Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What I Use: iPad Mini (Retina Display)

This past Black Friday, I decided to trade in my first generation iPad Mini for the new iPad Mini with Retina Display at the Macon PeachMac store. If you don't know, PeachMac is the largest Apple reseller in the South with multiple locations in Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Virginia. You can trade-in your current iPad (or Mac, iPhone or iPod) for store credit to upgrade to a newer device. Plus,  the overall experience that I have going into a PeachMac store is much better than when I go into an actual Apple Store. Just saying.


So is there anything special with the new iPad Mini with Retina Display? The screen size is 7.9 inch Retina display (2,048 x 1,536 resolution). In addition, the processor was upgraded to an A7 chip with 64-bit architecture and a M7 motion coprocessor was added to take the motion-related tasks that would normally fall to the A7 chip. This helps save on power usage thus improving battery life. Wi-Fi performance was improved by adding two antennas for MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output). Other than that, it's your typical iPad Mini. 

One thing that I noticed was that the new iPad Mini with Retina Display (as well as the iPad Air) does not have the Touch ID fingerprint reader like the iPhone 5S. I was a bit surprised about this omission but figured Apple needed to hold something back to get people to buy next year's new iPads. 

As with the previous generation, I also hate the speaker placement on the new iPad Mini. Depending on how you are holding it, the sound can appear to come from one side (or be muffled by your hand). Both the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire get the speaker placement right so I can't understand why Apple hasn't figured it out yet.

At the end of the day, the new iPad Mini with Retina Display is still an iPad Mini - just with better hardware. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

PlayStation 4: Two Weeks Later

So I have had a couple of weeks to really use the PS4 and get a feel of how it works. I can honestly say that during my time with it, I still think it is a great gaming console. The new UI is much more intuitive because of its simpler and cleaner look. Furthermore, the ability to multitask makes a huge difference when you compare the PS4 to the last generation of consoles. I also love the fact that system/game/app updates download in the background. No more waiting for updates to download and install before doing anything on the console.  

I even purchased the PlayStation Camera that provides visual and voice recognition. While not as robust as the Kinect, I found that the voice controls are actually pretty good. I didn't have to yell or repeat a command. The PS4 does not ship with the camera and outside of the Playroom there's not much use for the camera unless you really, really want the voice controls. Hopefully, Sony will expand on this down the road.

In a nutshell, I love the simplicity of the PS4. Is the PS4 perfect? No. The launch titles were decent but none are really must have, must play games. There are apps for media services that are currently available on the PS3, such as Neon Alley, Cinema Now, and You Tube, that aren't available for the PS4 yet. I still would recommend the PS4 for anyone looking for a gaming console that can also occasionally access popular media services such as Netflix and Hulu.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

PlayStation 4: First Impressions Out of the Box

Picked up my pre-ordered PlayStation 4 from GameStop Friday morning and I have to say that it has made a good first impression on me. And this comes from someone who has been a happy and satisfied Xbox gamer for the past few years. 

Not going to bore you with a long, detailed review of the console because there are plenty of them out there, but I will say that the Sony has made some much needed improvements to the successor of the PS3 that make this the console to pick up for those who are more into gaming than the entertainment features that seems to be the focus of the Xbox One, which I consider more of an 'entertainment' console than a gaming console.

PS4 new user interface
The PlayStation 4 itself is an attractive device. It has a sleek, futuristic design unlike consoles of the past. Connections on the console are simple. You have two USB on the front and on the back you have ports for power, optical audio, Ethernet, HDMI and an dedicated port that's used for the PlayStation Camera.

Available ports

The DualShock 4 is one of the most comfortable controllers I've ever used. Along with the typical gaming-related buttons, the controller has a 3.5mm headset jack, a clickable touch pad, a light bar that changes color, and a speaker. After using it for awhile, it makes the old PS3 controller feel weird to hold.

Outside of just generally gaming (currently playing Call of Duty: Ghosts and Killzone; Shadow Fall), I am looking forward to seeing how Live Streaming and Remote Play with the PS Vita works. Sony also released a PlayStation app for iOS and Android devices to expand the gaming social experience. For those who also want to watch a movie or TV show from their console, the PS4 has several apps that allow access to popular media services such as Hulu, Netflix, Vudu, Redbox, and Amazon, with more to come (hopefully Neon Alley and CinemaNow which are available on the PS3).

So far I have been very happy with my decision to purchase the PlayStation 4 over the Xbox One. While the available games at launch is not the best, there are plenty of games coming out over the next few months and in 2014 that I am looking forward to playing. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What I Use: proXPN

Being the gadget-lovin' geek that I am, I have a TON of different devices that I use to keep me connected everyday. Always being connected also means that I need to make sure that I have a secure connection whenever possible. A few months ago, I discovered a service called proXPN that makes it easy to use VPN technology to privately and securely connect to the Internet.

Before I talk about proXPN, let me briefly explain what a VPN is and why you would want to use one if you regularly connect to public WiFi networks. A VPN or virtual private network is basically a secure method for a computer to connect to another network. It enables a computer to send and receive data securely across a public network as if it were directly connected to a private network. The benefit of using a VPN is that the data that you are sending is encrypted and if anyone intercepts it, the encrypted data can't be read.

VPNs have traditionally been used as a method for employees who were either telecommuting or working remotely to create a secure connection to their corporate (private) network. Once connected, users could securely access the resources on that network as if they were in the office using a computer that was directly plugged into the network.

So now the question that you are probably asking is why would I need a VPN just to surf the Internet? Whether you are using public WiFi at Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Barnes & Noble, the airport, a hotel, a conference or any other location, you want to secure your Internet connection against eavesdropping. Why? Because some public WiFi spots can attract cybercriminals who are out to steal sensitive information from unsuspecting web surfers. These cybercriminals are just as likely to hang out at your favorite Starbucks as you are sipping on a grande Cinnamon Dolce Latte while looking for their next victim.

Because WiFi access is more readily available nowadays and our devices to access the Internet have become more portable, people are a bit more comfortable performing tasks (online shopping, online banking, and even accessing sensitive work-related documents) while connected to a free, public WiFi network than ever before. This is the perfect scenario for cybercriminals to gain access to a person's private and sensitive data using tools that can easily be found on the Internet to intercept a user's passwords or banking information.

So now that I have your attention, let me talk about proXPN.  proXPN is a VPN service that creates a secure, encrypted tunnel that allows all of your online data to pass through. This allows you to keep everything that you do hidden while online no matter where you are located. This prevents cybercriminals from intercepting your personal data or other online activity. It even prevents someone from discovering your current location while online.

After using proXPN for the past few months, I can say that it is the easiest "consumer-grade" VPN that I have used especially when it comes to setup. You simply download and install the application, create your account, and log in. That's it. There is no complicated software configuration required nor do you have to make any changes to the settings on your device. Just choose your location and click connect. It doesn't get any easier.

proXPN offers two types of accounts: Basic (free) and Premium ($6.25/mo or $74.95/yr). The Basic accounts offer the same level of security (2048-bit encryption key and 512-bit encryption tunnel) as the Premium account except the Basic account throttles your speed to 300 kilobits per second, limits your connectivity to the OpenVPN protocol and you are restricted to only one location in the United States. The Premium account not only gives subscribers a choice of OpenVPN and PPTP protocols, there are no network speed limitations and you are able to choose the location you want to connect to from a pool of servers (Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, London, Sinapore, and Amsterdam). Another advantage of having a Premium account is VPN Guard. This feature allows you to indicate which programs on your computer should immediately shut down if you lose your connection to a proXPN server. The Premium account also allows you to use their service on your Android or iOS devices.

Bottom line, both the free and paid versions of proXPN do the job they are designed to, which is encrypting all traffic from user's devices and keeping them secure online. Yes, there are a number of free VPN services out there, but I personally prefer to use a paid service that guarantees their connection’s integrity.  If you are a frequent user of free, public WiFi, proXPN can give you a peace of mind that their private information will stay private while online.

NOTE: While I am not promoting the Security Now podcast, proXPN is a sponsor of the show and if you use their link and the coupon code SN20, you will receive a 20% discount on your Premium account subscription ($59.95/yr). Anything to save a few dollars :-)

Friday, November 1, 2013

What I Use: Dell Venue 8 Pro

It's been while since I have purchased a Dell product for personal use. If you have been following in my older posts, you will see that I currently have an affinity for Acer products at the moment. To be honest, Dell just hasn't had anything that was compelling in recent years plus I have started to question the build quality of some of their consumer products. I decided to give Dell another try with the release of the Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet.

Prior to getting the Dell Venue 8 Pro, I decided to pick up a Acer Iconia W3 tablet from Staples to see if running Windows 8/8.1 on a smaller screen was worthwhile. Needless to say, after a week of using the W3, I returned it to Staples (should have paid attention to the signs when I had to return the initial one I purchased because it would not power on). That being said, I did not return the Acer Iconia W3 because it was a bad device, but it's not a great device. It was a bit bulky compared to other smaller devices such as the Nexus 7 and iPad Mini. The screen was terrible. If anything, I would consider it more of a proof-of-concept device to show that Windows 8/8.1 can be functional on a smaller screen. The Dell Venue 8 Pro bring the 8-inch tablet concept to reality.

Here are the basic specs:

  • Intel Atom processor Z3740D with 32GB storage (2MB Cache, up to 1.8GHz Quad-Core)
  • 2GB Single Channel DDR3L-RS 1600MHz
  • 8.0 inch IPS Display with HD (WXGA 1280 x 800) resolution with 10-point capacitive touch
  • Dell Wireless 1538 Dual-Band 2x2 802.11n WiFi + Bluetooth 4.0
  • Integrated 1.2MP HD Webcam (front) and 5MP (rear)
  • Micro USB 2.0 (for trickle charging and data transfer) 
  • Headphone and microphone combo jack
  • Micro SDXC slot that supports up to a 64GB card
  • Up to 10 hours of battery life

Priced at $299 with 32GB of storage (a 64GB version is also available) the Dell Venue 8 Pro is 0.35” (9mm) thick, 5.12” (130mm) wide, 8.50” (216mm) long and weighs 0.87lbs. The tablet ships with the 32-bit version of Windows 8.1 (not Windows RT) and also comes bundled with a complimentary copy of Office Home & Student 2013. Best of all, it does not ship with a bunch of crapware like other computers. Just a few Dell applications that can easily be uninstalled.

Nexus 7 (top), iPad Mini and Dell Venue 8 Pro

Another nice feature of the Dell Venue 8 Pro is it's wireless display technology, which allows you to stream videos, photos or presentations from your tablet to your TV through Miracast wireless technology. It requires a compatible media adapter and an HDMI-enabled display in order to take advantage of this feature. Surprised that more tablets aren't taking advantage of wireless display technology.

An optional accessory is the Dell Active Stylus, which can allow you to take notes, edit and retouch photos and make it easier click those buttons that your fingers are too fat to do so. There is also an available wireless keyboard and tablet folio.

If you are looking for an alternative to iOS or Android in a tablet, you can't go wrong with the Dell Venue 8 Pro. Powered by a quad-core Intel Atom processor, it runs the full version of Windows 8.1 so you can use your legacy programs if needed. This is the 8-inch Windows tablet to own.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Skylanders Swap Force

Another year, another new Skylanders game that I find myself spending a lot of money on and end up driving from store to store to collect all the new figures for the game. If you have been following my posts over the past three years, then you know how much I love playing Skylanders:

I'm Hooked on Skylanders
Skylanders Giants...The Saga Continues

As another holiday season approaches, Activision released this year's new Skylanders game titled Swap Force. The gimmick this year is that you have several Skylanders that allow you to mix and match their tops and bottoms for new powers. Once all 16 Swap Force figures have been released,  players will have more than 250 character combinations to choose from during the game. Other than that, it is still your same basic Skylanders game (oh yeah, your characters can FINALLY jump this year).

My daughter and I only collect brand new Skylanders figures. It's pointless in my opinion to buy repaints or reposes of characters (not to mention Legendary and exclusive figures) that have already been released UNLESS you are a dedicated Skylanders collector. Not to mention that it can get pretty expensive:
  • Core, Series 2 & 3 figures - $9.99
  • LightCore figures - $12.99
  • Swap Force figures - $15.99
As with the previous Skylanders games, you can play through the whole game with the three figures that come with the $74.99 Starter Pack (it includes Swap Force Blast Zone, Swap Force Wash Buckler, and Series 3 Ninja Stealth Elf). Unfortunately, you will not be able to access some of the secret items due to locked elemental gates, including dual-element locked gates for Swap Force characters. One the plus side, the older Skylanders characters can be used in Swap Force and there are even a few treasure chests in the game that require a Skylanders Giant figure to open (if you have one).

Before Swap...

...after Swap

As far as gameplay, Skylanders Swap Force is a straightforward, kid-oriented platformer (did I mention that you can JUMP now). Think of it as a bright and colorful kids version of Diablo. I can finish the game on a Saturday afternoon, but I can see how it can take younger gamers longer to finish. Furthermore, after you've completed story-mode (about 17 levels), there are still timed challenges, score challenges, and bonus levels to extend the gameplay.

Magnets hold them together
For a much as I love Skylanders, the multiple trips to Walmart, Target, Toys 'R Us and GameStop to find all the figures that we don't have in our collection is starting to get old. Don't get me wrong, I really, really enjoy the Skylanders games. They are a much needed break from my normal FPS (First Person Shooter) or more action-oriented games that I normally play. In addition, it's one of the few games that my daughter and I both enjoy playing together (still can't get my wife into it yet). My problem is that there are many annoyances that Activision could easily avoid but haven't.

First of all,  I really wish Activision would consider selling a non-Starter Pack copy of the games. I now have three Portals of Powers now (technically four if you count the Nintendo 3DS version). Note that there were Portal Owner Packs with Skylanders Giants, which contained a Giant figure (Tree Rex) and the game, but I have not seen evidence of the same with Swap Force. After three games, you would think that this would be a no-brainer for Activision. No one needs multiple portals. I understand that Activision wants to make money, but c'mon man.

Secondly, one of the first things that my daughter and I discovered was that because not all 16 Swap Force figures aren't available yet, some elemental gates can't be open; therefore players cannot complete the game at 100 percent when it's released. That's messed up because as other Skylanders addicts know, Activision releases different figures over a period of time. So it might be January or February before you get that one Swap Force figure you need to unlock a specific elemental gate. More thought should be taken in to consideration as to which characters will be released and when.

Overall, if you enjoyed the previous Skylanders games, you'll enjoy Swap Force. It's a fun, albeit expensive, game that most gamers, no matter their age, will enjoy.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What I Use: Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse T630

The Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse was, in my opinion, the best portable travel mouse on the market. That was a year ago. Logitech recently released their Ultrathin Touch Mouse T630 and it quickly replaced the Wedge Touch Mouse in my bag.

The LogitechUltrathin Touch Mouse T630 is a compact aluminum mouse designed specifically to compliment Ultrabooks. It measures 3.25 inches in length, 2.25 inches in width and 0.5 inches in depth (but tapers towards the front end). The T630 connects using Bluetooth wireless technology. In addition, it utilizes Logitech's Easy-Switch technology that allows you to toggle between two different Bluetooth enabled devices at the flip of a switch. Laptop and tablet. Tablet and phone. Laptop and phone. 

The T630 has a built in rechargeable battery that Logitech states will function for an hour after only a minute of charging time. It charges via a standard micro USB cable, which is included in the packaging.

Along with the T630 version, there is also an Ultrathin Touch Mouse T631 available as well. However, unlike the T630, it's a white version of the mouse designed to match Apple laptops like the MacBook Air.

The Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse T630 is a slim, lightweight and stylish mouse that can easily be carried without any noticeable bulk. While $70 is a bit steep for a travel mouse these days, if you do a lot of traveling then the price will be well worth it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Podcasts That I Listen To On My Daily Commute

Driving to work in Atlanta traffic is pain especially when you have a daily commute as long as mine. In order to maintain sanity, I listen to a variety of tech podcast each day as I drive to and from work. Being a geek, it's helpful hearing opinions from other technology experts (or so-called experts) about tech-related news, helpful tips and product reviews. Here is what I listen too each week:

I am always open to listening to new podcasts. Feel free to recommend any podcasts worth giving a try.

NOTE: I use BeyondPod on my Samsung Galaxy S4 and iTunes, which syncs to my iPod Nano to listen to podcasts not only in my car but when I am working out as well.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What I Use: Google Chromecast

Something so simple yet so genius. That is what Google has delivered with the Chromecast. The Chromecast avoids all of the headaches associated with trying to get online content on your television and just streams existing services. It is also the perfect companion device to the Nexus 7 and Chromebook.

Inside the box is the Chromecast device, a relatively long microUSB cable, USB power supply, and HDMI extender that makes it easier to plug the dongle into some televisions. The Chromecast itself is a small, two-inch dongle that can be plugged into the HDMI port on any high-definition television (HDTV) and is capable of streaming content from YouTube, Google Play Movies, Google Play Music or Netflix directly to the television. Yes, it's that simple. You can also mirror websites, images, and video displayed in Google Chrome onto the screen with a simple browser extension. It can also wirelessly stream that content from your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet. What's even cooler is that you can move your Chromecast from TV to TV without any additional setup, provided your Chromecast is connected to the same Wi-Fi network (which unfortunately, only supports 2.4 GHz 802.11b/g/n).

When Google first announced Chromecast, it offered three months of Netflix for free, but the promotion has been pulled because so many folks rushed out to buy the thing. I was fortunate enough to still get the Netflix promotion. As interest increases, I expect apps from other services such as Hulu to be available soon.

Now looking at it from the other end of the spectrum, the simplicity of the Chromecast is also what hurts it with some consumers. Unlike the Roku and Apple TV, it is not a standalone device. It is pretty much a dongle that connects to your TV that allows you to stream content from your compatible device. The Chromecast is pretty much useless otherwise. So when you compare the $35 Chromecast with the $49 Roku LT, which can stream content from HUNDREDS of channels, one has to wonder why anyone would pick the Chromecast. 

Nevertheless, Google delivered on its promise of simplicity and function with the Chromecast. While it isn't the most feature-pack device when compared to a Roku or Apple TV, it is however one of the most user-friendly and cheapest media devices on the market today that will get better over time. As it stands, the product is well worth its price.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Tech Tip: Windows 8/8.1 on my Acer Laptop with UEFI

Acer has been my computer of choice for personal purchases recently (sorry Dell). Regardless of the type of computer I buy, I always, ALWAYS reinstall Windows on it. I do this to remove all the preinstalled crap(ware) that comes with most new computers. I like a fresh, clean install on my computers (along with solid state drives). Recently, I purchased a new Acer Aspire S3 391 and discovered something interesting during a clean installation of Windows 8.1.

For Windows 7 and Windows 8 installs, I generally try to use the free Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool to create a bootable USB drive. Quick and easy. However, I soon discovered that the only way for the Acer ultrabook to recognize a bootable USB drive to install Windows was to set the BIOS to Legacy Mode instead of UEFI. Basically, UEFI is short for Unified Extensible Firmware Interface and is the standard firmware interface for newer computers and was designed to be the successor to the BIOS. The main advantages of UEFI are the support of GPT (GUID partition table) drives, which allow you to use drives larger than 2TB, Secure Boot, and a faster boot-up process. 

Making the change was simple enough and then installation runs as normal. Unfortunately, there is a 'gotcha' if you make that changes. If you reinstall Windows 8/8.1 with the BIOS set to Legacy Mode, when you change back to UEFI boot mode, it says "no bootable devices found". If you change the setting back to Legacy Mode, it works as normal. 

While UEFI is not required, if you are a geek like me then you probably want to make use of all the capabilities in the newer hardware. After a little research, I discovered that the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool always formats an existing partition with NTFS. Unfortunately, FAT32 is required for booting up in UEFI mode. If you want to use UEFI, the easiest process is to install Windows the old fashion way using a installation DVD (this is alternative to trying to convert the drive into a GPT drive). After installing Windows 8.1 from DVD (which you can use the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool to create the DVD), I was able to enable UEFI on my Acer laptop and boot into Windows.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: If for some reason you accidentally format the 20GB SSD used for hibernation (ooops), Acer has a very helpful video on how to set it up again. Link to video.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Android Device Manager

Google recently introduced a service which works similarly to Apple's Find My Phone feature called the Android Device Manager. The Android Device Manager will show you where your device is located on a map, allow you to cause your device to ring for five minutes at the highest volume, and even allow you to erase your Android device to protect your personal data.

To begin using Android Device Manager, go to https://www.google.com/android/devicemanager and log in with your Google account. Note that you may get a prompt asking you for permission to allow Android Device Manager to use location data. Click on the "Accept" button to continue. It's that simple. However, if you want to be able to remotely wipe your device from Android Device Manager, you will need to activate that function on your device.

On the Google Nexus 7, you will need to go into the Google Settings app on your device and then click Android Device Manager. Once you check off the check box for Allow remote factory reset, you will be able  to wipe your device preventing anyone from getting to your data.

On the Samsung Galaxy S4, then you need to go into Settings and choose Security. Then select Device Administrators. When you touch the box to check off Android Device Manager, you will be taken to another screen that you will need to activate the service. Once that has been done, you will now be able to remotely wipe your device. 

Needless to say, Android Device Manager is a simple way to track and remotely erase your Android devices if it is lost or stolen. I can see this service adding new features and getting better with time.

Monday, August 12, 2013

What I Use: Leap Motion

The Leap Motion is a fairly inexpensive device that precisely tracks the positions of your fingers in front of your computer. The aim is to allow you to ditch the mouse and keyboard and instead use your hands and fingers to control all the action on your computer. Think of how cool it would be to manipulate your computer like Tom Cruise did in Minority Report or pretend that you are low-budget Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies. It sounds cool, but after a week of using the Leap Motion, I can say that it is a work in progress. 

The Leap Motion controller connects to your computer via one of the two different length USB 3.0 cables that come in the box (kudos for including two different size cables with the device). After connecting it to your computer, it will perform a firmware update on the device. Once it has been updated. you will need to download apps designed specifically to work with it from the device's Airspace app store. The few apps that exist for it work well, but the overall selection is just too small at this time. While most of the apps are for both Windows and OS X, there are several that are exclusive to either Windows or OS X. 

Airspace app store
Unfortunately, based upon my usage, the Leap Motion is not precise enough to allow for easy navigation of the Windows 8 desktop or metro/modern UI environments. Hand control is clumsy and cumbersome.  The imprecise nature of the device, not to mention arm fatigue, makes daily usability of the Leap Motion frustrating. While I thought that this would be a perfect match  for the Windows 8 metro/modern UI, I quickly discovered how difficult it was to use finger movements to manipulate windows and other items on the screen that were never designed for that kind of interface. However, I do have to admit that it is cool to wave my hand over the Leap Motion controller to wake my display and to unlock my computer.

To be honesty, this is a device that is better suited as a toy, albeit an expensive toy, marketed for kids than a game-changing interface device at this point (my daughter loves Boom Ball, Cut the Rope and Dropcord). The potential is there, but the 1.0 version is not quite ready for those expecting to emulate what they saw in Minority Report. While the concept behind it might seem cool, the Leap Motion just isn't as revolutionary as it could be...yet. Hopefully future updates will eventually improve the experience and usability of the device.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Five Things To Do With Your "old" Nexus 7

Those who know me know that I am a gadget hound. I love getting my hands on the latest and greatest gadgets that I can afford. So when the new Nexus 7 was released, I immediately got one. Now I have two Nexus 7 devices. If you are like me, you now have to figure out what to do with the old one. Here are a five things that I have considered:

1. Donate it. While this might not be the most popular option to choose, it's better than just throwing it into a desk d rawer to gather dust. Think of the donation it as a way of providing a piece of technology to deserving individual who otherwise could not afford to buy it themselves. Look at it as promoting the use of technology. Plus. if your family is like mine, they have no problem taking my tech hand-me-downs :-)

2. Sell it. If you're not to hot of the idea of just giving away your year-old device, consider finding someone willing to buy it from you. You might have some takers if it is priced right.

3. Install Ubuntu Touch Developer Preview. Ubuntu Touch is a touchscreen mobile interface designed for tablets being developed by Canonical, the ones responsible for the Ubuntu Linux distribution. Ubuntu Touch utilizes the same core technologies as the Ubuntu Desktop, so applications will run on either platform. As with any developer preview application (translation: beta software) use at your own risk.

How to install Ubuntu Touch on the Google Nexus 7

4. Trade it in at GameStop for in-store credit. You can get anywhere from $47.00 up to about $94.00 in-store credit for your old Nexus 7 at GameStop. Of course how much you get depends on the condition of the particular model you are trading in. The in-store credit that you receive can be used for buying that new game you've wanted to play or applying it to your Xbox One or PS4 pre-order. Alternatively, if you opt for cash, you can still get between $37.00 and $75.00 (again, depending on the condition and model).

5. Gazelle it.  Gazelle.com is an online reCommerce service. Basically, it's a site that will allow you to get cash for electronic devices that you may have lying around. I have used them in the past and have been very satisfied with their service. I haven't used them recently because they have limited the types of items that they will take (translation: they focus mainly on Apple products) but fortunately the Nexus 7 is an item they will take off your hands. Expect between $43.00 and $61.00 for one of the wi-fi only versions. The 3G models will fetch between $86.00 and $90.00. As with the GameStop trade-in program, how much you get depends on the model and condition you are selling. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

What I Use: Nexus 7 (2013)

I have had my current Nexus 7 for almost a year now and it has been my go-to tablet that I carry with me all the time. Works great. So when Google announced the new Nexus 7 tablet shipping with Android 4.3, I debated whether or to get one to replace my current model. The only limiting factor to my current version was that it was the 8GB model. After much debating, I went ahead and picked up the 32GB model from Best Buy and I can say that it was a good decision. 

Original (left) and new Nexus 7
First, let me thank Google, ASUS or whomever for making it much, much easier to take it out of the box. Those who bought the original Nexus 7 know what I am talking about. Once out of the box, I found it even more comfortable to hold in one hand and its performance much better than the original. I immediately noticed the snappiness of opening and using my everyday apps such as Evernote, Pocket, SkyDrive, Amazon Cloud Player, TweetCaster Pro and Chrome. This performance boost is provided by a 1.5GHz Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, an Adreno 320 400MHz GPU, and 2GB of RAM. 

New Nexus 7 (top), Nexus 7 and iPad Mini

The display on the new Nexus 7 is 1920x1200 HD display (323 ppi) capable of 1080p HD playback and it is made of scratch resistant Corning glass. The picture was gorgeous from watching both Enter the Dragon from the Google Play store and streaming anime from the Crunchyroll app. Along with the highest-resolution seven-inch tablet on the market, other noteworthy hardware features of the new Nexus 7 include:
  • 1.2MP front facing and 5MP rear facing cameras
  • Stereo speakers capable of Fraunhofer powered surround sound
  • Battery life of up to 9 hours with active use
  • Wireless charging
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4G/5G) 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • NFC (Android Beam)
  • Bluetooth 4.0
Bottom line, I found the Nexus 7 to be the best 7-inch tablet on the market today. You get the most bang for your buck. It has a great processor, beautiful display, and it's smaller and lighter than the previous model. What's not to like? You're getting a lot more for $100 less than the iPad mini, at least until Apple decides to release a new model. The only thing I have now is to decide on what do with my old Nexus 7. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Building a Computer for A+ Study Part VI: The Optical Drive

Part six in a series on the basics of building a computer to prepare for the A+ certification exams.

The Optical Drive

An optical drive, also known as an optical disk drive (ODD), reads and writes data from optical disks using laser beaming technology. Optical drives work by rotating the inserted disk at a constant speed, which is calculated in revolutions per minute (RPM). The rotating disk in an optical drive utilizes the lasers to read data from, or write data to, CD (Compact Disc), DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) or BD (Blu-ray Disc). While optical drives can spin discs at very high speeds, they are still significantly slower than hard drives. The back end of the optical drive contains a port for a cable that connects to the motherboard. An internal optical drive can interface with the motherboard using an PATA (IDE) or SATA connection.

Optical Drive Media

While media for an optical drive consist of 120 mm (12 cm) diameter discs, they can come in different formats so it is important to know which formats the optical drive you purchase will support. Popular optical drive formats include CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-ROM, DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD-R DL, DVD+R DL, BD-R, and BD-RE.

The writing of data to a disc is called burning. Read only media (ROM), such as in CD-ROMs or DVD-ROMs, do not allow anything to be written to to the media, only reads it. Media that you are able to write to has either a -R, -RW, +R, +RW, or -RE after the type of disc ('R' means that the disc is Recordable, 'RW' means that the disc is Rewritable and 'RE', which is only used with Blu-ray discs, means that it is Recordable Erasable).

A standard CD can hold between 650MB and 700MB of data on it. While data is written to only one side of a CD, data can be written to either one or both sides of DVD and BD discs. DVDs and BDs can be any combination of single and double sides and layers, which determines the amount of data that can be stored on a single disc. 

  • Single-sided, single-layer DVD can hold 4.7GB of data
  • Single-sided, dual-layer DVD can hold 8.5GB of data
  • Double-sided, single-layer DVD can hold 9.4GB of data
  • Double-sided, dual-layer DVD can hold 15.9GB of data
  • Double-sided, single-layer BD can hold 25GB of data
  • Double-sided, dual-layer BD can hold 50GB of data

It is also worth noting that recordable discs also come in different speed ratings. The speed ratings of blank discs should match the speed ratings of the optical drives because you'll get the best results by using discs that are rated at or above the speed of your drive. For example, if you have a 8x drive, you should use 8x or faster discs. Matching the speed rating of the disc to the speed rating you burn at will give the best results.

What I Picked

I chose the Lite-On iHAS124-04 DVD burner. It enables users to burn any DVD+R/-R, DVD+RW/-RW disc and supports the dual-layer function allowing up to 8.5GB data to be burned and saved on a single dual-layer disc. The speeds for reading and writing to the different are as follows: 24X DVD+R, 8X DVD+RW,  12X DVD+R DL,  24X DVD-R, 6X DVD-RW, 16X DVD-ROM, 48X CD-R, 32X CD-RW, 48X CD-ROM.

The decision to include an optical drive as you are building your computer is based on your own personal needs. Because a large majority of software is downloadable or can be saved onto USB flash drives, optical drives are becoming obsolete. However, since optical drives are relatively cheap these days it does not hurt to install one especially if you will have a bunch of installation discs to use.

Friday, July 5, 2013

What I Use: Acer Aspire S3-391

A few months ago, I wrote an article about the good, the bad and the ugly of buying a laptop from Walmart. The good is that Walmart regularly has various laptops on clearance. Deep clearance if new models are going to be shipping soon. During one of recent trips to "Wally World", I noticed some laptops being placed on clearance. One of which was the Acer Aspire S3 ultrabook. This particular model comes with a second generation Intel Core i3-2367M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive and 20GB SSD for speed. An inexpensive, lightweight ultrabook marked down to $266. Hard to resist.

The other specs were pretty decent too:
  • 802.11b/g/n Wireless
  • 13.3" HD widescreen CineCrystal LED-backlit display with a 1,366-by-768 resolution (720p) 
  • Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 128MB of dedicated system memory
  • 1.3 megapixel webcam
  • 2-in-1 memory card reader
  • Bluetooth 4.0 HS
  • 2  USB 3.0 ports
  • Combo headphone/microphone-in jack 
  • Full-sized HDMI port
  • 3-cell lithium-polymer battery for up to 5.5 hours battery life

When you first take the Aspire S3 out of the box, you immediately notice that the lid is a brushed aluminum, but unfortunately when you open the lid it becomes obvious that the rest is made of a silver-colored plastic.  It's definitely not a all-metal unibody design like a MacBook Air.

The keys were large and well spaced. The only exception are the arrow keys, which are smaller than those on other laptops. I am not a fan of the trackpad. It feels very cheap and "clicks". I eventually paired it with a Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse to make things a bit more usable on my desk. 

Upgrade options for the Aspire S3 are pretty much limited to the hard drive. It has a 20GB SSD that is only used as a hibernation partition for saving memory to disk to enable quick resumes, while booting and loading applications occurs on the mechanical 320GB, 5,400rpm hard drive. Needless to say, that configuration wasn't too impressive.  If you know my love for solid-state drives, I immediately replaced the installed Seagate Momentus Thin 320GB hard drive with a 128GB Samsung 840 Pro Series SSD. Because this is an ultrabook, only 7mm thick 2.5-inch drives would fit, making a Samsung SSD the obvious choice. Plus with sequential Read/Write speeds of 530 MB/s and 390 MB/s, this would provide a noticeable performance boost.

Out with the old...
...in with the new

One could say that I have become an "Acer fanboy" these days based upon the number of Acer computers that I have purchased over the past few months from my Aspire V3-551-8887 to my C7 Chromebook to even using Veriton N281G nettops for a project at work. I fell in love with the Aspire S7 and even my wife thought the Aspire R7 was cool (which is not normal). Interesting products at reasonable prices is what has led me to take a look at Acer more closely. The Acer Aspire S3 is not a MacBook Air or Lenovo ThinkPad  X1 Carbon, but it is in a price range for the average person looking for an entry-level ultrabook.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

R.I.P. Microsoft TechNet Subscriptions

As I was enjoying my day yesterday, I received an email with the subject "TechNet Subscriptions retirement". As I read further, I discovered that Microsoft was actually retiring the TechNet Subscription service on August 31, 2013. That was the first time anyone in the office heard me literally yell out an explicit word.

Microsoft TechNet subscriptions were an inexpensive way (TechNet subscriptions ranged from $199 to $599 per year) for IT professionals to get free access to a very long list of Microsoft software for evaluation purposes. In addition, all subscriptions get some access to Microsoft E-Learning products and priority support in TechNet Forums. The higher-priced subscriptions even include two complimentary tech-support calls. This was perfect for serious IT professionals like myself who considered it an investment.

In place of the TechNet subscription services, Microsoft is providing free services that will include Microsoft Virtual Academy, TechNet Forums, and a new TechNet Evaluation Center offering free evaluation software for limited periods of 30 to 180 days (depending on the application). I don't know how that will work out because a time-specific trial for software is not adequate in some cases. Trial software is often limited in both functionality and time. That is why it is hard for me to believe Microsoft's claim that TechNet was now "redundant" and that more IT professionals were shifting away from paid to free, limited-trial copies of applications for evaluations. Not buying it.

Alternatively, Microsoft will still offer MDSN subscriptions (Microsoft Developer Network) but their costs start at $699 ($499 annual renewal) and go up to $13, 299 ($4,249 annual renewal). The other, lesser known, option for getting downloadable software is the Microsoft Action Pack subscription that is available only to registered members of the Microsoft Partner Network (and pass an assessment). Neither are viable options for the average IT professional to consider.

Fortunately, all subscribers with active accounts may continue to access their subscriptions until their current subscription period concludes. If you still want to purchase a subscription, IT professionals have until August 31st to do so and must activate the accounts by September 30th. Microsoft created an FAQ to explain the reasons why they are ending the service and how it will affect you if you are currently subscribed.

Who knows, Microsoft has been known to reverse certain decisions recently after getting feedback from the public. Look at what happened with Windows 8 and the Xbox One. Because TechNet effects such as small group of individuals, I'm not going to hold my breath. A guy can dream can't he?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Windows 8.1 Preview on Dell Inspiron Duo

I downloaded and installed the Windows 8.1 Preview onto my Dell Inspiron Duo last night. It still requires the ST Micro Rotation Sensor Driver and the Broadcom Crystal HD Video Decoder (for some versions of the Duo). I haven't had a chance to roll my sleeves up and really dive into it yet but the stuff I have seen so far has been much needed improvements to the operating system especially on computers with touch screens. NOTE: As with any preview release (aka beta software), you may want to think twice before installing it on your primary computer.