‘Place-shifting’ technology, pioneered by companies like Sling Media with its SlingBox and SlingPlayer Mobile service, has proved popular with consumers but has not always lived up to expectations when the content is streamed and the end user device is a smartphone.

Now however AT&T, the US telecommunications group, has rolled out a new free iPhone and Blackberry Torch app that it claims will enable subscribers to its U-verse IPTV service to download and watch select TV episodes on their device over a Wi-Fi network as well as schedule DVR recordings.

Paul Taylor road tests the new generation of high-tech phones

He writes: “I have to admit that when I first saw the HTC Magic smartphone at the Global World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year, I thought it looked rather uninteresting.

But since I managed to get my hands on the US version – the T-Mobile USA myTouch 3G, which goes on sale next week – I have changed my mind.”

Paul Taylor continues to answer your gadgetry questions. Visit his updated Gadget guru page to see  questions and answers on the latest gizmos, software and tech services.

Comment

Your article is very good and I found it to be very useful. Two more things I think would have looked pretty well on that list: GIMP , the equivalent of Photoshop – very good free professional piece of software, and BLENDER, the free 3D package also used by professionals.

From Bogdan Suman

Response

Thanks. I have posted an extended version of the column online with extra categories including digital image manipulation and included GIMP which, as you say is an excellent free package but I had not come across Blender so I will take a look and add it to my list for next time.

The Question:

I read your feature on the Blackberry Storm with interest. I am an academic who travels a lot and is involved in email activity about an hour a day. I have been thinking of moving to a Blackberry.

My query is that I will shortly be based in Australia and want something that operates in north America and elsewhere. I also want a contract sourced (probably in Australia?) but enabling economical use around the world. Is this specification to hard to meet and if not how do I do it?

From Peter FairbrotherThe Answer:

Actually it should be fairly straightforward to meet most of  your requirements with any of the GSM/GPRS/Edge/HSDPA-based BlackBerrys, for example the Blackberry Bold which I recently reviewed and which is available through three Australian operators, Vodafone, Optus and Telestra.

Outside Australia it would ‘roam’ onto a local GSM…HSDPA network, for example AT&T or T-Mobile USA in the US.

The only issue you would have is that, as you know, roaming charges can be very steep so I would checkout whether any of the Australian operators offer a reduced price international data plan. If not, you may want to consider other options, for example accessing your email via the web while travelling and putting a local SIM card in your BlackBerry for voice calls.

Another alternative is to use the Bold’s WiFi radio exclusively to send and receive email while abroad.

The Question

I have 2 teenage sons who are desperate for an Xbox.  We have survived without a TV since before we had children and do not want to acquire one now.  Will they be able to use Xbox with our PC flat screen monitor?  If so, which version would you recommend?

From Hedda Bird

The Answer

 

Yes this is possible and should not be a problem though the type of cable you will need depends on the connections on the back of your flat screen monitor.

Assuming the monitor has speakers (or speakers can be attached to it)  a standard VGA port (usually blue coloured with three rows of pins with five pins in each row) in addition to the xbox360 you will need to buy an xbox360-to-VGA cable (sold by most game shops).

With this set-up you will have to plug and unplug your PC/xbox360 each time you change from computing to playing games or back again.  Alternatively, could  but a KVM switch (a small box into which you plug the PC mouse, keyboard and monitor cable and the monitor cable from the xbox360) and then plug the KVM switch into the monitor using another VGA-to-VGA cable. With this set up you will be able to switch from computing to game playing without unplugging the cables.

If the monitor does not have speakers – or any way to connect speakers – it is more complicated because the xBox sound is carried through the VGA cable . You might be able to use a different type of cable (a component cable provided the monitor supports this type of connection and plug the audio cables into powered speakers)  but then  you may find it is easier to buy a cheap TV (and not connect an antenna.)

The Question I recently bought a MacBook Pro with the latest operating system and, being an old-timer, am working hard in getting the system running as it should.

As an avid FT reader I was pleased to take note of your excellent article (“Fast work for slow PCs”). To my great pleasure you provided also myself with a valuable piece of information (in the Q&A subsection): I should keep the Mac running during the nights for an automatic maintenance routine. Nobody told me about this when I bought the machine and you cannot see this information anywhere in the brochures and on-line infos Apple is providing us with. Thanks a lot, Paul, for helping me out with this!

Dare I address you with a question of my own?

I have noted that several programmes (Microsoft, Acrobat and Apple itself) regularly send me notice of on-line updates. I follow the routines they suggest for this, which demand me to present my password as administrator. So far so good, everything has worked smoothly. So I did not suspect anything when I recently received a notice for update (not having any of those logos). As usual, I was asked for and provided my password as administrator. Thereafter, there seemed a quick movement on the screen, but none of the usual requests to read and accept statements and none of the prolonged work of the computer with reading the new file and introducing it in the machine.

This got me thinking: Have I been subject to an intrusion into my machine, for instance, by a Trojan who henceforth is copying my inputs, when writing on the desk? In that context, Paul, can you recommend a programme to install, or routines to apply, that will help me determine, whether an intrusion indeed has occured and, if so, help me to ward it off?

From Emil

The Answer

Let me deal with your question first. In generally Macs are much more secure than Windows-based PCs because of their operating system and because frankly Mac users are a much smaller target than Windows PC users for cyber criminals.

One result of this is that there are relatively few third party security software products available for Macs. One of the few is Symantec’s Norton Personal Firewall 3.0 for Windows  which should block most trojan horse attacks and makes you Mac ‘invisible’ to potential intruders. Symantec and Intego also sell Mac antivirus programs (Norton AntiVirus 11 and Virusbarrier X5). If you plan on running Windows software on your Mac you should also install a Windows antivirus suite on your virtual PC. Symantec and Intego also offer dual protection products for Mac users who run both Windows and OS X software on their machines.

Perhaps more imporatntly, it is a good idea to install an anti-phishing program like Norton Confidential that works with both Safari and Firefox browsers.

On your first point, while it is not necessary to leave your new Mac on every night, it is certainly a good idea to do so most of the time, or use a free utility like MacJanitor from time to time. You may also find this post on Mac Forums  by ‘Mac57′ in response to a question about slowing Macs useful.

The Question

Is there any way I can access UK TV in New Zealand.

From James Mackie

The Answer

Yes, if you can persuade a friend or family member to hook up a place shift device like a  SlingBox to their TV in the UK you would be able to sign into the Slingbox account on the web and watch it on a PC or, if you add a Slingcatcher, on a TV in New Zealand.Depending on what you want to watch you may also find that the content is available on the web. You can use a video-based search engine like Blinkx or Truveo  to find what you are looking for.

Comment

I read your article in the FT newspaper about Xmas shopping tips. You seems not to appreciate Nokia and its product offering as there was no mention of them neither in Smartphones category nor in Music section. Given Nokia have 45% marketshare in Smartphones (and some really good products this year) and most innovative in 2008 in digital Music download business (with tempting Come With Music offering threatening iTunes, al-carte music, etc.) its not fair. Thoughts?

From Dheeraj

Response

I’m afraid I cannot agree with you on Nokia. The market share figures are based on Gartner’s rather odd definition of smartphones which in turn is based on operating systems and means that Nokia counts all of its N and E series devices as smartphones even though non of them (untill the N97 which wont be available till sometime in the 2009 first half) support more advanced features like touch interfaces (like the iPhone, G1 etc) , open access (like the G1) or an online App Store (like the iPhone, G1 etc.)

With the exception of the E series, most do not have a full virtual or physical keyboard needed for heavy duty messaging (like most BlackBerries) and until recently few supported either GPS or WiFi. In fact, although I think both the E series and N series handsets are excellent devices, Nokia has largely lagged the smartphone market in terms of innovation and, because of its delayed launch, the N97  carries on this unfortunate tradition – all the sadder since Nokia invented the smartphone market withe the Communicator Series.

Nokia, by its own admission has slipped up in the smartphone market and let others like RIM, Apple and now HTC take market share from it. Not only does Nokia lack a full portfolio of smartphones aimed at different sub-segments (eg Touch) it has also failed to penetrate the US market despite acknowledging that the US market is vital to its future.

Therefore, while Nokia smartphones are well known in Europe, they are virtually unheard of in the US.If the N97 had been available now, it would have ranked among my top smartphone picks, as it is, I fear it will be outclassed by the time it actually launches – just as the N95 was.

On music the story is similar, the Comes with Music service is currently only available in the UK and on very few devices. While it does indeed have the potential to challenge other services like iTunes, Rhapsody, Slacker etc, Nokia has yet to prove that it can scale the offering or that it can persuade other device markets and perhaps most importantly – carriers – to support it.

The Nokia 5300 is an interesting music- orientated device, but is in my view not as sophisticated as other music phone offerings including some from rival manufacturers.

Hopefully by next Xmas Nokia will have delivered on its promise to expand and update its smartphone portfolio and roll out music and other internet-based services more completely. Until then I remain a skeptic.

Comment

I look forward to reading your reviews on technology in the FT but I sincerely believe you performed a disservice to your readers in you recent article on maintenance utilities.  I am a CTO with twenty years of front line experience in dealing with technology issues.  In my experience the utilities you promoted this morning are akin to mail order male enhancement products that at best do no harm and at worst add to the problem.  

If a PC is slow in a business environment we reimage it; no questions asked.  In the home environment it goes without saying that entropy will bring the best computers to their knees over the course of a couple of years.  Perhaps you can squeeze out a little extra performance by tweaking a few settings (turn off system restore, adjust the virtual disk, defrag, uninstall) but it will not compare to the performance you experienced the day you received the unit.   

Fortunately a few manufactures make it very easy for end users to restore their computers to a pristine state.  As an example Lenovo includes the ability to restore a PC to its original state while saving all data on all of their ThinkPad’s by simply pressing the F11 key at boot up and making three menu choices.  That’s the kind of utility I can get behind!

From Joseph Curran

 Response

Thanks for your email. Actually I agree with you that the best way to tackle the problem of a slowing PC (or spyware infested machine) is indeed to wipe it and start again or use one of the ‘step back’ imaging utilities supplied with ThinkPads and some other machines.

Unfortunately however, in my experience unless a  PC comes with this (clearly signposted) option, most PC users outside of a corporate environment do not have the expertise (or the original software) required to do this.

As you suggest, the solution is to make a full image of the PC hard drive using software like Acronis True Image soon after acquiring the machine but after deleting any trialware and installing applications like Office.

If however you have an aging PC  but dont have a clean disk image (or no longer have the original operating system and application discs) then clean-up software of the type I was writing about may be the only option.  While I agree that some PC optimisation software is pretty poor, I actually thing TuneUp does a pretty good job, and is particularly suitable for non-techie PC users who perhaps lack your skills and experience.

About Paul Taylor

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I am the FT's personal technology columnist and this blog is about gadgets, gizmos, software and services. It is a place to ask personal technology related questions and hopefully get answers in plain English. It is also a home for short, sometimes sharp, reviews and observations about the personal tech industry. Comments and criticism are welcome. For a bit more on my background, see my columnist page.