Archive for October, 2011

2011-10-30

Great webOS apps for TouchPad and Pre alike

I’ve been using webOS since the original Palm Pre.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best mobile OS out there.  It’s true that there are far fewer webOS apps than there are Android or iOS.  That said, there are some stellar webOS apps.  Here’s a list of the ones that I use on a daily basis:

Apps for the Pre 2 & 3:

  • Tapnote – Dropbox-integrated text editor
  • Music (remix) – Wonderful music player
  • Mobile hotspot – Turn your phone in to a WiFi hotspot
  • Done! – Toodle syncing task manager
  • Feeds – Google Reader
  • Voices – Great voice recorder program
  • drPodder – Podcast program
  • Dropboxify – User-created Dropbox client

In addition to the above, the following TouchPad apps are standouts:

  • Advanced Browser – Cards are great but tabs and cards are better
  • Glimpse – A wonderful multi-purpose app that shows the flexibility of webOS
  • ToodleTasks – Task sync program that works well with Done! syncing to Toodle
  • Gemini File Manager – A reasonable file manager
  • NonNomNom – Google Reader client.  Great but slow
  • pReader – ePub reader

Great webOS games:

  • Ancient frog
  • Woodnigma
  • Dead runner
  • Angry Birds
  • Glyder 2
2011-10-30

HP Palm Pre 3 Review: The phone that never was

It appears as though my time with Palm is drawing to a close. HP has killed off the Pre 3, the Veer, the TouchPad, and has laid off the employees responsible for the hardware. They keep making vague promises with webOS the software, but things certainly don’t look good for webOS, my favourite mobile platform, or for what was Palm. The company that popularized PDAs, pioneered smartphones, and then briefly had a run with the only compelling iOS alternative I’ve seen seems to have run out of steam. Nothing stays the same. If there was no change, there would be no hope of progress. Still, as someone who has followed Palm since it was part of 3Com and US Robotics, I will miss their innovation and attention to the user experience. (UX)

All of this said, I was unable to cut my losses with the HP TouchPad. When unreleased AT&T HP Pre 3’s started showing up on eBay, I had to bite. I ended up buying a 16GB version for $241 plus $30 shipping. At less than $300, I am very pleased that I made the purchase. webOS may be a dying platform, and the Pre 3 may be a dead-end device, but it’s a hell of a dead-end device.

The HP Palm Pre 3: End of the line for Palm

The Palm Pre 3 is the pinnacle of the form-factor that Palm developed with the original Pre. It features a 3.5″ 800×480 display, a 1.4GHz CPU, a slide-out keyboard with larger keys than the Pre 2 or Pre, 512MB of RAM, and webOS 2.2.3.

If you hated the original Pre, you won’t like the Pre 3. However, if you like a reasonably sized smartphone with a hardware keyboard and you don’t need a huge number of esoteric apps, the Pre 3 may still be a good bet.

The device is fast, fast, fast. It’s still not quite up to iPhone 4S speeds, but it’s certainly faster and more consistently so than any Android device I’ve used. As always, webOS is a lovely, elegant experience. Thankfully, 2.2.3 seems to have solved the niggling Google Sync problems I’d experienced with the Pre 2. The OS isn’t significantly different from the current release of the Pre 2’s webOS 2.1. I have been happy with the app selection in webOS for some time now. The App Catalog offers a surprisingly good selection of games and productivity apps. True, it’s nowhere close to what Android or iOS offers, but other than a lack of Netflix for the TouchPad, I haven’t really found myself missing anything from webOS. The browser has always been great. In my opinion, it is equal to iOS’ offering and far better than any Android browser. Moreover, I still think that webOS has the best mobile mail, calendar, and contacts experience of any platform. The calendar on the Pre devices in particular is so much more fluid and intuitive than anything else since Palm’s original PalmOS calendar. The attention to these details, the great multi-tasking, and the easy developer mode are why I stick to webOS even now.

The software experience is great, and so is the hardware. Closed, the Pre 3 is about the same size and width as my iPhone 3GS. It’s quite thin, considering the slide-out keyboard. The display is just fantastic. It has Gorilla Glass, so is quite tough, and the pixel density rivals the iPhone 4’s Retina Display. The screen is now the perfect size, and extra size allows the keyboard to be slightly larger, making text input that much nicer. I still prefer the horizontal keyboard of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro or the BlackBerry Torch, but the Pre 3 is close behind, and webOS puts it over the edge for me.

The Pre 3 retains the rear-facing mirror when the keyboard is open. I know that some people complain of the vanity of this, but why not? It’s useless space otherwise. Why not make it a mirror. To me, it’s little touches like the mirror and how the device feels in the hand that make the Pre 3 hardware feel so compelling. I like my little Sony Mini Pro, but it is boxy and awkward. I like the shape of the iPhone 3GS but find the 4 and 4S to be too angular. The Pre 3 “river stone” feel is natural.

If you’ve used a Palm Pre or webOS and like what you find, the Pre 3 is a great device. If you’re happy with an iPhone, stick with an iPhone. If you like Android, good for you. BlackBerry fan? Great! Me, I like webOS. With the Pre 3, the hardware has finally caught up with the elegant software. Yes, there are things that I would change (like adding an FM radio and Dropbox integration) but on balance, this is the best smartphone for me. I don’t imagine that I’ll be using it in two years, but I’d bet money that I’ll be missing aspects of it at that time.

Good bye Palm, it’s been a good run. I’ll stick with the Pre 3 and TouchPad for now. I wish all of the great designers and engineers behind webOS the best of luck in the future. I hope they continue to influence BlackBerry, Android, and iOS development in the future.

2011-10-29

Back to Snow Lion: Why Lion needs some work

In hindsight, I’m not sure why, but I upgraded my fantastic 11″ MacBook Air from 10.6 to 10.7 the day that Lion was released.

At first, I liked the changes.  I still think that Mission Control is a nice improvement over Spaces and Expose, but otherwise, there aren’t many compelling new features for me in 10.7.  Still, change is inevitable, so I may as well get used to the backwards scrolling, the noticeable drop in performance, and all of the other new changes, or so I thought until I started using 10.7 day-to-day.

Since August, I have been using 10.7 on a 24″ iMac, my 11″ MacBook Air, a 24″ iMac at work, and a 15″ MacBook Pro at work.  It’s been more or less fine on all machines except the MacBook Air, which is the one I use the most.

On the Air, I’ve had spotty WiFi behaviour where it had been perfect previously, the occasional lock-up, and most alarmingly, it was through it that I learned of Preview and Finder’s new bad behaviour in 10.7.

Try this on a 10.6 machine:

  1. Make a directory
  2. Drop 20 images in
  3. Name them in order:  1.jpg, 2.jpg, 3.pdf, 4.png etc.
  4. Highlight them all
  5. Open them in preview.
You will have a single window open with files 1.jpg, 2.jog, 3.pdf, 4.png… open.  Now you can view them as a slideshow.  Perfect, simple, obvious, hurray.
Now do the same thing in 10.7.  I’ll wait.
See, what a mess?  You will get some of the 20 images opening, out of order.  Others will say “You downloaded this from the internet…”  some will just not open.
Now, try doing this with seven folders of 20 images with a room full of people wanting to see slideshows.  Even better, try it on day four of not enough sleep.  I did.  It wasn’t fun.
So, it’s back to 10.6 on the MacBook Air.  I’ve only been running this way for an hour or so but the system is humming along nicely.  It’s faster, scrolling works like it should, Preview works like it should, wifi is working perfectly.  Perfect, simple, obvious, hurray.
2011-10-29

Downgrade from Lion to Snow Leopard using Time Machine Backups

I am truly amazed by just how good Time Machine is.  I wish that an equivalent backup system existed for every other OS.  It’s that good.

With that out of the way, here is how I reverted from 10.7 (Lion) back to 10.6 (Snow Leopard) on my MacBook Air using my original Snow Leopard USB recovery drive and my Time Machine backups, which I had used both before and after upgrading to 10.7 back in August:

  1. Take a clone of the Lion drive using Carbon Copy Cloner just in case I change my mind/had problems.
  2. Once completed, go to System Preferences -> Startup Drive and select the recently cloned drive, reboot from that to verify that it worked.
  3. Shut down.
  4. Plug in the USB recovery media.
  5. Power up, holding down Option/Alt to boot from the USB key
  6. Once booted, go to Disk Utilities and wipe the 10.7 drive.  (May not be necessary)
  7. Under Utilities, choose “Restore from Time Machine Backup”
  8. Plug in my TimeMachine drive and pick the last 10.6.8 Time Machine backup
  9. Wait.  About an hour from a 5400RPM USB drive to the internal SSD
  10. Reboot.  You’re done!

I use dropbox for everything important, so my files were all synced back.  If I happened to miss anything, I have the CarbonCopyCloner copy of my Lion drive on another USB drive.  Easy.

One other thing to note is that I originally wiped and reinstalled 10.6 and then tried to recover from the Time Machine backup. This failed because I had used the Time Machine drive after upgrading to 10.7.  It was then that I rebooted to recovery media and restored using steps 7-10 instead.  So, don’t freak out, and yes you can use Time Machine drive with both 10.6 and 10.7 backups to restore.