2010-08-23 18:50

I'm a nerd, but I Have a Cheap Phone

I just got a new phone because my old one disappeared. I got a Samsung Star, which is not a smartphone, but what they call a featurephone, which seems to mean "it does a lot of things but is cheap, can only be coded in Java and doesn't run android".

Here's some of the features of this baby:

  • Touchscreen, 400x240
  • Fake GPS (gives you a 400 meters radius of your location. Good enough for me in the city)
  • Webkit-based browser that works surprisingly well (it comes with the LGPL as a document and you can't delete it :-)
  • Accelerometer
  • FM radio
  • A 2GB micro-SD card
  • 3.2MP camera (takes video at 320x240).

The camera can take decent photos in good conditions:


And it even has some "advanced" features (by which I mean: things my cheap dedicated camera doesn't do), like smile shutter and panoramic shots:


Other that that... well, it's a phone, what can I say. It was "cheap", which means "it costs more than I want to pay for it, but less than the alternatives".

So, how am I taking advantage of it...

First: I have not had a decent pocket-sized ebook reader since my last Clie died. So, I looked for software to do that.

It turns out that the world of Midlets, as feature phone apps are often called, is aweird place, where things are quite hard to find for the uninitiated.

There is a sort of "app shop" at http://getjar.com but it's by no means comprehensive, and often things are quite hard to find.

After lots of looking, I found a good (I may even say very good) program called Foliant. Here's their home page, russian only ... it's weird, my favourite Palm ebook reader, Palm Fiction also has a russian-only site!

Of course, the fonts sucked (way too large) but it turns out you can convert TTF fonts using this tool so I am now back to the lovely Droid Sans I am used to.

Another nice thing about the new phone is that it can actually play media (yes, my previous phone was so crappy it didn't even play mp3). But... not every kind of media. For audio, just use mp3. For video... it's a bit more complicated.

Here's the short version:

  1. Convert using HandBrake, ffmpeg MP4 video, AAC audio.
  2. Always use the .mp4 extension, the phone is not smart enough to know what a .m4v is.
  3. Don't make the video larger than 320x240.

Number 3 is a problem. For example, you may have a video in a wide screen format, like 640x272, which is a 2.35:1 ratio.

The obvious thing is to cap the width to 320, and that would give you a 320x136 video.

Well, that's wrong. What you should do is find the right height, keeping aspect ratio, for a 400px width. In this case, that would be a 400x170.

But you can't use a 400x170 video! which is why you will use 320x170, and on playback tell the phone to stretch it and ignore aspect ratio. And voila, 400x170 and the correct aspect ratio.

The difference? 320x130 has only 41600 pixels, while 320*170 has 54400, which means you get a 30% better picture.

Yes, it's tiny (3 inches) but it looks pretty sharp, and depending on the kind of material you are watching, it works.

UPDATE: Foliant is better than I thought, once you get the Samsung-specific version. It's fullscreen (no silly soft buttons) and the screen rotates automatically using the accelerometer. It's a pleasure to use, and the UI is very nice.


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