Category: Mobile Computing

Some apps on your Android device crashing lately? WebView may be the culprit

Article

Android main interactive lock screen

Apps crashing frequently on your Android smartphone or tablet? Check out Webview – it may be the culprit.

Android apps like Gmail are crashing and ‘WebView’ is to blame | Engadget

My Comments

You may have found that with your Android phone some apps like news apps, email apps or online banking apps are crashing lately. It will also affect apps or games that use advertising and the app or game crashes when an ad appears.

This is to do with the Webview system app that allows a native Android app to utilise Google Chrome’s logic to show Web-based HTML content within the app’s user interface. But a recent version of this app has been found to be buggy and is responsible for causing these software crashes.

A temporary fix that has been put forward is to uninstall the latest Chrome updates on your Android device. Or you go to the Google Play Store or the Settings – Apps menu to uninstall Android System Webview.

But Google have lately worked on a bugfix for this problem and are now rushing this out as a software update for Chrome and Webview. These are expected to be delivered as part of the latest Google Play software updates and should be delivered by 24 March 2021. On some devices, you may find that these updates are delivered as separate packages.

Once these are updated, you shouldn’t find your apps that use Web-based content crashing frequently.

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Google to participate in setting standards for mobile app security

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Google

A standard and certification program now exists for mobile application security

A New Standard for Mobile App Security (Google Security Blog post)

Internet Of Secure Things Alliance (ioXT)

ioXt Alliance Expands Certification Program for Mobile and VPN Security (Press Release)

Mobile Application Profile (Reference Standard Document – PDF)

My Comments

There is a constant data-security and user-privacy risk associated with mobile computing.

And this is being underscored heavily as a significant number of mobile apps are part of “app-cessory” ecosystems for various Internet-of-Things devices. That is where a mobile app is serving as a control surface for one of these devices. Let’s not forget that VPNs are coming to the fore as a data-security and user-privacy aid for our personal-computing lives.

Internet of Secure Things ioXT logo courtesy of Internet of Secure Things Alliance

Expect this to appear alongside mobile-platform apps to signify they are designed for security

But how can we be sure that an app that we install on our smartphones or tablets is written to best security practices? What is being identified is a need for an industry standard supported by a trademarked logo that allows us to know that this kind of software is written for security.

A group called the Internet of Secure Things Alliance, known as ioXT, have started to define basic standards for secure Internet-of-Things ecosystems. Here they have defined various device profiles for different Internet-of-Things device types and determined minimum and recommended requirements for a device to be certified as being “secure” by them. This then allows the vendor to show a distinct ioXT-secure logo on the product or associated material.

Now Google and others have worked with ioXT to define a Mobile Application Profile that sets out minimum security standards for mobile-platform software in order to be deemed secure by them. At the moment, this is focused towards app-cessory software that works with connected devices along with consumer-facing privacy-focused VPN endpoint software. For that matter, Google is behind a “white-box” user-privacy VPN solution that can be offered under different labels.

This device profile has been written in an “open form” to cater towards other mobile app classes that need to have specific data-security and user-privacy requirements. This will come about as ioXT revises the Mobile Application Profile.

Conclusion

The ioXT Internet-of-Secure-Things platform could be extended to certifying more classes of native mobile-platform and desktop-platform software that works with the Internet of Everything. The VPN aspect of the Mobile Application Profile can also apply to native desktop VPN-management clients or native and Web software intended to manage router-based VPN setups.

At least a non-perpetual certification program with a trademarked logo now exists for the Internet of Everything and mobile apps to assure customers that the hardware and software is secure by design and default.

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Identifying the end-of-support date for your Chromebook

Article

Dell Chromebook 13 press image courtesy of Dell Inc.

You can find out the end-of-support date for that Chromebook or other Chrome OS computer

How to check a Chromebook auto-update expiration date before you buy – CNET

Resource

Auto Update Expiration date for most Chrome OS computer models (Google)

My Comments

Google has defined for your Chromebook or other Chrome OS based computer an end-of-support date where they will stop providing software updates to that computer. This date, known as the Auto Update Expiration date, is agreed by Google and the device manufacturer due to Google not being able to guarantee Chrome OS support for particular hardware setups after that date.

This is important if you are passing on a Chromebook to someone else or buying one on the secondhand market. As well, there is a common issue especially with Chrome OS devices where manufacturers, distributors and retailers get rid of excess inventory representing last-year’s models during the peak shopping seasons.

You may find that some systems, especially those that are part of a “managed” Enterprise or Education setup may have longer support lives as far as software-quality updates are concerned. But this kind of extended support may only apply while the machine is part of that setup which can be of concerned when a school or workplace sells its Chromebook fleet as part of a tech upgrade.

Google maintains an ongoing list of Chromebook, Chromebase and Chromebox models that are in circulation and are approved by them on this page. If you are dealing with a Dynabook-branded device, you will have to look for the Sharp brand because Toshiba had sold their personal computing business to Sharp under the Dynabook brand.

But if you have access to the Chromebook in question, you can check the AUE date for that particular machine.

  1. Open the Settings menu by clicking on the time then click on the gear-shaped Settings icon.
  2. On the left navigation panel which you may have to bring up by clicking the three-bar icon, you should see the “About Chrome OS” information. Click that option to see more details about the current version and other details of your Chrome OS setup on your Chromebook.
  3. The Additional Details area in that screen, which you may have to click on, will show the AUE date for your particular Chromebook.

In November 2020, Google has realised that the Chrome OS platform is a viable third force when it comes to the regular computer. Here, one of the changes they are offering is that Google will assure longer support lives for newer Chromebooks typically in the order of 7 or 8 years. But they should also look at ways to extend this date for earlier Chromebooks that are in current usage.

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Using USB or Wi-Fi to tether your laptop to your smartphone–which is better

Article

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

You can use USB or Wi-Fi to tether your laptop like this Sony VAIO to your smartphone for Internet access with Android making it easier

USB vs WiFi – Tethering 4G Broadband to a Laptop via Android Phones – ISPreview UK

My Comments

You may be having to “tether” your laptop to your smartphone in order to gain access to the Internet. This can be done using a USB cable or wirelessly mostly using your phone as a Wi-Fi mobile-broadband router.

Android users can do this without the need to load additional software on their computer while iOS users may need to run iTunes if they wish to use a USB cable. As well, US-based users may have to have their mobile telco enable tethering and Wi-Fi hotspot use on their smartphone, with these companies likely to charge an extra fee for this service.

An ISPReview article did a comparison test on the performance of a USB-based tether setup compared with a Wi-Fi-based setup using the same late-model Android smartphone (running Android 10) and Windows laptop. The phone was set up with a 4G mobile broadband connection offered by Three UK that is typical of a UK mobile broadband service. Here, the setup was in the same urban area and using the same cell (mobile base station) for the tests.

As well, for each setup, there were two separate tests performed on different days with the results recorded in the article. This catered for different load factors that the Three UK network or the particular cell may be experiencing during the tests.

It was found that both the USB and Wi-Fi connection setups were on a par with each other. This was catering to the situation that the bandwidth offered by the mobile broadband service may not be great especially if you are dealing with 4G broadband.

But the article alluded to users having situation-specific needs for using particular connection types such as preferring to use USB for security, simple setup or where a lot of Wi-Fi connections could compromise performance. On the other hand, it may be about providing Internet to a device that doesn’t support USB-modem / USB-tethering connectivity but has Wi-Fi like a tablet; or creating a mobile local network using your phone.

Here, I would support these kind of setups if you are intending to purpose your smartphone for use as a modem and are not likely to be making or taking many calls with it. This is because you may find that a call may encumber your phone’s use as a modem especially if you like to walk about during that call.

As well, I wouldn’t expect good performance out of a tethered-smartphone setup if you are on a busy commuter train or bus. This is due to the increased competition for bandwidth from the various base stations serving the train’s or bus’s route as many people use their mobile devices while riding this route. This statement would also apply to use of mobile broadband in a rural area where the mobile base stations would be equipped with older technology.

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Apple to head towards separately-delivered security updates for iOS

Article

Your iPhone or iPad will have security and software-quality updates delivered separately from the main functionality upgrades

Apple Could Soon Split iOS Updates And Security Updates | Ubergizmo

My Comments

A trend that is increasing in relationship to software maintenance and quality assurance is to assure the ubiquitous availability of critical security, software-quality and compliance updates for a device or program. This is through delivering such updates under separate cover from major updates that primarily add features and functionality.

You may think of these critical updates as just security patches for the device or program but these can include general bugfixes, software refinements to to have the program run more efficiently or compliance modifications such as to update daylight-saving-time rules for a particular jurisdiction.

Microsoft, Google and Apple headed that way with Windows 10, Android and with MacOS respectively.  This approach benefits the software developer and the user equally because the security, software-quality or compliance patches are usually small files. The software developer can assure guaranteed delivery and installation even with older devices that aren’t able to take newer versions of the software thus hardening the device’s platform against security exploits.

Similarly the user can choose not to install a functionality update if they don’t see fit or may find that it offers a steep learning curve due to significant user-experience changes. It is more so where a user would rather run with a highly-stable version of the operating system than the latest “rushed-out” version that carries bugs.

Apple will be taking this approach with iOS soon. Previously, the iOS mobile operating system was maintained using the delivery of major versions offering major functionality. But Apple would deliver iOS bugfixes and security patches as a minor or “point” version dependent on a major version, something that was considered orthodox in the world of software maintenance and quality assurance.

But if they were to “reach” older iOS versions with a security or compliance update, they would need to offer a minor or “point” version for a prior major version as a separate software package. This is an issue that affects people who maintain older iOS devices, especially iPads or iPod Touch devices that are less likely to take newer major versions of iOS.

Through the development of iOS 14.5, Apple has looked in to the idea of “splitting” the critical updates from the main software package so that these can be delivered under separate cover. This could also allow Apple to package one of these updates to touch multiple major versions of the operating systems.

It could also be a chance for Apple to see a long service life out of iOS devices especially where older devices may not run the latest major version of iOS. This would be very applicable to iPad and iPod Touch users who see long-term use out of those devices or families who pass down older iPhones to their children. It could also be a chance for Apple to keep multiple hardened codebases for iOS going but able to support different device abilities.

It will also encourage Apple to deliver frequent software patches to iOS users especially if they can be installed without restarting the device. This is more so if Apple wants to create a tighter software-quality-assurance regime for their platforms.

But Apple also has to provide separate critical-update delivery to their tvOS operating system which drives their recent Apple TV devices and their watchOS operating system that drives their Apple Watch products. It can then be about creating a robust software quality-assurance approach across all of their products but catering to people who maintain older products.

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Chapter marking within podcasts

Android main interactive lock screen

Smartphones are facilitating our listenership to podcasts

As we listen to more spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts and the like, we may want to see this kind of audio content easily delineated in a logical manner. For that matter, such content is being listened to as we drive or walk thanks to the existence of car and personal audio equipment including, nowadays, the “do-it-all” smartphones being connected to headphones or car stereos.

This may be to return to the start of a segment if we were interrupted so we really know where we are contextually. Or it could be to go to a particular “article” in a magazine-style podcast if we are after just that article.

Prior attempts to delineate spoken-word content

In-band cue marking on cassette

Some people who distributed cassette-based magazine-style audio content, typically to vision-impaired people, used mixed-in audio marking recorded at high speed to allow a user to find articles on a tape.

This worked with tape players equipped with cue and review functionality, something that was inconsistently available. Such functionality, typically activated when you held down the fast-forward or rewind buttons while the tape player was in play mode, allowed the tape to be ran forward or backward at high speed while you were able to hear what’s recorded but in a high-pitch warbling tone.

With this indexing approach, you would hear a reference tone that delineated the start of the segment in either direction. But if you used the “cue” button to seek through the tape, you would also hear an intelligible phrase that identified the segment so you knew where you were.

Here, this function was dependent on whether the tape player had cue and review operation and required the user to hold down the fast-wind buttons for it to be effective. This ruled out use within car-audio setups that required the use of locking fast-wind controls for safe operation.

Index Marking on CDs

The original CD Audio standard had inherent support for index marking that was subordinate to the track markers typically used to delineate the different songs or pieces. This was to delineate segments within a track such as variations within a classical piece.

Most 1980s-era CD players of the type that connected to your hi-fi system supported this functionality. This was more so with premium-level models and how they treated this function was markedly different. The most basic implementation of this feature was to show the index number on the display after the track number. CD players with eight-digit displays showed the index number as a smaller-sized number after the track number while those with a four or six-digit display had you press the display button to show the track number and index number.

Better implementations had the ability to step between the index marks with this capability typically represented by an extra pair of buttons on the player’s control surface labelled “INDEX”. Some more sophisticated CD players even had direct access to particular index numbers within a track or could allow you to program an index number within a track as part of a user-programmed playlist.

As well, some CDs, usually classical-music discs which feature long instrumental works that are best directly referenced at significant points made use of this feature. Support for this feature died out by the 1990s with this feature focused on marking the proper start of a song. It was considered of importance with live recordings or concept albums where a song or instrumental piece would segue in to another one. This was of importance for the proper implementation of repeat, random (shuffle) play or programmed-play modes so that the song or piece comes in at the proper start.

There was an interest in spoken-word material on CD through the late 1990s with the increase in the number of car CD players installed in cars. This was typically in the form of popular audiobooks or foreign-language courseware and car trips were considered a favourite location for listening to such content. But these spoken-word CDs were limited to using tracks to delineate chapters in a book or lessons within a foreign-language course.

But CD-R with the ability to support on-site short-run replication of limited-appeal content opened the door for content like religious sermons or talks to appear on the CD format. This technology effectively “missed the boat” when it came to support for index marking and most CD-burning software didn’t allow you to place index marks within a track.

The podcast revolution

File-based digital audio and the Internet opened the door to regularly-delivered spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts. These are effectively a radio show that is in an audio file available to download. They even use RSS Webfeeds to allow listeners to follow podcasts for newer episodes.

Here, podcast-management or media-management software automatically downloads or enqueues podcast episodes for subsequent listening, marking what is listened to as “listened”. Some NAS-based DLNA servers can be set up to follow podcasts and download them to the NAS hard disk as new content, creating a UPnP-AV/DLNA content tree out of these podcasts available to any DLNA-compliant media playback device.

The podcast has gained a strong appeal with small-time content creators who want to create what is effectively their own radio shows without being encumbered by the rules and regulations of broadcasting or having to see radio stations as content gatekeepers.

The podcast has also appealed to radio stations in two different ways. Firstly, it has allowed the station’s talent to have their spoken-word content they broadcast previously available for listeners to hear again at a later time.

It also meant that the station’s talent could create supplementary audio content that isn’t normally broadcast but available for their audience, thus pushing their brand and that of the station further. This includes the creation of frequently-published short-form “snack-sized” content that may allow for listening during short journeys for example.

Secondly a talk-based radio station could approach a podcaster and offer to syndicate their podcast. That is to pay for the right to broadcast the podcast on their radio station in to the station’s market. It would appeal to radio stations having programming that fills in schedule gaps like the overnight “graveyard shift”, weekends or summer holidays while their regular talent base isn’t available. But it can also be used as a way to put a rising podcast star “on the map” before considering whether to have them behind the station’s microphone.

Why chapter marking within podcasts?

A lot of podcast authors typically ran their shows in a magazine form, perhaps with multiple articles or segments within the same podcast. As well, whenever one gave a talk or sermon, they would typically break it down in to points to make it clear to their audience to know where they are. But the idea of delineating within an audio file hasn’t been properly worked out.

This can benefit listeners who are after a particular segment especially within a magazine-style podcast. Or a listener could head back to the start of a logical point in the podcast when they resume listening so they effectively know where they are at contextually.

This can also appeal to ad-supported podcast directories like Spotify who use radio-style audio advertising and want to insert ads between articles or sections of a podcast. The same applies to radio stations who wish to syndicate podcasts. Here they would need to pause podcasts to insert local time and station-identity calls and, in some cases, local advertising spots or news bulletins.

Is this feasible?

The ID3 2 standard which carries metadata for most audio file formats including MP3, AAC and FLAC supports chapter marking within the audio file. It is based around a file-level “table of contents” which determine each audio chapter and can even have textual and graphical descriptions for each chapter.

There is also support for hierarchical table of contents like a list of “points” within each content segment as well as an overall list of content segments. Each of the “table of contents” has a bit that can indicate whether to have each chapter in that “table of contents” played in order or whether they can be played individually. That could be used by an ad-supported podcast directory or broadcast playout program to insert local advertising between entries or not.

What is holding it back?

The main problem with utilising the chapter markers supported within ID3.2 is the lack of proper software support both at the authoring and playback ends of the equation.

Authoring software available to the average podcaster provides inconsistent and non-intuitive support for placing chapter markers within a podcast. This opens up room for errors when authoring that podcast and enabling chapter marking therein.

As well, very few podcast manager and media player programs recognise these chapter markers and provide the necessary navigation functionality. This could be offered at least by having chapter locations visible as tick marks on the seek-bar in the software’s user interface and, perhaps allowing you to hold-down the cue and review buttons to search at the previous or next chapter.

Better user interfaces could list out chapters within a podcast so users can know “what they are up to” while listening or to be able to head to the segment that matters in that magazine-style podcast.

Similarly, the podcast scene needs to know the benefits of chapter-marking a podcast. In an elementary form, marking out a TED Talk, church sermon or similar speech at each key point can be beneficial. For example, a listener could simply recap a point they missed due to being distracted thus getting more value out of that talk. If the podcast has a “magazine” approach with multiple segments, the listener may choose to head to a particular segment that interests them.

Conclusion

The use of chapter marking within podcasts and other spoken-word audio content could make this kind of content easier to deal with for most listeners. Here, it is more about searching for a particular segment within the podcast or beading back to the start of a significant point therein if you were interrupted so you can hear that point in context.

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ARM to introduce new performance chip design for laptops

Article

Lenovo Yoga 5G convertible notebook press image courtesy of Lenovo

More powerful CPU designs await ARM-based computers like the Lenovo Flex 5G / Yoga 5G Always Connected PC convertible notebook which runs Windows on ARM

Here’s how Arm’s latest CPU targets laptop and handheld console performance | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

ARM Holdings

Arm Cortex-A78C CPU: Secure and scalable performance for next-generation on-the-go devices (Blog Post)

My Comments

With some computer manufacturers offering regular computers that use ARM microarchitecture, there had to be a time for ARM Holdings to introduce a performance variety of their RISC-based computer chipset design.

This is in the form of the Cortex A78C CPU design number which is increased performance over current ARM-based CPU designs used in some Chromebooks or the Always Connected PC that runs Windows 10. It is being seen as an upgrade path for use cases with these systems where increased performance is being desired like games or multimedia.

Snapdragon smartphone electronics in 2-in-1 laptop press picture courtesy of Qualcomn

This will give Always Connected PCs that run Windows on ARM silicon more credibility

This is not really about clawing back the position that RISC-based microarchitecture held during the late 80s and early 90s as having increased multimedia prowess, even though this was facilitated with Motorola silicon. Rather this chip design is about blending performance and power efficiency making it appeal to a performance class of highly-portable computing device. Think of devices like the Always Connected PC notebook or Chromebook computer, a mobile-platform tablet with gaming or advanced multimedia prowess or a handheld gaming console.

Here the idea may be to keep the same battery type and thermal design for the device in question but allow more performance out of that device. This will be very similar what happened with portable audio equipment through the 1970s where manufacturers improved on the device’s design while keeping the power-supply requirement the same across the years for the device class. This led to amplifier and speaker designs that could allow for increased sound quality that led to increased product differentiation and improvement.

But where do I see this taking place for something like an Always Connected PC laptop that runs Windows 10 on ARM, or an ARM-based Chromebook or even a mobile-platform tablet? I would see this come about in the form of product differentiation in the context of CPU-level performance where manufacturers can offer device models that factor in performance. This avoids computers in the Always Connected PC or Chromebook class being relegated to “baseline duty machines” and allow them to be on a par with traditional Windows 64-bit x86-based computers when it comes to gaming or multimedia.

The same also holds true for mobile-platform tablets of the same ilk as the iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab S. Here, it could be feasible for manufacturers to open up interest in gaming or multimedia-focused Android tablets that are about performance. That is especially where a tablet’s larger display surface can make it appeal as a gaming companion device to a smartphone.

Let’s not forget companies like Nintendo who have a strong legacy with the handheld games consoles from its Game & Watch devices of the early 80s through the Game Boy devices of the 1990s to the current Nintendo Switch. Here, they could work towards more powerful iterations of their current platforms, whether you consider them as a “timewaster” or a “guilty pleasure”. These platforms could even show some more highly-capable games as well while even using higher-resolution displays.

What will need to happen is for the likes of Qualcomm and Samsung to build this design into the actual CPU processors in order to have it appear in newer computer devices. As well, Microsoft would have to encourage the creation of games and similar software for ARM-based Windows setups especially those that use more powerful silicon.

This could then place ARM-based and x86-based mobile computing on a par with each other when it comes to performance but allow ARM to gain the edge in power efficiency for portable use cases.

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Acer answers the business market with Intel Tiger Lake laptops

Articles

Acer TravelMate P4 laptop  press image courtesy of Acer

Acer TravelMate P4 business laptop with Intel Tiger Lake silicon

Acer TravelMate Spin P4 hands-on review | Laptop Mag

Acer TravelMate P2, P4, Spin P4 now official | Yugatech.com

From the horse’s mouth

Acer

TravelMate P4 clamshell laptop (Product Page)

TravelMate Spin P4 2-in-1 laptop (Product Page)

My Comments

Acer is about to offer 14” laptop computers focused towards the business community that use Intel’s Tiger Lake silicon with Xe graphics. These come primarily in the form of the TravelMate P4 clamshell laptop and the TravelMate Spin P4 convertible laptop. The latter model is intended to snap at the heels of Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible business laptop.

Acer TravelMate Spin P4 convertible business laptop press image courtesy of Acer

.. also in a convertible 2-in-1 form as the Acer TravelMate Spin P4

Both these computers have as a baseline option, Thunderbolt 4 connectivity along with other business-grade connectivity requirements. For wireless connectivity, they will have Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 as standard. But there is the ability to have them specified with an LTE mobile broadband modem that uses eSIM service authentication.

As far as graphics go, these computers will use the Intel Xe integrated graphics processors that can do the job for 1080p gaming or for basic content creation tasks. There is the option for users to specify an NVIDIA MX350 mobile discrete graphics processor if they want a bit more graphics “pep”. Of course that will have the NVIDIA Optimus automatic graphics-processor switchover so the Intel Xe integrated GPU can work as a highly-capable “lean-burn” option for battery use. But, as I have mentioned before, these have a Thunderbolt 4 connection which will offer connectivity to external graphics modules as another path to improve your computer’s graphics performance.

Both computers are designed to be highly-durable and comply with MIL-STD-810G durability standards. There is also essential security security features including the TPM 2.0 security processor which works in a discrete form, fingerprint reader and camera fit for Windows Hello facial recognition.  The camera even has a privacy shutter so you aren’t easily spied upon.

The TravelMate P4 will start from USD$899 or EUR€899 while the TravelMate Spin P4 will start from USD$999.99 or EUR€999. But with Acer’s TravelMate business computer range like with the Lenovo ThinkPad / ThinkCentre business computer range, they don’t focus it necessarily towards particular business use cases, be it the small-business operator or freelancer who manages the computer by themselves as their own “axe”, or an enterprise who buys and manages a large fleet of computers for staff to use.

With Acer offering these TravelMate business laptops that run the Intel Tiger Lake silicon with highly-capable Xe graphics processors, it could really define what is expected on the outset for an all-round computer. It means being able to do some advanced graphics tasks like modest gameplay or basic photo and video editing. These business laptops could also be a sign of things to come for mainstream consumer laptop product ranges.

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Trying to reduce the number of USB chargers around the house. What can you do?

Belkin BOOST Charge 68W GaN Dual USB-C Wall Charger (Australasia) product picture courtesy of Belkin

You may need to end up rationalising the number of USB chargers you have in your home

You can easily end up with too many USB wall chargers in your home. This can happen as you purchase more devices that come with these chargers or you find and use better chargers like multi-outlet “charging bars”.

Then you think of rationalising the number of chargers you have on hand in your home as you find you have too many of them. But how can you go about this effectively without sacrificing convenience?

Here, the idea is to keep enough chargers on hand and in appropriate locations that assures you of convenience. No-one wants to find that they can’t power or charge their devices because there aren’t enough of these chargers available near to them for their needs.

Which chargers do you keep.

Firstly, you need to retain chargers that have at least one USB Type-A socket and/or USB Type-C socket on the charger unit itself. That means you don’t really need chargers that have a USB micro-B or Apple MFi Lightning plug on the end of a cable wired to the charger itself.

This will mean that you can use them to charge any device as long as you have a connection cable with the appropriate connectors on each end. You can even consider the use of longer cables for more flexible connectivity setups.

As well, prefer to keep powerful chargers or those that implement USB Power Delivery for USB Type-C units or Qualcomm fast-charge standards (for USB Type-A units. This will mean that you can quickly charge up your phone or tablet or allow them to work in a high-performance setting while connected to AC power.

Keeping one or more USB-C chargers that use USB Power Delivery and can put up at least 60 watts to at least one USB-C port is a good direction to go. This is important when you are using or intend to purchase an ultraportable laptop or 2-in-1 that has this kind of power needs, something that will be very common in the near future. Sometimes the more power output the charger can make available the better.

Chargers that have two or more outlets, including the many-outlet “charging bars” should be kept for the long haul. It is preferable to have them in the kitchen or the home office especially where you are likely to be charging multiple devices in the same location.

You will be finding that there will be more of the powerful multiple-outlet chargers on the market thanks to power-supply designers, manufacturers and vendors investing in Gallium Nitride technology that allows for compact powerful power-supply devices.

Here, you are factoring in many realities when you use mobile technology. Here, as your portable devices get older, the batteries don’t run for the same long time that they used to when they were new. As well, most of us like to run our portable devices on external power as much as possible to conserve battery runtime.

It is something we used to do with portable audio equipment and some pocket calculators since these devices came around in the 1960s.  We even did things like minimise any battery-draining activities like fast-winding of tapes with our portable tape players unless the equipment was connected to AC power. Or most portable devices that had dial or display lighting had this lighting come on when they were powered from external power but have a button to activate it as needed when on batteries. This was driven by the fact that batteries for these devices that ran for a long time were at a price premium then.

There are also the accessories that support our mobile devices like Bluetooth headsets or powerbanks and these use a USB-based cable for charging their integrated batteries. It is also underscoring that the USB Type-A plug or USB Type-C plug is being seen as the “universal DC power plug” for many devices thus simplifying what we use to power these devices with. For example, some LED-based decorative lighting is appearing that is powered by a USB charger rather than a specially-designed power supply.

As you find that you acquire more powerful USB chargers, you may find that it is high time to send the least-powerful ones away for e-waste recycling. That is unless you are using a device that uses the USB charger purely as a power supply and can work with a low-power USB charger.

You may also find yourself migrating to the newer USB Type-C connection for your devices and then find that it may be a better time to move towards chargers that use at least one of these connection according to the Power Delivery specification.

If you find that your charger uses an IEC-standard “figure-8” or “cloverleaf” AC input socket, this opens up a pathway of flexibility which may give you more reason to keep it. Here, you could use a longer AC cord that has the appropriate connection if you want it further away from the power outlet.

For travel purposes, you may find it simpler to purchase an AC cord with the destination country’s national AC plug to use it in countries using that kind of AC power outlet. Typically you would buy these cables from a local electrical retailer or office-supplies store as an AC cord for a radio or laptop. You then end up with some form of flexibility about where you locate it in your travel accommodation. This situation is more advantageous where you end up frequently visiting countries using that same AC power outlet.

Where should we keep USB chargers?

At least one of these chargers should be kept in each of the main living areas in the house.

If you find that you don’t like the idea of these chargers strewn around the house, it may be a good idea to keep them in a drawer in the appropriate room while they aren’t actually in use. But make sure everyone is aware of the chargers existing in those storage locations when you store them. This is where the ultra-compact chargers really earn their keep because they don’t take up much storage space.

In the lounge areas like the living room or rumpus room, it may be a good idea to keep a powerful USB charger of some form near one or more of the armchairs or couches. This is because most of us would be using a smartphone or, more likely, a tablet there in order to interact with online resources like Wikipedia, search engines or social media when we watch TV for example.

You may find that plugging a charger in to a standard extension cord may work if you are wanting one to serve someone sitting in a chair or sofa that is located away from a wall. Similarly using a powerboard to plug your table or floor lamp and a charger in to may work wonders here. The use of longer AC-current cords may benefit these applications better due to keeping the power conversion process closer to the device using the power and reducing voltage drop where it matters.

The kitchen area may be a good location for a multiple-outlet “charging bar” due to people charging their devices in that area. On the other hand a small two-outlet powerful wall charger may earn its keep here if you are trying to avoid excess clutter.

Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt dock

It is best to focus USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 docks like the Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt 3 dock towards peripherals that are being used with the dock’s host computer

The same goes too for the home office at least. Here, you may be using this as the “go to” place to charge powerbanks and mobile accessories in a location where they can be found. You may think of using that USB-C or Thunderbolt dock that you are using to connect your laptop to the big screen and keyboard for this purpose. But you may find that having a charger, like a “charging bar” may earn its keep here when you are simply charging devices that aren’t necessarily peripherals for your computer so that all USB sockets on that dock serve those peripherals.

You may want to keep a charger or two in the bedrooms if you do charge your smartphone or tablet there. It is also important to make sure the guestroom has one or two of these chargers so that guests who stay overnight have somewhere to charge their devices.

If you do keep accessories on hand for travel, one or more small USB chargers can come in handy here. You could even consider a multi-outlet “charging bar” again for packing when you travel.

At least, making sure you are keeping the powerful capable chargers that work to current standards and keeping them in areas where they are useful can work out as a convenient and effective way to rationalise these devices.

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AT&T moves towards a Mi-Fi with full 5G and Wi-Fi 6 for the American market

Article AT&T Netgear Nighthawk 5G Pro MiFi router press picture courtesy of AT&T

AT&T adds new a Netgear 5G hotspot that you will actually be able to buy | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

AT&T

NETGEAR Nighthawk 5G Hotspot Pro Arrives at AT&T Sept. 18 (Press Release)

5G Product Page (announcing pending arrival of this Mi-Fi hotspot)

NETGEAR

NIGHTHAWK® M5 MOBILE ROUTER (MR5200) – Product Page

My Comments

Telstra has become the first telco in the world to offer a “Mi-Fi” mobile-broadband router that supports both 5G mobile broadband across all bands including mmWave on the Internet side and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity on the LAN side. This was offered when they initially launched their 5G mobile broadband service and this kind of coverage was important for Australian use where 5G services are likely to be deployed in sparsely-populated regional and rural areas.

AT&T now is offering to the general American public a Mi-Fi device that works on the full 5G waveband for its Internet connection side, and Wi-Fi 6 for its local network side. Here, that covers the lower frequencies of the 5G waveband along with the higher frequencies associated with mmWave coverage.

They previously offered a 5G Mi-Fi device but this was offered to a very limited customer base. Also Verizon offers a similar device with 5G and Wi-Fi 6 but their device only works the mmWave bands rather than the whole of the 5G band.

In addition, the Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot Pro, also known as the MR5200,  that AT&T offers has an Ethernet LAN connection for use with printers, network-attached storage devices, desktop computers and smart TVs. It has USB-C connectivity, most likely for power and data (5G modem) functionality.

The Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot Pro is fit for purpose with American emergency service thanks to its ability to work with FirstNet, which is AT&T’s LTE emergency-services communications network,

This device is expected to cost US$510 upfront or US$17 / month over 30 months before service costs. As well, AT&T are offering data service plans for this device with you paying US$60 per month for a 15Gb monthly data allowance or US$85 per month for 35Gb.

Their overage fee is US$10 for every 2Gb over your plan’s limit and, at the moment, they don’t have a “throttled bandwidth” option available for their plans in lieu of that. That will limit AT&T’s 5G mobile-broadband service’s role to a secondary or temporary Internet service. It is symptomatic of an American telecommunications and Internet-service that has become highly concentrated over the last five years with it heading slowly back to the “Ma Bell” days.

AT&T is rolling out 5G mobile-broadband coverage over most of the key cities in the USA that matter with this coverage increasing at the moment.

But AT&T’s Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot Pro is one of the first devices of this kind offered to a dense Northern-Hemisphere country that ticks all the boxes for the latest wireless mobile-communications technologies. That is to provide 5G mobile broadband across the low frequency bands and high-frequency mmWave bands and supply this data across a Wi-Fi 6 LAN.

It is showing that mobile-telephony carriers are fronting up with Mi-Fi devices that work the 5G mobile broadband and WI-Fi 6 standards, leading to some very capable devices and services.

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