Sunday, January 1, 2012

Comparison of Camera Phones

For two years the N900 was my digital camera. With the mobile phone replacing my digital camera I don't have to carry an extra device with me. Besides that my old digicam is broken and thanks to the N900 I didn't have to buy another one.
However, the good old days of the N900 are gone. Can any of Nokia's new phones keep up with the N900 camera-wise?

I'm going to compare the N9, the N950, and the Lumia 800 to the N900. I'm not comparing to the N8, simply because I don't have one, and it's known to be the best camera phone anyway.

The N9 is Nokia's flagship Qt device. It is mostly sold in countries where the Lumia devices are not on sale. Online retailers and some electronics stores sell the N9 in other countries as well. It features a 8 MP camera.

The N950 is not on sale at all. It got cancelled due to unknown reasons before it went on sale in late 2010. It also has a 8 MP camera, but rumour has it that the hardware is actually capable of 12 MP. You only get 8 MP out of it with the software, though.
In my opinion the N950 is not very good as an everyday's phone. It's a developer's device but not a reliable phone.

The Lumia 800 is Nokia's current flagship Windows Phone 7 device. It has stolen the design from the N9 right down to the retail box and its contents. The Lumia 800 and N9 look like twins. I assume both phones have exactly the same camera hardware with 8 MP.

The N900 is the legendary but aging king of Nokia's premium devices. It is a Linux box in your pocket, rather than a mere smartphone. Since the device is quite thick, it actually feels like a digicam in your hands. It is the only device with a movable lens cover. To take a photo, simply open the cover, aim, focus, and shoot. The camera has only 5 MP, but used to be one of the best (if not the best) cameras in mobile phones at its time.

Only the Lumia 800 got a dedicated camera button like the N900. That button is placed well and works with two steps (focus - shoot) just like the N900. During regular one-handed use, however, this button is a little disturbing on the Lumia. It is not as recessed as the other buttons and it breaks the otherwise beautiful design of the phone.
The N9 and N950 both don't have a camera button.

All of these phones use Carl Zeiss optics. So they should all produce good images in theory. The N950 is a little different here, because it bears no Zeiss logo. Only devices with Zeiss optics that passed the Carl Zeiss certification may use the logo. One can only speculate about the N950. Didn't it pass, or has it just never been submitted for certification due to being cancelled before going no sale?

None of these phone cameras can do optical zoom. If you need to zoom a lot, you should consider getting a real digicam.

Let's compare the most common situation: aim, focus, shoot with automatic settings. You can always get a lot more out of the camera if adjusting the various parameters. But for quick pictures you usually won't do that.
My scene for comparison is a look out of a window with the focus being on the traffic sign outside. Some curtain is visible inside the room, and lots of leaves are on the hedge and in the forest outside. So there are quite a lot of fine details to capture for the camera. A little reflection on the window pane makes focussing harder. The lower part of the image is quite dark. Digital cameras tend to produce a lot of grain in these areas.

These are the images taken by N900, N950, N9, and Lumia 800, respectively:

While images on the N900, N9, and N950 are easily accessible, the Lumia posed a problem. USB mass-storage mode or Bluetooth file transfer are not available. So I tried to upload the photo to SkyDrive and download it to my computer. But SkyDrive crippled the image's resolution even when attempting to download the "original image". So I sent the photo via E-Mail to me. This worked, but still, the image was crippled to 2 MP. So if I cannot get an 8 MP photo off the phone, I will compare the 2 MP photo with the others instead. Well done, Microsoft! The photo doesn't show more details in the gallery on the Lumia, either, so I'm wondering if the Lumia does save with a higher resolution than 2 MP at all.

Let's take a look at the traffic sign first. The N900 produces the sharpest result. But with 5 MP, the camera fails to capture the details. The sign is getting quite pixelated. The blurry image and the washed-out colors of the N950 are totally unacceptable.
The Lumia 800 and N9 are about on par. The 8 MP capture the details pretty well, but they're both a bit blurry. The colors are most natural on the N900 and N950. The Lumia is over-saturated.

Next we look at the curtain, which is supposed to be out of focus. None of these images appear to be clearly out of focus, though. The N950 produces a very blurry image. The colors are quite OK, except for the Lumia this time. The N900 and the N9 produce the best images, but the N900 shows more color artifacts. The most color artifacts are visible on the Lumia.

Look at the hedge now. Again, the N950 produces the worst result. The Lumia and N9 are lacking contrast, but the Lumia is slightly better than the N9 here. The N900 even though it only has 5 MP is the clear winner this time.

Now let's prepare for the really shocking results and compare the darker areas. The Lumia produces a very dark area that is too dark, but there is almost no color noise. The other phones produce very noisy images with the N900 being the worst. There is a tint of green in all images except on the Lumia, which is the clear winner this time.

To sum it up, the N950 is the clear loser in this comparison. It does not have and in my opinion does not deserve a Carl Zeiss logo.
Next comes the Lumia 800. While its camera is about on par with the N9, the fact that you cannot easily get your pictures off the phone in full resolution, makes it a bad joke. The colors are a bit over-saturated and generally a bit too dark on the Lumia 800, too.
The N9 scores second place. It has serious trouble under low-light conditions, however.
The N900 has problems under low-light conditions as well, but captures more color detail in general. With some software improvements, the N9 could beat the N900 one day.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Put Your Music Shelf in Your Pocket - With Harmattan or N900CE

My little app Music Shelf is a MeeGo music player that aims to be simple, easy, and good-looking. It is the proud winner of the 1st WeTab Qt App Challenge in category Entertainment with 67% of votes.

Now that the challenge is won, I'm working to target other MeeGo platforms besides the WeTab as well. Thanks to QML and Qt, this is not really a big issue.

There are bad news for N900 users, though. Maemo5 PR1.3 is not capable of running the app smoothly, so I'm not releasing it for Maemo5. The N900 MeeGo Community Edition, however, runs the app just fine.

Another target is MeeGo Harmattan for the new Nokia N950 and N9 devices, where Music Shelf does really shine!

By the way, Music Shelf is powered by the Qt incarnation of MediaBox (which is my popular Maemo4 and Maemo5 project) technology. You can expect first releases for N900CE and Harmattan soon. And on the WeTab you can already download Music Shelf version 1.0 in the WeTab Market for free.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Book Animation Tech Demo on the N900

In the course of learning to use QML, I have tried to build a book animation with QML for MeeGo. It not only runs well on the N900 with Maemo5, but also on the WeTab, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t with MeeGo, my Ubuntu Laptop, and a friend even showed me how he was running it on Windows.
This is truly "Code less. Create more. Deploy everywhere." :)

This is a short video running a tech demo I made for the N900.

Maybe we'll see some MeeGo software with this technology one day. For now it's only a tech demo looking for an application.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

WeTab - A Look at the first MeeGo Tablet

A lot has been written in German media about the WeTab. Mostly, every news magazine tried to compare the Tab to Apple's iPad and came to the conclusion that it's not an iPad. What a surprise!

I've been using my WeTab 32GB for about a month, and this is what I can tell about it. Hell, I enjoy it!


The hardware is manufactured by Asus, or more precisely, their OEM branch Pegatron. The Canadian ExoPC running Windows 7 makes use of the same hardware design, thus is the Windows brother of the WeTab. Asus is already well-known for their netbooks, so the WeTab hardware shouldn't disappoint, right?

The WeTab is available in two versions. One version has a 16 GB SSD on board, and the other version has a 32 GB SSD, GPS, and a 3G modem with SIM card slot. Both versions have a slot for SDHC cards and two USB slots, next to the audio out port and HDMI out.
The soon to be released dockingstation will have 3 USB (or was it 4?), microphone in, audio out, and RJ-45 Ethernet.

Another big plus of the 32 GB version is the built-in Broadcom Crystal-HD chip which enables the tablet to play 720p or 1080p HD videos fluently. The Crystal-HD chip is automatically used by the GStreamer framework and will soon also be available to the Flash player in the webbrowser.

It also features a proximity sensor (called the quickselect button) and an ambient light sensor that is not yet enabled by software. The built-in webcam is 1.3 megapixels. At the bottom there is a connector port for the soon to be released docking station. I saw a prototype model of the dockingstation yesterday and it looked really sexy.

The built-in accelerometer can be used for automatic screen rotation (currently the browser does this), or for games (but as of now there are no such games available). You can also turn around the tablet by 180 degrees and the screen will flip for all applications, including accelerated videos.

The tablet features a capacitive multitouch-capable 11,6" touchscreen with 1366x768 pixels (that's HD Ready resolution). The CPU is an Intel Atom N450 at 1.66 GHz, and it has 1 GiB of RAM. There's also Bluetooth 2.1 and WiFi 802.11n. 3G on the 32 GB version is quad band with UMTS / HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 MHz.

The touchscreen is a TN panel and thus not well readable from the sides, or from below, as the viewing angle is narrow. According to 4tiitoo, the reason for using a TN panel was that at the time of product design, there were no better panels available in that size and resolution.
The screen is glossy, so works well as a mirror, too, just like the Apple products.

The touchscreen initially had some firmware problems which resulted in repeated phases of unresponsiveness, with a duration of up to 3 seconds. Many people, including myself, suffered from this. The newly produced units will have an updated touchscreen firmware, so this problem is gone now. On older tablets, the new firmware will be available for flashing soon. I already got the new touchscreen firmware flashed by a 4tiitoo employee at the WeTab Community Meeting in Munich yesterday, and the problems are since gone. I'm sooo happy now! :)

Being Atom-powered, it has a fan on board. The fan itself is very silent but of course audible in a silent environment. It's not so much of a problem, though, IMHO. On the other hand, the fan-less iPad tends to switch itself off on hot days, so having a CPU fan could also be seen as an advantage.

The built-in battery currently lasts for about 4 to 5 hours, which is due to the fact that there are virtually no power optimizations in place yet. Future software updates will enable a Atom-optimized kernel and WiFi powersaving. This could help expand the runtime a bit.

Unlike the Nokia Internet Tablets and N900, there is no idle mode and you have to switch to standby instead, like on a netbook. Waking up from standby is instant and well below one second, though. The standby mode is actually "suspend to RAM".

The tablet weighs about 1 kg. Being larger than the iPad this does not come as a surprise. Was the iPad as big as the WeTab, it would weigh even more, if you do the calculation.

3G works great and I was able to surf the web during a two hour train journey yesterday, on a course where I usually have some problems surfing with the N900 at some places.


The WeTab runs MeeGo, and that's the reason why I bought it in the first place. It's the first consumer hardware available running MeeGo. As there is no tablet edition of MeeGo yet, it runs a MeeGo core with a custom Qt-based UI developed by 4tiitoo.
And MeeGo pays off! It boots up within 20 to 30 seconds. That's really quick.

When the product was launched in late September, the software was at a rough and unfinished state, which could be due to the switch over to MeeGo shortly before the release. 4tiitoo had a lot of hardware problems with Ubuntu, so they (luckily) decided to switch over to MeeGo shortly before product launch.

The first time you switch on the WeTab, you will have to register yourself. This currently gives no real benefit, but eventually you will be able to access the WeTab cloud (which will be voluntary). It kinda reminds of Android phones and their registration with Google. After registration, the tablet automatically pulls the latest updates, so that you start with the latest firmware.

Since release, there have been quite a few software updates. About one major update per month and several minor bugfix updates in-between. Updates come over the air and usually install when you power off. You can also look for updates manually.

Let's take a look at some of the bundled software

The pinboard is the WeTab equivalent of the desktop. You can place and arrange application launchers and widgets there. The board scrolls vertically so you have lots of space! The background image can currently not be customized, but this will be enabled in a firmware update in November.
You cannot add launchers by yourself unless editing files via the terminal. This is just not supported as installing the software will install the launchers.

The webbrowser is probably the most critical part of the tablet's user experience. It was really bad back in September but has since greatly improved. The developers put and are putting a lot of effort into this. The browser is based on Webkit, comes with Flash 10, and since the last firmware update features multitouch pinch-to-zoom gestures for fluently zooming in and out. It's a pleasure to use. Of course on a screen with that resolution, you rarely have to zoom unless you encounter some tiny text. Kinetic scrolling in the browser feels great, too.
There is no menu for bookmarks, so all your browser bookmarks are placed as launchers with preview image on the pinboard (just like the N900 can do).

The bundled e-Mail client is Claws Mail with touchscreen improvements (it doesn't look like Claws at all anymore). It works well with fingers but since I am not using it much, I won't say more about it. People who don't like Claws did install Thunderbird.

The file manager is a weak piece. It does its job but leaves much to be desired. Especially, there are only two kinds of icons, folders and files. If you want to know more about a file, you have to select it to view the preview. Luckily, there's also Thunar available, and this is a good file manager. Nautilus is available from the RPM repository, too.

The media player for audio and video is Banshee. I don't use Banshee since I have MediaBox on my WeTab, so I can't say much about it. Other people have successfully installed XBMC, too.

The image gallery shows photos, plays slideshows and videos. It supports multitouch for zooming, and wiping gestures for skipping between images, but takes a long time to build preview images if you have a lot of photos. If could be a decent piece of software once it was faster. I'm expecting a later update to fix this.

The eBook reader is FB Reader with a custom GUI. The GUI is not that good but works for reading books. You cannot set bookmarks or directly skip to a certain page, though. And the book selection dialog (or should I rather say file dialog) is not touch optimized at all, yet.
Of course, FB Reader cannot load DRM-crippled books. For these books, some people have successfully installed Adobe Digital Editions or Amazon Kindle on the WeTab using Wine. comes with some touch optimizations such as larger icons. But this kind of software is better used with external keyboard and mouse. Then it works like you're used to.

The maps application uses Microsoft Bing maps and comes with a widget for the pinboard and a full application with multitouch for zooming and GPS support. 4tiitoo also announced turn-by-turn voice navigation for later. OK, maybe the tablet is a bit too large for windshield mounting, though... ;)

There is a market where you can get more software like Adobe Acrobat Reader, Skype, Stellarium, some games, widgets, etc. The market is currently very small and there is no pay-content yet. You can expect more software, once the SDK (based on Qt Creator and VirtualBox image) will be published later this year.

Root shell. There is a root shell available for download in the market. Once you install it, you'll lose software warranty (of course, since from now on you can tinker with everything), but hardware warranty won't be affected. Having the root shell installed is called "expert mode", but actually it's just a launcher for a terminal (Xfce terminal to be precise) on the pinboard.

If you want more apps like Opera 10 or Opera Mobile, you can e.g. go over to But you need the terminal for running this stuff.As it turned out, it's also possible to download them via Chromium, which opens the download folder in thunar, which in turn is able to launch them directly, after setting the executable bit. Thanks to andreas5232 from the WeTab-Community for this tip!

The next major update will add support for a wide range of DVB-T sticks for turning the WeTab into a portable TV.

Of course on a keyboard-less device the onscreen keyboard is a crucial part. The one on the WeTab feels great, is big enough for comfortable typing, but lacks keys like tilde or pipe for Unix people. On the other hand, there is a Ctrl-C key. Well, actually, it's the copy key, which happens to map to Ctrl-C, too. ;)
Keyboard layouts can be edited via a XML file, though, so missing keys can be added, if necessary. The default layout also misses the dot on the same page as the numbers, which realy sucks for entering IP addresses. :(

Should I mention multitasking? Of course, unlike that other pad, the WeTab does multitask. The task switcher works similar to the one on the N900, but without the eye candy transitions (as of today).

Android Support

The OS with the little green trashcan robot runs on the WeTab, too.
Support for Android can already be installed by brave people, but it's not officially out yet. Android 2.1 runs in a virtual machine and lets you use Android software. Since Google does not allow tablets to access the Android Market (with the exception of the Galaxy Tab, which is technically a tablet-sized phone and thus good for Google), the market in use is the Android Pit App Store.
There are quite a lot of apps available, but most stuff from the Android market not (yet). Currently Android runs rather slow (hopefully this will become better once it's officially released) and does not play videos yet. Also, many Android apps look weird when running on a large screen, because they're optimized for tiny phone displays.

A Geek's Delight

The device can easily be opened to add more RAM. Some people are running it with 2 GiB of RAM.

As of yesterday, a recovery USB image is available for restoring the device if you bricked it. Until yesterday, the brick had to be sent to the Medion support company for restoring, but this is no longer necessary, thanks to the recovery image.

People have installed Windows 7 (which runs very well according to those who run it), and Ubuntu or MeeGo netbook. It's kinda hard to boot a different OS, because this is not supported, but Linux geeks find a way. Booting from an attached USB device is locked at EFI level by Asus/Pegatron, but there are ways around.

The root shell gives you full access to the underlying MeeGo core. What else do you need? :)

In the beginning the WeTab was a bit disappointing with the touchscreen problems and unfinished software. But with every update it becomes a bit better and I really like it very much now. The battery life time is still short with approx. 4 hours, but this should be fixed by software, soon. Since I have the WeTab every week is like Christmas with little new presents all the time.

I was able to meet some people from 4tiitoo at the Community Conference yesterday, and it's really amazing how a small startup from Munich managed to bring out a MeeGo tablet with some great features before everybody else. Patience definitely payed off with the WeTab as 4tiitoo are fulfilling their promises. The future looks bright and MeeGo rocks! :D

Currently the WeTab is only available in Germany at Amazon, MediaMarkt, Otto, Conrad, Cyberport, and Lufthansa Miles and More Shop. Hopefully it will launch internationally soon.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A New Version of MediaBox for N900, N800, and N810

There is now a new version 2010.06.26 of MediaBox Media Center available in extras-testing for N900 and extras for N800 and N810.

It's somewhat a small premiere. :)
As far as I know, MediaBox is the first 3rd party media player on the N900 to support the Maemo MAFW framework for media playback.
MediaBox is also the first media player written in Python to use MAFW for playback. Of course my code for using MAFW is open for anyone to use in their Python programs.

Using MAFW on the N900 has some benefits. For instance, audio will play in silent mode and doesn't stutter while locking the screen. And you are able to control the volume with the hardware keys while the screen is locked (this requires Maemo5 PR 1.2).

In case you prefer mplayer over MAFW, and have mplayer installed on your device, you can use it as media backend as well. Or just use plain GStreamer as before. The backend to use is configurable per media type.
On the N8x0, the available backends are OSSO Media Server (the predecessor of MAFW), mplayer, and GStreamer.

How do you normally get music onto your device? Now you can browse your UPnP media shares and download whole folders with their media contents onto the device. YouTube videos can be copied to the device, too, and MediaBox manages all this with the new download manager component.

There have also been made some (a lot) performance improvements in the new version, and the handy sleep timer from the 0.96.x series of MediaBox is back.

Enjoy, and please don't forget to vote for the package if you're using it from extras-testing on the N900!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

FM Radio for the N800

The Nokia N800, introduced in January 2007, was the first internet tablet from Nokia that featured a FM tuner chip (without RDS unfortunately).

And now the popular FM Radio application from the N900 is coming to the N800 real soon! I'm currently working on N800 support in the application so that both devices will be sharing a common code-base.

See FM Radio on the N800 in action:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Isn't the Maemo community awesome? :)

First we get a proof-of-concept for MMS, and now we can send USSD codes, such as *135# or *100# for checking your balance.

It's still very early, but here's a screenshot of a working app.