23 July, 2009

Twin Tact / E2831

The E2831 is a neat little touch screen dual mode (GSM/Wifi) Linux-based smart phone made by the Shanghai based manufacturer E28 Ltd. Features include Opera web browser, IPTV and SIP support, as well as bluetooth and a 1.3 MB camera. Importantly, can now be had for little more than a handful of peanuts.

A customised version was marketed in France by the Internet provider Neuf (or N9uf) Telecom as part of a quad play package that coupled mobile phone with VOIP. The Neuf software was designed to be easy to configure via the "Neufbox", Neuf's combined ADSL hub/modem/IPTV box. The VOIP identity was the same as the subscriber's GSM number. The handset can be used to watch TV via the Neuf portal. Since the Wifi connection is used to browse the net and connect to the portal (GPRS is also supported, but is expensive and slow), watching TV on the mobile is free via free hotspots. Interestingly, it also worked abroad, which means that the IP address is not used to restrict viewing geographically. TV viewing is, however, restricted to subscribers to the N9uf twin mobile service, who have to generate an ID code using their subscriber details.
Neuf has now merged with the mobile operator SFR. Or more accurately, SFR has completely swallowed N9uf. SFR was not too keen on the VOIP service. No doubt it was concerned that people would spend time and effort to hunt out free hotspots before placing their calls - something not borne out by observation! Be that as it may, SFR has stopped marketing the service and trying to "persuade" subscribers to migrate to new packages with a different price structure. They are now marketing various HTC handsets, though. The HTC handsets will have access to the forthcoming "Everyworld" portal including streamed TV. SFR has removed the web page that enables configuration files to be generated. many SFR-sponsored support forums have also disappeared.
Twin Tact's can now be picked up on Ebay.fr for around 30 to 40 euros. They may or may not be sim-locked in to the SFR operator. A real bargain for what is tantamount to a PDA with TV playing facilities as well as a cell-phone.
Finally, the so called software CD that Neuf supplies with the phone is a joke. All it does is point the user's browser to Neuf's download site, supposedly to "check for the latest version of the software". The CD itself contains no software or drivers at all. So Neuf/SFR can keep their hand on where the software goes.

Flashing the firmware
Doing anything at all outside the SFR box is really awkward on the Twin Tact firmware. SIP settings cannot be modified by the keyboard; the only way to change them is to change the update file and upload it to the phone. Either that or connect to the phone by telnet over the wifi link. I couldn't do the latter because the phone refused to work with my Freebox wifi. As for the former - finding the right drivers is a nightmare. Especially after all the files had been removed from one of the support sites.
The original E28 firmware, called Smarcore, enables multiple SIP accounts. It also leaves the IPTV module intact, but I haven't found how to enter the account to enable TV.

The procedure for flashing the firmware is set out here. However, the links to the files are not (at present) valid. The files to download and install the firmware are currently available here. Briefly, for those whose French is not up to it or in case the site disappears, the procedure is as follows:
Download the files: OMAP73x.inf, usbio.inf and E2831_080131_STUN_REL.tar.gz. Decompress the files into one directory and double click on flasher.exe. Switch off the Twin Tact, remove and replace the battery. Then (while it is still switched off) connect it to the PC with a USB cable. The software will then automatically install the new firmware. If necessary, use the Windows wizard to install the drivers first.


Open Twin This is the best overall site for hackers. It includes a wiki, forum and files section. In French

Neuf's Twin portal, exactly as it appears on the screen

Download files Includes software to unlock the Twin Tact via Telnet, the Smarcore firmware, N9uf's firmware and software for organising your media.

Videos to download for Twin - no longer operating.


Twin News

Journal du Geek

22 July, 2009

Wifi phones galore

Over the past couple of years I've tested quite a handful of PDAs and phone handsets for making calls from wifi hotspots.

Why use a wifi phone?
Some wifi handsets have been marketed for use as a cordless home phone. Personally, I can't see a great deal of point in this, other than eliminating the phone base unit. On the other hand, when out and about, it can make a sizeable cut in the amount you pay to the mobile company. However, many recent mobile packages take away the need for a wifi phone and the hassle of finding a free hotspot. In short, wifi phones are useful for people using pay as you go packages or international travellers who want to avoid exorbitant roaming fees.

Compaq iPaq PDA
My experiments started some years ago with an elderly Compaq (now HP) PDA running Windows Mobile 2 (?). I eventually managed to shoe-horn X-Lite (or was it SJ-Phone?) onto it and made satisfactory calls using a Wengo VOIP account. Unfortunately, when I upgraded the Windows Mobile to a version marginally more recent, I found that HP no longer provided support for the Wifi cards. I downgraded the Windows Mobile, but new projects to play with and the demise of the battery meant that the retirement of this decidedly chunky gadget, made even clunkier with the external battery pack.

Neither a phone, nor strictly speaking a PDA, this gadget is in fact a "travelling computer". Its relation to a real laptop computer is much the same as that of a magnetic or peg chess-board to the full-blown thing. Moreover, it also makes a very good PDA. Skype is pre-installed (except for the cut-down SFR badged version, but it is easy to install) so you can video chat from a bar or by the side of a swimming pool. You can also buy Skype-out credit to call phones for a reasonable price. But you might feel a bit silly talking into a computer in a pub. I took a 7 inch linux version with me on trips to Brazil, Turkey and London and it came in very useful indeed, for surfing as well as calling. The wifi antenna is very sensitive.
But in particular, it doesn't look like a phone. So it will really bring attention to you in the street. I also installed a couple of SIP clients, including Wengophone, but none of them worked as well as Skype. Lack of Linux support seems to be the problem.

The next few posts will give more detailed accounts of my encounters with other units: the Pirelli DP-L10, known in France as the "Free Black"; the Free White, the E2831, Benq and another badged N9uf.