Arnova 10 G2 (AKA Phillytablet) Hands On Review

Recently picked up a “Phillytablet” from the local newspaper publishing group, Philly Media Network (PMN), publishers of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and a few other smaller news publications.

The pricing is structured with two options. The first is to buy the tablet for $99 and pay $9.99 a month for the e-editions of the newspapers for 2-years. The second is to pay $129 for the tablet and agree to a 1-year subscription at $12.99/mo.

If you decided to buy this tablet without the deal, it is currently retailing for about $221, but it is not quite available yet from general retailers. A lot of misinformation has been going around saying that it is available for $170, however this is for an older model and isn’t accurate if you are making that comparison.

The newspaper wants you to believe you are receiving a savings over a regular newspaper subscription. If you work it out over the term of the contract and discard the value of the newspaper, it costs $338.76 for the 2 year and $284 for the 1 year deal. Obviously if you aren’t going to use the newspaper portion, it isn’t worth it to agree to this deal.

I am going to review the PMN portion of the device separately from the hardware, because they are really two separate things. Also of note, this is my first Android device. I’ve used Windows Mobile in the past and I’ve been an iOS fan for the past few years but have been wanting to dip my feet into the Android world for a while now and thought this would be a good chance to do so.

Click here to skip to the Philly Media Network apps review.

The Arnova 10 G2 Tablet

The Arnova 10 G2 Tablet

The tablet itself has a solid feel to it. It is mainly plastic but is sturdy enough to not seem flimsy. There is a camera on the front and none on the back – and the front-camera is of low enough quality that it isn’t going to be good for much more than video-chatting.

It came with Android 2.3 installed on it, as well as a few apps and shortcuts. Specific to the Phillytablet are a few apps I will describe in further detail below.

The 10″ screen itself is bright and of decent quality. It has a more rectangular shape than the iPad, which does lend itself to reading a newspaper or a lot of text.

Battery life, from what I can tell so far, is also good on this tablet.

I did notice that it does not charge via the included USB plug, you need to use the proprietary power adapter to do any charging, so I was a bit put off by that. USB is so prevalent, all devices/gadgets should charge via this method.

The lack of a dual-core processor was definitely visible at times. Angry Birds took a few seconds to get running smoothly, but after that it seemed to run OK. Any website that included Flash was visibly slow and movement was jerky. Reading a book via the Amazon Kindle app was OK, there was a little delay while paging but it was tolerable. If I had to guess I would say that this device suffers a bit both from not enough CPU power and also latency while reading/writing to memory.

All said, it is a decent device for the money. I would not describe this as a “top tier” tablet as some PMN executive will tell you, but it isn’t bad for the price.

The App Store

Since I’m new to the Android world, I’m also new to this market fragmentation I’ve heard so much about. And it is ugly. So for non-Android people, I will give you the short and quick version as I know it, please feel free to correct me if I am wrong. Apparently Google only allows access to Android Market on some devices, and this tablet is not one of them. To try to correct this, Archos (the parent of the Arnova brand) created an App store called AppsLib. They also included the Amazon App Store on the tablet. Each store does have tons of applications, however I found some major gaps. You want Netflix? Nope. Skype? Nope. BeeJive? Just the Facebook version (?) for some reason.

It appears that some application developers choose to only release to certain stores, and access to those stores is restricted. I’ve heard that you can root your device and add some custom ROMs which then give you access to other stores, but haven’t gotten that far yet.

Yet for some reason, AppsLib offered Angry Birds for free (add supported). I can’t really figure it out, but I can tell you the separation of apps stores is definitely a cause of confusion for consumers.

Notably missing was Google Apps and other cool toys you often see on other Android phones and tablets. It does include a browser and some apps are available via the Amazon store, including Seesmic, Kik and more.

The Philly Media Network Apps

The E-Edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer

So now that we’ve determined that you should only buy this device if you want to receive the subscription to Philly Media Network, what do you get with your subscription?

When you receive your device there are several pre-installed apps from PMN. One is a link to the online tablet version of The Inquirer. The second are two ‘e-readers’ for the digital versions of the print layout of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News. The rest just seem to be bloatware to me – advertisements (links to websites, basically) to Main Line Health, PMN, Dealy-o and Philly.com. So the real thing you are paying for are the subscription to the 2 e-reader apps for the Inq and Daily News.

What I like About The Inquirer and Daily News Apps

There are a few things that I do like about the apps. It’s nice that it will automatically download the papers while you are at home, and you don’t need the network to read them as you travel on your way to work. I take the train and the reception from AT&T is, let’s just say, unreliable. Using the paper app you can read through the paper just like the print version.

When I was a print newspaper subscriber, I liked reading the paper, but disliked all of the trash it generated. This is also a great way to reduce paper consumption and reduce distribution costs for the paper.

And Of Course, the Drawbacks

Specific to this device, there is a delay while reading the paper and moving around. With the processing power of a tablet, I assume you are going to see some of this latency. I’m curious how this e-version of the paper would look on something like the EeePad Transformer (@subewl, care to help me out with that?)

Non-specific to the device, the UI of the app seemed to be a bit confusing to me. You supposedly have the ability to click on headlines and be taken to a text-version of the article formatted to read on your screen. It only worked about half the time for me, I think it has to do with where the main text section was located. Hopefully this is just a bug they can iron out.

Why I Like Reading The Whole Paper

Sorry of this gets a bit philosophical for you, but I think there is a place for old-school journalism. It’s not about local news, if I want tidbits of local information I’ll check Twitter or Facebook. I like old-school journalism because it gets me in-depth coverage of local-ish news items.

Blogs have their place too, but I attribute their success to a different area of the brain. It’s the same area that OK or People scratches – breaking news, gossip, and ‘eye catching’ headlines. Having written for some major blogs – Lifehacker and MakeUseOf, it is amazing to see how much of the success of a blogger is attributed to the eye-catching quality of the title of the post. It takes one read through comments and you can tell that many do not even read the actual content, they read the headlines and form an opinion.

Newspapers are good, on the other hand, at really getting into the issues. They interview local people and analyze the issue much more than any blog that I’ve known.

The problem with newspapers is that they are trying to emulate the success of blogs. Instead, they need to focus on what they are good at – in depth coverage of local/national news, and bringing that to its audience in as user-friendly of a way as possible.

An e-Newspaper does not do this. I think The Daily is probably the best example I’ve seen of a newspaper making this transition the right way. Focus on the app. Creating version of the newspaper that is exactly like the paper version is not going to win you any subscribers.

Want to reach us in the digital age? We might have a shorter attention span but we still value good content.

Will the Phillytablet be a success?

This is certainly a tough call to make. I want it to work. Journalism as a whole has been under fire and the whole reason I gave this deal a shot – besides having the tablet itch for a while now – is that I want it to succeed. I’m probably the ideal customer for this tablet – my train commute giving me ample reading time – and I’m a news junkie to boot.

I just don’t see this being a long-term viable winning strategy for them. I think they are concerned that not enough people have access to tablets in order to get the e-edition of the paper. As we’ve seen tablet prices drop, I think if someone wants a tablet, they are going to buy one and this isn’t going to be a barrier to adoption of an e-newspaper. The barrier to adoption is that reading a full-version newspaper on a tiny device is never going to be as a fulfilling experience as holding out crisp newsprint.

To illustrate my point, I paged sadly by the crossword and sudoku puzzles. We used to get the physical paper just so that my wife could do those every week. With the e-edition, you can’t play them at all.

What can the Philly Media Network do to turn things around?

First of all, I think they need to drop the Phillytablet initiative and focus on content and delivery across all platforms – iOS, Android and Web. If they want to offer a tablet, give it as a gift if someone subscribes to the paper for a year or 2. They should be giving online access to everyone with an interest in the content, not just subscribers to a physical or electronic paper.

Also, they need to get with the times on the ordering process. You had to call a phone number to order the Philly tablet. You couldn’t order it online or pick it up in their store. This goes the same with their newspaper subscription, and in this day and age is a major drawback to adoption.

Let me know your thoughts

So, I’ve certainly been wrong before but I am curious about your thoughts. Do you think the Phillytablet has a shot? What is the future of print newspapers?

Zalman ZM-VE200 Review – You Need This External Hard Drive Enclosure

Fellow tech friends, I have a find for you. If you have a job, or hobby, or whatever where you find yourself meddling with a bunch of .iso files, whether to boot off of them or just to access the data on them, then I have the device for you.

It all started after I backed the Kickstarter project for the isostick. Having never heard of a device before that would accept .iso images on a filesystem and then present them to the computer as a disc drive, I thought this was (and is) a pretty cool idea.

When browsing through the comments, I saw folks mentioning that this is just like the Zalman ZM-VE200 external hard drive enclosure. So of course I decided to do some research on this newly discovered gadget.

Overview

ZM-VE200 Size Comparison

Size Comparison: ZM-VE200 on Lower Left, Normal External Drive on Top, External Disc Drive on Lower Right.

The Zalman ZM-VE200 at its core is an external sata hard drive enclosure. These have been around for a long time, allowing you to put your hard drive in an external enclosure and accessing the file system via a USB port. They are great for when you need to transfer a large amount of data and have an internet connection which isn’t up the the task in any reasonable amount of time.

This external enclosure can work just like that, an external USB drive. However, Zalman has added an extra layer of functionality on the enclosure by adding additional components which add features which I frankly haven’t seen anywhere else.

Zalman’s Additional Hardware Magic

The additional circuitry allows you to select an ISO which is present on the drive, and load it just as if it were a DVD or CDROM on the system. This means that instead of carrying around discs to install operating systems on, you simply put the ISOs on the drive and then select the correct ISO when you boot.

The Zalman ZM-VE200 Screen

When you boot/plug in the drive you actually have 3 modes available to you. Disc, Hard Drive or Dual. With Disc, files you place in the _ISO folder on the drive will be selectable via the wheel on the side of the device. As it was shipped the drive needs to be formatted as NTFS in order to show the ISO files, however with updated firmware you can actually use with FAT or NTFS.

Operation

Plugging in the hard drive

First thing you need to do is to install a SATA drive into the enclosure. This is pretty much a no-brainer, it only plugs in one direction. Slide the drive and circuitry back into the case and use the attached screws to secure the case to the drive/circuitboard. The screws are hidden by little rubber seals on the edge of the case.

The Menu Navigation Wheel

When plugging it into the system, you interact with the drive in a few ways. The initial scroll wheel position, when powered up, determines the mode:

  • Hold Up to enter ODD or “Disc” mode
  • Hold Center to enter Dual mode (both HDD and ODD modes)
  • Hold Down to enter HDD only mode

eSATA Port on the ZM-VE200

An eSATA port and cable are also supplied. I did not use this mode in my testing. It requires that you still plug in the USB cable for power requirements, and I would assume you would see faster transfer rates while in eSATA mode.

Finally there is a small switch that enables write-protect mode. This makes it so that you won’t be able to accidentally change the data on the drive.

The only problem I had with the drive was when I first plugged it into my system via a USB extension cable. The drive did not even turn on, it actually just clicked a little bit. I changed USB ports and then it seemed to work fine. Also I’ve run into a situation where I plugged in the drive to a system that was off and then booted it, and the screen lit up but stayed blank. I believe this is because this drive requires more power than some USB ports can deliver, so if you have problems with it, try another USB port first to see if that fixes your problem.

I also had some problems occasionally mounting the ISO file, usually booting into ODD mode (hold the scroll wheel “up”) seemed to fix this problem.

Final Thoughts

When installing operating systems from this drive, the process is notably faster. Meaning, the transfer speed you see off of the “disc” on the drive is much faster than a normal CD or DVD drive. While there were some technical hiccups and gotchas, the drive works very well.

This “gadget” is a must-have tool for system technicians who find themselves constantly burning ISOs to discs. My co-worker who initially made fun of my fondness for new gadgets has since said I’ll have to pry this drive from his cold, dead hands. It is so useful that I am now recommending it to all of my sysadmin friends. At $50 it is a steal and you will even make your money back because you won’t be burning so many discs.

Official Zalman ZM-VE200 Product Site

Buy From Amazon

(Updated Amazon link to SE product on 5/12/2012 – Thanks Skip!)

Canon CanoScan LiDE 50 Scanner and Windows 7 (32 or 64-bit) Driver Fix

Canon’s site for the LiDE 50 does not list any Windows 7 drivers for download, nor Vista 64-bit drivers. However, I did find that you can use the CanoScan LiDE 60 drivers in place of the LiDE 50 drivers, and they do have options listed for Windows 7/Vista in both 64-bit and 32-bit varieties. 

Do do this, you download the appropriate driver (either the Windows 7 64 or 32 drivers) which is contained in an executable file. Use a program such as 7zip to uncompress this file into another folder. Within this folder, there are no drivers but further cabinet files. Use 7zip to decompress the _winzip_ file, which actually contains the driver you need to install.

In your device manager, locate the scanner and select the option to update the driver. You will need to select the driver manually, then specify the device type and driver, then click the “Have Disk” option. Locate the folder where the driver is located and select the .inf, and it will successfully (hopefully) install the LiDE50 as a LiDE60 scanner.

After having the device installed properly, download the latest CanoScan Toolbox, of the date of this writing it is version 4.9.3.2. This will give you access to all of the options you should have to set the buttons on your scanner, for example.

No need to buy a new scanner just because Canon didn’t develop a driver for the LiDE 50, apparently the chipset for the 60 is almost exactly the same.

What I recently learned about EDID, Windows 7 and nVidia

EDID stands for Extended display identification data and is what many computer monitors and televisions with a VGA/HDMI use to tell the PC what resolution they support. Which, in theory at least, is great.

However what I recently found out is that many LCD and Plasma televisions do not broadcast the correct 16:9 resolution via EDID, and therefore the computer doesn’t know what resolution to display and you have a stretched image. Read more

Replacing the Cable Box – Boxee and Live HD TV with the Acer Revo 3610

This post is now quite old. Boxee has been purchased by Samsung and no longer offers software for replacing your cable box. If you are actually looking to replace your cable box, I recommend using a game system like the Xbox One and then using various apps to replace TV channels. I actually use the Verizon Fios app which has most of the channels I would get with a cable box. To fill out the other channels, I use Windows Media Center and Plex.

Gone is my 500+ channel television subscription along with the required boxes necessary to decode all of that content. The DVR, which has been a mainstay of my family’s television viewing habits, has been ousted. In it’s place is a kick-ass system that keeps the DVR functionality for many of the TV shows that we usually watch, brings in much new content, and also saves me a few bucks each month.

Let’s face it, you don’t want all of the content that your cable provider offers. Cable providers have fought a-la-carte programming tooth and nail for this very reason. Much of it is specialty programming, and though I admit it is nice to know it was there, my family and I rarely watched any of it. My new setup brings many new sources as well as a CHOICE to what you want to view. I am very happy with the results so far. Read more

Crowd-sourced Mobile Trends for 2020

The beginning of a decade is always a time for prognostication, and this year is no exception. This is an interesting collaborative look on mobile device trends for 2020. A lot of these trends are already well on the way to widespread adoption, and I would argue that many will be seen by 2015. From Mobile Trends:

Here are my own predictions for the 2010s:

  1. Continued Convergence – Phone/Camera/Internet – Look for the decline of the “Point and Shoot” pocket camera as mobile phone cameras increase in quality to being on-par with smaller pocket cameras. Many pocket cameras already have miniscule sensor sizes that could fit into a cell phone device. A manufacturer will include this into a cell phone with an a new UI which will match P&S cameras for usability and customization. Internet will continue to grow in presence and utility on mobile devices.
  2. Location Tracking Everywhere – Your device will automatically report to your friends where you are and what you are doing. Privacy controls will be built in to allow as much or as little sharing as possible, with many folks opting to disable the ability altogether. However, parents will still be able to “track” their kids.
  3. Wireless Sensor Networks Will Become Ubiquitous – The continuing decline of the cost of these platforms will allow embedding in almost every imaginable place. Anywhere from road sensors to bridge monitors to traffic cameras will feature these devices.
  4. The Rise of Data-Only High Speed Mobile Providers – Look for providers who provide plain high speed mobile access via WiMax or existing 3G/4G infrastructure. While the cost will be more than the current $30-$60 a month for current providers, the net-cost of mobile voice+mobile data will decrease because of the use of VoIP providers. Dual GSM/WiMax devices like the HTC Max 4G will become common.
  5. Existing providers will fight tooth and nail to resist becoming “dumb pipes” – Much as with landline connections, existing wireless providers (specifically AT&T and Verizon) will fight for their lives using lobbiers and lawyers to prevent themselves from becoming a content-neutral data providers. They will provide shoddy mobile connectivity and blame it on technical restrictions to prevent other providers from piggybacking on their wireless data connections. Have you read your Terms of Service? They already prohibit anything other than Voice and Web, although I have almost never seen it enforced.

Do you have any predictions for the mobile world in 2020?

Operation Replace Cable Programming and HD DVR Box – Part 1 – The Plan

I’ve decided to replace my cable plan and DVR box with something a little more… functional.

Sure we get a ton of channels from Verizon FiOS, but we hardly ever watch them. Our television viewing habits mainly consist of a few programs that my wife watches and a few programs that I watch, but we almost never watch them live. We typically DVR them and then watch them on our own time. For the few instances where we would like to watch live TV, for example when a Penn State game is on, we would like to be able to watch that. Normally the games are on ABC/NBC/Fox so premium cable channels such as ESPN aren’t necessarily needed. There will be some instances where a game may only be available on the Big 10 network or some other premium channel, but honestly I am not that big into sports and the times that this might occur will be few and far between, maybe 1 or 2 times a year, which I can deal with. Read more