Category: Input Devices

You could enable your existing computer for Windows Hello

Article

USB accessories add Windows Hello capabilities to any PC | Windows Central

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Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 connected to Wi-Fi hotspot at Bean Counter Cafe

You could be soon able to equip your existing laptop or 2-in-1 with the same kind of fingerprint scanner as the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2

An increasing number of business-focused Windows laptops are being made ready for Windows Hello which is the password-free login ability that Windows 10 offers. This allows for facial recognition or fingerprint recognition as an alternative to keying in that Windows password.

But what if you have that tower desktop, all-in-one or existing laptop that has no RealSense camera or fingerprint reader. Normally, you would think that you were cut out of this feature.

At the Computex 2016 “geek-fest” in Taiwan, there were two aftermarket USB accessories that bless these computers with Windows Hello login abilities. One of these is a webcam that is compliant to Intel RealSense specifications which opens up the path for facial recognition, while another of these is a USB fingerprint-reader dongle that is very similar to a Bluetooth or wireless-peripheral-transceiver dongle and plugs in to the side of a laptop computer.

These peripherals would be a step in the right direction for small businesses and consumers if they were sold at reasonable prices and were made available at most electrical stores, computer stores and the like, rather than just being sold to value-added resellers that cater to big businesses.

A solution I would like to see especially for desktop users or people who set up primary workstations would be a fingerprint reader integrated in to a keyboard or mouse. This could be offered as a differentiating feature for business and gaming peripherals. Similarly, a standalone desktop fingerprint reader could be offered as a way to have your existing workstation or “gaming rig” working with Windows Hello. Similarly, a fingerprint reader could be offered as a “short-form” device that can be integrated in to the PC cases that tend to modified by gaming enthusiasts.

Similarly, more manufacturers and resellers could contribute to this class of device in order to allow more of us to benefit from Windows Hello.

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SteelSeries integrates OLED in their gaming mouse

Article

SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse press image courtesy of SteelSeries

SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse

SteelSeries ships its OLED-packing gaming mouse | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

SteelSeries

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Audio Adaptor

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor – OLED display to show time or details about what’s playing like the SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse

Regular readers may have read my review of the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone audio adaptor which implements a monochrome OLED display to show the time or metadata about what what’s playing. Sony has also implemented this concept in a few previous personal-audio players as well as this Bluetooth headphone adaptor because of the fact that this display technology doesn’t take up much room in the device itself and could be best described as a “VFD display for battery devices” where it offers the same brightness as a vacuum fluorescent display while drawing minimal current.

SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse press image courtesy of SteelSeries

SteelSeries Rival 700 gaming mouse – OLED display

SteelSeries have taken this further by implementing a user-customisable OLED display on the Rival 700 gaming mouse. Here, this mouse uses a special program to copy over game stats or a user-defined logo to appear on the display courtesy of the USB connection. Here, it is proving the idea that an OLED display can earn its keep on a small portable device even if the device is powered from another host device.

The Rival 700 gaming mouse also implements tactile feedback during gameplay so you can benefit from that convincing game effect but it is achieved in a manner to avoid disturbing your gameplay. As well, the mouse is designed for increased durability so you can subject it to intense gameplay or office work and SteelSeries offer it as something to equip your gaming rig or workstation for AUD$100.

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Using Bluetooth for wireless keyboards, mice and game controllers

Bluetooth could be the preferred way to go for all wireless keyboard and mice applications

Bluetooth could be the preferred way to go for all wireless keyboard and mice applications

A lot of wireless mice and keyboards offered at affordable prices and pitched for use with desktop computers are implementing a proprietary wireless setup which requires them to use a special USB transceiver dongle.

This is compared to some wireless mice, keyboards and games controllers that are offered for laptops and tablets where they have integral Bluetooth support. This is because the laptop and tablet computers are the main computers that come with Bluetooth on board. It is compared to desktops, mainly traditional “three-piece” desktops, that don’t have this feature and require the use of a USB Bluetooth dongle to gain Bluetooth connectivity.

Wireless mouse dongle

The typical easy-to-lose dongle that comes with most wireless mice

A reality that is coming crystal clear is that the laptop computer along with the all-in-one desktop computer is being seen as a viable alternative to the traditional “three-piece” desktop computer for one’s main computing device. This is underscored with laptops that are taken between work and home along with myself seeing quite a few computer setups where a laptop computer is hooked up to a traditional keyboard and mouse and one or two desktop-grade monitors. Some of these setups even run the laptop’s screen as part of a multi-screen setup.

Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computer keyboard

Bluetooth shouldn’t just be for mobile keyboards

To the same extent, most of the “all-in-one” desktops are being equipped with Bluetooth functionality as a matter of course. This is more so where the goal is to compete with the Apple iMac range of “all-in-ones” or make this class of computer more impressive.

The Bluetooth advantage does away with the need to install a USB wireless dongle for that wireless keyboard or mouse or the risk of losing one of these dongles. For traditional desktop users, they can use and keep one Bluetooth dongle which works well if you want to move a Bluetooth keyboard and/or mouse between a secondary laptop and the desktop computer. Similarly the same Bluetooth dongle can support multiple devices like a keyboard, mouse, game controller and multipoint-capable Bluetooth headset.

The gap I am drawing attention to is the lack of traditional-sized keyboards, trackballs and mice fit for use with desktop computers, including novelty mice like the “model-car” mice, that work using Bluetooth. Manufacturers could offer a range of traditional-sized input devices that work with Bluetooth, preferably having Bluetooth LE (Smart) support, as part of their product ranges to cater for laptop-based and all-in-one-based personal computing setups.

Having Bluetooth LE (Smart) support would benefit this class of device because users shouldn’t need to be changing the peripherals’ batteries frequently which is something that can affect Bluetooth setups.

As well, there can be an effort towards improving responsiveness for Bluetooth keyboards, mice and games controllers to maintain Bluetooth’s appeal to the gaming community. Here, this would also be about working with other Bluetooth device clusters such as in a LAN-party environment where toe goal for gamers is to frag each other out rather than being “trampled on” by the enemy.

What really should be looked at is to standardise on Bluetooth as a way to wirelessly connect input devices like keyboards and mice to computer equipment.

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Gaming with a regular computer and the big screen in the lounge?

Article

How To PC Game From The Comfort Of Your Couch | Gizmodo

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Alienware gaming laptop

An Alienware gaming laptop that bridges performance and portability

Gaming on the big-screen TV isn’t just restricted to the likes of the XBox One or the PlayStation 4 consoles. You can engage in these games using your PC especially if you are using a laptop or dare to bring the tower-style gaming rig in to your lounge area. This is more so as the regular computer platforms i.e. Windows, OS X (Macintosh) and Linux still maintain a strong level of open-frame software deployment and become more the areas to try out gaming ideas.

This is brought on by the increase in the number of portable computers that have performance-computing chops whether in the form of mobile workstations or gaming laptops is making this kind of gaming more real. The manufacturers see this as a valuable niche for people who value performance and portability for work or play.

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Precision M2800 – a mobile workstation that also bridges performance and portability

This will apply to those of you who are at home or at a friend’s house because you could bring your gaming computer in to the living room or games room and play that game on the big screen from the comfort of your couch. Those of you who are staying at a college dorm (university residence hall) or similar location can use the big-screen TV in the common lounge area for playing that epic game on your gaming laptop.

What do you need?

TV and sound system

The TV or home-theatre system would need to have a spare HDMI connection for you to plug in another video peripheral.

Here, you are relying on HDMI as your audio and video connection and the equipment must be able to play the sound from an HDMI connection rather than just be a switcher. Recently-made home-theatre receivers will most likely be able to satisfy this requirement but beware of lower-end equipment that can’t achieve this goal.

One of the big-screen TVs that is worth playing games on

One of the big-screen TVs that is worth playing games on

If you are buying a newer large-screen TV and you expect a regular computer to be connected to it, you should look for sets that have a high refresh rate like what would be expected for most well-bred monitors. As well, if your gaming setup is of a temporary nature, I would recommend that the equipment concerned has an HDMI connector on the front panel for a home-theatre receiver or similar device or on the side edge of a TV so that it is easily accessible without you needing to shift the equipment out or grope around the back whenever you want to play games.

Your computer

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook left-hand-side connections - Ethernet, HDMI, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader

HDMI connection on a laptop

HomePlug AV adaptor

The HomePlug powerline adaptor – a no-new-wires network with gaming chops

The computer should have HDMI as a video output option and be capable of directing the sound through that output. This is to achieve the goal of one cable between the computer and the TV or home-theatre receiver rather than worrying about many cables, with this cable carrying a digital audio signal along with the high-resolution video signal.

When you set up the sound, make sure that you know what your equipment can handle at best. If you use a home-theatre system, make sure that you set the audio output for Dolby Digital 5.1 bitstream or a similar codec that your equipment handles so you can take advantage of games that implement surround sound. As well, it may be worth paying attention to an article that I wrote about multiple sound devices in Windows.

Control devices

Games that require frequent interactive activity would benefit form a console-type controller if you are leaning back on the couch. There are some wireless controllers out there but you can use an XBox 360 controller that works with Windows courtesy of an adaptor that is sold for “pennies worth” by Microsoft.

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (open) press photo courtesy of Microsoft

These Bluetooth keyboards also earn their keep on the couch when gaming in the lounge

If you are needing to use a keyboard or mouse, it may be preferable to use wireless peripherals so you avoid cable clutter. Personally I would prefer to use Bluetooth equipment because you only need to use one transceiver dongle across them all and if the computer has integrated Bluetooth, you don’t need to worry about any of these transceiver devices. Sometimes a wireless keyboard or mouse pitched at tablet use can work as a wireless keyboard for gaming use.

Network

It is preferable to have an Ethernet socket in the lounge area but this may not be a reality. For your home or a friend’s, you may find that setting up a HomePlug AV500 powerline-network segment may work well in these circumstances.

Some college dorms and similar places may have an Ethernet socket connected to the premises’ network and Internet service not far from the common lounge area  HomePlug AV500 or HomePlug AV2 may work well in using a no-new-wires setup to bring the connection closer. In some cases, this connection may be locked down for specific devices and uses and it doesn’t hurt asking the staff about whether the connection is a “general-use” connection or can be set up as such.

At a pinch, you would need to use Wi-Fi wireless and make sure you have a reliable Wi-Fi connection at your computer. Wi-Fi networks that use Web-based login can be tricky to use and may require you to keep the “login successful” Web page minimised while you play that online game.This is best done with a Web browser that doesn’t take up much memory space.

Similarly, if you are playing against multiple computers across a public network, it may be difficult to discover the opponents’ computers because these networks are most likely set up to provide client isolation.

Setup

There are some things you will need to be sure of when you are setting up for gaming in the living room or other lounge area.

One would be to use a rug to cover long cables that travel between the computer and the TV or home theatre so as to avoid the situation of people tripping over the cables. This is important for situations where the area between the couch and the TV equipment is part of a thoroughfare.

A tray-table is also a good place to position your gaming laptop or to use as a mouse mat. On the other hand, you may want to use the coffee table for that same purpose. This is to assure stability. Even those “Stable Table” trays with integrated cushions can come in handy as a mouse mat.

As for online game managers, Steam is the only such platform that provides a “big-screen” mode courtesy of their “Big Picture” mode. This will allow you to manage it while viewing the display from a distance. But when you are actually playing the game, this may not be a problem.

Conclusion

Once you know that you can game on with the big-screen TV and your gaming rig or laptop computer, you could be able to add that bit extra to your solo or group gaming experience.

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Microsoft makes a foldable version of its universal Bluetooth keyboard

Article

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (side) - press picture courtesy of Microsoft

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard

Microsoft Releases Universal Foldable Keyboard | Tom’s Hardware

Previous Coverage

Microsoft Hardware now offers a Bluetooth keyboard that works with all mobile platforms

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Microsoft Universal Folding Keyboard

Press Release

Video

My Comments

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (open) press photo courtesy of Microsoft

The keyboard folded out

Microsoft previously released a universal keyboard pitched towards those of us who use smartphones and tablets. This Bluetooth keyboard is designed to be operating-system agnostic so you can use it with your iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone or tablet or your Windows Phone or tablet. This is facilitated with a hardware switch that allows you to select between different devices and keyboard layouts.

Now they have issued a variant of this keyboard that folds up like a book. They haven’t neglected the keyboard’s intended use and working around the problems associated with this. Rather, the Universal Foldable Keyboard is designed to be durable so as to allow for frequent and heavy “on-the-road” use which also involves throwing it in to backpacks, handbags and other similar personal luggage. The key pitch and keyboard switch design makes it similar to most small notebook computers, thus allowing for accurate touch typing.

At least this is an example of a keyboard that isn’t just about catering to an iPad or an Android tablet. Rather it is one that can even cater to a lot more devices that have Bluetooth connection for input devices, including desktops equipped with USB Bluetooth dongles or smart-TVs, games consoles and other video peripherals that have Bluetooth functionality and support use of Bluetooth keyboards. It is also about something that is neat and compact and ready for travel with your mobile devices.

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Now a program to help with troubleshooting your computer’s keyboard

Article

Desktop keyboard

Now you can check whether you need to replace that keyboard

Switch Hitter Helps You Diagnose Keyboard Problems | LifeHacker

From the horse’s mouth

Elite Keyboards

Switch Hitter Keyboard Diagnostic Software (Product Download Page)

My Comments

As well, you can determine whether you need to take the laptop in for warranty repair because of the keyboard

As well, you can determine whether you need to take the laptop in for warranty repair because of the keyboard

You may find that your computer’s keyboard may not be behaving in a consistent manner and this may be an issue that may have you taking your laptop computer in for warranty service or buying a new keyboard. Or you find that you are losing those battle games and find that the keyboard isn’t allowing you to demolish the enemy.

But there is a Windows utility that helps you to troubleshoot your keyboard. Switch Hitter gives a visual display similar to a touch-typing tutor program to show whether any of the keys are responding as you press them and identifies which keys are stuck down. This can also work with identifying contact-bounce problems which surfaces as repeated keypresses as well as keys that don’t respond and can be symptomatic of a keyboard that has had the life bashed out of it.

It also shows up which keyboard layout you are using and what keystroke combination you are sending, which may be an issue with area-specific layouts.

This can allow you to supply to a repair agent a more qualified diagnosis of the problems you are having with the keyboard, especially when it comes to that warranty service. As well, you can know if you are actually dealing with an improper setup, a dodgy keyboard-computer link or a keyboard that is to be replaced.

This can also be used to check whether that gaming keyboard is being responsive and satisfying the claims that the manufacturer is touting, thus being suitable for that online fragging session.

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Microsoft Hardware now offers a Bluetooth keyboard that works with all mobile platforms

Article

Microsoft’s Universal Keyboard has an Android home button, no Windows logo in sight  | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft Hardware

Universal Mobile Keyboard Product Page

Press Release

Video clip

My Comments

Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard press image courtesy of Microsoft

Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard

Microsoft have designed a Bluetooth keyboard that is intended for use with smartphones and tablets that run on the three main mobile platforms: Android, iOS and Windows 8. This is to cater for a reality where people may operate different computer devices on different platforms.

Microsoft have achieved a universal layout with platform-specific keys for Android and iOS, like the Command (snowflake) key that the Apple platforms need. The Windows or Android modes could work with devices like games consoles or Smart TVs that implement Bluetooth Human Interface Device Profile in the context of a full keyboard for text entry. What could this mean for using your smart TV’s social-network or content-search functionality without “hunt-and-peck” operation.

But you can select between the different operating systems and keyboard layouts using a three-position hardware switch. As well, the keyboard remembers Bluetooth pairings with 3 devices of the different platforms.There is even a rest for your tablet or smartphone so you can see what you are typing and this works as a lid for the keyboard.

Of course, it can run from its own battery for 6 months but can allow you to quickly charge the keyboard to gain 8 hours extra runtime.

But most of us who use keyboards with tablets typically head for those keyboards that are integrated in a case for the tablet and Microsoft could do better to offer this as a case for most 10” tablets.

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Product Review–ZCan Plus scanner mouse

Introduction

I have been given a chance to review an advance sample of the ZCan+ scanner mouse. This is a USB-connected mouse that works also as a convenience scanner using an integrated digital camera and supplied software.

There is a variant of the ZCan mouse that is coming soon and will implement Wi-Fi Direct connectivity and software for smartphones and tablets that run the mobile operating environments.

ZCan+ USB scanner mouse

The ZCan+ Mouse itself

The Zcan+ Mouse works properly as a USB-connected plug-and-play three-button scroll mouse using the standard operating-system drivers and configuration options.

Where the scanning takes place in the ZCan+ scanner mouse

Where the scanning takes place in the ZCan+ scanner mouse

But as a scanner, this works in a manner that is totally different to early-generation handheld scanners which worked on a “line-by-line” basis. You have to install a special program on your Windows or Macintosh computer from a supplied DVD or download the program from the manufacturer’s Website listed in the instruction manual if your computer doesn’t have an optical drive. This software is important because when you scan with this mouse, it “stitches” the images taken with the mouse’s camera together in a similar vein to the software you may use to create “panorama” photos with your digital camera.

You have to connect the ZCan+ mouse directly to your computer’s USB ports rather than via a bus-powered USB hub or a keyboard that has USB sockets especially if you want to use the scanner functionality. This is because the scanner functionality demands more power than if the device is just working as a mouse.

ZCan application screenshot - scanning

Screen-grab during my scanning of a business card

To start scanning, you press the illuminated blue button on the mouse and drag it over the item you want to scan in a zig-zag motion. When you press that illuminated blue button, the software will start and show the object on the screen. It will also highlight areas you need to re-scan if you missed parts of them. Once you stop scanning, you have the ability to crop the area you scanned and it makes it easier to identify the area to crop. The resultant images are shown as high-resolution images which would please anyone who is doing desktop publishing, wants to print the images or work with them on high-resolution displays.

You can save what you scanned as a JPEG, PNG or PDF image file or use the software to “read the text” to save as a Word document, text document or Excel spreadsheet.

ZCan application with scanned business card

ZCan application with scanned business card

It works well with scanning small areas like newspaper articles, snapshot photos, till receipts and the like and can even scan actual object surfaces very well. But I wouldn’t ask it to work a complete A4 or Letter page because you can find you end up with a messy scanning result as I have tried for myself after scanning a magazine page.

The OCR function only works with images you have created with the ZCan+ scanner and works properly when you have the document held still such as having it in the “scanner mat”. As well, the software has the ability to use Google Translate to allow you to translate printed text to another language. The software also supports direct “in-place” sharing to Facebook, Dropbox, Evernote and Flickr along with the ability to “read” QR codes. This function is so useful if you use a regular desktop or laptop computer and want to “delve in to” that link in a newspaper or magazine that is represented as a QR code using that computer.

Where do I see this scanner mouse fit in?

I see the scanner mouse work as a “convenience” scanner for whenever you are targeting small items. For example, I would use it for scanning business cards so I can get the contact details in to Outlook, scan till receipts as PDF files for expense-claim purposes, scan snapshots to JPEG image files to send to someone or share using Dropbox or Facebook, or transcribe newspaper and magazine articles. People who dabble with various hobbies or crafts may find the ZCan+ useful for scanning a pattern from clothing, soft-furnishings or similar items that they like to save as a JPEG image for “taking further” in the digital space.

It wouldn’t really replace the regular A4 desktop scanner or the multifunction printer’s scanning function for scanning most business documents or newspaper articles that cover an A4 or similar-sized sheet.

Point of improvement

The  ZCan+ scanner mouse could implement a setup method that I have seen with some USB 3G modems or with some HP printers that I have reviewed in order to make it easier to install on computers that neither have an optical drive nor access to an Internet connection. This is where the device contains the necessary software on memory integrated in the device and exposed to the computer as if it is a USB memory stick.

Similarly, it could use a TWAIN or WIA scanning application interface so it can work as a scanner for third-party applications like a lot of graphics and image-management packages.

Conclusion – Is the ZCan+ a tool or a toy?

I would call the ZCan+ scanner mouse a tool for supplementary or convenience scanning needs when handling small documents.

This device will strongly appeal to the traveller with a Windows or Macintosh-based laptop or tablet who is scanning business cards, receipts, images, etc; business or home computing applications where you want to quickly scan small objects and documents but find the regular scanner in “all-in-one” unwieldy or unsuitable for the job, and people who are involved with genealogy and want to scan family snapshot photos or small documents for archival purposes.

The “two-in-one” ability of a convenience scanner and a mouse would strongly appeal to laptop users who like the regular mouse over the touch-pad as their pointing device, along with the highlighted convenience scanning feature.

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