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.