Sep 24, 2010

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

Greetings, all. I'm back after a week's interruption in the usual schedule (was traveling last Friday). What in the wide world of tech is on your mind today?

I am thinking of getting the Samsung Fascinate this weekend. I read your review of it at Faster Forward. However, it didn't address some questions I had, like your view of Bing over Google, and whether the GPS worked properly (since I understand that the Galaxy S class has had GPS problems). Do you think that Verizon will address the Google issue when and if it upgrades to 2.2? What would be your advice esp with the buy one get one sale at Verizon?

There's a lot more on the Fascinate's software--and Verizon Wireless''s general approach to Android--in this weekend's column, but it apparently hasn't posted. Let's just say it's probably not going to make anybody in Verizon PR too happy.

The hardware itself on the Fascinate isn't that bad. But the software is... wow. Just hideous. I would have to root the phone immediately to make it usable. Among the phones I reviewed in today's blog post, I prefer the Droid 2; it's a little thicker but more usable in a lot of ways, and it doesn't make me feel like I'm the victim of a runaway marketing department. Well, as much of one.

I also think I might prefer the now-somewhat-old HTC Droid Incredible over all these. Having a physical touch sensor or trackball below the screen is a huge help in fine onscreen selection and navigation.

From what I can see it seems awfully complicated to root phones to get rid of carrier trash. I wonder if you do go down the rooting route, what happens if you have OTA updates from the carrier? What happens? Does the rooted phone reject the OTA updates or does it become a brick?

The OTA - that is, over the air - updates still work. You haven't changed the basic software on the phone, just your access to it. (Note that I don't recommend keeping the phone rooted; just as you would on a regular computer, only run as root when you have a specific task you need to accomplish, then back out.)

An OTA update could reinstall the carrier apps or close whatever loophole your root software exploited, so you should make sure you know what each one does before you authorize it.

If I get the Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go, can I select the 10 day/5 hour service one month, and the 30 day/unlimited service at a later time? I know it's pre paid, so I assume you can vary the service as needed.

Correct. You're only paying for one month at a time, so you can shift gears between different options--or not pay at all--as you wish each month.

Rob - did you examine the voice quality of the Fascinate phone? If so, how would you rate it compared to other phones? Michael

I made some calls; things sounded fine on the phone.

You should know that this isn't a big deal to me--in my experience, the strength of your signal and outside noise make  much more of a difference in voice quality than the phone hardware itself. Plus, I just don't spend that much time talking on a phone these days--and the stats I've seen show that's true for most other people too.

I'm no computer genius-far from it-but am sick to death of being unable to get rid of crud like Skype, CityID and all the other pre-loaded stuff. The longer I have the 'phone & learn about more great things it can do, the more I want to dump stuff that takes up space, slows it down & eats the battery. I have no idea how THIS works so I guess ill stand by for a while... Thanks a LOT!

One reason why I wrote that blog post, and this weekend's column, was to focus more attention on this remedy--and, I hope, to persuade the developers of rooting tools to work on these usability issues. answering machine just died...we have signed up for voice mail via Verizon FIOS Digital . It DOES save $$$ because digital tax structure is different in NY than "copper"...i STILL MISS THE IMMEDIACY OF THE LITTLE RED BLINKING LIGHT ON THE MACHINE THAT'S GONE...what to do that does not waste $$$ on a soon to be extinct system??? Thanks in advance...

Paying for voicemail service from your phone company is a guaranteed waste of money. There aren't many standalone answering machines still available--most now come built into cordless phones--but the ones I see on Amazon don't cost more than $20 and change.

Rob, Hi. My wife is going to Target this weekend to buy a 6" Kindle WiFi (we don't travel much and have a wireless connection at home so not getting 3G). Any biggies to watch out for? Thanks for your chats.

The biggie to watch out with the Kindle--and any dedicated e-book reader--is the high odds of a newer, better model debuting in the coming months. Amazon's had the same geneal design out for a long time, and the chatter about its successor is getting awfully specific (it'll have a touchscreen, for instance).

In that context, it's good that Amazon's pricing the thing so cheap. It doesn't feel like a massive technology investment. And as those TV ads note--yes, you can use this in direct sunlight.

Though I have a Norton antivirus program on my PC (Windows XP), an evil force seems to have taken over and I can no longer do Google or Yahoo searches. I can't open the Google home page; when I try to search from anywhere else, I get redirected to a site called Gala that seems to be nothing but an ad site. Also, the computer has slowed considerably. Is this something I can fix myself? i am not tech-savvy but can follow simple instructions.

You should get an anti-virus app besides Norton on the case, since it's evidently not up to this job. Try the free Microsoft Security Essentials or the free version of MalwareBytes

And take a look at your browser. If you really "just picked up" something, you couldn't have been running a secure browser. You need the current versions of Firefox (3.6.10), Chrome (not sure of the version no. ) or Internet Explorer (8). And make sure you've got the current version of Adobe's Flash Player too; this post I wrote has instructions for that.


Hi Rob, We currently have cable internet service, and we are thinking of changing to DSL to save money. We don't do any online gaming, but we do watch streaming movies on Netflix. Will DSL speeds be sufficient for this purpose, or will we experience significant buffering or other problems if we switch to DSL? Also, what download speed do you recommend as a minimum for watching streaming movies? Thanks in advance.

The entry-level service will not work for high-quality streaming video--you'd want at least 5 Mbps. Right? What would those of you with DSL find works for movie viewing?

Should I purchase the Kindle 3 or wait until the Nook 2 is realeased and decide then?

You seem to think that I have review units of each next to me. Sadly, I do not. So--yeah, sure, wait.

Dear Rob, I would love to be able to record video from my cable channels to a format I can store and transfer to a PC. I don't really like the idea of TiVO, since it requires a monthly subscription, and I am not sure I can transfer files from it, nor upgrade the storage capacity. Do you have any suggestions?

You can upgrade the storage on a TiVo and transfer files to your computer using TiVo's Mac and Windows software--but yes, the monthly fee bugs me too. I have enough of those in my life already.

Using a computer as your DVR would get around this issue, but your only option is a $400 CableCard-compatible tuner for Windows PCs.

We have a five-year old TV which is connected to a DVD player and Comcast cable. There aren't a lot of input and output jacks on the TV and we're wondering if we could insert a Roku box somewhere in among the wires and connect to Netflix Instant Play over our home wireless network. Roku says they can make it work but I'm wondering how we're going to connect the Roku box so that we get both audio and video. The TV is circa 2003 so it's pretty old but not ancient. We don't need a set top box for the cable since we have a very basic subscription. Is there a way to do this? Thanks in advance.

Sure. Roku's media-receiver boxes--just updated yesterday; I hope to have a review up soon--include both an HDMI high-def audio/video output and traditional, standard-def composite video output. The problem you may hit is that your TV doesn't include HDMI, leaving you stuck with composite--the lowest-quality video available. But if the TV too is standard-def, the difference won't be huge.

Hi Rob, I am sure yoiu have answered this before, but can't find it online. I am going to Aruba next week( yay me). I don't want to get nailed with the data charges .02 a kb from my e-mail and web. Can I just turn off the 3G and just use wifi? Verizon wants me to buy an international plan for a week that will cover all data for $20. Calls will be 1.99 with or without the plan. I won't be using the web browsing. What would you do? Thanks!

Same drill as with an iPhone: Put the phone in airplane mode, then go into Settings and turn WiFi back on. (I wrote a Help File on this that was iPhone-specific and suggested a more difficult workaround... maybe I should rewrite that to update.)

iPod "touch" seems to offer most of the attributes of the iPad but just smaller - what is your view?

It does more than the iPad at the moment, thanks to it running iOS 4.1. But the display size differential is kind of a big deal too.

Any suggestions on where to get mac accessories that are high quality but cheaper than the stuff apple sells?

Not an Apple Store, that's for sure. Check online at sites like or; if you only need generic data cables, go to

i have seen lots of press about 3D TV. They hype from the vendors but also a lot of negative vibes. No standards, ghosting, uncomfortable glasses, expensive, no programing. What do you think it will take for 3D to take off?

Getting more than one reader question about 3D TV every few months, that's for sure. I see very little interest in the technology, and I can understand why--I've watched a few broadcasts, and the effect in live material just isn't as dramatic as what I saw in Avatar. But why would you spend the extra money on 3D when your primary benefit will only come in the occasional movie?

... was briefly summoned by the baby, hence the interruption. (She says hi.)

I'm getting a few of these error messages everyday. "A script on this page may be busy" and then asking whether to stop script or continue. There are a number of different messages. One of the shorter ones is "Mozilla%20Firefox/modules/utils.js:1027" or "chrome://browser/content/browser.js:9389" I've googled the error messages and found other people with the same problem, but didn't understand what to do about it. It doesn't seem to cause any harm, just slows the machine down. Any ideas? (I'm using XP with all updates and Firefox with updates.) I get the feeling it has something to do with Firefox, so maybe I should just go back to Microsoft.

It's more likely to be the particular coding at a Web site. Which ones present this error? (Please don't tell me it's ours...)

1. I want Unbuntu 9.10 to be an option on my windows-7. The Unbuntu answers are OVERLY technical (I'm 70+ and haven't really kept up). I have looked at EasyBCD, but again - don't want to "clober" what is working(?) 2. win-7 "security", in conjunction with McAfee - makes it almost IMPOSSIBLE to download/contact sites other than ms "approved - FIX?

The risk with looking for help with software that has a large techie audience is that you can lose your way amidst posts arguing over which is the most correct solution to a problem--never mind the easiest or fastest. But I think you'll find that Ubuntu isn't that hard if you just go with the defaults. Here's my review of the current release, 10.04.

Sorry if this is off-topic, but on Amazon and elsewhere I see things that declare themselves solar phone chargers priced from $28 to $280 (give or take a sawbuck or two). Do you know of any good one(s) or even a site that honestly reviews them? Thanks

The reviews I've read have all come to the same conclusion: They do work, but they don't provide all that much power and as a result take a long time to charge. (Remind you of any reviews for those solar-powered walkway lights?) Can't suggest a specific model, though--can anybody here recommend one?

Dear Mr Pegoraro What is the best antenna for an HDTV when one does not subscribe to cable or a satellite network?

Depends mainly on your location. If you're close enough to the local stations' transmitters, a set of rabbit-ears antennas--with both UHF and VHF antennas--will work fine. Farther out, you may need an atttic or rooftop antenna. Visit (or, for more details, to get some hints about what will work in your location.

In 1992 I bought my first single user DOS contact manager. It was easy to use, cheap to buy and never crashed. In 1995 it was reconfigured to Windows. Easy, cheap and never crashed. In 2008 I bought ACT. I use a minimal number of features because I like simple. I need to buy another single user contact manager for someone else and ACT is vastly more sophisticated than this person requires. I need a front page with the usual contact information fields and an area to record and retain HISTORY. Everything else just complicates. What should I buy?

How about just use the Windows Address Book in XP, Windows Contacts in Vista or the Contacts folder in Windows 7? Or using Gmail as an online contacts manager? The standalone commercial contacts managers will probably have way more features than your friend needs.

Whatever he/she gets, make sure it can import and export data in the VCard format--that way, there won't be any issues with data getting stranded in the app.

I seen several mentions of blu-ray drives that can "upscale" 2D content to simulate 3D pictures. Have you seen a demonstration of this and is it at all useful?

Only on the show floor at CES in January. It didn't look good then, and I haven't heard positive reports about this live conversion since.

I'm shopping for a smart phone and have questions about 4G coverage in general. Am frustrated because information is not available on the web, and I'd like to be prepared before talking with a salesman. For instance, Verizon says it will have LTE (their 4G equivalent) available soon, but won't say where (or exactly when). Sprint & Clearwire just rolled out 4G in certain parts of the city, but Sprint won't put their cell towers on their on-line maps, although Clear does (and they use Sprint towers, which is why I thought they might be useful). Grr. All this corporate secrecy is getting in the way of my making an informed choice! Is there some website or other help for a shopper? AT&T is not 4G yet here, so iPhone is out. I have heard so many horror stories about lying/misinformed salespeople that I dread talking with them. I am interested in knowing about coverage in areas I travel to, in addition to my home city. Any tips would be appreciated, Rob.

I wouldn't weigh 4G too heavily in my shopping--it's available in few places from Sprint and nowhere from Verizon, and most phones can't use the service anyway. Make your decision based on 3G coverage.

Blackberry user thinking about switching to an Epic or Evo. Are the emails sent to the phone or do you need to check through a third party or app.... I guess I'm asking is it similar to the way I receive them on the blackberry?

Android phones--and every other non-BlackBerry phone--use standard mail programs, where the mail app goes right to your own server to get new messages. It's the same setup as on a computer. There's no intermediary service on which  you need to store your username and password.

My two biggest problems with Android phones of any variety are the carrier's torturing the OS toward their own whim and the Android Marketplace experience. I've tried using friend's Android phones to browse the market place, but unless you know exactly what you want from a trusted source, you're toast. It can't hold a candle to the simplicity of browsing the App Store and syncing to the iPhone. Did you try getting apps through the Marketplace? Your thoughts?

I don't find the Android Market that bad--but I usually do my research outside of it, then look for a specific app. Or I'll just scan a QR code off a Web page to go directly to the app's listing.

At May's Google I/O conference, Google execs said they were working to put the Market on the Web, so you could shop in a full-sized browser and then send each app you get to your phone. In the meantime, try, a third-party catalogue of Android apps; the site's on the cluttered side but it does help.

I've found ebay to be a good source of cheap Apple cables and such as well.

Another good option. (Disclosure: I've sold more than a few surplus cables and chargers on eBay myself.)

I have a 1st generation Touch and an iPad. Three significant differences leap to mind: 1. The websurfing experience is not even comparable. Screen size makes a huge difference. On the iPad, I can use any website the same as on a larger computer; on the Touch, Safari works OK but the sites can be cluttered, hard to read, and very hard to navigate. For that reason, I use a lot of specially tailored apps on the Touch -- Google, Gmail, Facebook, NY Times Mobile Reader, etc. -- to avoid going to the main sites. Not a problem on the iPad. 2. The iPad is much better as a reader. I read a lot on my Touch, but for books, the iPad is so much better (again, due to size). 3. Of course, if you get the 3G iPad you have the option of AT&T service without a contract like the iPhone. I love the Touch, but it is wifi-dependent -- so if you're away from wifi, you're SOL.

Thanks for the thoughtful compare/contrast comments. Good point about how a smaller screen makes some sites better used in app form.

The V3 battery (now) only holds a charge for a day on standby, and 30 minutes of call time. Also, it's horrible for texting. Does the DroidX have longer battery life? Is the on-screen keyboard bigger than the one on the Nook (which I tend to fat finger a lot)? Are smartphones really worth the $600/year data plans?

If you like the phone in general, just get a new battery--the standard one is obviously running down.

Any new smartphone will have a better battery life than what you're experiencing now--but because you can do so many more things on it, and because it's doing so many more things in the background--your odds of getting away with recharges only every two or three days are pretty lousy.

The onscreen keyboards are smaller, inasmuch as the screens are smaller. I think the data expense is wothwhile, but you might want to find some other telecom costs to cut back on to make up for that. Are you paying for a lot of extra calling services on a landline? If so, get rid of them.

Hi Rob, This is more of a rant than a question. I took advantage of Apple's education discount and got a free Touch when I bought my new Mac. I was pretty excited about it until I found out I can't play it through my car stereo. In Apple's favor, I have to say that I got through to someone in Tech Support almost immediately. He was thorough and sympathetic, but confirmed that listening through my car speakers is a no-go with the new Touch (something about external speakers, which I would have called internal speakers . . . I kinda got lost in the explanation. So it's back to the Nano.

What? I've never heard of that before. Even if you couldn't play back audio through the iPod connector, you can just run a patch cable from the headphone jack to your car's line-in jack. E-mail me about this, would ya?

I have a MacBook and an iPhone, and I signed up for the 60 day free trial of Mobile Me...but I'm not sure it's worth $100 a year. Do you have any thoughts on the service?

Not really worth it. The "find my phone" feature is nifty, but $100 a year of nifty? Its data-syncing services compare poorly with what Google or Dropbox give you for free, and the mail service is just lame--there's no mobile-Web interface, and you can't use your own domain name or any address besides the or one Apple gives you.

I'm not actually sure that Apple remembers that it charges people for this service--there's been a sad lack o improvements in MobileMe since its (rather disastrous) launch.

I just got back from a trip to Ireland, and was able to watch a soccer match in a pub outside of Sligo in 3D. Gotta say, it was pretty impressive. The glasses they handed out were of a much higher quality than those given in theaters here in the States (they looked and felt like RayBay Wayfarers). I think the 3D technology will be a hit, at least for sporting events.

I've seen some great stuff in glasses at Irish pubs... wait, we're not talking about the same thing here.

LED TVs-- are they worth the extra money?

The price differential keeps dropping on those. A year ago , I would have said no way (and hence bought an
LCD HDTV with a conventional backlight). In a year or so, maybe less, it's liable to become a standard feature--just as it has on many laptops.

I'm thinking of purchasing a netbook for school, but I'm concerned that I'm just caught up in a "want-something-new-and-shiny" moment. I have an old laptop, but it's got a lot of issues and has icky Vista on it. Any thoughts on the reasonableness of purchasing a netbook? And/or do you have any suggestions for a good one?

I'm due to review a batch myself. As it happens, I'm typing this on a review Dell netbook... which I kind of hate. Although it's running a real version of Windows 7, 2 gigabytes doesn't feel like enough memory, and the Atom processor here can be painfully slow. The keyboard is pretty good--but how can you not include a Caps Lock light? Nothing says "we cut corners" like having a "CAPS LOCK" alert flash on the screen and then disappear. and are both good as well as the places you mentioned. Monoprice rocks.


(Gotta wrap this up in the next few minutes, folks.)

But if I have to make a call and have to turn off the airplane setting, won't all my e-mail start downloading??

Yup. To avoid that, you'd want to go into the Wireless & Networks settings category, then uncheck Mobile Network. That should stop you from any background data use. Or you could use a VoIP client to make the call over WiFi.

So with the imminent demise of Blockbuster, what do you think is the future of movies overall? Will the DVD eventually be phased out for full-on Blu-ray? Will even that be phased out by instant streaming of all movies and TV shows?

I'll make this my last question. We definitely seem to be moving towards a universe in which movies live in our homes only as a stream of bits--either streamed live over the Internet or downloaded in DRMed, locked-down form. One of Microsoft's Xbox guys said earlier this week that he thinks Blu-ray is going to be bypassed--that it's an evolutionary dead end.

I'm no fan of Blu-ray. But I don't like having movies only available as instant streams or DRMed downloads either. I'm used to being able to loan a movie to a friend or resell it, and I don't look forward to a world in which those fair-use rights have been made obsolete.

Thanks for all the great questions. If I missed yours--or if you want to correct one or all of my answers--please e-mail me. Or show up at the next chat, which should be 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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