Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


ZyXEL NWD2105 Wireless N Adapter

Posted by Alan at 5:17 PM on June 22, 2011

Recently my wife volunteered me to fix her friend’s old laptop.  The friend is a teacher and had recently begun taking her notebook PC  to school with her, but couldn’t connect t the school’s wireless network.

Within a couple of minutes of booting up the PC the problem jumped out at me – the old Toshiba Satellite lacked a wireless adapter.  To resolve this I ordered the ZyXEL NWD2105 Wireless N Adapter from NewEgg.  It costs just $9.99 and I got free 2 Day shipping.

The Wireless N Adapter is tiny so it doesn’t get in the way.  It comes with a USB extension cord and an installation CD.  The installation CD may not be needed with Windows 7 (I can’t remember the last time I needed one), but I did have to use it in this case – perhaps because the notebook was running Windows XP.

Start off by installing then the device drivers and ZyXEL utility and then reboot the computer.  After restarting Windows you can plug the adapter into an open USB port.  Windows installed the new device and within a minute or two it automatically connected to my home wireless network.

My experience with this device was brief – I couldn’t do any extensive testing since I had to return the laptop to it’s owner, but it worked flawlessly upon installation.  $9.99 is certainly a small price to pay to, not just make an older PC more usable,  but get it right up to the latest WiFi standard of 802.11N.

Barnes & Noble Nook Color e-Reader

Posted by tomwiles at 10:03 PM on May 31, 2011

Over this past weekend I ended up purchasing a $250 dollar Barnes & Noble “Nook Color” e-reader from a Best Buy store. It has a very bright, clear 7” diagonally measured widescreen capacitive glass touch screen display.

Barnes & Noble ships the Nook Color with a specialized, tightly locked-down version of Android that promotes access to the Barnes & Noble store content. It includes the Android web browser, along with a couple of games and the Pandora music service app. With the latest 1.2 version of Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color Android, they also give access to email and currently about 170 or so apps that can be purchased from the Barnes & Noble app store.

I’ll be perfectly honest here. What persuaded me to buy the Nook Color was watching a number of different YouTube videos of Nook Color units that had been hacked to run different versions of Android. As it turns out, the Nook Color is a very hacker-friendly device. The Nook Color’s WiFi radio contains Bluetooth, which Barnes & Noble’s Android does not yet take advantage of, though alternative versions of Android can and do enable Bluetooth on the device.

The Nook Color is manufactured by Foxconn, the same Chinese manufacturers that make the iPad, iPod, and many other modern consumer electronics devices. The Nook Color is a very nice piece of hardware. It has a 1.1 gigahertz Atom processor that’s backed down to 800 megahertz in order to help conserve battery life. Also when the unit is asleep very little battery power seems to be consumed.

There are several different approaches to be taken from outright replacing the Barnes & Noble Android, rooting it to allow the full Android store, to running alternative versions of Android from the included Micro-SD card reader slot built-in to the unit, leaving the Barnes & Noble Android intact.

After a weekend of experimental hacking, here are my conclusions. Though the Barnes & Noble Android is fairly limited, it offers quite a nice experience. I’ve determined that I want to keep that Barnes & Noble Nook Color experience untouched. It is quite valuable as an e-reader that offers multimedia functionality.

I can, and am, experimenting with a couple of different versions of Android running directly from a couple of different Micro-SD cards. I have a Micro-SD version of Android 2.2, as well as a version of Android 3.0. The Nook will automatically attempt to boot first from the Micro-SD reader, so when I want to boot into the built-in Barnes & Noble Android, I simply turn the unit off, eject the Micro-SD chip, and turn the unit back on.

While searching the Internet for information, I came across a website (http://www.rootnookcolor.com/)that is selling pre-configured Micro-SD chips running either Android 2.2, or Android 3.0. I ended up ordering a 2.2 version, which I won’t receive for a few days. These pre-built versions contain a boot loader, which allows the user to select which operating system to load without having to eject or insert the Micro-SD chip each time.

I am perhaps more of a unique case, since I spend most of my time in my truck. I already have the latest version of the iPod Touch, which gives me 95% percent of iPad functionality in a smaller package. When my truck is parked, my MacBook Pro is almost always online. The only use I could come up with for a tablet would be for use as a nice screen to watch video on, or an e-reader, since other uses are already covered between my iPod Touch, my MacBook, and my Sprint Evo Android smartphone. At upwards of $1,000 for a fully-configured iPad 2.0, that’s a price that’s just too steep for these functions. However, at $250 dollars for a very capable piece of hardware that can easily be made to do other things, along with something to experiment with, it starts to really become interesting.

Barnes & Noble should be commended for the Nook Color. As stated before, it is an excellent piece of hardware. It’s been a long time since I was in a Barnes & Noble brick & mortar store, and until now I haven’t felt compelled to buy any e-books from them online. However, now that I have the Nook Color I’ve started out an experimental subscription to Popular Science magazine. So far I’m enjoying the experience. The Nook Color uses the ePub format, and also uses Adobe technology to display color magazine and newspaper publications.

My hope is that since the Nook Color is so hackable, it will act as a doorway to reward Barnes & Noble.

 

Hands On: Netgear WN2000RPT WiFi Extender

Posted by Alan at 7:21 PM on April 30, 2011

Recently I received a review unit of the Netgear WN2000RPT WiFi Extender.  It’s a tool that I am surprisingly well qualified to test.  You see, we live in an old, restored Victorian and my office, and router, are on the third floor.  However, most life takes place on the first two floors, where a laptop, tablet, and smartphones are in use.  Connectivity is there, it’s just not great.  It’s a long way for a “G” router to throw it’s signal.

The WN2000RPT comes with a simple setup and simple controls.  There are 4 wired ethernet ports on the back, along with a power switch.  On the front, there are five indicators that show your current status.  Colors change from yellow to green based on connection.  Different indicators light based on what you are doing.  It’s very simple and straight-forward in use.  You can place it anywhere that you have at least a small connection to the router.

Find a place to put the extender, plug it in, and turn it on.  Once it makes a connection to your home network the LED indicator will turn green.  Use your device to connect to the extender.  Once connected you will need to open your web browser – it doesn’t matter which one you use, any web browser will work here.  It should open to the site http://www.mywifiext.net  From there the wizard will walk you through a simple set-up process.  Once finished, the network name will change to YourNetworkName-Ext.

Our laptop normally has one or two bars on the first floor – not exactly unusable, but it makes web site load times a bit slower than what they are on the desktop with it’s wired connection.  Of course WiFi can never match ethernet, but it can come reasonably close.

Once I reconnect to the Extender with the laptop I received four full bars.  Web sites loaded much faster – noticeably so.  The extender is sitting in the same room as the laptop – there was one bar when connected to the router, which is two floors overheard.  The WN2000RPT requires very little signal strength to get a foothold and boost the signal up.

To further test the difference the Netgear device could make I used an app on my phone called WiFi Analyzer.  I took a reading near where the laptop and extender were located.  The router is graphed in blue, while the extender if depicted in red.

The Netgear WN2000RPT retails for around $70 – about the same price as a good router.  If you have a relatively small home to cover  – say 2000 square feet – then it’s probably not necessary.  But, if you have larger space that you want to blanket with WiFi, and especially if your are slinging media around, then this is a must-have.  The additional signal strength this device provided was more than noticeable, as you can see in the pictures above.  It has made our first-floor devices much more useful now that we no longer need to walk around looking for the best spot for a signal.

The only drawback I found was with my phone.  While it can see, and “connect” to the extender, unfortunately Android does not support DHCP.  So, even though it “connected”, it could not use the connection.  Since the the laptop and tablet were the major devices involved in our daily home-use, this was only a minor setback.

[UPDATE: In fact, Android DOES support DHCP.  It seems that I needed to visit mywifiext.com with each device to enable, and the I was able to get it working flawlessly]

In the end the Netgear WN2000RPT proved to be more than worth its relatively minor cost.  It provided a significant signal boost and it could do so from almost nothing.  The connection was solid, never dropping out, as some WiFi can do.  And, you can pick one up online for $60-70, so it’s really a great little addition to any home that lacks a quality WiFi signal everywhere.

 

Locking Home Wireless Down

Posted by susabelle at 8:40 AM on April 27, 2011

I’m one of a dozen people on my block who have wireless routers running in my house.  I’ve lived there eight years, and have had wireless almost the entire time.  I run a house full of computers from my router, including ones for the kids, my husband, a print server, a media server, and a handful of laptops.  From the first minute, my wireless has been locked down.  I recently had to replace my aging (and failing) Linksys, and had to reconfigure our SSID, passwords and the PXE firewall I’ve run.  I’ve never considered leaving that access point open for any reason.

Over the last five years, as more of my neighbors set up wireless routers in their homes, I found more and more ways to get on the Internet without using my own connection.  For me, it was just seeing if I could do it, then I’d disconnect and go back to my own router.  If I could identify the neighbor in question, I would approach them and offer to help them lock down their wireless so that it wasn’t open to anyone driving by or living nearby.  I tried my best to explain to them that having an open wireless access point was a danger to them and their families.  I usually got through to them, and now find very few of my neighbors with open wireless.  In fact, there’s only one, and I haven’t been able to figure out who it is.  The signal is pretty weak, which means they may not even be on my block.

For those that haven’t locked down their wireless, perhaps they need a more concrete example of why they should.  In New York, there have been several examples of persons with open wireless networks being accused of trafficking in child pornography amongst other things.  They were either frustrated at trying to set the security on their wireless networks, or didn’t know they needed to do so.  There seemed to be no reason to work at locking their networks down.  After all, they knew their neighbors, or thought they did, right?

It would be helpful if the process to lock down wi-fi wasn’t so complex, and if the instructions weren’t written in IT-ese.  Being a geek, I understand all of the mumbo-jumbo that comes in those instructions.  There is no consistent way to set the SSID and passwords/passcodes since there are so many different routers on the market, and for a standard user to have to open in a browser and type in a series of numbers 1xx.xx.xx.xxx to get to their router then pick a password and make it hard enough to not be crackable is just asking a lot.  I know some of the routers from AT&T (for their DSL service) come with the passcode on a sticker on the bottom of the router, and the user is supposed to use that.  Seems real secure in this day and age, huh?

Of course, there is always the neighborhood geek to do it for you.  Sometimes we’ll set your router up for you for free, or for a beer.  I know that’s my usual form of payment.  I feel it’s my duty to make sure my neighbors are protecting themselves when it comes to their technology.  I sure don’t want to see the FBI knocking down their doors in the middle of the night!  As a geek, are you helping your neighbors lock down their wireless?

Edimax 3G-6200n 3G Wireless Router

Posted by Andrew at 5:00 PM on March 22, 2011

Taiwanese Edimax has been making steady inroads at the cheaper end of the market with a range of products which typically undercut the market leaders on price. As with its Chinese sibling TP-Link, I’ve always been a bit wary of their products but recently I had the opportunity to try out the Edimax 3G-6200n, a 3G 11n wireless router and I was pleasantly surprised by the build standard and the features on offer.

To start with, the 3G-6200n cost £40 from Amazon. For comparison, the equivalent Netgear (MBRN3000) costs about twice as much. The Edimax device is quite an old device released in mid-2009 so the 11n is only of the 150 Mb/s variety and the LAN ports are only 100 Mb/s. The Netgear’s 11n runs to 300 Mb/s but still only has 100 Mb/s LAN ports. If you are only routing internet traffic, 150 Mb/s is going to be perfectly adequate.

On opening the box, there was the router itself, a PSU that usefully has an on/off switch, a short USB lead, various manuals and a CD. The router itself is plastic but it’s not really plasticky, if you follow. I’ve had Belkin devices that were worse. Interestingly, there’s a switch on the back that turns off the wifi – that’s not something I’d ever seen before.

Getting the basic router up and running was straightforward. Turn it on, plug one end of a network cable into a LAN port and connect the other to a PC or laptop.  Open a web browser with http://192.168.2.1/ and login into the router using the provided username and password.

As with all routers, there’s a plethora of sections to go through and configure – basic setup, WAN, LAN, wireless and so on. I’d say the device was well featured without being advanced. For example, the wifi only allows you to setup one SSID and there was no auto setting on the channels, but port forwarding and virtual servers are there too. After I’d set up the wifi, I was able to disconnect the cable and work wirelessly.

As you might guess, the main reason for getting this router was for its 3G functionality. Round the back of the router is a USB port into which a 3G modem dongle can be plugged in. Once connected, the router can share the 3G connection wirelessly. Helpfully, there’s a short USB cable included that can be used to position the dongle for the best reception.

How is this different from a “Mifi” or similar device? First, the Edimax is not battery powered, secondly it has LAN ports and finally it doesn’t have to use 3G all the time. It can be configured to use a DSL or cable modem normally and only fall back to the 3G modem when the modem connections fails.

In this instance I was only interested in a 3G connection. Unfortunately, you can’t plug any old 3G dongle into the 3G-6200n but Edimax provides a compatibility list (zipped pdf). I was using an Huawei E1550 which was listed as being supported and sure enough, it was.  To get the connection to work, I had to configure the APN, username and password for the mobile provider that I was using within the router’s web interface. These details are easily available from the internet via a Google search or the mobile providers website.

I was able to connect using both Three and Vodafone SIMs in the Huawei E1550. Download speeds were usually over 1 Mb/s and less than 2 Mb/s but it varied a good deal depending on how the dongle was positioned. I noticed that the router started and stopped the 3G connection as required so it wasn’t constantly connected. One minor issue with that was that sometimes an initial request for a web page was met with a timeout as the connection hadn’t been made fast enough. Upon refreshing the page, it would be served successfully. This only happened a couple of times and I suspect the problem is more with the mobile phone network being slow to respond than the router.

Overall, I was impressed by the Edimax 3G-6200n and at £40 I think it’s excellent value. If you do need to share a 3G connection, particularly when you need both wired and wireless connections, then this is a good solution. The only downside is that it’s not a portable solution. And finally, remember to check that your 3G dongle is compatible.

Day 4 – A week Using Google Chrome OS

Posted by Mike Dell at 11:54 PM on February 24, 2011


Today I took the CR48 out in the field. I went to my local coffee shop (not Starbucks) and got on the WiFi. It was no problem getting though their login redirect. Although the WiFi was really slow, I was able to do my normal web surfing and email. I wouldn’t want to try a youtube video on it at that speed. I was getting just 400k down and 128k up. (so much for “high speed” access which is what this coffee shop advertises on their window. Oh well, that’s not really anything to do with Chrome OS.

Then I tried the “free” Verizon EVDO 3G connection. I turned off the WiFi and clicked the little wrench icon in the upper right of the screen. I selected “internet” and then “Cellular”. It took about 3 minutes to connect to Verizon and then it brought up a form to fill out. That included a credit card number. I guess they have to have that to process the account signup. You get 100mb for free per month. They say they won’t charge you unless you sign up for a higher limit account. I’m not sure how they will inform you that you have used up your allotment for the month. I suppose I will find out. Once I was connected I did a speed test and had 1.4m down and 255k up. Exactly the same speed that my Droid was getting. I didn’t stay connected too long on 3G as 100mb isn’t much bandwidth, but it would be good in a pinch if you needed to do something online really quick.

The only other thing I tried today was loading pictures from my camera’s SD card. That worked well. What it did was bring up my Picasa account and loaded them directly online. It looked as though I could have moved them to the mystery “download” folder but I just picked Picasa. It didn’t look like I could get direct access to the card via Chrome, for what it is, it does work ok.

I didn’t spend much more time with the netbook today other then more surfing in the easy chair. On Friday, I’m going to get another opinion from a friend that is in town for the weekend. I’m going to let him take a stab at using it and see what he thinks. He’s like me, very connected with Google, so it shouldn’t be hard for him.

If you want me to try something in the next few days, drop a comment here and I will see what I can do.

YooTechPros Android Tablet

Posted by Andrew at 12:43 AM on February 14, 2011

Todd talks with Ernest Wolf, CEO of YooTechPros, creators of an Android-based tablet PC that actually looks quite good.

Using the same LG touch screen as the iPad, this tablet offers twin USB ports, a microSD slot, front- and rear-facing cameras and runs Android 2.2. It’s also slightly lighter and thinner than the iPad. Unfortunately, the model in the video is a non-working prototype but it does look good. $399 for the 16 GB, wifi version and available in the Spring.

For the germ-adverse of us, YouTechPros offers an antibacterial screen film for tablets called the iProtector for $19.99.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central.

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Somfy Tahoma – Beyond Home Automation

Posted by Andrew at 7:00 PM on February 12, 2011

Steve Iommi chats to Todd and Tom about Somfy‘s new Tahoma system which takes home automation to the next level. It’s based round the concept of “scenes” – a scene might be “weekday-morning” which has certain set of actions, e.g. open blinds at 7.30am, whereas the “weekend-morning” opens the blinds at 8.30. With a whole a range of scenes, everything from blinds to thermostats can be controlled according to the day of the week and the activities of the owner.

As with all things these days, the Tahoma system is connected to the Internet via the homeowner’s Wifi, meaning that the owner can connect via a web browser back to the system to make any changes that might be needed, say, because of changes in the weather.

The underlying technology is the Z-Wave RF home automation wireless standard, so upgrading a home to for automation doesn’t involving lots of recabling. It’s simply a case of replacing the controllers with Z-Wave-compatible ones.

A basic Tahoma system can be professionally installed for under $2000.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Tom Newman of The Fogview Podcast.

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Up Close with D-Link’s Boxee Box

Posted by Andrew at 11:09 PM on February 8, 2011

Steve Stanzione of D-Link shows off a couple of their latest products to Andy McCaskey, including the Boxee Box.

First up is the Whole Home Router 1000, an 11n wireless router with an interesting design – it’s a black cylinder. The design isn’t just a pretty face, it encapsulates six aerials that create a steerable array that can focus the wireless beam on the location of the receiving wireless device. Out in the second quarter of 2011.

Next is a wireless-n IP camera with IR LED ring for night-viewing. As with many of these devices, you can view the camera image via D-Link’s personal web portal and there are the usual smartphone apps as well for Android and iOS. Apparently IP cameras are selling well and surprisingly, aren’t being used for home security. Many are being used to keep an eye on the interior of homes, keeping track of children and pets or watching over babies.

Finally, Andy looks at the Boxee, D-Link’s flagship product. He reckons the Boxee’s best feature is the on/off button so that it’s not necessary to unplug the device to reboot it. This in some ways reflects the immaturity of all the media streamer products, not just the Boxee – I had an Archos device which was forever hanging on certain media and you had to unplug to restart. Anyway, the Boxee’s range of codecs and the innovative remote control generally set it apart from the competition.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News.

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HSTI Wireless Media Stick™

Posted by tomwiles at 9:21 AM on February 3, 2011

Harry Diamantopoulos of HSTI presents the Wireless Media Stick™. The Wireless Media Stick™ is able to deliver to playback devices the files stored in PC, Mac and NAS (network attached storage) devices. For example, plug the Wireless Media Stick™ into your HDTV’s USB port and watch a movie or view digital photos stored elsewhere on your WiFi home network. The memory is on your network, not on the Wireless Media Stick™. The Wireless Media Stick™ sells for $119 dollars. HSTI has also announced an app that installs on Android smartphones that is able to connect with the Wireless Media Stick™ to enable instant, easy sharing of photos and videos from the phone.

Interview by Esbjorn Larsen of MrNetCast.com and Andy McCaskey of SDR News.

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