Category Archives: Hardware

Stay away from Cruz e-Reader

Out of curiosity, I picked up a Cruz e-Reader from Fry’s for $160 this morning because it looked interesting with a 7″ 800×600 display running Android 2.0.  This device is apparently tied in with Borders bookstore and it doubles as a cheap Android tablet device.  After about 1 minute after I turned it on, I decided to seal it back up in the box so that it can be returned.

As a side note, the Black Friday sale at Fry’s Electronics stunk this year.  Nothing good in the processor memory section with no combo deals.

So what’s wrong with the device?  Well the chassis actually looked and felt nice with a rubbery non-slip surface in the back and it had an SDHC slot as well as decent speakers.  But it was completely ruined by the unresponsive performance of the user interface.  Tapping took forever to recognize and the scrolling was extremely choppy just about anywhere you went.  Yes I realize it’s positioned as an e-Reader, but I expect a bit more from a color device.  I didn’t even bother testing the video playback capability because the sluggish user interface was a nonstarter.

I’ve already got a 7″ Telechip 8902 based Android 2.1 tablet with 800×480 resolution being shipped to me and I expect a decent experience based on this video review (Telechips device form MP4nation.net was garbage, don’t bother).  Yes I realize it’s not nearly as nice as a Samsung Galaxy 7″ Tablet with 1024×600 resolution (which feels good in the hands and has a very responsive user interface), but the generic Telechip tablet is $430 cheaper and doesn’t require a data plan.  I’ve already got a MiFi for 5 Wi-Fi devices so I don’t want another data plan.

UPDATE 1/5/2011 - I ordered the Telechips based 7″ tablet from MP4nation.net and it took 6 weeks to get to me.  Then it came with a European AC power adapter which means I’ll have to buy another EU to US connector to use it.  The USB charging doesn’t work with any of the chargers I tried.

Biggest problem is that Android Market is broken on the device.

Device is far more sluggish than showed in the video and the resistive display requires a lot of pressure to make it work.  Screen surface doesn’t feel good rubbing, and the front edge feels too sharp that it is uncomfortable to hold.  It’s also a lot thicker than the Nook Color.  The back feels like cheap plastic instead of the rubbery grip on the Nook Color.

BlackFriday deals that you don’t have to wait overnight for

I’m going to be updating this post as I find more things that are interesting.

For the people who depend on mail order, NewEgg has some good stuff (via bfads.net).  Here’s a sampler.

The NewEgg Black Friday sale begins tomorrow (Wednesday – 11/24) at 1pm PST (4pm EST). A few high notes from the flyer:

Yes I know there are full blown 15.6″ laptops at Walmart for under $200, but you’ll likely have to camp out all night and risk getting trampled in the morning so I’m disinclined to recommend trying for those unless you’re a starving college student with more time than money.  $70 2TB hard drive and a $90 20″ display just seems too good to pass up if you’re looking for those things.

New 3TB hard drives run into 2.19 TB limit

This is an interesting post raising the issue with having greater than 2TB hard drives.  Normal MBR partitions (that you can boot 32 bit OSes and traditional BIOS) only support 2.19TB maximum.  This is another good reason to use an SSD for your boot drive in addition to the insanely enhanced boot and OS performance.  It also makes it simple to image your boot partition for rapid restore purposes.

Samsung Intercept Review


I recently fought with AT&T as a carrier and after reaching the end of my 2 year contract, I finally decided to change cellular providers to Sprint. While AT&T has a great reputation elsewhere, in my location, they have failed to provide 3G coverage and even have had outages as of late due to an influx of population related to the annual arrival of college students.

Coincidentally at the same time my contract was just about up, my Samsung Eternity suffered from a flaw in the screen that wouldn’t allow for me to dial from the right side of the screen. When having to dial a number composed of mostly sixes, I decided that my phone could no longer be of use and so I went in search of another phone.

I have chose to look to the Samsung Intercept as the answer to my prayers. The phone has a 3.2” touch screen with a full qwerty keyboard that is easily usable by even my larger sized hands. The Phone features the Android 2.1 Operating System with Google connectivity. Many things about the Android OS makes the phone great. After logging into my gmail account and porting over my contacts, my contacts needed some serious sorting, but everything was there and linking contacts seemed relatively easy.

The phone seemed to be sluggish at times. The processor is noticeably slower than the Epic and other more expensive phones. The phone even seems a bit more sluggish than the older Samsung Moment. Over all the feel of the phone is rather cheap compared to similar priced phones. Part of this could be because of the licensing of Google’s android. One thing that both the Epic and the Intercept seem to have issues with is home row of soft keys. I have seen an Epic which already has these keys not functioning the majority of the time. Although having access to TV as well as several apps from the Android market made the phone feel much more usable, the thoughts that the Android was a mobile internet device first and a phone second was quite frustrating. A few other items that nagged at me was the inability to change to notification settings to include custom ring tones. I could easily assign a custom ring tone to a contact, but when having 300 contacts, setting these up was a bit too much of a task than what I was willing to take on.

One additional feature that I had with my Samsung Eternity that I was hoping to get away from on my Samsung Intercept was pocket-dialing. I would lock the phone and simply by sliding the phone into my pocket, it would unlock and start surfing the web or some other task to which I was unaware of.  Apparently there is a copy of some Armymen game that I have yet to download because of this.

On a much more positive note, the integration of apps where one could easily upload and send off a picture taken by the phone is very much welcome. The Android OS makes most of this possible.  The older propriety OS on the Samsung Eternity didn’t seem to have as much integration.

While the phone has many advantages that make it a great device for connecting to the web and creating a great online experience, putting the phone functionality as a secondary feature makes the Samsung Intercept more of that phone that you want if you don’t care about talking on the phone. But for that web-centric integration device, the Intercept still does pretty well. But on a personal note, I would recommend saving your money for a HTC Evo or a Samsung Epic if you want your Android phone.  My personal bad review of the Intercept is not so much because of the weakness of the phone, but the weakness of the phone compared to the predecessor.  The Samsung Intercept screen is not as clean or crisp as the Samsung Moment.  The construction of the phone feels poorer compared to the Moment.  In fact, the inferiority of this phone almost makes me think that Samsung pushed the phone to keep an option open for the mid-range phone while really driving people to consider the Galaxy S phones.    So while this phone is in and of itself not a terrible phone, the fact that the device is a step down in quality yet in the same tier as the Moment does not please me and that is why I definitely feel that Samsung has lost my business at this time.

One late development that I have had with the phone is that the screen has a flaw and does not respond to touch in certain sections.  This is a second of Samsung’s devices which has me concerned about their quality at this time.  I definitely feel burnt by Samsung in this matter, but fortunately my carrier Sprint was ready and willing to fix the problem and replace the phone without any restocking fee.  So I will be doing a review of the HTC Evo 4 soon.

A viable alternative to iPad for $300

That’s the upcoming Archos 10.1″ tablet for $300 USD.  It looks like a very good alternative to the Apple iPad for the following reasons.

  • $300 is a lot cheaper than Apple’s entry level device of $500.
  • Speed.  Apple iPad’s killer feature is its speed.  These Android devices are finally catching up.  The PC and Mac OS can learn something from this.  Users care about speed.
  • Capacitive touch.
  • The accelerometer looks good, especially in the game demo.
  • Has an adjustable kick stand, something the iPad sorely needs.
  • Has a USB host, HDMI port, and SDHC slot built in.
  • You don’t have to install iTunes.

Realtek card reader drivers slow transfer rates 4 fold

I helped acquire an HP G72-250US 17.3″ with Core i3 notebook for a friend of my mother.  When I tested the SDHC card reader speed, I was shocked to find that read speeds would drop to less than 5 MB/sec after the first time read in Windows 7.  Once I uninstalled the software using CCleaner, the card continued to work but it would maintain its 20 MB/sec read speeds.

While I appreciate Realtek going to the effort of writing extra software, they really need better quality control.  I suppose I should be happy that at least this isn’t one of their silent data corruption bugs that I found a few years back.  The other thing that really bugs me is their massively bloated wireless network driver that forces you to install a bunch of extra wireless supplicants (like Cisco) on top of the Windows wireless client.  You’re forced to download a large EXE from Realtek which extracts and autoinstalls the driver without asking for permission.  I had to note the extract folder path and then uninstall the Realtek drivers, and then manually install the drivers from device manager by pointing it to the uncompressed installation folder.  It would be so much simpler if Realtek just provided the bare drivers.

HP needs to wise up and keep that software (and all the other crapware they install) off the system.  The PC industry needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves why Apple completely owns the $1000+ notebook market.

Cheap HTPC mini trackpad and keyboard

Note: Just trying out the video review format for the first time using my Canon Kiss X4 (Rebel T2i or 550D).  Maintaining focus and handling the product and talking at the same time presents its challenges, but I hope I can get used to it.  The depth of field is very shallow but at least you can see everything clearly with the exception of the darkened on/off switch.  I’m not sure if there’s any benefit to using 1080P for this video, but at least it makes the 360P and 480P and 720P version look very clean due to down sampling.

This is the iPazzPort bluetooth keyboard and trackpad. The name sounds funny where I can visualize a picture of a fat cat sitting on the couch with the caption “I can haz remote controlz?” But jokes about the name aside, this seems like a very viable product.

At $42 shipped from China (or $50 at buy.com), it’s the lowest price that I know of for a mini bluetooth keyboard/trackpad. Lenovo has something for $60 and Logitech has the DiNovo for $150.

The keyboard has a backlight for darker rooms and the keys offer some good tactile feedback while the trackpad and scrollbar work smoothly and accurately. It’s also a thin device with average build quality that feels pretty good in the hands overall.

BlueTooth paring was simple and you didn’t need any special drivers. Just push the button at the bottom and scan for it in the Windows BlueTooth user interface, then key in the pairing key and hit enter on the keyboard. The wireless range works well beyond 30 feet so it should work in any size living room.

The bottom part of this chassis feels slightly loose and the on/off button doesn’t glide on and off easily, but I’ve just left it in the permanent on position since the device goes to sleep on its own to conserve battery life. It has a lithium ion battery that recharges via the USB port, but I don’t know how long the charge lasts when I don’t bother turning the thing off. I’ll post an update on battery life days or weeks later when I need to recharge this thing.

Overall, this is a good form factor device that works well. If you need to control an home theater PC in the living room, I don’t think there is a more affordable option than the iPazzPort.

How to re-enable ISO 100 on Canon Rebel T2i

After selling my Canon Rebel T1i on Amazon for $565 (minus a $47 commission for Amazon), I bought a Japanese branded “Canon Kiss X4″ camera known as the Canon Rebel T2i in the US market and 550D elsewhere last week off eBay.  Why would I do that?  Because the Rebel T2i has been “out of stock” for the last 4 months in most places with no end in sight and the few people who do have it on Amazon or eBay are selling it for $1000+ which is $200 more than the retail list price.

Update 11:45PM – Looks like Amazon and Newegg just got the T2i body in stock for $799.  I would have gone this route had I known, but I didn’t get a bad price on the Kiss X4 kit with lens for $830.  The risk I take is that there is no warranty the first year.

The Kiss X4 didn’t come with a warranty (though I’ve never had a Rebel SLR fail on me yet), but the $830 I paid for it including the standard lens kit wasn’t a bad price.  Of course now the seller is trying to point me towards an $80 3rd party warranty to which I am declining because my camera isn’t likely to fail in the first year.  The other problem is that the camera only comes with a Japanese manual but that can be solved by downloading the English manual in PDF format.

The image quality has been unbelievably good when you force it to manual mode and ISO 400 and below, but I was stuck at ISO 200 and above.  ISO 100 was simply not presented as an option and it was maddening.  I emailed Canon support and they replied to me the next morning with the answer.  It turned out that “Highlight Tone Priority” was enabled which requires ISO 200 and above. After disabling that feature, ISO 100 was available once again.

Note that you need sufficient light just like you do in photography, and it might be hard to use ISO 100 in a dim room because you won’t be able to achieve the minimum 1/30th of a second virtual shutter speed (physical shutter is locked open).  In automatic mode, the camera will adjust the ISO up automatically but in manual mode, the scene will just get dark and under exposed.  That’s actually a good thing because sometimes you want the scene to be dark.  It was getting annoying and unnatural in automatic mode where the camera would literally make everything look like daylight even when you’re shooting a night scene with existing light.  Manual mode also solved the erratic exposure problem which may have had something to do with the fact that I was using a third party 28-70 F2.8 lens from Tokina.

Automatic focus “works” but it is very noisy and very slow.  It hunts around and the camera still jumps to a high ISO even if you’re in “manual” mode.  Using manual exposure and manual focus solves all these problems and focusing is much smoother, more natural, and faster so long as you keep your eyes close to the LCD view finder so you can see the details accurately.

Here was the first short sample I shot and posted on YouTube.  Note that you can bump it to 1080P mode.  And yes, it’s the same little kitty all grown up.

MSI L1350 Netbook Wi-Fi problems and system hangs

I bought an MSI L1350 Netbook with a standard second-generation Intel N450 Atom processor for $230 last weekend which has an additional $30 rebate.  The Ralink 802.11 b/g/n mini PCI-E adapter that comes with the netbook has some very buggy drivers that cause Wi-Fi to intermittently disconnect or fail to find any network.  An even bigger problem is the fact that its drivers seem to cause Windows 7 to completely hang requiring a hard reboot.

I have found a solution that seems to have fixed the random Wi-Fi problems by updating to the latest Ralink drivers posted in March of 2010.  The system hasn’t hanged due to Wi-Fi drivers in two weeks now.  These are signed drivers so they are legitimate and you will not get a certificate warning.  If you happen to own this netbook or something with a similar network adapter, I would highly recommend updating the drivers.  It’s generally a good idea to update all your drivers anyways.

Another problem I’ve found is the Intel 3150 graphics driver blue screen of death when trying to launch Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder 3.1 (which is a very good free video capture and encoder software that allows you to broadcast high quality directly to sites like Ustream).  This problem affects all netbooks with the N450 CPU. The only way to fix this was to update the Intel 3150 integrated graphics driver and you can obtain a copy of it here on Intel’s site.

It sucks to have to get a consumer product that crashes so badly out of the box.  It’s even hard for me to handle and I can’t imagine the frustration that normal users would have.  This blog post should help you a lot if you managed to land here after googling these problems.