Oct 22, 2010

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

... and sorry for the holdup. Got stuck in a meeting (by which I mean "feeding my daughter"). I will, of course, stick around past 1 to make up for that.

So what should we discuss first?

as an iphone user i am constantly frustrated by the inability of the device to open items that require the flash modality that apple wont allow. is there any hope of an offering in the near future that will allow access to these "flash" items? H.Cross

I'll start with a simple question with an easy answer: No. Apple doesn't want Flash on its mobile devices--its new MacBook Air laptops apparently don't even ship with Flash installed--and it's not going to let Adobe write a Flash app to solve your problem.

Hi Rob - I'm in desperate need of an upgrade from my old Motorola flip phone, and have been considering the move to a smartphone. I have to admit I'm smitten with the iPhone, but don't want to leave Verizon. My questions to you are: do you think there's any truth to the rumors of the iPhone coming to Verizon, and if so, when would you guess it would happen? Alternatively, what are your thoughts on an Android phone vs the iPhone? A friend has the Droid 2, and while it's cool, it's a little bigger than I'd like... Thanks much!

At this point, I've seen enough stories saying this is coming that I now think it will happen--but I've also thought that ending AT&T's exclusivity made basic business sense for Apple from day one. But it's not going to happen until early next year... if it does. Otherwise, quit torturing yourself and get an Android phone. The Droid 2 is a good model; so is the HTC Incredible. Avoid the Samsung Fascinate.

Would you explain the distinction between the Google TV approach and the Hulu approach? I had understood that the latter was simply an aggregator of links to content that resided on the network servers, the equivalent of embedding a YouTube video on one's own website. Is Google TV seeking to actually host copies of the content? I'm following the issue because I have been watching all my TV online for the past year. But I normally don't use Hulu because I watch only a few shows, and it's easy enough to go to the networks' own sites.

Hulu is a site, Google TV is a set of software. Except Hulu isn't like any other Web site; it blocks people who try to watch shows there in the "wrong" browser, Google TV included. Unfortunately, some networks have decided to follow Hulu's self-defeating example--see my Google TV writeup for details.

Hello, Rob. Last week, someone asked whether they should update their OS from Vista to 7. You said something like, "for the love of God, yes." But could you explain that a bit more why that is? The reviews that I read of 7 when it came out said that it was essentially Vista with many of the annoying quirks removed. And I have read that 7 may be a bit more stable than Vista. Is that alone the reason to go through the hassle to upgrade? What makes 7 worth the hassle and potential pitfalls of loading a new OS? Thanks.

You just answered your own question: Vista is 7 with annoying quirks added. (And a bigger appetite for memory.) I can't remember anybody installing 7 and then telling me "I really miss Vista." I should also add that the Vista-to-7 upgrade process, as Microsoft upgrades go, is relatively painless.

(But I'm sure somebody will emerge here to say that. Takes all kinds...)

Mac and tech news sites are all suggesting the iLife applications might be available seperately (for $20 each) once the Mac App Store is open based on the Apple presentation on Wednesday. It's probably time for me to upgrade my iLife (as I'm currently using '08), but I really only need to upgrade iPhoto. I don't use the other applications, or if I do it's so infrequently I'm fine using their '08 version. I'm not going to ask you whether you think it's worth it saving the money by buying just iPhoto separately. I'm asking (1) do you think this will actually be what happens when the Mac App Store opens (2) are faces, places (and the other new iPhoto features) worthy spending the extra $ to upgrade now, or do you think those are features I can wait an extra 90 days for?

I've seen that rumor too. We'll know for sure when the Mac App Store appears for Snow Leopard, allegedly 90 days from now. But bear in mind that Apple could price individual components of iLife so high that it's not worthwhile to upgrade more than one of them a la carte--sort of like how it's usually pointless to buy only one app in Microsoft Office.

Would using Firefox plug-ins such as BrowserMasquerade (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/212320/) or User Agent Swtitcher (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/59/) solve this problem?

On a desktop browser, maybe--though I haven't tried that yet. Google TV's browser does let you switch user agents from "default" to "generic" to a custom one, but I haven't tried that yet. Has anybody here?

What should a consumer expect in terms of getting the download speed that is advertised from an ISP? I have RCN and have an alleged 10Mbps download. My speeds can hover around 1Mbps during evening hours making YouTube videos stop repeated for the speed to catch up with the video.. Late at night or during the day I can get close to 10. Is this common? I know RCN was in litigation recently about them slowing users down who access P2P, but they were supposed to stop this practice.

You should expect to get the service you paid for. RCN subscribers--especially those in Adams Morgan--what's your experience been?

I traveled outside the U.S. recently, and I was disappointed to discover that most TV networks and some other sites block access to their video replays when computers are in non-U.S. locations. I don't know why CBS would want to make 60 Minutes or Survivor inaccessible to potential viewers in Britain or France, but I wonder if there is an easy way to disguise the location of the computer. If spammers and scammers can hide their true location, can the average tourist look like he's connecting from, say, Iowa?

You can use a "proxy server" site to cloak your real Internet Protocol address and replace it with one that makes it look like you're elsewhere.

The actual reason for this blocking, BTW, is usually licensing limits: The network or the site only signed a deal to offer the show in one country or area. I get the contractual issues, but cutting yourself off from willing customers is a dumb way to do business in the long run. 

I test drove Windows 7 last year at work, and much prefer Vista. Can't comment on the memory issues (although I can vouch for Vista being a memory hog), but I didn't like the ways Microsoft supposedly simplified some of the operations. For example, I hated the changes to the Taskbar at the bottom, which (at least on the version I used) would only show you that you had Word open, for example - it didn't create separate entries for multiple programs, so you could easily see you had a second document, for example. Just one of the many little things that's keeping me on Vista.

Posted without comment.

What is your realistic view on WP7 apps? Do you think developers will willingly produce quality apps for the new OS? I would like to see WP7 Marketplace have fewer number of apps but majority of them quality, unlike on Android and iOS. Those apps stores have tons of apps, but many of them are junk.

But... but... Apple's App Store approval process is supposed to ensure that it only has high-quality apps!

WP7 apps will be written by the same flawed human beings as those for other smartphones, so I expect that you'll continue to have to sort through mediocre apps to find ones worth keeping.

(As a software critic, I consider that not a bug, but a feature.)

hi rob. i just signed up for clearwire on-the-go, but am having trouble googling information about security. for example, is it safe to do online banking with clearwire or is there something i can do to add security to this? thanks for any info. --susan

If you do your financial transactions at sites that encrypt the session--as seen with a lock icon in the browser toolbar, preferably augmented with a green highlight in the address bar--you're fine. If you don't see that, you're in danger no matter what Internet provider you use.

(You know not to let people "shoulder-surf" while you're online-banking in public, right?)

Rob, I installed Win7 on two Vista machines last weekend and although it took about 4 hours each, the two machines hum now, including the one that would never take a Vista software update! Thanks for the advice!

See, it's worth going from Vista to 7. As an added bonus, if everybody abandons Vista, I won't have to feel bad about not having a Vista machine around to troubleshoot their queries!

Rob, I've see you and others complain about Apple's insular and bureaucratic App Store. As a rather new iPod Touch user, what exciting apps am I missing out on because Apple won't approve them? What must-have unapproved programs are out there to make me want to take the risks of jailbreaking my Touch?

See the directory of unauthorized apps availble for jailbroken iOS devices at Cydia: http://cydia.saurik.com/

Jailbreaking an iPhone or iPod touch will, of course, void the warranty, and it's not a risk-free procedure. As a general rule, unless you've got a specific need that you'll never be able to address without jailbreaking, it's easier to keep the iOS device as is.

Months ago, I bought a Droid X, having been told Android 2.2 would be installed on the Droid X by late summer for the advanced features. It's now October 22, and no 2.2 Verizon says it's Motorola's fault. Motorola won't even give me an estimate when 2.2 will be loaded to my phone. What can I do?

And here's one possible reason to do the Android equivalent of jailbreaking--rooting. There is supposed to be an Android 2.2 update for the Droid X, but the carrier and the manufacturer can't get their act together. By rooting it, you could install a third-party ROM.

But... again, there's a chance you could brick the phone. Don't do this unless you're mentally prepared to buy a used Android phone off eBay, as VzW won't give you the new/renewing discount if you nuke the X during the ROM upload process.

Rob, my 18-year old son will be going to France for a month in the summer and for all of his junior year in college in 2013 (yeah, I know...). I'd like him to be able to phone home cheaply, be reachable cheaply, and be able to call friends in France. I believe the campus he'll be on in Lille has widespread WiFi. (Of course, he'll be bringing his laptop to school as well.) We have Verizon as a cell carrier. I'm a bit of a techie, but I'm confused by all the options--rent a Verizon phone, WiFi, SIM card, Skype, etc. Any suggestions? I know the cell phone market will be vastly different in 2013, too, so I'm not adverse to getting him one phone now, and a new phone in two years.

Have him get a prepaid phone there, then call him for a few pennies a minute on Skype or Google Voice. (You can also do free video calling in either service if he's in front of a "real" computer).

Plan B, get a GSM T-Mobile phone here and have that unlocked 40 days into the contract, as is your right--but that only works if T-Mobile's coverage works for him here.

Will HP revive the Palm Pre? It's a good phone, but seems to have fallen off the radar screen. When I read about new apps, the Pre isn't even mentioned in many cases. Will HP unveil a new updated version of the Pre before Xmas or will that come in 2011? Or is it history?

HP announced the Pre 2 earlier this week, coming to Verizon this fall. But it's a weak upgrade; the company will need to have something more impressive to show by CES in January.

From Tina in Falls Church. Posting early since I have a meeting. I get some strange spam in the Win Mail inbox. No attachments or anything. The body of the message will simply have about 3-4 random letters and that's it. Anyone been experiencing the same thing? It weirds me out. Back in the bad old days I would have suspected a spammer was broadcasting test spam to see what bounced back as an invalid address. I *think* I have heard they know what got through without all that trouble.

Buggy spamming software?

Is there a mechanism for reporting software bugs to Microsoft? I found a problem with their mapping software (MapPoint), but all their tech support links eventually ask you to pay $35 for the consultation.

Microsoft has a site--connect.microsoft.com--at which you can log bugs or make feature requests, but it only lets you report bugs for 62 apps (few consumer-oriented).

MapPoint is not among them... it's not even listed among the apps not accepting feedback.

This is one area where open-source software beats most commercial apps: Firefox's bug database is public, voting for bugs to be fixed and leaving your own comments. That doesn't mean your feature requests will be addressed quickly (hello, Mozilla Thunderbird), but it's better than being cut off completely from developers.

You've mentioned before that you think that stand-alone GPS units are destined to go the way of many once-popular-now-attic-dwelling electornic devices and be replaced by smart phones having GPS capabilities. While I agree with your assessment somewhat, I think that day is not coming soon. I have a 'unintelligent' phone (by calling certain phones 'smart', aren't the others therefore 'not smart'?) and pay $50 per month for my calling plan (the phone was free). I can but a good GPS for $120. To get a smart phone, I have to pay more than the GPS costs, and then need to pay an additional $20-$30 per month to use the smart phone. Until those additional costs come down to where it's cheaper or the same cost, I think that there will be still be a market for stand-alone GPS units. Also, there's a whole segment of the market out there (especially older folks) who will be very slow (if ever) to arrive to the smart phone arena. Heck there are some who still don't use basic mobile phone service. A stand-alone GPS, on the other hand, is pretty simple to use and is no more time-consuming to use/set up than unfolding a map. Your thoughts?

Fair points. But how many people will be tech-savvy enough to get a GPS receiver but not tech-savvy enough to get a smartphone. There is a market between those two circles, but it's not a big one. The same thing applies for non-phone handheld organizers, where the iPod touch appears to be the only surviving example. (Am I missing any? The PDA market seems long gone outside that.)

Hi Rob. I'm in the market for a new laptop. I've always had Macs, so the choice is between a MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air. If cost were not a factor, what are the pros and cons of the MacBook Air? Thanks!

Can't tell you yet, as Apple PR has yet to send me a review unit. You don't want me to answer this just based on Apple's claims, right?

Rob I have a Linksys WRT 160N wireless router, that doesn't send a strong single to the far ends of my house. Both my iPhone and iPad have challenges getting a signal. Short of moving the router to another room, is there a range extender or something like that you can recommend to boost the range?

An 802.11n router should have more than enough range, unless your house is a lot bigger than mine (where an 802.11g router suffices). Do you have this set to run in a mixed "b/g/n" mode? Try disabling 802.11b--odds are you don't have any devices that only use the earliest flavor of WiFi.

If that doesn't work, see what other Linksys routers can function as "WDS" devices to extend your network. Or, if your hat has a propellor on top, you could take an old Linksys router and install third-party firmware on it to turn it into a WDS device. I did that with a spare unit in the summer; it was one of the geekiest afternoons I've ever spent.

Rob, Two years ago I got a powerhouse Vista machine for my home business. I held on to my XP desktop for no good reason other than to rarely play games and use software that doesn't play well with 64bit. My wife says get rid of it, I want to make use of it. It has a 2.3 GHzprocessor and 160GB hard drive, (plus I have another 160GB external) but the graphics card is lame and I pitched the keyboard long ago. It's been suggested I use it as a file/print/media server, NAS, backup or even install Windows Home Server on it. I'm comfortable with setting up shared files/printers over the network, and would consider "jerry-rigging" a WHS without the software. My wife's XP laptop is packed to the gills with photos and files and I'm worried about that one. WWRPD? Keep in mind, WAF is very important.

I'd set it up for media sharing and backup, using WHS or whatever other software you like. Those aren't processor-intensive tasks, and by keeping it largely off the Internet you minimize XP's security risks.

Rob, Easy. QUIT USING LINKSYS. I've had nothing but problems with them. DLink however, gives me a great signal everywhere, including outside.

What are the odds that within 10 minutes of me posting this, somebody will submit a comment that they've had nothing but trouble with D-Link, and only switching to a Linksys model helped matters?

I've never owned a Mac, but lately I've been considering buying one. However, it seems as if the Power Mac is destined for extinction, since this latest round of models focuses entirely on ultraportables. Would I be foolish to buy a Power Mac at this point in the product's life cycle? I really want a Unix workstation (of some flavor), not just an entertainment or office PC.

You mean a Mac Pro--Apple stopped calling its desktops "Power Macs" after it stopped using PowerPC chips in them.

Apple isn't abandoning desktops, even the traditional, tower-case kind (as opposed to the Mac mini and iMac). What sort of machine do you think get used by the graphic pros who buy its Final Cut and Aperture software? There's plenty of money to be made there.

Rob, Just had to chime in on that one. Nothing, I repeat nothing, gives me more pleasure than using 7 versus that abomination. I'd rather use XP if Vista were my only choice.

Hope our earlier poster is still logged in to see this...

Rob, Out of curiosity, can I just hook-up a computer with all of the right connections to an HDTV and forget Google/Apple TV? What am I missing?

A lower price and an onscreen interface and a remote control to allow easy viewing from a couch. There are workarounds--Boxee can handle the interface, and Macs and some machines (for instance, HP laptops) include remotes--but even then you have the cost and complexity issues of using a "serious" computer.

Last summer, I ditched Java on Brian Krebs' recommendation and my computer, a new Dell XPS with Windows 7 went haywire. I had to do a restore point and then had to figure out how to reinstall it on both Firefox and IE -- and I think there were two separate installations for IE 32 and 64 bit. It was an incredible hassle that ate up the better part of an evening. My conclusion is that it's not worth the trouble, but maybe things are different now. BTW the links in your article explaining the difference between Java and Javascript are broken.

I'll take a look at those links. As for your troubles--I've installed and uninstalled Java dozens of times (thanks to earlier updates' habit of not removing older releases of Java) and never had a problem. I'm sorry, but you had something else wrong with your computer. Don't blame Java; blame Windows for not being more robust.

Hi Rob, which do you prefer for long-term storage of photos, music, videos, etc - CDs, DVDs, or USB sticks? I'm trying to back up a lot of my stuff (especially because my external hard drive's gone wonky) and would appreciate any advice!

More than one of those--for your most important data, you want different kinds of backup, preferably some offsite. Flash drives are least likely to suffer data loss from physical abuse, but even then I'd want some other backup.

Which reminds me, I should do a round of backups after this chat (and after writing a blog post, and after filing Help File, and after catching up on my e-mail... see how easy it is to neglect backups?)

I'm looking to get a smartphone and am a current t-Mobile customer. I'm considering buying either the Samsung Vibrant or the Google G2. Are there particular pros or cons that would lead you to recommend one over the other?

Have to confess that I haven't tried either yet. That's a problem with the diversity of Android phones on the market; I will never get to try them all. Any suggestions from the audience?

On the AppleTV I've had for a couple of weeks. Plusses: Didn't find the onscreen keyboard too difficult, as it wraps around. Love the downloading from iTunes. Immediate start and good HD. 720p is Good Enough. Minus: If I have a folder of playlists in iTunes the folder is flattened out, putting all playlists at the same level. Except that the folder is still there. If you have many playlists, as I do, it's very annoying. Slows navigation down pretty badly. The last generation Nano doesn't do this, it handles folders properly. Why can't the AppleTV? Big minus: I have a playlist of favorite web radio stations, and it isn't brought over to the device. Since the web radio interface is the same as with iTunes, it makes web radio unplayable on the AppleTV. Being able to do web radio easily on my stereo would be nice. Still, worth the $99 so far. We'll see what Apple does when updating... A question about Verizon (no, not iPhone): Do you know if the DroidX will support the new LTE system? Because I'm waiting on hardware that supports LTE before I upgrade my Motorola Razr.

Thanks for the detailed review, wiredog! (I agree about the stupididity of neglecting Web radio on the Apple TV.)

I don't think Verizon sells any hardware--phone or USB receiver--that supports LTE yet.

I'd like to move from paper to electronic statements for all my banking, utilities, etc. One problem I've had with this move is that I like to mark up my paper statements when I reconcile or pay bills (e.g. write date, check #, and amount paid). How do I make similar mark ups on electronic statements, most of which are PDFs, some in other weird / graphic formats?

Don't use Adobe Reader. On a Mac, the Preview app will let you annotate or highlight PDFs; on Windows... uh, that is a good Help File question. Suggestions, folks?

I upgraded to an HTC Incredible a few weeks ago and realized that the battery sucks!! By the end of the day, the battery is completely drained. With my previous phone, I could go 2-3 days w/o charging. What's the deal? Thanks. P.S. of course I'm upset now that it looks like iPhone is coming to verizon, but that's a different rant. Thanks again.

If you're moving from a "feature phone" or just a plain old cell phone to a smartphone, you are just about guaranteed to be disappointed by the battery life. The phone is just doing a lot more.

Android phones in particular can have battery-consumption issues, although Google's updates have improved that--my own did much better once I took it from Android 1.5 to 2.1. If you haven't updated yours to 2.2 yet, you should. Another thing that often helps; dial back how often it checks for new messages. By default, the e-mail client there will look every 15 minutes.

When I try to log onto the WP website on my iPhone 4 it automatically takes me to the mobile version. Even if I retype in the address it still takes me to the mobile site which does not give you everything. Even if I click on the link that says "Take me to the full site" it still takes me to the mobile site. Is there a way to fix this? I didn't have this problem on my old iPhone. There is no link to these chats on the mobile site that I can see and I would sometimes like to read them while eating lunch. Thanks.

Posting so the Web folks here see this...

The new Mac Airs use solid-state drives. I gather that SSDs are more rugged that hard drives (no moving parts), but are they failure-prone in other ways? Other than storage capacity, any particular reason not to want an SSD?

The biggest advantage of a solid-state drive (aka, flash drive) is that it can't physicall crash. As somebody who's heard from way too many people who lost data from drive crashes, I consider that a huge benefit. They also transfer data faster, use less electricity, and don't make any whirring noise.

But they cost more. A lot more if you get into higher levels of storage. That's why Apple still uses physical hard drives for the highest-capacity iPod. The cost keeps declining year after year, so I  expect to see more laptops adopt SSDs. At some point, even DVRs will adopt them--which is where you'd see serious energy-efficiency and noise improvements, considering that they stay on all the time.

Yes, but you could also just buy a nice long HDMI cable from MonoPrice for really cheap and keep the laptop on the couch with you - no need for a remote.

But then you've got a tripping hazard. And the home-design reporters in the Local Living section will (justifiably) get on my case for encouraging sloppy housekeeping.

One of the best purchases I've made is to go with Adobe Acrobat 9 Professional. It gives you full PDF manipulation ability and can turn most commonly used files into fillable PDFs. I use it a lot and love it. I have no affiliation with Adobe - I just like their product.

But that's a $200 app. I almost never review software releases that cost as much or more than the operating systems in which they run.

I enjoyed your talk at DCLUG, and want to exapnd on what you stated as a shortfall of Evolution (No V Card Import capability), the same exact reason why I do not use Evolution as my client. After loosing multiple hard drives and Windows Installations and all of my PC Outlook e-mails several times, I changed my e-mail usage to strictly web based. When I upgraded my cell from the Verizon RAZR V3C to the Motorola Devour Android phone, I also moved and updated at once all of my contacts to Google gmail, and was therefore able to sync my emails, contacts, and calendar entries on my smart phone to my gmail web account. That way, I loose nothing and am able to maintain a constant phone book on my person at any time. I wonder what you use in that regard and what works for you ?

Thanks for attending! ("DCLUG" is the Washington D.C. Linux User Group, at which I spoke Wednesday night.) You've got a lot of company in getting fed up with the inadequacy of traditional, desktop e-mail clients and switching instead to Web-mail systems that work everywhere and require no maintenance by users.

I've adopted a hybrid approach: I use a Google Apps Standard Web-mail account that, since it supports a synchronization standard called IMAP, allows me to get to my messages from a regular mail client like Mail or Thunderbird. (There are folder-matching issues to deal with, though.)


OK, folks, need to sign off to take care of all those things I mentioned before--let's see, blog, Help File, e-mail, backup... oh, and lunch. Thanks for all the questions; if I missed yours, I 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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