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Steven Goacher (London)

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Nokia N900 Sim Free Mobile Computer with Maemo 5 Software
Nokia N900 Sim Free Mobile Computer with Maemo 5 Software

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Open-source Nokia N900, 3 Jun 2010
The Nokia N900 smartphone runs Maemo 5 (Linux) operating system. Nokia have released a phone for the open-source community and which hasn't been locked down by either the service provider (T-mobile, Vodafone) or Nokia themselves. This is great news for developers as well as hackers who want to customise their phones as much as possible.

Out of the box, the phone is sim-unlocked and I could insert another sim card without needing to get it unlocked by the service provider or some corner-shop.
This is true of the contract models as well as the sim-free ones. There are tools available for easy flashing of the firmware, so you could change to a non-standard firmware and back again if you want.

Maemo Linux is very similar to desktop Debian or Ubuntu Linux. It uses the apt package tool for easy installing or removing of applications from repositories on the internet. You specify which repositories you wish to use, and then select the free applications you wish to install. Nokia's Ovi Store has more applications available (free and commercial ones) on top of that. I recently counted the applications available in the main repositories (standard, testing, devel) and the total exceeded 7500. Note that Linux software ports really easily to the N900 (It has a Qt based GUI running on an ARM processor).

Although not as intuitive as the iPhone, the Maemo interface on the N900 is still great. I really like it. It has one of the best resistive screens available. There is a tendency for smartphones (e.g. iPhone, HTC Desire) to use capacitive screens. Capacitive are excellent for light touching, skimming the surface, but are poor for high accuracy where resistive excel. The N900 performs very well when skimming with the fingers as well as very accurately when used with fingernail or stylus ("The best of both worlds"). This makes the N900 ideal for full web-browsing and for sketching pictures or notes.

The graphic interface has a number of sections. The main view allows you to select from a number of home screens, and place app short-cuts, notes, web-links, contacts on each home screen. Click on the corner and you bring up the application menu, and then scroll through the icons to select an app to run (very similar to iPhone or Android touch-screen smartphones). Click the corner again, and you get a group of running application boxes. Select a box to make that application run full screen, click the corner to come out of it and then select another running application.

The multi-tasking on the N900 is superb. Run a load of apps, and switch between them easily. Open address book, calendar, calculator, web browser, media player all at the same time and flick between them. One more point against the iPhone.

The web experience includes Flash. I have played a number of Flash games on websites, as well as browsing Youtube and even playing iPlayer (BBC) television from within the browser. You have a choice of multiple browsers to choose from. The default Maemo-browser, Firefox (including plugins), Chromium, Opera, and probably more by the time you read this. In comparison, the iPhone has been restricted by Apple so that it cannot play Flash in its browser.

The latest PR 1.2 Maemo firmware brings Skype video calling to the N900. It has a small VGA camera in the front of the phone and a larger 5 megapixel camera with dual LED flash in the rear. I've used Skype Video calling from my N900 to a friend's N900. Also Google Chat and Skype are integrated into the Phone Contacts so you can make Skype calls just as easily as a standard phone call. (At the point of calling you just select what type of call you are making.)

The N900 comes with 32Gb of flash memory built-in, for storing movies, music, documents, photos, and so on. It also has a micro-sd slot (which will take 16Gb micro-sdhc cards) to expand the capacious memory even further. I really like the built-in Media Player which does a great job of handling playback of multiple files types (including OGG and FLAC). The quality of audio through the 3.5mm standard stereo socket is very good too. The Media Player can stream internet radio, as well as streaming videos/music from Windows Media Player, MediaTomb media streaming server.

The N900 has many and varied features. I really appreciated the N900's TV-out capability when on holiday. I was able to plug it into the hotel's TV and play back movies in standard definition (no need to carry around a laptop or portable dvd player). Also it has FM radio receiver and transmitter built-in.
I prefer a real hardware keyboard, and that's another thing the N900 has. You can use the N900 with a full-size bluetooth keyboard (if you want). It will play to stereo bluetooth headphones quite happily too. I've even used a Sony PS3 six-axis console controller to play games on the N900 (Quake, Duke3D ports).

Nokia and Intel have joined forces to co-develop MeeGo (Linux) operating system from now and into the future. This will also be (mostly) open-source and eventually take over from Maemo. It is already possible to boot up the N900 to basic MeeGo version 1.0 via usb flasher program and a suitably formatted 2Gb micro-sd, without over-writing your current Maemo install. There isn't a lot of difference between Maemo and MeeGo so all the apps should translate between the two nicely.

I find the battery lasts very well, when the phone is mostly idle and connected to wifi rather than 3G. Mobile 3G data does drain it a bit, but you should still get a day out of it from standard use. Taking it off mobile data, and with light use it'll last 3 days-ish.

Browsing Google Maps with a PR1.2 Maemo N900, and its GPS turned on, makes geolocation data available to Google (if you want), which can be handy when you want to know where is the closest ATM, bar, petrol station in your vicinity.

The screen has a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels, which is more than twice as many pixels as the iPhone 3GS (480x320). This is excellent for reading documents, watching movies, viewing photos, reading text, and web-browsing.

For developers and hackers: Set up the N900 as a web-server with PHP support. Run Python and PyQT script-based GUI applications directly on the N900. The N900 is good as SSH client and SSH server (remote connect to it from your PC over Wifi). It runs fairly standard Linux (bash scripting, cron jobs, etc). Rsync your data to or from the N900. Build apps and then release to Maemo repositories or to Nokia OVI store without draconian app policing.

The N900 is a fantastic device and I'm really happy with it. There are issues to criticise but then every device has compromises.

USB Card Reader. Kingston MobileLite 9-In-1 Card Reader. SD, Micro SD, Mini SD, MMC,
USB Card Reader. Kingston MobileLite 9-In-1 Card Reader. SD, Micro SD, Mini SD, MMC,

4.0 out of 5 stars Kingston usb sd-card reader, 2 Jun 2010
This usb reader by Kingston has three slots for standard sd (and mmc), mini-sd, and micro-sd flash memory cards. When connected via usb all three drives are accessible at once (e.g. E:, F:, G: under Windows) and data can be copied between them as well as to/from your computer.

I didn't need any special drivers to use the usb reader with Windows, Linux or Mac OS X. The reader runs at usb2 speed if connected to a suitably fast usb port. I've used my Kingston MobileLite with numerous sd cards, including SDHC and micro-SDHC (8Gb) and it has worked with them all.

My only problem with the MobileLite is the fact that it is a little fragile when opened (to insert/remove cards) and could get broken if not careful.

Toshiba 1TB USB 3.5" External Desktop Hard Drive
Toshiba 1TB USB 3.5" External Desktop Hard Drive

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Getting into the Toshiba 1TB drive, 23 Mar 2009
A well-made external usb hard drive at an excellent price. The enclosure is fanless, and is made of aluminium to take heat away from the internal disk. The separate power brick seems to be a good quality one. It came formatted ready to use on Windows and had over a gigabyte of Toshiba utilities on it. I actually wanted to use it with Linux, so I reformatted it with EXT3 and XFS file-systems instead.

I had another purpose for the disk drive inside the enclosure (put it into a home server) so after a few weeks of use, I decided to void the warranty and open up the unit. There are about 12 screws holding it all together and it isn't difficult to open. Inside is a Green Economy Western Digital 8Mb cache SATA hard drive. I have put a Maxtor 320Gb SATA drive into the enclosure instead (The SATA data and power connections matched up perfectly to the Western Digital ones).

Happy with my purchase - a re-usable SATA enclosure and a very cheap 1Tb hard drive which I was able to re-purpose elsewhere.

SanDisk 8GB Micro Cruzer USB Flash Drive
SanDisk 8GB Micro Cruzer USB Flash Drive

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sandisk Cruzer 8gb usb, 1 Feb 2009
The Sandisk Cruzer 8gb is a fast-performing usb 2.0 flash drive. It comes with a FAT32 partition. There is a small hidden bit of flash I think (for the U3 boost technology) and it comes with some free U3 Windows software on it. I wanted to use the drive with Linux, and so decided to remove the U3 technology. It is easy to do this "if you have access to a Windows machine". You connect up the drive to the Windows machine and start the uninstall program which is on the flash drive (I think this accesses the hidden bit of flash on the drive). Once this is done you have a completely 'virgin' 8gb usb drive.

The drive has a pop-out usb connector accessed by a sliding white switch
on the side. The usb connector clicks into place once fully extended. There is an LED inside the white switch which lights up when the drive is active (and flickers during file transfers).

I installed a Debian Linux Live usb image (google for those search terms) into the first 700Mb, and repartitioned the remaining 7.3Gb with ext2 file-system. This gives me a great method for booting up a machine into Linux (access Firefox, OpenOffice, and other apps easily) and also have a respectable space to copy files to and from (let's say if your Windows operating system refuses to boot up on your hard drive).

A bootable Linux Live distribution on a decent flash drive (like this one) starts up really quickly and performs well. If you have a DHCP enabled network (and it recognises your network adaptor) then you'll be on the network immediately (and able to browse the internet).

Note that booting up off a flash drive probably requires you to press function keys on your pc when at the BIOS stage of starting up the machine. (Typically this might be F1, F2, F11, F12 or Delete key).

If you want to restore a flash drive to FAT32 or use NTFS file-system, then you can do so from the Windows XP control panel, administrative tools, computer management, disk management.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 4, 2009 3:30 PM BST

BlueNext Super Mini Bluetooth USB Adapter Dongle
BlueNext Super Mini Bluetooth USB Adapter Dongle
Offered by Gadgetz-UK
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Bluetooth dongle, 1 Feb 2009
The Bluenext dongle is a cheap, good-value, small usb bluetooth dongle. I bought it to use with an Acer Aspire One netbook, running Debian Linux 5 (Lenny). It works fine with Linux. I have used it with a blue-tooth GPS receiver, and was able to navigate with it (TangoGPS). [Note: The Acer Aspire One's default Linpus Lite OS isn't great for bluetooth compatibility, in case anyone intends to use it with Linpus.]

No Title Available

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-designed Juicer, 11 Jan 2009
The Magimix Le Duo is a great centrifugal juicer. This is my second juicer, bought Christmas 2008. My previous one was okay but this one is better.

There are two versions of the "Le Duo". This one is cheaper (approx £25 cheaper), and the only difference is the more expensive one has a chrome base. Both versions have the same upper sections which are made of tough plastic and stainless steel, so the extra money merely pays for cosmetic appeal.

This juicer works slightly differently to my old one. The old one had a juice jug and a pulp collector. The pulp would come out somewhat damp retaining some of the juice which you were intending to extract. The juice jug would hold frothy juice.

The "Le Duo" works better. The pulp is collected inside on the surface of the centrifugal spinner. It stays there until you use the scraper arm to remove it straight into your bin. The pulp comes out drier, because it has been spun around more. It is more efficient (you get more juice per vegetable) than the typical centrifugal model. I noticed that there is less froth with this "Le Duo" compared to my previous juicer. (Froth = air introduced into the extracted juice, which isn't desirable.)

There are less parts to clean with this juicer than the typical competitor. The juice goes straight from the pouring spout into your drinking glass. There is no pulp collection jug. In all you have 4 juicer parts to clean (plus your drinking glass, and the scraper). It takes up less space in your kitchen than a typical alternative.

You can juice a variety of fruit and vegetables with this. For instance apples, pears, carrots, celery, cucumber, oranges, lemons, ginger and broccoli are all suitable.

Avoid things like banana, avocado, wheatgrass, spinach or leaves. This type of juicer wasn't designed for juicing them. (Avocado and banana are better handled in a smoothie maker).

One of the better centrifugal juicers available.

RTX DUALphone 3088 for Skype (No PC Required)
RTX DUALphone 3088 for Skype (No PC Required)
Price: £49.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great standalone Skype phone, 11 Jan 2009
The RTX Du@lphone 3088 is a great phone. I have had one for over a year, and this Christmas (Dec 2008) decided to buy an additional handset. The base-station plugs into your landline connection, a free network point on your home router, and a power point. It provides cordless Skype and landline calling with up to 4 handsets.

Some of the things I really like about it:
1) The battery life is excellent (you can leave it off the charging station for approx 7 days).
2) The batteries are standard AAA ones. A pair in the handset. Easy to replace when they eventually begin to lose charge.
3) It comes with a great colour display, and a sensible easy-to-use menu.
4) An LED on the handset flashes, if you missed a call.
5) There is a large call log. You can go through days of calls, viewing the date, time, contact/phone no.
6) All your Skype contacts are listed similar to the computer application. You can easily see who is online and able to take your calls.
7) It is very handy having an always-on Skype phone, which doesn't need your PC to be running to make or accept calls.
8) Good call quality. (plus there's a headset socket if you wish to use one).
9) Separate charger-station and base-station. For instance you can keep the phone on it's charger in your bedroom, and the base-station could be downstairs (next to your router).

It's a very nice device, but here are a few issues:
1) You cannot make or receive text messages over Skype with it.
2) There is no voicemail onboard, for when you aren't at home.
3) Would have preferred if it was a bit cheaper.
4) Entering contacts and numbers onto the phone (via standard numeric keypad) could be a more pleasant experience. (Maybe if there was a way to access the phone via computer?)

It's a good buy, very practical, well made and well designed.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 13, 2009 1:08 PM GMT

Acer Aspire One A110-Ab Netbook, Linpus Linux Lite version, 512MB DDR2 RAM, 8GB NAND Flash (Sapphire Blue)
Acer Aspire One A110-Ab Netbook, Linpus Linux Lite version, 512MB DDR2 RAM, 8GB NAND Flash (Sapphire Blue)

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Acer Aspire One 110aw, 8 Dec 2008
The Acer Aspire One is a great alternative to a full size laptop. It is small and light enough (< 1kg) to put into my backpack. The external power supply is also small and light. It comes preconfigured with OpenOffice suite, Firefox, Mail Client, Games, Media Player, Photo Viewer, and so on.

The operating system is 'Linpus Linux' which is based on Redhat Fedora 6 distribution. One of the first things you are probably going to want to do is to enable the advanced menu. Google for "acer aspire one advanced menu" and select a suitable link for instructions.

There is an "Add/Remove Software" application in the advanced menu, and an enormous amount of free software is available. Quake 3 Arena is available for download (shareware maps), and plays at impressive speeds. GIMP photo editor, Skype (the AA1 works great as a Skype video phone with onboard mic, webcam, and speakers), Audicity audio software, GPS Drive navigation, Wine (windows emulator), the list goes on.

For those that want to use a different distribution of Linux on it, the device works well with Ubuntu (google for "ubuntu unr wiki") or Debian. After I tried these distributions I returned the machine to Linpus via a separate computer, the Linpus install cd, and an usb stick (1Gb+). The install cd gives the option to build a bootable usb stick.

Linpus' networking (wireless and wired) works out-of-the-box with typical DHCP networks (i.e. your router provides an ip address). The network manager tool makes it easy to choose which wireless network to join. I found the AA1 had good wireless range and performed well.

The 512Mb ram (soldered) onboard is perfectly adequate for typical netbook usage. I altered the desktop to standard XFCE using "Desktop Switcher" application, and ran Compiz '3D' desktop, Firefox, OpenOffice, and Quake 3 Arena with no problems on 512mb ram. For upgraders, it is possible to add an extra 1Gb sodimm (for 1.5Gb total). I've done this, following Tnkgrl's video tutorial, but do not recommend it unless you are suitably skilled. Haven't noticed much improvement (to typical applications) following the upgrade, but it will allow me to load up lots of apps into memory without slow-down.

I like the fact that the Acer is very cheap, looks good (the screen is great), well built, has 2 SD card slots, is very light, runs ~ 2.5 hours on standard battery (light use), has a lot of applications available (easy to install from internet), runs responsively (Atom processor) and is good for tweaking.

Nokia 6680 Smartphone
Nokia 6680 Smartphone

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's a great all-round 3G smartphone, 21 May 2007
I've been a fan of Symbian phones for a few years. There is a large amount of free and commercial software available for them. The 6680 comes with a glut of decent software onboard. Document viewers, Web Browser, File Explorer, MP3 Player, Movie Player, Photo viewer, Email client, and so on.

This was one of the early Symbian mobiles to work properly with TomTom navigation software, and Route 66 too. You just need the software and a Bluetooth GPS receiver, and satellite navigation works nicely.

It has a decent easy-to-use interface, with hot-keys that you can program to pull up your contact list or other programmable functions. I find it works well for one-handed use, and the screen is big, colourful and nice to use. For once, Nokia have sensibly made the RS-MMC flash memory card hot-swappable, i.e. you can take it out whilst the phone is on.

The 6630 was Nokia's first 3G mobile. Then the 6680 came out, with a nicer design, better buttons, front and rear camera - basically a "fixed 6630". The 3G signal does have reception problems and mobile providers usually sign you up to a 3G account (falls back to 2G when out of 3G zone) when you have a 3G-capable phone. I would say any 3G phone has similar issues. When used on a pure 2G network (in a reasonable signal area) it has no problems with signal whatsoever.

The camera might be "only 1.3 megapixels" but it is a good quality 1.3 rather than a bad quality 2,3 megapixel. It has an led flash for taking pictures in less than optimal conditions (e.g. the pub).

The mobile comes with Nokia's horrible sync software, a sync cable, and a pair of stereo headphones (the 6680 makes a commendable MP3 player). On that note, it plays MP3 and MIDI files very nicely and with a decent volume over the speaker or headphone.

There are better mobiles nowadays, (I'm quite keen on the HTC range) but this is a commendable, well-made, works well, decent model that first came out a couple of years ago.

Sharp Zaurus SL-C1000. Keyboard-based PDA with 4GB Hard drive
Sharp Zaurus SL-C1000. Keyboard-based PDA with 4GB Hard drive

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Sharp Zaurus range brought Linux computing capabilities to a PDA size device, 21 May 2007
Just commenting on the Tim R review, and generally about the Zaurus. The Zaurus is pretty much a full computer sitting on a pda. Yes, it has it's limitations, but what do you expect from a device that fits into your jacket pocket (and this model came out some 2 years ago).

The video playback capabilities can be improved by viewing video files which are optimised for the Zaurus. It can handle many formats (mpg, avi, divx, xvid) via mplayer software. It can play videos happily across a network share (i.e. you set up a pc with Windows file-sharing, you use Samba client on the Zaurus to connect to your PC share, and then you play the video or mp3 file over your home wireless network).

You can also expand the Zaurus with 2Gb SD card or 4Gb+ CF card, for playing media files (on the move). I'm surprised Tim R isn't happy that this is sufficient for his needs. The "power" user could use a powered usb hub and an external usb hard drive, or could carry a few SD or CF cards in order to boost the internal capacity.

The keyboard is excellent, although small and I have some solutions for Tim R to be able to access the Zaurus with a bigger keyboard. Method 1 - get a small usb keyboard and plug it into the usb host port. Method 2 - use a Infrared keyboard. Method 3 - use a Bluetooth keyboard. Method 4 - set up VNC Server on the Zaurus, and then type on it from your PC.

The main point of a Zaurus device is a full Linux computer you can fit in your pocket (and thus carry anywhere). It can run all the typical Linux applications, such as web server (Apache), database (MySQL), file-sharing (Samba), programming (C, PHP, Perl, Python, etc), mail server, ssh daemon and client, ftp server and client, Bash script, even X-Windows.

It has a great form-factor (jog dial), portrait or landscape display, 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, for using as an mp3 player on the move. I have used mine with qpeGPS and bluetooth card/bluetooth gps receiver for satellite navigation (also GPS CF card can be used). You can connect all manner of usb and CF based peripherals to it (CF ethernet, CF GPS, CF Wireless Lan, CF Modem, CF Bluetooth), USB keyboard, mouse, hard drive.

The file manager application is okay for navigating files, but there are alternatives you can download. Also you have a full Linux shell via terminal program (or Konsole app). All the standard "ls, cp, grep, cat, mv" commands work). I use mine on wireless network at home, and then with bluetooth (or infrared) and my mobile (GPRS) to get internet access. The web browser built in is pretty good, and you can expand it with alternative browsers. At one point I think I had 5 browsers set up.

For the retro gamer there are numerous emulators you can run as well as Doom, Scumm. There are numerous games built specifically for the Zaurus, although it isn't as popular as it could have been since it (Cxxxx range) never got released to the European market by Sharp.

I could go on...

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