Personal Tech Live with Rob Pegoraro

Jul 02, 2010

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

Greetings, all. It's been kind of a crazy day so far: Brazil has somehow lost to the Netherlands in the World Cup, Apple says it can't add bars correctly when displaying signal strength on an iPhone's screen, and late last night Steve Jobs sent me a one-word e-mail. Strangeness all around.

I have not really noticed the low signal with my left hand with the new iPhone 4, but I sure am getting a lot of dropped calls. But I usually use my right hand with my phone just because I can hear better with my right ear so I don't think the left hand thing is the issue. Is there going to be a fix for that? I drop almost all calls. This seems to be happening a lot more than with my old iPhone 3G. Also, when I am talking, I guess since I don't have a case on it yet, my face seems to hit the buttons and either mutes, go to speaker, tries to go facetime or something like that. May be the way I am holding the phone but the screen seems a lot more sensitive then on other phones. But I do love the shape of the phone. And I love that the glass doesn't show fingerprints easily. Love the camera. I use the phone for a lot more then a phone, but sure would like to get a completed call in.

Let's turn to topic A--which, at least in this chat, is not soccer/football. AT&T's coverage has been an issue for iPhone users since day one, and the new model hasn't exactly changed the laws of physics in that regard.

Interesting to hear your comment about the screen sometimes registering your face--Mac blogger John Gruber noted the same issue, the fault of a too-jumpy proximity sensor, in his uber-detailed review of the iPhone 4.

(1) Should Motorola Droid users upgrade to Android 2.2 (coming soon)? What are pros and cons? (2) Is it desirable to add an antivirus app to the phone?

1) Yes--from what I've seen, including reports from peopel who have tested the Android 2.2 update already, it's a major and desirable upgrade. I'm not aware of any cons outside of having to back up and restore your data using third-party software (note that 2.2 will bring built-in backup capability).

2) No. Although malware authors have snuck trojans into the Android Market, they were found and removed pretty quickly--and if you simply take a few minutes to research a strange program before installing it, or just don't install programs at all unless you've seen then recommended by multiple trusted sources, you don't have a real risk there.

Earlier this Spring, "they" said that the iPhone would be provided to T-Mobile, maybe as early as this Fall or Winter, now I'm seeing that "they" are saying that Verizon is going to get the iPhone, maybe in January 2011. Have your heard any more about this? Thanks!

"They" have a poor record of accuracy when it comes to iPhone-on-other-carriers rumors. In fact, it's a 100 percent record of failure so far.

The most recent reports cite a whole two unnamed sources, and there are engineering reasons that would make it easier for a Verizon iPhone to exist, as I wrote on my blog the other day. But I still recommend taking all these reports with a generous serving of salt.

I've had a Dell Inspiron for about 5 years that served me well during law school. It's on its last legs and was considering maybe getting an alienware Dell laptop. I don't game but I surf mutiple webpages at a time and would use it for heavy video streaming ala Hulu, youtube. And would appreciate the HD video too. Would I be wasting the resources of a Dell alienware laptop on such use?

You would. You should also consider that Alienware's laptops, built for gaming use, tend to be heavy and run hot. They also come with what I think are incredibly tacky decoration--multi-colored lights under the keyboard and behind the speakers. Think of a car with neon bolted to the undercarriage.

It looks like Clear, formerly Xohm, has returned to DC with a "4G" service that offers two internet levels: basic, with downloads of "up to" 1.5 mbps, and a higher level with up to 6 mbps. Service seems to be available in most of the District and close-in suburbs. One appealing aspect of the service is that no contract is required. Any thoughts? Is it likely to be reliable? Is this a good alternative to Verizon or Comcast (which are the only other ones available where I am)?

I've been trying Clear's service for a while--I should have a column reviewing it in the next week or so--and so far, it seems to work well in terms of signal strength and bandwidth. But I have seen weird problems with DNS--domain name service, what lets your computer find our Web site when type "washingtonpost.com." Using a free,  third-party DNS option, OpenDNS, fixed that. But no Internet provider in this decade should have problems providing consistent DNS... that's just weird.

I have a four year old emachine purchased at Wal-mart that has XP Home Edition. I've upgraded the ram to 1.5 gig. It works great for what I need, so I am not going to purchase anything new until it dies. I use IE6, and there are now many sites that don't support it. I have tried on two occasions to upgrade to IE8, but my computer crashes (i.e. won't open Explorer, has lots of error pop-ups...) when I do. I end up removing IE8 and going back to IE6 which works well. Any suggestions? Should I go to another Browser like Firefox? Thanks for your time. Glenna

I cannot phrase this any more directly:

Stop using IE 6 now.

That browser is insecure, incapable and has no business being used anywhere. Even Microsoft wants you to upgrade.

If, for whatever reason, you can't get IE 8 to install, then switch to Firefox, Chrome, Opera or Safari. But don't keep using IE 6. That's an order.

I have microsoft office 2007 .... do you advise getting the new 2010 version? Should I get it right away or should I wait until it's been around for a bit? Please note that I use internet and email heavily because of a home based business. Many thanks, Gita Brenner

The new version of Outlook in 2010 is notably better, but overall Office 2010 is a disappointing upgrade.

I read your discussion archives, not the live Q&A. I noted your recent response re Microsoft Office or Open Office. I think I have another potential problem to add: My Open Office 3.2 Base (the database program) does not open Microsoft Office 2007 database files. Bummer. Of course, anyone using Open Office Writer and Calc must learn to use Save As, File Type, Microsoft.... if they plan to share their own files with others.

Sorry, can't help you with that--I don't even look at Microsoft Office's Access database program, since that doesn't come in any of its home-use versions. To get Access, you need to step up to the $500 "Professional" edition of Office, and I have a firm rule against reviewing software that costs more than many entry-level home computers.

I have a $1200 budget for a new DSLR, and want to get a zoom lens and a macro lens. Any suggestions?

No  idea--as I just mentioned, I don't do expensive in this column. Anybody photogs have advice on this?

How do I download free anti-malware protection without worrying that the protection program itself is actually malware?

The same way you'd check the integrity of any other possible download--by only downloading things you've seen reviewed favorably by multiple, trusted sources. If you're not sure, don't download. Period.

Is there a particular app you were curious about?

I'm interested in Blu-ray technology. Are there Blu-ray decks that are able to record and playback programs from broadcast TV?

No. I've been asking about that at CES every year since Blu-ray debuted, and the answer is always "not yet"--even though you can buy computers that record on Blu-ray discs, and even though Blu-ray recorders have been available in Japan for years.

The usual answer is that because a Blu-ray recorder couldn't hook directly to a cable or satellite service, nobody would buy it--or that it would incur excessive tech-support costs for the manufacturer.

I want to be able to do 2 major things when I'm using any smartphone: (1) appointment notifications should pop up no matter what I'm doing on the phone (for instance, a windows mobile device will do this) and (2) I want to be able to look at my claendar and contacts while I'm on the phone or browsing the internet or composing a text message. Does the iPhone 4 do those things?

The iPhone 4 and earlier models will pop up a notice of an upcoming event if you assign an alert to it, although new events don't default to having alerts assigned; the alert will be a modal dialog that you have to dismiss before doing anything else--which I find  annoying. (Android phones, FWIW, default to adding alarms to new events, but their notices don't block from you doing other things; they consist of icons at the top of the screen, which you pull down to see the contents of each notification.)

Yes, the iPhone 4 will let you switch between apps during a call, while browsing the Web and texting. (So do Android devices, to continue the comparison.)

Dear Sir, How can we make 32 bits programs like old version of Dragon speaking work on Windows 7 Yours sincerely R.Venkataraman

You can't unless you install a 32-bit version of Windows 7. Which means nuking your entire existing system.

I'm curious as to what the word was?

"Nope."

(I'd asked him if I could determine that a given e-mail attributed to him by another site actually came from him without checking directly. So that was the answer I expected, since he doesn't sign his messages with PGP or any other sort of encryption software.)

If the person is willing to stretch their budget just a tad, they could get a Nikon D-90 kit with two good lenses, that are occasionally on sale for about $1250-$1300. If not, they could probably get just the D-90 body (@$800 online) and buy the lenses separately. They could also get the D-5000 for far under that price with 2 lenses (probably less than $1000 total).

Thanks for the suggestions!

Rob, XP emulation mode in W7 should work.

OK, but then you'd need to run the "Professional" or "Ultimate" editions of Win 7. It would be cheaper to buy a new release of Dragon.

My wife and I are going to Europe/Middle East (England, Greece, Italy, and Egypt) in several weeks. We'd like to use her third generation iPod Touch with Skype to stay in touch with family here. Doable, and any issues we need to know about? Thanks.

Definitely doable--my colleague Cecilia Kang used Skype via WiFi on her iPhone to keep up with people when she went to Turkey last year.

Apologies in advance if I'm not wording this properly, but I hope you get me drift: I am finally going to ditch my tube TV for HD this summer. I have several DVDs I've recorded off the old set. Will they be viewable on the HD? I'm concerned about the difference in aspect ratio settings. Just FYI, wapo.com listed your chat as starting at 1, so if traffic is a little light, that could have something to do with it.

You have nothing to worry about, although you will probably find that DVD recordings of analog broadcasts will look terrible on an HDTV (even if you play them on an upconverting DVD player).

I'm with you on not using IE6. What to do, though, about the employer who built systems around IE6, won't allow browser upgrades, and won't allow alternative browsers? I know the stock responses (lazy IT staff, cheap execs, etc.), but what's the normal person to do?

Allow an IE 6 drive-by download to take out the entire corporate network?

You could also use the Portable Edition of Firefox on a USB flash drive, but that can have issues with Web media.

And you can silently curse the idiots in IT and management who are committing computing malpractice.

If it matters, I received my iPhone 4 the day before the release and I have had absolutely no problem with reception, nor have I had screen issues. I have fewer dropped calls than with my 3G phone. No matter how I try, case or no case, I can't replicate the loss of bars issue. This problem only seems to hit some people, from what I can tell.

Thanks, Steve!

Rob, I always go to filehippo.com. Never had problems with anything I've gotten there.

Malware authors have been able to sneak trojans into trusted shareware sites before.

My company (40,000+ employee international corporation), just upgraded to IE8 yesterday. It's just pathetic how stubborn IT bozos can be.

Your employer is far less stubborn than a lot of others I know.

When will you get a look at the new Droid X? I'm in the market for a smartphone, and the Droid Incredible is backordered until late July. If the Droid X also ends up backordered forever, will it be worth waiting for? It sounds like the biggest complaint about the Incredible is the battery life, and the X ought to be better?

I've seen and briefly tried out the Droid X but haven't put it through any serious tests yet. I can tell you that it's a really large phone, as smartphones go--it's as big as Sprint's Evo. I would wait on the Droid Incredible myself, but that is my own bias for a smaller phone.

I have a new HP Windows 7 computer and an older (2004) HP Windows XP computer. On my XP computer, I insert the camera memory card and it lets me select which pictures to load, what to call the group of photos, and what folder to put them in. On my Windows 7 computer, it just asks if I want to load the pictures, loads all of them to a default folder, and doesn't let me name the group. Is there some way I can get Windows 7 to do this like XP did where I have more control? This is through the pop-up that comes up when I insert the memory card that asks if I want to copy pictures. Thanks for your help!

Add a photo-album app--Microsoft's Windows Live Photo Gallery is pretty good, and so is Google's Picasa. Either one will add its own "import pictures" options to the AutoPlay menu.

Hi Rob, I know you like Microsoft Security Essentials, and in fact I've installed it on my laptop and so far things are good with it. However I need to recommend antivirus software to my sister for the new HP pc she just bought. Unlike me, she needs to worry about teenagers who don't think very carefully before clicking on links that could expose the pc to malware. She also has zero free time so she needs something easy to get, install and maintain. I'm leaning towards recommending Norton -- it's not free, but if I'm understanding correctly it comes with things like parental controls that you don't usually get with free antivirus software. What do you recommend? Also, she's afraid that some corrupt files from her old pc got backed up to her (Seagate) external hard drive and so will be transferred to the new pc. All I know to tell her is to make sure antivirus software is intalled on the new machine before transferring anything to it. Is there anything else she should do? Thanks thanks thanks for your help.

Yes, Norton Internet Security adds features like parental controls, though its anti-virus protection hasn't fared well in recent tests by the AV-Comparatives site.

But if you're dealing with users who won't pay any attention to security, you're better off locking down the system--set them up with a limited user account in which they can't install anything.

What kind of adapter do I need to feed, say, Hulu video from a laptop PC to a big-screen TV?

If you're lucky, your laptop has an HDMI port that will let you run one cable to relay its audio and video to the HDTV's HDMI input. Oherwise, you're looking at two cables--VGA for video, plus either RCA or optical-digital for audio. In either scenario, you need to use the TV's remote to switch inputs, then you may need to have the laptop switch its video output to the big screen.

Hi Rob... When I fire up my Mac laptop I often get a message telling me that there are software updates available and offering the option to upgrade all or some of them. However, the list never includes any security updates? What's up with this?

I've seen Software Update deliver plenty of security updates labeled as such on this Mac. But over the last month or so, the security fixes have been rolled into other, broader updates--Safari 5, OS X 10.6.4 and so on.

Recently, my Brother printer/copier/scanner refused to print a text document (black ink only) because the MAGENTA ink cartridge was empty! It was 11:00pm, too late to run out and buy ink. The Owner's Manual confirmed that this is a "feature".

That's why some people have concluded that printers were sent from hell to make us miserable.

I use a UK SIM card in my cell phone when I'm travelling in Europe. It obviously saves me money on phone calls, and provides a permanent London phone number for the convenience of my European contacts. I've read that you can't swap out the SIM card in an iPhone, but is there another smartphone that will allow me to use my UK SIM card? I don't need data services in Europe but I'd like to have some of the apps so I don't have to carry my Palm TX as well as a phone (and because the TX isn't going to last forever).

You can swap out SIM cards on an iPhone if you buy an unlocked one elsewhere (as my friend Bob did when his job sent him to Malaysia for a while) or if you jailbreak and unlock a U.S.-market iPhone. Otherwise, you're out of luck--unlike people who buy every other phone AT&T sells.

Is RIM going to come out with anything new for the Blackberry? The new Blackberry's are almost identical to the Curve I got 2 years ago.

Research In Motion is in the same sinking boat as Microsoft--the company spent years thinking it was in fine shape, then took its own sweet time realizing that the iPhone and Android were going to eat its lunch. It is moving faster than Microsoft--it has an app store of its own, although it's slow and clumsy, and it's writing a new Web browser based on the same open-source framework as the iPhone and Android browsers.

Do you have a preference for photo organizing programs? I'm talking about deciding between Flickr, Picasa, Windows Live, etc. I've got a new PC and want to initially organize everything on my old hard drive and then move on to scanning film negatives into a database. Is there a clear winner to your mind?

One of those options you mentioned isn't a photo-organizing program at all--it's a Web site. Among Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery... well, if you're already accustomed to filing pictures in folders WL Photo Gallery will fit much better. Microsoft has a new version out that's supposed to be much better, but that's yet another item that I haven't had time to try out yet.

So if I don't want to wait until the iPhone is available on Verizon, but would like a SmartPhone which can import iTunes music (of which I have A LOT), am I out of luck?

No--just use add-on software to sync iTunes to another phone. This blog post outlines a few options (I swear I'll turn it into a Help File item someday).

PLEASE!! Being an IT person myself, I resent the use of the "bozo" label. There are A LOT of good-and-valid reasons for why your 40,000 person company is only getting to IE8 now. Think about all of those web-based applications you are using right now, and give some consideration to the amount of time and effort it takes to program web apps, test, find bugs, wash, rinse, repeat ad nauseum UNTIL THE THING WORKS! The real bozo-osity is, to me, constant demands to "just upgrade darnit" without realizing that if we do pump that upgrade, you just may lose half the functionality of your app because YOU didn't give us the time to do the due diligence required to make sure it works.

I'm sorry, but you're wrong. Retiring a horribly obsolete and insecure browser is not a "just upgrade darnit" mindset--it's common sense. Save your anger for Web-app developers that are too lazy, stupid or incompetent to write for current browsers.

I took an introductory class to the D90 and D5000, and (I bought the D5000), it seems that the D5000, while being less expensive, is also more user-friendly, and can do some cool new things the D90 can't.

More input on D-SLRs...

Rob, Picasa is extremely unflexible about importing. It's all or nothing. I used previous versions, but it's getting out of hand lately. I switched to another photo program.

Which one? How do you like the other program?

Rob, Do it manually. Create a folder, then move and rename the pics as you go. Sheesh.

You assume that everybody thinks that way. Based on my experience, that would be a mistake. Besides, a strict folder hierarchy doesn't leave you any way to associate photos with multiple albums.

I played with an iPad for the first time over the weekend. I was very impressed with the device and it's overall functionality. It also seems to meet my needs when it comes to a home computer, as I just use it to surf the internet, check e-mail, manage photos, and do a little bit of word processing. However, the $500 price tag, which is more than I've ever spent on a single computer (never more than $400) is a tough hurdle for me to clear, especially given Apple's insistance on making 3 year olf technology obsolete (my current desktop computer is 8 years old and runs just fine). I secretly would like an iPad, but the analytical side of my brain will not let me get it. Any suggestions?

If you've never spent more than $400 on a single computer, you've been much more disciplined than me. But if the price bugs you, wait; either the next version will come in a cheaper model or it will offer added features at the same price.

Rob, I've heard that HTC phones have issues with users not receiving calls. I know one who would get all of the missed call/voicemail/event notifications once a week. Has this been addressed by HTC in their new phone - and have you heard from new users experiencing this issue? I'd like to consider it, but I need the phone to reliably perform as a phone. Thanks!

Haven't heard of that, and it doesn't make much sense as a technology issue--it's more likely for a carrier to fail to reach the phone.

I have an old first generation iMac that has not been used for several years. Would it have any value for simply surfing the internet and basic word processing at this point? THanks.

Some but very little. Ask around local nonprofits, schools and charities to find out.

Have you tried Adobe's Lightroom 3? Is it good for the $300 Adobe's asking for it?

No, and I won't--it's not a consumer app by any stretch. (Same reason you won't find me reviewing Photoshop or Apple's Aperture.)

Rob, Amazing what people don't know about what's connected to their computers. A friend said his internet was dog slow and could I have a look? Turns out, he and everyone else in his building were all riding the same wireless channel. Talk about a traffic jam! Tell folks to check their channel assignment if they think they're running a bit slow.

Good advice, although a lot of WiFi management interfaces--often, a badly designed Web-page setup--make it difficult to see which of the 11 or so possible WiFi channels you're using.

Verizon offered me their most basic camera cell phone for free awhile ago, and it's been okay. I'm tempted by the Droid and would still use Verizon as my carrier. What are the pros and cons compared to other combinations? Thanks!

The Droid's a good phone--my brother and his wife each own one and have no complaints--although it scuffs easily. I prefer the Droid Incredible, but that's sold out for a bit. Verizon's coverage is good. Its pricing is OK: unlike Sprint, it doesn't include texting its voice/data bundles, so you have to budget another $5 for that.

The poster needs a bit more RAM. 1.5Gb is not enough even for XP Home. IE8 should install in a breeze after that.

Using IE 8 will be more pleasant with more memory, but you shouldn't need extra RAM to install it. The poster has something else wrong on the computer.

Rob, are you saying that no phone sold by AT&T beyond the iPhone has a SIM lock? My sense is that they almost all do (thus the very low prices on some), and that it's the same with other carriers.

On everything besides the iPhone, AT&T will unlock the SIM Card slot once you're out of your contract. (T-Mobile, meanwhile, will unlock that slot 40 days in if you ask.) In either case, you don't need to resort to phone-jailbreak hacks if you want to unlock the SIM card slot on your own.

Rob, Buying anything less than Professional is like buying a car without air conditioning. You'll always wish you had spent the extra, which in this case, isn't much at all.

No. Win 7 Professional doesn't offer anything useful for home computing except, maybe, XP Mode. Why pad out Microsoft's profits for no real benefit?

I think the better comparison here is to paying the car dealer extra for their own rustproofing.

I've noticed recently that my wireless connection is really slow sometimes, and other times normal speeds. I have a MacBook Pro and use an air Port. How do I check what channel I'm on or what channel other people are on? I assumed the sometimes slow speeds was due to someone else in my building watching Hulu or something, but didn't realize there was potentially something I could do about it. Thanks (I am very technology inept, so the simplest explanation is much appreciated!)

Open the AirPort Utility program, click the "Manual Setup" button and click the Wireless tab. The default channel assignment is "Automatic," which should be correct. But to see what other channels people are using, you need to run geekier software like iStumbler.

So after reading your Blu-ray answer - Is it true that no DVR out there will record TV programs off cable, unless you rent or buy one from your cable company or subscribe to Tivo? We've been looking for a way to record programs off digital TV, since we can't use a VCR for that.

There is a new CableCard add-on for Windows PCs that lets you use the computer as a cable tuner and DVR... that's all that comes to mind.

I have three old TV sets and three newer DTV converter boxes - RCA model DT800b1. Two of the DTV boxes were manufactured later than the first box and those two dropped features although all three are the same model - the new boxes don't show 'what's on next' and other things. My problem is that when a weak signal causes a 'freeze' the audio will sometimes not return and audio is gone on all channels. I have turn power off to regain it. What should I do? Also, do other broadcast DTVers sometimes see poor lip-sync? And see squashed picture for certain broadcast program segmets?

Sounds like you've got a bad model of DTV converter--a weak signal shouldn't shut down the entire tuner until you power-cycle it.

Lip-sync issues can happen, though I haven't heard of any on HDTVs in years. Pictures can look squashed if the TV or the tuner get confused about the aspect ratio of a program--but, again, that's an old problem that I thought was solved. (I.e., I haven't seen any of these issues on my own HDTVs with over-the-air programming.)

My weekend house in WV does not get a phone signal from ATT, Verizon, Sprint or other national company. However, a visitor was able to use his Verizon Blackberry there, not only for phone calls but internet access as well. Please explain. Do you think an I-phone or Droid might work there even though a regular cell phone does not?

Obviously, there is a Verizon signal near your house--RIM doesn't make any satellite phones. The only explanation I can think of is that his phone has better reception than others you've tried. What does Verizon's coverage map say? (I know from personal experience that a lot of those hollers don't have any cell signal; it's just something you deal with to go skiing.)

Not sure if I'm too late: My fiance and I just got Droids (upgrade from "dumb" phones) and re-upped with Verizon. We got a deal that - after rebate - cost us only $50 per phone. So far we're impressed with the Droid, but we're low-tech and easily impressible...

Look at all the people complaining about their cell phones here--count your blessings!

Have you seen a Sony Dash? What are your thoughts? I'd love it as an upgraded alarm clock and a way to see if I have any new emails/ look at my Facebook feed. Is it worth its $200 price tag?

I think it would be easier and cheaper to keep your alarm clock, then have your phone recharge on your nightstand.

Sorry, folks--even with stoppage time added, the clock has run out on this chat. Thanks for all the great questions; enjoy the weekend, and I should see you here in two weeks or so.

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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.

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