hardware

Apple’s annoying insistence on Lightning

Three years ago I bought my refurbished iPhone 6 for € 168. I thought that was a great deal for a phone which doesn’t spy on me, unlike Google Android phones. However, when iOS version 13 was released in 2019 the iPhone 6 was no longer supported. This is unfortunate but not unreasonable given that it was released in 2014. I’ve also seen white spots appear on the screen. I still use it daily, but given these factors and advancements in more recent phones I’m considering to buy a new phone.

The iPhone 6 still used a LCD screen rather than an OLED screen, even though OLED screens were already used for years in phones from other manufacturers such as Samsung. Because Apple was so late to adopt OLED screens I wasn’t tempted to buy a newer iPhone. They finally did adopt OLED with the iPhone X, which was released in 2017. A refurbished iPhone X can now be bought for € 300 up to € 400, or at half that price from second hand trading websites. Much more expensive than my iPhone 6, but still acceptable.

What is not acceptable to me is that Apple still hasn’t switched from its proprietary Lightning connector to the open USB-C standard used by pretty much every other Android phone. I’m sick of having to deal with separate cables for USB-C and Lightning. It makes no sense because Apple did switch to USB-C on its Macs, Macbooks and iPads. It seems like they are trying to make more money with selling accessories which are compatible with Lightning.

The latest rumors on the iPhone 13 suggest that the Lightning port will be dropped entirely in favor of a portless phone with wireless charging. Apple would use their MagSafe standard for this, which is already implemented in the iPhone 12. MagSafe is both a terrible name and a terrible idea.

It’s a terrible name because its confusing. After all, MagSafe was also the name for the magnetically attached power connector for MacBook laptops. It was discontinued between 2016 and 2019 in favor of the USB-C port. Because that’s still quite recent many will wonder which of the two products is meant. Ford has also done this with their Mustang Mach-E. When I heard about that car I first thought it was a new generation of their well-known sports car, but it turned out to be an electric crossover SUV. The marketeers at Apple and Ford who came up with these names should be fired for their idiocy.

It’s a terrible idea because wireless charging is both more expensive, slower and more inefficient than corded charging. Testing revealed that wireless charging consumes about 47% more power on average than a cable. If everyone would start charging their phones wirelessly it would require significantly more electricity to be generated. When Apple decided to exclude the charger from the iPhone 12 box is was blathering about how environmentally friendly they were because it reduced e-waste and allowed them to fit more iPhones in a shipping container. However, if they decide to force wireless charging on us it’s actually a big middle finger to sustainability. And for what benefit? A MagSafe charger, which still needs to be connected to an AC power socket with a cable.

Fortunately the European Commission (EC) agrees with me. According to a news article it seems like a draft law will be published later this year to force phone makers to adopt a single charging standard. Hopefully this would effectively mean that Apple would be forced to adopt USB-C. The same article also mentions that the EC is also critical of the low efficiency of wireless charging. I like the activism of the EC in this. Given that they also banned inefficient vacuum cleaners some years ago, I hope they will also ban the silly wireless charging options in phones.

As for my new phone, I’m seriously considering to buy a Samsung Galaxy A51. At € 240 new, it comes with OLED and USB-C. I guess I’ll have to resort to the tricks documented on the Internet to remove all the compulsory bloatware and keep the spying to a minimum.

Review of the Ducky One keyboard

Back in 2014 I posted a review of the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate mechanical keyboard. I really liked this keyboard, but it has two disadvantages for me: it was a full size keyboard with a numpad and had appearance which was aimed at gamers. Because I never use the numpad and preferred a more formal look I decided to sell it and buy the Ducky One DKON1687. It’s mechanical keyboard as well, but it’s tenkeyless (TKL, or 80% of the width of a full size keyboard) so it doesn’t have the numpad.

The Ducky One DKON1687 uses the same Cherry MX brown switches for the keys as the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate. It is said that it depends on personal preference which types of switches are most desirable. Except for the Romer-G switches of the Logitech G613 keyboard I’ve never tried any other switches, so I can’t compare them well with other choices. All I can say is that I like the Cherry MX brown switches more than the Romer-G switches. Both are tactile switches, but I prefer the Cherry MX brown switches because they offer more resistance before they register a key press. I take complaints that the Cherry MX brown switches are relatively noisy for granted.

The fact that the Ducky One DKON1687 is a TKL keyboard is its key advantage for me. With the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate I occasionally bumped into the keyboard with my right hand on the mouse, which is uncomfortable. I don’t have a small desk, but it comes more natural that I don’t have to extend my right arm so far to the right as I used to. The Ducky One DKON1687 doesn’t have backlighting like the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate, but I’m not missing it at all. Backlighting is no more than a gimmick without added value. I can just turn on a light in my computer room or touch type if it’s too dark to distinguish the keys.

Unfortunately the Ducky One DKON1687 still isn’t the ultimate keyboard for me because it’s corded. I like the aesthetic of not having any wires running to the back of my desk. The Logitech G613 keyboard I mentioned is used by Stephanie and is wireless. It uses Logitech’s Lightspeed technology, which is very impressive. It has a delay of just 1 millisecond according to Logitech. This is practically indistinguishable or equivalent to a corded keyboard. Equally impressive is that the G613 can last for eighteen months on two AA batteries according to Logitech. It also uses a small wireless USB receiver, barely larger than the USB port itself, to connect the keyboard to a computer. Its appearance also matches well with the Logitech G603 wireless mouse, which is also used by Stephanie and uses Lightspeed too.

We can’t have it all though. The deal breaker for me is that the Logitech G603 is even larger than a full size keyboard because it contains a column of macro keys on the far left side. And then I haven’t even mentioned its unnecessarily large palm rest. The Logitech G613 is not ideal either because it contains a rough groove near the mouse wheel, which irritates the skin of my finger. The old Logitech G5 corded mouse which I currently use has a nicely finished edge near the mouse wheel which doesn’t do that, so I don’t understand the design choice.

Ducky One DKON1687 versus Logitech G613

More recently Logitech released the G915 TKL mechanical keyboard during the summer of 2020. This keyboard had a lot going for it because it is TKL with Lightspeed, backlighting and low profile switches. But once again I’m disappointed: it contains an internal battery which lasts for forty hours with the backlight at 100%. While we can assume that the battery will last longer if the backlight is disabled, my problem here is that the internal battery. Eventually the battery will degrade as it ages and become unusable. I assume it can’t be replaced, unlike the G603’s AA batteries. But my main gripe is with the price: at least € 220 for the black version with US QWERTY layout and tacticle switches. Total madness, considering that I paid € 90 for the Ducky One DKON1687 and € 100 for the Logitech G603.

I wish Logitech would just produce a TKL version of the G603, without the macro keys on the left and without the palm rest. They should also fix the rough edge near the G613’s mouse wheel as well. Alternatively, I hope Ducky would implement wireless technology in their TKL keyboards which could vie with Logitech’s Lightspeed technology.

Switched from Samsung Galaxy S7 to the iPhone 6

My previous employer FRISS provided me with a mobile phone I could use privately as well. This was needed for their work from home policy and the occassional standby shift. My new employer ID Ware doesn’t do those things, so it was not unreasonable that they didn’t provide me with a phone. Because it was expensive to take over the Samsung Galaxy S7 which I used while working for FRISS, I decided to look for a new phone.

The subscription FRISS had with T-Mobile allowed some choice in different phones. Among the phones with Google Android, the Samsung Galaxy S7 phones stood out as the best choice. The iPhones required an hefty extra payment, so I chose the Galaxy S7.

While the Galaxy S7 was a great phone from a hardware point of view, I didn’t like the software. Apart from the obvious spying on your personal data by Google, the phone came crammed full of bloatware by Samsung. Some of which you couldn’t uninstall. Samsung has a annoying habit of supplying their phones with their own alternative apps for the standard Android software (such as the web browser and calendar) which add nothing. They also have a bad reputation for ending regular security updates for their phones quite soon. There are of course other manufacturers which sell phones which do run stock Android and do receive security updates for a reasonable amount of years after the phone was released. But you haven’t solved the spying problem then.

Installing a custom ROM on your Android phone, like LineageOS, doesn’t solve the problem either. I’m not aware of all the details, but the fact that you will have to deal with lower photo quality of the Galaxy S7 is a deal breaker for me. And you will still need to install Google software which spies on you if you want to use the Android app store. It’s too much uncertainty and work. I wanted something which is (relatively) privacy friendly, bloatware free and easy to use.

My choice was a refurbished iPhone 6 from Forza, included in a Tele2 contract with unlimited calling/SMS’ing and 2 GB of data per month for € 22. Paying € 1.000 for the new iPhone X, even though it has that nice OLED screem (and that silly notch!) is madness. But € 22 a month is barely more than I paid for a SIM-only subscription in the past, which excluded a phone.

A brief remark about Tele2: avoid them. I found my number was published in the phone directory, online and on paper, without my permission. Their helpdesk doesn’t have a clue how this could happen and they didn’t compensate me in any way. I submitted a complaint for this with the Dutch Data Protection Agency.

Not too long ago there was a critical investigation by the Dutch Consumer’s Association which slammed refurbished phones. They found that these phones can be badly repaired with second-rate components and aren necessarily much cheaper than new phones. Forza got a bad review too. In my case I have nothing to complain, my refurbished iPhone 6 works fine.

I expected that I would miss the great OLED screen of the Galaxy S7 on the iPhone 6, but this didn’t happen. In the majority of my use cases the screen doesn’t have to display a lot of black color and it isn’t used in dark environments, so I don’t notice the lack of an OLED screen much. On the software side iOS is much more pleasant than Android, no spying and bloatware. The sporadic app you can’t remove such as Apple Health doesn’t really get in the way or take up a lot of storage. No problem if you want to set DuckDuckGo as the default search provider in the Safari web browser (it’s not possible in Google Chrome on Android).

However, Apple wouldn’t be Apple if it wouldn’t combine it’s superior product design with its fair share of dick moves. For example their negligence in keeping their web browser engine WebKit up to date with the latest web standards. Usually this is no issue because you could install a different web browser with a different engine, but Apple is actively blocking anything else from WebKit being used on iOS. This reached the news after the French software company Nexedi sued Apple for this. This was in 2016 and while WebKit is still the only option on iOS, I’m not up to date on the current web standards compliance of WebKit.

Another one is that Apple refuses to implement support for the open and cross-plaform Vulkan graphics API on iOS, in favor of their own closed Metal graphics API. Metal was released in 2014 while Vulkan was not finished yet (it was in 2016), Apple might have legitimately thought that Vulkan was taking too long. But for some time now Vulkan has been accepted as the open standard for graphics and is frequently used on Linux and Android. While it’s not visible to the consumer, Apple is effectively screwing all those developers who have to convert their software from Vulkan to Metal if they want to release it for iOS. If the life of developers is unnecessarily made more difficult the consumer is disadvantaged indirectly.

Then there is the inability to use another app store than the Apple App Store (not the case on Android). Apple says it wants to protect its users, but that doesn’t justify restriction of freedom. They could easily give a warning that there are no safety guarantees once users add other app stores. The real reason is of course that they want a monopoly on paid iOS apps so they can reap more profits. Just like Google they take a share of app store transactions. My solution for this is simply refusing to buy anything from the Apple App Store. I don’t need any paid apps anyway.

I could mention the fact that iOS is not open source, meaning there is no opportunity to create custom ROM’s for iOS. The more complex reality is that while Android is open source, many Android apps are not. They are now close source as part of a deliberate strategy by Google to make the open source Android unattractive. Presented with this choice, I value privacy more than software freedom, hence my choice for Apple. I think I’ve made it clear now that I merely consider Apple the best choice out of two bad choices.

New amplifier and speakers

Last August I decided I wanted a better solution for music in my living room. Previously I used the Audioengine A2 speakers and my TV for this, but that setup was less than ideal. The speakers were connected to the TV through the headphone jack and I used the Deezer app on the TV to stream music. As a consequence I had to turn the TV on even if I only wanted to listen to music. I couldn’t control the volume of headphone jack volume with the remote. The Deezer app was the most frustrating because it crashed all the time.

So I started looking for a good amplifier which could stream music without the need for an extra device. That amplifier had to be controlled remotely through a smartphone. Streaming the music should be done by the amplifier itself through a WiFi connection. The TV had to profit from the better sound as well and had to be connected to the amplifier. Because the Audioengine A2 speakers are too small for a living room and are active (integrated amplifier) rather than passive speakers I decided to look for new speakers as well.

These criteria quickly excluded many solutions. Many music streaming devices do not include an amplifier, so they have to be connected to active speakers or an amplifier. Some of these only allow you to stream through Bluetooth from a smartphone. The disadvantage of Bluetooth is that the battery of that smartphone will be drained more quickly. The audio quality might also be compromised when it’s transferred through Bluetooth, depending on the compression. And usually they also require an extra app, separate from the app of the streaming service.

Then I discovered Spotify Connect. This feature of Spotify allows you to pair with a supported device in the Spotify app and then command that device to stream music. Because the device establishes its own WiFi connection to Spotify, your phone only acts as a remote. This way the audio quality is untainted and my phone’s battery life barely takes a hit. Previously I didn’t want to use Spotify because a credit card was required to pay for a subscription, but they solved that by offering iDEAL. As the name suggests, Spotify Connect is a proprietary standard used only by Spotify. I don’t like this and would prefer that all the streaming services create a shared standard, but so far I haven’t seen any alternative.

After evaluating amplifiers which support Spotify Connect, I started reading the reviews by What Hi-Fi?. The availability of products in physical stores close by further restricted the choices. Stephanie and I wanted to listen to our amplifier and speakers of choice before we were going to decide what to buy. We ended up going to Audiohuis Delft because they had both the amplifier and speakers available for a test.

We decided to buy the Cambridge Audio Minx Xi amplifier (actually called a music streamer) for € 650 and the Q Acoustics Concept 20 speakers for € 500. This is the price for two speakers, but apparently stores have a convention to list the price for just one speaker. The review by What HiFi? mentioned that the speakers perform best with the pricey stands for this particular model, so we decided to get those as well. This added another € 300 to the bill.

I believe the reviewer’s claim that these stands improve the sound quality, but I question if I my ears are good enough to notice the difference. Maybe I could notice the difference in a good listening test, but I doubt I would during daily use. I figured out later that the Q Acoustics 3050 floorstanding speakers would have been an alternative. These don’t need stands of course. I see two of these can be bought for prices between € 800 and € 1000. Had I known about these before, I would have probably bought these instead. Even so, I’m very satisfied with the Concept 20 speakers.

I’m equally satisfied with the Minx Xi. It has a good combination of sound quality with usability. It looks very stylish and is relatively small compared to the traditional bulky amplifiers. It doesn’t feature a huge amount of connections which I don’t use anyway. There are only two minor disadvantages I’ve noticed. It takes twenty seconds to start up and connect to my WiFi network, I’d like to see faster startup. A HDMI input or two might have been useful next to the optical, coaxial and analog inputs.

Finally a word of warning about the cables. Audiohuis Delft advised me to get cables from QED. For two pairs of QED XT40 2,5 meter analog speaker cables we paid € 139. For the QED Performance Audio Optical and QED Performance Audio Coaxial 1 meter cables we paid € 55 each. That was a hefty price tag for just cables! I didn’t investigate quality and normal prices for audio equipment cables so we went along with the advice. Advertising on the packages touting very positive reviews by What HiFi? contributed to that. When I asked around after the purchase, I was confirmed in my suspicion that such very expensive cables were unnecessary. You’re not going to hear a difference, especially over short distances.

The sound quality delivered by the Minx Xi in conjunction with the Q Acoustics Concept 20 is great. I don’t have much more to say about it, I’m not an audiophile and don’t have a point of reference to compare it to. I do want to emphasize the experience and the great usability of this solution. Turn it on, open Spotify on my phone and stream. With Spotify, the choice of music is almost endless for € 10 a month. Even though it’s normal now, it still amazes me how easy it is. Not too long ago we were still working with much more expensive CD’s which are now comparatively cumbersome.

Fairphone 2 now available

The Fairphone 2 was released on 21 December 2015. I love how this phone is designed to be durable, easily repairable and open source. In my personal correspondence with their support I was also assured they don’t pay Microsoft for a licensing deal, which is good. Of course there is much more which makes this phone laudable, such as the conflict-free minerals used for its construction and the transparent supply chain, but those three advantages are my highlights.

Since Mozilla pronounced Firefox OS for smartphones dead, I’ve been looking for an alternative smartphone. Right now I’m using a Samsung Galaxy S5 Neo with Android from my employer, which I’m also allowed to use privately. I’m very uncomfortable with it, because Google loves to spy on me. So ordinary phones with Android are out of the question. The Fairphone 2 ships with stock Android by default, but fortunately Fairphone provides the Fairphone Open Source OS as an alternative. This ships without Google Mobile Services (GMS). GMS is Google’s proprietary software running on top of the open source part of Android. However, this raises questions about what life is like without GMS.

I’d have to find open source replacements for several Google apps such as Chrome, Gmail, and Maps. I guess Firefox, some alternative e-mail app and Maps.ME would be good replacements. But you will also need to find another app store, because Google Play is also a proprietary Google app. Where am I going to find the Spotify and Netflix apps then? Amazon’s Android app store maybe? But how privacy friendly are they? Are those shady websites which offer APK downloads (Android app downloads independent from an app store) safe? How will my apps update automatically?

Using Android without Google’s proprietary software will be challenging. So challenging, that I might consider an iPhone as an alternative. Like stock Android, iOS contains both open source and proprietary software, but at least Apple has more respect for their user’s privacy as far as I know.

There are also other factors I consider before deciding whether to buy the Fairphone 2 or not. A price of € 530 is a lot of money for a phone, especially if the the hardware isn’t at the top of its class. An iPhone or a Galaxy, if new from an older generation or second hand, cost less. I’ve grown quite fond of the AMOLED display in the Galaxy S5 Neo, but the Fairphone 2 is equipped with an LCD display which is inferior to both Samsung’s AMOLED displays and Apple’s LCD displays. In principle I might be able to live with the price and inferior display, because I value the ethical and social goals of the Fairphone 2. But I don’t want to spend so much money on a smartphone right now.

Before I make a choice, I need to investigate which data Google (through both the proprietary and open source Android versions) and Apple exactly collect from me, the degree to which I’m being spied upon. I need to know how user friendly it is to use Android without Google’s proprietary software. When I’ve figured that out, documented it here on this blog and have determined how to deal with the Galaxy S5 Neo provided by my employer, I will make a decision.

The Kobo Glo HD e-reader

Last year on 23 September I was given the Kobo Glo HD e-reader as a birthday gift by Stephanie. This e-reader was on my wish list because it features a high resolution for its 6 inch screen, 1,448×1,072 pixels (300 pixels per inch). Last year the were no e-readers, except those from Amazon, which had a comparable resolution.

The high resolution makes text look very sharp, almost as sharp as a real book. It’s sharp enough not to bother me; the lower resolutions of older e-readers did annoy me. The reading experience is good, pages turn reasonably fast. I did notice that in an EPUB file which features endnotes, the numbers for the endnotes affect the line distance. This is ugly; normal endnote numbers are just set in superscript and do not alter line distance. Clicking the endnote numbers for links which take you to the endnote section was also quite hard. I’m not sure if this was the fault of this particular EPUB file, or the software of the Glo HD. Another gripe I have is that it’s compulsury to set up the Kobo e-book store. It’s useless to me because I can’t (or want to) use it, for the reasons described below.

With regards to the EPUB market, I think the DRM is still deterring people from buying e-books. I’ve said it before: DRM can be okay if implemented in a way which doesn’t bother the customer. Such as the Steam service for buying video games. For e-books I need to Adobe Digital Editions to place DRM-protected EPUB files on my ereader. But… Digital Editions is not available for Linux. Since Linux is the only thing I use, I’m pretty much restricted to free titles from Project Gutenberg. Of course there are a lot of good classics to download there, but it’s very strange that e-book vendors make it impossible for me to buy their products. And no, I’m not going to use a Windows PC at work for this. Even if used Windows or Mac OS privately, I wouldn’t want to download extra software which makes the experience more inconvenient just for the DRM.

The publishers should think about using watermarks or some other kind of friendly DRM, or maybe no DRM at all. They are almost driving people to use illegal sources for acquiring e-books. Kill off Digital Editions, please.

Review of the Panasonic TX-L42E6EW LCD TV

When I moved to my new apartment (more on that in the following post in a minute) I needed a TV. I didn’t want to spend much, but the TV still needed to provide a good image quality. After reading this review and considering the other options, I decided to buy the Panasonic TX-L42E6EW LCD TV for € 490. Having considered the competitors, I think this Panasonic model is one of the best choices in this price range. But another factor which influenced my decision is that Panasonic has a plan to adopt Firefox OS for their TV’s, which earned them significant goodwill with me. A photo of the TV is seen in the following post.

I chose a 42 inch model because the combination of that size with the distance from my couch allows the benefit of full HD to become visible. A larger TV would have been too dominant in the room. I think the white color of the TV blends nicely into the white wall and matches with the white Audioengine A2 speakers. I’m not really bothered by the supposed lower quality of the TV’s integrated speakers, but I got a separate speaker set because I also use my TV to stream music from Deezer. This way I don’t need a separate device to stream music, which would cost more money and consume more electricity.

I barely watch TV channels, so I didn’t bother with getting a subscription to receive them. The only thing I like to watch frequently is the TV news of the Dutch public broadcasting service, but I do that on my PC. For films and TV series I watch Netflix on my TV for just € 8 a month. So all I need is the Internet connection. With Tele2’s VDSL2 I get an excellent speed of 50/5Mb/s down/up for just € 10 a month (in the first year, in the second year it will be € 30). I actually measured 8,95 Mb/s down and 5,45 Mb/s up with the Speedtest website, but  I’m really satisfied with the fast upload speed. It allows me to upload large photos to Flickr quickly.

I’m satisfied with the TV, but it does have some issues. Downright stupid is that the headphone volume is separate from the main volume, and that the integrated speakers still keep playing when I connect with the headphone input. Obviously they should be muted, why would you connect a headphone otherwise? In my case I don’t connect a headphone but the Audioengine A2 speakers, as far as I know the headphone input is the only way to connect them (RCA cables don’t work). Because the remote control can only change the main volume I have to walk over to the speakers and change the volume by hand.

Three other issues are that you can’t design your own home screen without the live TV widget, which would be useful because I don’t have a TV subscription. Some of the smart TV apps require that you have a VIERA Connect account if you want to use them, even if they are free, which is silly. I would also like to a button to turn of the panel while the TV remains turned on so that energy is conserved when it’s streaming music.

Couch and Panasonic TX-L42E6EW LCD TV

Review of the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate keyboard

With my new computer I also ordered a Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate keyboard for € 83. Why so expensive you might ask? Because this is a mechanical keyboard. I admit it’s a luxury and in my experience so far it doesn’t really offer a significantly better typing experience. The difference is minor, but I appreciate it. Compared with a standard rubber dome switch keyboard the Cherry MX Brown mechanical switches in this keyboard require very little force to be pressed. This does allow you to type slightly faster, even though I don’t gain much because I only use my two index fingers to type. Compared to the other types of Cherry MX switches, the brown switches occupy the middle ground and are suitable for both gaming and typing.

Maybe an even more important motive for me to buy this keyboard is that it seems to be more durable. My previous keyboard was a Logitech UltraX Flat, which had rubber dome switches and laptop style keys. Nice keyboard, but when you want to clean it and pull off the keys you have to be very careful not to destroy the key press mechanism. Putting them back on is a challenge too. This QuickFire Ultimate comes with a key puller and allows for easier removal which is certainly not destructive. I still have to try this though because I didn’t need to clean it so far.

All the keys also have a red backlight which can optionally be activated. It’s a nice gimmick, but I never use it. I can touch type – with two index fingers –and my bedroom is adequately lit when it’s dark, so I don’t see the point in having a backlit keyboard. It might be useful for a laptop if you’re outside at night though. I’d prefer having no backlight at all and a lower purchase price instead. The keyboard is marketed towards gamers and that’s probably why it has the fancy name and the “Quick Fire” on the space bar, but I would have preferred a slightly more formal look. But this keyboard was the one of the cheapest mechanical keyboards and the only one I could find with Cherry MX Brown switches for such a price, so that’s why I bought it anyway.

One disadvantage is that it didn’t work at all when an OS wasn’t booted yet – i.e. in GRUB and the BIOS – on my older PC. My older PC had a Gigabyte P35-DS3L motherboard, but my latest PC doesn’t have this issue.

It was hard for me to justify spending € 83 on a keyboard, but in the end the fact that I use my keyboard every day convinced me. If this one can last many years and last longer than a rubber dome switch keyboard, it will be money well spent. I wouldn’t spend more than € 100 though.

Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate, backlight off

Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate, backlight on

Review of the Bitfenix Raider enclosure

For some months now I’ve got a new PC. I’m quite satisfied with the performance: the Samsung 840 EVO 120 GB solid state disk is really fast, it starts Fedora Linux within a few seconds. The be quiet! Straight Power E9 450 Watt power supply powers the Nvidia GeForce 770 GTX video card without problems when I run demanding video games, even though Nvidia itself says a 600 Watt power supply is the minimum.  They probably take low quality power supplies into account. The maximum power consumption I’ve measured is 265 Watt, so I’m fine.

The enclosure is controversial for me however. Originally I ordered a Cooler Master Silencio 352 enclosure which can only accommodate smaller micro-ATX motherboards. The webstore were I bought my hardware fouled up and sent me a ATX-motherboard instead of a micro-ATX motherboard, so I decided to return that enclosure and buy a larger ATX enclosure. I was in a hurry and quickly ordered the Bitfenix Raider because I knew it was a good choice in this category. It’s not a bad choice, but I think I would have preferred one of Cooler Master’s larger Silencio enclosures which can house ATX motherboards.

The Bitfenix Raider has good looks, offers enough room for cable management and a large video card like the GTX 770. But my main complaint with it is that it doesn’t have an option to cover the top intake opening. You could optionally place a fan there, but I don’t need it. Without a cover, dust will easily enter the enclosure, defeating the purpose of the dust filters for the power supply intake fan on the bottom and the fans on the front. I solved this by fixing a piece of black cardboard over the hole with adhesive tape, but I think an appropriate cover should have been shipped with the Raider. Cooler Master does include covers.

My other complaint is the manual. It describes the screws included with the Raider on the first page, but it turns out two pairs of screws look very much alike, even though they are used for different purposes. I confused some of these different screws, which could have been avoided if the manual had images of the screws to help me distinguish them. For example the black thumb screws used externally for the side panels of the Raider, and the black thumb screws which are used internally for fixing disk drives.

Bitfenix Raider enclosure

Bitfenix Raider enclosure

Bitfenix Raider enclosure

My review of the Geeksphone Peak with Firefox OS

I wrote in September that I had pre-ordered the Geeksphone Peak+ with Firefox OS and why I did so. Unfortunately the Peak+ was delayed and in October it turned out the delay would be longer than expected. At that point Geeksphone offered those who had pre-ordered the Peak+ to send them the original Peak instead, which had become available again.

Because I didn’t want to wait much longer, I accepted this offer. I received my Peak the next day on 22 October, after it was shipped from Spain to my address in the Netherlands in less than 24 hours. I also got a refund because the Peak had a lower price. Initially I was disappointed in Geeksphone’s communication of the delay. I learned about the delay through the order status on their website rather than an e-mail which they could have sent, but the way the handled this restored my trust in them.

The Peak smartphone

I think the hardware is very adequate for a phone which is sold for € 150. I haven’t compared it with the Android phones at the same price point, but if I look at the Samsung Galaxy S4 of my brother or my dad’s iPhone 4 I don’t get the feeling my phone is deficient. Sure, the Galaxy and the iPhone cost over three times as much and have better hardware, but I’m satisfied with it.

But there are a few things which I would have liked to see differently. The iPhone 4 for example measures 115,2 by 58,6 by 9,3 mm and has a 3,5 inch screen with a resolution of 640 by 960 pixels. The Peak measures 133,6 by 66 by 8,9 mm and has 4,3 inch screen with a resolution of 540 by 960 pixels. I like how the iPhone 4 fits in my pant’s pocket, but the slightly larger Peak is a bit more noticeable. I would have preferred the iPhone 4’s slightly more compact dimensions and higher amount of pixels per inch.

When I took off the Peak’s back cover to place the battery and SIM card I feared I would break it, but it’s sturdy enough. The quality of the enclosure won’t win awards either, but it’s good enough for me. What worries me more is that the Peak only gets half of the full reception quality in my home, while my former dumb phone would always get full reception quality. However, in practice I’ve never experienced problems with the reception during phone calls.

The Firefox OS software

Version 1.1 of Firefox OS does the basics right and I haven’t seen it crash. However, being an operating system in its infancy, it doesn’t have much good apps. For example, Here Maps which is included by default doesn’t have turn-by-turn navigation. EverNav does, but if you want to use it you to have log in, which is something I don’t want. I’m surprised no one has built a good map app based on OpenStreetMap yet. It would have been useful if a flashlight app and an app for taking notes were included by default, but they aren’t available yet either.

I often use the 9292 website, which is popular for planning trips with the Dutch public transport. Because Firefox OS hasn’t been introduced in the Netherlands yet it’s unsurprising they don’t have an app for Firefox OS. This isn’t an issue as a Firefox app doesn’t need to be much more than a simple manifest file which redirects to a mobile website. Unfortunately 9292 doesn’t detect the Firefox OS user agent and redirect you to their mobile website like it does for Android smartphones. You can visit the mobile website manually and than add it as a favorite to your home screen, but it doesn’t display 100% correctly in Firefox. And the favicon used for the home screen uses a very low resolution, so it’s not a pretty sight. I’ve already sent them a message to inform them of these problems.

I intend to build my use of the phone around ownCloud, which would allow me store my calendar and contact data with my own web host. This way, I don’t need to use services like Google Calendar and the big companies can’t poke their noses into my personal data. GNOME also supports synchronization with ownCloud, which allow me to work easily with the same data on my PC, laptop and smartphone.

It’s already possible to synchronize the calendar with ownCloud if you follow these instructions (in French). However, synchronizing the contacts with ownCloud using CardDAV is not yet possible though, all Firefox OS offers at time is synchronization with Facebook.

This and other issues I’ve noticed have been filed at Mozilla’s bug tracker, of which the first two were filed by others and the last four by me:

  • Bug 859306 – Sync contacts with carddav
  • Bug 901218 – [Peak] Back camera does not take photos in full resolution : 1.2M instead of 8M pixels
  • Bug 934092 – can’t set locale separately from language
  • Bug 934094 – “order by last name” setting doesn’t take surname prefix into account
  • Bug 934097 – alarm doesn’t trigger when the Peak smartphone is turned off
  • Bug 934099 – Firefox OS doesn’t use delta updates
  • Bug 934115 – m.9292.nl website displays two arrows in a drop down menu

The first bug is most important to me. If it’s also important to you, you might want to vote for the bug report.