Sun, 26 Oct 2008

Nokia Internet Tablet battery life

I wonder when Nokia is going to run up against the concept of "applications which are so compelling you want to run them all day long" and "A battery which cannot run all day long, and which cannot be changed out without rebooting"?

A truly useful device will have an external battery sufficient to run most peripherals and the CPU constantly all day long. Power saving is for weenies who aren't actually using the device. It will also have an internal battery sufficient for occasional use as long as you recharge daily, and enough to tide you over while you're switching external batteries.

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Mon, 05 Nov 2007

Free Chordite status

I thought I'd report on the status of my offer of two free keyboards. Curiously, I only received three keyboard requests. I meant to impose a barrier to entry, but maybe not that high a barrier!

I decided not to choose, but instead to make three keyboards. I have ordered and received the electronic parts. I've decided that while I might be able to produce keyboards from the hand photocopies the winners sent in, it's too uncertain a process. Still tinkering with the design, but I think I've settled more on a "kit" for a keyboard.

The trouble with the Chordite is that it really needs to fit your hand. And yet, as a portable device, it needs to be sturdy. Adjustable yet fixed. Malleable yet unchanging. This is not a new problem for people to have faced. Screws, nuts and bolts, glue, clay, plaster, wood, plastic, metal, and rock are all substances which can be changed and yet which are sturdy.

Hands are variable in two ways that matter: in finger length and spacing and in palm width. The chordite needs to be stretchy in both those dimensions, and yet, if you drop it, it shouldn't fall into pieces. It needs to be lightweight so that you can carry it. In order to make all this work, I think that I'll put the switches on little PC boards interconnected with 18 gauge copper wires, covered with a layer of polycapralone. The copper for stiffness, and the polycapralone for sturdiness.

I've done some testing, and an ordinary hair dryer puts out enough heat to soften a fairly thick layer of polycapralone. Once softened, the keys can be moved around, with the copper wire keeping the keys in position while the polycapralone is soft.

Once I've made the PC board with the bluetooth module at the heart of this keyboard, I'll ship these to the lucky winners. We'll see what they have to say. If it's not good, then back to the drawing board.

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Fri, 05 Oct 2007

N800 External Battery

The internal N800 battery is pretty studly, but there are contexts in which I don't want to have to swap out the battery for a spare. Have to reboot the machine to do that and if you're trying to run a program for a long time or continuously, that's not acceptable. Plus you have to notice that the battery has run low and replace it.

So, I have made myself an external battery holder. It's an "External Li-ion Battery Pack". Input is 5V, 500ma. Output is 5V, 6.8Wh. By way of comparison, the internal BP-5L battery is 1.5Wh, so this battery has four times the power. Cost me $26 bucks postpaid from CaBattery. Comes with a power adapter with a standard-size Nokia coax connector, a USB to coax connector (which can also be used to charge the battery from any USB port), and a set of coax to (whatever) adapters including an N-series coax.

I scavenged an old USB cable connector and got an N-series coaxial power adapter from a local electronics store. Cut the plastic off both of them and greatly shortened the cables, being careful to check and double-check the polarity (center positive for the coax). Both cables were marked red (postive) and black (negative) so it was no trouble.

I have a supply of polycaprolactone (capa for short) which I purchased from Shape-Lock also sold as Polymorph or Friendly Plastic. I covered the N800 and external battery with aluminum foil because the capa will stick to plastic. The cable needed to be covered with plastic, so being careful not to short out the cable to the aluminum foil, I opened two holes for either end of the cable and plugged it in.

The capa is soft like modeling clay and hardens like nylon when cool. Thin pieces cool off pretty quickly, so you don't get much work time. I wrapped the capa sheet around the back of the N800, covering the external battery and wrapping around to the front. I purposefully made the right-hand wraps thicker to hold the cable and connectors in place. The left-hand wraps are thinner, so I could bend them to fetch the N800 from its embrace.

As it turns out, I didn't use enough capa, so quickly heated up another batch and made the corner fingers and covered the battery a little better. It will stick to itself if both surfaces are reasonably warm.

I still need to cut some holes for the external battery charger and power monitor. Also need a hole to fetch out the stylus and connect the headset. Capa cuts pretty easily as long as you don't heat it up. It softens then and melts rather than cuts.

I've run it on the battery mostly idling but wifi-connected for nearly two days before the external battery ran out and I noticed the internal battery start to lose its charge. I'm sure I could have gotten a full two days out of it. I expect to get ten hours of solid use out of the combination.

UPDATE 8/20/2008: Note that the N800 and N810's power supply must be within certain limits. See Nokia's charging interface specification.

Hover for a caption or click on the thumbnail for a larger picture:
front view (Thumbnail) top botton view (Thumbnail)
coax power connector lump (Thumbnail) removing the N800 (Thumbnail)
coax power connector (Thumbnail) USB power connector (Thumbnail)
battery coax in and USB out (Thumbnail) cable (Thumbnail)

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Tue, 11 Sep 2007

Why a unibutton?

Why does the N800 have a unibutton and a hidden button on the top? The 770 had three separate buttons on the top. The left button is now in the middle on the N800. The rocker switch (press left, press right) is now split into two buttons, on left and right. The power menu button on the 770 was arguably too easy to press, so I count the hidden button on the N800 an improvement.

But to merge the two buttons into one unibutton which is practically impossible to distinguish?? Why? The only way to distinguish between the buttons is to slide your finger back and forth a few times, trying to feel the subtle slope from the left to the middle and back down on the right. Only then can you take a guess at which button your finger is on.

Going back to the 770's buttons would be an improvement. Let's hope that the N830 (or whatever) makes that change.

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Wed, 05 Sep 2007

Never use a warning

Aza Raskin writes Never Use a Warning, in which I count him as agreeing with my assessment of the Connection Manager's warnings.

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Tue, 04 Sep 2007

Why is there no IP address on the connection menu?

IT2007 has added the signal strength to the connection menu (underneath the 'world' icon on the applets). Yay! But why isn't the IP address listed there as well? Why do I need to bring up the Connection Manager, and then use its "IP Address" entry to tell me the IP address? It's not like the connection menu is full or anything. It's not even a variable-length menu.

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Sat, 01 Sep 2007

Free Chordites!

I need more experience building my Chordite keyboard. So, I will build two custom keyboards for two Nokia Internet Tablet users who send me a letter with a photocopy of their hand along with an explanation of why they should get a free keyboard. Note that this keyboard only supports Linux, and it's only been tested for the Nokia N800. Send the letter to:

Free Chordite Offer
Crynwr Software
521 Pleasant Valley Rd.
Potsdam, NY 13676

Include your return shipping address, and email address so that I may notify you of your acceptance. This offer closes September 10th, so if your letter may take that long to get to me, send it now. I considered doing this on a time priority basis, but I want to get the keyboard to the people who want it the most, not the people who happen to read it first. Plus, I need the hand scan no matter what.

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Thu, 19 Apr 2007

Connection Manager UI issues

The Nokia Internet Tablet Connection Manager has UI issues. Since they're all separately fixable, I'll give each one its own paragraph.

When I want to go online away from home, I frankly couldn't give a darn which access point I associate with. Thus, I want to have an option in the "Select connection" dialog which says "Any working connection". It should go through the available connections, one by one, until it finds one which returns DHCP information that successfully lets it ping the default router, and resolve some standard name like "testconnection.nokia.com".

The previous paragraph's issue, if fixed, would make this one go away, but I'm treating them independently. When I select a connection, if it isn't listed in the Connections, I am immediately offered the opportunity to save the connection. Well, what if it doesn't work? That's an extra interaction with negative value to me. Put "Save connection" on the menu for the "World" icon.

The speaker volume is immediately apprehensible from the number of bars. The backlight intensity is immediately apprehensible from the number of bars. A Nokia cellphone gives me the signal strength in the number of bars right on the main screen, all the time. So why is the wifi signal strength not visible in the icon?? It's nice in IT2007 that it's there underneath the menu, as well as the AP name. But that's not half good enough.

The Connections dialog has a sillyness which is endemic to Internet Tablet dialogs. If you pick a connection, and then Delete it, it asks you if you want to delete it! Stupid computer! I just told you exactly what I want you to do! Weren't you paying attention?? Yes, I know that this is an attempt to save people from deleting connections that they actually wanted. So the UI designers put a two-step process to protect people from accidents. That's what's wrong. Next paragraph explains the fix.

The Connections dialog problem should be fixed. When you click on "Delete", it marks that connection for deletion by drawing its name with strikeout. It's not deleted until you click "Done". That's the two-step needed to actually delete. If you select a deleted connection, the Edit button is greyed-out, and the Delete button becomes "Undelete". Or maybe that's wrong, and the Edit button causes undelete?

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Tue, 30 Jan 2007

N800 ordering from NokiaUSA.com

Got my discount code (thanks, Nokia!) and immediately ordered it from Nokia USA. I gather that some people had trouble entering the discount code, but I didn't. Order went through, credit card got charged, everything looked fine. However, on the trackit page they gave me in the confirmation email, I had "Order status:" followed by whitespace. I was patient, but to no avail. The order got stuck somewhere in the process. I had to call NokiaUSA at 1-866-596-6542 option 5. The call center staff gave it a "kill -HUP" and now it's been shipped. Just FYI in case this happens to you.

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Sun, 21 Jan 2007

Hireling priests

In my religion (Quakerism), we have no hired professional priests. The problem with hired priests is that their job gets mutated from one of helping the flock struggle with the burden of discerning Gods will, into one of keeping their job. The fire gets lost.

I think that Nokia has a similar problem with the 770. When you have a large full-time staff, they lose their fire. And yet, what else is Nokia to do? If they are going to build hardware, it needs software, and they surely cannot rely on the goodness of strangers for their software, can they? And that is exactly what they are already doing, by using the Linux kernel.

So lets explore this fantasy, wherein Nokia builds hardware and the rest of us write the software. I am firmly of the opinion that open source solves some problems poorly. The work that Tigert does (art and design) is not done well by the ordinary developer. If left to their own devices, they will also neglect usability.

There is definitely room for a paid staff. But I think that if you want to write the best software, most of it has to be written by the people who will be using it. Of course, that leaves Nokia with a chicken and egg problem. With a new product like the 770, how do they have users without any initial software?

Like all open source projects, you need to prime the pump. That is best done through contractors. Pay them to write the initial build, and then get out of the way. If the spec that they build to is fux0red in the usual way that most software designs are, it will get fixed. But in the meantime, users will at least have something which is minimally usable.

Nokia can get developer attention just as they did -- through subsidised hardware. They would also have gotten developers involved sooner, just as the OLPC has done. If you are building a really cool product, people will be lining up for early hardware. And, if they do not, then maybe the product is not as wonderful as initially conceived?

Nokia will probably not take this advice, but if they do not, I fear that they will continue to publish software that sucks.

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