As a reminder, all three essays (with their corresponding original contest entries) will be published here on Pocketables this week. Then starting on Thursday, September 30th, and ending on Saturday, October 2nd, readers will vote for their favorite essay to determine who will win a free Viliv N5. The other two finalists will each receive $300 off the purchase of an N5 from Dynamism.
Readers who participate in the comments section of the essays will be automatically entered to win one of five $50 Dynamism-Gizmine gift cards. Commenters will be chosen at random.
All winners will be announced on Monday, October 4th.
Finalist #1: Steve A.
My wife is a real estate agent whose territory is wide-ranging, and covering it is often complicated by the fact that ferry boats must sometimes be taken to get to her listings. The amount of her valuable time wasted in traveling is inefficient so I've been trying to find a way to help her out and take some of the load off. Unfortunately, I don't have her expertise and experience at staging and other elements in making and keeping a listing (especially vacant listings) maintained and attractive.
I would use the Viliv N5 to give my wife a "telepresence" capability, with me as her "remote control monkey" at her listings. Taking the Viliv N5 with me as a "telepresence node" to a remote listing site, I would use the 1.3Mp WebCam, the built-in microphone and speaker and the 3G HSPA communications to be my wife's eyes, ears and arms at the listing. In this way, I would absorb all the wasted travel time and when I arrived she would only have to spend enough time "virtually on-site" to watch and direct me efficiently from back at the office. For her, five or six wasted hours would instead become one very efficient hour, making maximum productive use of her expert time, and giving her more time to do those things only she can do. This idea would only work with something like the Viliv N5 with its specific characteristics and set of features.
I'd also use the built-in GPS to find the listings I was supposed to go to.
The Viliv N5 is a tiny Windows 7 machine, packed with a Swiss-Army-knife collection of peripherals, all of which actually works astonishingly well.
If there was a single soundbite capturing my experience with the Viliv N5, it would be "surprisingly capable." I went into this with fairly low expectations for two reasons. Firstly, I'd dealt with a "pocketable" PC before (an OQO 1) and it was a miserable experience, which gave me a lot of baggage for the genre. Secondly, the Viliv N5 is teeny-tiny, about a little larger than my Samsung Impression cell phone in all dimensions. Similar to a cell phone with a slide-out keyboard, the N5 keyboard is not intended for touch-typing unless you have, maybe, nine-year-old girl fingers. The structure and layout of the N5 is designed to be used like a keyboard-equipped cell phone as well: you hold the device in your two hands and your thumbs do everything else. So if it looks like a cell phone, it probably has about the same amount of capability, right? Wrong. Really wrong. Subjectively, I'd guess the N5 is half again more powerful than my ASUS netbook, and don't get me started on how much better the N5 mouse is over the ASUS trackpad. It just did everything well.
Generally, the N5 didn't just hit our target; it blew it completely out of the water, including the GPS bit. For unforeseen practical reasons we did have to make a couple of adjustments to our plan. The built-in speaker, quite adequate for the typical video chat or movie, was not quite up to the background noise and conversational distance necessary for the experiment. The stevedore had to be far away from the machine, and frequently out of the same room. So we switched to a cell phone on speaker in a pocket to solve the problem. Secondly, the AT&T 3G service had choppy coverage at the remote location of the subject house, and we wanted the smoothest possible picture for the experiment. So we switched to a Clear 4G USB device plugged into the N5 USB port. This is not to suggest that the built-in 3G HSPA is not up to snuff; experiments performed elsewhere over the same service (ooVoo) were quite satisfactory, although 4G does give a better experience than 3G, and Clear's service is not only faster but cheaper and genuinely all-you-can-eat, which AT&T is not. AT&T 3G has a lot better coverage, however.
The experiment turned out far better than we hoped. There were a few speed bumps associated with practical concerns that we had not foreseen, but these were tied to the fact that we had never done this before and had nothing to do with the N5. For example, if you're a lunkhead guy, placing a couch under direction is not so tough, but folding a little stack of towels so it's "pretty" is challenging even if you do have a talented stager kibitzing at you from 20 miles away.
We made a video. The first 45 seconds (the part looking at the moving van) are taken with a regular video camera, a Canon HV30, to give a video reference. The rest of the video up to the final still is entirely taken with the N5 and broadcast wirelessly in realtime. The view is exactly that seen by JR (the stager, my wife and Realtor) and used by her to direct Randall, the mover guy. It was recorded live as it streamed in on JR's machine. Most of it has been sped up for mercy's sake.
The actual RE listing is here.
Other N5 things we did, just for fun:
- Connected various Bluetooth devices to it
- Loaded all of my productivity software on it (mostly Open Office Suite, my PIM, my file manager, third-party e-mail package, and blah blah blah)
- Connected it to my home WiFi network, and a bunch of other wi-fi networks
- Loaded a few third-party multimedia players on it
- Put two other browsers on it and wrapped them all with a sandbox
- Stuck AVIRA on it
- Put ZoneAlarm on it
- Put Topo USA on it, which is extremely demanding with its -D topographical displays (which an ASUS EEE 1005HA-PU1X failed on)
The main idea to come away with here is that in addition to the telepresence experiments (we actually did several; one was a "virtual shopping" trip to Lowe's hardware for one of JR clients in which the client ended up buying $150 worth of outdoor designer flowerpots based only on what she saw from the feed from the N5 camera), I threw a lot of really bizarre and sometimes contorted or CPU-loaded problems at the N5. While sometimes things moved along a little slowly, although never unreasonably, the N5 just worked. This is in stark contrast to some netbooks I've experienced that sometimes do what you ask them to and sometimes don't.
As another example, if you can even follow this insanity, I used TrueCrypt to create an encrypted volume on the N5, put my lightweight e-mail and PIM clients on it, shared the encrypted volume wirelessly across the network with password protection, and then ran my PIM and e-mail clients on my desktop from the N5. The net result is that I have fully encrypted, fully protected PIM and e-mail clients that are intrinsically "synced" whenever I walk out the door with the N5. Should the N5 get lost or stolen, the data is automatically out of reach to anyone trying to read it.
Lastly, this entire essay/review was actually dictated on the Viliv N5 using Dragon NaturallySpeaking while comfortably reclined in a zero gravity chair with the N5 cuddled on my tummy. I kid you not. Sweeeeeeet.