header

Namaste Indian Cuisine

Namaste, is the (only?) best Indian Cuisine all you can eat buffet in Vancouver, Washington. That is all.

Comments (2)

Cheap Mexican Food

I’m always looking for good deals, especially when it comes to food. Restaurant.com has good deals on food, especially with coupons, but there aren’t too many good choices for restaurants in my area. I redeemed a coupon today for some fajitas as Mexico Lindo. Price:
$10.29 + ($0.85 tax) + (30% * $3 = $0.90 for coupon) – $10 = $2.04 + tip for some $11.14 fajitas.

Delicious (geotagged).

I plan to do this once a month — as often as the coupon allows.

Comments (2)

Sprint HTC Mogul Review

Introduction and Initial Impressions

So I received my new phone about 3 weeks ago now, the Sprint HTC Mogul, AKA the HTC Titan, AKA the HTC PPC-6800. I was excited by the fact that it had Windows Mobile 6.1 and built-in GPS, which is why I sprung for it as soon as I found a deal.

As soon as I received the phone, I updated it to the latest firmware from Sprint, which added GPS support and updated it to Windows Mobile 6.1.

Since I’ve had the phone, I’ve found there is a LOT of information on it, a lot of people ‘hacking’ this phone; even reports of the Titan running Android, (Google’s Linux OS) which is pretty neat. Considering I rely on the phone to make calls and be reachable (especially for work), I don’t know if I’d be willing to suffer the potential downtime of being unreachable while the phone is offline. Even so, there are a large number of apps and support around the standard ROMs that make this phone pretty cool.

Through “normal” use for me — daily amounts of which include about 30 minutes of talking, 10 text messages, checking emails every 30 minutes, alerts every 4 hours or so, and about 1 hour of casual use — this phone appears to last about 36 hours from full to empty battery. I’m very pleased with the battery life of this phone.

Phone Technical Specs

Display: 65K color transflective TFT color LCD. Screen size diagonally: 2.8″. Resolution: 240 x 320, supports both portrait and landscape modes.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable. 1500 mA. 2100 mA extended battery available for purchase. 4 hours claimed talk time on standard battery.

Performance: Qualcomm MSM7500 400 MHz processor (dual core 400MHz ARM11 application processor and 133MHz ARM9). 64 MB built-in RAM (55 megs available). 256 MB Flash ROM with 155 megs available. 64 megs RAM with 26 free at boot.

Size: 4.33″ x 2.32″ x 0.73″. Weight: 5.8 ounces.

Phone: CDMA dual band digital 800/1900MHz. Data: EVDO rev 0, upgradable later this year to rev A.

Camera: 2.0MP

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and HTC ExtUSB stereo headphone jack. Stereo headset included. Voice Recorder and Windows Pocket Media Player 10 included for your MP3 pleasure.

Networking: Integrated WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0.

Software: Windows Mobile 6.0 Profession Edition operating system. Microsoft Mobile Office suite including Mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint (view only), Internet Explorer, and Outlook. Also included: Esmertec Java VM, Cyberon Voice Dialing, Pictures and Videos, MSN Instant Messenger, Windows Live, Windows Media Player 10, Solitaire, Bubble Breaker (game), Voice Recorder as well as handwriting recognition. Additional applications: Camera, Wireless Manager, MS Bluetooth software, On Demand (Handmark Express), Adobe Reader LE, Audible Player, link to get Good’s messaging client, Zip (unzipping application), Sprint Software Store, Sprint Music (coming in July), Clear Storage (wipes out all data and resets unit to factory defaults). ActiveSync 4.5 and Outlook 2007 trial edition for PCs included.

Expansion: 1 MicroSD slot. 512 meg card included. Up to 2 gig cards supported.

Since I bought mine OEM, I was missing all of the “X included” from above. In fact, all I got was the phone itself and a charger. Good, I don’t need all of those extra accessories anyway 🙂

Pictures of the phone (click to enlarge)

I bought the phone used on eBay, so it came as-is, which means that there were some scuffs on the lower right of the device, and a slight bruise on the LCD (unnoticeable unless you’re looking for it). Also, I can’t get wifi to work at all with the device, so I presume that the internal component that manages wifi is busted. I doubt I would use if it I could though, since I have an unlimited data plan and it’s plenty fast.

Photos taken by the phone

I’m pretty underwhelmed by the camera on this phone. Sure, it’s 2 megapixels, and the flash is pretty rad, but the quality is less than staggering. I took some photos in pitch dark of my white dog, here’s how they turned out (click for original size):

Also tried without flash at work:

Better, but still not great.

I suppose I shouldn’t expect so much from such a tiny camera.

Flickr has a really neat and easy way to upload pictures to it from the camera, just send an email to a special email with the subject the title of the image and the body the description of the image, and it will set those properties accordingly. Pretty neat if you ask me. It even supports geotagging.

The main problem with geotagging on this phone is that the camera application will not automatically geotag; there is no setting to force it to do this. There are some applications that will allow you to geotag on demand (e.g. I just took a photo, let’s apply my current GPS settings to it), or geotag periodically (e.g. every half hour let’s check for new non-geotagged photos and geotag to my current location). Neither of these really work right, so I’m still stalking that “killer app” for geotagging on my WM 6.1 device.

Applications and Games

While I’m still looking for some apps that fit my needs for certain tasks, I did find quite a few helpful apps and fun games that make this device easier to manage. Here are a list of them:

  • Skyfire – a rad web browser, best in show currently in my opinion. It doesn’t behave like a normal mobile web browser, instead of dealing with WML or even dumbed down HTML, it takes full pages as they would render in modern computer web browsers and displays them accordingly. In fact, the version of Skyfire I’m using sends user agent “Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.8.1.17) Gecko/20080829 Firefox/2.0.0.17”. The zooming and panning behaves very similar to Opera mobile, which is probably as best as you can do. The best part of this browser is that it fully supports javascript AND flash! Proven by watching a Youtube video from the phone (which streams seamlessly), and checking my Google Feed reader. Very amazing piece of software.
  • Dashwire – synchronization of contacts, photos, videos, ringtones, text messages, phone bookmarks, and much more. I used this when changing phones from my Treo 700wx; it backed up all photos, contacts and texts and ported them over to the new device in less than 20 minutes. Their web util is pretty rad too, it allowed me to quickly and easily post pictures to my Flickr that were on my phone.
  • HHC – HTC Home Customizer – Allows full customization of the Today screen. Very essential, looks a lot cleaner than the vanilla Today screen.
  • Multiplayer Championship Poker: Internet Edition – I find this a fun thing to do before I go to bed or am bored.
  • Google Maps for Mobile / Microsoft Live Search Mobile – I haven’t decided which of these are better for GPS managed directions and location mapping.
  • Windows Mobile Mail (link goes to biased review) – Works really well with Gmail for IMAP usage.

And now the stuff I’m still looking for:

  • As mentioned above, I’m looking for a better way to deal with geotagging. It should be a function of the camera application, ESPECIALLY on a freaking GPS enabled smart phone camera.
  • A nice, free way to nicely deal with synchronization of calendars. There are a handful of non-free apps out there that will sync with Google Calendar (which is good enough), but none are worth the price in my opinion. At this point, I’d rather not have this feature than pay for it.
  • How to turn off this incessant flashing? There’s no easy way to turn off the phone’s “service light”, an LED that flashes every 2 seconds or so to notify you that it has service. This can be quite distracting in a dark room when I’m trying to sleep…
  • How to master the vibrations… I never have sound on my phone enabled, so ideally every “notification” would vibrate. For some reason the device isn’t obeying my settings for new texts to vibrate. Still gotta work on this one…

Criticisms

A lot of people will complain that the storage on the device is lacking, and the RAM (64MB) is rather lackluster. Honestly, I still have most of the storage available on my device, and I’m not even using any external storage. I doubt I would ever put music or videos on this device, so for the few apps I have and the 7 days worth of emails, ~256MB is more than enough storage.

Perhaps related to this, the phone itself seems to lock up a few times a week. ‘Lock up’ should be defined as unable to wake. The phone, which should have plenty of battery and is still on (as identified by the signal lights flashing), will not come out of a blank screen “sleep” state. If a call comes through, the screen will turn on, but no inputs will be accepted. So if you press the Answer button while a call is coming in, it will not answer and the call will go to voicemail.

Through asking around, some people seem to think that this is due to certain application usage, and I have personally confirmed that the “Weather Plugin” for the “HTC Home Customizer” (as previously mentioned) seems to have a memory leak in that it will always cause this issue. When not using the Weather Plugin, it appears to only happen when the phone is below 25% remaining battery. I have talked to others with this phone who confirm they have similar issues.

Another thing that appears to aid in not freezing up is using the HHC “X Button” plugin — an app that will actually close a program when the X button is pressed, rather than leave it running in the background. It makes sense that this would be a crashing issue related to the low RAM on the phone, so I’m not really sure why the Windows Mobile developers decided to make it like this. If you tell an application to close, it should close; you should not have to jump through hoops (e.g. go to Settings => Memory => Running Applications => Click Terminate) to close a running app.

So although this issue is pretty annoying, I think I’ve recognized a way for its impact to be minimized.

Conclusion

This is by far the best phone I’ve had to date. This would be only my 2nd smart phone (behind only the Palm Treo 700wx) and my 4th or so Windows Mobile PPC. It really does fail in comparison to the iPhone in function and elegance, and the Android enabled devices for speed and power, but the fact that I can use a stylus is a welcomed fallback for me, and Windows Mobile — while beginning to show its age — I still really enjoy using. The fact remains that all the hype these days is going toward iPhone (not on the Sprint network) and the Android devices (not on the Sprint network either). That being said, I like how small and thin this phone is (comparatively at least), and this is the fastest I have ever seen a Windows Mobile device. This might just be one of the best options for a Sprint plan.

Yet despite my positive experience with this phone, there are still quite a few setbacks, many of which make me want to throw this phone at the wall at times. And until it can do everything I need it to, I can’t really be happy with it.

Score: 7.5/10

Comments (2)

Dell Vostro 1500 Review

Introduction
I sold my previous laptop, a Dell Inspiron 700m 12″ notebook, and shortly after I purchased a Dell Vostro 1500 15″ notebook. I’ve had it for a month and a half now, long enough to make a balanced review.

Dell Vostro 1500
Click to see my hi-res Flickr photoset of the Dell Vostro 1500

Build Specifications
I purchased the laptop as a default build, with the exception of the screen, warranty and graphics card. The specs were:

  • Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T5470 (1.6GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 800MHz FSB)
  • Genuine Windows® XP Home
  • 15.4 in Wide Screen SXGA+LCD (1680×1050) Display w/TrueLife™ — Default is the 1280×800
  • 1GB Shared Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz, 2 DIMM
  • 256MB NVIDIA® GeForce™ 8600M GT — Default is the 8400
  • 120G 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive
  • Integrated 10/100 Network Card and Modem
  • 8X CD/DVD Burner w/ double-layer DVD+R write capability
  • High Definition Audio 2.0
  • Dell Wireless 1390 802.11g Wi-Fi Mini Card
  • 56 WHr 6-cell Lithium Ion Primary Battery
  • Get $70 Dell Dollars w/3Yr Ltd Warranty and Next Business Day On-Site Svc — Default is 1 year

Final price: $968.00, with free next day delivery. Shortly after I ordered, Dell was giving away free webcams on the LCD, but my order was too late. Subsequently, they gave me a $50 voucher for the difference. That effectively made the final price $918.00.

As soon as I found a deal, I bought a 2x1GB Memory upgrade, “Patriot 2GB (2x1GB) PC2-5300 DDR2 667MHz CL5 200-Pin SO-DIMM”. Aftermarket RAM is always going to be cheaper than ordering it preconfigured with the notebook. I installed the memory via a guide I found, it was easy, took about 20 minutes from powering the laptop down with 1GB to powering it up with 2GB of RAM. Final price including the RAM upgrade: $972.00.

It’s hard to go from a 12″ to a 15″ notebook, but not nearly as hard as it was to go from a 15″ to a 12″ notebook. The hardest things for me to get used to were the new key sizes and the new key placements on the keyboard. The graphics on my 12″ were very sub-par, so comparatively this laptop performs exceedingly well.

Gaming
So far this laptop has played every game I put on it flawlessly, at full settings. I’ve yet to bring it to a LAN party, but given that it’s more powerful than my desktop in every way, I doubt I will be using the desktop for gaming “because my laptop can’t handle it” anymore. The games I play most often on my PC are

  • Warcraft 3: Frozen Throne custom map Defense of the Ancients: Allstars
  • Counter-strike: Source

Admittedly not the most impressive game repertoire, but that will change in time.

I was able to adjust the settings to max for every option on Counter-strike: Source. I could notice a slight lag, but I was still getting 40fps easily.

A few times inside of a game, I’ve had my graphics driver fail, which either causes the system to lockup, or revert graphics to 800x600x16 and not allow correction until reboot. This happens so rarely I won’t really know that it’s fixed. I’ve had the same issue on other systems, other graphics cards, other drivers. I’m certain that there will be an updated graphics driver that will fix it and not mention anything about it in the changelog, so it’s almost not even worth mentioning.

Appearance
The Vostro 1500 has a sleak brushed-looking black Magnesium-alloy chassis. This makes it more rigid looking and feeling than the previous plastic chassis of the Inspirons. Unfortunately, this makes the case very sensitive to fingerprint markings, as can be seen in this picture:
Dell Vostro 1500
No, I didn’t just eat some greasy potato chips and plant my fingers all over this before taking the picture. It’s overly sensitive and shows its markings. This might be a turn-off to some people, not to me.

The latch that holds the lid closed is very cheap and flimsy feeling, and doesn’t come to a snug close. I’ve heard stories of people breaking this off already, and I’m sure (ironically) that it’s not a cheap replacement. Once the lid is closed, there’s a fraction of a millimeter between the screen and the keyboard, just enough so that pressure upon the back of the screen will make it feel like it’s moving toward and away from the keyboard. That’s a little nerveracking, and I feel it detracts quite heavily from the quality of the notebook.

It feels like the hinge that connects the screen to the base is too tight, it’s impossible for me to open the screen from closed position with one hand. This is just a minor annoyance, but it’s constant. Every time I have to put down something in hand #2 to help hand #1 open the screen, I get just a little bit more annoyed at the notebook.

There are some obvious draws to the default specs of the Vostro. It is pretty thick and heavy, and the battery life is less than optimal compared to some other notebooks in its class. I don’t mind it, in fact I prefer it. I’ve had a portable laptop in the past, and frankly I find more use to a decently priced desktop replacement. I guess what I’m trying to say, is if I could get away from paying extra for a lighter, longer-charged, thinner notebook, I would…, and I did. That being said, I was still able to get almost 2 hours of battery life with casual use — more than I’d need.

Administrativa
One of the selling points of the laptop is that it doesn’t come prebundled with Dell’s bloatware. The bloatware never really affected me too much. I ordered the Vostro with Windows XP Home, because I have my student license of Windows XP Pro with which I planned to wipe the hard drive as soon as I received the laptop. I did just that, and found the drivers from Dell’s Vostro 1500 driver page without any problems; every device worked. At some point in the past month and a half, Dell decided to no longer host the Windows XP drivers for the Vostro 1500, now you can only select “Windows Vista 32-bit” as your Operating System. Now this is not to say the drivers they have listed won’t work with Windows XP, it just means that they’re working toward no longer supporting XP on the 1500. This is very discouraging, considering I don’t have a student license of Windows Vista :). As of Oct-12th, Windows XP is available again. It must have just been a temporary outage.

Two or three times since I’ve received the laptop, I would get weird BIOS messages, saying something to the effect that “the battery is not found or not supported.” I wish I would have captured this image to find out more about what it means, but since pressing F3 to ignore has been working, I’ve been content with that thus far. Next time I get it, I’ll be sure to capture it and followup with that error message.

Conclusion
This is only the second laptop I’ve owned or used very heavily, the first being my Dell Inspiron 700m. I’m very impressed with the power of the unit, Dell has made it very customizable and upgradable. There are quite a few shortcomings, this is really Dell’s first shot at a Magnesium-alloy chassis. However, I applaud their efforts, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

Score: 9.0/10

Links of Interest:
My Dell Vostro 1500 photoset at Flickr.com
Dell Vostro 1500 Driver Page at Dell.com
Dell Vostro 1500 Manuals at Dell.com

Comments (31)

Antec Notebook Cooler revisited

In 2005, I reviewed the Antec Notebook Cooler. It broke in early 2007 as a result of connecting a VGA cable to my Dell Inspiron 700m, when there pretty obviously really wasn’t room for it to fit. Eventually the thin wire that connects the USB cable to the USB plug was separated, making the device useless. It looks like a definite weak spot of the device. A year’s use for ~$10 is nothing to complain about, though.

So after some time using an inferior cheap replacement, I decided I needed to set out and find another Antec Notebook Cooler. Man you never know what you’re missing until it’s gone. So I bought another one used for ~$10.

So if I had to revisit the 9.5/10 score, I’d now give it a 9.0/10, due to its critical weakpoint. Now that I know what can go wrong, I can prevent it from happening again.

Comments (0)


blogtimes