Older blog entries for pycage (starting at number 98)

30 Oct 2010 (updated 31 Oct 2010 at 12:13 UTC) »

WeTab - A Look at the first MeeGo Tablet

A lot has been written in German media about the WeTab. Mostly, every news magazine tried to compare the Tab to Apple's iPad and came to the conclusion that it's not an iPad. What a surprise!

I've been using my WeTab 32GB for about a month, and this is what I can tell about it. Hell, I enjoy it!



Hardware

The hardware is manufactured by Asus, or more precisely, their OEM branch Pegatron. The Canadian ExoPC running Windows 7 makes use of the same hardware design, thus is the Windows brother of the WeTab. Asus is already well-known for their netbooks, so the WeTab hardware shouldn't disappoint, right?

The WeTab is available in two versions. One version has a 16 GB SSD on board, and the other version has a 32 GB SSD, GPS, and a 3G modem with SIM card slot. Both versions have a slot for SDHC cards and two USB slots, next to the audio out port and HDMI out.
The soon to be released dockingstation will have 3 USB (or was it 4?), microphone in, audio out, and RJ-45 Ethernet.



Another big plus of the 32 GB version is the built-in Broadcom Crystal-HD chip which enables the tablet to play 720p or 1080p HD videos fluently. The Crystal-HD chip is automatically used by the GStreamer framework and will soon also be available to the Flash player in the webbrowser.

It also features a proximity sensor (called the quickselect button) and an ambient light sensor that is not yet enabled by software. The built-in webcam is 1.3 megapixels. At the bottom there is a connector port for the soon to be released docking station. I saw a prototype model of the dockingstation yesterday and it looked really sexy.

The built-in accelerometer can be used for automatic screen rotation (currently the browser does this), or for games (but as of now there are no such games available). You can also turn around the tablet by 180 degrees and the screen will flip for all applications, including accelerated videos.

The tablet features a capacitive multitouch-capable 11,6" touchscreen with 1366x768 pixels (that's HD Ready resolution). The CPU is an Intel Atom N450 at 1.66 GHz, and it has 1 GiB of RAM. There's also Bluetooth 2.1 and WiFi 802.11n. 3G on the 32 GB version is quad band with UMTS / HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 MHz.

The touchscreen is a TN panel and thus not well readable from the sides, or from below, as the viewing angle is narrow. According to 4tiitoo, the reason for using a TN panel was that at the time of product design, there were no better panels available in that size and resolution.
The screen is glossy, so works well as a mirror, too, just like the Apple products.

The touchscreen initially had some firmware problems which resulted in repeated phases of unresponsiveness, with a duration of up to 3 seconds. Many people, including myself, suffered from this. The newly produced units will have an updated touchscreen firmware, so this problem is gone now. On older tablets, the new firmware will be available for flashing soon. I already got the new touchscreen firmware flashed by a 4tiitoo employee at the WeTab Community Meeting in Munich yesterday, and the problems are since gone. I'm sooo happy now! :)

Being Atom-powered, it has a fan on board. The fan itself is very silent but of course audible in a silent environment. It's not so much of a problem, though, IMHO. On the other hand, the fan-less iPad tends to switch itself off on hot days, so having a CPU fan could also be seen as an advantage.

The built-in battery currently lasts for about 4 to 5 hours, which is due to the fact that there are virtually no power optimizations in place yet. Future software updates will enable a Atom-optimized kernel and WiFi powersaving. This could help expand the runtime a bit.

Unlike the Nokia Internet Tablets and N900, there is no idle mode and you have to switch to standby instead, like on a netbook. Waking up from standby is instant and well below one second, though. The standby mode is actually "suspend to RAM".

The tablet weighs about 1 kg. Being larger than the iPad this does not come as a surprise. Was the iPad as big as the WeTab, it would weigh even more, if you do the calculation.

3G works great and I was able to surf the web during a two hour train journey yesterday, on a course where I usually have some problems surfing with the N900 at some places.



Software

The WeTab runs MeeGo, and that's the reason why I bought it in the first place. It's the first consumer hardware available running MeeGo. As there is no tablet edition of MeeGo yet, it runs a MeeGo core with a custom Qt-based UI developed by 4tiitoo.
And MeeGo pays off! It boots up within 20 to 30 seconds. That's really quick.



When the product was launched in late September, the software was at a rough and unfinished state, which could be due to the switch over to MeeGo shortly before the release. 4tiitoo had a lot of hardware problems with Ubuntu, so they (luckily) decided to switch over to MeeGo shortly before product launch.

The first time you switch on the WeTab, you will have to register yourself. This currently gives no real benefit, but eventually you will be able to access the WeTab cloud (which will be voluntary). It kinda reminds of Android phones and their registration with Google. After registration, the tablet automatically pulls the latest updates, so that you start with the latest firmware.

Since release, there have been quite a few software updates. About one major update per month and several minor bugfix updates in-between. Updates come over the air and usually install when you power off. You can also look for updates manually.

Let's take a look at some of the bundled software

The pinboard is the WeTab equivalent of the desktop. You can place and arrange application launchers and widgets there. The board scrolls vertically so you have lots of space! The background image can currently not be customized, but this will be enabled in a firmware update in November.
You cannot add launchers by yourself unless editing files via the terminal. This is just not supported as installing the software will install the launchers.

The webbrowser is probably the most critical part of the tablet's user experience. It was really bad back in September but has since greatly improved. The developers put and are putting a lot of effort into this. The browser is based on Webkit, comes with Flash 10, and since the last firmware update features multitouch pinch-to-zoom gestures for fluently zooming in and out. It's a pleasure to use. Of course on a screen with that resolution, you rarely have to zoom unless you encounter some tiny text. Kinetic scrolling in the browser feels great, too.
There is no menu for bookmarks, so all your browser bookmarks are placed as launchers with preview image on the pinboard (just like the N900 can do).

The bundled e-Mail client is Claws Mail with touchscreen improvements (it doesn't look like Claws at all anymore). It works well with fingers but since I am not using it much, I won't say more about it. People who don't like Claws did install Thunderbird.

The file manager is a weak piece. It does its job but leaves much to be desired. Especially, there are only two kinds of icons, folders and files. If you want to know more about a file, you have to select it to view the preview. Luckily, there's also Thunar available, and this is a good file manager. Nautilus is available from the RPM repository, too.

The media player for audio and video is Banshee. I don't use Banshee since I have MediaBox on my WeTab, so I can't say much about it. Other people have successfully installed XBMC, too.

The image gallery shows photos, plays slideshows and videos. It supports multitouch for zooming, and wiping gestures for skipping between images, but takes a long time to build preview images if you have a lot of photos. If could be a decent piece of software once it was faster. I'm expecting a later update to fix this.

The eBook reader is FB Reader with a custom GUI. The GUI is not that good but works for reading books. You cannot set bookmarks or directly skip to a certain page, though. And the book selection dialog (or should I rather say file dialog) is not touch optimized at all, yet.
Of course, FB Reader cannot load DRM-crippled books. For these books, some people have successfully installed Adobe Digital Editions or Amazon Kindle on the WeTab using Wine.

OpenOffice.org comes with some touch optimizations such as larger icons. But this kind of software is better used with external keyboard and mouse. Then it works like you're used to.

The maps application uses Microsoft Bing maps and comes with a widget for the pinboard and a full application with multitouch for zooming and GPS support. 4tiitoo also announced turn-by-turn voice navigation for later. OK, maybe the tablet is a bit too large for windshield mounting, though... ;)

There is a market where you can get more software like Adobe Acrobat Reader, Skype, Stellarium, some games, widgets, etc. The market is currently very small and there is no pay-content yet. You can expect more software, once the SDK (based on Qt Creator and VirtualBox image) will be published later this year.

Root shell. There is a root shell available for download in the market. Once you install it, you'll lose software warranty (of course, since from now on you can tinker with everything), but hardware warranty won't be affected. Having the root shell installed is called "expert mode", but actually it's just a launcher for a terminal (Xfce terminal to be precise) on the pinboard.

If you want more apps like Opera 10 or Opera Mobile, you can e.g. go over to http://portablelinuxapps.org. But you need the terminal for running this stuff.As it turned out, it's also possible to download them via Chromium, which opens the download folder in thunar, which in turn is able to launch them directly, after setting the executable bit. Thanks to andreas5232 from the WeTab-Community for this tip!

The next major update will add support for a wide range of DVB-T sticks for turning the WeTab into a portable TV.

Of course on a keyboard-less device the onscreen keyboard is a crucial part. The one on the WeTab feels great, is big enough for comfortable typing, but lacks keys like tilde or pipe for Unix people. On the other hand, there is a Ctrl-C key. Well, actually, it's the copy key, which happens to map to Ctrl-C, too. ;)
Keyboard layouts can be edited via a XML file, though, so missing keys can be added, if necessary. The default layout also misses the dot on the same page as the numbers, which realy sucks for entering IP addresses. :(

Should I mention multitasking? Of course, unlike that other pad, the WeTab does multitask. The task switcher works similar to the one on the N900, but without the eye candy transitions (as of today).

Android Support

The OS with the little green trashcan robot runs on the WeTab, too.
Support for Android can already be installed by brave people, but it's not officially out yet. Android 2.1 runs in a virtual machine and lets you use Android software. Since Google does not allow tablets to access the Android Market (with the exception of the Galaxy Tab, which is technically a tablet-sized phone and thus good for Google), the market in use is the Android Pit App Store.
There are quite a lot of apps available, but most stuff from the Android market not (yet). Currently Android runs rather slow (hopefully this will become better once it's officially released) and does not play videos yet. Also, many Android apps look weird when running on a large screen, because they're optimized for tiny phone displays.

A Geek's Delight

The device can easily be opened to add more RAM. Some people are running it with 2 GiB of RAM.

As of yesterday, a recovery USB image is available for restoring the device if you bricked it. Until yesterday, the brick had to be sent to the Medion support company for restoring, but this is no longer necessary, thanks to the recovery image.

People have installed Windows 7 (which runs very well according to those who run it), and Ubuntu or MeeGo netbook. It's kinda hard to boot a different OS, because this is not supported, but Linux geeks find a way. Booting from an attached USB device is locked at EFI level by Asus/Pegatron, but there are ways around.

The root shell gives you full access to the underlying MeeGo core. What else do you need? :)



In the beginning the WeTab was a bit disappointing with the touchscreen problems and unfinished software. But with every update it becomes a bit better and I really like it very much now. The battery life time is still short with approx. 4 hours, but this should be fixed by software, soon. Since I have the WeTab every week is like Christmas with little new presents all the time.

I was able to meet some people from 4tiitoo at the Community Conference yesterday, and it's really amazing how a small startup from Munich managed to bring out a MeeGo tablet with some great features before everybody else. Patience definitely payed off with the WeTab as 4tiitoo are fulfilling their promises. The future looks bright and MeeGo rocks! :D

Currently the WeTab is only available in Germany at Amazon, MediaMarkt, Otto, Conrad, Cyberport, and Lufthansa Miles and More Shop. Hopefully it will launch internationally soon.

Syndicated 2010-10-30 19:23:00 (Updated 2010-10-31 11:19:54) from Martin Grimme

27 Jun 2010 (updated 27 Jun 2010 at 17:09 UTC) »

A New Version of MediaBox for N900, N800, and N810


There is now a new version 2010.06.26 of MediaBox Media Center available in extras-testing for N900 and extras for N800 and N810.

It's somewhat a small premiere. :)
As far as I know, MediaBox is the first 3rd party media player on the N900 to support the Maemo MAFW framework for media playback.
MediaBox is also the first media player written in Python to use MAFW for playback. Of course my code for using MAFW is open for anyone to use in their Python programs.

Using MAFW on the N900 has some benefits. For instance, audio will play in silent mode and doesn't stutter while locking the screen. And you are able to control the volume with the hardware keys while the screen is locked (this requires Maemo5 PR 1.2).

In case you prefer mplayer over MAFW, and have mplayer installed on your device, you can use it as media backend as well. Or just use plain GStreamer as before. The backend to use is configurable per media type.
On the N8x0, the available backends are OSSO Media Server (the predecessor of MAFW), mplayer, and GStreamer.

How do you normally get music onto your device? Now you can browse your UPnP media shares and download whole folders with their media contents onto the device. YouTube videos can be copied to the device, too, and MediaBox manages all this with the new download manager component.

There have also been made some (a lot) performance improvements in the new version, and the handy sleep timer from the 0.96.x series of MediaBox is back.

Enjoy, and please don't forget to vote for the package if you're using it from extras-testing on the N900!

Syndicated 2010-06-27 12:59:00 (Updated 2010-06-27 16:22:50) from Martin Grimme

FM Radio for the N800

The Nokia N800, introduced in January 2007, was the first internet tablet from Nokia that featured a FM tuner chip (without RDS unfortunately).

And now the popular FM Radio application from the N900 is coming to the N800 real soon! I'm currently working on N800 support in the application so that both devices will be sharing a common code-base.

See FM Radio on the N800 in action:

Syndicated 2010-01-31 13:21:00 (Updated 2010-01-31 13:25:31) from Martin Grimme

Isn't the Maemo community awesome? :)

First we get a proof-of-concept for MMS, and now we can send USSD codes, such as *135# or *100# for checking your balance.

It's still very early, but here's a screenshot of a working app.

Syndicated 2010-01-05 23:25:00 (Updated 2010-01-05 23:31:44) from Martin Grimme

MediaBox Media Center for N900

If you have been waiting for MediaBox Media Center on the N900, then I have good news for you.

MediaBox version 2010.01.03 is now going to extras-testing for some QA. In the meantime for you to watch, I have recorded some videos with the N900's awesome TV-out feature.

Browsing UPnP shares with MediaBox is as easy as browsing the filesystem. In this video MediaBox is used for watching a movie over WiFi on the N900.



A new feature of MediaBox is the shelf. It's the starting folder where you can always return with the press of a button. You can put shortcuts to almost anything on the shelf for quick access (songs, albums, artists, videos, photos, folders, internet radio stations, playlists, you name it).



MediaBox has a finger-friendly way of reordering playlists. Simply drag the items with your finger.



Oh yes, this video shows MediaBox in portrait mode.

The upcoming MediaBox for Diablo for N8x0 will be quite similar to this version.

Syndicated 2010-01-03 17:14:00 (Updated 2010-01-03 17:17:08) from Martin Grimme

MediaBox finally supports UPnP MediaRenderer Output

The Fremantle version of MediaBox Media Center is coming along nicely. The latest development version (2009.11.1) is now in extras-devel, so if you're brave enough to test out hot fresh unstable stuff directly from extras-devel, you're invited to give it a try (installing just MediaBox from extras-devel should be pretty safe).

The big news with the latest development version is UPnP MediaRenderer support. If you have a compatible (GUPnP-Media-Renderer has been tested to be compatible so far) UPnP MediaRenderer in your network, you can have MediaBox play on that renderer instead of your phone.

If the MediaRenderer supports it, you can even play local files from your phone on it, not only stuff hosted on another UPnP/DLNA server.

Eventually, this cool stuff will be available for N8x0 users, too, of course.

Syndicated 2009-11-01 12:17:00 (Updated 2009-11-01 12:25:44) from Martin Grimme

Update on the N900 FM Radio

Success! We can receive FM radio on the N900 now.

Controlling the FM radio in the N900 is tricky stuff. At first, the hardware is disabled for power saving reasons. Bluetooth has to be powered up, the I2C communication bus has to be powered up, and only then, the FM radio driver will actually load.

I have created a package n900-fmrx-enabler for this task. The FMRX-Enabler is a D-Bus service that takes care about enabling the FM radio hardware on request and powering it down again when no application are using it.

After the driver has been loaded by the FMRX-Enabler, the FM radio provides two interfaces for controlling. A classic Video4Linux2 interface featuring only the basic stuff such as setting the frequency and muting/unmuting it, and a sysfs interface where you can read and write into file-like objects to control the radio.

Another tricky part is getting to hear sound from the radio. Unlike the N800, the FM radio doesn't output to the speakers directly. You have to capture the sound from the PGA line and play it back. A simple GStreamer pipeline such as

gst-launch pulsesrc ! pulsesink

does the job, after enabling PGA line2 and PGA capturing in the mixer.

I have uploaded an application package fmradio for the FM radio to extras-testing. Testers are encouraged to test this, too.

One drawback with the FM radio is that due to constant capturing and replaying, the FM radio is kinda demanding on the battery. There's no safe way around that. The unsafe way around that can damage your speakers, so capturing/replaying is a must.

I'm gonna put up some developer documentation for the FM radio stuff.

Syndicated 2009-10-12 06:20:00 (Updated 2009-10-12 06:24:46) from Martin Grimme

MediaBox on the N900

The popular NIT media center MediaBox is coming to the N900. Thanks to lots of user feedback the UI has been further simplified and optmized and of course "fremantlized". :)





The upcoming release for the N900 will be the first version to provide suport for portrait and landscape orientations. Browsing your music feels great in portrait mode!





MediaBox will support playing FM radio on the N900 as well (the N900 device specs don't list the FM radio, but there is one, on the Bluetooth chip).

Media indexing is now driven by tracker, the native indexer of the Fremantle OS. And if you don't like indexing you can of course browse the file system as before.

When you start MediaBox you will see the dashboard. This is where you can access your playlists, browse the device and your UPnP/DLNA servers, and access your indexed music, videos, and pictures. You can even put shortcuts to your stuff onto the dashboard for quick access, e.g. songs or albums you like, or folders with photos. No matter how deep within folders and subfolders you are, the dashboard is only one finger-tap away.

Another new feature is the folder history where you can see the folders where you recently were and go back.

If you have Tuomas Kulve's ogg-support installed, you will also be able to play Ogg Vorbis and FLAC music.

MediaBox still uses its own lightweight UPnP subsystem instead of gupnp that comes with Fremantle. My experience shows that the UPnP subsystem of MediaBox is still more compatible with the servers out there than gupnp is right now.

MediaBox is currently in the extras-devel repository for Fremantle and it's marked as an incomplete beta version. I expect to upload the full release later this month, after which it moves on to the extras-testing repository for community Q&A. Then it should only be a matter of time until it will appear in the extras repository.
The beta version in extras-devel is now updated frequently.

The new version will also be available for Diablo after the release for Fremantle. Portrait mode will be supported on Diablo, too, if you have rotation-support installed.

Syndicated 2009-10-10 14:59:00 (Updated 2009-10-10 15:22:56) from Martin Grimme

MediaBox Media Center 0.96.5 with New Features

After several weeks of development, I have now released version 0.96.5 of MediaBox Media Center. Lots of user feedback helped shape the new version.

Most notably the user interface looks a bit different now as it has been tidied up for a more consistent look & feel and much better performance with reduced memory footprint.

Quick Scrolling and Search

The item lists have a thumbable scrollbar and a index letter display helps you find your way while quick scrolling.

Finding stuff in long lists

While searching for an item with the onscreen-keyboard or a hardware-keyboard, you can skip to the previous and next search results by pressing up or down on the D-pad.

Falling Asleep and Waking Up with Music

If you like to fall asleep with music or want to wake up with music, you will love the new sleep timer. Simply set the time when MediaBox should start or stop playing in the preferences viewer and select the media you want to have played. The sleep timer simulates PLAY and STOP actions so it can be used with virtually any media. For instance, you can have MediaBox wake you up with FM radio on the N800. With this feature, my N800 finally earned a steady place next to my bed.

The new sleep timer

Timed Karaoke Lyrics

Do you like lyrics? MediaBox displays song lyrics in LRC format. LRC lyrics files need to match the file name of the song file, e.g. "Song.mp3" and "Song.lrc".
LRC is a popular file format in China, and you can find lots of lyrics on various lyrics servers. Since LRC files are text files, you can also create them yourself.
I plan on making a LRC editor for MediaBox in the near future, too.

As always, MediaBox is available for N800 and N810 in the maemo-extras repository.
Nokia 770 users can retrieve MediaBox from the SVN repository or manually pull the
deb packages from the Chinook maemo-extras repository server.

A full list of what's new can be found in the release notes.

Syndicated 2009-06-04 18:33:00 (Updated 2009-06-04 18:58:03) from Martin Grimme

19 May 2009 (updated 20 May 2009 at 08:08 UTC) »

Mer plays videos with MediaBox



Another milestone has been reached in the Mer project on its way to eventually replace Maemo on the N8x0 devices. It will be possible to play videos with Mer 0.13. The current SVN version of MediaBox supports Mer and uses the libxine backend for video playback.

After installing libxine and MediaBox SVN version on Mer, you will need to install the D-Bus-Xine service. D-Bus-Xine is a simple D-Bus service for embedding libxine in applications. It was originally written for enabling DVD playback
with MediaBox on PCs.

A version compiled for Mer-ARMEL can be found here. If you want to compile D-Bus-Xine yourself, you can also download its source code.

I haven't built deb packages for D-Bus-Xine yet, so you'll have to manually extract the tarball in the root directory (/) on Mer.

After having started MediaBox, you should enter its preferences view
and set the media backends to Xine for all filetypes that you want to be able play.
However, there is no sound support yet in Mer 0.13, so don't expect too much.

EDIT: see the comments for how to get sound

Syndicated 2009-05-19 20:06:00 (Updated 2009-05-20 07:50:41) from Martin Grimme

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