Computer Hardware Archive

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

Article

Desktop keyboard

Now you can check whether you need to replace that keyboard

Switch Hitter Helps You Diagnose Keyboard Problems | LifeHacker

From the horse’s mouth

Elite Keyboards

Switch Hitter Keyboard Diagnostic Software (Product Download Page)

My Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rollei sells slide scanners suitable for large slide collections

Article

Rollei DF-S 290 slide scanner press picture courtesy of Rollei Gmbh

This slide scanner can scan 10 of the old memories at a time to an SD card

Diascanner: Negative und Dias digitalisieren | Netzwelt.de (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

From the horse’s mouth

Rollei

DF-S 290 HD Product Page

My Comments

Those of us who lived through the 1950s to the 1970s often dealt with 35mm photo slides being par for the course for family photography. This was most often through people keeping large collections of these slides or sitting through many evenings where it was time to drag out the slide projector and show these slides on a screen. It was infact the kind of activity that tended to take place once someone came back from a long trip overseas.

These people valued the slides as a photographic medium because they were compact and you could either show them to many using that projector or view them personally using a handheld viewer.

WD MyCloud EX2 dual-disk NAS

A fast-track path for your old photographic memories to end up on that DLNA-capable NAS

There have been some unsatisfactory attempts to get these slides along with 35mm negatives on to a computer form. This typically involved a very expensive process of sending the pictures out to a digitizing service who would scan them to a CD or you were dealing with a scanning device that would turn out low-resolution images of these pictures and allow you to handle up to five of them at a time.

Rollei have raised the game with this class of device by selling a range of standalone slide / film scanners that had a 10-slide “continuous-feed” tray as standard. Here you could place 10 slides in this tray and work a lever to feed each slide through the machine once you scan them using the machine’s control surface.

Here, you could scan the slides stored in one of those classic yellow Kodachrome slide trays with very little fuss and is an improvement on similar scanner devices and multifunction printers that have transparency-scanning abilities because you don’t have to place slides in to a carrier like ducks in a row. It can also be of benefit to those of us who have limited dexterity, something that will come about as we get older.

Where do the images end up? They end up on an SD card that you provide and you transfer this card to your laptop to download the images. There is the ability to correct exposure or colour balance using the Rolei slide scanners’ controls, along with the ability to correct slides or negatives that were put in the scanner the wrong way. Some of you may find these options superfluous if you use software on your computer like iPhoto or Windows Live Photo Gallery to adjust the picture quality as part of using your computer to add metadata to your image scans. But this can come in handy if the goal is to have those memories appear on an electronic picture frame or similar device, or simply to “dump” them to a DLNA-capable NAS to be available on your home network or a Dropbox folder that you share with your family .

As well, the Rollei DF-S 290 also has an HDMI connection so you can use your large-screen TV or computer monitor as a preview screen or as a playback screen for showing those slides.

Of course, there is still a gap in the marketplace for certain “off-the-film” image-scanning jobs.

One of these is handling large slide collections that are stored in slide-projector magazines like the Kodak Carousel. This is because most of the scanners that support these magazine systems tend to fetch premium prices and are typically designed to work as peripherals for computer systems.

Another gap is being able to reliably scan film that isn’t held in a carrier that is supplied with a film scanner. This is of annoyance for people who deal with long flimstrips such as slide film that is “strip-processed” or negatives that you developed in the darkroom but didn’t cut in to the standard strips.

Yet another gap is being able to handle film formats other than the common 35mm film. In the consumer space, these surface as the 110 or 126 “Instamatic” cartridge films whereas in the hobbyist and professional space, these surface as the 120 or 220 “medium-format” roll films. It also is true for people who use equipment that uses variants of the 35mm film format like half-frame or panorama cameras.

Here, a scanner design could answer these needs through the use of optical zoom or digital zoom with a high-resolution imaging device. As well, for “on-device” editing, there could be the ability to crop to various aspect ratios supported by these films or stitch together panorama images taken by multi-frame panorama cameras.

At least someone is taking a proactive step towards providing affordable equipment for scanning those large slide collections and making them available to view on our home networks.

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SanDisk releases the first USB memory key with a Type-C connection

Article

MWC 2015 : la toute première clé dotée de la prise USB réversible de demain ! | 01Net.fr (French language / Langue Française)

From the horse’s mouth

SanDisk

Press Release

Product Page (Dual Drive Type C)

My Comments

The USB Type C connector

SanDisk Dual Drive Type C memory key press picture courtesy of SanDisk

SanDisk Dual Drive Type C memory key

has been ratified as a small reversible connector for use with low-profile devices. It will start to appear primarily on the next wave of tablets, smartphones and, perhaps, ultraportable notebooks due to its small size.

But the device that ends up in most USB ports is the USB memory key, also known as a memory stick, thumb drive or jump drive. These are the same size as a typical house key or stick of chewing gum but contain an integrated flash drive that plugs in to a computer’s USB port, presenting itself to the operating system as a removeable disk.

SanDisk has anticipated the arrival of these devices and has launched at Mobile World Congress 2015 a USB memory key that can plug in to a USB Type-C socket. The 32Gb Dual Drive has on one end a Type A plug to plug in to most computers in operation and on the other end a Type C plug for the up-and-coming tablet or ultraportable. Of course, the USB 3.0 device will present itself logically as a removable disk like other memory keys.

This could cut out the need to carry around a Type-A to Type-C cable along with a memory key when you want to move data to your tablet or want to expand capacity on that same device. Who knows who will be the next kid off  the block to offer a peripheral for the USB Type-C connector.

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Expecting your printer to be the home or small business printing press? What does it need?

This is an updated version of the article I had published in February 2012

Most small organisations such as micro-businesses and other small businesses will place an expectation on desktop-style computer printers to be used as an “organisational short-run printing press”.

HP OfficeJet Pro 8600a Plus all-in-one printer

HP OfficeJet Pro 8600 Series – a desktop multifunction printer that has been pitched as something that can turn out flyers and brochures

This expectation has been brought around through the availability of software with varying levels of desktop-publishing functionality at prices most people and small business can afford. This ranges from software in a typical office-software package offering elementary desktop publishing functionality like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, through to dedicated mid-tier desktop publishing software of the Microsoft Publisher class that is at a price most people can afford and is easy to understand.

The same expectation has been underscored by the various printer manufacturers with their recent desktop-printer designs, especially with the high-end business models of their product range like HP’s OfficeJet Pro lineup. Here, they are bringing printing abilities, output speeds and document quality associated with workgroup-grade freestanding printers to this class of printer with such examples as Brother offering business-grade desktop inkjet multifunctions that can turn out A3 documents.

It has been underscored in the advertising that these printer manufacturers provide and is more evident with Websites and, especially, TV commercials that are run on prime-time TV which reaches most consumers more easily. Examples include a recent Canon TV commercial for their PIXMA printers, HP’s website for their OfficeJet Pro inkjet printers highlighting their prowess with turning out brochures, or Brother underscoring their business printers’ prowess with desktop publishing through a series of TV commercials.

What features does it need to have?

High-yield printing

HP OfficeJet 6700 Premium front-load ink cartridges

The printer should have separate colour ink cartridges and be able to accept high-yield cartridges

It should be feasible for customers to purchase high-yield ink or toner cartridges as an option for the printer alongside the standard-yield cartridges. Some vendors like Brother are known to offer “super-high-yield” cartridges for some of their printers alongside the high-yield and standard-yield cartridges. This is more important for inkjet machines because the ink cartridges are typically very small and aren’t able to hold a lot of ink.

It is worth noting that most of the equipment pitched at business users like the HP OfficeJet Pro 8600 will typically have the larger-capacity ink or toner cartridges even for their standard-yield variants and have a higher duty cycle therefore being able to do this kind of work.

Another direction that high-yield ink or toner supply is taking is in the form of tank-equipped printers instantiated by the Epson EcoTank approach. Here, the printers are equipped with high-capacity tanks and the user manually adds ink to these printers’ tanks to replenish them. Brother even uses the tank approach with very high-capacity cartridges in order to combine the best of both worlds and simplify how you manage your printer.

As well, you should prefer to use an inkjet printer that uses individually-replaceable ink tanks for each colour. These printers also become more cost-effective to run because you only need to replace the colours that you run out of when you run out of them.

The print mechanism has to be able to support large print runs without failing mid-job. This includes having it perform advanced printing functionalities like auto-duplex or use of anciliary trays. It also has to work reliably with jobs that are based around media other than regular paper.

Automatic duplexing

This brings me to automatic duplexing. An increasing number of home-office printers and small-business printers are being equipped with an automatic duplex mechanism so that the unit can print on both sides of the paper. This is usually to permit you to save paper but people may find this function useful for turning out booklets, brochures, greeting cards and the like where they want to print on both sides of the paper. For that matter, most of these printers have a “booklet printing” function built in to their driver software where they can use the duplex functionality to turn out booklets such as a four-page booklet on one sheet of paper. Similarly, automatic duplexing may come in handy for making flyers and signage that is to be seen on both sides such as a sign that is fixed to a window, or a sign used in a freestanding sign holder.

Brother MFC-J5720DW colour inkjet printer

A Brother desktop printer that can print on A3 paper

A common problem with some of these mechanisms is that they don’t print to the narrow edge of Letter or A4 paper during a duplex print run especially if the paper size determined in the driver software or print job doesn’t match the paper in the printer. The problem has been more so with most Hewlett-Packard inkjet printers except the OfficeJet Pro 8600, which was pitched as a brochure-printing machine. This can cause problems with registration shifting or a requirement to have large margins on the document. Some Canon printers such as the PIXMA MX-870 have improved automatic duplex mechanisms that can work to the edge of the paper.

In the same case, you may find that some automatic duplexers in the home or small-business printer class may have problems with page registration. That is where the page is lined up properly on both sides of the paper and can be of concern if you are turning out work like luggage tags, door hangers or bookmarks where it is critical to have the back of the document lined up with the front of the document. You can work around this by allowing a margin on both sides of the design.

Another problem is that there is a time penalty of up to 15 seconds per page with inkjet printers when they use automatic duplexing with this happening when the front side of the document is being printed. This is to allow the ink to dry on the front side of the paper before the printer draws the paper in to print on the back and is being reduced with newer equipment that uses quick-drying ink. As well, the automatic duplexing cycle is even being optimised to slowly retract the document in to the printer after the first side is printed so the printer can start the other side sooner.

Another limitation that I have found with automatic duplexers is that they don’t handle card stock or similar paper easily because they have to turn the paper around one or more rollers. Here, you may have to use manual duplexing where you reinsert the work in the machine with the other side facing the print head to print it double-sided.

Something yet to be seen for automatic duplexing in the context of desktop publishing and presentation-grade printing is the availability of coated paper that is coated on both sides of the sheet alongside duplexer mechanisms that can handle such paper.

Issues concerning use of the printer

Special printing media requirements

Plastic-based media

Plastic-based media like overhead-projector transparencies, back-print film and vinyl stickers / decals have special requirements when it comes to printing them on your printer.

They range from being able to “hold” ink that is sprayed on to them by the inkjet process or passing through a heat-based printing process such as the xerographic process used in laser and LED printers.

Laser printers and special media
Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer

If you use a laser printer, you need to use laser-optimised media for plastic-based media and stickers. This is because the printed documents have to pass through “fuser rollers” that are heated at a very high temperature in order to melt the toner on to the media. This can be a problem with the adhesive and plastic backing associated with stickers or the plastic media melting inside the machine and causing damage that is costly in both money and serviceability terms.

It also can extend to glossy or silk-look “presentation / brochure” paper which uses some form of glazing to provide the sheen, and this can cause problems with different printers.

So you have to use special media that is designed for laser-printer or xerographic photocopier use. This media is designed to work at very high temperatures so it can pass through the hot fuser rollers without damaging the printer.  Some of the media that is made by particular printer manufacturers is designed for the printers made by that manufacturer and, in some cases, printers based on a certain print-engine type. This is due to the manufacturer knowing the operating temperature for the printers in question.

But there are some kinds of special media that is made by third parties and pitched at a range of printers offered by many different manufacturers. Some of these also may be available under the private labels that different stationers and office-supply stores use. For example, Avery make a large range of laser labels that are compatible with most laser printers that are in circulation nowadays.

Inkjet-compliant plastic media

To get best results out of inkjet printers with plastic media, you have to use inkjet-optimised plastic media that has a rough surface on the printed side. This is to catch the droplets left by the inkjet printer as part of its printing process and avoid the ink smearing over the medium as it passes through the printer or is handled by the user.

As well, you will need to set the printer’s driver software to work with “overhead transparencies” or “back print film” when you print to plastic media. This is to allow the printer to optimise its printing process for the media such as slowing the print-head action so as to make sure the ink ends up properly on the medium.

When you load the media, you have to make sure that the rough “printing” side faces the print head as it feeds through the printer. This may be harder to understand with Hewlett-Packard and Brother printers because they use a U-shaped paper-feed path and eject the printed document above the paper storage trays. Here, you would have to put the media in with the rough side facing down when loading the printer.

Card stock, art board and similarly-thick media

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer special-media tray

“Manual-bypass” special media tray in a colour laser printer

Another medium that may prove itself to be difficult for desktop printers is art board, card stock and similarly-thick papers. Most of these papers can cause problems with printers that implement any paper path that has a U-turn in it like most desktop printers.

Here, you may have to use a “straight-through” paper path on them for these papers to work properly and use manual duplexing if you are printing on both sides. Most inkjet multifunction printers have a rear-mounted multifunction tray where you load this paper while laser printers will require you to use a “manual bypass” tray or slot at the front as the loading tray and have a drop-down door at the rear as the output tray.

Increasingly, budget and some midrange printers will have a limit on the number of sheets of paper that you can load through this way with some of them even requiring you to load one sheet at a time in to the printer.  This can be an inconvenience to you if you are turning out multiple copies of the same document.

Use your printer or outsource your printing for that print run

HP LaserJet Pro 400 Series colour laser printer

HP LaserJet Pro 400 Series colour laser printer

The main question that a lot of users will end up asking will be whether to have the print runs made by an outside printing house or print the documents with their printer. Some of you may prefer to outsource your printing rather than use your printer especially with public-facing documents like brochures and flyers. This is because the print shop that you use has better equipment than what you would have and it is increasingly true of large office-supply chains like Office Depot, Officeworks or Staples who provide on-site printing and copying facilities.

I have talked with two men who pastor churches with medium-sized congregations about this issue through the time I was reviewing the Brother MFC-J5720DW desktop inkjet multifunction printer. This is a class of user who could be tempted to use one of these printers to turn out flyers and tracts as a way to make the offering dollar go further. One of these men, who happens to be my pastor, raised the issue of output quality from outsourced work versus work turned out on one of these printers and remarked that the outsourced work is of much better quality. The other pastor raised the fact that these printers wouldn’t work well for turning out large print runs like what would be expected for promoting an upcoming special event at the church.

Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 desktop inkjet multifunction printer

One factor to consider is how many copies you will be eventually needing for your design. If you are turning out up to 20 to 40 copies of your design at a time, you can get by with using your machine. If you end up running more than that, you would need to outsource your printing. This is because of the cost of ink and paper involved in the large print runs, the costs associated with the wear and tear on your machine and the time it takes to run the large print jobs on the typical home-office or small-business printer. This last factor will be of importance with fax-enabled printers serving as fax machines that have to be ready to receive faxes or printers that are required to turn out hard copy as part of business processes.

Another factor worth considering is how often your design is likely to change. This also includes situations where you want to adopt a “print-as-needed” policy such as to run a small-enough quantity of flyers for an appearance like a house inspection. If the design is likely to change frequently or be suited to an occasion, you may have to use your printer for the short runs or outsource larger runs to a print shop that supports quick-turnaround printing such as a copy shop that relies on inkjet or xerographic technology or a printing house that uses digital presses.

Examples of this may include a café, restaurant or bar turning out menus or drinks lists that are centred around particular food and drink specials, a church or funeral home turning out an order-of-service for a particular occasion or an estate agent or auctioneer running flyers about the property that they are auctionning to hand out to customers.

Other factors worth considering include the printing cost per copy if you are intending to use a premium paper stock like coated paper, glossy paper or art board when you are wanting that special look for your public-facing documents.It also includes using finished-document page sizes and forms that are out of the ordinary document-paper sizes like A4 or Letter.  Here, you may have to factor in any extra handling that you our your staff may have to do for manual duplexing or cutting to small sizes.

It is worth knowing that your machine would keep its worth in the equation as part of the design-approval process before you commit to having them printed. This is where you would be turning out proofs so you are sure they are what you want them to be; or to turn out short “test-runs” to assess the effectiveness of a design.

Your printer can also complement the print shop you use for outsourced printing by being able to provide short supplementary print runs of the final document on request. Here, you may want to:

  • do a preview run which you would give to special customers or partners while the main print run is being turned out;
  • turn out a short “infill run” of the documents when you find that you have run short of copies and you don’t want to commit to another large print run due to cost or turnaround-time reasons; or
  • want to keep some copies on hand and ready to distribute so you can get your campaign off the ground without waiting for the printing to be finished especially if you find that your print job has been delayed for some reason.

Conclusion

Here, small businesses can consider the use of a desktop printer as the “small-business printing press” if they know what their machine is capable of and they are using the right media for the job. This includes whether to work it hard on a large print job or assign the job to the local print shop.

Updates:

7 February 2020: This document has been updated to cater for the high-capacity tank-based inkjet printers that are now on the market.

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Microsoft to benefit convertibles, detachables and other multi-input computer setups

Article

How Continuum will work in Windows 10 | CNet

Windows 10 ‘Continuum’ mode for hybrid devices showed off by Microsoft (video) | PureInfoTech

Video

Click to play

My Comments

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook - image-viewer view

Windows 10 will play properly with these computers what way you fold them

A problem that was often echoed with Windows 8 was the Start Screen and the Modern user interface that was optimised just for touch interfaces. This is although there are computing setups that can work between a touch interface and / or a regular mouse / keyboard interface.

These range from the so-called “2-in-1” computers of the Microsoft Surface, HP x2 and Lenovo Yoga i which can be known as convertibles or detachables and change between a regular laptop and a tablet, through people connecting keyboards and mice to tablets, including the “Adaptive All-In-One” computers of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 ilk, to touchscreen-enabled regular laptops or regular desktop computers that are kitted out with touchscreen-capable monitors.

But Windows 8 didn’t perform well for the regular mouse / keyboard interface. Here, you didn’t have the “comfort zone” of the Start Menu or desktop interface elements most of us are used to for over the last 20 years of Windows-platform regular computing. Windows 8.1 performed a few upgrades to try to bridge the gap but Windows 10 has approached this more sincerely.

Here they have a new Start Menu that also has active Tiles for Windows Store apps and this can be “shoehorned” to suit your screen layout. It is also optimised for touch-enabled setups like a “2-in-1” set up as a laptop, a touch-screen-equipped regular laptop or a desktop computing setup equipped with a touch-enabled monitor. This is part of a desktop user experience optimised still for the keyboard and mouse.

But if you detach the keyboard from an HP x2 detachable, fold over a Lenovo Yoga or slide the keyboard under a Sony VAIO Duo, the display adapts to a full-screen-optimised “tablet” mode. The same thing happens if you turn off your Bluetooth keyboard and mouse that you have connected to your Windows tablet. This has a reduced clutter view and program selection is through the Start Screen “dashboard” that was par for the course on Windows 8. There is the ability to bring this on manually if you like to, at times, mouse around an uncluttered workspace or simply have that “dashboard view”.

At least the folks at Redmond have made the effort to cater for multiple-interface computer users, especially the 2-in-1 users or people who have touch-capable laptops. Let’s not forget that a touch-capable monitor for a desktop computer setup or a touch-enabled laptop doesn’t have to be considered an unnecessary luxury.

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InFocus released newer cost-effective projectors for small-budget users

Article – From the horse’s mouth

InFocus

Press Release

Product Page

IN118HDa (3000 lumens, standard throw (104.6” / 2.7m distance for a 70” / 1.8m image), USD$649)

IN118HDSTa (2700 lumens, short throw (34” / 0.9m distance for a 70” / 1.8m image), USD$749)

My Comments

A small church that runs on a hairline budget

A small church that runs on a hairline budget

InFocus have released two new cost-effective projectors that are pitched at small businesses and non-profit organisations who are thinking of equipment that is cheap to buy and run. Here, the applications I think of would be something like a projector that is used in a café, bar or similar place for showing TV or video content from a Blu-Ray player or pay-TV set-top box, or a projector used in a small church to show song lyrics and video content during worship.

These units run with a 15000:1 contrast ratio and 3000 ANSI lumens for the standard-throw IN118HDa model or 2700 lumens for the short-throw model. They both will have a 10,000 hour lamp life if used on the “Eco Blank” mode and are operated properly.

What impresses me about them is that they implement a 16:9 native aspect ratio with Full HD resolution which satisfies their use with currently-issued video and computer equipment along with currently-produced video content.

The main connection on these projectors is an HDMI 1.4 socket which is a connection type that is being expected of currently-issued video and computer equipment. There are also the legacy connection types like the VGA connection and component, S-Video or composite video connections. The projector has its own amplifier and speakers for the legacy audio connection and a built-in digital-analogue audio converter for the HDMI connection. This latter option comes in to its own with achieving a simplified setup if you have a stereo amplifier and speakers or a PA system located near the screen because you can connect the amplifier to the projector’s audio output and run one HDMI cable between your laptop and the projector.

Personally, I would like to see these units implement the HDMI-CEC functionality so as to allow a person to use the projector’s remote controller to navigate content held on suitably-equipped consumer video equipment like most of the Blu-Ray players.

But what I see of this is the ability to provide projectors that can work with today’s video content and equipment at reasonable prices for this kind of user group.

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Why do I describe non-Apple operating systems and hardware as being open-frame?

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

Windows 8 – open-frame as can be

I make references to computer systems or mobile devices based on platforms like Windows, Linux or Android as being “open-frame”.

This is compared to Apple’s computer systems and mobile devices which are focused around hardware and software interfaces are peculiar to that manufacturer’s devices. As well, it takes a long time for Apple to integrate a common hardware or software standard in to a platform although other platforms are already implementing the standard; or an accessory or peripheral vendor has to go through hoops to have a device considered “fit” to work with Apple’s products.

Android - also open-frame

Android – also open-frame

Computer systems that are based on an “open-frame” environment has the ability for one to connect peripheral devices easily to it no matter who the hardware or software vendor is. An example of this includes smartphones and tablets implementing a microUSB Type-AB socket for charging or transferring data.

Open-frame computer systems can attach themselves to a network or quickly discover and benefit from or share network resources using commonly-available standards that aren’t particular to one particular vendor. As well, the companies behind the platforms are quick to meld support for most. if not all. of these common standards and specifications in to the next major version of their software platforms and will nurture these standards through their platform’s lifecycle.

Naim UnitiServe - provides music va UPnP AV / DLNA to equipment independent of vendor

Naim UnitiServe – provides music va UPnP AV / DLNA to equipment independent of vendor

There are many examples here that I could mention.

One example is a Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer or an Android smartphone can quickly associate with a WPS-capable Wi-Fi wireless network segment at the click of a button on the wireless router as what happened when I stayed with some friends up in Sydney and when I stayed with another friend up in Ballarat. In both instances, I brought in my Samsung Android smartphone and a Windows-based review-sample laptop  to these locations and brought them on to the hosts’ networks to benefit from their Internet access.

DLNA collections listed as sources on the TV

DLNA content collections listed as sources on a Samsung Smart TV

Another example is to have the ability to discover multimedia content held on a network-attached storage device or media-server software using UPnP AV / DLNA standards which many manufacturers and software developers offer. I have seen this demonstrated many times with setups based around different manufacturers and software developers and, one time, this provided a simple on-ramp for a couple to show travel pictures to the mother-in-law.

Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone adaptor NFC tie clip

Touch your NFC-capable phone on the clip to pair it with the headphone adaptor

Yet another example is my Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone adaptor that quickly pairs with my Samsung Android phone when I touched them together in a same vein as a Braven Bluetooth wireless speaker that I reviewed. In some cases, this even applies to the ability for Android users to exchange contact details with each other or Windows 7/8 computers via Bluetooth or NFC.

How I see the personal-computing scene for both regular (desktop) and mobile applications is that there will be balkanisation taking place between Apple and the rest of the field and this has been underscored in the computer press as simply “the cult of Apple”.

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

Article

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

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft Hardware

Universal Mobile Keyboard Product Page

Press Release

Video clip

My Comments

Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard press image courtesy of Microsoft

Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard

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

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

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

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

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

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Product Review–ZCan Plus scanner mouse

Introduction

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

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

ZCan+ USB scanner mouse

The ZCan+ Mouse itself

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

Where the scanning takes place in the ZCan+ scanner mouse

Where the scanning takes place in the ZCan+ scanner mouse

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

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

ZCan application screenshot - scanning

Screen-grab during my scanning of a business card

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

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

ZCan application with scanned business card

ZCan application with scanned business card

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

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

Where do I see this scanner mouse fit in?

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

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

Point of improvement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Product Review–Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer which is similar in capability to the HL-4150CDN and HL-4570CDW colour laser printers. This is the kind of printer one would consider as being useful for high-throughput printing of presentations and marketing collateral for a small business i.e. the organisational “short-run” printing press. The classic example of this would be a real-estate agent or auctioneer who has to turn out flyers that describe the property or goods that are for sale to hand to prospective purchasers when the property or auction lot is available for inspection. Or a church or funeral home could use these printers to bring colour in to those “order-of-service” cards or other similar short-run printing jobs.

There is a cheaper variant of this printer, known as the Brother HL-L8250CDN. This has a slower output speed and only has Ethernet as its network connection but is fast enough for most colour printing applications.

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer

Print Paper Trays Connections
Colour / B/W 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Laser xerographic Optional high-capacity A4 tray Ethernet,
802.11g/n Wi-Fi,
Wi-Fi Direct
Auto-duplex multi-purpose tray IPv6

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price:

HL-L8250CDN: AUD$399

HL-L8350CDW: AUD$499

Optional Extras:

High-capacity paper tray: AUD$249

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$109 2500 AUD$123.95 4500
Cyan AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Magenta AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Yellow AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500

 

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Unit AUD$267.45 25000
Belt Unit AUD$179.95 50000
Waste Toner Unit AUD$29.95 50000

The printer itself

Setup

The Brother HL-L8350CDW printer is apparently easy to set up or prepare for transport compared to previous-generation Brother colour laser printers. Here, there isn’t a need to remove catches and other pieces to prepare the HL-J8350CDW for use. There isn’t also a need to prepare the printer’s print engine for transport such as installing special fittings if the machine needs to be transported.

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer toner cartridges and drum unit

Toner cartridges and drum unit as a drawer

Like the Brother HL-4150CDN, the HL-L8350CDW has the drum unit working effectively as a “drawer” when you have to change toners, which would make this process a lot more easier. As well, like all of the Brother printers or multi-function units that implement laser or LED xerographic technology, these use a print engine with running parts like the imaging drum and/or transfer belt that the user can separately replace, along with the option to purchase toner cartridges that have a higher yield. These features allow for the printers to be effectively cheap to keep going.

It is capable of being setup for an Ethernet of Wi-Fi wireless network or even supporting Wi-Fi Direct so you can print directly from your mobile device without the need for the printer to be connected to a network. But the Wi-FI Direct function cannot be operated at the same time as the printer being connected to your network.

There is the ability to set these printers up for advanced print jobs such as working with envelopes or thicker media. This is through a drop-down “manual-bypass” tray that accommodates up to 50 sheets of the media along with the back of the printer being able to be dropped down for “straight-path” printing of envelopes. This ability places the Brother HL-L8350CDW and its peers along with the higher-capacity monochrome laser printers at an advantage compared with cheaper Brother printers for working wiht special media.

Walk-up functions

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer USB walk-up socket

USB socket for plugging in USB flash drives

You can print PDF or similar files from a USB memory stick by plugging it in to a USB port on the front of the unit. One disadvantage here is that it is slower to turn out a 2-sided PDF print job which may come as a limitation when you want to turn out that flyer where the artwork is on a memory stick.

It is also worth knowing that the USB port can serve as a “walk-up” charging port for your smartphone or similar devices. The manual doesn’t seem to support this but I haven’t had error messages thrown up as a result of my charging of gadgets this way. This function even operates when the printer is in the “Sleep” mode or in active use. It doesn’t work this way in the “Deep Sleep” mode.

Computer functions

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser pritner control panel

Control panel

An issue with a lot of Brother printers is that they make one driver package for each model even though most or all models of a series have common abilities and features.  This can cause problems with installation especially over the network. Other than that, the software installation worked smoothly.

For printing, it took only a few seconds for the printer to “wake up” and turn out the first page of a job once you submitted it. This was from its “sleep” state. As for heat build-up, there wasn’t much of that during a small print run but it starts to occur through larger print runs say, for example, after 20 double-side pages are turned out. As well, the noise level is similar to what is expected for most laser printers and photocopiers.

The on-machine user interface is similar to the HL4150CDN’s user interface, which has the small LCD display and four-way arrow keys. This doesn’t have the ability to show up how much toner is currently available or provide an easy-to-implement “confidential-print” or “walk-up” printing function.

Print speed and quality

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer special-media tray

Multi-page special-media tray

The text and graphics documents came out of the Brother HL-L8350CDW very sharply and clearly. This was exemplified with a personal “desktop-publishing” job that I had run as well as other print jobs that I had done with this machine.

The automatic duplex functionality came across as being very quick for jobs that were sent from the host computer. It was something that was very similar to what had happened with the Brother HL-4150CDN where it apparently worked both sides of two pages at the same time. This didn’t cause problems with registration shift, which could make it work well for turning out bookmarks and similar documents or proofing documents that are to be printed on card-stock by a print shop.

As for photos, these came through sharp and vibrant, which is above average for a colour laser printer. Here, I was able to see bright reds in the test images which also came through very brightly and with good contrast. This would increase the Brother HL-L8350CDW’s appeal to people like estate agents who need to turn out a run of flyers to have on hand during an “open-for-inspection” visit.

Build quality and serviceability

The Brother HL-L8350CDW is built very well and, as I have mentioned before, hasn’t had issues with heat buildup or excessive noise. This has been through use of proper cool-down procedures. As well, all the doors and drawers snapped shut properly and didn’t come across as being flimsy.

For serviceability, the rear door exposes most of the output print path so you can remove jammed pages easily. The fact that the drum unit is separately replaceable makes it easier to reach inside the unit if you had to deal with paper jams inside the unit. This makes the job of rectifying most printer paper-transport problems less of a chore.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Brother HL-L8350CDW could show the amount of toner available in the unit on the LCD display so you don’t have to operate a computer to know when it’s time to put a replacement toner cartridge on the shopping list. This could simply be shown as a bar graph and not only when the supply is critically low.

The USB device port on these machines could be implemented for more than just walk-up printing from USB flash drives. For example, this port could support PictBridge printing from digital cameras so you could obtain a quick printout of a digital photo you took with your camera. As well, it could use the USB Human Interface Device class to work with an external numeric keypad for applications such as Secure Print or whenever you are setting it up with a wireless network. It then avoids the need to “pick and choose” numbers for code entry.

A nice-to-have feature that the machine’s owner could separately enable would be a “plug-and-charge” function that is available at all times the printer is plugged in to AC power rather than when it is active or in “sleep” mode. Here, this means that the USB port could provide 1 amp or 2.1 amps of power available irrespective of sleep-mode status so you can charge up a smartphone, tablet or similar gadget from the printer’s USB port. It is one of those features that is becoming more important as the USB port is seen as a universal power outlet for personal gadgets.

Brother could improve on the automatic duplexer in these printers to improve its throughput so that the “sheet output” approaches that of half of the machine’s rated single-sided throughput. This is although these machines do excel on that feature by effectively “working” two sheets at once. It would then raise the bar with those of us who are using this feature as part of our desktop-publishing needs. Similarly, these laser-printer automatic duplexers could be worked further to handle A5 and similar small sizes of paper for those of us who expect them to work as “short-run” printing presses.

As for replaceable parts, Brother could offer for these colour laser printers a “heavy-duty” replacement-parts kit with a drum unit and belt unit that are optimised to handle longer more-intense print runs as an option. This could appeal to small businesses and non-profit organisations who are more likely to run these machines constantly as the organisational short-run printing press.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend the Brother HL-L8350CDW as a cost-effective high-volume colour laser printer for those of us who turn out a lot of colour business or presentation documents and place value on the laser xerographic print method for this application. Those of us who are on a budget could opt for the HL-L8250CDN which has a slower throughput and just uses Ethernet network connectivity.

As well, I would run these printers with the TN-346 series of toner cartridges when you are expecting to push them hard on a lot of promotional printout work. Most users can run them with the TN-341 cartridges when on a budget or even use a TN-346K black cartridge along with the TN-341 colour cartridges as a way of stretching your dollar further.

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