First Full Day of Spring – New Apple Goodies

It’s the first day of Spring, and Apple has sent released new products

Rumors of a March Apple event have been circulating for many, MANY weeks. With the end of March quickly approaching, continuing rumors changed March to April, and the rumors persisted.

I never thought there would be a Spring Apple event, regardless of the month. With Apple announcing WWDC dates in February, I never really thought that there would be any kind of streamed event prior to June. In my mind, all that a pre-June event would accomplish would be to lessen the impact of the introductions Apple had on the books at WWDC.

When Apple instead issued press releases on new products, everyone got what they wanted. The public got new goodies, and Apple didn’t ruin the impact of the June keynote with an event just a few months before they announce the 10th anniversary iPhone. With that, let’s take a quick look at everything that Apple announced yesterday.

Product RED iPhone
Apple released a 128GB and 256GB Product (RED) iPhone 7 and 7 Plus for $749/$849 and $869/$969. The anodized aluminum’s red color with white front bezels joins last year’s new matte black and jet black colors with the same set precautions – the finish could scratch and flake very easily.

Gold, Silver and Rose Gold anodization doesn’t seem to have the same set of issues that “colored” iDevices do. Those finishes don’t seem to have the tendency to flake and scratch like true colored anodized surfaces do. Users will need to take care with those devices. Some kind of clear case (otherwise, why get the (RED)..??) will need to be applied in order to keep the finish scratch and flake free.

PRODUCT(RED) is the brand that has been used for more than 10 years of partnership between Apple and (RED). Products with this special branding and color give customers a way to contribute to the Global AIDS Fund and “bring the world a step closer to an AIDS-free generation.”

PRODUCT (RED) iPhones will be available to order on Apple’s website, at Apple Stores, and at select authorized resellers and wireless carriers. The new model will begin shipping to customers by the end of March in the United States and will be available in more than 40 countries and regions around the world.

5th Generation iPad (iPad Air 3)
Apple today announced it is launching a new 9.7-inch iPad equipped with an A9 chip and a brighter Retina display. The new model is set to replace the discontinued iPad Air 2.

The tablet, which Apple is simply calling “iPad,” is Apple’s new entry-level model at the 9.7-inch size, starting at $329 for 32GB and $429 for 128GB.

The new device is similar in many ways to the iPad Air 2, which had an A8X chip and started at $399; but is slightly thicker and heavier. The new device has a faster A9 chip and a brighter Retina, but non-laminated or antireflective display.

The device’s tech specs also include a2,048‑by‑1,536 resolution and 264 PPI display, 8-megapixel rear-facing iSight camera, 1.2-megapixel front-facing FaceTime camera, two speakers, Lightning connector, 3.5mm headphone jack, Touch ID with Apple Pay, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, and Bluetooth 4.2. In many ways, this device can be considered the iPad Air 3, though Apple has chosen not to give it that name

iPad mini 4 128GB
Apple today announced that its iPad mini 4 is now available with up to 128GB of internal storage. The Wi-Fi only version starts at $399. The previous, 32GB Wi-Fi only model has been discontinued. A cellular model with 128GB of storage is also available for $529.

The newly priced iPad mini 4 is available now on Apple.com in Silver, Gold, and Space Gray with next-day shipping.

Don’t expect much more out of the iPad mini line, such as a Pro model. The fact that the mini got an EARLY Spring update likely precludes it from getting the Professional treatment with any additional iPad updates that might come to the Pro line in June. Look for this line to be discontinued no later than this time next year.

iPhone SE 32GB & 128GB
iPhone SE is the four inch version of the very popular iPhone 6. It was released to satisfy those folks that just couldn’t use the iPhone 6/ 6s/ 7 or iPhone 6/ 6s/ 7 Plus without painful hand stretching.

Previously, the iPhone SE was available in 16GB and 64GB storage capacities for $399 and $449 respectively. The 64GB model was initially $499, but it received a price cut following the iPhone 7 launch. The new 32GB and 128GB models replace the 16GB and 64GB models and will remain available in Gold, Rose Gold, Silver, and Space Gray.

Storage was the only tech spec update this iDevice received. The new iPhone SE models will be available online and in stores starting on Friday, March 24.

Apple Watch Bands-o-Plenty
As widely anticipated, Apple today also debuted its new Spring 2017 lineup of Apple Watch bands. The new line introduces all-new options like Striped Woven Nylon bands, a set of sold-separately Nike Sport bands, and new colors for Hermès leather bands. Every band is available to order now on Apple.com.

Striped Woven Nylon bands now come in Berry, Tahoe Blue, Orange, Red, and Pollen. There’s also an all-new, solid Midnight Blue Woven Nylon band. The new Apple Sport bands are available in Pebble, Azure and Camellia. The Classic Buckle has gotten a small buckle redesign and now comes in Sapphire, Berry, and Taupe colors.

Users can also finally buy the Nike Sport Band separately in Anthracite and Black, Pure Platinum and White, and Volt and Black. The company is introducing new collections of Nike Bands as well, including a 38mm and 42mm Space Grey Aluminum Case with Anthracite and Black Sport Band and 38mm and 42mm Silver Aluminum Case with Pure Platinum and White Sport Band.

Apple Watch Hermès line is gaining new colors as well. Users can now choose from a 38mm Double Tour in Bleu Zephyr Epsom leather, a 38mm Double Buckle Cuff in Fauve Barenia leather, a 42mm Single Tour in Lime Epsom leather, and a 42mm Single Tour in Colvert Swift leather. One new addition to the Hermès collections and it includes the Apple Watch Series 2 with the 38mm Double Buckle Cuff in Fauve Barenia calfskin leather.

Bands are an easy and very affordable way (excluding the Hermes collection) to spice up your Apple Watch and bring it some exciting, new life. All of the new Apple Sport, Nylon and Nike Sport bands are available now for $50 bucks. All of the new Apple leather bands start at $149.99. The Hermes Bands start at $489 for the Double Tour, $339 for the Single Tour, and $680 for the Leather Cuff.

iTunes 12.6
One of the very few software announcements Apple made include the release of iTunes 12.6 for Mac. iTunes 12.6 introduces a “Rent once, watch anywhere” feature that lets iTunes users watch iTunes movie rentals across all devices with iOS 10.3 or tvOS 10.2.

Prior to the 12.6 update, an iTunes movie was only available on a single device at a time. When a movie rented on a Mac was transferred to an iPhone, iPad, or iPod using USB, the movie became unavailable from an iTunes library until returned to the Mac. This limitation has been removed with this update, and rented movies can now be watched and transferred on any device running iOS 10.3 or tvOS 10.2.

This feature begs the release of both iOS 10.3 and tvOS 10.2, so it’s likely that these new operating system versions will be released in the coming days and weeks. Look for them on a compatible iDevice near you very, very soon.

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FEATURE REVIEW – DBZDRESS Flux Battery Case for iPhone 6/6s/7 Plus

Every now and again, Facebook ads offer some interesting purchases…

Introduction
Back in July of 2012, the New York Times published an article announcing the opening of small business shops on Facebook. Since that time, you’ve probably seen the number of shopping based posts in your feed increase. This is Facebook trying to claim their slice of the ecommerce pie.

I get them – meaning product ads – all the time. Most of them are either gadget or watch related. I’ve purchased a couple things out of these ads. In most cases, these are Shopify powered vendors. They may or may not have a true web presence, and in most cases don’t have any other type of ecommerce platform than the one offered through Shopify. This would include, oddly enough, a number of vendors that either live or drop ship directly from China.

One such vendor is DBZDRESS. They had a HUGE push about six to eight months ago regarding iPhone battery cases. (by the way, a quick look on what battery cases they offer as of this writing, indicates they aren’t offering any…)

While it was available, I purchased the Flux Battery Case from DBZDRESS in mid-November 2016. Here’s my experience with the company and with the case from the time that I ordered the case until I received it, and started using it.

Order, Shipping and Product Receipt
Believe it or not, this is probably 75% of this story; and it’s probably one of the biggest messes I’ve seen in a while.

The timeline here is way more protracted than it needs to be. In fact, it was nearly criminal. I was very close to contacting the Better Business Bureau and reporting and filing complaints against the company I purchased the case from as well as Facebook. It got kinda weird.

I ordered the Flux Battery Case on 2016-11-15. My credit card was charged immediately, and my credit card was charged almost immediately. Shopify sent me an email about the purchase, and I waited.

On 2016-11-22, I got a notice from USPS that the device had shipped. On 2016-12.02 I got a notice that the case had entered customs in China. It was updated again on 2016-12-07 but there was no event detail provided. The last that I knew, the case was stuck in customs.

I contacted DBZDRESS on 2016-12-23. I requested assistance on the status of the shipment. It was ignored.
I contacted DBZDRESS on 2017-01-13. I requested assistance on the status of the shipment. Again, it was ignored.

I contacted DBZDRESS on 2017-01-27. I requested assistance on the status of the shipment. Again, it was ignored.

I received the battery case on 2017-02-05. I got a reply from DBZDRESS on 2017-02-06 telling me that I had received the case, and that it didn’t look like I needed help any longer. DBZDRESS thanked me for my time and my purchase, and sent me on my way.

This is by far the worst customer service experience I have ever had, with any vendor, EVER. I am not used to being ignored, not once or twice, but three different times, without my emails – which are the only way to reach out to them – even so much as acknowledged… until AFTER the product was received.

Based on this and this alone, I don’t care HOW great the case is, I don’t think I’ll be purchasing anything from these guys ever again. They’ve pretty much ruined any repeat business from me. I did a little looking into DBZDRESS and they have a forum on their website. After readying through the few comments that actually have been posted on their site, it’s clear that my experience is not unusual. In fact, it’s the norm.

Product Review
The Flux Battery Case is slim; and its simple. It contains a 2000mAh battery; and only adds 0.2″ of thickness and 2.5 oz. of weight to your iPhone. It provides little to no protection to your iPhone. So, do not look to it to do that.

The case provides power; and that’s about it. When the battery in the case is activated, it can take your native battery from 0% to 80% before it dies, itself. The case is supposed to support USB pass through according to the product’s website. However, the version that I bought from DBZDRESS doesn’t do this.

The battery in and of itself does a decent job of charging a dead iPhone. The specs for the case say it can take from 0% to 80% and it’s supposed to do it without going to sleep. That hasn’t been my experience.

My Flux Battery Case charges the battery or charges the case. It will charge both at the same time, IF I attach the battery connector to the phone and then plug the case in; but that’s about it.

An angled view of the case notice the open connector leads on the bottom, the stored connector on the bottom corner and the damage to my screen protector The bottom of the case. The connector attaches here, via the Lightning port and the four leads.
The left side of the case. Notice the cut outs for the volume rocker and the sound switch. The top of the case.
The right side of the case. Note the cutout for the wake/ sleep button and the power connector. The power connector removed. A Lightning cable goes into the opening on the side of the case to charge it. The connector, inserts into the bottom of the case.
The power connector and the bottom of the case. Turn the power connector over and firmly insert it into the Lightning port on your iPhone to charge your iPhone. The power connector attached to my iPhone 7 Plus.
The power connector attached to my iPhone. Note the green power light under the case. This notes that the case is charging the iPhone. An elevated view of the power connector attached to my iPhone 7 Plus. You can more clearly see the damage to the screen protector, on both bottom corners, here.

Conclusion
In the end, the case does what its advertised to do, but not without a couple of hiccups.

It doesn’t do USB pass through, as versions now available, do. I’ve tried with different cables and different computers and USB connections. It simply doesn’t work.

The case also seems to sleep, or stop charging my iPhone, 10-15 minutes after the device sleeps. At this point, the case stops charging your iPhone, even though it still has ample charge left in its battery. This doesn’t make any sense to me at all. I have no idea what is going on here; and it’s very frustrating

Waking the device does not reactivate the charging mechanism in the battery case. In order to get it charging again, you have to pull the connector out of the Lightning port and reinsert it. As long as the case’s battery has power, it will start charging your iPhone again. However, I still wouldn’t consider the charging mechanism to be reliable. If I have to wake my phone in order to insure that its taking a charge, I’m going to waste power that I would much rather just get banked into my iPhone’s battery than burned by the LCD or other component because the phone has to stay awake to get the most benefit from the case’s battery.

The cases provides little to no protection to your iPhone. Don’t look to it to do that. I have a $35 Invisible Shield glass screen protector on my iPhone 7 Plus that now needs to be replaced thanks to this case. I’ve used these screen protectors on my last couple of devices (iPhone 5, iPhone 6 and now iPhone 7 Plus), and I’ve never had to replace one of these. There are deep scratches in it near the top, two corners and chips and breaks in both bottom corners.

I’m not pleased with this case, and for the amount that I paid for it ($50USD, shipped direct from China) and with the atrocious customer service experience I had actually getting the case to me, there’s little to no chance I’ll ever purchase a case – or any other product, for that matter – from DBZDRESS. I suggest you steer clear of them as well. Based on how they dealt with me, I’m lucky I received the product I ordered at all.

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The Future of the MacBook Pro

Even though some have moved on to other issues, it’s still kinda hangin’ out there…

I’ve been a Mac for about 11 years. While I originally bought my first Mac to be a Windows machine, I’ve fully moved over to macOS and have moved all of my app needs, wants and desires over to the Mac/ Apple side of the fence. This had made things good and bad; and I’m happy and sad with the results. In other words, I’ve gotten used to it, and I’ve fully transitioned.

While I admit that I was less than happy with the recent Late 2016 MacBook Pro’s, some interesting information has come to light, and thankfully, I’ve finally gotten the time to digest it all.

Apple prognosticator, Ming Chi Kuo has released a few bullet points describing how he feels Apple will address some of the laptop’s shortcomings:

  1. Apple will combat high price complaints by offering discounts. Apple is targeting the Late 2016 13″ MBP without Touch Bar. Its Apple’s desire that this unit eventually replaces the 13″ MacBook Air.
  2. Apple will address performance by working with Intel to insure that the latest Kaby Lake chips get used in all MBP’s going forward
  3. Apple’s done a great deal to address batter life at this point. Some of this was resolved by both OS and battery firmware updates. Implementing the latest Kaby Lake processors will further address this issue and put it to bed.
  4. Apple intends to get low-powered RAM sticks into the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar so that it can eventually bump the specs to 32GB, resolving the criticism of high end Mac users.

There are some holes here, however. While cost is a huge issue, only addressing the price point of the 13″ MBP without Touch Bar doesn’t do anything for the rest of the product line. It only provides entry level discounts. The larger SSD’s, processor and RAM configurations when maxed out, price the 15″ MBP with TB, up over $4000, after tax ($3949.00, USD retail price). The 32GB configuration isn’t available yet; and my guess it’s going to be at least a $2000 add-on.

I have no idea how individuals like me, who have a real need for that level of processing power can afford a computer that will likely cost upwards of $6000 USD. It simply doesn’t make sense. I have no idea how the high end units will sell to the guys that have traditionally purchased them.

These are guys like me – freelance writers, graphic artists, photographers, programmers, etc. They work for themselves, or for small businesses. Apple computers are some of the best computers available today. Creative professionals like these need powerful machines with a lot of RAM. Unfortunately, the 2016 MacBook Pro, fully configured with 32GB of RAM and its largest SSD, is about double what last year’s MacBook Pro cost.

So what does the Future of the MacBook Pro look like?

It looks technologically superior; but it looks really expensive. I hope Ming Chi Kuo is right. I hope that it all happens.

How it all ends up, though, only time will tell. We’ve got a few months before WWDC hits, and with us approaching mid-March, it’s unlikely we’ll see a March event. So, it’s all about timing.

Right now, it’s expensive, and the port configuration(s) aren’t moving in a direction that I think will work for everyone. Certainly, you can get around the ports “problem” and use dongles while on the go and a docking station or other port replicator while at a workstation; but that doesn’t resolve the issue. It’s a band aide at best.

I’d love to hear what you all think. What do you think about the what Ming Chi Kuo says? Do you have a Late 2016 MacBook Pro? How do you get past the port problem, or the cost? Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area below, and give me your thoughts.

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Audials Music Rocket

Get your monthly music fix with Audials Music Rocket, one of the best players available anywhere.

I’ve been a singer/ songwriter and musician most of my life. To say that I have the music in me is a bit of an understatement. Thanks, in no small measure, to the 128GB iPhone 7 Plus in my life, I’ve got my entire digital music collection with me all the time, every day, out loud. And loud it is, as I love listening to tunes while driving. It’s what I do…

Finding new music, however, can be difficult at times. Yes, there are streaming tools like Pandora and Spotify, you can get access to new streaming titles, but as I’ve said before, I like to own my music and not just lease (read: stream) it. That’s probably the biggest reason why I’m such a fan of Audials Music Rocket for Windows. It gives you access to a huge music library that you can download for free; and its available for a PC near you.

Audials Music Rocket allows you to find and download new music, fast, legally and for free. With it, you can listen to internet radio stations, podcasts and music TV broadcasts. The application offers fast downloads and will even do video to audio conversion from well-known music portals on the fly. You can save music in MP3, WMA or AAC file formats, legally and free of charge.

Audials Music Rocket will create a playlist of songs automatically once you tell it your favorite type of music, by identifying a “reference song.” Its Top Songs feature then creates the playlist to match your taste in music. With its auto play mode, AMR will automatically play that music for you, too

With its Wish List feature, Audials Music Rocket can monitor thousands of radio stations and music sites automatically. Whether you’re looking for singles, whole albums or an entire discography, AMR can find it and send you an alert when the station or site is updated. You can also use the app to update ID3 compatible song tags, album images and song lyrics, prior to adding them to your music collection.

 

I really have to admit that I didn’t want to like AMR. I’m very picky about my music apps and as such don’t venture too far from the OS or device defaults. I don’t even do a lot with Pandora, Spotify, Shazam, Last.fm or Lala. However, I was really, very pleasantly surprised by Audials Music Rocket. I really like this app; and you should, too.

The app provides a number of different ways to do new music discovery. It provides a wish list function that will also update you when new items matching your likes are found. You can download all the music to your PC and sync it to your device and update your iTunes music library as well. This… this was a very pleasant surprise, and now has me doing music discovery from my Windows machines.

While the app is a little on the expensive side for a modern desktop app, its easily offset by all of the new music you’re going to get and find. If this isn’t part of your default Windows setup, it should be. Stop what you’re doing and download the app now. You won’t be disappointed.

DOWNLOAD Audials Music Rocket

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Installing Custom ROM’s on the HTC 10

You need to start with a rooted device…

Introduction
A while back I rooted the HTC10 that HTC sent me. Since then, I’ve not done much with the device. However, I did notice that rooting it DID break OTA updates for the stock ROM that ships with the device.

I found this out after I rooted the device and a device update notification showed up from AT&T. I suspect this was the Android Nougat update that was promised, but I’ll never know. Downloading the AT&T update and trying to install it simply reboots the device directly into TWRP Recovery for HTC10 and nothing more. Trying to do anything in TWRP at that point either results in a flash error or in a file not found error.

I’ve reached out to the author of the tutorial video but haven’t received any kind of response or acknowledgement.

I figured since I rooted the device and can flash just about any available ROM for it anyway, that I should likely get to flashing. However, before I get into anything here, I really need to relate the following:

  1. YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) & No Warranty
    Anything that’s suggested in any of this text or any of the linked articles either written by me or referenced by me and written by others is done at your own risk. I’m not telling you to do anything, can’t provide you with any support; and no warranty – either real or implied – is available by or through me, Soft32.com (or its related companies) or your device OEM or mobile carrier. If you flash your device and it bricks, you’re simply outta luck. (it’s the same risk I’m taking with the same YMMV issues with my HTC10, too).
  2. It’s all Just for Fun
    I’m not suggesting or implying that you HAVE to do anything I’m writing about. I think it’s cool and I like to do it, at times…
  3. I Ain’t Goin’ Overboard
    The reason I stopped using an Android device in the first place was because supporting a rooted device can be very tedious and time consuming. I started doing it because I was bored with the stock launcher and Android distribution on the Android phones I was using. I’m going down this road again, but only with a select chosen few custom ROM’s and then certainly NOT with nightly or experimental builds.

Resources
The first thing you’re going to need is a microSD card. If you don’t have one in your HTC10, stop what you’re doing and go get one. A 32GB card can as cheap as $13 bucks on Amazon while a 64GB card can be gotten for about $21 bucks. Both of these deals are available via the same URL and are available with Amazon Prime’s 2 day delivery service. Get as big a card as you can afford. The HTC 10 will support a 128GB card.

After you’ve got an SD card in your device and its mounted and readable, you’ll need to find some ROM’s to flash to the device. Of course, the best place to find this stuff is XDA-Developers and most specifically, in my case, the HTC10 Device Forum.

Once you get to the form on XDA-Developers, you need to spend a bit of time wandering around. All of the ROM threads are prefaced with a “[ROM]” label. All the kernels with a [KERNEL] label, etc. everything is easy to spot.

[ROM] threads are likely the most interesting to most folks, especially those of us that are among the noobies of the group. Most of these threads come with an introductory post that explain everything you’d likely ever want to know (and everything you don’t) about the ROM creator, its features, issues, bugs, etc. This post will come with instructions on how to install it, as well as any needed or desired components that make this ROM special. It will also include any special instructions and gotchas that you might need to care for. Follow their instructions to the letter. You’ll want to be able to back up that claim with facts, should you need help setting things right if they turn sideways.

Read through all of that information.

It will also include any special instructions and gotchas that you might need to care for. Follow their instructions to the letter. You’ll want to be able to back up that claim with facts, should you need help setting things right if they turn sideways.

If the ROM author offers any support if and when you have problems installing the ROM, I can promise that they will be more willing to help you if you’ve followed all of their instructions and paid attention to the known issues, etc. for their ROM. If you haven’t they will likely send you packing telling you you’re on your own. That’s not me, that’s just the way this advanced crowd rolls.

[KERNEL] threads will provide instructions and download links to alternative ROM kernels that can be flashed to your device. Kernels can most likely provide a great deal of enhanced functionality to the ROM you’re using. However, since this is really the heart and soul of the ROM, you need to treat it like the “heart transplant” it feels like.

While all kernels in any device forum will work with that device, they may NOT work or work well with every ROM. Make certain you read the instructions post – again, usually the first post in the thread – and take note of any listed warnings. If there are ROM’s in the forum that don’t work and play well with any specific kernel, it will likely be listed in either the instruction post of the kernel or the ROM (or both). Heed these warnings. Don’t install a kernel that doesn’t work with your target ROM. You’ll brick your device or worse.

Flashing a Custom ROM
I’m not going to go into a great deal of detail here (there will be some) on flashing a custom ROM. There are some very specific reasons for this, and I want everyone to understand why.

  1. Flashing a Custom ROM Voids the Warranty on Your Phone
    It doesn’t matter what device you have. It doesn’t matter what custom ROM you use. If you’ve rooted your device AND you proceed to flash a custom ROM on it afterwards, you’re risk bricking the device AND you void the warranty all in one fell swoop.As such, flashing your Android device with a custom ROM shouldn’t be done lightly, or by anyone who really doesn’t know what they’re doing or getting themselves into. Recovering your device from a bad flash can be a very tricky, and very long, stressful set of activities.
  2. I’m not Taking Responsibility
    If you flash your device and it bricks, winds up in a circular boot loop (that happened to me while researching and writing this article…it’s not easy to fix), or some other nasty result, it’s not on me… It’s on you. You do this at your own risk.
  3. Your Mileage May Vary
    Not every custom ROM is built equally. You need to find ones that work for you. However, XDA Developers remains the PREMIER resource for finding rooting instructions and help and for available compatible ROM’s for your device.

If you’re still good to go with flashing a custom ROM to your previously rooted Android device – I have an HTC 10 and will be using it for this article.

Please note that my HTC 10 is still running Marshmallow and a Marshmallow compatible firmware. While I will be flashing a Nougat (Android 7) ROM on this device, my HTC 10 will still be running that Marshmallow firmware.

To flash a new ROM to your device, follow these steps.

  1. Find a ROM
    The first thing you have to do is find a ROM that you like, with the features you’re looking for. There are always a LOT of ROM’s to choose from. Pick one that you like and that has a lot of support from the developer. Most ROM posts have screen shots and informative information in the first couple of posts. Again, go through these intro posts very carefully. Any gotchas will be listed there.
  2. Copy the ROM to your SD Card
    Connect your device to your computer via cable. After allowing it to connect to your PC, copy your ROM of choice to your device’s microSD card. Depending on your PC and the type of connection you have (USB2, USB 3.x or USB-C), this may take up to 15 minutes. It usually takes about seven to ten minutes for me.
  3. Reboot to Recovery Mode
    I’ll be speaking to TWRP Recovery as defined in my article on how to root the HTC 10.Reboot your device to its bootloader and then to the recovery partition. Press and hold the power and volume down button until the device buzzes and then the device logo appears. The device’ download mode screen should appear.

    Press the volume down button twice. The blue bar should move down to highlight “reboot to bootloader.” Press the power button to accept the choice. The device will reboot into its bootloader.

    Press the volume down button three times. The blue bar should highlight the words, “Boot to Recovery Mode,” and press the power button. The device will reboot into the TWRP Recovery Partition.
  4. Begin the Installation Process
    Once TWRP has loaded, tap the Install button.

    TWRP’s select storage screen will appear. Tap the Select Storage button on the bottom left corner of the screen.

    Select the location where you copied the ROM image you downloaded earlier. If you followed my previous suggestion, you copied it to your storage card. Select the Micro SDCard radio button and tap OK.

    Select the ROM you wish to flash. The Install ZIP screen will appear, asking you to confirm your choice and to swipe right to start the process.

    The flash process will start, the LeeDroid logo will appear, and Aroma will appear.
  5. Choose your Aroma Options

    Aroma is a ROM option selection application used to collect installation and OS default options in Android ROM’s. It’s fairly straight forward and easy to navigate through. There are, SEVERAL Aroma screens. I’m not going to run through them all here, as that would unnecessarily elongate this process. It also may not be very meaningful to everyone, as my installation options are unique to my preferences. There are, however, a few screens that you need to be aware of when you go through the process. I’m going to highlight those very quickly, here.
    Do you wish to perform a full wipe?
    This comes about 5 screens into the process. If you’re installing a new version of an existing ROM on your device, you don’t have to do a full wipe. If you’re installing a never used on your device before ROM, you should always wipe your device before installing a new ROM. While you’ll need to reinstall all of your apps and tweak the ROM to your liking, you’re likely going to do a lot of that anyway. Failing to wipe your device appropriately, will likely cause it to become unbootable, as your data partition likely contains data specific to the functioning of your OLD ROM, and will conflict with the new one you’re flashing.

    Which firmware are you running?
    You are asked this on screen 7. Choose the right firmware! This process will NOT upgrade your device from one firmware version to another. It will only install the a version of Android that will run on your device; and that version must be properly configured for your device’s firmware.CHOOSE THE RIGHT OPTION HERE or risk bricking your device.
  6. Let the Install Run

    After all of your options are selected, tap the Next button to begin the actual installation.

    Let the install run. The ROM will install with the options that were selected. Tap the Next button when you’re done.
  7. Reboot the Device

    Tap the Next button. You’ll be taken to the TaDa page, indicating that you’ve successfully installed the ROM and a reboot is required.Reboot the device. Let the device do whatever the device wants to do when it reboots. It’s likely going to take a while to get through the first reboot after the flash, as well.Don’t panic.This is normal and not something to be concerned about. There are cache files that need to be created and written to internal storage, and this happens on the first boot of the device after a ROM flash.

Conclusion
Flashing a ROM on a rooted Android device is always an exciting time. In many cases, users buy a specific Android device for one of two reasons – they either love the hardware or they love the OS screens they see. It’s rarely ever both; but when that happens, its magical.

The HTC 10 I have is a truly awesome piece of hardware. I love the device, the camera, the Ice View Case; and was really NOT impressed with the version of Android that shipped with it. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t anything to write home about, either. Simply put, it allowed the device to operate. That’s about it.

Rooting your device and then installing custom ROM’s on it can be very exciting. It allows you to use functionality that the OEM or even the carrier never envisioned for the device in the first place. It allows you to extend the life of your device. I know users who find three to four different ROM’s that work with their device and then flash back and forth between the versions as the mood strikes them. If the device they own is popular and has a lot of enthusiast support, I’ve seen users do this for a period of three to four years with a single device. (Most smartphones are designed with a two year life span, max.)

Caution should be taken with any device flash, however. There are a lot of opportunities for failure and flashing the wrong type or version of a ROM on your device can easily brick it. As such, the moment you flash a custom ROM, you void the warranty on your device.

At the end of the day, READ the information the ROM author posts. Follow any and all instructions that are posted. Ask questions on the forum if you have them; and by all means… HAVE FUN!

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FEATURE REVIEW – Orbi Router

Wireless mesh networking is the latest thing in the world of Wi-Fi…

Introduction
I live in a two story home in suburban Chicago. The home is about 20 years old, and that puts its manufacture date just a few years before the introduction of Windows 95 and the public “release” of the internet.

Yes, yes… Of course, you’re right… Services like AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe were available long before that and had been giving folks access to the internet for a while. To many, that service, its UI, and everything it offered WAS the internet. However, the internet really didn’t start to heat up until 1995; and really didn’t start being made part of the standard single family home build with CAT5 cabling, until the early 2000’s.

For those older homes or those without network cabling in their walls, the easiest way to get internet access in your home has been with Wi-Fi. This is either done with a wireless access point, or more conveniently with a wireless router or cable modem/ router. Suddenly, you can get internet access all over your home… provided you have adequate signal.

And with Wi-Fi, that’s always been the big problem – adequate signal strength between your router or access point and your wireless device. No matter what you do, you’re going to run into signal interference from something in your home, whether it’s a wall or floor with wood or metal framing, copper, brass or PVC piping, electrical wiring and conduit… something is going to get in the way of your super strong, super-duper wireless router and will interfere with your access to the internet and all of its wonders.

Is the Netgear Orbi the wireless Wi-Fi router for me…? for you…? Let’s take a look at what it provides and see if it makes the cut.

Problems at Home
I’ve been in my current home for about 10 and a half years. During that time, I’ve been through 5-6 different wired and/ or wireless routers. For some reason, and I don’t know why, I seem to be on a 2-3 year cycle of replacing what appears to be “perfectly good” electronics because one day they’re workin’ just fine, and the next, they’re suckin’ up the joint.

I’ve tested the power coming into the outlets near where I have my cable modem hooked to the service cable coming into the house. Everything tests out just fine. I have no idea why I have to replace internet routers so often; but it appears that I do, as they just seem to “wear out.”

In following up with this problem, I’ve also contacted Comcast, my internet service provider, or ISP. They took one look at my cable modem and told me that my model was no longer supported. After some very frustrating and flawed, circular conversations on sending me a newer, supported model – and who was going to pay for shipping – I’m getting a new cable modem sent to me, absolutely free of charge, with Comcast covering the shipping. Its scheduled to arrive on 2016-02-03

Mesh Networking
Wireless mesh networking, or Wi-Fi systems as they are being marketed, are all the rage right now. They provide a stronger, wider reaching coverage area than traditional wireless networking solutions. The technology used here is similar to installing and using a signal repeater, a wireless access point or simply putting an additional wireless router in bridger mode; but with some very subtle, but important differences.

What makes these little bad boys better than an access point or other wireless router is the way that it repeats the signal. To understand why that is, we need to understand what mesh networking is and how it works.

Wireless access points and signal repeaters do just that – broadcast or forward on a wireless network signal; and that’s all. A mesh network Wi-Fi signal is different because in a mesh network the wireless signal is strengthened and sped up with each and every additional network node that is added to the network. The more nodes, the stronger and faster the single becomes. The denser the signal field, the better.

In a mesh network, only one node in the wireless mesh network actually needs to be directly wired to the Internet. That wired node is usually the wireless router or base station; and it shares the Internet connection wirelessly with the nearest cluster of nodes. Other wireless nodes share the signal with the node or node cluster nearest to them, etc.

Each individual node doesn’t need to be wired to anything. It only needs a power supply such as traditional AC plugs, batteries, etc. Nodes can also provide Internet connectivity to any type of internet device – wired or wireless devices – including VoIP phones, video cameras, servers, including desktop and laptop computers using traditional wired connections.

It’s this flexibility and strengthening and density of the internet connection that is making mesh networking or Wi-Fi systems so popular right now. They’re easy to setup and manage; and they provide internet connectivity to nearly any and every internet aware device – regardless of connection type.

Orbi Setup
To be very honest, this was surprisingly easy.

I’ve been using routers for home internet service since I got my first @Home internet service account back in 2000. I have a little bit of experience with these, and they are not always as intuitive and straight forward as one would hope; especially for noobies. Non-experienced users have traditionally had a great deal of trouble configuring and setting up wired and wireless routers, even in the more recent years with products that have been labeled “easy to configure.”

Home based, mesh networking is new technology (see above), and I really thought that setting up this product would be a lot different than what it turned out to be.

This was perhaps the easiest networking product I’ve ever setup. This was even easier to configure than my Apple Time Capsule.

When you get your Orbi Home Wi-Fi system, use these instructions to set it up.

  1. Connect the Router to your Cable Modem
    Unplug your cable modem and pull the backup batter so that it completely shuts down. Unplug and remove your old router (if you have one). Put the battery back in your cable modem. Wait 15 seconds and then plug your cable modem back in. Allow it to reregister on your ISP’s network.Plug an Ethernet cable from your cable modem into the yellow internet port on the back of your Orbi router.

    Plug in your Orbi router. The power LED on the back of the router should light green. If the LED doesn’t come on, press the on/off button. The LED on the TOP of your Orbi router should turn white.

  2. Position your Orbi Satellite 

    Your Orbi router should have a coverage area of at least 2000 square feet. When considering a spot for placing your Orbi, you need to consider more than the square footage of your home (mine is 2300 square feet…). You also need to consider the height of your home and how many floors you wish to provide wireless service to.I have 3 floors in my home. I have the Orbi router in my basement next to my Comcast cable modem. I have my Orbi Satellite on the opposite side of the house, in my family room, on the main floor of my home. This type of configuration blankets my entire home with Wi-Fi coverage on all three floors.

    The one thing that you have to keep in mind when positioning your satellite is that you must think in three (3) dimensions. Radio antennas provide coverage to either side of the unit as well as above and below it.

    When you plug the Orbi Satellite into an AC outlet, the power LED on the back will turn green. If it doesn’t, press the power burn. The Orbi satellite’s LED power ring will turn white and then a light magenta. It will remain a light magenta for about a minute while the satellite attempts to sync with the router.

  3. Confirm the Router Connection
    After about a minute or so, the LED power ring will turn either blue or amber.a. If the LED ring turns Blue
    The connection between the router and the satellite is functioning as intended and you’re good to go!

    b. If the LED ring turns Amber
    The connection between the router and the satellite is weak. You need to find a better place to position your satellite so that you get a stronger connection between the source of your internet connection (the router) and the satellite.

    c. If the LED ring remains Magenta
    If the LED remains magenta and you’ve already moved the satellite closer to the router, you may need to force the sync between the two units. Send someone down to the router and have them push the Sync button on the back of the router. After they’ve done that, you should press the Sync button the back of the satellite.

    If the Orbi router and satellite find each other and have a strong connection, the satellite’s LED ring will light white, then turn blue, and then turn off.

  4. Connect your Computer to the Orbi 

    Once you’re Orbi devices are setup and broadcasting a signal, you need to get in and configure them. Turn on Wi-Fi for your mobile device (phone or tablet) or your computer, and find the default Orbi network name (SSID) in your network list. Grab the box and check for the default password and then authenticate.Open your computing device’s web browser and surf to http://orbilogin.com. You will be presented with instructions on how to configure your device for the first time.

    During this time you MAY see the LED ring on your Orbi router or satellite turn back on. It may not… If it does, it should turn off once setup is complete.

Performance
I have the 75Mbps service offering from Comcast in suburban Chicago, IL. The service guarantees download speeds UP to 75Mbps and upload speeds UP to 20Mbps. Since installing the Orbi High-Performance AC3000 Tri-Band Wi-Fi System, my download speeds have been consistently well above that. I’m hitting download speeds of anywhere from 88Mbps to 92Mbps.

I’ve had a few instances of signal dropping or a complete lack of service, but that’s been confirmed to be an issue with either the service that Comcast has been providing or with their cable modem. In fact, I have a new cable modem from them that I need to install and activate. However, the signal provided by the Orbi has been strong and readily available on every floor of my home since it was brought on line.

The one issue that I need to work on with this setup is that ALL of my devices seem to be connecting to the base station and not to the satellite. I noticed this after I upgraded the firmware both devices immediately following installation. I’m not certain if that’s because I upgraded the router first and then the satellite, and everything grabbed a signal from the router instead of being more evenly distributed between the router and the satellite; or if there’s now an issue with the satellite due to the firmware flash.

I should have this all straightened out this weekend when I swap out my cable modems. I will provide an update later on this issue.

Conclusion
Make no mistake. This wireless networking system is expensive.

The Orbi High-Performance AC3000 Tri-Band Wi-Fi System retails for $399.99 for the base station and one satellite; and I’ve not really seen any real discount on this, even at Amazon. Its only $20 bucks cheaper there. It should also be noted that Amazon has the 3 node system (one base station and two satellites) for $599. Additional satellites are $249.99.

So far (when I know I have a good external service connection) this thing is smokin’ fast (and it better be for $399.99). All of my devices, including my smart TV’s and DVR’s – which historically have dropped their internet connection more than they’ve held on to it – don’t have any issues holding on to the wireless signal provided by the Orbi. I’m very pleased.

Setup was very easy, though for some reason I had a very difficult time checking for firmware updates. Uploading updated firmware to both the router and satellite was also, initially a bit problematic. I’m still having connectivity issues in the house, but I’m more convinced than ever that it’s not my equipment and is either the cable modem provided by Comcast (the old one that I need to swap out for its replacement) or is a DHCP/ DNS related issue on Comcast’s part. If the new modem hardware doesn’t resolve this, changing DNS servers within my network setup may.

Unfortunately, Comcast is the only service provider I have access to. Google has slowed down the implementation of its Google Fiber service; and unfortunately, it decided to skip Chicago anyway. My address also doesn’t qualify for AT&T Fiber; and their standard U-verse internet service simply sucks. Their plans max out at 12Mbps; and Comcast, even on a bad day can provide download speeds much, much higher than 12Mbps.

Do you have wireless internet service in your home? Do you have a separate wireless router and a cable modem, or does your cable modem also include a wireless router? Are you renting your cable modem from your ISP or did you purchase it outright? Do you have even Wi-Fi coverage in your home? Do you have weak or dead Wi-Fi spots in your home? Have you replaced your wireless router recently? Do you need to and are looking for a good replacement candidate?

I’d love to hear from you on these and other networking issues you’ve experienced lately or over the years. I’m very interested in understanding how many times you’ve had to replace a wired or wireless router in your home, especially if your cable modem does NOT provide wireless internet services. Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below, and give me information on what you’ve got going on for internet at your place..?

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Resetting your Windows PC – Part 2

It’s not as difficult or as time consuming as you may think…

Introduction
The other day, we spent a great deal of time going over the prerequisites for determining why and when you should reset your Windows PC. You can see that article here. Read that one before you follow the instructions here, if only to help you determine the best time to actually pull the trigger.

Once you decide that you really DO want to reset your PC, following the process here should insure that it gets done with the least amount of risk and stress.

How to Reset
I’m going to be doing this on a Windows 10 PC. However, the process can also be done on a Windows 8.x computer. The process will be similar, but somewhat different there.

Backup Your Data
There are a number of different ways to do this. You should be using at least one of them on your PC. Thankfully, you can use one, some or all of these together. If you don’t have some kind of restore process in place, you’re gonna be hurtin’ fer certin’ when you try to get yourself back up and running.

  1. Local Backup
    This can be as simple as you grabbing a USB flash drive and copying over the contents of your Documents, Photos, Videos and Music folders. It could also be a more formal operation that involves apps like Windows Backup or some other application that backs up some, part or all of your PC .If you go the backup app route, please understand that doing an application restore is likely going to put you back in the same boat you’re trying to get out of. When you’ve made the decision to reset your PC, restoring applications and settings will likely put the malware back on your PC as well. You’re going to have to be careful here; and if you set the app up right, it should function in the background, allowing you to continue working while it backs up your machine.Make certain that you only restore your files and application data from any backups you make.
  2. Cloud Based Backup
    Backing up your data to an offsite location, especially if it’s REALLY important to you can be the difference between getting everything back – including photos, videos, etc. as well as your Office or office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) files.This option is exactly like a local backup, except that the app that’s used uploads the backup data to a cloud based computer, in real time. Apps that fall into this category include both Backblaze or Carbonite, among others, and will involve some kind of a monthly or yearly subscription fee to store your data.Like the local backup option, apps that work here are likely those that you setup once and then simply let run in the background. These set ’em and forget ’em apps can constantly backup your PC, and do it with little to no intervention from you.
  3. Cloud Based Data Storage
    Backing up your data is easy when you use apps like Dropbox, Google Drive , OneDrive or other similar program. The nice thing about apps like this is that they are cross platform and available to install on just about any type of mobile device or computer, meaning you can sync and access your data from just about anywhere. Having a backup solution like this is the very basic of backup steps and should be done regardless of whether you have a local or cloud based backup of your data (or both).Like local and cloud based backups, this option may or may not involve a subscription fee for storage, so you’ll need to insure that you have enough cloud based storage available when you set up the app. If you need more than you get for free, you’ll need to pay for it. Make certain that everything is synchronized before you reset.PLEASE NOTE: Many cloud based data storage products have best in class malware screening products monitoring their storage media. I have yet to see a virus get past any of these products and transferred BACK down to your PC, post restore. However, this is NOT infallible.

Actually doing the Reset
To perform a reset of your PC, follow these steps

  1. Open the Windows 10 Settings App.
  2. Tap on Backup. If you backup with Windows 10, use these sets of screens and this process to back up your PC to save your data, OR follow the instructions I noted above.
  3. Tap on Recovery.
  4. Tap the Get Started button under Reset this PC
  5. Choose an Option. Keep your data or completely wipe the entire computer. Wiping the entire computer will delete everything and is considered a “factory reset.” It is the most reliable option when trying to delete malware that can’t be removed by other tools.
  6. Choose an Option. Clean your drive(s) or just reset all the system files. More often than not, if you’re removing everything, it’s a good idea to remove the files and clean the hard drive. It’s the best way to prevent malware from resurfacing afterwards.
  7. Are you REALLY sure? If you’ve recently upgraded your machine to Windows 10 (the free upgrade options have reportedly come back…), you’re going to get a Warning dialog asking you to confirm, instructing you that you won’t be able to go back to your PREVIOUS version of Windows (because you’re about to erase that backup from your hard drive).
  8. Ready to Reset. This is the LAST chance you’re going to get to stop the process. If you tap the Reset button, your computer is going to be erased and everything that it once was will be gone, restored to factory freshness.
  9. Choose an Option. After you’re done, you get a chance to turn off your PC, explore other troubleshooting options or to exit the Recovery partition and run Windows 10 for the “first” time. Tap Continue.
  10. Set up your PC. Reinstall all of your applications. If you backed up your data with a local or cloud based backup app, install that first and then restore your data. If you used a cloud based data synching service like Dropbox, Google Drive , OneDrive or other similar program, reinstall it and pull all of your data back down

After your data restore is done, you should install your anti-malware app and rescan your PC for it. If its back, then you know your data is infected. However, it will more than likely turn up clean, and you should be all set.

If you’ve used the Windows 10 Reset PC feature, I’d love to hear from you. Tell me how things went for you and share your results in the Discussion area, below.

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Resetting your Windows PC – Part 1

In many respects, it’s a lot like resetting your phone…

Introduction
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for Soft32 called iDevice Restore Gotchas. It’s a good read.

In that article, I covered a few basic points about resetting your device. Without rehashing the entire article – again, you can read it called here – I did cover 3 important points

  1. Don’t Fear the Hard Reset – sometimes it’s the best way to get rid of all the crap, especially if you have a deep rooted virus or piece of malware/ spyware that just will NOT go away.
  2. Make Sure you have a Solid Internet Connection – iDevices always, ALWAYS call home to ask permission before allowing you to completely blow them away, and if you don’t have one or are using your iDevice to provide internet connectivity, the process will fail; and then you’re really gonna be up a creek without a paddle…
  3. Don’t Connect your Smartphone to your PC through a USB Hub – the restore process is going to work better (read: won’t work at all through a hub…) with a direct connection, and you won’t have any technology headaches to trouble shoot.

All of these points are still relevant with the latest set of iDevices, and quite honestly, most every other mobile device out there. They’re also relevant with your Windows based PC, if its running Windows 10, and if you’re having troubles with it, the reasons for looking into this process are actually quite compelling.

At the end of the day, they can save your tens of hours of analysis time and a ton of money on ulcer and headache remedies with just a bit of planning and the new refresh and restore procedures in Windows 10. Let’s take a quick look…

Why Reset
There are a number of reasons why you might want to reset your Windows PC. You may have a virus or other piece of malware or spyware that, despite your best efforts, just can’t or won’t be removed. You may want to pass on your PC on to a friend or family member; or you may want to sell it or donate it to a charitable organization. Regardless of WHY you need or want to reset the machine, resetting it is often easier to do than actually taking the time to trouble shoot or perform some other deep cleaning or maintenance.

In many cases, the best thing to do is to nuke your machine from orbit and start over. Sometimes, fighting the good fight means retreating and not engaging.

When to Reset
So… ok. You’ve solved the “why” portion of this equation; but you’ve got all these apps and all this data. When do you actually do this? When do you tell yourself to stop, drop back and punt? That’s both simple, and complicated.

However, figuring out WHEN to do a reset really involves the severity of the problems you’ve been bumping into and how much time you have to burn. More often than not, its easier, less time consuming and less stressful to simply burn everything to the ground than to try to fix a specific problem, especially in the case of malware. More often than not, Windows based malware will bury itself so deeply within the OS, that it doesn’t want to come out without a fight, if it does at all.

I’ve had partially disabled malware repair itself and come back to life. Yeah… that was really an eye opener.

So, when do you actually declare “defeat” and actually DO the reset? That’s an excellent question. The best way to answer it though would be for you to do a bit of thinking

  1. What’s my Time Worth?
    Try to put a monetary value on your time. When you hit your gag reflex on the “cost,” consider pulling the reset trigger
  2. How “Bad” is the Problem?
    There are resources on the internet that can tell you a great deal about different kinds of malware and how difficult they are to remove. Solvusoft has a decent Malware Encyclopedia. Trend Micro has a good database, with some decent information that explains what each type of worm, virus, etc. does; and rates how difficult it is to remove. When you have more than one rating category with a red or critical rating, and you know your infected, the problem is probably a little more than, “bad.”
  3. Has your Virus Scanner Failed to Remove the Threat?
    If you can’t get rid of the bug with the anti-malware product you have, try an “off line” product like Fix Me Stick. Its fully compatible with Windows and should be able to remove most bugs without damaging your data.

I’ve yet to find a virus that it couldn’t remove (though in all honesty, it may take more than one scan to take care of everything…). Its well worth the $60 bucks a year (for up to 3 computers) that the service costs. However, not all virus scanners are created equally; and in many cases, some viruses just refuse to be removed.

You’re likely going to find yourself in a situation here that requires you to subjectively weigh the answers to these three questions and then make a decision. My experience, especially with malware, is that its always better to be safe than sorry.

Come back next time. I’ll have complete instructions on how to get this job done the easiest way possible.

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