Archive for September, 2009

Wake me up when September ends

Not that I have been lethargic on these cooler Autumn days, but it has been perfect weather to sit out on the deck and read without a major bug invasion buzzing around my head. I do love Fall most of all. The smell of fields being harvested, the running nose, stuffed head, from Ragweed blooming on the side of the roads. It is just perfect.

If you need to get on the roof to fix that antenna, or tweak it in the attic, the temps are just right to get it ready. For what, you may ask? Well, the trees have already begun their annual transformation from green to mean. Soaking up the last bits of sun and water before going to sleep. And sleeping trees seem to always absorb RF TV signals that were perfect only a week ago.

Such is life in our area, but we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else!

My favorite part of Fall began last year when you and I tossed Internet Pumpkins back and forth. You sent in questions and comments, and I tossed back a blog post on your subject. Some of the highest viewed posts have were written during last October from your feedback.

Again, this October, toss me any IP idea you like, and I’ll toss back an answer. Small or large, technical, or not, throw it in and let’s see how things are different after the digital transition. Reception, breakups, anything. I will respond, or find an expert to post in order to get you the right answer.

It’s possible that the Great Pumpkin might make a visit!

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Garmin launches Nuvifone, a GPS/phone hybrid

It’s a GPS navigator with phone capability—not the other way around. After a long wait, AT&T and Garmin today announced that the Nuvifone will finally go on sale October 4th.

Our colleagues on the Cars Blog go into more detail on the GPS-cum-phone and its advertised features, but here’s a rundown of some:

GPS features:

  • Voice recognition
  • Spoken street names
  • Pedestrian mode
  • Preloaded maps and points of interest (hence no download times, as on the iPhone)
  • Car mount included

Phone features:

  • 3-megapixel camera (with autofocus and automatic geotagging)
  • Bluetooth capability
  • Full 3G Web browsing
  • WiFi Internet access
  • MP3 player

As with the iPhone, AT&T is the exclusive carrier of Garmin’s Nuvifone. And, as with the iPhone, that exclusivity could discourage some would-be buyers, given AT&T’s middling scores in our Ratings of cell-phone service, available to subscribers, and its seeming struggle to handle even its current network load.

The phone will cost $299 after a $100 rebate, and requires a two-year contract with a minimum $30 per month data plan. Extra features such as traffic, weather, and gas-price info cost an extra $5.99 per month.

When it comes into our labs, our GPS and cell phone teams will be putting their heads together to test this unique device.

For more on the Garmin Nuvifone, check out the Consumer Reports Cars Blog. —Nick K. Mandle

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New Computer Ratings: Get a deal before Windows 7

Toshiba Satellite M505-S4940 new computer ratings

Our updated computer Ratings include the Toshiba Satellite M505-S4940, above. (Click to enlarge.)
[PHOTO: Consumer Reports]

The last few Vista computers before Windows 7 launches are still available. So if you want a deal on a new computer and don’t mind doing your own upgrade later, now is the time to buy.

Before you make any purchase, check Microsoft's Web site to see what manufacturers are offering in the way of upgrades. Remember that when you upgrade to Windows 7, you’ll have to get the version comparable to the version of Vista on your computer. So if you’re buying a Vista machine now, and you get it with Vista Home Premium, you’ll be upgrading to Windows 7 Home Premium later.

We updated our Ratings with several new laptops and desktops. Take a look at the Ratings and you’ll see that there are lots of fully loaded computers available, both laptops of all sizes and desktops—and they’re inexpensive.

For example, you can get a laptop for as little as or less than it costs to buy a netbook. Even 13-inch laptops are experiencing price drops; we found one to recommend for $800, and that’s with close to 7 hours of battery life and a 500GB hard drive.

For desktop buyers, we’re recommending, among others, a quad-core system with 8GB of memory, a 640GB hard drive, and one GB of video memory for less than $700. Or you can go the opposite way and really save with a sub-$500 system that has a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of memory. Not too shabby.

Unlike with other desktops, all-in-one computers remain more expensive. Watch out for net-tops, which are all-in-ones that use the Atom processor commonly found in netbooks. Net-tops cost only about $500, but in this case you get what you pay for—the three we tested performed poorly.

Netbooks, meanwhile, are getting bigger. We’re seeing more 12-inch models available. They’ve got an advantage when it comes to ergonomics because they’re larger. But they might also cost more and weigh more, while performance isn’t any better than smaller netbooks. —Donna Tapellini

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Be careful with beta software

email digital photos

[Photo: Courtesy of Sigurd Decroos]

A few days ago, I got another lesson in the Law of Unintended Consequences. I tried out a free service called Soocial, aimed at the "connected consumer" who wants to share a single electronic address book among all their computers and portable devices.

Great idea, if it had worked right. Unfortunately, Soocial's software didn't properly handle my Microsoft Outlook contacts list, in which I have my contacts neatly organized into several subfolders: personal, companies, organizations, medical, etc. What Soocial did was copy the contacts from ALL my subfolders to a single online folder—not a very useful tool. But it gets worse: when Soocial subsequently "synchronized" between Outlook and online, it inserted all the hundreds of extra contacts from all the subfolders into my personal folder in Outlook, and then proceeded to DELETE them from the original subfolders! Ouch!

(Fortunately, I regularly backup my Outlook storage file. Most Outlook users do not, since Microsoft inexplicably puts this file in an obscure, hidden folder rather than in "My Documents" where you'd normally expect to find such things residing for easy backup.)

Soocial currently uses a beta version of its software, which signifies that the program is still being developed and debugged, and might be expected to exhibit strange behavior. I should have heeded the warnings that are invariably embedded in the "fine print" when one downloads beta software, and first experimented with it using data I could afford to lose.

Beta software doesn't carry any guarantee of performance—in fact, it's almost always free—and support is usually limited to user forums where other "Beta testers" help each other with problems. The manufacturer supposedly watches these forums for consistent "issues" that signal problems they need to fix before the final version. That sort of feedback is the reason that software companies make beta software available to the public, a growing trend.

Beta software includes the newest version of Google's Chrome browser and Microsoft's Security Essentials anti-malware program (though the public beta is now closed to new testers). Microsoft made the Windows 7 "release candidate" available as a public Beta months before the final version was ready for manufacturing. (It's due Oct 22nd.)

Our advice: Beta software can be a nice, cost-free way to try out a product before it's released. But don't rely on beta software to do everything it claims to do right, or even at all. It may not even uninstall cleanly, so beware. Expect problems, and don't use beta software to work on important files you can't afford to lose. Dean Gallea

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Sep 29, Converter Box Retailers

Converter Box Retailers. Online Retailers. Where can I buy a converter box? Converter Box Sellers. Free Converter Boxes. Order boxes from our site

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