Friday, November 30, 2012

What I Use: Acer C7 Chromebook

After weeks of waiting and checking online for availability, I was able to get my hands on an Acer C7 Chromebook from Best Buy. At $199, it is perfect for anyone looking to test Chrome OS without making a large investment, but remember that it cost $199 so expectations should not be high. No one should walk in expecting this to compete head-to-head with an Macbook Air for example. Heck, it shouldn't even be considered an alternative. 

I wrote a post about Chrome OS a few months ago and my general feeling at the time was that while it was a nice web-based OS, the cost was too high based upon the limitations of being a web-based OS. That changed a few months ago when Samsung released a Chromebook for $249. It was thin, light, and actually looked cool. It was also powered by a ARM-based Samsung Exynos 5 Dual Processor. Did I mention it was $249? It quickly sold out. If you got one, lucky you.

Enter Acer. The Acer C7 Chromebook is essentially a netbook especially if you look at it from a hardware's perspective.  Intel Celeron 847 CPU, 2GB of RAM (which can be expanded to 8GB), 320GB hard drive, dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, HD webcam, and 11.6" LED-backlit LCD display. It is about an inch thick and weighs about 3 lbs. If this ran Windows, it would probably suck, but it runs Chrome OS so it is not so bad. You also have Ethernet, a 2-in-1 media card reader, 3 USB 2.0 ports as well as HDMI and VGA connections.  Not bad, but not great especially when compared to USB 3.0, solid state storage and a 3-in-1 media reader that comes with the $249 Samsung model. 

Using the keyboard was better than expected, but I'm not a fan of the touchpad. Feels cheap and clicky.  It costs only $199. It gets only about 4 hours of battery life with the included 4-cell lithium-ion battery.  Wait, it costs only $199. It uses a traditional hard drive instead of an SSD. Again, it costs only $199. It only has 10/100 Ethernet. Oh yeah, it costs only $199. For $199, you also get deep Google Drive integration with 100GB of free storage for two years. In other words, you get what you pay for and what you pay for is not that bad.

As I mentioned earlier, the Acer C7 Chromebook is basically a netbook.  It's a netbook that just happens to run Chrome OS instead of Windows. Chrome OS is limited. It always has been limited. As long as you understand that before you buy it, then you should be ok. Believe it or not, the Acer C7 Chromebook is actually a great performing computer at an unbelievable price. It is perfect for anyone who is part of the Google ecosystem. It is what it is and for $199, I can accept that. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Three Simple Things Computer Users Should Know How To Do

When I turned sixteen, I could not wait to get behind the wheel and hit the road. However, before I could trade in my 10-speed bike for the 1971 Pontiac LeMans (I miss that car) that my dad had bought for me from my aunt,  he insisted that I know how to do several things first. How to change a flat tire, how to check the oil, and how to check and replace a battery. My dad said that those were the basic things that any driver should know how to do. You take care of your car and it takes care of you.

In today's age of technology, computers have become a necessity very much like a car. In some ways, having a computer is like owning and driving a car. While you don't need a license to do so (at times it can seem like there needs to be), there are certain things to know that can help you out when your computer breaks down. You don't have to be the most computer-savvy person to do the things I mention. All it takes is a little time and patience.

1. How to Install/Reinstall the operating system

Over time, Windows loses stability at some point. Eventually, you're going to have to bite the bullet and reinstall Windows from scratch. You don't have to be a mechanic to change a tire just like you don't have be an IT professional to install or reinstall your computer's operating system, whether it's Windows, OS X or some versions of Linux. In cases, it's as easy as inserting a CD/DVD and following the prompts on the screen. All it requires is the knowledge and willingness to try it.

2. How to Backup Your Data

Everyone has heard of the old adage about Murphy's Law, "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong". That is why backing up your data is important. It only takes a few minutes using the simple backup tools built into the operating system, such as Windows Backup and Time Machine for OS X users. I am a big advocate of the 3-2-1 backup rule: three copies of anything you want to keep, two copies on two different storage media and one copy on an offsite storage site. Taking the time to configure backup on your computer ensures that your important data will be safe no matter what happens to your hardware. You'll be glad you did if there ever comes a time when you need it.

3. How to Detect and Protect Against Malware Threats

It goes without saying that you need to have some type of antivirus and/or malware protection installed on your computer. Install a good antivirus software on your computer AND keep it updated. I generally recommend Microsoft Security Essentials because it integrates well with Windows and updates automatically with Windows Update. Perfect for the non-technical computer user. If you are overly paranoid, consider purchasing and installing Malwarebytes Pro to provide an extra layer of protection. For Mac users, take a look at Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition if the Flashback exploit opened your eyes to the fact that OS X is susceptible to malware too. If your computer get's infected with some other form of malware, the removal process can be easy or it can be extremely complicated depending on the infection. The goal should be to use your computer smarts to avoid getting infected in the first place.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tech Tip: Shortcut to Updating Google Nexus 7 to Android 4.2

If you are a Google Nexus 7 owner like me, you were excited to find out that Android 4.2 is now officially available as an OTA (Over The Air) update direct from Google. Although OTA updates are very convenient, the downside is that they don't immediately show up when you check for Software Updates on your device. The last update, 4.1.2, did not show up on my device until two days later. if you didn't know, geeks can be a bit impatient.

With the help of The Verge, I found a quicker, less risky way to manually update my Nexus 7.

Go into your Apps and select Settings.

Turn off Wi-Fi. 

Still in Settings, go under the Device heading, select Apps and then under the All column, select Google Services Framework.

Tap Clear data and then tap Force Stop. (Note: You may have to tap Clear cache too if that is an option on your screen).

When you go back out to the main Settings page, turn on Wi-Fi.

Scroll down to the System heading and select About tablet.

Select System Updates.

You should now been given the option to download the update.
Once it finishes, your device should be updated to Android version 4.2 (build number JOP40C).

Yes, there are other, more "geeky" ways to manually update your Nexus 7, but I like easy.

The new features in Android 4.2 are detailed here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Using the Microsoft Surface

I've had the opportunity to use one of my co-worker's Microsoft Surface for the past couple of days. I can honestly say that the experience has been pretty positive. Yes, I did get a chance to play around with the Surface at the Microsoft Store when it was released a few weeks ago, but it is not the same as actually using it without someone pressuring you to buy it. I wanted to use the Surface in daily situations as I would use my iPad or Google Nexus 7.

The first thing that I noticed when I got my hands on the Surface was that it was really not as heavy as many tech journalist have said it was compared to the iPad. If you take the Surface and iPad in each hand without their respected covers, you'll find that they both feel the same when it comes to weight.  The Surface feels very solid and well constructed. I don't see it getting damaged easily if dropped. I had no problem lying in bed reading from the Kindle app or playing Angry Birds Star Wars.

The Touch Keyboard cover is amazing. I am typing up this blog post on the Surface using the Touch Keyboard cover. It does take quick moment to get used to but once you do you'll wonder why Apple never came up with anything like this for the iPad. The keyboard is great for everyday use for most people,  While I do like the keyboard cover, I would prefer something like Microsoft's Wedge Touch Mouse and Wedge Mobile Keyboard if I am going to do any heavy typing (wish there was a non-keyboard cover available).

Using Windows RT was like using Windows 8 relatively speaking. While there are differences between the two, the average person will not notice. Noticeable differences come into play when you try to install software or some type of plug-in. For example, if you wanted to watch the latest Iron Man 3 trailer on Apple's website forget about it. QuickTime needs to be installed, which you cannot do in Windows RT. I cannot use my Dell 1720dn Laser Printer at home because I cannot install the drivers (fortunately Windows RT detected my HP OfficeJet 7000 with the built-in drivers).

Overall, I like the Microsoft Surface. Is it perfect? No, but for those who need a decent consumption device or a device to compliment their desktop or laptop, the Surface is a good choice (I still think it cost more than it should for what it does). Unfortunately, as I write this, the only other Windows RT device on the market to compare against the Surface is the Asus VivoTab RT (much thinner and lighter). Dell, Lenovo and Samsung haven't released their Windows RT devices yet.

Windows 8 on Dell Latitude ST

Dell Latitude ST
I am a firm believer of promoting technology reuse. Old technology can still have value. However, just like cars, computers depreciate in value. Old computers that may not have any financial value might have functional value. For that reason, I'm always checking out what is available in the Dell Outlet.

With the release of Windows 8, I was curious as to how well it would work on a Dell Latitude ST tablet since they were available in clearance in the Dell Outlet. Reading comments online about the performance of the Latitude ST running with Windows 7 were not too good. In addition, several of my colleagues had purchased the tablet and did not have anything favorable to say about it either. I definitely wanted to try Windows 8 on it before spending any money on it.

I was able to borrow a Latitude ST from a colleague to play around with for a few days. 120GB SSD, 1.50GHz Intel Atom CPU Z670, and 2GB of RAM. It has a capacitive multi-touch screen with digital pen input that supports 4 Touch Point. Compare that to the 1.66GHz Intel Atom CPU N570 in my Dell Inspiron Duo with no pen support and only 2 Touch Points, one would assume that the Latitude ST table would work great with Windows 8 installed. Well, you know what they say when make assumptions.

While I have seen older computers perform better after Windows 8 is installed, the same can't be said about the Latitude ST. Windows 8 will install on it but you will need to get the current, Windows 8 specific drivers from Motion Computing because Dell does not have them on their website. It is also recommended to update the BIOS if needed, which you can get from Dell's website (current version is A05).

Windows Experience Index error
The touch responsiveness of the Latitude ST with Windows 8 installed is terrible. It's slow, sluggish and many of the gestures do not work. I had to swipe or touch the screen multiple times to get it to register and respond. Alternatively, the pen worked great with it. Also tried to run the Windows Experience Index and it crashed the tablet each time requiring a reboot. Did I mention how heavy the device is compared to other tablets?

Overall, the Dell Latitude ST is made for those who have need for a stylus. Is it usable? It depends. If you have need for a stylus it could be doable, but I would not recommend it if you are looking for a device to get a decent Windows 8 touch experience. I won't be picking one up no matter how cheap they get.

UPDATE 11/20/2012: Not being one to give up easily, I played around with the touch calibration settings to see if that would resolve the touch interface issues (Control Panel\Tablet PC Settings). There was a small improvement, but not enough to change my mind about it.