Tag Archive | "mobile"

The Case for the Converged Smart Camera.

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At HiBlue, the focus is on the next generation of smart cameras – cameras that are fully converged with a mobile operating system and communication options that we see on smartphones. The devices haven’t hit the market yet but they’re coming.  For some they’ll be an exciting and creative enhancement to photography but to others, they may not be the best solution.

The case against Smart Cameras say they are too converged and that a modular solution of dedicated camera and separate smartphone or tablet-based app/communication hub is better. Eye-Fi have been promoting this type of solution for a while now and separating the camera and ‘smart’ device’ is also the core of the Samsung Smart Camera strategy for the time being.  So what’s the real deal? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the next generation of smart cameras?

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Top 11.6″ Ultrabook and Ultrathin Choices

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For those looking for netbook-style sizing and laptop-style performance, the 11.6” category of Ultrabooks is the place to be. It’s not the most active category, that belongs to the 14” segment, but it’s an important one for many. To make an 11.6” Ultrabook though takes skill, leading-edge components and some trade-offs. Battery capacities are generally smaller than in the 13.3” Ultrabooks and screen resolutions must be kept to sensible levels to avoid having to boost font sizes. One the other hand screen backlights take much less power making the 11.6” Ultrabook one of the most efficient there is. In this article I take a look at the options.

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Fast 480p Video Blog using N8 and Tab

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This is a demo video and demo blog.

Video recorded, produced, uploaded from the Nokia N8. Embed code grabbed by ‘share’ing the embed code from the YouTube app. to the WordPress app on the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Photo sent from N8 to Tab via Bluetooth and then embedded in the post.It’s a simple, quick process.

Total tIme to record, edit, upload and write post is under 10 minutes [correction. Its was closer to 15 minutes] which is fast for a single-man setup of 570gms and about €650. All-day battery life too! Let me know what you think about the quality of the video. Is it good enough for a first hands-on demo?

Camping Mobility

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I honestly don’t know why we like our family camping trips. Our garden is bigger than the average local camping pitch area, our car is so small that the rest of the family has to take the train and there’s usually a three week ‘window’ in which we feverishly check weather and try and juggle our work schedules to suit any sign of extended sun.

Still, despite that, we seem to like it.

We’re of for a three day local camp with our 10-yr old daughter and her friend and our little 16-month old son tomorrow and there’s just one thing bothering me. No, I’ve already got a process for keeping beer cool and I have no worries about being able to get a decent Schnitzel. It’s something else.

Will there be coverage?

I have no intentions of going ‘off the grid’ on this short holiday. While I don’t mind that as a test scenario, if i’m honest, there’s rarely a place I’m going where I haven’t got a few minutes to check mail, update statuses and do the ‘here’s my awesome holiday photo while you work’ thing. I want to stay online if possible.

I’ve checked the provider coverage maps and even have a few different SIM cards with me but you never know. 64Kbps can cut-in at any time and you don’t want that to happen when you’re in the middle of a good Google Plus thread.

There’s no way of knowing until I get there.

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Buyers Guide – The Mobile IT Manager

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It looks like we’ve hit another 7 inch requirement with very few solutions. Any more of these requests and i’m going to go out there and make my own ultra mobile PC and sell it to you all!

Mike contacted me to see if he could get some suggestions for an extremely mobile computer. It’s one that needs a full MS office suite and also needs to do duty as a support system in a light aircraft.

Here’s the breakdown.

·As an IT manager I use the MS Office suite, MS Project, MS Visio, and Firefox to do my job.

· I also travel by small plane for work and I need a unit that runs Windows so that I can use my flight navigation software (www.anywheremap.com)

·The yoke (steering wheel of the plane) can only accommodate a unit with an 8.9 inch screen without blocking critical flight instruments – 7 inches provides the best fit

·When I land at the local airport I often use a car GPS for street navigation.

·I don’t use my computers for gaming or video editing, but I do need to have reasonably snappy performance in the office environment.

 

That’s a clear requirement. 7 inch, Windows and wallop! right into the no-devices zone.

I initially thought about leading with a device that had GPS installed but that can be problematic. In my car there’s a UV filter on the screen and it kills reception. Where reception is critical, a well-positioned GPS puck is going to be the answer. Bluetooth isn’t the most reliable of connectivity mechanisms but once set-up, it does work.

Now that we don’t need the built-in GPS, we’ve widened our scope ….

I’m looking at the Libretto W100/W105 as I did in the last CCC. Mike is in situations where power is likely to be available and in the plane he can use a power brick. Do they have cigarette lighters in small planes though?! As with our previous CCC, there’s also the Q1 Ultra Premium (2nd-hand) and the Viliv S7 convertible. It’s got a faster SSD, good battery life and is available with 3G. It might not have the oomph to run Windows 7 though. The same goes for the Viliv X70 EX

It’s the Windows requirement I want to get right in the suggestion though. A ultra mobile PC running Windows 7 really needs a fast SSD, a 1.6Ghz CPU and, preferably, 2GB RAM.  It’s why I keep thinking about the Libretto W100 but then there’s the screen area to think about on that. It could be too big!

I’ve got three more to offer-up though. (Click images for more info)

HP Slate 500. 8.9 inch screen. 1.8ghz CPU. SSD.  Includes dual-layer screen. The HP 500 does seem to be satisfying most people that buy it. At 1.8Ghz it’s got just enough more than a 1.5Ghz Z-series Atom, along with an SSD, to make Windows 7 work smoothly. Here are some more thoughts on the HP Slate 500.

Panasonic CF-U1. It’s an expensive rugged 7 inch-er ($2K entry price) but it’s a seriously good bit of kit.  It only has a 7 inch screen but it’s a fairly bulky 7 inch device.

Netbook Navigator Nav 7 (or even Nav 9). I heard from Netbook Navigator yesterday that the Nav 7 is about ready to launch and I’ve just put all the details of this one in the database. Obviously you’ll need to wait for some reviews before committing but it certainly looks compact enough. Unfortunately there’s no docking station or VGA / HDMI out but from your email, Mike, I see you’ve been using a USB-based docking station anyway. This might work for you. I’ll be writing more about the Nav 7 in an upcoming article. [Available here when posted]

So, Mike. What do you think? Will an 8.9 inch device work for you (HP Slate 500) or are you determined to go for a 7 inch device? Are you OK without VGA? Do you want laptop-style processing power?

Chime-in with comments people. Mike needs help!

Google Docs for Android – Productivity Test

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As I was researching new ways to manage documents on my Galaxy Tab yesterday I stumbled across a Google Docs application which I hadn’t seen before. It turns out it was released yesterday!

As someone who uses Google applications heavily, both on the desktop and on my mobile devices, I was of course interested to see how far it extends into the realms of true productivity. It turns out that it is no match for the real deal in a real browser with a real mouse and keyboard but it does offer a couple of very useful features.

The Google Docs application shouldn’t be considered anything more than a text and number editing application. The lack of ability to edit spreadsheet equations or presentation documents had me reaching for Thinkfree this morning when I attempted to update my family cashflow  spreadsheet on the Galaxy Tab. What it does do is provide an efficient way to access documents in Google Docs (when you have an internet connection) and to create a new document or upload documents from your device via the Android sharing subsystem.

You can print via Google Cloud Print too which is a nice feature although it’s annoying that you can’t download a copy of a document through the application. Sharing and renaming is possible but it’s not possible to delete files. The application supports multiple Google accounts.

Pinch to zoom worked smoothly on the Galaxy Tab and I was able to input notes easily. What a shame you can’t publish to a blog from the application. Some tie-in with Blogger would have been useful for some.

I tried uploading an mp3 file but it wasn’t permitted. PDF files work and I was able to upload an 8MB file so file sizes are generous. Displaying that 8MB PDF was a basic experience. With no ‘go-to’ page feature and a slow page change time its impossible to view sections of a large PDF.

Finally, there’s a potentially useful OCR feature in the ability to take a picture of a document and upload it for word recognition.

Uploading a jpg file from the gallery resulted in automatic conversion to a document. There appears to be a setting that allows this conversion process to be turned off but on my Google account this option was greyed out. This feature can be useful for preparing an image for OCR before sending by using cropping and contrast settings. A magazine article I took an image of was not recognised properly due to it having two columns. By cropping the article around the columns I was able to get a readable version of the image in seconds after the file was uploaded. Good light levels and a steady hand will help!

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In effect, Google Docs for Android is a one-way file upload, edit and viewing channel that requires an internet connection at all times. That’s not too flexible in my opinion, but better than nothing. The OCR function is going to be very useful to some people.

Core Tablet Issues

Trying to edit a document on a touchscreen highlights a major shortfall with tablets – roll-over detection. On Windows, there’s the concept of hover. Its either implemented through the mouse stopping over an element or via a digistiser that detects a pen physically hovering above, but not touching, an element. It’s something we’re all so used to seeing and using to activate help text or menus that when it is not there, it becomes a real issue. Designing applications that don’t use mouse-over is one way round the problem but when you consider right-click, lassooing sections of text, drag and drop and other features that are used in document creation, it becomes difficult to see how any tablet without hover or mouse-over detection could become truly productive, especially when you consider the amount of online, web-based applications that use mouse-over to trigger menus. That includes Googles own online applications.

One of the most efficient handheld tablets I ever had for creation was the Wibrain b1. I still have it. Not only does it run a full OS with a full browser, it has a huge mouse pad under one thumb and mouse buttons under the other. It also implements a split physical keyboard. It’s close to being the ugliest mobile device ever but it works like a charm.

My point is that if tablets want to be serious all-round become productive devices they need to consider more input methods. In fact, they need to become clamshells or sliders again. It is possible to make a 5 or 7″ slider with a keyboard, mouse control and full operating system but fashion and price is getting in the way. Just give me a little optical mouse with virtual mouse buttons. That would be a good start.

For the time being, document editing, true document editing including spreadsheets and presentations, on-the-go is really only something you can do efficiently with a UMPC. Windows, mouse, keyboard. Tablets just don’t cut it, unless all you’re doing is entering alphanumerics. . .

Posted from WordPress for Android with the Galaxy Tab

Ultra Mobile Video Editing Part 1

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I wrote a few days ago on my personal blog about my mobile video editingI project aims. Soon after I posted that, I had a long talk with @jkkmobile who, like me, is always looking for ways to improve speed and quality while keeping the weight down. We both deeply understand the tech involved, the requirements and challenges and have come up with a set of initial thoughts that we hopebare worth sharing.

To recap, the three areas of interest are cloud-based processing, arm-based smartphone and tablet processing and traditional x86 laptops. The target for this project is a sub €600 solution that is able to post 16:9 HQ quality (480p) edited content with watermarks, titles, crossfade and other cpu-bound processes. The computer solution should weigh less than 1.5 kg. Trust me, this is quite a challenge as you’ll see below.

We quickly discussed the idea of cloud-based editing but while that might be possible over good cable networks, over 3g networks it is too unreliable and too slow. We’re both interested in this as a future possibility and Clesh is a service we’re watching closely.

As for ARM based editing on smartphones and tablets, again, there are issues. While the technology is maturing quickly and there are some interesting software solutions out there (Reel Director on IOS, Movie Studio on Honeycomb Android) these solutions need tight integration of hardware and software. We’re thinking of future cameras that include camera hardware you just don’t get in ‘general purpose’ smartphones and Tablets. For a smooth and fast editing experience we also need to wait for at least the next generation of ARM platforms. There’s definitely an opportunity for someone to make a niche ARM/ANDROID camera for mobile reporters although we’re not sure that the carriers would be too pleased about the upload usage! Software needs to mature too. Of course, it doesn’t mean you can’t post the occasional 30 second clip from a phone without editing. I plan to do some of that using the Galaxy Tab which, although not a 16:9 solution, records in 720×480 and has some very simple and easy sharing tools.

Todays video editing solutions are very much about traditional computing. X86 processors, desktop operating system, rich software, common file formats and separate devices for the camera and editing parts of the process. Many will actually tell you that you shouldn’t even think about a low cost laptop. As for netbook, people that do video editing for a living often laugh.

Having used a netbook for editing and posting videos at expos’s I know its possible. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it because JKK and I have over 20 million combined YouTube views and most of these were done on-the-go with a netbook but as I mentioned in the last post, the requirements have changed over the last 2 years and 4:3 VGA videos aren’t acceptable to many. Its a trend, it works against the mobile user but I (JKK already produces videos in 16:9) have to play along now if I’m to be taken seriously.

JKK and I agree that there are a number of approaches that can be made in the x86 world.

Firstly we’ve discounted the idea of using Apple Mac products with iMovie for mobile video editing due to the import process which converts video into the AIC format usable by the video editing software. The process simply takes too long. There are other software solutions though which could be interesting on the MacBook Air product, as long as there is no import processing. This needs further research but even if the import problem could be solved, the price of the Apple MBA products is outside our range. I’m focusing this project on low-cost and lightweight solutions.

In our discussion we repeatedly came back to Nvidias CUDA technology which allows a certain amount of general purpose computing to be done on the graphics module. It is truly a game-changing technology but it does require software to be re-written to take advantage of it.

You see, graphics modules (gpu) are very specific processing engines for 2d, 3D and video decoding. In some cases the GPU can also handle encoding but these basic processes are often not what you need for video editing. Consider a fade, an overlay, a watermark or a transition. These processes require general purpose processing on a frame by frame basis. This is why CUDA is so interesting for mobile and low power video editing; it breaks the requirement for pure CPU processing.

CUDA doesn’t just appear in high end graphics solutions because it also appears in the Nvidia ion2 platform that is offered with the netbook-class Pinetrail CPU. Beware though, this ion2 variant doesn’t include the CUDA you need for video processing. The lowest power processing platform that we have found that includes full CUDA capability is the Ion2 12″ Netbook platform. it couples the D525 dual-core, 1.8Ghz Atom with the full 16-core CUDA engine. They are not the best mobile cpus (speedstep is missing) but they are in a processing class that easily outpaced traditional netbook platforms. The ion2 solution also allows the platform to fall back to the embedded graphics thus saving power when the GPU is not needed. The platform also idles down to a very low power drain state. For our purposes, its a very interesting platform.

Examples of devices that use this platform are the Acer EeePC 1215n and the Acer Lamborghini VX6 which even offers a useful 3GB of memory. Both are around 1.5kg in weight.

But what about dropping CUDA and going for a general purpose CPU with a bit more power than Atom? It’s possible. The Lenovo U160 offers CPU options up to core i5. Could a boost in cpu equal the CUDA solution? It would certainly be more useful for general purpose activities and opens up the choice of software to that which isn’t optimized for CUDA. Using a higher-end architecture with faster bus speeds and one well matched to a GPU for more efficiency might bring benefits.

Two choices in the low-cost area that I’m looking at are the Lenovo U160 and the Acer Aspire 1830T. Both are available with a low power Core i5 and weigh about 1.4kg. The Acer has the better performance and battery life of the two according to reports I’ve read. Cost is relatively high though and it is going to be tough to find a solution under 600 Euro.

The other interesting thoughts we discussed was that of the keyboard requirement. Could we used Tablet PCs and save weight and space?

Editing movies is largely a mouse operation which means it could be suited to tablet operation. In general though, battery sizes are smaller (and spares more expensive.) I haven’t seen any Tablets with the CUDA 12″ netbook platform and there are only a few low cost options with laptop cpus. The Hanvon B10 is one of them. We see the advantage of the ‘modular’ tablet solution but we’re both wanting to keep or lapping scenario, the keyboard and the protection it brings when folded together.

JKK and I discussed a bunch of other important items too. Fast SSD helps a lot. Using fast SD cards means you can edit from the SD card without having to copy it to the hard drive first.

We also discussed file formats, bitrate and sizes. We’re currently in agreement that h.264 is the format that provides most flexibility but there’s a huge CPU load associated with h.264 that is used to compress files down much further than standard mpeg4 part 2 codecs. The important thing to note is that our initial and most important file transfer is from an SD card in a PC. The bitrate and file size can be large without affecting the transfer time significantly. Final compression into h.264 at 2 or even 3 mbps doesn’t save that much in final file size and its not important to us how YouTube sends the file out so why even bother with h.264?.

It seems to me that a recording format of Mpeg-2 at a bitrate of 10mbps would be acceptable for our sub 10 minute clips. They would be relatively easy to work with. One thing to note on this is that CUDA  might not work with mpeg2 which brings us back to using a general purpose CPU. Testing is needed here. If we can find video editing software that uses CUDA for mpeg-2 editing (note that we also need to choose our output file format carefully too) then mpeg2 could be exactly the right choice of source codec.

There is other slight problem here in that there are very very few cameras that record in mpeg2 now.

Resolution, bitrate and aspect ratio.
16:9 is the ratio we need to aim for with YouTube. The lowest acceptable resolution is 854×480 with a bitrate of around 2mbps. This triggers HQ encoding in YouTube although I’ve had no problems with my 640×480 resolutions showing as HQ. Another option would be 720×480 which isn’t quite 16:9 but doesn’t look as bad 640×480.

Note: Recording in the resolution you want to output in will save processing.

Recording in 720p (1280×720) is another option but could require re-encoding to 480p before using in an editor because it’s a huge jump in pixels per frame. Ideally the camera will allow 480p and 780p at various bitrates. If you consider the requirement for viewfinder and Mic input you will only really find solutions in the video camera world. Combining a digital camera with these video requirements results in very little choice.

As for bitrates for the final upload file, it will depend on final codec and resolution. To ensure a reasonable chance of using 3g services to upload the file, a bitrate of around 2mbps needs to be used. For a 480p resolution it means you really need an advanced codec like h.264 to preserve the quality.

So in summary, mpeg2 at 854×480  at a relatively high bitrate seems like a good source and editing choice. Output files should be the same resolution but at around 2mbps bitrate in the h.264 codec.

What does jkkmobile use? He currently records in mpeg2 at a 16:9 ratio. Resolution is 960×540, bitrate either 6 or 9mbps. He converts that down to 854×480 which is 480p resolution. I’m not sure what format and bitrate he outputs to send to YouTube. If he has enough cpu power he will be using h.264 but he may be using wmv or something else that it is a little easier on the CPU. He certainly has the optimal settings for source files.  His camera is a Canon FS100 which you can’t buy any more. There are other SD cameras from Canon that also offer 16:9 capture though.

A quick step back to the world of camera products shows that 1080p rules and it’s difficult to know exactly what alternative resolutions a device will offer. In addition, h.264 is the popular codec which at anything bigger than 480p resolution, will be a problem.

Can CUDA do all that we require or are we going to have to rely 100% on a general purpose CPU? From what I have read and been told, most video editing software that is CUDA-enabled is doing so on output to h.264 only. I’ve seen test result with mpeg2 source formats too so mpeg2 again looks like the best source format.

There is only one way to find out. I’m arranging an Asus 1215n loan device for CeBIT next week and I plan to do as much testing as I can. I will use JKKs cam to create some 16:9 mpeg2 source and test it with some CUDA-enabled software. Power Director from Cyberlink looks like a good starting point.

Many thanks to Think4IT Solutions for offering to help us with this project.

Stay tuned for part 2 which should come after CEBIT.

Posted from WordPress for Android with the Galaxy Tab

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 inch 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.

Mobile Video – The Hardest Nut To Crack

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Over at Carrypad I’ve been writing about another attempt to get a mobile reporting kit together. This time the Netbook gets left in the hotel and I try to use the Samsung Galaxy Tab as the main input device. I’m using it now and it is working out really well. The Nokia N8 works fantastically as a mobile camera too. Results in some low light tests I did snow a huge improvement in quality over my bridge camera, the Canon S2IS. Only the optical zoom is missing.

One major problem I have though is video. With my bridge camera I can produce reasonably good quality videos at VGA resolution. The files are big mjpeg jobs but they’re easy to work with on a Netbook. 720p videos produced with the N8 however aren’t nearly as good. The stabilization isn’t as good, audio isn’t as good, there’s no zoom and the videos are done in fixed-focus mode. Given that the N8 is one of the best 720p capable camaeraphones out there, it looks like I will have to stick with my Canon S2IS. At 500gm it’s not much fun to carry around but what’s the choice?

I love the zoom, the USB remote capture, the hinged viewfinder, the stereo mics and the AA batteries. The only device I can find that competes is the SX20IS but then we’re into H.264 territory which means the netbook would need to be upgraded in order to process the files. It’s still over 500gm too.

Most people with any sense would just upgrade and take the hit on the extra weight but I am determined to focus on mobility here.

Given the N8 can’t do the video, I need to focus on something else as the camera and video camera and just use the N8 for those times (many) when I haven’t got my camera with me.

10x Zoom
USB connectivity
720p recording with zoom, continuous AF and good quality microphone
sub 250g weight
SDHC card support

I’m currently looking at the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10 which seems to be getting good reviews in the camera and video department. The Sony HX5 is also getting good video and low-light reviews.

I have a week before CES so if anyone has any ideas, please let me know.

Apple Mac Book Air, Toshiba AC100 and Samsung N350 in Size Comparison

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One of them costs €299, one of them costs €360 and the other, €999. All of them weigh between 867gm and 1060gm. One runs on ARM/Android, one runs on Windows/Intel Atom and the other runs OSX/Intel Core 2 Duo. All are ‘instant’ on.

At the MeeGo conference last week I had the chance to check out the Apple Mac Book Air. I had the lightest Intel Netbook (Samsung N350) and lightest ‘smart’ book (Toshiba AC100) with me at the time. I knew the Apple Mac Book Air (11.6 inch) was small but I was quite shocked to feel exactly how light it was. Ultra Mobile for me starts at about 1KG and the MBA fits in nicely. Battery life for me starts at 4hrs and the MBA fits in nicely again. Computing power for me must include a full web browser, a desktop OS and some video editing capability. The MBA fits in nicely, again, again!

We need to talk more about the MBA on UMPCPortal and I’ll be looking for a test sample soon so that we can get down to the detail but in the meantime, have a think about portability and capability with these images I took and feel free to comment below. This isn’t your ‘mobile’ ultra mobile PC but it’s a fine competitor to the traditional netbook. Price is a huge factor but in return you get some amazing electronic and design engineering…


Click through for larger images.

Lightweight and Mobile-Focused 3G Netbooks (And Alternatives.)

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Long-gone are the days where netbooks were available at the 1KG mark. The Asus 901, Acer A150. Classic 1KG, 8.9 inch netbooks that worked well as mobile-focused PCs for getting things done almost anywhere. The EeePC 901GO was arguably one of the best mobile bargains around at the time, at least in Europe. No hard drive, sub 1KG, 3G and a great price. Oh how things have changed. All we seem to see now are 10-12 inch devices at 1.2KG or more with moving hard drives. The 800gm-1KG mark is now a specialist segment.

If you take a long hard look though and are prepared to relax your requirements a little there are a few gems hidden in there that would work well for ultra-mobile fans so I’ve taken a long look at the netbook segment, spoken to a few people (thanks Avram and Sascha) and come up with a shortlist for you. I’ve also taken a look above and below the netbook segment to give you a few alternative options.

Requirements.

Ultra Mobile devices need to be feature-rich, rugged and connected. They are the Swiss army knives of PCs that need to be ready for anything. Getting the best productivity out of any situation is important. 12 inch devices give great comfortable real-estate. 10 inch devices can be good value. 7 inch devices get right under the 1KG mark. Here are some other important features.

  • No Hard Drive. Ideally you don’t want any moving parts at all in a mobile PC. Hard drives and fans can fail or get damaged and even rotating screen hinges need to be thought about very carefully. If an SSD doesn’t come as standard, I’ve looked at the upgrade possibilities.
  • Bright screen. Matt finish. 10 – 12 inch for comfortable productivity. 7-10 inch for lighter weight.
  • 3G, Wi-Fi-N and BT 2.x (but not self-upgrade unless the antenna is pre-installed)
  • Long battery life (6+hrs)
  • Lightweight PSU, Car Kit
  • Other useful options – GPS, memory upgrades. Case
  • Latest CPU technology.
  • Weight – 1KG or less. (I’ve looked at devices up to about 1.2KG here.)

The Netbook Shortlist

Based around the 10 inch form factor, these are the gems that I’ve managed to dig out. Of the 400+ devices that I’ve searched through, these match the requirements the best. Quite amazing that there are really only this many that I would class as truly mobile devices. Note, these devices may not appear in your local market (and there may be others in your local market that I haven’t seen – please lets us know if you find one.)

Deutsche Bahn Nachtzug, German Night Train Sleeper Cabin Review.

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I took the train down to Munich today to meet up, or rather, Tweet-up, with Intel. It was a great evening and there’s more to that part of the story but it’s the City Night Line night-train back that I want to tell you about now. I’m on it as I write and I have 6 hours until I arrive at Bonn so let me tell you a little bit about a single cabin on the night train from Munich. Ultra mobile fans will be just as excited as me!

Update Feb 2019. The Deutsche Bahn has removed the City Night Line from service due to profitability issues. Three are still some Europe-wide night trains that pass through Germany but these classic and wonderful night trains are no more. A planned Luna-Liner network across Europe is still not in service.

The Boy Scout in me did it. Rather than book a hotel I wanted to test the night train so I booked a single sleeping cabin for about 120 Euros (normally about 150 Euros but I have a 25% discount card) on the 22:43 from Munich to Amsterdam. I didn’t know what to expect although I had high hopes. German high-speed and long distance trains by Deutsche Bahn are normally excellent and I’ve had nothing but good experiences with them so although I knew I wouldn’t get the Orient Express, I was expecting some good German engineering and possibly, some sleep.

I feel like a kid. Really. I’ve been telling everyone about my ‘nachtzug’ and looking forward to checking it out but the wind got taken out of my sails at the meeting this evening where I heard nothing but nightmares. ‘Murder on the DB Express’ said one. ‘You’ll feel like you’ve been beaten up’ said another. Oh boy.

Mobile Office (DB NachtZug)

Tada! Viola! Uberaschung! What a pleasant surprise. he City Night Line sleep cabin in single-person configuration.

This is turning out to be quite the fun experience. Here I am sitting on the side of my bed with a Mifi hotpost serving internet, a friendly conductor, a wake-up call and take-away breakfast planned for 0500 (20 minutes before we arrive,) power, a relatively smooth ride (I’m a baby, I love sleeping in moving vehicles) and a cold German beer. I’ve been shown around my room, given a demo of the multi-option lighting, checked out the built-in wash basin and even have a card-key to lock my door when I go to the toilet or shower. Yes, on-board (although shared) shower! I’m so excited that I’m not sure that I need to sleep tonight.

[Pause as we stop at Guenzburg station and I take a picture of my ever-changing window scene.]

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So let me show you round the cabin.

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Mobile Office (DB NachtZug) StitchFrom above. This isn’t exactly a huge room but I feel sure I’ve had smaller ones in hotels in Holland. I can nearly touch both walls, lengthways, at the same time and we’re only talking about a width of about 200cm. There’s no en-suite toilet and the walls are thin. Ear plugs recommended! This is an extremely small room.

The room is engineered with three fold-down beds on top of each other. (Pic, left.) With three people, this isn’t going to be the most roomy of experiences and bear in mind that if you book one bed in a three-bed room, you won’t know who you’re sleeping with. Scary! I’ve got the single option here and having walked along the wagon, I think I’m the only one (although apparently there’s a first-class option somewhere!)

The room has controllable air-conditioning and has a range of lighting options from blue night-light to reading light, spot-lights and a full-flood light. There’s a stow-able table that extends right out to the bed where I’m sitting and working right now. The corner area houses a basin with soap, warm water, fresh towels, a shaver power socket and a lighted mirror.

Everything is clean, everything works, nothing is broken (as far as I know) and everything is solidly built. There’s hardly a squeak or rattle to be heard. German engineering folks!

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Air-conditioning, volume (for announcements) and the emergency brake. Blue night-light too!

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In one corner of the room, you’ve got the wash area. Set-up for three people it looks good although I recon there’s some room for more engineering here. How about a little shelf?

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Double-lock doors and a card-key give at least a feeling of security. Bear in mind that anyone can walk through this section of the train.

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Power! The most important consideration for a travelling blogger. 150W is enough for most laptops but the conductor claims that my laptop (a netbook) is the first one that’s worked on the supply. Apparently most people use the shaving socket!

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And finally, the bed. Solid, about 200cm long and with clean sheets, it’s something I’m going to enjoy very much after I’ve posted this.

Blogging while mobile just took on a new meaning. Goodnight everyone.

P.S. Obviously my hotspot is working too!

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