Tag Archives: Gadget

Early impressions of my RaspberryPi

RaspberryPi sitting in its case without the upper half
Last year I ordered a RaspberryPi; I wanted to check out the hype and, who knew, maybe I’d get a decent media (or at least music) player out of it. The machine arrived right in time for Christmas, together with an SD card preinstalled with Raspbian and a USB power supply.

Wow, the CPU of this thing is slow. I was lucky to get the new version with 512MB RAM, I guess. Any CPU-heavy task feels extremely sluggish, be it aptitude, X or — beware! — watching videos. The GUI software package that comes with Raspbian is all but useless, too, so I soon decided to stick to a native terminal.

I was quite disappointed with the video performance which resembled a slide show; I had wanted to use the Pi as media center, after all. So I did some research and learned that there is apparently only one player which can harness the hardware video decoding capabilities the Pi has to offer: the OMXPlayer.

Turns out Raspbian with OMXPlayer does a better job of playing full HD videos than my gaming PC, and without the noise and barely any heat. Of course, you should not start X but run the player from shell (yes, that works!); not the most intuitive interface — and you have to change the terminal font if you use a big TV — but very efficient. Files are stored on an external HD connected to another PC which the Pi mounts via ssh. So far, I have not experienced any problems with this setup.

The only sore point has been the board layout; the connectors you can’t go without (Ethernet, USB, HDMI, AC) face three different directions, so the Pi is awkward to place if you want to run all cables to the back. Some minor annoyances are missing codecs, for example WMV, and a handful of inconveniences in OMXPlayer.

I have not yet tried using XMBC which is supposed to work well. Installing it on Raspbian does not seem to be straightforward; maybe I’ll try out Raspbmc on another card. Does anybody have experience with that?

About Kobo Touch

Kobo Touch next to a standard US mass paperback

Kobo Touch next to a standard US mass paperback

Last week I wrote about my thought process that lead to me buying a Kobo Touch ereader. I have used it quite a bit since and think I should write about my experience now.

The Kobo Touch has good haptics. It is relatively light with about 185g and has a surface texture that makes it easy to hold in one hand. The E-Ink display is great; all current ereaders have one of those. Text quality depends on font and size; on the settings I read I can see almost no difference to printed books. Of course you have shadows of former pages because they completely refresh the display only every few page turns (for sake of turning speed). You can adjust the number of turns before that happens between one and six, though, so every taste should be catered.

I had my opinions about ereaderes with touch screens—basically I though they were useless—but I am very pleased with the experience. It reacts in a natural way and the system is responsive enough to avoid slowing me down too much. This is in particular true when using the on-screen keyboard which works great for the tasks you need it for. You can turn pages by swiping or tapping the display. You can adapt the regions where tapping has an effect in order to account for people holding the device with either hand, but you can not turn off tapping yet. Turning the last page prompts Kobo to leave the book which has annoyed me sometimes when I accidentally prompted a page turn while in a one-page document. There is only one key that takes you to the home screen. It can be a bit hard to press but you do not need it too often. Read more »

Choosing an Ereader

Kindle, Nook and Kobo Touch
by Ellis Hamburger [source]

If you want to buy an e-reader in Germany, you are up for some hard decisions as the local industry has not quite jumped on the train yet. If you look for opinions on the web, you will find mostly US-based reviews. Over there, people talk—besides tablets—mostly about Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Amazon’s Kindle. As Nook is not available in Germany at all and Kindle only in old versions1 and for much more money than in the US2, what to do3?

Meet Kobo Touch! Reviews place it closely to both Nook and Kindle and it can be bought for 129€ from a major German electronics chain. Read more »

  1. For instance, neither Kindle Touch nor DX are available on amazon.de
  2. At the time of this writing, the basic Kindle costs 80$ in the US but 99€ (over 125$) in Germany.
  3. One should note that a major book chain seels the Oyo e-reader in Europe. I have tried it; it is an inferior device compared to the ones discussed above but costs more.

Comparison of Pointing Devices

Relaxed arm

We nerds tend to spend lots of time working with computers. Although it is common knowledge that the usual tools are bad for our bodies only few of us act on that knowledge. Headaches, cramps, tight shoulders and necks or even serious illnesses induced by wrong postures appear to be quite common. The most often used input devices for PCs are certainly keyboard and mouse so it is natural to start optimizing there. In this post I want to share what experiences I have had with different pointing devices lately. Note that you invariably have to configure your device properly regardless of what kind you use. Sensitivity respectively cursor speed is probably the most important setting. Read more »

Update on Ebook Readers

I blogged about ebook readers quite a while ago. Due to a recent moving experience which included a very unpleasant volume of books, my interest in ebooks has peaked again. I still love paper books but I can see myself buying the casual read only as ebook in the future if only to save space. Also, ebooks obviously scale better if you travel and are more comfortable to use if you are as maniac about preserving your books’ looks as I am. So it is about time I inform myself about the ebook reader market.

Last week Chalmers library hosted an event with staff members bringing their ereaders so interested students and employees could try them out. Since they own the devices they brought they could share their first-hand experiences which was pretty informative. The event was not well-visited so I could take my time testing the invidual readers. I did not memorize precise model identificators, but here is what I remember:

  • Nuuk — I think this one is a far-eastern (and old) version of the Nook
  • iRiver
  • Kindle
  • Sony with touch display
  • iPad
  • Samsung tablet (galaxy?)

Read more »