Thursday, 3 March 2011

Pixel Qi, Notion Ink's Adam, netbooks and my mobile computing needs

This is a follow up (just a quick update really) to my previous post (which can be read here) where I write about all the advantages of buying a netbook and replacing its LCD with a Pixel Qi display instead of buying an Adam tablet (or any other tablet currently available on the market).

On the 9th of February I ordered a new Samsung N220. It arrived just two days later. I replaced the 1GB RAM it originally had with a 2GB module (I have some spare parts lying around). After that I got rid of the preinstalled Windows 7 and Samsung's restore partition and used the whole hard drive (encrypted with AES) for Debian GNU/Linux. I quickly copied my old home directory from my Dell m1730 (a huge machine, a desktop replacement really, not usable as a mobile device) which, of course, transferred all my KDE and application settings to the new system (have been using the settings for years now, moving my home directory from one machine to another). I then quickly tuned my old settings to accommodate for much lower screen resolution and performance (my m1730 really is a monster... at least for a laptop ;) ) and, incidentally, fixed some minor problems with special keys and not being able to control the screen brightness because of some incompatibilities with GNU/Linux introduced by Samsung. After doing all that, I stopped working on the system and got back to systems biology and curing cancer ;). I have been using the netbook ever since without any problems (well, the only issue I had was the touchpad - it was annoyingly rough for my fingers to endure so I used an ordinary PST tape to make it nice and smooth... still unhappy about hardware vendors not installing a trackpoint instead of a touchpad though).

About a week ago I decided to go further with my little project and ordered a Pixel Qi display from Maker Shed. It came in less than a week which is impressive considering the fact that it was sent from the US (and I am currently based in England). I just installed the new display and I am writing this from my Samsung N220 equipped with a Pixel Qi. Everything seems to be working okay and the installation was extremely easy and took less than 20 minutes. After powering it on, the image quality looked a little weird (dark colours seemed bluish or violetish ;) ) and I detected one dead pixel (cannot find it now though so either it wasn't really a dead pixel or it is impossible to find during a normal day to day work). Also, PQ seems to have slightly weird viewing angles when compared to a regular LCD (the right side of the screen seemed a little different than the left side). I guess all this is what one should expect from a Pixel Qi display - it is worse than a regular LCD indoors but incomparably better outdoors. Besides, everything looks normal now so I guess I got accustomed and it no longer bothers me.

One thing is different - I can switch the backlight off (completely - just mapped a key for it) and still work with the netbook using ambient light (especially while having a good lamp or, better yet, sunlight around... the latter very difficult to come by in Yorkshire this part of the year ;) ). Extremely cool. Outside world, here I come ;)!

Recapitulating, I got my new mobile device in just two days... or seven, if one does not live in the US and wants a PQ display - if I had known that Adam would come with a glossy screen, ruining the effect of PQ, I wouldn't have had to wait for my new mobile device for almost two years instead of getting a netbook in two days ;/ . I paid only 205 (netbook) + 180 (PQ) = 385 GBP which is cheaper than the PQ version of Adam. It is faster than Adam, it has a keyboard (and a multi-touch touchpad for those who care), a better (matte!) PQ display, fully-fledged operating system with lots of applications (Debian has more than 20 000 packages) and my favourite desktop environment (KDE) with all the effects, cubes and whatnot ;). It is equipped with a huge (comparing to Adam or iPad) storage device - currently 250GB but could be easily extended as it is just a regular SATA drive - and the whole thing is encrypted with AES so I do not have to worry about my data in case I lose the netbook (or if it gets stolen) - there is no true mobile computing without keeping one's data secure while on the go and yet I know of no mainstream tablet which comes with this (essential - especially in case of mobile devices!) feature. Why? Maybe tablets and smartphones are targeted at people who want to play low-quality games (comparing to the latest products available for PC) and don't even care about someone getting their credentials for Facebook or e-mail account when the device is lost/stolen? Seriously, how can one even check their e-mail (not to mention accessing their bank account or buying something with their credit card or paypal) without having the phone/tablet fully encrypted?! Enough about security though. Did I mention my mobile device has 2GB of RAM ;)? The only feature still missing when you compare it to a tablet is the touch screen - which isn't a priority for me - yet still I plan to install it in the future. If I decided to go for one of the currently available DIY touch screen kits (resistive, no multi-touch), it would cost me about 40-60 GBP which brings the sum total to about 425-445 GBP which, I believe, would still be cheaper than Notion Ink's Adam (if you include the cost of importing it into the UK).

Here are a few photographs (thanks Gabi :) ) - of my new machine with the PQ installed:

Believe it or not but in the above three photographs the display backlight is off (not just darkened but completely off) and the photos were taken in a dark room so the only source of light was Gabi's camera flash - and yet one can perfectly see what's on the screen. The last image shows the netbook suspended (hence nothing on the screen).

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