Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sony Ericsson W810i

All my previous phones were made either by Nokia or Ericsson. I was generally happy with both brands. This is the first Ericsson phone I have since Ericsson and Sony merged their cell phone products.

The W810i has many nice features, and if you look at the specs, this is an rather impressive phone. However, after using it for couple of months, I was deeply disappointed with some of those features in practice. I'll try to summarize some of the good and bad sides, in no particular order.

The phone is relatively small. Not as thin as some other phones out there. My old old Ericsson phones (without Sony in the name) were actually thinner. But they had external antenna too, and no built-in digital camera.

The built-in digital camera is actually usable with its 2 mega pixels. It can even focus. As opposed to standard (for mobile phones) low resolution, fixed-focus cameras built in many of the older phones, this is a huge jump in quality. W810i even has light/flash thingie, which makes it even more usable. However, light/flash has to be turned on manually for each shot. It will not fire by itself automatically in low-light conditions. My guess is that this was deliberate design decision to extend battery life. There's 4x digital zoom, which is my only real objection in this area. If the phone had the real optical zoom, even with smaller range (2x or 3x) it would be way more usable than "fake" digital zoom.

"W" in the name comes from the "Walkman", I guess. In this case, "Walkman" refers to MP3 player. I haven't used it much, but it seems to be usable. Not really a replacement for your iPod, but it will do the job. The phone itself has no 3.5mm headphones connector. However adapter for 3.5mm connector as well as set of headphones are included with the phone. The headphones adapter also acts as a hands-free (it has microphone) and has a button for answering the calls and a clip. Included with the phone is a USB cable. For transferring your MP3 collection to it, I guess. Worth mentioning is that the phone has a speaker, so you don’t need to have headphones to listen to your MP3s. The quality of sound through bult-in speaker is not much though. But that's to be expected. All in all, very nice.

Phone comes with 256 MB memory stick. Which is more than generous, compared with my 6 mega pixel Canon digital camera that came with ridiculously small 16 MB SD card. 256 MB memory stick is more than enough for 2 mega pixel camera. It's kind of on a small side of things for storing your MP3 collection onto it. Couple of albums, and you'll start running out of space. If you want to use this phone as MP3 player, you'll probably want to upgrade to higher capacity memory stick sooner than later.

So far so good. Now some big disappointments. Bluetooth. One of the things I use on daily basis. Something all my phones simply must have, and it simply must work flawlessly. Well, it doesn't with this phone. I've a GPS that is Bluetooth enabled and acts as hands free, and can also access address book and SMS messages on the Bluetooth enabled phones. Most of the time Bluetooth with this phone works OK, except when it doesn't. The connection between the GPS and phone drops at random times. The phone ignores the fact that my GPS disconnected from it way too often, and still displays a small "using hands free" icon, even when my GPS was turned off (not there) for a long time. I have to power cycle phone in order for it to realize my GPS disconnected from it long time ago. I'm also using Bluetooth to connect to the phone from my laptop, in order to have Internet access when on the go and far away from Wi-Fi hot spots. Mostly works fine. However, if I have another Bluetooth device connect (for example hands free), the connection between laptop and cell phone will simply freeze. This phone is supposed to support connection to multiple Bluetooth devices simultaneously. In practice, it just doesn't work reliably.

The unreliable Bluetooth is obviously my biggest grief.

Another thing I don't like is the address book. It doesn't allow storing of multiple numbers of the same type under single name. If you know somebody with for example two cell phone numbers, you are out of luck. You can't mark them both as cell phone numbers. There's option of marking a number as home, work, mobile, fax or other. And you can have exactly one of each. There's no pager type, BTW. My old address book (which is also synced to couple of other devices) contained several entries that I had to modify in order to get them accepted by W810i. You can not store email and street addresses into the address book of this phone. These are very serious limitations that should make you seriously consider the usability of this device, if you need address book synchronization.

The two orange buttons are nice. However, way too often I end up pressing the "Cingular" button, and the phone happily connects me to the Internet right away. Luckily I have generous data plan (well, not really, I still have to pay to have it), so this doesn't really cost me anything extra. But if you don't have (or don't plan to have) good data plan, it should worry you. Be careful which buttons you press. The two orange buttons are very easy to press by mistake. The one on the right that connects you to the Internet much easier than the one on the left that starts MP3 player.

The last negative thing is relatively lower sound quality of phone calls than what I'm used to. I have a feeling my old Nokia (and older Ericssons, without Sony) were much better. Or it just could be that my hearing is slowly going south. Who knows.

Conclusion. This is very nice phone. However, if you plan to use some of the phone's advanced features such as Bluetooth, you may end up disappointed. Also, if you require advanced address book, you'll be disappointed with this phone too. W810i simply doesn't cut it in those two departments. On the other hand, if you don't care about those two particular features, you'll be very happy with this phone.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Jwin I701 iLuv Digital FM Radio Transmitter

iLuv is relatively small and thin. Easy to carry around, will fit almost anywhere. Uses standard 3.5mm stereo audio connector. It is in no way iPod specific. I guess it has "i" in the name because every cool device these days has "i" in the name. You can use iLuv with anything. Laptops, MP3 players, Walkmans, CD players, anything standard. And with iPod too. Of course, if your device has non-standard connector (most mobile phones for example) you are out of luck.

It uses AAA batteries, which is not really a good thing. However, given that device is too thin for AA batteries, I'm not going to hold it against it. BTW, may I suggest rechargeables to everybody who bitches about price of AAA batteries. There is a 3V connector on it, so you don't need batteries if you have 12V to 3V adapter for car. I just got iLuv today, so can't really comment on battery life. It's been turned on for the whole afternoon with used batteries (that I pulled out of my old FM transmitter), and it still works.

It covers the full FM frequency range in 0.1 MHz increments. You can set it to virtually any unused FM slot. As far as I can tell, it stays at the dialed frequency and doesn't "pollute" reception of nearby stations (translated, your neighbors will not hate you). However, the range is very limited. You probably want to keep it no more than 10 feet or so from the antenna of your radio. If you are looking into buying it for use in car, this is not a problem. Tested. I placed it at the worst position in car, furthers away from antenna, and the sound quality was still good. If you want to transmit to the room on the other end of a house, you'll be very disappointed. It simply doesn't have enough juice for that.

There's some audible white noise when there's no input signal, but not any worse than some other devices I had in my hands. Don't expect miracles from something in this price range. If you'll be using it in a car (use most folks are buying this devices for), don't worry about it at all. Even if you have very quiet car, you won't notice this at all. On the other hand, if you are audio perfectionist, you'll probably have to spend much more money for something better.

Conclusion. iLuv is no worse then what I read in reviews for most other FM transmitters. It is way better then my old Radio Shack branded one. I got my iLuv from Amazon. Free shipping.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bike to work day

Today was bike to work day. I biked all the way from Santa Clara to Mountain View. Couple of coworkers that live near by were also biking, so I joined them. From the place where I live, it took less than one and a half hour. Not bad, considering that during rush hour on few occasions (when I was stupid enough to drive during rush hour) I spent almost an hour stuck on I-85 in a car.

I enjoyed the ride. Even though I'm totally not in shape. I haven't been biking for the last five years, just started getting into it again. The meeting point was at Lawrence and Homestead in Santa Clara, about 15-ish minutes ride from where I live. Then we cruised up the Homestead Road, and down Mary Avenue towards Middlefield Road and onto Stevens Creek Trail from there. Pace was a bit on the fast side for me. But I was able to keep it without problems. If I was alone, I would probably ride somewhat slower. It was a good thing I was in a group. Actually, on the way back from work, after we all split up, I rode to my home keeping the same pace. I kind of got into it.

Oh, and at work, there was this awesome 8-person fun-bike. The strange looking round thing with bikers sitting around in a circle. We tried it out, and rode it all over the campus. To the enjoyment of everybody that saw us. And our fun too, of course. Too bad I don't have any photos to share. Couple of people took photos of us as we were riging past them. I'll have to see if I can locate any of them.

One of my coworkers from Santa Clara seems to be doing this on a daily basis. I gave a taught to the idea of doing the same. But somehow, it's just too much time spent for getting to/from work each single day. Normally it takes me 15-20 minutes with a car (when I'm smart enough to go to work early). Which leaves more than 2 hours each day to do something else. Or bike someplace else. Where there is no cars around. But I'll definitely consider getting into a habit of biking to work once a week. It's good. It's fun. Once a week, it's not beating the same path over and over again each day. If we move to Mountain View, or someplace close enough to get biking time under half an hour, I'll definitely dump the car in favour of the bike for getting to/from work on everyday basis.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

U-Haul hitch

I just got a hitch installed on my Nissan Sentra. Not to tow anything (the car is utterly incapable of that). But to be able to attach a bike rack to the back of the car. I don't really trust those things with straps that attach to the trunk. Using the roof rack wasn't an option either. Lifting the bike to the roof might be OK for me, but not for my wife. The hitch looked like ideal solution.

So I asked at U-Haul ("the hitch experts"). They said no problem. We have a hitch that fits your car and we'll need about an hour to install it. It seemed OK. I actually expected them to finish in less than half an hour for something as simple as needing 8 bolts and nuts to attach.

Well, it ended up that custom made for my car hitch doesn't use existing holes for stabilizer bar. The holes Nissan put there specifically for attaching the hitch. Yes, Nissan Sentra comes from factory with holes for hitch installation. In case you wondered what those two holes under the spare tire are for. They needed to drill new holes using totally dull drilling bit. It took them well over half an hour just to drill those holes. Hm, probably closer to an hour. Total installation time was 3 and a half hours. For 8 bolts and nuts. It would probably be longer if it wasn't for me helping the technician towards the end. With my help, he got the last four bolts tightened in 5 minutes flat.

It's partly me to blame for not asking up front if drilling is required for the hitch they sell. Although I have a feeling nobody at U-Haul would be able to answer that question, and would probably told me it isn't required. They didn't know that they'll need to drill until they actually lifted the car and started installation. There were couple of other brands of good quality hitches available for ordering online, some of them specifically stated "no drilling required" in description. I should have went with one of those and installed it myself. Or paid local mechanic to install it.

Oh well... Lesson learned for the next time I need a hitch.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Rogers: Darn greedy wireless provider

I used Rogers as my wireless provider for years and years in Canada. Generally, I was happy with the service, and the rates were OK. Recently I somehow ended up living in the States. I asked Rogers if it would be possible to unlock my two old phones. They are old and beaten up, but still in good working condition (especially my Nokia 6310i). I kind of thought of keeping them around as spare handsets. Anyhow, I got the "no" answer. The thing that pissed me off was that they wrote in their email (quote):

"One of the reasons we cannot unlock cell phones is that there
are no guarantees that a device will function properly after it has been
unlocked".

Which is total nonsense. Especially for the two phones that I have. Years old Nokia 6310i and Nokia 3600. Apart from Rogers/AT&T logo, both completely generic. Virtually zero Rogers customizations (yes, that old). But even if there were customizations made by Rogers, the above statement would be nonsense.

They could have simply said "no", and I would be simply disappointed. Tough luck and stuff. Be more careful when buying cell phones in the future. But providing me (the customer) with made-up "technical" reasons that simply don't hold water just pissed me off. Completely.

As a side note, T-Mobile just unlocked my wife's phone after only 3 months of service (she's traveling to Europe for couple of months, and wanted to be able to use local SIM cards). T-Mobile folks said "no problemo, here's the unlock code". Way to go T-Mobile. I'll stick with you guys wherever in the world I end up living next.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Spiderman 3

Spiderman 3. What a terrible movie. Sucks. On a scale from 1 to 10, Spiderman 3 is somewhere around -10. It's almost two and a half hours long. I was looking at my watch about every 5 minutes during those two and a half hours. I was unfortunate that my wife was supposed to pick me up after the end. If it weren’t for that, I would have left after the first 15 minutes. So I had to sit through it. The only good thing about it was that I didn't have to pay for a ticket to see it.

I knew that the movie itself was going to be stupid long before I entered the theatre. But I kind of assumed there'll be a lot of action, so it might be fun. Apart from two action scenes, one at the beginning and one at the finale, there wasn't really much anything. If all you want is action in Spiderman movie, wait till it gets released on DVD. Watch the beginning, than skip all the way to the end. There isn't really much in between. Well, there are some action scenes scattered throughout the movie too. But they get kind of lost in all this Spiderman's personal life heartbreaking junk that seems to be the skeleton of the movie.

Couple of actors had decent performance, and there were a few funny lines from sidekicks from time to time. But even if they had best actors putting the best performance of their lives, it wouldn't really save this movie. The script was that bad.

Of course. There's also a "patriotic" scene where Spiderman zooms in front of giant national flag. Very patriotic. Excuse me while I stick my finger in the mouth and throw up in the bucket for a second. Don't get me wrong. I don't have anything against stripes. I do find stars to be cute. It's just that this kind of abuse of national flag (any national flag) makes me feel like throwing up.

My advice, don't waste your hard earned $$$ on this piece of crap. If you get to see it for free, fine. Not worth paying to see it.