Just recently, I, together with my partner ALLAN JARLOS, was commissioned to design a mobile office for a client. Having done this before but using independent peripherals (i.e. fax, email, GPS, etc), we feel that technology has matured enough in order to set up a more streamlined and all-in-one mobile communication system. Basically, our client would like to have the following capabilities built in:
Email and Internet browsing
Audio video teleconferencing
DVD and MP3 player
Send and receive fax
Two weeks ago, after having completed our research, we narrowed down our carputer options into two: 1) using the Mac mini and; 2) the NOKIA N95. Since the latter is already out in the market, we decided to do that first while waiting for the other components needed to complete option 1.
NOKIA N95 Carputer
Owing to the computing power of the NOKIA N95, all we needed to do is to attach it to an LCD monitor to give it more screen real estate. We did our initial testing using a regular TV with RCA audio/video input. Then ALLAN decided to purchase the 7" Pioneer AVH-P6800.
The most difficult part of this project was the installation of the LCD monitor/DVD player to the dashboard of the car, which in this case is the Honda VTIS 2005. Once that was done, all we needed to do was to attach the N95 to the LCD using the cables that come as standard accessory for the N95. Below is a view of our Option 2 setup using the N95 connected to the dashboard.
All the carputer's features are accessed using the N95 handset. It is fairly easy to do once you master the standard N95 shortcuts. Taking the N95 out with you when you get off the car is very simple- just remove the LCD cable and away you go. Putting it back in is just the reverse with the N95 almost instantaneously detected by the LCD. All our text inputs (urls, email replies, etc) are currently done using the N95 standard keyboard.
The following are our shared observation for this setup:
- The N95 is indeed not just a ubiquitous smart phone but a highly capable mobile computer. Except for the facsimile capabilities, which we should be able to figure out soon, this set up is able to handle all our requirements.
- Although the Pioneer AVH-P6800 is a touch screen LCD, the touch screen interface does not work with the N95. In our setup, the system is controlled through the N95 handset itself.
- The built-in navigation system, ASIAMAPS, is a joy to use. It interfaces flawlessly with the N95 which surprisingly seems to have a very sensitive GPS receiver. Even with the unit partially hidden under the dashboard, it can still constantly receive GPS data. In fact, I think it is just as sensitive if not better than my old standalone GARMIN GPSMap 60CSx with aerial antenna.
- The N95 automatically shuts down any application once it detects an incoming call. This is a completely hands-free system without the need for a Bluetooth headset. We can hear the voice of a caller through the vehicle's stock speakers while our voice is transmitted using the N95's built in and very sensitive microphone.
- The setup is also able to handle video calls without any issues. We just needed to adjust the N95 to face ever so slightly towards us for the calling party to see us.
- Email and web browsing is also flawless in this HSDPA phone provided that you use pre-saved browser bookmarks. This should get better as soon as we receive the Nokia wireless keyboard. We also plan to upgrade the N95 Office Suite which at present only allows viewing of excel, word, and PDF files.
- The N95 has a fairly short battery life especially when multitasking. We managed to get only half days worth of battery life with the GPS and Internet constantly on. But this should be solved once we get our N95 cigarette lighter adapter.
- This set up is very straightforward and very easy to accomplish for do-it-yourselfers. For a minor fee, you could always find a car accessory shop to install it for you. Once you have replaced your car's stereo head unit with LCD DVD player, the only other thing left to do is to hook it up to the N95 using the provided 3.5mm connector to RCA cables.
Here's my personal take:
- I still believe that a cheaper route could have been to use a regular touch screen LCD and not a complete stereo head unit such as the one we used here. We will confirm this as soon as the Lilliput 7" touch screen LCD arrives.
- I love the N95's five megapixel camera so much that it has now become my everyday camera replacing the old Sony DSC P200. Well, it has to be especially with the high quality Carl Zeiss lens that it shoots with. The pictures above were taken with the N95 at fairly low light conditions and handheld. My only comment is that the pictures come out with a slight magenta cast. However, this is something very easy to correct in Photoshop. Besides, you will only need to do this for the images that you have selected as keepers.
- Although the N95 is not at all sluggish even when multi-tasking, I still believe that our Option 1 (using a Mac mini) will be snappier. More on this in 2 weeks.
If you already own a NOKIA N95, try attaching it first to a regular TV, like what we did initially, then decide if it is worthy enough for your mobile office needs.
This is indeed convergence at its finest.