Personal Tech Live with Rob Pegoraro

Apr 01, 2011

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

To the technology chat. I was going to try to write this intro as if we were doing this in 1965, but I couldn't come up with enough vacuum-tube jokes or write plausible instructions on sending me questions via Telex. So we'll just have to stick with the usual routine here: You send me your questions through the form, and I'll try to answer them.

(Unless the chat server hiccups like last week.)

I'm in the market for a new desktop and am planning on using my TV as the monitor. I've noticed that most of the models I was interested in don't have an HDMI port. Is this an issue, or will I be ok with hooking up the RGB cord and not notice a difference? I know that the Mac Mini makes this a selling point, but compared to the PCs at a similar price it doesn't seem worth the money.

It is. First, HDMI handles both audio and video signals, so it's a lot less clutter. Second, you may have issues playing copy-controlled (aka, DRMed) video over an analog connection like VGA; some DRM systems insist on HDMI, which can convey usage restrictions.

Most Windows laptops include HDMI ports, but you should also look at small-form-factor desktops designed for under-the-TV use. Shuttle makes a good lineup, and Dell has its Zino.

I am going to be in Europe for two months on work related travel and want to set up video chats with my wife before I go. Should we get Skype accounts or do you think Google Chat with video will be sufficient for daily video chats?

Depends mainly on what device you'll be using in Europe. Skype works well on desktops, laptops and iPhones but doesn't do video on Android phones. Google Chat video is, so far, confined to desktops, laptops and (some) Android tablets. Quality should be about the same either way... your bandwidth on the go will determine that far more than your choice of chat system.

I have an old unlocked GSM phone that works in the US, Europe, and Africa. I am debating about buying a newer one. Do you have any advice on whether it would be cheaper to buy one online while in the States or pick one up the next time I go to Europe?

I don't know. I'd think it would be easier to get that done before you're on your next trip, though.

Hi, Understand that Ipad does not use Adobe Flash. Does this mean it can't play shows from sites like Hulu? Also can you use Skype on it? thx K

If a site relies on Flash, the only way to use its Flash components on an iPad (or iPhone or iPod touch) is for the company running the site to ship an iOS ap. Hulu has done exactly that, with good iPhone and iPad apps for you to run. Skype only has an iPhone app; it works on the iPad 2, but until you launch a video chat it only takes up a small portion of the screen.

Wanted to ask your opinion of the iPad 2...I have a chance to get a new 32gig ipad 1 at a great discount (250 for it). Plan to use it mainly for web browsing, very light word processing, Kindle reading and maybe a couple of games. Is it worth that or would I be better off with a faster ipad 2 at the $500 price? Is the speed difference worth the extra money in your opinion? Thanks.

For the uses you describe, I don't think you'd see any major difference. But that doesn't mean you might not find yourself wishing that your first-gen model could do video chats or run some new, iPad 2-only app at some point.

I get "new every 2" next month with Verizon Wireless. I take it you prefer the Droid Pro over any of the Blackberries offered by them.

I haven't tried the Droid Pro, but I definitely prefer Android over BlackBerry. You might not if...

* You're extremely accustomed to the BlackBerry keyboard

* You use Outlook and don't want to switch to Google's services (some HTC phones ship with an Outlook sync tool, however)

* Battery life is your top priority. Google has made great progress with Android's battery life, but it has plenty of work left to do.

One of the slowest sites I've used is Why is it so slow? Can anything be done to speed it up. I've tried using Chrome instead of Firefox, and it seems even slower with Chrome.

I don't run the site, but I'm posting this so the people who do can see it.

I found the tech tip about putting your name and email in a picture on a camera in case it lost, very interesting. A simple way of doing that occurred to me. If you create a screen with your personal info on the machine that is the destination of your pictures, it is readily available. After downloading the pictures, and reformatting the card, one can take a picture of the info screen, and have it as the first picture on the memory card. Haven't tried this yet, not sure if pictures of the CRT screen would work, remembering attempts to take pictures of TV screens, with partial screens due to the shutter being faster than the refresh rate.

Yes, that should work - the trick with taking pictures of a screen is to adjust the shutter speed down. Or (as I noted in the tip, which will be on my blog Monday a.m .), you could just print out that graphic and take a picture of that.

Asking early because I'll be busy during the chat. My husband's tech friend says that I can't hook my computer up to an old TV, ie a non-flat screen TV. True? I think he said I could get sound (or maybe video) but not the other.

You can do it, but the video will probably look terrible and you'd need an adapter. Not worth trying, in other words.  (I'm defining "old" as "doesn't have an HDMI, DVI or VGA input"; some CRTs shipped with them in the twilight of that technology.)

Rob, good Friday morning. My new every 2 is almost here for Verizon, and I'm looking for a new phone. I've looked at the Droid X, Droid 2, BB Global, and iPhone. I'm a dedicated texter more than phone calls, and I've had the enV3 with the QWERTY hard keyboard (and its predecessor) for 4 years. So, which of the touchscreen phones is going to give me the easiest transition? The Droid 2 keyboard feels small and short (bump my fingers on the top row) but I'm just not convinced that I can type virtually. Any suggestions or thoughts? Many thanks.

Whatever keyboard you pick, you will probably hate it for the first few days, then feel cranky about it for the next week, then find yourself getting accustomed to its quirks three weeks in.

That said, among phones with physical keyboards, I much prefer those with a separate row of number keys. Not having to press an Alt key to type digits is the kind of efficiency that trumps your own adaptation to a keyboard's design.

Any thoughts on when there will be a new iPod Touch or iPod Classic and what the changes will be? I'm holding off my purchase until the new ones come out.

Apple last updated the iPod touch in September; if it sticks to its pattern, there might be an increase in its capacity early this summer but there won't be a major change to it until September--or back-to-school shopping time.

As for the iPod classic--I don't know if we'll ever see an update to it. Apple knows it has a model that sells in good numbers but doesn't seem to see a business case to update it. My hunch is that we're more likely to see the next iPod classic offer so much flash storage capacity that it displaces the iPod classic entirely.

If so, that would mean the end of the ClickWheel interface, one of my favorite hardware designs to come out of Cupertino.

Now that Amazon has released its Cloud Drive for music, should I jump in or wait and see what Google has up their sleeve (I have an Android handheld)?

Go right ahead--there are no real sunk-cost issues with Cloud Player. The songs you buy off Amazon MP3 will work just about anywhere, and uploading other songs to Cloud Drive doesn't deprive you of your enjoyment of them elsewhere.

Also, Google seems to have lost its way with its own music service. It demoed one at Google I/O, a developers conference, last May, but that project has vanished from the headlines since. Maybe it will emerge full-blown next week, maybe it won't.

Will the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan delay Apple's launching the iPhone 5? In the past, they've released the new iPhone early in summer.

I don't think that will affect the timing of anything. It might affect availability. This story on the Dealnews site has a good summary of what sort of supply-chain constraints we might be seeing in a few categories of product.

I made a classic error, clicking on a link in a squirrely email, nominally sent from a friend. I immediately closed the page it tried to open, because it was obviously something bogus. My computer is an iMac, running Leopard. Is this system vulnerable to having picked up some sort of virus/malware? If so, what would you recommend as a fix?

If 1) your browser hasn't been acting odd since, like redirecting searches to a random site; 2) you didn't see any app download or try to run, much less ask for your admin password; 3) your Facebook account hasn't been sharing stupid video links with friends on its own, you should be safe. 

If there was some viral payload on the page in question, the odds are overwhelming that it targeted Windows. (See this recent post on that subject.) You can also scan your Mac for any issues with the free, open-source ClamXav program:

In theory, one can buy an unlocked phone and buy into a service plan. Are there any general networks (Verizon, AT&T) that will install a sim so that an unbundled phone can be used?

AT&T will sell you a SIM card for $5.95 if you bring your own phone, with a two-year contract required  (I think... need to pore over the fine print there). T-Mobile gives one for free with a two-year contract;  you should be able to get a cheaper Even More Plus bring-your-own-phone plan, but I can't get its site to show me one.

Might have to revisit this in Help File...

Is there any legal way for me to stream Netflix while traveling overseas? I have an active account with DVDs mailed to my home address in the states, but will be traveling outside the US for business several times in the coming months. My assumption is no, but it never hurts to ask.

I am not a lawyer (IANAL), but I can report that if you look up "proxy server," you can find instructions on how to set up your Internet connection so your computer seems to be in a different location.

And while I can't advise you on the legality of that, I'm comfortable speaking about its ethics. You're not trying to defraud Netflix or the movie studios of anything; they should not mind that you're trying to use the service you pay for.

Hi Rob, For the past 2 months I've been unable to install Microsoft's Patch Tuesday updates on either of my 2 computers. The message I get is: "A problem on your computer is preventing updates from being downloaded or installed" I can download the updates on both computers, but cannot install them on either. In all the years I've been doing the Patch Tuesday updates, this is the first time I've had a problem. Any ideas? Thanks, Rob! John

That's not good. If you can't install a routine Patch Tuesday update, odds are a major upgrade--like a Service Pack or a new version of IE--will upend your entire operating system. When did you last run a malware scan?

Hi Rob, Preparing for a trip abroad, I'm half-way through a podcast language course. I've been getting 5 episodes at a time; once I master those I get 5 more. All of a sudden, the "Get episode" button has disappeared and now I have to subscribe. Is this actually a change iTunes has made? If so, is there any way to just get episodes? And if I have to subscribe, can I just get the episodes I need and not be forced to download all of them?

Not sure. But if you have to download more episodes than you want--so what? Just delete them from iTunes. It won't care either way.

My wife was recently in the hospital (she's fine now) and I noticed signs saying cell phone use was not allowed except in the lobby because it may interfere with the medical equipment. I can't believe that companies making medical technology haven't figured out ways to shield them given the ubiquity of cell phones in the US today. Is this still a problem or are solutions available?

I suspect it depends on the hospital. Inova Alexandria had no warnings about cell phones when my wife had our daughter there last summer... which is good, since it would have been a wait to upload baby pictures otherwise.

Rob, my husband wanted an ipad2 and got one last weekend. I want a dress that costs $328. Should I get it?

Hard to compare. Does the iPad 2 require dry cleaning, or can you just put it in the wash? How many apps can the dress run, and how many of those are optimized for blouses instead? 

My 320GB Windows Vista machine hard drive is filling up overnight. I'm talking sometimes as much as 15 gigs. I've run 4 different antivirus/malware scan but nothing shows up. Could I have a problem with system restore images? I get a lot of space back when I delete all but the most recent image.

You can get a breakdown of your disk-space consumption with a free app called WinDirStat, which provides a nifty visualization that looks like a stained-glass window. (Equivalent apps are available for other platforms; see Lifehacker's writeup.) System-restore images probably contribute to the problem, but 320 GB is a lot of space and 15 GB is a lot to get eaten up overnight.

So, do you think these "computer" whatzits will catch on?

If punch-card input takes off, I think so. These things are amazing; you can fit a stack of them in the pocket of a suit jacket, take them to your office, feed them into the machine and have it run their instructions!

Malwarebytes AntiMalware software is needed. Run that, and if you find anything, your AntiVirus software needs to be replaced.

Rob - from what I understand, Verizon's LTE network is up and running in selected cities, while AT&T is still relying on HSPA+ for their "4G" coverage. Is this correct? If so, are there any good estimates for when AT&T's LTE network will be up and running in D.C. and other major cities? Second related question: could you give us your best educated guess about whether or not the upcoming iPhone 5 will operate on the LTE networks for both the Verizon phones and the AT&T phones? If not - would Apple make the phone "4G" compatible for only one wireless company and not the other? Thanks for your educated guesses. :-)

Asking a two-part question: You, too, could be a journalist :)

AT&T's LTE rollout now apparently won't start until late this year. I don't know when the D.C. area will be a part of that, although you'd think they'd want to ensure they have excellent LTE coverage from the start near the White House, the Capitol and the FCC's offices in Southwest D.C.

Having seen how LTE kills the HTC Thunderbolt's battery life, it wouldn't surprise me if Apple didn't have a 4G iPhone this year. The company held off of 3G for longer than people thought possible for the sake of battery life, and I can't see Steve Jobs standing in front of everybody to say "well, we had to make some tradeoffs; this only lasts half as long as the old model." I could see Apple not supporting 4G on AT&T and Verizon at the same time--the two carriers aren't in sync on their LTE deployments, and I doubt Verizon will want to wait until its friends at AT&T have caught up.

Looks like I'll be leaving my original Pre for an Android, most likely Evo 3D when it comes out on Sprint this summer since HP can't get it's rear-end in gear and even announce what carriers will offer the Pre3. Does Android do multitasking like Web OS? What do you like about Android? Thanks.

Android doesn't do multitasking as well as webOS; except for the Honeycomb version on Android tablets, it doesn't provide a thumbnail preview of each open app. It's also not as elegant in its notifications interface as webOS (though either one kicks iOS's butt in that area). But the selection of apps for Android is amazing, and you'll get access to an entire category of apps that use the compass on Android phones to determine not just your location but where you're facing. (Three words: Google Sky Map.)

Android also has great mapping and directions software, and you've got the option of voice input in most apps.

Rob- I have an iPad on order and am wondering what I do about virus protection. Thanks!

For that? Nothing.

The CD/DVD drive in my iMac no longer recognizes any disc I put in (to the point I have a hard time getting the disc back out). I want to upgrade to Snow Leopard from Leopard. Is it possible to get the upgrade electronically or do I have to fix/replace the CD/DVD drive?

You could use the Remote Disc feature in Leopard to borrow another Mac's CD/DVD drive, if both are on the same (fast) local network. But you should see what a local, non-Apple store estimates to replace the CD/DVD drive.

(I don't want to knock Apple's customer service, but for out-of-warranty hardware fixes you'll almost certainly save money at an indie Mac shop.)

My husband loves his iPad (version1, a Christmas present) but routinely fumes at running into websites that want to play flash content (video clips, etc). As I understand it, Apple and Adobe have yet to come to terms and make their formats play nicely together. Are there workarounds?

Yes: Web sites can encode their content in a non-Flash form, or they can provide apps. Apple is not allowing Flash on iOS devices, period... after all the things Apple has said there, it would be a bizarre development for the two to reconcile. Maybe not like Nixon going to China, but it would certainly be on the order of George W. Bush campaigning in Takoma Park.

Man oh man I wish this service wasn't subject to blackouts. I'd love to be able to watch the local team on my iPad. Not a question, just a complaint.

I wholeheartedly endorse your complaint. How pathetic it is that we have to beg a for-profit sports league to take our money...

My wife clicked on an e-mail sent by our uncle. It turned out to be bogus. Now, it looks as if everyone in her contacts received that e-mail and she is even receiving an e-mail that the message was delivered. Other than apologize to the folks who are receiving the chain e-mail, should anything else be done. It was on a PC running Windows XP and she was using her hotmail account.

Upgrade your browser. You shouldn't have been "owned" by a malicious link in an e-mail like that. Please tell me you weren't running IE 6...

One of the reasons I mentioned the Droid Pro is I definitely want the qwerty keyboard.

Gotcha. After the last exchange, I remembered that my colleague Bill Walsh got a Droid Pro last summer and, per his wife Jacqueline Dupree (of fame), he liked it. But consider the Droid 2 as well.

You should check and see what the search index location settings are. If you've included the C:\ root directory, that will use a lot of space to create the index files.

Good tip. Thanks...

Well, when your resentment builds to the point that you throw him out, he'll be able to use the iPad to watch videos at the Bachelor Arms. And FYI, I actually took a Fortran course as a freshman, and we had to carry boxes of punch cards across the frozen Indiana tundra, hoping against hope that they wouldn't fall out and shuffle. Now get off my lawn.


Hi Rob. Are you aware of any way to do this to an non-jailbroken iPhone? I'm getting two or three calls/vms a day from a telemarketer.

AT&T's answer: no, you can't do that.

Hi Rob, What's up with Google and the fibre building in KC, KC? Do you think they are testing the ISP waters?

I'm not clear myself. Maybe they're Royals fans? Sprint (headquartered in Overland Park next door) paid them off?

I don't think Google wants to be an ISP, but I do think they want to show people what's possible--sort of how the Nexus One and Nexus S Android phones are supposed to illustrate to the wireless carriers what Android can do.

With all the tablet buzz, I was wondering if anyone has delivered one that has enough umph to do home office things? Something more than a netbook, that could run a small business with MS Office and the like. Did Lenovo's IdeaPad U1 ever show at CES? or do I need to look at those crazy swivel-head laptops if I want to have a tablet like the cool kids, with my whole business inside? (Can I avoid a stylus?)

I don't have a good answer for you. If you want to run Microsoft Office, you'll need to run the full version of Windows, and that's probably going to require a stylus--there are too many tiny objects on the screen to tap. In the bargain, you'll give up the light weight and good battery life provided by tablets running mobile operating systems.

I think Microsoft is making an enormous strategic mistake in not building a tablet around Windows Phone 7. The mass market has made it obvious that it doesn't need Windows that badly on a tablet.

Rob, I have iPhone first gen -- do you suggest getting 4 or waiting until fall or later to see what happens with 5? Oh, and when do you think enough iPad2's will be available so as to not wait on line? Thanks.

Look: Whenever you buy an iPhone, your new purchase will look obsolete sooner or later. You have to accept that possibility inevitability, or you will never be able to upgrade with confidence. It's all about priorities: If you want to get the latest, greatest thing, waiting another two or three months (presumably) for the next iPhone shouldn't be intolerable if you've spent the last four years using a 2G-only iPhone.

Maybe I should phrase this as a question: Why didn't you upgrade to the iPhone 4 last summer?

About the iPad 2... heck if I know. Apple's store is still quoting shipping times of 3-4 weeks. At least that's not an increase over earlier estimates.

I had a similar issue w/ my MBP. I bought a lens cleaner DVD which I use every so often and it fixes the problem for me.


Any news on when/if WMATA will play nice with Google Transit?

Nope. Greater Greater Washington reported three weeks ago that it was "very close"--by then, Bing had already begun providing Metro directions. Maybe it's close in the way that an eight-car Orange Line train is close to arriving at Metro Center but has to stop and start a few times to line up with the platform. If one of your elected reps serves on Metro's board, it wouldn't hurt to ask them about it.

My T-Mobile G2 just got an OTA update that converted my LED flash into a LASER!

You'll shoot your eye out!

I'm I the only one experiencing slow browsing with the latest edition of Firefox.? I thought the latest edition was suppose to be faster but it appears to be much slower than the 3.6 version. Latest versions of Chrome and Internet Explorer appear to be much faster than the previous versions the same can't be said about Firefox.....

Not my experience of that browser--it's been a lot faster to me.

I recently received an RAR type of zip file. Which site can I get a free unzipper from such that I don't have to worry about spyware, malware, etc?

The free, open-source 7-Zip should do the trick.

I've been really happy with my LG Ally, although upgrading to 2.3 seems to have unrooted it... The qwerty keyboard is great. The camera? Well, for a phone it's not a bad camera. Not a good one, though. And it's (just) small enough to carry in a pocket. I almost got a DroidX. Much more capable, but much harder to carry. That thing isn't pocketable.

Thanks for the report!

Rob, Looking for a wifi receiver for the tv so I can play DVDs from my computer. Any ideas?

Buy a DVD player. Any sort of adapter, like the wireless HDMI boxes you can find or Intel's Wireless Display unit (which can't play most commercial DVDs anyway), will cost more than an upconverting DVD player.

Just an iPad order note: I ordered one (32gb wifi + 3G) on March 26 and it will be shipped on April 25.

Appreciate the report!

I have to echo the other poster...takes forever to load your blog, then another wait to get the comments then another for "all comments". I have blazing speed on the desktop and it's like dial up. makes me visit far less frequently that I used to. Tina in Falls Church

Thanks for the review.

I am looking for a phone that would allow me to listen to music from zune pass. Does such a device exist?

Get a Windows Phone 7 phone... but I have to steer you away from AT&T's WP7 selection, as that carrier is holding up a Microsoft update that Sprint could ship on its own WP7 handset and which T-Mobile is already providing to subscribers.

It's almost 1:30 and I haven't eaten lunch, so I have to turn my attention to food. Thanks yet again for all the great questions... should be back here in two weeks.

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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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