Category Archives: Misc.

How to print from your iPads

How to print from your iPadIf you or your company has iPads and other iThings on its network, one of the frustrations is not being able to print from them. In the past, you needed a printer that was designed for AirPrint (Apple has a long list of them here) or you had to try to set up printer sharing with an existing Mac USB printer across your network.

But what if you want to use your existing printer that isn’t on this list? Or want something that you can manage its print output for cost accounting purposes? Or if you don’t want to share a local printer? You have several choices.

One solution is to use Lantronix xPrintServer that can do the job for any network or USB-connected printer. It’s so easy that it will take you longer to read how to do it than to actually implement it. The print server is about the size of an iPhone, and has three connectors: an RJ-45 for your Ethernet network, a USB jack and a power plug. Plug it in and, in a few moments, you are good to go.

If your app has a print dialog icon, you can now start printing from your iThing. The print server will auto-discover any network printer that is on the same network subnet. If you want to print to another subnet, you will have to go through some manual configuration, using the printer’s built-in Web server. If you have iPhones, you will of course need to turn on their Wi-Fi radios and connect to the same subnet to see the print server. Lantronix has this funny short video with the loveable IT guy featured here. As he says, “Try it now.” It will print wirelessly from any iOS device running iOS version 4.2 or later. The home editioncosts $99 and supports two printers. If you want a more capable print server that supports more printers, there is a $150 version of the box.

If you are using the Aerohive Wifi access points, they have recently been upgraded to support Apple’s Bonjour technology and this video explains how it is done. If you have to purchase an Aerohive Wifi network, this isn’t going to be cheap.

Finally, EFI has had its PrintMe cloud-based service for a decade for PCs. The new mobile version extends this functionality to a variety of mobile devices and to a wide variety of printers that can be located anywhere. Pricing is $2,500 for a minimum of five printer connections including a year’s support and maintenance. Again, this is somewhat pricey.

The Lantronix solution is a good compromise of price and features, and is what I would recommend if you have a couple or a large fleet of iPads to support.

 

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For international data service: Rent a WiFi Hotspot, and/or get WiFi

In the United States, a broadband data service for your smartphone, tablet, notebook, mobile hotspot or other device can be relatively affordable. To vastly oversimplify, plans run from $30 to $50 or so per month, or about $10 to $15 per gigabyte.

But if you’re traveling outside the U.S., mobile data isn’t that cheap — and not that simple. For internationally roaming travelers, network charges — not just for data, but also for voice calls, GPS signaling, and any other interactions with the carrier networks — can be ultra-expensive. Data can easily cost fifty cents a megabyte — or more.

For example, in October 2011, PCWorld reported) that a Florida woman whose brother brought her phone with him to Canada ran up a $200,000 bill over two weeks. Uploading a few photos or watching a three minute video can ding you for $100; if your GPS keeps checking location, or apps check regularly for updates, that sound you hear is your bill going wild. (And it’s not just data — even a few short international cell phone calls can quickly run up about $400 of charges.

You can get better — and more controlled — phone service by either getting a local SIM card (assuming your phone is “unlocked), or renting a local-country phone.

International Wi-Fi TipsYou can do your best to minimize data usage. When in doubt, turn it off: turn off apps, turn off “data roaming” and “fetch data” and automatic synching, turn off anything that does automatic updating. And turn off network and GPS services, other than WiFi. (If you’re willing to turn off WiFi, you can set the phone to “Airplane mode,” although on some phones this also disables Bluetooth, which you may still want to use.)

But that doesn’t solve the problem of affordable — and controlled — data service.

Renting or Buying a Mobile WiFi Hotspot

A “mobile WiFi hotspot” is a pocket-sized device that talks to a mobile broadband carrier, and includes an 802.11 WiFi router — i.e., it creates a local WiFi hotspot area. Novatel introduced its MiFi, the first of these compact products, in 2009. Today, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and other carriers offer MiFis, and Novatel offers MiFIs that can be used in over 200 countries. Other companies, like Option XYFI and Zoom Telephonics, offer “unlocked” mobile hotspot products that accept SIM cards and can be used in many countries.

But you don’t even have to buy one. You can now rent a mobile WiFi hotspot just like you can rent a local cell phone — and the price may be hard to beat. Xcomglobal.com, for example, offers rental MiFis for use in over 175 countries, with unlimited data, for around $15/day for most countries. (A given MiFi won’t necessarily work in all the countries you may be visiting in a trip, always confirm usability and pricing.) Thought the company currently has pickup/drop off only in Los Angeles and New York, but you can pre-order a rental unit via the web site.

And, of course, other companies are getting into the international MiFI rental business, such as MiFiRental.com.

So while you definitely need to master turning off cellular, GPS and other data usage for your smartphone and any other devices you carry (e.g. a broadband enabled tablet or notebook), you’ve got options other than “being cut off” or “going broke staying connected.”

Don’t Overlook Local WiFi

Depending on where you’re going to be, another option may be relying on WiFi. While not as exorbitant as international carrier data service, local hotspots can still get costly, especially if you’re moving around and would have to buy an hour at your hotel, an hour at the coffee shop, another hour at the airport, a day at your next hotel, and so on.

One way you may be able to slash your WiFi costs — and certainly control them — is through Boingo.com, which offers access to hundreds of thousands of WiFi hotspots around the United States and internationally. Plans include options for multiple devices, so you wouldn’t have to purchase separate access for your smartphone, tablet and notebook.

So plan ahead:

1) Learn how to turn off data-using activities on your devices
2) Look for affordable devices and plans for where you’ll be going.

And enjoy being able to afford to stay connected.

 

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Whole House Surge Protection

I’ve always been a believer in using a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) to protect my desktop computer and surge protector strips to protect my computer peripherals (printer, etc.). For the computer, power hiccups can do anything from scramble data to damage the hardware. I don’t want a surge to leave me with lost work or ruined investments.

But what about everything else electrical or electronic in the house which a power surge could damage? After all, today’s flat-screen TVs can easily cost more than a computer. And everything today from microwave ovens and stoves to washers and dryers have electronics in them. If you’ve got home automation/control and/or security systems, they, too, are vulnerable.

But putting a surge strip at each wall outlet quickly gets expensive and complicated — not to mention some outlets are hard to get to, and some things, like the furnace and the air conditioner, are hard-wired, keeping you from plugging them in via a surge strip.

Answer: a whole-house surge protective device (SPD), installed at the circuit breaker box. (Note: before considering this approach, you should either be a homeowner or have a good relationship with your landlord.)

Whole Home Surge ProtectionOur house has one, put in at my request a decade or so ago while the breaker box was being replaced. I’m sure the technology has evolved; ours looks like a gray double-high soda can.

Have we had any whole-house surges since then? I don’t know. Have our neighbors? Ditto. But it seemed like an affordable investment, as long as we were having the related work done.

Steven Krasner, the owner and founder of OnlyConnect, a Belmont, Mass.-based electrical contracting company, says, “A whole-house surge protector helps, among other things, if the power line gets hit by a lightning bolt… or if the power from your utility company has surges. And it deals with surges that can occur within your house, like when you turn off something that has a motor.”

According to NEMA Surge Protection Institute statistics cited by HouseLogic.com, “60% to 80% of power surges start inside the home, typically from major appliances and systems that cycle on and off, such as air conditioners, refrigerators, and clothes dryers.”

This doesn’t replace all the little surge protectors inside your house, Krasner stresses. “It’s another line of defense. The surge protector in front of your computer won’t stop large current surges, like from a lightning strike.” Does this make a difference? Says Krasner, “Anecdotally, I’ve talked to people who have lost a few devices, where a neighbor who had a whole-house surge protector didn’t.”

How much will this cost you? As a starting point, Home Depot’s website has twelve products listed under “Whole-House Surge Protectors,” ranging in cost from about $30 to $250. You may also need a circuit breaker. Depending on how your current electric panel is set up, and whether there’s enough additional room readily available, it could take a professional electrician only an hour or less to install.

After the initial cost, if your home gets hit by a big surge (or many little ones)little ones, you may need to replace one or more components — but this will be much less than the initial expense.

Like many of the surge protectors and UPSs you plug into a electrical outlet, many of the whole-house SPDs will also protect your coaxial (TV/Internet) and land-line connections from surges that can come in through these wires.

As you invest more money in — and rely increasingly on — electrical and electronic products in your home, it makes sense to invest a small amount — probably an average of less than $100/year over time — to protect them from harm. You’d spending more than that on insurance, why not go a step further and spend some on protection?

 

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How to get started using email lists

Getting Started with Email ListsWhile Twitter and Facebook have gotten plenty of attention, the basic bread and butter of any small business is the care and feeding of its email lists to connect its customers, suppliers and partners. The better you are at doing email lists and sending out regular and informative communications, the more business you will have.

You have three basic choices when it comes to list servers: the free, the cheap, and the pricey. While price alone is a good way to decide, there are some other factors that you should consider. I have picked one provider for each price point: Yahoo Groups (free), Mailman hosted by EMWD.com for $4 a month and ConstantContact, which has plans starting at $15 a month. All three have one big advantage over doing email with Outlook or some other desktop client – they automatically handle bounces, or when email addresses go bad. They also avoid the accidental reply-to-everyone mistake. These are probably the two biggest reasons to use a list service.

For all three choices, you need to assemble all your email addresses that you want to start your list with. You can export these from your client email program into a text file, and then bring up the file in a word processor program to clean it up. You can then cut and paste the names into your list program at the appropriate time.

I like Yahoo Groups for community and lists of a few dozen people or fewer, but it has two big drawbacks: First is a problem with setting up large lists quickly. Yahoo only lets you add 10 people a day to your list without asking them to opt-in. A second issue is that the Web list management interface is a bit confusing to figure out, especially for those recipients who want to use them but lack a Yahoo ID.

Mailman is a more professional program and gives you all sorts of control over features. There are many other email list software products, this is just one that I have been using for many years. I recommend the hosting provider EMWD.com. You can have fairly large lists of several thousand addresses without too much trouble, unlike Yahoo Groups. You need to obtain an account for a one-time fee of $10, and this will give you access to its Web-based control panels. This is more complex than Yahoo, but you have more control over things such as the header (what email address is used in the “from” field) and footer (what information goes in the bottom of each message, and can be used to promote your company or products). As I said, each list only costs $4 a month to operate. You might want to check and see if your own Internet provider offers more competitive pricing on Mailman hosting.

But this may not be enough for your purposes. If you want to add Web links in your emails and track who clicks on which link, such as for promotional purposes, then you want ConstantContact. You can try it for 60 days for free, and then depending on how many names are on your list, the price increases from $15 to $150 a month.

The advantage of ConstantContact is that you can send out very snazzy emails, with pictures, color, and those trackable links. The downside is that setting up a list takes some work. They also have some very impressive video tutorials on their site to help you learn more about using lists and social media. You can view these videos (even without an account) here.

Here are a few tips for sending out your emails to your list once you have it setup.

Limit the amount of self-promotional content to less than 20% of what you send out. Keep your emails information-rich and people will want to read them.

Weekly is the best frequency. If you can’t write something weekly, then every other week is a good alternative.

Brevity counts. Keep the emails to less than 600 words. People have short attention spans.

Don’t pile on the Web links. One or two links per email is fine.

Finally, have an archive. Think about archiving all your emails on your Web site. Mailman and Yahoo Groups do this automatically.  Good luck with your lists!

 

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Links of Interest – July 26

Twitter Is Working on a Way to Retrieve Your Old Tweets

Old TweetsTwitter gives users access only to the last few thousand posts made to the site.

But Dick Costolo, Twitter’s chief executive, promises that this will eventually change, according to a post by The New York Times.

“We’re working on a tool to let users export all of their tweets,” Mr. Costolo said in a meeting with reporters and editors at The New York Times. “You’ll be able to download a file of them.”

Other social media services, most notably Facebook, already allow users to download a file with all their data. Twitter has been slower to roll out a similar service, although a number of third-party services and developers have cobbled together ways to let people sift through portions of Twitter’s vast collection of messages. One recently released site, called oldtweets, lets people root through some of the first messages ever sent through Twitter’s servers. (Curious about what people were tweeting about in 2006? Comically dated topics like “Returning movies to Blockbuster” and “Chatting with friends on MySpace.”)

10 Favorite Rumors About Apple`s Next Smartphone

The Apple iPhone 5 may or may not arrive in September. Or be super thin but extra big. Or feature a new dock, according to eWEEK.com.

There is no shortage of rumors, speculations or forecasts about a device—even the name iPhone 5 is a guess—that Apple has yet to officially breathe a word about. What is known is Apple finally has a real competitor in Samsung.

Past comparisons of iPhones to Android sales figures have been silly, as they weighed Apple against a handful of manufacturers. Samsung, however, has pulled ahead of the rest of the Android pack, and smartphone for smartphone, the South Korean giant has out-sold Apple during the first quarter of this year and likely also the second. When Samsung introduced the Galaxy S III in May, it showed its hand (and the public liked what it saw; Samsung has very publicly struggled to make supply meet demand).

Now following Samsung, the pressure is on. Apple has so succeeded at wowing the public during its staged events, the bar couldn’t be set higher.

Today’s Women of Space Remember Sally Ride

Sally Ride, the first U.S. female astronaut to fly in space, died July 23 at the age of 61 from pancreatic cancer. First launching on the Challenger space shuttle in 1983, Ride has become an enduring inspiration to people everywhere, particularly women working in science and engineering.

Ride’s place as the first American female astronaut was a long time coming, according to Wired. As far back as the Mercury program, NASA considered female astronaut candidates but the agency did not take the idea very seriously. Ride joined NASA in 1978, in the first astronaut class to include women, and trained for five years. Prior to her deployment on the Challenger mission, she endured sexist questions from reporters, shrugging them off by saying, “It’s too bad this is such a big deal. It is too bad our society isn’t further along.”

 

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Don’t mess with your DNS

Don't Mess with Your DNSWe tend to take it for granted, but you need to treat the Internet Domain Name System (DNS) with the respect that it deserves. And if you have some time to investigate alternatives, you could really enhance your network’s performance and security.

Before I tell you how to do this, let’s have a brief explanation of what DNS is. Think of what a phone book does – it allows you if you to look up someone’s  phone number by referencing their name. The DNS does something similar, except for computers: if you type in “google.com” it translates that name into a sequence of four numbers, called an IP address. In this case, the IP address of google.com is 74.125.95.104.

The overall Internet infrastructure has a series of master phone books, or DNS root servers, located at strategic places around the world and maintained by a collection of public, semi-public, and private providers. They talk to each other on a regular basis; it’s important to make sure that they stay in synch as new domains are added. As you can imagine, if someone wants to “poison” one of the entries, or misdirect Internet traffic to a phony domain, it can be done with the right amount of subterfuge. A famous example of this occurred in2008. In an attempt to prevent YouTube viewers in Pakistan from watching a single offensive video, a Pakistani Internet provider managed to block access to all of YouTube all around the world. A more comprehensive list of the various DNS attacks can be found here on Google’s site.

When you set up your network, typically you don’t give your DNS settings any further thought. If you have a cable or DSL modem, you hook it up and it automatically gets its DNS settings from the cable or phone company’s DNS servers. If you are running a large enterprise network, typically you have your own internal DNS server to provide this service.

There are several alternative providers, including OpenDNS and Google’s Public DNS, among many others that you can see listed here. Why bother? Two good reasons: 1.) they offer better browsing performance, and 2.) they provide better security to stay away from known phishing and malware-infected domains.

Before you pick an alternative DNS provider, you can use this Java program to test the speed of your own DNS vs Google and OpenDNS. Or you can read up on a couple of performance comparisons from Manu-j and Habitually Good here.

You can change your DNS settings for your individual computer or for your overall network. This is typically done at your DHCP server or cable modem or router. Any of the alternative providers offer their services free, and some, such as OpenDNS, offer a lot more than just the mapping of IP addresses too.

Here are the instructions for changing the DNS settings. The whole process shouldn’t take you more than a couple of minutes to read through them and implement the changes:

- OpenDNS

- Google Public DNS

These free services are just the beginning of a new series of other improvements called secure DNS protocol extensions and products, and you can check out these products and read more on this site to understand what is involved to deploy them.

 

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Time to stop reusing your passwords

Time to stop reusing your passwordThe recent exploits ofvarious hackers in publishing passwords and user lists from Yahoo, Formspring, LinkedIn and others show that the biggest weakness isn’t having the right security technology, but you as a user! While certainly these sites could have done a better job with securing user data, at the heart of these exploits is a glaring lesson that we all can learn: It is time to develop a better password policy and stop reusing them amongst your various online logins.

It isn’t any mystery to why password reuse runs rampant these days. We all have far too many login IDs to keep track of, and the easiest solution is to just reuse the same one (or a limited collection) over and over again. But this makes hacking into your online information child’s play: if someone can uncover the password from one place, they can run it through an automated routine and try dozens of others to see if you reused it. This is indeed what many hackers have begun doing, once they have confirmed one site’s credentials for your login.

And while IT managers can lock down their own email and database and Web servers with various internal policies, that doesn’t help matters if you reuse the same passwords (or even email addresses, as was discovered with the Yahoo hack) on online sites for your personal e-shopping and electronic banking. All it takes to gain access to your own network is to find an online site with weak password security and then trust that someone has reused the same password elsewhere.

A recent Washington Post poll found that 16% of all Internet users regularly reuse their passwords. It is time to stop this practice, and understand the dangers of password reuse. As Google says, “When you use the same password across the Web, a cyber criminal can learn the password from a less secure site and then use that password to compromise your important accounts.” The search giant has lots of great recommendations on personal password use on its UK blog.

Recently, one blog jokingly posted that children are being warned that the name of their first pet should contain at least eight characters and a digit. There is some truth to that, as many of us use our pet names in our passwords. 

While it is easier said than done, you need to limit the reuse of passwords and avoid using common words. Make sure that your passwords contain a mixture of upper- and lower-case letters, and include at least one number. (Or at least add these things to your pet’s name.) And if you are responsible for your IT operations, please enforce minimum complexity standards and educate your end users about the dangers of password reuse.

 

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Cloud roundup and links of interest – July 19

Next Kindle Fire Expected to Be Thinner, With Better Display

As sales of the first-generation Kindle Fire cool off, Amazon is gearing up to launch its successor, a tablet that seeks to improve on the original while retaining a similar form.

Sources familiar with Amazon’s plans tell AllThingsD that the company hopes to debut the next iteration of the Kindle Fire in the second half of this year. To do so, Amazon has been approaching developers to bring them up to speed on the new hardware.

According to the report, key changes to the next generation Fire are expected to include:

- A thinner and lighter design than the original

- A built-in camera

- Much-improved display quality with an entirely new width-to-height ratio

Two Apps Keep Your iPhone and iPad Data Private

2 Apps Keep Your Information PrivateWhile the free Find My iPhone app can remotely wipe the data on a lost or stolen iPhone or iPad, a pair of $2 apps prevent prying eyes from viewing contact info and other sensitive information on an iPad or iPhone without having to erase everything, according to CNET.com.If you share your iPhone or iPad, there’s probably information on the device you would prefer other users not see. Even if you don’t, you may still want to keep yourprivate information, well, private. Luckily, there are a few applications that can help you retain your info.

The Secure Folder app creates protected areas that other iPhone and iPad apps can’t access. Secure Folder installs a nondescript My Folders icon that you press to launch the app. After you enter your code, you see encrypted folders for photos and videos, addresses, notes, bookmarks, credit cards, and passwords. The files and information entered in the app’s folders are hidden from other programs on the device, according to CNET’s review.

Additionally, the ContactsPro app creates a private address book on an iPhone or iPad that the device’s standard address book doesn’t read. Creating a protected area and moving existing contact info to the ContactsPro address book, however, takes some work, CNET says. All the contacts on the iPhone or iPad are displayed in ContactsPro by default. When you create a group of contacts you can hide all other addresses or those in the groups you choose. You can either import addresses to the ContactsPro list or “connect” to existing addresses, which lets you store additional information about the contact that appears only in the ContactsPro entry.

Lenovo Ultrabook Targets Back-to-School Shoppers With $799 Price

If you’re searching for a reasonably thin Windows laptop with good battery life at a reasonable cost, you couldn’t have picked a better time, according to a review on CNET.com.

The Lenovo IdeaPad U310 is a perfect example: it’s an update to the IdeaPad U300s, a Windows Ultrabook that came with a MacBook Air-like $1,195 price tag. This time, however, the cost is a mere $799.

Students should consider the IdeaPad U310, especially if it’s on sale. You might want to comparison-shop the growing landscape of affordable ultrabooks at the time of purchase and see if you can do better, but the bottom line is this: It’s a good time to purchase a lightweight laptop with impressive firepower. Ultrabooks have larger hard drives (without SSD), and are cheaper than ever, according to CNET. (If you’re considering laptops with or without a solid state drive, check out this article from the Mozy blog.)

 

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Q&A: Should I wait for the next iPhone to come out, or should I get the Samsung Galaxy S III?

The simple and easy answer would be yes, wait for the next version of the iPhone. But choices are rarely this simple. Although mobile technology makes our lives simpler and easier, it often comes with some big decisions (price, contract details, camera type, etc.).

Why shouldn’t you wait for Apple’s next latest and greatest device? Because with this rationale, you will be perpetually waiting for its next big thing. There will always be something sleeker, smarter and quicker around the corner. And speaking of something sleeker, smarter and quicker, let’s take a closer look at Samsung’s Galaxy S III.

The Galaxy S III could be considered the most impressive Android-based phone to date. It runs the most up-to-date Android operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich, and boasts a screen size of 4.8 inches. Throw in 4G connectivity and Near Field Communication (NFC) technology (which allows you to “bump” your phone with another NFC-enabled phone to exchange photos or certain data), and you’ve got yourself a pretty stellar mobile device.

Initial reviews of the Galaxy S III have been impressive. Although there has been a delay in the handsets reaching some markets, the rising demand may have actually added to the allure of getting one. After all, it’s nice to get something that isn’t at first available to everyone.

The Galaxy S III will provide you with access to more than 500,000 apps in the Google Play market, which should give you more than enough choices to be either super productive or blissfully slacker-ish, depending on the circumstances.

Apple’s App Store still leads the way in terms of total number of apps (650,000), and the iPhone is generally considered more secure if you plan to incorporate your iPhone into your work life.

Apple iPhone 4S vs. Samsung Galaxy S IIIThere’s little doubt the Galaxy S III will provide a pleasant and speedy mobile experience, but let’s face it – it’s going up against the iPhone. This is no small task. After all, Apple brought both RIM’s BlackBerry and Nokia to their knees in just a few short years.

Apple’s iPhone can be likened to a hard-throwing major league pitcher. Apple just rears back and consistently throws 98 mph strikes. Hit it if you can, Apple seems to challenge.

So far, no one can touch the iPhone. As with any Apple release, the sixth-generation iPhone is surrounded by heavy rumor-mongering. The most recent as of this writing is that its release is being moved to August to compete with the larger-than-expected sales figures for the Galaxy S III.

I’d suggest waiting for the next iPhone, but here’s comparison of the two as they stand now:

Apple iPhone 4S

Dimensions: 4.5 by 2.31 by 0.37 inches

Weight: 4.9 ounces

Display: 3.5-inch (on the diagonal) widescreen multi-touch display with a 960 by 640 pixel resolution.

Camera: 8 megapixels, HD video recording, LED flash, autofocus, VGA-quality front-facing camera, photo and video geotagging.

Operating System: iOS 5

Pricing and Capacity: 16GB for $199, 32GB for $299, 64GB for $399 (with two-year contract)

4G: No

NFC: No

Samsung Galaxy S III

Dimensions: 5.38 by 2.78 by 0.34 inches

Weight: 4.69 ounces

Display: 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED with a resolution of 1280 by 720

Camera: 8 megapixels, HD video recording, auto focus with flash and zero shutter lag, 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera with HD recording, zero shutter lag

Operating System: Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)

Pricing and Capacity: 16GB and 32GB versions are available; pricing varies by carrier, but most are selling the 16GB version for $199 with a two-year contract. Pricing varies more for the 32GB model. Sprint sells it for $249.99, T-Mobile for $329.99.

4G: Yes

NFC: Yes

 

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Selecting USB drives for your keychain: What to look for, avoid

Selecting USB Drives for Your KeychainMobile devices and online storage have made it easier than ever to carry or access information away from our home or office system — but it can also make sense to carry key documents and/or apps around on a USB drive.

You might not have your mobile device with you — maybe you left it behind or it ran out of power. Even if it’s working, you may need to use the data on the device on a different system — and moving data between a mobile device and another computer, particularly one that isn’t yours, isn’t always quick or easy.

Similarly, it’s easy to park copies of your data online (such as in an IMAP email account or elsewhere on the cloud), , but you can’t always get Internet access when you want it (or may not want to risk having your password keystrokes captured).

USB drives are a great way to carry information around for when you need it. They continue to get higher in capacity and lower in price– capacities range from two to 64 GB and cost less than a buck a gigabyte. The stored data is, unlike that on hard drives, not damaged by being dropped; nor, unlike those nearly-extinct floppy disks, scrambled by a magnet.

Reminder: Like any data you take out of your office or home, you should be sure to encrypt anything that’s “sensitive” — personal, financial or other information. If you also include apps on the drive, encrypt access to the drive as a whole, in case your passwords have been auto-saved by the apps.

Some flash drives include built-in encryption. If yours doesn’t, and you want to carry any sensitive information, be sure you install and use an encryption app, such as TrueCrypt, or Windows 7′s Bitlocker To-Go.)

Many USB drives include a lanyard, making it suitable for carrying around on your neck. (Downsides: The lanyard may be visible and a temptation to thieves — and you need to remember to take it off at airport security.)

The obvious place for data you want always with you is on your keyring.

But, astonishingly — or perhaps not surprisingly — most of the USB flash drives I’ve accumulated (some as review samples, most from trade shows, holding press kits or sales info) aren’t designed to reliably survive this treatment. Over the past few years, I’ve encountered several types of failures (many which also apply to non-keychain uses):

  • Tops that don’t stay on. A lot of USB drives have plug covers that don’t stay on reliably, falling off in your pouch or pocket.
  • Tops that can’t be “parked” on the other end when you’re using the drive. Like the gas tank cover in an automobile, a USB flash drive should be have some place to go when it’s not in use — like the other side of the USB drive. Otherwise, the odds are you’ll lose it.
  • Drives that come loose from swivel holders. Many flash drives swivel within a “U”-shaped piece of metal, and the drive can easily fall out of its casing.
  • Keyring-clip that easily breaks. Many flash drives have little metal circles made of very thin wire. These (as well as the thinner plastic half-loops) don’t stand up to the wear and tear of life in your pocket.
  • Flash component that comes loose from the holder. My favorite USB drives are shaped like real keys… but I’ve discovered that the flash portion can all-too-easily come lose.

In general: you want something that won’t break, or lose a piece, or fall off.

I’m not sure I’ve found the perfect USB drive for a key ring yet.

Meanwhile, “good-enough” ones seem to be the smallest ones with a hole for the keyring — although they look like they could break, or the contacts could get too dirty.

And remember to either not put sensitive data on these — or encrypt them.

Image Credit: Gold Brick Custom USB Drives / molotalk / CC BY 2.0

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