Friday, November 1, 2013

Chromebooks: Not For People Who use Protected Zip Files

It's been almost a year since I bought my Samsung Chromebook. Overall, I'm mostly happy with it as a device for surfing the web, but as a productivity tool, I can certainly say that I am not a happy camper.

Here's some productivity quirks that I've recently encountered:

Password Protected Zip Files - If you ever have to deal with password-protected zipped files, then you should avoid the Google Chromebook like the plague. As of this posting, the Chromebook can not open password protected zip files. I've also read some posts online that password protected RAR files are also not supported by the Chromebook. Non-password prospected zip files work fine.  

Copy & Past Table Data - There are times when I need copy some table data from a website and paste it into a spreadsheet. Normally, you wouldn't think twice about doing this, but with the Google Chromebook, doing so will lead you to madness. For some stupid reason, the table formatting of certain data is lost when you paste it Google Sheet, Google's answer to MS Excel. It'll retain formatting when pasted in Google Docs, but some unholy reason it will not retain them in Google Sheets. Truth be told, I consider this faulty Cut & Paste function a grave sin.

Google touts the Chromebook as a laptop "For Everyone" but it's becoming more obvious that it is not. If you work with protected Zip files then the Chromebook is not for you. If you deal with collecting table-formatted data off the Internet, then the Chromebook is not for you.



Yes, I know it's been quite some time since I last posted anything of substance.

Honestly, the blogging aspect of my life has become more of an outlet for ideas, opinions, and rants that simply do not fit inside a simple Twitter tweet.

So, if you're looking for new stuff from me, it's probably better to just follow me on Twitter.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Classic "Hong Kong Street Vendor"-style Ripoff at Office Depot

Lately, it takes a lot to get to write a blog post. Sadly, I recently experienced something so bad that I really had to write something about it.

Yesterday, I went to my local Office Depot and picked up the ULTRATAB by Jazz 7-inch Tablet. I was lured in by the sub $100 sale and the promise of a Jelly Bean update emblazoned on the tablet's packaging. The combination of low price and potential features was very enticing and I just wanted to see what it was all about.

When I got home, I charged the tablet and read the manual and accompanying documents. I was really interested and excited to see what the process was to upgrade the tablet to Jelly Bean.

 Now, I want to make clear that I am no stranger to updating Android tablets. I've done my fair share of rooting and flashing custom ROMs on Android devices, so I was surprised to see that in order to update the ULTRATAB, that I had to register on the manufacturer's website to get the update.

I followed the instructions and registered. I promptly received an email which contained a link to some kind of Jelly Bean installer and another link to Amazon's app store. I didn't care much for the Amazon app store link since that is nothing special. What got me more curious is this other Jelly Bean installer link. So, I downloaded the installer.

The Jelly Bean installer turned out to be an app that link to another app which was alternative Launcher app. If you're not familiar with what an Android Launcher app is, it's basically an app that changes the appearance of how things appear on your phone or tablet. Manufacturers like Samsung, LG , or Motorola often make their own custom launcher to give their products a unique user experience. Basically, it changes the way the menu looks like on the screen. (I've even seen Launcher apps that make Android phones looks like iPhones but I don't want to get into that). Now, what exactly did the Jazz Jelly Bean Launcher do? It changed the look of the tablet to closely resemble Jelly Bean. It's not an exact replica, but close enough.

At this point, I laughed so hard that I literally fell out of my chair. What the makers were doing was not upgrading the tablet to Jelly Bean. They were making their customers download a so-called upgrade to make their tablets look like it was running Jelly Bean. Inexperienced Android users would probably believe that the whole process they went through was a real update, but it is really not.  I checked Android version under 'Menu>Settings>About tablet' to make sure and I confirmed my hunch. The tablet's Android version still says 4.0.4 ( which is Ice Cream Sandwich) and it did not change to 4.1 or above (which is what Jelly Bean is).

Overall, I was shocked. Telling their users to download a Jelly Bean Launcher was a dead give away that something was wrong. I guess the manufacturer/seller/importer of the ULTRATAB must have some giant balls;  for them to try pass off a Jelly Bean-themed Launcher as a proper Jelly Bean upgrade, right in their user's face is so evil and underhanded. They must really think that their users are idiots.

This fakery is not something new. It's actually a classic con-job for items found and bought on the streets of Hong Kong and, unfortunately, eBay. There are countless unbranded tablets floating around that are running an older version of Android and are hacked/dressed-up to look like the newest versions. I should know. I've bought a couple of them.  (The first was a learning experience. The second, I bought knowingly it was a fake - I wanted it to do some testing/modding).

I guess what really bothers me the most is the fact that this item made it on the shelf of a reputable Office Depot.  I could understand something like this happening on eBay or if someone buys a tablet from a nondescript China-based electronics web site. This really should not have happened here in the US at my local Office Depot. Did no one on their purchasing team check the product's authenticity or the manufacturer/importer' reputation?I guess not. They just wanted sell a product and make money. I hope Office Depot realizes that the selling of products like this diminishes their reputation. It is an insult to their customers who buy items from them in good faith. This act of irresponsibility hurts buyers and the company as well.

There is one positive thing about the tablet that I found. The one I got (I'm not sure about the others; Mine could be a fluke) was already rooted. This means that the user has complete control on what can be installed and uninstalled on the tablet. Any junk apps or bloatware that you don't want can be easily and completely removed. You should also be able to instal any app that you want. There might even be a chance that I'll be able to install a Jelly Bean custom ROM from somewhere in the Dev Community. That is to say that there is a custom ROM for this particular tablet. Let's just say that I'm not holding my breathe for an official Jelly Bean update from the people that brought this monstrosity over.

In retrospect, the table was probably set to be rooted so the manufacturer/seller/importer could go in and hack the version number to make it look like it's Jelly Bean. Unfortunately, that would cause some compatibility problems with the Google Play Store. I guess that's why they decided against hacking it.

All in all:  Don't buy the ULTRATAB by Jazz 7" Tablet from Digitec.  Don't buy any version or size of ULTRATAB tablets. Just don't buy anything from some company called Digitac.

TL;DR:  Office Depot is selling the ULTRATAB by Jazz 7 inch Tablet for $99.99. It says it has a Jelly Bean update. Update is a fake that just changes the tablet to look like Jelly Bean. Typical China tablet rip-off found at well-known US store.

UPDATE: 05/22/2013:  I decided to contact Office Depot regarding this tablet and they contacted me back saying that will investigate the item and contact the importer/manufacturer on their end. I'll let you know if hear back from.

Update 06/06/2013:  After some email exchanges, Office Depot decided to refund the cost of the tablet. Digitac, the company that imported the tablet, has yet to issue a true Jelly Bean update for this tablet. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Chromebook - Five Months In

It's been five months since I first used my Samsung Google Chromebook and I just wanted to check-in and let people know what I think, now that I've had a chance to break it in and integrate it into my geeky life.

First of all, I can say to most people that the Chromebook is not going to replace your main computer. In this day and age, abandoning Windows or Mac computer for something else is not something that can easily be done. It's not impossible, but it is very limiting.   For me, the Chromebook fell short a few times when I had to deal with some work files that required a free Windows program to open them. This would not have been such an issue had I had a 'real' laptop with me at the time.

Secondly, I found myself annoyed at being dependent on a network connection to do simple things.  ne day, I was trapped at local coffee shop during a heavy downpour. Not wanting to get drenched in the parking lot, I decided to wait in the coffee shop for the rain to pass and perhaps try to kill some time on my Chromebook. I figured I'd do some simple photo editing for a project that I was working on. I even knew that the Pixlr app on the Chromebook would definitely work for this since I had used it the night before. Then, I realized something was horribly wrong.

The Wi-Fi access at this coffee shop was down and no one there was technically inclined to fix it.  I offered my ideas on how to fix it but the barista insisted only the manager could touch the computer. At that point, I couldn't do anything on my Chromebook. I couldn't pull up Dropbox to get my files. I couldn't even load Pixlr.  I thought I was clever to considered downloading the photos using my smartphone but I decided against it since I didn't have an unlimited data plan at the time. Even still, that would not have solved the issue of not having an graphics editor that would work offline.

It was at that point that I realized that when it comes to using a cloud-based device like the Chromebook:  No Wi-Fi = No Work.

Regardless to say, I sat there disappointed that I couldn't do anything productive. I eventually ended up reading an eBook I had downloaded on my phone's Kindle app.

The Chromebook is not the perfect device for working professional because it falls short on things that we take for granted (like being able to use your computer despite not having an internet connection). Honestly though, if you're a professional, then you can probably afford to buy a real/proper laptop to do your work on while on the go.

Now don't  get me wrong. The Chromebook is not a bad device. It's just not for everyone. It's definitely not for people who expects a traditional laptop experience, because the Chromebook is not traditional. It's a new kind of monster that is basically somewhere between a tablet and a laptop and not doing either role very well.

If you're a starving college kid or a parent who wants a laptop to give to your kids, then this is perfect for that.

If you're looking for a computer for strictly doing web surfing and webmail and you would prefer to have a real keyboard than the touch ones that tablets offer, then the Chromebook will be more than enough for that.

If you're a professional looking for a light computer to work on, consider investing in an ultra-portable laptop because the Chromebook is really not for you. Avoid the frustration and pony up some cash for a real laptop.

If you're a techie, like me, who loves to play with new fangled computer things, then you'll probably buy the device despite knowing its limitation and you'll figure out how to put it to good use or probably sell it on eBay when you get tired of it.

As for me, I'm keeping my Chromebook. I keep it on the coffee table and use it whenever I need to write something drawn out and too cumbersome to tap out on my smartphone. Occasionally I'll surf the web on it and, more recently, watch some Netflix on it. (Yeah, apparently Netflix works on it now.)