Review: Nokia N97 Mini

N97 MiniRecently, the nice folks at WOMWorld sent me an N97 Mini to review.  Thanks guys.  I received the Euro model, the RM-555, which supports UMTS on the 900, 1900 and 2100 Mhz bands, in addition to quad-band GSM and a 802.11g WLAN radio.  Living in the US, I’d have preferred to have looked at a US model that included the UMTS 850 Mhz band, but beggars can’t be choosers, right?  Right.  So, on to the show..

Physical Attributes

The device’s size is great.  Nice and small.  I had an N97 for a (very) short time not long after it came out, and I was not a fan of the form factor.  It felt almost like carrying around an old 9500.  What a brick that thing was.  Contrasted with this, I’d be totally satisfied with the form factor.  Obviously, thinner wN97 Mini Home Screen Portraitould be better, to a point, but I’m not unhappy with the thickness.  In terms of construction, there’s just enough metal to make it feel solid in your hands, like it’s not going to snap in half while you’re typing on it.

One problem I had with the layout – the position of the headphone jack.  On my train ride home from the office yesterday, I had my headphones plugged in while listening to some tunes.  Typing a couple of emails and texts was awkward.  It would have been better if the headphone jack had moved toward the top, but the camera assembly would then need to be relocated.  Typing on the keyboard wasn’t bad, took a bit of getting used to, but nothing ridiculous.

Software

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  S60 is really showing its age.  Yes, S60 v5 has some advances over v3, even FP2, but it’s still got a lot of the baggage that’s accompanied S60 devices over the years – mostly speed related.  This phone won’t win any UI races.  The device lacks any form of multi-touch capabilities, due to its use of a resistive touchscreen.  Yes, I’ve heard all the arguments about how you can use resistive screens while wearing gloves.  Frankly, I don’t often find myself trying to use my phone while wearing gloves.  I’d rather have a capacitive screen – much more responsive.

N97 Mini Google MapsAs it’s big brother does, the N97 Mini includes Ovi Maps, and is compatible with the new version of Ovi Maps that includes free navigation.  I love the free navigation concept, and expect others to follow suit.  That said, I much prefer using Google Maps.  I find it faster and more responsive than Ovi Maps overall, and think it’s much better at finding things in the area because of its hooks into the Google Search infrastructure.  I’d use something like Ovi Maps in my car for navigation, but I’ve owned a Garmin Nuvi for several years now, and I’m not quite ready to get rid of it.

For email, I’m using Mail for Exchange.  The latest version for S60 v5 does not N97 Mini Home Screen Landscapeinclude HTML mail support, something I miss from my E72.  I’m planning on trying out RoadSync on this phone as well, but since I already know that it doesn’t support network destinations (i.e. access point groups), I’ll be disappointed there as well, though I will get my HTML mail.

In the browser arena, as expected, I found the Nokia browser to be adequate, but not really as good as I’d like to see it.  I tried out Opera Mobile on the device, and was generally more pleased with its functionality, though I found it to be slightly less responsive than the stock Nokia browser.

Network

I ran a some speed tests from a variety of sites, using both AT&T 3G data as well as via the WLAN in my home.  Over the air, I saw download speeds ranging from 500 – 780 kbps.  Over the WLAN, I saw speeds around 1.2 Mbps.  On my Mac on the same WLAN, I see about 18 Mbps down and 4.2 Mbps up (I have 20/5 FiOS at home).  These performance numbers are consistent with my tests with other S60 phones, like the E71, E72 and my wife’s E75.  It’s also close to what my iPhone toting friends in the area see.

Conclusions

In summary, the N97 Mini is definitely a better choice than the bigger N97.  It’s more pocketable, and has the same features, with a better form factor.  If all you’re after is an S60 v5 touch device, you’d probably be better off with the 5800 Nav Edition, but if you can’t live without a qwerty keyboard, the N97 Mini is a winner.  Will I buy one?  Probably not – I’m satisfied with my E72.  Right now, Android 2.1 has ActiveSync that gets email and contacts.  If they add calender support to it, I’ll be on an Android device before too long.  Why?  Newer devices, more innovation, actual integration with Google Voice – something I actually use on a daily basis and more than one vendor really interested in using it.  Hopefully S60 can turn things around before my next phone purchase.  As a co-worker said the other day, the call quality on Nokia devices is better than anything else I’ve ever used.

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Home Virtualization Project 2.0

Virtualization FunnelYou may remember the Home Virtualization Project from last year.  In that project, I converted my existing server, based on a Shuttle XPC (SP35P2 Pro, to be more precise) from a Linux server running VMware Server 2.0 to a VMware ESXi 3.5 server.  It worked well, but left a few things to be desired, such as..

  1. No RAID
  2. Onboard NIC required significant fiddling to get working under ESXi 3.5u4
  3. No onboard video, so I needed a video card, plus a network card to get going (the real root cause of #1 above).
  4. A bit loud.  The system wasn’t terribly loud, but for something that’s on full-time in the background in my office, it could be distracting at times.

So here we are, it’s a brand-new year, so the big project was an upgrade, inspired by some requirements I found with a project at work.  In the end, the old server was converted into a workstation and now has a happy home.  So what’s the current system?  Another Shuttle XPC.  This time, it’s the SG45H7.  This is a slightly smaller chassis than the already small SP35P2 Pro.  The SP line has space for 2 hard drives up top, above the optical drive that the SG line lacks, resulting in a shorter case.  The SG45H7 is targeted as an HTPC, and includes onboard video with both SVGA and HDMI outputs.  Further, it includes 2 expansion slots, one PCIe x16 and one PCI. Continue reading Home Virtualization Project 2.0

Facebook Chat via Jabber/XMPP

Facebook Chat on JabberAt long last, after promises to open up Facebook chat to Jabber clients, it’s up and going.  Finally!  No more crappy plugins for Pidgin and Adium that stop working randomly.  No more leaving a browser window up and connected to Facebook either.  It’s working quite well, so far at least.  Interested?  Head over there and they’ll walk you through the process.

What brought this about?  Facebook has started opening up and federating their IM system with other networks.  First up is AIM.  That’s right, AIM users can now chat with Facebook Chat users.  Since Facebook wisely chose the open XMPP (eXtensible Messaging & Presence Protocol) for this, which allows easy federation (i.e. interoperability) with other IM services, including the greater Jabber/XMPP community, which includes Google Talk, both in its standard and “Apps for Your Domain” flavors.

Here’s the gist, tell your Jabber client (they give precise instructions for Pidgin, Adium and iChat) to connect as your-user-name@chat.facebook.com and you’re all set.  For other Jabber clients, check out the link above for any particulars on the connection parameters.

One thing that they did not do, and it’s a bit irksome – no SSL/TLS support.  Come on kids, we’re in the 21st century here, let’s get with the program a bit.  After all, the standard login.facebook.com page uses SSL, so why not this too?

So overall, it’s great news, but they’ve still got a bit of work to do.

Review: Nokia E72

Nokia E72My trusty E71 finally took a dive for the last time onto a nasty floor.  I was using a Nokia N85 for a bit as a stopgap.  Great phone, fantastic camera, but typing email with T9 drove me nuts.  The N85 is now hosting my home phone’s SIM.  But this review isn’t about the N85, so back to the topic at hand..

Between the N85 and the E72, I tried out the Blackberry 9700, which was lovely, as much as a Blackberry can be, but lacked some of the features I liked, such as a working SIP stack, and especially the ability to tell when my data is moving through the corporate network/BES, vs. WLAN, vs. carrier data that’s not via the BES – I found that utterly impossible on the BB 9700.  Otherwise, a nice phone.  But again, back to the topic at hand.

First, I’ll start with the physical attributes of the E72.  The E72 is a tiny bit wider than the E71, but is the tiniest bit lighter than the E71.  The E72 trades in a good bit of the metal housing for plastic, but gets new & improved features like a 3.5mm headphone jack, instead of the 2.5mm mess that’s on the E71.  Radios are mostly equivalent to the E71.  Mine is the US variant, the E72-2, so it’s a quad-band GSM/EDGE device, with works on UMTS 850/1900/2100 Mhz bands.  The 2100 Mhz band is a nice addition to the device, for users who travel abroad, as is the support for HSPA 7.2 Mbps.  The WLAN in the E72 is essentially the same as the E71 – 802.11b/g. The camera is a nice bump in the E72 as well – a 5MP cam, a step above the E71’s 3.2 MP cam, with a single LED flash.

My favorite part about the phone?  The messaging experience.  At work, one of our options is Exchange ActiveSync, so I’ve been a Mail for Exchange user for quite a while now, even with its deficiencies, like the lack of ability to sync folders other than the Inbox, HTML support, and lack of ability to create a meeting request from the phone.  The device works with Nokia’s Messaging service, which I’m not using at this time.  For my personal mail (hosted by Google Apps), I use the Google Gmail app, which works just as well on the E72 as it did on the E71.

Overall, the E72 is a worthy successor to the E71.  Right now, Amazon’s got it for $369.  If you’re going to buy, please consider using my link to it.

Tech Predictions for 2010

It’s that time of the year again kids.. For some reason, I didn’t do this last year.  Here we go, my 10 predictions for technology in 2010.

1. Netbooks – huge.

You thought 2009 was the year of the netbook?  You ain’t seen nothing yet, kid. 2010 will bring a whole new crop of them, this time with the Nvidia ION chipset, allowing you to watch HD content on your little netbook.  We’ve already started seeing better screen resolutions like 1366×768 (instead of the older 1024×600), giving you greater than 720p on the display.  This will continue, though I don’t think you’ll see 10″ screens grow much more in resolution.  Apple’s rumored to release something early in 2010, possibly called iSlate, which will be a hybrid netbook/tablet device.

2. Home Virtualization

In 2009, with VMware ESXi being free, geeks started doing bare-metal virtualization more and more, dumping host-os solutions like VMware Server in favor of better performance.  This trend will accelerate in 2010, and we’ll see someone introduce a virtualization product targeted at the so-called “pro-sumer”.  It will be interesting to see if it’s specifically marketed as such.  What’s it for?  Aggregation of lots of different home network services onto a single hardware platform.  Maybe it’s all a dream for us geeks, but I think something will pop in 2010.  Remember, everyone said the same thing about NAS, and now those are everywhere too.

3. Gigabit Ethernet for everyone

People will stop buying routers and switches for the home that are only 10/100 devices.  The driving forces?  NAS and 802.11n.  As people replace old computers with new, they come with shiny stuff like 802.11n wifi cards instead of crusty old 802.11g.  This means a jump from 54 Mbps to 300 Mbps.  Obviously, 300 Mbps > 100 Mbps, and nobody wants to have access to their data on the NAS to be that slow.

4. Android Cleans House

I admit it.  I like Google.  I love the idea of a common-source OS that’s open for mobile devices.  I’ve got serious technolust for something running Android right now.  I’m doing my best to be patient though.  I want to see the latest batch of devices, hopefully with 1 Ghz Snapdragon processors and Android 2.1 first.  After that, if it’s got AT&T 3G bands and wifi, I’m in.  I predict that people will finally start falling out of iLove with their iPhones, though certainly not in droves, and move to a more capable platform that does “more.”

5. Another new iPhone

As it’s older siblings before it, it will be buzzword compliant, but probably only with stuff that isn’t cutting edge.  You’ll get your 5MP camera (that I had on a phone 2 years ago), you’ll get HSPA – but won’t be able to use it.  What’s the big prediction here?  New headphones that use Bluetooth, sort of like the ones that Nokia sells.  They’ll be optional, and work with the 3GS, but I’d bet they won’t work with the 3G and certainly not the original iPhone.  Nothing earth shattering, but they’ll be Apple-branded, and tightly integrated with the device, so you’ll see stuff like song titles and caller id info on an OLED display, possibly color, using buddy icons from your address book.

6. Another iPod Shuffle down-size

Because they’re not small enough, right?  This time, it will be a single piece of hardware, integrated into the headphones.  It will also see a price cut to $49 for a 4GB model.  Just an incremental change in the end.

7. More gigantic technological misnomers

Like LED TVs.  I had a discussion with someone not long ago who insisted that these were not LCD TVs, and were in fact LED TVs.  He just couldn’t get past the idea that the display technology is largely the same, possibly some incremental changes, but the real change is in the backlight.  LCD TVs that were purchased a couple of years ago were certainly backlit using fluorescent bulbs.  These “LED” TVs use LED bulbs for the backlight.  That’s the limit of the changes.  These are not self-illuminating screens like OLED or AMOLED.  Now an AMOLED screen – that would be HUGE.  What will the misnomer be about?  Who knows?  It’s coming though.

8. A “major” newspaper will fail to make it to 2011

We’ve been talking for years about the impending death of the newspaper, in favor of Internet-based news channels.  I think back to our experience with the local paper earlier this year.  We subscribed purely for the reason of getting coupons.  We subscribed to the weekend package (so Friday – Sunday).  Total cost was about $10 a month.  The problem?  We only netted about $5-6 worth of coupons per month.  After 2 months, we canceled the subscription.  Ad revenues are already in the toilet for newspapers, and will only continue to decline.  Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee, Mr. Newspaper Man.

9. Compressed hydrogen will start moving.

Sure, Honda’s got their prototype Accord going in California.  But, we’re going to start seeing a real compressed hydrogen delivery network being built.  Hydrogen is arguably one of the most abundantly available elements on Earth.  The vehicles emit water vapor as their exhaust.  Not so bad, eh?  Please, don’t confuse me with a climate change fruit loop.  I don’t subscribe to cooking the books in order to support my points, as is the case in the climate change circle these days.  But surely a car that emits water vapor can only be a good thing, when compared to a gas or diesel vehicle.

10. A usable water-based fuel cell

This thing is the big dream.  You fill it up with water, and the hydrogen is used to power the device.  It’s completely sustainable, and free to “recharge.”

Home Virtualization Project

Virtualization FunnelAs some of you may know, though may or may not actually care, I was previously running my home server on Ubuntu Jaunty x86_64, and ran VMware Server 2.0 on it.  I had VMs for my SSL VPN and some occasionally used VMs for other things.

I was tired of performance that VMware Server offered, along with its baggage.  For instance, the Web UI suffered from frequent crashes, and it was also fairly slow.  Having had great success in the lab at the office with VMware ESXi, I decided that was the way to go.  ESXi 4.0 is still fairly new, and I’ve had some trouble with my SSL VM on it, so I decided to sit that one out for a bit, leaving me with 3.5u4.

Next hurdle – my hardware.  I use a Shuttle XPC for my server.  It’s small, and doesn’t inhale too much power, so I found it to be a good choice as a Linux server, what it’s spent most of its time as.  Unfortunately, as it uses a Marvell Ethernet chipset (the sky2 driver), and that’s not on the VMware HCL, there wasn’t a driver for it.  But then, KernelCrash to the rescue.  The author gives very nice build instructions to get a mod_sky2.0 driver that works on ESXi 3.5u4.  It’s been good enough that I haven’t noticed any problems with performance or functionality.

I did have to give up my Linux software raid, so at the moment, I’m sort of running without a net.  My plan is to add an external RAID box, either connected via eSATA or 1GbE NAS.  Obviously eSATA will perform better, but I’m not yet convinced I’ll see much of a practical performance difference.  I’ll add a new Intel e1000 NIC to the system dedicated to storage if I do that.  Anyone have thoughts on VMware iSCSI vs NFS performance?

Now I’ve got VMs for my SSL VPN, my File/Pri DNS/DHCP/kitchen sink server, a secondary DNS, and a FreeNAS, as well as some assorted client systems to test various things.  All in all, it’s worked very well.

If you want to go straight to ESXi 4.0, KernelCrash has you covered there as well.

Monkey's Big Trip

So, I’m in Virginia until tomorrow for training.  Alex thought it would be fun to send his stuffed Curious George with me, and so I’ve been sending pictures.

After a big day with me, Monkey decided to relax a bit.

Monkey, relaxing in a chair.
Monkey, relaxing in a chair.

After getting a bit of rest, Monkey decided to send off a few emails.

Monkey sending out some emails
Monkey sending out some emails

Next, Monkey finally figure out he was hungry, so he cooked some dinner.

Monkey got hungry.
Monkey got hungry.

After dinner, Monkey was thirsty, so he had a drink too.

And he's thirsty too.
And he's thirsty too.

At the end of such a big day, Monkey went off to bed.

Monkey, hitting the sack.
Monkey, hitting the sack.