2010 in Review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 67,000 times in 2010. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would have performed about 3 times.

In 2010, there were 23 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 467 posts. There were 85 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 57mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was September 29th with 724 views. The most popular post that day was Quick Review: CSL’s Spice Mi700 DroidPad (Updated).

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were forum.xda-developers.com, carrypad.com, forum.lowyat.net, mytechnews.info, and umpcportal.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for pacman, tuesdays with morrie, darkseid, arm cortex a8 vs snapdragon, and cortex a8 vs snapdragon.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Quick Review: CSL’s Spice Mi700 DroidPad (Updated) September 2010
30 comments

2

ARM Cortex A8 vs QUALCOMM Snapdragon vs NVIDIA Tegra November 2009

3

Rooting HTC Dream (Singtel) June 2009
182 comments

4

Upgrading O2 XDA Stealth to Windows Mobile 6.5 ROM May 2009
75 comments

5

Of Pac Man and of Spam July 2008
1 comment

Thoughts on the Google Nexus S & Android

What people thought was the Nexus 2 (two) is now announced as the Nexus S. It is a collaboration between Google with Samsung. Full details about the phone can be read from http://www.google.com/nexus/#!/features. Being of a smartphone enthusiast and advocate, I would like to just share a few thoughts on the Google Nexus S and what I think should happen in the industry (and what we can do about it).

Connectivity

  • GSM
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 n/b/g
  • Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
  • Near Field Communication (NFC)
  • Assisted GPS (A-GPS)
  • microUSB 2.0

Comments:

While the inclusion of wifi (N) is expected, especially so late in 2010, it seems that the rest are just the mundane specs from early 2010. Sure the NFC seems like a new technology for the general masses outside of Japan, but according to one, http://www.androidpolice.com/2010/12/07/nfc-in-gingerbread-is-crippled-its-one-way-only-and-not-the-way-we-want/, it is only a one way communication (with no transmitter from the device itself), and that is just bad. It makes the device, a glorified tag/bar-code scanner. Bluetooth 3.0 has been supported in recent high-end smartphones from Samsung, which makes it saddening to note the lack of it here. Galaxy S scores points here over the Nexus S.

Display

4.0″ WVGA (480×800)
Contour Display with curved glass screen
Super AMOLED
235 ppi
Capacitive touch sensor
Anti-fingerprint display coating

Comments:

It is understandable that Samsung is still determined to enforce their view that SuperAMOLED is much better than the Retina Display of the iPhone. Granted that is the case, but why then would they put out the PPI as one of its features if it will not match or be anywhere close to the iPhone’s RD PPI score of 330? It would have been a real game changer if Samsung had pulled a higher resolution display, like Sharp’s tablet. It is not something that is unachievable given that they own the manufacturing plants. The contour display is an interesting design; I suspect it provides better viewing angles that normal displays cannot deliver well (plus, it is attractive physically).

Size and weight

63mm x 123.9mm x 10.88mm
129g

Comments:

Very thin and very light for a 4 inch display phone 🙂 Plus point indeed.

Hardware

Haptic feedback vibration
Three-axis gyroscope
Accelerometer
Digital compass
Proximity sensor
Light sensor

Comments:

These are the standard for current high end phones, so no complains, just a bit of a yawn, since it does not push any boundaries that already existed. The gaming ‘gyroscope’ of course is imported from the iPhone 4. I wonder whether Google/Samsung is merely being a ‘follower’ in this? They could have incorporated some 3D display or maybe even utilising the front camera for gesturing (ala, mini Kinect), or something. It seems too standard for my liking.

Processor and memory

1GHz Cortex A8 (Hummingbird) processor
16GB iNAND flash memory

Comments:

Here is the biggest disappointment; the same processor used by the iPhone (of course the iPhone’s is a modified form, re-modified by A4 in-house) and used by the Galaxy S and Wave. It is fast, but I doubt that it is faster than Texas Instrument’s processor used in the Droid X. An A9 processor would have blown everyone out of the water. My only reason (my assumption) would be the fine tuning of A9 to Android at the moment, which is not completed as yet. We see that problem in some of the released Tegra 2 tablet systems. This would have re-booted the gaming capabilities of Android, and to really ensure that the developer community would be charged up to try new things not only on the iPhone but on Android too. I have not much complain with the internal memory of 16GB, except that many are unhappy due to the problems of flashing (given that Android phones are mostly flashable and flash friendly). I personally think people are making too much of a complaint on something that is not important. How many of us totally use up the 16GB memory besides as a storage tool for our massive digital music library? In fact, the space saved could have been used for something else. Could have. Sigh.

Cameras and multimedia

Back-facing: 5 megapixels (2560×1920)
720 x 480 video resolution
H.264, H.263 MPEG4 video recording
Auto focus
Flash
Front-facing: VGA (640×480)
3.5mm, 4-conductor headset jack
(stereo audio plus microphone)
Earpiece and microphone
Software noise-cancellation

Comments:

Droid X’s three microphones was game changing and definitely was intriguing for people to consider  the need for good audio quality for calls and video recording. However, Nexus S seems like the standard fare; it gives of the, this is just for developers and not consumer use. An 8 megapixel camera would have been brilliant considering that Samsung’s lenses are some of the best in the industry. It is also telling when the best resolution for the video recording is only 720*480. The front facing is not surprising given that many Samsung Galaxy S models (in Malaysia at least) has the secondary camera.

Battery

1500 mAH Lithum Ion

Comments:

Good size. Wireless charging would be a good addition, considering how often one would charge their smartphones nowadays.

Comments on Other things:

The main emphasis of the Nexus S seems to be this: An average phone that shows what Google’s Android can do with average components. I am sure this will succeed (if indeed this is their emphasis) because the focus is more on Gingerbread (Android 2.3) then on the hardware itself. Which is a real pity since Samsung is a well established company and Google is already getting into the groove of what works and what does not. They should have also focused on the hardware component like how HTC HD2 was the ultimate HTC-Microsoft design which is able to compete with many current generation phones even though it is more than a year old in design. That is what is needed in this industry that is changing TOO rapidly; a product that has a more significant life cycle. The first Nexus was something like this; many still use it and are loyal to it (see XDA forums for most active devices to note this). Instead, we find Android 2.3 fragmented in some ways already; the gaming parts are geared more for the upcoming PSP phone by Sony Ericsson. It would have been nice to see Nexus S incorporate that right out of the box, maybe with some physical buttons for gaming. We can only hope. Every time Android seems to be making headway, iPhone comes out just slightly ahead. Google has the resources, I am sure, it’s more of the risk-taking aspect which they seem not willing to take.

User Focus:

Picture above: Dell’s Stage UI, Sony Ericsson’s Timescape – all are lacking in user customization though it is miles better than iPhone’s offering.

I find that the best thing that Android has to offer for consumers like me is the ability to customize the phone at the software level. Tweaking the user interface at the moment is quite a challenge for the uninitiated. There seems to be many ready 3rd party developers there, but not enough traction to make it more acceptable for even new smartphone users. The age of users being forced to conform to one UI design needs to be thrown away. Personalisation is one of the key things that many power users would definitely want, which new users would be terrified of trying. Something of course cannot change, like for example, the way users select applications (by pressing a button regardless of how the apps are ordered, whether from a drawer or something else). There is much also that can be offered for Tablet design.

I personally find the iPad layout to be limiting and unfriendly (wasting too much space). We have barely scratched what is the best UI and most usable UI for the tablet medium, and so also for the smartphones. I think OS providers should provide means for the users (not just 3rd party developers) to extend their customisations beyond widgets, wallpapers, and see how a person may change their preferences depending on the device type and size. I would be very interested in dabble in this area given time and resources. UI design, speed, efficiency and utility is one of the most unexplored area in the apps development industry. Android, though it is more open than others, still do not grant users that freedom or liberty to the basic user. Let the user decide. Let them explore without fear of harming the experience (cloud syncing could be an option or preview modes or demo modes). This is the way to go in 2011 and 2012, as I foresee it.

… to myself 15 years ago?

It is an interesting premise… granted I am not usually impressed with modern songs, since there are little by way of surprises. However, the lyrics to Tegami by Angela Aki stirs up an interesting premise that is of course hypothetical: what would a conversation with your younger (or even older) self be, if you could have it?

There are many things in retrospect which were foolish (and even some may put it as stupid) and the temptation would be to warn the recipient self, but would we really learn from what is avoided? Of course, there are no ways to bend time and space to inject a future thought to the past… nevertheless, it is important to reflect upon what we have learnt and what it could have mean to our younger/older self.

Certainly I would want to question my older self, as to how he managed to go through the next 15 years. I would want to know what are the heartaches (to prepare myself) and also the sweet portions of that journey. We are just so fearful of the future that is not that clear in our eyes. Man may plan, of course, but it is God who decides. Humbling notion indeed that we really have nothing to rely on except upon the regulation of our Creator.

Why fight over the fallible and release our grip on the unchanging eternal?

Would I tell my younger self to trust himself (as in the music Tegami?) in spite of what comes? I would think not, knowing that it is always because of self that brings trouble upon self. Rather, my advice would be – submit to the Lord in all our ways, and He will make it straight. It is better to plead upon the grace and mercy of our Lord than to submit to the fickleness and temporal sight of our own.

Preaching to one self is never easy, especially if we have never done so in the light of the Word. Sure we preach constantly the desires of self, but it is the Word that strikes home and exposes what man truly is composed and made up of.

May God have mercy on us. He who is the master of Past, Present and Future, is the only who knows what is the best. May He provide us with much grace which brings boldness in our pitiful life.

Full Review: CSL Spice Mi700 DroidPad (Camera, Phone & the Rest) Part 3

It took a long while to get this final part out, but here it is. In this last article, I will try to be succinct in all the areas that were particularly important to me (and thus, to you readers too, I hope). Once again, I would like to thank CSL for loaning me a review unit.

I have had this device for nearly a month, and have put it under many conditions. Before evaluating the whole thing as a package, let’s look at some other important areas not covered before:

Camera

(DroidPad 3MP sample shot on the left, compared to HTC Dream 3.15MP sample shot on the right)

There two cameras on the unit. One is a 3.0 MP back facing camera (right smack at the middle) and the other is a lower VGA camera that is front facing. Frankly, the camera is alright. Granted that it is not good enough for you to replace your camera (which device would?), but it does make for some good quick shots. I compared a still photo that I had on a similar subject matter (taking a picture off the desktop screen) made on my old HTC Dream (sporting a similar 3.15MP camera). Even with the .15 camera size difference that should give the Dream an edge, I find that the picture from the DroidPad is still clearer. Maybe it is the algorithm used, but things are sharper on the DroidPad camera. Video is nothing to shout about, with the capability to capture VGA video at a paltry 16 frames per second. Not smooth and I found the audio not syncing correctly to the video by a few miliseconds.

The front facing VGA camera is just that… a VGA camera. It is sufficient for making video calls (if you can find a software that supports it on Android). I tried a few but could not manage to get any to work, except for using the test center modes. In that situation, I found the video quality to be acceptable, though not great (it’s VGA). You can use the front facing camera to record video too. Though it records at VGA quality, yet the fps is quite low, at 8 frames per second. It is not worth using, unless you really have something at the spur of the moment to capture on the front facing side. (A sample of video taken using the Front and Back facing cameras can be downloaded in their original format from: http://www.multiupload.com/JNPJWF8YET – 8+MB file size)

The main complaint of the use of the camera comes down to Android itself. It is the stock version that does provide some level of tweaking. For the main camera, you get the full options of selecting the ‘Picture Size’ (3MP, 2MP, 1MP, VGA and QVGA), ‘Picture Quality’ (superfine, etc.), ‘Color Effect’ (Mono, Sepia and Negative), ‘Metering Mode’, ‘Anti Banding’, ‘Saturation’ (5 levels given), Contrast (5 levels), Sharpness (3 levels), Brightness (7 levels), Grid mode and toggling the shutter sound.  The front facing camera has lesser options of course since its priority is not for normal picture taking.

Phone Functionalities


Making calls on the DroidPad is as simple as it is on other Android devices. However, let me caution the potential user; do not try to use it as a normal phone by pressing it against your ears, it just does not work that way. The best way is to use the speaker to listen and to speak normally towards the microphone on the side. It works in most situations except in a noisy environment.

Reception is actually quite good. It does not drop in signal strength as much as my other phone devices. Maybe the size of the device has something to do with it, but whatever it is, it works well as a phone. The best option I guess would be to pair it with a bluetooth device. I found that the headset given was inadequate. The quality is horrendous and not worth using to receive calls.

I am very particular with the speed in which calls are received, and I can honestly tell you that it is almost instantaneous. Regardless of what application you might be using, the DroidPad quickly switches to phone mode at the first ring. This was and still is a problem for Android devices running on lower CPUs like the dreaded MSM7201A, 528Mhz processors, which gave a 1 second lag or more. Whether or not you will use this as a phone depends on your comfort level in using a device this big. Those who have used HTC’s Shift would find this a better alternative.

GPS


Like I mentioned before in the earlier part, the GPS map installed (with free 1 year service) is one of the most horrible looking software I have ever seen. The User Interface is archaic and does not give much information for the user. I ended up using Google Map as my default GPS map navigator. The GPS performed adequately. It is not fast by any means, requiring more than two minutes to get a solid fix (within an accuracy of 5 meters). It is not terribly slow either. However, if you want a cheaper and yet better alternative (only applicable for Asian users), download Ndrive. It is almost similar to Garmin’s GPS navigation app. I found that using Ndrive was a breeze, and because of the screen size, navigating in the car becomes less of a hassle. The only problem is to get a proper mount for the DroidPad since it would be a pain to hold it one hand for long.

Data Connection

One of my other gripes that I find with the DroidPad is the inconsistent WiFi connection. Every time it comes out of the lock screen, the WiFi connection will not re-connect itself automatically. To solve this, one must turn it off (via the power control widget for fast access) and turn it back on again. It is irritating, and I wonder whether I am the only one facing this issue. Besides this one issue, there is nothing much to complain about the WiFi. It is fast. I managed to update all 17 applications from the Market in less than 15 minutes. Not bad right? Some of the apps were big sized ones (mostly games like Zenonia which clocks in at over 10MB).

I have not tested the 3G connection on this (I cut my data connection some time back) but based on feedback, it seems to be performing adequately.

Multi-touch

Although we have noted earlier that the screen is average, it is another thing when it comes to multi-touch. The device suffers the same problem encountered in the Nexus One when you use the MultiTouch Visualizer 2 app. From the video uploaded here: 

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3TslDLrhQw), we can see that the points become confuse when they converge, often misalignment will occur, followed by the flipping of point identification. This means that the device has a flawed multi-touch implementation. It will not affect simple applications like pinch-to-zoom gestures, but definitely on more delicate applications (e.g. games) it will be more obvious.

USB On The Go

Surprise, surprise… the DroidPad does support USB OTG. Basically, this allows the user to connect the DroidPad to any USB storage device, like your thumbdrives. Very handy indeed if you want to transfer files over without the hassle of communing with a middle device. The caveat on this is the need for a USB Mini A cable that is short (not more than half a meter). Some have tested it with great success (working with many different USB devices). For a list of tested USB devices on the DroidPad take a look at here: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showpost.php?p=8819448&postcount=163. The forum thread even have links to buy the cables from Ebay, if you are interested. The small downside is the lack of unmounting function for USB OTG. You need to just disconnect the device from the cable to unmount it.

Hacking

The thrill of Android as an mobile OS comes down to its ‘hackability’. If this is not your cup-of-tea, then you might want to skip this section. Anyway, based on my impromptu visit to the CSL headquarters in Malaysia, I was told by both the Marketing deparment and CEO that CSL is committed in developing for the DroidPad and to help independent developers to utilising the device to its full potential. Unfortunately, this is a hard thing to do when the product sold is not within the control of CSL. Ultimately, the firmware upgrades would come from Foxconn’s subsidiary which produced and developed the DroidPad (or whatever the actual model name is). This is also one reason (I suspect) that the two developers from CSL were unable to reply to my queries on the firmware and on root access possibility. Enough about CSL’s involvement or openness on this front. What about the device itself? Can it be modified? Honestly speaking, the fear was that there would be too few developers who would be interested in the device itself, to find ‘root access’ which would allow users to permanently modify parts of the firmware. Fortunately, root access was found within the week of launch in Malaysia.

Along with root access, the small community of DroidPad users have also found a way to install a custom recovery to ensure that the device will not be ‘bricked’. These are the firstfruits of an increasing acts of making the DroidPad more efficient. Already there are some in the small community who have gotten rid of all the localised apps (which were irritating to say the least). It is only a matter of time before the kernel will allow for over and under-clocking of the processor chip. This certainly would mean that the lifecycle of this device is lengthened. With this in mind, the potential of a more polished DroidPad is a reality. It merely takes time and commitment from the development community. If you are interested in such matters, do visit http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=793071 for the latest news on modifying/hacking the DroidPad.

Videos of Walkthrough of the Device:

It took some time before I managed to get this up, but here it is –

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XsdPapTJZo – Simple walkthrough beginning from the Homescreen (LauncherPro), Typing using a Note App, Ebook Reader and testing of Live Wallpapers. Sorry for the poor video quality. From my Android HTC HD2 device.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaKuB93Zg6E – Simple walkthrough testing the Music App and the speaker loudness. This is followed by a simple use of the browser.

CONCLUSION:


Here comes the hard part of the review: the verdict. Is this device worth buying? Can it stand up to the onslaught of Android tablets that will surely come either in Q4 or Q1 of 2011? The answer is never so straightforward as a yes or a no.

The Pros of this device are:

  • Capacitive screen (beats all the generic resistive android tablets out there)
  • It is small enough to be portable (at 7″ inch)
  • It is big enough to read websites without much problem (Sorry Mr. Jobs, but 7″ does work)
  • GPS equipped
  • USB On-The-Go
  • Expandable MicroSD slot
  • 2 Cameras – Video Calling
  • Hackable
  • Large RAM space
  • Sturdy Build
  • Relatively cheaper than Samsung Tab

The Cons for this device are:

  • Screen is only average and has too low resolution
  • Bulky and not slim enough
  • CPU is too low for the price point
  • Multitouch problems
  • Accessories included are redundant (car charger given is the wrong voltage, headphones are of poor quality)
  • Redundant applications included (merely shortcuts to website based applications)
  • Developer support uncertain
  • Buggy software experience
  • Price point a bit expensive
  • Stock Interface not friendly (this is solved by installing ADWLauncher or LauncherPro)

Some of these things may not be a dealbreaker for you, but for myself personally, I find that the price is the biggest problem for such a device. Will it come down? Eventually, but by that time, there would be newer products (maybe even the next iteration of the DroidPad with Snapdragon chip). The current price at RM1,599 (USD507) is not convincing enough, especially when the experience is not as polished as the iPad (even though it offers more functionalities than the iPad). However, when you compare this device with the Samsung Tab, especially with its price point (which is around USD700 and above) then you may have a good deal on hand. I find that that if one or two weaknesses were solved (particularly relating to the screen resolution), the USD507 might just be a good steal! I reckon that USD400 would be the best price for this device to sell like hot cakes.

Based on a simple survey and feedback from people who have already bought the device, the general opinion seems to be pretty positive. Most people were quite satisfied with the purchase (especially after Samsung Tab’s price was revealed). As usual, make sure you test the unit out for yourselves before making that call!

All the best!

Additional Info:

It is most unfortunate, but I doubt that CSL will provide support of any kind for this device. It is just not possible when they do not even have developers in charge of the kernel updates. I suspect that whatever support will have to come down from Foxconn themselves. And remember that this is easily seen when the only customization done on the unit is the introduction of ‘CSL apps’ that are frankly quite useless. These are not enough to differentiate the product from other regions. If you do consider buying the unit, you will have to rely on independent developers (on XDA or equivalent) for more efficient updates to the firmware. There are many things that need to be changed (it is hard to know where to begin listing the bugs).

For myself, I believe that Google is telling the truth concerning Android 2.2’s incompatibility with tablets. It is sad but a reality that many have to face up to. Android Honeycomb (supposedly 3.0) will be the one to watch for. Until then, it is not worth committing more than RM1.3k on a subpar experience that has not been customized to fit the target market. But again, this is my opinion 🙂

An Interlude: User Feedback on CSL Spice Mi700 DroidPad

I am want to finish up my extensive review on the Mi700. I would like to get some real consumer feedback on the device before writing the closing conclusions on this. I need your help (especially those who bought the phone/tablet). Even if you did not buy the product, I would appreciate your feedback on the product:

Those who bought:
1) Are you happy with the product?
2) Do you think it was worth your money?
3) What do you wish CSL would change in the product?

Those who did not buy:
1) What was the dealbreaker for you?
2) What could CSL change to make you buy the product?

Thank you. Acknowledgement will be given to those who have given constructive feedback on this matter.

 

Full Review: CSL Spice Mi700 DroidPad (Software) Part 2

Okay, the first part was the easy part. Now comes the hard part… the software aspect of the DroidPad. First of all, let  us remind ourselves that this tablet is running on Froyo, Android 2.2. Take note that this is based on my full week’s experience of the tablet. In the week that has passed, I have already installed about 30 programs (mostly free and some paid). Not only that, I have transfered over 2GB worth of media files. All in all, this should be a more balanced review and not just a ‘first look’ at the device. Onwards with the review:

Performance


1. Mflops: Mflops basically stands for Million FLoating point OPerations per second. It is a calculation intensive test where the higher the numbers, the better. Using Linpack for Android, the device scored 7.5 Mflops on average in 11 seconds. This is considered reasonable when we take into account the CPU which is an MSM7227 600Mhz (a slight upgrade from the older, and much despised, MSM7201A 528Mhz). Comparing with similar CPU devices, we find that the HTC Aria scores 5.2 Mflops with a slight overclock to 806Mhz while LG Ally/Aloha scores 9.1 Mflops with 30% overclock and HTC Legend scores 9.8 Mflops with 37% overclock. Certainly the Mi700 can hold its own.

2. BenchmarkPi: Basically the time it takes to calculate Pi. The lower the better. The DroidPad scores an average of about 2,800 miliseconds, not too bad considering a Snapdragon processor averages about around 2,000 miliseconds.

3. Neocore: This is an OpenGL-ES 1.1 graphics performance benchmark test. The DroidPad’s MSM7227 actually shares the same GPU as the Snapdragon; Adreno. I am pretty surprised by the outcome, since the DroidPad performed slightly better than my HTC HD2 Android (using a Snapdragon CPU and running Froyo) with an average of 32fps while the latter only a paltry 30fps.

4. Boot Time

This was timed from the moment the power switch was pressed and slight vibration felt, until the time when everything was loaded and lock screen appeared (SD card finished mounted). The total average boot time was approximately 60 seconds (1 minute). Frankly, I think this is acceptable although it should be improved. Somewhere around 45 seconds would be good.

Home Screen Performance


1. Custom Shortcuts: This is the version that came with the DroidPad. It looks very much like Android 2.2 stock, but with the added difference of a strip to the left hand of the tablet screen which contains 4 distinct icons. The top most is for mails, followed by an e-book reader, media and social networking shortcuts. I found this to be a redundant add-on since the system already allows users to put on widgets of their own. However, I suspect that this is not part of CSL’s customization but Foxconn’s, since the same shortcuts strip is seen in the similar devices shown elsewhere (Camangi Webstation and Viewpad 7). I have to say that they were not efficient to use at all. I found that the mail program took time to load, and was laggy. Same also for the media player. To its credit, it had a ‘cover flow’ type interface, but again, it was laggy and I kept selecting the wrong song since it either went too far ahead or too short before the one I wanted. Same goes for the social networking program which incorporates Facebook and Twitter. They look too much like the old web 1.0 interface.

2. Scrolling: The saving grace comes in the parts that are untouched, mainly the apps drawer. There is no lag in using the apps drawer and it was all smooth no matter how many apps I had installed and have open at any one time. Scrolling between screens were slightly laggy on the stock version. I have no idea why, but it just is. Not noticeable if you have never used another Android device, but still, it is just a little annoyance that I wished they would have cleaned up a bit more before shipping the devices out. As a matter of comparison, it felt slightly jerkier than using CyanogenMod 6 (Froyo) on a G1/HTC Dream phone.

3. Resolution: Because the tablet shares the same resolution as many of the more advanced Android devices, the grid that is available for widgets remains 4 by 4 (in all, you can put up to 16 application shortcuts on a single screen). The stock  version only allows 3 home screens. If there is one glaring weakness of the Mi700, it would be the resolution size. Even though we have a considerably large screen, stretching an 800 by 480 resolution on it wastes that spacious capacity. What we get is the same 4 by 4 grid available, which translates to widgets getting blown up double the size, making them look awkward at best and ugly at worst! And the result is big spaces between each widget or shortcut; wasted space! I think if it was using the conventional netbook resolution of 1,024 by 600 pixels, this would have made the DroidPad near perfect! For some people, this might be a dealbreaker. Certainly, it would improve on the utility of the home screen.

4. Live Wallpaper: One of the most loved features of Android 2.0+ is the introduction of live wallpapers. Basically these are your normal wallpapers plus added interactivity and animation that adds to the level of ‘fun’ and ‘zazziness’ of a phone OS experience. I found that the DroidPad could handle all live wallpapers fine, without any hitch in the interface. The only problem stems when you are coming back to ‘home’ from a memory intensive application; it takes time for the live wallpaper to reload. That is the only problem that I have encountered, and this is nothing to do with the device, but to the software itself.

5. Alternative (LauncherPro): Personally, I ditched the stock home screen launcher and installed LauncherPro from the market. Buy it. It is worth it. This made the home screen less of a bore for me, as I am able to reclaim the whole screen for myself (no pesky strip to mess with the symmetry), and have up to 7 home screens. Not only that, but LauncherPro allows the user to heavily customise the feel of the home screen. The transitions between screens were smooth and flawless. The app drawer opened speedily and scrolling is smooth when there are only a few apps installed. However, after more than 25 apps in the drawer, I notice that it does tend to lag just a little. But besides that, there is nothing else that I would recommend for speedy experience. LauncherPro also allows the user to change the size of the widgets on the screen to suit their wants. Resizing helps to save space, especially when there is a need to put as many widgets as possible into one single screen.

One last reason to change the home screen launcher to the new one? The stock version only allows the user to use the tablet in landscape mode. This limitation is very frustrating upon me because of my tendency to do work in portrait mode. Thankfully, LauncherPro allows for this.

Note that the more active widgets (auto update) the user uses on the home screens, the slower the UI performance will be. However, based on my usage, I found that the 512MB RAM is well worth its size; I rarely felt that the screen was lagging because of the many applications that are open and the widgets that are actively updating itself.

6. Inputs – Virtual Keyboard, Accelerometer and Touch


I have not much problems with the touch sensitivity of the screen (as mentioned in part 1). However, I notice that in some situations, my swipes are not registered at all. Somehow, at times, I notice that some applications cannot seem to register my swipes and touches. A good example would be in the app drawer (stock version); swiping using my left thumb would result in absolutely smooth scrolling. However, if I were to use my right thumb to do the same gesture or swiping motion, there would be no response from the application. Strange, but these small ‘problems’ appear almost randomly throughout the week.

The accelerometer worked well on games in general. The user is given the option to calibrate the accelerometer whenever the necessity arises. I could easily play the game “Labyrinth” and see how accurate the motions were. However, it is to be noted that the game “Abduction” was problematic to play, as the accelerometer just went haywire.

The virtual keyboard provided as default is the stock Android virtual keyboard. The keys are well spaced on the tablet, but it makes it a bit hard to thumb type, since our fingers will not be able to stretch that far out. Nevertheless, if the tablet is rested on a surface, typing is much faster and more accurate. It is unfortunate that the keyboard does not respond as fast as the iPhone’s; there is a very slight delay and this is more noticeable when the haptic feedback is turned on. I do not think I can type fast using the stock virtual keyboard provided. As an alternative, I used Smart Keyboard Pro (paid version) which is much faster in response, and supports multi-touch points.

Applications

The best news concerning apps on the DroidPad is the access to Google’s Marketplace. Depending on the country you are in, you will be able to either access only free apps (this limitation applies for places like Malaysia) or both free and paid apps (only selected countries). In this section, I will just give an overview of the type of performance experienced in using various types of applications on the DroidPad.

1. E-reader

The DroidPad comes with the popular Android e-book reader Aldiko installed in the system. Aldiko is the best reader that allows for offline reading, unlike other reader apps like Kindle. What makes Aldiko popular stems from its intuitive graphical user interface and ease of transitioning between pages. When the pages are rendered on the DroidPad’s 7″ screen, I have to admit that the words are so easy to read. There is no more need to squint or to move the device closer to us like other smaller devices. The 7″ inch display allows for more words to be fitted into a single page. Though the resolution for such a device might be low, yet I did not find myself struggling to focus on the text. This is definitely one of the plus points of having a device with ample screen size. Just like LauncherPro, the user is able to customise the way they read using Aldiko, till they have satisfied their own requirement.

2. Video Player

The DroidPad’s player only plays a very limited type of video formats (mp4 being the chief of them). I find the video player to be too simplistic. In order to test the video rendering capabilities of the DroidPad, I installed two video players; Rockplayer and Yxplayer. Both of the players could play a common .avi (dvix, xvid) file smoothly. The file played had a resolution of 624 by 352 pixels. However, the playback was not so smooth when playing a true HD 1080 video. On Yxplayer, the result was choppy at best. I tested MKV files and both players failed to play it adequately.

One of the missed opportunities for this device is to provide adequate coverage on video file formats that it can play. This is more surprising considering that this device has a graphical processing unit. Here’s hoping for a better update for the customers, incorporating these suggestions.

3. Social Networking Apps

There are many in the market for free from which you can choose from. I have to confess that it is quite a joy to see a substantial amount of updates without having to zoom in and to subsequently zoom out from using the device. Sharing news, photos and other media are as provided under Android 2.2. Everything works efficiently (minimal battery usage). There are no real surprises here.

4. Games

Most games played well using the MSM7227 chip. The only thing to be careful is to know the limits of the CPU; cannot play certain emulators that are made for Snapdragon or Cortex chips. Zenonia (something like Legend of Zelda) played on the tablet at full screen. The controls and the performance of the game was really good, without any lag. Besides that, I tested a few emulators on the DroidPad. It seems that all emulators (e.g. Gameboid, Gensoid) can work well with the device, except for the PSX emulation. The screen size really helps to make the game more immersive for the most part.

5. Voice Search

This is a Google app that is integrated in Android 2.2. To enable this search, one needs to only hold onto the “search” button for 1 full second, and the app will start to receive the voice input from the device’s microphone. It works well enough for me; I spoke the words, “Wikipedia” and “Great wall of China”. The results returned was almost instantenous, clocking in at 1 second. I am really impressed with this.

6. GPS Navigation


The device comes with 2 maps that can utilise the internal GPS; MapKing and Google Maps. The former is included as part of the DroidPad package. Malaysian buyers get to use MapKing products for free using the 1-year subscription that they offered. Somehow MapKing (from what I can see) is not a good GPS application. It is definitely not an attractive package, unlike Garmin (see picture of MapKing’s UI above). The only other option for me at the moment is to use Google Maps. Unfortunately, Google Maps can only be used with a data connection (either 3G or wifi). I found that the GPS fix was very fast on Google Maps, within a few seconds (with AGPS turned on and while I was in the house and not open air).

7. Music Player

The stock player is the same boring app that has not seen much changes since Android 1.6. There was no problem in detecting my whole library of songs which I transferred via USB from my desktop. I installed Mortplayer (free) from the Market and used the widget to play songs when I am on the go. Surprisingly, the widget requires a few taps before it registers my touch. Once the app starts, it works smoothly with not much delays.

8. CSL Custom Apps


You might be wondering what type of customization CSL made for the devices. There are a few that is quite obvious from the apps drawer; Blueberry Messenger, Blueberry Store, CSL Azan Alarm (for muslims) and CSL Fun Club. All these apps surprisingly (except 1)  are web-based; the icons only bringing up a shortcut to the respective website. The Blueberry Messenger is their attempt to have an IM (Instant Messaging) app that encompass as many social sites as possible. Blueberry Store is their web-based online store, while the CSL Fun Club is just a sort of gateway for people to explore their offerings given to potential customers. The only useful application that I could observe was CSL Azan Alarm… basically it is an alarm clock to remind the user of their obligations for worship. I found that the work done on these apps were minimal and therefore quite deplorable.

Multitasking


Multitasking works with these apps. I am able to switch on the music player while surfing and reading an e-book from Aldiko. Again, this is the benefit of having ample RAM size, which I am glad this device have in spades! There is no need for the application to reload all the data all over again when you are switching between applications. I tried to test the limit of its multitasking by using several memory intensive applications and switching between them to see whether they needed to be reloaded (a sign of insufficient memory). I opened Engadget’s app, Astro file manager, Aldiko, CadreBible, Market, Music, Browser (to a specific website that is graphically intensive), Angry Bird Lite (the game) and Mortplayer. It is surprising, but I actually had NO problems switching from one to the other. They were all still working without reloading the contents. I am thoroughly impressed because this is one of the aspects that are important in daily usage; worrying over memory management (I had a G1/HTC Dream and it was always a horror to switch applications).

Battery Life

According to the specifications, the DroidPad houses a 3,240mAh Li-Pol battery. I have done some test on this and have found some approximation of how long the battery can last. For simple usage, some surfing, checking of mails, typing, music and reading, you can easily squeeze nearly a day’s life from it. For heavy usage, where the above are done more frequently, then you can squeeze probably 7 hours.

The playing of media files will drain the battery faster than surfing does. To test how durable is a single charge (from the wall charger and not from desktop) I performed the following things: I played a 20 minute divx clip for 7 times while at the same time playing music from Mortplayer (continuously) and also switching on the display to the brightest setting and watch the battery drain away. The test started at 10am and when the device powered down by itself, it was at 3.30pm. Based on my simple test, the device lasted for 5.5 hours of heavy media usage!

Take note: charging the battery takes time, even when it is done from the wall charger. It takes approximately 3 hours plus.

Flash Implementation

Unfortunately, for Adobe Flash 10.1 to run, the minimum requirement is for an Arm7 chipset, which the DroidPad does not have (it has only an Arm11 chip). Well, do not worry much, since the iPad also does not have this and people are well content with it. For small Flash usage, there are always alternatives that can be used on the DroidPad. A good substitute for websurfing Flash enabled sites is by using Dolphin HD browser. It is quite fast and shows off some Flash contents (I have not use it extensively). This is a limitation that is not due to the software, but rather the hardware of the device.

Development

To round up this side concerning the software performance of the DroidPad, I would like to say that there are some other concerns that I would like to put forth. The main one being, there are a lot of ways that the DroidPad can be made more useful and attractive, and all these involves having more developers to thinker on the software itself. I can only imagine getting Cyanogenmod 6 working on this device, thereby solving any buggy code or inefficient coding. Many of the problems detected in this review can be solved. Unfortunately, in order to do that, we need to get ‘root access’ on the device. Something that is for now elusive.

I cannot even seem to get ADB (Android Debug Bridge) to work with the device! I found that even the “terminal emulator” that is ‘installed’ on the device cannot be accessed by users. I have to install Android Command Shell app to use command line actions. It makes me wonder whether the DroidPad and CSL is open to the developers community? For certainly, they can gain so much more when the developers are collaborating to extend the lifespan of this device.

From my initial discussions with them over the matter of open development, they have shown some interest in pursuing this, especially in line with the massive third-party independent developers for the first batch of Android phones. We can only hope that CSL will show their support for such endeavour instead of just seeing this as a product.

The last part of this review will cover the final parts of the DroidPad: Camera, Phone Functionality and Other Uses

Rooting Mi700 DroidPad – Simple Steps

Okay, the best way to fully utilise an Android device is when we (the users) have the choice of customising whatever we want on it. We now have the way to do this.

Rooting the Mi700 DroidPad

Thanks to “Abasir” for the instructions. He posted the instructions originally at http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=793071. I modified and added some stuff just to make it bit more clear and helpful.

1. Download the file “SuperOneClickv1.4-ShortFuse.zip” from http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=803682. Extract the zip file out into a folder.

2. Replace the adb.exe from SuperOneClick with the adb.exe from the Mi700 CDROM (this is the virtual drive created when you connect your data cable to windows).

3. Run SuperOneClick > and then click “Root“… it will hang after completing a few tasks. Do not worry. Exit the program.

4. Run the same program again… Click “Root” again and this time, it will finish the process and it would show that the Mi700 is ROOTED.

5. Install the ADB drivers from the CD ROM Drive that is specifically created when you plug the Mi700 to your desktop. Either double click on the drive to enter setup or using Windows Explorer, click on “Setup.exe”.

6. Open a command prompt from windows, go to your adb directory.
[For those who have used ADB on other Android devices and have installed AndroidSDK]

Usually, it will be c:/AndroidSDK/Android-Sdk-windows/tools  (For further instructions on ADB (Android Debug Bridge), you can read this: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=502010)

[For those who are using ADB for the first time]
Open Command Prompt (Start > Run > Type “CMD”, and press Enter). Then go to the directory where you extracted the zip file in step 1.

E.g. C:\Users\[your username]\Desktop\SuperOneClickv1.4-ShortFuse

7. Come out of the command prompt window and Copy the file “su” (there is no file extension) from where you extracted SuperOneClick.zip and put it into your “c:/AndroidSDK/Android-Sdk-windows/tools” folder (if you have AndroidSDK), if not, put it in the same folder as the SuperOneClick extracted file.

8. In your command prompt from step 6, type:

adb push su /system/bin

and the file will be copied to your device.

9. If you had no problems pushing (copying the file) then go straight to step 9. If you get “read-only file system” error. Type the following from the command prompt.

adb shell mount -oremount,rw /dev/block/mtdblock3 /system

10. Important last step… you need to change the permission of the file so that you do not lose the root.

Type:

adb shell

and a # prompt will appear. Type the following:

chmod 4755 /system/bin/su

and you are done!

This was discussed and found solely by Malaysians. Malaysia boleh! 😛