Monday, June 30, 2014

Fitbug Review

By George Harding

This is one of the many health-related devices that were shown at the Consumer Electronics Show. A small circular object, called the Orb, mounts in various ways on your body and tracks steps, distance and sleep. It tracks you 24/7.

The Orb is about an inch in diameter and looks sort of like an eye. It has a battery and an accelerometer. It can be attached to you in several places: wrist, belt, underwear, pocket or around your neck.

The Orb collects information on your activities and is able to send it to your smartphone app on demand, by beacon (transmits continuously) or by stream (as you walk). The app shows you how you are doing compared to your pan.

When you register the unit, you are asked several questions, height, weight, waist and what your main objective is (lose weight, improve fitness, monitor health, tone up, maintain weight, gain weight. Next is inserting the battery. I had trouble with this and the screw-on cover may still not be properly attached.

The web site tracks you through the steps to set up your Orb. It is pretty clear if you have the proper device numbers. I was not able to register initially, but Support helped me out.

Then you download the smartphone app for iOS or Android, as applicable, and press the small button on the Orb to connect it to the Fitbug app. You can push the Orb’s button once to transmit data to the app, press twice for streaming or you can set up beacon mode to transmit data periodically and automatically. Pressing the button 3 times puts into Sleep mode to measure your sleep time.
KiK is your personal coach that analyzes your activities and sleep and advises you how you can do better. It comes free with Fitbug.

Available at small extra cost are several KiK Plans to help you achieve a particular goal.
Fitbug comes in 3 dramatic colors and is available for iOS, iPhone 4/4s and above, many Android phones, as well as iOS and Android tablets. If you don’t have any of these, there is a dongle to connect to your PC.

What’s in the box: Orb, wrist strap, belt clip, underwear clip, lanyard, Quick Start Guide.

Fitbug digital fitness device             
 Price about $50

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Easy Desktop

By Bayle Emlein

Easy Desktop is a desktop organization program that gives you easy control over the tile clutter that the Windows8 interface presents

Why would you want one?

  • · Is your Windows Disktop hard to navigate
  • · Would you like to be better organized?
  • · Do you hate Icons? Can you read them?
  • · Is Win8 confusing?

  • Frustrated with icons?
  • Words can convey more meaning than undescriptive pictures,
  • Icons can be confusing and too general,
  • A few often-used Icons are helpful.

Easy Desktop allows up to:
  • Nine (9) pages of menus,
  • Seventy-two (72) button entries per page,
  • A total of six-hundred forty-eight (648) buttons possible.

Color coding of buttons is possible. A button can be assigned to be a label, with no other function than organize entries below it on an Easy Desktop page.

Buttons can link to
  • Programs
  • Diskdrives and folders
  • Documents
  • Photos, audio files, video files,
  • spreadsheets, databases
  • URLs (web pages)
Number and name the 9 pages with centered titles (function keys and scrolling right and left to move between. Assign each page a major category. Right click on a button to open its Edit menu and begin customization.

Easy Desktop installs from disk or install from the website, When you are ready to make a commitment, the full program costs $19.99. The free version allows one menu per page, enough for you to get a taste and find out if this utility is for you.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Applian Technologies

By Bayle Emlein

Applian (Uh-PLY-un) is a small company with a suite of products that enable video and audio capture from any site. The Replay Capture Suite includes a raft of handy tools:
  • Replay Media Catcher
  • Replay Video Capture
  • Replay Converter
  • Replay Music
  • Replay Radio
  • Video Padlock
  • Replay Media Splitter

While the Replay capture apps record in real time, they skip the buffering pauses of computer downloads. Another nice feature, Replay Music will skip items under 35 seconds. Why 35 seconds? Most commercial messages are 35 seconds or less.
Replay Radio allows you use your computer to pre-set the time/day of recording sessions or including daily or weekly schedules for your favorite show. The download occurs in the background so that you can continue working/playing on your computer. Unrecorded listening sessions are also easily enabled.
Replay Music is for music (think Spotify, Pandora). Replay Radio is for radio (WGBH, KGO). Replay Video is for (no surprise) capturing video.
Even if you choose to use only a few of the tools, you might be ahead by purchasing the suite at $79, rather than several separate programs. One other persuasion for buying the whole package: though each license can be installed on only one computer, each of the Applian licenses can be installed on different computers.

While tools exist to execute the functions of the Applian software, many of them involve-to summarize—a lot of user involvement. Somebody at Applian has already done the heavy lifting so we can get on to the original purpose. Still have questions? Many HowTo videos on the Applian Technologies site and live tech support if you want to be social.

Friday, June 27, 2014

LG 3D Tablet

During a session about its ATAP unit, Google today announced that it is working with LG to bring Project Tango, its effort to bring 3D-sensing to phones and tablets — to consumers early next year. This first consumer device will be a tablet, though Google wasn’t all that clear about what exactly this first partnership would look like and didn’t talk about the exact timing or pricing.

The company also said that it is working with the Unity and Unreal game engines, as well as Qualcomm to bring this project to the market.

While Google already shipped limited numbers of its Tango phone prototype to developers earlier this year and launched a 7-inch tablet-based Tango device using Nvidia’s Tegra K1 processor to developers who were willing to pay $1,024, the company had never publicly talked about a potential consumer launch.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Google Reacts to Office 365

Under pressure from Microsoft’s Office 365, Google has launched a premium edition of Apps with unlimited cloud storage and extra IT controls, and has also improved the Docs office productivity suite.

Although this new edition is essentially Apps for Business with an extra set of features, Google has branded it differently, shifting the spotlight from “apps” to storage by calling it Drive for Work.

It’s an acknowledgement by Google of the red hot popularity of cloud storage and file sharing services for personal and work documents, like its own Drive, which has about 190 million active home and business users, Microsoft’s OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, and similar services from Box, Dropbox and others.

“We’re in a market that understands the value of cloud storage and its massive adoption, so it’s an important thing to call out right now,” said Scott Johnston, Google Drive’s director of product management.

Drive for Work and the enhancements to Docs are also a needed competitive reaction from Google to the momentum of Office 365, which, despite arriving four years after Apps, has helped Microsoft quickly recover lost ground in the market for cloud email and collaboration suites.

Office 365 and Google Apps offer email, calendaring, storage, IM, Web-based office software and audio/video communications for businesses, schools, government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Zorin OS 9 Release Candidate

The RC version of Zorin OS 9 is now available at I have been using it for a couple of days and so far I'm disappointed. It is much slower than version 8.1 that I have been using on several systems for quite a while now.

If you haven't tried Zorin OS yet that take my advice and give it a try. The basic version is free and it will make you an instant convert!

SCOTUS: Aereo is Illegal

By a six-to-three vote, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of the US Second District Court in ABC vs. Aereo.

The bottom line: The Supreme Court has ruled that Aereo's over-the-air (OTA) TV over the Internet service is illegal.

According to the SCOTUSblog, "This ruling appears sweeping and definitive, determining that Aereo is illegal." At the same time, the Court claimed that "its ruling does not endanger other technologies." How that can be is an open question. Aereo had claimed that a decision against them might endanger other cloud-based media services.

It appears, however, that "the essence of the Aereo ruling is that Aereo is equivalent to a cable company, not merely an equipment provider." That, according to the court's decision, Aereo's "behind-the-scenes technological differences do not distinguish Aereo's system from cable systems, which do perform publicly."

Aereo was a service that lets you watch over-the-air TV over the Internet for $8 per month. It offered you the same network television shows that are available to anyone with an antenna. To do this, Aereo sets up clusters of miniature antennas in your local area.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

MSFT Uses Opera Browser!!

Here’s a fun game. Mentally rewind 5 years and see how likely the following sentence would have been: Microsoft has decided to make Opera the default browser on its new, Linux-based Android handsets.

Yes, it seems the Nokia X series is a serious project after all, and Microsoft is expanding the line to include a new €99 ($135) Nokia X2 handset with more midrange specifications than the original low-end Nokia X – 4.3-inch screen, 1GB of RAM and a 5-megapixel camera. The new Android handset includes a bunch of Microsoft services like Outlook, Skype and OneDrive, but of course there’s no Internet Explorer for Android.

Hence the inclusion of Opera as the default browser on the X2, a decision that makes perfect sense as the X series is mostly destined for emerging markets and Opera’s data-compressing, money-saving Turbo feature is designed for the same.

Opera will also be the default browser on other X-series handsets rolling off the production line from now on. It was already available on the first-generation Nokia X but not as the default – that was the Nokia Xpress browser, which also compresses data but which is no longer part of or available for Nokia X Software Platform 2.0, the new iteration of Nokia’s Android fork.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Tablet Sales

First quarter 2014 proved to be a somewhat discouraging one for tablet vendors, as unit shipments declined 30 percent. Growth will resume over the course of this year, however, according to the latest market forecast from ABI Research.

Branded OEM tablet shipments will rebound and close out the year exceeding 200 million, ABI forecasts in its Media Tablets, Ultrabooks & eReaders Market Research. Moreover, ABI says 2014 “should be a watershed year for the tablet installed base, with active Android devices surpassing iOS for the first time.”

“Tablet hardware sales from branded OEMs are likely to top US$85 billion this year,” ABI senior practice director Jeff Orr was quoted in a press release. “We have yet to reach the top of the tablet market and with many world regions just now starting to adopt, the best is yet to come.”

ABI notes that “Intel aims to make a large splash during 2014 with a projected 40 million devices powered by its processors.” The market research company anticipates that smaller manufacturers in China and Taiwan developing next-generation Android tablets will account for a significant percentage.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I Will Miss Radio Shack

For the first time, RadioShack’s shares are trading below $1, leading some to worry that the company’s stock could be delisted.

Shares of the electronics retailer dipped 11 cents, or 10.6%, on Friday to 92 cents per share. If the stock trades below $1 for 30 consecutive days, it could be removed from the New York Stock Exchange.

The stock’s all-time high? $79.50, in December 1999.

The latest woes for the chain comes to light after the company reported another quarterly loss

The company blamed its poor performance on lower sales of mobile devices.

Meanwhile, RadioShack has posted losses the last two years as competitors, including AMZN -0.86% and Best Buy BBY -2.11% , have stepped up their games. In order to combat sales woes, RadioShack said it plans to remodel stores through RadioShack RSH -10.43% Labs, allowing inventors and startups the opportunity to makes products for sale at the retailer.

iLuv Syren Review

By George Harding

This is a clever name for a very stylish Bluetooth portable speaker. It is shaped like a truncated, forward-leaning cylinder on a round base, with a segment sliced from the bottom of the cylinder. The result is excellent sound reproduction and 360 degree sound.

The unit comes with a charging cord to be attached to any USB port and a Quick Start Guide in 11 languages and a Warranty pamphlet. It supports NFC (Near Field Communication) pairing.

There is a vertical black strip along the back which contains the few controls: Volume Up, Volume Down and Play/Pause/Phone and On/Off. The Bluetooth feature allows Syren to be used as a hands-free speaker phone (there is a built-in microphone).

At the base of the black strip is a cover for the micro USB connector for the charging cable, as well as a 3.5 mm port for connection to audio devices.

The unit is smaller than you might expect for such high quality sound, only 4 ½ inches.

The battery is rechargeable and is lithium-ion type. When fully charged, it can provide power for up to 5 hours, according to the manufacturer.

Syren by iLuv                                                
Price about $40

Saturday, June 21, 2014

BOXi T200 Projector Review

By George Harding

If you need to project images at a short distance, think of the Elmo BOXi-T200 Projector. It’s small, powerful and compact. It comes with a power supply and a remote controller. Its surface is highly polished, is black with green highlights and is only 4 X 6 inches in size.

The review unit I received did not include a Quick Start Guide or any other means of determining how to use it. When you plug it in to a power source, the projector starts up without intervention. The top face of the projector has several buttons which are illuminated by icons when power is on. One button has the word “Menu.” The rest are only symbols.

There is a connection port for the power cord. There is a socket for an HDMI cable, a USB port for connection to a VGA monitor and a 3.5 mm connector for headphones or other audio device. The projector comes with a remote control, as well. There is a built-in 1 watt mono speaker.

The output is 150 lumens and can project an image up to 68 inches diagonally. The lamp is LED and has an ECO mode to reduce power consumption.

The Boxi-T200 has a “short-throw” lens, which produces the full 68 inch image at only 52 inches from the screen.
The image resolution varies with the source. Natively, it is 1280 X 800. For video input, resolution from 480i to 1080p can be handled. Computer or DVD input resolution can be from 640 X 350 to 1680 X 1050.

The projector can be set for front or rear viewing and can be used on a table top, on a tripod or even suspended from the ceiling.

There are several adjustments that can be made to the image. Keystone adjustment refers to the improper shape that results from too steep a projection angle. There is a control on the projector and remote that reduces keystoning in increments of 1 degree. Display mode can be selected: User, Cinema, Photo, Normal, Game, Presentation or Bright. Brightness and Contrast may be controlled with the projector or remote. Aspect ratio can be changed to 4:3 or 16:9. And, of course, front or rear projection may be selected.

The projector uses single-chip DLP processing. DLP is a process invented by Texas Instruments some years ago, but is used by most all projectors today.

This projector is ideal for use in smaller spaces, but provides excellent viewing results for all normal types of images, whether static or motion. A free trial is available for schools.

BOXi-T200 Projector by Elmo Corp.                       
Price $429

Friday, June 20, 2014

New Cheaper iMac

It still won't be as cheap as many Windows-based all-in-one PCs, but a new, lower-priced version of Apple's iMac has just been released in advance of back-to-school shopping.

The Apple Store is now selling the base configuration of the iMac for $1,099, though that's due to a model with lesser specs rather than a price drop on the previously cheapest version, which remains at $1,299. While it retains the 21.5-inch 1,920x1,080 (full HD) display and 8GB of RAM, it includes a dual-core 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor and a 500GB hard drive. In comparison, the $1,299 flavor comes with a quad-core 2.7GHz Core i5 CPU and double the hard drive space.

That's a significant drop down in processing power, though average consumers might not notice a major change. The step-down also hurts on the integrated graphics side of things, as the $1,099 iMac makes use of Intel HD Graphics 5000, whereas the $1,299 system uses Intel's superior Iris Pro Graphics. (More analysis from my ZDNet colleague Adrian Kingsley-Hughes can be found here.)

While the new $1,099 iMac is hardly a bargain, the cheaper starting price certainly won't hurt sales, especially for students looking to buy a new desktop for the upcoming school year. Would you be more likely to buy the iMac at its new starting price -- even with the slower processor and less hard drive space? Let us know in the Talkback section below.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Amazon Fire Smartphone

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos launched the Fire smartphone, the company's latest foray to engage Prime customers, sell you more stuff, and recruit developers to make the e-commerce giant the No. 3 mobile platform. The smartphone launch also was positioned as a front end to the customer relationship.

What remains to be seen is whether the smartphone, which gives Amazon a small screen to integrate with your life, will be viewed as innovative or gimmicky. A key feature is dubbed Firefly, which recognizes objects around you and compiles them into a list you can act on. Think shopping, people.

The Fire device also adds 3D features to capture views and sense what vantage you are viewing the screen. "We call this dynamic perspective," said Bezos.

AT&T will offer the Fire phone exclusively. Pre-orders start today with two-year contracts at $199 and under the AT&T Next one-year installment plan. AT&T has been a long-time Amazon partner on the Kindle 3G service. The Fire device ships July 25 and includes 12-months of Prime. Existing Prime subscribers get 12 months anyway.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

MSFT Cuts Price of Surface 2

Microsoft has cut prices of its almost-retired Surface Pro 2 tablet by $100 days before the next-generation model hits retail.

New prices for the Surface Pro 2 -- which was introduced last fall -- now run $799 for the model with 64GB of storage and $899 for the 128GB configuration. The cuts represent discounts of 11% and 10%, respectively.

Microsoft is scheduled to start selling the Surface Pro 3 it's-a-tablet-it's-a-notebook on Friday. The company has been taking pre-orders for the device since the Surface Pro 3's debut on May 21.

The Surface Pro 3 tablets start at $999 for the 128GB model and end at $1,299 for 256GB of storage. 

Both devices sport a Core i5 processor, the same one used in 2013's Surface Pro 2.

Three other Surface Pro 3 tablets won't ship until August, Microsoft has said, including the $799 64GB model that runs an Intel Core i3 processor, and two configurations boasting the Core i7 CPU, priced at $1,549 (256GB of storage) and $1,949 (512GB).

The Surface Pro 3 devices available this week will be available in Microsoft's own brick-and-mortar stores and those of retail partners like Best Buy, and on Microsoft's online outlet.

When the $799 entry-level Surface Pro 3 reaches retail later this summer, Microsoft will probably slash the price of the Surface Pro 2 tablets even further to empty its inventory.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sony Curved Sensors

Sony has been experimenting with curved sensors for a while now, and now it seems the company is close to implementing their new technology in actual devices. During a recent presentation at a symposium in Hawaii, Sony showed off two different curved sensors, one for a full-frame 35mm digital camera, and a smaller one that could go into compact cameras or smartphones. But why should we even care about the shape of a sensor? Quite simply, because Sony’s curved sensors could mean a giant leap forward in image quality, especially for smaller devices such as smartphones.

To understand why a curved sensor provides benefits to image quality, we need to take a look at how light behaves when being bundled by a lens. Rays of light emerging from a single point usually travel in many directions. The lens in front of a recording medium – be it film or a digital sensor – bundles these rays, so that a single point in “reality” corresponds to a single point in the resulting image. Now when a multitude of light rays from multiple points travel through a lens, what we would want is for all of them to be bundled not in one point, but on the same surface, the “focal plane,” which coincides with our recording medium.

That, however, is a difficult task, and usually the so-called focal plane is all but plane (or flat), with light hitting the lens from various angles forming its focal points at various distances in front of or behind the recording medium (this is called “field curvature”), causing parts of the image – usually the edges and corners – to appear blurred. In order to create an even focal plane that coincides with the camera’s sensor, lenses have to be designed with very complex optical constructions, including rare types of glass and special surfaces that help bend the light in a most favorable way, to achieve great sharpness all across the image. This is one reason why some lenses are so large, heavy, and expensive.

Now, let’s take a look at how the human eye works. It contains a single lens which projects incoming light onto the retina, the eye’s “sensor.” The retina has a highly convex (inward curved) shape, which coincides with the area onto which the lens projects the focus points of the light rays that it bundles. An eye is thus the most simple and most effective way of recording an image without having to resort to complex optical constructions.

Another problem with flat sensors is the fact that light rays hitting the sensor at very flat angles – for example, when using a wide-angle lens – don’t always make it all the way through to the photosites (tiny diodes on the sensor that captures the light) at the very edges of the sensor. This causes, among other things, the so-called vignetting effect, which is a darkening of the image in the corners.

Monday, June 16, 2014

MSFT Joins Recycling Effort

Microsoft is championing the e-waste recycling movement. The Redmond, Wash.-based tech titan, along with Sony America, Xerox and Goodwill Industries, has been named a founding member of R2 Leaders, an electronics recycling group that aims to keep used gadgets and PCs out of landfills. 

"This reflects Microsoft's commitment to support the development of standards for better reuse and recycling of electronic devices around the world," said Josh Henretig, group manager of Environmental Sustainability at Microsoft. "We are excited to demonstrate our commitment to the responsible recycling of electronics by becoming a founding member of the R2 Leaders program," he said in a statement. The R2 Standard calls for recyclers to take into account stringent environmental, health and security requirements for the safe handling of electronics. The standard "ensures that more toxic material streams are managed safely and responsibly by downstream vendors—all the way to final disposition," said Henretig. 

Currently, 540 facilities across 17 countries carry R2 Standard certification.
The standard also helps halt the spread of toxic materials that are often present in today's electronics. Henretig added that R2 "prohibits e-recyclers and their downstream vendors from exporting these more toxic materials to countries that have enacted laws making their import illegal."

Sunday, June 15, 2014

PocketPlug Review

By George Harding

This is a combination case and charging vehicle for iPhone 4.

The front is a very sturdy black plastic case with a 30-pin connector built in for your iPhone 4 or 4s. You can just slip the phone into the case and use it as is – no special cables necessary.

The back of the case has two retractable prongs which fit into any wall socket. The prongs operate together, whether retracting or being deployed.

The top of the case slides off so you can insert your iPhone, and it snaps back in easily.

In addition, there is a micro-USB port at the lower right side of the case, to allow charging from an external charger, or to sync with another device.

One more feature is helpful. The iPhone’s speaker output is redirected toward the front of the phone, enhancing and making louder audio.

This is a very nice combination unit.

PocketPlug by Prong                        
Price $70