Titanium Apps and the Blackberry Playbook

In Feburary 2012, Blackberry updated the OS for their 7″ Playbook tablet to v2.0. This introduced compatailbity with Android-based applications whereby developers can simply repackage, code sign, and submit their Android apps into BlackBerry App World. It also means you can take any Android app (that hasn’t gone through this process) and sideload the app yourself.

Since I develop mobile apps for iOS and Android using the Titanium platform, I was interested in how much effort it would be to get my existing apps working on the Playbook. There are plenty of posts on how to take an APK and sign it correctly for App World, but what took me a while to figure out, was which version on Titanium was compatible with the Playbook.

After some experimentation, I’ve found that if you package your app against Titanium SDK 1.7.5, it’ll work nicely on the Playbook. Version 1.8.x won’t work (hmm, maybe it’s V8 vs Rhino.. V8 definitely doesn’t work…). Certain pieces of code may also cause the app to crash (whereas it won’t crash on a proper Android device). The one thing I hit, was passing url:null, into Titanium.UI.createWindow will crash the app, whereas that’s absoutely fine on iOS and Android.

The other small advantage of using the 1.7.5 SDK is that the resulting APK is a lot smaller, although since the current Playbook only has Wifi this is less of an issue than it is on a mobile phone.

Now we have the APK, you just have to go through the app packaging/signing process as detailed elsewhere on the web, or in Blackberry’s official documentation. This new GUI-based tool looks like a good place to start if you don’t like working from the command line.

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ASUS RT-N56U Wireless Router Review

The Belkin 54G wireless access point I’ve been using for a few years has been suffering since we extended the house.. there’s just not enough range on it, and it tends to temporarily lock up if it’s hammered a lot.

Finding a replacement took a lot of research, but I eventually decided on the ASUS RT-N56U, costing about £85, after reading some great reviews, including one in PC Pro. It’s worth reiterating that it doesn’t contain an ADSL router.. so if you’re on that type of broadband you’ll still need one of those in your set up. I’m happy with that, since the master socket isn’t where I want to place the wireless router anyway.

Configuration was straight-forward, aided by a decent web interface. As soon as I plugged it in I upgraded the firmware to the latest version from ASUS. I’d also seen that there are unofficial firmwares from a Russian group which are meant to fix a bunch of stuff & add new features. I’m sticking with the ASUS firmware unless I hit stability problems or find that I want to tinker later on. I certainly like the option to have a customised firmware should the need arise.

After having it running for a few days I’m really impressed with the speed and coverage across the house. It allows you to either use one SSID for 2.4Ghz and one for 5Ghz.. which lets you decide which band you want a device to use. Or set the same SSID for both, and it’ll automatically switch you over to the fastest band according to the signal strength. I was in the kitchen, and it connected on what must have been the 2.4Ghz band (due to the distance), then moved to the living room where the speed shot up & was obviously using the 5Ghz band.

Here’s a table showing how the signal strength has been affected by the upgrade;

Signal Strength (dBm)
Postion ASUS Belkin
Utility Room -70 -75
Kitchen Diner -76 -85
Lounge -45 -63
Bedroom -61 -75
Bathroom -76 -85

 

And here’s my unboxing video;

Blackberry Playbook: Bargain 7″ Tablet

In the last few weeks the price of the Blackberry Playbook has plummeted further, to £169 in the UK from retailers such as PC World. At that price it deserved some research into what it offers & whether it’s worth a look. The tablet itself is solidly built, with a decent amount of processing power & good multi-tasking abilities. There’s an app store that offers a fair number of apps, including the obligatory Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies, and useful stuff like free VNC clients.

The 7″ screen looks crisp & vivid, and isn’t as cramped as I’d imagined it would be. I’d viewed someone’s Samsung 7″ tablet so knew what to expect. Browsing the web on it is slick & fast, plus it’ll play Flash videos, so iPlayer, 4oD and other sites all work on it without a hitch.

The OS is soon to get v2.0, and that’s where things get even more interesting; that opens the Playbook up to the Android Market, allowing it to run a majority/proportion (not sure which yet!) of Android apps. OS2.0 will also offer MKV support, but what codecs are actually covered is unclear.

Built-in storage is limited to what you initially purchase (e.g. 16Gb), and there’s no SD card expansion. However, if you root the Playbook, there’s a method to add USB-host functionality, allowing you to attach USB flash drives.

A micro-HDMI connector allows it to mirror the display to a TV without proprietary adapters & it just works!

Here’s what you need if you want to hook it up to a TV (a few different cable lengths included):

Micro HDMI to HDMI adapter = £3.56

0.5m standard HDMI lead = £1.18
1.0m standard HDMI lead = £1.14
5.0m standard HDMI lead = £3.19

And here’s what you’d need to connect a standard USB flash drive

Micro USB to USB adapter (270 angle means it doesn’t clash with HDMI output) = £3.17
USB Female to Female adapter = £1.14

For the back of the car, I’ve gone for a generic headset mount that can also mount an iPad:

Universal tablet mount

And to protect it from scratches and minor droppage in the house I bought the official faux leather convertible case, which beats the hell out of the horrible case it ships with.

Faux Leather Convertible Case

After a few hours of research I knew it was a good deal, bought one & haven’t been disappointed. It *is* a bargain for what you get :)

Custom Firmware on the Humax HDR-Fox T2

After the untimely death of my Topfield box, and less than stellar performance of the 3view box, I ended up sending that back & buying the Humax HDR-Fox T2. Since I bought it over a year ago there’s been a huge amount of progress on a custom firmware which enables you to install ‘packages‘ that add a whole bunch of new features, including;

– Web-based interface for controlling the box, searching the EPG, etc.
– Smartphone optimised web interface
– Auto-filing script for placing series linked programs in designated sub-folders
– Remote scheduling interface for setting timers on the box remotely
– Recording trimming to cut off unwanted segments of recordings
– Custom TV portal (offering Sky Player support)
– And loads more!

There are some videos on YouTube that show a lot of these features in action, together with a guide showing exactly how to install it onto your box. It’s a simple, and reversible process & the guys that have worked on it have helped improve the features on the box no end!

Harmony 600 Replacement

Due to a clash with a toddler and my Harmony 555 all-in-one remote I bought a Harmony 600 in September last year. In the last month it’s been repeatedly rebooting/restarting. A new set of batteries sorts the issue out, but only for a couple of weeks, and then it starts happening again. There’s a thread on Logitech’s support site which talks about the problem, so it’s not an isolated issue.

The good thing is, that after raising a support ticket on Sunday, it only took a couple of message exchanges before they said it was faulty & shipped a new remote. They don’t even ask for the old one back, since they can de-activate it on their servers so that it can never be updated online.. pretty much rendering it useless, because there’s no way to update it without using their online app.

Kudos to Logitech for sorting this out so quickly! Really impressive.