On the Topic of Technology… 3

24 05 2011

May 24, 2011 (Updated May 28, 2011)

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In the previous article in this series I described some of the features of the Motorola Xoom tablet, and some of the reasons why I purchased that tablet rather than the Apple iPad 2.  When I wrote the previous article I could not identify a lot of productive uses for the Xoom – most of the uses seemed to be specific to media consumption (something that is quite expensive when you must pay per megabyte of usage on a wireless plan).

After a bit of thought, I added a BlueTooth keyboard to the Xoom and fired up Oracle Database

The method by which the above works is actually quite simple.  More on that later.  The Honeycomb 3.1 operating system upgrade that was pushed out on May 14, 2011 seems to have corrected the lagging keypresses (and missing keypresses) problem with the on-screen keyboard.

It is quite easy to fill an entire Xoom screen with applications, some of which are free, and others that cost just a couple of dollars.  Fortunately, there are four more screens waiting to be filled with more applications and widgets:

A quick search of the Android MarketPlace for the word Oracle currently finds 94 applications and 246 books, the number of which is slightly surprising, yet might be pointing at a positive that the Xoom can be useful for productive tasks too:

To test the built-in book reader application, I decided I needed to add an Oracle Database related book.  The results are impressive, with line drawings, color graphics, and text just like the original book.  Slick special effects are also a part of the book viewer, most noticeable when changing from one page to another.  The book viewer did crash when viewing one set of pages in this book, however I am not sure if that is still a problem after the rollout of the Honeycomb 3.1 operating system:

Google’s speech to text engine in the Xoom is very impressive, even if it did drop the word “the” in the phrase that I recited (this happened multiple times).  There is a free Google Translate application for the Xoom that accepts speech, converts the speech to text, and then translates the text to another language.  In theory it will also recite the translated text in the foreign language, but that did not seem to work properly when tested:

After the Honeycomb 3.1 upgrade, the Xoom now supports movie rental though the Marketplace application, the tasklist (third button from the left at the bottom of the screen) shows more than the last 5 or so recently started applications, and a couple of other enhancements made their way into the operating system.  Google Goggles and Google Voice Actions are interesting applications for the Xoom, and just might lead to far too many people mindlessly talking to their digital gadgets.  The PocketCloud application was used to VNC into a laptop computer for the first of the pictures in this article – without the external keyboard it was nearly impossible to type into the SQL*Plus window on the Xoom, because the on-screen keyboard did not appear automatically (the on-screen keyboard can be manually displayed with the PocketCloud application).

Prior to the release of the Honeycomb 3.1 operating system for the Xoom I was becoming upset with the number of crashes (force close in Android terminology) and the on-screen keyboard issues, and I was also growing a bit bored trying to find useful applications for the Xoom that did not pose a risk of exceeding my monthly Internet data cap.  So, I wandered into an electronics store.  Nothing interesting here (I later learned that the manufacturer would recall 1,000 of these units from this particular chain electonics store), so I drove to another store located about a block away.  I wandered out with one of these:

The above is a picture of a BlackBerry PlayBook.  The unit has 16GB of memory (larger memory capacities were available), a smaller screen than the Xoom, a good quality video and still picture camera, and an impressive task-switcher that shows off the multitasking capabilities of the unit (shown above).  The PlayBook also shipped with a built-in word processor and spreadsheet application, while I had to pay extra for those features on the Xoom.  The on-screen keyboard is fantastic compared to that found on the Xoom.

In this article I did not include a picture of the search, but searching for the term Oracle in the PlayBook’s App World returned a single result… and that result had nothing to do with Oracle Databases.

So, why did I buy a BlackBerry Playbook?  There is not even a stand-alone email application for the PlayBook, unlike the built-in Gmail application on the Xoom.  Well, if you have a BlackBerry phone that is connected to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server, you can look at and respond to your corporate email:

The above uses the BlackBerry Bridge application on the PlayBook to talk to the BlackBerry phone.  The catch here is that if the group that is responsible for administering the IT policy for the BlackBerry phones has disabled installation of third party applications in the IT Policy for the phone, it is not possible to install the BlackBerry application on the phone that works with the BlackBerry Bridge application on the PlayBook.

The BlackBerry Bridge also permits browsing websites using the phone’s data plan, without incurring an additional monthly cost.  The catch is that content rich websites simply do not display (the limit seems to be around 100KB).  The same websites will display correctly when using the PlayBook’s regular web browser, even if websites insist on sending the mobile version of their web pages.  The same data limit also seems to be present when viewing large email attachments (those that are larger than 100KB do not seem to display).

The iSpeech Translator is a free application found in the BlackBerry App World.  This free application features a speech to text converter, as well as translation to other languages both in text form and as speech.  The speech to text converter is very slow compared to the Xoom, and I think that I might observe a funny response if I actually used the translated text shown below (this is the same phrase that was supplied to the Xoom):

Unlike the Xoom, where it appears to be impossible to perform a screen capture without “rooting” the Xoom or using a cumbersome process that involves installing the Xoom developer kit, it is very easy to perform a screen capture on the PlayBook by holding the volume up and volume down buttons.  This screen capture capability is disabled when the BlackBerry Bridge is active, so shut off your BlackBerry phone if you have set up the BlackBerry Bridge:

The music player in the PlayBook works well.  Using the Xoom I bought several CDs worth of DRM free MP3s from Amazon’s Android portal.  Through a connected USB cable I was able to easily transfer the MP3s to a laptop using Windows Explorer, and then transfer the MP3s to the PlayBook also using Windows Explorer:

Incidentally, the USB and HDMI cables that work with the Xoom also work without problem with the PlayBook.

Unlike the Xoom, with its many applications, the applications for the PlayBook are currently very limited in number (and in some cases depth).  The PocketCloud application, with both VNC and Remote Desktop capability, does not exist for the PlayBook.  However, there is an interesting application that will talk to a VNC server on a Windows computer, and that application is capable of remotely controlling the Windows Media Center application on the Windows computer:

Simply add Internet TV to Windows Media Center, and you can use a BlackBerry PlayBook to change the channel to something more interesting (I might be implying something here).

One final interesting detail.  The Xoom is able to broadcast its MP3s to car receivers using BlueTooth – in this case the car is equiped with Microsoft Sync.  It is a slick feature, and will work even if the Xoom is turned off.  I have not tested to see if the BlackBerry PlayBook supports a similar feature.  A fun way to add a little Xoom to your vehicle without excessive visits to the fuel station:


(Section Added May 28, 2011)

Electronic Book Testing on the Xoom and PlayBook:

Acrobat Reader on the Xoom and PlayBook when showing the PDF eBook version of “Troubleshooting Oracle Performance” both accurately reproduced the printed version of the book.  However, on both tablets, when the pages were viewed in portrait orientation, the screen capture picture at the bottom of page 288 was hard to read due to antialiasing problems where the application simply removed lines of resolution.  The picture was readable in landscape orientation, however in that orientation only about 40% of the page was viewable without scrolling.  Only one page is visible on the screen at a time, although the pages can be stacked vertically end to end to produce a smoothly scrolling chain of pages (similar to the appearance on a desktop PC).

ezPDF Reader on the Xoom when showing the PDF eBook version of “Troubleshooting Oracle Performance” accurately reproduced the printed version of the book.  There were no antialiasing problems with the screen capture picture at the bottom of page 288 – the contents of that picture were easily readable in portrait orientation.  Only one page is visible on the screen at a time.

QuickOffice Pro HD on the Xoom when showing the PDF eBook version of “Troubleshooting Oracle Performance” accurately reproduced the printed version of the book.  There were no antialiasing problems with the screen capture picture at the bottom of page 288 – the contents of that picture were easily readable in portrait orientation.  Only one page is visible on the screen at a time, with pages stacked vertically end to end to produce a smoothly scrolling chain of pages (similar to the appearance on a desktop PC).

The ePUB format of the “Troubleshooting Oracle Performance” book has a file size roughly half as large as the PDF version of the same book.  I tested the Aldiko, FBReader, and CoolReader ePUB readers on the Xoom.  While all three of the ePUB viewers worked (Aldiko force closed a couple of times, usually when rotating the screen 90 degrees) the format reminded me of early HTML web pages with plain text between pictures.  None of the three ePUB viewers retained the original book page numbers, although it was still possible to jump from the index to section headings in the book.  All three viewers had difficulty with the monospaced Courier text areas, most noticeable in execution plans.  The Aldiko program came close when attempting to align the monospaced text correctly, although some of the execution plans still had formatting/alignment issues (alignment spaces were sometimes missing, and wide execution plans often line-wrapped).  The other two viewers used fonts that were not monospaced in those sections of the book, so the formatting/alignment issues often made the code sections impossible to read.

Acrobat Reader on the Xoom seems to lower the quality of images that are embedded in the text.  This was an obvious problem when looking at pages 112 and 114 of the “Expert Oracle Practices” book.

ezPDF Reader on the Xoom does well with the PDF version of the “Expert Oracle Practices” book.  The picture on page 112 is nearly as clear as it is in Acrobat reader on the PC when Acrobat Reader is zoomed to 134% – the picture in both cases is inferior to the printed copy of the picture as found in the book.  The picture on page 114 is very blurry on the PC and in ezPDF, but it is much more clear than it was in Acrobat Reader on the Xoom.

QuickOffice Pro HD failed to render all pictures that were more complicated than simple line drawings in the “Expert Oracle Practices” book.  The pictures on the front cover, pages 112, 114, 115, and several other pages were replaced with simple rectangles.  The line drawing on pages 30, 81, 82 appeared as expected.

Acrobat Reader on the PlayBook could not open the PDF version of the “Expert Oracle Practices” book because the PDF document is password protected as purchased from Apress.

Acrobat Reader, ezPDF Reader, and QuickOffice Pro HD on the Xoom all do well with the PDF version of the book “Expert One-On-One Oracle”.   The start of chapter picture on page 196, and the line drawings on pages 199 and 203 showed as clearly as is found in the printed book.  The code sections that had a light gray background in the book had a nearly invisible gray background in all three PDF viewing applications on the Xoom.  Acrobat Reader on the PlayBook also did well with this book, although the code sections had a much more visible light gray background that duplicated the effect found in the printed book (Acrobat Reader on the PC also produced the more visible light gray background).

Acrobat Reader displayed jagged edges on the circles found on page 18 of the “Oracle Performance Firefighting” book.  Zooming in on the circles greatly reduces the jagged edges, almost as if that forced the application to re-render the line drawing in a higher resolution.  The line drawings on pages 28, 30, 32 also exhibit jagged edges.

ezPDF Reader, and QuickOffice Pro HD on the Xoom exhibited no problems with the “Oracle Performance Firefighting” book – the line drawings were very smooth.

The “Oracle Performance Firefighting” PDF is password protected so it would not open in Acrobat Reader on the PlayBook.

The Google Books reader on the Xoom is very good, and seems to accurately reproduce printed books.  The application crashes when viewing the book “Beginning Oracle SQL” while attempting to display pages 56 and 57 side-by-side – of course the application tries to reopen these two pages when the book is selected, so an endless loop of crashes is experienced every time the book is opened until the tablet is rotated 90 degrees.