Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Kogan Android Tablet kPad

iPad patentAustralian electronics importer Kogan have demonstrated a prototype $200 tablet computer with a 7 inch screen running Android and Ubuntu. The company is asking for input on what should be in the final design and, despite the hype around the Apple iPad, if anyone wants such a device. This "crowd sourcing" the design seems to work, I have been using the Kogan Agora Linux netbook for several months and have been impressed by how it has a low price but the features I want.

But will a product with features selected by enthusiasts like me appeal to a wider market? Is there any such market? Ruslan, the founder of the Kogan company seems sceptical and is essentially wanting the customers to convince him. The choice of a 7 inch screen looks a good one, the Apple iPad's 9 inch screen making the device too large and heavy (I have tried a mock-up iPad built by one of my ANU colleagues). This is the size of the original Asus EEE PC, which started the netbook craze. An obvious option, mentioned in the Kogan web site, is a removable keyboard, turning this into essentially a netbook with a removable keyboard. There are laptops with screen which swivel and fold to turn them into tablets.

One very good feature of the Kogan Agora is that it is easily upgraded via a large panel held on by one screw at the back. This lets you get to the expansion slots, disk drive and memory. That would be a good feature for the tablet. Another useful feature would be a USB socket in a recess in the back of the computer, large enough to hold a USB 3G modem. This would be much lower cost and more versitile than building a 3G modem into the computer.

One standards feature I would like to see on the tablet would be a VGA socket. This would allow the tablet to be docked and used with an external keyboard and screen as a desktop computer. The screen and battery could be omitted from one model of the tablet to make a $99 desktop web terminal. Many people just want a desktop computer to surf the web with and not fiddle around with loading complex software.

Writing with stylus and folding wax tablet. painter, Douris, ca 500 BCThe obvious name for a Kogan table is the "kPad". But perhaps it could use of one of the names for an ancient wax tablet, such as deltos. Images of these being used in antiquity look remarkably like modern computer tablets. This seems apt as Kogan's Agora seems to be named after an ancient "place of assembly", where such tablets would be used.

In 1996 I wrote a future history talk "Australia: The Networked Nation" featuring a hypothetical PADD (named after the devices in Star Trek). My device was to be 176 × 250 x 10 mm. The Apple iPad comes close at 190 x 243 x 13 mm and the Kogan would be closer.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fast netbook with Linux

With Kogan discontinuing its AGORA an alternative low cost performance Linux netbook is the DreamBook Lite M81. DreamBook has the Intel Atom N450 1.66G processor and they offer Ubuntu Linux OS Pre-loaded as a free option. Unfortunately you still pay for a Microsoft Windows licence, even if you don't want it, but at least you can Linux installed. The DreamBook is otherwise a fairly ordinary 10.1 inch screen netbook.

Another interesting "option" for the DreamBook is the DreamVision Portable Pocket Projector (PD-S690). This is a LED video projector. It is only 121 X 99 X 47 mm, but is not cheap and the light output from the Aiptek Pocket Cinema V10 LED projector I tried was disappointing. The new unit uses the OSRAM OSTAR LED Module.

Labels: , ,

Friday, January 22, 2010

Kogan Netbook Failure

The AC Adaptor of my Kogan Agora Netbook Pro failed yesterday. I tested it with a multimeter and the power supply reads zero volts. The computer is still working fine.

The adaptor is rated at 20 Volts, 2 amps DC (model: 20K70LF-C201). It happens I have a compatible unit from another computer to tide me over. That unit is a few years old and is twice as large and three times as heavy as the Kogan unit. I suspect it has a large old fashioned, inefficient transformer in it (it gets warm), unlike the electronic modern power sup-plies. But the old transformer still works.

The Kogan was purchased six months ago and so is still under warranty. The adaptors are not repairable so there does not seem much point sending the old one back. So I have written to Kogan asking them to simply send me a new adaptor.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Getting 9 Volts from USB

USB Adaptor 5 Volt to 9 VoltThe "USB Mobile Phone Adaptor Kit" I ordered from Swamp Industries turned up in the mail the next day. The kit is impressive, with both car and mains USB adaptors to supply power and assorted plugs for differnet phones . However, the USB Adaptor, which boosts 5 Volts from a USB socket to 9 Volts, does not supply sufficient current to run my Huawei D100 3G Router and HUAWEI E169 3G USB modem.

The modem with the US wireless 3G modem plugged in uses about 270 mA, which should be just within what the USB adaptor supplies (300 mA +-5% at 9 Volts). However, the router uses up to 500 mA for a few seconds when it first starts up. When I turn the router on it starts to boot, then the green light on the USB adaptor turns red (presumably to indicate it is overloaded) and the modem goes off.

One good point is that the adaptor doesn't seem to be harmed by the overoad and is able to protect itself. So I did a quick calculation and decided that a 80 uF capacitor would store sufficient power while the router boots (the calculation involves Amps, Volts, Watts, Jules, and Farads). So, in theory, if I connect the capacitor (which will cost about $2) across the power terminals of the DC supply from the USB adaptor and wait a few seconds before turning on the router, the capacitor will be charged up with enough power to supply the router when it starts and it should then run fine.

If there are no more postings for a few days, that will be because my netbook has blown up, while trying this. ;-)

Labels: , , ,

Monday, August 31, 2009

Powering a 12 Volt Router from USB

USB Adaptor 5 Volt to 9 VoltConnecting the HUAWEI E169 3G USB modem to the Kogan Agora Netbook is proving harder than expected. While there are descriptions on the web of simply plugging the modem in and restarting the computer, the Kogan does not seem to recognise the device. Some manual modifications of setting have not helped. So I decided to take a different approach: when plugged into the Huawei D100 3G Router the modem works fine with the Kogan. The settings for the modem are stored in the router. This has the added advantage of the firewall in the modem and that the device can be shared by several computers.

But the router runs on 12 Volts from and mains power supply. How would I use it when away from a power socket when the Netbook is running on batteries? My first thought was to run the router on the power from a USB plug of the computer. I found that the Kogan's USB sockets supply plenty of power, being able to run an external DVD drive or hard disk. With my previous laptop I had to use two USB sockets to get enough power for an external drive.

The catch is that no one seems to make a USB to 12 Volt adaptor (there are plenty of 12 Volt to USB adaptors). In fact there are numerous web postings saying this is not possible. It is possible, but needs extra electronics to turn the 5 Volts supply by the USB socket into 12 Volts.

Digital MultimeterNot being able to find a 12 Volt adaptor, I thought I would make the problem easier by trying a lower voltage. Most digital electronics actually run on 5 Volts or less. The 12 Volts supplied to equipment is converted down. So first I tried the router at 5 Volts, using the USB adaptor cable which came with the external DVD drive. This was after I checked the voltage and polarity of the power with a multimeter). This did not work, clearly more than 5 Volts was needed.

Previously I had run a router designed for 12 Volts on a 9 Volt supply, with no problems. So I tried this with the Huawei D100 3G Router and found it works fine on 9 Volts (it has been running for 12 hours this way).

So then I looked for a USB to 9 Volt adaptor. There were numerous queries about such devices on the web and replies saying it was not possible. But I found one about a "USB Power Supply for Video Sunglasses" which used a DC-DC converter (voltage converter) from a phone charger accessory kit described as a "9V Nokia Booster for Wireless Phone Charger".

The booster is a small black box with a USB plug on one end and a USB socket on the other. The device converts 5 Volts to 9 Volts at 300 mA and is designed for charging old Nokia mobile phones. The instructions warn this should only be used with a 9 Volt device: plugging a standard 5 Volt powered USB device into the unit could damage the device.

As I already had a USB adaptor from the DVD which plugs into the router, it should be a simple matter to plug the voltage booster into the Netbook, plug the USB adaptor cable into that and that into the router. But where in the world do I buy such an adaptor and how long will it take to get to Australia?

As the device was for a Nokia phone, I looked at the Nokia catalogue, which had a "Nokia Charger via USB port CA-100". However, this appeared to be for newer phones which use a lower voltage. I looked at Ryda, who sell a "Nokia CA-70 USB Data Cable with Intergrated Charger". This looked more than I needed and I was still not sure it would supply the needed voltage.

After more searching I found the "Charger Sony K750 W830c w958 Z558 M608 W300 J220 K310" offered on Ebay by Swamp Industries. This appeared to be the same adaptor kit as used for the video sunglasses. I checked to see the company details on the web to see how long this would take to import into Australia and found the company is based in Canberra (where I am). Also I found the kit includes an Australian mains to USB power adaptor, which would be handy. On the company's own web site the kit is described as "Universal USB Mobile Car Wall PC Charger Nokia, Blackberry" and was half the price on the company web site as on eBay. So I ordered one.

It will be interesting to see when it turns up. It is also curious that having searched the world online, I found the product I wanted offered by someone a few kilometres away. I was tempted to phone the company and ask to collect the unit in person, but this is probably a part time mail order company with no shop. I do have the satisfaction of having a name to put to the company, as when I paid via PayPal, the system gave me the person email address of who was getting the payment.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook now under $500

A few weeks ago purchased a Kogan Agora Netbook Pro, for $569 delivered. The machine has worked well (see my blog posts) and I have adapted to using Linux in place of Windows XP. But perhaps I am one of the few, as Kogan have reduced the price by $100.

About my only complaints with the Agora were:
  1. No printed installation guide and no electronic user manual on the disk (I had to download the manual from the web),
  2. WiFi is difficult to set up and seems slow,
  3. Have not been able to get a USB 3G mobile broadband device to work,
  4. Shiny black top.
What works well:
  1. More than fast enough for email, web browsing and office applications,
  2. Open source office, email and web applications work well,
  3. Updating of software online works better than on Windows XP,
  4. Works well with USB flash devices, printer, DVD drive and external hard disk,
  5. Looks at home at the cyber cafe amongst much more expensive netbooks,
  6. It is is an understated black, not white, or pink.
The Agora works well as my main computer. In the office I plug it into a large screen, keyboard, mouse and Ethernet. The unit fits comfortably on the desk between the external keyboard and LCD screen. When out of the office it is adequate to use with the 10 inch screen and undersize keyboard.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, August 10, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro Java, Flash, Audio and Video

It was a surprise to find that my Kogan Agora Netbook Pro did not come with Java, Adobe Flash, or audio/video formats installed. In some ways it is pleasant to surf the web without Java or Flash, as a lot of annoying interactive ads and applets disappear. But I need Java, as that is what OpenOffice.org uses to create generate XHML documents from word processing files (very useful to clean up the formatting Microsoft Word documents). And Flash is needed to play some useful videos on the web. Also I would like to play audio and video in popular formats.

Installing flash was relatively easy, I just had to click a box to say it was okay to install this non-open source application on my open source computer. To tame Flash I also installed the "Flashblock" add-on, which stops Flash files playing in the web browser, apart from those sites where I have okay-ed it.

Java proved more difficult. I tried installing a Java run time kit, but this didn't seem to talk to Open Office. So then I un-installed that and instead installed the full OpenOffice suite, which comes with Java. That worked.

Installing audio and video playback codecs was very easy. In the provided player application I was told a format was not available and offered a download, which then started the application installation process. A few seconds later the codecs were installed and the audio playing.

The hardest part of this process for someone used to working with Microsoft Windows is to relax and let the package management system sort out if your system has all the needed components. Normally with Microsoft Windows you have to worry if the package you are about to install is going to overwrite some new libraries with old versions and break something. With Linux, that is taken care of for you (as much as it can be).

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro Battery Time

Greetings from the main reading room of the National Library of Australia. The Kogan Agora Netbook Pro is reporting that its fully charged six cell battery will last for 3.5 hours. The Agora is in its natural environment here, every second person seems to have some sort of small laptop to research the great Australian novel. I was able to quickly connect to the NLA's free, but slow, WiFi service. I had a few problems with the service asking me to reconnect each time I opened a window in Firefox and not allowing spell checking in Google Blogger, but leaving the first window I opened at the NAL home page seems to fix this.

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 07, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro Updating Software

There not being FTP software apparent on my new Kogan Agora Pro netbook I started the "add/remove applications" utility to get some. It at this point I started to realise what my Linux using colleagues had been talking about with the ease of Linux maintenance for all these years. I simply selected the gFTP client and it was downloaded and installed in a few seconds.

Emboldened by this, I started the "Synaptic Package Manager" and instructed it to update all of the software installed on the system with any needed updates. This resulted in several hundred files totaling several hundred megabytes being downloaded and installed, taking about 20 minutes. The download and install proceeded with no problems, but afterwards the system did not respond and I had to turn the power off and on, at which point everything seemed to be fine. This was comparable to the process for the Microsoft Windows computer I borrowed recently which had not had any updates installed for about a year.

Labels: , , , ,

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro Video

My Kogan Agora Pro netbook was not playing video: it didn't work and locked the system. But after a few days, without having done anything to fix it, the video is now working. I can use Skype video conferencing (well I could if Virgin Mobile Boradband could supply broadband) and can play Youtube videos. The system now also passes the Ubuntu hardware test utility.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro WiFi

With the aid of the manual and a few minutes thinking, I was able to get the wireless Internet access working on the Kogan Agora Pro netbook. For the last few days I have been trying to get it to work from the system administration network utility. After reading the Manual, it turns out that all I had to do was click on the network icon on the top of the screen and select a WiFi network from the list, to connect to. This still took some deductive work, as the manual shows the icon as a radio antenna (pointed), whereas the screen shows it as a computer terminal (a square box). Only after I connected to a wireless network did the square box change to the pointed antenna shape, as shown in the manual.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro manual

The Kogan Agora Netbook User Manual gOS Edition is on the web. I came across it while looking on the web for how to connect an external monitor. The manual is a 44 page 1.7 Mbyte PDF file. It is a good manual, but a shame it is not provided on the netbook (at least I couldn't find it on the Netbook). The manual told me what I needed to know: to have an external monitor recognised, I had to first log out and log in again to Linux. With this done my 24" Dell 2405FPW displayed what looked like an enormous desktop, after having looked at the 10 inch screen.

My next problem is to work out how to get the WiFi to work, which the manual has a good section about.

Labels: , , , ,

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro with external DVD Drive

After six days with the unit my impressions of the Kogan Agora Netbook Pro are still mostly good. The unit doesn't include DVD drive, so I purchased a $99 external unit. This comes with two USB plugs: one for data and a second one for addiditional power. I found the Agora supplies enough power thwough the first USB plug not to need the second cable.

When I plugged the DVD drive in, it appeared as a device in the file manager and I could make a data DVD simply by dragging and dropping a file to it and pressing "Burn". There was no need to install any software. The Agora includes Braseo Disk Burning software, but it is not really needed for simple functions. Also I found I could create a Zip archive with a few mouse clicks.

There were some frustrations with the DVD, a faulty old disk caused the drive to continually attempt to read and I could find no way to stop this apart from unplugging the drive and ejecting the disk with a paper-clip.

The problems I have had with the DVD need to be seen in proportion, being no worse than a laptop running Microsoft Windows with a bult in DVD and supplied software.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro mostly good

After four days with the unit my first impressions of the Kogan Agora Netbook Pro are borne out: it is mostly good. The unit with 2 Gbytes of memory appears faster than many desktop computers. In terms of styling it stood up to all but the HP and Dell units on display at the Slug meeting at Google Sydney on Friday.

The unit did not come with a carry case and really needs some sort of rubberised slip cover for protection and to make it easier to carry.

The 10 inch screen is very bright and readable and I am able to sit in the library in full sunlight at a window and still read comfortably. With the fonts adjusted to a larger size, the screen is still adequate for typing text into email and blogs. It is not big enough for desktop publishing, but I can comfortably use Moodle for updating student assignment material and mark forum postings from my postgraduate students.

I am not able to yet get the WiFi to work reliably. In the networking utility there is a pulldown menu which should display WiFi units in range but seems to flick up one for a moment and then disappear. As a result I had to use the supplied Windows computer for my SLug presentation at Google Sydney.

The Linux boot sequence is very fast and it is almost as convenient to boot on the Kogan as it was to resume from hibernate on my old Windows XP laptop.

I have adjusted the sensitivity of the tack pad, so it works as expected most of the time. It is still prone to jump the pointer to the left side of the screen occasionally.

An MP3 player plugged into the USB port flawlessly. I am still working on the intricacies of getting the Virgin 3G wireless USB modem to work (but that was always a difficulty with the Windows XP laptop).

The one genuine fault with the Kogan I have found so far is playing video: it doesn't work and locks the system. When I attempted to test Skype video the screen locked up and I have to power off and on. When I tried the Ubuntu hardware test utility, the system locked up on the video test. At some point when I have a high speed Internet connection I will upgrade the operating system and see if that fixes the problem.

Overall the Kogan Agora Netbook Pro is very good (and excellent value for money). Kogan should perhaps consider a desktop version: leaving out the keyboard, touch pad, screen and battery and adding a clamp on VESA mount. Please note that I am aware that some manufacturers make desktop "nettop" computers with similar configurations to net books. But these tend to be over-specified, overpriced and sufficiently different to the netbooks to eliminate potential commonality.

Netbooks and nettops with common hardware and software could make an attractive package for educational institutions: they could issue netbooks to students and support the same hardware and software on desktops. Netbooks with broken screens (a common problem) could even be recycled as nettops.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro first impressions

My Kogan Agora Netbook Pro ordered at about 12 noon yesterday arrived at 7:30 am today. This is an impressively quick delivery (even if I may have expedited it by saying I would be demonstrating the unit at the Slug meeting at Google Sydney on Friday). First impressions are good.

The unit is surprisingly understated: inside the courier envelope was a plain white cardboard box smaller than a briefcase. Inside the box was one thin sheet of closed cell foam. Impressively the rest of the packing was with recycled paper, not plastic.

The box contained the computer, power supply, battery and a very small bluetooth dongle. There was no printed manual at all. The only difficulty was installing the battery pack. The unit comes with a high capacity six cell battery pack which is an odd double cylinder shape. It took several attempts to work out how this was attached and a photo would have been helpful. When installed the battery pack sticks out of the back of the unit at 45 degrees. This doesn't look very elegant, but makes a handy grip for carrying and also makes the unit very stable on a desk and raises the bottom for ventilation.

The unit is entirely black, which I prefer to white or brightly coloured netbooks: white units show dirt and also are more conspicuous when blogging at odd locations. The screen cover has a very glossy patterned surface (I would have preferred a textured mat finish as for the rest of the unit). The keyboard is average for netbooks and not as good as the Tohsiba and HP ones, but is adequate. Otherwise the unit has the usual 10 inch netbook layout.

One surprise is that the small screen. I am used to a 12 inch narrow screen. The 10 inch Agora screen is much smaller, being the width of a sheet of A4 paper, but slightly less than half the height. The wide format seems to work well for entering text.

There being no manual, I plugged in all the cables, plugged in an Ethernet connection and turn the unit on. There are two buttons on the unit: the smaller has an antenna symbol and I assume has to do with WiFi. Powering up produced the usual Linix boot sequence. I was first asked to a user id and password and there was a delay of less than a minute while the system sorted things out. Of the usual questions I was then asked the only problem was with the location, where I had difficulty selecting "Sydney". I tried clicking on the displayed map but kept ending up in Antarctica, due to the touch pad being too sensitive. But that was about the only problem. A gOS log on screen was then displayed.

Entering my newly nominated user id and password, I was presented with gOS's attractive Apple Mac-ish desktop interface. Some of the desktop icons were perplexing, such as a vase of flowers and a snow dome which seemed to be displaying a weather forecast for Texas.

Most useful is the set of cons across the bottom of the screen. Putting the pointer on an icon enlarges it. By default there is the Firefox browser, Open Office, Skype and a set of Google tools. As with other netbooks, the Google tools are a bit of a cheat, as they just open the browser and take you to the web site of the Google tool.

The Internet access worked flawlessly and Firefox brought up the Yahoo home page for UK by default (perhaps these units were intended for the UK?). Apart from the home page a few other defaults will need to be changed. The default text size is too small and the sensitivity of the tack pad needs to be reduced, but that is about all.

Apart from setting up email, here will be a challenge in finding replacements for the few Microsoft Windows specific applications I use. One of these is accounting software for my business. I noticed that Google accounting is one of the functions on the Kogan, but does it do Australian BAS statements?

ps: One curiosity is the name of the unit: "Agora", which was a town square in ancient Greek cities. Perhaps this suggests the netbook is the place where you now interact with education, government, business and society, as was done in the Agora of the ancient world? I have often walked past the marble block set into the floor of the National Library of Australia, which is from the Library of Pantainos in the Ancient Agora of Athens. The word agoraphobia derives from this. Makers of larger, more expensive and not so functional computers way well suffer from fear of what the Agora may do to their business. ;-)

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro

I have ordered the Kogan Agora Netbook Pro, 10.2 inch. This is $569 delivered. It is essentially a colne of the MSI Wind (which Aldi also were selling). The Kogan has been configured with a larger 6 cell battery and 2 Gbytes of RAM (the Aldi unit had only a three cell battery and 1 gbyte RAM like most netbooks). The Agora has gOS Linux in place of Ms-Windows XP. This is a bit of a shot in the dark for me: my Twinhead laptop failed and I decided on a replacement in a hurry. Other netbooks I looked at were the Levono Ideapad s10e, Acer Aspire One, MSI Wind U100 and the Benq U101 (all of which are between $640 to $699).

One issue I have is the transition from Windows to Linux. Already I use Firefox and Open Office in place of IE and Microsoft Office. But I had not made the transition of my email from a very old Eudora and my accounting software is still on Windows.

Kogan have a very good e-commerce web site. But I needed telephone sales support (which was also good), because I could not find the button on the web to enter my credit card details. Using Firefox, the button at the bottom of the order form, where you enter your address details, was covered by a "comment" box. I found if I turned off styles, I could then see the button. Kogan need to make a change to the web form to fix this, as this netbook is likely to appeal to open source enthusiasts, who prefer Firefox to Internet Explorer. It would be a shame if the people the netbook appealed to couldn't order it.

ps: One advantage the Kogan Agora has it is only available in black (like a Model T Ford), other units are in a range of colours and often you can be stuck with a garish colour you did not want. My Tiwnhead laptop was white, which drew more attention to it that I wanted. In an extreme case someone in a Greek cafe saw me using it and rushed up to give a monologue about the value of computers in education (thinking the Twinhead was an OLPC).

Labels: , , ,