Category Archives: software

Roku 3: Worth the upgrade?

Roku 3 with Headphones 1024x597

I’ve had the Roku 2 XD since its release last year and have generally enjoyed it. My only complaint: Not sure if it’s due to the user interface, CPU, or remote, but sometimes it felt really laggy. Click, lag… display. Click, lag…. display. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So, when I learned the Roku 3 had been released (thanks, zatznotfunny!), I was curious. Here’s how Roku is marketing the Roku 3 and my point-by-point observations:

Screenshot 3 10 13 11 54 AM

  • So much fun: I mainly use my Roku box to watch Netflix, Amazon streaming, and TED talks, so of course it’s fun! For me, this goes without saying 😉
  • Amazing interface: The Roku user interface has been updated and is now easier to use (especially if you use a lot of channels). Instead of a film-strip like interface, it’s now a grid.Ui
  • Powerful remote: The Roku 3 remote includes a headphone port to allow private listening. Also, instead of using bluetooth connectivity to control the roku box (as previous roku models have), the Roku 3 remote uses WiFi Direct to eliminate Bluetooth coexistence issues
  • Awesome app: I confess, I haven’t used the smartphone app yet. I hereby relinquish my geek cred 😉
  • Serious performance: As noted above, I’ve always loved Roku (and have owned each generation released), but had in the past found it laggy during navigation and starting video playback. Now: WHOA, lagginess is no longer a problem with the Roku 3! I’m so pleased by the faster performance. 
  • Totally simple: Yep, Roku boxes are wonderfully simple to set up. Unlike some tech that is cool once finally set-up but can be a nightmare getting there, no such issues with Roku. For that reason, I think Roku boxes are the perfect gift.

Other observations:

  • You won’t be able to just plug it into your older Roku box’s AC adapter: The box itself requires a different power adapter (higher voltage and shaped differently than that used by previous models).
  • It’s heavier: This is a good thing. Now, the cables hooked to the back of the box no longer weight it down — my Roku 2 HD was normally suspended in air (unintentionally) because it was so light and the cables only weighed down the back.
  • Great theme selection: I’m normally not keen on themes included in tech gadgets. However, the new interface offers a selection of very attractive themes that really do add to the Roku menu experience. 

The great theme selection seems to be server driven — you select the theme and within a few seconds it displays on your box. Why do I think it’s server-driven? Well, I initially selected the lovely Daydream theme. Then, yesterday, I decided to check out the other themes — they are all indeed very nice. The only problem is when I tried to re-select Daydream from the theme list (after using the Decaf theme), the following error message displayed:

Roku error

Having become quite fond of the Daydream theme (which is somewhat Paperland-esque), I even did a factory reset on the Roku 3 to try to re-select the Daydream theme. Nope, still got the error above. I contacted Roku chat support, and the very helpful Roku support rep confirmed that he wasn’t able to select the Daydream theme, either. Clearly, this is a non-critical early adopter issue — I submitted a problem ticket and am hopeful Roku will have the lovely Daydream theme available again soon. 

Edited 3/11/2013: My Roku technical support experience was excellent. The tech folks I chatted with were very helpful and the theme issue was resolved this morning.

So, is the Roku 3 worth the upgrade?

Yes. The faster performance offered by the Roku 3 makes it a better box than its predecessors.

One caveat: If you’re happy with a previous Roku box and are just interested in the new user interface, just be patient — apparently the new UI will be rolled out to older boxes soon.

If any questions about the Roku 3, feel free to leave a comment.

My favorite Windows Phone apps

lumia900cyan

With the recent Nokia Lumia 900 release here in the U.S., I’d like to share my favorite Windows Phone (WP7, aka Mango) apps. If you have any favorite apps you’d like to mention, feel free to leave a comment.

First, a tip:
Follow these steps to access the Nokia Lumia 800/900 hidden diagnostics tool. Note:  Doing so will also add the app to your app list
– Go to your Lumia phone dialpad
– Press ##634# (the tool will then automatically open)
– Check out all the Diagnostic options, including Battery Status

My favs (in no particular order):

USAToday: Aside from being a great news app, the live weather tile is both attractive and handy

NY Times: Nice app if you’re a NY Times fan

BBC Radio Player: The most robust BBC radio app I’ve found on WP7. App provides a large variety of BBC Radio Channels

GoVoice: A must have app if you Google Voice — I use Google Voice instead of AT&T voicemail

Livescape: If you’ve used “Lose it!” or other food tracking / health apps, you’ll love Livescape.

Wordament: This great word game should come with a warning, it’s that addictive!

Amazon Kindle: To keep up with your reading

Amazon Mobile: To shop!! (There’s even a separate AmazonFresh app.)

Bing Picts Downloader: Find gorgeous wallpapers via recent Bing featured photos

Das Image: Another versatile wallpaper source

Chrome Bookmarks: If you are a long-time Chrome desktop  browser user, this is a great way to access your Chrome bookmarks. (There is a similar app which also appears to sync with your recently opened Chrome tabs, called Chrync, but I haven’t tried it yet.)

Nokia Drive: Accessible via the Marketplace… Fabulous Nokia software that provides voice turn-by-turn navigation. Be sure to also check out  the Nokia Maps and Nokia Transit apps.

Rowi: A fast, full featured twitter app

Netflix: To watch Netflix on the go

Tech News Now: A nice news aggregator

Windows Phone News: A nice news aggregator, focusing on Windows Phone coverage

WpFandora Pro: An attractive Pandora app

Zillow: The zillow app you may know and love from iOS, Android, etc. I used to love Zillow until I noticed my home value is lower each time I check. Smile with tongue out

Zune Pass: Although not considered as cool as some other music discovery services, I LOVE Zune Pass. Well worth the $10 monthly fee.

My Best Buy Blue Label laptop adventure: Sony Vaio VPCSC1AFM/S

A few years ago, I bought a Sony Vaio Z Series laptop and loved it – fast, light, long battery life. Recently, I realized it was probably time to upgrade, and looked around for another laptop.

Store after store I visited had an abundance of 15 & 16” laptops, but not a lot of 12 – 14” machines. I prefer smaller laptops for the portability and more compact keyboards which tend to be a better fit for me.

pcmprd154000050000_scThen I happened across the Sony Vaio VPCSC1AFM/S, a Best Buy Exclusive (Best Buy Blue Label 3.0), similar to Sony’s Vaio S Series. I tried it in the store… blazing fast with respectable specs including:

  • Intel® Core™ i5-2410M processor
  • 13.3″ LED-backlit widescreen
  • 4GB DDR3 memory
  • 500GB + 4GB SLC hybrid hard drive (apparently, a Momentus XT 7200rpm hybrid drive)
  • Blu-ray Disc-enabled DVD±RW/CD-RW drive
  • AMD Radeon HD 6470M graphics
  • Backlit keyboard

As of May 2011, Best Buy is offering a package deal for $979 that includes the Vaio, a NetGear Push2TV HDTV adapter, and a year subscription for Kaspersky anti-virus. I didn’t need either of the add-ons but would never pass up something that’s essentially being offered for free. I haven’t tried out the Push2TV adapter, and will post a review when I finally kick the tires.

But I digress. Back to the Sony Vaio VPCSC1AFM/S…

My bliss was short-lived as when I came home and turned the laptop on… only to find “OS not found”. Urgh! Ever the geek,  I headed over to Staples and brought home Windows Home Premium to install, as I knew I could download model-specific drivers from the Sony support site. A fine plan too, until I found that that blu-rays would not play on this Vaio without a Sony software called “PMB”, and despite PMB update availability on the Sony support site, apparently the full version of PMB software was required to even load the updated software!

Quite the dilemma. I asked Best Buy for help (hey, they sold it to me), but the sympathetic Geek Squad guy could only offer to swap it for another laptop. I contacted Sony support twice – the 1st time was directed to contact a Sony Service Center, and the 2nd time was chastised by a rude CSR who informed me that I shouldn’t have minded that the OS refused to boot up on my new laptop, and that I needed to press the “Assist” button to boot into the recovery partition. I felt frustrated, but went ahead and restored the OS using the recovery partition using the instructed approach.

I was left wondering whether Best Buy Blue Label laptops receive as thorough pre-shipping quality control as other Sony Vaio laptops.

After completing the install via recovery partition, I experienced software conflicts between some of the Sony Vaio software and Microsoft updates. Yay (NOT)! I finally installed the Microsoft updates one by one, and reinstalled several pieces of the Sony Vaio drivers/software and finally all seems well.

Now that the software headaches seem ironed out, how do I feel about this Best Buy Blue Label?

  • I love the laptop,  it includes the bundle of features I’d been wanting in a reasonably affordable package.
  • It’s fast and fun to use.
  • Love, love, love the backlit keyboard!
  • Startup and shutdown are amazingly fast.
  • The Blu-Ray player is a nice bonus.
  • The screen is lovely with good contrast and color saturation. The Aero theme wallpapers look fantastic on it.

Edited to add: I ran across another user review as I wrote this. His review is very detailed, and I agree with his points.

I love Dropbox!

Oh, Dropbox, how I love you! I find Dropbox is the easiest way to access my files from a variety of locations (laptop, smartphone, tablet). It’s also easy to share files with friends. It’s one of those online products that works so well anyone from a computer novice to hardcore geek can use it with ease.

And did I mention…. Dropbox offers 2GB of online storage for free accounts.

If you haven’t tried Dropbox, you can use this referral link to get an additional 250MB free (=2.250GB total): http://db.tt/8YJPTes

I can’t recommend Dropbox highly enough, it’s been a great way to store and access my files. For another user’s perspective, see Dropbox: The Most Essential Writer’s Tool.

Note: An earlier version of this post included some errors (which have since been corrected). Thanks to http://writingonlinux.wordpress.com/ for commenting to let me know!

Google Chrome OS Notebook (CR-48): One week in

Just a quick update in my ongoing series about using the CR-48. View earlier posts here: Initial observationsa few more observations, and discovering developer mode.

Since my last post,  

I’ve burned through my free 100MB of Verizon. 3G. Attempted to set up add-on data plan online (to tide me over until my free 100MB allotment resets next month), Verizon web form accepted my information and then displayed a “call Verizon” page. Called Verizon to buy add-on data: Long, painful process to finally get transferred to a Verizon employee aware of the Google CR-48 program and special pre-paid data offerings. In all fairness, it’s a new program and Verizon is likely in the process of getting front-line staff trained. Still, wish it had been a smoother process

Continue to use the CR-48 as my primary personal laptop. Surprisingly, the adjustment has been smoother and more pleasant than I expected. After enabling developer mode and installing the developer OS update, the trackpad responsiveness issues seem to be resolved. 

Squashing bugs: I figure if Google sent me a free laptop on the condition all I need to do is use it and report bugs, I’ll do my best to get them feedback on my experience. I’ve found some bugs but since data is saved to the cloud, even those requiring a rude shutdown haven’t really been an issue. It’s a nice experience.

I’ll continue to blog on my CR-48 observations — leave a comment if you have any questions.

Google Chrome OS Notebook (CR-48): Discovering Developer Mode

After being surprised and delighted to receive a Google Chrome OS Notebook (CR-48) a few days ago, I’ve been blogging about my CR-48 initial observations and day-to-day experience.

Yesterday, I decided to try out Developer mode after reading an article on ChromeOSSite.com. It’s an easy process, essentially flipping a switch located in the battery compartment, rebooting and a few other steps (outlined by ChromeOSSite.com here). When I first rebooted, I was greeted by an unnerving screen that declared the OS unverified. Clicking on this screen took me to screen explaining how to re-load the OS (the provided url mentioned loading the OS onto a thumb drive and re-installing). OOPS!

All I needed to do was to remain on the initial boot-up screen following reboot. By waiting at that screen several seconds, the system beeps a few times and then boots into the user log-in screen (as expected). Whew!

My understanding is that developer mode enables:

  • Shell access & other geeky fun: As I kick around in the CR-48, I may want to delve more deeply — developer mode enables this exploration
  • More frequent OS updates: The “normal” (non-developer) mode provides a beta experience. As soon as I rebooted into developer mode, a new OS update was downloaded — perhaps an OS version closer to alpha than beta?

So far, the Developer OS version seems slightly faster than the beta. The OS still struggles with pages containing Flash plug-ins and chugs a bit when trying to load several bookmarks at a time. But hey, it’s beta (or perhaps even alpha), right? Bugs and rough edges are to be expected…. just part of the experience.

I’m still surprised that I haven’t needed to revert to using my Vaio (aside from a short time on Friday). I’m finding the Chrome OS user experience enlightening in just how much I live on the web.

I haven’t yet used the built-in Verizon 3G connectivity, and may try this out today away from home. I love that 100MB is provided free monthly, but a little concerned about how quickly I could burn through that. Luckily, Verizon has included an unlimited day pass for $9.99 in their CR-48 data plan offerings.

I’ll continue to blog on my CR-48 observations — leave a comment if you have any questions.

Google Chrome OS Notebook (CR48): A few more observations

I was thrilled to receive a CR48 notebook a few days ago, and have used it intensively for the last day. (See my initial observations post.) It’s an interesting device and I’m finding it enlightening as it’s making me aware of how I extensively I use the web.

As a baseline, I should describe how I’m using the CR48 and the laptop it’s (temporarily) replacing.

  • Usage: Home power user. Because my job requires use of business and technical apps not available on the web, I would not be able to use a web-only notebook for work.
  • My own laptop: I have a Windows7 Sony Vaio Z laptop that I love — it’s small, light, and still feels powerful despite being 1.5 years old. After a hard drive failure last fall, I’ve preferred to use web apps (rather than installed apps) whenever possible. That approach saves me from having to maintain current version of installed apps (since a web app will always serve up the newest version), and frees up hard drive space. I use Google services extensively, especially since I’m an Android mobile user (HTC EVO, which I also love!).

Now, a few more Chrome OS observations:

  • Mouse-less: I use a laptop’s trackpad and keyboard extensively, rather than using a mouse. I find the CR48 supports this use case well — there’s even an interactive onscreen keyboard help to provide guidance about keyboard shortcuts. (I think the CR48 probably supports using a mouse, but haven’t plugged one into the USB port to check.)
  • Web vs installed apps: If you rely on installed apps for computing, you won’t like the CR48. Since I have a preference for web apps over installing additional software onto my laptop, the CR48 feels like a natural fit for me.
  • Singular focus: On my Vaio, I’ll generally have multiple windows open and more than one window displayed at any given time. With the CR48, I can have multiple tabs open but only one is visible at any time. I’m finding I really like this singular focus — it’s less distracting.
  • User experience: Despite the CR48 processor being slower than my Vaio (and thus I wait a bit longer for several pages to open at a time), I’m finding the CR48 to be fun to use. In fact, I used my Vaio for a few minutes last night, and found that I missed using the CR48!

I can definitely see using the CR48 as a lightweight mobile notebook. I also think there’s an interesting (and almost polar opposite) use case for the CR48 as a net device used by less tech savvy folks to check email, reading web pages, etc.

I’ll continue to post observations over the coming weeks. If you have a specific question, please let me know in comments and I’ll do my best to check it out for you.