Friday 15 June 2012

Lets look at the specs - Samsung 305U1A and VX6s

As it's going to be a little while before I can afford any new toys I'm going to have to fawn over some specifications.  While looking around for NVIDIA ION powered netbooks (the NC10 doesn't like driving 2 screens) I stumbled across some interesting machines on ebuyer.

The first is the Asus Eee PC VX6S Lamborghini Netbook (£470.00 at time of writing) and the Samsumg 305U1A Laptop (£366.34 at time of writing).  My first thought was WTF!  That's one expensive netbook, and more expensive than a laptop?  Time to investigate.

On paper they are certainly very similar machines.  The key differences being AMD vs Intel CPU and 12.1" vs 11.6" screen.  Likewise, it's Intel vs AMD for the chipsets.  Interestingly, both machines (or at least the 2 specific models I found) use AMD (nee ATI) graphics.  The 2 being similarly specced with the Asus offering a 6470 against Samsungs 6310.  That being said, I'm not entirely sure that's a relevant point.  Both machines have an internal screen resolution of 1366x768 so I'm not sure anything too taxing could be thrown at them.

Asus VX62 Lamborghini Samsung 305U1A
Form Netbook Notebook
CPU Intel Atom D2700 2.13GHz AMD E-450 1.65GHz
Chipset Intel NM10 AMD A50M
Storage 320Gb HDD 500Gb HDD
RAM 4Gb 4Gb
Display 12.1" LED (1366x768) 11.6" LED (1366x768)
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6470 AMD Radeon HD 6310
LAN RJ45 (Unknown) 10/100/1000 Ethernet
WLAN 802.11bg/n 802.11bg/n
Bluetooth 3.0 3.0
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium (64bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64bit)
USB 3 (1xUSB2.0, 2xUSB3.0) 3 (USB 2.0)
Graphics Out VGA, HDMI VGA, HDMI
Card Reader 802.11bg/n 4 in 1 card reader
Audio Out Headphone, Mic Headphone/Mic combo
Battery 6 Cell Li-Ion 2600mAh 4 Cell Li-Ion, 4000mAh

I'm going to do a little more research in to the battery life of these 2 machines.  At this point I wouldn't like to say whether I think the Intel or AMD CPU will be more advantageous.  The first netbook I bought had a VIA CPU and a pathetic runtime.  For a machine like this the power consumption is crucial.  Samsung offer a larger battery than Asus.  Whether this is offers greater runtime or makes up for increased power consumption remains to be seen.

While the 12 inch screen on the Asus is tempting, I think this starts to break the idea of what a netbook is.  I'm certainly not one to use novelty, oversized laptops.  I use a 14" as my primary PC.  That being said, it's a Dell Latitude that spends most of its time in a port replicator, driving a 24"/22" display combo.  When on the move, it's a little more practical than the 15"+ laptops available today.

At first glance my preference would be the Samsung due to the lower price tag.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Fun With Tech Support Scammers

A little earlier this evening I received a "tech support" scam call.  I've noticed that this scam has been going around in a few forms over the last few months.  The basic premise is, someone phones up saying that your computer has been sending error reports, has viruses etc and attempts to dupe the mark in to either downloading a repair utility (malware) or allow the "technician" remote control through a remote support tool such as LogMeIn etc.

Suffice it to say, this was a short call:

Caller: Hello, I am calling from Microsoft Windows XP tech support, do you know your computer is sending us error reports?Me: No... I'm actually a little surprised it would be sending reports to Microsoft as I use a Macintosh.*hangs up*Me: Hello?

After spending a few minutes laughing to myself (a rather evil, self satisfied laugh at that!) I started kicking myself.  I'd missed a golden opportunity.  Reason being, I'm not a Mac user, I'm not a Windows user (my laptop has Windows 7 but I rarely use it) - Most of the time I run Fedora Linux.

I'm starting to wish I'd played along.  That way I could see how long it would take for them to figure out that I'm not actually running Windows, made a little more believable by pretending not to be an expert (I've seen enough novices to be able to pull it off!).

Gotta love scambaiting :-D

Sunday 10 June 2012

NC10 Touchscreen Mod - With Demonstration Video

Hardware modification time!  I finally got around to installing a touchscreen in the netbook, then I got around to actually doing a video of it.  Since this is the first time I've actually talked in a video (usually I just demonstrate without saying anything), it's pretty cringeworthy.

To the hardware - installing the touchscreen took longer than I had thought, fortunately I was spending the day with some suitably geeky friends and we eventually managed to get the whole thing working.  One of the major issues is that there really isn't much space in those netbook cases.  As it stands, the NC10 has space where an additional mini PCIE device would have gone (the 3G equipped model) where we could install the touchscreen controller.  As there are limited USB headers on the system board, the controller also includes a USB hub.  This meant the USB header for the webcam could be used and the webcam is plugged in to one of the USB headers provided on the touchscreen controller.


I purchased this as a kit which included:

  • Touchscreen panel
  • Controller/USB hub
  • Stylus (I foolishly lost mine a few days ago!)
  • Plastic device to help open the case

Looks like a guitar plectrum, but a useful doohickey

The controller was detected as an eGalax and appears to be a fairly common type of controller with support under Windows, Linux and MacOS.

As Fedora is my distro of choice, I did a search on YUM for touchscreen and found a calibration tool.
  In order to persist the changes, I added a configuration file to /etc/X11/xord.conf.d/ containing the device info and calibration settings.

Section "InputClass"
Identifier "eGalax"
MatchProduct "eGalax"
MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/event*"
Driver "evdev"
Option "SwapAxes" "off"
Option "Calibration" "1934 81 190 1904"

Replace the values in the "Calibration" line with the values you got from the touchscreen calibration program. An alternative approach is to take the output from the calibration program (which includes the program they need passing to) and put it in a script that is launched at login.  I opted for the X11 configuration approach instead as I wanted to have access to the touchscreen at the login page.

Overall, it was an interesting experience and I find the touchscreen quite useful.  the GNOME3 desktop handles the touchscreen quite well.  It's certainly not as good as Apple IOS or Google Android as it's a desktop UI with adaptions for touchscreens but it's not bad.

Hairy moment!
The demonstration video is available here (finally - I get to try out embedding a youtube video!)

Setting up Google Calendars in GNOME Evolution

Now that I'm starting to make more use of the notification, contact etc facilities of GNOME3 I thought I'd have a go at integrating my Google Apps provided Email/Calendar.  This is going to be a long day!

Connecting an Apps account appears to be a simple affair, most of the steps are the same as for connecting a regular Gmail account.  The only difference is using your full email address rather than a Gmail username.

As Evolution is not a supported client, I used the generic instructions.  This only includes instructions for setting up POP, which I've disabled on my account.  When enabling IMAP connections for my account, the web interface rather helpfully informed me that I need to use "" as a server.  Armed with this knowledge I set Evolution to use IMAP+ (I've heard that gmail supports push email with IMAP) and continued.  Please not that security settings are SSL (not TLS) and Password rather than PLAIN for authentication.

The tricky part for me is that I'm using 2 factor authentication on my account.  First step for this is to create an application specific password, this can then be used in place of your regular password when setting up the connection.

Generating an application specific password
And hey presto! We now have email!

Calendars are proving a little more tricky to get going.  By default, evolution creates a single calendar, which appears not to be connected to anything.  The partial solution I've found is to manually add each calendar.  Because the the infernal 2 factor authentication (starting to regret setting it up now!) I'm having to keep the application specific password on hand as I need it to retrieve my calendar list and add the appropriate calendar.

This all went well until adding the 3rd calendar.  At this point it refused to allow me to add the calendar, despite having all the appropriate details entered.  Can't be a bad password as it allowed me to view the friggin calendar list!  At first I suspected this was some kind of limit.  So I deleted calendar #2, can't add it again!  I can add local calendars but not Google ones.  Very useful!

After a few more attempts I found it was being temperamental - sometimes allowing me to add a calendar and sometimes now.  Finally, I think I've figured it out.  If I don't enter a name to give this calendar, before retrieving the list from Google - it won't let me add it.  Specify a name first (even a temporary one) - it can be added.  How strange is that?

The only other "quirk" I've noticed is that my default colour selection is overridden when a new calendar is added.  Going back in to change the colour will commit my ACTUAL selection.  Annoying, but not a deal breaker.
At long last, calendars!

Don't check the box marked "Mark as default calendar" - I did this with my main calendar and no entries showed up in GNOME.  I could be wrong, but changing this setting seemed to help.
Default Calendar - Caused me troubles!
The end result - I can now get my notifications on my desktop.

Something particularly useful is that selecting the current day will let you see your schedule for the week along with that days events.

I don't see this as a replacement for the web interface.  I see this more like my Android phone, it's another tool to complement it.  The web interface is very useful for when I need access to my calendars when I haven't got my phone with me.  My phone and GNOME are great for providing notifications.

I'm going to need to use this intensively for a while before I can say for sure whether I'll continue using this and how useful I think it is.  It's certainly much more of a faff to set up than an Android device.

Saturday 2 June 2012

Asus Transformer or iPad?

Having used my Transformer for a year now I've started to realise my next tablet will possibly be an iPad.

Don't get me wrong, the TF101 is still a nice piece of hardware and the keyboard dock is useful (I'm actually writing this blog on it right now!), I'm just not sure tje keyboard is such a big deal.  What I use this device for, more than anythin else, is web browsing.  For that I almost always use the Transformer without the keyboard.  This is something that a tablet is very useful for.  Furthermore, I'm not convinced that the 16:9 aspect ratio is that good in portrait mode.

The main gripes I have with the Transformer are:
  • Poor battery life.  Compared to the iPad, the TF101 just doesn't deliver.
  • Buggy Software.  Ice Cream Sandwitch has some nice features, unfortunately this doesn't make up for the buggy implementation Asus released.  On occasion the device gets stuck in a reboot loop, causing the battery to quickly expire.
  • Sluggish - While a factory reset or new upgrade (e.g. ICS) runs smoothly at first, the device soon starts to become sluggish.  Screen transitions and web browsing suffer especially from this.  Sadly I've seen the same deterioation in performance on my HTC Desire-Z so this could be an inherent issue with Android.
  • USB3 charging.  I don't know if the iPad has this issue, but USB3 charging means that I can't use my AA Battery based portable charger.  Not very good when I want to use the Transformer for entertainment on my next long haul flight.
  • Poor video codec support.  The iPad has the same issue so not fair to point fingers at Google.
All that being said, I'm still planning on taking the TF101 to Japan in August as my Dell Latitude was a little too heavy and took up too muh space in my carry on bag last time.
Question for the long term is: Will the iPad do what I need and can I live with iTunes?

I'm hoping to get a few feature comparisons and differences from Bytey who has used the same TF101 and now uses the iPad3 as his tablet PC.