December 27th, 2014 | Edited by Zoran Stosic | software
Your Android phone or tablet is turning into a pretty good second screen for watching DirecTV. The company recently added 13 new channels to its live streaming and on-demand lineup, which gives you more freedom to watch what you want even if you’ve surrendered the TV to another member of the household.
The company now has a total of 108 channels available for in-home streaming and 44 you can watch even when you’re on the go. You can check the official list to see if your preferred channels made the cut.
DirecTV says this update brings support for Android Lollipop, but the apps still sport a very non-Material Design look. There are two separate versions, one for tablets and another for phones, so grab the right one and get streaming.
Why this matters: With cord cutting becoming more popular, cable and satellite TV providers are trying to make their services more Internet-friendly so customers don’t jump ship. By adding live streaming to mobile apps you don’t have to be tied to the TV—instead you can be on the computer, lounging on the couch, or even poolside to watch your favorite shows. This relative freedom combined with all the channels you get from satellite or cable could make potential cord cutters think twice.
December 25th, 2014 | Edited by Zoran Stosic | software
Microsoft said that while two older midrange Lumia phones will receive its Denim update in just a few days, Lumia Icon owners will have to wait until 2015 to receive it, breaking an earlier Microsoft promise.
Microsoft said that the Lumia 822 and Lumia 928 would receive the Denim OS upgrade in the next few days. The phones are old: The Lumia 928 is a midrange phone from June 2013, and the 822 also dates back to mid-2013. But the newer, better Icon will have to wait until “early 2015” to receive it.
In September, Microsoft promised that Denim—Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1, plus some camera-specific updates—would roll out during the fourth quarter. Microsoft said Thursday that it had begun rolling out Denim, which will bring improvements like a Store Live Tile and a consumer VPN function, as part of Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1. Specific phones—the Lumia 930, Lumia Icon, Lumia 1520 and Lumia 830—will also eventually receive the Lumia Camera update, with faster shooting times and the ability to record 4K video.
Microsoft said it would follow the limited Denim rollout with a broader one in the new year. “A wider rollout of Lumia Denim to all Lumia smartphones running Windows Phone 8.1 is expected to begin in early January,” Microsoft said in a blog post, “following partner testing and approvals.” Despite the carrier reference, however, Microsoft representatives wouldn’t say whether Verizon was behind the delay in the upgrade.
The Icon is officially stuck on the “Black” update, two iterations before Denim. Users can track the status of their phone updates on this Microsoft page, although Microsoft appears to have discarded a column that indicated where the next update was in the rollout process.
Why this matters: The Lumia Icon is the closest thing Microsoft has to a flagship device, even though it’s about ten months old. If the best Windows Phone isn’t first in line for an eagerly anticipated upgrade, that can’t help the mood within the Windows Phone community (even though it’s probably Verizon that’s holding things up, not Microsoft). It doesn’ help that recently Ed Bott, a technology writer for ZDNet, and Tom Warren, a writer for The Verge, both publicly abandoned Windows Phone within days of each other, based on OS and app delays.
December 23rd, 2014 | Edited by Zoran Stosic | software
Google may be planning to build its Android Auto infotainment system directly into car dashboards next year, but obstacles abound.
Direct vehicle integration would be a feature of Android M, which, according to Reuters’ unnamed sources may launch in the next year or so. However, there’s no word on when the first vehicle would arrive with Android Auto built-in, or whether automakers are even on board with the plan.
In its current form, Android Auto (which is still in beta) requires users to plug their phones into the car’s infotainment system with a Micro-USB cable. Competitors Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink system work similarly. Neither Google nor Apple, nor MirrorLink’s nonprofit Car Connectivity Consortium, have announced plans to build their systems directly into car dashboards.
Why this matters: While plug-in systems are a fine short-term solution, they have some inherent drawbacks. They can be laggy as they receive the signal by wire, and they take a long time to start up. It’s also an inconvenience to plug and unplug your phone, and you could forget to take it with you when you leave. Building these systems directly into vehicles is the next logical step, but it would come with significant challenges.
No easy feat
As automakers explained to me during Google I/O, building an entirely new infotainment system is a much longer, more complicated process compared to letting users plug in their phones. A built-in system would have to support every function the car offers, including climate control and FM radio. By comparison, a plug-in system acts as a supplement, letting Google pick and choose the features it wants to offer, while the automakers handle everything else.
And as Reuters notes, automakers like having that control, because it gives them a way to stand out from their competitors. While Android has been highly customizable in the past, all signs indicate that Google wants to have tighter control over its software. Automakers might not be eager to adopt a system that looks the same in every car.
On a higher level, supporting plug-in systems gives automakers a way to stay platform-neutral. It will be possible, for instance, to get a car that supports CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink, so the buyer doesn’t feel permanently locked into any of them. It’s unclear whether that would still be the case if the system is built entirely by Google.
That’s not to say Reuters’ report is incorrect. Google may very well announce Android Auto integration next year. But getting automakers to use it will be another matter entirely.
December 20th, 2014 | Edited by Zoran Stosic | software
Antivirus is dead.
So sayeth Brian Dye, Symantec’s senior vice president for information security, in a weekend interview with The Wall Street Journal. The words sound shocking—Symantec and its Norton antivirus suite have been at the forefront of PC security for years and years. But don’t let the stark claim fool you: Norton isn’t being retired, and Dye’s words merely reflect the new reality in computing protection.
While detecting and protecting against malicious software installed on your computer still plays a very vital role, many of the sophisticated attacks of today still manage to penetrate PCs with antivirus programs installed. In fact, Dye told WSJ that he estimates traditional antivirus detects a mere 45 percent of all attacks. That’s not good.
Making matters more difficult—and driving the point home even further—security provider FireEye says that 82 percent of all malware it detects stays active for a mere hour, and 70 percent of all threats only surface once, as malware authors rapidly change their software to skirt detection from traditional antivirus solutions. “The function signature-based AV serves has become more akin to ghost hunting than threat detection and prevention,” the firm says, though it should be noted that FireEye sells active defense IT security services.
Read: Security Showdown 2014: 10 suites compared
To combat new threats, Norton and other security software companies are rolling out new offerings designed to shut down specific attack avenues, such as tools that protect against spam and phishing attempts, malicious websites, and social media shenanigans. Security companies have also begun dabbling in supplemental software like password managers, mobile VPN apps, and secure cloud storage services—none of which fall under the classic “antivirus” banner.
In other words, antivirus isn’t quite dead, despite the bold words of Symantec’s VP—it’s still important to have AV protecting your PC. Only now, antivirus is just one of many tools needed to keep your computer safe against increasingly savvy attackers. If you want more information about how to stay safe in today’s AV-dodging age, check out PCWorld’s guides to building the ultimate free security suite and how to protect yourself against the web’s most dangerous security traps.
December 18th, 2014 | Edited by Zoran Stosic | hardware
How’s your home network these days?
Does it seem slower than usual, or just plain slow? Do you find that you don’t get good coverage in all corners of your house? Do you intermittently lose your connection to your ISP?
Any of these issues may be a sign that it’s time for a new router. I say “may” because there are lots of other reasons you’re getting slow or inconsistent performance.
That said, let’s talk about that router, which is as good a place to start as any. The big question: How old is it?
If your router is more than four or five years old, you should definitely think about replacing it. Three reasons why:
1. Over time, heat can damage the internal components, which may explain symptoms like intermittent outages or slow performance. You might try pointing a small fan at your router, or moving it somewhere there’s good airflow, and seeing if that makes any difference.
2. A router that old may not support 802.11n, the most widespread Wi-Fi technology. Indeed, if your router tops out at 802.11g, you’re definitely not getting the speed and range you could be. But some 802.11n models are out of date as well, especially if they were made prior to 2009.
3. It probably doesn’t offer dual-band wireless. It’s possible that some of your other household products, like cordless phones and even your garage-door opener, operate on the same 2.4GHz wireless band as your router, and interference from them can tank your connectivity.
All this is not to say you should run out and buy a new router — but at the very least you should think about it. You could always buy one that comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, try it out, and see if it makes a difference. If not, return it, no harm done.
As fate would have it, PCWorld recently reviewed the latest and greatest 802.11ac routers, a good place to start your search for a new model. Of course, those may be overkill for some home users, as the 802.11ac standard has yet to be finalized. You might be better off with one of last year’s top-rated 802.11n routers, like the Asus RT-N66U.
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at firstname.lastname@example.org, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.