Technology isn’t what it used to be

(December 26, 2007)

In the good old days, technological gadgets used to be very positive things: Power them up and have fun with them, that’s it. This christmas, I organized some technical gifts for me and my brothers that don’t fulfill this scheme completely: They all work, and they all are nice and cool, but they all have this certain bitter aftertaste.

  • A HTC Touch Cruise a.k.a. P3650 a.k.a. Polaris a.k.a. Xda orbit 2 mobile phone. I never had a smartphone before, let alone a Windows Mobile-based one, so it was a little “culture shock” for me:
    • It’s slow. It feels like Windows 3.0 on a 386, except for boot times, which are considerably longer.
    • It’s more like a computer than a mobile phone; I needed some hours of exploration until I was comfortable with the basic functions like calls and SMS.
    • It is incredibly useful to have a standard mini USB plug on the phone – (almost) all the acessories are interchangeable with other gadgets.
    • Connecting the device to a computer via USB makes it a rather useless network device instead of a mass storage device.
    • Importing all my contact data was an adventure in itself. Because I lost all of them with my last phone, I couldn’t just transfer them with Bluetooth but needed to import them from various text formats. In the end, I wrote a vCard file exporter and imported the contacts one after another into the phone’s internal database.
    • HTC’s audio player application is a straight copy of the iPod navigation scheme, except that it works without using obscure synchronization software.
    • Opera Mini rocks. An absolute must-have.
    • WLAN barely works …
    • … and so does GPS. Outdoor reception quality is about one order of magnitude worse than that of my TomTom ONE stand-alone navigation device, and initialization takes approximately two minutes.

    By the way, if anyone is aware of a decent off-road GPS mapping and tracking software, preferrably with Google Maps support, I’d love to hear of that. Tracky is very promising, but it has severe problems on Windows Mobile 6.

  • A graphics card based on the ATI Radeon HD 3850 chip with decent performance but really broken drivers: Not only does Lifeforce not run, ATI actually managed to swap the red and blue color channels when drawing antialiased text in normal 2D desktop applications.
  • A TechnoTrend S2-3200 PCI DVB-S2 card that also suffers from bad drivers: On Windows Vista, it induces a bluescreen in the nVidia graphics driver on boot if it’s active. If it’s activated after boot, it works – but the original software shows the decoded images in the wrong order, resulting in very jerky playback. The problem vanishes if the application is forced to run on only one of the four CPU cores, but then performance is too low to ensure smooth high-definition playback. On Windows XP, everything is fine except that HD playback is still not always smooth. I find that especially weird because I bought that card due to its reputation of working flawlessly.

So, what we got is a mobile phone which works best as an audio player, a graphics card with drivers that don’t work reliably and a TV card that crashes the the operating system we want it to run with. Technology really isn’t what it used to be.

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