Samsung YP-P2 Bluewave 2 Firmware

As promised in my review of the Samsung YP-P2 MP3 player, here is an update on the player with the new Bluewave firmware. I was going to write an update on the new features added in the first Bluewave firmware update (v. 2.08), but by the time I got around to that, Bluewave 2, version 3.07, was already out, so I decided to write about both of them together. However, as Samsung would have it, a further revision to Bluewave 2, version 3.15, was released a week ago. Aside from one change, it’s functionally the same as the version 3.07, which I’ve been using for a few weeks.

Bluetooth

The biggest set of features for the Bluewave updates is the enabling of more Bluetooth functionality, specifically the ability to make and take phone calls on the P2 as well as file transfer. Once you’ve paired a cell phone with the Samsung P2, incoming calls will interrupt your music, and you can choose the take a call directly from the player interface, without accessing your cell phone at all. Furthermore, you can choose to make outgoing calls, at which point a number pad appears on the screen and you can dial a phone number. You can also transfer contact information from your cell phone (if that is supported by your phone) and use that to initiate calls.

Bluetooth calling

Bluetooth file transfers are also enabled. I’ve tried sending a few MP3s between my cell phone and the P2 and it worked perfectly. Although I’d imagine it would be technically possible to enable some sort of Bluetooth sync for your music library, the limited speed of even Bluetooth 2.0 means that transferring a large amount of data isn’t very reasonable, especially since Bluetooth range isn’t up to par with Wi-Fi either. Still, for transferring a couple songs here and there, it would be acceptable, and would make it a little more convenient than having to dig out the USB cable to send over a song or two. Perhaps Samsung could consider enabling that functionality in a future firmware update.

Bluewave 2 (v. 3.07) didn’t add any further Bluetooth functions, but it did seem to vastly reduce pairing time between my Sony Ericsson K790a and the Samsung P2. Pairing between the two didn’t seem very reliable in v. 2.08 (on occasion, they would be unable to connect), but with 3.07, this has been improved.

UI and Emoture

Bluewave 1 (v. 2.08) brought some user interface changes, including a modified Now Playing screen, taking better advantage of the real estate by increasing the size of the album art or visualization. In all the browsing interfaces, more room is given to the scroll bars, making it easier to quickly scroll through lists.

Samsung P2 Now Playing

Bluewave 2 (v. 3.07) brought several feature additions for the user interface as well the supported touch gestures. Now in photo and video modes, double tapping will zoom in, while drawing a circle with the finger in photo or text viewer mode will rotate the viewing orientation.

Samsung P2 Text Viewer

Browsing by albums now presents a new interface mode. Up to 5 album covers are arranged in a semi-circle. The list is advanced either by swiping up and down or by tapping on the album covers.

Samsung P2 Browse Albums

Miscellaneous

One improvement, that was oft requested, is the ability to delete files directly on the player. There’s no need to remember photos or music that you no longer want on the player until the next time you sync with your computer. Now, you can go ahead and delete them right in the File Browser.

The user now has the ability to record FM radio. A record button is conveniently placed in the radio user interface. Recordings are done in MP3 format at 128kb/s.

Bluewave version 3.15’s only improvement as far as I can tell is a new ‘instant startup’ feature. If the player is ‘asleep’, turning it back on will bring you immediately to whatever screen you left off at. Previously, you’d have to wait through Samsung’s startup screen, which took 10 seconds or so.

Wrap Up

I think one of the biggest bonuses of all these firmware improvements is the fact that Samsung is listening to the user community and actively supporting this device. The Samsung P2 was already a great MP3 player, but these continued feature additions by Samsung has made it even easier and more fun to use.

Sony Ericsson Service Experience Part 2

With my K790a acting up again over the past several months, and after spending more than a month trying out different means of fixing it, such as firmware updates and master resets, I’m left with a phone that still breaks itself at random, for the same reason I sent it in for service the first time. I got in contact with Sony Ericsson again, and before sending the phone off for service, I was instructed to perform a few fixes of my own, to see if they had any effect, including (yet another) firmware reload and a master reset.

The thing with the corruption problem is that it shows up intermittently. After reflashing the firmware, the phone may work fine for a month, or it may start showing problems after a day or two. As a result, trouble-shooting the problem with Sony Ericsson has taken a long time. This past week, after the final attempt at fixing the phone with a master reset, corrupted messages started appearing again, so I called Sony Ericsson.

Granted the phone is slightly outside the 1 year warranty period, but 1. I spent the last month trying out ideas provided to me by Sony Ericsson and 2. this is still the same problem I sent my phone in for the first time. I was extremely dubious a firmware update would solve the problems I was having at the time. I made that known, but that’s all that was done, and clearly, has not resolved the problem.

Not having achieved anything by calling warranty service, I was directed to call Sony Ericsson’s repair service number to see if they could do anything for me. Since it was a special case, perhaps I could get the service charge waived, or so the warranty rep told me. But after hitting the phone menu of the service center, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. The service center was an outsourced operation – what incentive would they have to waive the service fee, when they’re just performing service for Sony Ericsson on contract? The answer is none, and the lady I spoke to told me much the same. However, she did say Sony Ericsson could waive the service fee for me. I just needed to get in contact with a manager, present my case, and have that manager authorize free service. So it was back to Sony Ericsson I went.

After talking to another representative there and explaining my plight, I was put in contact with a manager, who explained that she had no power to waive any service fee. The best she could do was contact Sony Ericsson’s corporate branch to see if they would be willing to send a note to the outsourced service centre. I was to be contacted when any progress was made on that front.

We’re now coming up to a week since my last contact with Sony Ericsson, with no word on the matter. I think it’s about time I nudged them along.

HP Compaq 2133 UMPC Inbound?

It may have one seriously thick bezel, but if it turns out to be real, the HP Compaq 2133 UMPC will have addressed just about every single issue I had with the ASUS Eee PC in my short time with it. And as I guessed, the device is built around a larger, higher resolution display.

HP 2133 UMPC
Image courtesy of Engadget

Some information of a possible UMPC from HP leaked out yesterday via CNET’s Crave blog, where the comments leads one to believe the device will the targeted at a low price point, while addressing some of the problems people have had with the ASUS Eee PC. From one of the HP staff:

…you won’t even need to consider this purchase. You’ll buy it like a handphone without a thought…

So what were some of the problems I had with the ASUS Eee PC and how does HP rectify them?

  1. 7″ screen too small and 800×480 resolution too low – HP is fitting the 2133 with a 8.9″ LCD, but more importantly, a 1366×768 resolution (although even standard WXGA, 1280×800 would suffice). We’re talking nearly 3 times the resolution of the Eee PC’s display.
  2. Keyboard is difficult to use – And that’s where the thick bezels come in on HP’s rumoured offering. They’ve been able to fit in a keyboard that is 95% the size of a standard QWERTY keyboard. Compare that to Sony’s TZ series laptop, which manages to fit in a keyboard about 90% of standard size. This number also gives us a peek into the overall size of the HP 2133 – probably around the same footprint as a Sony TZ, which isn’t bad at all.
  3. Power consumption/Battery life – The ASUS Eee PC doesn’t have terrible battery life, far from it, but at a bit over 3 hours of web browsing, it’s also not befitting of a super-portable device that’s supposed to be on the go with you, where ever you happen to be. But if you need to use it for more than 3 hours, you’ll have to bring along a power adapter, which hurts the proposition. HP is targeting improved battery life with its 2133 UMPC.

The main issue will be how HP chooses to price the device. Anodized aluminum, a high resolution display, and gigabit ethernet don’t seem to place this in the bargain bin, which conflicts somewhat with the comment by HP staff. I’m more than willing to be pleasantly surprised though. Less than $600? I just may take them up on one.

On a somewhat related note, Hewlett Packard reported Q1 earnings that surpassed analyst expectations (again) and full-year forecasts were also raised. It seems like the well-diversified tech giants, including IBM, HP and Microsoft, are finding success in the difficult economic environment, while more focused companies, such as Cisco, Intel and Google are running into some trouble.

Loving Firefox 3 Beta 3

It may be a beta, but for me, it’s working better than the real thing. Firefox 3 Beta 3 was released several days ago, and I’ve been using it since. You can read a more detailed list of feature additions and changes from Firefox 2 over here, but I’d like to touch on a few of the features that have had an impact on my usage habits.

Firefox 3

Memory, memory, memory. I’ve always hated how Firefox 2 would consume upwards of 300-400MB after surfing the internet for a day. One of the easiest ways to demonstrate this is to go to Google Maps’ Street View and move around for a couple minutes. What’s worse, closing the tabs don’t have any effect. Memory usage stays up there and doesn’t come back down until you close and restart the browser. Mozilla’s stuck with its line of “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature” mantra over the terrible memory leaks in the past, but have actively reduced the memory footprint and memory leaks in Firefox 3.

With computers coming with more and more memory these days, some will argue that a few hundred megabytes of memory usage isn’t all that significant; however, for usability, it makes a huge difference. After using Firefox 2 for a day, it really starts to get sluggish. Opening and closing tabs is no longer instantaneous and even switching between tabs can skip a beat. Now, the interface is significantly quicker – I’m certain at least part of that has to do with the vastly improved memory management. Now, after a day of surfing with 10-15 tabs open, I’m barely reaching over 100MB of memory usage.

Firefox 3 Memory Usage

Improved security is a cornerstone of Firefox 3. A list of sites known for distributing malware is being served by Google, triggering a warning when a user navigates to a listed site. Furthermore, to prevent phishing, secure sites such as PayPal will display their credentials in the favicon button. Finally, dodgy site security certificates now pop up in a full-screen warning, requiring some intrusive user interaction to access the site in question. Security has always been a balancing act between protecting the user and limiting the annoyance factor. I think Firefox 3 has hit on a fairly good balance.

Firefox 3 Security

User interface changes have also been a widely touted improvement for Firefox 3. I’m a little more reserved on the changes. First, the icons and button designs don’t really affect me – the only time I see the default icons is after a fresh install, before I apply another theme. Sure, the new default theme does look a bit better, but I’d imagine anyone who wasn’t happy with Firefox 2’s default theme has since found a theme they are happy with.

Firefox 3 User Interface

Another big change can be found in the address bar. Start typing and a list of choices will appear, and winnow itself down, based on recently visited sites, your bookmarks and tags. The autocomplete also displays the name of the page, as opposed to only the URL. This helps in identifying a page, if you don’t know the actual URI. For my browsing habits, the auto-suggest is actually slightly intrusive – when I type something in the address bar, I expect a certain order for the resulting drop-down, which isn’t necessarily the case with the new system. I’m sure after getting used to it, it will make the address bar much more effective, but for now, it’s a bit of an annoyance.

Firefox 3 passes the Acid2 web standards test. Along with Opera 9 and the future Internet Explorer 8, standards support should get a lot stronger in the web browser space in the near future. That’s good news for web developers (I’ll tentatively lump myself in that category). Bookmarks, history and tags include a more complete search function so you can find exactly what you’re looking for a bit quicker. The majority of the extensions I use with Firefox 2 are not compatible with Firefox 3 Beta 3, but thankfully, the essential ones, including Adblock Plus and Tab Mix Plus both have compatible versions. The Tab Mix Plus listed at the official Firefox add-ons site isn’t supported, but a modified version, which you can find here, is working fine for me.

So seeing as my main issue with Firefox, memory management, has now been addressed, I’m very happy to be using Firefox again, after a brief stint with Internet Explorer 7 and IE7Pro.

More HD-DVD Woes and Telus’ Problems

Final nail in the coffin? Wal-Mart stores decided, this past Friday, that its high-def optical player of choice would be Blu-Ray.  Sales of HD-DVD players and media would end by June of this year. But with the seemingly inevitable death of HD-DVD, it remains to be seen how many people will actually buy players or media up until June. Wal-Mart’s announcement comes on the heels of similar announcements by Netflix, and then Best Buy, earlier this week.

In a related note, sources are saying Toshiba is in the final steps of closing down operations of its HD-DVD business. In light of overwhelming support for Blu-Ray, I imagine Toshiba has decided it’s for the best to throw in the towel, as opposed to continuing the money-losing tactic of severely undercutting Blu-Ray players on price. I’m still with Steve Jobs on this whole format war though – I don’t particularly care, regardless of the victor, as I see video downloads taking an increasing share of the market. I have a PC hooked up to the HDTV through HDMI and sound going out through optical. What incentive is there for me to spend hundreds upon hundreds of dollars for Blu-Ray or HD-DVD when I can be watching 720p or 1080p content, played through the computer? Plus, I have the added benefit of being able to game on my HDTV – consoles just don’t do it for me. Computers are playing an increasingly large role in home multimedia, cutting the market for optical disc and player sales.

And now onto Telus’ Q4 earnings, announced earlier this week. Telus’ CEO, Darren Entwistle, was disappointed in its wireless subscriber additions, commenting, “Clearly this aspect of Telus’s performance is one that I am less than satisfied with“. Net subscribers were 161,400 in the 4th quarter, down 11% from the previous year.

Wireless penetration in Canada is reaching over 60%, and with rates as high as they are, I’m not surprised subscriber sign-ups are starting to slow, especially in the CDMA carriers, Telus and Bell. Having worked one of my co-op semesters at Bell Mobility, I’ve performed a lot of market research – although wireless minutes of usage per month per user in Canada is significantly lower than in the United States (somewhere in the range of 500 minutes and 850 minutes respectively), ARPU is actually significantly higher in Canada than the United States. The exorbitant wireless service prices in Canada are a well-publicized matter. Just do a search in your favorite search engine and you’ll find plenty of material to back that up.

In the past, the higher pricing was sustainable – ‘it was what the market was willing to pay‘. But as these new subscriber numbers are starting to show, perhaps it’s time to rethink that mentality