Jan 21, 2011

Rob Pegoraro answers your questions on recent gadget reviews, technology news and provides personal tech buying and fixing advice.

Sorry for the late start--had to get one post up first. (Some of you may not believe it when you see the headline).

So it's been a busy two weeks: CES has wrapped up, Verizon's getting the iPhone, Steve Jobs is taking a leave of absence, Google's CEO is stepping down, and I'm sure there's been a software release or two in that time. Where do we start?

Are you gonna miss those questions about Verizon iPhones?

I had to start with this question. I guess I will, sort of how I sometimes miss the bracing pain of hitting my thumb with a hammer.

On the other hand, I'm already getting "when will Verizon get a 4G iPhone" questions.

Any news at all on what the next gen iPAD will look like? I am thinking of buying one. If the next gen isn't full of more bells and whistles, I may just get the old one - assuming the price difference will be big enough to make buying the old one a smarter choice.

And speaking of future Apple products--I would refer you to my recent post recapping the current crop of iPad 2 rumors. The key points to keep in mind: It will amost certainly have FaceTime video calling support, it will probably be thinner, it will not have some feature that people will be hoping for, it will ship a year after the first iPad (so early April) and people will line up to buy it in the absence of logical reasons to do so.

It sounds like most of the high end tablets coming out will have 10" screens. We have a nook and really like its size while the iPad always seemed to big. Apart from the Samsung Galaxy Tab, what 7" tablets will be out in the next few months?

I saw a lot of different vendors showing off 7" tablets at  CES. But I can't think of many that aren't tied to a wireless carrier outside of the upcoming, WiFi-only version of the Galaxy Tab. And that, in turn, doesn't run the 3.0, tablet-friendly version of Android.

Any suggestions for this reader?

Does it matter whether I purchase an LCD, TV or an LED one?

"LED" TVs are LCD TVs--they just use a light-emitting diodes for their backlight instead of the usual fluourescent lamp. That should give you a brighter picture, better contrast, lower electricity consumption, and a longer life for the TV--but LEDs also cost more. (You can see this at any Home Depot; see what an LED floodlight costs compared to a CFL.)

LEDs are getting cheaper, though. They've basically taken over in laptop screen backlights, and in a year or so they may do the same in HDTVs.

FWIW, I have a fluorescent-backlit LCD TV at home, and the picture on it seems perfectly fine.

Periodically I see "Rob Pegoraro answers your questions" undr the WashPost banner, "Personal Tech Live with Rob Pegoraro" -- but I never see any questions or answers on that or any other webpage. Do no readers have questions? Do any get answered? Where?

You're on this chat right now, live and in person. Would you like to use that opportunity to ask me a question?

We live in a really long old house.with plaster over metal lathe, can you run two wifi networks in the same house? It's currently an 801g and I would like to put an 801n at the other end of the house which would also allow access into the deep backyard. I ran a cable to that end that I was plugging a computer into. The other end was plugged into the wifi router. Can i just hookup a another wifi there.

Most of the walls in my house are also plaster over lathe--it's a real treat to have to cut into that to move an electrical outlet--but I haven't seen that attenuate WiFi that much. (Then again, most 1920-vintage houses aren't that big.)

You should have no issues extending your network with a "WDS" (wireless distribution system) setup, but you may need to ensure that the second router is of the same make as the first. But you also might find that replacing your 802.11g router with an "n" model allows house-plus-backyard coverage by itself. 802.11n, in my experience, delivers much better range than 802.11g, even with 802.11g clients.

I have been a verizon customer forever, and am thinking about finally about getting a smartphone, but would not be a heavy internet user, maybe only check email and use a few apps. I imagine having a hard time without a real button keyboard, so only the Droid 2 seems possible match. Any other suggestions?

If you don't have any plans to go crazy with Internet or app use, you might do better to get one of Verizon's "feature phones" (that's a more polite term than "not-so-smartphone" or "dumb phone"). VzW charges significantly less for data access on feature phones--$15 versus $30, I think.

I have a 2004 Presario Desktop with XP home edition that's been unused for two years. I just wiped the drive, ran a full system restore, uninstalled all the crapware and allowed all the updates to get XP current and clean. Now I don't know what to do with it. The usual advice is "turn it into a server" or "install Linux." Tried Ubuntu, didn't see the point. Wife doesn't think we need a NAS/file server - thinks we should freecycle it. Sell it? Install old games? Download box for "questionable" files?

Donate it. See this Help File item for some options.

Posting early here. I have used Trend Internet Security for years on my home computers. Each year the price climbs. This year it will be $55 to renew one license. Does the collective brain trust have suggestions for a free one? MSE sounds ok but, does it work? I run Vista Home Premium. on 2 year old systems. Something easy to set and not a resource pig. Trend has actually been far more than I need and it's been so picky I have disabled some way high security features that annoy me. Basic antivirus/malware is my goal. Appreciate any advice. Tina in Falls Church

MSE (Microsoft Security Essentials) works quite well in my experience: cost-free and nag-free.

Rob, is there a Blu-ray player out there that can accept wifi signals from my computer so that I can stream movies from my hard drive to my TV via the player? Thanks.

There are many--it looks like the electronics manufacturers have noticed that most people don't have Ethernet jacks in their living rooms and are now standardizing on wireless capability in connected Blu-ray players and TVs. But... that doesn't necessarily extend to wireless sharing from computer to Bu-ray. You'll need a player (or HDTV) with "DLNA" support for media sharing.

Dear Sir, I suffer from a neurological disease that makes it difficult/ imposible to use voice communication or handwriting. I need to address a problem with an Apple store product but can find no way to e-male them (my easyest form of communication). The fact is they sold me Apple care and when I tried to activate it they denied me service and kept my money. RAM

The easiest way to get their attention would be to dispute the charge with your credit-card issuer--when it issues Apple a chargeback, that ought to get their attention.

But as for e-mailing the individual store, they don't seem to list that option. You can request a sign-language interpreter or comparable assistance when booking a Genius Bar appointment, but there's no feedback or contact form listed.

if Schmidt did not make those gaffs, Google stock would be higher? They seem to do fine with him in charge.

Sure. But do you really think he represented his company well when he kept uploading his foot in his mouth like that? That is a pretty basic part of a CEO's job.

Rob, in one of your columns on cleaning up unnecessary junk on your computer, I seem to remember that you recommended deleting Silverlight. Did I remember that correctly? If so, I also thought that in order to do Netflix streaming on your computer, you needed to have Silverlight installed. True? If so, does that change your recommendation, or make it conditional?

Yes, you need Silverlight to watch Netflix on a computer. But in that case, just install it. It's not as if uninstalling Silverlight once means you can never put it back on. Whereas if you keep Silverlight on, just in case you want to watch Netflix on the PC later on, you're just adding to the maintenance burden.

Another factor: So many HDTVs and Blu-ray players now support Netflix streaming directly. Why even bother with streaming on your computer when you can use the biggest screen in the house?

My web-based email was hacked and spam was sent to my contacts. I checked my computer for viruses (none found) and changed my password and secret question. First, is there anything else I should do? Second - trying to figure out how it happened -is it possible I was hacked on a public computer last month even though the spam only went out a few days ago?

It's very difficult to tell when that might have happened--I've had dozens of readers relate this kind of story to me, and none could ever say "in retrospect, I know exactly when I got owned."

The other thing you should do is make sure you have the proper account-recovery options set: Is your secret question not easily guessable from your Facebook/LinkedIn/whatever profile? Can you recover the account via a text to your mobile phone?

Will white iPhone be more awesome?

Goodness, yes. Do you know how many unicorns have died to make it possible?

Rob, what do you think of Nokia Smartphones? I like the idea of the multi-frequency super 3g worldphones because I travel a lot, but it seems like nobody likes the Symbian operating system.

I don't think much of Nokia at all. It's gotten nowhere in the U.S. market with Symbian, and while that's done well overseas the iPhone and Android have eaten its lunch and are moving on to its dinner.

Rob: We all know how iPods, iPads, iPhones and other iGadgets have done their share to take over the world. How are actual Macs (desktops and laptops) doing vs. Windows machines? Is Apple gaining any market share there at all?

Absolutely--when the company introduced the revised MacBook Air in October, it noted how it's now up to 20 percent of the consumer market in the U.S. It's been breaking its sales records for Macs every quarter lately--but because the iPhone and iPad are doing even better, this gets overlooked.

Y'know, once you root it, the Nook Color is a nice little tablet. Runs Opera Mobile quite well. The youtube app crashes every time however.

Barnes & Noble PR hasn't asked for their review unit back yet--should I root the thing while I've got it?

I purchased a pre paid cell phone, and placed it in the glove compartment just for emergencies. After a couple of weeks, I thought I would check it by calling my husband. But..... when I turned it on, there were over sixty voice mails (each costing 50 cents to retrieve). I went thru ten voice mails - and all were from a telemarketing firm. I hadn't given the number out, so I deleted the remainder since they are probably telemarketing as well. I just wanted to pass this on, because my guess is this is fairly common.

It's not, actually: Yours is the first report I can remember hearing. There's nothing special about prepaid wireless-phone numbers or prepaid service in general that would make it telemarketer-friendly; you might just have a bad number that landed on too many calling lists. Can you get it changed?

Also, what kind of service charges 50 cents to check your voicemail?

Rob - any inkling on what ehancements the next edition iPhone (circa June) will boast - faster? better battery? 4G?

And so it begins... 4G support would be an obvious thing, although that would mean considerably different things on AT&T and Verizon. Better battery life would make sense. So would upgrades to the camera--not resolution, but things like zoom capability or image stabilization. Considering how much attention Apple pays to photos, that would make sense.

And, of course, you have to expect that iOS will include much more support for social networking than it does now.

Verizon's out of the way. Now, how about Sprint?

Yeah, how about it?

I could see Sprint getting the iPhone, just not in the next six months. Verizon doesn't have an exclusive deal, but I can't imagine Apple not letting them have a few months in the sun as The iPhone Carrier That Is Not AT&T.

Rob, Years ago, we ripped all of our CDs into WMA lossless format. I imported all of my cassettes into mp3. We were using subscription services (still love the idea, but they seem to be dying off) and PlaysForSure portables. Then I went and got my wife an iPod, and I"ll probably get her a Verizon iPhone. To get anything on the iPod I had to install iTunes, which can only read the mp3 files - which means we can only put old cassettes and recent downloads onto the iPod - our 400+ CD collection goes to waste. I don't want to convert those WMA lossless files into AAC because I don't want duplicates of all my CDs on the computer. (And I'd like to hang on to a lossless backup) My phone and portable downconvert the CD music when I sync. iTunes doesn't recognize my portables. I just want one media solution that can hold all the music and sync to the different hardware - is that out there somewhere?

You'll need to transcode those lossless WMAs into MP3s. There are apps that can do this, but I haven't tried any myself. I will, though--this is a good topic for Help File, since I suspect other people picked lossless WMA as a long-term storage format when Microsoft first pushed it.

Rob, I've been resisting Verizon's pleas to install the latest system update to my Droid Incredible--not Froyo, but the one thereafter that installs VCast and Slacker. It doesn't seem like an essential update--do you agree? And if you do, how can I get rid of the message prompting me to install the upgrade every time the phone turns out or is woken up from a "sleep" state?

Sounds like you can't tap a "never show me this again" button. You could root the phone and then get rid of the apps you don't want, but I don't know how rooting-friendly the Droid Incredible is.

Rob - there's no express authority for the FCC to regulate information services - in fact, Congress explicitly placed that out of bounds of the FCC. Why is sticking to Congressional / Constitutional authority so hard for you to understand, or tolerate?

This question is about Verizon's little about-face on net neutrality, as noted on my blog. I'd note that the FCC's lawyers think they do have that authority; things just aren't as clear cut as you seem to be stating here.

But for me, the more important point is Verizon's own conduct. One point I didn't make in that post: Its concern for process would be more touching were it not engaged in such blatant jurisdiction shopping.

I want to beat that clown Clifton and his 4k set up from Meridian. Can you tell me the 8k front projector will be available from JVC and others. I would be willing to spend $500k to shut him up!

Sorry, you're on your own there.

Sprint's now charging new smartphone activations an extra $10 fee for data. Are they getting their network ready so they can offer the iPhone?

I don't think so.

Yes it is nice, but it takes FOREVER to do a scan. I'm talking 2 hours plus. AVG is a better option,

I stopped recommending AVG after I had to write not one but two Help File items correcting the software's implied message that upgrading to a new version would require paying for it. I don't like it when developers make work for me.

Also, the whole point of an AV app is to stop viruses from getting on the computer. If it takes a scan after the fact to find one that's taken up residence, the program has already failed.

I'm a Verizon DSL subscriber. Lately Verizon has been sending me "notices" telling me that they are "migrating" subscribers in my area to FIOS. Here's my question: are they telling me that they will no longer be supporting DSL in my area or is this just a marketing ploy to get me to convert? I plan on doing it anyway once I've gotten some wiring work done in my house, but I'm annoyed that they think they can force me to do it on their timetable. I'm reluctant to call the number on the notice because I have no interest in getting sucked into a telephone sales pitch. Any thoughts?

Looks like a marketing ploy to me. Verizon no longer removes your house's copper phone line when installing Fios--you can go back to DSL, from Vz or another company, if you like--so there shouldn't be a forced upgrade.

(But Fios is a big step up from DSL.)

This seems like a good inexpensive tablet but I saw it downgraded for using Android 2.0. Is that a big detriment?

It is if they don't have an update coming, like, now. Android 2.0 dates to October of 2009; for a company to ship that today shows it's not serious about keeping up with Google.

Am I naive but isn't there a market for an inexpensive 7" tablet thatt can be used at the various coffee shops, libraries, etc., that provide free WiFi? A simple "can be used almost anywhere" that doesn't have the expense or smallness of a Smart Phone (which I can't justify)?

You're almost writing ad copy for the Barnes & Noble NookColor (which is the only device I've tried that covers that simple, cheap Web-tablet niche well.)

A recent report indicates that malware is increasingly setting its sights on mobile devices and away from PCs. In that environment, which mobile OS do you think will prove to me the most secure: iOS, Android or Microsoft?

Did this report come from a security-software vendor, by any chance? Because before I say anything else, I have to tell you that I've been seeing "malware is moving to mobile devices" reports and white papers since the advent of the PalmPilot.

I would expect iOS and WP7 to be more secure, because both are so tightly locked down while Android has no before-the-fact scrutiny of apps in the Android Market. But the vast installed base of iOS could also make it a more tempting target to companies that just want to sneak one rogue app past the App Store reviewers.

Should internet speeds differ by much between a wired PC and a laptop on the same network? My laptop is consistantly 2-4 Mbps slower than my desktop connected directl to the modem. I have a 3-4 year old secure Linksys modem and get 3 bars on the laptop. Thanks!

No, they shouldn't differ. Your wireless network has to have some other issues--maybe inteference from other networks near you.

One thing you can try pretty easily: Switch the network from mixed 802.11b/g operation to g only.

Did most desktops and laptops at CES have USB 3? When are companies going to start shipping USB 3 by default?

No, and not anytime soon. This technology has a non-trivial customer-relevance problem.

I have to get rid of my books because I have run out of room, so I am going to change to electronic books, which I don't know anything about. Are there any differences in the format of electronic books? Can I read any of them on my computer (I don't want to do anything portable)? Any suggestions?

I would not start buying electronic books until you clearly understand their issues--they are not all universally readable, and the DRM surrounding them takes away many of your rights as a reader.

Is there a program that I can put on my Mac to copy a DVD so I can watch it on my iPad? I really hate to buy a movie I already own again. Thanks.

Sure. Install the free VLC Player and then the free HandBrake.

For the person who has trouble with handwriting and spoken communications, there is a "live chat" function on the Apple site that might of use to him or her. Legally, Apple has to provide alternative means of support for the disabled, so they have to have a TTD line, although I can't find the number on the website.

Thanks!

So, will the Verizon Iphone be usable in Europe?

No.

This page, http://www.apple.com/support/contact/, has links to e-mails for help. Also, the user can post a message in the support forums, explain that he or she needs to be contacted via e-mail due to a disability, and request that a moderator contact him or her.

Thanks to you as well.

I don't want to step up to FIOS! Or cable or satellite. DSL is fast enough for streaming, and I don't want pay tv.

Then don't. Nobody's forcing you to (although if anybody's getting phone calls, e-mails or notes taped to bricks thrown through windows saying "upgrade to Fios or else," I'd like to know about it.)

Verizon DSL and FIOS We just switched to FIOS this week and it is much faster. After a year it will cost more than DSL but we didn't have much of a choice, although our DSL was flawless and fast from 2003 to 2009. Our neighborhood was wired with fiber about 18 months ago and our landline phone service and DSL performance went downhill fast. We had many service calls, lost many hours of our life to waiting on hold with Verizon and even called in our Congressman's office to get some action. One fine afternoon I was chatting with a Verizon technician who said that they had quit training them on copper and everything was going digital now. He didn't confess that Verizon was deliberately degrading our service but he didn't deny it either.

That's a different situation, though.

One point I forgot to make in my last comment on this: You don't have to get Fios TV or Fios phone when you get Fios Internet. We have Fios Internet, no TV and the same old basic phone service as before.

What is this rooting you are talking about?

"Root" = "superuser" access, giving you unrestricted control of the device. Normally restricted for security reasons (which is why OS X asks for a password if you install printer drivers or other apps that touch parts of the system). See my recount of rooting my own Android phone.

When can we expect RIM to update its software to allow direct sync with Outlook 2010?

I thought it did--I don't remember seeing any issues syncing the last BB I reviewed to Outlook 2010 using BB Desktop 6.

Since we're almost out of time, can you e-mail me about this? robp@washpost.com.

Have a problem downloading attachments from e-mail files. Some seem to download fine others show the attachment as downloading but show no rate of download or time left - and go on and on without the download occuring. This happens for pdf files (inconistently) or .doc files. Separately, my internet explorer file seems to hang up as well? Im using Vista & Internet Explorer; and yahoo for e-mail. Virus scans and spyware scans are clean. Any thoughts on why my files won't download (frequently) in e-mail? I have another computer on the same network with Mozilla and it downloads attachments just fine although it uses an older Windows 2000.

Try Firefox on the Vista machine, since you say it works fine in Win 2000. (Your OS should not affect how a browser displays attachments on a Web-mail service, although I keep getting reminded that anything's possible in Windows.)

Rob, my wife and I agreed at Christmas that we'd wait until January to replace our 15-yo bookshelf stereo as our major gift to each other. But when I went to a couple of big-box stores, now everything's either an iPod docking station or Blu-Ray home theater system. What do people play their CDs and FM radio on these days?

They get a bookshelf CD/AM/FM unit with an iPod dock. (I got my wife one such thing for Christmas and was amused to note that the manufacturer had a firmware update ready on its Web site.)

Rob, Any insights on which PC browser (e.g. IE, Chrome, Firefox, etc.) is most secure for online transactions (e.g. banking, credit card purchases, bill pay, etc)? Thanks! Chris

Chrome and Firefox have a better security record than IE overall. But they all handle the encryption that protects online transactions in the same way--there isn't a meaningful difference in how they enable SSL/TLS encryption.

FYI - This question came up in a previous q/a session. Consumer Reports' ratings of smart phones always include voice quality, and CR consistently rates all phones below average or poor in that category.

Thanks

We've got a PC desktop at home, plus two PC laptops that come from work. Now that the kids are older and needing access as well, we are thinking of making the next purchase a Mac -- either the desktop or the Macbook. The question: can a home network support both seamlessly? Which would you set up to "serve" the others?

Yes - Macs work fine on Windows networks. I've found it's actually easier to turn on Windows file sharing on a Mac than in Windows XP.

Rob, You'll forgive me for having a two-part question today, but I'm very curious to get your thoughts. First question, what are your thoughts on Netflix's attempts to begin shying away from physical media and focus more on their streaming capabilities? I personally think they're jumping the gun, because not only are DVDs and Blu-rays very firmly rooted in many homes, but Netflix still doesn't have a wide selection of movies to stream! Yes, it's respectable at the moment, but it pales greatly in comparison to the number of titles available on DVD and Blu-ray. This leads to my second question, which is, what are your thoughts on the future of physical media? I personally think we have at least another 5-10 years of DVDs and Blu-rays. I know streaming media is trying to gain a foothold over physical media (oh, how the war for alpha technology annoys me to no end), but I think it'll be a while before streaming can penetrate EVERY household. (Before I got my Blu-ray player and plasma TV, if I wanted to stream a Netflix movie, I had to watch it on my computer rather than my TV.) And for me personally, I feel a special connection to physical media--the ability to pull something off the shelf and pop it into the player whenever I wish. Thanks for taking my question!

I'll take this essay question for my last answer.

You are absolutely right about the limited availability of streaming titles, which is solely the fault of Hollywood studios that insist on perpetuating an outdated "release window" strategy that makes no sense when the costs of distribution and duplication drop to zero. That will change, but only slowly--this is one stubborn industry.

I have no problem with replacing disc rentals with online streaming. I do have a problem with replacing movie purchases with streaming, or even with DRMed downloads that don't let view my purchase in the software and hardware of my choice.

I would like to see the movie industry follow the example of the record industry and drop DRM, which would end the above objections. (I don't need to be able to take a physical object off the shelf; I do need to know that I can do what I want with my purchsae.) But I may be waiting a long time for that. A very long time.

Thanks for all the questions--again, far more than I could get to in an hour or even an hour and 20 minutes. I may be able to address some of the ones I missed in Help File; otherwise, I should be back here in two weeks.

In This Chat
Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post's Fast Forward columnist Rob Pegoraro, writes about computers, the Internet and consumerconsumer electronics. His latest tech thoughts and tips are cultivated daily on his blog Faster Forward.

Rob Pegoraro Q&A Archive
Recent Chats
  • Next: