Tag Archive | "reporting kit"

Ultra Mobile Reporting Kit CES 2012 – V11

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CES is just days away and I’ve just finalised the kit-list for my Ultra Mobile Reporting Kit V11. I’ll be there for the week and focusing on Tablets, Netbooks, Ultrabooks and, if I find anything, UMPCs.

2011 was a year of change in the way I did reporting for my websites Carrypad, UMPCPortal and Ultrabooknews. The Samsung Galaxy Tab gave me more mobility than I had ever had and the Nokia N8 gave me less reason to use a dedicated camera for photos and videos. My last test relied on just those two items for everything.

Towards the middle of 2011 the realisation that YouTube was one of my most important revenue channels led me towards a better quality 720p editing set-up. A series of tests and articles posted here on UMPCPortal gave me an indication that Core i5 Sandy Bridge processors could bring some major advantages for 720p video work. Intel Quick-Sync video hardware and some excellent software from Cyberlink in Media Espresso and PowerDirector sent me on the search for a new camera and in  October I settled on the Panasonic Lumix FZ150, a bridge camera that gives impressive low-light camera and HD video results along with relatively lightweight hardware for a camera with a long-zoom lens and a rotating display. After testing some Ultrabooks I actually took the Samsung NP350, a 1.4KG 12.5” laptop that runs a 2.2Ghz Core i3 and holds a 60Wh battery. Compared to my previous netbook (Gigabyte Touchnote) it’s the same weight but a gigantic step forward in processing power. Even battery life is better so I’m happy that it will work well when on the road.

Here’s the detail on the kit-list:

NP350Samsung NP350 Notebook

A 1.4KG (3lb) notebook running a Core i3 CPU at 800Mhz-2.2Ghz with battery life ranging from over 8hrs (typing) to 1hr (gaming.) It has a 12.5” 1366×768 matt screen, 600GB hard drive, good keyboard, Intel Centrino Wifi module with Wi-Di, SSD, fast-start, HDMI, VGA, full-size SDHC and 2 USB2.0 ports with sleep ‘n charge. There’s no backlit keyboard, SSD or USB3.0. Cost – €430 before taxes.

I’ll use the NP350 for 720p video conversion and editing and sit-down article composition, data storage, mass photo upload.

panasonic-lumix-fz150-3_thumbPanasonic Lumix FZ150 Camera

12MP, 24x Zoom, hot-shoe, rotating display, full HD (plus 720p) in MPEG4 or AVCHD, external mic port, HDMI-out and some impressive low-light performance for a compact-size sensor. Weight is just over 500gm. Price around €500

The FZ150 will be used as a 720p video device and camera. I won’t be using 1080p quality as it’s overkill for the quick hands-on videos I post to YouTube, especially as YouTube compresses the hell out of 1080p!

Nokia-N8-photosNokia N8 CameraPhone

A Symbian-based phone with high quality camera, Xenon flash and 720 video capability. Long battery life.

The N8 will be used as phone, SMS, calendar reminder and for quick photos (including evening/people/party) that I’ll put up on Twitter, Facebook and other channels. It will remain on my European SIM card with no data capability while at CES. Images will be transferred to the Galaxy Tab via Bluetooth for sending to various social channels when needed.

Samsung-Galaxy-Tab-7-inch-Android-2.2-OS-Based-Tablet-540x383Samsung Galaxy Tab Android Tablet

At over one year old, you’d think that there are many better 7” tablet solutions out there by now but the Galaxy Tab 7 is still up there as one of the most usable 7” tablets on the market. I’m looking to upgrade when ICS is available but the original Galaxy Tab 7 will be fine for CES work. There won’t be a SIM card in it for data or voice but it will be connected to my Clear MiFi unit as my ‘always-on, always connected’ component. I suspect i’ll have some mini blogs going out through this as well as Tweets, Facebook posts and Google Plus posts.

Clear MiFi + Power Pack

Not shown on the picture are a Clear 4G MiFi unit (rented from Event Radio) and a small USB power-pack that I hope will sit in my bag and provide me with a moving cloud.

 

The kit weight is going to be well over 2KG once the tripod, cables and spares are added and it’s more than I would like to be carrying but for a 720p recording and editing suite and always-connected mobile and social set-up, it’s not far from optimal.

Review: The 700gm Mobile Reporting and Blogging Kit

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700gm turned into about 1.2kg last week as I tested a smartphone and tablet combination for content creation. I used the Samsung Galaxy Tab for writing the text, staying connected on social networks and I also used it as the ‘business grade’ 3G connection via a T-Mobile true day-flat option.
The Nokia N8 performed camera, video and video editing duties as well as back-up Twitter client and of course, mobile phone.

The extra weight came from two changes to the kit. Firstly, a bag. Yes, I’m sorry bit I’m not the sort of person that wears cargo pants and it was way too warm for a jacket. The 200gm The Variotek power pack details are here. (aff.)

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When I look back at my content I see that YouTube and Twitter became my main delivery channel with some posts being made around the 30 videos that i took. It’s a similar story for most bloggers – getting videos on to YouTube is critical for revenue generation. Without it many of us product bloggers wouldn’t exist. Recording in a relatively low bitrate at 480p was a major advantage and I would do it again although there’s something  in my head that tells me I really could record in 720p and use an Intel Sandy Bridge based device to do super quick conversion to 480p. The Samsung Series 7 tablet has got me excited to test that possibility. Maybe I’ll look into that soon. Hardware image stabilization is also something I need to look into. I suspect I won’t be using the N8 for much longer despite it being connected. Having said that, the quality of the videos was, I think, acceptable to most YouTube viewers. Product hands-on at press events is normally a chaotic experience anyway so while it didn’t please me to be posting wobbly videos that weren’t always in focus, YouTube viewing stats show that it worked from a business perspective. Your recommendations for an ultralight compact with good low-light performance, 720p video with hard and software stabilization are gratefully received.

I struggled to post many images despite being very happy with the quality and that was due to a silly process at our blogs that I’m going to have to change. We use Gallery2 which doesn’t have much support through Android apps! Writing was kept to a lower level than would have been if I had been using a laptop. I had some help from Ben on press day and was grateful for that.

I want to have a little moan about sharing on the Nokia N8 because its near-useless. Why Nokia don’t have a way to share videos to YouTube is something I don’t understand for such a video-focused camera. The YouTube site link is difficult and annoying to use. Sharing is such a second-thought on Symbian.

As for the Galaxy Tab, everything went well, as long as I remembered to reboot once per day. I’m noticing that the Tab slows down excessively when pushed hard. Google Maps is especially problematic although I was grateful for cached maps when traveling the underground train system.

Screen brightness in the Galaxy Tab 7 could be a lot better in daylight. After getting hands-on with the gorgeous Galaxy Tab 7.7 I see how much better it can be. Bonus points go to the YouTube app for being very robust for uploads. It handled switches from WiFi to 3g without dropping the upload. Minus points go to the built in gallery. I used Fishbowl as a replacement gallery. Battery life under full use is about 6hrs so I was nearly out of juice a few times on long days. You need to keep an eye on settings and apps to get the best it of it but I don’t want to complain because most phones would only last half the time given the same scenarios. All in all it was a great performance from the Galaxy Tab. If only it had a decent camera and a video editing app. That’s something that might be interesting to look at on the Tab 7.7 although I know already that it doesn’t have continuous auto focus.

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One area where I had a problem was system admin. Both command-line and web back-end work was next-to impossible. There really is only one way to fix that – a notebook. It doesn’t requires processing power but it does need a keyboard and a quality browser. How do you fix that? I don’t think you can without adding a netbook. That’s 1kg added! Oh, and remote desktop was not an option either. . .

The connectivity at IFA was the worst I’ve ever experienced at a European trade show. The press room WiFi and wired connections were overloaded when needed and the 3G from both Telefonica’s O2 and a €5 per day T-Mobile connection were useless for any image or video uploading. This was a major issue and highlights the growing problem of overcrowding on 3G. How to fix? Jump to WiMax where possible. It’s on my list now.

There’s one other thing to mention – respect. I simply looked like an amateur. It’s a bigger problem than you think because PR people tend to have an eye-out for big cameras, lights and 2-men recording teams. My week was successful though so I guess I managed to ignore or work-around that issue.

Would I do it again? I’m going to IDF next week where there will also be a lot of news. It will be detailed though and could require more than just a quick video. I know how huge the keynote hall is too so a camera with a big lens can be helpful. I also know, however, that there are PCs available for use. I feel good about this week so I’ve decided to go for the 1kg again next week. Being at an Intel conferences with an ARM-based reporting kit could be fun too. In the meantime, I’m going to do more research on using a real camera with a Sandy-Bridge based editing device because it’s only the video quality of the N8 that worries me.

It can be done. There’s no need for huge devices and heavy, battery-eating equipment when reporting. Whether it works for you depends on a number of things. Do you need a keyboard? Is the quality good enough? Do you need a full browser or large screen?

[ Posted via the Galaxy Tab. Ultra-Mobile at IFA 2011. For more IFA coverage, follow me on Twitter. @Chippy ]

Mobile Reporting Kit V10 – ‘No-Bag Blogging’ at IFA

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Update: I’ve refined the kit down to 700gm (1.5lb) but I’m struggling to find a no-bag carrying solution. Cargo pants are out for me (not my style) and it’s going to be too warm for a jacket. I may go with a 200gm Jack Wolfskin Body Bag.

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At 1040gms including wallet and glasses, not a single X86 processor in sight and a cost of around €750 this is one of the most radical, lightweight and low-cost set-ups I’ve ever had to rely on for reporting. There isn’t even a hardware keyboard in there.

I’m using the Nokia N8 for photography, video, audio podcasting (via Audioboo – exclusive to my twitter channel) and phone. It might serve some twitter duties too.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab is the main blogging and sharing tool, chat and photo editing tool.

There’s an emergency AA battery adaptor that will top-up the N8, a mic clamp and tripod that also works as a ‘steadycam’ for the N8 and a headset that works well to improve the clarity of audio in noisy situations.

Total storage is 48GB, both devices have HSPA (operating on two different networks) and there’s enough battery life for about 7 hours solid working. That should be enough for a 12 hour time-span but if not, I’ve got the high-power mains adaptor for the Galaxy Tab which will give me a good 30% charge in 60 minutes.

Business cards, my wallet, glasses and the essential screen wipe are also included. Total weight of what you see there is 1040gm

More background on the kit can be found here.

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I want to take the chance to pre-empt a few questions.

How will you edit videos?
I will be using the video editor on the N8. Its allows edits to be top and tailed and to be sequence. Cross-fades are terrible so title will be basic. Ill try and make up short intro and outro clips too.

Why don’t you take a Bluetooth keyboard?
I’m not a fan of BT keyboards. I’ve experienced batteries running out! A USB keyboard could work for bum-on-seat work with the Galaxy Tab but I don’t feel it will bring me much. I’m happy thumb typing on the Galaxy Tab.

Surely you’re just showing off?
I won’t deny that I’m enjoying this but my job is not just to bring you news about mobile equipment, I need to be authoritative too. How can you be authoritative on ultra mobile computing subject if you don’t test and experience the limits?

Can you do live video broadcasts?
Yes although my tool of choice, doesn’t work on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7. Having said that, I’m unlikely to do any ad-hoc live broadcasts unless something huge happens in one of the press events. I will be using Audioboo for ad-hoc podcasts and you’ll find them on my personal twitter account.

How would you improve the equipment?
The N8 doesn’t have any hardware stabilization so videos are a little shaky. There’s a lag and slight uncertainty with the auto-focus on close-ups too. Because of upload restrictions (3G only) I will only be recording in 480p but that’s a networking restriction that can’t be easily solved yet.
More battery life, more CPU power is a no-brainer.

How will you carry everything?
I’m off to the shops tomorrow to buy a suitable pair of pants/trousers!

I’m traveling up to Berlin for IFA on Wednesday this week. Reporting will be done on Carrypad, UMPCportal, Meegonews and Ultrabooknews. Press events start on Thursday. The aim is to bring you some quality content and, if possible, a scoop or two. Not only Is this kit light, it’s fast too!

[ Posted via the Galaxy Tab. Ultra-Mobile at IFA 2011. For more IFA coverage, follow me on Twitter. @Chippy ]

Mobile Reporting Kit Success!

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In my last report  – How Was my CES 2011 Mobile Reporting Kit? – I didn’t have much positive to say about my plan for quick-fire mobile blogging. 3G failed me and I ended up scrabbling around trying to find WiFi hotspots. Not only is it a pain in the neck, it’s also a security risk. I connected to 18 different SSIDs in Las Vegas!

In Barcelona last week, it was a completely different story. On day-one I used the hotel WiFi but as soon as my 3G card was configured, I didn’t touch another Wi-Fi all week. Everything, including video uploading, was done via Vodafone 3G and finally, because of the 3G, the kit worked together in harmony, including a new photo blogging process that i’ve detailed below.

A reminder of what I’m using:

I took my Atom-powered Gigabyte Touchnote netbook (in use since April 2009) and the Canon S2IS (In use since Mid 2007)  I added the Galaxy Tab and the Nokia N8 Smartphone (thanks to Nokia UK for the loan of the phone) and a pay-as-you-go SIM card and 3G data service from Vodafone Spain. Although there’s a nice range of tech there, it certainly isn’t high-end across the board.

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As always, the netbook was for long-form typing and video ‘finishing’ and uploading. I didn’t do any live blogs with the S2IS attached via USB this time but the S2IS was used for videos. It’s a rather embarrassing 640×480 resolution and I only get about 9 minutes in before the card runs out because it records in M-JPEG and only supports SD cards, not SDHC but, the optics and Mics are great and the video file is easy to process on a netbook. With the long zoom it also works well in keynotes and press events although I do realise that none of the images taken in low light are anywhere near print quality!

Despite my love for this camera I have to find something that is faster, supports 720p video, is more sensitive and, somehow, supports external audio input. The rotating viewfinder is a must for self-filming too. I really would love Bluetooth support on my next camera for instant sharing/pushing but for the time being, I’m considering an Eye-Fi solution and the Canon SX20 or new Fujitsu HS20. I just cant afford to go to four-thirds and and I can’t justify 1KG of DSLR equipment!

The reason I’m so bent on having Bluetooth on my camera is due to the way I’ve been using phone cameras for the last 3 years. The Nokia N82 gave me the ease of transferring images to PCs and other mobile devices for easy editing, sharing and photo blogging. At MWC I used the N8 for just that and the experience was amazingly stress free and flexible. Far more than simple photo-bogging.

Photo blogging like never before, without a PC!

Take one Nokia N8. Pair it over Bluetooth to a Samsung Galaxy Tab, connect the Galaxy Tab to the internet via a 3G service and boom! You have one of the easiest, richest photo blogging solutions I’ve ever seen. The solution was so liberating that I ended up posting about half of my content last week without the use of a PC. In most of those cases I was standing up and in some cases, even walking! The solution also allows for multiple images in a post. Here’s an example that was posted on the Samsung booth just minutes after shooting a video.

Here’s a video demo of the solution.

Here’s the blog entry I created during the video.

Note that this process also works with Twitter, Email, Pixelpipe, Evernote, Facebook and other sharing targets. That’s the flexibility of the Android sharing subsystem coming in to play.

Unfortunately, the size of the N8 720p videos and the low speed of the Bluetooth 3 protocol (remember, the N8 and the Tab don’t have the ‘HS’ Wi-Fi extension that speeds up transfers) mean it can’t be used for that but 480p is possible on the Galaxy Tab, with video light and pause capability. There’s no continuous auto-focus but if I can find a video splicing application that fits my needs, it might work! [I’m currently testing Clesh – the web-based service which now has an Android client]

Other improvements could be made too. Ideally I’d like to be able to auto-send an image to the Galaxy Tab although selective sending isn’t exactly a problematic or time-consuming task. The best improvement would be in the WordPress editor. Inclusion of html source, bullet-point support and positioning of photos (rather than just at ‘top’ or ‘bottom’) would make posts look less samey and if the WordPress application could support the sending of ‘custom-fields’ I could feed more layout info to my back-end.

Some of you might be thinking “why not use Pixelpipe” or “Get a slider phone”  or “Use the camera on the Galaxy Tab.” Yes, this is something I’ve tried to do in the past but there are a few problems with that. Number 1 – The N8 takes extremely good low-light and close-up photos without flash. 2 – The large screen of the Galaxy Tab allows me to thumb type and review a lot of text (see pic below) 3 – The WordPress application adds a lot of value to the processes enabling auto-resizing, links, tagging, geo-tagging and more. 4 – The portrait mode keyboard on the Galaxy Tab is superb. Haptics and Software work well together.

Take a look at this pic, taken with the N8 and transferred by Bluetooth of-course! You can see how much screen area is still usable with the keyboard on-screen.

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The N8 also has an excellent photo gallery application (fast, smooth, usable), high quality audio recording capability and good outdoor screen clarity. Its the perfect device for this set-up.

In terms of rich photo blogging, I’ve found a great pair of devices in the N8 and Galaxy Tab. So much so that I might reverse my original decision to hand back the N8 and look for a different phone.

As far as the camera and netbook go though, a move to 480p 720×480 or similar is a must. This is potentially a 1000 Euro and 2KG decision so I’m not going to do it without a lot of thought. The ideal solution will give me 720p source and 480p editing in 1.5KG but that will be very tough to achieve. The AMD Fusion platform (Toshiba NB550d perhaps?) and a Fujitsu HS20 could be a good place to start. I’ll be testing soon so keep an eye out for the next mobile reporting kit.

I’ll be at CeBIT, Hannover next week where the kit will be in action again.

2nd Attempt at N8 / GTab photoblogging starts at MWC

How Was my CES 2011 Mobile Reporting Kit?

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My reporting kit changed quite a bit for this years CES show in Las Vegas. I’m aiming for a shift in devices, an improvement in video, preservation of my smartphone battery life and, of course, a test of new equipment. Without testing new equipment it is impossible to know if there’s a better solution out there.

As a reminder – here’s what I’m trying to achieve.

  • All day battery life (no chargers)
  • Video with long lens
  • Video for close-up
  • Video for quick processing and posting to YouTube
  • Images with long lens
  • Images with low light
  • Comfortable image editing, blog writing, storage
  • Basic video editing for YouTube (cut, fade, overlay)
  • Microblogging (Twitter, quick image posts)
  • Social networking
  • Phone funtions
  • Navigation
  • PIM features
  • Cellular data (mobile data)

This year I again took my trusty Gigabyte Touchnote netbook (in use since April 2009) and the Canon S2IS (In use since Mid 2007!) that is seriously in need of an upgrade. I added the Galaxy Tab and the Nokia N8 smartphone (thanks to Nokia UK for the loan of the phone) and a Sprint Mifi (thanks to Intel’s Free Press team for the loan.)

You might ask why I still use the Touchnote and S2IS. It’s because the two are perfectly matched for the work I do. MJPEG videos at VGA resolution are crisp, the zoom and optics are great and the videos are super easy and quick to edit on a netbook. The Canon remote capture software also allows me to link the two devices for some really quick live blogging via USB. See the image below. I’m having real trouble finding a device, OS and camera combination that can beat it. My major issue though is low-light performance. It’s more than a few generations old and that means it’s a a number of F-Stops less sensitive than the latest compact cameras out there. In comparison with DSLRs it’s pathetic. Show me a camera with 10x zoom, good sensitivity, remote capture, 720p video, hinged viewfinder and I’ll consider upgrading both the camera and the netbook to support 720p H.264 videos too. If you can find one with Bluetooth too, I’ll be even more happy.

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Image Credit. JKKMobile.

Apart from the (not insignificant) issue of low-light sensitivity, the netbook/S2IS works well. I accept now that 500gm is the weight you have to consider for good battery life, connectivity, rotating screen and a long lens on a camera and that its unlikely to ever be possible on a smartphone. If this was a DSLR, it would be 1KG and $1K so using a bridge camera seems like an acceptable trade-off.

ideapad-s100 I also accept that I need a full keyboard, Windows operating system and 5hrs battery life on a notebook in around 1-1.2KG. I don’t need graphics power, just CPU power. Dual-core Atom at 1.66Ghz with fast SSD could be the answer. The Lenovo Ideapad S100 is high on my list for 2011. Will I finally switch to Windows 7 in 2011? Old processes don’t die easily but if I can find a camera to match, i’m all-in.

Aside from the ‘bum-on-seat’ scenarios talked about above I wanted to test a mobile blogging method that Jenn of Pocketables has successfully used in the past and one that i’m fond of perfecting in these quick-fire exhibitions. The process is more photo-blogging and micro-blogging than anything else but it can be quite effective in getting news out quickly and giving readers a sense of being there. The idea was that the N8 and the Galaxy Tab would work in harmony for this by sending images over to the WordPress application on the Tab, thumbing a paragraph or two and then posting to my website. The reality was slightly different. At 0900 on the 6th of January I lost any semblance of 3G connectivity from the Sprint MiFi unit I was using and due to the spotty and location-specific Wifi, the process crashed. A list of 18 hotspots on my Galaxy Tab is proof that I tried hard to stay connected.

Despite the 3G problem, I think I’ve found a really great combo of devices in the Tab and N8 and I want to persevere. I did take a lot of photos with the N8 (about 300, mainly taken in low-light scenarios, parties etc) The N8 does a reasonable job of 720p recording too but there’s a showstopper for me there – fixed focus. The N8 can’t be used to do close-ups. I hear that a firmware upgrade will introduce continuous auto-focus like it does on the Xperia X10 but until then, it’s no good as a video camera for me. Battery life on both the Tab and the N8 was more than 24hrs in this ‘shared’ scenario. I absolutely love the build quality on the N8 too. Add in the USB-OTG support, HDMI out (i used it in the hotel on a 42” screen), the FM radio and a few other nice features and you’ve got something that matches-up with the Tab really nicely. Of course, without the Tab I’m missing some Android apps and browser speed but to be honest, it’s not often that I’m without the Tab! As for the Tab, I used it a lot for calendar, Twitter, note-taking, maps, RSS reading, Google chat, Google latitude, ebooks, gallery and a/v entertainment. It was with me most of the time and proved its worth. It also meant that there were occasions, especially in the evening when meeting with other bloggers for chats and drinks, when I didn’t need to take the netbook.

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LVCC Morning

The next step is to ask Nokia if I can continue to test the N8, wait for the promised software update and take the same kit to mobile world congress where I expect to have a much better 3G service. I’ll re-try that micro-blogging scenario then. Between now and then though, I wonder if I can find a solution for the camera. Your feedback is more than welcome! If you have any questions about my set-up, feel free to ask below.

Previous reporting kit reports, all the way back to 2006, are available here.

Another Reporting Kit Hits the Road

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Now that the N350 has gone back to Samsung, I’m back on the Gigabyte Touchnote for a 5-day trip to London and Berlin starting tomorrow. 1.4kg + battery pack is not the lightest but it will last all day and, very importantly, has proven itself a stable, reliable companion; so much so that i’m being very careful about changing it.  The Runcore SSD and 2GB RAM upgrade was the right choice but looking to 2011 and possible 720p video editing (480p is the compormise I currently make for mobility) something has to change soon. I’ll be waiting for JKK to finish his testing on the Asus Eee PC 1015PN before I make my choice though.

The Sony Ericsson X10i smartphone has now gone from my life. Although a good Android phone and even better after a recent firmware upgrade, I decided to pull it from my kit. Partly due to battery life and partly because of the camera. I only need a smartphone for PIM, notifications, GSM, offline maps, brief Twitter and web moments and camera now that I have the Galaxy Tab. I’m looking for a new phone and If I’m honest, the Nokia N8 fits the bill well. Until then, i’ll use the N82.  The Galaxy Tab is the device that is slotting in as the 3rd one in my three device strategy and adding a spot of fun and saving my phone from becoming the battery life weak point.

The MiFi has gone (the Tab does that without any battery issues) and micro-sim / Bluetooth on all devices helps move data around so i’m cutting down on cables. I’ve still got the Canon S2IS as my camera but, like the netbook, it needs an upgrade.

Total cost of the kit, new, is 600+300+800+350 (Tab, N82, Touchnote, S2IS) so it’s certainly not a cheap setup at over 2000 Euro but where can I get all this for less?

  • Netbook with SSD and 3G, 5hrs battery. (Touchnote)
  • Pocketable camera with Xenon flash and Bluetooth (N82)
  • Personal navigation device – offline and online. (N82, GalaxyTab)
  • Phone with SMS, MMS, video calling, all-day (18hours) battery life (N82)
  • 3G/Wifi portable hotspot with 4hrs battery life (Galaxy Tab)
  • PMP – 720p with multiple codecs. (Galaxy Tab)
  • E-reader for web and books) (Galaxy Tab)
  • Gaming/entertainment device(Galaxy Tab)
  • Always-on, 3G-capable Social Networking tool (Galaxy Tab)
  • MP3 player (N82)
  • Bridge camera with good zoom, video, audio, usb. (S2IS).

Hmmm. The 2K challenge. What would you buy to do the above?

Mobile Reporting Kit V8 – Oldies but Goodies for Computex

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Once again, it looks like my trusty Gigabyte Touchnote, my Canon S2IS and my N82 will form the hub of my mobile computing gear at Computex this year. Despite great advances in technology, I’m the mobile-tech-blogger with the old kit and the reason is – process.

See previous editions of my mobile reporting kit here.

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I’ve been using these devices successfully as one process unit for so long that if I replace any of them I’ll break a delicate chain. If I change the camera I can’t hook it up to the the netbook and use the remote capture facility that allows me to drag images on-screen into Livewriter in live-blogging situations. I also won’t be able to record in the simple but high-quality MJPEG format that works with Movie Maker out of the box and allows me to edit without issues on my netbook. If I upgrade the netbook I’ll be using Windows 7 which doesn’t have Movie Maker and will probably be slower than my XP build. FInding a netbook with touch, a fast SSD and good 3G isn’t easy or cheap either. If I change the phone, I’ll be left with something that doesn’t have a Xenon flash, good low-light capability and free navigation without the need for an internet connection. As for the MiFi, well, it’s the MiFi and it’s worth taking everywhere!

Of course, there’s a lot of other bits and pieces that go in the kit bag. Tripod, cables, chargers, USB Mic, toolkit, spare battery etc etc etc. Necessary evils!

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I am also thinking about two other bits of kit. The UMID BZ, a device I’ve been getting great use out of in the last 4 months. That could serve as a backup PC, pocket PC and bedside PC.  I can get away without it though. The other device, and one I’m more likely to take is the Xperia X10. That will serve as a MID, backup camera, phone and comms device and I might use it for quick videos that are in the correct format to be able to instantly send to YouTube. It might become my primary phone too because I really only need the N82 for quick images and navigation.

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For 3G, I’ll be using the same service as last year. I picked up a local Taiwan Mobile 3G SIM at the airport. It was cheap and worked well. I doubt it’s still active so i’ll probably have to sign up again.

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It’s a relatively old set of kit now and at some point in the next year I’ll be looking to upgrade. Battery life on my netbook needs to be improved (I only get about 8 hours total from the two batteries I have) and low-light capability on my main camera needs improving too. As for the mobile phone, I have a feeling that I’ll forever be carrying two devices. One MID-focused, the other a backup device.

If you’re going to Computex, i’d love to hear and write about your kit list. Let me know below (or in a blog post) and I’ll round up the information in a post here on UMPCPortal.

Mobile Reporting Kit V7 Aims for Sub-2lb (1kg) Flexibility.

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Lightweigh Media Blogging KitMobile World Congress is going to call for a significant refinement of my ultra mobile reporting kit (see below for previous versions) which means leaving the netbook in the hotel safe and traveling as light as possible. I aim to be roaming with only a man-bag and with about 1KG/2.2lb of equipment which is quite a challenge. Quality and speed of reporting during the day may suffer but I’m prepared to take the hit in order to be mobile and quick. Here’s a detailed look at my MWC setup as it stands just a few days from travelling.

The initial kit list looks something like this:

Hardware (825gm / 1.8lb)

  • UMID BZ as PC and USB power source. Including mains charger cable.
  • Nokia N82 as camera and backup 3G tether.  Including spare battery.
  • Mifi 2352 as primary 3G hotspot
  • USB cables for charging and connecting

Optional (about 500gm due to heavy aluminum mic.)

The bag

Oh the stress of choosing a bag. Right now I’m leaning towards the Jack Wolfskin one because it can be worn in on the back or front of the body and it looks, well, less man-baggy!

MWC Man-Bag Choice

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Capabilities

  • Text blogging
  • Photo Blogging to blog, twitter etc.
  • Video Blogging
  • Live video streaming (as per V6 of the reporting kit – See sample video at base of article)
  • Normal PC activities.

Live one-take Video demonstration (15 mins)

Here’s how I would use the kit to post images and videos with text.

UMID BZ Video  Demo Test

Yup, problems occur but in previous and recent tests it  looks like it will take about 5 minutes to do a 2-paragraph blog post around a photo. Video really depends on Internet bandwidth but with the mobile reporting kit I can close the lid of the UMID and leave it to continue posting to YouTube. You have to be careful of time-outs in this case because re-starting the uploads usually requires a full upload again.  Here’s the image I took during the video. As you can see, quality is excellent (click to enlarge.)

Other notes

Weight including adapter cables: 829gm (1.8lb)

Cost

  • UMID BZ: $549
  • Photo camera: Around $300 but get one with BT and Xenon flash.
  • Mifi: $250

Improvements and optimisations.

Could a Motorola Droid/Milestone do all this? Yes. Photo’s to Flickr and editing and re-posting from Flickr is easily possible. Video also possible. Live video using QIK also possible. Text entry with Droid keyboard also possible. Cost: Around $500 including an extra battery (or two!) It’s a great single-device option and way, way lighter than what I’ll be carrying.

The issue with using a Droid is that you don’t have a PC with you for ‘everything else.’ That includes basic video editing, 100% full web access, USB accessories support (printing, usb sticks, usb cam for example) high quality audio recording using USB mic/audacity, audio/video streaming using UStream, connectivity to LCD screen and full size keyboard and use of all the normal desktop client software such as Firefox, Tweetdeck, Paint Shop, LiveWriter, Skype and anything else that a PC would be flexible for. It’s basically a trade-off. Using the UMID is way more expensive but it gives that flexibility to use to a full desktop tool-set if required and that, to me, is worth it’s weight in gold. If either the N82 or UMID die, I’m left with one working device which is a nice backup strategy.

The N82 video quality (test video here) could be improved a lot. I’d love to see a photo camera with high-compression, 720p video recording and checking across the range of smartphones available today, the Omnia i8910 would make a better choice for video with it’s 720p capability. File sizes could be a problem though so HQ VGA at about 2mbps H.264 would be perfect. Anyone out there done extensive phone-cam testing?

Battery life is an issue and will require careful management. Fortunately the UMID BZ is proving excellent in that respect and just by closing the lid I can make it go into standby or hibernation. Returning for these standby modes is 5 and 20 seconds respectively. The UMID is returngin a regular 4.5-5hr in-use battery life. Despite that, I’ll carry a mains charger with me because I may have to charge the Mifi or the N82. Both can be charged via USB which is a huge bonus. The Mifi can even be used while it charges.

Update: In a 34 minute test I saw 17% battery drain indicating 200 minutes of battery life. About 3 hours! (Device closed with screen/touchscreen off)

Embedded 3G in the UMID. Yes, this would be great. No question. There’s no need for a Mifi if you’re only using one 3G-capable device but even in that scenario, i’d probably have the Mifi with me as a backup. The antenna on it is superb and it comes in really handy for a table of five net-less bloggers!

Your suggestions welcome.

Please feed-back in the comment section below. I love to hear how people are using their mobile kit. Are you mobile blogging at MWC? If so, lets meet and have a chat about the kit on video.

I’ll post a follow-up after MWC.

Previous versions of the ultra mobile reporting kit.

V6 (Jun 2009) is here.

V5 (March 2009) is here.

V4 (Sept 2009) is here.

V3 (Feb 2008) is here.

V2 (Sept 2007) is here

V1 (March 2007) is here.

Hat-tip to Jenn at Pocketables who successfully used the flickr-to-blog method at CES 2008.

Thanks to UMID for the loan of the BZ. If I didn’t have the UMID here, I would have replaced it with the Fujitsu U820 as a second choice. The BZ really is the best choice out there right now.

Update:

Live test recording: Video/Audio stream recorded by Ustream

Mobile Reporting Kit V6 Adds Live Video Streaming Capability.

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umrk6 The Viliv X70 EX Premium Air has a long battery life, reasonable processing power and built in 3G so it didn’t take me long to start messing about with it as a mobile broadcasting solution and that’s the focus of Version 6 of my mobile reporting kit. Live video.

I spent some time testing different webcams, microphones and configurations and have come up with a 2KG setup that will allow you to do live, mobile broadcasting over Ustream with reasonable quality. The total cost of the solution is under $1000 and the setup can not only be used for live streaming but can be used as a complete Ultra Mobile live blogging solution.

Hardware

What I’ve done is taken the X70 EX and the car kit. I’ve mounted part of the car kit onto the leg of the tripod so that the ultra mobile PC can be clamped in. It provides a sturdy screen at a good height when sitting on a chair in, say, a conference room. The X70 EX has Wifi and 3G included. The 3G is HSUPA capable which puts it in the 1Mbps max upload class (assuming you have the right coverage)

I’ve added a 4-way USB hub to the X70 and then plugged in a Philips SPC900 webcam (manual focus) and Samson USB mic. The Philips cam has been chosen because the drivers seems to be very efficient and can produce 20fps VGA framerate while still doing automatic white-balance. Many other solutions I’ve tried including the built-in cam, drop to below 10fps and lower when using the automatic white balance features. Auto-focus would be nice, as would optical zoom and a quality sensor and optics but for the price, the Philips cam does well.

IMG_9745 IMG_9742

IMG_9736 IMG_9730

Software

One of the ‘tricks’ I use on the live video sessions is to avoid the use of the browser-embedded video capture software in the ‘flash’ control panel. The CPU requirement is high, the quality is poor and there’s very little control. Instead I use the standalone Flash Media Encoder (FME). It’s an application that takes audio and video inputs and allows you to stream to a media ‘relay.’ More details on this can be found here. On a desktop machine it can be used to broadcast very high quality VP6 or H.264 encoded video but on a ultra mobile PC is can be used to fine tune the broadcast for a good balance between quality and CPU load.

Unfortunately you can’t control the end-user stream with the FME so you still have to run the Ustream Broadcast Console. The wonderful advantage of this is that you don’t have to run the broadcast console on the same PC so you have three options.

1) Run the broadcast console on the same PC – Not recommended as it takes a lot of valuable CPU and doesn’t do much except start and stop the broadcast (unless you want to add text and links overlays.)

2) Run the broadcast console on another PC. This could be on another laptop that you have with you or on a remote desktop machine that you access via a remote desktop solution.

3) Get someone else to handle the broadcast console on a remote machine, anywhere on the internet.

The Ustream broadcast console automatically detects that you’re streaming via the FME and allows you to switch directly to that stream. If the stream drops out it gives you the option to drop back to a local video source. It takes some playing with to understand the architecture but its very flexible once set-up.

Settings

After doing some testing with various settings I settled for a total 550kbps average broadcast bandwidth by using the VP6 encoder at 500kbps with a 20fps VGA (640×480) frame rate and size. For audio I used a 48kbps MP3 audio track. If you’re broadcasting music, you’ll want to pump this up to 96kbps or more.

550kbps is a good rate for 3G broadcast on HSUPA. 50% utilisation is a reasonable expectation although you must expect to get some frame loss as the quality of 3G services varies wildly based on usage and position.

Example broadcast.

This broadcast was recorded by Ustream at their servers (not at the source) while broadcasting over Wifi. It gives you a good idea of what the end user will see.

It’s re-sized to 80% of full frame size.

Once again, this is not recorded at source, it’s what the end user is likely to see. I hope it streams OK for you for the Ustream server and apologies for my appearance!

640 x 480 is arguably too big for web-embedded broadcasting but if possible it’s worth doing as when you ask Ustream to record the stream (a single button press on the broadcast console) they’ll be capturing better quality that you can use and post-process later. If you find the upload bandwidth isn’t available though, switching to QVGA and dropping the bitrate to under 300kbps, 15fps, is going to work in most situations.

Using the solution for one-man live photo / text blogging.

To do live video and live photo and text blogging on the X70 EX might be asking a little too much but if you’re not into doing live video, here’s another possible arrangement. Using a Canon Digital Camera (possibly others too) you can replace the video camera and then use the Canon Remote Capture software from the PC. Doing this forces an immediate transfer of the image to the PC where you can drag it into LiveWriter or your favourite blogging software (I prefer LiveWriter as it does some nice image re-sizing) and update a live blog. With a USB keyboard plugged in you can type your text as you go along too.

Other thoughts

The X70 EX will run for about 4 hours over 3G in this setup. That’s one 30wh battery powering the cam, mic, 3G and PC. It’s amazingly efficient. If you need more power though, get the X70 EX car kit which has a car adaptor in it. You can then run the solution from a 12V car battery or general purpose Li-Ion battery. You can even use a 24w solar panel to keep the whole system topped up for a whole day’s broadcasting. If you’re using 3G, make sure its a true flat-rate connection!

The solution is very mobile when in use. By grabbing the neck of the tripod, the unit stays well balanced when walking. You’d need to find a good USB mic solution that could be mounted to the tripod but this shouldn’t be very difficult. I can see myself having some fun with this a IFA in Sept as I walk around the booths!

800m-brf I’d like to find a higher-quality USB web camera with, if possible, built-in white balance, auto focus, brightness etc. Maybe even zoom and an LCD preview screen. I’m wondering if there are any digital cameras or digital video cameras that can be used in this way. If anyone has any information on this, please let me know.

I need a new keyboard. My Samsung Ultra Mobile USB keyboard appears to be broken so I’m looking at the Aisonic 800M right now. The integrated mouse control is a must-have but can I find one anywhere? Nope. I’ve written to the manufacturer to see if I can buy some samples.

The Ultimate Live Reporting Setup?

While I was thinking about keyboards, I thought about just using my netbook with Synergy keyboard and mouse sharing over a Bluetooth PAN. The advantage of this setup is that you have one keyboard, two PC’s, two screens and the ability to live stream, run the broadcast console AND live blog using a USB-connected camera. It would add 1-2KG to the setup (netbook + cam) but wow, you’d be the ultimate one-man band live blogger!

Alternative solutions.

As an alternative to using the X70 EX on it’s own, you could use a netbook or, for more processing power and the ability to connect a web-cam, a digital cam and to do live video and simultaneous live blogging, a full power laptop. You won’t be able to mount the netbook on the tripod so you’ll lose a lot of mobility but as a laptop solution it should work fine. Choose a 3G-capable laptop with a good keyboard. Something like the Samsung NC10 3G or Eee PC 1000 GO range which offer good battery life too. Overall though, with the car mount, the 12V charger, the built-in 3G and light weight, I think the X70 offers one of the best solutions for mobile use.

As for streaming platforms, Ustream works well but I’m looking to try out Livestream.com soon. They have been working in the Ultra Mobile space recently  (and demonstrated a mobile internet streaming solution at Computex) so maybe they have some good ideas. Their basic ad-supported streaming service is, like Ustream, free.

Previous versions of the ultra mobile reporting kit.

V5 (March 2009) is here.

V4 (Sept 2009) is here.

V3 (Feb 2008) is here.

V2 (Sept 2007) is here

V1 (March 2007) is here.

Have you done any live mobile streaming? Maybe you’ve used the QIK solution? Livestream? Let me know

Preparing for CeBIT: Ultra Mobile reporting Kit V5

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Life has been so busy over the last month that I’ve hardly had a chance to think about CeBIT and yet it starts in just 5 days. On Monday, I’ll be meeting JKK and Sacha in Hannover and we’re going to hit CeBIT as hard as we can.

Fortunately the accommodation, tickets (I have a press pass again this year) and transport have all been arranged so all that remains to do is fix up the schedule, write up a hit-list and organise the kit.

I’ll write about the ‘hit list’ in the next few days as we’ll probably use it for the basis of a warm-up podcast tentatively planned for Friday but let me quickly talk about the kit I’m going to use at CeBIT.

Due to three ‘smoked’ UMPCs, a couple of no-show UMPCs and a general need to keep spending down this year, I’m having to really cobble together the best I can from the devices I have left here. I’m not exactly struggling to find a PC to take but I had planned a different set of devices and was planning to have a bit more of a ‘showcase’ setup.

I will go with the three-device strategy (phone, mid, notebook) because of flexibility, fall-back and battery life. I’ll take my Nokia N82 for the important tasks of voice, SMS and email and it will also come in handy for some direct-to-flickr photo shooting due to it’s superb camera optics and flash. I might use it for a bit of Google Latitude fun and the occasional 3G Bluetooth modem but the idea is really to preserve it for essential comms. At the top end of the range i’ll be taking my laptop. Actually it’s a Medion Akoya Mini netbook but I don’t have anything else so it’s going to serve as my main keyboard and screen during the event. It’s far from the perfect mobile netbook though and I’ll have to deal with a lack of built-in 3G, no Bluetooth and a poor 2hr battery life. On the positive side, I’ve used it a lot and it’s got a stable build with all my applications running well.

IMG_7894

As the third device, I want to take a MID. The original plan was to use an Aigo P8888 but the standard 2hr battery life and lack of standard XP build has put me off buying one. I’m not a JKK and so hacking XPe and piggyback batteries was never on the cards. The Viliv S5 didn’t hit the market on time. The Wibrain i1 prototype doesn’t standby or hibernate due to an incomplete BIOS setup and I’ve killed the Raon Everun Note I was preparing. As I look across my devices for a MID, the only one I can see is the Nokia N810, a device that I had ignored for the best part of a year but started using again recently when I upgraded the OS and installed a bunch of community applications on it. As an RSS, mobile website, IM and twitter tool, it’s working out quite well. Web browsing is frustratingly slow but certainly better than my S60 device and with 4 hours wifi-on battery life, it can sit and pick up feeds and tweets for a long time before the battery needs changing so today I bought a second battery and a USB charger cable for it, fished out an old Nokia 3G phone with a broken backlight and will tether the two up on a 2.50-Euro per day pay-as-you-go UMTS contract, drop the phone in my bag or on my belt and put the N810 in my pocket as and use it as as always-on ‘informer’ and twitter tool. I’ll also be able to put comments on photo’s at Flickr and post to the blog using the Flickr blog posting tools as Jenn did at CES. The N810 needs a lot more power to turn it into a real MID but the size, battery life, screen and keyboard should help to keep me updated on the go and certainly won’t need much space.

One thing I’m really happy about is that I’ll only need one power brick for all the kit and the reason for that is a nice little U2o power pack I’ve got from Ultimate-Netbook.co.uk. I did some field testing for them last year and we’ve been happy with the results so they now sell it. Fortunately they let me keep it after the testing so I’m now armed with a 55wh power pack that takes a 19v input (the power brick from the Medion Akoya plugs straight in) and provides 5V (via USB), 9v, 16v and 19v outputs. There’s a selection of adaptors with the device so both my phone, the N810 and the Medion Akoya will run or charge from it. If I treat the Akoya well, I’ll get about 6hrs working time out of it which should be fine for a day’s work on the floor.

For photo and video work I’ll be taking my trust Canon S2IS and tripod. The long lens, VGA video capability and great stereo mics are perfect for recording conferences or device overviews and although a DSLR with 720P video recording would be my preference, it won’t be hard to get some good results out of the S2. Besides, JKK has a new Canon HD cam so we’ll be using that for most of our videos.

Finally, I’ll take the Samson USB mic which is great for mobile podcasting and interviews. Audacity is installed on the netbook and it’s an easy process to upload an MP3 to UMPCPortal.

s2istripod

I’m a little sad there’s no ultra mobile PC in there but it’s a proven set of kit that I’m very familiar with and that should help to keep the stress levels down. The whole kit comes in at 4kg which is very good considering I’ve got the tripod, cam and a 400gm microphone included in that. Total cost of the complete kit is around 1400 Euros (new)

Of course, if I have any issues, I won’t need to look too far for help. Sascha the ‘netbook king’ is joining us in the accommodation and on the floor and he’ll be bringing a stack of netbooks so I’ll probably get some good hands-on opportunities with some of the netbooks I haven’t had a chance to use yet. JKK is with us too and he has a good set of kit too so between us, well have no excuses.

As JKK, Sascha and I prepare over the next few days you’ll probably here a few more warm-up stories. We’ve tentatively planned a podcast for Friday evening so expect a CeBIT warm-up post over the weekend.

CES bloggers and their mobile kit

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I think I’ve said this before and maybe I shouldn’t say it again; I’m a sucker for a kit-list. I always enjoy reading what about other people are taking on their tech travels and I can never resist showing off my own kit either. It’s definitely the boy scout in me. Here’s a selection of kit lists from people getting their bags ready for CES 2009 this week.

kitlist

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Round-up. Getting ready for IDF.

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mobilebroad I’m back at my desk after a swift tour in the UK last week, a place that appears to be home to one of the most advanced mobile Internet industries I’ve seen recently. My home country of Germany is certainly no laggard when it comes to offering high-speed Internet over 3.5G networks but the UK is a big step ahead. Everywhere you go on the high-street there are promotions and advertising for ‘mobile broadband’ which is the carriers way of trying to pull in DSL and cable customers with the promise of the mobility factor. 10 pounds a month gets you a 2 year contract with a free ‘dongle’ on a 3G network 15 per month nets you 3.6mbps access. Even the pay-as-you-go offerings are good. Its very consumer focused now and seems to have moved on from business-level marketing.

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