s/HP/Dell

I have recently upgraded my main computer from an HP EliteBook 6930p to a Dell Latitude E6430. After 7 years of using HP business laptops, the transition to the Dell range is a welcome change. Here’s why:

1. LED screen
Both machines are 14.1″ laptops with a slightly higher screen resolution than the usual (and rather horrible) 1366x768px. While the HP is from 2009 and still came with a 1440x900px screen, this new Dell laptop has 1600×900. A lot of programmers / web workers actually prefer higher screen resolutions, and I meanwhile also, but in the beginning the tiny font was a problem. Since I usually only go for business laptops with docking stations, my main screen is an external 22″ monitor at 1680×1050 – so this screen issue is secondary to me.

What matters though is the illumination technology – which is based on cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL) on my old HP. As mentioned in my 2009 review of the HP 6930p vs. the Dell E6400, even the E6400 already had a nice LED screen, just as about half of all Lenovo T400 laptops sold. Of the 6930p sold since 2008/2009, most models only came with the CCFL version – and the few available LEDs only had a WXGA / 12800×800 resolution. It is only recently that someone came up with a hack to install a WXGA+ (1440×900) LED screen from a Lenovo T410 into an HP 6930p. I once thought about doing this hack and already bought the cables, but such 14.1″ LED screens usually sell for ~ 140 EUR alone. These days, second hand 6930p laptops sell for around 200 EUR, so any such investment would be rather stupid.

New laptop, new screen, issue solved.

The bitter truth may be that I should have picked a 14.1″ laptop with a WXGA+ LED screen in 2009 (e.g. the E6400 or the T400). The WXGA++ LED screen on the E6430 is an instant LIKE (even though the CCFL version had better colours).

It seems there are no 14.1″ laptops with really good screens. It’s either 12.5″ (Lenovo), 13.3″ (Apple) or 15.x”/17.x” if you’re interested in something like IPS panels.

Continue reading “s/HP/Dell”

Hallo ihr Lieben…. #haul

“Hallo ihr Lieben” (hello my dear) is the greeting form used on most German haul videos – this peculiar internet meme where young girls present their latest hauls (~ purchases from recent shopping sprees). The content of these videos probably says a lot about the (un)importance in today’s world, but it should also be mentioned that my fiancée likes them, at least for the make-up tips. She’s a teacher and needs these videos with no actual content to calm down after a long day of work. Yes, I love her nevertheless. And because I am such a geek who equally likes to show off his latest deals, here’s my attempt at doing so:

Leatherman sheaths (yes, again…)

After my recent trouble with Leatherman Germany which resulted in paying EUR 36 for a new Leatherman Charge TTi, I thought about the need for another multitool sheath. Now, the sheath issue isn’t new to me as I’ve often talked about it here and even on instructables. Leatherman delivers their multitools with different sheath, but they are all not that perfect, especially since some tools also come with a bit set which often doesn’t fit in a sheath along with the tool itself.

the new collection

So after receiving the Charge TTi with a revised sheath, I decided to buy a Leatherman Molle sheath. MOLLE stands for MOdular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment and is the “de facto standard for modular tactical gear”. It’s a great system, but since I usually don’t wear any military clothes (nor have a need for that), I was rather interested in the sheath itself and how well it would accommodate the multitool, not really worrying about the MOLLE system that would have to work out on my belt.

Leatherman MOLLEThe Leathman MOLLE sheath with a Leatherman Charge TTi and the bit kit. And an LED LENSER P2 led torch that won’t fit in there. Bad :-(

Leatherman MOLLE

Well, it just doesn’t work for me. It has some nice details, but since it’s too small and also doesn’t even fit the tool nor the extra LED torch, it will have to go back on sale via eBay. Ah, it could be worse.

Next up was an advertisement I’d seen via multitool.org – a great forum on multitools and other EDC stuff. It’s amazing to see how much and how often people can talk about these tools, but then – I’ve recently learned that these brands we’re passionate about are called “love brands”. If you like Arsenal or Ferrari F1, then those are your love brands. Mine is Leatherman. Obviously :-)

The Skinth OG

So this ad I’d seen was for a new kind of sheath called “Skinth Solutions“, made by a Canadian designer/photographer who’s also into multitools. I saw it and instantly fell in love with it. Given that I had already invested so much time and money into this hobby of mine (~ creating sheaths for tools), I knew I had to order mine from Canada – and just did that. It’s expensive (for me in .DE), it’s simple, it just works, it wins.

I later on realized that the Skinth had also been developed in close collaboration with other multitool.org users. It’s a crowdsourced product, somehow. Made by someone who cares and had MY tool in mind when he created the product.

Skinth OG

Skinth OG

The Skinth OG isn’t perfect, it still has some issues, but it’s what Leatherman should have come up with in the first place.

The issue I am currently experiencing is that the torch doesn’t fit – and a few days after ordering mine, the Skinth Sparton OG came out which looks like the ultimate sheath Skinth to me. Hmmm…..

the bunch

In terms of overall height – which is the most important criterion I have as most Leatherman sheaths are just too bulky when fully loaded – the Skinth beats all others. It’s even slimmer than my DIY leather sheaths (which aren’t pictured).

Going by the torch issue, I may swap the Skinth OG for a Skinth Spartan OG. The torch just can’t be fully inserted on the Skinth OG and that’s just bad for my needs. It’s too long for the side pockets.

Nevertheless of this issue, the Skinth sheaths (check out their Facebook page!) are still cool. Juli, the social media manager at Leatherman, told me that “sheath are a very personal issue”, which is why they’re having problems creating good sheaths that will please everyone equally. The Skinth collection, however, instantly convinced me. If you’re still searching for a nice sheath for your multitool, then please try them!

Eric, the maker behind the Skinth collection, also just dropped me an e-mail, telling me that there’s a chance to “undo the stitches that pin the pockets down” which will sort-of solve my issue with the current version. I will try that as it seems to be the best solution atm. Thx, Eric!

Edit: this just worked out fine! W000t! :-)

Skinth OG

 

PalmMicro

My recent move to the (Free and Hanseatic City of) Hamburg made me pick up a brand new VoIP telephone via eBay Germany. Just EUR 9 for a factory sealed phone ex 2005 from a clearance sale (TelDaFax!) that only works via LAN and requires a VoIP account – I am using Sipgate which are very reliable in Germany. It also is my office number in Frankfurt, so I like to have this with me and not on a Nokia or Apple device in form of an app as this would only drain the battery. Sipgate is cool, this phone…well, it was cheap.

My previous experience with cheaper VoIP phones is rather bad. I am not talking about USB phones (which would require a computer to be online), btw. If I was in need of a professional version with more than one account, I would probably go for a Grandstream phone (where the cheapest will cost about EUR 50 in Germany). On the other hand – there would be no hacking challenge :-)

Primeworx P100

A quick search via Google revealed that most of the phones weren’t delivered with this ugly red frame – and I was lucky to receive it in black colour:

Primeworx P100

The booting telephone…

The pictured Primeworx P100 is the same as the Global IPtel G100, Cistrix CT-100, Siptronic ST-102 and probably some other brands and is based on the PA1688 chip, a low-cost VoIP chip.

It took me several hours / three evenings to eventually debrand the internal firmware and swap it for one of those available online. And since my phone was made in 2005, the website of the distributor is already offline. After some cross-reading here and there, I found this wonderful resource online: PalmMicro – a private site/blog run by a Chinese in the USA who worked in the dev team at PalmMicro/Centrality where they designed the chip, created reference boards and also compiled the firmware. It’s probably as close as you can get to a system – directly talking to former developers who will respond in time – and his blog is also recommendable for the views on hardware development in China and restrictions set by the Great Firewall in China. Reading between the lines, you quickly realize that it’s often just a few smaller companies who create chips and reference boards which are then copied by the industry and sold for a period of a few years. It very much reminds me of the Qualcomm 3G modems we all have in our business laptops with their often undocumented GPS functionality (ask Lenovo, HP, etc.). Anyways. PalmMicro rocks and if you are still in need of recent firmware (as recent as January 2012!) for your cheap VoIP phone, PalmMicro is the place to visit for your Global IPtel G100, Cistrix CT-100, Siptronic ST-102 or Primeworx P100.

AOB:

Werder

Many people often ask me, which football team I support. I actually don’t care about football/soccer and am often scared by their aggressive hooligans fans, so this picture of a lighter I bought today should answer all open questions. :-)

Have a nice week!

My experiences with Leatherman Germany, or: why passion matters.

Good news and bad news. Twice.

The good news is that I have a new job in a new town city, the bad news is that the place is so damn expensive that everything I earn will be wasted on a place to sleep as well as on food. The bad news also includes a very low payment. But I chose this path because it helps me shaping my professional profile and interests (which are various).

The other bad-news-good-news-story is a bit more complicated. The recent move to the new place made me pick up my broken Leatherman Charge TTi multitool (yeah, another gadget post – sry, gals :-) and have it sent to Leatherman Germany for a service repair under warranty.

You’ll need to know that Leatherman multitools come with a 25year warranty. Most broken tools will either be repaired or replaced. It’s a great and decent service by a serious company. I love most of their products and am part of the “Leatherheads Anonymous” addicts group on Facebook. These tools turn me on. Geek pr0n, you name it. Needless to say that I do not only have one, but five such multitools. I actually only need one, a working one in good condition, and my Charge TTi urgently needed some professional help.

Some history
Leatherman Inc. recently acquired a majority interest in Zweibrüder Optoelectronics in Solingen/Germany, who are known for their quality LED Lenser flashlights. This obviously happened because consumers who are willing to invest EUR 30 and more on a decent flashlight will probably also go and buy a EUR 100+ multitool. It’s the sales channels they are interesting in, and it’s a smart move.

This development, however, also meant that Leatherman Germany had to pick up the corporate design and philosophy of their US mother – and if you have ever dealt with a German sales person in service, you’ll quickly understand that “good service” in Germany and the USA are two completely different concepts. German “service quality” is about the engineering of the product (and only the product), US “service quality” is more about emotions. You can read up more on this in Clotaire Rapaille’s book on Culture Codes.

Service Quality?
I have no idea when the concept of German accuracy got lost, but what I received in return from Leatherman Germany was just below ANYTHING, below any quality standard ever I’ve come across so far. And what I had to complain about wasn’t some kinky German non-issue (like a scratch or so), but that they had only made the tool worse. Much worse.

There are these security Torx screws on Leatherman multitools, so you just can not mess with it (and it would also void the warranty). What they had done was to unfasten one of the screws which resulted in a wobbly saw blade – and on the other side of the tool the screws were too tight that I couldn’t open all the tools inside the (miss aligned) handles. The multitool was rendered useless – and returned to me in such a state.

This really pissed me off.

I had read so many positive reviews about the Leatherman customer service which made me send in my fifth tool in the first place. After all these years without any troubles, I eventually needed to make use of the warranty service – and then they mess it up.

Markets are conversations.
( – The Cluetrain Manifest, # 1 / 95)

As a result of the failed repair, but more importantly that they had the guts to return the tool in such a state, my trust in the German branch was lost and I decided to report my negative experience on the Facebook wall of Leatherman USA.

I received an instant reply (within five minutes!) from a very kind person at Leatherman USA who a) really took this issue serious, b) apologized on behalf of Leatherman Inc. and c) made sure I receive a brand new tool directly from the factory line.

The story could end here and all would be well, but it unfortunately continues – with some more WTH?!-moments:

The day after that e-mail & Facebook conversation with Leatherman USA, I received a phone call by Leatherman Germany. The guy on the other end of the line – well…. if this was my company, I would send him on a customer training. First of all, he wouldn’t let me explain the situation, then he replied in a snobbish manner and then he tried to bribe me with some “extras”.

Dear Leatherman Germany, please stop the crap next time and just make us have a positive experience when we are in contact with you. And with “we” I am talking about all German customers. The attitude shown during the phone call corresponded well with the delivered repair, to say the least.

my broken Leatherman Charge TTi

He went on explaining that they only recently took over the repair service on behalf of Leatherman (“you were customer number 20…”) and that they still need to learn on how to handle such situations. That’s ok to me, but to be honest: you can not tell your client (who still has a problem which needs to be solved asap!) something like “uhhm, u know we messed up because we’re still not experienced enough…”, even if it’s the truth. “Yes, we have never repaired Ferraris before, but uhm, let us try, it can not to be that hard…” – see? And then of course if you are still inexperienced and I am client number 20, then it MAY be smarter not to repair the knife, but instead give me another one (wouldn’t need to be a new one) or send it to someone who knows what he’s supposed to do.

So after a hefty dispute on the phone (I normally don’t do that, but the guy on the phone was such an arrogant person which prompted me to reply), we settled on him sending me “something small” in return for the expenses I had with Leatherman so far and that I would return my broken Charge TTi a second time for them to see what was wrong.

LED LENSER T7

A few days later on I received a parcel with a) an LED LENSER T7 flashlight (which has a market value of about EUR 30 on eBay) and b) a Leatherman leather sheath for a range of tools I do not own (= useless). Free of charge, a gift from Leatherman Germany for the troubles I had with them. That’s very nice!

The flashlight is nice – a bit too big for me, but the free and unexpected gift is still appreciated. The sheath – well…. it’s useless to me. I’ve put both items on sale at eBay because they are brand new and because I need to cover my expenses.

Expenses? Yes, Leatherman USA, or rather an uncapable UPS courier service, messed it up a second time which resulted in me having to pay another EUR 36 on import taxes for the brand new Charge TTi which came as a replacement. So both sales of the above mentioned “free gifts” will have to cover my costs. Which is ok. It’s extra work, it’s partly my mistake because I accepted the US parcel instead of asking for a duty-free version (and waiting for another week), but in the end I managed to have my Charge TTi exchanged for a working version (my old Charge TTi wasn’t only broken, it also had quality issues ex factory) and paid only a few extra Euros. The money, uh well. Forget about it.

The replacement tool is so much better. I should have requested a replacement for my Charge TTi right from the very start. The Charge TTi line is known for having quality issues, and mine was part of those faulty multitools.

And Leatherman Germany? No response from them whatsoever since receiving the “free gifts”. Not so Leatherman USA who really impressed me with their understanding of quality service and human communication. I hope they will train their German colleagues accordingly.

If there is anything like a silver lining to all of this then it’s probably the insight that good customer service does not depend on a trained concept, but more importantly that it depends on passion.

Passion is the driving force behind a lot of things – and if there’s anything I appreciate in others then it’s their passion for a good cause or good products. It’s so important and clearly shows when it’s absent.

P.S.-1: I take it that the folks of Letherman Germany are passionate about their LED flashlights, because if they act the same way on their flashlights as they did with my Leatherman then we may have a problem…

P.S.-2: Facebook may not be used by everyone, but it’s an interesting marketing instrument and channel for direct interactions with your customers. On the US (=international) Facebook channel of Leatherman they do not only respond in time and very fast, but also deliver follow-ups to problems. They really care. From my .DE point of view, this certainly is a very new experience and highly appreciated.

To all German Leatherman owners who need to make use of the warranty service: viel Erfolg!

the tablet alternative

Intro
I have about 20 GB of water & sanitation (watsan)-related publications on my computer. Most of them are in PDFormat, and most of them I’ve just opened once and then archived out-of-sight. With some I’ve also only read the abstract (if available) because relevance is important and I feel there are a lot of policy blabla papers out there that don’t get me anywhere. Still, I actually need to read them.

I work from my home office and don’t have any IT department I can call when I have an IT problem. Which means I have to have a backup solution in place for when there’s a problem. Like a 3G modem when the cable modem is on holiday. Or a second computer, ready to be used in combination with my 22″ TFT and external keyboard + mouse combination.

In the past, I’ve used an Asus eeePC 1000HGo (1000HG with a 3.5G modem) netbook ex 2008 (which I’ve blogged about here) for this task and liked this litte machine:

eeepc1000hgo

It’s a very nice netbook with the typical 10.x” setup, matte display, 160 GB HDD, 2 GB RAM, 1.3mpx webcam and a 3.5G Huawei modem (which surprisingly works well and out-of-the-box with Linux). The best part about these eeePC netbooks certainly is the tiny power supply. I don’t like the bulky cords (the cords!) that come with 90W power supplies. Eh.

I’ve also been using it as a mobile DVB-T receiver (TV) and while travelling + on holiday. My other, main machine is an HP EliteBook 6930p on a docking station, so I am “mobile computers” only. This eeePC also has a button to switch screen resolutions within Windows between the default 1024x600px to 1024×768 (compressed view) and 800×600. That’s something very handy when you’re dealing with apps that need more than 600px vertical height.

The problem

Now, I’ve been wondering how people actually read all these PDF publications? Do they print it out? You know, some of these publications are well over 100+ pages, also with a lot of graphics. And then I just can’t see myself reading these documents on my main computer. My eyes already hurt and balancing a laptop on your…well…lap… isn’t a long-term solution.

Yes, tablets. The Apple iPad or modern Android Honeycomb tablets. Both still kinda expensive and also limited, but very good in what they do. I am actually waiting for Amazon to launch their 7″ Android tablet later on this year. And eBook Readers? I’ve thought about buying an Amazon Kindle (also because it’s affordable), but a) eBooks in Germany are often as expensive as the printed version and b) the current eBook Reader is too small for displaying readable PDFs in vertical mode (I think). The Kindle DX would have been an option, yes.

I also did this little survey via FB and some of my friends voted as followed:

ebook-umfrage

Most of my FB friends, it seems, are using their notebook/laptop to read these PDFs. Also, eBook readers seem to be very popular. I also use an eBook Reader / PDF reflow tool like GoodReader (on iOS) or ezPDFReader (on Android) to read PDFs directly on the phone. But even though my Motorola Defy mobile phone has a very nice screen resolution, trying to read longer text on a small device is just an interim solution.

The solution
I’ve often been dreaming about using an IBM ThinkPad X4* or X6*. Fellow blogger Steve had at one point in the past already recommended HP tablets to me and also is an avid user of an X61s. I like ThinkPads for two reasons:

a) you can set the recharge level of the battery and leave it on the machine, so it won’t overcharge. Not possible with HP laptops.

b) Fan intake is at the side of the laptop body, not underneath. It’s not that they are cooler than those who suck in air at the bottom, but it’s a matter of overheating because most ppl will keep the laptop on a table or, even worse, balance it on their lap, so the intake may be covered. ThinkPads are smarter in this regard.

The other – important – fact to mention is that I realized how crazy this miniature thing actually is. I am tall and don’t want to balance a small 10.1″ netbook on my lap. Makes me look even taller and there’s no need to use a small machine when I can also be a bit happier with a 12″ device. In fact, I think my next main machine should be a ~ 13″ device. Perfect size, imo.

So I sold my netbook and bought this HP Compaq TC4400 instead. It’s a 12.1″ XGA tablet notebook with a Dual Core CPU (albeit 32bit), 2GB of RAM and some old-fashioned stylus thing. It’s my first tablet, my first Wacom pen tablet (my last + cheap drawing tablet was from 1999 and never really worked) and I am very curious how I will use it. Also, it was cheap. 97 EUR + a used 250 GB HDD + another keyboard with EU-layout (US-keyboard misses one key) + new battery = about 160 EUR. Not bad, given that I received a similar amount for the sold netbook :-)

tc4400-drawing

Buying 2nd-hand / refurbished items sometimes is like gambling – you never know what you’ll end up with. Of course with a dealer you can return the item (12 month in Germany!), but I didn’t want to return anything and actually enjoy fixing stuff myself. I had to glue a broken display bezel, but to my surprise the rest was very much ok as the vent (often reason for overheating) had already been cleaned by the previous owner.

P1050331

opened-tc4400

P1050326

Note : it’s recommended to refasten all screws on a computer, even the internal ones because the “grade B”-rating that made this one cheaper was upgraded to “grade A” after disassembling it, cleaning all parts with isopropyl alcohol and then reassembling it again.

I am currently running both Win 7 and LinuxMint LXDE on this tc4400 and already love it. Sure, it’s a pen-controlled tablet with a keyboard pre iPad era, but with Win7 a lot of cool stuff is already supported out-of-the-box. Battery runtime seems to be 3.5h (and the battery is really small). I also like it because:

  • It’s compatible with both HP docking stations in our home office (HP nx8220 and HP Elitebook 6930p).
  • Caps lock keys suck and unfortunately there’s no keyboard light / illuminated keyboard available. What it does have, though, are yellow led lights next to the key so you’ll instantly know if you’ve activated the caps lock key. Smart design, imo.
  • I dig the XGA screen resolution. Yes, it’s only 1024×768, but you know what? My 14.1″ Elitebook is WXGA+ 1440×990 which results in about 128 dpi. 128 dpi is tiny! My eyes hurt. Also, it does not have an LED screen (hey, the machine was cheap and is from 2006!), but it has good viewing angles. My main machine does not have such good vertical viewing angles.

That next thing I will need to figure out is why the touchpen (PL800A) has to be so expensive as a spare part (update: i found this one via eBay). The pen has a circuit inside and while drawing a sample picture on my tc4400 today, I often acidentally clicked on the right-mouse-button of the pen. Maybe it’s just me but I’d also like to try out some alternatives here. Any recommendations?

tc4400-sofa2

And the best part? It’s both a laptop and a reader. Kudos to Steve for recommending this one to me!

I am very curious how I will make use of this (cheaper) alternative to the netbook and how or if I will use it as a reader for the many PDFs waiting to be read. After all, I can still sell it if it doesn’t work out for me and my needs. But going by other reviews online, especially by what HP tc4xxx owners have said about their tablets, this one seems to be one of the best tablets out there.

just another multitool

The only reason I am posting the following is because I get terribly excited about multitools. Think of Apple fanboyz and you’ll know what I mean. I think it’s the EveryDay-Carry (EDC) syndrome – the need to have the perfect tool in your pocket.

EDC also reflects a lifestyle of preparedness, where the individual wants to be prepared for the majority of situations ….(…) People who carry EDC items have a mindset of planning ahead for emergency situations. (src)

Fortunately, I am not alone on this and there are others who not only visit EDC-forums, but also come up with detailed reviews on my latest purchase: the Leatherman Squirt PS4 (e.g. 1, 2 & 3) and even their own (and very smart) modifications (& here). Unfortunately though, my new Leatherman PS4 does not have screws but rivets, so modifications are very limited. The perfect tool does not seem to exist yet, but we’re getting closer with every iteration.

Leatherman P4
A Leatherman Squirt P4 I bought some time ago forwarded as a gift to her father. He really loves this one and prefers it to his older pocket knife.

Leatherman PS4

The Victorinox Manager 0.6365 I got instead of the LM Squirt P4. A very nice & slim pocket knife that comes with a pair of tweezers and ballpoint pen. Mentioned here because I think the perfect tool should also come with such a handy ballpoint pen and tiny screwdrivers. Also, Torx 5, 6 and 7 would be great!

I bought the LM Squirt PS4 (not P4) because it comes with pliers and isn’t that much bigger than the Victorinox. The tools I need the most are a) knife, b) screwdrivers and c) pliers. When I switched to the Victorinox in 2009, I also stopped carrying my LM Charge TTi – so I always missed the pliers. Hence this recent purchase of the PS4 which is a successor to the P4.

Leatherman PS4
LM Squirt PS4 vs. Victorinox Manager

The quality on the LM could be a bit better. This also applies to the Charge TTi below. There’s a clear difference between the tools Leatherman produced some years ago and the ones they are selling these days. Victorinox clearly wins here, even though steel quality is equally bad. Sufficient for my needs, though.

Leatherman PS4
LM Charge TTi vs. LM Squirt PS4

Leatherman PS4

I’ve paid about EUR 20 for this LM PS4 and it arrived within only 7 days from the US. The cheap EUR-USD exchange rate probably is another reason for my love affair with multitools :-)

Leatherman PS4

The real winner of my EDC concept is the Swiss+Tech Utili-Key 6-in-1 – because it looks like a key and is on my keychain. A great little helper that even passes through TSA while all other tools have to be stored in the luggage.

Are you also infected with the EDC virus? What’s your favourite EDC gadget?

P.S.: There’s a Wiki on MultiTools. God, I love the internet! 1!11

Five reasons why the Motorola Defy sucks (not really)

Yes, I know – five blog posts about a phone within two weeks may be too much for most readers, but some people have asked me how I like my new mobile phone – the Motorola DEFY – so I went on and compiled a review on it. In German, for Amazon.de.

jke defy

Don’t speak German? Then read on….

The part where you’ll lose your readers is probably where you start talking about how good product xyz is. There are 163 reviews on Amazon.de about this particular phone at the moment, and almost all reviews describe how great this phone is. So I went on and tried to focus on the disadvantages of the Motorola Defy – which I think are important facts when you’re about to invest some money in a new phone.

It’s an incomplete list, things (especially some software issues) are subject to change, we’re talking about a Motorola Defy in mid February 2011. Also, I started as an Android n00b (when I got this phone a week ago).

1. The micro-USB port is at the side of the devices, so you’ll have troubles finding a suitable docking station. I’ve built my own, but the device still acts up when inserted into the docking station, even with the latest (unofficial) software. Plus the port is covered by a piece of plastics which needs to be removed (and is fixed to the body of the phone) – thus: a docking station will always have to provide enough room for this flap. It’s still better than the flaps on the Nokia phones I’ve reviewed in the past and of course helps protect the phone from water and dust.

defy port

2. There’s no specialised accessory available as of yet except for the usual suspects such as car chargers, (passive) car mounts, display and body covers. No docking station, no headphones, no spare parts. And this although the phone has sold quite well over the last few months. Where are all these Chinese manufacturers when you need them? Or could this be related to the nasty docking station issue I’ve experienced on my Defy (phone switches into flight mode, starts media player)? Or is that just a “media dock”-mode? Hmm.

defy car mount
Moto DEFY car mount menu (very nice!)

defy media dock
Moto DEFY media dock menu (before it started acting up…?!).

defy headset
opened Motorola DEFY headset (hint: iPhone headsets do work)
tip = L // 2nd ring = R // 3rd ring = M- // sleeve = M+

3. The ear speaker problem a lot of (not all, but many) Moto Defys came with is due to low quality speakers and should have been avoided by quality management. Especially since the rest of the phone is top-notch Motorola quality. The Sony K770 (mobile phone) is said to be a resource for alternative speakers….

4. The camera. I believe that the camera module inside the phone is capable of doing much more than what we see as end results. The picture quality is far away from the likes of Nokia N95, N82 or even N8 (it’s just a simple 5mpx module after all) and when I installed new firmware on the phone, I realized how much better this camera can be. Really, an upgrade of the camera software should be recommended to Motorola.

2011-02-17 04-18-41 353

2011-02-17 17-12-23 586
How about these two totally unrelated macro sample shots? (taken with the phone on Android 2.2)

5. Motorola currently ships this phone with Android 2.1. I am using a retail version which means any upgrade of the internal firmware isn’t possible over-the-air (OTA), but instead only via a Motorola software on my computer. So I upgraded it from version 2.2.1 to 2.5.1 (both within Android 2.1) and still had some nasty bugs on it like folder names that disappeared after rebooting the phone, or missing lock screens after pressing the main button. Also, I wasn’t using Motorola’s own Android skin “Motoblur”, so I can’t remark on that one. Anyways, after experiencing all these bugs, I decided to flash it with a leaked BLURless ROM from Orange Poland (!) to Android 2.2. What you actually do is a full wipe of all user data on the phone, install the new ROM, do another full wipe and remove some Orange default settings. It’s an automated process that will certainly kill any warranty on the phone, so you should only do it if you know what to do. I didn’t, but I tried it nevertheless and was really surprised:

Motorola Defy + Android 2.2 – Motoblur = AWESOME!

Don’t get me wrong, this preliminary BETA via Orange Poland still has some bugs, but Motorola would be well advised to change their policy on this Motoblur thing and have it removed, or only make it available upon request. Or keep it for business customers who need a closed environment. Not because Motoblur is bad – it isn’t – but because the development and adjustment of Motoblur slows down the entire process for future Android releases on the phone. Seriously, you can not ship a brand new phone (released to the market in Nov. 2010) with Android 2.1 while the competition already has 2.3 and while I can get 2.2 on any cheaper 100€ Android device (ZTE, Huawei, etc.).

Else, I think the Motorola Defy is a great phone and is unique enough to remain on the market (even with Android 2.1!) for a very long time.

Another detail I eventually also realized: you’ll need to register a credit card with Google to buy software on their Android market. On Apple iTunes, there are vouchers available for purchase in our local supermarket. So it’s not only the great UI, simplicity of the iPhone or good apps that made the Apple iPhone dominate the market, but also this ecosystem called iTunes (compared to other like Android market) that contributed to the success of the iPhone. You’ll read about such things and think: “yeah, of course…”, but then when you are charged extra fees on your CC because it was used on Google checkout (US <=> Germany), you’ll quickly understand that some things are smarter with iTunes for a very good reason. This, however, isn’t related to the phone, but to all Android devices.

So…. does the Motorola Defy suck? – NO, of course not.

4 days on Android

old vs. new

There’s something about Apple’s iPhone that just won’t go away. I think it’s this “one button to rule them all” philosophy – the home button – that will make things a bit easier for the user.

When you’re already used to an iPhone, it’s hard to switch to any other mobile OS, especially if this includes letting go of a beloved app and a service that made things a bit easier for me:

  1. the app to control my bank account (currently no Android app available)
  2. no push notifications for Android 2.1 & Twitter app

I may be repeating myself here, but such a basic and important service like Twitter push notifications (forget about Facebook) not being available on my Android device is really sad. The only alternative to this is the use of an automatic sync (~ every 15 min.) via TweetDeck, Hootsuite & Co..

Else, my first 4 days on an Android device were less hectic. I received the phone, installed the latest available update (it’s still on Android 2.1!) and downloaded a plethora of interesting apps. Apps that I can even share with the rest of the world via Appbrain. Wow!

You know it’s a bit irritating when you’re already using Google Chrome, have a Gmail account, sync everything via this account and then you are wondering where your bookmarks are. Not synced! Why? No browser on Android supports this. Yes, there’s an extra app for this + I am a LastPass/Xmarks Pro user, so solutions are available, but still – this chaos at Google reminds me of Nokia’s Ovi.

Unfortunately, the Moto Defy also still has some open software issues and tends to “forget” a few settings after each reboot. I will also need to optimize energy consumption on it – my Symbian approach of closing apps which are not in use does not really work with Android.

As for the iOS vs. Android discussions:

  • Need games? => iOS
  • Need your (Google) tasks & calendar on a home screen? => Android
  • You’re fine with iTunes? => iOS
  • Want to backup your phone to a Dropbox account? => Android

To be honest, I am still at this point where I think that an iPhone is the better phone for most consumers – even though I’ve seen a lot of iPhone users who’d even be ok with a simple Nokia S40 phone (as they only need telephony and SMS).

Hello Moto DEFY! How dey body?

So I did it.

Motorola Defy JKE

I bought this Motorola DEFY mobile phone today. It’s my first Android device and I am still to find out if I can get along with its operating system, the available apps and the user interface. I’ve picked this model (and not the HTC Desire / HTC Desire HD / Samsung S / Nexus S, etc.) for the following reasons:

  1. It is dustproof and water & scratch resistant. There are various videos on YouTube that document how this phone still works after (and while) being submerged in water and other fluids. Try this with an iPhone :-)
  2. It was recommended to me by my mate Adrian who has 10 (!) of these and uses them for a scientific (geologic) project. Of course, if I could afford it, I would probably also long for a Nexus S (like Adrian) because of the availability of a pure and fresh Android 2.3+. The Motorola DEFY currently runs on Android 2.1 with its own (lame) skin MOTOBLUR. Android 2.2 still needs to be rolled out in this region for this phone, and it is uncertain whether it will ever make it to 2.3. Of course there are unofficial releases, but Motorola only allows signed bootloaders. F*** Y**, Motorola. Not good. Android is open. You’re not. Why?
  3. It was also recommended to me by fellow blogger @bobbes who’s a Linux guy and showed me his DEFY earlier last week.
  4. It is affordable and has a very good price-performance ratio. This is an average device with an average camera. My old Nokia N95 (ex 2007) has a better camera. I’ve paid 265 EUR (this is a refurbished/like-new piece of hardware!).
  5. Android! Because I needed a change. As a Win/Linux user, iTunes is a pain in the ass. Else, I still love my iPhone on iOS 3.1.2. The iPhone is very slow on the browser, though, and urgently required an upgrade. I am not really sure if Android will make me as happy as iOS did, but I’ll never know unless I try.
  6. 480×854 pixel screen size. For an operating system, where app compatibility also depends on the pixel resolution of the target device, this is a welcome screen resolution.
  7. I’ve always kept & treated my phones & gadgets in a good way, never had a broken screen so far, but it just feels good to know that any sweat on the display (holding the phone next to your ear) will not result in a water damage. Given how fragile these phones are on the inside, this DEFY hopefully defies all water attacks :-)
  8. It’s smaller than my iPhone, faster and will presumably also run a bit longer. This argument about exchangable batteries….in all honesty, I think no one really needs that in reality. And for those moments you really need it, you won’t have a fully charged spare battery in your pocket. I usually carry a bag with chargers and spare batteries for all my phones in my laptop bag. During all these years, I’ve only used them twice. Once in Kenya, and once in Germany on the train (only to realize that the cheap MadeInChina spare batteries drained too fast).
  9. It has a good GPS chipset. My iPhone Classic doesn’t have GPS. My Nokia N95 has GPS, albeit a very weak one that needs to be hardware hacked one day (extending the antenna, that is).
  10. It has a microSD card. This alone is reason enough to drop the iPhone (where I used Dropbox for non-multimedia files).
  11. It has two microphones that “intelligently amplify your voice and filter out background noise”. This is supposed to be a modern standard (worked fine on my E72), but my iPhone Classic didn’t have this and I sometimes missed it. I don’t like to use my iPhone as a telephone, prefer Nokias when it comes to pure telephone functionality because of the improved acoustics. Estonimoja (with his beloved 6210) and Mentalacrobatic(s) (with his love for the 6230) will certrainly agree on this.
  12. As a hardware guy, I checked Youtube for “disassembly defy” and found this video. Going by the main PCB and the plastic cover, this phone is very similar to good Nokia phones. You’ll notice the difference while opening up iPhones or HTCs – which are much more fragile and consist of many small cables and parts directly printed on these copper cables. This obviously is a business decision and sometimes the cause for failures (that you won’t have with such single-board phones, imo). In other words: good built quality needs to be based on something.
  13. This being an iP67 phone, my assumption is that it will continue to live despite any stupid Motorola bootloader policies. In other words: while this phone has something that makes it unique (the water/dust proof thing), other current Android devices may only be short lived and soon dropped by many users for the prospect of using better hardware. I think this Motorola Defy will stay with us for a long time, similar to the Siemens ME45 or the recent Nokia 3720.

What I miss is a docking station, and/or the USB socket at the bottom of the device. I’ll have to open the flap that covers the USB port (on the left side of the device, see pics), which is a bit annoying. The iPhone (or the HTC Desire) clearly wins here. Obviously, there’s no perfect phone out there.

Oh, and you can buy this mobile phone holder (yeah, simu holdaaaaa!! :-):

DEFY-holder-Bikertech.de

 

…. which will probably attract Enduro-fanatics like Bwana Whiteafrican or Bwana Mzeecedric who need tough gear for their motorbikes.

This mobile phone holder for bicyles and motorbikes is available via bikertech.de – the above image is (C) by them. The guy who runs bikertech.de builds these holders one by one, they are all hand made and can be adjusted to any specific requirements. Love it! In fact, seeing this pic finally nailed it for me. I can’t imagine using an iPhone in an Otterbox case (which are awesome, see their review from my Nokia E72) on such a holder. But the DEFY? Of course!

Anyways. I know the DEFY won’t be the ultimate phone, and probably also not be my last one. If it proves to be as reliable & versatile as the iPhone Classic, I’ll be more than glad.

UPDATE: After receiving this phone, checking out Android, installing a lot of apps and slowly understanding what makes Android so special, I realized that the simplified car menu (see bikertech image above for an example) that gives you access to basic functionality is VERY nice and convenient.