Proactive Computing | Optimizing IT for usability, performance and reliability since 1997

Month: December 2020 (Page 2 of 24)

How to Use Shortcuts Directly From iPhone and iPad Home Screen

There is a myriad of ways to launch a shortcut, including from the shortcuts app, Siri, and widgets. But the fastest way is by using a home screen shortcut. Here’s how to use shortcuts directly from the iPhone and iPad home screen.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Khamosh Pathak

This quick and clever tool creates an instant homepage for your podcast

Podcast homepages weren’t something I gave any thought to until I launched my own standalone show. And honestly, even then I probably didn’t give enough thought to the subject. For that reason, many or most of my shows have Tumblr pages — which is, at best, a bit of a mixed blessing in 2020.

The biggest reason many podcasters give little consideration to the subject is the fact that most people are platform-dependent when it comes to listening. People who consume a lot of podcasts generally do so through a single platform/app, be it Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Castbox, etc. But when it comes to actually promoting your show on social media, you’re best served by sharing a link that’s platform agnostic.

I’ve been playing around with Podpage a bit today. The new offering was created by Brenden Mulligan, co-founder of app developer toolbox LaunchKit, which sold its tools to Google way back in 2016. The offering has been around for a while now, but Mulligan has offered some updates and recently listed it on ProductHunt.

I’m digging it so far. It’s basically plug-and-play to get up and running, though you can customize a fair bit beyond that. For reference, a simple page I made this morning for my podcast, RiYL:

Image Credits: Brian Heater

After a couple of hours, I’m pretty seriously considering dropping the long-standing Tumblr in favor of the service. My page is pretty simple so far, and honestly, that’s by design. Or, rather, partially by design and partially due to the fact that I haven’t been very good about updating episode art, which has kind of limited my options here (perhaps I’ll go through the 400+ episodes on some future rainy day).

You start by entering your podcast name, and the service goes to work, scraping the relevant information and building it into a page. From there, you can add a Patreon (or other method for monetization) and all related social media. One of the nice things about having a purpose-built service like this is how it pulls together all of the relevant information into a single spot. The sidebar features a breakdown of the different podcatchers where you can listen to the show, coupled with a signup form to get show updates.

On the bottom are a selection of reviews from different podcasting services. Up top is a link to the services where you can leave that feedback. There’s also a subscription link and contact form, which is a handy way of allowing people to email you without giving out personal information. Notes submitted to the form will be sent to your associated email.

The basic experience is free and there are currently two upgrade options. At $5 a month, you can host it on your own website and for $12, there are a bunch more customization options, along with a more fully featured website, including blog functionality and the ability to add transcripts.

Note: Changes to the Full-Text RSS free service

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Brian Heater

How to See How Much RAM Is in Your Chromebook

RAM is important when it comes to how well your computer runs. Chromebooks require less RAM than other computers running Windows 10 or macOS. Still, you might feel like you need more. We’ll show you how to find out how much RAM your Chromebook has.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Joe Fedewa

A Beginners’ Guide to Smart Living

smart-living-mobile-phone-1.jpg An automated home was a futuristic pipe dream not too long ago. However, as the second decade of the 2000s comes to an end, “smart living” is a burgeoning tech market. In this piece, we look at how to start creating a smart home. Before that, let’s outline why you’d want a smart home in the first place. What Smart Living Means (And Why You’d Want to Do It) For the uninitiated, smart living refers simply to automating aspects of your home – usually mundane tasks. For example, it could be that you set your… Read more

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Tom Rankin

Epic has a stern warning about buying and selling Fortnite accounts

Though many items eventually make their way back into Fortnite‘s Item Shop, some are far less common than others — and many skins are exclusives in one way or another, making them rare. If you started playing the game later than everyone else, you may be tempted to buy an older Fortnite account for its classic and rare skins — … Continue reading

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Brittany A. Roston

What Is “Binning” for Computer Components?

You might not realize it, but every time you purchase a new desktop CPU, you also get a ticket for a giveaway called the “silicon lottery.” Two CPUs of the same model can perform differently when pushed to their limits thanks to something called “CPU binning.”

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Ian Paul

How to Make Calls from Windows 10 Using an Android Phone

If your computer runs Windows 10 and you also have an Android phone, you should probably be using Microsoft’s Your Phone app. You can do a lot with it, including making and receiving phone calls on your PC. Let’s do it!

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Joe Fedewa

Which Streaming Gadget Should You Buy: Roku, Fire TV, or Chromecast?

roku, Fire TV, and Chromecast

At this point, the set top box market has settled on three major choices—or rather, two major choices and a dark horse. For most consumers who want something besides their smart TV’s built-in interface, or who are shopping for a new TV and want a widely supported UI baked in, you’ve got a choice between Roku, Fire TV, and Chromecast.

All three are preinstalled on many televisions, mostly budget brands: TCL, Hisense, Element, and Philips, Toshiba, and Insignia all offer TVs with either Roku or Fire TV baked in. Sony, the one premium brand to buck the trend of custom-built operating systems, uses Android TV (aka Google TV, aka the new Chromecast, because Google sucks at branding).

But in various forms and flavors, all three of them can be added on to an existing TV, and there’s a good reason to do so: All of them are better-supported and more expandable than, say, the prebaked TV operating systems that come from LG, Samsung, and Vizio. And they’re all extremely accessible, with 4K streaming capabilities at the $50 level (or lower), so they’re a good add-on to even a budget TV.

To be frank, all three smart TV platforms are pretty good at this point, with years and years of development behind them and mostly universal support from the major streaming services. Trying to choose between them comes down to small details, but it’s hard to go truly wrong.

Roku: For Bargain Hunters and Fans of Simplicity

roku Ultra with remoteRoku

Roku gets our top spot for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the most widely available: In pretty much any electronics store, online or brick-and-mortar, you’re going to find both Roku streaming sticks and TVs preloaded with Roku software. You might even find a soundbar or two that runs it. And all of them are going to be inexpensive compared to other options in the same form factor.

But Roku is also the most focused of the popular smart TV platforms, if only because its approach is somewhat old-fashioned. Roku’s homepage is about the apps, just the apps, ma’am: Users see a grid of the services they can access, plus live TV and HDMI inputs if their TV is Roku-branded. You have to go into the apps themselves to start browsing content. And thanks to a recent update, Roku also finally has access to HBO Max.

In contrast, both Fire TV and Android TV/Chromecast tend to blast you with recommendations for individual shows and movies. There’s an argument to be made for putting the content front and center, but we still think dividing it into individual apps and services is easier to manage. That is an entirely subjective determination, by the way—if you disagree, you’re not wrong, and Roku probably isn’t for you.

Roku’s downside is performance. While Roku is dead simple, focusing on breaking that content into individual apps makes it slower, especially if you’re switching from one service to another. If you want to check and see if Netflix has more seasons of the show you’re watching than Hulu does, it’s going to take you a few more seconds on a Roku device. Roku is also less extensible than its competitors, with few options for non-TV apps, games, and tools, and voice control that’s limited to search.

Which Roku to Buy

For TVs with Roku built in, TCL is the pretty clear winner. They offer a variety of models at different price points, though they’re lacking the super-high-end option for those with an unlimited budget. The 5 series is a good middle ground.

The Best Roku-Powered TV

TCL 55″ 5-Series 4K UHD Dolby Vision HDR QLED ROKU Smart TV – 55S535

This midrange TV is affordable, gorgeous, and runs Roku for managing streaming apps, inputs, and over-the-air television.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive streamer, you can’t go wrong with the Roku Streaming Stick+. With a super-easy remote control, support for 4K HDR content, and an HDMI dongle that can be powered by the USB maintenance port on most TVs, it’s the simplest way to add tons of streaming apps to a big screen.

The Best Inexpensive Roku

Roku Streaming Stick+ | HD/4K/HDR Streaming Device with Long-range Wireless and Voice Remote with TV Controls

This super-cheap Roku will do everything you need it to, and do it in 4K.

For those who need a little more oomph with their stream, the latest version of the Roku Ultra is where it’s at. On top of all of the capabilities of the stick above, the Ultra adds an Ethernet port for hardwired stability, lost remote finder, compatibility with Bluetooth audio streaming, and support for Dolby Atmos. You can also plug wired headphones directly into the remote for private listening. Note that the Roku Streambar does all of that, too, with an included budget sound bar on top.

Fire TV: For All Amazon, All the Time

Fire TV Stick 4KAmazon

If you go with an Amazon-powered streaming device or TV, you’re not missing out on much in terms of content: It’s compatible with every major streaming service, even including Amazon’s hardware and content competition, YouTube and Apple TV.

What Amazon offers is integration with its corporate retail empire—which might be a good thing, if you’re already all-in on it. Those who subscribe to Amazon Prime Video and who already have tons of Alexa-powered smarthome gear are obviously the primary customers here, though you can use Fire TV to play video via subscription and free services all the live-long day. Just be prepared to see ads for Amazon’s video content more or less everywhere outside of those apps.

Amazon also has an advantage that Roku lacks: add-ons to its Prime service. If you like, you can treat Prime like a basic cable package, adding on extras like HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Stars, CBS All Access, PBS Kids, and many more, for between $5 and $15 a month. Nothing’s stopping you from subscribing to those services separately from Amazon and watching them in their own apps, but going through Amazon lets you get to them in the standard Fire interface, no extra apps required.

YouTube TV does this, too, but there are a lot fewer people that actually use that service. The add-on factor is a definite consideration if you’re already all-in on Amazon. Helpfully, all of those add-on subscriptions can be activated and deactivated at any time, just like their stand-alone versions. So you can binge a bunch of HBO shows one month, then go over to Starz for its shows the next.

Which Fire TV to Buy

At the time of writing, only Toshiba and Insignia include Fire TV as their television’s default operating system. Toshiba is the clear winner there, though bargain hunters might be tempted by Insignia (which is the “house brand” of Amazon’s competitor Best Buy, oddly).

Best TV running Amazon Fire TV OS

Toshiba 55 LED 4K UHD Fire TV Edition

This mid-range TV from Toshiba runs at 5K with HDR, and packs in the Fire TV operating system to boot.

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is almost the same device as the Roku Streaming Stick+, above, or at least the same form factor. It can handle 4K resolution and HDR, as even cheap TVs have now, with enough oomph in its processor to handle switching between multiple services. It also has a voice-powered remote, though you still have to press a button. It also supports Dolby Atmos and Dolby vision.

Best Budget Fire TV device

Fire TV Stick 4K streaming device with Alexa Voice Remote | Dolby Vision | 2018 release

The Fire TV Stick 4K can made the most out of your 4K TV, while supporting all the apps you want with Alexa smarthome integration.

Upgrading beyond the Fire TV Stick 4K isn’t really necessary. There is the Fire TV Cube, which adds on support for an Ethernet connection and a faster processor. But its big selling point is that it has an Alexa smart speaker built in … and if you’re set on Amazon as a smarthome platform, you almost certainly have one in your living room already.

Best Premium Fire TV device

Fire TV Cube | Hands-free streaming device with Alexa | 4K Ultra HD | 2019 release

The Fire TV Cube is only a necessary upgrade if you want an Alexa speaker in your living room and don’t already have one, or you demand an Ethernet connection for your content.

Chromecast: More Options, More Issues

Chromecast with remote and power cordJustin Duino

The newest version of the Chromecast isn’t really a Chromecast anymore: it’s “Chromecast with Google TV,” which is to say, Android TV, which is a full operating system. What does that mean? It means that Google is really bad at telling you what stuff does. But more actionably, it means that in addition to being able to “cast” video and music from your phone, laptop, etc., Chromecast has all the standalone app capabilities of its competitors.

That’s both a good and a bad thing. It’s great if you’re a fan of using a remote instead of your phone, for example: Now you can use a familiar “couch” interface instead of poking a phone screen (though the phone screen is still an option, too!). But the new Google TV interface is also a lot less baked than either Roku or Amazon, and has a tendency to try and get you to watch things from services you aren’t actually subscribed to. It’s not as good at learning your habits as Amazon, and not as focused on specific apps or services as Roku. That said, it has tight integration with Google Assistant, so you can use it for all of the normal searches and smart home control if you already have an Assistant-powered home.

But the new Chromecast gets some benefit from years of Android TV development, too. There are a ton of interesting apps for it, like the MX local video player or AirScreen for mirroring a Mac display. Android TV also has a much better selection of games than Fire TV, and it can connect to standard Bluetooth controllers, including the Xbox and PlayStation variety. That also means that you can play games remotely, through services like Steam Link, GeForce NOW, and Stadia.

Wait, Google launched its own new set top box platform with support for games, but without support for its own streaming game platform? Yeah, that’s kind of Google’s approach to its products in a nutshell. The new Chromecast is a lot more capable than the competition in terms of both hardware and software, but some odd choices mean that this only matters if there’s something fairly specific you want to do with that extra power. That said, Google confirmed that Stadia will be coming to the Chromecast with Google TV sometime in 2021.

Which Chromecast or Android TV to Buy

Only Sony offers a full Android TV operating system built into its televisions, but many lower-price smart TV systems (including Roku) are compatible with Chromecast streaming. Sony’s sets range from “expensive” to “ridiculously expensive,”  but the X800H series runs Android TV and is at least somewhat attainable.

Best TV with Built-In Android

Sony X800H 55 Inch TV: 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV with HDR and Alexa Compatibility – 2020 Model

Sony’s Triluminous displays offer excellent picture quality, and it’s the only major manufacturer that builds Android TV in as the base operating system.

For those on a budget and who want a great selection of add-on apps and games, the new Chromecast with Google TV is the best bet. It’s extremely affordable, though that little extra power means you’ll need an open wall outlet, even though it has a “dongle” form factor. It supports 4K HDR, comes with a remote, and can still handle casting duties from your phone.

Best Budget Android TV/Chromecast Device

Chromecast with Google TV

The new Chromecast is way more than a Chromecast, and its extra app and game capabilities make it worthy of consideration over Roku and Amazon.

If you want to really push your 4K television to the limit, for both streaming content and games, the NVIDIA SHIELD TV is the way to go. Not only does it have a surprising amount of power for games (it’s running on very similar hardware to the Nintendo Switch), its “AI” upscaling capability makes even older streaming content look amazing in 4K. Throw in a MicroSD card, or opt for the more capacious “Pro” model, and you can even use it as a Plex server.

Best High-end Android TV streamer

NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV 4K HDR Streaming Media Player; High Performance, Dolby Vision, Google Assistant Built-In, Works with Alexa

The SHIELD TV has long been the gold standard for high-powered set-top boxes, and the newest model is even better.

A Final Note: Apple TV

Apple TV and remoteApple

If you’re a fan of Apple’s mobile and computer hardware, you might be wondering: What about Apple TV? And if you’re already an Apple fan, then you’re probably already thinking about buying one. For you, and specifically you, it might be a good idea.

Apple TV is a lot like Android TV: It has all the basic capabilities of a standard streaming box, plus the ability to easily broadcast video from your Apple devices. If you’re already all-in on Apple, especially if you pay for the Apple TV+ service (which is available on other platforms) or Apple Arcade (which is not), it makes sense to get the official Apple TV 4K set-top box.

But with a starting price of triple most of the options on this list, despite offering little benefit beyond Apple integration, it’s a high cost to pay for integration. And even some Apple fans aren’t a fan of its overly simplified remote design. So unless you play a lot of Apple Arcade games, or you’re constantly streaming directly from your iPhone or MacBook, it’s probably not worth the splurge.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider

Amazon still hasn’t fixed its problem with bait-and-switch reviews

Our $24 drone. You can see the missing propeller on the right.

Enlarge / Our $24 drone. You can see the missing propeller on the right. (credit: Timothy B. Lee / Ars Technica)

Like thousands of other parents, I decided to get my kids a cheap drone for Christmas. I spent $24 for a plastic flying machine with rudimentary collision-avoidance capabilities. A plastic cage mostly kept small fingers away from the four propellers. The kids were delighted for the first couple of hours.

Then my five-year-old daughter somehow managed to get one of the propellers stuck in her hair. The drone was never the same after that. Instead of hovering in the air, it started veering crazily to one side and falling to the floor. A couple of hours later, I noticed that another propeller—not the one that had grabbed my daughter’s hair—had fallen off entirely. Now when you toss it up it immediately flips over and plunges to the floor.

The kids enjoyed the drone so much in its few brief hours of functionality that I thought I might buy them another one. (Hopefully this one would avoid my daughter’s hair.) If I did more research and spent a bit more money, I hoped I could find a higher-quality model that wouldn’t fall apart after a few hours.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Timothy B. Lee

How to Hide or Remove System Preference Panes on Mac

If you use a Mac, you’ve probably configured your machine with System Preferences, which includes individual configuration sections called “preference panes.” But few people know that you can easily hide or even remove those panes. Here’s how to do it.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Benj Edwards

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