Category Archives: Reviews

Encrypting the Non-Encrypted Cloud Drive Services

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EncryptedCloudDrive

In this article in my series of “Encrypt All The Things!”, I’ll show how to fully encrypt your files on popular cloud drive services that do not support zero knowledge encryption.  Such services that do NOT support zero knowledge encryption are:

  • Google Drive
  • Microsoft OneDrive
  • DropBox
  • Box.Net
  • Amazon Cloud Drive

That is obviously not a comprehensive list.  Some that DO support zero knowledge encryption:

  • Mega
  • Spider Oak

That is also not a comprehensive list.  The problem with Mega is that it’s closed source, so you can’t confirm that everything’s on the up and up.  In fact, Kim Dot Com, the creator of Mega, was/is wanted by the United States government for hosting pirated material.  That’s why he created Mega, so he’d have zero ability to decrypt the data, which was a great big middle finger to the U.S. government.  He’s since left the company and now claims it can’t be trusted, but we don’t know if that’s just sour grapes from him, or if there’s a legitimate reason for him to say that.  At any rate, it’s closed source, so there’s no way to confirm.

Spider Oak is also closed source AND it costs money.  It’s not a free service.

But, there are plenty of free cloud drive services (listed above at the top of this article), but none of them support zero knowledge encryption.  But, there’s now a fairly easy way to encrypt those.

Download and install the free, open source software called Cryptomator.  You can get it here:

https://cryptomator.org/

As of this writing, they only have a Linux, Windows, and Mac version, but they are actively working on Android and iOS versions.

How it works

Once you install CryptoMator on your PC, you configure it to access each of your cloud drive services.  At the time of this writing, Cryptomator supports 4 of the popular cloud drive services.

  • Google Drive
  • Microsoft OneDrive
  • DropBox
  • (I can’t find information on the 4th one)

But, it should work with any cloud drive as long as you have a synced folder on your PC to that cloud drive service.  It doesn’t have to directly support your cloud drive service AS LONG AS your cloud drive software provides a local sync folder that other apps on your PC can access.

Below, I give general instructions.  The exact steps are clearly outlined in the CryptoMator documentation.  This will give you the basic idea of what you’re trying to accomplish…

Once installed, you add a “vault” to Cryptomator, create a password, and point CryptoMator to your local sync folder.  It will then create a virtual drive (using an unused drive letter) and store some encrypted files in your local sync folder.

Now, with your new drive letter, just put any files you want encrypted into there and NOT directly in your local sync folder.  If you put anything directly in your local sync folder IT WILL NOT BE ENCRYPTED!!!!  If you put files in your virtual drive that CrytpMator created for you and gave it a drive they, those files will appear as unencrypted to you as long as you have the “vault” unlocked with CryptoMator.  The actual encrypted bytes of the files are stored in the local sync folder associated with your cloud drive service.  If you open the sync folder, you’ll see meaningless file names and meaningless folder names with encrypted files in them.  That’s the encrypted data.  To have an unencrypted window into that encrypted data, simply open the new drive letter that CryptoMator created for you when you unlocked the vault with your password.

Since the encrypted bits are stored in your sync folder, they get synchronized with your cloud server and it’s those encrypted bits that are stored on the cloud drive servers.

Once you get that working, it’s a good idea to drag and drop all your previously existing NON ENCRYPTED files and folders from your local sync folder into your vault virtual drive.  Once you’ve confirmed they’re in the vault, BACK UP YOUR FILES, then you can safely delete them from your sync folder, which will delete the unencrypted files from your remote cloud drive, leaving only the encrypted bits.  Cryptomator will automatically encrypt them and store the encrypted bits back into your local sync folder, which your cloud drive software will then upload to your cloud drive service.

Caveats

  • Errors with large folders: I have about 64GB in my Microsoft One Drive.  When I tried moving my camera roll folder into my Cryptomator virtual drive associated with OneDrive, it kept failing.  I presume it wasn’t designed for folders with that many files or that many bytes.  After many days of effort, I finally did get it working.  I do not know if it was a OneDrive problem or a Cryptomator problem.  I had no issues encrypting my Google Drive nor my DropBox, but neither of them had as much data.
  • No Mobile (yet): Right now, there’s no mobile access to your encrypted data.  They’re actively working on both Android and iOS apps, so that may change by the time you see this.
  • No browser access: Since the web interfaces of these cloud services simply show you the files as they are on their services, after you encrypt your files and folders, when viewing them with a web browser on those services, you’ll only see the encrypted data.  This makes sense because the cloud drive services are unaware of the encryption switch-aroo you’ve done.  Don’t expect this to change.
  • Your Key: With zero knowledge encryption, you keep your key locally, but Cryptomator stores your key ON your remote cloud drive.  Don’t fret too much though.  It’s encrypted with your password that you made when you created your vault.  Technically, your password is your key.  In my judgment, it’s fairly safe.  Though, I wouldn’t be storing my archives of my classified State Department e-mail on any of these public cloud drives, even with Cryptomator. Winking smile
  • Meta data: The contents of your files are encrypted as well as the file and folder names, but the timestamps are NOT encrypted and neither are the number of files, the number of folders, nor the sizes of the files.  The timestamps are left as is in order for your cloud drive software (OneDrive, Google Drive, DropBox, etc…) to know when things have changed so it can sync properly.  The file sizes are a result of how many bytes you’re encrypting.  The number of encrypted files will be roughly equal to the number of files as they were before they were encrypted (but the contents will be fully encrypted).  This too is a side effect of how the syncing works.
  • Mobile still unencrypted: You should probably turn off or uninstall the cloud drive software on your mobile devices because you won’t be able to see anything but encrypted data.  Also, any files you have locally on your mobile device that you have set to sync will be uploaded UNENCRYPTED.  Then you’ll have a mix of both encrypted and unencrypted files on your cloud drive.  Remember, CryptoMator is actively working on Android and iOS apps.  When they’re available, you can install those and follow Cryptomator’s recommendations on what to do with your cloud drive provider software.

Use this information about the caveats

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Slow Motion Galaxy S7 Video Tests

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I bought a Samsung Galaxy S7 on March 11, 2016 (well, actually TWO of them) and have been testing the features.  Now, this slow motion video is not a new feature.  In fact, I’ve had it on my prior phone, a Samsung Galaxy S4 for almost 3 years, but I’ve had Cyanogenmod installed on it for the the last 2 and a half years, so I’ve been missing this feature.

Details of Slo-Mo

The Galaxy S line of phones since the S4 have had a camera feature where the camera can record video at 240 fps (frames per second) at 1280×720 resolution.

Enough already, let’s see some slo-mo video!

Fine!  Here you go!  This first one is a water bottle connected to a SodaStream, being carbonated.

Next is video of spraying water on the headlight of my car.   I have this uploaded to YouTube, but because of the extreme detail of the thousands of water droplets, YouTube’s video compression really destroys it, so I’m providing it as a downloadable MP4 file instead (46MB).

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If you want to see the butchered YouTube version, here it is:

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Fitbit is a Major Privacy Peeping Tom

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I ran the setup for my new fitbit Surge watch and during the Windows 10 fitbit app setup, it showed me this list of fitbit owners from MY PRIVATE CONTACTS!FitBit Contacts cleaned

In this list of fitbit owners:

  • Dude from High School I barely knew
  • Ex girlfriend from Jr. High.
  • Several people I don’t recognize.
  • Bunch of girls I knew from 1-12 grades.
  • A good friend’s cheating ex.
  • Little sister’s friend.
  • Brother in law.
  • Wife of brother in-law’s good friend (dont’ know why she’s in my contacts… probably through a facebook sync from years ago).

Also, everyone else in my contacts that do not have a fitbit account.

Some of these names are NOT in my contacts on my PC, which means they came from my phone.  And for the Windows 10 app to know that these 16 people have fitbits, my contacts had to have been uploaded to the fitbit servers so it could compare them to its database.  At no time was I asked permission to upload my private contacts (from either my phone nor my PC).  And I’m guessing these people didn’t explicitly grant it permission to let me know they have fitbits and they will likely be notified that I have one, even though I’ve given no such explicit permission to notify them nor any explicit permission to hijack my entire contacts list.

Fitbit spying

In addition to this, 100% of all health data that a fitbit collects is uploaded to the fitbit servers, viewable by fitbit employees… all done without notifying you and certainly without asking for explicit permission.  Turns out, the only way to use a fitbit without uploading all your private data is to not use the PC app or the mobile app, but, of course, the fitbit is mostly useless without them.  There’s no technical reason for uploading our data to the fitbit servers.  The PC and mobile software could easily have communicated with the watch without the involvement of the fitbit servers.

While on technical support today trying to resolve why my fitbit won’t charge, I discovered that they have access to all my health information collected by this watch, even though the employee I spoke with said it “only” uploads… then rattled off every thing the watch does… “for the purpose of knowing your fitbit is working”.  In addition to that, they know when we charge them, when we reboot them, and what devices we charge them from.  All this without permission from us.  Sure, some of this is somewhat inacuous data, but I did not give it permission and collected together, all this information can be used against you.  This is your HEALTH information.

Just about any kind of personal information online can be used against you and your _*personal health*_ information is especially vulnerable.  In this article, I list ways that seemingly innocent information can hurt you:

So, HOW do you stop it?

  1. Don’t run the mobile fitbit app.
  2. Don’t run the desktop fitbit software.

Of course, without the apps, the fitbit is pretty much useless.  Your only real option here is to stop using your fitbit.  There should be other smartwatches that can do similar or better things that DO NOT send all (or any) of your private data to remote servers.

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Quicken 2016 Riddled with bugs and Errors

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I’ve been writing about the bugs in Quicken for years and I’ve been complaining to Inuit about it.  For many of the bugs, they refuse to acknowledge they exist.  For others they simply don’t care.  Don’t expect any of these to be fixed… ever.

Here’s a short list of bugs and problems I’ve experienced with Quicken 2016 in just the first couple of days of use:

  1. Linking bills to online crashes 100% of the time on first attempt of each bill.
  2. App hangs with high CPU% when trying to update online transactions frequently (not all the time).  Must forcibly kill app.
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  3. I canceled a repeating online payment.  It will never send the instruction and complains that I have a pending instruction to send every time I exit the app (pictured).
  4. No audio (happened before the upgrade and still no sound).
  5. Every time you contact support, they claim your file is corrupt and want you to do a file repair, which never fixes the problem, though that, itself, is both a customer service problem and a serious bug that their software continuously corrupts the data file.  This has been a problem for at least a decade (possibly more).
  6. Redraw routines are incredibly inefficient with too many redraws happening — readily apparent and an actual problem when remoting in to your PC.  Also a problem when moving the app window around the desktop.  It’s very choppy even on high end desktops with high end graphics cards.   This is something a 20 year old PC should handle easily.
  7. Non standard text entries — When you click in it, it auto-selects the text.  This has been a problem for decades.  They seem to think it’s a feature, but to power Windows users, it ALWAYS interferes with our way of doing things.  It’s impossible to get used to it because 99% of all other apps do it right (by not doing this).
  8. [Update 2016-02-16] I changed a password to a credit card, now Quicken can’t connect and asks for the pw every time, instead of storing it in Quicken’s password locker with all the others.

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Cyanogenmod 12 Lollipop initial review

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I just installed CM12 last night on my T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S4.  Here are my thoughts and experiences so far.  Keep in mind, this is only after a few hours of use.  Also, I’m commenting on both Cyanogenmod 12 and Lollipop.

The Good

  • Battery performance seems to be better.  The jury is still out, but so far, it seems like it’s taking longer for it to drain.
  • New stuff… Just… It’s new, and that gets my jollies.
  • Multiple users – You can now have multiple user accounts, just like on Windows.
  • Super SU is no longer needed.  That functionality is now built in (Settings/Developer Options/Root Access
  • More settings options
  • Uses the more efficient and faster DART instead of the old DALVIK.
  • Lock screen can be set to randomly change where the numbers are on the number pad when you enter your PIN.  This prevents people from determining what your PIN is by looking at smudges on your screen (this is a REALISTIC hacking method that actually works… well, it DID until now).
  • Battery screen shows how much estimated time you have remaining and when charging, tells you estimated time to a full charge.

The Bad

  • Gallery app is gone
  • XPosed framework doesn’t work (that’s not CM’s fault… but still, it’s worth noting because that is so very important to many of us).
  • FolderMount doesn’t work.  Again, not CM’s fault, but holy cow!  A power user can’t really use a 16GB phone without it + an external SD card.
  • Bright backgrounds everywhere cause unnecessary drain on the battery on screen types that are more efficient with fewer white pixels.
  • Bright backgrounds hurt my eyes when I wake up and use my phone or have been in a dark room for a while, like watching TV at night.
  • Lots of things still don’t work on Lollipop that did on Kit-Kat.  Again, not the fault of CM… just an issue you have to consider before upgrading.
  • On the battery screen, the most used item is “Miscellaneous”, which doesn’t help me diagnose what’s using the most battery.
  • Lots of apps crashing… many are Google apps.  And yes!  I did, in fact, flash the latest GAPPS for Lollipop!

The Ugly

This is all opinion, of course, so like or dislike whatever you like or dislike.  Don’t get mad… Seriously!  Don’t get mad!  Here are the things I dislike, visually.

  • Flat… flatness EVERYWHERE!  I know!  The people that LIKE it are VERY VERY VERY vocal about it, so much so that people that do NOT like it feel intimidated to mention that they don’t care for the latest craze in flatness that’s not really new anymore.
  • More white backgrounds… Looking more and more like that other phone platform.  I personally prefer dark backgrounds on most things on my phone for aesthetics, less strain on my eyes, and improved battery performance.
  • When I tap a link to bring up a web page, it prompts me for which browser I want to use, which is fine, but that prompt MUST be broken, because it just looks so wrong.  It’s not a card, like most things on Lollipop.  It’s not a popup window.  It’s a half-window that appears to have failed to scroll up all the way.  The 3rd option in the list is only halfway drawn and is cut off at the bottom of the screen.  This is one of the ugliest UI design element I’ve ever seen.  I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and call this a bug.  [Update: A reader pointed out that this must be a bug since this doesn’t happen on their CM12 install on their phone]
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My overall impression?

While there are many improvements, the things lacking and the crashing, I’ve already decided I need to go back to CM11 KitKat until Xposed framework and FolderMount are working again and fewer things are crashing.

CM12 is still in nightly builds and has not yet released a stable build, so some bugs and missing features are to be expected and CM12 was only made available for my particular phone in the last few days, so it’s still hot off the alpha press, so to speak.

I shouldn’t have to say this, because it’s so abundantly, blatantly obvious, but…

Your mileage may vary depending on how you use your device and which device you have.  Not everyone uses their phone the same way and not everyone has the SAME phone and not everyone uses the SAME APPS.  So, if it works for you, and my overall impression gets you mad… CHILL!  It’s just an OS, dude!  Smile

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Want an Invite to Google’s new InBox service?

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How to win an invite?

I’m giving away invites to Google’s new InBox service.  Follow these simple, quick steps:

  1. Click here
  2. Enter your E-Mail address (I HAVE to have that in order to send you the invite!)
  3. Enter an amusing sob story of WHY you need an invite.  Make it short and funny.  You do NOT have to be truthful… at all!
  4. Click the Google+1 button (please) on that form.
  5. Optionally, if you share the page on Google plus, post the link to your share in the last field.  You don’t have to do that last step, but it’ll increase your chances of winning! 🙂

InBoxWhat IS Google’s “InBox”?

“InBox” is Google’s new e-mail user interface for GMail.  You use it with your existing G-Mail service.  It’s a greatly simplified user interface.  Similar e-mail is presented in a “group” and you can mark the whole group as “done”, at which point, it’ll archive it.  It makes handling all your e-mail much easier.  There’s actually more to it than what I described, but in the simplest terms, that what it does.

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Review: Samsung Ultra HD 4K UD590 28 inch monitor

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3840x2160 Desktop

Having been spoiled by 2, large $1,000 each 32” Dell 2560×1600 resolution monitors with my work-from-home job over the last 3 years, when I switched jobs with a new company, I was left monitor-less after I returned the company owned hardware.  I opted for a one monitor, but higher res, and cheaper solution.  I first ordered a Dell 4K monitor, which was a disaster.

imageWhile I was waiting for that monitor to arrive from Amazon during my 1 week vacation between jobs, I went to the local BestBuy to buy another to tied me over until the Dell arrived.  I bought the Samsung 4K UD590 28 inch monitor.  I ended up keeping the Samsung monitor and returning the Dell because the Dell monitor (see link above for why I ditched the Dell).

What I like

  • Picture Quality
    • Compared to the Dell monitor, the picture is brighter, has more vibrant colors, and a higher contrast.
  • Screen resolution
    • The screen resolution is a whopping 3840×2160 pixels.

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      • See that screen shot at the top of the article?  That’s my desktop at the full resolution.  Those two little windows in the middle and lower left are 1024×768 desktops in 2 separate virtual machines.  One is running Mac OSX, the other is running Windows XP.  That should give you a sense of the huge desktop real estate you get with all those pixels.
    • Response time
      • 1ms response time means the mouse is not delayed.  Video is not delayed.  Audio from your speakers is not ahead, in time, from the video displaying on the monitor.  This is HUGELY important.
    • Simplicity
      • 1 DisplayPort, 2 HDMI ports.
    • Screen Size
      • 28 inches large.  This provides a lot of screen real estate for your high-end computing needs such as software development, CAD, Graphics, etc…
    • PIP (Picture in picture)

What I don’t like

  • Price
    • While ~$600 is lower than it was when it first came out and lower than the $1,000 Dell monitors with lower resolutions that I had before, it’s still a painful pill to swallow.
  • Ghost effects
    • I honestly don’t know if this is a problem with the monitor or the video card I bought, but it’s annoying as hell.  Here’s what I’m talking about:  When I move the mouse or scroll a window with a light background and dark text, there’s a ghost image left behind for a few milliseconds of where the mouse used to be or where the dark text used to be that is BRIGHTER than the white background.  It’s a poor user experience.
  • Lack of DVI and VGA ports
    • While I listed the 3 simple ports as a positive, it’s also a huge negative as it meant I couldn’t use my existing video card.  It was a high end card a few years ago, but lacks DisplayPort and HDMI.  It (my old video card) does, however, have 2 DVI ports and a VGA port and supports multiple monitors.  So, that meant I had to go buy a new video card.  I opted for the EVGA GeForce GTX 760 with 4GB of RAM.  Sadly, after I plugged that into my motherboard, I discovered that my power supply lacked the appropriate plugs to power this new video card, so I had to go purchase a new 600w power supply too…. all this just to run a new monitor!
  • Screen Size
    • Yes, I’m putting screen size in as both a positive and a negative.  While I’m used to a 32” screen, this one is a 28” screen.  I obviously do NOT blame Samsung for that.  It’s a 28” monitor… PERIOD!  But, when running the monitor at full resolution, the icons and text are so incredibly tiny, it’s ridiculous.  You really need a physically larger screen to run your desktop that this native resolution.  As a fix, I up’d the Windows DPI 150%.  That’s a feature that Windows has had for more than 20 years and this is the first time I’ve actually needed it.  This brought almost everything up to a large enough size that I can actually see it.  It also makes the text really crisp.  Think of it like a high-res display on your tablet… how it improves the text quality.  Same thing there.  If you want to run your desktop at 100% DPI with the full, native resolution of 4K, I strongly recommend getting a larger size than 28”.  I’d say 32” would be the bare minimum.  BUT, just crank up the DPI in your OS and you should be good to go.  MOST things scale up properly these days.  In the past, playing with DPI just hosed many apps.  Not true today.
  • Tilt
    • This monitor lacks usable tilt features.  You CANNOT tilt it forward.  So, if you place this monitor a little high, then you CANNOT tilt it down.  You CAN, however, tilt it UP, a little bit.  My computer desk has a shelf about 6 or 7 inches above the desk where I place my monitor.  The monitor stand holds the monitor about another 4 or 5 inches above that.  I’d prefer to have the monitor tilt down a little, but I can’t do that, so I have a cable running underneath the back edge of the monitor stand to tilt the whole thing forward just a little.
  • Raise/Lower
    • You CANNOT raise or lower the height of the monitor.  It is what it is as far as height goes.

Conclusion

For the most part, I’m satisfied and happy with this monitor, but the ghosting and tilting are problems I’ll have to live with.

Have you had any experience with any 4K monitors yet?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

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Review: Dell P2815Q Ultra HD 28-Inch LED-Lit 4K Monitor

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The Dell 4K 28 inch Ultra HD 4K computer monitor has an incredibly high screen resolution, but has some serious problems.

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Serious Mouse Lag

The first thing you’ll notice is the incredibly frustrating lag with your mouse.  It turns out, there’s no fix.  The problem is because of how the monitor works.  There’s a full 100ms delay from when the monitor receives the image signal to when it displays it.  That means that your mouse movements and keystrokes are not seen until at least that delay.

This causes you to overshoot your targets with your mouse (both in games and on the desktop).  It causes a very irritating and frustrating sluggishness sensation, like you’re forcing your mouse through syrup.

There’s a thread on the Dell website’s user forum where many people are complaining about this and Dell’s official response is not comforting.  The following is a response to a customer who purchased it from a retailer who won’t accept it as bad because it performs per Dell’s specs.  At least Dell did provide a direct response to that retailer, explaining that the problem is real.

DellMonitorResponse1
Due to the hardware architecture, the mouse lag is a result of the P2815Q requiring 100 ms to process video data. This cannot be changed with a firmware update. It would require a new architecture from the ground up which we will not do. If you have this complaint, your only recourse is to return the monitor for refund. Outside of the initial 30 days from the invoice date, it will take manager approval to get a refund. Using the Dell service tag number from the P2815Q, contact Dell Technical Support for your region. Explain that we do not have a fix for this complaint. The technician will need to escalate to their manager.

 

Here’s another Dell response on the same thread indicating that the only fix is to return the monitor.

Due to the hardware architecture, the mouse lag is a result of the P2815Q requiring 100 ms to process video data. If you have this complaint, your only recourse is to return the monitor for refund. Outside of the initial 30 days from the invoice date, it will take manager approval to get a refund.
Due to the hardware architecture, the mouse lag is a result of the P2815Q requiring 100 ms to process video data. If you have this complaint, your only recourse is to return the monitor for refund. Outside of the initial 30 days from the invoice date, it will take manager approval to get a refund.

They also explain that they WILL NOT fix this issue.

Stale Colors

Sitting this monitor next to my Samsung UD590 4K monitor of the same size, the colors on this Dell monitor are not as vibrant.  I tried changing the settings to equal those of the Samsung Monitor, but it could not be achieved.

A Little Hope

Back to the mouse problem…  There are several preset options for the Dell monitor, like you’d expect on most modern display devices such as:

  • Standard
  • Movie
  • Warm
  • Cool
  • Game

etc…  As it turns out, if you set it to “Game”, the lag is diminished a little bit.  It’s still unacceptable for my needs, but it MIGHT be enough to satisfy other users.  Unfortunately, that setting also changes the display settings.

You’d think that a preset display setting would have no effect on this, and I thought perhaps it’s just my imagination.  So, I called my teenage daughter into my computer room, and without telling her what was going on, I set the video mode to “Standard” and asked her to move the mouse around (I hid what I was doing by having the Dell dialog on a second monitor that she could not see.  It changed the settings for the Dell monitor).  Her response was that the mouse was laggy.  I then changed to “Game” (again, without telling her what I was doing) and asked if it was better, worse, or indifferent.  She said it was clearly “better”.  Then I set it to “Cool” and asked again.  She confirmed that it was just like the first one… laggy.

My recommendation?

Avoid the Dell P2815Q Ultra HD 28-Inch LED-Lit 4K Monitor.  The lag is just too much to deal with.  And if you’re a gamer, this is an absolute “NO!”.  More like a “HELL NO!”  For non-gamers, it will be frustrating for you too, but if you change it to “Game” mode, it MIGHT be OK for you, but you’ll have to accept the color settings that go along with the game mode setting.

I would also recommend getting a LARGER monitor if you’re going to be using desktop apps if your screen is going to be 4K resolution.  Text, menus, buttons, etc, are crazy small on this thing.  I’d say a 32″ monitor would probably be the smallest you’d want to go.

Alternatives?

If you need a monitor that can rotate like this Dell P2815Q does, I do not have a recommendation other than to choose something else.  If you don’t need rotation, the Samsung UD590 4K monitor has great color and no noticeable lag with the mouse.  However, it does NOT have the ability to rotate from portrait to landscape mode AND it CANNOT be tilted to face down a little.  So if where you place your monitor is a little high, it may be aimed at an odd, upward angle.  It CAN be aimed higher, but NOT lower.

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Dragon Touch Tablet–High End Hardware–Low End Price

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DragonTouchTablet

This is going to be a quick and short review.  The Dragon Touch 9.7” Android tablet by TabletExpress (as U.S. company) has fairly high hardware specs considering its low price of $179.99.  Most tablets that size are much more expensive.  But, it’s not just a 9.7” screen tablet, it also has a ridiculously high resolution of 2048×1536 (again, hi res for that price).  It also sports a Rockchips RK3188 Quad Core Cortex A9 CPU at 1.8Ghz per core.

Here are the specs:

  • 9.7” screen
  • 2,048×1,536 pixels “Retina” display
  • Rockchips RK3188 Quad Core Cortex A9 CPU at 1.8Ghz per core
  • Front and rear cameras
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • MicroUSB port (data only, not for charging)
  • HDMI port
  • Headphone jack
  • SD card slot, up to 64GB
  • 12v DC proprietary adapter
  • Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
  • 16GB internal storage
  • 2GB RAM
  • Wifi

Here’s an unboxing of it:

The Good:

  • 9.7” screen
  • 2,048×1,536 pixels “Retina” display
  • Rockchips RK3188 Quad Core Cortex A9 CPU at 1.8Ghz per core
  • MicroUSB port (data only, not for charging)
  • HDMI port
  • SD card slot, up to 64GB
  • Screen Protector

Remember, this “goodness” is all based on getting this for $179.99.

You almost never see a screen larger than 7 inches for this price.  Remember, the Nexus 7 is only 7 inches, only has a resolution of 1920×1200, same amount of RAM and internal storage, and is only 1.5Ghz and NO SD card slot for expandability and IT costs $229.  Hardware wise, this thing kicks butt, especially for the price.

That screen resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 is insanely high for such a cheap tablet.  Even many more expensive tablets don’t even have that resolution.

The processor is a fairly fast Quad Core with a higher clock speed than what you get with the much more expensive (and small) Nexus 7.

It has an HDMI port so you can view it directly on your computer monitor or HDTV.  That can turn it into a game console or a cheap way to show the family photos and videos while on the go or to give presentations.

The Micro USB port is both a pro and a con.  Since we’re in the “Good” section, let’s focus on the good.  This is pretty standard on Android devices and any device without a MicroUSB port would be a joke.

It comes with 2GB of RAM and 8, 16, or 32GB of storage.  I’m reviewing the 16GB version here.  It also has a Micro SD card slot so you can add up to 64GB of more storage.  “Officially” it supports up to 32GB, but reviews on Amazon.com say that 64GB cards do indeed work.

The build quality is pretty robust too.  It doesn’t feel like a light piece of plastic.  This thing is solid.

It also comes with a screen protector already installed for you!

Google Play:

Yes!  This tablet has all the Google Goodness, including the Google Play store.  I do have to mention this because many tablets in this price range do NOT have any of the Google software and lack the Google Play store.

The Bad:

  • Front and rear cameras
  • MicroUSB port (data only, not for charging)
  • 12v DC proprietary adapter
  • Android 4.2 Jelly Bean

Let me first say that the good outweighs the bad.  I highly recommend this tablet.

BUT!  It’s not perfect.  For example, the front and rear cameras are both only 2 megapixels and the quality is not that great.  So, you’re not going to use this for keepsake photos and videos, but it’s good enough for scanning barcodes and doing video chats.

The MicroUSB port does NOT charge the device!  This is a pretty important thing to note because to charge it, you have to use their supplied, proprietary charger with a  very short 2 foot cord.

Also, the OS is not the latest.  It comes preinstalled with Android 4.2 Jellybean.  Today’s version of Android is 4.4.4 Kit Kat and the next major release, code named “Android L” is just around the corner.  I can’t confirm this, but rumors are that there will be no updates for this.  BUT, Jelly Bean 4.2 is a robust and powerful version of Android and as long as you update Google Play Services from the Google Play store, you’re going to get most of the important updates from Google.

In spite of the powerful hardware, it’s quite laggy and choppy.  My wife hasn’t complained, but my son noticed and I noticed and the reviewers on Amazon noticed.  Read below on “Make it better” for a fix.

The Box Contents:

There’s absolutely no paperwork or manuals in the box.  You get the tablet, the charger, a Micro USB to standard USB (PC to tablet) cable, and a USB PC female adapter cable.  I mean, one end plugs into the MicroUSB data port on your tablet and the other end is an open USB female port so you can plug in things like PC mice, keyboards, and external hard drives.

Make it Better:

For the technically capable… You can root this tablet with TPSparkyRoot.  Once rooted, you can then flash an alternative firmware (more commonly mislabeled as a “ROM”) and reports are that it makes this thing liquid smooth, like butter.

Conclusion:

For the money, you’ll have a really hard time finding this much bang for the buck.  With the screen resolution so high, and a decent enough size screen, you can even remote control your high-end desktop PCs with it.   –>Get it here<–

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Best Android Apps to Start Off 2014 (SHOPPING)

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All these apps are free.  This article is one of a series of articles about the best Android apps available as of the beginning of 2014.  Click here for the main article that includes links to this article and links to all the other categories of “The Best Of” apps for beginning 2014.  This article is for the shopping apps category available at the beginning of 2014.

Amazon

2014-02-03 00.47.08The Amazon app [phones] [tablets] (not to be confused with the Amazon App Store, also reviewed below) is a native front end to the Amazon online store (not the app store).  This provides most of the features in the web site (if not all of them… I’ve, by no means, researched each and every feature of this massive web site).

This app is useful for obvious reasons in addition to the fact that you can be browsing in a brick and mortar store, like Wal-Mart, pick up an actual item off the shelf and scan its barcode into this app and it’ll tell you what you can get it for on Amazon.

I won’t go into extreme detail of what this app does.  If you’re familiar with Amazon.com, you already have a good idea.  You can, of course, track your Amazon.com orders with this app too.  Not much has changed from my review of it last year.  It’s still a good, solid app and I highly recommend it, even if you don’t purchase anything from them, at least you can do some comparison price shopping while walking around inside other stores.

 

2014-02-03 00.52.30Amazon App Store

Download Here.  One of the great things about Android is that you’re NOT locked into just ONE app store, like you are with iOS and Windows Phone.  You don’t have to root or “jail brake” your Android phone to install another app store.  It’s perfectly legitimate to do so on Android and is activated with just a simple settings change on any Android phone or tablet.

The Amazon Android App Store is a direct competitor to the Google Play app store that’s pre-installed on almost every Android device made (with the exception of the really cheap and crappy Chinese Android products).

This app has been improved significantly from this time last year.  It still has some issues though.  For example, it still doesn’t have a “What’s New” section for each app.  Apps are not updated nearly as often here as they are in the Google Play Store.  Installing an app seems to take significantly longer and they do NOT install in the background.  You HAVE to wait until the app finishes installing before leaving the App Store, or next time you come back to the App Store, you’ll find (even days or weeks later), that it hasn’t finished installing your app yet.

One thing I really like about the Amazon Android App Store is their Free App Of The Day.  Every day, they GIVE AWAY a PAID app.  In other words, it’s an app that’s NOT free on any other day, but on THAT day, you get it for free!

To Install It:

On your phone, go to Settings –> Security –> Unknown Sources

and make sure it’s checked.

Then go to this URL to download it to your phone (or Google search for “Amazon App Store”).

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Amazon Price Check

2014-02-03 00.59.01This app [Amazon App Store] [Google Play] lets you scan barcodes while in a real store and compare the prices to Amazon… Not sure why this is a different app from the Amazon app, which provides the same functionality.

Ebay

2012-12-31 18.42.002014-02-03 01.04.41

This is a nicer and more responsive native app [Amazon App Store] [Google Play] than trying to use the ebay website from your mobile browser.  If you’re familiar with ebay, you already know what you can do with this app.  If not, just look at these screen shots and those should pretty much tell you what you need to know.  On the left is my screen shot from last year (logged in).  On the right, from this year (not logged in).

Best Buy2012-12-31 18.43.472012-12-31 18.44.45

[Google Play] This is a front end to the Best Buy web site and is very useful when you’re in a physical Best Buy store.  If you’ll notice, most products have a ticket on the shelf with a price, a small description, and a 2D QR bar code.  Scan it with this app and you’ll get the full details of the product.  No significant changes from last year’s review, though I’ll point out that I now seem to lose my logon and have to continuously log on.  Since my passwords are long and complex and stored in LastPass, this is very frustrating.

You can also check the balance of your Best Buy gift cards by simply taking a picture of the back of your gift card.

If you’re a RewardsZone member (and if not, WHY NOT?), you can check on your RewardZone points and even display your RewardZone points on your phone to the cashier at checkout to redeem your points, instead of printing them out at home and bringing them in.  You’ll save ink, paper, time, frustration, and money… an the “green” Nazis will sprinkle their happy happy fairy dust on you.

 

2012-12-31 18.45.502012-12-31 18.45.20Game Stop

I no longer recommend this app.  It tracks too much of your information.  I’ve uninstalled it.

2014-02-03 01.14.42FedEx

[Amazon App Store] [Google Play] The FedEx app is highly useful when you’re tracking a packing you’ve either sent or are expecting to receive (such as one you ordered with say, the Amazon app).  The screen shot to the right pretty much sums up what this app does.  It’s short and simple… It does the things you expect and nothing fancy.

 

2014-02-03 01.16.432014-02-03 01.17.35UPS

[Amazon App Store] [Google Play] The UPS app is similar to the FedEx app.  It does the same thing, except for UPS shipments.  No surprises here.  New this year (since my review last year) is the “UPS My Choice” feature.

QR Droid & Barcode Scanner

2014-02-03 01.24.382014-02-03 01.25.23[Amazon App Store] [Google Play] Both apps “QR Droid” and “Barcode Scanner” let you scan those 2D barcodes you’re seeing everywhere.  They usually represent a URL and it’s extremely convenient to scan them in places like BestBuy on product tags on the shelves or on movie posters or even on web sites on your desktop computer to load up the URL on your phone.  Installing QR Droid also gives you the ability to create your OWN QR Codes.  For example, you can send a contact from your contacts to it and it’ll display as a QR code on your screen.  Someone else can scan your screen with their phone and receive your contact.  If you’re on a web page, you can share the web page to the app and it’ll produce a QR Code with the URL encoded in it.  You can save it and e-mail it or publish it on your website, or show it on your screen to let someone else scan it.  But, since we’re in the “Shopping” apps category here, you can use it to scan 2D QR Codes in stores to get more information on the products and to even compare prices.

 

2012-12-31 19.07.39Kroger

[Google Play] The Kroger app is a master app for all the stores shown in the screen shot:

  • Kroger
  • Baker’s
  • CityMarket
  • Dillons
  • Food4Less
  • Food4Less Fremont
  • Foods Co
  • Fred Meyer
  • Fry’s
  • Gerbes
  • JayC Food Stores
  • King Suupers
  • Owen’s
  • Pay Less Super Markets
  • QFC Quality Food Centers
  • Ralphs
  • Smith’s

2014-02-03 01.28.25Kroger is the parent company for all these grocery stores.  This app works with all of them.  If you have a customer loyalty card at any of these stores (and if you don’t, WHY NOT?) they all work at all those stores.  This app will let you browse coupons and add them to your card.  When you check out, if you’ve put any of those products in your cart, when you swipe your card at the register, all those coupons are applied.  You can check your fuel points too and see the weekly ads.  This is a MUST HAVE app if you shop at any of these grocery stores.

CraigsNotifica

That’s not a typo.  That’s actually what it’s called.  This app is dropped from last year’s recommendation because it appears it’s no longer available.

Google Shopper2012-12-31 20.37.39

Google went on a rampage last year, axing many apps.  Google Shopper was one of them.  So, this is no longer available.  But see “Google Offers” below.  But, here’s my review from last year:  Google Shopper integrates with “Barcode Scanner” (reviewed above).  Scan any barcode and this app will find multiple sources for that product.  This is probably the best way to find the best price on anything.  Use this when shopping in any physical store to decide whether or not it’s worth buying that product in your hands now, or somewhere else.

Google Offers

image2014-02-03 01.33.05

New on this year’s list, Google Offers, I believe, is somewhat of a replacement for Google Shopper.  I have chosen to NOT install it because you have to enable both GPS location services AND location history.  That’s too much for my personal taste, but if you don’t mind your personal location being tracked and recorded, then this app can provide you some savings.  From their description:

“Now with Google Offers, you don’t have to pay to get offers. No need to buy them, just save offers to your account and redeem with your phone when you shop.

The app helps you discover relevant offers from local businesses and big brands, and keeps track of offers you find on Google Search, Maps, and more.

You can use them straight away, or the app will remind you next time you’re near the store. Then, all you do is open the app to show your offer at checkout—no printing needed.”

Gift Shopper Pro ($0.99)

image

[Google Play] [Amazon App Store] New on this year’s list.  This was a free app of the Day on the Amazon App Store, so I got it free.  This is a great app for keeping track of gifts you’re buying for loved ones for any holiday or occasion you need to track.  It is tablet friendly as well.

 

T-Mobile MobileLife

2014-02-03 01.41.452014-02-03 01.41.32Available for free [Amazon App Store] (and likely pre-installed) for T-Mobile customers, this app does many things, but my family uses it for a shared and immediately live shopping list.  Whenever I discover I’m out or running low on something, I’ll pull my phone out and enter it onto our shopping list.  When my wife or I are getting groceries, we’ll pull out this list on our phones and check off the items as we put them in our buggy.  What’s great is if I remember something after my wife has already left for the store, I just add it to the list, and she’ll see it while she’s shopping.  A non-carrier specific shared shopping list app that’s very popular is  “Out Of Milk” [Amazon App Store] [Google Play]

 

You Chime In

What are some of YOUR favorite apps in this category?  Let us know in the comments below.

Conclusion

This completes my list of “Best” shopping apps available to start off 2014.  There are, of course, other shopping of apps and this is, by no means, a comprehensive list.  Some of these are the apps in this category that I use on a daily basis and install on a new phone or tablet as soon as I get it.

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