SiliconFilter

Hands-On With Ubuntu for Android

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A few days ago, Ubuntu announced its plans to marry its full desktop operating system with the Android mobile operating system. Ubuntu, of course, is mostly known for its Linux distribution, but the company has recently also branched out into consumer electronics with its Ubuntu for TV initiative. Today, we got a chance to spend some hands-on time with the first prototypes of Ubuntu for Android. While it's still obvious that this is a prototype, it's hard not to be positively surprised by the current state of the project.

Here is how it works in practice – and this is a bit similar to the experience with a Motorola Atrix: when you use your phone on the road, it's a regular Android phone. For the most part, you wouldn't even know that it is running Ubuntu as well. When you plug it into its base station however, it becomes a full-blown desktop system that you control with a mouse and keyboard. It even runs Ubuntu TV as well.

A Need for More Speed

The prototypes Ubuntu is using to demonstrate the operating system aren't among the fastest. It takes a little bit before applications like Chrome start up, for example. Ubuntu is quite aware of this, of course, and expects that the first phones with the operating systems will use faster, multi-core processors with more RAM than its current prototypes.

Once your applications are running, though, the desktop feels sufficiently speedy. Maybe the coolest feature of the desktop, though, as that you still have access to the full Android OS, too. You can still make calls, use Google Maps or any other app that runs on the phone. This isn't some emulator either. All the apps still run natively.

Ubuntu hasn't announced any partners yet that will manufacture the phone, but an Ubuntu representative told me that a number of top-tier manufacturers have already approach the company since it first announced this project a few days ago.

More Than a Gimmick

Going into the demo, I couldn't help but think that this was mostly going to be a gimmick, but after seeing the product in action, it does feel like the Ubunut team is on the right track. Chances are, your phone will never be as fast as that multi-core (but also power-hungry) desktop under your desk, but most users never really tap into this power anyway.

Ubuntu is aiming this feature at high-end users for now, but one could also imagine this as a smart solution for developing countries where phones are often peoples' only way of getting online.



7:55 am


Cord Cutting: It’s Easy if You Try

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Cord cutting, that is cancelling your cable or satellite contract in favor of going Internet TV-only, isn’t as hard as it sounds. Chances are, unless you are a real TV addict, you can easily live without cable these days and switch over to an affordable set-top box from Roku or Boxee with a subscription to Hulu Plus and Netflix.

My Experiment in Cord Cutting

While the pundits are still discussing whether cord cutting is real, I decided to see what life without cable would be like and cancelled our cable subscription about two months ago. Since then, I’ve used nothing but a basic Roku box to watch TV shows. Indeed, if you’re already somewhat picky about the shows you watch, cutting the cord turns out to be pretty easy.

Today, for a total of $16 per month, we subscribe to Hulu Plus and the most basic Netflix plan. We still watch virtually all the shows we looked at before and when news breaks, we can watch Al Jazeera’s live stream, which more than makes up for not getting to see the talking heads on CNN, MSNBC and Fox.

Before I cancelled our cable subscription, we were already watching virtually all of our TV from a DVR anyway, so the idea of time-shifting shows was nothing new. Unlike with a DVR, Hulu Plus doesn’t let you fast-forward through ads, though. Given that it only shows one ad at a time (often as short as 15 seconds), however, these interruptions are far more bearable than the 5-minute blocks you find on regular TV.


A few words about my experience with the Roku box: It just works. Its user interface could react a bit faster and its animations could be smoother, but I have not complaints about the video quality (which is the only thing that matter in the end) and thanks to a fast Internet connection, I haven’t run into any issues with degraded video quality or buffering streams yet. The Roku, in my opinion, offers more flexibility than an Apple TV at this point (which doesn’t support Hulu Plus) and is also the cheaper option in the long run.


Missing Shows

There are major holes in the Hulu and Netflix lineup, though. There are barely any CBS shows available, for example, which means that if you are addicted to all 15 franchises of CSI, you are out of luck (same if you want to see 60 Minutes). While many Fox shows are available on Hulu Plus, American Idol is not (but you can still get your reality TV fix thanks to ABC’s Dancing with the Stars). Oddly enough, some shows (like Fox’s Fringe) don’t stream on Hulu Plus but are available for free on Hulu’s free website. Missing in action, too, for the most part, is live sports, though that is rapidly changing and you can now see both NBA and MLB games live on the Roku. I couldn’t care less about watching sports on TV, but at least it’s good to know there are options.

Filling the Holes

Of course, just because you broke off your relationship with your friendly neighborhood cable TV provider doesn’t mean you can’t get free, over-the-air TV anymore, so most of these holes are easily plugged by a simple antenna (though you would actually have to sit through the ads and be in front of your TV at the right time – just like people used to do 10 years ago…).

You Can Do It if You Try – But Know What You’re Getting Into

That said, though, cutting the cord is obviously not an option if you just need to see Oprah, Dr. Phil and every show on the Food Network. It is easily an option, though, if your TV diet mostly consists of watching the Daily Show and a few select programs that are available on Hulu and Netflix streaming. Indeed, I’ve watched uncounted hours of interesting documentaries on Netflix instead of vegging out in front of yet another mindless show on Home and Garden TV.

My advice for those who want to cut the cord: do a test run before you cancel your cable subscription. If you can switch over without the constant urge to turn on your cable box again, you’re probably good to go.



11:30 am