Experiences with GTA02 and OM2008.12 (was part of the "Brick" thread)

Craig Woodward woody at rochester.rr.com
Sat Jan 17 12:31:36 CET 2009

First off, I want to thank Tom for the blog pages he has setup.  They're a great reference for setting up the OM base software, and really should be put on the main Wiki release pages somewhere.   I'd say the out-of-box functionality of most of the OM releases is highly enhanced if you follow the directions he's posted.

---- Tom Yates <madhatter at teaparty.net> wrote: 
>On Wed, 7 Jan 2009, Craig Woodward wrote:
>> And core functionality on ALL Neos, like making and receiving calls and 
>> SMS, is still unreliable.
>i'm sorry, but i think that's unfair; my GTA02A6 has been my main phone 
>since i bought it at the end of august 2008.  you may never have been able 
>to make things work for you, but it's wrong to say that core functionality 
>on all neos is unreliable; it's fine on mine.

Really?  Your main phone?  On my Neo, applying the same patches you note on your blog, core functionality is NOT reliable.  I write device drivers, firmware, SDKs, and applications for a living, so it's not like this is new stuff for me.  Try as I may, I can't get this phone to be a phone.  And really, I shouldn't have to patch and tweak an image from my phone's manufacture to get base functionality, like making and receiving calls reliably.

To be fair before giving up on it, I tried loading up 2008.12 last weekend.  This weekend I plan on trying the latest of a couple other releases, like SHR and Android.  I even used your blog (which is really a great setup walk though) and a couple other references to get things up and running quickly.  At first I was very hopeful and inspired by the improvements I saw since the last OM release I tried (which was admittedly 2008.8).

In particular I found that some of the interface was more polished. GRPS setup and usage was MUCH more solid than in the past.  In fact, GPRS is now probably the most stable sub system I've used on the FreeRunner.  Even suspend seemed to be working with test calls I did from my office phone early on.  I did find some annoying bugs in interface still: email not working, SMS not using contact info, etc.  But I figured those are user-space problems, which can be fixed later.  Polish wasn't my main concern... base functionality was my focus.

The first night the phone ran over night and didn't crash, which was great. I used GPS & Wifi in the morning, and it worked well.  Finally, I tried making a call and it crashed, lost network, and refused to get signal again.  After a reboot it registered fine, and my outbound call went well. I hoped it was a glitch from being on almost 12 hours, and went in to work. 

At work, I got a call but was not able to answer it.  The answer button on the screen would highlight, but the phone just keep ringing.  A reboot and a call back worked.  An hour later I got a call and was able to answer, but the person on the other end couldn't hear me.  A reboot again fixed it.  Later that day the phone rang half a ring, and went right to the dialog that tells me I'd missed the call.  The caller later told me it rang several more times than usual before going to voice mail.   Repeat for the next day or so...

Of about 15 calls I know about over the two days I was using my Neo, 9 answered as expected.  Only one outbound call had an issue out of about 8. Not a very good rate for a phone.

Near the end of day one, it dawned on me that I *never* got notification that I had waiting voice mail, which comes as a text message from my provider.  In fact, I discovered (over several reboots) that I'd missed most inbound text messages.  And despite my phone saying text messages were being sent, only 14 of about 26 actually made it to the carrier, based on reports from friends AND my carrier's ticker on my account web page.  Through testing I found this was regardless of if suspend and/or GRPS was on or off.  SMS loss appears to have happened more often when GRPS was enabled, but I lost calls and SMS even after I turned both off and rebooted.

The window manager crashed every few calls and required rebooting at least a few times a day.  I had one occasion where the phone exited suspend mode, rang, and then rebooted (which is when I disabled suspend all together).  Over all, I found it so frustrating that on a few occasions I pulled my sim and hopped back on to my 6230.

What finally drove me back to the 6230 was when I saw additional texts on my 6230 that the Neo never reported, sent hours or the day before in some cases.  Switching back to the Neo, those texts *never* showed up, as if they didn't exist.  This despite the fact that my Nokia got them as part of the SMS backlog from my provider (which included the SMS the Neo did receive).

I don't know about you, but I call most of the above a lack of core functionality.  

Admittedly, some of that may be user-side stuff, since for some it's hard to tell where the fault lies without major debugging.  But the phone rebooting after ringing; that's pretty clearly a driver level issue.  The sound going south after a couple calls, again sounds like a driver issue, especially when a reboot fixes it.  GSM stops getting signal randomly, but is fine after a reboot... driver or firmware.  This is critical stuff that should have top priority, and clearly has not received it.

Does FIC/OM do any testing?  Does anyone there run a release version of this software on a GTA as a daily phone?  Most of this isn't new for the GTA02.  In may cases the same problems (and the same hardware) exists in the GTA01.  And for each of these bugs I found a ticket languishing in the bug tracker, often many months old, with little or no pointers on a solution.  Many were still in the "new" state, or had comments saying it was fixed months ago in the developer trunk, which you'd think would mean it should be fixed in the release from last month.  Yet the bug still exists.

> personally, i have a bunch of free-software-based devices
> (OM phone, rockbox audio player, linux laptop) and i expect to have
> to give them frequent attention

Really?  Another place we diverge.  Stability is one of the reasons I prize linux based devices.  For me most just run, with little to no intervention required once they're setup properly.  I have several open-source devices that almost *never* need tweaking.  I have a Sansa w/ RockBox, and outside of it's setup and a couple small tweaks, it's been rock solid for nearly a year.  I have a linux based router that runs 24/7, and has only hung on me once since I've owned it.  I have a linux server that automates my house, provides SMB and printer services, records and plays back TV shows, controls my home lights, and feeds my pets via X10 devices.  The last time I even logged into it was 3 months ago to update the video codecs.  It has an uptime of over 3 years (thanks to the UPS), and probably won't be shutdown until I update the capture card to an HD tuner card later this year.  I've logged maybe 4 days of time on it in the 8 years since I set it up initially.

>so do by all means say that the OM isn't what you were led to expect
>but don't say that the OM cannot be made suitable for use as a production
>phone, because some of us are using it just fine.

I'm not upset that they didn't meet my expectations. I'm upset that they're not meeting the base line for the device.  Even you admit that to get your phone to work as a simple phone it's taken more than loading an image and turning it on.  With over a year of development, on hardware that's not changed much from the previous model, the software should be stable enough to work out of the box by now.  The fact that it wasn't stable when it was sold to customers as stable (for well above an equivalent developer kit OR new release GSM phone I might add), is wrong.  Yet alone to not have it working a year later.

And I'm not saying OM won't make it to a "production level" phone at some point.  I just don't think that at the rate they're going that they'll get there before they've dropped support for the GTA02 (much like they've done for the GTA01).  And since they're the only group with official/financial support from FIC doing work for the GTA, that really bothers me.

If OM stops supporting the GTA02, do you think ANYONE will pick it up?  If someone does, will they be able to talk the GSM modem manufacturer into releasing a firmware update if another bug is discovered, when OM/FIC had to pull teeth to get one?  OM is the only source in town, and regardless of how "open" the source for the GUI is, there are parts of the phone that are still closed and NOT documented to anyone but FIC/OM.  Who's going to support that when OM bows out, be it in a year when the GTA03 is out, or when some other shiny new toy gets their attention?

Right now by definition the GTA is not a production level phone, despite FIC marketing it as such last year.  A production level phone doesn't require someone to spend hours tweaking a base release image to stabilize it.  I never had to tweak my production Nokia 6230 to enable GPRS.  I never had it say it delivered a text message and NOT actually send it, or completely lose inbound text messages. Never in the 15 years I've been using cell phones (over 5 models and 3 manufacturers) have I had one not respond to picking up a call while ringing.  I've also never had one not connect  half the voice stream when answering a call.  No production phone I've ever used has done any of these things, but my FreeRunner has done all that and more in the 48 hours I tried to use it as my main phone.  That's a lack of core functionality.

I'm upset that they were advertised as being ready for regular use when clearly it's not ready for that. What upsets me most though is that a few people keep exclaiming "But it works for me!", as if that some how invalidates the fact that it doesn't work for the vast majority of Neo owners.  I understand having a positive attitude, and I try to do that.  But when I get burned by something, I tend to make noise.  And people saying "you should have known, despite all indications and promises to the contrary" doesn't change the fact that I (and many others) got burned.

All said and done I'm seeing progress.  But I'm 9 months in now and still can't rely on my shiny new $400 phone to make and receive calls and texts like my 5 year old nokia can.  As much as I love my old Nokia, it's not able to keep up with the changes going on in world of data I live in.  You can only do so much with a 5 year old Java implementation on a sub-100Mhz CPU.  I'll need to replace it soon, and the Neo just doesn't look like it's going to be functional as a phone in time to replace it, if it gets there at all.

Who's to say OM won't decide to change direction again, spurring off another base when they hit the same slope in FSO/SHR development that they did with the old OM2007 framework?  Meanwhile the technology is evolving, and newer phones with better features and near-open-source qualities are showing up now, with better cores, actual SDKs, and a working base image out of the box.

I'm really hopeful that one of the images I'm going to try this weekend will just work and run and be happy.  But I've already warned my friends that it may take a couple calls to get a hold of me for the next few days, because I just don't think it's going to happen.  I hope I'm wrong, but with the past 9 months as my guide, I'm not optimistic.

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