Saturday, April 15, 2006

Music to me ears

Check out for a simple idea done in a really cool way.

You enter a bunch of your favourite songs or artists into the music player to create custom streamed "radio stations" that include songs based on your musical preferences. As each song is played you can give it a thumbs up or down to refine the suggestions - as the site says, it's like someone saying "Oh, if you like this song then you should listen to this". It's very cool, and also very effective, as it's playing some damn fine songs for me.

Sometimes, inbetween all the crap out there, you find a really cool, useful feature on the Internet, adn I think this is one of those times.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

New toy

So, I went ahead and bought a Nokia 770 from that very handy source of obscure gadgets, ebay. The 770 is on Nokia's website, but as far as I know it is not in shops, not even mobile phone shops, who gave me very strange looks when I asked abou the Nokia Internet Tablet that wasn't a phone.

My slim justification for the 770 was as an alternative to a cheap laptop for people to use for web surfing and email around the house. I was intrigued by the operating system too - Maemo - a version of Linux, and I thought I should get some more Linux exposure after my last attempts to use it on a laptop a few years back.

It is a very cool bit of hardware - nice and silver, with wifi, bluetooth and a colour screen. It comes with a hard slide on/off cover that also acts as trigger to turn on/off the screen and keys, which is a very cool bit of design. The screen is very good - about 4 inches wide with a resolution of 800x600, so it is nice and sharp. I noticed one of the new Origami/UMPC devices has a 7 inch screen with a resolution of only 800x480, so the 770 compares well there. It supports RS-MMC cards for memory expansion - SD cards would have been nicer, but you can pick up a 1GB RS-MMC card for around £30 online, so it's not so bad. What it could benefit from is a faster processor and more internal memory, because once you start doing more than one thing with the 770, things start to slow down noticeably. The battery life is quoted as 3hrs when browsing with a wifi connection, and I'd say that's about right...

On the software side, the 770 looks good. It has an Opera-based browser, an email client, supports playing MP3s and streamed audio - I hadn't tried internet radio before but the 770 is ideal for it. The web browser, like much of the software on the 770, takes a little while to startup, but once it's running it renders pages very well, with little need for horizontal scrolling thanks to the screen's high resolution. In full screen mode the browser is a pleasure to use. The email client is, however, a load of old pants. It is slow to open emails and doesn't support any filtering rules - it's like an email client from 10 years ago. Other included apps like the image viewer work well. The 770 also connects to my Nokia 6230i phone via bluetooth for web access, and also, quite handily, can view photos and videos directly from the phone, which is a nice feature. It's crashed a few times - the web browser has suddenly "dinked" off when opening up Bloglines, the email client has done weird things too, but rebooting the whole device takes only a minute or so, so it's quick to get restarted again.

All in all, it's a strange device. Although it's a Nokia, it's not a phone, let alone a smartphone. It's not a PDA - it has no organiser/alarm functionality built in, but there are PIM applications that you can download and install. It's not a laptop replacement - the touchscreen is good but the onscreen keyboard is painful for data entry and the handwriting recognition is hit and miss. So what is it? Well for picking up, connecting to a wireless broadband connection and surfing web sites it is very good. The instant startup and handy size make it much easier to use for casual web browsing than firing up a laptop and strolling round the house while browsing. The multi-tasking, as long as you don't have too many applications running, is very handy, having come from a Palm background it is quite a revelation to switch from a browser to an email and back again.

Generally, the hardware is great, but the software feels very "Version 1.0" - there's an upgrade to the operating system, providing VOIP and IM support scheduled for sometime soon. It's a Linux device, and if you want you can get to the command-line and do lots of tecchie stuff if you care to, but also the applications are generally easy to use - you don't need to care that it's a Linux device if you don't want to.

Will I keep it? Not sure.....I think it's a great idea, it's a lot cheaper than an Origami device, and is still cheaper than a half-decent laptop, although not by much these days. The battery life could be better, the processor should be faster - it's not a "snappy" device, which isn't a big deal for general use, but it gives the impression that it is an underpowered device.

I bought it for surfing the web with, and it works really well for that, but I think I should get it to do more to justify keeping it - it should be possible to rip some movies to watch on it, so it could have a secondary use as a PMP to keep the kids quiet in the back of the car on long trips maybe. I notice it is being bundled free with some wireless routers in the US - that seems like an ideal way to get the Nokia 770 out to people, because at the moment it doesn't seem to be being marketed to regular people, just geeks, and it's certainly handy enough to be used by regular people and deserves to have a wider audience, even if it is a little rough around the edges.