All entries for Monday 17 August 2009

August 17, 2009

O2 mobile broadband dongle a disappointment…

Writing about web page

Just before I went on holiday last week I noticed that O2 were selling their pay-as-you-go mobile broadband dongles at half price – £15 instead of £30. £30 is over my threshold for “just in case” purchases but at £15 it was hard to refuse. And as I was going to be away from home for a week and I was planning on having a laptop with me anyway, I thought it might be useful. So I got one.

An initial test at home suggested that it got a stronger 3G signal than my iPhone did, which was very encouraging. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way in practice. I was staying just outside of Ashford in Kent. The mobile signal wasn’t great, but my iPhone would happily maintain an EDGE connection most of the time, occasionally dropping to GPRS indoors. No 3G, sadly. The dongle, though, had a much harder time. Indoors it couldn’t connect at all. Oh, except once for about 5 minutes. All of my laptop-based surfing had to be outdoors. Fortunately the weather was good.

Even outside, though, things were very flakey. Sometimes I couldn’t get a connection at all. Sometimes the connection would stay up for 5 minutes or so before dropping. Sometimes the connection would stay up but stop passing data. Once I got a connection for 30 minutes or so. And all the time, just feet away, the iPhone, talking to the same network, would keep a constant, working EDGE connection.

The O2 coverage checker does say it won’t work well where I was. That’s not the problem. What I’m disappointed at is that it did less well than the iPhone, on the same network, and I guess talking to the same cell? Others have told me the iPhone isn’t the most sensitive receiver, compared to other phones, so I was expecting the opposite.

At least it was only £15, and it might come in useful some day. Somewhere else…

And it is funny how you get used to high speed connectivity. Everything felt soooooo sloooooow at EDGE speeds. Like taking the Internet back several years to the days of dial-up modems. Most frustrating.

Still, other members of my family have Orange phones and they had no signal at all, not even for calls, so things could have been much worse:-)

A comparison of the iPhone and Windows versions of autostitch

I’ve been a big fan of Autostitch for ages now. I’ve always found creating panoramas by hand very difficult and extremely time consuming, so I never really got into it. Autostitch automates the whole process. You just throw a collection of photos at it and it does the rest. You don’t even need to tell it the order – it figures that out by itself and does all the blending for you to hide the joins. There are times when it doesn’t do a brilliant job but most of the time it does at least as good a job as I could have done by hand, and it does it far faster and with almost zero effort.

Then along came the iPhone version and I bought it instantly. I didn’t really expect it to do such a good job as the Windows version but actually I’ve been surprised at how good it is. Here’s a quick comparison. These two panoramas were created from the same set of three images taken in the iPhone. The first was done by autostitch on the iphone itself and the second by autostitch on Windows:

Hastings beach

iPhone version

Hastings beach

Windows version

It is actually quite hard to choose the better of those two. They each have good and bad points. Fairly obviously the Windows version hasn’t managed to blend the exposures very well. Because I was shooting into the sun, and the iPhone camera is completely automatic, the exposures were not consistent across the three images. The iPhone version of autostitch has handled that very well while the Windows version has pretty much failed miserably. I could even the exposures by hand first to help it out, and the result would then be much better.

However, the Windows version has matched the images up much better. If you click on the images to zoom in, you’ll see quite a lot of ghosting on the iPhone version where the separate images haven’t been properly matched up. I guess that’s where all the processing work is needed, and so where they’ve cut a few corners to get the iPhone version working at an acceptable speed. I hope they improve this in future as it really is the whole point of autostitch in the first place!

The other disappointment with the Iphone version is that the resolution of the output image is lower than I’d like. By the time the image is neatly cropped it is less than 1MP while the Windows version comes out at 2.5MP. I’m not sure of this is a limitation of the iPhone OS, or autostitch, or me not using it right. More investigation required…

Overall I’m really impressed with how good a job the iPhone version of autostitch does, and I’m happy to have paid £1.20 for it. A little bit of work on the image matching, and the ability to get higher resolution results, and it will be perfect…

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