Posts Tagged ‘review’

Smartphones are total crap [en]

lundi, octobre 16th, 2017

Smart phones, despite their popularity, are overrated pieces of shit. They are unfit for normal everyday use and will let you down at the worst moment you can imagine, regardless of how careful you are with them.

3 phones – all dead

Nokia E51

The first smartphone i had. Bought in 2009 and running Symbian S60, the OS was utterly obsolete when i unpacked the phone. The SSL implementation is broken and forced me to switch from Exim (GnuTLS) to Postfix (OpenSSL) on my mail server so i can be able to send e-mails. Typing text on a numeric keypad is just painful. The web browser is unusable. Updating the phone requires a computer running Windows XP and the Nokia software suite. The battery gave way end of 2011, leaving me with only one short phone call of autonomy. Totally useless nowadays.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

First foray in the Google ecosystem in mid-2012. I had the Apple iPhone in hand at that time, but the apple walled garden just did not convince me with it’s closedness, so i settled for a more open platform. The software was OK, but the hardware is total shit: the wifi died 9 months after purchase, it was like the wifi chip has been pulled from the phone. Beginning of 2014, i cracked the screen with my belt buckle, but it was still usable. Then, in july 2014, during my holidays, the baseband died: impossible to send or receive phone calls, data, and SMSes. The only radio left working was Bluetooth. Oh, and i received only one system update beginning of 2013, making it totally unsecure nowadays if it was working properly. Utterly useless.


Since i was out of phone, i needed a replacement one. The Edward Snowden revelations about mass surveillance made me reconsider which OS my phone would be running. I settled on the Jolla, mainly for being developed and hosted in the European union, despite being manufactured in China. The phone is running SailfishOS, with the DalvikVM to run Android applications. The phone feels cluncky, but is useable. The hardware gave me a lot of issues:

  • The speaker stopped working at random: the only fix was to whack it on the table
  • Bad contact with the battery: The phone rebooted with a battery fully charged
  • The baseband is crashing at random, especially when there is poor coverage. Reboot required to get 3G signal back
  • Bad contact with the USB charging connector: the phone just won’t charge anymore
  • not-so-great camera
  • Very bad android support and the web browser is slow as hell
The aftermath

I was thinking about starting to develop some software for those platforms, turns out they are not worth wasting any time on, except if it can be something simple like a shell script. They are totally insecure by design (in software, in UI design, in hardware, and in general concept), and should not be relied on for anything.

The ideal phone for me has not been invented yet. here are the features i’m looking for in a phone:

  • can survive a 1m drop
  • Can cross 4 countries the same day without requiring a reboot
  • Regular software updates
  • Fully encrypted mass storage
  • Root access and no dependency on third parties, especially the ones in the US (Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Apple)
  • A speaker loud enough so i can hear the ringtone one meter below my ears
  • Dual or triple profile that can be triggered by passcode entry alone (duress mode: a real profile and one or two with fake data, like a TrueCrypt hidden container), so you don’t expose all your data at once to a third party, even under torture.
  • Call filtering: depending on the last profile activated, it will ignore selected calls and/or messages, but will give you everything if you open the « trusted » profile
  • A battery that can last two days on a single charge
  • A decent and well debugged 3G baseband (Yes, 3G: i don’t care about fancy 4G or 5G, give me something stable that works)
  • Fully sandboxed applications (Stop that non-sense of applications that freely access all your data and data from other applications)

For now, i will live without phone. I’m available on several channels (e-mail, IRC, but not facebook). My SIM card will happily live in a 3G dongle, so i can still receive SMS in a limited fashion. Fuck phones, they are a disturbance anyway…

My new phone.


Acer Aspire One review: two years later [en]

dimanche, juin 27th, 2010

Two years ago i bought my first netbook: here are my impressions

Acer Aspire One

The good

  • The laptop is very light and pleasant to carry around
  • It came with Linpus Linux pre-installed. This mean i didn’t have to pay the Microsoft tax. Since i’m running Debian on it, that install was quickly ditched.
  • There is a gap between the screen and the main chassis, allowing me to hold it open and straight with one hand. There was a note in the user manual that this is NOT the way to hold it (risk of crushed fingers) This is really a killer feature for a road warrior that should be more developped.

The bad

  • small screen, low resolution. This cause a problem with many applications where some dialog boxes « sink » under the bottom of the screen.
  • battery life: i have about two hours of usable battery life: this can be tight sometimes
  • Lack of 3G modem: That was not an issue during the first five months because i didn’t have a subscription at the time. Now i have one and i’m stuck with that huge USB modem hanging from the USB port. A small extension cord and some velcro adhesive partially solved the bulky adapter problem. I’m now trying to find 90° angled male USB A connector to keep the size under control.
  • No bluetooth. Not really an issue because there are USB adapters on the market that stick out by less than 5 mm. Less opportunities to cause damage.
  • Limited CPU ressources: The machine has a hard time to keep up with heavy applications like playing a flash video or running the compiler. You just need to be very patient on that.

The ugly

  • After eight months of use, the right touchpad button was not working anymore.
  • It failed totally ten months after purchase: when turned on, the fan and harddisk were spinning, but the screen stayed black (no backlight) and there was no activity. This was fixed under warranty. However, i had to fight to get it fixed: the first time i got it back, the problem was still there. And the reseller told me that they changed the motherboard. It then went back for repair and it was fixed one month later. In total, i have been without for two months
  • To access the harddisk, you have to COMPLETELY DISMANTLE the laptop. That was a real PITA.


Despite it’s flaws, this machine has become my main workhorse when i’m away from home and saved my butt a few times already. After two years of daily carrying and nearly daily use, there are no cracks in the shell. My previous laptops failed by the case, with cracks at very nasty places after about two years of moderate use and carrying. I don’t plan to retire it at the moment: i tend to keep my machines until they are horribly obsolete or simply fall apart. Let’s see in about two years then. 🙂

Soekris Net4801 review [fr]

dimanche, novembre 8th, 2009

I have been using the Soekris Net4801 for a few years and here are my impressions

Soekris_net4801_boardThe good

  • This computer is small, power efficient, reliable and hacker-friendly.
  • It just has the needed hardware to make a decent router out-of-the-box and a little bit more.
  • It comes with a serial console to make configuration easy.
  • The BIOS can be set up, upgraded and flashed from the serial port.
  • It has GPIOs if you want to add custom hardware.
  • Bootable compact flash slot: enable you to build a router with no moving parts.
  • If the compact flash do not meet your needs, there is an optional bracket and cable to plug an IDE laptop harddisk.
  • One PCI slot and one mini-PCI slot for extensions like a WiFi card

The bad

  • This machine is underpowered: if you ask a little bit more than routing to the machine (file serving, playing MP3’s, imap server,…), performances are going straight to the toilet and you end up waiting… waiting… waiting…
  • Lack of USB ports: There is only one USB 1.0 port on the machine, limiting its potential.
  • The CF card slot is on the same IDE bus than the harddisk: if you want to use both, make sure the harddisk is configured as a slave device. You might want to test several compact flash cards for compatibility: many CF cards have a buggy IDE/ATA interface that will cause you headaches.

This machine should not be used as a file server due to the poor disk I/O performances, even with DMA on. I would like to see a similar setup with an Intel Atom CPU, a decent chipset and 4 USB 2.0 ports, then we would have a killer home server appliance.

Where to buy (europe)

I bought my board via Wim Vandeputte. This guy is reliable and is present at every event related to the free software movement.