FEATURE REVIEW – Orbi Router

Wireless mesh networking is the latest thing in the world of Wi-Fi…

Introduction
I live in a two story home in suburban Chicago. The home is about 20 years old, and that puts its manufacture date just a few years before the introduction of Windows 95 and the public “release” of the internet.

Yes, yes… Of course, you’re right… Services like AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe were available long before that and had been giving folks access to the internet for a while. To many, that service, its UI, and everything it offered WAS the internet. However, the internet really didn’t start to heat up until 1995; and really didn’t start being made part of the standard single family home build with CAT5 cabling, until the early 2000’s.

For those older homes or those without network cabling in their walls, the easiest way to get internet access in your home has been with Wi-Fi. This is either done with a wireless access point, or more conveniently with a wireless router or cable modem/ router. Suddenly, you can get internet access all over your home… provided you have adequate signal.

And with Wi-Fi, that’s always been the big problem – adequate signal strength between your router or access point and your wireless device. No matter what you do, you’re going to run into signal interference from something in your home, whether it’s a wall or floor with wood or metal framing, copper, brass or PVC piping, electrical wiring and conduit… something is going to get in the way of your super strong, super-duper wireless router and will interfere with your access to the internet and all of its wonders.

Is the Netgear Orbi the wireless Wi-Fi router for me…? for you…? Let’s take a look at what it provides and see if it makes the cut.

Problems at Home
I’ve been in my current home for about 10 and a half years. During that time, I’ve been through 5-6 different wired and/ or wireless routers. For some reason, and I don’t know why, I seem to be on a 2-3 year cycle of replacing what appears to be “perfectly good” electronics because one day they’re workin’ just fine, and the next, they’re suckin’ up the joint.

I’ve tested the power coming into the outlets near where I have my cable modem hooked to the service cable coming into the house. Everything tests out just fine. I have no idea why I have to replace internet routers so often; but it appears that I do, as they just seem to “wear out.”

In following up with this problem, I’ve also contacted Comcast, my internet service provider, or ISP. They took one look at my cable modem and told me that my model was no longer supported. After some very frustrating and flawed, circular conversations on sending me a newer, supported model – and who was going to pay for shipping – I’m getting a new cable modem sent to me, absolutely free of charge, with Comcast covering the shipping. Its scheduled to arrive on 2016-02-03

Mesh Networking
Wireless mesh networking, or Wi-Fi systems as they are being marketed, are all the rage right now. They provide a stronger, wider reaching coverage area than traditional wireless networking solutions. The technology used here is similar to installing and using a signal repeater, a wireless access point or simply putting an additional wireless router in bridger mode; but with some very subtle, but important differences.

What makes these little bad boys better than an access point or other wireless router is the way that it repeats the signal. To understand why that is, we need to understand what mesh networking is and how it works.

Wireless access points and signal repeaters do just that – broadcast or forward on a wireless network signal; and that’s all. A mesh network Wi-Fi signal is different because in a mesh network the wireless signal is strengthened and sped up with each and every additional network node that is added to the network. The more nodes, the stronger and faster the single becomes. The denser the signal field, the better.

In a mesh network, only one node in the wireless mesh network actually needs to be directly wired to the Internet. That wired node is usually the wireless router or base station; and it shares the Internet connection wirelessly with the nearest cluster of nodes. Other wireless nodes share the signal with the node or node cluster nearest to them, etc.

Each individual node doesn’t need to be wired to anything. It only needs a power supply such as traditional AC plugs, batteries, etc. Nodes can also provide Internet connectivity to any type of internet device – wired or wireless devices – including VoIP phones, video cameras, servers, including desktop and laptop computers using traditional wired connections.

It’s this flexibility and strengthening and density of the internet connection that is making mesh networking or Wi-Fi systems so popular right now. They’re easy to setup and manage; and they provide internet connectivity to nearly any and every internet aware device – regardless of connection type.

Orbi Setup
To be very honest, this was surprisingly easy.

I’ve been using routers for home internet service since I got my first @Home internet service account back in 2000. I have a little bit of experience with these, and they are not always as intuitive and straight forward as one would hope; especially for noobies. Non-experienced users have traditionally had a great deal of trouble configuring and setting up wired and wireless routers, even in the more recent years with products that have been labeled “easy to configure.”

Home based, mesh networking is new technology (see above), and I really thought that setting up this product would be a lot different than what it turned out to be.

This was perhaps the easiest networking product I’ve ever setup. This was even easier to configure than my Apple Time Capsule.

When you get your Orbi Home Wi-Fi system, use these instructions to set it up.

  1. Connect the Router to your Cable Modem
    Unplug your cable modem and pull the backup batter so that it completely shuts down. Unplug and remove your old router (if you have one). Put the battery back in your cable modem. Wait 15 seconds and then plug your cable modem back in. Allow it to reregister on your ISP’s network.Plug an Ethernet cable from your cable modem into the yellow internet port on the back of your Orbi router.

    Plug in your Orbi router. The power LED on the back of the router should light green. If the LED doesn’t come on, press the on/off button. The LED on the TOP of your Orbi router should turn white.

  2. Position your Orbi Satellite 

    Your Orbi router should have a coverage area of at least 2000 square feet. When considering a spot for placing your Orbi, you need to consider more than the square footage of your home (mine is 2300 square feet…). You also need to consider the height of your home and how many floors you wish to provide wireless service to.I have 3 floors in my home. I have the Orbi router in my basement next to my Comcast cable modem. I have my Orbi Satellite on the opposite side of the house, in my family room, on the main floor of my home. This type of configuration blankets my entire home with Wi-Fi coverage on all three floors.

    The one thing that you have to keep in mind when positioning your satellite is that you must think in three (3) dimensions. Radio antennas provide coverage to either side of the unit as well as above and below it.

    When you plug the Orbi Satellite into an AC outlet, the power LED on the back will turn green. If it doesn’t, press the power burn. The Orbi satellite’s LED power ring will turn white and then a light magenta. It will remain a light magenta for about a minute while the satellite attempts to sync with the router.

  3. Confirm the Router Connection
    After about a minute or so, the LED power ring will turn either blue or amber.a. If the LED ring turns Blue
    The connection between the router and the satellite is functioning as intended and you’re good to go!

    b. If the LED ring turns Amber
    The connection between the router and the satellite is weak. You need to find a better place to position your satellite so that you get a stronger connection between the source of your internet connection (the router) and the satellite.

    c. If the LED ring remains Magenta
    If the LED remains magenta and you’ve already moved the satellite closer to the router, you may need to force the sync between the two units. Send someone down to the router and have them push the Sync button on the back of the router. After they’ve done that, you should press the Sync button the back of the satellite.

    If the Orbi router and satellite find each other and have a strong connection, the satellite’s LED ring will light white, then turn blue, and then turn off.

  4. Connect your Computer to the Orbi 

    Once you’re Orbi devices are setup and broadcasting a signal, you need to get in and configure them. Turn on Wi-Fi for your mobile device (phone or tablet) or your computer, and find the default Orbi network name (SSID) in your network list. Grab the box and check for the default password and then authenticate.Open your computing device’s web browser and surf to http://orbilogin.com. You will be presented with instructions on how to configure your device for the first time.

    During this time you MAY see the LED ring on your Orbi router or satellite turn back on. It may not… If it does, it should turn off once setup is complete.

Performance
I have the 75Mbps service offering from Comcast in suburban Chicago, IL. The service guarantees download speeds UP to 75Mbps and upload speeds UP to 20Mbps. Since installing the Orbi High-Performance AC3000 Tri-Band Wi-Fi System, my download speeds have been consistently well above that. I’m hitting download speeds of anywhere from 88Mbps to 92Mbps.

I’ve had a few instances of signal dropping or a complete lack of service, but that’s been confirmed to be an issue with either the service that Comcast has been providing or with their cable modem. In fact, I have a new cable modem from them that I need to install and activate. However, the signal provided by the Orbi has been strong and readily available on every floor of my home since it was brought on line.

The one issue that I need to work on with this setup is that ALL of my devices seem to be connecting to the base station and not to the satellite. I noticed this after I upgraded the firmware both devices immediately following installation. I’m not certain if that’s because I upgraded the router first and then the satellite, and everything grabbed a signal from the router instead of being more evenly distributed between the router and the satellite; or if there’s now an issue with the satellite due to the firmware flash.

I should have this all straightened out this weekend when I swap out my cable modems. I will provide an update later on this issue.

Conclusion
Make no mistake. This wireless networking system is expensive.

The Orbi High-Performance AC3000 Tri-Band Wi-Fi System retails for $399.99 for the base station and one satellite; and I’ve not really seen any real discount on this, even at Amazon. Its only $20 bucks cheaper there. It should also be noted that Amazon has the 3 node system (one base station and two satellites) for $599. Additional satellites are $249.99.

So far (when I know I have a good external service connection) this thing is smokin’ fast (and it better be for $399.99). All of my devices, including my smart TV’s and DVR’s – which historically have dropped their internet connection more than they’ve held on to it – don’t have any issues holding on to the wireless signal provided by the Orbi. I’m very pleased.

Setup was very easy, though for some reason I had a very difficult time checking for firmware updates. Uploading updated firmware to both the router and satellite was also, initially a bit problematic. I’m still having connectivity issues in the house, but I’m more convinced than ever that it’s not my equipment and is either the cable modem provided by Comcast (the old one that I need to swap out for its replacement) or is a DHCP/ DNS related issue on Comcast’s part. If the new modem hardware doesn’t resolve this, changing DNS servers within my network setup may.

Unfortunately, Comcast is the only service provider I have access to. Google has slowed down the implementation of its Google Fiber service; and unfortunately, it decided to skip Chicago anyway. My address also doesn’t qualify for AT&T Fiber; and their standard U-verse internet service simply sucks. Their plans max out at 12Mbps; and Comcast, even on a bad day can provide download speeds much, much higher than 12Mbps.

Do you have wireless internet service in your home? Do you have a separate wireless router and a cable modem, or does your cable modem also include a wireless router? Are you renting your cable modem from your ISP or did you purchase it outright? Do you have even Wi-Fi coverage in your home? Do you have weak or dead Wi-Fi spots in your home? Have you replaced your wireless router recently? Do you need to and are looking for a good replacement candidate?

I’d love to hear from you on these and other networking issues you’ve experienced lately or over the years. I’m very interested in understanding how many times you’ve had to replace a wired or wireless router in your home, especially if your cable modem does NOT provide wireless internet services. Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below, and give me information on what you’ve got going on for internet at your place..?

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Resetting your Windows PC – Part 2

It’s not as difficult or as time consuming as you may think…

Introduction
The other day, we spent a great deal of time going over the prerequisites for determining why and when you should reset your Windows PC. You can see that article here. Read that one before you follow the instructions here, if only to help you determine the best time to actually pull the trigger.

Once you decide that you really DO want to reset your PC, following the process here should insure that it gets done with the least amount of risk and stress.

How to Reset
I’m going to be doing this on a Windows 10 PC. However, the process can also be done on a Windows 8.x computer. The process will be similar, but somewhat different there.

Backup Your Data
There are a number of different ways to do this. You should be using at least one of them on your PC. Thankfully, you can use one, some or all of these together. If you don’t have some kind of restore process in place, you’re gonna be hurtin’ fer certin’ when you try to get yourself back up and running.

  1. Local Backup
    This can be as simple as you grabbing a USB flash drive and copying over the contents of your Documents, Photos, Videos and Music folders. It could also be a more formal operation that involves apps like Windows Backup or some other application that backs up some, part or all of your PC .If you go the backup app route, please understand that doing an application restore is likely going to put you back in the same boat you’re trying to get out of. When you’ve made the decision to reset your PC, restoring applications and settings will likely put the malware back on your PC as well. You’re going to have to be careful here; and if you set the app up right, it should function in the background, allowing you to continue working while it backs up your machine.Make certain that you only restore your files and application data from any backups you make.
  2. Cloud Based Backup
    Backing up your data to an offsite location, especially if it’s REALLY important to you can be the difference between getting everything back – including photos, videos, etc. as well as your Office or office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) files.This option is exactly like a local backup, except that the app that’s used uploads the backup data to a cloud based computer, in real time. Apps that fall into this category include both Backblaze or Carbonite, among others, and will involve some kind of a monthly or yearly subscription fee to store your data.Like the local backup option, apps that work here are likely those that you setup once and then simply let run in the background. These set ’em and forget ’em apps can constantly backup your PC, and do it with little to no intervention from you.
  3. Cloud Based Data Storage
    Backing up your data is easy when you use apps like Dropbox, Google Drive , OneDrive or other similar program. The nice thing about apps like this is that they are cross platform and available to install on just about any type of mobile device or computer, meaning you can sync and access your data from just about anywhere. Having a backup solution like this is the very basic of backup steps and should be done regardless of whether you have a local or cloud based backup of your data (or both).Like local and cloud based backups, this option may or may not involve a subscription fee for storage, so you’ll need to insure that you have enough cloud based storage available when you set up the app. If you need more than you get for free, you’ll need to pay for it. Make certain that everything is synchronized before you reset.PLEASE NOTE: Many cloud based data storage products have best in class malware screening products monitoring their storage media. I have yet to see a virus get past any of these products and transferred BACK down to your PC, post restore. However, this is NOT infallible.

Actually doing the Reset
To perform a reset of your PC, follow these steps

  1. Open the Windows 10 Settings App.
  2. Tap on Backup. If you backup with Windows 10, use these sets of screens and this process to back up your PC to save your data, OR follow the instructions I noted above.
  3. Tap on Recovery.
  4. Tap the Get Started button under Reset this PC
  5. Choose an Option. Keep your data or completely wipe the entire computer. Wiping the entire computer will delete everything and is considered a “factory reset.” It is the most reliable option when trying to delete malware that can’t be removed by other tools.
  6. Choose an Option. Clean your drive(s) or just reset all the system files. More often than not, if you’re removing everything, it’s a good idea to remove the files and clean the hard drive. It’s the best way to prevent malware from resurfacing afterwards.
  7. Are you REALLY sure? If you’ve recently upgraded your machine to Windows 10 (the free upgrade options have reportedly come back…), you’re going to get a Warning dialog asking you to confirm, instructing you that you won’t be able to go back to your PREVIOUS version of Windows (because you’re about to erase that backup from your hard drive).
  8. Ready to Reset. This is the LAST chance you’re going to get to stop the process. If you tap the Reset button, your computer is going to be erased and everything that it once was will be gone, restored to factory freshness.
  9. Choose an Option. After you’re done, you get a chance to turn off your PC, explore other troubleshooting options or to exit the Recovery partition and run Windows 10 for the “first” time. Tap Continue.
  10. Set up your PC. Reinstall all of your applications. If you backed up your data with a local or cloud based backup app, install that first and then restore your data. If you used a cloud based data synching service like Dropbox, Google Drive , OneDrive or other similar program, reinstall it and pull all of your data back down

After your data restore is done, you should install your anti-malware app and rescan your PC for it. If its back, then you know your data is infected. However, it will more than likely turn up clean, and you should be all set.

If you’ve used the Windows 10 Reset PC feature, I’d love to hear from you. Tell me how things went for you and share your results in the Discussion area, below.

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Resetting your Windows PC – Part 1

In many respects, it’s a lot like resetting your phone…

Introduction
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for Soft32 called iDevice Restore Gotchas. It’s a good read.

In that article, I covered a few basic points about resetting your device. Without rehashing the entire article – again, you can read it called here – I did cover 3 important points

  1. Don’t Fear the Hard Reset – sometimes it’s the best way to get rid of all the crap, especially if you have a deep rooted virus or piece of malware/ spyware that just will NOT go away.
  2. Make Sure you have a Solid Internet Connection – iDevices always, ALWAYS call home to ask permission before allowing you to completely blow them away, and if you don’t have one or are using your iDevice to provide internet connectivity, the process will fail; and then you’re really gonna be up a creek without a paddle…
  3. Don’t Connect your Smartphone to your PC through a USB Hub – the restore process is going to work better (read: won’t work at all through a hub…) with a direct connection, and you won’t have any technology headaches to trouble shoot.

All of these points are still relevant with the latest set of iDevices, and quite honestly, most every other mobile device out there. They’re also relevant with your Windows based PC, if its running Windows 10, and if you’re having troubles with it, the reasons for looking into this process are actually quite compelling.

At the end of the day, they can save your tens of hours of analysis time and a ton of money on ulcer and headache remedies with just a bit of planning and the new refresh and restore procedures in Windows 10. Let’s take a quick look…

Why Reset
There are a number of reasons why you might want to reset your Windows PC. You may have a virus or other piece of malware or spyware that, despite your best efforts, just can’t or won’t be removed. You may want to pass on your PC on to a friend or family member; or you may want to sell it or donate it to a charitable organization. Regardless of WHY you need or want to reset the machine, resetting it is often easier to do than actually taking the time to trouble shoot or perform some other deep cleaning or maintenance.

In many cases, the best thing to do is to nuke your machine from orbit and start over. Sometimes, fighting the good fight means retreating and not engaging.

When to Reset
So… ok. You’ve solved the “why” portion of this equation; but you’ve got all these apps and all this data. When do you actually do this? When do you tell yourself to stop, drop back and punt? That’s both simple, and complicated.

However, figuring out WHEN to do a reset really involves the severity of the problems you’ve been bumping into and how much time you have to burn. More often than not, its easier, less time consuming and less stressful to simply burn everything to the ground than to try to fix a specific problem, especially in the case of malware. More often than not, Windows based malware will bury itself so deeply within the OS, that it doesn’t want to come out without a fight, if it does at all.

I’ve had partially disabled malware repair itself and come back to life. Yeah… that was really an eye opener.

So, when do you actually declare “defeat” and actually DO the reset? That’s an excellent question. The best way to answer it though would be for you to do a bit of thinking

  1. What’s my Time Worth?
    Try to put a monetary value on your time. When you hit your gag reflex on the “cost,” consider pulling the reset trigger
  2. How “Bad” is the Problem?
    There are resources on the internet that can tell you a great deal about different kinds of malware and how difficult they are to remove. Solvusoft has a decent Malware Encyclopedia. Trend Micro has a good database, with some decent information that explains what each type of worm, virus, etc. does; and rates how difficult it is to remove. When you have more than one rating category with a red or critical rating, and you know your infected, the problem is probably a little more than, “bad.”
  3. Has your Virus Scanner Failed to Remove the Threat?
    If you can’t get rid of the bug with the anti-malware product you have, try an “off line” product like Fix Me Stick. Its fully compatible with Windows and should be able to remove most bugs without damaging your data.

I’ve yet to find a virus that it couldn’t remove (though in all honesty, it may take more than one scan to take care of everything…). Its well worth the $60 bucks a year (for up to 3 computers) that the service costs. However, not all virus scanners are created equally; and in many cases, some viruses just refuse to be removed.

You’re likely going to find yourself in a situation here that requires you to subjectively weigh the answers to these three questions and then make a decision. My experience, especially with malware, is that its always better to be safe than sorry.

Come back next time. I’ll have complete instructions on how to get this job done the easiest way possible.

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FEATURE REVIEW – ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA

Please hold while I try to resolve this problem…

Introduction
As I stated a little while ago, I’ve found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. It hasn’t been a lot of fun. Unfortunately for me, I really have no idea where Microsoft and Apple are headed with their computing initiatives. Its unnerving, too. I simply don’t know what to do at this point, and quite honestly, this is the first time I’ve been in this boat in the 20 plus years that I’ve been a tech journalist.

However, I think I may have found an interesting and rather affordable solution to my problem. Enter the ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA-D4-GR. Is this the right solution? Does it resolve most, some or all of my issues; or am I chasing through a rabbit hole without the possibility of finding my way out OR the white rabbit that made the hole? Let’s take a quick look at the device and find out.

Hardware
The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is a Surface Pro clone. It’s a 10.1 inch transformer (ultrabook and “tablet”) in one. It’s got a magnesium-alloy casing and weighs less than 800g; and is running Windows 10 Home.

The device has a quad core Intel Cherry Trail processor running at 1.44GHz. The device, as reviewed has 4GB of RAM and a 10.1 inch, 16:10 backlit, HD display sporting 1280×800 resolution and integrated Intel HD graphics. The device as reviewed has a 128GB EMMC SSD.

The device has integrated 802.11 AC Wi-Fi for wireless networking and internet connectivity. It also supports Bluetooth 4.1 for short range, accessory communication. The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H also has a 2MP web cam for video communications.

For connectivity, the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H has one of each of the following ports:

  • Combo Audio Jack
  • USB 3.0 Port
  • Micro USB Port
  • Micro HDMI Port
  • Fingerprint reader (supports Windows Hello)
  • microSD Card Slot

The build quality here is surprisingly high. I have been really impressed with the hardware and its fit, form and function. For the cost of the device, it’s going to be hard to find something better, in any class of notebook.

The full 360, below, has some really good shots of the hardware, including the included keyboard AND pen.

>
The back of the device. Notice the circular fingerprint reader at the top The back of the keyboard
The device, opened up. The keyboard has magnets that attach it to the landscape side of the tablet The device, open
The left side of the device Close up of the left side, ports
The top side of the device with the microSD slot and the power button Right side of the device
Close up of the right side, volume rocker and speaker

 

Tablet
The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is a Windows 10 ultrabook, just as the Surface Pro line of PC’s. However, it’s not a tablet. Please don’t consider this to be a true convertible – meaning this isn’t going to turn into your iPad or similar tablet when you remove the keyboard.

Like any other Windows 10 ultrabook convertible, all that happens when you remove the keyboard is that the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H becomes a slate PC.

A slate PC is NOT a tablet. It’s a regular PC with a touch interface that doesn’t require a keyboard or mouse.

A tablet is a content consumption device with an ecosystem – apps, videos, audio, etc. – available from a built in store, specifically made to consume ON that tablet. While a slate PC and an ultrabook have apps, and Windows has a “store,” per se in the Windows Store, you can get PC apps just about anywhere. You can also find videos and audio files (be they music, podcasts or other audio) nearly everywhere else that can easily be played on any Windows PC.

Windows 10 tablet mode is just a change in the standard Windows UI, nothing more. Nothing magical happens to the hardware. Nothing really magical happens to the OS after the keyboard is removed. It’s still Windows; just with a slightly different UI.

Aside from the whole Tablet Mode thing, this is really nothing more than a notebook computer with a removable keyboard. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it IS still just a PC. It just has more than one interface; but please don’t’ confuse this with a tablet like an iPad or a Galaxy tablet. It doesn’t run a mobile OS and it won’t. It’s going to have the same performance as it does when its keyboard is connected.

Keyboard
With the Surface Pro line of devices, the detachable keyboard is made of rubber and plastic. While this makes for flexibility, it doesn’t lend a lot of confidence that you’re getting a quality product. Well, that and the fact that the Surface Pro 3-4 Type Cover is an additional purchase that runs $129.99 for the older version to $159.99 for the version that has the Windows Hello compatible, finger sensor.

The keyboard that comes with the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is included with the tablet at no additional charge. It functions nearly the same way as the Microsoft Surface Type Cover, but has a metal alloy shell. The keyboard itself employs a butterfly switch under each key and sports 1.5mm of key travel. The extra-large touch pad is built in.

The typing experience is merely ok. It’s nothing to write – or type – home about. In the end, including the keyboard as part of the whole package, is another stellar move. It just cements the value of the whole package.

Out of the box, the keyboard of my ASUS Transformer T102H had a problem with the touch pad. The keyboard is supposed to support a right click via clicking the lower right corner of the track pad. This hasn’t worked right from the moment I pulled the device out of the box, and it’s obvious that the issue is a hardware issue and not a software or driver issue.

I called ASUS Tech Support and got someone who read a script at me and had me uninstall and reinstall APK and touch pad drivers. Getting her OFF the script wasn’t possible. However, 4 restarts and one full uninstall/ reinstall round and me insisting that this wasn’t a driver issue stopped the tomfoolery.

She then told me that I could return the device to my point of purchase, or could send the device to ASUS for warranty work. I told her that since this was a detachable keyboard, and that was the only part that I needed, couldn’t ASUS just send me a replacement keyboard?

No. ASUS doesn’t send parts to customers. If I wanted a replacement keyboard, I would need to send in the entire device, and then they would examine it and then determine if they would repair my existing keyboard or send me a new one. When I reminded the tech support rep that the keyboard was removable and that all that anyone in Repairs was going to do was take a look at the paperwork, grab my unit, pull the keyboard off, attach another one and then call it a day.

I got similar service from Newegg, as I bought the device from them and also purchased their extended warranty for $50. I would need to send the entire device and they would then send a replacement. Both companies knew that this would leave me without a working machine and didn’t care.

I blame Newegg more than I do ASUS, simply because they are the ones that I bought the extended warranty from. Why no one will send me a detachable keyboard is way beyond me.

Performance
I’m going to get to battery life and other performance factors in just a moment, but I wanted to take a moment and talk about this computer and its processor and RAM performance.

In a word – WOW!

The Intel CherryTrail Atom processor definitely makes a difference. I’ve reviewed value based tablets before and haven’t been impressed. Atom processors promise decent performance coupled with battery savings, but, in my opinion, always have a hard time delivering.

My assessment of the Dell Latitude 10-ST2’s Atom processor can clearly be seen here:

The Atom processor doesn’t have a lot of horse power. In fact, it’s pretty anemic. The system is optimized for a few specific apps – Microsoft Office being one of them – but don’t expect it to power through anything else. The weak processor performance even seems to affect network traffic, disk I/O and display performance as well, though obviously system interaction between dedicated subcomponents will also factor in.

With the ASUS Transformer T102H, the tune is a little different. While this is NOT going to run Photoshop or Lightroom with any sense of reliability or desired performance, it can ink notes in OneNote 2016 without ANY ink lag at all. It will also handle most, if not all, your PowerPoint and Excel documents – barring any really complex macros or large, external data calls – with reasonable results. For reliable, light to medium level productivity work, this computer should more than adequately meet all of your needs.

To be honest, I don’t know if the level of performance satisfaction I have is due to the more advanced Cherry Trail processor in the ASUS Transformer T102H vs. the Atom processor in the Dell Latitude 10-ST2, or if the satisfactory performance is due to the device’s 4GB of RAM… or both. I don’t have the 2GB version of the device to compare mine against. However, I’ more than certain that it plays into the equation more than you might initially think. At the very least, it’s the combination of the quad core, CherryTrail processor and the device’s 4GB of RAM that are making such a remarkable difference in my expectations.

Battery Life
Led in part by its 1.44GHz CherryTrail Processor, I’ve found the battery life to be totally crazy awesome on the ASUS Transformer T102H. The device advertises an 11 hour, all day battery.

These estimates are close but I’ve found my results to be about half of what’s advertised in real life. However at five and a half hours, this should get me through most of the work day without really NEEDING a charge. This is great news; and a huge relief, as having a day long note taking solution is HUGE in the office, especially when you have back to back meetings and CAN’T get back to an AC outlet and charging cable.

I wish that all of my notebooks were as good on battery life and did me so well when it comes to the task at hand.

Software
The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H is a Microsoft signature PC. This means that its free of crapware. It doesn’t have any third party add-ons or software. The only thing that it really does have is the installation stub for Microsoft Office 365. Other than that, this PC is junk free.

In my opinion, Signature PC’s are the best on the market. I know in many cases that software companies cut deals with OEM’s to help defer the cost of software development, and the OEM’s get help to defer the low cost of the device. I think the software companies come out on top of that deal; and that’s fine when the software in question is useful; but when it’s something that’s so bloated like Norton Antivirus or MacAfee Internet Security, you really have to wonder why the OEM chased after it.

I’ve seen MacAfee software preinstalled on low end PC’s with budget processors and quite honestly, all that it really does is bring down the performance of the device. Having the ASUS Transformer Mini T102H be a Signature PC without all of that garbage software, is a huge blessing. Those apps don’t always remove themselves well, and you can end up with a gimpy system afterwards. Here, you don’t have to worry about that.

Conclusion
This one is fairly easy. If you’re looking for a Microsoft Surface Pro clone and you don’t want to spend a lot of money on the device, this is likely the PC for you. Its CherryTrail processor isn’t going to be something that’s going to punch through any audio or video editing or run Photoshop or Lightroom, well, really at all; but if you’re looking for a productivity machine for you or your kids, THIS is a really good choice.

The device will run Office very well; and if you’re into OneNote at all, then you’re in for a treat. The device comes with both a detachable keyboard and a pen, so you can take notes, draw, markup documents – whatever – right out of the box. There’s NO ink lag with the pen in OneNote 2016, and with an Intel Atom processor, that’s really very surprising. I’ve had other devices where that was NOT the case.

A side view of the ASUS Pen The top of the ASUS Pen. Notice, there’s no application button on the end.

This is an ultrabook PC, so even though you can remove the keyboard and use it without a keyboard, it is not a true tablet, as it doesn’t run a mobile OS. It runs 64bit Windows 10 Home. In any “mode,” PC or tablet, this is a PC. Period.

Speaking of the keyboard, it provides a decent typing experience. While it’s not something that I’d like to work with all day long, its ok; and can get you through a meeting in a pinch. Again, the fact that this device comes WITH the keyboard is huge. On the Surface Pro, it’s a $129 – $159 add on.

As a Signature PC, this device is awesome. No junk software! No crapware! This is huge on a device like this with a budget processor, no matter how good that processor may be; and huge when it has a non-upgradable SSD as a main drive. While it does have a microSD card slot for additional storage, the fact that you don’t have to run an app like the PC Decrapifier to try to remove all of the OEM sponsored junkware that comes on most Windows PC’s is huge.

The ASUS Transformer Mini T102H runs $349.99 for the 64GB version and $399.99 for the 128GB version. It is readily available on the internet and is perhaps one of the best budget PC buys you can make this year.

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Data Hogs Beware!

Verizon is gunning for users of its legacy Unlimited Plan…

If there’s one thing that I know, and I know well, it’s that mobile carriers get their undies in a bunch when it comes to customers using what they consider to be “too much” bandwidth. In fact, Verizon has been, it seems, on a mission to get users of its legacy unlimited data plan to move to a current plan.

Back in 2011, Verizon killed their unlimited data plans, requiring everyone on those plans to move to a different, shared data plan. However, some users weren’t affected, and were able to remain on a legacy, unlimited data plan. Verizon has been on a mission ever since to remove remaining users from those legacy plans so they can finally be retired in favor of more lucrative data plans that limit customer bandwidth.

Recently, Verizon sent a notice to users on those plans who were using at least 200Gb a month that they would be required to choose a different data plan by 2016-02-16, or risk having their service terminated. Terminated clients will have 50 days to get with the program and get a new service plan. Clients failing to do this will be hit with contract termination fees and will have their lines of service/ accounts closed.

Back in August of 2016, Verizon targeted users consuming 500GB or more of data a month and gave them the same message – find a newer data plan or be terminated. Verizon no longer offers unlimited data on any device. They have a 100GB plan that costs $450 per month, before line and access fees. The legacy, unlimited data plan costs $100 per month.

Verizon has made a number of different changes to its service plans over recent months. At the beginning of 2017, Verizon raised its line upgrade fee from $20 to $30 per line. Every line that is upgraded to a new device will be charged this fee going forward. Verizon has also stopped offering two year subsidized phone contracts as of 2015.

Verizon has historically been an expensive mobile carrier. Individuals who use Verizon do so under one of just a few key conditions, in my experience:

  1. It’s the only carrier in town
    Verizon is often the only carrier in many rural areas. Their mobile network was built out first and in some cases, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint either haven’t gotten there or don’t intend to.
  2. It’s the only carrier in town with a decent signal
    In some (rural) areas, there’s carrier choice, but service from other mobile carriers is SO bad, that it’s not worth using them. Folks in this category may also travel for business and need to have a reliable signal that can be reached in the devil’s basement.

I used to be a Verizon customer. However, shortly after AT&T started offering the iPhone – and before I switched – I moved from Verizon to AT&T simply because I was able to cut my monthly spend nearly in half. Back in the day, the family and I were spending nearly $500 a month on cellular service for just three lines. Switching to AT&T drastically dropped our monthly spend.

However, their legacy unlimited data plan, popular with many iPhone and smartphone users offered access to Verizon’s fast 4G and LTE network at a reasonable cost. Now, according to Verizon, those folks are costing the company too much money and clogging up the pipe.

If you’re still a Verizon Unlimited Data user, if not now, you’re going to be targeted by the organization in the very near future. Verizon wants you off that data plan and on something else that provides them with better revenues. Let’s be clear about this – regardless of how Verizon tries to spin this to you, this is about their bottom line, not the service quality on their network.

According to VzW spokesperson Kelly Crummey, speaking with Ars Technica,

“Because our network is a shared resource and we need to ensure all customers have a great mobile experience with Verizon, we are notifying a small group of customers on unlimited plans who use more than 200GB a month that they must move to a [different] Verizon [data] Plan by February 16, 2017.”

Are you a Verizon customer? Do you still have their legacy Unlimited Data Plan? Have you received any kind of notice from Verizon that you’ll have to pick a new data plan or risk losing your line/ lines of service? If so, which data plan(s) look attractive to you? Would you consider a change or move to a different carrier like AT&T or T-Mobile who are both offering unlimited data plans again (albeit, with a few prerequisites)..?

If you fall into one of these categories, I’d love to hear from you and get your opinion on what is happening with Verizon and more importantly, how you’re treated by the company when you call them and have a customer service issue to resolve. Do they hound you to switch data plans? Have they in the past tried to force you out of your existing plan and on to another? Are they offering any kind of incentive to make the move early (I haven’ t seen any evidence of any kind of incentive…). I’d also love to know which data plan you end up choosing, if you decide to stay, and how that new data plan effects your bill.

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area below and give me your details? If enough people respond, I’ll do a follow up article on your experiences and put you in the lime light!

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The Day that Apple Changed the World

The iPhone is 10 years old, and its introduction changed the world

Apple set the smartphone – and the world – on its ear when it introduced the iPhone to the back in 2007. Steve Jobs mashed the popular iPod Touch together with cellular communications technology and created what he called, “a revolutionary mobile phone and breakthrough internet communication device with desktop class email, web browsing, searching and maps [all combined] into one small and lightweight handheld device.”

That’s exactly what the iPhone is today, too. Still… even ten years later.

The device, however, is much, much more than it was. With more than two million available apps, its changed the way we play, commute and communicate with family, friends and the entire world. It gave birth to the Selfie, to the tweet, and to countless other things social. Its created bajillions of copycat devices, much to Samsung’s chagrin, and is in many ways the most successful consumer device, like, EVER.

So where does it go from here? That, my friends, requires a bit of vision. Many are prognosticating on this topic, and I don’t agree with everyone. Here’s where I think Apple will go with things, even if I don’t care for that particular direction.

Connectivity
Apple wants to be the communications hub of your entire existence. With things like Home Kit, your iDevice – including your iPhone – can communicate with the core infrastructure of your home. As costs come down for third party products – like locks, thermostats, light bulbs, appliances, etc. – imagine being able to control the temperature of your house from anywhere in the world, being able to see if you’re out of milk while on vacation and then being able to place an order for milk, eggs and bread while you’re gone and having them on your doorstep when you return home. While you can sort of do some, if not most of this today, it isn’t always easy… or accurate. It should be with future versions of iPhone.

Imagine being able to accurately communicate with all of your gadgets and appliances without dropped connections or other communications interference. Bluetooth 5 promises to provide communications accuracy as well as increased range and speed of communications with your entire home.

Artificial Intelligence
The biggest issues with the Amazon Echo and with Google Now is that both Amazon and Google require that you give up privacy and access to most if not all of your personal data to make their digital assistants work. Imagine if Apple could accomplish the same thing, while still protecting your privacy.

Apple intends to do this by keeping your data on your device, instead of pushing the request to the cloud where your data is collected, analyzed and aggregated with every other bit and byte. This will be a huge win for Apple if they can deliver. Keeping your data private and creating devices smart enough and fast enough – with enough memory (RAM) to handle local search should be a key initiative for Apple going forward.

Ports
Many folks lost their minds when Apple removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. I am not a huge fan of the missing headphone jack in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. I know a great deal of folks who are still a bit miffed about the whole thing; and Apple seems to be doing the same thing on their computing devices as well.

However, most fall into two categories – those that don’t care and those that can work around it.

Those people that can work around the lack of a headphone jack on their iPhone are those that have accepted the fact that they’re going to need a dongle to continue to use their legacy headphones with their iPhone 7 or 7 Plus. They’ve pulled the dongle that Apple included in the box with the new device, slapped it on the cable of their legacy headset and have decided to leave it there. The only issue most folks bump into here is listening to audio and charging at the same time. There are some splitter cables on the market right now that resolve this issue, but unless this is a big deal for someone, paying $40USD or more for a single dongle isn’t a very popular idea. (yes, Amazon DOES have splitter cables for about $10USD, but they don’t have MFI certification. If you go this route, use the cables with caution. The application of too much or too little power to a lithium ion battery can have explosive results.

The Next Big Thing
Figuring this out isn’t easy, especially when it comes to Apple. There are more rumors about what Apple is going to produce than anything else on the internet, really. Well… perhaps there are more cat videos, but this comes in as a close second.

The biggest problem here, is that no one hardly ever gets it right, until the last minute, and by THAT time, it’s too easy. Nearly anyone can produce an accurate guess at that point. However, figuring out what Apple is going to do with the iPhone ten years from now, isn’t going to be too hard, at least I think so.

Before 2027, Apple will discontinue what we consider to be the iPhone. Apple will likely produce a different device, with a completely different form factor to replace it. It’s likely NOT going to be in the traditional or familiar form factor. It could be a wearable. It could even be an implant, projecting a virtual display that only YOU can see.

Whatever the iPhone turns into, many see it being a wearable of some type. As reported by C|Net, input and output of data from a communications device and the brains of a product will reside with a [more fluid] device, [instead of a traditional smartphone]. I expect to see some REAL innovation in this space over the coming years as there’s no doubt in my mind that communications, could (literally) all be in your head.

What do you think? Do you see enough changes in the smartphone and peripherals market to change the iPhone into a wearable of some kind? What do you think the next big thing is? Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area below, and give me your thoughts?

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Verizon to Rename Yahoo, Altaba after Purchase

It also looks as though Marissa Mayer is out of a job…

Verizon announced yesterday that it still intends to acquire Yahoo for its aforementioned $4.8B purchase plans. This is surprising to many, me included, as Yahoo revealed that it had a security breach where over 1.0B user accounts had been exposed. This large breach occurred six to twelve months prior to the attack in 2014 where 500M user accounts were compromised. This deal came about after CEO Marissa Mayer failed to turn the company around after her arrival in early to mid-2012.

It also looks as though she’s completely given up. According to Paul Sweeney, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, “…it looks like [Mayer’s] plan is to complete the sale of the operating company to Yahoo and let the lawyers and tax accountants figure out the best option for the stakes in Alibaba and Yahoo Japan.” She is also out as a director, as she as well as six other key board members, including Yahoo cofounder David Filo and former board chairman Maynard Webb, will be stepping down. Webb was named Chairman emeritus.

Despite the additional, larger breach, Verizon still appears to be interested in the 23 year old company. After the sale of the company, Yahoo will change its name to Altaba – a combination of the words, “alternate” and Alibaba,” according to someone familiar with the matter. Yahoo owns stakes in both Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. And Yahoo Japan, where, according to analysts, is where the core of the sale’s value for Verizon lies. Verizon isn’t expected to gain a lot of value from its direct purchase of Yahoo.

Interestingly enough, according to the Wall Street Journal, Mayer is expected to stay with Yahoo after the sale to Verizon, though her exact role has yet to be announced.

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OWC Announces Upgrades for 2016 MacBook Pros

OWC has found a way around the Apple upgrade problem with the 2016 MacBook Pros…

I’ve always been a huge fan of OWC. In many ways, I think they’re one of the best aftermarket Apple accessory producers in the world. They have hard/ SSD drive, memory and accessory upgrades for just about every Mac on the market, as well as support for models going back many years. If you have a Mac – any Mac – you need to at least check out their website to see what add ons and upgrades might be available for your hardware. It may also be that they’re local to suburban Chicago, too… but I digress.

With the release of the 2016 MacBook Pro’s, many in the tech industry, and especially in the tech journalism sector – myself included – were very disappointed with Apple’s latest hardware release. In fact, many – again, myself included – feel that Apple is truly ignoring their “professional users” and instead concentrating on a larger, more consumer oriented audience. To boot, they’ve been rather quiet about this. Instead, the only thing anyone is hearing on the lack of ports on the 2016 MacBook Pro (both with and without TouchBar) is the echo of the WWDC keynote – “we think you’re going to love it…” (or some such nonsense).

Clearly, not everyone does.

In an interesting CES development, OWC (Other World Computing) has released an add on for the 2016 Mac Book Pro called the OWC DEC that allows not only for internal storage upgrades, but includes a number of missing legacy ports.

When attached, the DEC sits completely flush with the bottom of the 2016 MacBook Pro, and while it does add to the thickness of the device, OWC says that it keeps the overall height of the device as the 2012 MacBook Pro. Exactly HOW it connects to the MacBook Pro hasn’t exactly been disclosed yet. The press pictures that OWC has provided show all four native USB-C ports unused (see above). However, when released in the Spring of 2017, the DEC will support the following, according to OWC:

  • Up to 4TB of additional Flash/SSD storage (for a maximum of 6 TB, including the factory installed 2GB SSD that Apple offers)
  • SD Card Slot/Multi-Media card slot
  • USB 3 Type A Ports for standard USB cabled devices
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • And other features to be announced at a later date

The key here is that last bullet – “other features to be announced at a later date.” The big things missing in the above list are:

  • A MagSafe Connector (including a USB-C to MagSafe Adaptor, yet to be developed or released)
  • An HDMI port
  • A Mini DisplayPort port
  • Additional Thunderbolt 2-3 ports (not using the Type C connector)
  • A rechargeable battery, for extended battery life

What additional features are included in the final, shipping product have yet to be determined or announced. The prototype is on display at the OWC booth at CES during the week of 2017-01-03.

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