Sunday, November 22, 2009

iPod Touch Review

Over the past few months my iRiver X20 has been getting less accurate to control to pick songs and change volume.  To be fair, it has been a pretty good player, and does look nice and techy.  The other thing was that I wanted to be able to switch between music and podcasts, picking up the podcast where I left off.  At the time I bought it, podcasts (netcasts truely) weren’t as popular so it wasn’t a feature.

So I’ve been researching mp3 players for a couple of weeks.  I researched several: iPod Touch, Creative Zen Fi (or something like that), Archos Internet Tablet, and maybe a few others. 

Pros and Cons of Each (Researched)

In no particular order…

iPod Touch
  • Touch screen, fairly mature, good UI, certain it does podcasting well.
  • App store, many good apps, plenty free.
  • Because it’s the most popular, it’s quite likely that vodcasts will just work without having to re-encode.
  • No FM radio.
  • No replaceable battery (I think this is wasteful)
  • iTunes’ library restrictions on importing/exporting foreign iPods (ways around that though)
  • Small format playing options.

Mind you, those last two I wasn’t really concerned about: library issue, because you can use third party software if needed, and I was happy with iTunes anyway.  Format options: well, while I’d like others, I just don’t need them, any videos can be converted anyway (and it’s reasonably fast, I hear).

Creative Zen-Fi
  • Plays other video formats (DivX etc.)
  • Has FM Radio
  • Supports podcasts (not sure how well, though)
  • No App Store
  • Just a media player
  • No replaceable battery (AFAIK)

OK, so the real advantage here, is that has FM radio, is cheaper (because of less functionality) while still supporting netcasts.

Archos Internet Tablet
  • Plays many video/music formats
  • Wi-Fi Streaming over network!
  • Android OS
  • FM Radio
  • Could not be sure (even from the manual) about the netcast support.
  • Interface didn’t seem as polished as the iPod Touch (or, I preferred the clean look of iPod)
  • Non replaceable battery

This is a nice player technically, it can stream files over the network with Windows file and printer sharing, which is cool but not really necessary for me.  FM radio again is nice. I didn’t pick this one though, because of the lack of netcast support and the interface, the Android apps may be nice, but I feel (unfoundedly) that the iPod/iPhone apps might be better supported for the time being.

Overall, the FM radio issue wasn’t really an issue when compared to the other features of the iPod – I’ve hardly listened to FM radio on my iRiver for many weeks anyway. (And surely I can get a really cheap one for that, or just take my iRiver along.)  Wi-Fi streaming and support for more media formats is cool, but I don’t really have that much media I need to do that anyway.

The iPod Touch


While the packaging was cool (hard plastic box), it was nasty to get open.  I peeled the top sticker off with the security barcode and (I gather) it should have come away and hinged on the bottom. But that would have been too easy.  Instead one of the corners got stuck and I had to separate the two pieces by removing the bottom sticker acting as the hinge.

Annoyingly, Apple decided to clamp the device to a hard plastic thing, and you are meant to hold the iPod and bend the clampy thing so it opens, freeing the device. I didn’t like that thought at all, so laid the iPod face down on the desk and bend the clampy thing that way.  Should have done it on a soft thing like a blanket so as not to damage the iPod when it came of the clamp. But it seems alright though.

IMG_1194IMG_1195IMG_1196IMG_1199 IMG_1200

When I first turned it on, it kindly told me to plug it into iTunes.  So I registered it and did the initial syncing/setup which was fine, except that you need a credit card (though you may not if you don’t make an iTunes account).

iPod + iTunes

When I first installed iTunes before I bought the iPod, I didn’t like it all that much as the views made no sense.  The List view shows every song but to customise it you have hunt through the menus to find the Column Browser and add filters.  The grid view shows everything with or without album art and I couldn’t seem to filter it (say to just albums).  Cover Flow again showed everything even it was wasn’t part of an album (I read on the web though, that it obeys the sorting, still can’t filter it though).   Whereas Windows Media Player has preset views for Artist, Album et cetera, and album view only shows songs with album tags (even with big icons or a list if you want). But hey, I don’t have to use iTunes to play music anyway.  Once I got used to it though I just stopped using the Grid view and only use the List view now in iTunes.


The iPod itself, I’m quite happy with; the main things I’d like to see improved I’ve already mentioned and knew about (FM radio and formats).  Oddly, it’s very picky about compilation albums being marked as such in iTunes, but once you tag all the song properly it’s good.  I find it takes while to start up after being fully turned off, but it is running a modified version of OSX after all.  But the touch screen is responsive, and the accelerometer is nice for the web browsing etc.

The music player interface is quite good, I find it intuitive (once tagged of course).  The Artist view simply scrolls down, selecting an artist lists the songs by that artist, if they have multiple albums they are listed in bold.  If the artist only has one album, then that album is shown by itself with the album title in the heading, which is really what you would want, as it would be silly to click an artist only to have to select the only option of one album to get the songs.  So once you’re at the list of songs, clicking one starts playing it and adds the rest to the temporary playlist.  (On my X20 you could press one to start playing just that song or add the song to the main playlist.)

The Album and Song view are essentially the same, only listing all albums, and songs.  Contrasting the X20, to make a playlist of all different songs/artists/albums on the iPod Touch you have to make an On The Go playlist, which is straight forward enough; whereas the X20 treats it as a normal operation.  (Mind you, on the iPod, you can sync them to iTunes when you get back home, which is handy.)

IMG_0005 IMG_0004

IMG_0007 And you can rearrange the icons too.

Podcasting support is quite good, there’s a view for it, and it puts a dot next to episodes that haven’t been listened to yet. Listening to an ep, you can go fast forward and rewind and go back 30 seconds with one button (which is very handy).  Nicely, even if you accidently press next and it goes to the next episode, you can just go back and it picks up where you left off.  (I’ve done it too). (Even with only one podcast, pressing Next, just stops and you just start it again to pick up again.)  That was one of the problems I had with my previous player, as it wasn’t meant for netcasts, it kept loosing the place while fast-forwarding (because I might not hold the button down enough).  Oh, you can download podcasts right on the player over wi-fi too, which is handy, even better it’ll sync back to iTunes.  Oh oh, and if sync with unfinished podcast, iTunes itself can pickup where the player left off.


The on-screen keyboard works well for typing normal text, you can double tap caps for a caps-lock, and it learns what you mean and provides suggestions, but they can be ignored if you want.  One cool feature is when you push the extra symbols button, and choose a number it stays in that mode allowing you to press more numbers, but if you press a symbol it goes back to letters mode.  Which is really what you want, as mostly you enter one symbol at a time, say in the case of “they’re”, and many numbers at a time in the case of … phone numbers.

This is getting longish now, I’ll add more about the apps later.  Overall, it has a few quirks but aside from some non-existent features, I’ve found it quite mature and usable.  The battery life seems pretty good (so far, will update later with more usage), it adjusts  and estimates the battery remaining based on the usage.

Soon, hopefully I’ll post with a general review of the built in apps and anything else I’ve found interesting.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

XP Mode

I downloaded and installed XP Mode for Windows 7 RC the other day. It came in two parts: the RC of the latest version of Virtual PC and XP Mode itself which is a pre-configured XP Pro SP3 virtual machine (with some added tools to support seamless mode).



As it’s pre-configured you see the EULA in the XP Mode installer instead of within the VM installer.


Depending on your choice it must set the registry key inside the VM after unpacking the VHD (image) file.


Doing stuff…




The standard VM display.  This is where you go to interact with the VM directly to perform administrative tasks or install apps.  After you install an application Windows 7 detects it and places a special shortcut in the Windows 7 Start Menu


To get Internet Explorer published to the Windows 7 start menu I simply created a shortcut to it inside the All Users/Start Menu/Programs folder and (since the VM was running anyway) XP Mode (the set of services in Win7) looks in there for new shortcuts.


By default most core Windows applications like Calculator, Notepad,etc. won’t be published by creating a shortcut, but there is a registry setting detailed here though (usual disclaimer applies), to allow particular apps to be published. Given that the list also contains Windows Vista apps (Purple Place and Games Explorer for example), I suspect that there is provision to install the same virtualisation integration components into a Vista VM.

The integration features automatically mount the host’s local drives as network drives (unfortunately with full write access).  While convenient, when I first tried to use an MSI based installer on my local hard disk XP said that Windows Installers couldn’t be run over remote desktop, but when I copied the installer to XP’s desktop it worked fine.  I suspect they meant over a network.

For what it’s intended for though, XP Mode seems fairly good.  I mean, OK it can’t run games but they did say it’s not designed to. So fair enough then.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Windows 7 RC install

I finally got around to installing the RC after the Beta started shutting down every two hours. So here goes:

As I couldn’t be bothered trying to get my PC to boot from the CD (without changing the priority), I ran setup from within the existing 7 Beta.  Yes, you can do that, you just can’t upgrade in place from the Beta.

 Image265 Image266


The Installer can update itself to download drivers and other things they say.


I don’t know what it actually updated, but it’s a good idea.



A choice of Upgrade or Custom (advanced).


Obviously I can’t choose Upgrade install.  Slightly annoyingly after this screen the installer just exists.



If there is on OS already on the selected partition, the Installer will rename it to windows.old.  It actually dumped the entire contents on the partition prior to install in that folder.  (documents, Windows, Program Files, everything.)  So at least you could still get stuff back if you needed to.  I don’t know if it did this on a boot install though.



During the restarts this screen came on my boot menu: it only gave you 2 seconds to choose, but it was nice you could choose a different OS to boot into or continue with the setup. (Well, I guess you could, I didn’t try)

Image288 Image298


The initial start menu.


And the pretty login screen with flowers.

Overall the install probably took about 30-45 minutes.  Sorry about the image quality I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to take screenshots during install. 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

That’s that then

Finally finished the Half-Life 2: Episode 2 Developer’s Commentary. After the previous episode’s commentary mode I decided to make a mapping of the sound track from that was included in Audio Surf, as I played through the game again. [Highlight to read the mapping]

  • Vortal Combat is the music with the Vorts fighting the antlions in the tunnels
  • Inhuman Frequency is when you and Alyx encounter Combine Advisor in the barn.
  • Sector Sweep is just after that when the soldiers come to kill you.
  • No One Rides for Free seems to be when you get the RADAR car.
  • Eon Trap seems to be the Ambush at White Forest Inn.
  • Abandoned In Place is when you are fighting the Combine at White Forest Base that Dr Magnussun thinks are crows.
  • Last Legs is the last wave of Striders in the final battle

Playing through the Commentary from Episode 1 took about half the time as playing through the game the first time.  Curiously though, playing through the E2 commentary took the same time as playing the game the first time around! I’m not quite sure what happened there, though the puzzles and combat were easier because I could predict what was going to happen, I suppose I spent more time playing with the level (physics, AI, etc.); and other game elements as you’ll see…

At times of intense combat when a song started playing I paused the game to listen to the music in peace so I could get a feel for the various elements in the game.  Then I spent maybe, five or so minutes running though the music on my laptop, trying to find the song that matches the music.  Sometimes I could narrow my guesses down to less then 3 songs based on the title and the contents of the game.  (For example, Vortal Combat matches the battle of the Antlions and the Vortigaunts).  Other times I had to listen to several songs to find the one.

Also, I noticed in this Episode there seemed to be more some commentary nodes, especially from the rather talented Merle Dandridge, whose commentary nodes were quite lengthy.  Which is really good, I quite enjoyed hearing her thought’s on the game and acting for a video game. (And so was Ellen McClain’s commentary in Portal)

So, the second time around was quite good (slightly annoying having to stop and map the music though), I’m sure I picked up some extra story elements and level design elements that I may have missed before. There were a couple of times when I anticipated particular battles ahead, and felt reluctant to continue (especially the last battle), just because I didn’t really feel like doing them again.  However they weren’t that long (I could always cheat anyway, I’d already finished (without cheating, the first time)), and it was good to redo the game to properly understand the commentary.  (And I got some neat screenies)

ep2_outland_10a0001 ep2_outland_120002

(Oh, I must add: surprisingly, even though I put the game on notarget mode, it was still was difficult to run over the hunters and take out the Striders in the last wave.  Props to VALVe for keeping the level still enjoyably-hard even while cheating…)

What’s next?



Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Oh, but I liked that…

About the only feature I miss that has actually been removed from Windows 7 (compared to Vista), has to be the Default Email and Internet links on the Start Menu. 


The main reason I liked this was that you could right click, say Internet and choose Internet Properties, which would take you to the aforementioned Control Panel item. 


The cool part was it even worked with other browsers, like Firefox:


Now the thing is, previously I thought that on Vista you couldn’t right click on the Start Menu, but that they had re-enabled right clicking the Start Menu.  However it seems that there is a setting to enable or disable that even in Vista.  Previously I was thinking, “Nice, they put back right clicking on the Start menu”.

Since discovering that you could use the Internet and Email items on the Start menu in this way, it has just made the removal of this feature in W7 that much worse.  Only because I thought it was cool.

Now I must add: I haven’t actually had much need for this feature, even on XP at work so to be honest I probably wouldn’t miss it.  The reason I particularly like this is that it integrates with alternative browsers not just I.E.  But so far this is the only thing about W7 that I miss (I know, I know, I don’t even use the feature) that doesn’t have much of a work around. (Yes, I know you can pin them, but that’s not the point….)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

hey neat!

So I plug my Nokia phone in to Window 7 Beta, hoping it would find something interesting.  Well, it was interesting.  I plug it in go to the Device Stage and there are warning icons over several unknown devices.  (One of which it’s worked out is a “generic phone”.)  So I choose Troubleshoot, Windows thinks for a few seconds and up comes this gem:


I’m not quite sure what drivers it thought it had installed successfully, but I like it letting me download PC suite easily.  I didn’t proceed, so I don’t know what will happen.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Half-Life 2 on Intel Graphics (continued from before)

Continuing the theme of writing this blog as I do stuff, I’ve decided to download the most recent drivers for my laptop’s graphics adaptor.

Before I go to far though, I should probably state that most of my surprise at HL2 even working to the extent that it did, was due to most of the games from 2004 requiring, (that is, explicitly checking for) Hardware transform and lighting, which Intel graphics then performed on the CPU.  There were notable exceptions, Unreal Tournament 2003/4 being one.  And thinking about it more, Half-Life 2 was after all released in late ‘04, and Valve especially doesn’t want to alienate large percentages of customers.  So I guess for those two reasons I wasn’t expecting it to run at all.

OK then.   I’ll try installing these newer drivers. ( for 852/855GM, from Feb ‘06…) .  Wow, that was quick, something’s wrong, it won’t let me install them.  I’ll try something else.  So I try the automatic driver checking applet, and it says I have custom drivers installed from the manufacturer and to look there instead.  They don’t have anything.  So I have just tried installing the drivers manually using the Device Manager.  Am restarting.

So, back to City 17, AKA Half-Life 2 to see if anything’s improved.  I’ll start a new game, to see if I get the G-man. Yay, I can see him now. Though, could it just be because of a restart? 

Annoyingly the first screen with Breen still has some transparency issues.

d1_trainstation_010003 d1_trainstation_010004

In the game there seems to be a metal support behind the texture projection which is showing through somehow.  Oddly, when I alt-tab to the desktop and back again I don’t seem to have the issue anymore.

Unfortunately, I still don’t hear the Breencast, no idea what’s causing that, I can hear other sounds.  Maybe I’ll look into that as well.  The other thing I want to do is see how much performance I get, but that will be later.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Steam on a 5 year old lappy?

My friend suggested I try out Half-Life 2 on my old laptop so we can play LAN games at his house, I didn’t believe HL2 would even be able to run on Intel graphics.  But I thought I try it and see.  I’m writing this blog in real time, the tense change.

Understandably the Steam install is going fine, it’s currently updating itself which is nothing interesting particularly.

94%, 95%, 957%… I’d better close down my current copy of Steam on my desktop before I go logging in again….

It’s very slow to load, and download the Store… It finishes after a few seconds…

My first problem is getting any game content onto my laptop.  Trying to connect a Windows 7 machine to an XP Pro machine might be difficult…. Ahh right, easy when you know how: Disconnect lappy from wi-fi, manually configure W7 to the same Ethernet subnet as the lappy is on. Type in IP address in Explorer bar.

So I try copying Audiosurf over and see how that goes. (Because Audiosurf has minimal requirements in comparison to Source games.)  I copy over Audiosurf from its location in Steamapps/common to the same.  Steam doesn’t think it’s installed, so I get it.  Luckily it’s smart enough to realise that most of the files are intact and is currently updating to 97% in the time taken to write these last two sentences.  98% now, looking good Steam.  (BTW, it’s now 11:07 pm and I started the whole experiment at about 10:30pm (including unpacking my laptop)).

Audiosurf is ready! I click play.  It’s slower to load I’m first noticing. Though that’s to be expected. In the game, the cursor is less responsive than my desktop (obviously), but it doesn’t have any trouble calculating the level geometry from the music.  Actually playing a song – well, I really have to turn the graphics detail down to minimum and the resoulion to 640x480 to make it playable.  I don’t have any framerate measuring tools on that machine anymore, I’ll try to get some later.

So now, I’ll try HL2(!).  Wish me luck… OK then, Steam’s good enough to detect that it’s installed, all I did was copy the gcf files and rerun Steam client.  Apparently I need more hard disk space, I check it, and there’s 836MB free, “Yeah, I agree”.  So I delete about 400MB, and try again.

The moment of truth!  So, far it’s about twice as slow for the first dialog box that says loading.  Oh boy! It’s loading the main menu! (And the Valve video was ok-ish, a bit delayed though.)  Still loading the main menu… Wow!!!! It’s actually in the main menu! And these menus are real levels too.  It’s 640x480, but the mouse seems quite responsive.  Still keeping this blog in real time, following are the advanced video settings.

  • Medium - Model Detail
  • Medium - Texture Detail
  • High - Shader Detail
  • Simple reflection - Water Detail
  • Low – Shadow Detail
  • Disabled - Colour Correction
  • None - AA
  • Bilinear - Filtering
  • Disabled - Vsync
  • None - HDR

I’m starting a new game… Well, I can’t see the G Man, but I can hear him.. Odd.  That bit’s finished, ooh I can see the train, walk around even! Responsive enough, though I can’t hear the first Breencast for some reason.  I did hear the Scanner click though.  As I proceed through to Barney’s security room, I can hear him, and the CPs, but not Kliener on the monitor.  I wonder why I can’t hear sound on monitors, only coming from NPC's?  The most obvious graphical difference at the moment would be that objects are only rendered from a few feet away and so fade in as I approach. (And the lack of AA of course.)

Sometime later I hope to do further experimentation with HL2 to get the sound working properly, G-Man video, see if I can get it to run at the native resolution of the LCD.

Friday, March 13, 2009

New Safely Remove Hardware in W7

The Safely Remove Hardware menu has been adjusted in Windows 7, it seems to be better.


In previous versions, you could left-click to bring up a menu which listed each device you could remove, or right-click to bring up a dialog box listing more details about each device you could remove. In 7, however they seemed to have dropped the right-click menu, combining the extra details to the menu (either mouse button). (AFIAK).

If you click on the Safely Remove Hardware item, it now brings up a virtual folder (some form of Control Panel item actually).  This could be good if you have many removable devices to choose from, or you want to be able to remove several at the same time.  The only problem is that it’s not really clear how to actually remove a device, given a dedicated screen.  To actually remove a device, you still have to right-click the icon (see the next picture). (Or use the toolbar option, but this is still two clicks.)



I feel if there’s only one drive attached to the device you want to remove you don’t need a cascading menu, it’s not much more code…

Aside from that though, I’m happy with the change overall.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Amazing, they’ve finally done it!


Who would have thought I.E would ever pass the Acid 2 test for CSS compatibility….  This is of course I.E. 8 beta running on Windows 7 Beta

Thursday, February 19, 2009

oh good, Live on MS Update

Installed the update to Live Messenger today, saw this on the installer screen:


That’s good, I was wondering when they’d start integrating Live Suite with Microsoft Update in W7 and Vista

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Windows 7 Experience Index

My Windows 7 Experience Index is very interesting this time. (I guess this doesn’t count as a benchmark…)


Compared to my Vista WEI:

  • My CPU is now alot higher, maybe it detects some of the new features in my Core2Duo that Vista didn’t for some reason.
  • My RAM has a lower score now, despite the fact that that:
  1. I have the same amount of memory and:
  2. W7 is supposed to be less memory hungry than Vista is even
  • Graphics for Aero: well that’s go up two points, maybe due to the WDDM 1.1 being more efficient on 7 now.
  • Gaming graphics has stayed the same, which is good I suppose.
  • The hard disk! What has happened there?! 3.0! I’m guessing that 7 doesn’t have proper drivers for the SATA hard drive … or it’s just confused. I might look into it, though I don’t notice anything using the system….

UPDATE: According to this forum page the hdd score is to do with Write Caching and how the score is calculated in 7.  Microsoft does not recommend changing it just for the WEI score so I’ll just assume that if I did, it would be about the same as Vista.