Laptop Purchasing Tips

5 07 2007

I seem to be the go to guy when my friends are purchasing laptops. Here are some of the criteria I look for when recommending a new purchase:

1. Intel Inside

Call me a fanboy, but I have facts to backup why Intel Centrino laptops outperform, outlast, and out-bang-for-your-buck AMD-based laptops. With the release of the new Santa Rosa platform, Intel does no wrong. If you aren’t into bleeding edge technology, make sure you buy an Intel Centrino Duo laptop, so you get the benefits of dual-core technology still.

2. Memory

With Microsoft still holding on to an 80%+ market share with Windows, chances are you’re laptop is going to come preloaded with Vista. I expect consumers to realize that you will need AT LEAST 1GB of RAM to just get by. Two gigs would be preferable, but not necessary for the average user. If you really want to get the most performance out of your hardware, let me introduce you to Ubuntu.

3. Hard-drive

If you’re going to use your laptop as a desktop replacement, make sure you beef up on the hard-drive. 80GB or more should hold over your music and photos. If you really want to speed things up, make sure your disk is 7200rpm – meaning it spins faster so data is read a whole lot quicker.

4. Keep it Light

Laptops are made to be mobile. If you’re carrying it around from place to place do your back a favor and get a laptop thats under four pounds.

5. Screens

17 inches? Widescreen? TFT? Reflective? What? Display technology is getting better every year and there are many different types of screens you can choose from. My personal preference are 12 inch reflective widescreens because they are small and bright. Some may argue that they’re difficult to use outside, which is true – in that case you will need a TFT screen which has a matte surface blocking reflections, but also limiting your brightness. In today’s DVD age, viewing movies in widescreen brightness seems to be the way to go.

6. Buy the Extended Battery

Being plugged in all the time defeats the purpose of a laptop which is designed to be portable. It might cost you extra in the beginning, but an extended battery is worth being able to go all day without recharging, or watching that extra movie on the plane.

7. Buy the Extended Warranty

Laptops are difficult to fix once they break because they aren’t built to be taken apart like a desktop PC. If you want to maximize your investment, get a warranty if your screen ever goes out, or if a component shorts out you’ll be covered.


You get what you pay for. Computers aren’t a commodity just yet, so paying a little extra for design quality, and better parts will make all of the difference. The performance boast from a laptop equipped with 512MB of RAM as opposed to 1GB is a noticeable one. Most users are going to use their laptop for a few years, so investing a little more in the beginning can go a long way.





Get the iPhone’s Features Without an iPhone

1 07 2007

Apple made headlines this weekend with its launch of the iPhone. I applaud Apple for pioneering a new design and user-interface, however feature-wise the iPhone is similar to a Motorola RAZR that debuted two years ago. For those of you who want to get the software on an iPhone without purchasing an iPhone, check out this list:

1. Maps

You don’t need Apple’s Google Maps software to get driving directions to a nearby pizza parlor. If you have a Java enabled phone (almost all phone’s nowadays do) check out my review of Google Maps for Mobiles. It has the same features, minus the multi-touch. Point your web-browser to http://www.google.com/gmm for the goods.

2. YouTube

YouTube is exclusive to the Apple iPhone? I think not. Point your mobile web-browser to http://m.youtube.com and watch your favorite videos straight from your phone. YouTube dishes out the video content in a special format (3GP) that your phone will be able to stream over the net.

3. Calendar

The good guys at Google have done it again, point your mobile web-browser to http://mobile.google.com/calendar and organize your life. If you have a Windows Mobile device check out my article on GooSync to wirelessly synchronize GCal with the built in Outlook calendar app.

4. Photos

Most camera phones have some built-in software to let you view them, so I won’t go into any additional photo software. But if you want to upload and view photos online in an album point your mobile web-browser to http://picasaweb.google.com/m.

5. Safari

Apple claims that Safari is the best mobile web-browser because it displays the web the way it should be. Check out my review on Opera Mini 4 which has the exact same features. Opera Mini 4 runs on any Java enabled phone. Visit http://www.operamini.com/download/ and grab the goodness.

6. Mail

Apple says they offer free POP mail access for all iPhone users. This is nice, and the ability to check your e-mail is a must for many people, but you can do this with GMail on your mobile phone. Point your web-browser to http://gmail.com/app
and download the Java program that lets you check your e-mail. You don’t use Google but another type of POP e-mail account? Great – Google lets you POP other e-mail accounts as well so no sweat, you’re covered.

7. Weather

I guess this is a little bit of a stretch, but if you need your phone to tell you what the weather is outside you need to get out more. If you really want to get the weather, you can always text Google (466453) with the query “weather <insert zipcode or city here>” and Google will text you back with the forecast results for the day. Its not as intuitive as I would like it to be, but hey it gets the job done.

If you don’t want to take the SMS route, take a visit to http://m.yahoo.com, Yahoo’s mobile webpage, and configure your start page to include a weather forecast.

7. Voicemail

Visual Voicemail is a great feature to have, but again is not exclusive to an iPhone. The engineers are CallWave have a product that lets you visually choose your voicemails, but it doesn’t stop there, you can even receive voicemails as text messages. This may not be free in the future however, but in the words of Robert Heinlein, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

8. Stocks

Yahoo’s mobile start page is very informative. Visit http://m.yahoo.com and setup the quotes that you want to track. You can also take the SMS route that Google provides by texting 466453 and entering “stock <insert symbol here>.”

As a consumer I look past marketing hype, I hope these tips help you get the most out of today’s technology.





iPhone – Lacking as a Phone, Rising as a Platform

28 06 2007

Though the iPhone does not fare well feature-wise in comparison to existing Smartphones for its hefty price tag, there is one good outcome I see from the Apple Marketing Machine hype:

Web applications can piggyback off of the iPhone’s success.

Since Apple is limiting apps to run from Safari, this means developers must create web compliant applications. How does this benefit us who don’t have an iPhone? It means we can run the same applications from our internet enabled phones/devices too. What does this mean to the developer community? AJAX enabled development will be on the rise pushing the limits of Web 2.0 even further. We will see more tools, and new ways of manipulating the browser to deliver a rich user-centric experience.

Plain simple, the iPhone will help usher in the web application platform. More and more applications are going to the web, and with Apple’s marketing power, the Web 2.0 generation is inadvertently benefiting from the iPhone success.





OpenMoko – The iPhone Alternative?

5 06 2007

Recently I have been following the development of OpenMoko – the world’s first open source communication mobile communications platform. OpenMoko runs the Linux kernel, and everything from the operating system to the firmware to the actual software is completely open-source.

The main reasons why I would support OpenMoko over the iPhone are:

1. $350 vs $600

Lets face it, the iPhone is $600+2yr contract with Cingular. OpenMoko is unlocked and will cost you only $350. This is even cheaper than most Windows Mobile smartphones.

2. Integrated GPS

From the iPhone commercials, the Google Maps application looks great. However, you need to get on EDGE or wi-fi to use it. OpenMoko comes with a built in GPS chipset which will pinpoint your exact location.

3. User Replaceable Battery

If you’ve ever used an iPod you will see that it becomes dead weight in about two years. Batteries have a specific life-cycle and deteriorate over time. The iPhone will not let you swap out your battery, so it will either die in two years, or with its estimated 5 hour battery life you won’t have the option of using a backup battery.

4. Open Platform

The iPhone currently has a list of 12 applications that will ship on the phone. Only Apple/Authorized developers can provide software for the phone, and has closed off the platform to 3rd party developers. Current rumors speculate an iChat application is not available yet for the iPhone so IM-generation kids will have to wait. With OpenMoko any piece of software written for it, can be installed without having big brother breathing down your neck.

5. No Carrier Lock-In

Though the iPhone is a GSM phone, Apple/Cingular will not give you access to the SIM. This means you can’t enjoy the benefits of switching phones, or switching providers for that matter. Plain simple, you are limiting your freedom. Say you wanted to travel overseas, your iPhone won’t work because your SIM will not work in another country. If it were unlocked like OpenMoko you could swap in another SIM that works in the country you are in and do business as usual.

6. Corporate E-Mail Support

Yahoo POP access doesn’t cut it when it comes to the business professional. The iPhone does not support synchronization with an Exchange server which almost EVERY business uses for their corporate mail system. OpenMoko will ship with Evolution which allows you to not only connect to an Exchange server – but is also FREE.

7. Availability

The iPhone is limiting its sales in certain volumes. Remember when you stood in line for your XBox360 when it launched only to find they ran out of shipment, and more will come in the next quarter? This is a mobile phone not a toy. OpenMoko will be available worldwide 9/11/2007.





WM5 Tip – Backup your Voice Contacts

31 05 2007

If you’ve ever had to reflash your phone, restoring your contacts, e-mail and calendar is easy if you regularly sync between your computer and mobile device. I like to use the built in Cyberon Voice Commander (comes standard on most WM5 phones) to dial my contacts by speaking their name. Unfortunately ActiveSync does not back up the data file that contains all of those names you’ve recorded. Re-recording your contacts can be a real drag, but if you backup your Voice Commander file you might save yourself some major headache.

1. Fire up ActiveSync and locate \Windows\CommandModel1.bin

2. Save it on your hard-drive and if you ever need to restore your voice contacts, just drop the file back into \Windows\

Your voice contacts are associated with your Contacts List, so if you’ve deleted a contact your voice contact might still exist. It’s always a good practice to backup your data. If there is one thing I can’t stress enough its just that!





GooSync – Wireless Calendar Syncing for Windows Mobile 5

30 05 2007

There is no excuse to use wires to sync your phone this day in age. Being mobile to me means to be completely wireless. Microsoft still hasn’t included an option in ActiveSync to synchronize over wi-fi. I’ve resorted to using GooSync to wirelessly synchronize my Google Calendar with Pocket Outlook. Here is how it works:

 

1. Get a Google Account

If you don’t have a Google account already sign up for one at http://www.gmail.com

2. Register for a free GooSync Account

Visit http://www.goosync.com and sign up for a free account. The advanced account lets you sync between multiple calendars, and allows you to sync up to 365 days in advance. One limitation of the free account is that you can only sync events that are 3 weeks in advance.

GooSync will require you to give them access to your calendar in order for you to be able to sync. Rest assured, they have a legitimate and fair privacy policy. You can unsubscribe from their service at any time. I did the first time I signed up because I was worried about my privacy. The folks at GooSync promptly terminated my account. At any time you can revoke GooSync’s access to your calendar by visiting http://www.google.com/accounts and changing your Authorized Websites preferences. After hearing about great service from a friend, I decided to sign back up and I have had no problems.

3. Install GooSync on your Phone
After successfully registering for GooSync, they will e-mail you link where you can download the application and install it on your phone

4. Run and Sync!

Just click the two-way arrow and syncing between your Google Calendar and your Pocket Outlook is a breeze.

The beauty of GooSync is that it supports two-way syncing. I can create a calendar item on the fly on my phone and have it automatically sync with my Google Calendar (vice-versa). This is a great alternative if you don’t want to pay for a push account, or are simply tired of having to bring out your USB cable just to sync.

Note: GooSync is not only for Windows Mobile devices. Symbian, PalmOS and other operating systems are supported as well. For the full list check out http://www.goosync.com/SupportedDevices.aspx





Enabling A2DP on Windows Mobile 5 Phones

25 05 2007

This post is now available at my new blog The IT Report:

http://theitreport.com/entries/gadgets/enabling-a2dp-on-windows-mobile-5