# Thursday, 18 February 2010

So I’ve talked about Small Basic before, and they’ve just released a new version. So what’s so cool about this nice little tool for learning basic? Well it’s about how you can now show code to people. For example, let’s say I have a simple turtle program and while I can show you the code here.

start:
GraphicsWindow.Clear()
Turtle.MoveTo (0,0)
Turtle.MoveTo(GraphicsWindow.Width,0)
Turtle.MoveTo(0,GraphicsWindow.Height)
Turtle.MoveTo(GraphicsWindow.width,graphicswindow.Height)
Turtle.MoveTo(0,0)
Goto start

Then start explaining what the code does or… if you have already downloaded Small Basic, I could give you the Small Basic code of TRM169

Or… you can just SEE THE CODE IN ACTION with the brand new RUN IN SILVERLIGHT publishing capability and you can actually see how the code runs!

And that is just so farking cool! Unbelievably useful for showing people how code samples would work! Think there are still some bugs though, but not a bad start.


Thursday, 18 February 2010 20:50:55 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  | 
# Tuesday, 16 February 2010

2 widely used touchscreen technologies, resistive and capacitive. Both are essentially touchscreens which allows you to interact with the system with your fingers but what about when you want to WRITE on them? Like when I want to scribble ideas in OneNote? That's when I realized how different they work in that aspect. Check out the video.


Tuesday, 16 February 2010 16:27:31 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  | 

So... it's was just announced... Windows Phone 7 Series it is... And after the whirlwind of a coming out party. Here are my initial thoughts on the system. And I'm gonna count up how many shots of alcohol I'm gonna take after this. Go watch the coming out video first if you haven't done so yet.

The Zune UI -

peoplehub

It sure looks like something you'll either love or hate with all the cropped title bars and stuff. My main worry is that with this spanking new UI. Backward compatibility with previous apps is damn near IMPOSSIBLE to achieve, in fact if you watch the video webcast (which they say they'll put an archived version up later) They said that they didn't want to splinter the UI experience anymore, ie. HTC's touchflow, Sony's XPanels, Samsung's shitty Omnia menu, etc. etc. Putting backward compatibility for WM apps will end up like putting backward compatibility for when Pocket PC's moved the start menu from the bottom to the top. The other telltale sign that backward compatibility is dead is the catchphrase that appears in the preview video that it's a brand NEW BEGINNING (or something like that)

While losing backward compatibility is a VERY BIG ISSUE, starting fresh with a new system architecture that knows how to deal with programs whose developers didn't take much effort into respecting the rules of the system will be good for the system in the long run. And so I shall drink to all the great Windows Mobile programs which *might* be lost in this transition (more dev info coming during the Mix conference) And hope that future developers can take better charge of their code, less the OS do it for them.

Is there multitasking or not? - This is a big question that was not answered, but just hinted by the preview video. The video poked fun at the fact that other phones *cough* iPhone *cough* let's you do one thing at a time, stare at one chunk of info at a time and no way to interact with it. This is because when you allow multitasking in a device with system constraints like a phone, a program is liable to kill and collapse the device, ie. Opening WAAAAYY too many heavy webpages in your web browsers on your phone. But then... the preview video kept talking about how we'll be able to have Live In Motion with the new Windows Phone 7 Series. So what kind of multitasking support would we as developers will get? Here's my theory, observe the Start screen (ie the new Today screen).

startscreen

Now... during the webcast, a few things can be observed. The Live Tiles as they are called, were refered to as  SUPER ICONS that deliver up to date information relevant to that tile. Tapping on the tile brings you over to the relevant Hub. My theory is that the Tiles are just like the Today screen plugins in Windows Mobile, and these are the ONLY THINGS that actually multitask, so programmers will be encouraged to split their apps into services and UI portions to retrieve data and present them to the user. Of course this model would only apply for task based apps like Messenger, Twitter, etc. etc. Doesn't answer how a new alternative music player would work to play music in the background.

Another interesting thing which I noticed was that, no one mentioned anything about an application launching screen. While this Start Screen sure looks like it could be it, I shudder to think what happens when you've installed enough tiles to make the user have to run a finger marathon to get to what they need. Oh wait... the iPhone already does that!

It's an interesting concept, and I guess I'll know the answer when Mix arrives.

What is the developer experience? - For me and countless other developers out there, this is the question that still remains unanswered, can we still write apps without paying additional licensing fees? can we deploy apps without using marketplace? WHAT do we write apps with? All these questions will have to wait till Mix to be answered. But I have my theories. While using .Net to write apps is practically a no brainer, the main question here is... WHAT DO WE DEVELOPE THE UI WITH? A typical WinForms app would clash HORRIBLY with the new Zune UI, not to mention it'd be crazy to try and implement an animation engine for elements and such. If only Microsoft had some sort of framework for presenting and animating elements through a storyboard, if only Microsoft had some form of runtime that can be used to sandbox applications and yet still provide the flexibility of a rich presentation experience along with the core .Net familiarity to the developers...

Oh wait... there is! Microsoft has both Windows Presentation Framework and Silverlight which can be used as a basis of creating rich animated applications. And the base specification of the device is supposed to be able to support all this now!

I'll drink myself silly if there's no way to write .Net code on a Windows Phone 7 Series, and it just wouldn't make sense for MS to have to make yet another framework for rich applications which doesn't inherit from WPF or Silverlight.

We'll find out at Mix I guess.

There is one thing to note though, with all the talk about games, and Live integration.  And the fact that the hardware platform and specifications have been standardized. It's not too hard to picture XNA support to be in Windows Phone 7.

The hardware platform - The Windows Phone 7 Series (Hey.. that grammar is just wrong!) device platform has a standardized specification. So everyone will have a WVGA screen (that's 480x800 I guess, hey.. I think I know what kind of upgrade the iPhone 4G will get!) At least a said high spec'ed process and if I didn't hear correctly... FOUR POINT MULTITOUCH? I personally don't get the idea of multitouch as UI gestures, cause they're usually not intuitive and they generally means you can't do the operation with one hand which is important on a phone. But having 2 point multitouch helped the iPhone gaming industry since you could have a virtual joypad where you could move and press ONE button at a time. But FOUR points? Is that really necessary? Can you actually fit four fingers on a screen and STILL see what you're doing?

The 3 buttons on a Windows Phone 7 device will be Start, Back and Search. while I understand why the first 2 buttons are there, the Search button..... well I guess we'll see how that works out. I guess it's more useful than a call button which only searches for your contacts, but can it guarantee that I can find a person to call as fast as on my Windows Mobile phone right now and not as inefficient as the iPhone dialer?

Right now the virtual keyboard looks like a copy of the iPhone one, and I didn't see it in use enough to notice if it shares the same deficiencies (ie. letter's don't change to indicate CASING state). There're more screen pixels, why can't a better keyboard be made?

I'm glad that Microsoft isn't making the phone, since if Microsoft IS making the phone it'll most likely mean WE'LL NEVER GET IT IN MALAYSIA, since that'll mean they need to have an entire support for the device over here. They can't even do that for a game console or music player, how could they do it for a phone even if the target market is larger? I'll drink to that.

The integration with the Zune software is nice and everything, but if it means that I can't use my phone immediately upon purchase and have to activate it using the Zune software ala the iPod/iPhone, that would NOT be nice!

Ok... let's wait for Mix and see what else I can rant on, and see wheter I'm right about certain things.


Tuesday, 16 February 2010 00:35:12 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  | 
# Sunday, 14 February 2010

2009 was supposed to be the year we see cheap Tablet PCs running with Netbook hardware, but Asus become the only one who actually 'shipped' a netbook Tablet PC. But then again shipped might be too strong a word since it was almost impossible to actually find one on the shelves here.

But now there's a Tablet PC netbook that is widely available. And it feels pretty good to use too.

DSC05694

This is the Lenovo S10-3T Convertible Tablet PC Netbook. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, it means you can take the notebook from this position.

DSC05709

Give the screen a little twist...

DSC05721

And you end up with the screen looking at the other side.

DSC05722

At which point you can plop it down and you've got...

DSC05727

The iPad!!!!! Seriously people, this thing has the same screen dimensions and resolution as the upcoming Apple iPad but of course is an actual PC. While the thing isn't light weighing in at a bit more than 1 kilograms, it's a great example of things to come if this happens to be the year where touchable PCs drop to an affordable price point ala the original idea of the Widnows Tablet PC concept.

Oh for those of you who are familiar with Tablet PCs, let me answer a few questions that you might have. The screen hinge is TIGHT it basically snaps into position at the 0 and 180 degree points and once it locks, it's gonna STAY there! I wonder if this friction will be there throughout the thing's lifespan?

Also another interesting tidbit for the Tablet PC enthusiasts, so... which direction does the screen rotate? Clockwise or counter clockwise? The writing on the hinge gives the answer.

DSC05713

It can rotate 180 degrees in BOTH directions, it can't rotate 360 degrees which means you have to return it back to tablet mode with the same path you took getting there. This was unexpected on this sub RM2000 (~USD600) tablet pc.

Another thing that surprised me was how they designed the hinge and battery, normally tablet pc batteries are in front cause they need to make space for the hinge assembly, so imagine my surprise when the bottom of the S10-3T sans battery looked like this.

lenovoback

The hinge assembly is staring at me right in the face! That would mean that the battery would need to have a hole in the middle. And it does have a little valley in the middle of the battery that slides into and covers the hinge assembly.

s10batt

Other interesting things of note is that this has the typical assortment of netbook ports, which means.

DSC05702

On the right from right to left, analog VGA, 2 USB ports, a hole for where the TV antennae would go in another model, and the bluetooth/wireless switch.

DSC05701

On the left from left to right, the power jack, network jack, air vent (yes, it get's pretty loud if you get the CPU worked up enough that the fan needs to engage at full strength) and the 2 audio jacks.

DSC05730

On the front you'll find a rubber cover blocking an SD card slot, which unfortunately is NOT ABLE to close when there's a card in the slot. On the other end of the front panel you'll find the builtin mic, now before you say "That feels like a bad place for a builtin mic!" IT IS! Either the placement is bad, or the mic just plain sucks but it's TERRIBLE as a Skype communicator, I think you'd have to speak directly into it for it to work properly. Pickup is pretty poor when you just try to talk while typing on the keyboard.

Speaking of the keyboard.

DSC05711

It's a very nice keyboard! Almost feels like they didn't need to compromise on the key size at all! But note that they DID compromise on the touch pad, it's one of those new fangled ones where the buttons are embedded in the lower left and right corners of the pad. Which means if you don't install the actual Synaptic touchpad drivers the touchpad will still register mouse movement when you move your finger in those areas when you try to click the mouse. NOT something you want to happen!

DSC05715

The lower left corner of the screen has a vertical strip of 3 shortcut buttons, from the bottom up they are the mute button (it's almost as if they know people have to need to quickly mute the volume of whatever they're watching!) The rotate display button (There's also an app which rotates the display based on the orientation of the device for you people who love auto orientation rotation, I HATE IT!) And... I have no idea what the 3rd button does...  I think it should fire up the Lenovo launcher program but I couldn't reinstall that when I installed Windows 7 Ultimate on the thing. So the button does nothing right now.

DSC05714

The power button is on the lower right corner of the screen, along with a switch for you to lock the power button so you don't accidentally turn off the machine when holding the thing in tablet mode.

DSC05716

The camera is off center on the upper right corner of the screen, why do people feel that this is a good place to put it? Or is it there only because there's no where else for it to go?

And now let's talk about how well it works!

So, after all the show and tell pictures let's talk about how does it perform. Well, first of all the S10-3T runs the new Intel Atom N450 aka Pineview aka Cheaper, Faster processor than previous Atoms. It IS spiffer than any other N270 or N280 netbook I've seen. Most evident when running Plants vs Zombies, my benchmark for netbook performance. It can handle your Flash games a bit better than the old processors but don't expect any miracles on the video processing side.

Speaking of which, WITHOUT the GMA 500 graphics that was in previous Z series Atoms, kiss hardware H.264 decoding good bye! There's no way to watch 720P video on this thing.... unless you go get a proper software video decoder such as CoreCodec's CoreAVC with it, you CAN actually watch most 720P video... and not do anything else which you're doing so. Also... if you do watch such high bitrate videos, you'd be torturing the CPU a lot so expect the expected battery life to drop from 4 hours to... 2 hours?

The base configuration for the S10-3T that I've got came with 1GB of RAM, but the RAM slot (and hard disk it seems, yeah it's a normal spindle drive and not an SSD.) is easily accesible and can be swapped out for a 2GB, I just wonder why they went and stuck a warranty serial sticker over the RAM chip if they expected users to change it?

The 2 point multitouch capacitive touchscreen works as advertised, and with Windows 7's touch enhancements it's VERY possible to control and use your apps in Tablet form without too many problems. (I'm gonna be recording some video about the Windows 7 touch features soon to show this off) Oh.. there doesn't seem to be any palm rejection on the screen, I've just bought a stylus for use on capacitive screens, but I'm having an interesting experience with that and it's in need of another report.

But here comes the biggest problem!

While Windows 7 makes the system fully usable using only touch operations, the touch features are only available in HOME PREMIUM AND ABOVE. In order to keep the entry price level low, the S10-3T ships with Windows 7 Starter Edition. On ANY ORDINARY Netbook, that would be enough to use the system efficiently. But on a touch equipped system like the S10-3T you WANT Windows 7 Home Premium and above on it if you really want to take full advantage of your touch screen. (Lenovo did include apps that use the multitouch functionality even in Windows 7 Starter, but that's ONLY in specific applications, nothing beats having actual OS support for multitouch) So if you do pick up the Starter Edition unit (which seems to be the only one available here in Malaysia right now) Do pick up a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium so you can upgrade to it and make full use of your hardware.

So what's the verdict?

This is gonna be much easier to do than the Fujitsu UH900... If you're looking for a Tablet PC Netbook right NOW? This would make a good one, it has multi touch, relatively cheap, good performance, just do remember to iupgrade up Windows 7 Home Premium at least! If you're looking for a Pineview Netbook but are not particularly interested in touch features, plenty of other cheaper ones out there.

I'm still shocked at the quality of the device vs the price, I'm glad we've come to this point for the Tablet PCs, the point where a convertible Tablet PC is actually affordable and without a high premium compared to normal laptops. Hopefully this will spur the industry to make better computers to write on now!


Sunday, 14 February 2010 00:05:21 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  | 
# Saturday, 13 February 2010

See.. I'm not the only one that's an influence to WZ's gaming activities.

DSC05743


Saturday, 13 February 2010 22:26:24 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  |