Archive for July, 2011

Life with an Android Tablet One Week On

July 28, 2011 2 comments

I’ve had my Asus Transformer tablet for approximately one week now. I have endeavoured to use it fairly constantly and as my sole means of computing. It has worked to varying degrees of success. After the first couple of days, I discovered that if I actually wanted to achieve anything, I needed a proper keyboard. To that end, I have ordered the keyboard docking station for the Transformer, and I am also writing this post on my three year old netbook.

A word of warning though about the Transformer docking keyboard – buy the package of tablet and keyboard to start with! This only attracts a £50 premium over the tablet alone. Buying the docking keyboard separately has set me back almost £120. I purchased from Amazon and couldn’t find cheaper on eBay, Google’s shopping results nor Tottenham Court Road (where it was not possible to buy the keyboard as a standalone item). I’ll live and learn.

There are both good and bad points about this Honeycomb 3.1 tablet. Let’s start with the good.

The Gmail integration is stellar. It is a much better Gmail experience that I have ever had through a regular web browser. I suppose this is as you would expect from a tablet running Google’s Android operating system.

The tablet is great for having around on the coffee table, on the train, in bed etc. It’s very easy to simply pick it up to check email, read a website or research something of interest.

The “instant on” aspect, with massive hours of standby battery time, is much better than any laptop I’ve ever experienced.

Now for the frustrations….

There is another built in mail client, which can be used to connect to both IMAP and Exchange email servers. Unfortunately this has some limitations that frustrate me when trying to deal with business email. There’s no search functionality, it is only possible to synchronise up to one month of email from the server, it is impossible to create an HTML or Rich Text email signature and I also can’t figure out how to synchronise IMAP calendars (Exchange calendar works fine though).

The standard web browser is buggy and crashes regularly. I haven’t thoroughly tested, but I also think it may have a memory leak. Over time it simply slows down to a grinding halt. Using the back button to return to a Google search result often loads just a blank page and sometimes after entering a website’s URL, I am simply re-directed to Google’s search homepage. This browser has a user agent of “Android Tablet,” however many websites simply see this as “Android” and deliver a mobile version of their offering. I can change the user agent to “Desktop” instead, but that also creates a few rendering problems. Opera Mini and Firefox Mobile don’t seem to have this option, and thus you’re stuck with mobile webpage versions in some cases. I’m now trying the Dolphin HD browser. One would think, that with an excellent browser in Chrome/Chromium Google would have this area sorted out.

Some apps from the Market are OK, but it’s a bit hit and miss. Many of them are built only for Android phones, so don’t render brilliantly on the wider tablet screen. I haven’t bought any apps yet, as I haven’t found anything so compelling to warrant a purchase. I have found some nice free apps though, such as MapQuest’s OpenStreetMaps and FBReader for ebooks (I grabbed a lot of classics from Project Gutenberg).

The on-screen touch keyboard is reasonable, but still has some frustrations. For some reason at least 10% of the time my space bar presses do not register. There are also no forward and back arrows. The only way to jump to another part of the text is through very delicate and precise touches on the screen. This might improve when I have a mouse connected to the docking keyboard’s USB port, but for now so much for keyboard navigation. There’s also no Control key, which makes cutting, copying and pasting laborious.

I can’t find any virtualisation software for Android either, which I wanted to use to run a different flavour of Linux. Maybe I can do do something via dual booting, from a USB key in the docking keyboard. That will be the next project.

In summary, after a week’s solid use, I can’t see this being my sole computing device. I’m just not sure Android’s mature enough. It’s a good enough device, which I am sure I will continue to use regularly, but it is not the one device to rule them all.

Bought my First Tablet – Asus eee Pad Transformer

July 21, 2011 2 comments

Finally I’ve joined the millions and purchased a tablet computer. Of course it was never going to be an iPad, and it didn’t necessarily have to be an Android based machine either. After much research and consideration, I’ve decided to go for an 10-inch Asus eee Pad Transformer. Why this one in particular?

My current situation is that I have a fairly new HP Pavilion dv7 as my daily work computer. While it’s a nice brushed aluminium shelled machine, it is quite big with it’s 17-inch screen and it is LOUD! The fan never shuts up. It’s currently running Linux Mint Debian edition, and I’ve tried everything to try and keep the temperature down, thus negating the need for constant fan blowing. I’ve had no luck so far. I also work in multiple locations, from my home office, to my central London office, to various client’s offices and finally quite often in Graz, Austria. Hauling this 17-inch behemoth around can be quite taxing at times. It means I always have to carry a reasonably big piece of hand luggage when flying to Graz, and even just on the train into central London, my backpack is pretty heavy. Therefore, my dream was to try and find a tablet that could be substituted for for my laptop as my daily work machine.

I don’t do much heavy lifting with my laptop anymore, in terms of transcoding video files and the like, therefore I don’t need a massively powerful i7 processor. I do a lot of web browsing, email writing, document creation, spreadsheet manipulation, presentation creation and still image manipulation. Pretty straightforward office type stuff. However, I do appreciate a large screen and decent keyboard. I already have a 10-inch Asus eeePC netbook, which is about 3 years old now. It does a decent job, but I found it difficult to work all day on it, and the single core Atom processor struggled with HD movie playback.

So my plan was to find a tablet that could be plugged into an external monitor at home, at my London office and in Graz. I realise purchasing said monitors will increase overall costs, but it’s the trade-off I was prepared to make for not having to carry around a massive laptop.

Asus Transformer ticks many boxes. It has a high quality IPS screen, the same as the iPad 2. It comes with Android 3.0 Honeycomb as standard. It has a built in mini-HDMI port, which means I can connect it to a larger screen quite easily should the need arise. It includes a memory card expansion slot, as is the case with most modern tablets. There is also an optional keyboard docking station, which includes its own battery, extending the overall battery life for this tablet to around 16 hours.

On the negative side, Asus has seen fit to include a proprietary charger, not the usual micro-USB found on most modern phones and many tablets.

I found that Currys in the UK were selling the Asus eee Transformer at prices around about the same as those found on eBay. Brilliant, I could have my new toy immediately. Picture the scene as I walk into my local Currys….

Sales Assistant: Can I help you, Sir?

Me: Yes, I’m looking for an Asus Transformer

Sales Assistant: Oh, I don’t think we sell them.

Me: It’s on your website and it says you have them in stock.

Sales Assistant: Let me just check with my colleagues. <time passes> No Sir, unfortunately we don’t sell them.

Me: I see.

At this point I wander around the shop for a while, until I find the general tablet display section. As I stand looking…..

Sales Assistant (same one as previously): Are you interested in a tablet device, Sir?

Me: Yes, I have already asked you about an Asus Transformer, but you couldn’t help me.

Sales Assistant: Oh, it’s a tablet?

Me: <incredulous> Yes.

Sales Assistant: Well, let me just go and check in our stock system. <2 minutes later> Good news, Sir, we have them in stock for just £379.

Me: That’s without the keyboard docking station. Do you have them for £429 with the docking station, as on your website?

Cutting a longer conversation short, no they did not have them with the docking station. I made them check twice. Ultimately I bought the tablet without the docking station, thinking I will pick one up later as they’re only an extra £50. How wrong I was. Once back at home and online, I discovered that as a standalone product, the docking station cannot be found anywhere for less than £100. I think buying the tablet without the docking station was my first mistake, but at least I will have the chance to assess whether an external keyboard is really a necessity.

Hopefully in the next week or 10 days I will be able to post an update regarding how this machine is working out as my primary day-to-day computing device.

Blackmagic Media Express Failure

July 21, 2011 4 comments

About one month ago I posted that we are now using a Blackmagic Decklink SDI card to capture via SDI in some workflows at The Station. Unfortunately it became clear quite quickly that the Media Express 2.3.1 software we were using, for capturing and controlling the decks, had some shortcomings.

Apparently the Linux version of this software does not support capture of VITC information where present. This made creating valid IMX50 (D10) files harder than it needed to be. We would capture the SD content from tape into 10-bit uncompressed at 720×576, then when transcoding using FFmbc, we needed to pad the top of the file with 36 lines of blanking, to create a valid IMX50 at 720×608. This process caused a few problems with the resulting files’ aspect ratio information.

After speaking with the support staff ot Blackmagic Design, it became clear the the Windows and Mac versions of Media Express 2.3.1 do support capture of VITC, just not the Linux version. The relevant API calls are exposed in the freely available SDK, but we would need to build our own application to take advantage of this.

My next hope was that the new version of Media Express would include this additional functionality on Linux. On April 11th 2011, Blackmagic published a press release stating that Media Express 3.0 would be available for Windows, Mac and Linux. The software would be available for free download from their website in June.

Today I went searching for the software but could not find it. Looking on the Blackmagic software download page, the latest Desktop Video download for Linux is 8.0.1 from May 13th, 2011. Clearly this would not include the new 3.0 version, as this file is what I downloaded a month ago to obtain version 2.3.1.

I phoned Blackmagic support again to enquire about where to find Media Express 3.0. They informed me that a beta version of this software was available for Mac platforms, but that was all. They were also unable to speculate regarding a formal release date for the software, nor whether the Linux version would be available at the same time as the Windows and Mac version. All in all, not very helpful.

June finished 21 days ago. I want my Media Express 3.0 software for Linux!


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