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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Featured Review – Voila Screen Capture for Mac

Capture screen shots and video clips with this much needed Mac utility

voila-logo@2x

I’ve been a freelance writer for over 20 years.  I’m also a software QA guy.  I’ve always had a need for a screen capturing tool.  I either want to take screen shots of the programs I’m reviewing or of the errors in the software that I’m testing.  I’m actually a bit of a screen shot-aholic. Most everything that I do either for my writing gig here at Soft32 or during the day for my software testing job requires me to take screen shots of something.  This is why I really like Voila Screen Capture for Mac.  It’s a really cool utility for your Mac.

Voila is an ‘all-in-one’ screen capture solution that can capture, edit and share anything on your computer’s screen. Users can also video record the screens of their iOS device, like an iPhone or iPad in full resolution. After a screenshot is captured or recorded, the user can then share them on popular websites, send via e-mail or print using the buttons located on the UI. A complete set of tools including different capture methods, full webpage recording as well as easy sharing options make for a comprehensive and complete application that saves time and is easy to use.

Voila captures video with audio in high quality. You can capture the whole screen, or simply a user defined section. You can also capture video on your connected iDevice as well.

Voila captures full and partial screen stills as well.  Voila has a flexible capture option that allows you to grab full or user defined areas of your screen. If needed, you can also capture entire web pages along with important metadata like page title, menus and other page elements.

Once you get your screen grabs, you can also annotate them using different fonts, shapes, blur options and speech bubbles, or callouts. Once you have everything set, Voila can also help you manage your screen shot collections.  You can group similar images and videos together using custom labels.  You can add titles, tags and descriptions so you can catalog and search for just the media object you need.

Voila Screen Capture for Mac is a decent application.  It starts when you start your Mac and sits in the Menu Bar until its needed.  You’re supposed to be able to activate it via a set of user-definable hot keys, but these didn’t work consistently for me.  More often than not, pressing the hot key combinations didn’t do anything at all on my El Capitan powered 15″ MacBook Pro.

Download

VSCM-01 VSCM-02

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Here Comes the iPad Pro

A replacement candidate for the Surface Pro 3 has been identified…

iPad-Pro-Smart-Keyboard

Yes, yes, yes… I know.

Many of you expected this and are not surprised at all – the iPad Pro is going to get a chance to be my digital note taker in the office.

When I dumped my Surface Pro 3, I was pretty annoyed. Hell, let’s face it – I was really mad. The Surface Pro 3 has some real issues with Windows 10 and Microsoft OneNote 2013/ 2016.

It’s not pretty…

When I put the Surface Pro 3 head to head with the Surface Pro 4, I came away with some serious concerns and misgivings about where Microsoft was headed with the Surface Pro line (which, by the way, includes the Microsoft’s Surface Book).

Both the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book have problems with drivers, battery life, and in the case of the Surface Book, detaching from the native keyboard. These issues are so severe, in some cases, that people – including the friend I have in the office who lent me his SP4 to put head to head with my SP3 – returned them for replacement or refund. It’s a shame, too, as all three of these ultrabooks are really very nice… you just apparently have to use them for the right tasks, with power available, and without detaching the keyboard (in the case of the Surface Book), or you run into problems.

To be honest, it was the head to head article that I wrote that really pushed things over the edge for me and really prompted me to sell (read: dump) my Surface Pro 3. Windows 10 is problematic on it and OneNote is almost unusable, if you’re not careful.

So, enter the iPad Pro…

The office procured one for me, and I’ll be putting it through its paces. I’ve got the 128GB version on T-Mobile; and I’m using a instead of Apple’s Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro. it’s a matter of preference, really… I’ve played with the Pro’s Smart Keyboard and I didn’t like the way the keys felt; or the way it worked (attached to the iPad and flipped around). I instead asked for the Logitech Create Keyboard, and though it adds a great deal of [overall] thickness to the device, it provides a much better typing and computing experience in my opinion. The keys have nice travel, and I’m able to touch type on it as I would with any other laptop or computer I work with.

The fact that it’s at least $20 USD cheaper than the Apple Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro is just a bonus.

Yes… I have an Apple Pencil scheduled to arrive in the next week or two. The fact that these things are hard to come by (I’ve been calling the local Apple Store a few times a week to inquire about buying one in store) isn’t helping matters. The iPad Pro really wants an Apple Pencil, despite the fact that taking notes in OneNote via the Logitech Create Keyboard works very, very well.

I’ll have a full review of the iPad Pro, the Logitech CREATE Keyboard and the Apple Pencil as soon as I’ve had a chance to spend some time with all of them.

At this point, I’m working on an opinion. If you just can’t wait and need something to chew on, you can go back and read this article on what’s going to make or break the iPad Pro. While it may have been a bit early on in the process for me, I really think the article speaks to some of the major hurdles the device is going to have to get passed in order to be the success that it wants and needs to be, especially in the enterprise.

In the meantime, just hang out…

I’ve got a few other interesting things that I’m working on that many of you might find interesting:

The Conclusion to the Smartwatch Roundup that I’ve been writing for (literally) the last year. While all of the principle players have been reviewed, I’ve got some issues that I’m still trying to work through with the Olio Mode One that have been keeping me much more occupied than I would like…
The review of the Hendocks Horizontal Dock for MacBook Pro 15″ Retina. While there are some issues to work through, I’ve been rather happy with the way things have been going; but I don’t want to ruin the review.
The Release of Windows 10 Mobile. Its rumored to be right around the corner. I’m hoping that the Windows Phone I have gets the upgrade sooner rather than later. If it does, I’ll have a full review, rather than just a news-based article speaking to the release of Microsoft’s mobile OS.

What about you? Did you get any new tech for the Holidays? Am I missing some big piece of gadgetry that I should follow up with an article or two or with a full review? Will wearables continue to be a big player in 2016? Is the iPad Pro JUST a bigger iPad or will it be as ground breaking as Apple hopes it will be?

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below and give me your take on all of these and more? I’d love to hear what you’ve got to say!

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Microsoft Changes OneDrive Storage Options

Now this truly sucks, as it was one of the reasons why I bought Office 365 in the first place...

In a surprise move that took many off guard, Microsoft has announced sweeping storage changes to its OneDrive online storage product, which is similar in function and scope to both Dropbox and to Google Drive. Users will now be limited to 1TB of storage. Here is the complete list of changes that users can find on the OneDrive Blog.

  • We’re no longer planning to offer unlimited storage to Office 365 Home, Personal, or University subscribers. Starting now, those subscriptions will include 1 TB of OneDrive storage.
  • 100 GB and 200 GB paid plans are going away as an option for new users and will be replaced with a 50 GB plan for $1.99 per month in early 2016.
  • Free OneDrive storage will decrease from 15 GB to 5 GB for all users, current and new. The 15 GB camera roll storage bonus will also be discontinued. These changes will start rolling out in early 2016.

Microsoft is taking the following actions to help users make the transition:

  • If you are an Office 365 consumer subscriber and have stored in excess of 1 TB, you will be notified of this change and will be able to keep your increased storage for at least 12 months.
  • If you are an Office 365 consumer subscriber and find that Office 365 no longer meets your needs, a pro-rated refund will be given.
  • If you are using more than 5 GB of free storage, you will continue to have access to all files for at least 12 months after these changes go into effect in early 2016. In addition, you can redeem a free one-year Office 365 Personal subscription (credit card required), which includes 1 TB of OneDrive storage.
  • Current customers of standalone OneDrive storage plans (such as a 100 or 200 GB plans) are not affected by these changes.

onedrive-logo-microsoft-212x212Like all things in life that get ruined, Microsoft is blaming a “small number of users” who had more than the “average” of 1TB. In these cases, it was found that these users had pushed over 75TB of space (or 14,000 times the normal user). These users pushed files like PC backups, DVR collections, or their entire digital movie collection up to OneDrive.

And who could blame them – Microsoft had PROMISED, and users had paid for (via their paid Office 365 subscription), unlimited storage. I’m not certain why Microsoft seems to be taking this retaliatory step against its users. Isn’t unlimited, unlimited??

To be honest, I never saw unlimited storage. To be honest, I called Microsoft and they ASSURED me (after unlimited storage was announced earlier this year) that I had unlimited storage space. I didn’t buy it then… and I’m OBVIOUSLY seeing the end results very clearly – NO UNLIMITED STORAGE FOR YOU!

I honestly do NOT think that this is a case of a few bad apples (spoiling the whole bunch girl). I honestly think this is a case of someone finally waking up and having, what I like to call, a V8 moment.

If you offer unlimited (and people have purchased it) people are going to make use of unlimited . It’s stupid to think that someone would not put all of this content in OneDrive if they could.

I mean, is “unlimited” unlimited or not?

It’s a simple yes or no question. One year ago, the answer was yes. Today’s move seems to say, “Psych! We weren’t really serious. Did y’all think we were serious?!”

While I’m being, perhaps a bit sarcastic and maybe a bit callous, the move to unlimited storage was a huge benefit for Office 365 Home and Business users (users of Office 365 Personal got only one (1) account with unlimited storage, even though they could share their subscription benefits). As I mentioned earlier, it’s what finally pushed me over the edge and made me bite. It was a better deal than Dropbox (still is) and a better deal than Google Drive.

I’ve been reading and researching information on this on and off all day. The biggest possible reasons behind a change in product alignment may be

  1. The marketing promotion on OneDrive and Office 365 that offered unlimited storage may have ended.
  2. Microsoft may have realized that they can’t sustain an “unlimited storage” offering. It may be too costly or too unwieldly to manage (or both)
  3. With the 2015 Holidays on the horizon, they may see a wave of new, potential Office 365 subscribers coming, and may not want or be able to provide unlimited storage to existing and new customers.

Any way you cut it, though, this is not being received very well.

This doesn’t affect me much. I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 35GB of documents and files on OneDrive. The new 1TB limit doesn’t affect me much, as I am not likely to put all of my photos or other media files on OneDrive, though I had been considering placing some of my unboxing videos there. That likely won’t happen now.

What’s still up in the air about all of this is OneDrive for Business.

At one point, Microsoft said they would extend the unlimited storage option to OneDrive for Business customers. That didn’t happen, and at this point, Microsoft isn’t saying whether or not OneDrive for Business will get unlimited storage or not. Their Office 365 roadmap still shows that offering as “in development.”

Users are truly up in arms about this , as Microsoft was effectively offering (depending on how you look at it) unlimited OneDrive storage with free Office 365 use for $11 per month or the other way around. That is huge compared to companies like Dropbox, iCloud and Google whose product offerings can be seen in the table below:

OneDrive Dropbox Google Drive iCloud
Free

5GB

2GB

30GB

5GB

30GB

N/A

N/A

Free

N/A

50GB

$2

N/A

N/A

$1

100GB

N/A

N/A

$2

N/A

200GB

N/A

N/A

N/A

$3

1TB

$7/ $10*

$10

$10

$10

10TB

N/A

N/A

$100

N/A

20TB

N/A

N/A

$200

N/A

30TB

N/A

N/A

$300

N/A

*Office 365 Personal is $7 a month, and gives a single user access to 1TB of OneDrive Storage. Office 365 Home is $10 a month and gives up to five (5) users access to 1TB of OneDrive Storage.
All costs are rounded to the nearest US Dollar, and are charged monthly.

These are the big storage players out there. Given that OneDrive was really the one to start the cloud storage war, their retreat back to such a small product offering seems a bit strange. Given the costs outlined above, Google Drive is back on top as the most cost effective STORAGE plan out there. However, Microsoft still offers both Office 2016 (or the most current version) plus the online/ cloud based storage amounts I’ve noted. How that plays out and what that might actually mean to you in terms of monthly cost, clearly falls under the “your mileage may vary” category.

What does this actually mean for Microsoft??

That’s a very good question. At this point, it’s all up in the air.

However, you have to think of a few things, here.

  1. Microsoft realized they bit off more than they could chew with unlimited storage and decided that the bad PR was worth what they estimated they could save in storage costs
  2. Bandwidth and enterprise storage is expensive, even for someone like Microsoft who decided to get into the storage business, when they started offering what is now called OneDrive a few years ago
  3. Microsoft has focused the identification of their target customer as either an Office 365 Home or Office 365 Personal customer who isn’t storing more than 1TB of data (obviously) in the cloud.
  4. Microsoft is likely fine/ ok with losing customers who do not fit this mold and doesn’t seem to be concerned about
  5. Microsoft doesn’t seem concerned with the bad press they are likely to get as a result of these decisions
  6. Given Microsoft’s track record in the “bad decision department,” I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see them reverse this decision within the next week or so

What do you make of all of this? Are you an Office 365 Home or Personal customer? Are you one of the naughty users who had more than 1TB of data in OneDrive? Are you a OneDrive for Business customer? Do you expect Microsoft to make good on the unlimited storage offer still on their roadmap, or will that also fall victim to this new product refinement?

Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area, below and give me your thoughts on the matter?

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Olio – Did the Cat Finally Build a Smarter Mouse Trap?

Contestant number five has entered the ring…

olio

One of the bigger things to hit the market this year is wearables. Things like Microsoft Band (part two of the review can be seen here), the Fitbit Surge, the Apple Watch (review pending arrival of the hardware), Pebble Time and Time Steel are all wearables – specifically smartwatches – that will have been released or will be released later this year. As of the first of this month (yes, April 1st; but no, this isn’t a joke), a new player has thrown their hat into the ring – meet the Olio Model One.

The device…? Oh my stars and garters, yes! Have you seen this thing?!

The Model One is beautiful. It’s made of stainless steel and basically comes in two flavors – (brushed?) Stainless Steel and Black. And while it is DEFINITELY drool-worthy, it’s got a few hurdles to get past.

The device itself runs on a proprietary OS

According to Olio, people spend WAY too much time in their computers, in their smartphones and tablets and shortly, in their smartwatches… that are tethered and tied to their smartphones. Olio wants their users to think of the Model One as an extension of themselves and not something that drives them or makes them live in it. As such, there’s no app store to bury you in apps. You get what you’re given (at least initially).

While the device obtains connectivity via both Android and iOS wireless devices, there aren’t any apps for you to run on the watch other than the ones that come with the device. While it does have an “assistant” of sorts, called Olio Assist, providing time saving suggestions, the limited – but value-added – functionality of (just) what comes out of the box, is where Olio sees the Model One hitting the sweet spot. You don’t get lost or waste hours of time playing Flappy Bird (or one of its many device based, or online clones). Instead, you focus on the information you need and only the information you need, so you spend time instead to your family, friends and loved ones.

However, most of the world wants apps. Its why we buy smart devices, and without an app store or a market (more on that, below), you have to wonder what the draw will be? Yeah it looks GREAT; and people at Tech Crunch, The Verge, and Gizmodo, all think saving you from “notification hell” is the bomb; and maybe it is.

Maybe it is….

I know that it drove me a bit nuts with the Microsoft Band, and it didn’t work right on the Surge; but when things are configurable, as they are on Band (and are supposed to be on the Surge), then you have to think a bit more about the purchase. For example, there aren’t any apps or even an app store for Band, either… (and its $400 cheaper).

And by the way, there’s no fitness band functionality here that I can see. This is a smartwatch and not a smartwatch that also measures physical activity. It doesn’t have any activity sensors, a GPS, a accelerometer, or a gyroscope. The functionality appears limited at this time.

It’s Expensive
Yeah… let’s talk about that for a sec.

While Microsoft Band is clearly affordable at $199.99, the Olio Model One is $345 – $395 for the Steel flavor and $495 – $545 for the Black flavor as of this writing with the $250 “friends and family” discount that’s being extended to the public. Normally, we’re talking $595 – $645 for Steel and $745 – $795 for Black (which puts their metal link bracelets at around $50 bucks over their leather bands).

The Olio Model One runs in the same neighborhood as the Apple Watch and Apple Watch Sport. The pricing models may be very different, but their close enough to be similar. You can clearly get a decent and high end analog watch for about as much AND get the band you want, too.

The device has a stainless steel case and an ion exchange glass touch screen that is supposed to survive impacts and resist scratches. It has wireless charging with a battery that can last a full two days with full functionality and then an additional two days, if you turn off connectivity to its Bluetooth-LE radio. The Model One can communicate with both Siri and Google Now via Olio Assist; and can control third party smart devices like thermostats and lights. It’s also water resistant so you don’t have to worry about ruining it when you take a swim.

The Model One is clearly a premium product; and maybe all of this is worth the premium price to you. I’m skeptical at best, at least until I have it in my hands.

It’s got an Initial Production Run of Just 1000
The Model One is a limited edition device.

Other companies release things in “limited edition,” and then they really aren’t limited at all. Olio’s first run of the Model One is limited to 1000 units – Five hundred of each the Steel and Black flavors. According to Olio,

“We decided to do a very limited production for its first release because the company is committed to the quality and craftsmanship and wanted to make sure that every piece holds up the high standards of the company. Olio compares themselves to a craft brewery, and aren’t trying to be everything to everyone.”

Olio likens itself to a craft beer brewery. Brian Ruben from ReadWrite.com said it best, I think. “if I buy a six-pack of a craft brew and I don’t like what I drink, I’m not out $600. Plus, I don’t have to call tech support.”

While the limited run and the high price are, I think, partial marketing tools to help create hype (as well as tech coverage by a number of different outlets, including yours truly and Soft32, at the end of the day you have to wonder how viable a company with such a limited production run with such a high end product will be. Olio appears to be artificially creating a limited supply in order to make the device’s value appear higher. Things that are rare ARE considered more valuable.

Diamonds, like the Hope Diamond, with such a highly desired cut, level of clarity and precision cut ARE rare and ARE very valuable. Olio hopes that watch aficionados see the Model One in the same light and don’t ding it for its digital guts as they do with nearly every other smartwatch; and with nothing really to compare it to (the Apple Watch isn’t even available for pre-order as of this writing, and hasn’t hit the market with either a splash or a thud…), it’s hard to see how well or how poorly the Olio Model One will do.

Have you seen the Olio Model One? Does it interest you? Will you buy one? Stay tuned to Soft32 as 2015 truly does appear to be the Year of Wearables. I’ll have more coverage on devices as they are released or as they make news.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments and discussion area, below.

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FEATURE REVIEW – Fitbit Surge

The next item up for review in our smartwatch round-up is the Fitbit Surge. Let’s take a look…

Untitled

Introduction

My quest to stop being a fat slob continues.

What to do, how much of it to do and what else I need to do to keep myself healthy is a never ending battle… and its not easy. There are way too many different daily challenges that present themselves.  Am I moving enough?  Am I eating right?  Am I sleeping right? These questions are difficult to answer as it is, and Fitbit has been trying to help people answer it for more than a few years now.

Their latest foray into fitness band/ smartwatch arena is the Fitbit Surge. It has a few nice things to offer not only the fitness conscious, but the smartwatch curious as well; and in this article, we’ll be taking a look at its suitability in both arenas.

This is the second review in a series – or round up – of smartwatch reviews that I’m doing.  The first on the Microsoft Band was large and in depth enough for me to break it up into two parts. You can see them here and here.  Its good and certainly worthy of more than a casual look.

My review of the Fitbit Surge is likely going to be just as lengthy and just as in depth. I’m going to pick apart the hardware. I’m going to pick apart the software. Smartwatches aren’t cheap. The Microsoft Band is $199… IF you can find one to buy.  I’ll cover the cost of the Fitbit a bit later, but I will say that it isn’t cheap, either.

Is the Fitbit Surge the right smartwatch and fitness band for you? Let’s stop dawdling and get down to it!

Hardware

Like the Microsoft Band, the Fitbit Surge is a single piece of hardware.  It has a wide, silicone/ rubber band with a traditional, aluminum alloy buckle.  Its much easier to wear than the Microsoft Band, as there’s a great deal of give and flexibility in the Fitbit’s rubber band.  Aside from the same kind of issues that you might find in wearing any other sports watch, band or bracelet made of silicone or rubber – where you sweat a great deal and your skin may become irritated due to a lack of exposure to air – the Fitbit wears the way you would expect a sports watch to wear.  Honestly, I was very pleased with the way it felt while it was on. The only comfort issues I had were related to breathabiltity.

Wearability and Usability

I’ve been wearing the Fitbit Surge for quite some time now – well over six weeks.  The device is easy to wear and its very comfortable.  However, there are a few things about it that I am not too crazy about.  Part of that is esthetics, part of that is design and while the device is comfortable to wear, it does have Wearability issues.

 The first thing that I noticed about it is that its BIG, even the small sized Surge is big.  The device comes in 3 sizes, small, large and extra-large.  However, size doesn’t relate to device size, it relates to band length and the size wrists it fits. The device itself is 1.34″ wide (34mm) and the screen is 0.82″ x 0.96″ (21mm x 24mm).

 Here are the sizing requirements, direct from Fitbit:

    • Small fits wrists that are 5.5″ x 6.3″ (13.94cm x 16.00cm) in diameter.
    • Large fits wrists that are 6.3″ x 7.8″ (16.00cm x 19.81cm) in diameter.
  • X-Large fits wrists that are 7.8″ x 8.9″ (19.81cm x 220.61cm) in diameter.X-Large is available as an online only purchase.

There are a couple of gotchas here that you need to be aware of.  While they aren’t mission critical, they are important to be aware of so that you can deal with the issues they present.

  1. The wrist band is made of silicone or rubber
    Wearing a silicone band in and of itself isn’t bad, unless you’re allergic to the rubber.  Even if you aren’t allergic to it, you need to make certain you spend some time with the band off.  Silicone can often cause rashes and other skin irritation, and its important that you spend at least some inactive time during the day with the band off, especially if you start to notice any dry, red or flakey skin, or if you start to have some other sort of skin reaction to prolonged wear of the device.
  2. The device, though flexible is bulky
    While the band in and of itself is flexible, the actual Surge itself, is stiff and bulky. The Surge is much more comfortable to wear than the Microsoft Band but the actual electronics of the device go out a bit farther than you might think.  Its clear that Fitbit have created a device that’s very compact, but if you look at it from the side and feel around the ends of band near the actual device FOR the device, you’ll see that its actually a lot bigger than just the screen.

The device itself is, well… ugly.

I hate to say it, but it is.  It’s a lot bulkier than it first appears or seems and its one piece construction means that you don’t have any kind of style choices with it.  Other Fitbit devices like the Apple Watch and even the Fitbit Flex have interchangeable bands. The Surge is a single piece unit, and… right now… you can have ANY color you want… as long as its black.  It’s the only color currently available.  The Surge is supposed to be available in blue and tangerine, but as of this writing, both are currently – still – unavailable. I’ve had my Surge for about two months or so. It was announced at CES and black was the only color available then.  You would think by now – or at least, I did – that the other two colors – which, quite honestly, aren’t all that attractive either – would be available by now.

However, don’t expect to be able to change bands. Unlike the Apple Watch or even the Fitbit Flex, this is an all in one unit, and you’d better be happy with the color choice(s) you make. Once you buy the device, its yours to keep; and there’s no way to change colors or change bands. What you buy is all that you get.

Notifications

If the Microsoft Band got notifications right, the Fitbit Surge doesn’t even come close.  On the Band, it was very easy to overdo notifications, as you could choose to have ALL of your notifications from your phone come over to Band, or you could choose specific ones that it does and keep the vibrations down to a dull roar.

With the Fitbit Surge, its exactly the opposite. You have just a single on-off setting for notifications on the device and then you get only notification of incoming text messages or incoming phone calls.

That’s it.

That can be good or bad, depending on what you’re looking for Surge to do.  If all you’re looking for is basic notifications from incoming messaging, you may be in luck.  As I said, the only notifications that the Fitbit Surge picks up are text messages and incoming phone calls.  If you’re looking to get notifications from upcoming appointments, Facebook Messenger or some other app on your phone, you’re out of luck.

The other big problem I have with notifications on the Fitbit Surge, is that the device doesn’t seem to understand or know when I don’t want them, or want them to stop.  I had notifications turned on for a while on the Fitbit, but have recently turned them off, as I didn’t need BOTH it AND the Microsoft Band buzzing my wrists every time my iPhone received a message, a phone call, or some other event occurred.

So, as I said, I turned notifications off on both bands.  Interestingly enough, Notifications on the Surge are still occasionally received, even though they are clearly turned off on the watch. I have no idea why. This is clearly a huge bug, as there shouldn’t be any notifications coming over at all.

However it clearly shows that the device’s software is capturing the notification and broadcasting the data. It clearly shows that the watch is receiving it through the Bluetooth partnership created on the device, even though its not supposed to be collecting ANY data at all. I’m seeing issues on both ends of the pairing; and its problematic at best. The fix for this – and it definitely needs to be addressed – will likely involve both a software update on your smartphone as well as a firmware update to the device.

UPDATE – The more that I wear the Fitbit Surge, the more I continue to have issues and problems with Notifications coming to it when they are clearly turned off on the device.  While the device does not alert that any text messages have come it, they are clearly coming across and they should not.

Period.

This is an issue that needs to be resolved immediately.

Battery Life

Battery life on the Fitbit Surge is actually pretty good. Compared to the Micrsoft Band, though, nearly ANYTHING would have better battery life… Well, not everything… the Apple Watch won’t last longer than 18 hours. The Micrsoft Band lasts 36 to 48 hours (even if you have Bluetooth turned off and sync via the USB cable).

The Fitbit Surge on the other hand, will last the better part of a week, even with all of the stuff that it does and all of the activities it tracks. Since the Surge tracks nearly everything you do, including sleep, the best thing to do when you do have to charge it is to charge it when you know you’re going to be inactive, or when you can’t wear it.  Swimming and showering come to mind as good candidate times when you might want to charge your Surge.  While the device is DEFINITELY water resistant, I wouldn’t hold it under water for long periods of time. Its not a perfect world, and my luck would have it getting water damage.

The biggest problem that I’ve found with the Surge is that it doesn’t give you a lot of warning when the battery is low, and you might find yourself out and about when you DO get a low battery warning. I’ve actually had mine die on me a time or two because I didn’t get an early enough warning that the battery was level was low.

Connectivity

The Fitbit Surge uses Bluetooth 4.0 to connect to your smartphone. I’ve found that while there are there are issues with this on other devices, the Surge specifically doesn’t use Bluetooth LE. I’m not certain if that’s why there are less connectivity issues with it as opposed to the Pebble Steel and Microsoft Band that I currently own.  Perhaps it is, and points to some larger issues with BT-LE devices.

What I can say about the Fitbit Surge is that while its connection to my iPhone 6 is much more stable, it isn’t as reactive or responsive as other devices are.  When implemented correctly, BT-LE devices tend to see their paired counterparts better and will actively connect when in range (though there’s even issues with this, as you can see in my article), as opposed to devices that do not pair with a BT-LE profile.

While I have less connectivity issues with my Surge, and while the battery life is decent even with its Bluetooth radio on all the time, I have found that data doesn’t come across the pairing unless the application is open and active. This means that I need to be actively using the app for the sync to work and pull data over.  Leaving it run in the background doesn’t do much… at least not consistently. I see this more as a Bluetooth issue rather than an issue with the Surge.

When you pair your Fitbit Surge with your smartphone, you’re going to see two connection partnerships – one for the Surge and one for Surge (Classic). The connection for the Surge is the one that you’d expect to see, and the one that is responsible for all of the connectivity and communication between the device and your smartphone.  If you want to use your Surge to control music playback, you need to enable Bluetooth Classic in the Settings app on the watch. After your Surge and your smartphone are paired, you can use it to control music playback.

To do so, open up a music app on your smartphone.  Then, double tap the home (left side) button on the Surge.  This will bring up the music control app on its display.  You will see your Surge attempting to connect via the (Classic) pairing, and then the current song’s meta data should appear on the watch face’s display.  You can pause the current song’s playback or skip to the next track. Unfortunately, not all music apps broadcast track information, which means that when using apps that don’t do that, the song title won’t appear on your Surge. However, you can still pause or skip to the next track.

I can see where this might be a great tool for someone who is exercising to NOT have to pull out their phone to control their playlist. Depending on where you have your phone stashed (not everyone fancies or trusts an armband case…), you may have to break your stride or stop exercising all together to retrieve and return your phone to its original place of storage.

However, I’ve tried this, and while its easier than pulling a phone from a shirt or pants pocket while running or walking, it isn’t totally a walk in the park, either. You’re going to need to get used to the interface and controls. You can pause, play, and skip songs. You’re going to have to pull your phone out if you’ want to repeat or replay any tracks or if you want to change playlists, midflight.

If you wear glasses for reading, you may have issues reading the audio file’s metadata, provided that your music app of choice transmits that information, on the Surge’s screen. While this isn’t a deal breaker, you do need to be aware of its limitations. Its hard to handle all of the varied functionality with only three buttons; AND to do it while you’re moving, too.

UPDATE – While writing this review of the Fitbit Surge, I’ve had it synching to my iPhone. Over the past few weeks, I’ve started to notice a few issues with Bluetooth connectivity between them both. They always seemed to work and play well together.

Right now, they are not; and NOTHING has changed on either end to warrant the issue in their pairing.  They just seem to not be looking at each other right now unless I absolutely tell them to get together. This is problematic at best, as when I started my Fitbit Surge journey, getting these two together was the easiest paring I’ve ever seen.  It just worked… straight out of the box.  Now, its like they love each other, but their not “in” love.

 Really..?

This is yet another reason why I think that while Bluetooth offers a LOT of potential, it has REAL issues as a data communications and transmission technology and conduit.

Software and Interfaces

I’ll get into Fitbit’s smartphone software in a minute, but I have to say something here, that’s bothered me since I started wearing the Surge – The information that it tracks and collects isn’t stored in Apple Health. Its stored in Fitbit’s proprietary program.  The app doesn’t share or swap data with Apple Health, and it really seems like it should. Some of what it does can’t be done in Apple Health, and that’s fine, but there really should be a way to have data from your iPhone and the data from you’re the Surge work and play well together, especially where Fitbit falls short.

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FEATURE REVIEW: Microsoft Band – Part 1

 

MSB-01

Introduction

When I was a kid, I was always skinny. When I was a young, married adult, I was always skinny. In fact, I was 135 pounds (61.24 kilos) until I was about 35. I was skinny my entire life until we moved from Chicago to Nashville in 2000 where I had a group of kind hearted, good natured rednecks introduce me to the REAL meaning of fried chicken and biscuits and gravy.

Now, I’m a fat slob. I should never have learned the recipe.

My weight jumped from 135 pounds to about 170 pounds (77.11 kilos). After I turned 40, I began fluctuating between 170 and 180 pounds (81.65 kilos). Now that I’m nearly 50 (Lord, that seems so OLD!), I’m weighing in at a hefty 191 pounds (86.64 kilos); and I lost my feet. I think they’re still attached and below me because I haven’t fallen down yet.

My wife has been wanting to lose some medically added weight for a number of years and I’m finally ready to get rid of the inner tube around my waist, so for Christmas in 2014, I purchased both of us a Microsoft Band at a local brick and mortar location near the office.

Microsoft’s first entry into the wearables market is a smartwatch and fitness band unremarkably named, Microsoft Band. Microsoft Band is really the FIRST commercially available, actual and totally genuine, platform independent Smartwatch available on the market today; and it’s all about the quantitative self – the end user’s need/ want/ desire to learn more about how much calories they’re burning, how far they’ve walked or run on a given day, what their active and resting heartbeats are like, etc.

This review is part one of a four part series. I’m reviewing the Microsoft Band, the Fitbit Surge and the Apple Watch (when its released, currently expected in April of 2015). The last part will be a round-up based article where I will try to compare and contrast the good and the bad of all three to help everyone pick the device that’s the best for them.

For now, let’s sit down (or, perhaps a more appropriate colloquialism would be, “let’s get up and jump around”) and really take a look at how the Microsoft Band works (or doesn’t).

Hardware

Microsoft Band is an interesting accessory. The design is a bit on the rigid side, however…and there are some strange and curious design decisions that were made, that are clearly evident, as you become more and more familiar with the device.

For example – the device isn’t water proof or even water resistant. That last one really is confusing. Depending on how hydrated you are, or like to be during a workout, you can sweat. Not to be gross or anything, but I’ve been in karate classes where I’ve soaked a gi. I’ve done walk or elliptical workouts where I’ve been equally as sweaty; and I’m certain I’m not alone.

Microsoft Band may be encased in rubber and plastic; but there are many seams in the device where it’s easy for water to get in. I do not understand why Microsoft would make and market a device that’s meant to get somewhat wet (with sweat at least) and not make it water resistant at least. Microsoft says Band is “splash resistant” meaning that if you accidentally splash water on it, it’s likely to survive, but you’re going to want to wipe it up right away.

However, you should not swim, shower or do any other kind of activity (like run any kind of marathon or other activity where you’re going to potentially pour water on yourself or get wet) while wearing Band. You’ll ruin it.

Totally the most stupid design decision I’ve heard or seen on an exercise and activity band… Why in the WORLD is this thing not water resistant at least?! I can understand the issue of being water proof… they may have issues with the heart rate sensor and such; but if Band has issues with excessive amounts of sweat and other moisture, how useful is the device going to be, REALLY?? This is a huge hole that really needs to get resolved in future hardware updates of Band.

Wearability and Usability

Microsoft Band is VERY bulky. Aside from the lack of water resistance, this is probably the device’s biggest issue and problem. As you can see from some of the graphics and photographs of the device, its thick, its bulky and very inflexible.

I’ve been wearing the device daily since Christmas Day 2014, as of this writing. There have been times when Band has loosened on my wrist, and has turned at an awkward angle. Due to its rigidity, its pressed against my wrist bones and can be very painful to wear.

I’ve also heard people say that it’s very difficult to sleep with because it’s so bulky. This hasn’t been my experience. The only problem that I’ve had sleeping with the device is when I forget to turn sleep monitoring on. I have the device in Watch Mode (it displays the date and time in a dim, white font when Watch Mode is turned on), and the screen never turns off when it’s in Watch Mode. While the full graphic and color screen isn’t active unless the device is actually “on,” Watch Mode is none-the-less, very bright at 2:37am, and has woken both me and my wife up from a sound sleep because its shining in our eyes. Obviously, during the day, and in bright sunlight, the Band’s Watch Mode isn’t very bright at all, and is in some cases, difficult to read, but in a dark theatre or other dimly lit area, it can be brighter than you think. If you’re using Watch Mode, as I am, and NOT using the sleep functions, you’re likely going to want to remove Band and charge it overnight. As I said, even its dim, Watch Mode, the display is VERY bright in a dark room.

Notifications

Microsoft Band does notifications rather well. The only other smartwatch that I’ve seen so far that does them as well or better is my Pebble Steel; and that’s feeling very, VERY tired and old (and it’s not even a year old yet). That’s both good and bad for Pebble, as they seem to understand what Notifications can and should do on a smartwatch (dismissing also deletes, and you can send a call to VM, directly from the watch). It’s bad because some of this really shouldn’t be old and long in the tooth at just shy of a year old, but that’s technology and Moore’s Law for you…

However, with the Microsoft Health software on your smartphone, you can configure Microsoft Band to send over every single notification that hits your phone (via Band’s Notification Center widget), or you can choose any number of predefined notifications, for example – Facebook, Mail, Calendar, phone calls, etc.

If you enable Band’s Notification Center, then don’t have it send over notifications for any of the other specific tiles like Messaging, Mail, Calendar, etc. You’re just going to get duplicate notifications that you’ll either need to clear or allow to expire when they hit your Band. The only thing about this is that Notification Center then becomes a huge dumping ground for duplicate notifications, and going through more than a handful at a time is messy.

The big problem with notifications on Microsoft Band is that even if you dismiss them when they pop up on Band, they don’t dismiss from your smartphone; and they also never leave your band, either. You can dismiss the notification, but there’s no real way of deleting a notification from Band, that I can find at least.

I’m hoping this is simply a work in progress and that Microsoft will soon have a software update for Band that will resolve some of this. Notifications can be really cool, but the hodge-podge of a mess that you have in Notification Center really needs to be addressed (the simple fix is that if you have both Notification Center and any of the other app/ notification specific tiles turned on, they don’t show up in Notification Center; but that’s just a start…)

MSB-03

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iCloud and iCloud Drive Could Be Awesome!

If Apple gave the storage space away…

icloud-apple-logoI’ve recently been mucking around with my Mac and iCloud Drive and have come to a very logical conclusion – iCloud and iCloud Drive could be the service that corners the consumer cloud service market…but only if it gives the storage space away.

I’ve been using cloud storage services for a number of years. A few years ago, I wrote an article that was posted on Information Week; but has since been outdated and the post removed. I recreated it on my blog, iTechGear; and you can see all of the original post, here. Cloud-based storage was big in 2011. Its big now.

Dropbox still only offers you 2GB of free storage (don’t get me started on how far behind the times, that amount is…). However, if you want to upgrade to a full terabyte of storage, you can do that for $10 bucks a month. Google Drive offers a similar plan. Microsoft OneDrive offers unlimited storage to anyone with an Office 365 subscription.

That’s all well and good, but it isn’t as elegant and as integrated a solution as Apple’s iCloud. Their solution is integrated into the OS . Its integrated into all of their computers and devices; and… it totally blows, because it’s totally too expensive.

Here’s what’s killing me about it all…

Default Storage Size

data-storage
Only 5GB..? REALLY?! What, is this 2010, still?

Look, if you’re going to charge people for storage, then you have to do better than just 5GB as a starting point. The entire world seems to be moving people to a cloud based storage model. There are a number of different cloud storage options still around today, and when you only offer 5GB to start me off, then you are really looking for me to find someplace else to keep my stuff. When I have a 64GB iPhone, thinking that 5GB of free storage is going to be enough for me to back up a device, isn’t silly… its verging on stupid. There is NO WAY that 5GB is going to be enough, and Apple wants to charge a bit for its larger storage options.

While the next tier up is 20GB for only $0.99 per month (not bad for a paid tier; but still not enough when you have a 64GB, with you all the time, digital camera and internet communications device). Apple’s next paid step is 200GB for $10 per month. That same $10 per month can buy you 1TB of storage from Google Drive and UNLIMITED storage from Microsoft (and includes a “free” Office 365 subscription).

Fellow iBlogger Jonny Evans asks a GREAT question (and I’m paraphrasing, here…) – why doesn’t Apple give you at least 5GB of storage with every iDevice you buy and register with Apple and your iCloud account? It’s a GREAT question; but hold that thought for a moment…

Photos – You’re going to Break the iCloud Drive Bank
iphotoiconApple currently has OS X 10.10.3 in beta right now. That beta release has a beta version of Apple’s new iPhoto and Aperture replacement – Photos. The app uses iCloud and iCloud Drive to store photos by default. When you do that… and if you’ve got a large photo library, you’re going to max out your storage allotment before you can blink.

I think Apple is going to have a HUGE problem with the implementation and release of Photos to the general public. While most of what they sell are considered premium products, the entire world is working overtime to support the purchase of an iPhone and MacBook/iPad combination. Photos is a prime editing candidate for these folks, but without enough online storage, the whole effort is going to be a bust with each endpoint implementation.

That’s fancy IT talk for, “your average user won’t be able to make proper use of the app because they won’t have enough online storage.”

Money to Burn
Now, let’s get back to that Jonny Evans question… And, let’s face it – Apple has money to burn. They have over $173B USD in liquid cash as of this writing, and could perhaps buy most of Greece with that amount of cash (though, not all of it…they’d need at least $200B USD more…). With money on THAT scale, I am left wondering why they are charging their customers – owners of MacBooks, iPads, iPhones, iPods, etc. – any kind of fee AT ALL for iCloud or iCloud Drive storage.

I know that all iTunes purchases are automatically stored in iCloud; and that that storage is unlimited. You can pull content down or stream content to your iDevice any time you want; but if I had a dollar for every time my wife’s iPhone told me that it couldn’t back up the contents of the device automatically to iCloud because her account didn’t have enough storage, I’d be rich myself.

But, isn’t this the right thing to do? Giving away iCloud storage, I mean….

I mean, I know Apple’s products are enticing. As I said, nearly the entire world is trying to figure out how to score enough cash to purchase the iDevice of their choice; but wouldn’t free, unlimited cloud-based storage be exactly what the organization needs to provide to make them the slam-dunk, no brainer choice for everyone and for everything you do with a computer?

I know I’d be much more inclined to choose an Apple based solution if I was in the market for a computer, tablet or smartphone, if I knew that the purchase also got me access to unlimited, free cloud-based storage. Wouldn’t you..??

That’s the computing age I want to play in. That’s the kind of, “we’ve got money to burn, so let’s do something that benefits not only our shareholders, but all of our users as well,” action that gets you written down in the history books…and it would make iCloud and iCloud Drive a slam dunk, absolute no-brainer for absolutely everything you did online…and the simple thought of Apple doing this should make companies like Dropbox, Google and Microsoft quake in their boots.

What do you think?

Am I on the right track here? Is this a good idea or a bad idea? Would it create any anti-trust issues for Apple? If you weren’t an Apple user, would you want to switch to an Apple product to get access to unlimited cloud storage? Why don’t you chime in, in the discussion area below and let me know what you think? If you have a different or better idea, I’d love to hear about it!

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