Tools Toys and Technology

About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Tools Toys and Technology - About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

TTT Anniversary Issue

Copyright © 2012 Richard Beaty

Boy, this year has gone fast for me. The first issue of TTT appeared in the January 2011 issue of Two’s News. That makes this the anniversary issue.

I just re-read the first issue and took note of this comment I made:

I’m not totally sure where we’re headed with this series, but things are happening so fast in this area, that I’m sure we’ll have no problem coming up with topics that will interest you.

I hope the “interest you” part of that statement was true. The “things happening so fast” and “have no problem coming up with topics” parts were definitely true.

Looking back, we started off January 2012 discussing Streaming TV, covering in a four-part series everything from hardware and equipment to sources of programming. Then came a discussion of tablets, the introduction of Microsoft Surface, password security, and the “cloud.” Finally, the release of the long anticipated (or dreaded, depending on your point of view) release of Windows 8 topped off the year.

In every case, there have been additional developments in the areas we covered, so it seems appropriate on this 1-year anniversary to revisit the issues and bring you up to date.

Streaming TV

ROKU

On the subject of streaming TV hardware and programming, I continue to advocate the virtues of Roku. It remains the “King of Content” as far as programming is concerned. I tend to go for a period of time without checking their “Channel Store,” and then when I do I’m amazed at some of the things I find. I have no idea how long some of these have been there, but there are always interesting additions since I last checked.

One of the new additions I recently made to my Roku channels is the “Smithsonian Channel,” which as you might expect from the name, contains documentaries and educational programs that are a cut above a lot of stuff you see on TV. There are full-length programs and short subjects of a couple of minutes on all kinds of topics. The short subjects make good watching when you’re not up for a full night of TV.

All in all, Roku currently claims to have over 600 channels (I haven’t tried to count) and 150,000 titles (I definitely won’t be counting) available on their powerful little box.

ROKU VS. SMART TV

There are, of course, all kinds of options for receiving streaming TV, from game consoles to Blu-Ray players to smart TVs with the capability built into the TV itself. How can you get the most streaming capability for the least money? I’ve developed a strategy that says: buy the most TV you can that fits your budget, but leave the “Smarts” off of it. Smart TVs usually cost several hundred dollars more than the comparable model without the smart features. You can add a Roku for from $50 – $100, depending on the model. So you’ll spend less for a good TV + Roku than you would for a smart TV, and get the most in programming options to boot. For best picture, make sure the TV is 1080p with multiple HDMI inputs.

High Speed Internet in SaddleBrooke

In my May article, I announced new CenturyLink speed capabilities that made them a viable contender as a streaming TV Internet provider in SaddleBrooke. Western Broadband is still here, and their prices have come down since the CenturyLink announcements. Competition does great things for a consumer.

CenturyLink has been in SaddleBrooke for quite awhile with a speed of 1.5 Mbps, which is just not good enough for consistent, reliable video streaming. They’ve been working to bring 12 and 20 Mbps options to SaddleBrooke, and most areas have it now.

In September, I switched from my overpriced ($79 per month then) Western Broadband 10 Mbps service to CenturyLink’s 20 Mbps. The CenturyLink price then was $25 per month. Western Broadband currently quotes $50 per month for 10 Mbps. So, by switching, I got twice the speed for half the price!

Now, all the news is not good with respect to CenturyLink. While their download (coming from the Internet to your home) speed is twice WB’s, their upload speed (from your home to the Internet) is a paltry 0.8 Mbps compared to WB’s 2.8 Mbps approximately. For most people, it’s the download speed that counts, so the slow upload speed will have little impact. But, as it turns out, I do a lot of work that requires uploading to the Internet, and CenturyLink’s poor upload performance was a shock to me. In other parts of Tucson, they offer higher speed options, but for SaddleBrooke, we’re stuck with that for now.

How does upload speed affect the average user? For things like streaming video, you probably won’t notice it. You’re only concerned on how fast video is delivered to you, not how fast you can talk back. But if you are doing online backup (one of the cloud applications we talked about in a previous issue) or if you are uploading pictures or anything else that is substantial, it will take a lot longer.

So, given the downside, how do I personally feel about CenturyLink vs. Western Broadband? If the price weren’t so very much different, I’d probably choose WB for the significantly faster upload speed. But for the savings I realize every month, I’ll put up with slow uploads, at least for now.

Ultrabooks & Tablets & Windows 8

In June, we reviewed Ultrabooks and tablets. Ultrabooks are the latest thing in notebook computers: thin, sleek, fast, long battery life, and … expensive. And you know what tablets are, with Apple, Android, and now Microsoft in the product mix. Where the notebook/tablet thing appears to be going is toward hybrids: notebooks with keyboards that can be detached or rotated or folded under or otherwise gotten out of the way to become tablets.  There are a number of these available now, and I guarantee you, the number of hybrid products is about to go through the roof. There will be so many options that it will become confusing when trying to compare them all and make a decision.

The introduction of Windows RT (Windows 8 for tablets) and Microsoft’s own Surface tablet have certainly spurred on the hybrid concept. Also announced and available in January, 2013 will be Microsoft’s Surface Pro (a tablet running a full version of Windows 8).  Microsoft seems to be positioning this product as a tablet that can run all current Windows programs. I’d put it more in the realm of a convertible Ultrabook. But whatever you call it, it’s pricey.

The Surface Pro sells for $1,000 for the 128 GB version, which most people looking for this level of product will probably want. Also, Microsoft chose to make their detachable type cover/keyboard a $120 option. That puts the Surface Pro at $1,120, if you want it to serve as a laptop computer.

I had previously said that I was waiting for this product and I’d probably buy a Surface Pro as soon as it was available. Nix that. The Surface Pro is just too expensive to be a tablet, and the type cover is too flimsy to make it a real substitute for a laptop.

While the Surface Pro may turn out to be a product without a market, the Surface RT is a viable competitor among tablets.  While the Surface RT cannot run a full complement of computer programs, no other tablet can lay claim to that either. So starting at $499 and available right now, the Surface Pro can compete with iPad and higher end Android tablets.

Password Security & The “Cloud”

My August article dealt with passwords and gave you a system for making them cryptic but easy to remember. I won’t repeat all that here, but it is important for you to implement something like this before someone gains access to your critical online accounts. See the August issue for details.

On a different but related issue, I talked about Cloud drives in October. These are very handy, because they make information that you store there available to you from any computer where you have Internet access. But any information stored in the Cloud is innately susceptible to hacking. I have a real need to take advantage of the cloud drive concept to store some information that is pretty sensitive, so I have worried about the ultimate security of my data.

I ran across something that is, at very least, a big step toward locking down my files. It’s a cloud drive called “FileLocker.” It operates much like any other cloud drive, except it automatically encrypts data before it is sent to the cloud, stores the data in an encrypted file, and encrypts it again when you access it. Basically, it uses a system much like secure credit card processing, where if data is intercepted, it will appear as gibberish to the interloper. I now use FileLocker for all of my sensitive files. I use two other cloud drives for storing my not-so-sensitive stuff: Microsoft’s Skydrive and Dropbox. By the way, if you sign up for Dropbox on ToolsToysAndTechnology.com you’ll get an extra 500 MB of free storage. You’ll see the link to the bonus storage signup in the top-right column of this Website. Or you can just Click Here to sign up and get your bonus space on Dropbox.

ToolsToysAndTechnology.com

Remember, if you want to go back and review any past TTT articles, you can find them by going to ToolsToysAndTechnology.com and clicking the “Two’s News” tab near the top of the page. You can also browse other posts that were made between Two’s News articles.

Finally, to celebrate the anniversary of TTT, I have added a feature to the online version that will give you a chance to ask questions or provide input on what you want to see in the future. Check out the “FAQ” page and “Ask TTT,” both new additions to the site.  With your help, 2013 will be another good year for TTT.

Category: Articles