iphone5 review – verizon LTE rocks

I finally switched from Android to the apple iPhone5 with iOS6, and I am loving it. I was eyeing the iphone 4s for a while but it’s internet speed was just so ridiculously slow compared to a state of the art android phones that it was out of the question. Well that concern has been lifted with the iPhone5, I got 30Mbit down and 10Mbit upload on Verizon the other day. Of course that means I burn through my shared 6G dataplan quickly if I don’t watch it, i.e. uploading 150 birthday party photos in one swoop to facebook 🙂

Battery life is excellent, especially compared to my my HTC G2 and my wifes myTouch. This morning I intentially let the iphone run to 1% after not charging it for 1 day and 8 hours, with 8 hours talktime. A friend of mine had issues with short battery life and identified the google voice application as the culprit. I have not been using that so I am fine, even with intense facebook / email / web browsing. Maybe because at home as well as at work I am close to a wifi network, unless I want to leverage the LTE speeds for downloading or uploading large amounts of data in a short time. 

The maps problems I have not run into yet, maybe living in California makes that easier to be accurate. 

Siri is excellent, I use it all the time from dictating SMS’s while in the car to starting music, navigation, initiating FaceTime… facetime is fun, like skype but better quality and easier to get going. Also it does not use the voice network, so it does not interrupt data on the verizon network.

Video recording and picture taking is awesome, I so hated it on my G2 that by the time I got the photo app going and pressed the button to the time that the shutter action actually got executed, the subject already walked away.  Or all the mafunctioning moments.  On the iphone it’s so perfect and so immediate, that I am actually able to use it happily rather than just try and hate.  

And the screen is fantastic too, colors are true, unlike the Samsung S3 that I had toyed with before the iphone5 came out – I am surprised that not more people seem to care, but when I tried it in the t-mobile store, photo and video on the S3 had way wrong colors, even watching a movie on netflix would be affected. I guess the specs are great but the color representation makes it look broken to my eyes.

And the apps are just awesome, and they are the same I am having on my ipad already, without extra effort they just got synced on and work. 

Airplay of my music to the living-room stereo while making breakfast in the kitchen is another highlight of how I enjoy it. 


So what do I not like? 

Email notification does not seem as immediate as I am used to from Android. I miss swype as a keyboard method, but not as much as I thought I would, since the predictive correction method is actually highly effective on the iPhone). I slightly but not really miss USB mounting the phone SD card as a usb drive. Since I use itunes on a macbook I am actually happy about the ease with which I get to carry my recent music with me via syncing rather than having to manage files or deal with the offline/online google music stuff.

Really trying hard to think here, but I guess one downside to the great games and apps is that my kids constantly ask for it 🙂


One year macbook pro – issues after upgrade to 500G travelstar hitachi drive – solved

I was happily surprised to find that the 500G hitachi travelstar 7200rpm / 16M cache costs only $99 at amazon.com. Since I had been wasting too much time deleting old stuff on my 250G drive to make room for new photos and videos, I tried to upgrade.

For that I did some google research first, and most people recommended an extra (free) software called superduper that allows to clone out the existing installation onto the (external USB chassis assumed) new harddisk before swapping the two out for each other. This was a good tip, as it made sure the cloned disk was also bootable. The process took about 5 hours, using an external usb drive bay device which I picked up for $25 over lunch at Frys.

Since I had a fairly new macbook pro 15″, it was very simple to replace the existing drive, a 5 minute job.

The first impression after swapping out the two drives, was that I almost doubled my read speed, very impressive, however then also the problems started: hangs with the colorful beachball waiting for some timeout before the app would react again.

Especially using slideshows with iphoto now provokes the problem. A disk test with the diskutil claims the drive is fine.

Turning off the motion sensor that autoparks the drive via pmset was not the solution to the problem, so I turned it back on.

This is very annoying, and I have spent hours researching all the different speculations of people on what it could be. The root cause turns out to be that the EFI upgrade to allow 3Gbps SATA speeds that apple rolled out in support of their SSD’s does create this problem for normal SATA drives that support 3Gbps. Some people seem to be able to downgrade from EFI 1.7 to 1.6 to fix the issue, and some report it does not work for them.

Others mention ftool from hitachi’s support website, which allows to disable the 3Gbps / SCC support, which was turning out to be the fix that works for me. Of course the boot image you download is useless when booted on the intel mac, for some reason the keyboard is not working, and attaching an external keyboard did not help either.

The PDF with the documentation for ftool of course only talks about how to use the tools interactive menus, but I suspected there must be a way to use it with command line parameters instead.

So I ended up copying the iso-boot image to a linux machine, mounting it, using ‘strings’ on the ftool.exe executable to discover that the command line parameters I want are: ‘/ALL /SS LOW DISABLE’.

Since you can’t just mount the iso read-write and modify it, I had to use a different opendos boot floppy image that that fits into the floppy boot area of a cdrom, and then recreate the iso with mkisofs. This caused me quite some grief and after 2 hours of trial and error between trying to get real work done  and 4 coaster cdr’s later, I finally got it to work. Funny enough the keyboard works when booting that opendos image, but only until you start ftool, then the menus again are not navigable.

And after typing it in, it adjusted the drive firmware settings and it all works now !

A dd read/write of a 10GB file about in the middle of the platter performed with about 64MB/s write, 73.6MB/s read. Not too shabby, I think the 5400 rpm drive I had in earlier was reading with more like 40MB/s.

Finally live is nice again, iphoto presentations play without interruption, and I can stop worrying about it all.

Mobile application development middleware?

I am the author of an ExtJS based cluster management web-application (Scyld IMF at Penguin Computing) that allows controlling a high performance compute cluster from any web-browser, be it from your desktop or from a mobile device. This works fairly well already even without writing a special view for the mobile devices as current smartphones (iphone, android) come essentially with a full blown javascript capable web-browsers and lots of processing power. However performance still could be better by having a native app that uses the same data sources / api as the full blown web-application (javascript app running on the browser being the client to the webservice-api on the server side), but implementing the view natively.

After hacking up a proof of concept for the iphone (thanks John for your awesome iphone JSON flickr tutorial and xcode example for download) and thinking of how to do the same for android without duplicating effort, I realized that it would be nice to be able to have some kind of middleware that allows me to create and populate native gui components without code duplication.

One such middleware is phonegap which requires you to write your application in javascript and html, and allows accessing phone specific features through javascript calling the middleware. It then is bundled as a native application that can be submitted to the app store for purchase and can run completely offline once downloaded, unless the programmer chooses to access remote resources. Their initial focus seems to have been allowing access to smartphone specific features like the address book, vibrate and sound, gps location and such, but there also is code in there to use native gui components as well.

I have two problems with the approach:

1. development of javascript – while palm pre developers might tout this as an advantage, I find javascript development and debugging rather tedious and would prefer writing my code in java or objective-c and be able to run it through a full control debugger on my desktop before deploying it to the simulator. I know about and am actively using firebug, the javascript debugger for firefox, but a lot of the bugs I had to deal with were incredibly hard to hunt down and rather than the debugger it was the forums and interacting with developers on #extjs chat, as well as using jslint and manually analyzing code, that helped me figure out a root-cause, workaround or fix.

2. performance – developers report that the phonegap version of their app appears to consume more resources rather than less compared to a remotely hosted javascript app, accessed through the mobile devices web-browser. Apart from the overhead of having to parse javascript at runtime, developers sometimes need platform specific knowledge and implement different than for a web-application, i.e. iphone onclick events being much slower from the touchscreen than ontouch events.

The advantage on the other hand appears to be that it is relatively easy to add new mobile platforms to phonegap. So far they appear to have iphone, android, blackberry and some nokia platforms covered, with palm pre being on the horizon to be added beginning of next year.

And according to phonegaps website, there are already several real-world phonegap powered apps in the marketplaces of both the iphone and android.


My first day with the Google Android G1 phone – yeah I did it!

It’s not as if I had not given it plenty of thought 🙂 I even owned the first generation iphone for about a week before dropping back to my treo 680 – and if having full enterprise email access (via goodlink service) would not cost me $240/year in fees on top of the wireless internet plans on the 680, I might even still be ok with that.

So finally after hesitating for almost a year, I jumped ship, knowing that I won’t have my enterprise calendar/email for a while longer but at least have a decent internet phone, I bought it through costco to get the extra bluetooth piece and car-charger for almost the same price, and I am happy and very impressed !

First notable impressions (I already read all the reviews beforehand and knew what to expect for the most part, won’t mention those things here)

1. I could mount the phones storage through usb on my linux system and just copy over the images and mp3’s that I wanted to take with me. Take that, apple/iphone! Yes I own the content that I import, not you. And I will plug in a larger micro-SD card as soon as I got it from tigerdirect.

There was however a weird thing that the partition on the storage only showed up once I selected ‘mount though usb’ on the G1 phone side, but once I had googled that tidbit of information it worked like a charm, and Fedora 9 mounted it for me automatically.

2. application marketplace

Holy moly more than I care to know about.  So I used search to find what I was most interested in and had heard about, and tried out some of the featured apps as well. I did not see any for-pay apps yet.

Interesting that before installing you are asked to read multiple pages of license stuff that all is very uninteresting for a user. I wonder if that can even be legally binding if they hide something in there that actually matters – most of it talks about rights to copying software, how does that relate to a phone user downloading it through the marketplace that the company provides it through is beyond me.

Also interesting that before installing it tells you what the application requests to get control over, i.e. your address book, your wifi connection, your gps location, for-pay services like SMS…  and just like with Windows XP AntiVirus/AntiSpyware systems you have to OK all those things anyways to get it to work. But at least you are warned 🙂

With all those services asking for a signup I am surprised that we don’t have automatic fill-in of first-name last-name into the signup forms…

Here are the 8 apps  I installed on my first try:

– ShopSavvy (not ShopSawy 🙂 )- point your camera at a bar-code and it tries to identify the item, get you prices and locations. At first I was real impressed, I tried it with a book and it found it right away, quoted me three different prices and locations to buy it at, and with two clicks I got my gps telling me how to get there from where I currently was. Very cool. It also quoted a cheaper online price, did not pursue that.

So I thought, yeah this is as cool as I read about it before. My wife came home and I tried to impress her: I tried it with two vegetable cans and it could not grasp the barcode – probably since it was round? I tried a cereal box and it read the barcode then said it found nothing. Mhm, so maybe not that much stuff in the database yet…

– pacman – looks like the original. You can use the accelerator method to navigate it, which means instead of pressing keys you tilt your phone – almost like a wee control 🙂

– bonsai blast – nice color game, not tried to really play it yet

– imap weather – does what it needs to do plus more. Fails to find my location sometimes and then crashes. Not impressed.

– Wertago – ‘where to go’ nightlife guide application, kind of like yelp but yet-another-social-network-thing. I did not bother to create the account but found the crowd kind of wierd… however this is probably the kind of thing that is going to be really useful once there are more reviews in it.

– Meridian Video Player – I hoped to be able to play my eve online trailers (mov/wmv), but it did not work. Oh well.

– cab4me light – finds phone numbers of local cab companies. Nice…

– imeem mobile –  an internet radio station but tailored to your taste. Wow, just typed in Metallica in the search and now get all those metal songs from all those bands. Nice, have not listened to Manowar in a while…

3. Access to wireless

It was really simple to setup (select wifi station from list identified, enter WEP code, done) but I was surprised that web browsing still seems as slow as over edge/g3. Mhm…

4. what am I going to miss form my treo 680

– real good keyboard – the g1 is not terrible but far from being as good.

– uploading pictures straight to facebook off of the sd card ejected from my digital camera – the workarounds could be getting a microsd in sd adapter and take pictures to that (supposedly much slower than sd though) or even better to get a wifi enabled sd-card (eyefi) – then I would no longer need to eject the card.

– faster/earlier rendering of my most frequented websites in the web-browser.

– superefficient email/contacts when paying the $240/year goodlink fees. but not gonna anyways.

– reasonable low resolution video

5. What I am not going to miss from my treo 680

– call dropping or going on hold right after accepting the call when I fumble the ringing phone out of the pocket

– always out of battery when I needed it the most – lets see how the G1 fares on that 🙂

– real bad (i.e. unusable) mp3 player, harsh electric interference noise when it transmitted data and playing music at the same time

– low resolution photo camera

Finally I returned my iphone

I finally pulled the plug on it, went back to the apple store and returned my iphone. They wanted to charge me a 10% restocking fee, but with a little insisting they waved that. Now I am back to a Treo 680 and happy:

1. no more waiting for webpages – yes the treo also only has Edge, but instead of waiting several minutes for my newspage like tagesschau.de or heise.de on the iphone I get to see the first part of it after a few seconds while it is still loading the rest.

2. goodlink email and calendar integration syncs in realtime automatically

3. no more trusted computing bullshit keeping me from using my data the way I want it

4. a real keyboard, not that terrible touchscreen keyboard.

5. cut and paste

Get this, the iphone has 8G of memory built-in, and no slot for an SD card. No big deal with 8G internal memory I thought, but it really implies that you cannot move storage between your phone and you computer. Should not matter because of WIFI? Well it does, because apple enforces a trusted computing framework on you that basically prevents all the cool stuff that would be possible:

1. they don’t allow you to save images or other files from the webbrowser or email to that 8G of storage.
2. they dont allow you to even listen to an mp3 thats linked on a webpage, i.e. amazon.com music store previews – it only works for  apples music store. Surprise!
3. they don’t allow you to access any files on your phone, not even your own, except gated by an itunes application, connected with USB only. Your wifi connection is rendered useless for anything except again apple itunes store and webbrowsing. So in consequence you have to have either a macos-x or a windows-xp machine in order to even put your photos and music onto the device.
4. if your computer with the itunes application and library crashes, and you have to find a replacement, guess what, the freshly installed itunes will not allow you to get your photos and/or music off of your phone, instead it says ‘this was not created with this itunes, do you want me to erase the device?’ Erase MY PHOTOS? WTF!

Thats when I decided to return it.

Note that while there is only an itunes application for macosx and windows-xp from apple, there are linux-applications (gtkpod, banshee) that allow to connect to regular ipods and import/export files that way, but apple prevented that so far in the iphone.

I guess I will be having a treo for a while until the google android or an openmobile phone comes out that does not put you into a trusted computing box but is designed with freedom in mind instead.