Saturday, January 28, 2012

Testing an Android ICS Tablet

As Android's latest incarnation - Ice Cream Sandwich - had just hit the market, there wasn't a lot of choice in tablets in early December, 2011 when I was looking for an Android tablet to play with.  The Asus Transformer Prime hadn't hit the market, most existing devices were promising updates by around mid-2012, and, well, I wanted something to have a look at in December 2011, not in June 2012 - that's why I decided to buy the Ainol NOVO7 Basic ICS tablet and see how it held up.

Initial Thoughts

First, let me say that this is a $99 ICS tablet so I didn't expect much - not in the way of physical build quality nor in the implementation of ICS.  I bought mine directly from and paid their overpriced $60 shipping cost (which, due to a number of issues on their end, didn't result in the tablet arriving at my doorstep until 5th January, 2012 - definitely the worst $60 on freight I have ever spent in my life and the communications from Ainovo, well, let's just say they left a lot to be desired).  Right now, Ainovo have no stock available of any of their tablets.  What I *would* recommend people seriously looking at getting one of these tablets do is to head on over to McBub and buy it from there - not only is it a mere US$110, but that also includes freight to Australia!

The Ainovo tablets, being cheap, have cut a few corners.  One major one is their choice of CPU.  The average Android tablet runs on one of the many ARM implementations, however the Ainovo NOVO7 Basic (and Paladin) tablets run on a MIPS implementation - an Ingenic JZ4770 CPU clocked at 1GHz with a GC860 graphocs co-processor.  The existing NOVO7 Advanced and the upcoming NOVO7 Elf and NOVO7 Aurora tablets run an Allwinner A10 CPU that is ARM based, so these more expensive tablets will have a slightly different (read: better) ICS experience than the cheaper Paladin and Basic tablets.

Having said that, the Ingenic CPU is no slouch - I wouldn't like to compare it with an i5, but then I wouldn't like to compare the power consumption with an i5 either!  :)  As far as usability for a cheap tablet goes, this Ingenic MIPS-based CPU definitely handles well.  The biggest issue it has is that most Android developers are expecting their applications to run on ARM-based CPUs and their code seems to have been written with ARM-based extensions, meaning that certain applications such as Skype, Facebook, Flash and World Of Goo are not available for the NOVO7 Basic tablet.  This is a bit annoying, but there's often workarounds or alternates - unfortunately this isn't the case with neither Flash nor Skype. :(

There's 512MB of RAM installed and 8GB of Flash storage.  There's a MicroSD card slot, inbuilt microsphone and speaker and standard 3.5mm headphone socket as well as B/G/N Wi-Fi, however there's no provision for a 3G/HSPA SIM nor BlueTooth.  A 3G USB device can be connected, and there's an adapter provided that you can plug your USB 3G dongle into.  The screen resolution is 800*480 and there's also a mini-HDMI connector that can deliver up to 1080P60 output - I've not yet tested this output.

Android ICS 4.0.1 (as shipped)

The version of Android that's supplied with the NOVO7 Basic is the 4.0.1 release, which means that there's already a newer release of ICS available - however there's no official NOVO7 Basic ICS 4.0.3 ROM upgrade available yet (as at the date of this post, 28 Jan, 2012).  I found this unofficial NOVO7 Basic ROM at Pandawill Forum, however the download is glacial and you'll need to rename the .zip file to "" and follow the upgrade instructions on the Ainovo support site to upgrade your NOVO7 Basic tablet.

On the stock ROM, I found issues with both Dolphin Browser HD and Pulse new reader - when trying to browse anything, they both displayed heavily corrupted text and images, to the point that they were both utterly useless.  The vast majority of applications, however, that would install on the NOVO7 Basic ran without a hitch.  They weren't mindblowingly fast, but they ran decently enough.

The touch screen was a little insensitive at times and a little too sensitive at other times - the experience with it was far from slick.  I've used a number of touch screen devices and this was the least enjoyable to deal with.

The single speaker is placed on the back of the unit and isn't all that loud - you can definitely hear it, but you'd struggle to hear anything it was outputting in anything other than a moderately quiet environment.

Video performance is quite good - there's a couple of included video files in both .wmv and .rmvb format and it plays all of the Quicktime sample files with only "Sorenson" showing any artifacting as well as the DIVX and MP4 encoded Shark Tale trailers (the .ogv file will not play).

The "Spiderman" game is shipped with the NOVO7 Basic, and being a non-game player, I couldn't care less, however for the review, I rane the game, had it download around 300MB of updates/data, and ran it.  It played well - no issues with speed, however the sensitivity of the touch screen was the only issue I had with the playability of the game.

Android ICS 4.0.3 (unofficial)

When I upgraded to the unofficial 4.0.3 ROM, I found the touch screen immediately more responsive and predictable - it now works like I would have expected it to - a big improvement.

I also noticed a whole pile of apps installed that are Chinese-only, including the AnZhi "GoMarket" app that can be used to update the apps that are pre-installed with the 4.0.3 ROM.  I've not found much use for any of the other pre-installed Chinese apps as they are, well, basically in Chinese and I have as much comprehension of Chinese language as the modern US Republican Party has of social responsibility - so I'll likely uninstall them to gain some space back.

Apps that worked poorly on the default 4.0.1 ROM - in particular Dolphin Browser HD and Pulse news reader - work well under 4.0.3.  This is excellent news for me as I'm a huge fan of the Pulse news reader app and running it on the NOVO7 Basic is a much better experience than on my iPhone 3GS.  Apps that don't suport MIPS CPUs obviously still will not install (I'll out Skype, Facebook, Flash and World Of Goo here again).

I can't be sure, but the performance of the tablet under the unofficial 4.0.3 ROM seems a little snappier - nothing major, but it does feel a little more responsive overall.

Spiderman needed to re-download its updates/data/whatever and when finished, was as playable as before with the addeed bonus that the more responsive touch screen made the game better.

Angry Birds is included with this 4.0.3 update as well and it, too, plays rather fluidly.

Android's Biggest Letdown

The default mail client in Android, whilst it does actually connect to Exchange servers and allow connections to multiple Exchange servers, is a dog.  It is a very, very basic mail client and needs a lot of improvement.  One of my biggest gripes is that when moving an Inbox item to another folder, the folders are listed in alphanumeric order, not in the order that I have under my Inbox - which makes the subfolder structure you have in Outlook totally invisible to Android's mail client.  That's right, if you have multiple folders called "Newsletter", say from multiple vendors, then you will see a number of "Newsletter" folders when attempting to move an email with no sane way to work out which one actually is.  That's utterly and mindnumbingly useless!

TouchDown, for US$20 resolves many of the issues with the native Android ICS email client and will most be definitely be an application I'll be purchasing in the very near future.


The NOVO7 Basic is quite usable - the Labtech, Mobile Noter, Documents To Go, Foxit Reader, DropBox, SpiderOak, SugarSync, and Trillian apps work, various Wi-Fi and network scanning apps such as Wifi Analyzer and Fing work, Mobile Noter and SharePlus apps work, Kindle runs well...  All up, even though there's no Skype nor Flash support for the MIPS CPU this tablet is built around, the tablet is a decent tablet with a few small quibbles - especially at the price.


The Outspoken Wookie

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Australian Open's Sexual Vilification and Baseless Hatred Arena

I posted this on Facebook:

I keep seeing "Margaret Court Arena" at the Australian Open and reading it as "Sexual Vilification and Baseless Hatred Arena"

and then the following in reply to a comment suggesting she (Margaret Court) has a valid opinion:

MC: "Our Constitution is based on biblical principles and our nation is great because of it."
HT: Actually, no, our Constitution is expressly *not* biblical based. Chapter V, s116 of the Australian Constitution:

116. The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

MC: "Let me be clear. I believe that a person's sexuality is a choice. In the Bible it said that homosexuality is among sins that are works of the flesh. It is not something you are born with."
HT: I'd like to see where her proof is of homosexuality not being a choice. All medical and scientific evidence to date shows that this is simply not the case.

MC: "Lies just don't seem to matter much any more."
HT: She's completely correct there and backs her arguments up with a lot of them. Oh, and deception.

MC: "I can't understand, if we are a blessed nation under a biblical Constitution, why there is such a push to change it?"
HT: We're not a nation under a biblical Constitution - is she trying to spread a lie here, or just be deceitful?

MC: "That is why I believe we need to protect marriage because it has been God-ordained from the beginning."
HT: Nope, marriage was invented by mankind. Just like all gods are a human invention.

MC: "A nun at my primary school once gave me the cane and it was one of the best lessons of my life."
HT: So, being physically beaten by a religious figure is a life affirming and character building experience and one of the best lessons of her life? She really didn't learn much, did she?


And the above rubbish is just from her latest article in the Herald Sun tabloid. The whole feeling of this and her previous comments about homosexuals exudes hatred.

On top of that, she'd doing expressly what her god forbids her to do according to I Timothy 2: 11 - she's not learning in silence and is attempting to have authority over men - and worse, calling herself a reverend. (Now, I don't believe any of this "women should STFU" rubbish, but her god believes it.) So, by her own standards, she's being disobedient by choice (unlike homosexuals, who are almost all born that way).

I've never, ever met a homosexual person who has chosen to be homosexual, they have all eventually accepted who they are after a lot of grief and then had this followed by even more grief. I'm sure some people choose to have homosexual liaisons as they are working out exactly who they are and some of those may well like the experience, however this would be a serious minority of people identifying as homosexual. Those who can't even entertain the thought of forming a deep, personal, sexual relationship with someone of the other sex are like the vast, vast majority of we heterosexuals who can't imagine the thought of forming a deep, personal, sexual relationship with someone of the same sex - we're all born the way we're born.

And yes, working in the entertainment industry for as long as I have, I've met more than my fair share of non-hetero people. They, like we heteros, are mostly good people, a few bad apples, mostly highly moral people, mostly loving and caring people and definitely people I've been happy to be associated with over the years. There's very, very few people that, throughout the course of my life thus far, I've been displeased to have had anything to do with - and without fail, these people have all been heterosexual!

Margaret Court needs to pull her head in and start looking at the world around her without her bigotry spectacles. Maybe she'd see people for who they truly are instead of through a tainted film of myth-based hypocrisy and be a better - and definitely nicer - person because of it. :)


The Outspoken Wookie

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Facebook Comments, Likes and Hackers

I've seen a number of people posting Facebook Fallacies such as the following:

With the new 'FB timeline' on its way this week for EVERYONE...please do both of us a favor: Hover over my name or photo above. In a few seconds you'll see a box that says "Subscribed." Hover over that, then go to "Comments and Likes" and unclick it. That will stop my posts and yours to me from showing up on the side bar for everyone to see, but MOST IMPORTANTLY it LIMITS HACKERS from invading our profiles. If you re-post this I will do the same for you. You'll know I've acknowledged you because if you tell me that you've done it I'll 'like' it. Thanks

What they suggest doing has some mix of reality and mythology.  Reality: Unsubscribing from friends' comments and likes will definitely stop them showing up in your ticker, however it will also stop them showing up in your feeds, so you'll never see your friends' comments again unless you go and visit each of their pages.  Mythology: it won't limit hackers in any way.

What WILL protect you from hackers is to check your Privacy settings and ensure they are configured as you need them and to - and I'm disappointed I need to keep reiterating this point everywhere I go - use a secure passphrase and change it from time to time.

If you want to read a little more on this current Facebook Fallacy, please go here and read Carole's writeup.


The Outspoken Wookie

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Indian Religious Insanity

I had a read of and really wonder about the sanity of anyone who, in 2012, still believes in gods, goddesses, fairies, astrology and other mythology and - more to the point - believes that censoring some Internet sites in one particular country, whilst claiming they are not trying to smother free speech, so that inappropriate references to these mythological creatures will be removed is not only possible, but even logical and/or sensible.

The Indian IT Minister, Kapil Sibal, states "There were some demeaning, degrading, clearly pornographic depictions of gods and goddesses which no reasonable, sensible person anywhere in the world would accept, on any site."  Now, I'm sure that on Reddit and various comedy and pornography sites, many reasonable, sensible people would see this and accept it as a matter of more than acceptable free expression by some people.

Personally, although I wonder how any reasonable, sensible person can believe in myths such as gods in 2012, I don't find depictions of gods banging each other (or other things) particularly amusing, however I cannot see why such images should be censored.  They are, after all, images depicting mythological, non-existent beings - somewhat like the explicit cartoons of Meg and Quagmire or Barney and Wilma getting busy.

The United Nations, back in July 2011, issued a new statement on the extent of freedom of speech under international law. It says that laws restricting blasphemy as such are incompatible with universal human rights standards.  So, this whole issue in India is going against the UN's Human Rights Statements.  Go India!  (Read more on this Statement here.)


The Outspoken Wookie