My current cell phone is an LG-made Google Nexus 4, that's over 4 years old. It is showing its age. Increasingly, the screen stays black when I turn it on; the only recourse is holding down the Power button until it reboots. Its CPU is struggling with today's app load, and the default camera app sometimes crashes but more often takes a long time to be ready.
A replacement, clearly, is needed.
At one time, I would have got the same phone as I got for my wife and my mother-in-law, the $200 Moto G with smart cover. It is a sensible, mid-range phone that works well enough but I'd like something flashier. What irritates me, however, is how tech publications these days trumpet $400 as the normal mid-level price; whatever happened to $200 for a good, unlocked phone?
Then I discovered that Chinese phone manufacturers are doing just that. Phones with the latest technology going for around $200. After some digging, I settled on the UMI Super. Yip, that's the name: Super. I bought it through eBay from China.
Sadly, it will take another month to arrive by ocean freighter.
It is any good? I won't know until it is in my hand, but in the meantime the prognosis is good. UMI has a reputation of putting in high end components and attaching a low price tag. Best of all, the company says that today (Dec 24) it is releasing Android 7.0 for the Super.
Here is the spec list:
Unusually, the company uses brand name components:
The camera is not new, having been released last May. This may explain why the price has dropped from the original $250 to under $200 today. As one reviewer put it, we're getting for $200 for what Samsung charges $700.
Plus, the Super comes in a nice tin box.
Minolta XE-7 film camera
I wrote in an earlier blog about me re-acquiring the only 35mm SLR (single lens reflex) camera I ever bought -- the Minolta XE-7, in fall of 1976. (I had sold it to acquire a zoom lens for my wife's much lighter Olympus SLR.) Earlier this year in a bout of nostalgia, I found one with the standard f1.4 50mm lens in near-perfect condition on eBay and snapped it up. (See figure below; image source Casual Camera Collector.)
Then it came time for me to actually use it. Like, put in a roll of film and take pictures. First problem: where do I get film? Well, on eBay obviously, but delivery times are too long these days. It turns out that the only outlet in our part of the world to still support film is a regional pharmacy chain called London Drugs. They sell film (now only FujiFilm) and do the processing -- negs only, prints, and/or scanned images on CDs.
When I got the XE-7 the first time in 1976 (it was called "The Crown Jewel of the SR Line" by one reviewer), London Drugs had just launched their own line of slide film. For $2.99, we got the roll of 24-exposure film and processing included! $3.99 for 36-exposure. That was dirt cheap, even for the mid-1970s -- half the price of any one else at the time -- and made experimenting with film eminently affordable for this university student. I last used film in the summer of 1999, when I bought my first digital camera.
Fast forward 17 years, and I am getting reacquainted with the organic joy of using a heavy-duty high-end film camera. Like hand drafting, it just feels r-i-g-h-t -- a joy in the job.
So I shot the roll full with photos in British Columbia and Alberta -- not knowing at all how any photo had turned out -- and then came the sticker shock: film and processing (with images on CD) came to $20 for the 24 pix. Yikes!
Using this film camera will be a rare thing from now on.
HP TouchPad Running WebOS
HP is a big company that tries lots of things and is really successful in a few, like sales of printers and ink cartridges and computers. One of its failures was an attempt to counter the Android/iOS duopoly with its 2011 purchase of what was left of the company who made PalmOS. HP renamed it WebOS, launched a tablet called the TouchPad (see figure at left, sourced from TechFever), and then shut down the entire project after just six months of poor sales and poor reviews. I knew there was trouble when an HP vp was scheduled to speak about WebOS at a Linux conference I was attending, but then the topic was changed last-minute to something else.
WebOS was sold to LG, who now uses it in some of their smartTVs. There is, of course, the open source version of WebOS at http://www.openwebosproject.org, sponsored by LG; the last post, however, on the user forum was made more than a year ago.
A sad story for those of us who survived the 1990s with our beloved Palm Pilots -- beloved because those diminutive devices did things that today's hyper-marketed Android and iOS devices still can't.
When HP sold off the remaining inventory of TouchPads for $99, I ordered one through a local big box store, but the order was never confirmed. Earlier this year, I searched eBay and found one that was never unopened. When it arrived at my home, I was so in awe of the last ever "PalmOS" portable device that I left the box unopened for months.
I finally opened it for my birthday. The packaging is very nicely done by HP, the sort of thing they normally reserve for their high-end laptops. The tablet is standard by today's design norms: 10" screen, power and volume buttons, microUSB, and a physical home button.
It is unusual in a few areas. The USB charger is round, like a cylinder, and the USB cable featured a large chrome dot to indicate how it should be plugged into the tablet. The table is heavy, the heaviest I've ever held.
When it came to start the TouchPad, it asked me for the language I prefer and then attempted to contact HP's severs to set up the account and complete the startup. And this is where I say, "The tablet is frozen in time." HP no longer operates the servers, and from the name of the operating system ("WebOS") this was to be a cloud-connected device. HP named the first release of Web0s "v3.0", perhaps as a tip of the hat to PalmOS.
Fortunately, the wizkids on the intertubes developed a workaround that involves a fair amount of work to fool the device into starting without contacting HP's servers. See http://forums.webosnation.com/hp-touchpad/317164-activation-bypass-touchpad.html. It worked, and I can now examine the contents of the abandoned device.
WebOS introduced to the UX world the concept of cards, which has since been adopted by Google in its Web pages and in Android. Press the Home button to see a carousel of cards showing the current state of every running app. (See figure below, sourced from Daily Tech.) Then flick through them to get to the app you want. Press the Home button a second time to access the launcher, which lists all the apps available on the tablet. Apps are written in Enyo, now an HMTL5 framework for all devices (see http://enyojs.com).
In some ways, the tablet is modern, despite being five years old. It has bluetooth and Wifi, it can connect to services like Dropbox and Exchange. Other specs are definitely 2011-ish:
But otherwise it frozen: no software can be updated, nor can the OS be updated by HP. The online backup system is, naturally, non-functional. Well, there is an exception. Clever users have been able to install Android, and so keep the deice functional. I won't, as I want a record of this unique device; it is w-a-y too old and heavy to replace the lithe Android tablets I use today.
In the end, I was disappointed by the TouchPad. It is almost too heavy to hold, its reliance on HP servers an Achilles Heel (even if WebOS had broken through to success), and I actually did not care for the WebOS interface. (A better one is Blackberry's OS interface.)
It's the future, don't you know
Autodesk ceo Carl Bass responds to a question from a financial analyst during this week's quarterly conference call. Comments are edited for brevity and clarity.
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Financial Analyst: You have some very interesting things to say about your future architecture with the Quantum project. There are numerous references to what you talked about as a common data environment, new [software] architecture, and so forth.
Carl Bass: This goes back a number of years, we have firm belief that engineering software is going to move to the cloud -- all design and engineering software will be in the cloud. We started to demonstrate that with the number of products we talked about some, like BIM 360. We’ve shown kind of the basic architecture with products like Fusion 360, and how they take advantage of the connectivity and the compute power of the cloud.
As I have said before, while everybody is rightfully focused on the business model transition of our existing business and how we are using it to attract new customers, what I think people will be surprised as you look out the next couple of years, is the size of the cloud business that we build, and how we really expands our TAM [total available market].
I have talked in the past about it being a place for collaboration, as well as giving access to virtually unlimited amounts of compute power, which is something our users demand, and so it’s just a natural fit. It's unusual that engineering has been one of the slowest to move to the cloud, but we see lots of evidence of hitting the tipping point, not just in the U.S. but other places in terms of customers willingness to adopt it.