It’s kind of silly that smartphones commonly have as much, if not more, memory than new laptops.

It’s also kind of sucky that phone screens commonly ship as 2560×1440, whereas premium laptops are still 1920×1080.

For $655 (£470) you can get:

http://liliputing.com/2016/03/vivo-xplay-5-first-phone-6gb-ram.html  ,  or

http://www.currys.co.uk/gbuk/computing/laptops/laptops/lenovo-g50-15-6-laptop-and-software-bundle-10140029-pdt.html

Also on:

My philosophy behind this review is not just to compare the phone directly with other Android or iOS handsets, but also to focus on what it offers, independently of those other platforms.

In other words, for what this phone and OS provide, how well do they do it..?

Unboxing & initial impressions

I ordered through ZTE’s UK-based ebay site.  The phone was dispatched via the 48hr Royal Mail delivery service, which is where £5 of my £38.99 spend was allocated.  This was pleasing and does confer a certain progressive philosophy of ZTE.  It also means the handset + accessories cost only £33.99 including UK VAT (sales tax), which I find astonishing.

The packaging was robust and served its purpose.  After removing the colourful box from its mail bag, and opening it up, there I was greeted with the phone in somewhat cheapish-looking celophane.  Nevertheless, unwrapping indeed exposed the Open C as expected – not bright orange or blue, but dark and moody black – the way I like my phones!

Although I was expecting the handset to feel cheap, I was actually pleasantly surprised.  For its price, it feels very reasonable.  The materials – including the screen – naturally are plastic, but given the feel of the plastic one expects from a stock Samsung Galaxy S4 (that is, not premium!), the Open C had a feel to it more like that of a pebble, with its soft-touch almost rubberised plastic rear cover.

Size comparison: Open C vs Galaxy S4
Size comparison: Open C (left) vs Galaxy S4 (right)

Attractive design features include the recessed ear speaker, which sits snuggly atop of the screen, and the subtle, angular curvature towards the base of the phone, which meets the centred microUSB socket smoothly and seamlessly.  An iPhone 4 user I handed the device to commented on how nice in the hand it felt, and I must agree – it’s very comfortable to hold.

The compact charger and USB cable are standard fare, but the included earphones/headset are distinctly “cheap”.  In this case, you get what you pay for, but this is a minor thing.

Recessed ear speaker
The recessed ear speaker at the top of the screen is attractively styled.

Powering on

Start-up and set-up

Taking the rear cover off the phone revealed the battery compartment, SIM slot and microSD slot.  The battery was a very snug fit and the SIM slipped into the slot just fine.  The microSD card slot wasn’t quite as reassuring, and I felt the need to double-check I’d inserted the card far enough.   There are no spring-clip card slots on this phone; a clear cost-saver.  But cover back on, this was no issue, and the cover feels integral to the phone once back in place.

The software set-up feature of the phone has been well covered elsewhere, so I won’t go into that here.  One annoyance was that the phone couldn’t pick up my local time from any network I connected to, which I found unusual and slightly inconvenient.  The UI to change date and time was slightly unintuitive but the task was soon accomplished.

Boot-up and running through this “wizard” was relatively quick and the phone was ready to use within a few minutes.

Getting contacts into the phone

The ThunderSync Add-On for Thunderbird can export your addressbook as VCard files.  Although on first attempt these files were not recognised to import into the phonebook, trying again – once the phone’s set-up process had completed – yielded success.  241 VCard contacts imported perfectly.

The Import from SIM card function worked perfectly, as did the Import from Facebook feature.  I didn’t try the Import from GMail feature, as I don’t store contacts there.

Considering these features are what the phone offers, I would say that it manages these tasks reasonably well, although the out-of-the-box experience was not quite as smooth as possible.  It is a shame that CardDAV support wasn’t baked in too, but at least this is work in progress.

Managing contacts

A feature recognised by some Android users, and as a further plus, the Link Contacts feature allows you link an imported phonebook contact with a social media contact.  In addition, the Find duplicate contacts feature allows you to easily scour the phonebook and delete or merge any identified duplicate contact records, as desired.

In fairly quick time, I was up and running with all my contacts in the address book.

Importing Media

Getting music, videos and photos on to the device is painless, thanks to its straightforward USB Mass Storage support.  As an Android and Linux user, I was appalled when this transfer protocol was eschewed in favour of MTP on my Galaxy S4 – a “feature” of Jellybean+.

But back to the Open C.  Controlling whether the phone’s memory or the storage card is exposed to the USB host (i.e. the connected computer) was achieved through the settings on the phone.   Once connected, media transfers were effortless.

After disconnecting, simply opening up the Music player, Video player or Gallery displayed my media more or less as expected, although a 1080p mp4 video shot on the aforementioned S4 and transferred over, failed to materialise in the Video player’s file list.

Somewhat annoyingly, album art from transferred music also appears in the gallery, which seems a bit strange.  To make matters worse, this same album art was not visible in the Music player for the albums to which it corresponded.  Instead, I was greeted with placeholder patterns.  I’m not sure how this problem is avoided, but it’s far from perfect.

In use: the User Interface & Experience

In software development, an oft-accepted maxim is that your version 1 release is basically a proof of concept.  Version 2 is where you throw in lots of features, but version 3 is where it all starts knitting together well.

Given that this handset runs version 1.3, the FirefoxOS experience is acceptable.  It won’t set the world on fire (no pun intended), but the key features are here – some better than others.

Performance

Coming from a Galaxy S4, I was pleased with how responsive the Open C is.  On the Samsung, Touchwiz (the user interface layer on top of Android) does a wonderful job of slowing things down and adding a “treacle factor”, generally incurring an extra second or so for each major application switch.

Surprisingly, the Open C felt more nimble and less weighed-down than the S4 once I had opened 8-10 different apps on each.  Granted, the apps on the S4 are more feature-rich,  running on a more feature-rich operating system – and I do have quite a number of them.  But it’s more powerful hardware, you always pay by way of a performance penalty for complexity in software.

On the Open C, swiping across from one home screen to another was fluid and unencumbered, and opening apps was reassuringly nippy too.  Nothing felt laggy and the biggest challenge was getting used to not having a back button.

General OS Features

There have been many comparisons with Android here and elsewhere, but I would argue that this is a testament to the capability of FirefoxOS.   The Settings area provides a reasonable number of options, from power-saving, to connectivity, SIM management and security.

Unlike Android, I didn’t feel as though options we so nested to the nth degree that I couldn’t find what I needed, quickly.  This was refreshing and gave me pause for thought over just how large and burdened Android is now by its own capability.   This is, after all, a phone and Mozilla have fundamentally recognised this.

Sadly, one omission is Firefox Sync.  I was surprised that, being a FirefoxOS device, it doesn’t support Sync with Mozilla’s servers out-of-the-box.  What a shame – this will be inconvenient to some, and argues in favour of using Firefox (the browser) on Android, instead.

Another lamentable omission is a file browser.  I couldn’t see any way to browse the local file system.  Hopefully this will arrive in version 2 or beyond.

Where it does pick up the bat somewhat is with the Notes app, which seemingly offers Evernote syncing.  Although I’m not an Evernote fan, I know that many people are, and this may sway some opinions.  Along with CalDAV calendar sync, it goes some way towards being “cloud-friendly”, which is a nice touch for a browser-based OS… 😉

Hardware

The screen

The screen is where I have seen some criticism being levelled.  Let’s clear this up: having become accustomed one of the highest-resolution (441dpi), most saturated colour displays (AMOLED) on the market, I am not offended at all by the Open C’s screen.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I was surprised how well text seemed to render on it and colour saturation seems average, which in my book is actually a good thing (not too saturated or too pale).  At a claimed 233dpi, the resolution was workable, and the viewing angles from sides and from underneath were ok too.  Viewing the screen from the phone’s top, downwards, was where it all went to hell though – everything neg’d out quite quickly.

Position of Open C's microphone
The phone’s microphone positioning.  Note the capacitive home-button.  The general styling is also vaguely reminiscent of early HTC Android phones.

Sound quality

An often-overlooked area of smartphones is sound quality, via the headphone jack.  Having transferred a random selection of OGG music files, I selected John Williams’ Jurassic Park theme.  During listening I was very surprised that the Open C managed to dig up elements of a double bass (string instrument) in the performance.  By comparison, the S4 couldn’t dredge up this particular detail.

Unfortunately, the rest of the musical quality was middling at best – brass sounded honky, strings somewhat electric and the combination of these plus percussion was a bit brash and ringing.  When listening to the same track on the S4, I was greeted with a much purer, deeper soundstage with individual instruments identifiable and well placed.  Timbre on the S4 was markedly improved over the Open C and generally the listening experience was superior.  But still, it didn’t give me that low bass…

Whether the Firefox OS’s codec is sufficiently different to Android or whether this is hardware is, unfortunately, guess work.  For general listening, say on the train for an hour, the Open C will be plenty good enough.  It’s just not the last word in subtlety.

Battery life

The SIM I use for testing doesn’t have a data allowance, so I have switched off mobile data.  This will have had a positive effect on battery life, but a negative effect on a fair test.

Still, despite not using the phone as heavily as normal in that regard, during testing and initial set up the screen has been on a fair bit, with WiFi connected at all times.  I have seen nearly two days’ usage before needing its first re-charge, so that is encouraging.  I was surprised, too, that after a night on flight-mode, the battery charge level had not shifted a dime, from 66%.

One minor issue though, is that at 10% battery remaining, the phone suddenly died and got stuck in a reboot cycle.   This suggests the battery life/remaining isn’t possibly quite as accurate as it could be, although it could be argued that on its first charge, FirefoxOS hadn’t accumulated enough battery metrics to accurately predict exhaustion.

Camera

Image of back of Open C, showing camera.
The Open C’s camera

This is a tricky area to judge.  This is a £34 phone.  It’s difficult to buy a decent point-and-shoot camera for that price, so how does one judge this fairly?

The 3.2MP sensor is mounted on the back of the phone near the top, in the customary location.  There is no flash or manual/autofocus, and video recording is a rather old-school 352×288@15fps (according to GSMArena).  My testing seemed to concur with that.  Photos are stored as JPEGs, unless edited (in which case, for some reason they are then stored as PNGs), and videos as 3GP files.

In low-light settings, you can only expect average quality at best.  Still, to the naked eye, colour accuracy could have been a lot worse.

The included software does allow some recolouring to help adjust pictures, and the Aviary app is easy to download and install, for more comprehensive off-line photo editing.

Hardware Buttons

Finally, the buttons themselves.  In general use they don’t feel flimsy and give sufficient feedback.  But I do question the positioning of the volume rocker and wonder if it is on the wrong side?  I tend to be ambidextrous when using my phone – it goes to either ear indiscriminately.  I suppose the volume rocker has to be on one side – the right hand side it is!

Summary

Considering this is a £34 phone…

  • Build and general quality is better than expected
  • Setting up is straightforward – although a couple of caveats:
    • Importing VCard contacts from microSD card failed on first attempt, but then worked
    • Plugging microUSB cable into phone didn’t have that reassuring “click”, but connection seems secure enough. (NOTE: this may have been the cable I was using; another cable did seem more secure)
  • Size and thickness is very reasonable – and better than I was led to believe on some blogs/vlogs.  Phone is not too bulky and has a reassuring thickness when in the hand.
  • As a media device it’s fairly average, but as a phone which you won’t care about scratching up and little and using to the full, it’s great.   At the price, you can forget about protective cases – just chuck it in a bag or your pocket and get on with life!

Final words

Comparing to flagship smartphones is unwarranted.  It is not a flagship but an entry-level phone – so comparisons should be with Android phones at same price!

I was pleasantly surprised by the Open C.  The phone hardware, at this price, is exceptionally good value.  No, unless you’re incredibly limber it will not allow you to post selfies to Facebook (with no front-facing camera present), but is this a major thing?

Likewise, it’s a fairly “lightweight” experience all round: apps are less functional than their Android or iOS brethren, and the OS is less “tweakable”.  But as a result, it’s swift and responsive in use, and the vast majority of software included is stable and acceptable.

As an entry-level smartphone, for £34 + £5 p&p, I find it hard to fault.  If it weren’t for the stellar camera on my S4, I might consider switching to it.


 

A more in-depth review of FirefoxOS plus full specs on the Open C can be found at GSMArena.

It all starts with that strange sound… In my machine’s case, a whining noise.  As a sysadmin and/or experienced geek, you know something’s wrong.  I suspect the head assembly has become detached and is scraping along the disk surface at 7200rpm… 

SMART stats for the offending drive
SMART stats for the offending drive, which wasn’t being used outside design parameters, despite GNOME-disk-utility’s opinion!

Naturally, the usual recovery tools don’t work… and the drive sounds shot.

# pvmove /dev/sdd1 /dev/sdg1
/dev/sdd1: Moved: 0.0%
/dev/sdd1: Moved: 0.0%
/dev/sdd1: read failed after 0 of 2048 at 0: Input/output error
No physical volume label read from /dev/sdd1
Physical volume /dev/sdd1 not found
ABORTING: Can’t reread PV /dev/sdd1
ABORTING: Can’t reread VG for /dev/sdd1

# dd if=/dev/sdd1 of=dev/sdg1 bs=4096
dd: reading `/dev/sdd1′: Input/output error
2+0 records in
2+0 records out
8192 bytes (8.2 kB) copied, 0.0992418 s, 82.5 kB/s

# dd if=/dev/sdd of=dev/sdg bs=4096
dd: reading `/dev/sdd’: Input/output error
1+0 records in
1+0 records out
4096 bytes (4.1 kB) copied, 0.0205753 s, 199 kB/s

This is the third 1TB Seagate ES.2 drive I’ve had develop bad sectors.  Although they have a 5 year warranty, they seem to start expiring after 3.

Thank goodness I have backups…

#whodoyoutrust

Spot the difference!
Given fair test conditions, everyone knows wired network connections are faster than wireless, right?  How about when your wired connection crawls along at 1/5 of the speed of your wireless connection?  What’s happening?Below are two CAT 5e Ethernet cables, of the type you’d typically use to connect a router to a modem, or perhaps your PC directly into your router instead of using WiFi.  You might connect up other network-capable devices in your home too, such as a PVR/HDR, Blu-ray player and even your TV.  In doing so, you may pick up an old Cat 5 cable “you had spare” to do the job.

Beware, that not all Cat5e is the same!
If you look closely below, you’ll see that the lower, grey cable is type 568A, whereas the upper, black cable is568B.  Ethernet cables come as UTP or STP (Unshielded or Shielded Twisted Pair), meaning that each pair of conductors (wires) inside the outer sheathing are twisted together.  This helps cancel noise and improve transmission.

The difference between A and B is in the way these twisted pairs are paired up.  If your router has N-Way negotiation on its network connections, it should be able to work around using the two different types of cable.  But on my router, with N-Way negotiation, this didn’t appear to be the case.

Testing this using speedtest.net with cable type A, I got a paltry 5Mb/s down and 4Mb/s up.  Over wireless, I got 20Mb/s down and 17Mb/up.  It turned out that my router can’t handle type A cables very well.  Using a type B, I got 44Mb/s down and 18Mb/s up.  More like it!

So the next time your network is running slowly, check your cabling.  Even if it’s a well-known brand (my type Acable is a Belkin Cat5e), it may be causing a drop in performance which is easily, and cheaply, corrected.
H/t +Bob Beattie 
#networking   #speedtest   #cat5e  

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Here’s the deal:

1)You have no time and you want to try the latest Fedora release because it looks pretty darn good.
2) You accept the default disk partitioning scheme which the kind people at Red Hat / Fedora project set up for you, because they only have your best interests at heart, right?
3) While using this cutting-edge release, something nasty happens like, ooh, perhaps a sound driver locks up the entire system and you have to hard-reset the machine (that is, switch it off by the power switch because nothing responds to input).

What next? If, like me (on one occassion) you try to boot up the machine and get no further than the recovery console, you’d feel a bit aggravated. But there is an alternative – do a disk check. You may have read my verbose coverage for How to do a disk check in Linux before. This takes it one step further – how to check your logical volume when it’s encrypted and formatted using the latest ext4 filesystem.

Instead of the method used before, this time I booted from a Live CD. You can find one to download at the Fedora project. Ensure that this CD matches the release of the version you are trying to recover. In this case, that’s Fedora 10.
Once you have booted the offending machine up with the Live CD, open up a terminal by pointing to Applications > System Tools > Terminal. Once in the terminal window, just type:

# su

…to become the root user. This is essential to using all the disk tools.
You may be tempted to check for volume groups first:

# vgscan

.. but this would return nothing.
What’s happening here is that the Volume Group, located on that partition, is itself encrypted. Once unlocked, you can then gain access to both of the Logical Volumes – the swap volume and the root (/) volume.
To unlock the encrypted Volume Group, first you need to establish which partition it resides on:

# fdisk /dev/sda
The number of cylinders for this disk is set to 12161.
There is nothing wrong with that, but this is larger than 1024,
and could in certain setups cause problems with:
1) software that runs at boot time (e.g., old versions of LILO)
2) booting and partitioning software from other OSs
(e.g., DOS FDISK, OS/2 FDISK)

Hit p to print the partitions on your primary disk:

Command (m for help): p
Disk /dev/sda: 100.0 GB, 100030242816 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 12161 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Disk identifier: 0xb07eb07e

Device     Boot  Start End    Blocks   Id System
/dev/sda1    *       1 5377 43190721 7 HPFS/NTFS
/dev/sda2         5378 5402    200812+ 83 Linux
/dev/sda3         5403 12161 54291667+ 8e Linux LVM

So the partiton of type “Linux LVM” (Logical Volume Managed) is the baby we’re after.
To unlock the encrypted Volume Group, use the following:

# cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/sda3 mydisk


This sets up the encryption/decryption kernel subroutines to allow access to device /dev/sda3, mapped to a device node called “mydisk” in /dev/mapper/ . We’ll not actually need to use this device node, but it could be handy to know if you needed to perform further diagnostics.
You will be prompted to enter the encryption key which is stored in one of eight “slots” on the disk. If the key you enter matches a key in any slot, your disk will become unlocked. Assuming that it is, you can then scan once again for Volume Groups:

# vgscan
Reading all physical volumes. This may take a while...
Found volume group "VolGroup00" using metadata type lvm2


Now we’re getting somewhere. Let’s activate the VG and display the LVs (Logical Volumes) it contains:

# vgchange -a y
2 logical volume(s) in volume group "VolGroup00" now active
# lvdisplay
--- Logical volume ---
LV Name /dev/VolGroup00/LogVol00
VG Name VolGroup00
LV UUID RE7t2h-nIy9-dWZ9-xt26-Fgq4-gFd8-34E3f2
LV Write Access read/write
LV Status available
# open 0
LV Size 47.81 GB
Current LE 1530
Segments 1
Allocation inherit
Read ahead sectors auto
- currently set to 256
Block device 253:3

--- Logical volume ---
LV Name /dev/VolGroup00/LogVol01
VG Name VolGroup00
LV UUID B7XJzD-9sS0-3iHx-AWBE-W9qN-TvRb-vCdYZF
LV Write Access read/write
LV Status available
# open 0
LV Size 3.91 GB
Current LE 125
Segments 1
Allocation inherit
Read ahead sectors auto
- currently set to 256
Block device 253:4

We can deduce from the sizes of these two volumes that the first of the two is the root (/) volume, and the second is the swap volume.
As the purpose is to FIX the filesystem on it, which may have become corrupt through the hard-reset performed earlier, we do not want to mount this volume. Instead, as we now have a device node for this activated volume, at /dev/VolGroup00/LogVol00, we can simply perform a disk check straight on it.
To check which extn file system checking tools are on the system, you can tab-complete at the command line:

# fsck. (hit tab)
fsck.cramfs fsck.ext3 fsck.ext4dev fsck.vfat
fsck.ext2 fsck.ext4 fsck.msdos


As this was formatted an ext4 volume, that’s what we use:

# fsck.ext4 /dev/VolGroup00/LogVol00
esfsck 1.41.3 (12-Oct-2008)
/dev/VolGroup00/LogVol00: recovering journal
Clearing orphaned inode 730 (uid=0, gid=500, mode=0100600, size 2263160)
Clearing orphaned inode 187182 (uid=500, gid=500, mode=0100600, size 4096)

... and so on until ...
/dev/VolGroup00/LogVol00: clean, 190926/3137536 files, 2016683/12533760 blocks

Now there are two more steps to perform: de-activate the volume group, and lock the encryption of the drive.

# vgchange -a n
0 logical volume(s) in volume group "VolGroup00" now active
# cryptsetup luksClose mydisk

The second command returns nothing, which means it did not error (the disk is now encrypted and not writable-to without unlocking again).
I hope that helps someone with a sense for adventure but not enough time on their hands for when things go somewhat awry!

Fedora 16 is here.  With all GNU/Linux distributions, newer versions generally mean better hardware support, usability and so on.  Unfortunately, for users of netbooks, laptops and basically any hardware that contains Realtek’s 8192e wireless chip, things can still be problematic.

I posted, previously, a rather kludgy solution to fixing this in Fedora 14.  Then 15 came along, and the fix I was using then no longer worked.  This is because my previous solution installed the Linux kernel staging drivers for a kernel version very similar to that running in Fedora 14 (but actually built for Ubuntu).

Now that we are 2 versions of Fedora down the road (12 months, then), is the situation better for the humble RTL8192e_PCI ?  Sadly, no.  The main problem is that the 8192e driver is still in the Linux driver staging tree rather than in the main code line.  In the respected opinion of the Linux kernel developers and testers, this means the code isn’t good enough to be enabled by default.  Quite when it will be “ready” to hit the trunk, I’m not sure. 

In the meantime, this means you have to install the kernel’s development modules (staging drivers).

This is quite simple in Fedora:

  1. Enable the RPMFusion repository by following instructions here:
    http://rpmfusion.org/Configuration
  2. Then, as root, install the kmod-staging package:
    # yum install kmod-staging