Dan's Tech Reviews
Tech Reviews from the Lansing Star Online

ios 10 and macOS - A First Look

mac OS and iOSLast week iOS 10 arrived on a Wednesday, and only one day later it was already on 14% of devices. That is pretty impressive when you consider that Apple celebrated the billionth iPhone sale last July. As of Monday iOS 10 had been installed on over 34% of devices. macOS Sierra launched around 1:40pm Tuesday afternoon (EDT). As always, your intrepid reporter was one of the first to download and install them both.

Apple is known for inter-connectivity among devices, so my expectation was that macOS would go all the way to integrate with iOS devices. But it seems like the two programming groups didn't even share a lunchroom. The Mac team didn't seem to be much interested in much besides Siri (Apple's voice assistant), while all the fun programmers seem to have been assigned to the mobile OS this time around. Siri is big news in macOS, but it is old news in iOS. So even if you are a big Siri fan, having her on your computer, while undeniably useful, feels like a bit of a yawn.
Written by Dan on Friday September 23, 2016
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Sceptre 20" LED Monitor

Spectre 19.5”  MonitorA few weeks ago I reviewed the Kangaroo Mobile Desktop Computer, a $99 Windows 10 computer that is the size of an iPhone 6-Plus. Its performance exceeded my expectations, so I wanted to be able to use it with a full screen, rather than cobbing it to my iPad mini. But I didn't want to spend a lot. After all, I had spent under $100 for the computer itself, so I would feel foolish paying more than that for a monitor.

The Kangaroo doesn't have a sound jack, so the only way to get sound out of it is through its HDMI port. That meant I wanted a monitor with HDMI capability and speakers built in. At first I thought I was out of luck. It didn't look like I was going to find anything under $200. Then I happened on the Walmart.com site, where they were selling a Sceptre 20 inch HDMI-able LED monitor for $67. Now, I have bought cheap monitors in the past, though never this cheap. And my experience has been that you generally get what you pay for. But what the heck... why not try it for $67. I'm glad I did.

Written by Dan on Friday November 20, 2015
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Firefox for iOS

Firefox for iOSI am a long-time Firefox user. Firefox has its roots in the now defunct Netscape Web browser, a popular alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer back in the day. So I perked up when I learned that the Mozilla organization that produces the free Firefox browser has just released an iOS version that is optimized for your iPhone and iPad. It's pretty good. But Firefox for iOS is as much a promise as a reality, at least for now. Certain features that you have come to expect in iOS browsers are only hinted at in Firefox.

Two examples are tabs and synchronization. Most modern browsers, including the computer versions of Firefox, have a tab bar at the top. You load several Web sites at one time, then click the tab containing the one you want to view. Simple and elegant. In the iOS version of Firefox each tab is the width of your screen. You touch a button on the upper right to go to the 'tab screen' which shows thumbnails of each open tab. This certainly looks elegant, but it defies rule #2 Dan's Three Rules of Software Development:

Written by Dan on Friday November 13, 2015
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A Tiny, Powerful Desktop Computer

kangaroo logo 120I switched from Windows to an iMac four or five years ago. But I require a few -- a very few -- Windows programs that do not have Mac versions for work. So I use a program called Parallels that runs Windows on a 'virtual machine', basically fooling part of my Mac into thinking it is a Windows computer. It works well, but it slows things down a little, and I have felt for a few years that it would be nice to have a Windows computer just for those few programs. Even with the low cost of computers these days, I couldn't justify the expense. Until Kangaroo hopped onto the scene last week.

The Kangaroo Mobile Desktop computer is a fully functional Windows 10 computer that is the same size as an iPhone 6-Plus. In fact, it is smaller, because it comes with a dock that allows you to plug in USB and HDMI devices. The whole thing, including the dock, is the same size as the iPhone 6-Plus. It is 14mm thick, somewhat thicker than an iPhone 6-Plus, but not as much as twice as thick. It fits in your pocket. You could get one from newegg.com for $99 starting October 26th. That expense for a fully functional computer is certainly justifiable.

Written by Dan on Friday November 6, 2015
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OS X El Capitan For the Mac - A First Look

OS X El CapitanI always feel like downloading a major operating system (OS) release is like getting a new phone or computer. Sure the hardware is the same, but it looks and acts differently. Lately the major updates in the Apple stable have not looked or acted particularly differently, but they add features and capabilities that soon grow on you. That was how I viewed the iOS 9 upgrade on my phone a couple of weeks ago, and that is my first impression of El Capitan, the new OS X for the Mac.

On the heels of the iOS 9 release, El Capitan was released Wednesday. El Capitan is the latest version of OS X, the operating system that is used on the Mac. Like iOS 9, this free upgrade for Mac users strives to make computing experiences on both mobile devices and computers similar and compatible. Don't start installing El Capitan unless you have a lot of time. Even if I hadn't misunderstood a black screen and waited over an unnecessary extra half hour, the download and install took well over two hours.

Written by Dan on Friday October 2, 2015
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iOS 9 Comes To An iPhone Near You

iOS 9Wednesday was the big day for iPhone users. A new leaner, meaner iOS was promised, and if you checked for updates after 1pm you found that iOS 9 was ready for download. This was big news for many iPhone users, because Apple promised the new system would help speed up all models of iPhone back to the 4S, and iPads going back to the iPad 2 and iPad Mini 2. It would improve battery life and include a new low power mode. The operating system itself would be almost 1/4 the size (1.3GB) of iOS 8 (4.58GB), making the upgrade faster and requiring significantly less free space on your device than previous upgrades.

So promptly at 1:02pm Wednesday I initiated the upgrade. I expected it to take longer than normal to download, because... well... everyone was downloading it. But the smaller size mattered, and it finished downloading after just over ten minutes, significantly less time than when I upgraded to iOS 8 last year. But it was obvious that everybody was rushing to get the new operating system right away, because when I tried to initiate the upgrade on an iPad at five past one, Apple's servers were already so busy that the upgrade failed multiple times. About an hour later I was able to get it to work.

Written by Dan on Friday September 18, 2015
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Upgrading To Windows 10 on a Mac

Windows 10 on a MacWhen I cut the Windows cord there were a few programs I needed for work that were only available for Windows. A few were custom built one of a kind programs specifically for my business, and the other three didn't have a Mac version. Since then I've narrowed it down to two absolutely necessary programs that only have Windows versions (if you don't count the Windows Web browser, which I use for testing Web sites from time to time. I've been using Parallels to run Windows 7 on my iMac, and it works fine. So I probably don't need to upgrade to Windows 10.

But being geekily curious (which has already taken many of my nine techno-lives) I decided to upgrade anyway. Because I suffer from a mildly masochistic techno-curiosity and, perhaps, a lack of geekly impulse control. One real reason I did want to upgrade was that I heard that it is a leaner version of Windows. Microsoft has also been the King of Bloatware for years and years, and the idea of a faster booting/running Windows was attractive, especially when it is on a computer that is sharing resources between Windows and Mac software at the same time.

Written by Dan on Friday August 7, 2015
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Buying Gadgets That Don't Exist

TrackR BravoThere is a trend now for technical journalists to write about gadgets that don't actually exist. Well, technically they do exist, but there is no stock to ship to customers even though it is possible to pre-order them. The reviews help fledgeling companies raise enough money to pay for the final development and manufacturing of their great idea. And the folks who put their money down on crowdfunding Web sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo get to be the first to own these terrific gadgets.

It is easy to get caught up in the excitement. The funding campaigns identify a problem that we all share. They have videos showing a prototype of their product actually working. They have different price points for different levels of rewards. The problem is that few crowdfunded products ship close to the promised time, and many never even make it to shipping. And while a prototype may do all kinds of amazing things, when you have to deal with the economies of manufacturing the commercial product may or may not live up to the promises in real-world conditions.

Written by Dan on Friday July 24, 2015
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Getting Your Car To Talk To Your Phone

obdii 120I was driving home from Virginia when I stopped for gas. I couldn't read the LCD display on the gas tank, and as a result I was likely not pressing the right buttons. Whatever the reason, I got so aggravated that I stomped into my car and drove away without buying gas there. Unfortunately my gas cap was still sitting on the trunk of the car, and I didn't realize it until I noticed cruise control wasn't working. It turns out that on a Subaru cruise control is disabled when your Check Engine light is on. And your Check Engine light comes on if you don't have a gas cap.

Subaru dealerships were closed on Sundays, so I went to an auto supply store and bought a third party gas cap. As it turns out replacing the cap will turn off the Check Engine light, but only after you have gotten gas a few times. I drove home without cruise control. About 20 miles from home the Check Engine light blinked off and cruise control worked again. By that time my leg was cramped, and I couldn't use cruise control anyway in downtown Ithaca.

Written by Dan on Friday July 17, 2015
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