Original Pebble Review + Application / Watchface Recommendations

I finally jumped on the “SmartWatch” bandwagon (after the CST – “World’s Thinest Watch” Kickstarter I’d been waiting on for two years finally gave up the ghost) purchasing a refurbished (Jet Black, original plastic) Pebble for $60 from Meh.com.

I can’t imagine paying $300+ for an Android Wear or apple Smartwatch when you can get the original Pebble’s new on ebay and discount websites for $50-$60. It does everything you really want a smart watch to do, at a fraction of the price.
Built in features I use and love:
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Editing cellphone videos in Ubuntu Linux

If you have a slightly older android cell phone, chances are it records videos using the “3gp” format. When editing 3gp videos in OpenShot on Ubuntu, the audio and video can become unsynced. I have found that using the WinFF application you can convert the 3gp video into “DV – Raw DV for NTSC full screen” format, which will allow OpenShot to edit it correctly without having audio sync problems.

As a side note, sometimes when shooting videos with a cell phone, you may forget to rotate the phone to “landscape” orientation and be left with a vertical video that is rotated 90 degrees when shown on a computer. OpenShot can be used to rotate videos as follows:

  1. right click on the clip
  2. click Properties
  3. Choose the Effect tab (far right)
  4. Hit the “+” sign and then scroll down to “R” for Rotate.
  5. In the effects settings:
    • set the Rotate X, Y and Z to 0.00
    • set the Fixed Rotate X variable to 90.0.
  6. Hit apply

Small Phone Review: Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini cell phone

I recently purchased a Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini ST15a Cellphone to see if I would like it enough to replace my HTC Aria / Liberty A6366. (I did a review of the aria here.)

Form Factor:
I specifically picked the Xperia Mini because it is a small phone. Small enough to fit in my backpack’s older style cell-phone pocket. Small enough to (easily) fit in my front pocket if I want to carry it around without my backpack. From an outline standpoint, it is actually smaller than the HTC Aria, (and weights a half oz less) but it is almost 50% thicker (only 16mm or 0.63 inches). I was slightly worried that it might be a bit too thick, but after using it for a few days I have decided that it’s fine. The extra thickness is nice to keep it from disappearing in my hand…it’s a VERY small form factor for a modern android smart-phone.

Buttons & Ports
The audio jack comes out the bottom of the phone, which means I have to put it in my backpack’s cell-phone pocket upside down when listening to music with headphones. The micro-USB port is also on the bottom, and covered by a small removable plastic tab that is “hinged” to the phone with a small piece of plastic that goes into a hole. I doubt that the plastic tab will last for more than a few months, as I plug in the phone to charge at least twice a day. The USB port has a “square” appearance, and does not look like a micro-USB on first glance. You have to look inside of it to determine which way is “up” (it’s “upside down”…), but a standard micro-USB cable does work with it. Not major issues, but I don’t see the point of having a removable cover for a port you are going to be using multiple times a day.

A volume up/down rocker is on the top right side, and the bottom right side has a dedicated camera button. You have to long-press the button to auto-start the camera application, I have never started it by accident, and it’s nice having a dedicated button to pull it up. The power button is on the top left.

The battery cover/back of the phone snaps on and off from the side and wraps around the back of the phone. You have to pull the battrey to change the SIM card, and the back cover has a small plastic tab that holds the MicroSD card in when the cover is on. (You need fingernails or tweezers to remove the microSD card, it does not have any push-spring-return mechanism.)

The phone’s speaker, LED flash, and camera lens are on the back.

The screen is just slightly (0.2in) smaller than that of the Aria, and has the same resolution (320×480). Even at the full brightness setting it doesn’t appear to be as bright as the Aria’s screen, but I haven’t noticed it being too dim either. According to the Internet, the glass is “scratch resistant” but not “Corning Gorilla Glass”. I typically use a plastic screen protector on all of my phones (at least for the first year or so) and keep them out of pockets with keys, so the exact type of glass probably doesn’t matter. Percentage wise, a much larger portion of the front of the Xperia is screen.

I purchased a phone that was not carrier branded, so the only pre-loaded apps it had came from Sony Ericsson. I was able to remove, disable, or hide all of the annoying pre-loaded offers and things I didn’t want, and almost immediately downloaded the Sony Phone Companion software for my PC to upgrade the phone to Android 4.0.4, so I can’t comment on the original Android 2.x OS that the phone originally shipped with.

Android 4.0 on the phone is as good as my CyanogenMod ROM on the Aria. My phone has full support for setting itself up as a wifi-hotspot for wireless tethering. (Perhaps carrier branded versions of the phone have that part of android disabled?) It also supports various VPN’s out of the box (noticeably lacking is OpenVPN, I had to set up a PPTP server at home, which was actually a lot easier than getting an OpenVPN server working). In short, the stock OS/ROM did everything I want from a phone, so I don’t anticipate having to root the phone and install CyanogenMod on it anytime soon.

Freedom/ROM Support
However, I am happy to report that CyanogenMod did support this phone (I use the CyanogenMod supported phone list as a pre-filter for any phone shopping, just in case I don’t like the default software the comes with the phone.). I am even happier to report that Sony Ericsson fully supports you voiding your warantee by providing an online service that allows you to unlock your bootloader so that you can replace it with anything you want. This feature is what made me specifically decide to give the Xperia a shot.

I like having an LED light on the back of the phone. I installed an application that lets me switch it on and off from the home screen. Even if it didn’t act as a flash for the camera, a flashlight seems like such a useful thing to have built into your phone I don’t know why all phones don’t have them. I haven’t actually evaluated the phone’s camera yet….

The biggest negative of the phone is the limited memory footprint, and with modern applications (I’m looking at you Google!) starting to take up more and more space, I find myself having to choose what to un-install just to be able to install updates on other more critical applications.

Spare One Phone – Dead on Arrival – Two Red LEDs

Spare One Phone with both indicator LED's glowing solid red

UPDATE: I called the company twice (once on Monday and again on Tuesday) and on Tuesday after asking a few questions they shipped me a new phone (arrived on Saturday and worked correctly!) and a label to ship back the defective unit. (I also emailed them on Sunday, and received an email reply 8 days later, after already receiving the replacement phone…so I would recommend persistent phone calls (it took a few tries to get to a human instead of voice-mail) over email.

Original post:
I purchased a SpareOne phone, which is a very simple GSM handset that is powered by a single AA battery. It has even less functionality than the Motorola MotoFone F3, as it has no display other than two indicator LEDs, so you can’t send or receive SMS messages. It comes with an Energizer Ultimate Lithium battery which has a 15 year shelf life (if you keep the battery disconnected from the phone with the provided plastic pull strip) and offers “up to” 10 hours of talk time on a single battery. My invoice number was 393, so it looks like I was within the first few hundred orders.

Unfortunately, when I received the phone and pulled the battery guard out, instead of turning on it just lit up both LED’s solid red (which I assume is some type of error code, although it is not mentioned in the small instruction sheet that came with the phone. I have tried a new battery, veracious press combinations of the ON button, and the keylock button, etc, but have gotten none of the feedback beeps demonstrated in the “how to” videos.

I will be calling their support line on Monday to see if they have any advice for how to re-set it, or return it for a replacement.

Motorola Backflip Android 2.1 upgrade

I have been using my HTC Aria as my primary phone, and using CyanogenMod it runs android 2.2. Instead of leaving it sitting in a box, I decided I wanted to use my backup phone (a Motorola Backflip) as a wifi network camera. However, it runs Android 1.5, which isn’t supported by the Free IP Webcam software. Luckily, Motorola has released an upgrade for the Backflip, if you know where to look. Continue reading

Backflip wifi tether with Ubuntu Linux

After gaining root access on my Motorola Backflip phone, I was (eventually) able to get wifi tethering working using the Barnacle application (version 0.5.1).

In Barnacle, I have “skip wpa_supplicant” checked, the channel set to six (6), and DHCP set up to use the OpenDNS DNS server ( although the DNS server option may not be needed. (I had to also manually specify the DNS server IP on my client anyways.)

I had to pull some tricks on the client side (Ubuntu Linux) to make everything work. Specifically, setting MTU size to 1250 and setting up my own DNS name server IP.
The script I use to make this all work with ad-hoc networking on Ubuntu is as follows: Continue reading

PBS Wishing – Android App to find out if a book is popular!

Main application screen, showing the book "Postmistress" having 610 people wishing for it. I have developed an application for Android Phones (OS version 1.5 or higher) that allows you to enter an ISBN from a book (or scan the barcode if your phone has a camera) and find out how many people are wishing for the book on PaperbackSwap.com. If a lot of people are wishing for a book, it’s a good indication that the book is popular, which may mean it is worth reading. (Or at least, if you decide you don’t like it, it will be easy to get a book credit for it on paperbackswap.com.)
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How to Root the HTC Aria on At&T

Rooting the HTC Aria on AT&T is made trivial by the program you can download at http://unrevoked.com/

So far the only good reason I have found to root your HTC Aria is so that you can enable wifi tethering, but that requires a few more steps which you can read about in my next post.

In addition to rooting your phone, the unrevoked application adds a custom recovery image to your phone (Clockworkmod recovery – http://www.clockworkmod.com/ )

This open source recovery system allows you to backup your phone to SD-card (nandroid backup), and load other ROM’s.