Buyer’s Guide – Entry-level wireless routers

Netgear DG834G ADSL2 wireless router

Netgear DG834G ADSL2 wireless router

Are you thinking of moving away from the single desktop PC or laptop connected to the broadband Internet via a single-port modem using an Ethernet cable? Are you planning to head down the path of the “new computing environment” where you use a laptop computer that you can take around the house yet still remain connected to the Internet? Do network-enabled gadgets like Internet radios or WiFi digital picture frames appeal to you?

If so, you will need to buy and install a wireless router and these can be purchased for a small amount of money, typically under AUD$110 or US$60. This may also appeal to people who may want to “equip” their young-adult child who is leaving the family nest with one of these devices as well as a modest-specification laptop to study and “Facebook” on. In fact these routers can help you with saving money in the long term on your Internet connection especially if you aren’t interested in a “single-pipe triple-play” communications service.

The advice provided here will differ over time as manufacturers “push” features down to the entry-level wireless routers as newer technologies and standards are introduced to the home network.

What does the entry-level wireless router offer

Broadband (Internet) / WAN connection

Most entry-level wireless routers offer a connection for a wireline Internet service on the “Internet” or “broadband” side of the connection. This typically is in the form of an Ethernet connection marked as “Internet” or an integrated ADSL2 modem. They will support the access-authentication-accounting protocols being deployed by most of the Internet service providers including the big names in the marketplace.

The Ethernet-ended “broadband” routers will be primarily useful for people who sign up to Internet service where you have to use customer-premises equipment supplied by the Internet service provider. Such services typically include cable Internet (whether through the cable-TV set-top box or a separate modem), some ADSL Internet services, “next-generation Internet” such as fibre-optic services, or wireless-broadband that isn’t in the form of a USB-connected modem. If you do want to use regular ADSL service with these routers, you would have to purchase an ADSL modem that can work as a “bridge” (in the case of “wires-only” / “BYO modem” service) or configure supplier-provided ADSL equipment to work as such.

Saving money on setting up your Internet connection

Most ISPs, cable companies and telephone companies offer wireless home gateway devices at highly-inflated prices and are often set up so you don’t have much control over the device. In a lot of cases that I have observed, you may end up with equipment that. for example, won’t work properly with Skype or MSN Messenger because it won’t support the automatic port-forwarding functionality provided by UPnP IGD that is common with nearly all of the entry-level routers. As well, I have observed cases where the ISP-supplied wireless home gateway simply provides substandard performance or unreliable service; or simply is “technologically backward”.

If you intend to set up an ADSL-based Internet service, you buy a wireless router with an integrated ADSL2 modem; as well as the correct number of ADSL line or wallplate splitters for each phone socket in your home. Then you subscribe to an ADSL plan with a “wires-only” or “BYO modem” hardware option where you supply the customer-premises equipment i.e. the ADSL modem.

If you are setting up a cable-Internet service or similar service, you just need to purchase a “broadband” router with an Ethernet port for the Internet connection. Then you have the ISP who provides cable Internet provide you a cable modem with a single Ethernet port rather than their heavily-promoted wireless cable routers.  Your broadband bill will only reflect the cost of the single-port cable modem in the equipment tab.

Local network connection

The entry-level wireless router should have 4 Ethernet ports for use in connecting network hardware that uses Ethernet sockets. This also comes in handy with HomePlug powerline connections because you can connect your HomePlug-Ethernet bridge to one of these sockets and use the AC wiring as part of your home network.

Most of these units will have at least 802.11g WPA2 WiFi as their wireless connectivity, with some having 2.4GHz single-band 802.11n WPA2 WiFi providing this function. It may be preferable to go for a unit that supports WPS “quick-setup” connectivity so you can avoid frustration with setting up a secure wireless network. Some of these routers will use an integrated aerial while others will use one external aerial or, in some cases, two external aerials set up in “aerial-diversity” mode. The RF coverage for this network may suit the typical suburban house with timber or plasterboard interior walls based on a timber frame.

Functionality

Most of these routers will offer UPnP IGD functionality which allows programs like games and instant-messaging programs to establish links to the outside network without user intervention.

An increasing number of these routers will be equipped with a USB port that can be used for sharing peripherals over the home network. The applications that might be made available with this port will typically be printer sharing or file-server functionality using standard protocols and some of these routers may offer the ability to share a wireless-broadband modem as an Internet connection. But beware of those routers that use the port for “USB-over-IP” peripheral sharing where you have to run a “USB-over-IP” driver on each computer. Here, you would be limited to one computer being able to use the device at a time.

Best placement

These routers would suit households who are setting up their “new computing environment” with a laptop as their primary computer or are establishing their home network for the first time. This also includes people who may use a desktop computer connected to the unit via Ethernet and want to have a WiFi network segment for devices like electronic picture frames and Internet radios.

They may also suit secondary-home locations like holiday houses or city flats where you may not be doing much high-end Internet use like gaming.

If you do upgrade this router to a better unit, you can keep these units as a secondary wireless access point once you disable DHCP server and UPnP IGD functionality and allocate them an IP address within the same IP range as the router that you upgrade to has for the local network. Then you connect the router to the new network via the LAN ports. This can come in handy in the form of a dedicated WiFi-G (802.11g) network segment for a network that is moving to WiFi-N (802.11n) or simply as an extension access point for a WiFi-G network.

I wouldn’t recommend these routers as the network-Internet “edge” for small-business mission-critical use because of the inability to support high data throughput and mission-critical reliability. Nor would I recommend them for serious gamers who demand proper latency for their Internet fragfests.

Conclusion

Once you establish your first home network with an entry-level wireless router, you will wonder how you existed with the way you used the Internet before that.

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Microsoft Internet Explorer antitrust case resolved by European Union

 EU resolves Microsoft IE antitrust case | Microsoft – CNET News

From the horse’s mouth

European Union

Microsoft’s press release

My comments on this issue

Previously, there was talk of Microsoft having to supply European customers with “browser-delete” options for copies of Windows 7 operating system where they would have to explicitly download their browser of choice and wouldn’t be able to “get going” with Internet Explorer. Now, there is the requirement to provide a “browser-select” screen when you can install any of 12 alternative browsers and nominate one of the other browsers as the default browser. This will have the browsers organised in a random order so as not to favour Internet Explorer or a “browser-skin” with hooks to the Internet Explorer code.

One main improvement that I had liked about this is that you can deploy more than one browser from the “browser-select” screen, which will please Web-site developers who want to test their site in other browser environments. Similarly this will please users who are testing browsers for a proposed usage environment or replicating problems encountered with a particular browser.

It will be feasible for a computer supplier to “run with” a different default browser yet consumers can choose whichever browser suits them better. This would be more so with operations like Dell or the small independently-run High Street computer shops who build computers “to order” for individuals, rather than suppliers like HP/Compaq or Toshiba who build systems to particular packages to be sold through electronics chain stores.

The only issue is whether an individual or organisation can determine a particular browser as part of a Windows-based “standard operating environment” when they specify their computer equipment and not have to pass through the “browser-select” screen. Also, what will be the expectation for any proposed computer fleets and “standard operating environments”? Will the company who buys the computer equipment be able to determine which is the default browser for their environment or will they be required to allow individual staff members / end-users to choose which browser they are to work with? The reason I am raising this issue is because in some countries within the EEA like France, there is an organised-labour culture where the trade unions can exercise a lot of influence over what goes on in a workplace.

Another issue that may need to be raised is whether the European-specific “browser-choice” arrangements will be available outside of the European Economic Area. This may be of concern to independent system builders who may want to assure customers of browser choice as a differentiating factor or local, state or federal government departments who may want to be assured of this for computers supplied as part of their IT programs operating in their area or as part of a legislative requirement for their area. It may also be of benefit to PC users who want to load their computers with many browsers so as to, for example, test a Web site under many operating environments.

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Product Review – Kaspersky Internet Security 2010

This is my first Internet-security product review for this blog and this product class is a very competitive one, now that there are free “home edition” or “entry edition” programs being offered to Windows platform users from the likes of AVG, Avast and Microsoft. Kaspersky has been known to offer a line of affordable desktop and network security programs that have been built on a strong security platform and this program is no exception.

Installation and Use

The installation went ahead very smoothly and was able to draw attention to a clash between this program and my prior setup which was Windows Firewall as the desktop firewall solution and Avast Home Edition as the anti-malware solution, and offered to uninstall Avast Home Edition before installing itself.

Kaspersky - dashboard

Kaspersky's main operating console

The main software dashboard has a “traffic-light” bar at the top which glows green for a safe environment, yellow for situations that need your attention and red for dangerous environments. It uses a tabbed interface which can show information that pertains to particular aspects of the program. This dashboard can be minimised to a “red K” indicator located in the System Notification Area on the Taskbar and ends up being relative unobtrusive. If it needs to draw your attention, a coloured “pop-up” message shows near that area. You don’t even see “splash screens” when the program starts during the system’s boot cycle, unlike what happens with Norton AntiVirus and other computer-security software delivered as “crapware” with many Windows computers.

Kaspersky - notification bar

Notification Tray icon

The program does download many updates through the day because of the nature of the computer-security threats that evolve too quickly. This is typically indicated with a “globe” symbol underneath the “red K” indicator when the program is minimised to the System Notification Area.

Performance

Kaspersky’s performance under a “full-scan” situation is typical for may desktop computer-security applications because this involves reading files from the computer’s hard disk which is competitive with applications that need use of the hard disk. It had highlighted a password-protected executable file as a risk because of the fact that this can become a way of concealing malware.

The software’s “behind-the-scenes” behaviour can impinge on system performance if you are doing anything that is graphic intensive. But there is an option to have the program concede resources to other computing tasks.

Kaspersky - Gaming profile

Gaming Profile option

The program also has options available for optimising its behaviour to particular situations. For example, there is an option to disable scheduled scans when a laptop computer is running on batteries and a “gaming mode” which reduces its presence and can disable scheduled scans and updates when you are playing a full-screen game or video and you don’t want the program to interrupt you.

From what I have observed, Kaspersky does a very good job at maintaining a “sterile zone” for your computer. For example, if you plug in a USB memory key, the program will scan the memory key for malware. This is important with malware like the Conficker worm that has been attacking Windows computers and creeping on to USB memory keys.

Privacy protection and security options

There is an optional on-screen virtual keyboard that works against keystroke loggers which capture data from the hardware keyboard.It may not be a defence against keystroke loggers that capture the character stream that is received by an application or software that records on-screen activity.

There is also an anti-banner-ad module which may appeal only to those who “hear no ads, see no ads, speak no ads”. I wouldn’t use this for most Web browsing activities and you still need to be careful that you run only one “pop-up blocker” at a time. I would rather that this can be used to filter advertising that is used for “fly-by-night” offers.

The e-mail protection does work with Windows Live Mail but, if you want to run it as an anti-spam solution for any e-mail client, you have to have it list your mail on a separate screen so you can tell which mail is which. This feature may be useless if you are running multiple other anti-spam measures such as a spam filter integrated in to your mail client or provided as part of your email service.

Desktop content filter

I do have a personal reservation about desktop-based “parental-control” programs because these programs only control the content that arrives at the computer that they run on. This may be OK for situations where the Internet access is primarily on the general-purpose computer that they run on. It doesn’t suit an increasingly-real environment where Internet access is being done on other terminals such as smartphones, multifunction Internet devices, games consoles, and Internet-enabled TVs. Here, I would prefer a “clean feed” that is provided as an option in the Internet service or the content-filtering software to be installed in a very fast router. The desktop filter can work well if a computer is taken to places like hotspots that don’t provide a filtered Internet service.

The content control is also limited to few categories such as the “usual suspects” (porn, gambling, drugs, violence, weapons, explicit language). There isn’t the ability to filter on “hatred” and “intolerance” sites which may be a real issue in today’s world, although the weapons and violence categories may encompass some of that material. I would like to see more granular filtering to suit different age groups and needs.

Nice to have

A feature that this program could have is management of interface to UPnP IGD routers. This could include identifying port-forward requests by applications and checking that these port-forward requests are destroyed when the application is stopped. This could include destroying port-forward requests when the application crashes or clearing all port-forward requests when the system starts so as to clean up port-forwarding “holes” left when a UPnP-enabled application or the system crashes. This is because I have noticed port-forward settings being left standing when an instant-messaging application, game or similar UPnP-enabled application crashes and the router’s UPnP port-forward list has settings from these prior sessions still open. This can provide various back door opportunities to exist for hackers and botnets to operate.

Macintosh users are looked after by Kaspersky through the “Kaspersky AntiVirus For Mac” program which provides virus protection for that platform. It doesn’t provide the full Internet security options that this program has to offer but there may be a desktop firewall built in to MacOS X which can protect against Internet hacks.

As far as the desktop content filter is concerned, I would like to see increased filtering options like an option to filter out “hatred” / “intolerance” sites; and “games and sports” for business needs. There should also be the ability to set up granular filtering options to suit different user needs.

Conclusion

This program may be a valid option for those of us who want to pay for “that bit more” out of our computer security software and want to go beyond the operating-system-standard desktop firewall and the free anti-virus programs like AVG and Avast.

Statement of benefit: I have been provided with the 3-computer 2-year subscription which is worth AUD$159.95 including GST (street price $84 including GST) as a complementary product in order for me to review it.

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The rise of the “multimedia router”

Links

New multimedia router up before FCC – clock radio (FM+Internet), access to online video services, media playback from local storage – http://www.engadget.com/2009/12/09/qisda-sourced-multimedia-router-hits-the-fcc/

D-Link DIR-685 router with electronic picture frame – http://www.dlink.com.au/Products.aspx?Sec=1&Sub1=2&Sub2=5&PID=388

My comments on this new device class

What we are starting to see is the arrival of the “multimedia router” which is a device that is primarily targeted at the home and small-office user, the people whom this blog is written for.

What is this product class

This product class is a single-band Wireless-N broadband (Ethernet WAN) router with integrated multimedia playback functionality through an integrated screen and / or speakers. They have access to the popular online multimedia services and are able to play media held on local storage.

The screen in some of the devices also acts as a local “instrument panel” for these routers and if the device has a touchscreen, it could permit the device to have a local control panel.

They have come about because the cost of integrating these functions in the one shell has become very cheap and it has allowed manufacturers to differentiate their product range in a deeper manner.

Could this product class have a place in the broadband-router market

These devices may appeal initially as a novelty device but they could add an independent media playback device in the location where the Internet router would also go. This would typically be the home office or study or the back office of a small shop. In households where the phone is customarily installed in the kitchen or hallway, it could be feasible to make maximum benefit of these locations by locating these routers there alongside an Ethernet-ended DSL modem because these units could provide a picture display or “there-and-then” information display and, in the case of the proposed design, Internet radio in one box.

Similarly, even if another router like a VPN-endpoint router is on the network edge, these units can work as an integrated multifunction wireless access point that can be moved around the house.

What the device class needs

The first two iterations of this device class need to support DLNA-compliant LAN media playback so that media held on NAS boxes and media server devices that exist on the local network can be played through these devices. They could support DLNA MediaRenderer functionality as a controlled device so a PC or other device can become the control point.

They would also have to work well as an access point or as a router with a simple configuration routine for units that are connected to existing routers. They could support working as dual-band single-radio or dual-band dual-radio access points for those networks where a dual-band 802.11n segment exists.

These kind of features could be introduced in to this device class as more manufacturers introduce devices in to the class and the competition heats up. The previously-mentioned DLNA functionality could come in to play through a firmware update during the existing router’s service life.

Conclusion

Once this device class is developed further, it could be the arrival of a router that can acceptable be on show in that credenza in the home office.

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thinkbroadband :: Northern Ireland to provide 2-10Mbps Universal Service by mid-2011

thinkbroadband :: Northern Ireland to provide 2-10Mbps Universal Service by mid-2011

My comments on this topic

The steps that the Northern Ireland government are taking to meet the UK’s goals of achieving a baseline broadband standard of 2Mbps for rural areas and 10Mbps for urban areas by 2011 are at least a positive step in the right direction for affordable fast Internet for all. Yet there are certain questions that need to be answered regarding any of these ambitious service-improvement projects/

One issue that always perplexes me is whether rural end-users get at least 2Mbps at the door or is the throughput measured arbitrarily up the wire. This also includes the issue of phone-line quality in these rural areas because, as I have seen many times in these areas, the quality of broadband service, let alone dial-up modem service or even voice telephony isn’t consistent because of the older infrastructure that commonly exists in these areas. Some larger rural properties may have the main house set back from the point of entry for the telephone cable and it may be too easy to measure the ADSL throughput at that point, rather than at a phone point in the main house.

Another question is what qualifies as an urban area for applying the 10Mbps standard for minimum bandwidth. This can encompass situations such as the peripheral neighbourhoods of a large town or whenever more people move in to a smaller town that would have been deemed “rural” and this town grows significantly.

In the urban context, this standard needs to be “set in stone” in order to prevent “redlining-out” of neighbourhoods that are considered to be “poor” from the broadband service area.

At least this is in the right direction to helping Northern Ireland achieve the standard of broadband called for in the UK mainland.

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Facebook – Who sees what I write and where do I write that post

I have been approached by Facebook newbies (novices) about messages that they write or read as part of their Facebook sessions and have thought about publishing this “at-a-glance” guide about who sees what you write. Feel free to print this off and pin it near your computer or keep the permalink as a ready URL on your browser’s Favourites / Bookmarks or intranet page. Nowadays the Facebook Wall is referred to as a Timeline but still serves the same purpose.

When I write here on Facebook, who sees it?

Place Intended Recipient Other readers
My Wall (Timeline), as a Status Update Myself My Facebook Friends
My Facebook Friend’s Wall (Timeline) My Facebook Friend My Facebook Friends, The correspondent’s Facebook Friends
“Send <Facebook Friend’> a message” The Facebook Friend who is receiving the message No-one
A conversation with my Facebook Friend in Facebook Chat The Facebook Friend at the other end of the chat
The Wall (Timeline) of a Group I am a member of All Facebook users who are members of that Group My Facebook Friends
The Wall (Timeline) of a Page I am a Fan of – Just Fans Facebook users who visit the “Just Fans” tab of the Page
Comments that you leave about a Post on the Wall (Timeline) Facebook Friends who can see the Post Your Facebook Friends – reference to comment, details if they click through

Where should I write this in Facebook?

Object of Conversation Where to write Notes
Direct private message to correspondent “Send Correspondent A Message” Arrives in correspondent’s Facebook Inbox
Facebook Chat (if they are online)
Message to correspondent which isn’t intended to be confidential Correspondent’s Wall (Timeline) Appears on my Wall and my Correspondent’s wall
General comment or broadcast message My Wall (Timeline) Think carefully before you write. You may intend it for your Facebook Friends but the wrong comment may be perceived by a Facebook newbie (novice) as embarrassing in front of their Friends.
Comment in response to a Status Update, Photo, Link or whatever you see on Facebook Comments option for the Status Update, etc Think carefully before you leave that comment. As above, it may be intended to the author of the comment, posted photo, etc but the wrong comment may be perceived as embarrassing or hurtful.
Message for a Group or Fans of a Page The Group’s Wall (Timeline) or the “Just Fans” part of a Page

Free PDF file of this information sheet available here to print or copy to your smartphone, tablet or e-reader.

Printing hints: Print each page on separate sheets for attaching to a wall or noticeboard near the computer, or print using your printer’s automatic duplex function for use as a page to keep in a loose-leaf reference folder.

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Product Review – Pure Evoke Flow portable Internet radio (Frontier Internet Radio Platform)

Pure Evoke Flow This radio that I am reviewing is the top-end network-enabled model of Pure’s popular Evoke series of DAB digital portable radios. All of the models have different functionality but a very similar style, with an oval-shaped accent encompassing the speaker and control area. The lower-end units have a wood cabinet and a plastic front panel which is varied according to the model.

Description

This particular unit has a gloss-black finish with a large yellow OEL bit-map display and knobs for the volume and tuning controls. Other functions are operated using touch buttons that are lit up in yellow where applicable. This is intended to make the set look more classy, especially with the “piano-black” finish.

OEL display on Pure Evoke Flow The OEL or “organic electroluminescent” display is based upon the displayed letters and segments needing the power to light up rather than the LCD display being dependent on a backlight to be easily visible. This is similar to what is used on my Nokia N85 phone reviewed in the blog and is very appropriate as a display method for devices that work on low power. I even refer to the OEL display as the “vacuum fluorescent display” for battery-operated devices because of the fact that the display yields the same brightness and contrast as the typical self-illuminating vacuum fluorescent display often used as a user-information display on VCRs, DVD players, home theatre receivers and similar equipment but doesn’t chew through the batteries to achieve that aim.

The Evoke Flow, like the rest of the Pure Evoke range of radios, is capable of operating as a two-piece stereo set when you purchase and use the optional matching external speaker. Similarly, this radio, like the rest of the Evoke range, can be used as a battery-powered portable radio when you buy a Pure rechargeable battery pack from the same retailer that you bought the set. These accessories haven’t come with my review sample, so I won’t be able to assess how it works with these accessories.

Features

As well as its Internet-radio and network media player functionality, this set is also capable of receiving DAB+ digital radio and FM radio with RDS RadioText.

For connectivity, it also has a 3.5mm auxiliary input jack for playing music from an iPod or portable CD player and a 3.5mm line-out jack for use with external amplifiers or recording devices. There is also a 3.5mm headphone socket as well as the socket for the accessory stereo speaker. All these connections are located on the back of the set, in a similar manner to the Kogan and Revo Internet radios reviewed in this blog. I have always preferred these sets to have the headphone jack located on the front panel of the set, or at least on the side, to permit “walk-up” headphone use where you didn’t have to move the set to plug in a pair of headphones which are used on an ad-hoc basis. This is a practice I have often seen with most portable audio equipment I have seen and used through the 1970s and 1980s.

Pure do supply an iPod dock as an optional accessory for this radio but it doesn’t have a power input connector so the iPod can be run on external power while playing through the radio. Instead, I would use the Apple Universal Dock or an iPod dock with a USB, Apple Dock or DC socket so that I can connect an external power supply to the iPod or iPhone that is in the dock.

The set can connect to the home network and the Internet via a 802.11g WiFi network segment but this network can be secured to WEP, WPA-PSK or WPA2-Personal standards. This is the same for other Internet radios, which also means it can’t log in to a “corporate-standard” WPA(2)-Enterprise network or a wireless hotspot that uses Web-based authentication.

An improvement I would like to see on the setup when it comes to enrolling the set with a WiFi network would be to allow it to keep configuration details for multiple networks. This is more so because this radio is an easily-portable design and capable of working on batteries. thus could be taken between locations at a moment’s notice.

It can also stream audio from DLNA-compliant media servers like TwonkyMedia Manager or Windows Media Player (Windows Media Connect) or most NAS units.

The unit has the built-in Internet radio directory but benefits more if you associate it to the Pure Lounge portal. Here you benefit from facilities like persistent Internet radio presets and extra content. The Lounge service also provides background sound-effect loops like waves for situations where a sound-effect loop is needed. Such applications may include having the sound of waves to help you drift off to sleep or the sound of thunderstorms to help in getting a dog used to thunderclaps. This also includes a reference tone set representing the strings of a guitar for use when tuning your guitar.

Use

When you use the Internet radio, you can browse a worldwide directory of all the stations registered with Pure’s Internet-radio directory or use a “form-based” search to narrow down the list. Here, when you touch the “Search” option, you see a form and select the attribute to filter the list by. This can be by “Genre”, “Country”, “Availability”, and “Bit Rate”. Then you press the Tuning knob to set the attribute’s value. After that, you touch the “Go” option to see your reduced selection. This is different to the Kogan and Revo radios where you went through a menu tree to select the Internet-radio station that you want.

Unlike the Kogan and Revo radios, there isn’t a row of preset buttons for allocating favourite stations. Instead, you select the “Favourite stations” which is marked with a heart symbol to go to your preset list and browse through the preset list and press the Tuning knob to play that station. When you listen to a station that you want to add to the list, you touch the “Add to Favourites” option to set it in your preset list.

The set can work as a DLNA music player but you can only play the content by using the set’s controls rather than over the network using software like TwonkyMedia Manager.

FM tuning is based on a “seek by default” method so that when you turn the knob, the radio finds the next strongest signal. The DAB function is based on selecting from a list of stations sorted by alphabetic order. There is a “trim station list” option for clearing up dead station entries, which is handy if you move the set between cities or the DAB multiplexes are being reorganised.

Sound and Useability

The set sounds more “soft and rich” compared to most small portable radios, including the Kogan and the Revo, but has a similar sound output level. Like the other Internet radios I have reviewed, there isn’t a tone control, whether as an easily accessible control or within the menus.

The OLED display is much more legible than the typical LCD display found on most Internet radios and is a bit too bright for night-time use. There is the option to dim the display or to have the display dark whenever the set is turned off. The clock display is large enough for easy reading across a room. Even if you dim the display, it is still legible, which can be a bonus if you have the set in your bedroom as a clock radio or have it in a hall or other room and still like the clock display to work as a “nightlight”.

Fit and finish

The set’s fit and finish represent a high-quality product that is enjoyable to use. The knobs even have a feel associated with you operating a piece of quality equipment. The main limitation with the black gloss finish is that it could harbour fingermarks too easily and you may have to wipe those off frequently.

The telescopic aerial that you need to use for FM or DAB reception is much different from what I have seen in use on most portable radios that I have used. Here, this set, like a National Panasonic RX-C52 “ghetto blaster” that I have had once,  has a dedicated screw for anchoring the aerial. This will definitely make it easier the user to buy and fit a replacement aerial if this aerial is damaged, as is common with a lot of portable radios that I have seen and used. Good marks to Pure for realising what often happens with many portable radios and making the aerial easy to replace on their Evoke radios.

Points of improvement

The Pure Evoke Flow isn’t a perfect portable digital / Internet radio and needs a few points of improvement for its product class. One would be for Pure to release a cheaper “junior model” in the “Evoke Flow” line that has a finish similar to the rest of the Evoke series and uses a two-line alphanumeric display rather than a bitmap display.

As far as connectivity is concerned, I would at least like to see the headphone socket located up front or on the side to allow “walk-up” headphone use. For battery use, there could be the possibility of the set working on any of the “regular battery sizes” i.e. AA, C or D through the use of an add-on battery module that takes these batteries, so that one can use these commonly-available “Duracell” or “Energizer” batteries with the radio.

The wireless-network connectivity could be improved through support for WPS “quick-setup” and / or the ability to work with multiple networks to suit its nature as a portable radio. The set could provide information that is necessary for enrolment to the “Lounge” portal on the display through a set-up option.

Conclusion

The set’s “piano-black” look will appeal to people who like a “classy look” for their Internet radio solution. This would typically encompass a lot of office users, especially professionals. It may also look the part with a home office or on a shelf in that classy kitchen. But it can definitely work very well as a “floater” portable Internet radio that can be taken around the house as required because of the light size and integrated handle. The fact that the handle doubles as a snooze bar may make the set appeal as a clock radio, although you have to descend through menus to set or enable the alarm clock, sleep timer or countdown timer.

The set’s display would be suitable for people with limited eyesight and the fact that you use knobs to adjust the volume and select stations may make the set appeal to mature and older users who are more comfortable with using knobs to select stations or adjust the sound.

The main limitation with this set is that it is significently expensive, usually around AUD$400-600 depending on the retailer.

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Facebook Tip: Is someone saying things “off the wall” on the (Facebook) Wall about you? Who can read it?

Today (November 26) , a close friend of mine had a very bad experience with Facebook where he was pilloried by one of his Facebook Friends. He had become aware of this through viewing his Homepage and feared that he was going to be embarrassed by the post-writer in front of his other friends who have Facebook presence. This may be the usual reaction of many social-network users, especially Facebook users, when someone else posts something stupid on their Wall or page about the user.

If someone writes a post to their Wall, all of the post-writer’s Facebook Friends can see that post on their Home Pages which they see when they log in, and on the author’s Profile. But this post doesn’t appear on their own Profile. Nor can any of their other Facebook Friends see this post unless they have the post-writer as their Facebook Friend. A different situation may occur if someone writes the remark on someone else’s Wall. This may have it that the friends of both parties may see the remark.

It still is worth checking for mutual friends between the post-writer and yourself, especially if any of the mutual friends have become “sworn enemies” such as through a personal, workplace or business fall-out. A good utility to install on your Profile is the “Friend Wheel”, which allows you to see “who’s got whom” of your Friends in the Friend List. This tool, which I have on my Profile, draws a circle with all your friends as “nodes” and rules lines that indicate Facebook links between your friends. When you click on the “Click to enlarge” option, you will be provided with a dynamic circle where you can highlight a person’s name and it will show just their friends.

Similarly, browsing in the post-writer’s Profile may be of use so you can determine who are their Friends, especially any Mutual Friends. This is especially true where people browse around friends’ profiles to find out if the person they are after is on the social network.

Once you understand this situation, you can reduce the panic that you may feel with yourself in front of your friends if someone says something “off the wall” on their Wall.

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Application-distribution platforms for smartphones and other devices

At the moment, there are an increasing number of PDAs, smartphones and mobile Internet devices that can be given extra functionality by the user after they buy the device. This is typically achieved through the user loading on to their device applications that are developed by a large community of programmers. This practice will end up being extended to other consumer-electronics devices like printers, TVs, set-top boxes, and electronic picture frames as manufacturers use standard embedded-device platforms like Android, Symbian or Windows CE and common “embedded-application” processors for these devices. It will be extended further to “durable” products like cars, business appliances and building control and security equipment as these devices end up on these common platforms and manufacturers see this as a way of adding value “in the field” for this class of device.

From this, I have been observing the smartphone marketplace and am noticing a disturbing trend where platform vendors are setting up their own application-distribution platforms that usually manifest as “app stores” that run on either the PC-device synchronisation program or on the device’s own user-interface screen. These platforms typically require the software to be pre-approved by the platform vendor before it is made available and, in some cases like the Apple iPhone, you cannot obtain the software from any other source like the developer’s Web site, competing app store or physical medium. You may not even be able to search for applications using a Web page on your regular computer, rather you have to use a special application like iTunes or use the phone’s user-interface.

People who used phones based on the Windows Mobile or Symbian S60 / UIQ platform were able to install applications from either the developer’s Website or a third-party app store like Handango. They may have received the applications on a CD-ROM or similar media as the mobile extension for the software they are buying or as simply a mobile-software collection disc. Then they could download the installation package from these sites and upload it to their phone using the platform’s synchronisation application. In some cases, they could obtain the application through the carrier’s mobile portal and, perhaps, have the cost of the application (if applicable) charged against their mobile phone account. They can even visit the application Website from the phone’s user interface and download the application over the 3G or WiFi connection, installing it straight away on the phone.

The main issue that I have with application-distribution platforms controlled by the device platform vendor is that if you don’t have a competing software outlet, including the developer’s Web site, a hostile monopolistic situation can exist. As I have observed with the iPhone, there are situations where the platform vendor can arbitrarily deny approval for software applications or can make harsh conditions for the development and sale of these applications. In some cases, this could lead to limitations concerning application types like VoIP applications being denied access to the platform because they threaten the carrier partner’s revenue stream for example. In other cases, the developer may effectively receive “pennies” for the application rather than “pounds”.

What needs to happen with application-distribution platforms for smartphones and similar devices is to provide a competitive environment. This should be in the form of developers being able to host and sell their software from their Website rather than provide a link to the platform app store. As well, the platform should allow one or more competing app stores to exist on the scene. It also includes the carriers or service providers being able to run their own app stores, using their ability to extend their business relationships with their customers like charging for software against their customers’ operating accounts. For “on-phone” access, it can be facilitated in the form of uploadable “manifest files” that point to the app store’s catalogue Website.

As well, the only tests that an application should have to face are for device security, operational stability and user-privacy protection. The same tests should also include acceptance of industry-standard interfaces, file types and protocols rather than vendor-proprietary standards. If an application is about mature-age content, the purchasing regime should include industry-accepted age tests like purchase through credit card only for example.

Once this is achieved for application-distribution platforms, then you can achieve a “win-win” situation for extending smartphones, MIDs and similar devices

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Soft-goods being available on demand at retailers – could this be real?

Big W disc kiosk lets customers burn on demand

My comments

This concept that Big W is trying, as well as the “on-demand” book-printing machines being tried at some bookshops could easily upset the applecart when it comes to the distribution of “soft-goods” (books, music, video and computer software). It would be achieved through an Internet-connected server installed at a “soft-goods” retailer which is connected to optical-disc burning and/or high-speed “print-to-finish” document-printing hardware that is also installed at the same retailer. These setups could typically take up the same space as a free-standing office copier and be based on today’s computing and networking technology.

Similarly an online content retailer like Amazon could engage in using the technology to “print and deliver” titles without needing a huge warehouse to run their operation from. In some cases, they could use smaller offices to fulfil “print and deliver” orders local to the delivery locations. As well, there have been proposals to set up “buy-download-burn” arrangements so that people can buy music or video material and make it to optical disc on their computer equipment at home. This is in conjunction to the supply of legally-downloaded music through the likes of iTunes, Destra and Big Pond Music and the various proposals to provide legally-downloaded video material, such as AACS’s “Managed Copy” that is currently practised with Blu-Ray.

There could be the idea of titles still being available even though they reach the end of their print run and the contract with the author may preclude further print runs. This definitely can be of benefit with titles that have demand that outstrips agreed supply and it can allow publishers to liaise with the author about whether to do extra runs or not. Similarly, there could be less risk of shops dedicating shelf space to slow-moving titles, yet these titles can be made available irrespective of this fact.

Similarly, there could be “mass-customisation” being available for particular classes of titles. For example, there could be the ability to have computer-software disks full of appropriate programs for the customer’s needs. Similarly, a reference-type title like a Bible or dictionary could be printed with indexing that suits the customer’s needs, such as “white-on-black” for the current letter in a dictionary or a book of the Bible.

What I see with this kind of technology is that content creators who want total control over their content will find that they have lost that control. This may be of concern to content providers who want to be sure of a limited number of copies in existence or make sure of having their content “vaulted” for significant time so as to create a public “want” for re-releases.

It will be interesting to see whether this concept will achieve the mass-market as a way of providing current and legacy “soft-goods” or just simply flounder.

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