Upgrade day

Today was a day full of upgrades for my hardware:

  • I woke up only to see that my Lumia 735 had the latest Windows Insider build (10.0.14977.1000) waiting to be downloaded and installed. I took some time to download it before I left home and then let it do the installation while I was offline. The process worked great, for once more.
  • After I got home, I upgraded my newly-purchased TP-Link TD-W8960N V7 modem/router to the latest firmware version (v.160614 Rel.41323). If I find some time, I may give the OpenWRT firmware a try as well.
  • Then, it was time for my (also newly-purchased Samsung BD-J4500R Blu-Ray Player. I upgraded its firmware from v1008.1 to v.1011.0.

If you ask me, I have no idea about what the new firmwares bring to my devices. I rest assured that they will operate better in some aspects. 🙂

 

My life with my white gadgets

Those who know me well know that I don’t like the white color – at all. I never wear white t-shirts and white clothes in general, I don’t like white towels and linen and I wouldn’t buy my gadgets in white. Or would I?

The first time it happened was with my ill-fated Acer Aspire One 751h netbook. I found it on sale when I was in dire need for a small-form laptop and I went directly to the store to get it; alas, it was only available in white…however, the price was so much lower than the other colors available that I had to go for it. The netbook only recently hit the dust, so it is actually collecting dust in a drawer.

Then my Olympus E-300 broke down during a corporate event. I contacted the Greek dealer/official service only to find out that it could not be repaired (and it was way beyond its warranty). Instead, I was offered a demo model of an Olympus E-PM1; a dual-lens kit (14-42mm and 45-150mm lenses) and a body in almost mint condition in a very competitive price. I didn’t ask for the color; it was almost impossible to get in white. But I did. And I had no choice.

Then came my Lumia 720, my first Windows Phone 8 smartphone. I had a gift card from a specific gadget store and I was looking for a jnew smartphone. The specific store (a retailer chain in fact) had a very limited variety of Windows Phones (I even emailed them about that) and I kept checking out their page for updates. After a couple of months the 720 appeared – only in white. I was running out of time (the gift card was about to expire) so I bought that one. In white. About one year ago it was replaced by a lime green Lumia 735.

My WinTab’s keyboard recently broke down – in fact, the keyboard still works fine but it cannot plug into the tablet part anymore. I had plenty of alternatives in the form of Bluetooth keyboards but they were pretty pricey. Since I had to get one sooner or later, I was about to go for one of them and then I saw the Logitech K480 on sale – for just 30 euros. Amazing price for a keyboard that usually sold for 45-50 euros. Guess what? The price was only for the white version, and not the lovely dark grey-lime one hat I liked more. Since I was on a tight budget, I went straight for the white version. It’s working perfectly fine but it is white.

bluetooth-multi-device-keboard-k480
How much cooler is this dark grey/yellow version?

 

I am pretty sure that I’ll have to live with even more white gadgets in the near future. It seems to be my karma, my atonement for all the bad things that I’ve done in my life so far.

Logitech K480 Bluetooth keyboard: First impressions

So the winner of the challenge was the Logitech K480. But why?

  1. I needed a keyboard that would also act as a stand for my crippled WinTab (referring to the broken keyboard)
  2. I needed a keyboard with large keys, as I tend to type a lot, write long blog posts and I have fat fingers
  3. I needed a keyboard at a low price.

The Logitech K480 combined both 1 & 2 and as for 3, I got it brand new for just 30 euros – a real bargain! Setting up my first two devices (my WinTab and my Lumia 735) was as easy as it could be and switching between them was as easy as switching a rocker. Even though I hate white as a color for gadgets, the white version was the only one on sale…

logitech-k480-white

The keyboard is indeed convenient for typing, thanks to its (fairly) large size, about the size of a 10,1-inch tablet’s width. Round keys, easy to find and allow for quick typing. The slot for the tablet is also really neat, where a rubber-like material is used for avoiding scratching of the tablet.

I was worried to hear all these squeaking when I tried to press its edges but trust me, the keyboard does not squeak when one types – at all. It looks like a sturdy piece of hardware, and I hope that it will last long.

I have noticed that when I type really fast, there may be some characters (keystrokes) missing at some points. I have only noticed that while using Microsoft Edge (e.g. authoring blog posts) and I guess it might be due to some issues either with it or with the quality of the WinTab…I will have to check with e.g. MS Word documents but since the issue is not constant, I may have to test it thoroughly.

My overall first impressions are surely positive: The keyboard is easy to use, holds my 10,1-inch tablet both in portrait and landscape mode and connects quickly without any interruption. It may not be the most portable Bluetooth keyboard around (it is quite heavy and bulky, it is not foldable) but it does the work and can transform a tablet into a small-form notebook. I will have to admit that after using it quite a lot during a short trip, it made me rethink the role of my tablet – for the better 😉

Wintab keyboard broken; what alternatives do I have?

I recently took my WinTab with me on the go (inside my backpack) but it seems that for some reason the keyboard was not correctly attached to the tablet (or it was, who knows?). The point is that when I took it out of my bag back at home, I saw that there was a gap between the tablet and the keyboard when it was closed. I took the two components apart and tried to reconnect them. Tough luck: it seems that the two “holes” on the tablet side (where the keyboard prongs attach) were slightly broken (both of them) and each attempt to attach the keyboard resulted in creaky sounds and the plastic around the tablet to come off…this would not be covered by the warranty (happened one year after the purchase) so I was in need for a tablet keyboard.

The truth is that I was never really satisfied by the tablet’s keyboard so I was already looking for an alternative. Not only the keys were a tad ser than I would like (for comfortable typing) but on top of that, the connection between the keyboard and the tablet was not stable, so every slight movement of the angle of these two caused an instant disconnection and lots of missing keystrokes in the meantime – just try to imagine keeping notes during an important meeting or conference, only to end up with incomplete words and sentences…

Getting a Bluetooth keyboard meant that I would have to live without the extra full-USB port that came with the original keyboard, but based on my typical usage, I could live with that (or without that, to be more precise). My typical setup consists of the tablet and its keyboard, a mouse and sometimes an external hard disk; however, the mouse could be connected to the tablet through a micro-USB to USB converted (that I already have) leaving the full USB for the hard disk. When both USB ports are occupied,  could charge the tablet (if needed) using the proprietary port.

 

I kept an eye on the prices of the following items during the last months:

  • Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard: The most lightweight and compact of all models I checked – plus it is spill-resistant (which may come handy in some cases). However, it was a bit pricey, could not be used as a stand for my 10,1-inch Wintab and typists mentioned an issue with the Space key, being split in two (which caused issues when typing). Its price ranged from 80-95 euros.

20150925153125_microsoft_universal_foldable

  • Microsoft Universal Mobile keyboard: It was a great candidate – adequate size for fast typing, rather compact and sports a magnetic cover which could also be used as a stand for the tablet. It was also a bit pricey for me though and in fact I found the size a bit too small for my fat fingers to type quickly and efficiently. Its price ranged from 55 to 70 euros.
  • Various foldable keyboards from Amazon.Some of them looked pretty interesting but they were mostly small and did not feature s stand for the laptop. Some of them were rather expensive, too.
  • Logitech K480: This one was really interesting, too. It was a tad larger than the competition, keys were adequately large and easy to use and there was also a handy gap to hold a 10-inch tablet along with a smartphone – it has the option to manage 3 different devices at a time by simply rotating a dial switch. However, it was the bulkier and by far the heavier one (so that it could hold the weight of the tablet). Its price ranged from 45 to 55 euros.

Choosing one of them was not an easy task; there were different factors affecting my decision and a price drop of one of them was a significant one. But which one was it?

 

Windows Anniversary Update is here

…and I am a sucker for updates so I could not wait until I got the automatic update. I spend my minimum free time during the past two days updating my two laptops and my one tablet (the infamous Turbo-X WinTab) to the long-awaited Windows Anniversary Update. I didn’t have time to check performance or issues but I got them all updated; that’s all that matters.

o92a2806

I had an issue of insufficient free disk space with my 32GB tablet (with about 20GB free) but it was quickly solved; I only had to plug an external hard disk, which was automatically detected by Windows as a medium for temp storage and so I managed to install the update.

On the other hand, it seems that Windows Phones will have to wait a bit before they are updated, too… things are not moving really fast there…

If you also want to get the update manually, check out this blog post by Microsoft.

Windows Mobile 10: Η πτώση?

Διάβασα πρόσφατα ένα άρθρο που μιλούσε για την πτώση των πωλήσεων των smartphones με λειτουργικό Windows Phone/Mobile. Προφανώς φαίνεται ότι υπήρχαν πολλές προσδοκίες σχετικά με τα (επίσημα) Windows Mobile 10, όπως το ότι θα αναβαθμιστούν όλες οι παλιές συσκευές σε WM10, ότι θα υπάρξει στενότερη σχέση ανάμεσα σε διαφορετικές συσκευές (π.χ. ότι θα περνάς εύκολα περιεχόμενο από την μία συσκευή Windows 10 σε άλλη), ότι το Continuum θα παίξει και σε παλιότερες συσκευές κλπ.

Δυστυχώς το λειτουργικό:
1) άργησε πολύ να ετοιμαστεί χάνοντας διάφορες προθεσμίες που ανέφερε η ίδια η Microsoft,
2) τελικά βγήκε αλλά δεν ήταν έτοιμο (ακόμα τρέχουμε με διάφορα bugs που λύνονται και επανέρχονται κατά καιρούς),
3) δεν έγινε διαθέσιμο σε όλες τις συσκευές (άρα όπως την πατήσαμε από τα Windows 6.5 που δεν αναβαθμίστηκαν πλέον, την πατήσαμε στο μεταξύ και με τα Windows Phone 7 που έφτασαν μέχρι την 7.8) και τώρα με τα Windows Phone 8 που έφτασαν μέχρι την 8.1 με πλήρη ασυμβατότητα μεταξύ των διαφορετικών εκδόσεων) και τελικά τα νέα features είτε δεν ενθουσίασαν είτε είναι διαθέσιμα μόνο σε ναυαρχίδες (βλέπε Continuum)
4) Official εφαρμογές που περίμενε ο κόσμος είτε άργησαν πολύ να εμφανιστούν (βλέπε Instagram που ήταν ανενεργό 3 χρόνια, Google Apps), είτε δεν υπήρξαν ποτέ.
5) Ακόμη και οι ναυαρχίδες δεν ήταν έτοιμες όταν κυκλοφόρησαν (βλέπε προβλήματα στο διαδίκτυο με 950/950XL.

Όσο για τους κατασκευαστές, ελάχιστα μεγάλα ονόματα κατάφερε να πείσει για το νέο αυτό εγχείρημα, οπότε δελέασε κατά κύριο λόγο Ινδούς κατασκευαστές (εντελώς low-end συσκευών) και διαφόρους μικρούς που έψαχναν την τύχη τους. Κάτι premium συσκευές από HP με docks κλπ θα τις βλέπουμε μόνο σαν collector’s items σε περιοδικά, αφού δεν θα κυκλοφορήσουν ευρέως.

Και να σας πω και κάτι απλό – προσωπική εμπειρία που δείχνει την απομόνωση και ασυμβατότητα των Windows Mobile 10 σε σχέση με τις υπόλοιπες συσκευές: Μπήκαμε πρόσφατα μια παρέα σε ένα Toyota Aygo και παίζαμε με τη multimedia console που έχει (και υποστηρίζει MirrorLink). Λοιπόν, η μόνη συσκευή που δεν κατάφερε να γίνει pair μέσω bluetooth με το console ηταν το δικό μου Lumia 735 με Windows Mobile 10. Μετά ψάχνοντας έμαθα ότι παρότι η Microsoft είναι μέλος στο consortium που σχεδιάζει και υλοποιεί το MirrorLink, δεν έχει προσθέσει ακόμη την υποστήριξη στις φορητές συσκευές της (και μιλάμε για ιστορία που έχει ξεκινήσει από το 2012 – ίσως και νωρίτερα). Τα ίδια και χειρότερα για υποστήριξη USB OTG, που θεωρείται ακόμη ένα εξωτικό feature για τα Windows Phones.

Την ίδια στιγμή ασχολούμαστε ακόμη με το αν ο email client (Outlook) για το κινητό θα υποστηρίζει μαύρο background και πότε επιτέλους θα έρθει η υποστήριξη για HTML signatures στα emails (που χρειάζεται για σοβαρούς σκοπούς), ακόμη και στην desktop έκδοση της εφαρμογής.

Καληνύχτα σας Windows Phones.

Is this the end of my AAO 751h?

AAO751h_thumb.jpgI rarely used my Acer Aspire One 751h anymore; I already have my WinTab for quick and light Web browsing (and other light tasks) at home and a rather new home laptop for watching movies and doing some work @ home. Over the last months, I had my 751h dual booting Windows 10 Home (as an insider) and Lubuntu; the former ensured compatibility with apps (especially MS Office) while the latter made this crappy piece of hardware a little more responsive (but still not sufficient for serious work and multitasking).Even after upgrading its RAM to 2GB, it performance was still poor -not even good for the kids to watch cartoons on YouTube.

I spent the last couple of days updating both the Windows installation and the Lubuntu one; both of them had a lot of updates waiting to be installed – and they were successfully installed.. Today I wanted to type a couple of blog posts and since 751h’s keyboard is much more comfortable than the one of my WinTab, I decided to give it a try. I tried opening Midori in Lubuntu for writing one of the posts but the netbook froze. This was something common some years ago, when I used the netbook extensively but never happened during the last years. I reset the netbook and gave it another try. Then it froze again. Then I restarted it. Or at least I tried. The netbook tried to restart but after a spin of the drive (?) the screen remained blank and there was no hard disk activity.

At first I thought that it was about the hard disk; I wouldn’t mind as I had no personal files in any of the installations (Windows and Lubuntu) and I had a spare one I could also test. And I did. With no result – the same single spin of the disk (or fan?) and a blank screen.

Then I decided to disassemble the netbook and check for any faulty cables and dust in the fan. The last time I disassembled a laptop, I didn’t manage to re-assemble it. This time I made it, thanks to video tutorials describing the process step by step. I found the fan and removed a little bit of dust but nothing serious. No cables were harmed or out of place.When I assembled everything, nothing had changed; the system would power up but would not moe further.

I ran out of ideas. l will keep it aside for the time being and I will try again after a while. Maybe after things settle down, the system may be recovered more easily.

First (humble) efforts for a home media center

To make a long story short: I have a 1TB USB 3.0 hard disk that is full of TV series (and some movies) and I was trying to watch them at home, after everyone went to bed (this is the only time I have for this small luxury). The easiest way was to plug the disk in the home laptop and watch them – at the kitchen table. That was not very comfortable. An alternative was to connect the home laptop to my 37-inch flat TV and watch the episodes comfortably sitting at the couch. However, space is limited around the TV and on top of that there is no power outlet; so I can carefully place the laptop on top of the DVD player (so that the former will not flip over) and I can watch movies as long as the laptop battery lasts (which proved to be more than I expected). Last but not least, I tried connecting the laptop to the bedroom’s 23-inch TV; there is a power outlet there and some space behind the TV but it seems that my wife did not appreciate me watching TV for that long.

redi_215a_web

I started looking for options that would allow me to build a home media center for cheap, like the Intel USB Compute Stick (and cheaper alternatives), network drives to be connected directly to my ADSL modem/router, traditional media center boxes etc. Then I remembered that I had bought a Crypto ReDi 215A DVB-T receiver that could also play video files (TS, MPG, MP4, AVI, MKV, MOV, FLV and SRT subtitles); it was bought as a temporary replacement for the one used with the main TV but it was never actually used. In terms of ports it is really basic (1xHDMI, 1xUSB 2.0 Host, 1xScart1xCoaxial Audio, 1xAudio jack) but I only needed the USB host and the HDMI ones, so I thought I should give it a try as a basic media center hoping that it would meet my three requirements:

  1. Correctly identify and power my Intenso USB 3.0 disk;
  2. Play the various video file types available on the disk;
  3. Support the Greek subtitles available for each episode.

So I set up everything: plugged the hard disk to ReDi 215, plugged ReDi to the TV through HDMI and powered up everything. I waited a bit and…

  1. Disk correctly identified? Check
  2. Video file playback? Check
  3. Greek subs correctly displayed? Not check

While everything went better than I expected, the Greek subs were not correctly displayed (the usual issue with Greek encoding). I tried tweaking various settings available through the menus but with no luck. Then I turned to online resources and I got some valuable help from Crypto’s online documentation; it seems that I only had to switch the menu’s language to Greek (I used the default English one). When I did, the Greek subs were displayed perfectly fine.

WP_20160123_21_58_21_Pro

So, I managed to have a (basic) media center using my existing 25 Euro DVB-T receiver, which is compact, portable (so I can easily use it wherever I find a TV screen) and plays full HD video files without lagging; how cool is that? 🙂

Clean install of Windows 10 on Turbo-X WinTab: Nailed it!

[NOTE: I hold no responsibility in case you follow the process described below and damage your tablet; it has worked perfectly for me but this does not mean that it will also work for you – try at your own risk!]

Yeap, I am really excited; despite the total lack of support in terms of drivers and all the issues I faced during the last months in terms of trying to clean install Windows 10 on my WinTab, I finally managed to complete it and have everything work properly (including both cameras).

I always want to have a clean install of an operating system and this was the case with my WinTab which currently runs Windows 10 but after upgrading the original Windows 8.1 (so not a clean install); however, I did not have the necessary drivers for the touch screen and the two cameras of the tablet so after a refresh of the OS, I got a misaligned (and non-functional) touch screen and no cameras at all. Plaisio, the distributor and maybe the manufacturer of the tablet does not provide any drivers on their website nor after requests (I was told that they only have an image of the system with Windows 8.1 that they install when needed). I got so frustrated that I kept looking for a solution. And it seems that I found it.

First I created an image of the system using the built-in functionality of Windows 10 – I wanted to make sure that if something went wrong, I could still revert back to a working state. Then I copied the few files I needed (photos, documents etc.) to the SD card that extends the insufficient 32GB storage space of the tablet. After thatñ, I went through the System settings and went for the clean install of the OS (Windows 10) opting to delete everything. Since I had already upgraded to Windows 10 (so I did not need the product key for the upgrade) I could also use a USB flash disk with Windows 10 Home 32bit but I didn’t have to as I could do the same without creating a bootable disk.

The process took quite a while and when I booted into Windows, I noticed that the touch screen was not functional, the cameras were not present/installed at all and there were a couple of devices not properly installed. After the research I made throughout the last months, I ended up with the following solution for these issues (the link to the drivers is at the end of this post):

A. Touch screen

1. Uninstall KMDF HID Minidriver for Touch I2C Device (in the Human Interface Devices) and click on Remove Drivers
2. Uninstall all devices from the Human Interface Devices APART FROM the USB Input Devices
3. Install all .inf files available in the subfolders of the folder [Onda v820w Dual OS Full Touch Drivers JACKBAUER]
4. Copy the file SileadTouch.fw from the Touch screen files folder to C:\Windows\System32\Drivers
5. Restart
Working version of the KMDF HID Minidriver for Touch I2C Device driver: 18.24.23.67, 2/6/2015

 

B. Cameras

1. Update driver of the Intel(R) Imaging Signal Processor 2400 (in Imaging Devices) by manually selecting the camera.inf from the folder Camera_GC310_HM2056_OV2680-5648
2. Restart

Working version of the Intel Imaging Signal Processor 2400 driver: 10.46.22.382, 19/9/2014

The files are available hereGood luck with the process and let me know in the comments of you have managed to successfully apply it in your case 🙂

Traveling light: What I pack

I used to travel a lot for business purposes. And I mean a lot. And by traveling, I mostly refer to flying; I have used most of the airlines operating in EU (save the low cost ones) and have been through various hard circumstances during my trips; lost luggage, missed flights, traveled sick and unprepared for meetings etc.

A photo posted by Uçak Bileti (@ucakbileti) on Dec 27, 2015 at 11:39pm PST

 

One of the issues when traveling (especially when flying) is proper packing; it’s always nice to travel with only the minimum but you always need to ensure that everything needed will be packed and travel with you, being available when needed. Packing efficiently and light is crucial when flying with low cost airlines (or when the cost of checked luggage is not included so only hand/cabin luggage is an option), where every centimeter of the luggage and every gram counts.

So what are the most essential items that need to be included when packing and what could be avoided in order to save space?

  1. Gadgets: Since I am referring to business trips, a laptop, charger and all peripherals are essential. So apart from my laptop I usually need to take with me a mouse (to work more efficiently), headphones with mic (when Skype calls need to take place during the trip), my external hard disk (which hosts my >21GB email inbox, working files and movies if time allows). I also take a paper notepad and pens with me (to keep notes when using a laptop is not an option), a couple of USB flash disks for sharing files and my mirrorless Olympus E-PM1 camera with a spare battery and its charger. I also take my Philips MP3 player with me, which doubles as a USB flash drive if needed. During my last trips I replaced my 17- or 15-inch laptops with my 10.1-inch WinTab (a Windows tablet with a detachable keyboard); this allowed me to save space and weight while at the same time I managed to work really efficiently – even during the flight. It only takes a couple of cables (a microHDMI to HDMI for projecting to larger screens like hotel room TVs and a microUSB to USB one for making use of all tablet’s extension ports) to make up for the tablet’s limitations. In addition, if space and weight is an issue, I opt to leave my camera behind and use my Nokia Lumia 735 smartphone for taking photos; it never lets me down with its wide-angle Zeiss lens and 6,7MP sensor.
  2. Clothes: This is what takes the most of space and weight of a luggage. Depending on the length and type of the trip, a different number of outfits are needed. As a rule of thumb, at least one extra pair of trousers is needed (accidents happen), a couple of shirts and a smart combination between them (i.e. make sure that most of them match).Pyjamas, slippers, underwear (1 set per day plus one extra) and a casual outfit (e.g. jeans and a hoodie) are handy for free time/walks during trips with spare time included. An extra pair of shoes never hurt by the way, if space is not an issue. otherwise a comfortable pair will do the work for all days. In order to save space, I tend to wear jackets and suit (if needed) during the trip (it saves on wrinkles, too!) and leave all light clothes in the luggage.
  3. Toiletries: This is also tricky, especially in the case of cabin luggage only. In this case, all liquids need to be in <100mL containers, so I have to spare my Detol disinfectant spray (replaced by a small bottle of disinfectant) and my deodorant spray (replaced by a roll-on). Toothbrush & toothpaste, shower gel and shampoo come anyway in small containers; the latter are usually available in hotel rooms anyway but I take them with me just in case. A bottle of perfume is always needed and a nail clipper can always come handy.
  4. Other stuff: One of the things that I carry with me during business trips is a folder with printed material; this includes e.g. the agenda of the meeting/workshop/conference, related material that I need to go through during the trip, a notepad for taking notes, a map of the city I am visiting or the directions from the airport to the hotel, boarding passes and hotel vouchers etc. In some cases I need to carry a poster with me and since I want to have my hands free while traveling, I try to squeeze the poster box inside the luggage. Last but not least, I usually feel nice when using my own towels so I get a couple of them with me if space allows. Last but not least, I like to take my Klean Kanteen insulated water bottle with me; this allows me to keep hydrated throughout the trip days and avoid disposable plastic water bottles.

I like airports, even though they’re busy and noisy!

A photo posted by Vassilis (@vprot) on Sep 3, 2014 at 11:55am PDT

 

It is obvious that depending on the length and type of the trip (some trips are more formal than others), I try different combinations of stuff that I carry with me and the option of a checked luggage expands possibilities. In any case, I always try the pack the least I can so that I carry the least with me – traveling light is convenient!