Friday, October 20, 2017

A broken mouse, a broken soldier and tale of rotten wires

It's a really funny tale. What happened was like this - my laptop's touch-pad does not work. So I use an ancient Microsoft mouse or I used to! The mouse's left button was finicky for a while. And yesterday it decided to die. 
I being the adventurous all-repair guy, decided to use a old soldier I had to rewire the mouse. I thought I could melt out the dead button and replace it with the middle click one. It's just two soldier points on the PCB. Well, after turning on the soldiering iron, it shorted out in 2 minutes. 
Hmm. I took out the screw-driver and opened it. Turns out the wires were not copper or aluminum but were probably iron!!! And were completely rotten out!! WTF!!! After cussing for two minutes, I remembered having an old laptop adapter cable which I could reuse. 
After half an hour of messing with pliers, connections and everything I managed to get the iron working again without the little light inside, because I broke the resistor connecting the light. Anyway the iron was functional and I tried to take out the buttons. Turns out this pithy soldier was not enough. But I kept trying. And after about 4-5 minutes of hassling with it, the soldiering iron just broke apart!!! Grrr!!!
Well, for me that was enough - so I just picked up the broken soldiering iron and the broken mouse and threw them in trash. I remembered to save the good old cable. Might come in handy in future. 
Going to have to get a new mouse now!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Intex AquaFish SF 2.1.2.3 Kiiminkijoki Review

Lets go through the SF OS section by section.

1. Introduction

Recently Jolla released this Kiiminkijoki update to Sailfish OS. A few days after the release I got it on my AquaFish. Lets see how Sailfish feels after the update. I have not done any big review of SailFish (henceforth called SF), I'll try to go in detail about the whole system and the SF experience. 

What was the update for?
Recently Jolla got in a contract with Russia and is developing SF for Russian Govt and this has meant quite a bit of feature addition to SF. A lot of these features landed in SF 2.1.0.11. And some more in 2.1.2.26 which got pulled unfortunately due to an issue with Lock Screen. Anyway a lot more stability fixes and features made to Kiiminkijoki. 

What are main fetaures?
DropBox API v2 support
Updated version of Alien Dalvik
Browser, conenctivity, input and keyboard, Notifications, SDK fixes
A lot of CVE Security fixes
And a lot of bug fixes

2. Display Connectivity and Battery Life
Display brightness control is available in quick settings as a bar. In display settings, you can set it for Automatic or manual. The brightness can be left on automatic so that it responds to ambient light and at the same time can be adjusted via the brightness bar. This is best setting AFAIK. There are other settings available in display settings like sleep timeout, orientation and text size. There is nothing fancy like Daydreams etc., but SF covers the basics.
For connectivity, you have WiFi, Bluetooth and Cellular here. Bluetooth works as expected with a number of known issues. Unfortunately my use case was only pairing and transferring a number of files over bluetooth. And this worked without a hitch. But people trying to connect to CAR/ blurtooth headphones encounter issues once in a while.
WiFi worked fine for WEP,WPA and WPA2. Kiiminkijoki has added support for WPA2 Enterprise but this is buggy at present and I could not connect reliably to my office WiFi. Once in connected and let me log in once. But maybe that was a fluke, and it has not worked after that. I have filed a bug for this.
For cellular I tested 2G, 3G and 4G. 2G, 3G don't have any issues with Voice/Data. On Airtel 4G though I could not make any calls. I'm yet to verify this issue and log a bug. Though funnily Data worked fine for Airtel 4G.
For operator selection the basic settings are provided. 
With 2500mAh bettry, battery life has been good. Actually I have not yet installed all the apps and am not using the phone heavily. I'll use it for a fortnight with all the bells and whistles and share the battery life in a future post.
SF does have a power save mode which disables all the bells and whistles when battery drops below 15%. Unfortunately there is no customization for this. E.g. for people on a long journey it would be great to just enable power save mode to stop unwanted activity and improve battery life. 
3. User Interface 
SFOS comes with a unique interface. You have three homescreens. Leftmost homescreen is given exclusively for Notifications and quick toggles/settings. Middle houses app tiles. Rightmost hosts partner app - in case of AF, it's Gaana - a music streaming app.
Lock screen shows same wallpaper as homescreen. In this update an Upward swipe to launch Camera is added. Besides this, pully shortcuts for various apps can be added. Also Music appears on Lock screen when playing so that you can manipulate the tracks from here itself.
Home screen has app tiles. For native apps it's live tiles. For android apps it  shows a little thumbnail of current screen which is great overall. I wish they showed app name/ tile name since once in a while it's difficult to find the required app when you have 8-10 apps on homescreen. In Android recent apps appear as a rolodesk which is easier. 
Opening Settings, shows us a list of categories which contain many sections as well as App Settings and Accounts as highlighted sections. The usual settings are all available like Display, Connectivity, Networking, Device settings and others. App Settings contain list of applications where apps that support settings are enabled. Tapping them shows us app specific settings. It's a neat implementation of Application Settings, and you don't have to hunt around in native applications for their settings. Accounts is just that - lets you add all supported accounts you have. The list of supported accounts have grown a lot. And it's all for the good. For me though it's just the Jolla account and Google account.
Notifications are listed in the Notification and Events view. Notifications can be closed by pressing and holding them, which provides a close button. It would have been better to just provide a always visible close button. On Android, swiping away notifications works elegantly. On SF it's not an option. So easier access should be here. Also some notifications are sticky, like Upgrade Notification. Now, in my case I have upgraded to version 2.1.2.3 using 'ssu re', so an upgrade notification for 2.1.0.11 does not make sense. And I wish it could be closed, but it can't. So I'm stuck with it.
Overall the SF UI is striking, different and a bit lacking here and there. Lets hope they improve it.

4. Performance
Intex AquaFish has fairly basic hardware. Snapdragon 200 and 2GB RAM/16GB ROM is entry level hardware. But SF is very light on resources, and so the UI is very responsive. The animations are smooth. Phone does not stutter even when you have a lot of apps are open. Apps do take a while to load - there needs to be some optimization there. Otherwise it's great value for money combo of hardware and software. 
Lets take a look at App switching. SF does not have any app switcher in traditional sense. All open apps are tiled to the home screen. So it acts as app switcher itself. Also with active tiles you have app specific one or two functionalities available at the finger. This is great. In fact this solution is so unique that after using this for a week and then going back to android, I stumbled around for 1-2 days. 
The native apps are not frozen and all, they are actively running. This makes for a responsive system. This means the Music should not be disturbed by anything else you do, system should be responsive, and it all is true. The system is responsive! The apps work great! It feels great to use this phone! And here SF beats android.
Android app performance - SF supports android apps with help of Alien Dalvik. And mostly everything works out fine. There are fundamental limitations like android file tree is separate and android apps cannot access SD Card. But beside this they work mostly fine. Sometimes you may have crazy things happening like the gun controls not working in a game while movement controls work fine. But mostly it works enough that you are not left high and dry on the app front.

5. Telephony, messaging, loudspeaker and audio quality
The calling interface is not as feature rich as android. It provides basic features like speaker phone, number entry, contact selection and search etc. There are not favorite contacts, no hot dials, calling history is not easily accessible, you can't clear the call log with one button. It feels limited. But it works reliably since 2.0.5.6. Before that I saw a number of hangings, call not getting picked up. But in recent releases there are no glaring bugs. 
call ringtone customization is available and provides all the options. Audio volume settings are handled via contextual volume level bar. When you are in app, it adjusts music/video volume, otherwise it adjusts ringtone volume. There is no setting for mike volume. Also noise suppression is there or not is unknown. Speakerphone functionality is there. Ambiences let you adjust various alert tones. It works mostly. 
Sms also work fine. I have not checked out MMS functionality because nobody uses MMS here. I am also yet to use USSD codes and don't know how well they work. The keyboard is nice. The layout is great. The keyboard does not lag. And the ambience theming makes it feel integrated.
Loudspeaker/Music enhancements are generally provided by the chipset maker. Sadly there's nothing here. Although there is a warning when you exceed safe volume level. 

6. Multimedia and other apps
SF contains inbuilt apps for videos and music. The music app is alright, although not feature packed. The video playing is a disappointment. The interface is very limiting in functionality. You can't reliably seek through the video. You can't seek while video is playing. The video display acts as a pane in the media gallery and in my opinion videos should be full screen. Anyway there are no controls for cropping/stretching etc. No lock UI functionality. And overall it's more of file preview than a proper video player. So far I have used only MX Player or VLC on SF. Unfortunately since they don't have hardware decoding support, it means a hit to the battery life.
On other fronts, location support looks to be complete and I did not have any issues. 

7. Camera 
Camera is not main focus in SF which can be seen in main camera interface which is quite spartan. There are only a handful of settings. And it works enough. The interface can be called clean. but again, the lac of feature is felt.
Update 2.1.2.3 adds a new lockscreen interface. This is similar to the swipe up from corner guestures available on android. This is quite similar. Only difference is Android mode is advanced in that - images captured are seen even when you launch from lockscreen. On SF it's not quite so You only get the Camera.
Video modes are hardware dependent. I won't talk about quality here since it's all hardware dependent along with sensor/chipset specific algo's. So just basic settings - enough for a quick clip.

8. Final thoughts
What's missing? If you come from Android - like almost every user these days - you will miss a lot many things. If you are using a Samsung/Sony/Htc, you will miss their customised stuff even more. Some of these things are like 100 papercuts - small things that we take for granted. Mainly because Google has the armies of developers, who can go over each nook and cranny and get the best version out. It's not same for Jolla's small team. But still what SF is now is quite impressive. I can say that it's beautiful and functional enough that I can use SF for daily use. The only thing that's stopping me from that right now is the buggy Enterprise WiFi stuff. But since Jolla is developing for Russian Govt Market I think Enterprise stuff will be sorted out soon. I'm hoping so. And so then I know I'll be using my AquaFish as my daily driver - broken camera or not. 
And that's my answer to "Is SFOS ready for daily use?"

Monday, October 9, 2017

Oct 17 - Whats going on?

I have entered a kind of void these days. I spend five days a week in office. Every day I come home, I spend most of the time bing-watching TV serials and movies. Life has become boring. The Raspberry Pi 3 has collected a ton of dust. And seems like getting a display for the Pi will probably happen in 2018. It sucks!
Anyway, coming back to the tech aspect, I have been very successful in milking the last drops of life from my age-old Acer Laptop. These days it runs on Ubuntu Mate via a MicroSD Card. It doesn't have a hard disk, touchpad is dead, only two USB ports, and a dead battery. I'm thinking I should take the dead bits out. That means the battery and the CD Drive - that will make it feather-light. Maybe in Ultrabooks territory. It unfortunately won't cure the yellowed display. But I have found out that when the content on the screen are interesting you forget about the yellow tint very quickly. I used to have a black-and-white TV in my childhood anyway. 
So that's all that's happening these days! Adios!