Nov 05, 2010

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

Had to wrap up shooting my video tour of Kinect (I can assure you that I look very dignified showing this thing off).

What should we discuss first?

When will the new Windows Phone be available on Verizon?

We'll start with the subject of this weekend's column, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 software. Microsoft says it will ship a version of WP7 supporting the CDMA wireless technology of Verizon (and Sprint) by the end of this year, which could lead to a Verizon WP7 device by the middle of next year.

(Or not. I wouldn't schedule a purchase this far out.)

I don't want it. I hate all the apps they installed on the Droid X (City ID? For a subscription fee? Seriously?) that I can't remove without rooting the phone and voiding the warranty. When will they learn to just give us the OS and let us modify our phones as WE, not THEY, wish?

When VzW management starts paying attention to my column? Sure wish that would be soon. I can certainly say, however, that Verizon's arrogant tampering with Android is something I'll consider as a negative the next time I'm shopping for a phone--I want a wireless carrier, not a parody of an IT department.

Is there an easy way to be sure that the move will be successful?

Don't have a lot of weird software or a strange system configuration. Or just buy a new computer (that was Microsoft's actual advice to people looking to move from XP to 7)

Hi Rob, I don't use my cell phone much and I don't text or take pics or watch movies or play games on them. But I do like to have something that has internet wifi capability. All the 'smart phones' or i-phone likes seem to be tied to a carrier and most have data and calling plans which adds up a month. Is there anything that people like me can get just to surf web and place calls, if needed.. but with monthly charges at minimum? thanks.

T-Mobile can accommodate you--you can buy a phone at an unsubsidized price (either new from the carrier, which will cost you, or off eBay used) and then get an Even More Plus plan of your choice. This Help File column addressed that issue

Suddenly the font size in my news feed is so small it's almost unreadable. I found out how to enlarge it (holding CTRL key and scrolling up with mouse), but why did they do it in the first place?

To cram in more updates on the page? Or maybe the interface architects at Facebook get paid by the redesign.

I'm thinking about getting an Ipad, but I'm not sure if I should wait a few months to see if there will be any viable Android alternatives. I currently have an Imac, and am really happy with Apple products, but I have a Motorola Droid as my mobile, so I'm comfortable with both OS's. I have read about the Samsung Galaxy Tab, but I know that I would like larger than a 7" screen. Any advice?

Wish I could give you some, but I have yet to lay hands on the Tab or any other of the potential iPad competitors (for instance, Barnes & Noble's Nook color could be a simple, cheap, Web-only alternative)

For one dollar at a rummage sale last weekend, I got a Wireless DSL Modem/Router (Actiontec GT704WG). I found a user manual for it online, but it's quite long, and I wonder how much trouble I can cause if I don't know what I'm doing. There's a button you press and hold to do a complete reset - I assume that should be my first step to wipe out the last owner's configuration? Then can I just plug in my Verizon DSL cable and the ethernet cable to my Mac and expect it to work? Or what should I do next?

As long as you know how to bring up its admin interface--usually, by typing in a numeric Internet address into your browser once you're on the router's network--you'll be fine. I.e., you're not going to brick the thing by configuring it wrong.

I have a six year old PC running Windows XP, and it's reached the end of its productive lifespan. Am looking to purcahse another average PC running Windows 7. My question is, what's the easiest way to move software programs from old to new, i.e. applications for music, camera, video, games...all the stuff we've acquired over the years for which we may not have saved an installation disk. Is there some utility that makes this process easy?

There are some, but I haven't tried them. (It's a mix of having no time and not having XP and Win 7 machines next to each other when I did have time.) Any recommendations?

I received my Kinect yesterday...how long to set it up with the old XBox 360? What are the must have games so far far the system? Jason

Budget about half an hour, maybe 45--the software updates it requires eat up some time, then you have to clear your living room to Kinect's satisfaction. It can take longer if you want to have Kinect recognize your face.

I saw a Yahoo video article recently about various devices that they predict will be extinct in the next five years. Some of them are no-brainers, like the Walkman and the original cell phone from the '90s. But they also listed DVD players, which surprised me. I know that DVD and Blu-ray are really fighting it out for format dominance, but isn't it a bit of a stretch to say that DVD players will be extinct in five years? People will still want physical media in their homes to watch movies, as not everyone will want and/or be able to download a whole movie to their iPod. Or is this maybe just another twist to make Blu-ray the dominant physical format?

The odds are higher of Blu-ray getting marginalized as a format before DVD--there are far more DVD players and movies in existence.

Hi, Rob: A couple of months ago, I downloaded Office 2010 into my computer. I've been having problems ever since. Long story short, although I deleted a bunch of files, tried the Restore option, and defragmented my files, I can't open any Office 2010 product (or my older 2007, for that matter). I always get a popup message stating there's not enough memory in the computer. Please help! I want to avoid spending hundreds of dollars calling a professional. The tried the Restore option to a date prior the download, but it solved nothing. I simply want to get rid of Office 2010 and have my 2007 back. Thanks a bunch!

A productivity suite shouldn't gum up the rest of your system. But this is Windows we're talking about.

I'd recommend System Restore, but you said you already tried that. So I have no idea... though if your computer only has, say, 512 MB of memory, that's not enough even if you never run Office.

I miss the actual WP articles you used to write -- and now with this format, I can't browse articles of interest. Is this going against a very large tide?

Um, where have you been looking? I do the same column and Help File as ever, plus I'm writing about a column's worth a day on the blog.

I just bought a new Belkin wireless router. Here's my question? Can a router block a specific website? If reset the router I can reach the site. Four days later, I can't. It's the only site being blocked. It's blocked on my laptop, and yet when I take my laptop to town, it can access the site. If I do a "system restore" back to a date when I could access the site, no help. Switch browsers, no help. All indications are it's the router blocking a particular site. Possible?

Could be your ISP. Is this a site distributing malware or that poses some other kind of threat? Or it could be the router itself: Do you have parental-control options enabled on it?

Point being, a router--a device that routes network traffic--can be used to stop some of that traffic too.

Hi Rob, I have a Motorola Droid on Verizon and am thinking of switching to the Samsung Galaxy S. I use a product called Touchdown for MS-Exchange synchronization and about 10 other core applications. Do you happen to know if the phone call quality and Bluetooth headset compatability is as good on the Samsung as it is on the Motorola Droid? Thanks, Tom B. Great Falls, VA

I didn't notice any difference in call quality on the Galaxy phone I tried (Fascinate) and on the Droid. There shouldn't be a difference in Bluetooth compatibility--it's the same Android software underneath--but you never know. And I can't say I did any extensive testing in that area.

Your column today was about the new Hulu Plus. Sounded good so I went to their site, but got the dreaded "not available in your country". Why do the American networks and just about every else involved in TV and movie distribution business treat Canadians so badly? Who governs this so I can file a complaint. It seems our money is good enough for regular cable TV advertisers, but not the internet.

It's a matter of distribution contracts; you need to dispatch a separate squad of lawyers every time you want to offer big-media content in a new country.

If it's any consolation, these territorial limitations also affect Americans working overseas.

Uninstall iTunes first. Other applications went fine, but not that one. And failures are time consuming.

Thanks for the suggestion.

Was all happy moving from Vista to Win7 at home. Then I tried to find the driver for the printer. The vendor doesnt support Win7 for our model of printer. Short of hooking it up to the kids computer (XP), or just shelling out for a new printer, any other ways to hook it up to be able to print?

Win 7 doesn't support the printer on its own? I've had pretty good results myself--I didn't need to download any drivers for my old HP printer/scanner when I tested 7.

What is this vendor that doesn't want any of your business ever again, anyway?

Hi Rob, I need some expert guidance from you or your chatters. I'm spending several days a week out of town visiting with a sick family member. I stay at my glorified cabin with no land line, no cable. I need some method of internet connection other than tapping a neighbor's unsecured router. Any ideas on a cost effective option? Typically, I visit once or twice a month, but during this time, I'm there about half of each week. I just need to get a dependable solution to access my email from a laptop.

I'd recommend a prepaid wireless-data service like Virgin Mobile's or Cricket's--if they have coverage there. From your descrption, that may not be a given.

 

I found a 2005 HP/Compaq TC1100 tablet PC in my sisters estate. It is not a touch screen, it is a pen tablet. Built in WIFI and Bluetooth. My brother in law works for MS, so he got me a full Win7 install and a copy of Office 2010. It came with a 40g HDD. I put in a 120g/5400rpm I found for $60. I spent a weekend installing all the proper drivers in the proper compatibility mode and got upgraded video drivers (hot rodded by some tech junkies so full screen video works. These guys are something!) from chat rooms and message boards. I also put 2g of memory in it. I have Kindle for PC on it, my old version of Illustrator CS2. The thing is kind of heavy, but this is 2005 we are talking about. What I don't understand is how they just stopped working on this platform until Apple has already taken their lunch money. Considering what I can do with it now, it being 5 years old, I am terribly disappointed in MS and HP for their inability to REALLY push their ability to design hardware. They should have had the touch screen market all locked up.

They had no chance of doing that with desktop operating systems. Problem was, Microsoft's mobile operating system until now was designed to imitate the look, feel and function of Windows itself--Windows Mobile required a stylus for good reason.

i had to search pretty hard to find your column a few weeks ago. the redesign needs work, no offense.

It wasn't the redesign--it was a publishing problem with the new editing software we're using. (Don't ask. Just. Don't. Ask.)

IT is Dell. An All-in-One model, forget the exact version Win7 could not find the drivers. Went to Dell's site and muddled down to the page where they showed the picture of the printer with it clearly marked, not supported for WINDOWS 7. The scan function will work. but not the printing.

I'm not entirely surprised--Dell has shipped some bizarrely locked-down printers. When you can't even get them to work with the open-source CUPS software in OS X and Linux (which works with just about every printer ever made) you know you've got a problem.

So, yeah, don't ever buy a Dell printer again.

Install the driver in Compatibility mode. Click on Properties for the file you want to download and their should be a Compatibility tab. Click on the box to choose a mode and go for XP Sp2. Go back to your program and run it as an administrator. This should get you going.

Here's one thing to try--but, really, it shouldn't take this kind of tinkering. It's a printer, not a hyperdrive.

Rob, It's worth exactly that. That's the model that Verizon installs. Pay the money and go get a new unit with a warranty. Sheesh...............

I didn't recognize the model number. Nice to think that I can get at least a dollar for mine if I unload it.

I finally made the leap and bought a Sony hi-def LCD TV, but am unhappy about the picture quality. Since money is tight I cannot afford the extra monthy cost to upgrade from regular digital service to the HDTV plan. To be blunt the picture quality on my new TV stinks. Its very blurry and looks worse than my 20 year old 13" set. I understand the image can't be better than the incoming signal, but why would a HDTV set look worse?

Standard-def TV looks worse in HD. That's always been the case--you've got a larger screen, and even if you don't have HD fare to compare SD content to, the onscreen menus alone look so much nicer.

Try over-the-air reception. Also, make sure you're not using a composite video cable, the lowest-quality connection there is, between your cable box and the TV. There may also be settings you can play with to upconvert an SD image.

I suggest that the poster find the neighbor with the unsecured wifi, ask to use it for the time he/she is there, and offer to secure the connection in exchange afterwards. This solves both individuals' problems.

Actually, that's not a bad idea in this case--assuming the poster wasn't speaking hyptothetically, there's probably only one or two houses with WiFi open, which would make it easy to knock on the door and make an offer.

A couple of years ago, I bought an 46-inch LCD that unfortunately has only two HDMI inputs. At the time, that seemed fine -- one for HD cable/DVR, one for DVD and maybe someday a Blu-Ray that I never got around to buying. But now I want to add something that streams Netflix. I've thought about a Blu-Ray player that streams it (and will also play my old non-Blu DVDs), but I like that Apple TV will have Netflix as well as iTunes and YouTube. But then I wouldn't have a DVD option, due to the limited inputs. So, is it possible to get some kind of jack that would allow two devices to use the same HDMI input (not at the same time, of course)? Any other suggestions, short of buying a new TV with more inputs? (Manually plugging and unplugging different devices isn't really an option -- the inputs are very hard to reach, given TV placement.)

I hear you. The simplest option--and a good upgrade in terms of sound quality--would be to buy a soundbar + subwoofer speaker combination that includes an A/V receiver. This will give you much better audio and also more than enough HDMI inputs--you'd lock the TV to use the HDMI cable connected to the receiver's output, then use the receiver's remote to switch among the new inputs.

 

Thanks for restoring the comment count on your blog. Do you have any gigs w/Kojo's Computer Guys and Gals ahead? Tina in Falls Church

I didn't restore the comment count myself (or take it away), but I'm glad you noticed. And I'm glad they're back myself.

No WAMU appearances upcoming, but perhaps Kojo or his producers will notice your request/suggestion.

I'm finally getting ready to break down and get an Android. the only thing holding me back is a I think of it as a toy and think the per month costs are too much for a toy. Are these prices going to go down? or will I love having one despite the cost?

The prices are not likely to go down, although you've got a little more choice than you did a year ago. For instance, AT&T's tiered pricing plans can save some serious money if--and only if--you're not going to use the Web much.

I think you'll like having a smartphone, though I realize they're not for everyone. (Gonna be a long time before my mother gets one, for instance.)

Hi Rob, I'm wondering about a possible problem with using my smartphone (Droid Incredible) as a GPS in the car. It gets very hot sitting on the black dashboard in the sun for several hours, especially on a hot summer afternoon. Is this bad for the phone? Do I need to worry about it getting too hot? Thanks.

You won't have it sitting directly on the dashboard, or you won't be able to see it; you need a mount of some kind to put the screen someplace visible to you0. I wouldn't worry about this.

Rob, Apple says that the new Ipad OS will be out in November. Do you have any info about when in November? Will it be pushed down through iTunes, or will I have to go looking for it?

The iOS 4.2 update will arrive through iTunes, like all the others. The sites I just checked all say "any day now," which I hope is the case. (FYI to Apple PR: I'll gladly return the overdue loaner unit I have once I can test this update on it.)

My contract with Verizon expired in October. I have been putting off getting a new phone because I have been unconvinced about the value of spending more money each month for a data plan. Sure, it would be nice to get instant traffic reports, be able to make instant updates on facebook, or check my email messages, but I am not convinced that I couldn't live without it. I hate being locked into a phone/plan for years at a time. Is this a good time to go shopping or should I wait for Christmas or the New Year?

Prices aren't going to change between now and then.

Yes, the expense is real. But at least it's stayed pretty much constant over the last few years, unlike TV service. And there are ways to offset it--dropping a premium pay-TV channel you rarely watch, getting rid of a landline or paring that service back. I think it's worth it. Of course, I am online just a little more than normal human beings.

It is not that much tinkering...it takes an extra 15 seconds. Right click on the file and follow the directions. But really why should Dell put out an upgraded driver for a model it no longer makes? Granted they should tell you how to install it on the help page...but I don't see them not putting out the driver as a fault on their part. Now if you want to bash MS for not making their systems compatible with older drivers...I am all for that.

Well, if you want repeat business, you want to take care of a customer even after you take their money.

But with Dell, there's some broader issue. Dell printers have had compatibility issues beyond those of other vendors' hardware. This company seems to have gone out of its way to chain its printers to its drivers.

"The simplest option--and a good upgrade in terms of sound quality--would be to buy a soundbar + subwoofer speaker combination that includes an A/V receiver. This will give you much better audio and also more than enough HDMI inputs--you'd lock the TV to use the HDMI cable connected to the receiver's output, then use the receiver's remote to switch among the new inputs." Hmm, that's food for thought. I left out any mention of my soundsystem -- I already have excellent speakers and a pretty good digital receiver -- all video goes to the TV, which is on permanent "internal mute," and all sound directly to the receiver. But I take it you're suggesting that a new receiver could solve all my problems, if I rewired to direct everything through it first and then up to the TV? (Oof, this makes my head hurt...)

In that case, you'd replace just the receiver--most new models also do HDMI switching.

(This makes my head hurt a little too.)

Thought I heard somewhere that too much heat degrades lithium battery life. Is that not true?

Yes, but it needs to be the sort of heat nobody puts up with in a car. (Apple, for instance, warns about degraded  battery life in plus-95-degree temperatures.)

I'm in the process of assembling an external hard drive for my desktop iMac (1 TB). Any thoughts on whether I should use Time Machine or CCC? Time Machine will not create a bootable drive; CCC will. CCC will save only the latest version of all files; Time Machine will give me an archive of various versions. My external enclosure will house 2 Samsung 1 TB drives ($50 at Newegg). Would using both Time Machine and CCC be overkill?

Yes. I'd go with Time Machine:

* Reinstalling OS X is not hard, so there's little benefit to keeping that around

* Time Machine is free

* Time Machine saves older versions, which has saved my butt repeated times.

Put the effort you'd sink into two disk-based backup systems into finding a backup backup mechanism--use an online backup service or do a monthly backup of really important files to CD or DVD.

The easiest, and what I did with my HDTV with just 1 HDMI input, is to purchase an HDMI swicher. They're not too expensive if you know where to shop for them.

Another option to consider. (Thanks for all the questions on this... I think I've got a lead item for Sunday's Help File.)

Another reason why SD looks bad on an HDTV is that HDTVs usually stretch the picture to fit the wide screen. Make sure you have the video set to aspect. You'll have black bars around your picture, but it will look better.

Also a good idea, although it doesn't sound like that's the issue here--the poster didn't say people's heads looked like Stewie's on Family Guy.

Mabye I'm naive but why is there a distinction between the i-Pad and a laptaop? Or for that matter a netbook? To me they're simply laptops with different features in the same manner that a Mac and a Windows-based PC are both desktop computers.

A lot of people had made that argument--that the iPad is a "real" computer, whatever that means. I wouldn't go that far, but it's perfectly possible to use an iPad in place of a laptop; here's the account our former White House correspondent Mike Shear wrote about going laptop-less on a trip with the president.

I am going to Europe in a month and I would like to bring a device that can hook up to wifi, carry travel/map programs and books, and, if possible, have a gps. I think my options are bring my Sprint Android phone and turn off the phone part or pick up a second hand iPod touch. Which do you suggest? Thanks.

Turn off the phone part of your phone--to be exact, put it in airplane mode, then switch WiFi back on.

Can I vent for a moment about the ongoing war between DVD and Blu-ray? It annoys me to no end how studios are trying to force Blu-ray down our throats, especially by loading Blu-ray releases with tons of special features while the DVD release is mostly bare bones. Not everyone cares about Blu-ray, and there are probably DVD aficionados who never will. I've personally seen movies in both formats, and honestly don't notice a difference in picture quality. Let's also remember that some movies are deliberately made with grainy picture quality (for reasons that only the filmmaker knows), so Blu-ray quality is almost rendered moot in such an instance. Even on the most basic level, having slightly less picture quality doesn't make The Godfather any less of a good movie. In my opinion, DVD as a format works very well, so why fix something that isn't broken?

That's why I don't own a Blu-ray player and have yet to regret sitting out the format. (For rental these days, I prefer Amazon VOD and other Web-streaming options over either disc format.)

Lately I've encountered a situation where Safari goes into a "Not Responding" mode. Other than doing a "force quit," I've been unable to find a better way to resolve the problem. I notice it most when I'm watching YouTube content. It's happening on an Apple iBook G4 that's running OSX 10.5.8 and Safari Version 5.0.2 (5533.18.5). What is causing this and can you offer a fix? By the way, when it happens I do a "Report to Apple" but that doesn't seem to have any impact, since it still happens.

Gotta be an Adobe Flash problem. Go to adobe.com/flashplayer to download the latest version.

Hi, I've got a 2.5 year old Dell laptop running Windows Vista and performance has gradually declined and I'm getting more random error messages and freezeups than when it was new. So far, I have deleted unwanted programs, disabled the snazzier Aero effects, deleted all widgets, defragmented, and run and have up-to-date antivirus and antispyware software. Also, I have switched from the IE8 browser to Google's Chrome. It works better now, but is there anything else I can do to give this still-usable laptop a tune-up? Thanks!

Install more memory and upgrade to Windows 7.

Perhaps a basic question. I have a relatively new laptop with HDMI out and an older HD-ready TV with HDMI. I hooked the two up and was able to stream a movie on Netflix from the laptop to the TV, but it only took up about 60% of the TV screen. Is there an option in Windows 7 to expand the picture? or am I missing something else?

You need to check the screen resolution--if the laptop isn't correcting it automatically, you'll have to duck into the control panel to correct that (typing "resolution" in the search box  should get you to the right place). On an older 720p set, you'd want 1280 by 720 pixels to fill the screen.

I usually try to hang out past closing time, but in this case I'm meeting people for lunch in, oh, about 40 seconds. (It's OK: the restaurant is across the street.)

Thanks again for all the questions! I should be back here in a week.

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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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