Sunday, 28 March 2010

Wallpaper editing tool: Photoscape

I've found a pretty useful tool for creating wallpapers for my BlackBerry: Photoscape.

It's a free image-editing app with batch support.

I get my wallpapers typically from searches on Google Images, and download them. I open Photoscape, and using "Editor" I crop each image to a 4x3 ratio (I have the 9700 480x360 screen), and save each.

Then I use the "Batch Editor" to load all the images, resize them to 480x360, Sharpen them +1, Contrast Enhance low and Deepen low or middle, then convert all. I've found the deepening and sharpening enhances the images somewhat on the BB screen.

In the batch editor, you can actually use "Crop" to autocrop/size the images to the right size, but the cropping can be a little haphazard, and I prefer to get it right manually.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Silver Fox BlackBerry Theme

The Silver Fox BlackBerry theme is ready and available (and free).

There are versions for the BlackBerry Curve 8900 (OS 4.6+), Bold 9000 (OS 4.6+), Tour 9600 (untested) and Bold 9700 (OS 5). A version for the Curve 8520 is in the works, but I still have a few issues with it.

They can be downloaded from the links below. The themes are zipped; unzip them into a folder and load them with BlackBerry Desktop Manager. I unfortunately don't have suitable webspace for OTA links.
BlackBerry Bold 9700
Blackberry Bold 9000
BlackBerry Curve 8900
BlackBerry Tour 9600

Notes about the theme:
  • It's a Zen-like custom theme, intended to improve the wallpaper-viewing look of the standard Precision Zen theme.
  • Silver Fox uses an icon set primarily based on the Crystal set, with additions from other sources, and with some Mac-like icons. Melancthe sized and tuned the majority of the icons, and created a number of them entirely.
  • Most dialogs/menus have been left fairly standard. The notification icons (battery, signal, etc.) are all standard as they work well with the theme.
  • The general idea of the theme is the use of silver and brushed metal combined with black leather.
  • There are a few icons I'm unable to change in the theme, like "Now playing..." and the Gmail mail icon. This seems to be a limitation of the BlackBerry Theme Builder.
  • There may be issues if you have huge numbers of notifications, as the notification are is not terribly big.
  • Wallpaper is customisable.

If you have comments, suggestions, or problems, please let me know.

Most icons from the Crystal Clear icon set by Everaldo Coelho.
Some icons edited or created by Melancthe.
Mail icon by Aakash Soneri.

Here are some screenshots:

Monday, 08 March 2010

Blackberry theme creation

I've been quite busy with BlackBerry stuff lately. Not being happy with any of the BlackBerry themes I found, I decided to create my own. I've been using the BlackBerry Theme Builder, which takes a bit of getting into, but I think I have the hang of it now. The biggest problem was a lack of suitable icons for the BlackBerry. Current BlackBerrys come with a theme called "Precision" which has dull, outline-style icons. I couldn't find any icons sets for BlackBerrys on the net - in fact, there are surprisingly few resources for casual developers. However, some digging revealed a free-use icon set called "Crystal" on Wikimedia Commons, with icons in 256x256. I grabbed that, and a bunch of other icons I found on the net (including some Mac-look ones), and over the last few weeks, have turned that into a set of 80x80 and 52x52 icons, with the help of Melancthe, who resized them, edited and created (in some cases) them, and wrote scripts to do the appropriate resizing.

So with a decent icon set, I created the theme, and called it Silver Fox. I have versions of it suitable for the BlackBerry 8520, 8900, 9000 and 9700. I thought that seeing as I'd gone to all the trouble of creating the themes, I'd put them on BlackBerry AppWorld (for free), so that others who wanted a wallpaper-friendly theme could have one to try out. Much to my surprise, when I started the sign-up process to become an AppWorld contributor, I discovered that one needs to pay $200 for every 10 submissions! Screw that! I now understand why there are comparatively few apps in AppWorld, compared to the Android and iPhone marketplaces. I have created my own BlackBerry site on Blogspot, and I'll make my themes, wallpapers, icons etc. available there.

Here's what Silver Fox looks like on my BlackBerry:

Sunday, 07 March 2010

BlackBerry wallpapers

I've been collecting wallpapers for my BlackBerry, seeing as I use an app called Wallpaper Changer to change my phone's wallpaper every 10 minutes. I like seeing new pics all the time.

At any rate, I thought I'd make the wallpapers available to anyone who's interested. They're all 480x360 resolution, suitably cropped and enhanced. I have four collections:
  • Aircraft: pictures of aircraft, especially World War 2 aircraft and post-WW2 bombers and fighters.
  • Fantasy: fantasy artworks
  • Scenic: scenic views and nature scenes
  • Space and cars: spaceships and cars
All these images are downloadable as zip files.

Here are collage images of all the wallpapers.

Saturday, 06 March 2010

For the BlackBerry owners...

From icanhascheezeburger:

Windows Media Player and iTunes

Since I started using my Blackberry for music, I've been using Windows Media Player to manage my music on my PC. Previously, I used to use WinAmp, which has nice features, but the Blackberry sync software supports only Windows Media Player and iTunes. It wasn't a big hassle to move to WMP.

However, since I recently won an iPod Shuffle, I was left with a bit of a problem: the iPod is supported only by iTunes; there don't seem to be any working alternatives. (I thought we'd moved away from this whole proprietary software thing, but apparently not.)

So I had to install iTunes, and I thought I'd see if it could satisfy my needs well enough to replace WMP. After some googling, I exported my WMP playlists to iTunes, and they came in OK. I tried creating Smart Playlists, and they were OK except that you cannot create a Smart Playlist that is based on the path to any particular music folder, unlike in WMP, and I found that really irritating. WinAmp's dynamic playlists are a fair bit more flexible than iTunes's or WMP's, however.

The interface of iTunes is quite slick, but I prefer WMP's "stacked covers" when viewing artists. iTunes is also unable to retrieve album information and album art unless the album's on iTunes with name etc. exactly the same, which seems to eliminate 95% of my music. WMP, by comparison, is really flexible in that respect, and even lets you choose close matches and edit track names appropriately. iTunes seems to only support album art embedded in the ID3 tags, whereas WMP will read the hidden album art files too. It's also easier to add album art in WMP, with a "paste album art" option. Weirdly, iTunes doesn't dynamically update changed music within the music folders, where WMP does; you have to rescan the folders. iTunes does sync really easily to the Shuffle, but that's what I'd expect.

At the end of the day, I prefer WMP; I'll keep iTunes loaded (though I uninstalled Bonjour almost immediately), and I'll export my playlists from WMP to iTunes every now and again so I can update the Shuffle.

During this whole process, I did manage to do a lot of cleaning up on my music, adding album art (since it's supported on my Blackberry), and finding a whole lot of albums that had never showed up (because they had no appropriate ID3 tags). MP3Tag worked very well for mass updates and cleanups of the tags - things like automatically correcting the case of track names.

BlackBerry Bold 9700 (Onyx)

So early last month I made a bit of an impulse buy. I went past Vodashop to ask if they had the new BlackBerry Bold 9700 in, even though Vodacom's marvellously up-to-date website didn't mention it. In fact, Vodashop did have it in stock. I wanted to think about it, being the careful shopper I am, but when they mentioned it was the last one in stock, impulse took over and I bought it. I was due a cellphone upgrade last year in July, but hadn't found a phone worth upgrading to compared to the BlackBerry Bold 9000 from work, and had been waiting for the 9700. The 9700 is being sold on the same contracts and at the same price as the Bold 9000; this meant I could continue on my BlackBerry 100 contract and pay in R1900 for the phone, or have no pay-in amount and pay an extra R80 per month. I took the latter.

The BlackBerry Bold 9000 (which I posted about a while back) was a really, really good smartphone, and it suited me well, with big keyboard and screen. The 9700 is a smaller phone - virtually identical in size to the BlackBerry Curve 8520 and 8900 phones - with a smaller screen and smaller keyboard.

This is what it looks like (though it does look better in person):

I rather like it - very elegant looking, but robust too.

The upgrade was dead easy: plugged in the 9000 to my PC, used Device Switch Wizard on the BlackBerry Desktop Manager, plugged in the 9700, and everything was copied over. I re-downloaded a few apps just to make sure I got the right version for my phone.

Compared to the Bold 9000:
  • With twice as much on-board RAM for applications (256MB vs. 128MB), it's noticeably faster (despite the same CPU), and can run and store more applications. I typically run around 10 apps at the same time, and I found that after I upgraded the 9000 to OS 5.0, the low amount of memory left caused some stability issues (and that was after removing some apps!).
  • The screen is marginally smaller, but with a 480x360 resolution, vs. the Bold's (and iPhone's) 480x320, the screen is remarkably vibrant and crisp.
  • The keyboard is smaller than the 9000's, but I'm adapting to it.
  • Instead of a trackball (which could apparently be problematic), the 9700 has a tiny trackpad which work really well. It's a far better navigation device.
  • The camera is 3.2MP vs. the 9000's 2.0MP, with image stabilisation and much better colour. It's still not Sony Cybershot league, but is much improved.
  • Sound quality of the external speaker is excellent - better than the 9000, which was good anyway.
  • The 9700 only has 256MB of on-board storage, and it's apparently not addressable as mass-storage, vs. the 9000's 1GB of on-board storage. That's not a major problem since I'm using my 8GB micro-SD card anyway, and it's certainly less confusing.
  • Battery life is way better on the 9700 compared to the 9000, despite the same CPU and battery.
  • Speed is very impressive; it flicks through things with the hourglass only showing very rarely.
I do wish RIM had put media previous/stop-play/next buttons across the top, like on the Curve 8520; that's an unfortunate oversight. Built-in apps are decent enough, but the same as previous BlackBerrys. I had to hunt around to find the Vodafone Sat Nav application; it wasn't in the most obvious place.

I just had some fun with Bluetooth - I connected it to my PC, and discovered that I could play stereo music from my phone to my PC, via Bluetooth; that's kinda neat. I can use my PC's audio/mic for calls too, from the looks of it.

I've been customising things a bit; I downloaded and installed the BlackBerry Theme Builder, and built a theme that I like, with an emphasis on showing off the phone's wallpaper (I use Wallpaper Changer to change my phone wallpaper every 15 minutes). A very helpful person resized and cleaned up a whole bunch of icons for me (taken from the open-source Crystal icon set) to replace the dull Blackberry ones.

This is what my main screen and main app screen look like now, with the revised theme (actual screenshots from my phone):