When Less Isn’t More – We Need Better Batteries

April 28th, 2010 |
More, more, more. In the tech world, who doesn’t want more megahertz in their CPUs? Faster and more powerful GPUs for the increasing demand of high definition video from 1080p. Moore’s Law states that every two years the number of transistors on a circuit board can be doubled. Thus, this is the reason why the iPhones or BlackBerry’s in our pocket are nearly as powerful as a computer I purchased ten years ago. The silicon is shrinking and the hardware is getting stronger.

There’s only one problem – the battery. Batteries haven’t improved as fast as the rest of the computing world. In fact, why the hell are we still using Duracells and Energizers? AA batteries should be obsolete by now. There shouldn’t be a single digital camera on the market that has a battery that can’t last through a days worth of picture taking. No buts. End of story. It’s two-oh-freaking-ten. Designers, get with the times, please!

When Apple revealed their iPhone back in 2007 sporting an internal non-replaceable battery, the world cried foul. Then look what happened. Oh right, no one is whining about it anymore (except for all those Nokia fanboys). The rate at which our gadgets are used to their fullest potential and then disposed is so rapid today that it doesn’t matter. I don’t know a single person who owns an iPhone and has used it to its max for two years and has needed to get the battery replaced – they are still holding charges and bobbing along.

Scene from "The Matrix" (1999)

Asutek (Asus) struck on something interesting back when it introduced the first eeePC and practically opened the floodgates to the Netbook category. Their batteries, at the time, sucked. The original 7″ eeePC ran a variant of the open source OS, Linux, and while it was supposed to be the stepping stone to the future, the OS never caught on. Unlike Windows XP, Linux is so un-bloated that a 3-cell battery lasted quite a long time back in the day. We all know what happened to Linux. Consumers demanded Windows XP, and they got it for another couple years until Microsoft shipped Windows 7. Once everyone made the jump to Windows again on their little Netbooks, people demanded more battery. The 3-cell could no longer cut it. We needed 6, 9, and even 12-cell batteries. As the batteries expanded, the slimness of Netbooks became chunky. The Netbook of today is hardly what you would consider ultraportable. At best, a good Netbook is expected to be able to handle a day’s worth of web browsing, because let’s face it, no one wants to be lugging around an AC adapter at all. Lesson: If you’re going to do Linux, make it a competitor to Windows. I’m willing to bet Google’s extremely feather light Chrome OS will be able to jump start what Asus, HP, and many other companies have failed at.

If you asked me which Atom processor is the best for a Netbook, I’d probably have to spend a bit of time on Google. I’ve lost track of all the Intel Atom versions (now there’s dual core Atoms?). The most important thing when considering any mobile device is now, of course, the battery.

With almost every Android phone packing a 1Ghz Snapdragon processsor or iPads with their A4′s and Netbooks with their Atoms, the processor is no longer the cherry on top. Finding a computer that fits your needs, looks good, and has incredible battery life is no easy feat.
One of the companies that have been innovating and putting a larger chunk of R&D into getting more juice out of the old Lithium is none other than Cupertino’s Apple, Inc. Apple may get a lot of attention for their shiny new gadgets from their iPods, iPads, and iPhones, but no one can complain that the batteries that power Apple’s latest gadgets are anything but spectacular. Read the rest of this entry »
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Raymond Wong

Three Open Source Applications Everyone Should Have

February 2nd, 2010 |

The number one reason people stick to what they know is because they don’t know any better. In my last article, I wrote that most people have no clue what alternatives are available in the software world. It’s hard to go out and look for an alternative that works. While there are tons of great resources to start with such as Lifehacker, many find it too tedious to constantly keep up with emerging technology.

Here is a list of what I think are essential open source applications that everyone should have, with the exception of web browsers. The following three recommendations are available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

OpenOffice.org – One of the most troubling things about purchasing a new computer is that it doesn’t come with the tools that most people need to get real work done. By real work, I mean an office suite that includes a word processor, spreadsheets, and a presentation program. By default, we know these commonly as Microsoft Office, a.k.a. Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. These are brand names, yet we associate them almost entirely with what we expect from an office suite because of how ubiquitous they have become, much in the same way we substitute “Google” for “search”.

How much does Microsoft Office costs these days? Last time I checked, it was roughly $400 for the standard edition, give or take some savings here and there at Amazon or wherever you purchase your software. The student edition isn’t as hard on your wallet as the Standard version, costing only around the suggested retail price of $150.

We are so aware of MS Office because that is what the business and education sectors use for the most part. However, alternatives do exist. Sometimes they match MS Office in features or extend beyond what Office provides. You can buy Apple’s iWorks ’09 for $80, a savings of $70 over the student version of Office, but how does free sound instead? It sounds a lot cheaper, right? I thought as much. However, the $0 price tag shouldn’t come at the cost of functionality. Read the rest of this entry »

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Raymond Wong