Category Archives: Gadgets

Comfy headset for my Desktop PC

My usage at work of a headset is to listen to music, see TED videos, Microsoft/Apple keynotes without disturbing meetings in next room.  And also to do Skype calls so that microphone quality is important.   For a year or two now I was using a Microsoft Lifechat LX 3000 which comes with a USB connector, this headset was good especially the microphone. My only complaint with it was that I couldn’t wear it for more than 20-30 minutes, after which my earlobes start to pain and the noise cancelling gave me a vacuum like feeling in the ear. I was shopping for a good quality headset especially one which has better frequency range and fidelity.

On a friends recommendation I bought Sony MDR-10RBT Bluetooth headphone. I was hesitant initially to buy it as it was wireless so and it was expensive, around Rs.12,000 (USD 200) in India. I tend to prefer Wired Keyboard/Mouse/Headsets over wireless, as I feel wireless tends to be slower and spotty due to interferences.  The headphone has a 3.5mm headphone port which means I can connect a cable to my PC and listen music if Bluetooth has a problem. The headphone charges using standard MicroUSB port (which means I can reuse my Nokia Lumia 925 charger).  Reading the online reviews for this headphone I got convinced and went for it from Flipkart for Rs.11720.

sony-mdr-10rbt

I had to use this in my Desktop PC which didn’t have Bluetooth inbuilt. So I purchased a small  Bluetooth 3.0 USB adapter by Kinivo (BTD 300) from Amazon India for Rs.760 (USD 12).

kinivo-bluetooth

The headset & Bluetooth adapter worked OOB flawlessly and I am pleased. The headphone paired with my Nokia Lumia 925 phone as well effortlessly as both supports NFC. The headset is comfortable on my earlobes (its not perfect but the best I have used), it is not noise-cancelling which makes it pleasing for me. Sony ships a small cloth cover to store the headphone when not in use, quite handy. The Bluetooth adapter when connected it blinks in blue colour indicating successful setup and pairing. In Windows 8 the headphone automatically configures as default communications device & default device as appropriate under Playback & Recording devices.

bluetooth-windows8-sony-mdr10rbt

Few tips that I learned while I was getting this working with my PC:

  • Before I got the Kinivo Bluetooth adapter I tried with an old unbranded adapter, the audio was choppy and the device detection was sporadic in Windows 8. With Kinivo adapter I had no trouble. If you are using the headphone with a laptop or a smartphone with built-in Bluetooth you have nothing to worry
  • In Windows 8 ensure you have the 3 Bluetooth services set to “Automatic” start-up in Windows Services applet
  • If you have a Wireless Keyboard or Mouse like Microsoft Wireless Mouse 5000 that I have, they come with their own Bluetooth USB dongle. Ensure you plug this USB dongle and your Kinivo Bluetooth adapter to USB ports in your PC that are far apart, I used a USB hub for one of them to ensure there are no interference

Laptop for a commerce student

Today my uncle asked me to help him shop for a laptop for his daughter who is studying her graduate course from CA institute.  Requirement was a Windows PC (trust me I asked her about Google Chromebook  she didn’t want one and Apple Macbook was way out of budget), Microsoft Office and Tally accounting software (which is free for download from their website for education purposes). My uncle’s budget was Rs.30,000 (USD 500). I did some research online on models available and average pricing, then took him to Croma electronic store in Phoenix Mall, Velachery. I should have known better, going on a Sunday evening to this mall was a bad idea, the car parking entry was clogged for miles.

Laptop

In the store I selected HP 15 R036TU laptop which was selling at a discounted price of Rs.22999. I ruled out any of the higher end models which were around Rs.30000 which will no money for buying MS Office, Mouse or an Antivirus.

HP-15-R036TU

HP 15 R036TU specs (below) was ideal for what as a commerce student my cousin sister will be needing:

  • Intel Pentium (4th Gen) Quad Core (though not i3 or i5 enough for the purpose)
  • Good Display at 15.6 Inches, 1366 x 768 LED Blacklit
  • Sufficient memory at 4GB, 500GB HDD (most other models even those at Rs.30000 came with only 2GB which is inadequate for Windows8)
  • 3 USB Ports, 1 HDMI port to connect to TV/Projector, Ethernet Port, 3.5 mm headphone port
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • DVD Drive for using learning DVDs & occasional movie watching
  • SD media card reader for copying photos from their digital camera
  • Dual speakers which were loud enough for normal music & movie viewing
  • Lastly at 2.25 Kgs quite easy to carry with them daily to college
  • A shoulder carrying bag for the laptop that was sporty

Software & Accessories

Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 was retailing at Rs.5499 at Croma.  I spotted the same was selling Rs.1000 less in Snapdeal and Flipkart. Noticing this Croma manager offered to match the price and I got it for Rs.4400 from Croma itself. I didn’t go with Office 365 subscription as I don’t see them needing any of its features for next 3 years till they graduate.

Next item was a Logitech wireless mouse at Rs.700. Croma gave an “Enter” accessories kit (USB light, Mouse, Headset, etc) as complimentary with the laptop. The kit included a small mouse but I was not comfortable with it.

AccessoriesKit

Last in my list was Antivirus, for which I went with a brand I trust. I got K7 Computing’s Antivirus Premium 1 PC/3 Years for Rs.1199. This edition of K7 was the right mix of features and protection that was adequate for this need. Buying subscription for 3 years meant for the expected lifetime of this laptop they should be covered.

k7computing-antivirus-premium

Now the total spend for my uncle was Rs.29298, a good Rs.700 below his budget. I felt good !!!

Installation

The setup was straight forward except for two irritants. One was that I had to spend two hours in burning the 5 Recovery DVDs manually, I would have been happy to pay USD 10 more to HP for shipping this out of box.  Second was installing all the Microsoft Updates (which happens in all platforms now whether its Apple or Google) and uninstalling of HP Crapware (like some games,  3rd party tools and mcAfee Antivirus

I was pleasantly surprised to find the Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 including for free “Hindi Language Pack for Office 2013” which separately retails for Rs.1299. The Hindi language pack includes features for spell checking & grammar which are needed for all other Indian Languages like Tamil as well.

My first PC quotation from 1992

(Flashback date: 2/April/1994)

The other day I was going through my  old files (physical paper files) from 1990s. I was surprised to find a quotation from 1992 and for a purchase order from 1994.

The former was the quotation for my first PC that my father purchased for me 22 years ago. It was for an Intel 386 CPU (the fastest then), 4MB (yes you are reading it correct its Megabytes) RAM and 120MB HDD. It was so bleeding edge that time, that the seller Mr.Ranganathan Desikan (who over the years has turned to a good friend of mine)  initially was reluctant  to give a quote for this configuration, thinking there is no way a college going kid is going to buy this costly machine at Rs.90000.

The second was a purchase order for a new PC I got for my father’s office in 1994. Notice how in two years for nearly the same price of Rs.91000, the configuration has changed. This time the config is for a 486DX, 8MB RAM, 260MB HDD (nearly everything has doubled).

Old-PCs-Quote-India-1992-94

To be factual the first computer I owned was an Atari 2600 Junior (I don’t remember the exact model but the image looks familiar to what I had) gifted to me by my uncle, this should be around 1986.

Atari-2600-Jr-Console

Then in 1987 I got enrolled for a 2 month summer coaching in a near-by (Thanikachalam Road, T.Nagar) institute  for Basica (IBM Basic) in MS-DOS 3.0.  The teacher was a senior citizen who made me write each program line by line in a notebook before I got screen time, but that was common in those days. That rote probably helped me to set a strong foundation of my programming skills which helped a lot in latter years of my career. The PC I got to use first was an Zenith PC with Orange colour monochrome display & two floppy drives, it looked something like the one below from IBM.

375px-Ibm_pc_5150-zenith PC XT

One thing I vividly remember from the institute was they having 3 huge voltage stabilizers (made by Alacrity Krykard brand)  placed common for all electrical connections in the entire office.

alacrity-krykard-stabilizers

 

Google Nexus 5

My phone for sometime now has been a Nokia Lumia 925 running Windows 8, which I find very comfortable and productive for my use case. I love the clean design and UI metaphor (Live Tiles) of Windows Phone and the world class build quality of hardware from Nokia. I do use a lot of Microsoft’s online services including Office 365, Hotmail, OneDrive, OneNote & Bing News which all makes a Windows Phone a natural fit for me. The only other phone I feel that comes closer to this all around design elegance is iPhone5 with iOS7.

That aside for last few years  I have kept a standby phone ready in my office at all times with a second SIM from a different TELCO, Apps downloaded/password saved & configured, email accounts setup and contacts synced.  I ensure I carry this phone when I am travelling for emergencies. Saves lot of time and tension. For last two days that standby phone has been a low cost Micromax A90S. Few weeks my nephew eyed at this sparingly used phone and being a kind uncle I gifted it to him. This meant I needed a new standby phone. My first preference was Nokia Lumia 520, but I thought it will be better I have some exposure to alternate mobile ecosystem. This meant it has to be Android as I already use regularly my wife’s iPad3.

I looked around on the phones that were available in Indian market in Android Kitkat (it has to be latest OS). I ruled out Samsung Galaxy 5 and other phones which costs more than Rs.30,000 (USD 500). After much searching and crowd sourcing feedback from my facebook friends, I narrowed the list to 3 – Moto G, Moto X & Google Nexus 5. I liked Moto G a lot, it pretty much had everything I was looking for – upgradable to KitKat, pure Android experience, dual SIM and all for just Rs.14,000 (USD 233). I didn’t go with Moto G as I wanted to try out Google Now which is not supported in that.  Moto X at Rs.24,000 (USD 400) came close but the deal breaker for me was the Nano SIM requirement. This meant if I have to interchange SIM from my Lumia 925 I can’t and don’t want a repeat of the problem  I faced with incompatible SIM between iPhone4 (MicroSIM) and Micromax A90S (full sized SIM). That left only Google Nexus 5 32GB and I felt comfortable buying it directly from Google India for Rs.32,999 (USD 550) a little over my set budget. The phone got delivered in just 2 days.

Android-Kitkat-Google-Nexus-5

I could setup the phone pretty easily, I liked the auto updates from Google downloaded  for many of the default apps including Camera (which got changed to Google Camera). I could notice most of the new services in Android nowadays come packaged in as Google Play Services which was the first to get updated. The voice quality was good, the IPS capacitive touchscreen with 16M colours and 1080 x 1920 resolution looks gorgeous on the 4.95 inches device. In online reviews the battery life was said to be poor especially using LTE (but I don’t have LTE in India). In my usage for over a week  I could over 28 hours on a singe charge which included Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Location ON and casual browsing with 3G and music. The camera produced good pictures and free Snapseed app made them much better.

After changing the language to English USA I could Google Now voice assistant working. I found it to be useful, especially dictating messages or texts instead of typing them was interesting. I liked the Google Now cue cards on weather, my interests (based on my Google search queries) and time to office & then back home. 

I could get all the popular apps including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram, Flipboard, feedly, WordPress, Amazon Kindle, Adobe Reader and Solitaire (mobility ware) configured. The Microsoft apps I use regularly like OneDrive, OneNote, Outlook.com, Skype and Microsoft Office Mobile got installed just fine. One of the free ebook readers I found was FBReader. I was surprised to find my home printer (HP OfficeJet Pro 8600 Plus) configured and ready for printing, I noticed a HP App got downloaded to facilitate this.

One of the must have features in a smartphone for me is to be able to sync the music, pictures and videos from my iTunes library. With iOS devices its out of box, with Lumia 925 I use the Windows Phone connector for mac but on Android I couldn’t find anything out of box. The Android File transfer is a archaic tool which is best not commented about. After much searching and trial, I found iSyncr app (paid app for Rs.299) and the accompanying Rocket Player to suit my needs. Its not ideal but it worked for me by syncing my music, videos and podcasts from iTunes to Nexus 5. The Google Play policy of full refund within 15 minutes of purchase was really useful while I tried various iTunes sync app, this refund policy rocks.

I got Office 365 email configured easily in the Corporate account, my personal domain email configured with Gmail App and for my Hotmail email ID I used the Outlook.com app. Doing these got all my calendars & contacts (from Office 365 & Hotmail) downloaded to the device, while I could edit the Office 365 contacts I couldn’t edit or add contacts to Hotmail. Searching online I found out the solution is not to use Outlook.com app but configure the Hotmail account through Corporate account setting in the device. Doing this solved the problem, but somehow I was not comfortable and worried something wrong will happen to my contacts. While doing this I noticed my linked in contacts showing up as well, it turns out Linked In app does this and its better to turn the contact sync off in Linked In app.

One of the feature I found very convenient in Windows Phone that I am missing in Nexus 5 was reading out SMS messages over bluetooth speakers while driving. With Google technology available in Google Now I expected this feature to be present and better, but it turned out it was not there.  One app I am missing really in Nexus 5 is Nokia MixRadio which allowed unlimited free download of millions of songs. Using the device for few days I disliked the default dialer and messaging app (now called Hangouts). Here the benefits of Android platform came to play, I could search and find replacements that I liked for both the apps – they were DialApp (left swipe and right swipe quick functions) and hello SMS (which sported a vertical tab interface).

After having configured everything and making myself familiar with the device for two weeks, I have now come back to Lumia 925!. I am keeping Nexus 5, I like it but only as my standby phone.

Use CDs in a PC with no optical drives

This is an old trick, but an useful one especially for new PCs & Tablets which don’t come with optical drives to read CDs or DVDs. The other day my son brought a book with a CD of “The Human Body” and wanted to know how he can use it in his laptop.

 

His laptop being one of the new convertibles (Tablet and PC) doesn’t have an optical drive and it was running Windows 8.1 Update (what else you will expect in my house). First I tried copying the entire contents of the CD to a folder in a USB thumb drive, copied it to the laptop, tried launching from the copy. As suspected it didn’t work, complaining it needed the CD to be present to execute properly. This meant I needed to have the exact binary of the CD content available in a drive letter in the PC.

The only PC I have in my house with Optical Drive was my iMac. I have an utility there called Burn. This free open source app allows you to Burn Data files to a Disc, Burn Audio CDs, Burn Video CD/DVDs and do an exact copy of your Disc into a file (ISO image). The copied file (ISO)  can then be burned back to a Disc using the same program.

For PCs running Windows, you can this other app called IMGBURN which is free too and one I have been using for years in my Windows PCs.

Once you have downloaded and installed Burn or IMGBurn as appropriate run them and follow the instructions to make an ISO file of the CD drive. I just did that for “The Human Body” CD. Copied the file through a USB flash drive to my son’s laptop. Since the laptop was running Windows 8, I had to just double-click on the ISO file, which instantly mounted the file as a drive letter (in my case F:\). I navigated to F:\, double click on the setup.exe and installed the CD, then ran the app. It worked fine now.

If your PC is running older versions of Windows, like Windows 7/Vista/XP you can use these programs to mount the ISO file as a drive: Official Microsoft Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel or Slysoft Virtual CloneDrive (my favourite).