Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mobilis Review - Part I : The Hardware, Software and Device aspects

What is it?

A hand held device from Encore Software, Bangalore that was introduced in late 2005 by the Indian minister for Science and Technology, Kapil Sibbal, was dubbed as a sub 10K INR laptop for the masses with an aim to bridge the much debated digital divide. However, since its availability, the price of the device seems to be little over double the initial estimated cost. With most of the connectivity options (like WiFi, GPRS and USB Lan) needing extra money, the device at present seems no where near bridging the digital divide. But if we look closer, it might have some promise...

The Hardware

The Mobilis is based on an ARM architecture and uses an Intel PAX processor clocked at 400 MHz. A main memory of 128MB is fair enough to run a number of applications included. However, a flash memory of mere 128MB is just enough for the installed applications. If you want to store data or music it is advised to get a cheap USB pen drive or an MMC card. However make sure that the drive is formatted with FAT16 only as FAT32 seems not supported. I was successfully able to use my old 128MB Lexar pen drive as well as a new 2GB Transdent drive without much problems. But I find certain data integrity issues while using the 2GB drive, and would rather recommend not to use a higher capacity drive with this device. However, I have not been able to use the MMC card that came with my Nokia 6600 on the device.

On the display side, Mobilis comes with an impressive 800x640, 16bit clear TFT display that also acts as a touch screen. I found this screen as well as the touch screen fairly well made as compared to other competing products.

Another piece of hardware that I am currently using to key in the text for this review is the 56 key keyboard that is a bit cumbersome to use. In the small keypad form factor, I am a regular user of Freedom Mini keypad along with my Nokia 6600. I find the ergonomics of Freedom Mini keyboard far better than the one offered with Mobilis. One major complain that I have about the Mobilis keypad is the size of the individual keys is so small that a person with thick figures will have problem using the keys effectively.

Another piece of hardware is the stereo speakers attached to the device and are fairly good quality piezo electric gadget. The device also includes an inbuilt mic, though I found its quality and sensitivity not at par even with cheap microphones available in the market.

The Software

On the software end Mobilis uses a commercial grade MontaVista Linux distribution.The kernel version is fairly dated in the sense it is 2.4.x series. A uname -a indicates the following kernel version:

Linux Mobilis 2.4.20_mvl31_tft_mg1

Mobilis also includes a BuzyBox based shell ash, which provides most of the command line utilities available on a standard Linux distribution. Other productivity applications like E-mail client, Firefox browser, Abiword, Presentation viewer, VLC player (mp3 and video player) and Flash player are also present.

How does it compare with other offerings in the market?

By any means Mobilis was neither released too early in the market neither too late to be run over by its competing devices. As of now I see two major factors in keeping away general public from buying this device. Most of what this device can do can be performed by a high end Nokia smart phone (except of-course the screen form factor). Another feature that this device lacks is a camera, but I don't think the current design can accommodate a camera in it. When compared with other similar form factor devices like the Nokia Internet tablet, Mylo from Sony, I find that two major things are lacking: an out of box integrated WiFi or a bluetooth connectivity and support for VoIP clients like GTalk and Skype. Though one might argue that these are not real target areas for Mobilis, these features really do affect when people are looking out for the device. Another important area where Encore is missing out is marketing. Where as Nokia and Sony have a huge marketing force as well as get fair amount of third party review, the marketing by Encore is vastly limited and has also probably received far less reviews.

In conclusion I find that Mobilis has a great promise if Encore keeps developing and improving over the current design. It a pretty good start from Indian perspective of bridging the digital divide by reliable low powered computing devices.

In the next part of this review I will cover software and programming aspects of Mobilis in more detail.... so look back at this space.

Note: This review was entirely written using Abiword on Mobilis and then transferred to my PC using USB pen drive and finally uploaded to Google Docs and published to Blogger.