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Archive for February, 2010

Review – CallPod’s Keeper

February 16th, 2010 9 comments

The folks at CallPod gave me a license key to their Keeper product and asked me to do a review.  This is a first for me, because I typically only review stuff I would have bought anyway.  I did my best to remain objective in my review – the fact that it was free was tempered by the fact that it wasn’t a product I typically would have bought.  But I did want to make sure I was up front about how I got the product.  OK so on to the review!

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There are a  number of utilities that have sprung up of late that are designed to help folks keep track of their various passwords.  We are constantly being given opportunities to create user IDs and their attendant security information, and unless you use the same stable of passwords, keeping track of all of them become difficult.  For sites you visit often, it’s not a problem.  But for occasional use sites (like credit cards, affinity programs, retirement accounts and the like), I always have a devil of a time trying to remember my security phrase or password or whatever.  The tool I use, however, does not sync with the iPhone, so I can’t access my information when I’m away from my PC.  Keeper resolves that disconnect.

Keeper has both a desktop and a mobile component.  The desktop component is compatible with Mac, PC, and Linux, while the mobile component will run on the iPhone/iTouch, Android, and Vodaphone.  I ran Keeper on a Windows 7 laptop with the iPhone mobile component.  The mobile component is free; the desktop component is $19.95 regardless of platform.  I took a quick look at other similar applications available through iTunes to do a price comparison.  mSecure runs $2.99 for its mobile component but the desktop component is $14.99.  And SplashID is $9.99 but doesn’t have a desktop component as far as I can tell.  eWallet runs $9.99 for the desktop component and $9.99 for the iPhone component – you get the idea.  About $20 seems to be the sweet spot for these types of programs.

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When you install and launch Keeper, you’re greeted with the above screen.  You pick a master password (preferably a complex one) and enter it twice.  It is critical to not forget this password.  You only get five attempts to log in after setting the master password; after that, Keeper wipes your data.  I couldn’t find a way to change the login attempts allowed to be more than five – if it’s not a feature, I’d suggest making it a future enhancement.  This is very important because the password you set in Keeper desktop has to match the password you set in Keeper mobile to allow syncing to occur.  Complex desktop phrases suddenly become a lot harder to enter when tapping on the iPhone’s virtual keypad.

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The data entry interface is pretty straightforward.  The Folder field allows you to group sets of accounts by type.  The Title field allows you to name the specific entry.  The Login and Password fields are self-explanatory and the Notes field is pretty much your catchall for anything else.  A few more fields would have been nice, specifically things like URL and PIN.  I ended up using the Notes field to store those, plus things like answers to security questions.

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The Settings allow some level of customization of the data entry fields, as well as timeout settings and data storage.  There is also a way to import and export your password database.  Exports can be for backup purposes, or you can print your database to PDF, text, or Excel.  Only the export to text file option allows for encrypting of the output.

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The mobile component is very similar to the desktop component.  Options are limited, but how many options do programs like this really need?  You do have the option of turning off the self-destruct of the database if you fail to enter the correct password.  I thought this was an interesting option – on the one hand, you kind of want the database gone if someone tries to access your info.  On the other hand, I ended deleting my database three times either because I couldn’t remember my master password or because I mis-typed my complex (but easily typed on the desktop) password.  Again, balancing act – complex enough to make it difficult to guess but simple enough to enter easily on the virtual keyboard.  It’s a tough choice.

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IMG_0207The login page shown is a bit deceptive because it defaults to numeric entry.  This particular page is only shown when you launch the app for the first time and need to set a master password.  I’d originally set a numeric password when I launched the mobile component, but then later had to reset the master password for the mobile app when I wanted to sync (more on that later).  Once the master password is set, however, you get a more standard login screen with a single password field and the alpha keyboard, rather than the numeric one.

I would suggest that Keeper look at using two different passwords on the mobile app.  The first password should allow access to the mobile app, while the second password should be the one used for syncing, and be forced to match the password on the desktop component.  This way, you can set a simpler password to allow quick entry to the application when you need it but you still retain a complex password for keeping the desktop and mobile versions coordinated.

Callpod will allow a one-time backup of your password database.  You pick a security question and provide an email address.  The mobile app then backs up your database to the Callpod servers.  When you want to restore from that backup, you provide the email address you used when you created the backup.  Callpod emails an access code to that email address, which you then enter into the mobile app.  Once entered, you must provide the answer to the security question you chose when you backed up the file.

But what most interested me about Keeper was the mobile/desktop syncing.  It works over Wi-Fi and it’s pretty slick.  You activate syncing on both the mobile app and the desktop app.

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On the mobile app, you get an IP address plus a numeric key.  You enter this information on the desktop component, decide how you want the syncing to be done, and hit the Sync button.  The process is pretty quick and fairly bulletproof.  I tried syncing five or six different times and had only one failure.  I just re-tried the sync immediately however, and was able to sync just fine, so it’s not like failure means hours of troubleshooting.

Overall, I was pleased with Keeper and thought it was a solid product.  If you’re hesitant about buying it outright, the mobile component is a free iTunes download, so you can try it before you buy the desktop companion.  Callpod’s willingness to host a backup instance for free gives you a way to store your passwords securely, so if you don’t add tons of accounts on a regular basis, it’s possible for you to set up all your important passwords on the mobile version, have Callpod store a backup, and be about your merry way.  (Not sure that the Callpod folks are going to be happy about this suggestion!)

The biggest problem with Keeper (and other apps like it) is something they will not be able to solve on their own.  I am referring to the lack of multitasking on the iPhone, which makes products like this totally annoying to use.  I can’t just flip back and forth between Safari and Keeper on the iPhone – instead, I have to log into Keeper every time I want to access a different secure site.  It significantly deteriorates the usability of the application through no fault of Callpod’s.  I think an app like this would be great for the iPad, which is much more intended to provide a complete web experience.  However, the lack of multitasking on THAT platform will also make things annoyingly frustrating.  For a company that talks all about the user experience, Apple is having a harder and harder time justifying the lack of multitasking on its portable products.

Would I buy Keeper based on my experience with it?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  For a long time after I got my iPhone, I was looking for some way to view my passwords for American Express and Ameritrade and the like.  But since I couldn’t find anything that I was willing to pay for, I actually ended up learning the passwords.  If there were an easy way for me to switch between Keeper and Safari, or have Keeper pass URL, user ID, and password information to a Safari session, I think this software would be totally worth it.  But given the frustrations of flipping back and forth between Safari and Keeper, I just couldn’t see myself using it on a regular enough basis to justify its cost.  Your mileage may vary.

Google Must Have Heard My Advice

February 12th, 2010 No comments

Google recently announced that they will be experimenting by building a super fast fiber network. I wrote a post “Why Google Needs to Become an ISP” a few months ago stating that Google needs to become an ISP because their search can be simply defaulted to another search engine. It is a war between tech companies to see who can control the platform and end-to-end services. Apple has devices, software, and stores. Microsoft has operating systems, office products, and mobile OS. Google’s strategy is simply to diversify and unify as much as possible.

Never thought my words would actually be heard from Google. They must have found it through Search 🙂

Why is Google building a high speed network? It is because the faster the network, the more people will be online which means the more ads they can display. Furthermore, Google can charge a subscription for access that is competitive to other ISPs. Google can also lease its fast fiber network to other ISPs as well for further revenue.

Corky, the sustainable kinetic mouse

February 12th, 2010 No comments

These days every small thing I can do to eliminate waste is of interest to me. One of the few things that really get on my nerves are batteries. Rechargeable are great, but they are still toxic. And E-waste is getting to be a bigger and bigger problem. So when I saw Adele Peters’ Corky mouse I got pretty excited.

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It’s one of 18 finalists in this year’s Greener Gadgets Design Competition. The mouse uses kinetic energy to power it and is also made from 100% recycled plastic components and recycled and biodegradable cork. The Corky mouse uses piezoelectricity to generate energy every time you click, use the scroll wheel, or even move it around.

Plans for the mouse include regional sourcing and assembly, product take-back and recycling, and disassembly data will be easily accessible for recycling centers. So this mouse seems all around to be a more sustainable option. And cork feels nice, doesn’t it? Much nicer than plastic any day.

Go vote for it at Greener Gadgets Design Competition!

Via Inhabitat.com

Categories: Computers, Gadgets, Green Technology Tags:

Jaybird SB1 Bluetooth Headphones Review

February 10th, 2010 3 comments

I have a problem.  I am totally addicted to Bluetooth headphones.  I have no idea how I developed this addiction or what deepseated child neuroses my constant updating of my BT headphones collection is satisfying, but I can’t get enough of the silly things.  My wife is very patient with my obsession, despite how much money I spend on it.  The Jaybird SB1 is the latest addition to my collection.

My previous experiences with Jaybird left me a bit leery of ordering these.  I had purchased a set of their Freedom headphones when those had first come out only to realize when I got them that they were not compatible with glasses.  Which basically meant they were useless to me, even when I was wearing contacts (cause, you know, I have to look cool by wearing shades).  I can’t believe that no one on the Jaybird testing team had this problem.  I don’t know about you, but I use wireless headphones as much as possible.  Years of listening to Air Supply and Barry Manilow at glass-shattering volumes have left my ears unable to discern much of anything, so I don’t miss the ultra-high fidelity that wired headphones bring.  And I’m willing to give up that fidelity anyways because I hate being tangled up in cords, especially at the gym.

I ordered the SB1‘s through Amazon, where they were marked as pre-order status (and cheaper than on the Jaybird site itself).  They actually arrived within their customary 2 day window, much to my surprise.  So here are my first set of unboxing pics.

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(Man, that guy could be my twin.  Well, at least in terms of the chrome dome anyways).

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Nice plastic wrapping.  Could the electronics industry use any MORE plastic?  I mean, I know we have infinite oil supplies, but still.  Sheesh.

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Nice and new out of the box.  The manual, by the way, is a marvel of simplicity.  I think there are only fifteen sentences in the manual.  Everything is done through colored pictographs.  My wife was unable to figure out what said pictographs meant, which goes to show you who the target audience might be.

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This is the power/control portion of the headphones.  Five buttons.  That’s it.

Pairing was very straightforward.  The phones arrived with sufficient power to turn on and connect to my iPhone without any issues.  Charging took about three or four hours.  It has a nice touch in that the power indicator only glows red until it’s charged up.  When the SB1’s are fully charged, the red charging light goes off.

There is about an inch of extension to the drivers, and the foam is fairly thick.  The controls are covered in a matte rubber, and are easily manipulated even in gloves once you’re used to them.  The big silver power button serves as a play/pause button and the iPhone only allows volume control through BT anyways, so it’s not like I had a lot of choices to make.

The Jaybird people make a big deal out of the fact that the headphone pads swivel in two dimensions.  The amount of play in that swivel is not huge, so I don’t know that I got a lot of additional comfort because of this.  The foam covering the headphone drivers is a thicker version of the foam that come with earbuds.  Jaybird must be expecting that these things will last, because they didn’t provide a spare set of foam covers.  I can see them being torn over time and Jaybird would be well advised to make sure they have replacements available.

Sound quality was good.  Like I said, I’m no audiophile, but I had no issues with the sound level reaching my ears, even compared to my previous Sony BT headphones, which plug directly into my ears.  Phone quality was also good.  Folks on the other end had a bit of trouble hearing me but I chalk that up to the fact that I’m not a yeller – I speak at a normal volume no matter the environment and expect the headphone mic to pick me up.  The SB1’s did that just fine.

In terms of downsides, I had three main issues with the SB1’s.  First (and this will vary based on user), the headphones are TIGHT against your ears.  My ears were sore after an hour or two of use and I don’t think I have a very big head (small brain, you know).  For the more cranially endowed, the SB1’s might be way tight.  I’m sure the plastic headband will expand and loosen over time, but it’s something to keep in mind.  Second, I experienced weird volume issues as the power on the headphones drained down.  It was very difficult to reproduce, so I couldn’t tell if it really was a problem, but for some reason, the volume refused to drop down below a certain (very loud) level.  It was bizarre.  Finally, I noticed that the rubber underside of the plastic headband had started pulling away from the headband at the edges.  It wasn’t horrible, but it was enough that I was concerned.  I ordered a replacement pair from Amazon and this time I’m going to check the edges right upon opening the packaging.  I wasn’t sure if the edges had always been this way or if it had developed over the two weeks I’ve had the headphones.

Overall, the SB1’s are a good set of BT headphones.  They did slide around a bit on my head, which I really kind of chalk up to the fact that I have no hair.  The sound quality is good and the microphone seems to work just fine.  Controls are easy to use, charging seems quick, and overall I’m pretty happy with these.  The specs indicate that these are pairable with up to two devices but when I tried to pair them with my PC, I got all kinds of errors.  Contacting Jaybird support indicated that this was a Windows limitation rather than an SB1 issue.  I will ding them on support though – I asked them another question and I have yet to hear back from them.

I’ll update the post when I get a replacement pair from Amazon.  I’m hoping that these will be my primary BT headphones for the foreseeable future, but I’m sure I’ll fall in lust with another pair.

UPDATE: I received my replacement pair of SB1’s in the aftermath of the East Coast Snowpocalypse.  This time I took a careful look at the edges of the headband where the rubber and plastic meet.  They seem to be just fine, so it makes me think that either I got a defective set or it might be a problem that develops over time.  I’m hoping not because I do like these headphones.  I’ll post another update if I notice that they are starting to pull apart again.  Jaybird does offer a year warranty so you do have some level of recourse.

Grenade shaped USB drive

February 9th, 2010 No comments

After watching the series finale of Dollhouse (which made me very sad and also a firm believer that Joss Whedon should finally give the Fox Network a huge middle finger) I found this little treasure, which to me would be exactly the kind of tech that would belong in such a dystopian future.
A grenade shaped USB drive!

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It’s tiny and malicious looking, and perfect for the nerdy rebel in me that fantasizes about overthrowing the current corporate paradigm that would allow such destructive tech loose on the planet in order to mind control the populace.
Wait. Sorry. Did I get carried away? Man that show was good.
But back to reality here.

Seriously though. Grenade shaped USB drives that can hold up to 8GB of your most important data. I’m sure Topher Brink would approve.

Via ThinkGeek.com

Categories: Funny, Gadgets Tags:

BassJump adds dimension to MacBook speakers

February 8th, 2010 No comments

I’ve always thought the MacBook built in speakers were pretty good, considering. But as we all know they lack oomph. Those tiny speakers just can’t produce those long waveforms we like to call bass. So as I sit here and listen to the latest Marbert Rocel through my MacBook speakers (because AirTunes is a consistent disappointment and it saddens me to sit here at look at my lovely Klipsch speakers just sitting there, silent) I remember seeing a GadgetLab post that could solve my issue.
The BassJump Subwoofer.

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All it requires is access to a USB port and the installation of a preference pane and BAM! You have BASS!

So whether you are sitting around the apartment listening to the latest Massive Attack while writing macabre short stories (like me), or surfing the internet while taking a trip down memory lane with The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II (also like me), you won’t be missing out on half of what makes both of those album’s great, i.e. the bass-line.

Via Wired’s GadgetLab

HP PhotoSmart Premium C309 Review

February 4th, 2010 6 comments

B002GWVZHW-1I used to be an ardent Dell fan.  Over the years, I’ve bought four Dell laptops, at least one Dell desktop, and two printers from that company.  But over the past two years, Dell’s gone on a marked downturn, and their products have gotten progressively worse.  More importantly the customer service that made them famous has gone by the wayside in their desire to outsource everything possible.  So when my Dell AIO went on the fritz and refused to work under Windows 7 (and this is a printer I’d bought less than a year ago, mind you), I swore I’d never buy another Dell product again.  (More specifically, I raged at that stupid Dell printer with the fury of a thousand brilliant suns and almost went Office Space on that POS before deciding to donate it to a local AIDS thrift store.)  So I found myself in the market for a new printer/copier/scanner.  After extensive reading at Amazon, I picked out this HP unit.

The C309 is a relatively svelte machine, especially compared to the behemoth that was my Dell (hatred and denigration of Dell products will be a theme throughout this post, so if you’re a Dell fanboy, just leave now).  It came in a ginormous Amazon box.  I tried to take some unboxing pictures but my iPhone apparently was operated by an epileptic on crack so I’ll be sticking to stock photos.

The C309 is a wireless/wired photoprinting AIO unit with a duplexer.  I was dreading the setup for this printer because my experience trying to set up the wireless printing on the Dell was a Chtulian nightmare.  And after all the pain of setup, the wireless printing never worked right, leaving my fiancee and I passing USB cables back and forth to print.  So you can imagine my complete surprise and amazement when the manual gave me a completely wireless setup option.  And not only was it an option, the option actually worked!

Coincidentally, I’d bought a new router about a year or so ago.  One of the features it had was something called a WPS button, which supposedly would pass all necessary wireless settings to any WPS-equipped device.  The C309 is one such device, so when the printer booted up and asked for a WPS signal, I was able to have it connected to my network in about three minutes.  It was amazing.  The touchscreen confirmed my SSID, asked for my network password, and went through a few more confirmation questions.  The software installation took longer than the connection to my home network.  If I have to ding HP on something, it’s the fact that they have ALWAYS released bloated software.  This thing was fatter than a pregnant cow with triplets.  It also had a very annoying feature that forced an immediate reboot.  I lost several web pages that I hadn’t had a chance to bookmark because the install program shut down my laptop.  Make sure you’ve saved everything important before you install the HP monitoring software.

That one bit of nastiness aside, I was connected to the printer and testing within probably 15-20 minutes.  But the biggest test was connecting my fiancee’s laptop to the printer.  Again, HP pulled through.  The second installation was as smooth as the first.  Within 30 minutes, both of us were printing to the C309 sans wires.  The duplexer works just fine, but it’s a bit slow because the printer automatically waits for the ink to dry before flipping the page.

Speaking of ink, the C309 uses individual ink cartridges.  There are five altogether – four for photos (including a photo black) and one for text.  I haven’t priced the ink out in great detail, but I do recall seeing sets of photo ink for this printer in the $25 range, which isn’t terrible.  The POS Dell’s ink was so expensive I actually considered buying a new printer rather than replace the ink.  Instead I just didn’t print anything (which was good, since I couldn’t print anyways).

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The other awesome thing is that HP provides an iPhone printing app.  The HP iPrint will let you print pictures directly from your iPhone to any compatible HP printer.  Launching the iPrint app, I was able to detect my printer and send a test print to it with zero setup.  Tres cool.

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I’d never really been a fan of HP products before, but if the C309 is any indication of the typical quality and ease-of-use that HP is putting into their designs now, they’ve just become my favorite PC hardware manufacturer.

Categories: Electronics, Reviews Tags: , , ,