Dual-SIM Android Smartphones

🔍 Load image

When I heard about Dual SIM smartphones first, I almost couldn´t believe that there were devices like this – back then (2008?) all Dual SIM phones were from rather unknown chinese manufacturers, often with KIRF looks and running an OS which you couldn´t really call a smartphone OS – all smartphonish about these devices were their touchscreens.

General Mobile DSTL1 – image by General Mobile

As usability matters to me (and most of you, I assume) these devices really didn´t seem to be a good choice, and so I rather went on carrying to phones (back then two EZX phones). Then Android came up, and I had high hopes for a smartphone with this operating system, be it just a basic AOSP version or the full experience with GMail, GTalk and Android Market. 

The first dual SIM smartphone that really catched attention was the General Mobile DSTL1 running Android 1.5 (Cupcake), which was announced at the MWC in 2009. Back then it had ok specs, 128MB Ram, a 624MHz Marvell PXA310 (ARMv5TE / XScale) SoC – it lacked 3G though, was EDGE only.

Since then we haven´t seen much but announcements. Motorola (and others, like ZTE) have launched
some Dual-SIM phones in China, but since these are mostly (in fact all Motorola Dual-SIM phones I know of) CDMA+GSM, importing them to Europe doesn´t help.

The most interesting device right now isn´t quite a real smartphone, nor would one call it´s internals high end by 2011 standards: It´s the Shenzhen ACT Dion WO 4.8” MID phone charbax (the man behind ARMDevices.net) spotted at CES. It had been first mentioned back in October at pocketables.net. To name the basic facts:

  • Marvell PXA935 (“tri-core”/Sheeva, supports ARMv5TE, ARMv6 and ARMv7 architectures (so flash might be possible)) SoC, 
  • 256MB of Ram, Rom/NAND/Flash memory unknown, microSD
  • DualSIM (once quad band EDGE + tri band WCDMA (3G) with HDSPA up to 3.6Mbps, once european (900, 1800, 1900) GSM with EDGE tri band (apparently the latter is achieved with a NXP5209 chip, no information about the other baseband chip (probably MTK?))
  • WLan b/g, Bluetooth 2.1 EDR, GPS, chinese TV, FM Radio
  • clamshell formfactor with QWERTY keyboard and optical mouse (just like the one on the Samsung SGH-i780) 
  • 4.8” WVGA capacitive touchscreen
  • front facing 1.3M camera  (probably nice for video chat)
  • 1920mAh battery for up to 4.5 hours talk time / up to ten days standby time
Dion WO 4,8” MID (image from pocketables.net)

Of course this thing is huge (135*85*20m, which almost similar to the 131.6*79* 21.6mm HTC Universal (QTek9000/T-Mobile MDA Pro/…))  and Android 2.1 (Eclair) isn´t too attractive nowadays (Gingerbread (2.3) brings Video chat, Froyo (2.2) is the minimum for Flash 10.1) – but if you´ve got large pockets, don´t worry about no support and want Dual SIM really badly, this might be just the right device for you (bulk order price is said to be about 200$ each (but bulk order means large quantities).  (If you are really interested in this thing, check out this thread at androidspin.com.)


Conclusion:
With 512MB and a dedicated community that hacks the crap out of it, this could be a really great device – but being a pessimistic person I don´t see that happening.


Despite this thing (which is, while not the best imaginable the best I could track down, (on the internet, not in real life)) you find some devices at eBay which are mostly MTK6516 based – which is a SoC that has a 460MHz ARM9 + a 280MHz ARM7 core – doesn´t sound like high speed, does it? At least most of these things have a low WQVGA screen resolution (240×400 pixels) and 256MB Ram, so the user experience might be actually not totally ruined – but nontheless these are low end solutions which I will not recommend before I have had a satisfying hands on.

All in all, the Dual SIM market didn´t improve much, even though there is such a powerful mobile OS like Android available for free – and to be honest, this is not too much of a surprise: Only  small “outlaw” companies can afford making nice Dual SIM solutions – the big players prefer not to upset the huge network operators. 

More details regarding the Smart Devices SmartV5 and SmartV7 MIDs

🔍 Load image


This evening, after having written down that I was liking the new SmartV5 MID, which isn´ t yet available in Europe, although it might be in mainland china, back then assuming it was powered by an ARM Cortex A8 based CPU/SoC, i did some research I should have better done before.

As it turns out, these devices won´ t most likely be on par in terms of application speed with todays offerings like the Nokia N900.

The SoC being used by Smart Devices for their new offerings is most likely (almost certainly in fact, but not confirmed by Smart Devices) the Telechips TCC8900, an ARM11 based design enhanced with some additional circuits to be able to decode 1080p and encode 720p video, mostly used in PMPs.

This means that one cannot expect outstanding application performance from the new MIDs – but after all, this does not mean that they are “bad” deals – as the HDMI output makes them (at least this seems very likely after another visit to Smart Devices´ website) usable for presentations – as long as your (companys) beamer supports HDMI. Compared to the overall liked (mostly due to their low prices) predecessors, the Smart Q5 and the Smart Q7, this new devices will be better at multitasking (and be it multitabbing while surfing) – 256MB Ram is not that much, but still twice as much as the 128MB the former devices offered, and as the just mentioned memory will be a lot faster (DDR2@330MHz on the V* compared to DDR@133MHz on the Q*) the overall performance can be expected to be better.

Sources:

Comparison between V and Q devices on SmartDevices.com.cn (translated)

Some information on the Telechips TCC8900 (translated)

Telechips.com

Netbooks, MID, UMPC, PDA – WTF? (Mobile Computing – The Hardware)

🔍 Load image

Some (personal?) thoughts about the different classes of mobile devices

Introduction

First of all, what do I mean when I say mobile devices? I personally believe that being mobile isn ’ t being mobile. There may be some guys out there, saying that a 18.4” notebook is still mobile – i don’ t agree to that. I believe that a 15.4” 3kg heavy notebook is certainly the end of mobility, to name the upper end (and this isn’t comfortable but training, if you ask me). Now what’s the lower end? Well, considering just mobile devices, i ’ d say it can be dead small, as long as you are able to use it, but considering mobile computing I would say it is the screen size of the Openmoko Neo FreeRunner, 2.8”, and in fact I would d love it even more if it had a slightly larger screen, like the 3.5” of the HTC Universal – even though this certainly makes a device less pocketable.

When you worked with such a small device on a table like you would do with a notebook, you would become tired soon, as such a solution isn’t very ergonomic (if you had a keyboard on your table and the display somewhere close to your eyes, like mounted to your head, it might be not that bad., btw..). So there are devices beyond this PDA class, Intel calls them MIDs. I have to admit that I never had a longer hands on with a MID, only some short ones on CeBIT. More powerful MIDs running Windows XP or Vista are called UMPCs, and then there are mini notebooks, called netbooks by Intel. The first one of these was the ASUS Eee PC 701, and we have seen many following since then. Compared to UMPCs, mini notebooks are a lot cheaper. This and the fact that they look familiar to notebooks (and that you use them basically the same way, besides they’re smaller, made these devices a huge success on the markets, even (or exspecially?!) in times of a economic crisis.


Netbooks or mini notebooks – 7”-10” (12”)

While I was fascinated by all these mini notebooks first (I liked the Eee PC 701 a lot, and the OLPC even more, before), I dislike the fact that while they were first 7-9” devices, they are now in a 10”-12”range (looking at the announcements, at least). This makes netbooks just a kind of cheap subnotebooks. The often heard argumentation for this screen bump (which has the positive side effect of bigger keyboards) is that people would request it – and I believe that there is a mayority that really does so. But nontheless, I don’ t like this trend, as the devices arent only bigger, but heavier, too – they are still mobile but in no way you can continue calling them ultramobile. And anyway: Calling a 12” device a “mini notebook” or “netbook” is just marketing bullshit, we’ve had those around for a long time, they were called subnotebooks and that is, what these devices are.

Writing and editing for a netbook site since two weeks, I really start hating some of the announcements you have to publish if you want to cover everything: Most devices are just the same. 10.2” or 10.1” screen (sometimes LED backlit), Intel Atom N270 (or N280, isn’t that different) processor, two chipsets, that’s it. Of course, minor differences in build quality, keyboards, screens (glossy or not), time they run on battery and thickness. My bad, I was close to forget that some have Bluetooth, while others don’t and that we have some with 802.11 b/g and some with 802.11 b/g/n. And I shouldn´t forget to mention that there are different designs and brandings ;)

List of todays “netbook”-platforms (seen in device announcements or real devices (except NVidia
Ion)
x86:


MIPS


ARM (we will see ARM11 and ARM Vortex A8/A9 SoC´s in various flavours)

I almost start to feel happy when I see a device using a Intel Atom Z-series + “Poulsbo” chipset combination and I am close to freak out when I see a VIA Nano / C7M + VX800 / VX855 combination or a so called “netvertible”. Of course there are some “outsiders” as the Loongson 2F powered Emtec Gdium netbook, which uses a USB-Stick and has no inbuilt SSD/HD. Or that small 7”, 128MB, 400MHz Ingenic-MIPS device, marketed as “Letux 400” in Germany, which might be a nice “mobile companion” (remember the cancelled Palm Foleo ?), if would have a more modern operating system (among the software it ships with is a beta version of Firefox 2.0). Maybe you could call the OLPC XO-1 a special netbook, too.

6”-8” – Mobile Companions?

I have to say that I like these “smaller than normal netbooks” range, as long as such a device has still a keyboard I am able to type on with my fingers (like my Quanta IL1 based “One A120”, its keyboard measures 21 x7.8 cm), or one that is really thumb typeable, though these devices are usually a lot smaller – so let’s go down slowly and think about devices like the Letux 400 for a second, as it is still wide enough for a keyboard not much (sizewise) worse than the one of my current mini notebook.

Of course a device with a 400MHz MIPS CPU and a 128MB RAM is not a great performer, more like a PDA (and I believe that there are more powerful PDAs). But think of a device like that with a fast ARM-SoC (like the TI OMAP 3 (or OMAP 4 in the future)) and 256MB or more RAM. Or imagine it at a form factor similar to the Psion netBook (Pro).

And let´s think of more innovation, or something you could call so in our boring PC worls, and think of such a mobile companion, which is a convertible (netvertible) and uses display technologies developed for the OLPC (PixelQi) – as long as it is rather lightweight (HTML5 (even though it doesn´t include Ogg Theora) we will see less (Adobe) Flash video on the web, the system has to be powerful enough to play these videos in order to give the customer a rich internet experience.
In fact I believe that watching Flash videos is one of the most common power hungry applications in a world of cloud computing…

UMPCs – 5-7”

Now forget my mobile companion dreams and let´s head over to UMPCs.
Wibrain B1 UMPC (CC) VIA Gallery
Actually I have to apologize first, that I am not that much into UMPCs. First of all, UMPC is a term describing a certain device class introduced by Microsoft in 2006. UMPC stands for Ultra Mobile Personal Computer, as they run “Origami” enriched Windows systems (like XP, Vista or “7”) you might be able to guess, that we talk of x86 based systems


List of common UMPC hardware platforms:

  • VIA C7-M ULV + VIA VX700

It must be due to the higher price tags of UMPCs and the fact that they have to run Windows, to be called that way that I am not to much into that.
But there are some devices, that look almost the same, but don´t have to run Windows: MIDs.

Mobile Internet Devices – 3.8” to 6” (estimate)

Mobile Internet Device (MID) is a term used by several vendors to describe a multimedia-capable handheld computer providing wireless Internet access. It is designed to provide entertainment, information and location-based services for the consumer market (rather than the enterprise). The MID is a larger form factor than a smartphone but smaller than the Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC). As such, the device has been described as filling a consumer niche between smartphones and Tablet PCs.

Wikipedia

Looking at possible MID hardware platforms, it´s a mixture of what I listed up for netbook hardware, remoUMID mbook M1 (CC) UMPCportalving the Diamondville and the VIA Nano and the more power hungry C7-M versions, but adding some ARM11 based SoCs, which are used in the Pocket PC/Smartphone range as well. As these devices are too small to feature “real” keyboards, some feature hardware thumb keyboards, others just feature a softkeyboard – I believe that the MID range, that I see as the range of devices between small netbooks and “really pocketable devices” is a somewhat “gadgety” one. You wouldn´t usually use a MID to work hard, and it hasn´t real advantages over a netbook while seated (unless you are the kind of girl/guy that types faster with two thumbs than with two hands). But when you want to be online on the go and even thinking of reading a longer text or watching a video on a sub 4” screen makes you feel pretty tired, they are just the right thing for you. Depending on the horsepower you imagine to require, your MID might be called UMPC, at least if you want to use Windows (and I admit that there might be some reasons (e.g. business software, fun with malware ;) ) for doing so). Of course you might consider using your MID like a netbook / mini notebook / subnotebook, using a “pocketable” keyboard ;) And we shouldn’t forget the “Pandora” gaming handheld, which features a MID like form factor.


Finally: “Smartphones” / “internet phones” – 2.6” to 3.8”

After a long walk on the “mobile devices” countryside, I finally have to find my keyring to open my home’s door. And guess what: Finding the key isn’t that easy. Well, first of all I want to define what I call “internet phones”. As you might realize looking at the screen size, I talk want to have some screen size, and additionally you should start thinking of touchscreen devices, at best running a software that fits to your fingertips. A classical PDA/Pocket PC form factor. Most likely it uses a WebKit based browser to show you the web (iPhone (OS), Palm Pre (WebOS), Android & S60 phones, they all use WebKit as default rendering engine and there is a WebKit browser for Windows Mobile as well, TorchMobiles “IrisBrowser” – so as long as you use a platform that is expandable beyond J2ME (and as this is still about “Mobile Computing” I would really recommend you to do so). I have to say that I need a QWERTY hardware keyboard on such devices – as “mobile computing” implies to me that you are able to write longer texts, e.g. for finishing your first book or just for editing office documents.

Today these little computers are almost all running their operating systems on a variety of ARM (9,11, Vortex A8) SoCs – low power consumption, but good performance and faster than all PCs we had 15 years ago. As I described above, you won’t use such a device (even if you are able to connect a keyboard over Bluetooth or USB host mode) as a real computer for work tasks unless you are a real enthusiast, just because the screens are too small. But imagining little projectors in these devices or foldable screens, they can become more and more usable for more than just typical SMS, browsing, twitter and phoning stuff. And all this while keeping their nice and pocketable form factor – but we enter the future now, I will stop.

See you again soon for “Mobile Computing – The Software”

Image sources:
Picture of the Wibrain B1 UMPC: (CC) VIA Gallery
Picture of the UMID mbook M1: (CC) UMPCportal

All this little stuff – a very personal roundup

🔍 Load image

Though there is more “little stuff” available in this world, I just want to talk about the different kinds of mobile devices – PDA(-Phone)s, MIDs, UMPCs, Netbooks – to name them (you may think I forgot about smartphones, but the internet experience on non-touchscreen devices is (or at least should be) much different from the others).

First of all, there are huge differences concerning size and display size; while PDA-Phones like the ones HTC manufactures have touchscreens from 2,8”-3,5” (usually), UMPCs (UMPCs are “Microsoft-defined”) are bigger, feature x86 hardware and 5-7” touchscreens, MIDs (Intel) are much like that, but built for a good internet experience and Intel wants them to run Linux (besides these Intel(and other x86)-based devices I would add devices like Nokia N8x0 series, which are ARM-based, but do pretty much the same), Netbooks (Intel, again) which are small and cheap laptop like devices (the most popular one ATM is the Asus eeePC) with screens from 7”-10”. I would like to add non-intel x86 devices (mostly VIA) and other, not yet available devices which are based on other (e.g. MIPS64) architectures.

As you can see, these devices are different, but there are huge similaritys and as time goes on, things might become even closer, as Intel announced to bring x86 to smartphones, while ARM/nVIDIA powered devices are about to enter the MID-market (it´s sad that nVIDIA seems to prefer Windows Mobile as OS, and besides that nVIDIA has plans to build devices in cooperation with VIAs Nano CPU to defeat Atom). And we shouldn´t believe that AMD is dead yet..

Now how to devide this devices? As a business student I would first say price, and somehow this isn´t the worst idea. There are rather expensive devices like UMPCs, MIDs and some PDAPhones and cheaper devices like old and low-end PDAs and Netbooks.

These devices are all mobile devices, and this means you can devide them again by weight and the time they stay usable without forcing the use to recharge their batterys – in general we can say that real (especially ARM-based) MIDs and PDA-Phones last much longer than Netbooks and UMPCs (especially than those running Vista ;) ). I think dividing these into devices that feature GSM/3G is unnecessary, as you can add this to the most devices out there via USB, though I think that the devices that have this feature and maybe even the feature to use them as “some kind of mobile phones” are much more attractive as you won´t find an open Wireless LAN everywhere.

Up to now I am stunned to say, this wasn´t as subjective and egocentric as I promised, so I have to do a turnaround somehow. The devices I have had my hands on are the Asus EEEPC 701, Nokia N800 and -of course- the HTC Universal, which is pretty old (but there is no real replacement yet, maybe HTC Raphael or Sony-Erricsons XPERIA X1 will be suitable) but in my eyes still great as it features a long, long standby time using an extended battery and a great keyboard (I am able to use it in a 4-6 finger-writing mode and my hands aren´t that small).
As I used this device for a relatively long time now I have to say, that even running a rather unoptimised linux on it (Debian armel seems to be instuction-set agnostic in opposite to OE-based distributions) abiword and (I tried an older, precompiled version) midori (a webkit based webbrowser) are running fast enough to be usable, making this device a small text and web-machine. Nevertheless I have to say, that the Universal is too slow with Debian sometimes,
if you update the distribution for instance, it takes ages. And there is another fact that I don´t like: It doesn´t feature GPS, so you can´t use that nice stuff like diversity which is being developed for the new OpenMoko platform (BTW: I saw a video of the April Software Update (and had a look at this mockup) running on Neo FreeRunner (which is a beauty compared to Neo1973) and I have to say that I like their (toolkit-agnostic) approach, I am thinking of getting such a device again, because I believe there will be “the most” linux software available for it in a precompiled, easy to try state (though I would prefer a device featuring a hardware keyboard (Bluetooth keyboards are ok, but they mean one more battery to charge and one more thing to carry), a slightly bigger >3” screen, 3G, even faster CPU and more Ram ;), maybe GTA04.. ).

So what would be nice to have? Well, the device of my dreams should perform way better than the Universal (TI OMAP 3 or Samsung 64xx), maybe feature some GBs of inbuild “Rom” and enough (128-512MB) ram, last for ages with a small battery, have a big >3” screen (800×480 would be nice), a keyboard like the Universals one, a well supported Wifi-chip, 3G, GPS, motion sensors, USB2.0-host, ethernet and VGA/DVI (via a docking station).
And I can tell you that I´d spend much money for that, really (much money for a student like me means ~400-800 Euro)!