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charizard
I'm a tech junky (jee really?) so ever since PDAs started becoming popular I was one of those first idiotic people to get them. I never owned a Palm though, but my friend had one and I found it highly unusable provided the B&W mini monitor and that all I could do with it is write personal notes and maybe play a few lame games. When Pocket PCs were the new hot things I got myself a Toshiba e740. At the time it was featuring a Pocket PC 2000 (eventually upgraded to Pocket PC 2002) operating system. Regardless of the device's hardware design flaws I was really satisfied and was using it all the time.
Recently I aquired an HTC Universal 3G phone. It's basically a pocket pc with a cellphone merged together. The thing comes with 3G network support, video call, WiFi, Bluetooth, SD card slot and  Windows Mobile 5 operating system. Recently I upgraded the OS to Windows mobile 6.1 using unsupported hacked OS roms. More on that can be read here

Considering it's been QUITE SOME TIME since I had my first pocket pc, I realized recently that the most basic operation of a mobile computer with WiFi support - Internet Browsing - was quite, QUITE lacking. This doesn't just concerns the Microsoft devices, don't get me wrong, but all mobile PDAs, phones, whatever seem to lack greatly on that subject. They do "support" internet browsing, yeah it loads google.com, but when you actually get to start using it for things that matter on the go like booking hotel reservations or real information search you often get frustrated by how slow and useless these things get.

But I'm not here to rant on the subject, I'm here to bring out some highlights of the current status of mobile browing on pocket pcs (more specifically; windows mobile 6). I will write about the main browsers available while ignoring the stuff that REALLY doesn't work... there are a few that I'm not sure WHY the HELL they even exist and downlodable.


The basic: Pocket IE on WM6


Copyright Wikipedia

Pocket IE is probably the first browser you run into when you own a pocket pc device. It comes bundled with any version of windows mobile and loads automatically if you have an "internet" button on your device. The thing features all the basic things you need for internet browsing including form support, CSS, cookies etc. Pocket IE works nicely for simple operations like checking your gmail or googling. It's not slow, but also not fast.
The problems start when you try to load a complicated page full of Javascript, CSS, images, whatever. The browser gets dangerously slow and may actually crash your device completely causing you to soft reset. Also most websites's design will get totally destroyed by the lack of proper CSS support (it supports CSS, but as some of you know every browser displays CSS differently; this one does it badly).
Pocket IE comes with an option to shrink the website to fit to your screen, this makes most sites unreadable. When you cancel that option things get even worse as you only see a small portion of the screen and can't really know where you are.

So basically it's a decent browser, much better than the one MS had on Pocket PC 2002, but still considering they had more than 8 years to work on it I would say they blew it big time.

On usability I give pocket IE 3 / 5 since it works but doesn't work on heavy websites
On features I give it also 2 / 5 since it's quite basic and does even offer tabs


The slow kid with "a lot of potential": Mozilla Minimo 0.2



The first thing you think when you read about minimo is "OMFG FIREFOX FOR POCKET PC?!?! I WANT IT! LEMME HAVE IT!!!" ... But soon after install you get a big shock, or somewhat a slap in the face when you realize that this browser is simply NOT USABLE. I'm a Mozilla fan, I used their PC products all the time and quite love them. But minimo is yet to be something you want to install other than being curious of what it is.
On the good side of things Minimo is exactly what it promises to be, Firefox for pocket pc. But the problem is that the creator probably used too much of the original mozilla codebase making the browser VERY slow. Sometimes so slow you can't even click anything. I hope they will be smart enough to think about speed on their next few version or else the project may simply die of lack of userbase. When the next version comes out I will have to check it.

Now, minimo is still in very early development, so I do understand that it's not even supposed to work properly yet. But having to review the current situation of mobile browsers I just can't review on what it will be but only on what it is.

On usability I give minimo 1 / 5 since it simply too slow to work with, hopefully in the future it will become faster
On features I give it also 4 / 5 since well.. it's firefox, but it's not suitable for mobile yet so I give it one less point


The one I never thought I'll be using, but DAAAAMN: Opera mobile 9.5 beta


Copyright Opera website

I never liked the Opera browser on the PC. I never thought I will ever like an opera product. But their mobile version simply blew me away! The mobile version of Opera is simply everything you ever expected of mobile browsing. It's fast, reliable and most importantly: usable.
Contrary to other mobile browsers, Opera mobile 9.5 beta does not try to convert the page to fit on your little screen. Instead the browser shows your a zoomed-out version of the whole page that fits to the mobile screen. The first thing you think about is probably that the text won't be readable this way, but for that Opera lets you (easily) zoom in to whatever part of the page you want. This is done very nicely and smoothly and does not feel like being troublesome and slow like you would expect. Actually, opera mobile is generally VERY fast. After you load a page it feels almost like a regular PC browser. The technology they managed to produce here is stunning.

Other than simply working opera also offers the basic features you would normally expect from a browser nowdays like tabs, cookies, javascript support etc. I didn't see any flash support but I may have missed the plugin. I wouldn't want flash on my pocket pc anyway since it will probably be too slow to work with.

Opera is probably the best looking mobile browser I've ever seen. It's sleek, smooth and just feels solid.

The ONLY bad thing I can say about Opera is when you load a page with a lot of images you may get an "out of memory" message and the browser will crash. But considering my pocket pc is relatively low on ram (only 64MB and normally around 20MB free) I assume it's not the browser's fault. I wish they had a disk caching system for those cases, but I can live with it.

On usability I give opera mobile 9.5b 5 / 5. Simply because it WORKS
On features I give it also 5 / 5 as well.  It has everything you need.


The one you hope will deliver, but too soon to judge: Microsoft (codename) Deepfish

Microsoft seems to working on a new mobile browser that looks really neat by what they're showing.
It's only downloadable for beta testers and I wasn't able to try it, but from what I've seen the thing they're really "amazed" about: zooming in/out already exists in the opera browser... so nothing new there. If it's anything based on Pocket IE I will stay away from it.
I'll write more about it when I get my hands on it.


The one that used to be was somewhat left behind: Access Netfront



Back in the days of Pocket PC 2002, when Pocket IE was really really bad, there was an alternative browser called Netfront. Netfront was really good for those days when internet was still "1.0" and that most sites were made of simple forms and simple CSS templates.
But testing Netfront today (3.3 was the last one I checked) this browser was simply left behind in terms of technology and thus doesn't load properly most complicated websites. From the various random sites I checked Netfront 3.3 would completely destroy the original author's design and most of the forms were crumpled.

Regardless of that, Netfront is solid. It doesn't crash as often as IE and works relatively fast. I would use it for simple websites such as webmail and some text based sites but nothing too complicated.

On usability I give Netfront 3.3 3 / 5. It works relatively ok but I wouldn't use it for most things
On features I give it also 3 / 5 as well.  It has most of what you need.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As I said earlier there are some other browsers out there, but since they are far from being either usable or even runnable I just decided to ignore them completely for this article as they are not worth your or my time. If I missed anything important I will be happy if you mention it in a comment.

That said, I think Opera 9.5b is currently the only serious player in the mobile browsing category for windows mobile. You can easily see that the people who made it had user experience set in their minds including basic and advanced features that you would expect from a mobile browser. I can honestly say that if you're looking for a mobile browser, pick Opera.

FM in my Car PC

charizard
Although I normally don't listen to radio in my car sometimes I do and want it as an option.
So I picked up a USB FM module from usb.brando.com and it works really nicely with Centrafuse. From tests I did at home the reception is really good but when I put it in my car I get nothing. The computer is in the trunk and I figured it won't work but I wanted to try anyway :)

So I'm working on connecting the radio module to my car antenna. I have a motorized antenna so I'm gonna have to come up with a solution to that as well.


The module:




Opening it up:




Soldering the new connector:




Finished product:




Haven't tested it in my car yet. Soon :)
charizard
Before I begin I must say this: don't try this if you don't know what you're doing. The materials I'm using are poison and if used without proper care and protection it can cause you health problems. I hereby remove any kind of responsibility if you attempt any of what's written here.

If you DO choose to try this, please do yourself a favor and buy a good quality respirator and eye protector.

Stage 1: prepare the car for the traumatic experience it's about to endure

The main problem I was facing when designing this project is how the hell I'm going to fit the screen in the car. The 1997 323F dashboard was redesigned and the very "smart" people at Mazda decided they will remove the double din feature and put a cup holder instead. Now isn't THAT comfy. Not.

The other very smart thing the Mazda engineers did was that instead of having the radio frame as part of the removable piece, they made it as part of the whole dashboard. Meaning it cannot be easily altered or replaced. Another comfy decision. Not.

So cutting was required here. Good thing I have a saw :)

Before:



After:




Stage 2: Glue all parts together with epoxy

The actual fabrication begin. I took apart the monitor I purchased on ebay (Lilliput EBY701)  and pulled the front plastic piece. After cutting the stuff I didn't need from the original panel I simply glued all the pieces together in the general shape that they're going to be. This stage doesn't have to look pretty. I just had to make sure the parts don't stick out and are aligned properly. Filling as much surface with stiff material is crucial as it will  make the entire piece stronger.

I sanded the monitor's panel so the epoxy catches it harder.











After some playing around with the slide-out DVD-RW I purchased I found out it's actually an external laptop to USB adapter. So after knowing this I decided to use the adapter as part of the actual dash. If my drive ever dies I'll just replace it.




Some more glue.





I added some more plastic under the DVD drive, to make it stronger.




Stage 3: Filler

Now the fun part begins. I put a filler (this case; Bondo) and started sculpting the piece as I wanted it to look. It doesn't look pretty on this stage as bondo is not very easy to model when not hardened. I shoved some paper into the DVD adapter so no icky stuff gets inside.






Stage 4: Sanding


Very important!!
When sanding always wear a respirator! Also do this in an open space with lots of air. This stuff should not be inhaled.

Sanding is done manually, this gets the best results. I used a dremel for some of the corners but really not too much.














Stage 5: Primer

This stage is very important. First it's done so the actual paint sticks better to the piece. Second it reveals all the mistake I made during the filler and sanding stage. Third it acts as a last line of filling for tiny holes that may appear.

It's important to remember to let the paint dry for at least a full day before continuing any work. Paint that hasn't been dried properly will smear and break. Also, don't touch it with your hands or you'll get fingerprints.








As you can see, there are mistakes. Never mind they'll be easy to fix later.




Here's another mistake I made. I used an improper sand paper. The one I used was made for walls and not stuff like plastic. I got a better paper from my uncle after he gave me a lecture on the different kind of sand papers :)
No problem, easy fix.




I ran out of primer. That's because the primer I had was the remain from an old project. So since I already got primer on the piece I just continued the process with the actual paint.



I got some more sanding to do. I won't quit until it's perfect :)
More updates soon.
charizard
Lookie what I got!
I'm going to use this bondo to make the screen fabrication. More of this will (hopefully) come shortly.

charizard
As part of my refurbishing project I decided to take a few photos of the process required to take apart all the stuff that I'm refurbishing. It's not a difficult process but for someone doing it for the first time it may help to use a guide.

This will be a guide for removing the arm rest, cup holders, gear cover and gear handle.




First the arm rest. There are only two screws holding this thing and they are located on both sides.






Then you can pull it up, there should be two clips holding it from the front just pull carefully until it comes off.




By the way this is a very good place to transfer wires




Next is the cup holder, this part has two metal screws and two plastic screws holding it. First the metal ones.




Then pull the plastic screws using a flat screwdriver. Pull the center piece then the whole thing should pull out easily.






Next is the gear handle and cover. This part is a little bit tricky but not hard at all. First unscrew the four metal screws holding the cover. These are an "after" image but the screws are located on the red spots.






Next the handle itself. There are two screws holding this thing. The two are located on the front part of the handle. Unscrew them. Then pull the handle itself but do this VERY CAREFULLY. The big button that lets you change gears will pop out so be ready to catch it.




If you try to lift the handle now you'll notice that it won't let you. That's because there's an electric wire connected to it. That's the wire for the "hold" button. Life the plastic cover a bit and you'll see that the wire is held in two areas. Carefully unwrap the wire from those ares and you'll be free to lift the whole thing.




Last thing left to do is to disconnect the hold button and light bulb wires from the socket. Simple as pulling it out.




And... we're done :) That was pretty easy wasn't it?

Hope you found this guide useful!
- Yaniv
charizard
I'm very pleased with the results.





The red sticker that shows you which gear you're currently at started to fade, can't have that now I can I. So I got I looked around the house for anything red that I can cut from. Found this old tape cover I didn't really need.










Since the ORIGINAL problem was that the OEM light bulb was too hot I decided to replace it with LED light. Quite a simple process. I had leftover LED strip from another project I was working on a while ago and it was just perfect for this replacement.








Added some tin foil so the light spreads better





Voila ready for installation :)







All the parts I repainted. They look brand new now. I just gotta repaint the whole car sometimes.




Installed the parts in the car. Looks awesome!
I gotta find a good paint for rubber. The arm break handle looks so faded now that all the other parts are new black. Hilarious isn't it?



Dark shot, light showing bright but not too bright. Just the way I wanted it :)





Well I'm finally done with this mini project. Hope whoever reads this finds this article series useful.
Thanks for reading!


Up next I will show how to disassemble these parts.
charizard
As part of my carputer project I decided I'm going to refurbish some of my car's internals. It's an old car so most of the plastics black coloring is starting to fade and it lost its shine. One of the thing that really bothered me is the automatic gear handle's lettering sticker which started to peal off and shows some really nasty bubbles.





I've been told by people who are experts in this particular car that Mazda made a mistake by putting a very hot light bulb just underneath the sticker and that all cars of this model have this problem. Well, I decided it's time to get it fixed... my way :)

So the first thing I had to do was to come up with a way to make a perfectly printed new sticker. No manual work can be done here because this must look completely OEM. So I opened up photoshop and designed myself a band new gear sticker.



I'm very please with how this turned out. I like it even better than the original.
Next step was to print this out on a transparent paper. I used a regular home inkjet printer on a special inkjet transparent paper. In order to keep the ink from fading away I printed this out twice one of them being flipped. Then I glued the two pieces together making the ink sit between the two plastic papers. This also serves as doubling the ink ensuring no light will pass through.

It was time to remove the original sticker. This is where I started having problems. Some of the deformed parts pealed right off easily but when I got to the parts that were still intact it just wouldn't come off. I tried everything; alcohol, warm water, citric acid, lighter fluid. When I got desperate I tried nail polish remover. Guess what it worked.... too well. It started eating off the plastic and the original plastic glass was destroyed. It also ate some of the coloring on the black piece around it. No worries though as I wanted to repaint it black anyway and the glass can be recreated easily. Just more work.

So for the moment this is how it looked. Plastic color eaten away and the new sticker showing. So far I'm very pleased.




Time to make the new window. I was looking around the house for transparent plastic stuff I don't need and found this CD case which was in perfect condition. All I did was cut out the shape of the original window.











Will update more later.
charizard
Hey everybody!

I've been planning/building a carputer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carputer) to put in my 1997 Mazda Lantis 323F (aka Mazda Astina). I've been on and off on it these past few months and working mostly on my spare time (which isn't much). I'm posting the current stuff I have from my project along with some pictures.

All the PC hardware shown here is from old computers (Pentium 3) I had in my house. I only bought some new wiring and the carpeting wraps. Later I'm probably going to upgrade the PC parts to something faster and more reliable but for the moment this will have to do as a proof of concept.

Status:
- Car wiring (DONE)
- PC hardware (DONE)
- PC software (DONE)
- Wooden box (DONE)
- Box finishing touches (DONE)
- LED "coolness" factor (DONE)
- Installation in car (DONE)
- Test drive (NOT)
- Amplifier install (DONE)
- Monitor install (NOT DONE)

Hardware:
- Pentium 3 800Mhz
- 768MB RAM
- SB Live! Value
- Geforce fx5200
- USB 2.0 PCI card
- 80GB HD
- Centrafuse car media center
- Windows XP


Installing/testing PC hardware/software




M2-ATX power supply


The box I built



Holes were cut on both sides for the fans and a grill was placed to prevent accidental touching




I took an old PC case and cut it to minimum fit to the motherboard


This is where the power supply goes


Power supply and fans positioned


I made a nice PC style power connector for the PSU


The box was polished with sand paper and Dremel tool so that when I put on the carpeting there won't be any ugly lumps


Carpeting (with glue!)


Carpeted everything while covering the holes as well



Holes were cut



I only had one round fan so I had to cut the other one to fit into the hole better. This will put more open space inside the box which is better for ventilation


Almost there...



Added hangers for putting the case on the back seat of the car



Back of the case.
Attached everything tightly to the case so when the car shakes things won't loosen up or move too much. The PSU power cable was attached to the back as well for easy installation.
You can see the reset button near the graphics card. Later I will put this button on the front dash of the car in case windows hangs during driving.


All done :) Now I need to test all this.


I paid a visit to an electronics shop and did some shopping. Pictures of the stuff I got are ahead.

So I went on with the project and guess what it works :D
The computer takes about a minute to turn off which is good considering it's Pentium 3. The sound quality is really nice though currently limited by my sound system which is due to be replaced sometime in the future. The PC is sitting in my trunk in a crappy manner right now until I hook it up firmly in place.

I'm planning on gluing all the parts with hot glue to make them sit better in place. I chose hot glue because it's flexible, strong yet removable if I ever have any need to do that. It will help prevent parts from moving too much when the car shakes.

Here are some photos from the assembly:

The car:


I bought some high quality power connectors. It will be easier to remove the computer from the trunk this way.


More fans!


Cable connectors:


Making the power connector:












Fans in their new place. One for outing the air from the hard drive and one for outing the air from the CPU.




I ran out of fan connectors on the motherboard so I make one to connect directly to the PSU:


You have no idea how messy the cables were in the sound system. This is a photo of a bit after I finally figured out what's what and did a bit of ordering. Everything was glued together with isolation band and there were like 6 wires which weren't connected to anything. The story is that the previous owner had cellphone handsfree which was connected to the sound system. The person who assembled it did such a mess that it took me around 30 minutes to disassemble everything and figure out what's what.


A bit more of the mess:


So I did some new order with the wires. I made myself a new connector with markings on what's what.


After connecting the Kenwood sound system and AUX connectors:


Everything finished. Centrafuse is running on the PC with my pocket PC connected through remote desktop. REM is in the background :)


The computer sitting in the trunk. Very ugly for now.


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