On the Topic of Technology… 2

11 04 2011

April 11, 2011

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Roughly a year ago I wrote a blog article that described the process that I went through, wandering around a big chain electronics store in pursuit of an iPad.  I first wandered past the netbooks, and if that had not happened, I probably would have walked out of the store with an iPad rather than a Toshiba netbook.  The netbook still works reasonably well for those times when I need an ultra-portable full featured computer – however, I more than doubled the value of the netbook by installing 2GB of memory, upgrading Windows 7 Starter to Windows 7 Professional, and installing Microsoft Office 2010.

Well, nearly a year later with the launch of the iPad 2 underway, I again went for a walk through another big chain electronics store in search of an interesting electronics gadget.  I found the iPad 2 display and experimented with one of the two units that was on display.  My first reaction was a remark about the snazzy screen effects when opening applications – an impressive feature.  The iPad 2 reminded me a lot of the iPad that I experimented with a year earlier – it is a media consumption device.  Since I still have a Verizon wireless plan for Internet access, with steep overage charges, an Internet media consumption device would still have limited usefulness for me.  Still no Flash support, so that would limit its usefulness of accessing the Flash based sites (such as the Oracle support site) on the iPad 2.

I wandered around the electronics store a bit more and found another tablet tucked away in the corner with a couple of laptops – a Motorola Xoom with 3G wireless.  My first reaction to the less than snazzy screen effects (compared to the iPad 2) was simply – is that all there is?  I experimented with the tablet for a couple of minutes.  Neat satellite view of the store on the little tablet, and wow is it fast updating the screen.  Moderately neat book application.  Sweeping my finger across the screen… that’s kind of neat – I can’t do that on the netbook (the netbook and Xoom have similar screen dimensions and aspect ratio).  Viewing web pages seems to work, even if the websites deliver the mobile versions of the web pages.  Interesting, or as useless as the iPad 2 for what I would do with it?  I left the store empty handed.

I did a bit more research on the Motorola Xoom tablet.  It seems that not only does the Xoom have a 5 megapixel camera on its backside that records 720p video, but it also has a high resolution forward facing camera.  Oh, it supports Flash also, and is apparently the particular tablet model that Google used during devlopment of the new Android 3 (Honeycomb) operating system.  The information that I had found on the Internet suggested that the Xoom was less of a media consumption device than an iPad 2, and more of a content producer device.  Interesting, but can it run Oracle Database?

Considering that flyers and articles about various tablets (iPad, Zoom, BlackBerry, Dell, etc.)  were stacking up on my desk at work, I thought that I would try an experiment:

Zooming in on the center of the above picture, we see that the screen on the Xoom is the My Oracle Support Flash-based site.  As of yet I have not determined how to display the on-screen keyboard on demand, so I can’t yet type into the text entry fields:

Flash works, and I am able to see the non-mobile, non-limited versions of websites.  So, what is the killer application for the Xoom?  Well, it is hard to beat a talking cat for $1.00:

So, the question again, can it run Oracle?  Well, I think that this picture answers that question (click the piture to zoom in on the guy who is waving from the boat):

If it were not for the crashing applications including the Android Apps/Books Market and SpeedView (uses the Xoom’s built-in GPS to display various vehicle speed statistics), the device would be nearly perfect as a  productivity tool that also is able to consume media (the TuneIn Radio application is quite handy, and with an HDMI cable plugged into a 7.1 receiver, it sounds very good).  The QuickOffice application, at $15, is certainly less expensive than Office 2010 that is installed on the netbook; the Power Point document editor in QuickOffice seems to have difficulty with complexly formatted Power Point files, but it works OK as a viewer (as long as there is no animation).  The PDF viewer that is part of QuickOffice works, but it is not great.  No problem, just a couple more dollars for the ezPDF reader and I am able to view various PDF books and the Oracle documentation library.  Attaching a $12 HDMI cable will even allow the screen to be quickly projected onto the TV, while attaching the included USB cable allows organizing the various files loaded onto the Xoom into folders and to easily rename those files.

So, is it worth $600?  If you need a high definition video camera, a 5 mega-pixel camera, a GPS, easy/fast speech recognition, inexpensive applications, the ability to view just about any web page in a light-weight, mobile package, then the Xoom just might be worth $600.  If you have no use for those features, then the Xoom will make an excellent paperweight to keep the tablet flyers and news articles from blowing off the desktop.


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16 responses

11 04 2011
Lucian lazar

I agree with your conclusion Charles but I still went for the iPad and I’ll read the plain html version of the Oracle documentation when needed :)

11 04 2011
Charles Hooper

Hi Lucian,

What is your impression of the iPad, and what do you use it for? I am still trying to find useful tasks to do with the Xoom that I can’t already do more efficiently with my large screen laptop or the netbook. I am hoping that Zinio Reader will be available soon on the Xoom – it is too inconvienient to read my electronic magazine subscriptions while sitting in front of the large screen laptop.

I believe that there are a couple of PDF viewers available for the iPad, although Adobe has not released a free PDF viewer for the iPad (or for the Xoom). I have not yet tried viewing a plain HTML version of the Oracle documentation on the Xoom – that might work just as well as a PDF file.

24 05 2011
Lucian lazar

Hi Charles,

After almost 2 months of usage I conclude that I’m using it mostly for browsing and reading technical PDF’s. It’s a nice toy, very good for quick browsing, maybe a tad expensive, but I’m enjoying using it. Now for a quick read or browse I don’t start my desktop, iPad is just fine.

24 05 2011
Charles Hooper

Hi Lucian,

Thank you for the update – that is probably how I will use the Xoom tablet also. I am not sure about the BlackBerry Playbook, although it works very well when used for responding to work related emails.

11 04 2011
Jimmy

Why do people continue to bash the MOS flash-based site? When the HTML version is still available. I haven’t been to Flash-based site in over a year, maybe longer.

11 04 2011
Charles Hooper

Hi Jimmy,

My comment regarding the keyboard not displaying in the Flash based Oracle support site was not intended as a criticism of the My Oracle Support site – it was intended to highlight one of the strengths of the Xoom device. Unfortunately, there is apparently an issue with the Xoom where the on-screen keyboard does not always display when it should. I do not yet know if this is a problem just with Flash based content, or if the same problem happens in other areas too. It appears that a wirelessly connected Blue Tooth keyboard might not be the solution:
https://supportforums.motorola.com/thread/46447?start=0&tstart=0

I usually use the Flash based site simply because that is where I am redirected to when I attempt to access http://metalink.oracle.com – I can’t seem to commit to memory this address for the HTML version of the site:
https://supporthtml.oracle.com/ep/faces/index.jspx

Have you encountered any problems where you cannot access certain support features in the HTML only site, or have those issues been addressed?

11 04 2011
Jimmy

Charles,

It appears those issues have been resolved. I don’t use all the features of MOS, but the ones I do use seem to be working properly.

The one issue I do encounter on both the Flash and HTML site is the initial log in page. I cannot type anything into the user name box and the language drop-down list only contains English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese – fortunately I do speak English. :-)

12 04 2011
Narendra

OK.
I am still trying to figure out the GAP that iPad/Xoom is trying to fill ? :)

15 04 2011
Charles Hooper

(Partially_joking) The iPad and Xoom work great as paperweights to keep the papers on your desk from blowing around the room – the laptop might tip over if used for this purpose. Both devices are too thin to be used as wheel blocks to keep a car from rolling down hill. Both devices are excellent at capturing fingerprints of unsuspecting users – the Xoom really leads the pack for this purpose. (/Partially_joking)

I am still trying to find the GAP that the iPad and Xoom are trying to fill. I see the potential of the devices to work as electronic book/magazine readers. While I have heard people complain about the weight of the Xoom, it is far lighter than pretty much any Oracle Database book I have purchased. I think that these devices are intended as media consuming devices, pulling down video and music feeds from the Internet or media servers that are in people’s houses. I think that they are also intended to give people instant-on access to email and the web (something that can be easily duplicated with sleep mode on a netbook or laptop), with limited risk of virus infection.

15 04 2011
joel garry

On the train one day, there was an elderly couple. The wife was knitting while the husband was checking out pictures of their grandchildren on the iPad. Then the wife was checking out the pictures while the husband did something else. They seemed very content with the content.

The gap they fill is as you say, consuming. As a data entry device, not so much. The TV ads show a bunch of use cases, googling ipad medical use gives some interesting observations like this: http://macdoctors.org/node/218 I know one person (not in my family) who left my doctor partly because of his tendency to focus attention typing stuff into his laptop… I could imagine a device that size that simply records everything (perhaps to a central server) and lets authorized users review it all and annotate it.

7 05 2011
Ittichai Chammavanijakul

I agree with you that the tablets are well-accepted with the content consumptions (web browsing, social networking, reading e-books or magazines, news, etc.) However, there is also a strong trend of them becoming more as tools for content creation as devices are more powerful and apps are getting better. Personally, the instant-on and long battery life are the reason I bought Xoom. (The choice between Xoom and iPad 2 is more personal preference.) I used to use netbook when reading (or working) in coffee shops, libraries or bookstores. A need to carry the power adapter and fight for the outlet was so tired as netbook wouldn’t last more than 2 hours. Now I can sit at any spots for the whole day without worrying about charging. This benefit should apply well to those who travel frequently too.

Another thing that tablet enhances consumers’ behavior, which most of laptops or desktops could not do, is screen touch interaction. This tremendously enhances experiences in gaming and more importantly kids’ learning.

8 05 2011
Charles Hooper

Ittichai,

Thank you for offering a couple of additional uses for the Xoom – I have been struggling to find reasons to use the Xoom more than once a week, if even that frequently.

I have had a bit of difficulty with the on-screen keyboard sometimes not typing into an application exactly what I typed on the keyboard. I do not know if this is a problem in all applications or just a problem in a couple of applications – it might be a problem with the keyboard polling frequency, as it seems that some key presses are dropped. I have heard about similar problems with the Bluetooth keyboard for the Xoom, but I do not yet have first-hand experience with the Bluetooth keyboard that is designed for the Xoom.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours experimenting with the Xoom. I bought my first electronic book for the Xoom (“Beginning Oracle SQL”) – the book and illustrations seem to display just like a printed book, even if the Xoom book viewer has a tendency to crash (ABEND, force close, etc.) when viewing certain pages. I am not much of a music fan – I last purchased a music DVD or CD probably 12 years ago and have never owned any MP3s. Yesterday I also tried out Amazon’s MP3 collection, and as a test I bought 4 or 5 CDs worth of MP3s (without DRM as I understand it). From what I have heard, Amazon’s music library is less expensive than the Apple offering, with several CDs worth of music offered for $5 (USD) per CD, and of course other CDs at higher cost. Amazon’s MP3 player is very nice, but it is also nice that the MP3s and cover art were found by Xoom’s built in MP3 player.

I was able to pair the Xoom with my BlackBerry phone using Bluetooth, but there appears to be nothing gained by doing so. I had no luck pairing the Xoom with a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard that I had sitting around, but then I might not know what I am doing during the pairing process. I have a (Ford) car with navigation that offers Microsoft Sync. Since the car supports Bluetooth, this morning I decided to pair the Xoom with the car just to see what would happen. The car started playing (wirelessly using Bluetooth) one of two country music MP3s that shipped with the Xoom – the touch screen in the car allowed me to switch between the two tracks, but I could not switch to one of the downloaded CDs (MP3s) using the touch screen in the car. The car was apparently communicating with the Xoom’s built-in MP3 player since the MP3 player on the Xoom showed the currently playing track. I touched the MP3 player on the Xoom’s screen to switch to a different CD, only to find that the Xoom’s MP3 player either stopped responding or simply crashed (requiring the pressing of the volume up button and power button to force a cold boot in order to fully recover).

I agree with you that there are some definite advantages of the tablet PCs over netbooks. I am still waiting for Xinio to release their magazine viewer for the Xoom so that I am able to catch up with reading the last year or two of PC Magazine that is currently being downloaded to my large laptop. The Toshiba netbook that I have is rated at 10 hours of run time, and when it was new it might have been able to make it 8 or even 9 hours on a single charge. To reach 8 hours the netbook must be set to a low power setting – a year after its purchase, that low power setting seems to produce an unbearably slow response time on the laptop. In contrast, the Xoom should be able to reach the 8 hour mark without feeling slow like the netbook. The third party web browser that I have on the Xoom which is able to show the full non-mobile version of web pages, has a tendency to crash (force close) frequently when viewing Flash enabled content (Flash is just a little slow on the netbook); speaking of crashes, the USA Today application crashed (force closed) probably 5 times when I tried to use it today. I was able to use the free PocketCloud application that I downloaded to the Xoom to allow remote desktop access into my laptop – that offers some interesting possibilities that I still need to investigate.

The Xoom has a lot to offer, but some features still need a little more time to fully mature. I am considering the purchase of a BlackBerry (RIM) PlayBook tablet, but from what I can see, if it is not paired with a BlackBerry phone the device has little to offer. The PlayBook might be too little, and too late to succeed in the tablet market.

9 05 2011
Ittichai Chammavanijakul

I hear ya! I think the keyboard’s responsiveness is a known issue. It has too many annoying pauses and sometime not registering keys (as you said) while typing. I’m not sure either it has to do with polling frequency or spelling checking processing time. This is an area where Honey Comb will need an update quickly. I used to own iPad 1. It has a bigger key layout and seems more responsive to key press.

I tried multiple web browsers as well but ended up using the default one. I enabled the default web browser to make an attempt to display the full desktop view. View instruction here https://supportforums.motorola.com/message/330180 if you’re interested in.

I plan to try PocketCloud soon. Does it connect to RDP or VNC server? Eventually I hope I will be to be able to VPN to work and connect to servers either via RDP or VNC :-)

I think that Xoom hardware itself has a lot of to offer. But the Honeycomb OS (some said version 1) is still half-baked. It will take time to get better. Interestingly this seems to be the trend in the mobile application releases by starting with minimal features first. I’ve been using Android phone since Donut 1.6 and now Froyo 2.2, and have seen many major transformations. I hope the tablet version of Android will get some updates soon.

9 05 2011
Charles Hooper

Thank you for confirming that the keyboard problem is not unique to my Motorola Xoom. I purchased a BlackBerry PlayBook yesterday – the on-screen keyboard works well on that product (but there are other limitations with the PlayBook, such as almost no Oracle books in the book library).

I had heard that there was a “hack” to adjust the default browser on Xoom so that non-mobile versions of websites were displayed. I understood that the “hack” is only temporary, and must be repeated every time the browser is started. I seem to have a hard time memorizing the “hack” method, so I instead use the Dolphin (HD?) browser that is able to permanently configured to use the non-mobile versions of websites (but Dolphin seems to be prone to crashes).

I tested PocketCloud’s RDP features – those features seemed to work well, although I could not exactly match the resolution of the Xoom with what Windows on my Dell Precision M6500 was willing to configure. It is just a minor annoyance to have to scroll the screen. I understand that PocketCloud also works with VNC. With RDP, the target computer’s screen is locked when the PocketCloud’s session starts – I am hoping that does not happen when a VNC type connection is initiated.

15 04 2011
Log Buffer #216, A Carnival of the Vanities for DBAs | The Pythian Blog

[...] One of my favorite bloggers Charles Hopper posts a worthy post about technology. [...]

9 05 2011
Ittichai Chammavanijakul

Interesting… The setting on my browser is kept without a need to repeat every time. What I did for a quick access is to add a bookmark for about:debug. Just run a bookmark to switch. the Debug tab shows up in the Browser’s settings.

Thanks for information about PocketCloud. I will definitely try it out.

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