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Aava Smartphone / MeeGo 1.1 Hands-On

I hope you’ve already read the ‘warning’ article I posted last week because unfortunately, the Aava phone isn’t something we can review or draw any conclusions from. It’s a developer platform, a demonstrator and a showcase item. It’s using beta hardware and pre-Alpha software too so if you’re expecting something shiny at this stage, I’m sorry that this article will probably disappoint you. If you see others drawing conclusions based on their (or this) hands-on, you should also treat them as inconclusive. It’s just too early to tell.

At best, I can highlight the platform for potential ISVs, OEMs, competitors, integrators, carriers and Linux distributors and maybe mention something about the direction of the handheld UX (user experience) for MeeGo but both hardware and software are likely to change drastically before launch in Q4. It would be great for our traffic and links if we were to trumpet a breakthrough in processing power and UI but I’m sorry, you’re going have to wait until we see real products before that happens. I know, I’ll never be a real journalist ;-)

I want to thank Intel Europe before going any further though. (You can follow their Atom-related work on Twitter) They’ve been open about their work with the platform and respect to them for giving early-stage prototypes out to a blogger. There’s always a big risk in doing that. We remain in good contact with the Intel teams and will do further testing in due course.

So on to the ‘product’ then. Using the Intel Moorestown platform, the Aava phone at least highlights how small a ‘PC’ can be. It’s a truly pocketable size and comes with all that you would expect from a smartphone; Capacitive screen, camera, stereo speakers, Micro-SD and Micro USB and a 5.5Wh battery. We would have liked to have got into the command-line to check out some more hardware and battery usage information but in the limited time we had, it wasn’t possible. What we did do though was check out the pre-Alpha (developers) build of MeeGo 1.1 It’s the first time we’ve been able to touch the UI and to get an idea of the look and feel and although it doesn’t bring anything dramatically new in terms of layout, it builds on intuitive swipes and taps to make a UI that was simple to understand. A home-screen where presumably you’ll find widgets, presents a small launcher bar for some favorite apps and the application list itself. This second-layer application pane is similar to Android and forces the user, in many cases, to have to unlock, open the application pane, find the application and then launch it which is one layer of UI deeper than you’ll find on the iPhone. It makes way for an active homescreen though. We weren’t able to experience notifications on this version of MeeGo.

Aava Moorestown Phone _2_.JPG Aava Moorestown Phone _7_.JPG Aava Moorestown Phone _15_.JPG

Aava Phone with MeeGo 1.1
Full Aava / MeeGo gallery available here.

Not much is working on this build and most applications are placeholders but we got to check out the dialer application (phone stack didn’t appear to be functional), some settings (WiFi was working) and the Firefox Mobile browser which has potential to be a very high quality browser if startup and page view times can be improved. The recent build for Maemo includes some really advanced features which weren’t working on this MeeGo build.

There was one test we were able to do and that was the popular Javascript processing test Sunspider. With careful consideration of browser software, it’s possible to get a feel for the CPU processing power available and the results were quite amazing. In comparison with an Android 1.6 phone running a 1Ghz Snapdragon platform we were seeing results 5x as fast and indicative of a netbook processor rather than a current ARM-core smartphone processor. It makes sense of course as the phone is, in theory, running Atom at up to 1.5Ghz. There’s clearly potential for some good multitasking. There’s also potential to drain that battery faster than on any ARM-based smartphone. It’s a case of being able to get things done quickly if the OS and user is well controlled and this is something that the MeeGo developers will have to think carefully about. Should they turn off the ‘Turbo’ features if the battery reaches a certain level? Should applications be throttled or scheduled when the device is locked perhaps?

You’ll see all the details in the video below and this additional article about the Javascript test but there’s one more thing we can gleen from our time with the device and that’s timescales for products. MeeGo is in very early stage development and it wouldn’t be wildly wrong to estimate that it won’t be ready for another year or more especially considering the amount of catch-up that the platform is having to do. The App-store will need to be loaded too and that will take money, and time. MeeGo 1.1 will be released in October but that doesn’t mean that products will be ready. In October, the core and UI will be ready for 3rd parties to finalise into their own products which means internal testing, field testing, approval and certification can only be started once the final builds are incorporated into whatever variants OEMs are working on. The first smartphone products won’t be out of the door in 2010 although we might see some non-3G tablets and MIDs reach the some markets for Christmas if they don’t have to go through GSM/UMTS approval. For a mature and complete MeeGo-based phone product, we need to look to Q2 2011 in my opinion. Nokia, given their existing Maemo application base and developer-focused N900 community, are in a good position to be one of the first.

MeeGo Demolishes Android 2.2 in Javascript Test

Note: Article title is a tounge-in-cheek reference to a recent ARSTechnica article. See below for the real story. It’s actually all about the browser engine and platform, not the OS.

As I begin a series of tests on the Aava prototype phone today, the first thing I wanted to get out of the way was a Sunspider javascript test. It’s CPU-intensive and forms an important part of the chain of events that take place to get a web application displayed on your browser. Yes, it’s one of many variables but it’s a good indicator of CPU performance.

I’ve been recording SunSpider tests for a long time now (feel free to contribute to that list) and have been very impressed by the way that both hardware and software improvements have brought the figures down. In the ARM-based world, the best-in-class devices are producing SunSpider results in less than 10 seconds (iPad, iPhone 4) with some new devices even reaching down to sub 6 seconds [See title reference.] In the world of Intel, netbooks are producing Sunspider results of about 2 seconds (using the latest Chrome build.)

SunScript - Netbook_ Morestown Phone.JPG

Click to enlarge.

Above is the result for the Aava phone I’m testing at the moment. 4215ms. It runs on Intel’s Moorestown platform at 1.5Ghz and uses the same CPU as you find in netbooks. Running Sunspider on the latest Firefox build on the netbook and the Firefox Mobile build on the MeeGo-based Aava phone you can see the difference is marginal. 4.2 seconds for a prototype phone is quite impressive. The figures confirm the CPU speed and also confirm that the sunspider score is likely to drop to around 2 seconds with the latest Chrome or Android browser build. Try Sunspider on your phone or PC browser to see what score you get. For reference, I use a ultra mobile PC as my desktop PC. It runs a 1.6Ghz Atom CPU and returns a score of about 4.1s. True desktop PCs will come in at below 0.5s

We really are talking PC-power here but there are two things we must not forget. 1) Multi-core ARM-based devices are round the corner too. A dual-core 1.2Ghz Snapdragon platform is likely to reach right down to the 2-3s range. 2) We must also remember that if you were to run this test continuously on these high-power platforms, you are likely to have a dead phone in just a few hours!

Managing Expectations (Aava / Intel Moorestown Phone)

I was a bit surprised by the reaction to my post and tweets about the Aava Intel/Moorestown/MeeGo phone this afternoon. Engadget and Wired picked it up and did a sensible job of reporting that it’s a prototype but there are a lot of people out there that might not understand what this hardware and software really is.

The issue is that the Aava phone is actually a reference design and development platform and it is unlikely to be a phone you’ll ever be able to buy. It’s likely to have had some financial and engineering input from Intel and will have already been distributed to some major customers in order for them to asses the platform.

As far as I understand it, the Aava phone was made to stimulate mobile phone hardware manufacturers and to help developers get on with the top-priority job of building¬† class-leading mobile operating systems, applications and user interfaces, namely MeeGo, Android and the related user interface ‘experiences’¬† and overlays.

So on to the ‘experience’ I have in my hands here. At the most, i’ll be able to show you the look and feel of the user interface, give you an idea of how Fennec, the built-in browser, performs on the Moorestown platform, show you around the Aava hardware (good for those thinking of paying the probable $1K – $2K for the development kit) I don’t expect the software stack to include any closed-source video codecs and for that matter, no commercial software that’s not part of the core MeeGo build and there’s no-way i’ll be able to get a feel for battery life as we don’t know how well the current software couples with the dedicated power control chip.

The Aava phone represents a true moment in computing history and i’m honored to be able to report on it but let’s not forget, this isn’t anything like retail-quality hardware or software yet.¬† MeeGo 1.1 is due for release in October so you can imagine the timescales for products and it’s already known that Intel expects tablets to be released with MeeGo before phones are.

Hardware and software build kindly loaned by Intel Germany and largely enabled through my participation in the ‘Intel Insider’ program.

MeeGo Phone (Aava / Moorestown) Arrived

Just a quick post because I need to get away for an appointment this afternoon. For the next 48 hours i’ll have the Intel Moorestown-based Aava prototype phone. It’s a development platform running MeeGo core and an alpha-quality UI so don’t expect miracles here but I can see that at least Wifi and the browser are working so there’s at least something to demo. Stay tuned for a video look at the user interface, a few apps and maybe a look at the device from the command line. All coming up over the next 48 hours.

MeeGo 1.1 on Aava/Intel Smartphone. Live Pics


As the epicenter of Intel’s work on a mobile operating systems shift slightly towards Europe, being here as an Intel Insider becomes a major advantage. On Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending a tweet-up with Josh Bancroft in Munich and today, we’re the recipients of some live images of MeeGo 1.1 and the handset UX running on an Intel-based (Moorestown) phone from Aava. The team responsible for some of the technical aspects of MeeGo and mobile platforms in Europe is obviously working hard and we look forward to meeting them at the MeeGo Summit in November but in the meantime, they’ve been kind enough to send over some images of one of the phones they are testing.

It’s images only at the moment but if everything we might goes to plan, we’ll be able to give you something special next week. Stay tuned!

MeeGo 1.1 Home Screen MeeGo 1.1 applications

MeeGo 1.1 Dialer MeeGo 1.1 Handset UX Aava Phone with MeeGo 1.1

Click through for full size images of the home screen, dialer and applications switching. There’s a signature style here and I like the little MeeGo people! Once again, stay tuned for more next week.

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