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Winter sales?

This year, I decided not to go to Châteaubriant for the winter sales. It just seemed too much risk given the more contagious "English" variant of Covid is doing the rounds.
So instead, I asked if I could begin and leave work a half hour early. They were okay with that, so I did, and went into town.

There wasn't much in the clothing store, and in the supermarket I picked up some batteries.

The first battery is a chunky USB backup battery. Rated at 15000mAh, with dual outputs at 2A (combined), and a glowing percentage indication, not bad for €10.
I'm measuring the output at 4.75V under a 0.5A load (charging the tablet).

15000mAh backup battery
15000mAh backup battery.
For some reason, the tablet only draws a maximum of 0.5A from the battery, so the tablet actually discharges when the battery is connected and the screen is on maximum brightness. Knock the brightness down a bit, and it will begin charging...

The second battery is... interesting. They are regular 1.2V AA (LR6) Ni-MH cells with a rating of 110mAh. Normal rechargables, right Well, yes, but with a difference - these ones can be charged in a regular charger, or by plugging in a micro USB lead!

AA cells with integrated USB charger.
AA cells with integrated USB charger.

 

Getting some sun

Well, it might only be about four degrees outside, but out in the sunshine, it was actually quite pleasant in the sun. I say "was" as it is coming over cloudy and the wind is picking up again. Time to head back inside. What a boo...
Getting some sun
Getting some sun.

 

Weather sensors

I noticed yesterday that the rain sensor was not recording any rain... while it was tipping it down.
When I got up on top of the woodshed roof, it became clear when I saw the rain collector was on its side. Yup, that would stop it working effectively.
While I was up there, I used some bits of metal wire (the guide wires from inside the plastic tubing) to act as guy ropes to prop the wind sensor into place. Because of the weather yesterday, the vane spent most of its time spinning around. Talking of spinning, the little cups for the wind speed got a workout, measuring 12.2kph. It was probably more, but on a roof between a building and a tree isn't the best place for it.
Rain and wind sensors
Rain and wind sensors.

 

The sunny uplands of Brexit

You know all those concerns that were raised by Remainers and flatly dismissed as "Project Fear"?
Welcome to the start of the third week of the first month of Britain outside of the EU, where businesses are now starting to realise the actual scope of the differences between trading as a member state, and as an external country. While Brexit was promised to bring in all sorts of (fantasy) advantages, a freedom of all the regulatory rubbish from Brussels, and the ability to set up trade deals all around the world...what it has delivered in reality is unimaginable amounts of red tape and customs requirements for all businesses operating cross-country. While Parliament wants to talk of these sorts of issues as "teething problems", the truth of the matter is that the trade agreement hammered out at the fifty ninth minute of the eleventh hour is exceedingly deficient. Government should have spent three years making the best agreement possible, not endless amounts of posturing. Because, now, small and medium businesses (that often don't have the resources or multinational presence to do these sorts of things) are realising that these are not temporary problems that will eventually go away. No, this is how it is now. Rules of origin certifications, customs, regulations, conformity declarations. Including private commercial sales. Sell stuff on eBay? Want to sell something to me, living in the EU? Guess what.

In response, some companies have cut out selling to the EU. Some EU customers have cut out buying anything from the UK (count me among them, as I don't fancy being hit for import duties costing more than the item I purchased). Some companies, already suffering due to Covid, are likely to go to the wall.
The government's trade specialists have a solution that perfectly sums up how batshit ridiculous the entire Brexit project is - they suggest that British companies that want to have less friction in trading with the EU relocate part or all of their business to the EU.
Yup. The big British project in freedom and sovereignty now expects that British businesses lay off British workers and move operations (and tax revenue) out of Britain to get around the punishing sanctions that Britain has unleashed upon itself.

But, don't worry as revenue and jobs are lost. Jacob Rees-Mogg assures us that fish are happier now that they know they're in British waters. Red, white, and blue fish no doubt. Which, is incidentally the colours of the French and Dutch flags, should even the fish wish to defect. I'm sure the French fishermen would appreciate them much more than the British fishermen who have rotting piles of fish because the overwhelming majority of the catch that they were so determined to hold on to....is sold to Europe. Which is now a morass of paperwork and punishing self-inflicted beaurocracy.

Welcome to Brexit.
At least take a moment to mourn all that you have lost, especially since so many never realised all that they had.

 

A new (freebie) tablet - Klipad KL8889

Following my subscription to "Ça m'interesse" with ADLpartner (in association with my bank), I was supposed to receive a new tablet. Due to the success of the offer, they had to get a new batch of tablets. I asked for a red one.
Klipad KL8889 tablet, with stylus
Klipad KL8889 tablet, with stylus.

Well, I guess a black one is better than none, right? ☺

I set it up immediately as a British English device, and set it up with my Google account, then installed the apps that are important to me - MXPlayer, ES File Explorer (the original, not the sold-out malware mess), NetFlix, Firefox, K9 Mail, QuickEdit, etc etc.

The specs

This tablet is a Klipad KL8889 (made by incar, or Shenzhen Incar Technology Co. Ltd with a website (http://www.incarsoft.net/) that no longer exists!).
It is powered by a quad ARM Cortex-A35 device with a Mali-G31 GPU, the Rockchip RK3326.
The processor can run from 408MHz to 1512MHz. It is an ARMv8 device, which means it is capable of 64 bit operation. However in this case, it is running in 32 bit mode.

As an aside, I mentioned on the ROOL forums that the writing is likely to be on the wall as far as continued new 32 bit processors are concerned. Not only has ARMv8 been a part of the last few Pi models, but it's turning up on tablets that companies are giving away as "free" incentives.
So I suspect soon we'll see 64 bit ARM devices offering restricted 32 bit modes (like user mode only), and in maybe a few years, the Pi 6 will be a 64 bit only device.

The tablet has 16GB flash, of which 11.68GB is available for the user (the rest holds the recovery firmware and Android 9). RAM is a more cramped 1GiB, of which 952MiB is available for the user. If it is like the previous tablet, the remainder will be a small swap partition in a RAMdisc. Yeah, it's dead weird having a RAM swap in RAM, but I guess if the OS expects some form of swapping to be present...

As before, there are two cameras. A 2 megapixel (1600×1200) rear camera, and a VGA (640×480) front camera. As before, both are rubbish.

The screen is larger, this time 1280×800 which means it can properly display HD video. The promo bumph claims it's a 10 inch tablet, Aida64 reports 9.86 inches; but then it seems to think the screen size is 245mm × 53mm which is... bizarre.
Looking at the device, it is more square than the previous tablet, and would appear to be trying a little harder to look like some sort of iPad.
Quickly measuring the screen with a tape measure, it looks like it's 226mm wide and 136mm tall, with a diagonal width of 255mm; which seems to be an aspect ratio of around 16½:10 (probably 16:10 with some extra at the very bottom for the soft buttons) and a little over 10 inches diagonal width.

The battery is listed as 4000mAh in the promo, and apparently reported as 9000mAh by Android.

Bluetooth is version 2.1. Not modern, but it works with speakers and keyboards.

WiFi is 2.4GHz, with IPv6 supported. WiFi reception is pitiful. It's even worse than my iPad Mini, which used to be my yardstick for embarrassingly bad WiFi. A crown now taken by this tablet.

There is nothing on the left or bottom of the device. On the right is a power button with a volume rocker just below it. It's easy to turn the device into sleep mode while wanting to turn the volume up.
Just below the volume rocker is a tiny hole. I would guess this is for a recessed reset button?
On the top is a micro USB socket (for charging or data transfer), a µSD slot (up to 32GB supported), and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
On the back is the rear camera (top centre) and two holes for speakers. I don't know if there's a fault with mine, but sound only appears to be coming out of one of the holes (maybe there is only one speaker?). It's not a big problem, the built in speakers are absolutely beyond awful. Headphones or Bluetooth is the way to go.
Finally the front. The screen, obviously. ☺ Along the bottom of the screen is a ribbon with soft buttons. As before: volume down, back, home, switch task, and volume up. You can choose to have a screenshot button appear here too, on the right. Sometimes there's an extra button on the far right to allow you to switch keyboard and/or input method.
In the middle of the top, when holding the tablet in landscape mode, is the front facing camera. And you'll notice a tiny notch on the upper left of the glass front. This isn't a manufacturing defect, that's the microphone.

The firmware is Android 9 (Pie) Go edition. There's not a lot built in, a few of the standard Google applications and a Wireless Updater (which just recently updated my system). As it is Android, you can pick up apps from Play or by pushing them over from another device (or website) as .apk files.
It is possible to access the bootloader and/or recovery system (by holding down one of the Vol keys while turning on), but the device is locked, as is usual for Android. Rooting the device may, as usual, have an impact on the built-in DRM functions, not to mention other aspects of system security.

 

Let's look at all of that in more detail.

The processor

In use, the tablet feels a lot slicker than the earlier offering despite only being about 300MHz faster.
It does, of course, suffer from a problem where everything pretty much grinds to a halt and it can take 10-20 seconds for it to respond to you. The cause of this is apps that get pushed to the background and not discarded completely. Trust me, on a machine with this little RAM, you can't really run Firefox and Netflix at the same time.
The fix is pretty easy. Tap the square task list icon, and wait patiently for the machine to catch up. Then swipe away every task you don't need right now. That should free up enough memory to get things running more smoothly again.

There are lags when starting or switching tasks, but it isn't fair to compare this tablet with a high end smartphone. Even so, things are faster than the previous tablet. It's not painful to use this tablet now.

Memory

As mentioned above, you're going to run into memory issues if you aren't vigilant about swiping away unnecessary apps. The tablet runs Android Go which is a special reduced version of Android aimed at low end devices.
The ability to pop in a µSD card is useful.

Cameras

Here is a photo from the rear camera. It has been scaled down to fit this blog (to about half size), but even so you'll notice a lack of definition and washed out colours, typical of an imager that you might have found in basic digital cameras circa 2005 or so. Aida64 claims the camera is capable of 720p recording, however the camera app only provides 480p recording.
Example photo from the rear camera
Example photo from the rear camera (scaled down).

The front camera, mounted just above the screen (when using in landscape mode), runs in VGA quality. This may be useful for something like Skype or Zoom, but note that you'll probably stand out as the one with the rubbish quality. Here's the same picture as above, taken at the same time, with the front camera. Note the differences. And as this one is 640 pixels width, it has not been resized.

Example photo from the front camera
Example photo from the front camera (real size).

The screen

As utterly terrible as the previous tablet's screen was, this is the complete opposite. The extra pixels make a screen that is smoother looking. Sure, I can see the pixels when looking at it without my glasses on, however at a normal distance it is perfectly usable.
The screen can be turned up quite bright. I have not used it on a bright sunny day, I'll need to come back to this in late spring (when I'm likely to be sitting outside).
But the best part, the screen does fade slightly when looked at from an angle, but it is nothing like the previous tablet and it certainly doesn't go inverted. As such, it's actually quite a nice device to use with Netflix in a darkened room.
Okay, for a person used to an OLED, blacks aren't true black (because it's a backlit screen), however what I lose in colour gamut is outweighed by the size of the screen. Seriously, lying in bed holding this tablet in front of my eyeballs (and with headphones), if my phone was my own private cinema, then this is my own private open air projector. Or something... I think my analogy is rubbish, suffice to say... it's now my go-to device for watching movies.
Here's a picture of the screen as seen from an angle:
The screen seen from an angle.
The screen seen from an angle.
Yes, it is very shiny. Ooooh.... shiny!

The battery

I always used to run my older tablet with an external battery pack connected, as using it would run the battery down in about an hour and a half (or so). I'm currently running my tablet off external battery (old habits and all that) but I've noticed that the battery lasts for longer (subjective - it does appear to depend heavily upon the screen brightness). When I realised that I hadn't plugged the tablet into the mains the other day, my battery had dropped to about 85%, and the estimation (at the current behaviour) suggested that I ought to expect about five more hours of use. That's pretty impressive.
This morning, the battery level was dropping faster than the external battery could provide power for (the tablet seems to limit itself to 0.5A), however having come inside and knocked back the screen brightness, the same battery has not only kept the tablet active and running, but has brought the battery back to 100%.
This is an example of about an hour and a half of using the tablet to watch The Expanse on Prime Video, with Netflix downloading an episode of Fate (Winx Saga) in the background. With the display at about 75% brightness, it looks like I might be able to get around 3-3½ hours of viewing out of the battery.
Battery consumption
Battery consumption.

Bluetooth and keyboards

This is the biggest disappointment. While Bluetooth does work, and I've used it with speakers and a keyboard, not to mention transferring files to/from my phone, the problem here isn't Bluetooth itself. It's what Klipad have done to the keyboard.

The on-screen keyboard is GBoard and it works more or less as it always has. Too big, and with that stupid ribbon at the top that you can't get rid of. But GBoard is GBoard.

There's always an option on modern versions of Android to fire up a Bluetooth keyboard. Which this tablet supports.
This is when it all falls apart.
Some nationalistic twat either at Klipad, or whoever builds the firmware, has clearly taken it upon themselves to completely break Android's international physical keyboard support. Because it should be quite possible to add an external keyboard, and then configure what sort of keyboard it is, and then use it. Like I have done on the older tablet, like I've done with my three Samsung phones. Like I'd expect to do with any Android device as of about Android 5(ish).

Here? No problem. I can go into settings, pick my physical keyboard, and set up languages. Adding English (UK) works. But, then, if you try to untick the French layout, it will tick itself again. Unticking a second time works, but when you tap the arrow to go back, not only is the French layout always present, it is also always selected.
Running two mappings (UK and French) proovides Ctrl-Space to switch between them. So if I rapidly press the key to the right of Tab, I'll see 'a' which is normal for French. Pressing Ctrl-Space will switch to the UK layout, and that key will output a few 'q's (normal for UK), before reverting back to 'a' all by itself. Yup, not only is it hardwired to set itself to the French layout, it will try to actively thwart you attempting to change this.
If I had paid money for this tablet, I would return it as not fit for purpose. This stupid dickhead move by Klipad (which the older tablet didn't do) completely breaks Android's keyboard handling.
France is home to a good many Jews, Arabs, and Brits; and has borders with countries speaking Basque, Spanish, Italian, German, and whatever the hell it is they speak in Andorra. God forbid anybody might ever possibly want to use a non-French keyboard layout. And hey, if Android ever gains support for the BÉPO layout, that won't work either. Because some twat had enough ability to know how to screw with the keyboard layout, but clearly not enough ability to understand why this could be a problem. Clearly one of these "this is good enough for me, so it's good enough for you" sort of people, probably living a coddled existence with no comprehension of why anybody might want to make use of multilingual keyboard support.

I contacted Klipad's customer support. The first reply apologised and told me that this tablet does not ship with a keyboard, therefore mine is incompatible.
When I pointed out that my Bluetooth keyboard does work, but is fixed in French mode, their reply was a walkthrough of how to change it to British English. Exactly what I had done, exactly what didn't work.
I replied going through their steps to do this, and what actually happens. They replied to that by telling me the correct way to configure my keyboard to be French... 🤦
I sent back a message pointing out that I'm a programmer familiar with C and ARM assembler, so I'm not a dunce here. I don't like doing that, it seems like name dropping to me, but sometimes you need to get customer service to understand that one does have something resembling a clue. The reply? Well, at least the customer support bod was smart enough to realise that we have gone completely off script here. They apologised, said they had no idea how to make it do what I want, and suggested I factory reset the tablet and this time set it up in English... I didn't bother, given that's what I had done out of the box.
But it's quite clear that Klipad's customer support doesn't interact at all with whoever it is that makes their firmware.

While I could use AZERTY, it is an exceedingly unfriendly layout for anything geeky. The '@' symbol is a three-finger keypress, and I tried with my keyboard in French mode (ignoring the UK symbols on the keys) and nothing at all would convince it to output either < or >. Given that I write these articles in HTML markup, access to those symbols is not desirable, it is necessary. And, as I always criticise of the AZERTY layout, there is an entire key whose only purpose seems to be to output ².
Perhaps Twatty McTwatface that stuck this stupidity into the firmware also needs an education that these days there is no such thing as "a French AZERTY keyboard", since AFNOR has decided to revise the AZERTY layout and behaviour (thankfully the ² has gone, but this new layout is definitely going to need UTF-8 support; there are numerous things not a part of ISO 8859/1 or CP-1252), never mind those who might prefer BÉPO.

Thankfully, there is a solution. A solution that is the first app I have ever purchased. For the tiny price of €1,79 I purchased the External Keyboard Helper app (after testing the demo to see if it worked). So I'm writing this on the new tablet, with my keyboard correctly behaving as QWERTY.
I've not managed to get the extended key behaviours working yet (AltGr-B ought to output <br>, etc) Fixed this, and also added a mapping for the key above Enter that uses Alt to add \ and | in addition to # and ~. I also need to manually switch between GBoard and EKH (it isn't an automatic thing like the normal hardware keyboard method).
On the other hand ... it does work.

WiFi

I know the signal quality in my bedroom is poor, but this is compounded by an underperforming receiver in the tablet. My ESP32, Vonets, phone, and the older tablet can all see and lock into the Livebox. This tablet? Can't detect anything. And if I manage to get it to do so (by standing on the ceiling while making blood sacrifices into a bowl of runes cut from the bones of infidels), it will drop the connection in a heartbeat.

Thankfully, in the winter sales back in 2017, I got a Verbatim Mediashare Wireless which also has a built in WiFi extender function. So I fire that up, and then connect the tablet to that. It's an extra hop, but it's good enough for Netflix.
I have also switched the Vonets to WiFi bridge mode, so it can use that too, though I've not yet tried Netflix with it.
I mention Netflix, as Netflix generally copes gracefully with the bandwidth (2.5-3.5 megabit depending upon the phase of the moon), while Prime Video all too often descends into a horrific blocky mess. But, then, it does this with my S9 when I'm standing next to the Livebox...
If I want to enjoy something without interruptions (recommended for Netflix, often necessary for Prime), then I can tap on download.
Netflix is a lot better in this respect. Downloads start near immediately, and are happy to run in the background. Prime, takes a long time to get going, and appears to pause downloads while watching something (even if it's a download and not streaming), it's like it can't cope with doing two things at once.
You're probably seeing my "new tablet use case" here, right? ☺

Extra software

The supplied things are the basic Go package, a reduced build of Android 9 lacking in some facilities (the settings are a lot sparser); as well as the usual things like Assistant*, Calculator, Calendar, Chrome, Clock, Contacts, Files, Gallery*, GMail*, Google, Maps*, Play Music, Play Store, Settings, Sound Recorder, and YouTube.
The ones with * after the name are reduced complexity Go versions of the main apps.
In a refreshing change, this device didn't come with bloatware. No baked in games or Facebook integration that can't be removed.

I added a range of software. I had upgraded to the latest Firefox, but having seen what a mess it was with only 11 add-ons available, I reverted to the older version (67.?) on my phone. Then I downloaded the add-ons manually and installed them. They worked fine even though the Mozilla site went out of its way to tell me that the things I wanted would not work on my version of Firefox.

New Firefox's extensive range of add-ons
New Firefox's extensive range of add-ons!
Really, I think Mozilla has lost the plot. I don't use Firefox because of the blazing speed of the rendering engine. I use it because of the degree of customisation that I can control tracking cookies (and no, discarding cookies on app quit is insufficient when you're used to them being auto-discarded after 120 seconds except for whitelisted sites), also things like optionally showing # anchors, controlling referrer headers, unmangling Google search links to point to the real site and not bounce via Google for analytics, and so on. Remove that flexibility, remove the incentives to upgrade. Either Mozilla gets it's crap together and gets a lot more than a pitiful eleven add-ons, or I fear we're all going to need to look for an alternative (no, not Chrome!) that does do these sorts of things, while lamenting Mozilla shooting itself in the foot.
I installed Launcher<3 which is very similar to the built in homescreen (Launcher3) only better. I can have icons a little closer together, and there's no big annoying search bar. It's also simple and does what it is supposed to without hassles.
Here's a screenshot of my home screen:
My home screen
My home screen.
The background photo is one I found from a random Google search a few years ago. I thought it was "peaceful". It looks like I'll need to tweak it by adding a darker bar to the top so the status icons are more visible. And what's with the clock on the left now?

 

Overall?

Now that the keyboard stupidity has been resolved, yes, I'm happy with this tablet. I can't expect the moon on a stick for a freebie, but this is actually quite a competent device for its "price".
As far as use goes, it's a nice enough screen for watching movies, and now the keyboard works, I can also use it for writing. Like, for example, this.

The only main concern I have is the placement of the USB socket on the top. That just screams to me a place that might lend itself to being something broken by accident.

 

 

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Zerosquare, 26th January 2021, 04:02
"While I could use AZERTY, it is an exceedingly unfriendly layout for anything geeky." 
 
Not really -- it's just that you didn't grew up with it :) 
'@' needs only two keys (Alt Gr+0). 
'<' is a single key (next to Left shift) ; if you add Shift, you get '>'. 
 
That being said, forcing the keyboard layout to AZERTY is stupid. I assume that's a lazy workaround for a bug they didn't bother to fix properly.
Ernard, 29th January 2021, 18:18
It is most curious that AZERTY dedicates a key to ù, an accented character that is used in only one French word: où. Perhaps the layout was ‘designed’ with Italian in mind which makes più use of ù.
Rick, 3rd April 2021, 01:16
Hmm, the power oddity with the battery may have been the cable and/or the use of the power meter. With a different cable and no power meter, the battery keeps my tablet at 100% for hours, even if the screen's brightness is right up for outdoor use. 

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