Archive for the ‘Smartphone’ Category.

Tethering the Centro: A Tale of Failure

I guess I can see it both ways on the subject of tethering.

Verizon wants to charge $15 per month on top of my “unlimited” data plan to allow me to use my Centro as a mobile broadband card. There are two opposing points of view one could have on this billing strategy.

CONSUMER POV: They want to charge me twice for the same data? Have the $100-dollar bills clogging their arteries finally cut off the circulation to the corporate brain!?

VERIZON POV: We view the customer as a piñata that can be beaten until cash comes pouring out. A tethering charge is just another nail-encrusted board that can be used to pound that stupid piñata until it bleeds green.

I have very little respect for cell phone service providers. The contracts, the incompatibilities (i.e., GSM vs CDMA), the ridiculous charges for text messaging, the insulting mall kiosks, and the aforementioned tethering cost… every time I turn around I feel Verizon’s blackened claws raking across my wallet.

Looking at past bills, I’m only pulling around 20 MB/month on the Centro. This paltry amount would obviously increase if I were able to attach that Internet pipe to my MacBook. Even so, I still wouldn’t use enough bandwidth to warrant a recurring extra charge. This calls for a workaround!

PdaNet – this is exactly what I’m looking for, except that it only runs on Windows. And no, I don’t feel like setting up a virtual machine to get it working. UPDATE: since originally writing this post I have acquired a Droid, and PdaNet has produced an OS X version. Works great!

USB Modem – aha, supposedly USB Modem works on OS X and even Linux. Unfortunately this note at the top of their homepage gives me pause:

However, for more reliable work with Sprint or Verizon carriers you may need to purchase their tethering plan.

A somewhat vague statement, but certainly not an encouraging one. The problem is that having an unofficial tethering capability is such a low priority for me that I’m not sure it’s worth playing around with programs like these to see if they work. Though if needs be, I will always pursue that route rather than pay some ridiculous Machiavellian tethering charge.

Palm Centro battery drains in flaky coverage

Maybe Verizon doesn’t have any “dead zones”, but one of my workplaces has what I’ll call a Maelstrom Zone. Even though I’m stationary within the Maelstrom, the Centro seems to bounce back and forth between a Verizon network and an “Extended” (read: roaming) network. Moreover, coverage swings wildly between 0 and 4 bars on just the Verizon network alone.

This results in missed calls, poor call quality, errors sending texts, and delays in receiving texts. But more annoyingly is that after a full day in the Maelstrom, the Centro’s battery has drained to a sliver. This will happen even if I barely use the device; the tidal forces of this strange vortex are enough to rip away the Centro’s life energy.

I’d love to see a log of the cell towers that the Centro is using over the course of the day, but I’ll save that experiment for another time. My main concern was how to prevent the battery from draining so drastically. I hit up some forums and wound up trying a couple of things:

Changing the Select Band parameter from Automatic to Home did NOT work. This makes some amount of sense because of the wild oscillations I see in Verizon (read: Home) network coverage while in the Maelstrom. I wish I could select an Extended band so I could verify that the issue is Verizon network coverage in the Maelstrom.

Changing Date & Time to Automatically set: Nothing WORKED!. I guess trying to keep the time updated while in the Maelstrom is pretty taxing. I went from leaving work with around 1/5 of the battery left to having maybe 4/5 left.

Centro > Treo 650

Following up on my previous smartphone post, I’ve been using the Centro for over a month now and find it to be a pretty solid upgrade from the Treo 650. I’ll try to keep this brief and just lay out the pros and cons of the switch.

Pros:

  1. After a call ends, the elusive “Do you want to add this contact?” dialogue stays on the screen for more than 250 milliseconds. In fact, it stays there long enough for you to actually do something with it
  2. Text messaging is much less buggy in terms of the coloring of incoming/outgoing messages
  3. The device seems to wake up when it’s supposed to, unlike the Treo which would randomly “oversleep”
  4. Includes some decent apps without extra cost: VersaMail, PocketTunes, and a few games
  5. Broadband… woohoo!
  6. Phone is smaller, lighter, and I can still use the keyboard
  7. Played an hour-long podcast on the speaker phone and didn’t see much dent in the battery life

Cons:

  1. The stylus is a flimsy piece of garbage; you’ll want to buy one with a little more substance
  2. Rebooting the device requires you to remove the battery instead of using the stylus to hit a reset button
  3. Battery life isn’t so hot; if you’re waiting in the doctor’s office or something, you’ll find that browsing the web or playing games will have you running low for the rest of the day. On a related note, this amuses me – extend your battery life by adding a bunch of bulk
  4. An oddity: at one of our offices I apparently sit right at the borderline where the phone can’t decide to be on a Verizon or “Extended” Network. The end result is that the phone is laggy and the battery drains heavily
  5. There is an annoying 3-5 second pause after you hit the “hangup” button after phone calls
  6. Even with an unlimited data plan, you still have to pay extra for text messages. I hate cell phone companies so much.

All and in all, a great upgrade. I’d be a lot happier if the whole cell phone industry wasn’t designed to screw the consumer, but hopefully that will get better in time. Perhaps in a couple of years the Openmoko or Android phones will be ready for primetime.

Treo, Centro, and Verizon: a bubbling cauldron of misery

The title of this post is a little extreme, but I have had some frustrations when looking to upgrade my Treo 650. Here are a few notes I’ve made over the past few days:

I’m not going to do business out of a goddamn mall kiosk

I’m willing to buy Dippin’ Dots from a flimsy stand in a mall concourse, but not sign a two-year contract for a vital utility like cell phone service. If I am paying for unlimited wireless broadband, and Verizon is going to charge $10 on top of that for text messages, then they can afford to rent out an actual store.

This isn’t the smartphone you’re looking for

Moving from the Treo 650 to the Treo 755p seemed like a pretty logical upgrade. Unfortunately, Verizon no longer carries the 755p. They have the 700wx which runs Windows Mobile (ugh, writing that made me feel like someone just kneed me in the balls), and the Centro which seems to be a smaller, sportier version of the 755p.

I tested out the Centro’s smaller keyboard and found that I could type just fine on it. The device also includes a number of software extras which addresses some of my previous complaints.

I may go with the Centro, but I have an odd hangup about doing so: it won’t fit in the case for my Treo 650. Pretty picky I know, but the case I have was a very nice present and probably cost somewhere between $50 and $100. Yeah, maybe I can eBay that stuff, but I still cringe at having to drop another big chunk of money to keep the thing from getting scratched up.

Planning for the future

Although I’ve come to rely on the standard Palm OS apps, I am very interested in Openmoko and Android phones. I don’t like being locked in by either a cell phone company or a device/OS vendor because they naturally use that exclusive relationship to milk you for as much money as they can. I’ve seen a few things online that indicate Verizon will be selling Linux-based phones in 2009, but nothing definite.

The Android-based HTC Dream will supposedly be available for T-Mobile later this year, but Verizon still has the best-coverage trump card. It may be that I should roll with the Centro for now, and see where things stand in a year or two.

Kubuntu 7.04 Fiesty Fawn and the Treo 650

In a previous post I described my experience with getting the Treo 650 talking to SuSE 10.0 OSS. Now that I’ve switched to Kubuntu I need to mention a few things.

This Ubuntu page was a major help for me. Starting with the config from my SuSE install, the first thing I had to do was:

LOAD THE visor MODULE

You aren’t going to get very far without this. You can load it manually with:

sudo modprobe visor

Adding visor to /etc/modules should cause the module to automatically load next time you boot.

CREATE A udev RULE

I finally dove into udev for the first time and found it to be pretty straightforward. I created a file /etc/udev/rules.d/50-treo650.rules with the following line:

BUS=="usb", SYSFS{product}=="Palm Handheld*", KERNEL=="ttyUSB*", SYMLINK+="treo650", MODE="666"

This will create /dev/treo650 as a symlink that points to whichever /dev/ttyUSB device that the kernel assigns the Treo. Note that the 666 MODE is very permissive, allowing any user on your system to access the Treo.

FIRE UP KPilot

The only setting I had to change from before was to set the device to /dev/treo650.

DEBUGGING

Open up a shell and run: sudo tail -f /var/log/messages

After you hit the hotsync button, run lsusb -v in a different shell. Scroll through the output and you should be able to find the Treo in there – just look for the word “Palm”.

These tools should provide you with plenty of information to figure out what’s going on.

YES, LINUX IS READY FOR THE DESKTOP

Every grandmother knows how to spoil their grandchildren, how to bake an apple pie, how to load a kernel module, and how to create a udev rule.

How to freeze your Treo 650 using Opera Mini 3.0

This document describes how to freeze your Treo 650 in a few easy steps. First things first, you must be using Verizon as your wireless provider. If you aren’t using Verizon then this process might end with you having a stable operating sytem. This is not what you want. What you want is for your OS to freeze again and again.

  1. Sign up with Verizon
  2. If your Treo does not yet have Java installed then go ahead and grab IBM’s JVM
  3. Download Opera Mini for the Treo 650
  4. Load up Opera and go through the setup screens
  5. Use Opera for a minute or so and watch that Treo freeze!

Once you freeze your Treo with Opera enough, you’ll soon find that you’re having a lot more fun than you would trying to browse the web with the sluggish “Blazer”. Compared to watching “Blazer” labor to render, say, some black text on a white background, watching your Treo freeze is so much more fulfulling.

I suspect that freezing the OS works so great because of this reason listed on the Opera Mini site:

Note to North-American users

Opera Mini is available to all Sprint and Cingular customers. Availability for T-Mobile customers is dependent on the subscription plan. BREW-enabled phones, including Verizon, are currently not supported.

The Holy Trinity of “Blazer”, Opera, and Xiino makes you feel like you’re back in the good old days – running a buggy Windows 3.1 and surfing on a 1200 baud modem.

Why I Hate the Treo 650

After laying down the initial $350 bucks for the Treo 650 (not counting rebates), I kind of thought that I wouldn’t be throwing more money at the device. Well, I figured I would get some screen protectors, and a case… and 2GB SD card… and maybe a bluetooth headset. But that’s fine; you pay more money to add more gadgets to your “smartphone”, I can accept that. What I have trouble accepting is that you have to pay even more money on extra software to make the Treo usable.

Let’s start with the ironically-named “Blazer” web browser. “Blazer”, which I will forever deride with the demeaning “quotes”, offers anything but blazing speed. The browser renders pages with a zombie-like shuffling pace and slows the Treo down to a crawl. If I become frustrated with its ridiculous performance, I can’t even hit the “stop” icon or switch to another application, or even turn off the Treo without waiting agonizing seconds for its dinosaur brain to respond. The primary alternative for Verizon customers is the “Xiino” browser (some Java detail makes Opera Mobile unavailable). Xiino looks like crap, renders pages like crap, but operates at a speed that laps “Blazer” a dozen times over. You can try Xiino out for a month, but registering it will run you about $25 dollars.. I guess you’ve got to respect the sheer balls of the person who asks that much money for a browser that doesn’t really work.

With regards to this browser situation, the best thing to do under the circumstances is to use both browsers. When “Blazer” is too slow, use Xiino; when Xiino’s render job looks like a Jackson Pollock, use “Blazer”. But I’m not going to pay the money for Xiino. A decent web browser is something that the Treo 650 should come with by default.

Web browsing isn’t the Treo 650’s only problem. Tucked away in the World Clock application is the only realistic means of setting a wake-up alarm. You can set a single alarm with a choice of six different annoying midis – no way to set a recurring alarm, no way to choose your own alarm tones. And really, no way to know whether the alarm will actually go off when you set it for, or whether you’ll wake up with the feeling that the sun is a little higher in the sky than it should be. I had this problem randomly maybe 2-4 times per month – the alarm just wouldn’t ring. If I woke up the Treo, then it would instantly start sounding. Is this more irony? I wake up the Treo instead of the other way around? I wound up forking out $10 for an application called mobileCLOCK that has all the features a software alarm clock should. Moreover, the odd problem of the alarm not ringing has only happened once with mobileCLOCK. Again, a decent alarm clock is something the Treo 650 should already have.

There are plenty of other things to complain about software-wise. I’ve heard of people who have to use some special audio application (VolumeCare) so that they can adjust the volume level of the Treo appropriately. I’d like it if the Treo shipped with a file manager, better sound support and integration (i.e., Pocket Tunes), and a decent game or two. Look at how much you spend with these applications:

mobileCLOCK – $9.50
Pocket Tunes 3.1 Basic – $14.95
VolumeCare 5 Pro – $17.95
Xiino – $25.00 (difficult to find exact price on this)
Just about any game – $19.99

So you’re pushing $100 on top of what you already paid just so you can get close to the kind of functionality that the Treo should have by default. With that said, the core Palm apps like the Memo, TODO list, Contacts, and Calendar all work great. Of course, they’d better work great since Palm has been producing those apps for over five years. Maybe all this is the result of software not catching up with hardware. Or maybe it’s just a business decision designed to milk the consumer out of more money. Coming from a Linux environment, I’m used to getting pretty much all the software I need for free. But now I fork out $350 for my Treo 650 with Palm OS and find that I still haven’t paid enough to get what I need. It’s a nice racket, certainly. If the handheld market ever becomes more standardized, maybe we’ll see some improvements in the software scene.

So why do I hate the Treo 650? Because my arm is going to fucking fall off from constantly reaching for my wallet.

How to get started with a Treo 650 on SuSE 10.0 OSS

In your hand you hold a Treo 650. You look at the shiny new handheld, then you look at your Linux box. You look back at the Treo, then back to the Linux machine. “Maybe,” you think, “maybe I can get these two to work together.”

For some weird reason, the Treo 650 comes with software that only works on the Macintosh and some obscure operating system called “Microsoft Windows”. If you’re like me, then you’re probably interested in going with something a little more mainstream, like SuSE Linux 10.0 OSS. Nothing says “mainstream” like a pure Open Source Software Linux distribution put together by Germans.

LOCATE TREO DEVICE

First things first, plug the Treo into your computer via the provided USB cable. Nothing will happen, as is expected. Open up a new shell and monitor the system log:

japan:~ # tail -f /var/log/messages

Now, hit the HotSync button (either the hardware button on the cable, or the icon in the software) and watch what happens in the log:

Mar 19 16:17:54 japan kernel: visor ttyUSB0: Handspring Visor / Palm OS converter now disconnected from ttyUSB0
Mar 19 16:17:54 japan kernel: visor ttyUSB1: Handspring Visor / Palm OS converter now disconnected from ttyUSB1

No, I don’t know why the Treo is connected to two USB devices. And no, I’m not going to spend the rest of the day learning about udev in order to make the device always appear as /dev/pilot. I happen to know from experience that I want to use that second USB device and so I’ll be referencing /dev/ttyUSB1 in these examples. Once you’ve seen what device the Treo gets assigned, cancel the HotSync.

SET USERNAME AND USERID

At this point, your Treo needs to be assigned a username and userid. This isn’t your SprintPCS Vision username – this is a username that you assign to your Treo using the installation software. Fortunately, we don’t need the installation software to do this. As I understand it, you can choose anything for your username and any integer for your userid. Here is how I set my username/userid:

  1. Hit the HotSync button so that the Treo will connect to the software device.
  2. japan:~ # install-user -p /dev/ttyUSB1 -u "theoden" -i 1234

SYNC WITH KPILOT

Fire up KPilot (though you could use JPilot if you want something that looks like crap and pays zero attention to user-friendliness). In the settings you’ll want to make sure that the device is /dev/ttyUSB1 and that you are transferring at 57600 baud instead of 9600. I like to be thorough, so I specified “Backup” in the little menu that pops up when you click-and-hold on the little HotSync button (not the big HotSync button). KPilot will then tell you, “Next HotSync will be: Backup. Please press the HotSync button.” Hit the HotSync button on your Treo and watch the data fly!

MERGE OLD DATA

The next thing I did was take the somewhat risky step of merging data from my 4-year-old Handspring Visor into the Treo 650. Before you do something like this, I would recommend backing up the Treo first (read previous section). In the end, I managed to get my old data on there, but all the category information was missing. This meant that all memos, contacts, and such that I merged had a null category; not “Unfiled”, but empty. So once all the data was merged, I did the following on my Treo:

  1. Open, for example, Memos.
  2. From the category drop-down, choose “Edit Categories…” and add all the old categories.
  3. Select the “All” category to see all entries.
  4. Edit each entry, placing it in the appropriate category.

Doing that was annoying, but certainly better than if I had had to enter all the data by hand. Maybe it is the case that if you enter the categories before merging, the entries will be slotted correctly. I didn’t do extensive web research on the subject, so maybe there is a simple way to merge the categories in there. Anyway, now that you know all that, here is how I merged the data:

  1. Hit the HotSync button so that the Treo will connect to the software device.
  2. japan:~ # pilot-xfer -p /dev/ttyUSB1 -m old_pilot/MemoDB.pdb
  3. When the merge completes, go to the appropriate Palm app in your Treo and make sure that your old data is there.
  4. Repeat for all the *.pdb files that you want to mege.

Happy syncing!