simonmackay Archive

You can manage your Google Home’s lighting and volume for night-time use

Article

You can use the Google Home app to manage how your Google Home smart speaker works during the evening and night hours for a better night’s sleep

Google Home Has A Hidden Night Mode (And We Love It) | Lifehacker

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Manage volume and LED brightness with Night mode (Instruction sheet)

My Comments

Some of you may want to interact with a Google Home smart speaker during the wee hours of the day such as to ask for the time or weather. Or you may touch the device and work it as a night-light. But it can be too bright or loud at these times in a way that people can be woken up at odd hours. Here, some users have to adjust the volume to avoid this risk of disturbance.

But Google has a “Night Mode” feature that allows you to determine the maximum volume and device lighting brightness during times when you don’t want to be disturbed.

Here, you have to use the Google Home mobile-platform app on your smartphone or tablet. As well, your mobile device has be on the same logical network as the Google Home device, which would typically be the same Wi-Fi network when you are thinking of your home network.

When you open the Google Home app, tap on the gear-shape Settings icon and you will see the “Night Mode” setting in the list of settings. There is a toggle switch to enable or disable this mode, and when you enable this mode, the LEDs on the top of your Google Home device will dim while the maximum speaker volume will be softer.

There is an option to schedule the times and days of the week when the Night Mode feature will be active. This may be of importance if you want to make sure it comes in to play on weeknights for example.

There are settings to determine the maximum speaker volume and lighting brightness that will apply to your Google Home smart speaker while it is in the “Night Mode” condition.

The Do Not Disturb option on the Night Mode settings page mutes any notification or system sounds that your Google Home smart speaker makes. But timer or alarm signals will “break through” this setting so you don’t miss that extra alarm you set to wake you up so you can pick up that loved one from the airport as they come off that late flight.

But I am not sure whether these settings can be configured for individual devices or all of the devices bound to the same account. This may be of importance if you want to reduce the volume and lighting brightness on units installed in the bedrooms while one or more units installed in the common living areas are maintained at bright levels; or you want to maintain a common setting across your home.

A feature that can improve on this would be to have the LEDs on top of a Google Home device stay alight but at the maximum brightness to allow you to use the device as a night light. This is more so for those of us who would keep one of these devices in the corridor near the main bathroom or within that bathroom to serve as a “beacon” night-light to enable use of the bathroom at night.

At least Google has provided an option to allow the Google Home device family to work properly without disturbing other people’s sleep at night.

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Different kinds of cloud IT systems–what to be aware of

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

The iPad is seen as part of the cloud-based mobile computing idea that Silicon Valley promotes

Very often “cloud” is used as a Silicon-Valley-based buzzword when describing information-technology systems that have any sort of online data-handling abilities.

This is more so if the IT system is sold to the customer “as a service” where the customer pays a subscription to maintain use of the system. It also is used where the user’s data is stored at an online service with minimal data-processing and storage abilities at the user’s premises.

It is because small business users are being sold on these systems typically due to reduced capital expenditure or reduced involvement in maintaining the necessary software. It also allows the small business to be able to “think big” when it comes to their IT systems without paying a prince’s ransom.

What is strictly a cloud system

Single Server online system

Single Server online system

But, strictly speaking, a cloud-based system relies on multiple online locations to store and/or process data. Such a system would have multiple computers at multiple data centres processing or storing the data, whether in one geopolitical jurisdiction or many depending on the service contract.

This is compared to the single-server online IT system sold as a service that implements at least a Web-based “thin-client” where you work the data through a Web page and, perhaps, a mobile-platform native app to work your data on a smartphone or tablet. Typically, the data would be held on one system under the control of the service provider with this system existing at a data centre. It works in a similar vein to common Internet services like email or Web-hosting with the data held on a server provided by the Wehhost or ISP.

Hybrid cloud systems

Hybrid Cloud online system

Hybrid Cloud online system with primary data kept on premises

One type of cloud system is what could be best described as a “hybrid” system that works with data stored primarily on the user’s premises. This is typically to provide either a small private data cloud that replicates data across branches of a small business or to provide online and mobile functionality such as to allow you to manage the data on a Web page or native mobile-platform app anywhere around the world, or to provide messaging abilities through a mobile-messaging platform.

For example, a lot of NAS units are marketed as “cloud” NAS units but these devices keep the user’s data on their own storage media. Here, they use the “cloud” functionality to improve discovery of that device from the Internet when the user enables remote access functionality or data-syncing between two NAS devices via the Internet. It is due to the reality that most residential and some small-business Internet connections use outside IP addresses that change frequently.

WD MyCloud EX4100 NAS press image courtesy of Western Digital

WD MyCloud EX4100 NAS – one of the kind of NAS units that uses cloud functionality for online access

Or a small medical practice who keeps their data on-premises is sold a “cloud-based” messaging and self-service appointment-management add-on to their IT system. Here, the core data is based on what is held on-premises but the messaging functionality or Web-based user interface and necessary “hooks” enabling the mobile-platform native app for the self-service booking function are hosted on a cloud service built up by the add-on’s vendor. When a patient uses the mobile-platform app or Web-front to book or change an appointment, they alter the data on the on-premises system through the cloud-hosted service.

It may also be used with something like an on-premises accounting system to give business functionality like point-of-sale abilities to a mobile-platform device like an iPad through the use of a cloud-based framework. But the core data in the on-premises system is altered by the cloud-based mobile-platform setup as each transaction is completed.

Full-cloud systems

Full Cloud online system

Full Cloud online system with data processing and storage across multiple different computers

On the other hand, a full-cloud system has the user’s primary data held online across one or more server computers with minimum local hardware or software to work the user’s data. There may be some on-premises data-caching to support offline operation such as to provide transaction-capture if the link is down or simply to improve the system’s performance.

The IT infrastructure for a full-cloud system will have some measure of scalability to allow for an increasing customer base, typically with the service provider annexing more computer power as the customer base increases. Such a service will have tiered pricing where you pay more for increased capacity.

Client software types

The user-interface for an online or cloud IT system would primarily be Web-driven where you work the data with a Web browser. On the other hand, it could use native client software that works tightly with the client computer’s operating system whether as a “thick” client with a significant amount of local data-processing or storage on the endpoint computing device or a “thin” client which just has a window to the data such as simply using a Web browser.

Public vs private cloud

Another concept regarding cloud-based IT is the difference between a public cloud and a private cloud. The public cloud has the computing power managed by another firm like Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services while the private cloud has all its computing power managed by the service provider or client company and effectively isolated from public access through a separate private network.

This can be a regular server-grade computer installed at each of the business’s branches, described as an internal cloud, Or it can be multiple high-grade server computers installed at data centres managed by someone else but available exclusively for the business, known as a hosted private cloud.

Data Privacy, Security and Sovereignty

Another factor that comes in to question regarding cloud and online computing is the issue of data privacy, security and sovereignty.

This covers how the data is handled to assure privacy relating to end-users whom the data is about; and assurance of security over data confidential to the IT system’s customer and its end-users. It will call out issues like encryption of data “in transit” (while moved between systems) and “at rest” (while stored on the systems) along with policies and procedures regarding who has access to the data when and for what reason.

It is becoming a key issue with online services thanks to the European GDPR directive and similar laws being passed in other jurisdictions which are about protecting end-users’ privacy in a data-driven world.

The issue of data sovereignty includes who has effective legal control over the data created and managed by the end-user of the online service along with which geopolitical area’s rules the data is subject to. Some users pay attention to this thanks to countries like the continental-European countries who value end-user privacy and similar goals heavily.

There is also the issue of what happens to this data if the user wants to move to a service that suits their needs better or if the online service collapses or is taken over by another business.

Cloudlets, Fog Computing and Edge Computing

Edge Computing setup

Edge computing setup where local computing power is used for some of the data handling and storage

This leads me to the concept of “edge computing”, which uses terminology like “fog computing” or “cloudlets”. This involves computing devices relatively local to the data-creation or data-consumption endpoints that store or process data for the benefit of these endpoints.

An example can be about a small desktop NAS, especially a high-end unit, on a business premises that handles data coming in to or going out to a cloud-based online service from endpoint devices installed on that premises. Or it could be a server installed in the equipment rack at a telephone exchange that works as part of a content-delivery system for customers who live in the neighbourhood served by that exchange.

Qarnot Q.Rad press image courtesy of Qarnot

Qarnot Q.Rad room heater that is a server computer for edge-computing setups

Similarly, the Qarnot approach which uses servers that put their waste heat towards heating rooms or creating domestic hot water implements the principle of edge computing. Even the idea of a sensor drone or intelligent videosurveillance camera that processes the data it collects before it is uploaded to a cloud-based system is also about edge computing.

It is being touted due to the concept of decentralised data processing as a way to overcome throughput latency associated with the public Internet links. As well, this concept is being underscored with the Internet of Things as a way to quickly handle data created by sensors and turn it in to a form able to be used anywhere.

Conclusion

Here, the issue is for those of us who buy service-based IT whether for our own needs or for a workplace is to know what kind of system we are dealing with. This includes whether the data is to exist in multiple locations, at the premises or at one location.

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Why should a common retailer join in to a tech platform with their own brands?

IKEA SYMFONISK speaker range press picture courtesy of Inter IKEA Systems B V

IKEA’s affordable path to the SONOS multi-room audio ecosystem

I have seen IKEA present a set of speakers that work with the premium SONOS multiroom audio platform but are more affordable than the SONOS speakers. Then I did some research on IKEA’s Tradfri smart-lighting infrastructure and found that the affordable smart lights offered by them can work with other Zigbee Light Link compliant home-automation setups.

A very similar practice is taking place with some of the German hypermarkets who are offering multiroom audio products under their private labels such as SilverCrest by Lidl / Kaufland.

But there are attempts especially by telcos who are offering “smart-home” systems where they don’t disclose what technical platforms their system supports. This is more so when users buy “starter packs” then want to “build out” their smart-home setup by adding on the devices that suit their needs.

What benefit does this offer?

Here, a retailer or telco’s retail arm can provide a set of equipment that is part of a particular multiroom-audio, smart-home, distributed Wi-Fi or similar device platform at a price affordable for most people. This is more so where they offer the products under their own private labels that are dedicated to value-priced or budget equipment.

Such a system can allow for a low-risk entry path to the multiroom-audio, home-automation or similar platform for most users. This is more so where a user wants to start out small, typically to suit a particular need like having a few lamps managed by a smart-lighting system.

Another advantage that exists for those of us who have invested in that platform is that we can build on it in a cost-effective manner. In the case of IKEA Symfonisk speakers, a person who has one or more SONOS speakers serving one or more primary living areas like the living room or the family room could extend their SONOS multiroom-audio setup to other rooms like the bedrooms in a cost-effective manner by using Symfonisk speakers. IKEA even took this further with Symfonisk by allowing you to have a compatible SONOS soundbar and a pair of the Symfonisk speakers in order to set up a full-on surround-sound system for your TV.

The retailer also benefits from the fact that they don’t need to reinvent the wheel if they are heading towards multiroom audio, smart-home or similar technology. Here, they can come on board with a range of products that suit their brand identity and focus on their specialities like, perhaps, home furnishings.

How does this work effectively

The key devices that are part of the device platform have to be designed as entities that can work with any systems or standards that drive the home-automation, multiroom-audio or similar platform. This means that they are to be interoperable with other devices working on that platform in a transparent manner.

If the retailer is offering a “hub” or “controller” device under their label, they may get away with something focused around their identity. But they could gain better mileage out of these devices by making them work to common technical standards so the devices can become part of the system that you want.

Some systems that allow a device to perform a supporting role like a pair of speakers augmenting a soundbar as “fronts” or “surrounds” for example could open up the path for accessing the desirable functionality.

Conclusion

When common retailers, telcos and installers offer equipment that works according to one or more common technical platforms and is affordable, this means that we can get in to the technical realms that the platforms offer with minimal risk. It also means that we can build out and add functionality to these systems in a cost-effective manner even if we use premium equipment based on these platforms.

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Major improvements expected to come to Bluetooth audio

Article

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar press picture courtesy of Creative Corporation

The Bluetooth connectivity that the Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar benefits from will be improved in an evolutionary way

The future of Bluetooth audio: Major changes coming later this year | Android Authority

My Comments

One of Bluetooth’s killer applications, especially for smartphones and tablets, is a wireless link between a headset, speaker or sound system to reproduce audio content held on the host computing device.

At the moment, the high-end for this use case is being fought strongly by some very determined companies. Firstly, Bose, Sony and Bang & Olufsen are competing with each other for the best active-noise-cancelling over-the-ear Bluetooth headset that you can use while travelling. This is while Apple and Sony are vying for top place when it comes to the “true-wireless” in-ear Bluetooth headset. It is showing that the Bluetooth wireless-audio feature is infact part of a desirable feature set for headphones intended to be used with smartphones, tablets or laptops.

Let’s not forget that recently-built cars and recently-made aftermarket car-stereo head units are equipped with Bluetooth for communications and multimedia audio content. This is part of assuring drivers can concentrate on the road while they are driving.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth wireless headset

.. just like headsets like this JBL one

But this technology is to evolve over the second half of 2019 with products based on the improved technology expected to appear realistically by mid 2020. Like with Bluetooth Low Energy and similar technologies, the host and accessory devices will be dual-mode devices that support current-generation and next-generation Bluetooth Audio. This will lead to backward compatibility and “best-case” operation for both classes of device.

There is an expectation that they will be offered at a price premium for early adopters but the provision of a single chipset for both modes could lead towards more affordable devices. A question that can easily be raised is whether the improvements offered by next-generation Bluetooth audio can be provided to current-generation Bluetooth hosts or accessory devices through a software upgrade especially where a software-defined architecture is in place.

What will it offer?

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

… like with the upcoming generation of smartphones

The first major feature to be offered by next-generation Bluetooth audio technology is a Bluetooth-designed high-quality audio codec to repackage the audio content for transmission between the host and accessory.

This is intended to replace the need for a smartphone or headset to implement third-party audio codecs like aptX or LDAC if the goal is to assure sound quality that is CD-grade or better. It means that the device designers don’t need to end up licensing these codecs from third parties which will lead to higher-quality products at affordable prices along with removing the balkanisation associated with implementing the different codecs at source and endpoint.

A question that will be raised is what will be the maximum audio quality standard available to the new codec – whether this will be CD-quality sound working up to 16-bit 48kHz sampling rate or master-quality sound working up to 24-bit 192kHz sampling rate. Similarly, could these technologies be implemented in communications audio especially where wide-bandwidth FM-grade audio is being added to voice and video communications technologies for better voice quality and intelligibility thanks to wider bandwidth being available for this purpose.

Another key improvement that will be expected is reduced latency to a point where it isn’t noticeable. This will appeal to the gaming headset market where latency is important because sound effects within games are very important as audio cues for what is happening in a game. It may also be of benefit if you are making or taking videocalls and use your Bluetooth headset to converse with the caller. Here, it will open up the market for Bluetooth-based wireless gaming headsets.

It will also open up Bluetooth audio towards the “many-endpoint” sound-reproduction applications where multiple endpoints like headsets or speakers receive the same audio stream from the same audio source. In these use cases, you can’t have any endpoint receiving the program material reproducing the material later than others receiving the same material.

A key application that will come about is to implement Bluetooth in a multiple-channel speaker setup including a surround-sound setup. This will be a very critical application due to the requirement to reproduce each channel of the audio content stream concurrently and in phase.

It will also legitimise Bluetooth as an alternative wireless link to Wi-Fi wireless networks for multiroom audio setups. As well, the support for “many-endpoint” sound-reproduction will appeal to headsets and hearing-aid applications where there is the desire to send content to many of these devices using a high-quality wireless digital approach rather than RF or induction-loop setups that may be limited in sound quality (in the case of induction-loop setups) or device compatibility (in the case of RF setups). There could even be the ability to support multiple audio-content channels in this setup such as supporting alternative languages or audio description. In some cases, it may open up a use case where transport announcements heard in an airport or rail station can “punch through” over music, video or game sound-effects heard over a Bluetooth headset in a similar way to European car radios can be set up to allow traffic bulletins to override other audio sources.

A question that can be raised with the “many-endpoint” approach that this next-generation Bluetooth-audio technology is to support is whether this can support different connection topologies. This includes “daisy-chaining” speakers so that they are paired to each other for, perhaps a multi-channel setup; using a “hub-and-spoke” approach with multiple headsets or speakers connected to the same source endpoint; or a combination of both topologies including exploiting mesh abilities being introduced to Bluetooth.

Conclusion

From next year, as the newer generations of smartphones, laptops, headsets and other Bluetooth-audio-capable equipment are released, there will be a gradual improvement in the quality and utility of these devices’ audio functions.

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40 years of being wired for sound with the personal soundtrack

Article

Sony holds 40th anniversary event for iconic Walkman music player | Japan Today

From the horse’s mouth

Sony

Walkman 40th Anniversary video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

Since the middle of 1979, there came a new way of listening to our favourite music while on the move.

This was brought about by Sony where its founder and CEO wanted a way to listen to music held on cassette tape through a highly-compact stereo cassette player that is connected to a pair of headphones. The production device that came about whose model number was TPS-L2 was based on one of Sony’s best handheld notetaker-grade cassette recorders of the time but played music in stereo through a set of headphones. In some markets it was known as the “Stowaway” or the “Soundabout” but Sony changed the product class’s name to “Walkman”.

This tape player opened up a product class based around a highly-portable stereo cassette player or radio that worked with a pair of lightweight headphones. As more of these devices came on the market, there was a huge rush to improve on their design for portability, sound quality, functionality, and affordability and they became the thing to have during the 1980s. A classic example of this was the Sony Walkman II (WM-2) which was about the size of two cassettes in their cases placed back to back.

Using these devices underscored the idea of a “personal soundtrack” that you enjoyed while you were on the move, whether it was your favourite broadcaster or one of your favourite tapes as you shut out what you didn’t want to hear. Most of these units were so lightweight that you could end up walking, jogging or running for a significant distance without them weighing you down, with this idea encouraging an increase in an interest towards physical exercise. On the other hand, travellers or those of us who had to go to hospital would take a Walkman and a collection of tapes with us to while away the time.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth wireless headset

Today’s headsets like this JBL headset replace the headphones associated with the Walkmans

This is while you were able to hear your taped music in a manner where tape or playback faults could show up clearly. It encouraged the record labels to improve the quality of their pre-recorded “musicassette” offering with this manifesting in high-grade tape and higher-quality mass-duplication techniques for the cassettes. Examples of these include EMI’s XDR and CBS SuperSound cassettes.

Schools and parents worried about this device because it was a way for teenagers to shut out what they didn’t want to hear i.e. the lesson material or what the parents wanted them to do, then substitute it with the music that the kid preferred to listen to like the New Wave sounds of the era. As well, it brought about the expression of one being “wired for sound” when they continually used a Walkman device to listen to music, something highlighted in that 1980s Cliff Richard song “Wired For Sound” (Spotify).

With the CD came along the Discman which was a highly-portable CD player intended to he used as a Walkman but for a digital media source. There was also the DCC and MiniDisc Walkman products that used their own media kind. But these led towards file-based audio in the form of MP3 players like the Creative Nomad and Apple iPod family.

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

The smartphone is today’s equivalent of that Walkman

Eventually the role of the Walkman became part of the smartphone’s function set thanks to the Apple iPhone and some of the Symbian-based Nokia feature phones. You would be able to connect a headset to these phones which would be loaded with file-based audio content whether through tethered syncing with a companion app or through loading a memory card with these files. This is while it could be a navigation device, a communications device, a personal library or handheld games machine amongst many other things.

Along with this, the quality of lightweight easy-to-wear headphones improved over the years with factors like improved bass response. The different types of headphones came about such as active-noise-cancelling headphones and Bluetooth wireless headphones that removed the factor that destroyed many a set of Walkman headphones – broken wires. The headphones ended up being full-on headsets that allowed you to listen to music or make a phone conversation with the same device.

Over the past 40 years, the Walkman underscored the idea of the personal private soundtrack that you can enjoy anywhere using a small battery-operated music-playing device with a set of headphones.

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Google to provide wireless across-the-room data transfer to Android

Article

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

Google Fast Play could open up an improved point-to-point data transfer experience to Android smartphones

Google working on ‘Fast Share,’ Android Beam replacement and AirDrop competitor [Gallery] | 9To5Google.com

Fast Share is Google’s Android Beam replacement: Here’s what you should know | Android Authority

My Comments

Google is to provide as part of the Android platform a new “open-frame” point-to-point data-transfer solution. This solution, known as Fast Share, implements Bluetooth and peer-to-peer Wi-Fi to transfer text, pictures, Weblinks and other resources.

The Android platform had two different peer-to-peer data-transfer solutions previously. The first of these was the Bluetooth profile that was implemented by Symbian, Microsoft and others to transfer pictures, contact details and the like since the rise of the feature phone. The second of these was the Android Beam which used NFC “touch-and-go” as a discovery method and initially used Bluetooth but moved towards peer-to-peer Wi-Fi as a transfer method.

This was while Apple was using AirDrop across their ecosystem which included iPhones and iPads. In Apple’s true style, it was part of keeping as many users on the iOS platform and you couldn’t do things like transfer to other mobile or desktop platforms.

Google is intending to have Fast Share as part of their Play Services software package rather than being “baked in” to a particular version of the Android operating system. Here, Fast Share can be run with Android devices running older versions of the operating system which is a reality with a significant number of phones where the manufacturer won’t provide support for newer Android versions on particular models.

Advance images of this concept shown on the Web are underscoring a tentative plan to port it to their own ChromeOS and Apple’s iOS operating systems. If Microsoft and Apple are interested, it may be seen as a way for Windows or MacOS regular-computer users to share resources across the room on an ad-hoc basis. As well, Google could look at how Fast Share can be implemented in a “headless” form whether for sending or receiving the data.

You will have the ability to share file-based resources like photos, videos, PDFs or vCard-based contact-information files along with URLs pointing to Web-hosted resources or snippets of text. This will satisfy most usage requirements like sharing family snapshots, contact details or Weblinks.

There will be the option to give a sender “preferred visibility” status so they can discover your phone when you are near them. This status means that they will see your device if you aren’t running the Fast Share app. Of course, users can turn Fast Share on and off as required, preferably with the idea of turning it off when using the phone in a public place unless they expect to receive something. You also have the ability to decline or accept incoming files so you have some control over what you receive.

The core issue with Google Fast Share and similar point-to-point across-the-room file-transfer platforms is that they have to work in a truly cross-platform manner so you don’t have to worry whether your friend sitting in that armchair across from you is using an iPhone or Android device when you intend to send that photo to them or share your contact details.

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Why do I consider a digital fax vault an important feature for multifunction printers?

HP LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw colour laser multifunction printer

HP LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw colour laser multifunction printer – an example of a fax-capable multifunction that implements flash memory and fax-vault functionality

Nearly every multifunction printer that is pitched towards small businesses and SOHO operations is equipped with basic Group 3 fax functionality at least. Most will have the high-speed Super Group 3 functionality while most multifunctions that print colour will support colour faxing.

This is a feature still considered of value by people who work in the legal, medical and allied professions because they see it as the preferred way to exchange documents “over the wire”, especially in the context of requiring other parties to sign and send the documents.

But inbound documents that arrive via these machines can be seen by people other than the intended recipients which is something that can betray the required confidentiality that most of these documents require. This is an important issue as far as client confidentiality and privacy are concerned when it comes to legal, medical or similar issues; but can also be of concern with the intellectual property that most organisations accrue such as customer / member lists or financial reports.

This can be of concern in traditional workplace environments like clinics where you have people like late-night workers or contract cleaners existing in the office beyond normal business hours. It can also be exacerbated for small-time professionals who share or sub-let office space or use serviced offices.

It can also extend to people who maintain a home office, something that is an increasing trend for small-time practitioners or people who maintain a small public storefront at other premises. In this case, even though the business operator’s household respects the business’s confidentiality requirements, there is the issue of houses being occupied by house-sitters, couch-surfers and the like who may not respect that level of confidentiality even though you trust them. It includes tradespeople who come in to your home to perform work that you require.

What is a “fax vault” and how could this feature answer these situations?

Brother MFC-J5730DW multifunction inkjet printer

Brother MFC-J5730CDW fax-equipped multifunction which can be set up to forward incoming faxes to Dropbox or OneDrive

A “fax vault” function stores all incoming fax documents to a digital storage medium of some sort rather than printing them out. Then the user enters a code and selects a “print stored faxes” function to print out the documents. Such setups could allow functions like printing out selected faxes such as those that relate to the work they are dealing with, or forwarding the documents to another fax machine like the one installed at a convenience store or newsagent to be collected there. Some machines also provide a “forward to email” function where they send the received fax document via email as a TIFF-FAX file or a PDF file.

Some of these setups may provide PIN-protected dial-in access to allow users to enable or disable this function or forward documents to a nominated fax machine from the nearest telephone like their home phone. The functionality could also be facilitated through a Web page or mobile-platform app for a granular operating experience.

The most basic form of this kind of storage is in RAM memory in the machine, but a power failure can have you lose all the documents you have received. Better implementations of this storage can be in the form of non-volatile storage like a hard disk or solid-state storage device including an SD card or flash memory installed in the machine, or the data is held on a network storage like a NAS.

For example, HP implemented integrated flash memory within the LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw that I reviewed. This was in lieu of using RAM which is vulnerable to power failure, also leading to that printer implementing a comprehensive “fax vault” function,

Brother have come close to this ideal by equipping some of their printers with “Fax Forward To Cloud” functionality provided as a machine app where documents can be held in a Dropbox or similar online-storage account. But this feature still requires the user to have documents printed out as they come in.

As I review a fax-capable multifunction printer, I applaud manufacturers who offer this function in the proper manner in their products especially if it is feasible not to print documents that are held on the storage. As well, I applaud manufacturers who implement non-volatile memory technology, preferably user-upgradeable technology or use of external, network or common cloud-based storage for incoming faxes.

The feature is important to prevent others from seeing confidential faxes which come in through the machine thus assuring client confidentiality and privacy along with intellectual-property protection for professionals.

How to achieve this better

The manufacturers could implement flash memory in their fax-capable MFCs to avoid risk of document loss during power failures.

This can be taken further with the ability for the user to install standard-form storage devices like SDXC cards, M.2 or 2.5” SATA storage devices within the machine to allow the user to install higher-capacity storage devices at a later time; or a USB port to allow the connection of USB Mass-Storage devices like memory keys or external hard disks. SD-based cards or M.2 SSD sticks can work well with the manufacturer’s desire to maintain a compact design for their desktop multifunction printer devices.

Similarly, simplified resource-discovery protocols for NAS devices could make these devices discoverable by equipment other than regular computers. This could be facilitated through a Samba (open-source SMB implementation) client on the multifunction that implements the SMB protocol most of the NAS units use.

To protect the data on the mon-volatile storage device against further snooping should the non-volatile media unit be stolen, the fax-enabled multifunction printer could implement encrypted storage or simply encrypt the files associated with fax operation. File-based encryption can also work with data stored on a NAS unit.

The large capacities offered by newer cost-effective storage media would cater to businesses in the legal profession who are having to deal with large legal documents as a matter of course, or doctors who receive graphically-rich documents like medical imaging.

It also encourages the use of the non-volatile storage medium in these machines for storing fax documents yet to be transmitted such as with scheduled faxing or attempting to transmit a document to a machine that is busy or not answering. The benefit also applies when your machine is busy printing large documents and wants to keep itself available for other incoming faxes.

For regular printing from a network, the non-volatile storage option can allow for enqueued printing where each job waits on the storage medium until it is printed out. This can also work well with secure print-job release where you enter a code that you predetermine to collect your job before the job is turned out. It can also allow manufacturers to implement remote printing, public-printing facilities and the like as part of a multifunction’s feature set.

Let’s not forget scanning, where an efficient workflow can be created. Here, a user could scan many originals at the machine then go to their computer or mobile device to take them further by “picking them up” from the machine’s storage. A multifunction with advanced abilities could even have the ability to, for example, recognise many small originals like snapshot photos, business cards or till receipts that are scanned at once and create separate files for each original.

Conclusion

Having a digital fax vault as part of a small-business or SOHO-grade fax-capable multifunction’s feature set can be of value to professionals who place high value on client confidentiality.

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6GHz Wi-Fi technology moving towards room-by-room Gigabit Wi-Fi

Article

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system press image courtesy of NETGEAR

Distributed Wi-Fi setups like this NETGEAR Orbi will be heading towards the Gigabit Wi-Fi goal on the 6GHz waveband

ARRIS: How 6 GHz Wi-Fi will revolutionise the connected home | Wi-Fi Now

My Comments

ARRIS who make home-network equipment for the American market, are pushing the idea that the 6 GHz Wi-Fi network is a major evolution for the home network.

This is coming about due to various national government departments who have oversight over radiocommunications use within their jurisdiction working on regulatory instruments to open up unlicensed low-power indoor use of the 6 GHz radio waveband. Such regulation is expected to be passed by the FCC in the US by mid-year 2020 and OFCOM in the UK by 2021 with other jurisdictions to follow suit over the next few years.

It will open up seven new 160MHz channels for the Wi-Fi 6 technology with the feasibility to open up a Gigabit Wi-Fi network. This is expected to lead to the evolution of the self-configuring distributed Wi-Fi setup with a Gigabit Wi-Fi backbone plus each access point offering a 160MHz Wi-Fi 6 channel alongside support for low-power narrower-bandwidth 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels for legacy equipment.

There will be the implementation of Wi-Fi EasyMesh and Wi-Fi EasyConnect standards to permit secure setup and an open-frame heterogenous distributed-wireless network.

One limitation I do see confronting this ideal that Arris put forward is the short-wavelength Wi-Fi backbone which can be a hindrance with certain building materials and construction approaches like double-brick walls. There will also be the requirement to run many access points to make sure the average home is covered properly. Here, the wired backbone whether “new wires”  like Ethernet or “no new wires” like HomePlug AV2 powerline or MoCA TV-antenna coaxial still has toe be considered for a multiple-access-point network.

ARRIS was even positioning for the evolution of the distributed Wi-Fi network to have each room with its own access-point node capable of yielding Gigabit bandwidth. They also put forward ideas like having these access points mounted on the ceiling. But I would also prefer the idea of a normally-sessile endpoint device like a network printer, Amazon-Echo-style smart speaker or a smart TV being its own access point that is part of the distributed Wi-Fi network. It then avoids the need to equip a room with an extra access point if you are intending to have this kind of device in that room.

The use of Wi-Fi 6 technologies will also be about working with environments that are congested as far as Wi-Fi wireless networking is concerned. These environments like multiple-premises buildings, airports or hotels are likely to have many Wi-Fi devices operating on many Wi-Fi networks which with prior technologies leads to poor performance especially on the throughput and latency side.

It may have to take a few years for the Wi-Fi wireless network to hit the Gigabit throughput mark as the 6 GHz band opens up and more access-point and client devices come on the market.

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Creative Labs introduces a desktop soundbar speaker as part of an entry-level soundbar range

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar press picture courtesy of Creative Corporation

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar

Creative Labs

Stage Air desktop soundbar (Product Page)

Stage soundbar (Product Page)

Press Release

My Comments

Creative Labs recently launched a small desktop soundbar that is being positioned as a viable single-piece alternative to the traditional computer speakers setup. If you did want a right-sized single-piece speaker setup for your computer, you would have used a small Bluetooth speaker or a boombox with a line input.

Here, it is being pitched towards desktop computer users who either are using an all-in-one desktop computer; or a traditional “three-piece” computer setup with the monitor, system unit and keyboard.

Creative Labs Stage soundbar press picture courtesy of Creative Corporation

Creative Labs Stage entry-level soundbar

This capitalises on Creative Labs pedigree in relationship to computer audio – who remembers themselves or a computer enthusiast they know installing a Sound Blaster sound card made by this firm in their computer through the years? It also includes their merger with Cambridge Soundworks who designed different “personal” speaker products advertised in American magazines through the 1990s.

This soundbar, known as the Stage Air, is a stereo device with a full-range speaker driver per channel along with a passive radiator to provide improved bass response. That speaker-arrangement technique had been used with some boomboxes made during the 1980s and 1990s as a way of improving their bass response in a power-efficient manner for portable applications. It is rated by Creative for 5 watts RMS per channel with a 20 watt peak output.

The Stage Air soundbar can fit underneath your computer monitor or all-in-one computer and connects to the host computer using a line-level connection with a 3.5mm stereo jack. But it has Bluetooth connectivity and a battery that can run for six hours on a charge allowing it to be a Bluetooth speaker for your laptop, tablet or smartphone. There is also the ability to connect a USB memory key to the Stage Air soundbar to have it play MP3 audio files held on that memory key.

There are controls on the speaker to regulate the volume so you don’t have to fuss around with your operating system’s sound icon to quickly adjust the sound. When it serves as your desktop speaker, you can have it normally powered by a USB power source like your computer or a USB charger.

From all of the material that I have read about this product, it is being pitched as something that can fill a small office or similar space with sound, something that would be akin to typical desktop computer speakers or a small boombox.

It is being offered as the junior brother to the Stage soundbar which has more power output and can fill a larger area with sound. Some press material even described this soundbar as being better than most low-priced entry-level soundbars. This unit uses a midrange speaker for each stereo channel and works alongside an external narrow-profile subwoofer for the bass.

This uses an infra-red remote control so you can select different frequency-response curves to adjust how it sounds. This has the Bluetooth and line-in connectivity but also has an optical input and HDMI-ARC TV connection, but it could also have an HDMI input so you can connect a video peripheral to it incase you displaced one that was connected to your TV’s ARC-enabled HDMI socket.

What I see of these products is that Creative Labs are filling in gaps for high-quality single-piece soundbar speakers that can answer your needs whether as something for your desktop or laptop computer or as an entry-level soundbar setup for your Smart TV.

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Product Review–Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible laptop

Introduction

I am reviewing Dell’s value-priced 2-in-1 laptop computer, the Inspiron 14 5000 which is positioned as a mid-tier computer for this class.

There is a model in the lineup that costs under AUD$1000 which has the Intel i3 CPU,  4Gb RAM and 256Gb SSD storage. I would see this as being of value for most users who are dabbling in the idea of a Windows-based 2-in-1.

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 at Rydges Melbourne (Locanda)

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 - viewer arrangement at Rydges Melbourne (Locanda)

 

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1398
Market Positioning Mainstream consumer laptop
Form Factor Convertible laptop
Processor Intel i5-8265U
cheaper option:
Intel i3-8145U
better option:
Intel i7-8565U
RAM 8GB
cheaper option: 4GB
Secondary storage 256GB SSD
cheaper option: 128Gb
SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics
better option:
NVIDIA GeForce MX130 Discrete graphics with Optimus (2Gb)
Screen 14” widescreen touch display (Full HD) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements MaxxAudio Pro
Network Wi-Fi Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac)
2 streams
Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.1
Modems
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 1 x USB-C with DisplayPort alt and PowerDelivery
2 x USB 3.0
1 x USB 2.0
Other Data Connections
Video DisplayPort via USB-C
HDMI 1.4b
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Digital via HDMI or DisplayPort
Authentication and Security
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

The Dell Inspiron 14 5000 has a very similar styling to most of today’s laptops with the grey housing and black keys and screen escutcheon. It doesn’t come across with a cheap-looking finish.

This computer doesn’t come across as being flimsy. It can work smoothly between the different setups whether it be a tablet, tent mode or the traditional laptop setup. Here, you don’t need to exert much pressure on the lid and it moves very smoothly. A problem that can occur if you use it in viewer mode is that if you put a bit too much pressure on the screen, you can find that the screen collapses too quickly. This may be of concern for those of us who attempt to type with the on-screen keyboard.

There is venting along the back and on the bottom of the keyboard unit. In normal use in all modes, I have noticed that the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 hasn’t built up any heat or become too hot to be comfortable.

User Interface

The illuminated keyboard on the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 looks like what is expected for most of the value-priced consumer-grade laptops. It has the tactile feel that is expected for most modern keyboards and you still have the ability to touch-type accurately. The illumination could be improved through the use of an “on-demand” mode to prevent the keyboard lighting up longer after you stop interacting with it and this could come in to play while the unit is running on batteries.

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible - keyboard left hand side connections (USB-C, HDMI, 2 x USB 3.0, audio jack)

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible – keyboard left hand side connections (USB-C, HDMI, 2 x USB 3.0, audio jack)

The trackpad on this Dell Inspiron 2-in-1 has the full precision ability which allows for multi-touch operation as expected for relatively-modern laptops. The touchscreen is also responsive and accurate as expected and isn’t easily triggered by you typing on the keyboard.

Unlike some very cheap Chinese-built 2-in-1 convertible laptops, the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 disables the keyboard and trackpad when it is placed in a tablet, viewer or tent mode. This means it fulfils the expectations of a 2-in-1 convertible and you don’t have accidental operation.

An improvement that I would like to see for use in any of the “tablet” modes would be to have a power switch and volume buttons located on one of the sides of the screen. This could allow the user to quickly shut the unit down or adjust the sound output when it is used as a tablet or a viewer setup.

Audio / Video

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible - keyboard right hand side connections (SD card reader, USB 2.0 port)

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible – keyboard right hand side connections (SD card reader, USB 2.0 port)

Dell has implemented the Waves MaxxAudio sound tuning but this doesn’t really improve the sound quality especially for music when you use this computer’s speakers. This is still a problem with laptops because of the shallow cramped design that is part of their construction. Here, I would recommend the use of headphones ore external speakers if you want more out of these computers.

The Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics performed properly for handling Web video but I have done further research on this graphics subsystem. Here, it is able to be an all-rounder for most tasks including some gaming where you aren’t critical about its performance. The high-end variant with the NVIDIA discrete graphics infrastructure would come in handy if you are wanting performance for gaming or photo and video editing.

Dell has done the right thing for battery life by keeping the display resolution for the integrated display at Full HD rather than offering a configuration with a 4K UHDTV screen resolution. The DisplayPort via USB-C connection option can come in to its own for higher resolution computing needs when you have this computer teamed with an external monitor or TV of that resolution.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

This computer, like most of the configurations of the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 comes with the 256Gb solid-state storage. This is while one of the configurations equipped with 8Gb RAM comes with 128Gb. It can work well for most “secondary-computer” applications but could be made as an across-the-board baseline. As well, a 512Gb solid-state drive could be offered as a premium option.

The solid-state storage that serves as the Dell Inspiron’s system disk is augmented by a full SD card reader that can work with the standard SD cards. This means that you could load your photos from your digital camera in to your computer without the need for using an SD-card reader.

The RAM capacity satisfies most needs but a 16Gb RAM specification could be offered as a premium option especially for units kitted with the i7 CPU.

The Wi-FI does come across as being strong and quick for most of today’s Wi-Fi networks and hasn’t been much of a worry. The Bluetooth connection also worked properly with my JBL headphones and is a feature that is to be made use of on a laptop for private listening or wireless keyboards and mice.

The USB connectivity does suit most needs including having a USB-C connection with DisplayPort alt and Power Delivery support. Here, it can play well with setting up a USB-C monitor or dock as the heart of a laptop-centric desktop workspace where you are implementing an external monitor, keyboard and mouse.

The two traditional Type-A connections on the left work to USB 3.0 specifications while the right-had Type-A connection works to the 2.0 specification. This can come up as a problem if you are using high-performance plug-in USB peripherals like USB modems that answer high-bandwidth mobile broadband services or USB memory keys with high storage capacity and high performance.

There is also an HDMI connection for existing flatscreen TVs and monitors when you want the second screen, while you have the 3.5mm audio jack for connecting headphones or speakers for better sound.

Battery Life

The Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1’s integral battery can satisfy a workday of ordinary text-based computing. This is even if you do your computing totally online such as Web-surfing on your home network or at a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Online video streaming for 90 minutes with full-screen video and the sound via a Bluetooth headset allowed the battery to run from full capacity to half capacity. You may find that you have to use an external power supply like a USB-C PD battery pack or the computer’s supplied battery charger if you are considering full-on binge-viewing or similar activity for over two to three hours flat-out.

Other Usage Notes

I showed the Del Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible to the chairman of the Men’s Shed that I go to regularly and he found that the screen size was “just right” – not to small or too big. Another person who is involved in business IT saw this computer as being suitable as a general-purpose household or personal computer where you are not asking for anything special in performance or security.

As well, I had used the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 during the broadcast of the Australian Federal Election vote count. Here, I found that the tablet mode worked very well for using the computer as a “second screen” in this context.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

A feature that I would like to see with the Dell Inspiron family of value-priced 2-in-1 laptops is for one or more variants to be equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 connector. This is more so on machines that are targeted towards affordable price segments due to the fact that they could be optioned up for better graphics with an external graphics module.

It could also be a good idea to implement USB 3.0 for all of the Type-A connections on this computer. Here, it can be of benefit to users who are likely to use two unwieldly-sized plug-in USB 3.0 peripherals that have a large form factor like some mobile-broadband modems or high-capacity USB memory keys.

Another feature that would work well for this class of laptop is to have a power switch and volume buttons installed on the edge of the screen. This can simplify the process of regulating the volume or quickly turning off the laptop when you are done.

The illuminated-keyboard feature could have an option to work only while you are working with the keyboard with it turning off a few seconds after you stop using the keyboard. This can be a way to allow for improved battery runtime.

Conclusion

The Dell Inspiron 14 5000 series 2-in-1s fills the gap for a convertible notebook that suits the needs of most householders without sacrificing performance for most computing tasks. This includes using it as a second screen or viewing online video, with the fact that the 14” screen keeps the idea of a highly portable computer alive while maintaining a larger screen.

This model even has some configurations that suit a budget user, someone who wants an all-round performer and someone who is after improved graphics performance.

I would make sure that Dell keeps the Inspiron 14 5000 series of 2-in-1 laptop computers as a value-priced product that suits most users and to keep one model with some desirable specs at an affordable price point. Here, it could be about preserving a lineup of 2-in-1 convertible laptops of different screen sizes, powertrains (CPUs, graphics processors, chipsets), RAM capacities and storage capacities under the Inspiron banner in order to make this computer class affordable for most users.

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