Microsofts Ups the Ante in Windows 10

Windows 10 - Here's the scoop

Windows 10 – Here’s the scoop

Microsoft is taking several pages out of Apple’s book of tricks for Windows 10 — and Windows users are likely to love them.

Security leaps forward

First, they’re leapfrogging Apple in security.  Not only does Windows 10 do fingerprint recognition to secure your devices; it also does facial recognition or retina scan.  That’s not retina display (high pixel counts on screen); that’s retina scan — looking at your eyeball to make sure that the person trying to access your device and files is actually you.  Bravo!  Insecure systems, files and accounts is one of the biggest weak points of our electronically connected society.  And these are great leaps forward.  Now we look to Microsoft, Apple, other hardware vendors and application developers to build on top of this to secure us from identity thieves, malicious hackers, and cyber-criminals of all sorts.  BTW, Microsoft calls this Windows Hello.

Biometric scanning.  With Windows Hello, it's not you unless your device recognizes your retina print.

Biometric scanning. With Windows Hello, it’s not you unless your device recognizes your retina print.

If you’re purchasing a new computer with Windows, and you want to best secure yourself using these techniques, make sure it has an Intel RealSense 3D camera.  Because that’s the piece of hardware that fully empowers Windows Hello.

Cortana Speaks

If you thought Siri was cool (and sometimes eerie), you’ll get a real kick out of Cortana.  Just like you find on Windows phones (and on iPhones), you can make requests from Cortana; and she will reply.  Only Cortana uses artificial intelligence to learn from you.  She gets smarter as time goes on.

OneDrive really means one drive

We’ve had cloud computing for years, including Box, DropBox, MS OneDrive, Apple iCloud, Verizon Cloud, and a myriad of other services.  So far, only Apple’s iCloud has had real integration with the operating system.  With Windows 10, Microsoft finally integrates OneDrive with its local storage.  Having used several of the cloud storage services for years, my favorite has been OneDrive; so this is a welcome integration.

Tweaks & jumps

Upgrading to Windows 10 gives you a number of other advantages as well — from big things, like a new browser (Microsoft Edge) to replace the gray-haired Internet Explorer; to the return of the Start Button.

I have documented how to get Windows 10 for free (legally too) in my TEQ Column.  It all starts from that Windows logo you see here:

Getting Windows 10 couldn't be easier

Getting Windows 10 couldn’t be easier



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Phone Accessories Make Selfies & Panorama Drop Dead Easy


Wouldn’t you love to take selfies as easily as Woody from Toy Story?


In my current TEQ column I talk about the Pocket Clickstick from thumbsUp, a British company that I found has a knack for developing and marketing useful smart phone accessories.


One of them with a lot of potential is the Panoramic Pod, a small, telescoping tripod that holds your phone and spins it around so you can take panoramic shots.  For this to make any sense for you whatsoever, you obviously need a phone with a panoramic feature – the type that lets you pan across a scene and stich together the images into a seemless panoramic view.  The past few generations of iPhones and Galaxies as well as other phones have had this feature.


Squeeze the clip at the top of the Panoramic Pod so you can clip it onto the bottom edge of your smart phone, then twist the top part of the tripod that’s holding your phone – up to 240 degrees. Put your camera in panorama mode and touch the button on your camera to start recording.  Then let go of the phone & tripod.  It starts to spin by itself, taking your panorama for you.  When it stops, touch the button on your phone that stops the phone from recording the image.  You’re done – and you probably have a great panoramic scene to show your friends and family.

The drawback to the Panoramic Pod is that it’s not very durable.  You can easily bend the legs or otherwise break this $28 device (Amazon price).


Another thumbsUp accessory that has merit is the Dual SIM Card Case for iPhone 5.  This gadget allows you to use a single iPhone with both your work and personal cell numbers as long as you have a SIM or Nano SIM card for each number.  When you want to change the phone from one phone number to the other, simply flick the switch on the back of the case.



There are other ways you can have multiple numbers on one phone, such as buying one of the newer expensive phones that allow two SIMS – or for free, use Google Voice or a similar service.  There are versions available for iPhone 4/4s and for iPhone 5/5s at $22 each.  (Disclosure:  I have not tested the Dual SIM Card Case.  This description is from the web.)



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Zoom Lens for your SmartPhone

Images with and with Carson HookUpz and Bushnell binoculars to zoom image

Photo on left taken with Carson HookUpz on iPhone 5S and binoculars for zoom. Photo on right at maximum zoom without HookUpz. Can actually read the text on the sign when zoomed with the HookUpz/binocular combination.  Can’t read it on the photo taken without it.


Don’t you hate not being able to zoom in with your smart phone camera.  It always gets to me when I’m at one of my kid’s concerts and too far from the stage.  I really want to capture smiling faces; but neither my iPhone, nor my wife’s Android phone can do the job by itself.

Carson Optical came up with a solution — the HookUpz Smartphone Optical Adapter.  It lets you attach your binoculars (or other device with a similar type of eyepiece) to you smart phone camera, so you can do those close-ups.  It’s not perfect; but works pretty well, as I have outlined in my review in TEQ Magazine.  But it works; and it should work with microscopes and telescopes as well – so you can awe your friends with your spectacular images of the sky or micro world beneath us.

Here’s a comparison of images taken with and without the HookUpz Adapter using an iPhone 5S from a distance of about 5 car lengths.  Notice how much crisper the one with the HookUpz is.  According to manufacturer, you can get rid of the circular shape using your camera zoom; but I wasn’t able to do that.

In general, I like what the Carson HookUpz does; and will probably use it for those special occasions when I want to get up close — but not every time I take a photo.


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Moto 360 Watch — It’s About Time


Moto 360 Smart Watch - pairs with Android; allows you to make your own custom fashion statement

Moto 360 Smart Watch – pairs with Android; allows you to make your own custom fashion statement


Motorola calls the Moto 360 a “watch for our times”.  It’s certainly the first of only a few wrist watches to herald in the smart watch as more than a plastic device that shout “geeky” about the geeks who wear them.   In fact, in many ways, it’s fashionable.


Fashion Statements Defined By the Beholder

My high-school aged daughter and I shared the luxury of wearing the Moto 360 for a few weeks to see how it might work in varied social environments.

When Veronica wore it to school, her friends noticed it without her having to point it out – the bulkiness being what brought it to their attention.  Her fashion-oriented friends were taken back – because they were afraid it would condemn her as being part of the geeky unfashionable crowd.  But she says they forgave her when they saw some of the neat ways it worked.  The nerds, on the other hand, thought she was cool.

In my office, most people didn’t say much about it; but the few who noticed wanted to get a closer look and even wear it.  Unfortunately for most of them, it doesn’t pair with their iPhones – so the Android users got a special treat.

Since we’re talking fashion, the Moto 360 can be purchased with various bands, some leather, some metal, so when teamed with the right electronic face, it could seem almost like a traditional watch.  The operative word is “almost”.  Its brush aluminum sides and round glass face might fool you at a glance, but the bulkiness and flat sides definitely give away that you didn’t buy it at Tiffany.


About Face

Motorola even did a great job with the watch face – or should I say faces – because you can choose the look of your watch, much the way you do when you choose between a Bulova, Rolex and Timex.  It may come with one watch face showing, you can easily program it with another, including a variety of digital or traditional analog faces as well as fancy & fun faces that are available for download.  I chose a discrete analog black face with second hand.  (I thought it was classy.)  She chose a face that changed from time to time.  Last time I saw it on her wrist, it looked like a kaleidoscope, with the glass shards changing as she moved the watch.  Hers were definitely more fun.


In some ways, the Moto 360 is a fashion statement

In some ways, the Moto 360 is a fashion statement

Countdown Coolness

By far, the coolest feature that we found was quite by accident, when my daughter tried using her camera on her Moto X Android phone (which was paired at the time with the Moto 360) and realized that when she opened the camera, it changed the face of the watch.  With a little experimenting, she realized that the watch could be used to control her camera like a remote shutter switch.  So she can set up her phone away from her, scoot into position away from the phone/camera and take a selfie by touching the watch.  This takes the concept of selfies – already tremendously popular – to a new level, because you can be part of a wider view, doing group pictures without having to hold your smart phone to take the pic.


Sleeping Soundly

At night, simply lay your phone on its side on its charger, and it automatically turns into an alarm clock.  By default, it has a soft glow that is easy at night on your night stand.  So it’s working for you even as it charges.  Nice touch, implemented to perfection.

The Moto 360 as a low light alarm clock.  Great for your night stand

The Moto 360 as a low light alarm clock. Great for your night stand

Healthy Addition

We can’t talk about wearable devices in 2015 without talking about health – and the Moto 360 is no exception.  I didn’t get a chance to put this through its paces, but noticed that it tracks my steps consistently.  Veronica complained that it tracked 50 steps while she was laying in bed.  It has counters for heart rate as well.


Communications Subtleties

40 years after Dick Tracy coined the term, wrist communicator, it’s about time that we finally have one we can use.  You feel a soft vibration on your wrist whenever you get an incoming text or voice call.  This is very helpful because it makes inbound messages less disruptive than when you rely on your phone alone.  After all, you can see who it is (and the text message) with a subtle, perhaps unnoticeable flick of the wrist instead of pulling your phone from your pocket.  But the implementation has the definite feel of a first generation technology

For one, you can’t answer the voice call on your watch.  If you want to take the call, you have to grab your phone – although you can touch the watch to pick it up.  So you can end up making your caller wait, thinking you picked up although you spend minutes searching for the phone that has actually picked up.

For another, with texting, you can’t respond to the incoming text.  You have to start a new text – not bad in itself, but different than what you’re used to.  And you can’t see 2 messages that come in simultaneously before pulling out your phone.

Sending a text is easy – a swipe on the face; then touching the face as if pushing a button will prompt you through the process– which has you dictating the recipient and the message into the watch.  But you have to put your eyes on the face occasionally; so don’t expect to use the Moto 360 to text while you drive.  It would still be quite dangerous.


The Usual Stats and Caveats

I was surprised when I opened the box and found no instructions – which means Motorola is confident that the Moto 360 is easy to use.  And it is for basic features – but I’m still not sure what advanced features are available.  For instance, Veronica happened upon the camera remote feature after a few weeks; and I wouldn’t have known about it if she didn’t find it.

After a few weeks of use, the battery time looks like it will generally last a whole day – as long as you’re not constantly doing google searches, keeping the face lit constantly or using advanced features.  With the charging-stand clock feature, it’s unlikely you’ll need much more – unless you do very long days and don’t have the charger available overnight.

The biggest concern I found was that over the course of 5 days, it needed to download software updates five times, each time making the Moto 360 worthless as a watch while it was updating.  There’s got to be a better way to do this.  (Keep in mind, we’ve been saying this about Windows Updates for years.)

You’ll notice also that this review doesn’t compare the Moto 360 to the Apple Watch.  That’s because each device works within their own technology sphere of influence.  If you use an iPhone, don’t even think about buying a Moto 360; and if your phone is Android-based, you won’t be able to use an Apple Watch.

The Moto 360 starts at $249 with a leather band; costs $299 with a dark finish stainless steel case and 23 mm metal band; and will run you $329 for the one that looks most like jewelry – the one with light finish and thin 18 mm slim metal band.




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Kindle Fire phone both excites and disappoints

Fanfare as Bezos intros Kindle Fire phone.  Firefly feature is cool & useful.

Fanfare as Bezos intros Kindle Fire phone. Firefly feature is cool & useful.


The Kindle Fire phone, on the AT&T network represents both sides of the spectrum — one of the most amazing devices I’ve ever seen, as well as a device with one of the biggest downside risks.

As soon as I took it out of the box, I recognized how remarkable it is — because in true Amazon fashion, it has the possibility of redefining how we think of phones.  Instead of making us use two hands to pick and choose our apps and dial, it allows us to move the phone itself to capture some of the most common command — much more than an iPhone or Android has ever done.

Tilt it to one side and you get to important commands like airplane mode, bluetooth on/off and a flashlight.  Tilt it the other way to get back to your main screen. Rotate the phone in one direction to see the main menu of commands, or in the other direction to get a context sensitive menu of whichever app you’re currently using.  After a few days of practice, these commands alone make it easier to use your phone without keeping your eyes on it constantly, as well as let you operate it without needing to free both your hands.

One of the most useful attributes of this one-handed model is whenever you’re reading a long web page or document.  Tilt it forward to scroll down the page, and backwards to scroll up.  Again, a great paradigm shift.  It takes some getting used to — but it’s revolutionary.

The other tremendously useful feature is the Fire phone’s ability to read phone numbers, addresses, and Internet URLs, which the company calls “Firefly”.  Firefly uses the camera and optical recognition to read whatever is in front of the camera lens.  You’ll see swirling lights (similar to those on the NBC TV show, Revolution) which concentrate on the recognized number or address and highlight it, then show you what it thinks it says.  Now you can click on it to go to that webpage or call it over the AT&T network.  It’s remarkable — and head-&-shoulders better than having to find QR codes to read.

The downside to this amazing phone is that the apps library is poor; so if you want many of the most popular apps, you simply can’t get them.  As time goes on, that will probably be rectified; but in the meantime, unless you use this device only for its phone, it’s inconvenient at best, and a deal breaker at worse.

The other issue, which is not insignificant, is that many people will see the new paradigm as difficult to learn and unnecessary — a reasonable stance, especially since the navigation controls of swiping with a finger are already good in most situations.  Add the move to voice recognition as it continues to get better, and the new Kindle Fire twist and rotate paradigm could become a dinosaur — even if it catches on.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has always had a very long term vision; so I’m confident that this device will get better as time goes on — and the early versions are certainly ground breaking.  But if you buy this device, expect to be overwhelmed by cool & useful, and sorely disappointed by what’s missing.


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