, which makes me very hesitant to move on to another system.

I know find myself very seriously considering just such a move.  The current version of the Palm OS (or "Garnet" as it is now called) is getting very long in the tooth and I’m increasingly coming across applications that I simply can’t get on that platform.  I’m becoming very envious of applications like the mobile versions of Newsgator, OneNote, Opera, and others that are available on other platforms, but not on the Palm.  Such basic functionality as true multitasking or support for wifi and cellular networking on the same device is also becoming conspicuous in absence.

Like many Palm OS users, I’ve long been waiting for a next generation of the OS to come along, but without seeing it materialize.  In recent months, Palm has promised that they are preparing a substantial upgrade to the OS which will shift it to a Linux kernel.  We have seen similar promises from Access, which bought out Palmsource (the OS development spin-off from Palm) a while back.  Those hopes appear to again be getting dashed, though, as Palm is now promising a mid-2009 launch for their updated OS and Access doesn’t seem to be generating any interest in the US for their system.

Clearly, mid-2009 is a very long time in a rapid-growth industry.  By that time, the current leaders in the smartphone industry such as Windows Mobile and Symbian will have continued to advance with new features, devices, and refined user-interfaces.  Apple is also expected to open up the iPhone to 3rd-party developers in early 2008 and it is also pretty likely that they will put out a second-generation device some time next year.  Finally, Google announced today their Android operating system and mobile software platform, which should start to appear on devices towards the end of 2008.  With all that on its way, I suspect that a very large percentage of current Palm OS device users will have moved on to a different platform by the time Palm’s new OS is ready in 2009.

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Inevitable iPhone Post

June 28th, 2007

It is tempting to leave this site as possibly the only technology-oriented site on the web not to post anything about the Apple iPhone, but I just can’t quite resist the temptation to throw in my 2-cents worth. As tomorrow’s official release approaches and the press coverage grows more breathlessly excited, I can’t help but feel that this is one of the strangest and most puzzling major product releases I’ve ever seen.

Apple fans understandably bristle at the suggestion that their devotion seems to be directed to the brand more than the irproducts’ capabilities and value. As I see reports of people lining up for hours or even days on end to be the first to get their hands on an iPhone, though, it is hard to escape this perception of an almost cult-like devotion. If Nokia, Motorola, Palm, or pretty much any other company released a phone with this feature set and pricing, I truly doubt much attention would be paid to it, other than to note the clear disparity between the price and feature set. Since the iPhone is Apple, though, we have the mainstream press essentially going nuts over the product and members of the general public lining up for it as if they were buying tickets to a major one-night-only concert. It really makes very little sense.

From the early reviews, the iPhone looks like a pretty decent first-generation product. The user-interface looks inventive and the feature set sounds decent, although not spectacular. I strongly suspect that the iPhone would easily be one of the very best $100 phones on the market and would at least be competitive in the $200-$250 range. That overall range would put it in the company of other consumer-focused, media-centric phones, particularly those designed for slower, pre-3G data networks. The iPhone isn’t coming out in that price range, though. It is going to cost $500 for the lower-end model and $600 for the version with more storage. In addition, the phone is going to be locked to only work on AT&T’s cellular network and customers are going to be required to commit to a 2-year contract, starting at a minimum of $60/months. Requirements like this are pretty standard for heavily-discounted phones with their cost partly subsidized by the carrier, but that seems highly unlikely to be the case at the prices being charged.

Apple’s attempts to justify the high price have been laughable, and it is disheartening to see some fans echoing them. One frequently repeated official explanation has been that the price makes sense because it is roughly the same amount you would pay to purchase both an iPod and a smartphone. The big problem is that pretty much every Palm, Windows Mobile, and Symbian smartphone released over the last few years already has media playback capabilities that rival any iPod and even many low-end cell phones (in the less than $100 price range) today have music-playback.. For audio, my Palm OS Treo can play MP3, WMA (including “Plays-for-sure” DRM tracks), AAC (unprotected), OGG-Vorbis, WAV, and Audible. The only thing the iPhone will really add (besides Apple’s user-interface design) is DRM-encoded files from iTunes, but that’s at the cost of losing support for WMA and OGG-Vorbis (and possibly Audible as well). Video capability is also widely available in many current devices, although I do give the iPhone a slight potential advantage for having a screen that is above average in size and resolution. Other phones on faster 3G networks will certainly be better suited for streaming audio and video than the iPhone is likely to be.

Another excuse given for the price has been to point out that iPods were also much higher priced when they came out than they are today. The iPhone launch really isn’t comparable to the iPod launch. While neither is the first device of its kind, the iPod was entering a very immature market and was not priced substantially higher than similar devices available at the time. It certainly wasn’t priced $200 or more higher than many devices with substantially more features, as is the case with the iPhone.

Much of the coverage for the iPhone is depicting it as being completely revolutionary. Even my initial impressions from the same day coverage of Steve Jobs’ presentation introducing the phone were that most features really should only seem revolutionary to those that do not have much familiarity with current smartphones and, especially, UMPCs. This may actually be the real story here. The iPhone appears so revolutionary to many people simply because Apple is much better at getting the word out about their product than the current players in the mobile technology space. Apple has long been very successful at cultivating attention from the mainstream press and at using their loyal fanbase to spread the word.

In the long run, skillful marketing and promotion may be the one true revolution that the iPhone is going to bring to the industry. Eventually, the major shortcomings of the iPhone are going to fade into the past as prices come down and later generations add missing features and refine those that fall short. The whole industry is going to have to become better at telling the world about what their products are capable of if they truly hope to compete. Hopefully that will happen and Apple will eventually be pushed to bring the pricing and feature set of their product into a more realistic territory.

Site Changes

May 16th, 2007

I have recently made some changes to this site, primarily centered around a switch from Blogger to Wordpress as my publishing tool. Switching to Wordpress gives me a lot more control and flexibility. Unlike Blogger, the publishing tool itself is hosted on my own web space (rather than just the content), thus allowing much more customization as well as access to a large library of plug-ins.

One big advantage is that Wordpress supports the open-standard blogging protocol called Movable Type, which expands my options when selecting blogging tools. I never had much luck getting an effective work process in place with Blogger to allow me to do work on posts via my Treo smartphone. I found tools that would let me write and publish a post entirely from the Treo, but I tend to spend a long time crafting my posts and really need the ability to keep posts in “draft” status and work on them from any of my devices.

There is an open-source Palm OS blogging tool called Plogit that fits my needs rather well. While it was compatible with Blogger at one time, I could not get it to work, probably due to changes made to Blogger by Google since the last Plogit update. With Wordpress, it works fine. Adding the ability to work on posts-in-progress from my Treo in addition to my UMPC and desktop systems will hopefully lead to more frequent updates, although I admit this technology improvement still won’t do much to overcome procrastination…

The other significant change has been to the name of the site. It is now called “Bigbeaks UMPC and Mobile Technology”, indicating an expansion of scope. I still anticipate keeping much of the content compatible with the site’s origin as a UMPC site (thus the retention of “UMPC” in the name), but I decided that I want to add the ability to discuss other mobile technologies without straying too far from the charter. I particularly want to avoid the temptation to stretch the definition of a UMPC beyond reason, such as lumping smartphones, PDAs, or internet appliances under that term.

I started this site fairly soon after Microsoft announced their “Origami” concept for a UMPC and I had purchased one of the first units shipped. Now that the initial wave of excitement has passed, my focus is now more on incorporating the UMPC into my arsenal of computing tools. I was a long time Palm OS user before I got my UMPC and a bit of a shift in my viewpoint came a few months back when I realized that some tasks, particularly quick mobile access to email, calendar, and contacts, were still better suited to a Palm than a UMPC. I ended up buying a Treo 700p. It and my eo v7110 make a pretty potent combination.

I don’t really expect the types of posts that I write to change that dramatically with the new title and slight shift of focus, as I generally expect my current (and any future) UMPC to generally be the centerpiece of my mobile computing experience. Having had a little time to reflect and develop my approach to mobile technology in the nearly a year since I have been a UMPC owner, I simply recognize that writing about my mobile experience is necessarily going to extend beyond UMPCs.

Organizing Music for Origami Experience

March 20th, 2007

Along with the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced Origami Experience, a new media player and program launcher specifically designed for touch-screen UMPCs. Since upgrading my eo v7110 to Vista Ultimate, I have been using Origami Experience as my primary music player.

As I have mentioned in some of my previous posts, the large hard drive capacity on the v7110 was a big motivator for me when I choose that model. With a 160GB hard drive, I actually carry around my entire, rather extensive music collection on my eo. My music collection (mostly MP3s at 128 or 192 mbps) takes up nearly 85GB on my hard drive and represents around 1,500 different albums.

In this article, I’m going to share tips in a couple key areas for effectively managing a music library to make it work well with Origami Experience.
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Samsung Q1 Ultra and Amtek T770

March 16th, 2007

The most discussed item in the UMPC community this week has been the announcement of Samsung’s Q1-Ultra UMPC. Although it hasn’t received nearly as much attention, Amtek also announced a new model, the T770, a few weeks ago at CES. Both of these are fairly substantial upgrades to the first two Microsoft Origami UMPCs to become available to consumers, the Samsung Q1 and the Amtek T700 (sold in the US as the TabletKiosk eo v7110).

As these models are fairly significant re-designs of the first two Origami models, these two systems probably have the best claim to a “second generation UMPC” title. While Samsung has released several incremental upgrades to the Q1 before, the Q1-Ultra is really their first substantial re-design, both internally and externally. In fact, some leaked pre-announcement materials on the awkwardly-named Q1-Ultra showed that it was originally planned to be the Q2, which would have probably been a better name.

While Windows Vista compatibility/optimization looks to be a key driver for both devices, each also has a somewhat updated feature set intended to address some of the complaints/criticisms of their predecessors. Both appear to have improved CPUs and graphics processors. Reportedly, the Q1-Ultra has even been shown running Vista with the rather demanding Aero interface active. Less is known about the T770, although it seems to be a pretty safe bet that it almost has to improve on the fairly poor graphics performance of the T700.

As with the earlier models, Samsung continues to offer a lot more bells and whistles than the somewhat minimalist Amtek device. The Q1-Ultra carries over the built-in ethernet and VGA ports that were standard on the Q1 and it substitutes the Q1’s CompactFlash slot for a now more common Secure Digital slot. It also adds a fingerprint scanner, built-in web and snapshot cameras, and cellular networking. Probably the most talked about addition is a split thumb-keyboard across the face of the unit. This was almost certainly added as a response to the many reviews of the Q1 that complained of the lack of a keyboard. The Q1 was easily the most widely-reviewed of the first batch of UMPCs (some mainstream publications made it look like it was the only one on the market), and it isn’t surprising that Samsung would feel the need to address this widely mentioned item.

The upgrades to the T770 are more internal improvements rather than added features, although it does reportedly add an SD card reader and a camera. It is expected to retain the biggest advantage that the T700 had over other UMPCs, which is the use of 2.5″ hard drives, which currently allows a maximum of 160GB of on-board storage with the potential for 200GB or higher drives in the near future.

Coming down to the bottom line, I guess the obvious question that any UMPC early adopter has to consider is whether or not either of these second generation devices might prompt an upgrade. Personally, I’m tempted somewhat, but still definitely in a “wait and see” mode. Some of the bells and whistles of the Q1-Ultra are attractive, but I definitely would have a hard time giving up the 160GB hard drive capacity that I have on my current UMPC. As for the T770, I do get frustrated sometimes by the fairly weak performance of the T700, but I would definitely need to see strong indications of substantial improvement before I would shell out for an upgrade.

That said, I do see it as a positive sign that the first two companies to ship Origami UMPCs are still committed to the concept and are still working to advance it. In a time when all too many mainstream publications are ready to declare the whole UMPC idea a “failure”, it is very reassuring to see two of its main champions clearly acting like they disagree with that assessment.

News and Information Site and Links to other UMPC Sites

March 13th, 2007

I posted the below on the “News and Information” site as an announcement of the retirement of that page. Since the link to that site has been removed from the main page and the list of links to my favorite UMPC sites is worth sharing wider, I am re-posting it here. — JG

I am retiring this “News and Information” site so that I can focus on posting opinions and commentary on the primary blog. I just don’t have the time or a strong inclination for news reporting and there are other sites that do a better job covering the latest UMPC news and information than I ever could. Here are links to a few of my favorites:

UMPCPortal: This is the most comprehensive UMPC news and information site out there. While I think they sometimes define the term “UMPC” a bit too broadly, this site is still exceptionally information-rich and should be a very frequent destination for any UMPC-enthusiast.

jkOnTheRun: This site covers all of mobile computing rather than just UMPCs, but it is constantly updated, frequently insightful, and consistently accurate. This is one of the first sites that I visit every day.

Ultra-Mobile PC Tips: Like my own blog, this is another “one man show” site, but the owner (CTitanic), has a lot of expertise and some exceptional sources that leads him to quite a few scoops.

Origami Project: Microsoft’s official UMPC site has the best and most active discussion boards dedicated to UMPCs. The article page isn’t updated very often, but the ones that are posted there are all written by members of Microsoft’s dedicated UMPC team.

Reviving the Site

March 13th, 2007

It has been quite some time since there has been a meaningful update to this website and there are a couple reasons for that. This site is completely a one-person operation and, quite honestly, my schedule has been overwhelmingly full lately. At my day job, we have been focused on several big projects, all of which have pretty much been in a “crunch” period for the last couple months. In addition, a recent fire at the townhouse complex where I live recently displaced us from our home for several weeks while occupying a lot of time for clean-up and repairs (fortunately, our damage was mostly just smoke damage). Finally, I have a very active 3-year-old at home to whom I dedicate as much time as I can.

Now that my regular job has settled back down to a more reasonable pace and we have largely recovered from the fire, I’d like to start writing about UMPCs once again. On this site, I typically have focused on fairly long, in-depth articles and those do take quite a bit of time to write. I even have a few partially-written articles that I still haven’t found the time to complete. Going forward, I am going to try to focus on shorter, more regular posts. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to completely avoid posting in-depth articles, but I think it could work better if I accomplish that through multi-part series on any given subject rather than holding off posting anything until I have time to write everything I want to write on a subject.

I’ve come to realize that I’m much more interested in posting my opinions and commentary than I am in news reporting, so I’m going to retire the News & Information page. There are several other sites out there that do much better covering UMPC news than I ever could. I will put up one last post there with a few of my favorite links and then will just leave the page up for archival purposes for a while.

I’m going to end this post with a short commentary about how useful my UMPC has been during the recent events in my life. The recent crunch time at work left me pretty much “on call” at all times, but the mix of high-portability and wide functionality of my UMPC made it much easier for me to still go out with my family. If I would get a call indicating an immediate need to do something for work, I could quickly get online with my UMPC and my USB cellular modem (or cell phone) and do what needed to be done. Having a full Windows system means that I can use VPN and Remote Desktop for vast accessibility to work systems.

The flip side of this is the high-portability of personal data. While stuck at work for very late hours or during our displacement from home after the fire, my UMPC helped greatly with keeping my financial and other personal data up-to-date and easily accessible. It also was easy to go online as needed to look up information, even during early visits back to our townhouse when we were without electricity and/or internet service.

Admittedly, I haven’t really described anything here that couldn’t also been done with larger laptop computers, but it certainly wouldn’t have been as easy to keep a larger computer with me at virtually all times and places or to use it wherever I needed it.

Report and Photos from TabletKiosk Road Show

October 20th, 2006

On Thursday, October 19th, TabletKiosk hosted the first of their series of Road Show events. This event was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel of Orange County, CA, just a few blocks away from the Disneyland Resort and the Anaheim Convention Center. While it took quite a long time (over 2 hours) for me to drive there from the San Fernando Valley on a Thursday afternoon, it was an enjoyable event. As an added bonus, I ended up waiting out traffic after leaving the event by going for a nice dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Catal at Downtown Disney.

The event was primarily an informal opportunity to get some hands-on exposure to TabletKiosk’s UMPCs and Tablet PCs and accessories as well as an opportunity to network with staff members from TabletKiosk as well as members of the UMPC/Tablet PC community. I did feel like the event was targeted more at prospective UMPC buyers than at current owners (I actually was doing a bit of “salesmanship” of the concept myself), but it still was a nice opportunity to see most of TabletKiosk’s products in person while also meeting a few other members of the community.

There was no formal program and no major announcements were made, but they did have pretty much all their current systems and accessories on display and they also showed up a few prototypes of new accessories. They also had a drawing where they gave away 10 gift-bags of Intel swag as well as one $300 gift certificate to Unfortunately, I did not win anything.

The next events will be held on November 9th in Orlando, Florida and November 30th in Houston, Texas (a previously-announced 11/2 event in Ft. Lauderdale, FL has been cancelled). TabletKiosk is also promising to visit quite a few more cities with similar events during 2007.

After the break are some photos from the event. Clicking on any of the photos will take you to a larger, higher-resolution image.

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Ultra-mobile Blogging

September 7th, 2006

I think that yesterday’s post to the News & Information site sharing initial photos of the eo v7110 extended battery provides a great example of using a UMPC for blogging on the go. This post is going to be essentially the story of the “making of” yesterday’s post.

For convenience, my wife and I rent a mailbox from a shipping store fairly close to my office. This allows us to receive packages without having to worry about one or the other of us being home when they are delivered. Since the FedEx tracking provided by TabletKiosk had shown the package as delivered, I headed over to the store during my lunch hour yesterday and picked it up.

The photos that were included in the post were all actually taken on the front seat of my car while still in the parking lot of the shipping store. I used the built-in camera on my Motorola v551 cell phone to take the photos. The camera on this phone generally isn’t all that great, but it does take photos that are acceptable for that kind of quick web posting, as long as the photos are being taken in fairly bright lighting. This is the main reason why I took the photos right away in the car.

Next, I drove to a McDonald’s near my office for lunch. I selected McDonald’s not for the food (who goes there for the food???), but for the fact that they offer a couple hours of wi-fi access for $2.95. After getting my burger and fries, I found a table and powered up the eo. I loaded up Firefox and entered my credit card information to purchase the block of time on the WayPoint wi-fi service offered at the restaurant.

I transferred the photos from the cell phone via a retractable USB cable that I keep in the carrying case with the eo. I could have also used Bluetooth for this, but since I had the cable and was in a location where I had plenty of room to connect the phone in this way, I took advantage of the somewhat faster USB 2.0 transfer speed.

I reviewed the photos on the eo using the standard Windows XP photo viewer application and quickly narrowed it down to the 5 photos that I had ended up posting. I simply deleted the rest of the photos (which didn’t look very good) and renamed the ones that I intended to use to something more descriptive than the time/date stamp filenames generated by the phone. Although I do have Adobe Photoshop Elements installed on the eo and have found it to be usable for light photo editing, these photos didn’t really need any touch-up. Since the file sizes were all fairly small, I decided it wasn’t even necessary to re-size the images, even though I would be displaying them on the post at only 50% of their normal 640×480 size.

I then used the standard Windows XP FTP tool to transfer the photos to the images directory on my website. This file transfer was the main reason that I went to a restaurant with a wi-fi hotspot instead of simply using the slower Cingular EDGE connectivity with my cell phone. Since it was still my lunch hour, I was on a bit of a tight timeline to get this project completed.

I then browsed to to actually type in the post itself. Since I can still type on a keyboard faster than I can use any of the built-in input methods on the eo, I used my ThinkOutside folding Bluetooth keyboard to type in the post. With the eo propped up on its stylus and the keyboard sitting in front of it, the little workstation fit easily on the restaurant table. The post wasn’t very lengthy, so it didn’t take very long to type it in and publish it. The only real mistake that I made was that, in my haste, I didn’t think to add “href” tags to allow readers to click on the photos to see the full-sized images. This is a correction I went in and added this morning.

With that, I had completed the post. The whole process took less than an hour, including travel time and the time to pick up the package from the store.