Monday, February 23, 2015

OS choices in 2015

I've had some interesting discussions of late about phone and computer Operating Systems. Some time back, I pulled out my BHi (Big Hunking iPhone) at a table in a bar and the guy next to me asked if it was an iPhone and proceeded to tell me about his daughter's problems with backing up to iCloud. We won't mention my assumptions about anyone who would trust their backups to iCloud. He then went on with a monologue about the superiority of Android and Linux. Basically I just let him talk. And then there was Ron White's Point - Counterpoint at Offline a few weeks ago.

These exchanges do bring to mind some of the differing expectations people bring to their devices and computing experiences. As I've spent some time in just about all the camps, I feel qualified to make some generalizations.

I now consider myself more an Apple person because I've come to the point where I just want my devices to work. Yes, I've rooted and jailbroken phones, and installed 3rd party ROMs on them. I've also installed and used Linux on laptops. There is that feeling of control and jubilation when you actually get these things to work and are customized to your specifications. There are also hours of frustration where you spend time on various forums looking for answers as to why it's not working. So, for people who like to hack and customize, I can see the appeal of Android and Linux. For the rest of us, we may have other ways we like to spend our time.

With Apple, most of the big decisions are made for you and you just agree to them. They do know what's best after all. It's probably the most locked down of all the hardware and software platforms. But by and large it works. And if you're willing and able to afford to drink the KoolAid, it all works pretty well together in the Apple universe. My iMac and iPad and iPhone should sync pretty well with the new updates to Mac OSX Yosemite and iOS 8.1. With outside control, comes the promise of seamless integration. And also fairly high expectations. So when they don't pull it off, you hear a lot of screaming.

I think that Apple also makes the most user friendly devices. You do pay a premium for that. But it's what I would choose for mom or grandma if I didn't want to have to do a lot of tech support. And if you do need tech support, Apple support is excellent. If you're lucky enough to live in an area with Apple Stores, you'll also have access to classes and support there.

I don't think that a lot of laptop or desktop computer buyers are likely to buy a Linux machine by mistake so I'm not too concerned about that. But I think there are a lot of people who buy cheap Android phones and/or tablets strictly based on price and often come to regret their decisions. Don't get me wrong, the high end Android phones: Samsung Galaxy S and Notes series, Motorola Moto X, Nexus 6, etc. are all excellent hardware and software wise. But while some people love to argue about the relative merits of Android vs. Apple as well as the relative merits of those who choose one or the other, it's kind of a silly distinction for most. If you're in the Apple ecosystem, you'll probably go with iPhone. If you're not, you have a choice to make, whose ecosystem do you want to buy into? Google and its hardware partners? If so, which hardware partner? Other than that, the products are pretty similar. But you may well reach a point with Android where your device is not working exactly as you want it to and it may be difficult to find help. Perhaps your cellular carrier or the box store where you bought it can help. But because of the insanely large number of Android devices and OSs out in the wild at any one time, it may be difficult to find someone with expertise with your exact device to help you through your problem. This is great for hackers who view this as a challenge, but not so great for people who just want Apple-style reliability.

And I have to offer a huge caveat about the cheap Android devices! You're usually buying an older Android OS that may be buggy and will never be updated. You have to deal with phone manufacturer and carrier user interface decisions and apps. If grandma doesn't understand that she's starting off with an inferior product, she's probably not going to be hacking it to make it work better. If you're comfortable playing that role, so be it. If not, spend a little more at the outset and at least get her a flagship device.

One message Apple is trying to get out now is that they're more respectful of your privacy. This started right after the iCloud photo debacle. But the main point is a valid one. Apple wants to sell you their hardware and software. They also want to take a cut of apps, music and movies you purchase through iTunes. But other than that, they're not interested in collecting your personal data or selling it to others. With Google, that's how they make their money - collecting your personal data via search and free apps and then selling it for advertising. I may be in the Apple camp but I use a lot of Google products so they're both making money off of me. Obviously, this is not an issue for me but it may be for some of you.

Another message Apple is pushing at the moment is the desirability of their products for creatives. You can create art using their devices - music, film, design, etc. I think this is also an interesting strategy and seems appropriate. A lot of the anti-Apple arguments I hear seem to come from people I would designate as more left-brained analytical types. Apple is pitching to the right-brained creatives. These are the people who would most likely appreciate the design and style of the device itself and appreciate the fact that the Apple approach would seem to be helping them bring their creative visions to fruition without having to struggle with the technology.

I will include a brief note about the often maligned Windows. Most of us who've been in technology for a while have worked with Windows. It wasn't necessarily by choice. It's what was out there. I started with it in the MS-DOS days and moved into Windows 3.1 and all along the line. I've had my share of blue screens of death. But by and large it and the Office suite of applications has enabled me to do what I've needed to do personally and professionally. In fact, I have an Office 365 subscription for my iMac and iPad. Microsoft is not particularly concerned about the hardware you use, and they're even willing to accommodate different OSs. I do wish they had a more compelling entrant in the phone market. I think it might have offered a good alternative to Android and iOS for the majority of Windows computer users. I got Nokia Windows phone for my work phone. While I like the design, I find updates buggy and the lack of apps frustrating. Consequently, it's difficult for me to recommend it.

Of course, there isn't one answer for everyone. I'm glad there are choices out there.

Would love to hear comments on your choices and why? How do you help people in your communities navigate through all of these technology choices?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Faster, smaller, connected: Web 3.0 challenges for libraries by Danny Choriki

Presentation

Resources and References

  • Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet by Katie Hafner
  • The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder
  • What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry by John Markoff
  • From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism by Fred Turner
  • Technics and Civilization by Lewis Mumford
  • The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan
  • The Global Village: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan and Terrence Gordon
  • Future Shock by Alvin Toffler
  • When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken and Stanley Schachter
  • The Mature Mind by Harry Allen Overstreet
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Downloaded Documents

Monday, December 29, 2014

How much bandwidth do I need to stream Internet TV?

This post is an answer to one of the comments about Internet TV options. We've been using the Montana Broadband Speed Test over the past couple of years, including a customized version for assessing Montana public library speeds. One of the things I really like about the test are these two charts posted at the end explaining what the test results mean:
MontanaBroadband.org

Netflix gives Internet Connection Speed Recommendations

So, to interpret all of this, in order to satisfactorily stream Internet content via one of these devices, you probably need at least a 3.0 Mbps consistent connection speed. That's not the advertised speed, That's the bandwidth you are actually getting when you sit down to watch a movie or streamed Internet program. With a 3.0 Mbps connection, you can probably expect more freezes and buffering but that can also happen on a much faster cable connection as well. Part of that will depend on Internet traffic in your area, as well as traffic on the server. There are a lot of complicating factors.

Quite simply, if you have multiple users, you'll want to multiply the number of users by the desired amount of bandwidth. If you have 4 persons in your household who all want to watch streaming video or play games (note: games also often require attention to upload speeds), you'll want to multiply 3 X 4 and look for at least a 12 Mbps connection.

In my experience, Netflix gives the best overall viewing experience with rare instances of buffering. That's probably because they're caching content all over the country and working with ISPs in a very non-net neutrality fashion. I have a cable Internet connection which generally tests in the 20s. I just tested it today and got 11 Mbps download. I don't know what it was yesterday but I tried to watch football on the NFL Now app and it was hopeless, freezing about once every minute. Fiber is looking better all the time. :)

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 Tech - Internet TV

Looking for ways to stream Internet content on your TV? There are a number of low cost options that don't require you to buy a smart TV.

Roku




Roku is my favorite. I've been using a Roku box for several years now. I'm not even sure which generation it is as they seem to have changed the remotes. It's a great device with easy setup and a lot of channel options, including: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, Google Play. There are a wide variety of other channels free and paid. Roku does seem to cover most of the options. There are currently 4 versions of the Roku box available from the Roku website ranging in price from $39.99 for the Roku LT to $99.99 for the Roku 3. They also offer a Streaming Stick for $39.99. The website claims the stick is best for wall mounted TVs. It's also very portable so you could easily take it with you when you travel or move it from one TV to another in your house. There are Roku apps available for smart phones and tablets so you can control your Roku either with a remote or with the app.

Roku also seems to have gotten into the Smart TV business recently. They now have that option on their website. I don't know anything about the quality of the sets but the prices seem good. $598 for a 55 inch Smart LED TV from Amazon. I would imagine it's easier to set up than many smart TVs as it's Roku. But I happen to be a fan of separating functions.

Compare Roku Players

Google Chromecast


There was a lot of excitement when Google Chromecast first hit the market about a year ago. For one thing it was only $35. Initially, there were very few apps that ran on it. But it has gradually added most of the big players: Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, MLB.tv. All also available on Roku by the way. It doesn't play Amazon content. It also offered a great way to view YouTube content that was pulled from Roku for a time. In theory, you could also "chromecast" web pages and other content to your TV via your Chrome browser. Others will have to tell me in Comments whether or not they've actually gotten this to work. The thing that's a little different about Chromecast as opposed to Roku or Amazon Fire or Apple TV boxes is that you're actually using another wifi enabled device to play the content and then casting it to the dongle and your tv. So, it does require another device that will run the Chromecast app. The good news is that they've made it compatible with Windows PCs, Apple products running iOS and OSX as well as Android. So, it's not difficult to find a compatible device. Nor is it particularly difficult to set up. It's just not quite as easy and straightforward and open as Roku.

Google Chromecast website

Amazon Fire TV

Amazon Fire TV usually sells for $99. It's currently on sale for $79. It does have some nice features that its competitors lack: games, Dolby sound, voice search. It also allows you to mirror content from Amazon Kindle Fire phones and tablets. The website claims that this feature will also be available to other Android phones and tablets. Once again, let me know in comments if you have experience with this and how it works. All of the major suspects are available for streaming through the Fire TV: Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc. Google Play, no and you need to have a separate Amazon Prime subscription to make use of the films and television shows available for free via that service. Otherwise, you can pay per show. You can also get a Fire TV remote app which allows you to use your Android or iPhone as a remote.

Amazon also offers the Fire TV stick for $39. The remote app allows you to use voice search on the Fire TV stick as well.

Amazon Fire TV on Amazon

Apple TV

Are you getting the idea yet that these are all pretty much black box hockey puck like devices? The key distinction with Apple TV is its connection with iTunes. None of the other boxes allow you to stream bought or rented iTunes content on your TV. Welcome to Apple exclusivity. It will stream all of the third party apps mentioned above: Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, etc. It won't stream either Amazon or Google Play content. If you're in an Apple household with Macs, iPads and/or iPhones, it does have an AirPlay feature than enables you to play content from your device on your TV including games, photos, etc.

Apple TV on Apple website

Roku vs. Apple TV vs. Chromecast vs. Amazon Fire TV: Which streamer should you buy? - CNET Review

Friday, December 12, 2014

2014 Holiday Tech - Tablets

Time to look at this year's tech for the holidays.

Tablets

Apple® - iPad Air 2 Wi-Fi 64GB - Gold

Apple has just released its latest updates to the iPad line: the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3. Most of the tech pundits seem to think that if you're looking to upgrade from an earlier iPad, say pre-Air or just looking for the best overall tablet on the market, that's the iPad Air 2. Apple has made some significant improvements to the camera so those people who like to haul an iPad around for photos will finally have photo quality commensurate with the bulk. In addition it has the fingerprint sensor that the iPhone has had for 2 years. They've also boosted the processing speed and made it slightly thinner and lighter. The original iPad Air is still a great tablet and can be purchased cheaper as last year's model. Apple continues to corner the market on app availability, user friendliness, and resale value.

The only change in the iPad Mini 3 from 2 is the addition of the fingerprint sensor. If this a device you're going to be hauling around with you on a daily basis that might be enough of a reason to go for the 3. If not, choose the 2 and save some money. The original iPad Mini is also available at a discounted price in the 16 GB only capacity. But I think the retina screen is a good reason to go with the Mini 2.

I'd also go larger than 16 GB. The recent update to iOS to 8 meant that many of us with 16 GB devices had to clear off most of our apps and data to be able to update the OS. I think 32 GB is the sweet spot which Apple has unfortunately phased out with this year's models. But it gives a good price comparison point.

Apple iPad Air 2 16 GB - $499
Apple iPad Air 16 GB - $399
Apple iPad Mini 3 16 GB - $399
Apple iPad Mini 2 (Retina) 16 GB - $299
Apple iPad Mini 16 GB - $249

Compare iPad models

NY Times Personal Tech: IPad Air 2 and Mini 3 Review: Fantastic, but Largely Unnecessary, Tablets

Android fansite picks iPad Air 2 as top tablet

I don't think there are any real standouts in the Android tablet market. Samsung continues to offer a dizzying array of options. But there are two distinct classes of tablets: the Galaxy Note focusing more on productivity and the Galaxy Tab which seems more recreational. Within the Note class is the higher end model the Galaxy Note Pro which is a 12 inch tablet touted as "Secure for enterprise with Samsung’s Knox solution." Galaxy Tabs come in a numbered version, currently 4, I believe and an S version. The S version seems about $150 more expensive than the numbered. Most come in a variety of sizes and capacities. The Notes come with the S pen which enables you to write on your tablet. There are lots of special deals for the holidays. I have no idea which one might be the right one for any individual. There is such a thing as too many choices.

Samsung - Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 - 16GB - Black

Samsung Galaxy Tab Website - the manufacturer's website may be a good place to start if you want to try to figure out which model is best for you. They enable you to break it down by size, wifi vs. LTE. Then I'd probably look for online reviews of the model I'd selected. Some rate better than others.

Google - Nexus 9 - 8.9" - 16GB - Indigo Black

For the Android purist, Google Nexus 9 is the latest Google branded device running the latest version of Android 5.0 Lollipop. While most tech journalists were quite enthused about earlier Nexus tablets, especially the Nexus 7, reviews of the Nexus 9 have been mixed. The primary reason to get a Google branded Nexus tablet or phone is that they don't come laden with the extra bloatware that manufacturers and carriers often put on Android devices. Neither do they have any customized User Interfaces. You get the device with the operating system as Google intended it. They also generally get updates sooner than devices from other sources so you're generally running the latest version of Android.

Google Nexus 9 from Google Play Store - 16 GB - $399

There are Android tablets made by other manufacturers. A quick check of BestBuy online shows that Samsung seems to really dominate this market. But you may find good tablets made by manufacturers such as Asus and Toshiba. They're worth considering. I'd probably look for some online reviews of the models you're considering. I think you do want to find something with a reasonably current version of Android on it. Android devices are a bit weak in the update department so you may very well be stuck with the version of the OS that you buy. If it's too old you may run into compatibility problems with current apps. As I said in the section on Nexus 9, the current version of Android is 5.0. The next most recent is 4.4. I'd try to stay close to that in any hardware I was buying today. My one caveat is to avoid the really cheap no name $100 tablets you might run into at Walgreen's or Shopko. These are often running really outdated versions of Android and may not even have access to the Google Play Store. This means you may not be able to do much with them at all.

Amazon - Kindle Fire HDX - 32GB - Black

I'll include Amazon Fire tablets here. They are running Android after all - a forked highly customized version of Android but they do fit the category. People seem to really like their Amazon Fire tablets. I think it's due to ease of use and generally low expectations. If you're looking for a tablet for someone who just wants a mobile device to surf the web, read and view Amazon content, and maybe play a few games, these tablets have decent hardware at reasonable prices. I think they could be a good value particularly the lower end models in the $99 - $179 price range. They're certainly a lot more useful than the no name tablets mentioned previously. But when you get to the higher end HDX 8.9 starting at $379, you're getting into the Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy price range. Unless someone is a real Amazon devotee, the others offer a lot more options for apps, including Amazon.

Compare Fire Tablets on Amazon

A big subcategory of tablets this year seems to be tablets directed toward children. There are some manufacturers who specialize in this area notably LeapFrog and VTech. I can't say I know anything about either of those manufacturers. I'd probably do a little research if you're interested. But what struck me was the entry into this category by Samsung and Amazon Kindle.

Samsung - Galaxy Tab 3 Kids Edition - 7" - 8GB - Yellow with Orange Case

This is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids Edition - $199.99 list price

Amazon - Fire HD Kids Edition - 7" - 8GB - Black with Blue Case

And the Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition - $189.99 list price

The nabi that I talked about in previous years is also back. But the nice thing about these kids tablets from major manufacturers is that you can no doubt share apps across devices. They're standard Android and/or Kindle Fire but with extra protection against drops.

Microsoft - Surface Pro 3 - 12" - Intel Core i5 - 256GB - Silver

The final entry into the tablet category are Windows tablets. 2-in-1s also fit into this category. Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is at the top of the line. Interestingly, Microsoft targets them in ads against Apple's Macbook Air tablet computer not against the iPad Air 2. And that's the price range you're looking at starting at $799 for a 64 GB model and goes all the way up to $1,949 for a 512 GB. These really are meant for people who want a touch screen laptop running Windows that can be taken apart and used as a tablet as well. There's certainly nothing wrong with that. It is a niche that will probably appeal to business users and those who want to do serious computing. But you're giving up the beautiful simplicity of iOS and/or Android in favor of a Windows computing experience.

There are a number of other manufacturers making Windows tablets and 2-in-1s among them Lenovo, HP, Toshiba, Acer, many of the computer laptop manufacturers with which you may be familiar. These are often cheaper than the Surface Pro 3. Once again, I'd look at online reviews if I were serious about purchasing a device in this category. And it never hurts to go to a store and try them out to see if you like the feel of a particular keyboard and test the weight.

My overall advice hasn't changed particularly from year to year. If you're buying a tablet for someone new to tablets, it's hard to go wrong with an iPad. Apple makes great hardware. The software and apps ranks highly for usability and availability. Since Apple makes its money off the hardware, they're pretty open to software and will run just about anything including Google and Amazon apps. If you're buying for someone who is already invested in the Android ecosystem, it's probably a good idea to stick with whatever s/he is most familiar with - Samsung, HTC, etc. If you're looking for a bargain for someone who is new to tablets and/or a heavy user of Amazon services, go with a Kindle Fire. They rank highly for usability but may prove frustrating to someone who wants to use Google or Apple services. Kindle Fire is pretty much limited to the Amazon App store and Amazon books, music and movies. It does run Netflix and Hulu Plus and some other streaming services.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bytes and Megabytes: What does it mean?

Interesting presentation that helps make sense of bandwidth capacity and usage:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Internet TV

Over the past several years, we've seen a proliferation of devices designed to bring the Internet to your TV. There are smart TVs where Internet access is built in. There are also game consoles like Sony PlayStation and XBox that include Internet capabilities. Recent Tivo boxes include access to various Internet services.

Then there are small boxes and now dongles that hook into you TV and wireless to provide that access. I'll look at a couple of the most popular options available today.

Before we look at the boxes, let's talk a bit about the content that's available via these boxes. There are free and subscription channels available. Some like, Netflix and HuluPlus (the free version of Hulu is not compatible with set top boxes or mobile devices) require monthly subscriptions. Amazon has a streaming service that is available free to Prime subscribers but you can also buy or rent individual movies, TV episodes and/or seasons of shows. iTunes allows you to buy or rent content as well. In addition, there are some channels that are only available to you if you have a paid cable or satellite TV subscription. These include HBO Go, ESPN, etc.

Apple TV $99 - Apple has had their little box available for the past several years. The main distinction for Apple TV is that it allows access to purchased iTunes content. It also has a number of channels that allow access to other streaming services, e.g., Netflix, HuluPlus, PBS, YouTube, Disney channels, etc. but does not provide access to Amazon or Google TV content. You need a wifi connection to access the Internet. You can control Apple TV with the remote provided. You can also stream content to it from iPads and iPhones using AirPlay.

Roku has several different models ranging in price from $49.99 to $99.99. Their latest device is an HDMI streaming stick similar to Google's Chromecast (see below) for $49.99. Roku claims to have 1000+ channels available. Roku does stream Amazon content but not Google or iTunes. Nor does it stream YouTube content. You can control it via remote or an app on a tablet or phone. You need a wifi connection. I've had a Roku box for several years and use it all the time. It's particularly useful for cord cutters (people who've cut off their cable and/or satellite TV subscriptions). I have paid subscriptions to Netflix and HuluPlus which are the channels I watch most often. Most of my other viewing is limited to tech content from TWiT and Revision 3. Both are free channels.

Chromecast is Google's entry into the set top box. It's an HDMI stick like Roku's and sells for $35. You control it with a portable device either a tablet or a smart phone. There are apps available for iOS and Android. You can also use it with the Chrome browser on a Windows laptop. The channel selection is currently fairly limited. You can get Netflix, HuluPlus, YouTube, HBO Go and Google Play content. But that's about it at this time. Some people like the control by tablet. I find it a bit clunky.

One piece of general advice. If you have a lot of purchased digital content from iTunes, Amazon or Google Play Store, you'll want to choose the device that will provide access to that content. Also, understand that you'll be determining where you get your content by the device you have. But if all you're looking to do is stream content from Netflix or HuluPlus, just about anything will do. They're very good at making their content widely available.

CNET Review - Chromecast vs. Apple TV vs. Roku 3: Which media streamer should you buy?