Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hardware Reviews

Every now and then someone asks me to recommend hardware. It's a really hard question. My personal preference is for 3 devices. A phone, a netbook and an e-ink ereader based device.

For the phone I'm currently using an LG P500. I probably wouldn't recommend this phone these days. I mean, there's nothing particularly bad with it. It's just that even when I brought mine, it was a little dated. Which is fine. I'll probably continue using it for another year or two. I'm quite impressed by the LG phones in general though the vendor software normally bites the big one - so expect a bit of hacking. But in terms of usability vs. price they're top in my book.

For my e-book reader I'm using a Kindle. Nowadays I would probably buy a Kobo. The Kindle is a great device except that it doesn't do epubs. This is mainly because the Kindle is based around trying to  sell ebooks from Amazon. The interface is always going to be a bit of a contention point on an e-reader (as is the lack of colour). But it does what it does. I only ever need to charge mine once a month for example. And it doesn't hurt my eyes. And sure, I could get a flashy tablet. But honestly, I like the features of an e-ink reader better rather than the flashiness. I know I'm probably a minority on this point.

As for the third device... I'm actually really liking the hardware of the Chromebook but think it needs a hell of a lot more work. I've actually got two other devices here - a netbook and a laptop. The crowding in this space is centered around work - what can I do with different devices? What problems am I facing?

I know.. I've been complaining about the Chromebook. But it has a certain "oneness" to the construction that my laptop lacks and it feels kind of solid. It's battery life is what netbooks should have been (around 8 hours). It's speed and performance is exactly where it should be for a netbook i.e. a snappy interface and brilliant boot up time. Of course, the chromebook, with it's 12" screen, is outside of the realm of "netbooks" - i.e. outside of the limitations placed by Intel in their silly effort to compete with ARM.

Google need to get more accommodating about this stuff. Rather than having this whole "developer" mode crap, allow a developer to actually use the hardware without the Chromebook telling you that you're being unsafe (and honestly.... 30 seconds for a warning screen?!? That's just stupid). Actually this mentality is being used all over the place. The creepy cameras on buses for example - they're there for your safety apparently.

Chrubuntu needs a hell of a lot more work in it's default settings as well - which I think a community contribution area would be really good. This would allow people to try and work out the kinks. I REALLY miss the Delete, Page Up, Page Down, Home and End keys. And the touchpad is doing my head in... These aren't insurmountable but just needs someone documenting what they've tried and what has and hasn't worked.

Long story short - apart from a few hints, I don't think I'm all that well qualified to give people suggestions. Those hints? Avoid AMD processors in low power devices. They tend to have great video processing but really crap processor capabilities and aren't all that low power. Expect something different from ARM. They're very much embedded devices in which case, a desktop environment is not their strength (though I think Raspberry Pi could be an exception if someone where to write a window manager based on OpenGL ES) - so only really consider ARM processors if you have a very particular need in mind (a phone is and ereader is cool. A computer - make sure you try it first. The experience can be quite different from what you may be used to).

But the point of this post... Given that I end up buying devices and can normally get a fairly good idea of suitability within about a week, wouldn't it be great to become a reviewer of hardware? It'd save me quite a bit of money and would have the added advantage that vendors could potentially "certify" their hardware for use with Linux (with tips supplied for making it all usable). It would become a selling point as Linux geeks everywhere, although we love to complain about the fact that we're paying for a MS Windows license without actually using it, would at the very least like to know that a piece of hardware works with our environment of choice.

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