My Dell Inspiron Mini 9

On January 1st, I decided to order a Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook. I had been reading a lot about netbooks, and was in the market for something smaller to carry around. My aging Toshiba M200 Tablet PC is fairly small and light, but it’s still quite big compared to a netbook. I went on the Dell site, customized my order, and waited for my new netbook to arrive.

And waited, and waited.

After my original ship date of January 21st was delayed, I tried to be patient. When I called for an update mid-February, I learned that my order was going to be cancelled and re-entered because of a software conflict with Adobe. I told Dell to forget it, and I cancelled my order completely. I then hopped on the Future Shop site, and ordered the same computer (minus the integrated Bluetooth) for about $100 less. It arrived a week later.

My Mini 9 has the integrated webcam, is black, and runs Windows XP. I upgraded the RAM to 2 GB, and the hard drive to 32 GB (the Mini 9 uses an SSD). Even with the extra components and shipping, the total price was only about $500.

I’ve been using it for a little over a month now, and I really like it. In no particular order, these are my favorite things about it:

  • Small and light. The main reasons for getting a netbook, obviously!
  • Clean, solid design. So many netbooks have a big gap between the screen and keyboard, and that just drives me nuts. The Mini 9 is solid with smooth, rounded edges.
  • Quiet and cool. Partly because of the SSD, the Mini 9 doesn’t have a fan. It runs extremely cool, and never makes any noise.
  • It’s fast! Resume from standby, boot up, shutdown, etc. are all fairly quick. The only slowness is from some applications that don’t work well with SSDs, such as Outlook.

Nothing is perfect – here are the things I don’t like about it:

  • The battery life is pretty good at about four hours, but I wish it were much longer.
  • The keyboard is small and hard to get used to. I still have to hunt for the quote key, located at the very bottom. I often close windows by accident when I try to type an exclamation point and hit the Esc key instead. There are no F11 or F12 keys or functions. If I could redesign the keyboard, I’d get rid of CAPS Lock and the context-menu button, would move the quote key to it’s proper place, and would give the right Shift key more space.
  • There are two LEDs on the front, one with the power icon and one with a battery with a lightning bolt in it. The battery light only comes on when the device is dangerously low on power…I’d rather it lit up when the battery was recharging too.
  • It has an external display port, but the resolution it outputs is pretty weak.

Overall, I’m quite happy with my Mini 9. It was relatively inexpensive, comes with me almost everywhere, and works perfectly for surfing, checking email, blogging, and Twittering.

I appreciate my iPod touch more now that I have a BlackBerry

I recently became a member of the CrackBerry crowd. My last three year contract ended in November, and I figured it was time to get something better than my old Motorola phone. I was thinking about the iPhone, but since I already had an iPod touch, I ended up going with the BlackBerry Curve. So far, I love it. Text messaging is much better, email access is fantastic (obviously), and I can hop online from anywhere if need be.

It hasn’t been a perfect experience however. I’ve run into a number of issues trying to figure out how to do things – simple things that took no time at all to figure out on the iPod touch. Here’s a small list of them:

  • One of the first things I did was open up the browser. It took me a ridiculously long time to figure out how to enter an address though! Eventually I figured out the menu button and the “Go to” option, but I found the iPod much easier – just scroll up and there’s the address bar.
  • Another problem was deleting messages. Very quickly I figured out how to delete a single message, but I couldn’t figure out how to delete multiple messages at once! I ended up searching for it, and found the CAPS button trick. The iPod was much easier – nice big edit button, which reveals checkboxes beside each item. Just really intuitive.
  • Settings are another issue. Changing the background on my iPod took barely any effort at all, but I once again had to Google for help with the BlackBerry. The menus just seem to make more sense on the iPod.
  • I like to keep the unread messages count cleared, and one day it was stuck at one. I checked the email inbox, the text messaging inbox, and both were empty. I once again turned to the web and found out that missed calls show up as unread messages! I then opened up the Call Log, but it didn’t clear! Turns out they show up as messages in the combined inbox. Confusing design.

There have been other issues of course, but these few stuck out. In general, I think the interface on the iPod/iPhone is just much more intuitive. I guess that’s not surprising, given Apple’s reputation for good design, but it still caught me off-guard.

Most of my searches end up at the the CrackBerry.com forums. I’m clearly not the only one who has run into these issues! Thanks to everyone who has contributed there – you’ve made it much easier for me to get up-to-speed with the BlackBerry!

REVIEW: Logitech Cordless Desktop MX 5500 Revolution

Usually I’m not in the city on boxing day, so I don’t have much experience with finding post-Xmas deals. I did venture out this year however, and managed to snag a fairly good deal on a new mouse and keyboard at Best Buy. Listed at $199.99 CDN, I picked up the Logitech Cordless Desktop MX 5500 Revolution for just $99.

Cordless Desktop MX 5500 Revolution

I had been using a plain old Dell USB mouse and keyboard since my last cordless Logitech mouse died about a year ago. It used two rechargeable AA batteries, but would consistently kill them with just a couple hours of use. The Dell mouse worked fine, but it’s most advanced feature was a scroll wheel. The Dell keyboard also worked well, and had some handy media controls on top, including a volume dial. Other than that however, I found it incredibly loud and the keys sometimes stuck. I knew it was time for a new mouse and keyboard, but it wasn’t a high enough priority for me to go searching.

I’m really glad I found the deal and picked up my new mouse and keyboard. The MX Revolution mouse has both a tilt scroll wheel and a thumb wheel (for more precise scrolling), back and forward buttons, and a search button. Best of all, it comes with built-in batteries and a charging stand so that I never have to change batteries. The keyboard includes the standard layout, plus media controls on the left and an integrated LCD screen on the top that can display the date and time, temperature, media information, and more. Both devices use Bluetooth.

The mouse feels very comfortable, and the soft built-in palm rest on the keyboard is a nice touch. The keys are incredibly quiet compared to my old keyboard, and feel very smooth. So far the battery life on the mouse has been great (haven’t had to charge it yet). The scroll wheel took a bit of getting used to (it turns into a hyper scroll wheel when you have a long document) but now I really like it!

I’ll admit that the LCD screen isn’t incredibly useful, but it is pretty darn cool. Based on the first week of use, I think I’m definitely going to like this mouse and keyboard.

Netbooks are trendy

dell inspiron mini What kind of computer do you use? Most of my work is done at a desktop or workstation; a tower attached to three monitors. The rest of the time I’m using either my laptop or tablet. I’ve also got a little Sony UMPC but it doesn’t get used much. It was kinda cool for a while, but it’s not all that fast. And once I got my iPod touch, that pretty much fulfilled my small device needs.

My favorite to use is probably my tablet, even though it’s the slowest of the bunch. I think I like it mostly because of the form factor – it’s pretty small for a laptop (at 12 inches) but large enough that I don’t sacrifice a keyboard or full operating system.

A couple years from now though, my tablet might seem rather large thanks to the netbook trend. What’s a netbook? From Wikipedia:

A netbook is a small to medium sized, light-weight, low-cost, energy-efficient laptop, generally optimized for internet based services such as web browsing and e-mailing. Netbooks are also sometimes, but rarely referred to as a sub-subnotebook.

The form factor of a netbook is smaller than that of a notebook and they are very light in weight (usually 2 to 3 pounds). Common features include a small screen (usually around 7-inches to 10-inches diagonal), wireless connectivity, but no optical disc drive, and a smaller sized keyboard (usually 80 percent to 95 percent of normal size). There is also a trend of using solid-state drives instead of traditional hard disk drives.

Maybe it’s just me, but every second article on technology these days seems to mention netbooks! The blogosphere made a big deal this week out of the fact that Windows boss Steven Sinofsky demonstrated Windows 7 running on a netbook. And today, PC World declares that netbooks will soon cost just $99:

Subnotebooks like the Asus Eee PC, the Dell Mini 9 and the HP 2133 Mini-note will soon cost as little as $99. The catch? You’ll need to commit to a two-year mobile broadband contract. The low cost will come courtesy of a subsidy identical to the one you already get with your cell phone.

A monthly service fee for mobile broadband doesn’t appeal to me at all, but a $99 netbook certainly does. Heck, I’m already tempted by the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 (pictured above) and it’s nearly $500! If the cost of components fell enough so that a netbook was about half that price, I’d have no hesitations about picking one up and I doubt anyone else would either.

Netbooks are definitely trendy, but I think this is one trend that will last. A small device to check email, read and post blogs, and update Twitter is something that appeals to lots of people. Okay maybe not that last part 🙂

Revisiting iGoogle

igoogle Like most people who spend a lot of time online, I sign up for new services all the time. Some of them I end up liking quite a bit and using regularly (such as Twitter, obviously) while others I just forget about. Until recently, iGoogle was firmly in the latter category.

iGoogle launched in May 2005, according to Wikipedia. I’m not sure when I signed up, but it likely wasn’t long after that. As you probably know, iGoogle features gadgets that you can drag around the page. Each gadget has a specific purpose – for example, a weather gadget or a calendar gadget.

Three things prompted me to give iGoogle another shot. Many of my coworkers use iGoogle as their homepage, and I kept noticing it during LiveMeetings and such. The second thing was Sharon talking about her favorite iGoogle theme (she calls it “so cute!”). And finally, Google launched an update today:

Google’s startpage, iGoogle, is spreading its wings. Today it is rolling out a new design that shifts tabs to a column on the left so that more Google gadgets and sources of content can be accommodated. But the biggest change is the ability for content partners and developers to expand each gadget to take up nearly the whole page.

Since I only used the old version a couple of times, I can’t really say whether or not the new release is a step forward or backward. I can say that I like it though! The only hiccup at the moment is that dragging gadgets around using Opera 9.6 doesn’t seem to work properly.

I’m giving iGoogle a real chance this time, and I’ve made it my homepage. Any amazing gadgets I should add? All the ones I have right now are fairly mainstream, such as the Google Calendar gadget or the Weather gadget.

Why July 2008 will be the greatest month ever

Is there any doubt that July is going to be the greatest month ever?

July 2008 will be the greatest month ever!

July 1: A brand new, 6000-square-foot Apple Store opens in West Edmonton Mall.
July 11: The iPhone 3G goes on sale in 22 countries, including Canada.
July 18: The movie I am most looking forward to this year is released: The Dark Knight

Oh yeah. July FTW!

Apple Service Experience was AWESOME

apple logo As you may know, my beloved iPod touch died recently. On Sunday, April 6th, I went to plug it in to charge it, and it fried. Wouldn’t turn on or reset or anything. I poked around the support website for a bit, but I was fairly certainly I’d have to get it serviced.

I found myself wishing this had happened after Canada Day – a new Apple Store is opening up in West Edmonton Mall on July 1st, 2008. I had no choice but to fill out the service request online. It told me to expect a package with instructions in two business days, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath.

Then, on Tuesday the 8th, I received the package. Count me as surprised! The instructions were really easy to follow, so I packaged up my iPod and dropped it off at UPS later that day. I figured waiting for the replacement would take a while, so I sort of forgot about it. And of course, I traveled to San Antonio this weekend.

Less than a week later, on the afternoon of Monday the 14th, my replacement iPod touch was delivered! How’s that for turnaround time?! Of course, I didn’t get back to town until last night, so I didn’t get to restore my iPod until today.

Restoring, by the way, was dead simple. I plugged it in, registered it with my Apple account, and then chose the option to restore my previous iPod. After a few minutes I found myself with everything exactly the way it was before. And I do mean everything (well except the passcode lock, which makes sense). Even the last page I had opened in Safari reloaded!

I’ve heard some good things and some bad things about Apple’s service, but I had never needed to use it until this happened. I’m so happy to report that it was a superb experience.

Thanks Apple!

Telus Mobility surprises me with a free gift!

I received an interesting package in the mail today from Telus Mobility. A little white box with the phrase “Happy Anniversary” on the front was waiting for me! I opened it up to find a letter thanking me for being a customer since 2003. Actually, I’ve been a customer since 2000 but my first three-year contract was under my business partner’s name. I’ve written about Telus quite a few times on my blog, sometimes because of something bad, sometimes because of something good. This is obviously one of the good things!

Happy Anniversary from Telus Mobility

Wondering what was in the box? In addition to the letter, they sent me a three-in-one phone charger! It’s a pretty neat little gadget, plugs into the wall or a car outlet, and has a couple of cables with different connectors on it. And a little bag to store the cables in.

Letter from Telus Unboxing! 3-in-1 Phone Charger Cables & Charger

Thanks Telus! My current contract is up around November, and while it’s unlikely I’d have gone through the hassle of switching anyway, this makes it even easier to decide. Combined with some customer service improvements recently, Telus Mobility is starting to do more things right than wrong. Now if only they could get the cool new phones sooner 🙂

Movies on flash memory cards

movies A couple days ago I came across this article at CNET News.com about a company called PortoMedia and their plan to make movies available on flash memory cards. I’ve touched on the subject before, but for a different reason that PortoMedia seems to be interested (I was interested in the small form factor). They see flash memory cards as an alternative to Internet delivery:

PortoMedia is setting up kiosks that will let consumers download movies to a flash memory key or portable hard drive.

The kiosks will be packed with hard drives that can hold 350 to 5,000 titles. Users then plug in a memory device from the company, enter a PIN code, and buy or rent a movie. When consumers get home, they simply slide the memory device into a dock connected to a TV.

Evidently they have come up with a proprietary USB interface that can load a high-definition movie onto the memory card in less than 45 seconds. There are some big advantages to this model:

  • Reduced cost as packaging and shipping associated with DVDs is no longer required
  • More selection – you aren’t limited by shelf space with a kiosk like Blockbuster is
  • It can happen sooner than Internet delivery (because most of us still have fairly crappy connections)

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the company plans to use DRM from Microsoft to protect the movies.

PortoMedia did a trial run last year, and plans to go live with the service in four U.S. cities sometime in Q2 2008.

Read: CNET News.com

More on the Amazon Kindle

Post ImageNow that Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader has actually launched, there is a lot more information available out on the web. And after reading a bunch of it, I am less excited than I was yesterday. Here are a few links that may be of interest if you’re curious about the Kindle:

I dunno. Crippled wireless, lousy document support, DRM, a $400 price tag, and it’s still ugly. The Kindle sounds less and less impressive with each article I read.

Here’s to hoping that version 2 is better!