Personal Tech Live with Rob Pegoraro

Apr 23, 2010

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

... to this week's episode of Question Time. I imagine some of you will want to discuss this weekend's column on today's column about Apple's management of its App Store, or perhaps last week's piece on network neutrality. Or we can chat about the Post's new Facebook integration--but bear in mind that managing editor Raju Narisetti will also be fielding questions about that in an hour (in the old chat interface--sorry). 

OK, on with the show...

So now that the hype over the iPad has died down a bit, who do you think will be the first company to come out with an competing product? The one thing I don't like about Apple is their control over who can sell apps. Which phone products are the most liberal as far as allowing almost anyone to develop and sell an app?

This is one of the things I wanted to get into in today's column--to note that there's more than one way to run an app store. I think Android has, by far, the best potential. But you don't just need good software, you also need good hardware. That's where a lot of Apple competitors run aground; they start with a decent operating system but then make a mess of its onscreen interface and the physical design of the device itself.

For example, I'm not expecting anything good from "slate" computers running Windows 7 if, like the prototype I saw at CES in January, they include the same Windows interface as ever. 

I have an iphone with many apps including navigon gps. When I finally get my hands on an ipad 3g , will my apps be transferrable from the phone ? Howard C. Winnipeg

Yes. That'll be an option in iTunes, under the Applications tab in the main window (IIRC; iTunes just hung up when I connected the loaner iPad).

So facebook has unveiled their new platform which means I am now assaulted by them every time I come to the Post. So what personal tech can I get to make it stop?

I'm going to use Sunday's Help File to cover this, but the short answer is that you'll want to check your Facebook privacy settings to make sure you're not broadcasting anything to anybody beyond your Facebook friends. (You may instead find that many things are visible to "Friends and Networks" or "Friends of Friends.") There's also an option to opt out of the "Instant Personalization" available at Yelp, Pandora and under the Privacy page's "Applications and Websites" heading.

As a general observation: the people at Facebook seem to have a higher opinion of the usability of their privacy-settings interface than many Facebook users might.

My wife and I have agreed that we will purchase our first smartphones for Verizon around June/July of this year. My wife will be using her new phone primarily to check her work email, personal email, day planner, Facebook, and occasional internet searches. It is also possible that she will want to use it as a replacement for her iPod touch (music, podcasts, and audiobooks) on her daily commute now that Apple is apparently charging for touch software updates. For me, I want a phone that can have a couple of games and internet access for my personal email and limited browsing, etc so that I can kill time when waiting to pick up my wife at the metro, occasionally look up directions (I prefer looking at Google maps before driving anywhere versus using a GPS function while driving), and possibly use it for music on the rare occasion that I have to commute into the city (allowing me to leave my iPod in the car for use during my normal commute). I do travel internationally, but while an international capable smartphone would be nice it is not a requirement since I have a pre-paid GSM that I can continue to use for travel. In all of my research, it looks like the best solution for the both of us would be the HTC Droid Incredible. I recognize that the phone would probably be overkill for my interests and isn't international capable, but I am really intrigued by the phone and just kind of want one. Anyway, my question(s) to you is whether or not you think the Incredible is the best fit for our needs based on Verizon's current and near future line-up of smartphones (yes, I know, there is no iPhone coming to Verizon anytime soon and frankly we wouldn't want one anyway based on issues with its app store and our general distaste with Apple's business model) even if it is overkill? And if the Incredible is going to work for us, are we good to go with the extra $30/month per line data plan from Verizon or is there another plan we would need in order to fully utilize our phones? Sorry for the long question, but I know you prefer to have as much detail as possible.

I haven't used or even seen the Droid Incredible yet, although I've read promising accounts of this Android device too. It looks like the Incredible, along with the Nexus One, will take the Droid's place as Verizon's flagship Android phones later this summer (assuming you don't want a physical keyboard), but we'll have to see just how well it works.

The standard voice+data bundle should be fine except that it doesn't include text messaging, so make sure you add on at least the $5 texting bundle.

Realized this morning that I haven't fired the Nook up in a month. Still at 50% charge, however. Most of my reading is magazines and newspapers, which suck on the Nook, Kindle, and every other e-reader I've seen. iPad? I hear it has "issues" with being on the beach in Ocean City when the sun is hot. Which is to say, anytime between May and September. Also, not that readable in sunlight. OTOH, probably a good replacement for my Archos 605. May take a look at the 3g iPad when it comes out.. I hear that the Nook software is up to Ver 1.3, which has a web browser. I wonder how comics look in that? Might finally make it a good substitute for the Dead Tree Post.

The first line of your question is pretty crushing, as far as user reviews go. Haven't heard about any updates to our Nook edition, but I suspect any addition of comics or crosswords will need to wait on better displays. 

Speaking of, I saw a pretty neat Qualcomm reflective-LCD technology on display at a Capitol Hill event Tuesday. It demoed well and came with some pretty impressive performance claims... but then again, what doesn't in this business, at least for a while? 

I "like" you as a fan. That doesn't mean I "LIKE like" you. Let's keep this professional.

I conditionally approve of you too.

Why you hate Apple? Just because they know better than you do what you want before you even knew that you wanted that? Does that creep you out? That Steve Jobs can read your mind? Deal with it. (Also, don't buy a lead helmet because that doesn't work and can kill you. With lead poisoning.)

It's the weight of the lead helmets that bothers me the most. And the mess they make of my hair. Bike helmet head is nothing compared to lead helmet head. 

I already know that my PS3 will eventually get the firmware upgrade to display 3-D discs, but my biggest question is, why is "Avatar," probably the biggest reason to want to make the upgrade to 3-D TV, not being released this week in 3-D? There are TVs and players on the market already, but the one movie you would think that could start pushing consumers to start investing in 3-D, yet it's only being released in a barebones edition with word from the studio that a "more indepth" version would be released in the fall. Is home 3-D really going to take off, or do moves like this signal that it is really just a fad?

There will be a 3-D version of Avatar to watch on Blu-ray, rest assured of that.... just not until early next year, according to the Hollywood Reporter

I am planning on reviewing a 3D HDTV sometime soon, it's just a question of when. What's your interest in that? 

On my Mac at work, I use Time Machine for backup, and have been very impressed with it - it seems to be everything backup software should be. My problem is that I run Windows 7 at home - is there anything like Time Machine available for Windows? What do you consider the best Windows backup software?

The utility built into Windows 7 is actually pretty good, as long as you don't need to restore individual files. (Microsoft's explanation for that, as I recall, was that they were afraid users would wipe out their own files by mistake.)

Otherwise... well, I'm due to try out backup apps again. I've heard good things about CrashPlan lately; what else should I look at?

Rob, I received six months free use of Webroot antivirus when I purchased my laptop. Now the six months is nearly up and I will have to pay to renew. The pc also came with Windows Defender. Should I renew with Webroot or will WIndows Defender provide sufficient protection?

Neither - install Windows Defender's replacement, Microsoft's free Microsoft Security Essentials anti-virus/anti-spyware app.

How difficult is it to write apps for cell phones?

Depends on the platform. The developers I've talked to seem to regard Android as fairly straightforward, since it uses a version of the Java programming language, and Palm webOS is allegedly pretty easy too. iPhone apps take more work, and so do BlackBerry programs. In some cases, you can use app toolkits and templates to ease the work - just like with desktop apps. 

As a movie fan, I'm going to ask the question that makes me nervous to ask: is the DVD becoming obsolete? I guess I mean the standard DVD going the way of the dinosaur in favor of Blu-ray. With movies like Avatar, studios are obviously going to use that as a big push for Blu-ray, and streaming video is being offered in greater quantity than before. But for people like me who don't really care about supersonic sound and crystal-clear picture, I'm perfectly content to operate with just the standard-def DVD. So are people like me doomed to upgrade my entire movie collection yet again in the next few years?

No. The format in most jeopardy is Blu-ray: It's not compatible with the enormous installed base of DVD players, while online rentals and downloads offer high-def video without the need to buy new hardware. On that note, Netflix apparently now provides more movies over the Internet than on DVD--a factoid from its earnings announcement this week. 

What's going on with the PC security companies? A few weeks ago Bit Defender shipped a bad update. Now MacAfee has followed suite. Each one erroneously tags important Windows files as malware. My niece uses Bit Defender and may have to reinstall Windows.

The McAfee screwup sounds like a huge mess all around. (It could render a Windows XP machine unbootable.) Show of hands... er, clicks: How many of you have had a computer lobotomized by this, or know somebody whose PC got borked this way? 

which would you buy, and why - kindle or nook? thanks

Neither. Both devices have now been around for quite a while, and you know there are versions with better screens--perhaps, as was alluded to earlier, screens with enough contrast/resolution/speed to handle comics and crosswords. 

Rob, I wanted to see if you had any ideas on an inexpensive way for me to get my MacBook Pro repaired. I broke the LCD screen last week. It is useable but I can only see about 2/3 of the screen now. I went in to the Apple store and they ordered a new LCD to put in. However, they are charging $750 (650 for the part and 100 for labor). Any ideas on how I could get this done cheaper? My computer is almost 2 years old but I don't really want to buy a new one for at least another year. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Don't go to one of Apple's own stores--for any out-of-warranty repair, really. Not that I wouldn't expect them to do a good job, but independent Apple retailers have always been cheaper in my experience. 

Any change in your assessment of whether the iPhone will arrive at Verizon in the near term?

No. Next question.

Helping my daughter setup her first DC apt. from 1500 miles away and am looking for Internet/Cable TV help. Comcast & FIOS seem to be the only choices for TV but would like to find a lower cost DSL provider than either of those two. Any suggestions from the locals? Thanks.

Where Verizon sells Fios, it usually sells DSL too. That's going to be your cheaper alternative.... but then you can't get Fios TV. And that's where you need to bust out a spreadsheet to compare your alternatives for TV, Internet and phone.

If she can mount a satellite dish from a balcony, the combination of satellite TV and Vz DSL should be cheapest overall. Otherwise, Comcast's TV packages offer more choices than Verizon's all-or-nothing, but she'll need to haggle regularly to avoid seeing her promotional discounts escalate.

I'm asked to do the Upgrade to paid version, since they say they detect so many errors and optimizations. If I upgrade they say will resolve problems and make performance of my computer better. I don't notice on my new PC any slowness. Does Orbit- Advanced System Care just say this to get money? Robin :-)

I've never heard of this app, which makes me suspicious. So does the idea that you can magically speed up your computer through these sorts of mysterious optimizations. Let me share with you a great explainer that the Lifehacker blog posted last week, detailing which Windows fixes do anything useful:

(FYI, I've started sharing useful links like that from my RSS feed on Google Buzz and my public Facebook page. In case you're not sick of me from the blog, these chats, Twitter, etc.)

Looking for a printer that copies, faxes, prints,scans and does decent photos for my Imac for under a $100. Reliable with cheap ink too.

The faxing thing will be an issue--Macs don't include modems (nor do many PCs), so you'll need a multi-function printer with its own modem. I don't think you can get one of those for under $100.

I have heard that cell phones will soon have a common-sized charger. Is there any hope that the same will happen for laptops? On a recent trip I had forgotten my charger at home and it was a hassle and waste of precious time to find a replacement that fit.

Nope. Sorry.

I'd like to disable as many operating and crapware services and start up programs as I can but I don't know which ones can be safely disabled. Because I don't know the consequences of turning of these processes I can't make any informed decision as to what I can do without. That includes all the Lenovo 'service' crap. Some of it isn't crap, but which? My IOBit performance analyzer tells me to turn off the smart card and SNMP trap, I have no idea if that's a good idea or not.

See that Lifehacker link I shared before--disabling random Windows services is generally a Bad Idea. Stick to removing programs you know you don't need.

I have a Dell XPS M1730 Laptop that I used for work. It has an Nvidia GE Force 8700GMT graphics driver in it (this is a dual core). This laptop is less than 2 years old and I've had alot of problems with this driver, for over a year now. The problem seems to be that Nvidia cannot get their graphics card to work properly with laptops, I'm not smart enough to know the reason. I had tried numerous upgrades and they were all faulty with my laptop, I had to go back to an earlier version to get it to work. They sent me an email with a link to another website, laptopvideo2go, suggesting I use their updated version, since they were able to modify a desktop version to work in a laptop, something Nvidia hasn't done. My problem is, should I trust this site? My laptop is my work, if it goes I don't have a job. I'm a bit concerned using them, since Nvidia of course is not responsible if I have problems. Any suggestions?

[shrugs] Any ideas?

I'm completely torn on whether to stay with direct tv or switch to comcast. I'm in adams morgan, so won't be able to get fios for several years. I've had direct tv for years and am a huge hockey fan, so I was all set to switch to comcast back in March to get versus, when all of a sudden it showed back up on direct tv. I'm concerned though that direct tv let the hockey season go by without carrying versus. Also, as part of this, I'm upgrading to HD and will need a new DVR. I've been reading horrible things about the direct tv dvr and if I switched to cable, I could get a tivo premiere. The last thing that points to comcast is that I'm a flyers fan and comcast will not release the flyers feeds to direct tv, so now I only get the other team's feed. It's been frustrating having to listen to the Devils announcers throughout this series. On the other hand, all the stories I hear about Comcast customer service, or lack thereof, scare me. So, is it worth it to switch for the above reasons or is it better to stay with direct tv and suffer with a lousy DVR and no flyers feeds?

Here's another situation that almost requires a spreadsheet. I think the DVRs available from Comcast and DirecTV will be about equally bad. You could use a TiVo with Comcast, but then you're paying $300 upfront plus the monthly fee, and you'd better loooove watching TV to justify that cost. (Both Comcast and DirecTV will supposedly offer TiVos of their own, but they seem to be competing to see who can take longer to deploy a TiVo implementation.)

For watching Flyers games, though, you could go pay for an GameCenter subscription; the usual local-blackout nonsense wouldn't apply for that team.

Is the apartment in Washington D.C. itself? If so, FiOS won't be available, but RCN has cable & internet services. RCN also serves Montgomery County in Maryland, I believe.

RCN's another option (I read "D.C." as "the D.C. area," but the earlier poster may have meant the District itself).

Our neighbor is building an addition and our TV antenna will probably be blocked. We love our OTA TV reception---clear as a bell and free. Is the picture w/ FIOS TV as good as OTA?

Is he building this addition as a Faraday Cage? A built structure, especially one of standard wood construction, should not obstruct over the air signals.

You can't take it off. EVER. It doesn't matter what it does to your hair; if you're using it properly you'll never know what your hair is doing.

Well, there is that...

I have an expensive machine that I do not wish to replace that works very nice in DOS, with a USB->COM adapter. I am using an HP Vista 32 laptop that is dying, and I need to replace. Is there any way to run a DOS program and use the USB->Com adapter in Windows 7 64bit?

I'm almost certain there is not--certainly not if it needs its own device drivers. x64 Windows requires 64-bit drivers.

Does the iPad virtual keyboard have any kind of sensitivity adjustment? I tried one out recently and discovered that the slightest brushing of a fingernail anywhere would insert extra letters. Seems like it wouldn't be hard to require that the key be touched for a certain fraction of a split second before it registers.

Could be, but the Settings app doesn't offer that sort of adjustment.

The XPS M1730 owner should use the Dell drivers and hold Dell's feet to the fire.

You hear that, M1730 user? (I agree. Dell shipped the thing with that graphics card; it's their job to support it.)

Does anyone out there have any experience with the Peek?

I'd meant to review this e-mail appliance when it first came out, but that never happened--and I just don't see that review happening now. Anybody else with insights?

I'm on my 3rd iPod in 6 years and it looks like this one is going out soon. I've already repaired it once and am thinking to just get a new mp3 player. What's the average lifetime of an iPod, am I just too hard on them ( a definite possibility)? Is it worth giving the Zune a chance?

Your next smartphone might be able to take its place. Windows Media Player will sync automatically to anything that presents itself to the computer as USB external storage. The ZuneHD's not bad as a player, either, but I still don't like the Zune Marketplace.

Rob - have you written a help file about this? It's time for me to do that, and I want to make sure it goes smoothly.

I reviewed that process before Win 7 shipped. As Windows upgrades go, the migration process involved is remarkably stress-free. As Mac migrations go, it's mediocre.

Back when Apple introduced the 10.6 operating system (I forget which beast of prey that is), I thought I'd wait to upgrade until the kinks and compatibility issues had been worked out. I think completely forgot about it. At this point, should I shell out the 30 bucks and upgrade from 10.58? It seems to still be working fine on my iMac.

Snow Leopard's been drama-free for me. It's not the greatest upgrade ever, but it's also only $30.

Apple reported a huge jump in iPhone sales in the most recent quarter. Do you see this growth continuing for quite a while or is there a countervailing factor on the horizon?

There's plenty of room for Apple to grow--the last stats I saw, from ComScore, had the BlackBerry as the most popular smartphone in the U.S.

Okay, so I figured out how not to broadcast my opinions etc to anybody but my friends. Yay. Will you be telling us on Sunday how we can avoid seeing our friends' stuff on the Post site? THAT is what I want to do. Nobody seems to have an answer, other than log out of FB or stop using the Post site.

That's a question I'd ask my colleague Raju Narisetti starting about now.

Rob: I have been using this free program for about four months and it seems to be doing a good job, save for one thing. If I don't get on my home computer for a day, when I log on I get a warning saying, "MS Security Essentials Is not protecting your computer because the service has been turned off. Turn it on." Which I do, but the warning is unnerving. Also, it didn't do that the first few months I used it. Why doesn't it just automatically come on, like other antiviruses I have used in the past (Norton and BitDefender), rather than making me click to activate? Thanks.

Sigh. This one, I don't know. I'd try uninstalling and reinstalling MSE.

Have you had a chance to look over the new MacBook Pros? Disappointed that their video cards aren't as high-powered as the ones you can get in high end Windows laptops, but the seamless switching between the discrete and onboard graphics is cool.

I haven't and don't know that I will--it's hard to justify a review of a computer more expensive than the 13.3-in. MBP.

I don't think there's anything unusable about Facebook's privacy settings -- the problem is that they keep changing them, and every time something changes, the default is "not private".

Good observation...

I'm not THAT worried about the new privacy changes. I'll eventually figure out the optimal settings. But oh good lord do I dread having to explain this to my mom. Again.

And that one

You could always pass along this helpful explainer:

Your Mom’s Guide to Those Facebook Changes, and How to Block Them

Tech 101 question: I had great success with Live OneCare, but finally let it go in favor of Microsoft Security Essentials. Live OneCare had its own backup function, though, so all I had to do was plug in the external drive and tell OneCare to do its thing. Without it, the Western Digital backup drive wants me to accept a 30-day trial of this or that program, none of which look familiar. All I want to do is back up my computer. Am I overlooking a backup feature in MSE? Or is there another, simple process to just run a backup?

MSE doens't do backup, sorry. I'd look at the CrashPlan app I mentioned before, which is free (but I'm going only on other people's suggestsions, not my own experience).

My McAfee subscription expired so I decided to give the Microsoft Security a shot. So far so good and it seems my computer is starting and closing faster. Have you also noticed this? Something/Nothing to worry about?

If you're worried that faster performance means your computer is less secure, you've definitely got Stockholm Syndrome :)

Hope this isn't too late... The guy wanting to use the DOS program on Windows 7. It's my understanding that Win7 Pro has an XP mode/VM that will run any DOS program that runs on XP. The USB->Com adapter should run fine, since COM (in this application) is really just RS-232. Check with the manufacturer of the expensive machine to be sure.

Oh, right--the XP Mode could work. If you're willing to spend more on your next computer. My $.02 on it ran in Help File.

I've had a Sony E-reader for a few years now and enjoy it. My only complaint is that I have to turn it off before landing and takeoff, so I still carry a "real" book in my carry-on. It's great the iPad is saving media, but will this problem ever go away?

A friend was making that point the other day, explaining how real books allowed him to keep reading throughout the flight. There is no way around that unless airlines completely change their attitudes about electronic devices. Good luck with that.

I just bought a Buffalo WHR-G300N wireless router. I want to set it us wired to a new Mac Mini using a 52" Sharp LCD as the Monitor and network it wirelessly to my iMac for email and web surfing. I have DSL. I need to set a PPoE connection on both computers. Will the Setup CD from the Buffalo work for a MAC setup or is it for Windows machines only? If not, how do I set the router up? Thanks, Paul

The CD won't work, but the router almost certainly has a Web interface you can bring up by typing the right numeric Internet Protocol address into your browser. See its manual for details.

I need a new computer. I am generally a PC person, but so many of my friends love their Macs and don't have any problems (like for some reason my Vista PC has never worked well with certain software updates...). So, two questions: (1) PC v. Mac for a very general computer user and (2) is the 15 day Apple return policy long enough to really figure out if I am going to hate the Mac OS? Thanks!

1) I think a Mac will be less work for you, especially over time. (See all the questions about Windows backup and security apps in this session?)

2) No, it's not really enough time. You're just going to have to trust that you'll adapt yourself to the differences between Windows and OS X. That's even more so for people switching smartphones; if you're used to an iPhone, an Android device will seem odd until you get used to it enough that an iPhone seems odd. (Not that there aren't real usability differences, but in some areas it's just a matter of replacing one memorized habit with another.)

Count me as another reader having the same problem. I boot up the computer and it tells me MSE is "off." If enough readers are experiencing this, there might be a story.

Or it's just Windows being Windows, as I like to say...

Have you reviewed the Sony Dash? Opinion?

Have not, but I might try it out. Not super-optimistic about its chances;  Internet tablets bigger than a phone and smaller than a laptop and not named "iPad" haven't done well in most cases.

Thanks for all the great questions, but now lunch--and a round of bureaucratic tasks--are calling. Thanks!

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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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