Category Archives: Computers & Tech

Windows 10 – Trading a Set of Annoyances for a Set of Troubles

Windows 10

Windows Sign In Screen

 

(0/5)

Pros: It was free.

Cons: It exists, and soon everyone will be forced to use it. Run! Run, while you can!!

I bought my computer less than two years ago to replace my circa 2004 dinosaur that ran Windows XP. I liked XP, but when Microsoft stopped supporting it and my old computer began having blackouts, I had to face facts – I needed a new computer. The Dell Inspiron I bought ran Windows 8, which had its annoying idiosyncrasies but worked just fine. I got used to the funky photo home screen and almost got a kick out of seeing my forgotten photos appear in random slide shows. Other than that, I had no trouble with it. Even my husband, who has a difficult time getting used to new technology, was able to survive the learning curve without a scratch. My biggest complaint was that I lost the use of my Adobe Creative Suite (I just couldn’t afford the latest version). So why did I pay attention to a “Free Upgrade to Windows 10” come on?

I knew better. My graphic communications teacher taught me not to grasp onto free upgrades because they tend to be buggy. Yet, all I could think of was being stuck with another outdated operating system. I didn’t want to watch technology pass me by, so when Windows 10 was ready for installation in mid-July, I clicked the install button.

At first, I didn’t see that much of a difference. The Start menu was back, not that I recognized it. The desktop was back, but I could keep it up all the time in Windows 8. Those were the two pluses. Then there was Cortana, an interactive utility that worked well enough when I was too lazy to go online. I could easily live without it.

The other change was the browser. Instead of Internet Explorer (IE), the comfy devil I knew, I had to get acquainted with Edge, whose icon is a blue lower case “e” with a black swirl replacing IE’s golden halo. When launched, it looks like a beta version of the Windows 8 screen.

This reminds me of Odette and Odille in Swan Lake. (For those who don’t know the Tchaikovsky ballet: Odette is a white swan who is really a princess under her stepmother’s spell. At night, she returns in her true form, wearing white. Prince Siegfried see her and falls in love. They want to marry, but he must choose her from a group of princesses at a ball planned by the king. To prevent this, a cohort of Odette’s stepmother has his daughter, Odille, pretend to be Odette at the ball. She wears black but fools Siegfried by using Odette’s signal, and the rest is a tragic end for all.) Like Prince Siegfried, I was disappointed.

Admittedly, I wasn’t in a love-at-first-sight romance with IE. There were hiccups and all sorts of breaks in connectivity. I had all but abandoned it for Chrome. I only used it to play online games that didn’t run on Chrome, but my husband liked it. It was like a pair of comfortable, old slippers for him. I had to go through the hurdles of getting all his favorites back, but it went all right. Then it was time to play my online games. Only the ones I could play on Chrome would load. I contacted tech support and found out that I’d have to install Firefox if I want to continue playing old favorites. This means that Edge is now my husband’s browser. I have absolutely no use for it.

For the first couple of weeks, things worked well enough. I managed to get over having to install a third browser and learned to ignore Cortana unless I was stumped – or bored – during a search. Then the first bug bit me: Microsoft Word refused to open! This would have been bad enough any day, but on this day, I had looming deadlines for my volunteer work. I searched forum after forum until finally, I found profuse thanks for a cure. I just needed to backtrack through the thread to find the cure that everyone cheered. Whatever it was that I had to do felt like a final project in my 1990s computer programming class. It was not a quick fix, and somehow I ended up having to assign a PIN to access the computer because I’m not enough of an expert to decide which instructions have nothing to do with the fix. After three hours and a few reboots, I was finally able to begin working on my volunteer project.

I became complacent after surviving that bug. I thought that was the worst of it – until the end of August. We had been out for most of that weekend, and my husband was anxious to get to his email on Monday. It wasn’t long before he ran into an issue for which there was no “easy fix.” Emblazoned across the screen was an error window without options. The message was terrifying: “Critical Error: Cortana not working. We’ll try to fix on next sign in.” There was only one button to click. It was marked “sign out.” My husband called ATT for help, and they sent someone over. The tech was an expert, but he couldn’t figure it out. The fix he read about required starting in “safe mode.” This is done by tapping the F8 key while rebooting. Windows 10 ignored the F8 key several times. The tech apologized for not being able to start the computer in safe mode and suggested we get Microsoft to make a miracle. At that moment, the computer booted up without the angry Critical Error window. He shook his head, I said a little prayer of thanks, and he wished us well.

I thought the Critical Error window was gone for good, but it came back a week later! There was no way out. I ended up doing the same thing the tech did. After the fifth reboot, the thing disappeared.

Over the last few weeks, I talked to friends who also upgraded to Windows 10. Every one of them had complaints similar to ours. My advice: Caveat Emptor – especially when it’s a free upgrade. It’s my hope that Bill Gates happens upon this review and puts my computer back the way it was!

Best Mouse Pad I’ve Used – Fun Designs Too

NatureSmart Allsop Mouse Pad – Raindrop

Raindrop Mouse Pad, Blue

See it at Amazon 

[Rating: 5/5]

Pros: excellent mouse movement, ultra-thin mouse pad, soft cloth surface, non-skid backing

Cons: some people might want more cushioning in their mouse pad

 

A coworker walking by my desk proclaimed my mouse pad needed replacing.  I noticed it was looking worn.  Since my desk is in a visible area, I decided I needed a mouse pad update.  That is how I came to discover and use the NatureSmart Allsop Mouse Pad in the raindrop design.  It was a tough decision deciding, too, since so many mouse pad designs are available.

Description

This NatureSmart Allsop mouse pad is very thin with a non-skid underside and a soft cloth surface.  The manufacturer states that its glue-fee assembly does not use or create harmful chemicals.  Plus, the non-skid base is constructed from 60-percent recycled materials.  The mouse pad is also made from all natural rubber.  Mouse pad dimension for 8” x 8.75”.

My Experiences

This is the best mouse pad I’ve used.  I love that the pad is ultra-thin.  The way the surface of my desk aligns with the computer chair, the thinness of the mouse pad does not lift my wrist from the desk.  No more uncomfortable angles from a foam mouse pad that sits too high.

There is no cushioning in this mouse pad.  The cloth surface is smooth and very soft, but it does not provide a cushioned wrist wrest if this is something you need.  The pad is very thin and flat.

The black non-skid backing grips the wooden desk surface very well.  To shift the mouse pad, I need to lift a corner of the mouse pad before I can move it.  I like that the pad doesn’t shift beneath my hand as I’m using the mouse.

I’m using a Logitech cordless mouse, and it easily glides along the pad surface.  There is no hesitation or “jumping” in cursor movement.

The raindrop design is well done.  It almost comes across as a 3D image.  The blue color is vivid, and the design of raindrops against the blue surface is eye-appealing.  If raindrops are not your thing, NatureSmart has a lot of designs to select from.  They also offer the mouse pads in a few different sizes.  This 8” x 8.75” size works great in my space.

This mouse pad is more environmentally friendly than some other options.  It is constructed from all natural rubber.  The product packaging is made with a minimum of 50-percent recycled material.  Even the non-skid backing on the mouse pad is made from 60-percent recycled material.  In addition, mouse pad  construction does not use glue or create harmful chemicals.

Summary

This NatureSmart Allsop Mouse Pad was inexpensive and a great buy.  I’m really pleased with the quality of the mouse pad and how well it works with my mouse.  I find that this flatter mouse pad is more comfortable than my last one, too.

I hope you found this review useful.

Enjoy your day,
Dawn
http://dlstewart.com

Copyright 2015 Dawn L. Stewart

Other NatureSmart Allsop Mouse Pad Designs
Click to view on Amazon

                                                   

Fits Right and Easy to Use – Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse

Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse – Model 3500

See it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: one AA battery included, on/off switch, programmable buttons, magnifying feature

Cons: sometimes vertical scrolling jumps during use

I have been using this Microsoft Wireless Mouse for over four years. It replaced a Logitech model that decided to die. Usually I prefer Logitech mice, but I’m very glad I bought this Microsoft mouse.

Description

The color of this mouse is described as Loch Ness Gray. Sounds very mysterious, but is a traditional gray color combo. Controls include left and right click buttons as well as a center scroll wheel. If desired, a function can be allocated so the wheel acts as a third button. The mouse wheel and sides are rubberized, and the mouse can be used by right- or left-handed users. Overall measures are 3 3/4″ long x 2 1/4″ wide. The mouse comes with a AA battery, and there is an on/off switch beneath the mouse. There is a small Nano Transceiver that plugs into a computer USB port. Optional software is available from the Microsoft website.

“BlueTrack Technology” allows the mouse to work on more surfaces than optical or laser technology offers. The exact quote from their website is: “Microsoft BlueTrack Technology combines the power of optical with the precision of laser…” A disclaimer says the mouse will not work on glass or mirrored surfaces.

This mouse is designed to work with Windows 7, Vista, XP (excluding XP 64-bit), and will work on Mac OS X v10.4x – 10.6x. For Windows systems, 100mb of space is required. For Mac, 30mb of space is needed.

My Experiences

This mouse has been working great for four years. The battery life is excellent, too. I use the on/off switch on the bottom of the mouse, so that when it is not in use the battery isn’t draining. I tend to use my laptop computer while sitting in an armchair, and the chair arm serves as my mouse pad. With an energetic feline in the house, the mouse inevitably is knocked to the floor when the cat decides I should be paying attention to it and not using the mouse. Despite all the drops to the carpeted floor, this mouse keeps working.

One thing to consider is that if you want to use the scroll wheel as a third button, you will need to download the software from the Microsoft website. The download only takes a few minutes and an icon is placed on the desktop for easy access to change the mouse settings.

A nice feature is that when the center wheel is depressed, a magnifier window opens on the screen where the cursor is located. The rectangular magnifying screen is easy to move around the monitor screen by using the mouse to guide it. There are times when website images or print is small, but a click of the wheel makes it easy to view the portion I need a closer look at. Press the wheel again to close the screen. Magnification size can be adjusted, too.

Mouse action is even and has good clicking action. There is a slight clicking sound when the buttons are pressed. The scroll wheel easily rotates and does not have much play in it, which I prefer. The mouse is a comfortable fit for my hand as well. In case you are wondering, the mouse tracks well on a variety of surfaces. This mouse has no problem moving along a mouse pad, or in the case of my home’s armchairs, easily moves on upholstered or leather surfaces.

Summary

I liked this mouse so much that my parents decided to buy one, too. A plus for me is that this mouse only uses one AA battery. I have been using the rechargeable batteries with great success. This is an easy mouse to use.

I hope you found this review useful.

Enjoy your day,
Dawn
http://dlstewart.com

Copyright 2014 Dawn L. Stewart

Easy to Use CD / DVD Label Applicator from Avery

Avery CD / DVD Label Applicator

See it at Amazon 

(5/5)

Pros:

simple to use, small and easy to store, no batteries required

Cons: can only apply one label at a time

I have two of these Avery CD / DVD Label Applicators. One is at home and the other is in the office.

Description

This Avery label applier is a simple device. The round platform measures about 6 1/2” x 6 1/2” x 2”. There are three parts to this device: a black base with a non-skid bottom, a center spindle that the disc fits onto, and a removable piece that slides over the spindle to rest atop the disc for centering the label. No batteries are required.

My Experiences

The two Avery Label Applicators I have are about eight to ten years old and still going strong. One is located at home, and the other is in the office. The plastic is durable and has held up well. The applicators still look like new.

It is an easy device to use. I set the applicator on a flat surface, such as a table or desk. I then place the disc needing a label over the spindle until it rests flat on the base. (The burned side of the disc faces down toward the base.) Take the printed label (sticky side down) and slide it over the spindle. The spindle helps center the label. Finger-smooth the label onto the disc, running fingers from the center outward to eliminate any airspaces between the label and disc.

The non-skid bottom on the base keeps the applicator in place while the label is being applied. This device is meant to affix one label at a time.

I use software on my computer to design the labels. I prefer Microsoft Publisher, which has a basic template design I can customize. But there are quite a few software programs that offer CD / DVD label templates. Plus, if you are designing your own labels, you will need to buy label stock. Avery sells the labels, but Staples also offers an inexpensive alternative.

Summary

This Avery CD / DVD Applicator is a great little device. In a few simple steps, I can apply a label to a disc. I much prefer applying a label rather than using a marker and writing on the disc. A label presents the info in a customized fashion. I can add graphics, bold text, and include a variety of information that is easy to read. I hope you found this review useful.

Enjoy the day,
Dawn

http://dlstewart.com

Copyright 2014 Dawn L. Stewart

Affordable “Vertical” Mouse Helps Maintain Wrist and Hand Health

Lugulake Vertical Ergonomic Optical “Stress-Relieving” Mouse

Lugulake mouseSee it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: Remarkably low price ($9.99). On-screen “tracking” is smooth and precise. Left/right buttons are easy-to-click and not unduly noisy. Smooth scroll wheel works well and operates familiarly (unlike the competing “3M” model that I’ll compare below).

Cons: As with a traditional, non-ergonomic mouse (but unlike the competing 3M model), there’s no built-in “palm rest.” Hence the edge of your palm and pinkie can loosely drag across the tabletop.

*****************************************************

UPDATE (AS OF 10/02/2014):

Feel free to disregard my above and below praise of this product . This product stopped functioning about a week ago; in other words, it only worked a few months before failing. Too bad, because it had become my most regularly used mouse.

*****************************************************

A couple of months ago my normally negligible carpal-tunnel-syndrome symptoms flared up rather worrisomely in my wrists and fingers. Hence – in addition to becoming increasingly acquainted with Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice-recognition software – I began seeking not only an “ideal” ergonomic keyboard but also the “perfect” ergonomic mouse. That quest led to my ending up with an assortment of three ergo keyboards and (so far) three ergo mice. I don’t regret this, for it’s nice to occasionally switch between this or that mouse (or keyboard) and thereby enjoy a bit of variety. [Fortunately, in more recent weeks my carpal-tunnel symptoms have once again largely subsided to their usual, longstanding “negligible” or “unnoticeable” level.]

The primary objective of any respectably designed ergonomic mouse is to prevent the “pronation” of the forearm/wrist (as occurs when using a traditional mouse). You can do your own googling on the “health” implications of such pronation; for present purposes, suffice it to say that it’s more healthful to grip a PC mouse as you would when conventionally shaking hands with another person.

Lugulake mouse 2
“Side” view!

 

I ordered the subject of this review, the Lugulake Vertical Ergonomic Mouse, via Amazon.com for $9.99. [Since this was a “fulfilled-by-Amazon” order, “Prime” shipping was free.] At that price point, this product basically constitutes the most affordable “vertical” ergo mouse available. [Note that this model isn’t available in a left-hand version. (I myself am right-handed.) Moreover, it’s only available as a “wired” USB, not a wireless, mouse. By contrast, the other two competing products that I’ll compare below are wireless.]

But is it worth the money? I think so. During the past month I’ve alternately used this mouse and the following two competing products: the 3M Wireless Ergonomic Mouse [in the so-called “Small” size, which correctly fits my “large” – but not “extra-large”– adult-male hand]; and the fairly ergonomic Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse [included in my “Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop” keyboard/number-pad/mouse bundle]. Considering that the “Sculpt” mouse is configured such that it isn’t as nearly “vertical” as either the “3M” or “Lugulake” alternative (which suggests that that Microsoft mouse only partially prevents pronation), I’m inclined to rank it in third place (behind those other two ergo mice, neither of which is necessarily the “best” ergo/vertical-mouse product available). Frankly, though, I’m still not sure whether the “3M” mouse or this “Lugulake” mouse should be ranked in first place, for both entail not only advantages but also disadvantages.

Whereas the 3M mouse lets me rest the right edge of my palm upon the integrated “base” of the mouse, this Lugulake mouse incorporates no such “palm/finger-rest,” which means the right edge of my palm – and the right edge of my pinkie – freely drag across the surface of my desk’s keyboard tray. [Of course, that’s likewise the case with your typical “traditional” mouse.] Arguably, this is a point in favor of the 3M mouse; however, the the latter’s half-inch-tall “palm rest” causes your forearm to be elevated marginally higher than is the case with this Lugulake mouse. That extra degree of forearm elevation might not be as ergonomically beneficial.

Moreover, unlike this Lugulake mouse’s more conventionally configured, separate “left” and “right” buttons, the 3M mouse’s left-button and right-button functions are activated via a single, concave, “rocking” button that you operate with your thumb tip instead of your fingers.

Lugulake mouse competitor 2
The competing “3M” ergonomic mouse

 

Also, whereas the 3M mouse’s joystick-like (but actually non-pivoting) handle incorporates a second, auxiliary left-side button that your “curled” middle finger must squeeze (toggle) in order to activate/deactivate the upward/downward “scrolling” function, this Lugulake mouse implements a more conventionally positioned wheel that your largely “extended” middle finger can familiarly manipulate. Arguably, this is a point in favor of this Lugulake mouse; the majority of users – habituated to traditional mice – will likely find it easier to adapt to the latter approach for scrolling.

Furthermore, I find it slightly easier to manipulate – and precisely position – the on-screen cursor via this Lugulake mouse than with the 3M mouse. Doubtless many users will deem this no small point in favor of the Lugulake product over the 3M alternative.

Whereas this Lugulake mouse costs just 10 dollars, the competing 3M mouse normally costs 60 [but I got mine as a “Like New” used specimen for only 30 bucks via “Amazon Warehouse”]. Accordingly, if you’d like to try a “vertical” ergonomic mouse, you could hardly go wrong with this eminently affordable Lugulake model.

During any fairly lengthy session of PC use, I myself tend to switch intermittently between this Lugulake and the 3M alternative. That provides the thumb and fingers (not to mention the wrist) a further measure of beneficial, “multi-positional” variety.

Given the low price point of this made-in-China product, I can easily tolerate the lack of any separate “user manual” inside the product box. However, that box itself includes enough printed text to suffice – despite the text having been composed by someone whose “non-native” grasp of English amuses me [here’s a sample to prove my point]:

“RELIEVE YOUR STRESS. This mouse is a proactive one that avoids the annoying sweat of the fingers, the tension and pressure of certain parts of the arm and hand that are typical of a reduces work shifts in an office or factory, and it’s also suitable or game addicts and the other technology freaks.”

If Comfort’s a Priority, Think Twice Before Buying This Headset

Logitech ClearChat Comfort/USB Headset H390

Logitech HD390 pic

See it at Amazon 

(2/5)

Pros: Decent sound quality. Very good USB microphone quality. Possibly more durable than cheaper headsets.

Cons: For some users, the relatively tightly fitting earpieces soon get quite uncomfortable (or worse, as I’ll explain below).

 

Some weeks ago my longstanding carpal-tunnel-syndrome symptoms, which are normally negligible, flared up enough that I began exploring ways to ameliorate the comfort of my wrists and fingers. Initially, I focused my attention on discovering the “ideal” ergonomic keyboard, not to mention the “perfect” mouse. That quest led to my ending up with an assortment of three ergo keyboards and three ergo mice. I don’t regret this, for it’s nice to occasionally switch between this or that mouse (or keyboard) and thereby enjoy a bit of variety.

More recently, however, my focus has been on implementing speech-recognition technology designed to – virtually – eliminate typing. For, though I certainly don’t intend to stop using my keyboard(s) entirely, I’ve lately (belatedly?) become increasingly intrigued with researching and acquiring the several requisite hardware and software components comprising an “ideal” speech-recognition system for the average PC user wanting not only optimal “dictation accuracy” but also optimal physical comfort.

After spending a week grappling with Windows’ own native speech recognition [which – when it comes to dictating  word-processor documents – is  frustratingly inaccurate], I finally settled on the “Home” edition of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12.5, which  – when it comes to accuracy – is “light years“ ahead of Windows’ counterpart.

Along with finding the ideal software, I was seeking an ideal microphone for speech recognition. Having repeatedly read that USB microphones are superior to analog ones, I somewhat impatiently shelled out 37 bucks (at my neighborhood Walmart) for this Logitech model H390 headset. [If I’d instead ordered it from Amazon, I could’ve saved about $11.]

Before buying this headset, I’d read Amazon reviews praising the quality of not only its speakers but also its microphone. And I can basically verify those customers’ claims in those respects; moreover, the in-line volume-control/muting switch functions satisfactorily [though I occasionally noticed it dangled at precisely the spot where my thigh could inadvertently – and frustratingly – activate the “volume-down” function by pressing that switch against my typical office chair’s armrest support].

However, I’d also noticed Amazon’s customer reviews were mixed regarding this headset’s somewhat unusually configured earpieces. Unlike cheaper headsets’ conventional, thin-foam earpieces, this model H390’s leather-like ones are thicker and more durable. Even so, unlike the somewhat similar-looking earpieces of old-fashioned stereo headphones, these Logitech H390 ones aren’t large enough to enclose the ears. Hence, the longer you wear them, the more you’ll likely feel them pushing annoyingly against your ears.

Worse still – in my case – after dictating with this headset for several days, I began experiencing an ominous “clicking” noise/sensation in my right ear. It got worrisome enough that I visited my ENT doctor to verify that there was nothing seriously or permanently damaged in that ear. Fortunately, within a day or so, that symptom essentially disappeared – provided I no longer wear this headset!

Now, I’ve little doubt that the vast majority of users would never experience my aforementioned quirky symptom. Nevertheless, if you scan the various “negative” customer reviews at Amazon, you’ll readily discern that a number of users deem these unusually configured earpieces to be more or less uncomfortable.

Accordingly, I suggest that you either purchase some other USB headset with earpieces that won’t dig into the user’s lobes, or – if you’ve got the requisite money – buy instead what I myself finally settled on: the “SpeechWare 3-in-1 TableMikedesktop microphone, which costs around $300. With the latter high-end product, I’m able to lean back comfortably in my chair while dictating (even if speaking fairly softly) from a distance as great as 24 inches from that USB, noise-canceling desktop microphone that features built-in “equalization” circuitry optimized for speech recognition. Even at such a distance (provided the room is rather quiet and I pay a mere modicum of attention to my enunciation), my dictation accuracy with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12.5 approaches 100%. Clearly, 21st-century technology is full upon us!

***

Note: The foregoing review was “written” largely via speech recognition.

Is a Refurbished Kindle Like New?

Kindle, Wi-Fi, 6″ Display

See it at Amazon 

(5/5)

Pros: slim, lightweight, no-glare screen, easy navigation, affordable, advertising or advertising-free models

Cons: small on/off switch, no touch screen (If that matters to you)

I owned a second generation Kindle Keyboard-style e-reader for quite a few years.  When strange black lines and white splotches invaded the display, I immediately set to Google to find an answer.  Several helpful messages stated that there was no hope for the device … but to contact Amazon’s Kindle support line to receive a discount on a new model.

Phoning Kindle Support

The support representative had me reset the Kindle Keyboard several times (which I had already done prior to calling).  When that failed to solve the problem, she agreed that my e-reader had read its last e-book.  She then offered me a discount on a new device.  She pushed the Paperwhite model, but I did not want a touchscreen, and I really didn’t need a lighted e-reader.  I prefer pushing buttons to navigate book pages.  The model simply called “Kindle” would work fine for me.

She offered me roughly a $20.00 discount.  However, she said I had to receive a model that supported advertised messages.  (The advertising model normally cost $69.00; the advertising-free model normally cost $89.00.  The website offers $10.00 off a refurbished model.)  I did not want ads.  No way would she sell me one without advertising.  She said I would have to receive the advertising model, then phone in and pay an additional $20.00 to remove the ads.  However, she said, the ads only appeared as screen savers and would not interrupt my reading.  I reluctantly agreed.   I was also instructed to print out the prepaid return label emailed to me so that I could return the non-functioning Kindle Keyboard, or else I would be charged full price for the new Kindle.

Description

This is the basic model Kindle, and that is exactly what I wanted.  It works pretty much exactly as the Kindle Keyboard, except there is no longer an alphabetic keyboard at the bottom of the reader.  Instead, the navigation button is located at the center bottom along with the Menu and Home buttons. There is also a special “Keyboard” button that brings up a keyboard, which can be navigated with the arrow keys. Along the left and right sides are buttons to advance or reverse paging through the book.  The unit is a bit shorter than my previous model and definitely lighter weight.  It has a 6-inch display.

Features include: a no-glare screen, one-month battery life, easy-to-read print, adjustable text sizing and font selection, “real” page numbers, built-in Wi-Fi, holds over 1,000 books.  It also supports children’s books and graphics; however, the display is black and white.

My Experiences

The new e-reader quickly arrived.  The rude surprise came when I noticed the paperwork said “refurbished”.  As a rule, I don’t buy refurbished products.  In addition, at no time during our conversation did the Amazon representative say this would be a refurbished unit.  As a matter of fact, she said the word “new” several times when referring to the Kindle.  It arrived with the USB recharging cable (but no wall adapter plug).  The sales representative had told me to keep all the cords and only return the malfunctioning Kindle, and the cords I kept are compatible with the Kindle I received.  A small pamphlet came with it, but the pamphlet was accidentally glued into the packaging seam so that I could not easily remove it.

Despite the refurbished label, the Kindle looked new.  I debated the merits of keeping the unit and decided that with the $20.00 discount, I could live with a refurbished model.  This is the least expensive model available, so we aren’t talking a lot of money.

Good news is that the representative did the data transfer for me.  All the books on my old Kindle Keyboard now appeared in the archived folder on my replacement Kindle.  I wish the books weren’t in the archive folder, but if I wished, I could organize them into other folders.

After making sure the Kindle had a full charge, I downloaded e-books from my local library.  The Kindle works great!  The screen is easy to read, and I there is no glare.  The navigation buttons are simple to operate.  Advancing through pages is a breeze with the buttons along both sides.  I can also adjust the type style and font size through the Menu button.  The search feature works just as I’m accustomed to from my previous Kindle.

One thing I’m not crazy about is the on/off button.  The older Kindle Keyboard had a sliding button to power the device.  That shallow sliding button always proved difficult to slide and hold while the unit powered.  This Kindle has a tiny push button.  A larger button would be easier to locate by touch and hold in place.

Another consideration is that I had to purchase a new cover for the Kindle, since the sizes are different.  My old case is too large for the newer model.  Thankfully, I was able to find a nice case on Amazon for about $9.00.

Summary

I am thoroughly enjoying the “new” refurbished Kindle.  It is working great.  I am appreciative for the discounted purchase price.  I also use a Nook to read epub and other book formats, and much prefer the Kindle.  When the online library offers a choice between Kindle and other book formats, I always select the Kindle format.  I love the Kindle e-reader.

I hope you found this review useful.

Enjoy the day,
Dawn
http://dlstewart.com

Copyright 2014 Dawn L. Stewart

Microsoft’s Wirelessly “Ergo” Trio Keeps Hands/Wrists Comfy & Healthy

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop Keyboard, Number Pad & Mouse

Click image to enlarge.
Click image to enlarge.

See it at Amazon

(4.5/5)

Pros: Keyboard’s thoroughly ergonomic form incorporates quiet, low-profile, short-travel-distance, finger-fatigue-reducing keys (including a two-piece space bar) and a wrist-straightening, removable riser bar. Detached—repositionable—number pad shortens reach for the mouse. Stylishness and wirelessness of all three components. Battery life is reportedly extremely long.

Cons: The uniquely shaped mouse won’t feel perfectly comfortable for every user’s wrist and/or thumb. Several of the keyboard’s keys (e.g., “Home,” “End,” Page Up,” “Page Down,” “Delete” and “Insert”) are in somewhat unusual locations. No LED indicators on keyboard for “Caps Lock,” etc.; instead, whenever the Caps Lock key is pressed, a little on-screen “Caps Lock: ON/OFF” indicator briefly appears near the lower-right corner, somewhat above the bottom taskbar. [Presumably the dearth of LEDs further extends the long life of the keyboard’s two AAA alkaline batteries; and it arguably enhances this product’s minimalistic elegance .] Unlike some prior Microsoft ergo keyboards, there are no dedicated “back/forward” web-browsing buttons [but the mouse does include a “back” button]. Beautifully glossy-black-plastic keyboard/keypad edges (and mouse’s main buttons) readily acquire fingerprints/smudges.

 

Microsoft’s wireless Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop Keyboard (with discrete “number pad” and mouse) features the most impressive fully (“split”) ergo keyboard I’ve seen. Its combination of ergonomically sculpted form, elegantly minimalistic style, and convenient overall compactness sets this package quite apart from its competition.

Microsoft Sculpt Ergo Keyboard with Mouse 3

I previously used two other Microsoft ergo keyboards:

Natural Keyboard Elite
Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite

For nearly a decade I continually used and relished their significantly pain-relieving “Natural Keyboard Elite.”

4000
Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

Also, I recently tried Microsoft’s model 4000 ergo keyboard, whose somewhat “stiffer” keys pretty quickly started causing my susceptible left wrist and hand to experience anew annoying tingling (carpal tunnel) symptoms!

Thus I soon decided to replace that disappointing “4000” with this much more recently designed “Sculpt” model: Microsoft Sculpt Ergo Keyboard edge view This “Sculpt” keyboard’s quiet keys have significantly decreased height and travel distance, allowing a touch-typist’s fingers to exert less force. Conspicuously, unlike the aforementioned earlier ergo models, this “Sculpt” has a space bar comprising two (separated, less wide) keys, making it quite unnecessary for the thumb(s) to endure so much striking force.

This keyboard’s also conveniently wireless, requiring just two AAA alkaline batteries (included) that reportedly can last for months.

Microsoft Sculpt Ergo Keyboard riser 2

Importantly, this keyboard includes an easily detachable “riser” (aka palm lift) that fits magnetically beneath the built-in, comfortably cushioned palm rest. I strongly suggest that you try using the keyboard with that palm lift attached. Doing so will help keep your wrists in the reportedly optimally healthful neutral position.

Just how compact is this ergo keyboard per se (separate from the number pad)? It measures about 8.9 x 15.25 x 1.8 inches ; and it weighs about 4.3 pounds. Nothing about it feels flimsy, and it rests stably and solidly upon my PC desk’s tray and flexes hardly at all.

 

Microsoft Sculpt Ergo keypad The wireless number pad (measuring about 3.6 x 5.25 x 6/16 inches) takes one CR2430 lithium battery (included). Its bottom bears four shallow, rubbery feet to protect your desktop. Like the keyboard, the number pad includes a dedicated key that calls up Windows’ onscreen calculator. In fact, the number pad’s thinness and overall compactness make it akin to an easily held pocket calculator. And since it’s detached from the keyboard and can reside alone upon my PC desk’s tabletop, the keyboard’s own decreased width fits more easily upon the desk’s keyboard tray, and there’s more room (and less of a reach) to maneuver the adjacent mouse. Microsoft Sculpt Ergo mouse The wireless mouse—which requires two AA alkaline batteries (included)—has a “twice-as-tall” shape and a thumb scoop that are said to maximize wrist comfort and help maintain correct ergonomic hand and wrist position. This mouse measures about 3 x 3.75 x 2 inches, and it fits my average-adult-male hand reasonably well. I find its “elongated-ball” shape more comfortable than that of most—but perhaps not all—”conventional” mice having about 50% less height. Moreover, I’m occasionally feeling that this left-side thumb scoop’s depth is, for my finicky thumb joint, very slightly too great for optimal comfort [though most users may disagree]; thus I occasionally position my thumb slightly leftward upon the slightly lower, outermost left edge of the mouse, which is certainly easy enough to do. [As you can tell, I’m basically nitpicking here!]

Allsop "ComfortBead Mini" pillow
Allsop “ComfortBead Mini” pillow

I sometimes place an Allsop ComfortBead Mini “wrist pillow” [$6.99 at Office Depot] beneath the base of my palm while using this tallish mouse. Being still new to this mouse, I’m not sure if I’ll continue using this pillow often, but it’s at least an intermittently comfortable option.

In addition to the usual left and right mouse buttons, there’s a wheel that’s handy for scrolling upward, downward, leftward or rightward through (for example) a word processing document. Finally, there are two other buttons on the left side: A conspicuous blue-and-white button activates the Windows 8 “start” screen; and directly beneath that, there’s a scarcely noticeable black “back” button for web browsing (unfortunately, though, there’s no companion “forward” button).

Arguably, one minor disadvantage of this (or virtually any wireless) mouse is that if you want to maximize the life of its batteries, you must remember to keep it switched off (via a small, blue, sliding switch on the mouse’s underside) whenever you’re not using your computer.

If you ultimately decide to eschew this Microsoft mouse per se, you could simply slide its power switch to “off” and return to using a more conventionally shaped mouse. [I’ve personally verified that that’s doable (with no resulting driver conflicts or software glitches).] I myself tentatively plan to alternately use this mouse and another, more conventional (less tall) mouse. That said, I do—by and large—like this mouse and will probably end up using it about as often as my “ordinary” mouse.

Note that Microsoft ingeniously implements built-in (not visible) magnets—in lieu of hinges or clips—for “attaching” not only the keyboard riser but also the keyboard and mouse undersurfaces’ battery doors. This elegant approach works conveniently and reliably.

Also note that the included USB dongle (which allows the wirelessness of the keyboard, number pad and mouse and which you’ll plug into one of your PC’s USB ports) comes within a storage niche inside the mouse’s battery compartment.

All of the keyboard’s frequently used keys’ non-engraved labels might eventually fade or wear off (maybe before the keyboard’s extremely old).  However, a minority of clever reviewers of Microsoft’s old model “4000” ergo keyboard suggested occasionally applying some “clear nail polish” to each of the keys’ decal-like labels to help prevent abrasion. That approach sounds plausible enough to me to try it someday—“if and when” any comparable “label fading” actually starts to occur with this updated Sculpt model.

If (shortly after “connecting” this keyboard/mouse package to your PC) Microsoft’s “Mouse and Keyboard Center” software automatically wants to download (and you let it proceed), do yourself a favor and don’t interrupt or cancel that download and installation. [I inadvertently did so and thereby incurred weirdly slow or broken Internet Explorer functionality (evidently due to one or two faultily installed keyboard/mouse drivers) until I “system restored” my PC’s settings to what they’d been just prior to that abortive Microsoft installation. After subsequently fully cooperating with yet another automatically offered Microsoft “Mouse and Keyboard Center” software download, I found that my aforementioned “Internet” glitch was, thankfully, still gone.] Now, regarding the actual usefulness of that supplementary software, I doubt that the majority of average, casual PC users will end up deriving much (given that all “standard/default” key/button functions are already activated). But then, I admittedly haven’t yet spent enough time fiddling with that software to make any definitive declarations. I’m merely saying that you can evidently safely ignore that software (once it’s successfully installed) if you so choose.

Most of this keyboard’s keys are positioned such that I’m able to type virtually as accurately and speedily as I could do with either of those other two aforementioned ergo keyboard models. However, I must say that there will inescapably be a fairly lengthy (re)learning curve involving several of the other keys (e.g., “Home,” “End,” Page Up,” “Page Down,” “Delete,” “Insert” and the four “arrow” keys), which are now in more or less unusual locations (mostly within a two-column cluster at the far-right side of the keyboard). Apparently Microsoft’s designers were compelled to use this new arrangement in order to achieve maximal overall compactness. Enjoying the resulting extra space for the adjacent mouse upon my desk’s keyboard tray, I figure that having to retrain myself vis-à-vis that rightmost cluster will ultimately seem a worthwhile tradeoff.

While I’m not yet sure that this fairly recently received keyboard is relieving my longstanding carpal tunnel wrist/hand discomfort “absolutely 100%” as much as did my trusty “Natural Keyboard Elite” of yesteryear, after several days of intermittent typing—including the entirety of this review—I do already feel it’s much more effective than the aforementioned “4000” model, and I’m feeling increasingly confident I can live with this “Sculpt.”

The majority of touch-typists should definitely check out this keyboard/keypad/mouse bundle, which generally retails for around $130 but is available new from Amazon for “only” $84.50. [Note: I nabbed my perfectly “Like New” package from “Amazon Warehouse” for $69.91.] This “made in China” product ironically evinces absolutely no cheapness in its construction, feel or appearance. Here’s one case where you do get what you pay for.

type comfortably all day

Lightweight Hard Carrying Case for My Netbook Computer

Kroo Cube Durable EVA Hard Carrying Case for Gateway LT41P04u or LT41P06u 10.1” Laptop Netbook

See it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: lightweight, dual zippers for easy opening, interior security strap and pocket

Cons: no shoulder strap

I bought a Gateway netbook computer so that I could be productive during lunchtime at work.  With a lot of choices, here is why I selected the Kroo Cube Durable EVA Hard Carrying Case for Gateway LT41P04u or LT41P06u 10.1” Laptop Netbook.

Description

The “hard” case is constructed from EVA.  I looked up the abbreviation, and EVA is a type of sturdy plastic foam material.  The EVA in this instance is covered with what the manufacturer calls durable nylon construction.  This hard case is specifically designed to hold either the Gateway LT41P04u or LT41P06u Netbook 10.1” Computer.  The case is also lightweight, only weighing eleven ounces.

There are two soft U-shaped handles with a Velcro closure to secure the two handles together.  Dual zippers make the case easy to open.  The inside lid has a compartment for storage.  The inside bottom of the case is where the computer sits, and there is a wide band to anchor the machine in place.

My Experiences

When I purchased my Gateway Netbook, I knew I would need a durable case so that I could transport the computer to and from work.  My goal: To use the computer to write during my lunch break.

After reading the description on Amazon regarding this Kroo Cube EVA Hard Carrying Case, I decided it was a good option.  The product description specifically mentioned an interior pocket that would hold the “battery, cable, and charger”.  Maybe the manufacturer was thinking of equipment used with a tablet versus a netbook.  There is no way the pocket is capable of holding the bulky adapter with cable that came with the computer.  Since the netbook has a short battery life, I prefer to carry the adapter with me … which means I need a separate bag for the cable.

Other than the disappointment with the pocket, this is a great carrying case.  The netbook computer fits inside the case as if custom made.  There is also a strap inside the case that fastens around the computer to hold it in place, which is great extra protection.  The dual zippers easily slide open and closed, too.  The case handles are soft to the touch but have a stiffener in them so that they retain their shape.

I do wish a shoulder strap option came with the case.  Sometimes, with hands full, it would be nice to sling the computer case over my shoulder.  The two shorter handles are meant for carrying the bag like a briefcase.  The good news is that even with the computer inside, the case with equipment is light and easy to carry.

Durability is great, too.  The case has one slight scuff mark on it, but other than that it looks great.  I’m not abusive of equipment, so I’m expecting the case to last a long time.

I keep thinking about the disappointing pocket.  The product description mentioned the case being used with a Gateway Netbook … and also uses the word Tablet several times.  If a tablet came with a USB charger, which is no doubt less bulky that the netbook’s charger, there is a possibility it would better fit in the pocket.  I don’t have a tablet to test the theory.  The interior pocket would also serve well to hold papers or other notes, convenient for this writer.

Summary

Overall, I am pleased with this carrying case.  It is small and lightweight; easy to fill and carry.  The material is holding up well, too.  I do wish there was room inside the case to include the Gateway recharging cable, and a shoulder strap would be a helpful addition.

I hope you found this review useful.

Enjoy the day,
Dawn
http://dlstewart.com

Copyright 2014 Dawn L. Stewart

Your “Straight” Keyboard May Be Injuring You!

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

See it at Amazon

(3/5)

Pros: “Split” ergonomically sculpted keyboard (including cushioned palm rest and optionally attachable palm lift) is said to maximize comfort while minimizing/preventing painful “carpal tunnel” symptoms. Several extra “dedicated” keys conveniently perform frequently used functions for web-browsing, volume control, calculating, etc. Full-height (albeit not “mechanical”) keys’ “feel/feedback” superior to many entry-level keyboards’. Wired USB connection never requires batteries. Impressive appearance.

Cons: With its keys’ somewhat greater tactile resistance, it’s actually not quite as comfortable—and definitely not as pain-dispelling—as Microsoft’s prior, white (“Natural Keyboard Elite”) ergo keyboard model [and Microsoft’s most recently released “Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop” keyboard—with which I’m presently replacing my model 4000—so far appears to constitute a more comfortable, pain-alleviating option for touch-typists]. Keys’ non-engraved, decal-like labels could eventually wear off [but clear nail polish could help prevent that]. Some users (e.g., those not using the “palm lift“) might dislike that the 12 function-key labels are printed on those keys’ front edges (instead of their upper surfaces). Certain extra “programmable” keys won’t work unless you download (from Microsoft) pertinent—reportedly potentially buggy or confusing—software. Keyboard’s approximately 10.75-inch depth may be too large for some locations [but I’ve found it okay to let the palm rest’s/lift’s curved front edge overlap my desk’s keyboard tray by as much as one inch].

 

Now, I’ll grant that some other people—primarily those with narrow shoulders—will find a conventional “straight” keyboard appropriate—and optimally comfortable—to use. But about a decade ago, after having experienced symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome in my wrists and hands, I bought my first Microsoft “ergonomic” keyboard: the white “Natural Keyboard Elite.” The latter model, which largely dispelled my wrist and hand discomfort, remains fully functional to this day; unfortunately, however, its cable’s “PS2” plug won’t work (not even via a “USB-to-PS2” adapter) with my recently purchased Dell Inspiron desktop PC.

Thus I recently bought (directly from Amazon for $34.99) this somewhat more recent Microsoft model, the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, whose hardwired USB connectivity was exactly what I needed with my Dell “Windows 8.1” PC.

Through the 1990s I’d been particularly fond of the famous IBM/Lexmark keyboards’ “clicky” keys’ tactile and aural feedback. While the keys of my aforementioned Microsoft white “Natural Keyboard Elite” don’t feature that level of feedback, they nonetheless struck me as being “close enough” to satisfy.

This Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 implements keys that are still less “clicky;” in fact, the aural pitch is still lower, with the overall volume more subdued. Even so, switching from Microsoft’s “Elite” to this “4000” seemed—initially—altogether easy. Within mere minutes I felt pretty much at home, despite the fact that several of the primary keys’ contours and placements subtly differ, and (more to the point) all the keys’ tactile “resistance” (stiffness) feels slightly greater than that of my old “Elite.” However, after quite a few hours of further use, I experienced some slight tingling in the left wrist and hand (which, for many years, has been my region most susceptible to carpal tunnel pain). Reading numerous Amazon customer reviews of this “4000,” I’ve noticed that one of the recurrent complaints involves the “stiffness” of the space bar relative to the other keys. I must report that this one-piece space bar is somewhat “stiffer” and conspicuously audibly different (in tone) than the other, smaller keys; and I can see why some users wouldn’t like it, while others may scarcely mind it. [Note: I myself felt enough uncertainty about this keyboard’s overall relative “comfort” to replace it with my recently acquired specimen of Microsoft’s newer, costlier “Sculpt Ergonomic” keyboard, whose keys are shallower and whose space bar comprises two separate keys allowing gentler thumb force. (More on this—including  a product photo—below.)]

Another recurrent complaint of other reviewers involves the keys’ non-engraved labels, which reportedly start to wear off (long before the keyboard is very old). Now, that, I suspect, is a (more or less) valid criticism. However, a minority of clever reviewers has suggested occasionally applying some “clear nail polish” to each of these key’s decal-like labels to help prevent abrasion. That approach sounded plausible enough to induce me to purchase (for the first time in my life!) a tiny bottle of nail polish at Walmart today; and I’ll be using it soon, with the expectation that those wee labels will thereafter remain adequately legible “forever.”

In addition to this keyboard’s “conventional” keys (which, as expected, function correctly), there’s an assortment of “extra” (optionally usable) keys. However, not all of those extra keys—be they “programmable” or “dedicated”—actually work (unless you download some pertinent software from Microsoft). For example, at the uppermost row of the keyboard, there’s a cluster of five “Favorites” (programmable) keys that, according to Microsoft, “give you instant access to the folders, files, and Web pages you use most.” However, since no printed/CD instructions or software drivers were included with this keyboard; and since my phone call to Microsoft’s toll-free “support” yielded me merely a protracted runaround (i.e., each clueless, script-reciting rep merely connected me to yet another clueless “department”); and since a pertinent “compatibility” webpage stated this keyboard is compatible with Windows 8.1 but simultaneously stated that only “1 of 4 people” in their “community” voted this keyboard “compatible” with Windows 8.1; and since I’d also read several online customer complaints citing sundry “Microsoft-downloadable-software-caused” glitches involving the programmable and/or other keys, I finally decided not to risk downloading any such ostensibly compatible “programmable-keys” software (despite surmising that it would probably actually work). For, I can easily live with this keyboard’s degree of functionality exactly as it stands. That’s because—fortunately—most of the extra, silvery keys already function correctly (indeed, virtually all of the particular ones that I myself much care about work splendidly with my Windows 8.1 PC). Such nicely functioning “dedicated” keys include not only the bottommost pair of “back/forward” (web-browsing) ones but also the following top-row ones: “homepage,” “volume mute/restore;” “volume decrease;” “volume increase;” “search;” and “calculator.”

Thus I deem this keyboard’s “extra keys”—collectively—a reasonably significant, continually usable feature.

In addition to the padded palm rest, this keyboard includes a detachable palm lift (i.e., a rigid piece of plastic mountable beneath the built-in palm rest), which helps keep your wrists optimally ergonomically unbent while typing. According to Microsoft,

“The detachable palm lift on the bottom of the keyboard was designed to work with the cushioned wrist rest to improve typing posture by reducing wrist extension (vertical bending of the wrist).  It does this by lifting up the front of the keyboard to provide a 7-degree reverse slope to the keyboard – a benefit that was recently documented by two independent studies.”

Note: In the above-quoted passage, I boldfaced the expression wrist rest to call attention to the fact that, according to HealthyComputing.com,

“A ‘wrist rest’ should be used to rest the heel of your palm, not your wrist itself.”

Initially, I (like many other customer reviewers) felt that the included palm-lift attachment was annoyingly awkward, and I hastily removed it. However, I’m currently reconsidering that decision, for I’m keen to avail myself of any means to prevent/reduce tingling or discomfort in the wrists and hands. [I’m now tentatively typing these words with that “palm lift” attached; and I strongly suggest that you too give it a fair trial period, during which it might prove enlightening if you’d temporarily position a large mirror such that you can visually compare the degrees of “straightness” of your wrist with, and without, the palm lift attached.]

Microsoft has released still more recent “ergonomic” keyboard models, all of which (unlike this model 4000) are wireless, and one of which—the most recent, Sculpt Ergonomic model—features a detached numeric keypad.  I’m presently getting used to my recently arrived (from Amazon) specimen of that “Sculpt” keyboard, which—so far—appears to be altogether more comfortable (not to mention compact) than the model 4000; and I’ll likely be writing and posting a pertinent review in the near future.

Microsoft Sculpt Ergo Keyboard with Mouse
Microsoft Sculpt Ergo Keyboard with Mouse

 

Please revisit my summarizing “Pros” and “Cons” (near the top of this review); but, bottom line, Microsoft’s “4000” ergo keyboard—retailing for around $40—strikes me as not only admirably stylish but also fairly respectably ergonomic. While I myself am so far not liking its overall “comfort” as much as that of its renowned predecessor (the white “Natural Keyboard Elite”), some other users have reported being satisfied with this product. And, factoring this keyboard’s padded palm rest [not to mention the attachable “palm lift“]; the power and convenience of its several aforementioned extra, “dedicated” keys; and its enhanced stylishness (that harmonizes splendidly with any predominantly black PC), to certain users this model 4000 could seem a step up, not down, from Microsoft’s venerable “Elite” model.

Addendum:  I strongly suggest you view the following pertinent, concisely informative webpage:

http://www.healthycomputing.com/office/setup/keyboard/