More informed opinion

Hi there friends,

This post has been lying in draft since about a week, and I have been really short of time to finish it.

I have been using the Adam for a few days now, and have formed more informed opinions about the device, its capabilities and the software loaded on it.

Let us first talk about what I have done with it to make it more usable.

After using it for some days and constantly wiping fingerprints and smudges off its screen, and cursing the glare, I decided to apply the matte screen reflector.  I was not going to risk my highly questionable abilities and virtue of patience by doing it myself, so I did the smart thing (but more about that later).

I went to the mall next door, and bought an 8GB Sandisk microSDHC card for Rs.770 from a small store that sells mobile phones, accessories, iPads, the Galaxy Tab etc., mostly gray market.  The card is legally imported, but I strongly suspect it is a Class 2 card, and none of the cards being sold in Mumbai seem to quote the class version.  E Zone was out of microSD cards, Vijay Sales wasn’t even stocking them, and Croma was selling an 8GB card for Rs.1,400 but could not tell which class it was.

After buying this card, I requested one of the guys at the counter to help me apply the screen guard on the Adam.  They were very much interested in the device, and quite happily did it for me.  They first cleaned the screen with some semi-fluid cleaner that looked like polish, wiped it down, and very carefully applied the screen guard by peeling off one of the protectors.  They lifted the screen guard to remove the bubbles, and rubbed it down (two people now) with the help of some small rubber slabs they had.  We were still left with two or three tiny bubbles, one of them being on the screen, and they did not want to lift the cover again, lest it admit even more of them.  I thanked them, and came back home. I tried removing the bubbles at home, but they wouldn’t budge much.  However, to my surprise the bubbles were magically gone the next morning!  Two people have theorized that they permeated through the screen guard, and I have duly scoffed at the theory.

Oh, by the way, after applying the screen guard, while the glare has been cut, bright backlight now gets dispersed in tiny dots by some kind of prismatic effect. On light backgrounds, the screen looks covered with the oily rub off from someone’s cheek on a mobile phone screen after they have stood in the sun for an hour talking on it.  Touch sensitivity is down, but it is not a dealbreaker.  You want to remove the screen, throw it away and soothe your retina, but then remember the glare on the glossy screen, plus the fingerprints, and decide to keep it.  Here’s a video, and I know many of you don’t like the quality.  It was recorded on my old Nokia E71.

Here’s a video where I attempt to show the viewing angles in Pixel Qi mode etc.  The stand that you see the Adam resting on is an iBall Lappie Laptop riser, gifted by a colleague to all the laptop users in the office, but otherwise available for Rs.500.  It is lightweight yet sturdy, but you can’t think of carrying it around.

Earlier, I had bought a Belkin FM transmitter off sale from E Zone, for Rs.700.  It comes with two AAA sized batteries and a car lighter charger.  I had spotted it originally two years ago, when the sticker price was Rs.3,500 and had been keeping track of the only piece in stock, hoping that one day I will buy it at the right price and put it to right use.  I have been very eager for it ever since I decided to buy the Adam.  I want to use the transmitter with the Adam and my car stereo.  I have tested it with my mobile phones and an MP3 player, and found the range to be extremely short.  I just hope that the car stereo does a better job than the phones on picking up its signal, but the phones themselves have very clear reception of FM stations.

Later, I went hunting for a Bluetooth / USB keyboard and a case for the Adam.  I could not find any miniature keyboard at Croma, Vijay Sales (two stores), Hypercity or Planet M.  I did see the lovely, expensive and heavy Apple bluetooth keyboard at a couple of places, but it is a definite and hilarious overkill for a tablet.  In the same vein, I find the quest for the perfect keyboard-bearing case for tablets funny.  Just buy a netbook, people.

Coming back to the topic, I have found an adequate the perfect little shoulder bag made from soft foam pad material for the Adam at Croma.  Here’s the photo, which is quite grainy, and I don’t know why.

You can detach the strap, and use the bag as a slip cover with handles.  It has two pockets in the front, where you can keep your USB pendrive or microSD card case, and has enough space inside to carry the Adam, its charger and a brick-and-mortar (well, actually paper) notebook.  There were some other bags and slipcovers and cases at Croma, none of which fit the Adam properly.

I have seen some keypads on ebay, and USB should be cheaper than bluetooth, but I would like to get my hands on a product before I buy it.  Ironic, eh?

Also on ebay.in, I saw a lot of personal wifi hotspots being sold, for prices ranging from Rs.3,500 to Rs.19,000 (for load balancing routers).  My friend is going to lend me a hotspot he had bought, so I am not buying anything right now, but you could search for terms like Cradlepoint, 3G 4G wifi, 3G router, etc.  [Update: He GIFTED a new one to me, and I went and bricked it in 3 hours].  There is one capacitive stylus from HTC being sold for Rs.399, but I did not like the looks of its nib.

-STOP PRESS-

My enthusiasm has waned to a point smaller than my stuck pixel, due to the disaster.

~*~*~*~

I currently have the following additional packages on my Adam, downloaded mostly from http://majjj.com

Dolphin Browser HD: it is good, but I don’t like it so much, especially because the title bar etc. scroll away as you move down a page

Google Maps set: haven’t used it yet, and it is unusable without a data connection

Ninjajump: good and simple game, and I love the Ninja’s cry as he falls to his death

Bloomberg: very much the same as the version on other mobiles (the Blackberry one is the best), but because of the large screen, reading news is great.  Curiously, it only operates in portrait mode

Tank Hero: NOT 3D. You can play it with a virtual D-pad or track your finger on the screen, where tactile feedback and touch screen sensitivity can become hurdles to involvement respectively.  The game looks blown up, as it was designed for a phone screen.  I did not even try to win the second level. Ho hum.

Evernote: Seems like a good idea, and you need to be online to register.  It has a notepad, web page snapshot tool, it will keep your photos and screen grabs, and index them all.  You can learn more about it.  I only want a decent notepad that is easy to use and versatile, so I can throw away the pen-and-paper version

Dejaoffice: An organizer with contacts, calendar, tasks and notes. It can sync with your PC.  I only want a decent notepad.

ES File Explorer: A good, versatile file manager and app manager with image viewer, can create / deflate some archives.  Works without a hitch, but I would like a single-click-to-select functionality please.  The multiselect button works fine for non-sequential selection as well, but touch screens are a pain, when you accidentally select-deselect while scrolling. I like it better than Androzip, which I had requested Majjj to list before using ES File Explorer.

Androzip: This is supposed to be one of the best free file managers for Android, but as its name suggests, it considers itself to be primarily a compression utility, which means that the context menu entries give file operations a lower priority.  OK with me, because I rely on ES File Explorer now.  The good thing is that it supports both rotten compression formats like RAR and modern ones like 7Zip, as well as providing 256-bit AES encryption support.  Always keep it handy for those irritating archival tasks.

Gingerbread keyboard: Definitely an improvement over the previous Android keyboard, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.  Joke, joke.  It has better accuracy than the older one.  Still, I prefer to use it only in the portrait mode, where the NI keyboard is a pain.  It is the Android / Gingerbread keyboards that are more painful to use in landscape mode because of the key size and spacing, where NI is a boon.  After you install the Gingerbread apk, you will have to go to Settings, look for Programs etc. and then within that find keyboard / input settings (I don’t have the Adam with me right now).  You’ll need to check the checkbox next to the Gingerbread keyboard before you start to see it being offered as an option with longpress.

Nimbuzz: It works as expected, and I miss Skype.  The current Android version (downloaded from Majjj’s site) does not have Twitter.  I did not install Skype because the Android version does not have video calling, and I have the Symbian client on my phone anyway.

VPlayer: I had installed it, and it expired after one day.  I have removed it and never want it again, even if it is the best video player in the universe (unless they stop charging for it.  It is based on FFMPEG, FFS).  I wait for VLC to be ported to Android, somehow.

XPiano: It works.

PowerAMP: It works, I think, but does it or the default NI music player support AAC files?  Anyway, I have a nice little Creative Zen X-Fi 8 GB music player that is quite versatile, and can take an SD card.  My Nokia also has a music player, and a great Internet Radio app.  I wish someone ports it to Android.  It is actually more of a listing of thousands of radio sites, with categorisation.  I use it to listen to some tasty jazz, and I miss the now-toasted Worldspace Satellite Radio service.

FBreaderJ: The Android version of my favourite e-book reader, which unfortunately does not support the TXT format on Android, unlike the original Linux and Windows versions.  Given the makeup of my current library, rather useless, but if you have epubs etc., do try it.  It has a good library function, and reads directly from compressed archives.  Supports two-finger zoom.

Coolreader: My favourite on Android.  Like FBReader, it is Free Software. See the video below.  It reads TXT formats too, and has backgrounds you can change based on your whim.  I didn’t like its night model, which is shining white text on a brilliant blue background.  The normal day mode, with a paper background and the Pixel Qi in transreflective  (auto-brightness) mode works well during the day, if a tad too bright for the night.  Curiously, even if I set the brightness level to its minimum, the screen looks a bit too bright in a completely unlit room.  Additionally, in such a situation, you start to see the graininess induced by the screen protector, and want to remove it.  I showed the transreflective mode on Coolreader to a friend who has recently bought a Kindle (and knows his CE devices), and he liked it.

Coolreader has page turn animation, while FBreader doesn’t, but then Coolreader doesn’t seem to have pinch-to-zoom.  I think FBReader and Coolreader are going to have a very close fight.

Now we’ve come to what bugs me the most, and in ascending order they are:

1. Quickoffice: I don’t know how to put it: it is like those devices you can plug into your car’s lighter plug, which mimic regular kitchen appliances.  Cute, but never good enough.  Sure, it has an ability to read and edit common Office formats, but it only creates new wordprocessor and spreadsheet documents.  You definitely don’t want to create office documents on Quickoffice, especially without a physical keyboard and due to the Superbug, more about which later.

In terms of performance, only the PDF reader and the Presentation application are good enough.  Two-finger zoom, scrolling / flipping are quite enjoyable.  Spreadsheets however are a complete disaster.  Firstly, files with circular errors (and probably links to external, unavailable files) fail to open at all.  Scrolling through a spreadsheet with the touchscreen crashes it more often than not.  You can bring up the NI keyboard and use its cursor keys (another big plus for NI), but then you’re eating up valuable real estate.  Wordprocessor documents can also crash while scrolling or clicking internal links, and what’s more, even a small document of a few 100kB takes forever to fully open, till which time the text is a bit too tiny and does not reflow.  Minimizing Quickoffice to go to the desktop / Eden and then bringing it back up may result into your having to reopen the document, and again wait till it is ready to reflow.  I had this issue way back with Quickoffice Reader on my Motorola E6 Rokr, which ran on Montevista Linux, but it was a puny little phone (but quite usable because of Linux), and I did not expect this on well-endowed tablet.

In short, due to such issues, using the Adam as a replacement for my laptop on business tours and in meetings seems very challenging.  I wish it had a good digitizer plus OCR function, or a way to enter text quickly, so I could use it for writing meeting notes directly.  I would also need functionality to quickly switch between say, a PDF or spreadsheet file and the notepad.

This brings us to the Superbug.

10. Android: The operating system, at least in its current avatar, is definitely not meant for tablets.  I have to agree with Google on this.  It is a Phone OS, plain and simple, even if you try to drape it in Eden’s panels.  It does not have a windowing system, which makes multitasking (by the user) a big challenge.  Its interface design and functionality are drastically different and inadequate, as compared to a regular Graphical User Interface like Linux, Mac or Windows.  For example, if you attach a mouse to the Adam, you can use it to point and click-execute.  No selection / drag to select option.  The same mouse in Quickoffice’s spreadsheet would only be good for scrolling by click-drag, and the scroll wheel doesn’t work.  Neither does drag-select for multiple cells, context menu on right click, drag-and-drop etc. and the only reason to have a mouse turns out to be that you don’t have to touch the screen.

It is not just the ability to use a mouse.  You cannot extend the functionality and capability of Android by adding kernel modules, libraries etc., at least easily.  Although it uses a Linux kernel, so much has been removed or changed that most of Linux applications and libraries would need a major overhaul to be ported.  The biggest hurdle is the use of Java / Dalvik, whereas Linux relies on the X windowing system and desktop managers and desktop environments.

I am waiting to see what Honeycomb ultimately brings to Android and Adam, but if the basic architecture is the same, then it would still disappoint.  The cumulative effect of all of this is that I really wish NI had ported Ubuntu to the Adam.  The time spent on Eden could have well been spent on optimizing the Tegra2 port and improving the touch functionality of Ubuntu Unity.  I had thought that Eden would be a fresh breeze blowing in the stagnant airs of desktop interface design, but it obviously suffers from the limitations of the underlying OS, and is only a halfway solution to using phone apps on a large screen.

Come to think of it, why didn’t I just go ahead and buy a netbook?  Probably because I did not want to have a keyboard jutting in my face when I held up the screen to read a book.

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About ND

carbon-based life form, prefers science, rationality and freedom
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10 Responses to More informed opinion

  1. nithyanand says:

    How much the deterioration in the display quality after applying the screen guard, has to do with Pixel Qi? I mean would the same result if one applies the screen guard to an LCD Adam?
    Another helpful post, by the way. I’m very interested in having Ubuntu on the Adam, too. You think we can request XDA do find us a way?

  2. nithyanand says:

    My sympathies with your having bricked the router….

  3. alpsholic says:

    Hey,
    Thanks for a detailed post. Fyi, you know Calibre? a tool to convert ebooks from one format to the other. It supports no. of formats: pdf, epub, txt, mobi..

    Btw, as you said Adam+3G is definitely a good buy over plain Adam and the price difference is just 50$. Soon, we will see really cheap 3G in India. And r u sure of buying a PQ-Adam now? You were more inclined to LCD after initial experience with PQ.

    • Nishit says:

      I would prefer to buy an IPS screen, because all TN LCDs suffer from viewing angle issues (http://www.lagom.nl/lcd-test/). However, IPS screens aren’t yet offered by any company that believes in keeping their devices free from restrictions on how you can use them.

      That said, given that PQ does not offer much real advantage in my use case, I would prefer to go for LCD, if just for the price factor. I am not sure how low (auto) backlight mode works on it though.

      Somebody should compare an LCD model with a PQ one side by side.

  4. Hi,
    Just came across your blog. Am a recent Adam owner( LCD, wifi). Does Adam have FM reception? How would you use a Belkin FM transmitter with Adam?
    Thanks.

    • Nishit says:

      Hi jarav,

      The Adam does have a built-in FM Transreceiver chip as part of its wireless module. It means it can both receive and transmit FM. Unfortunately, Notion Ink hasn’t given us the ability to use the functionality. This was the ‘mystery feature’ – a chip that is mysteriously unusable.

      You can use a Belkin FM transmitter through the audio out port – if that’s what you meant, but the range that I got from my Belkin transmitter was very poor. You could use a tablet as an in-car entertainment device by transmitting the audio to the car’s stereo by FM. Unfortunately again, this is not a very good idea for the Adam because its poor viewing angles mean that about half of the car’s occupants would constantly complain about the picture quality.

  5. Hi,
    Thanks for the reply. I too had read about this ‘mystery feature’ and this is the first time I am coming across someone confirming its existence. Please do post on your blog whenever you get any information on getting the FM transceiver to work.

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