Personal Tech: Gadget News and Reviews

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Friday, August 21, 2009; 12:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Friday, Aug. 21 at Noon ET to discuss recent reviews, answer your personal tech questions and provide gadget advice.

In this week's column, Rob reviews iPhone's new navigation programs.

Read Rob's latest tech tips in his blog Faster Forward.


Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon... I mean, except for the fact that the air outside here has congealed into a hot, sticky soup. Today's column features yet another look at smartphone technology (notice how often I seem to be covering that topic as opposed to, say, desktop computers?); this time around, I tried out two turn-by-turn navigation apps for the iPhone. We can talk about that, we can talk about other smartphones, we can talk about Windows 7 upgrades and we can talk about anything else tech-related.


Eugene, Oregon: Any news about the Verizon having the iPhone?

Rob Pegoraro: Let's get this perennial topic out of the way first. I have four words for anybody thinking that if they can just hold out for another few months, they'll get a Vz iPHone: Not Going To Happen.

At least, not until Verizon upgrades its network--Apple has little reason to spend time developing a version of the iPhone for the CDMA technology Verizon (and Sprint) use today when Verizon plans to move to a newer, more compatible standard called LTE in the next few years, because an LTE iPhone would work in far more markets than a CDMA model.


Frederick, Md.: Installing a new router today as the old Netgear was getting buggy. Was your advice to invoke the WEP security and not WAP, or the other way around? Just want to make sure my alphabet soup is accurate. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: You want WPA (WiFi Protected Access), not WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy). WPA is much stronger, and it also makes it much easier to use real passwords instead of 26-character, memorization-proof hexadecimal keys.


Oxford, UK: Hi Rob,

Is there a reason why you haven't considered the Nav offering from ALK, Co-Pilot Love 8 for iPhone? Half the price of the other offerings, and twice the application! No, not a fan boy - I originally bought it at such a cheap price as a stop gap until TomTom finally managed to release something, but now I'm not going to bother - Co-Pilot is great.

Rob Pegoraro: Sure there's a reason--I didn't know about Co-Pilot Live until your post. (I could make up something more complex, but that's the truth. Look, there are over 50,000 titles in the App Store these days.)

That said, while the U.K. version may be good, the U.S. version has some major bugs, to judge from the reviews I see in iTunes. It seems that the U.S. map database has some significant errors and omissions.


Dover, Del.: I want to be loyal to T-Mobile, but most things I read, including your columns, seem to point toward T-Mobile having the worst 3G phone of all the major carriers. So, if I wish to stay with T-Mobile, what are my options for something close to a 3G?

Rob Pegoraro: Not quite--T-Mobile has some good 3G phones (for instance, the Android myTouch 3G, horrible name aside). It's T-Mobile's 3G *coverage* that stinks compared to other carriers. Those guys have some serious catching up to do.


Falls Church, Va.: Rob, I made a big mistake by answering some questions on a survey and now I'm getting anywhere from ten to thirty spam messages a day. True they are in spam but, is there any way to stop them? Rusty

Rob Pegoraro: If they really are spam--they're offering some fraudulent good or service, for instance--you can only try to block them, probably by setting a filter to reject them on your e-mail service's site or in your mail program.


Annapolis, Md.: My mom's copy of Firefox (set to update, and at 3.0.13) doesn't offer to save her tabs when she closes it. Mine does. Is there an option to enable this feature somewhere?

FWIW, we're both running over XP on Dells.


Rob Pegoraro: If you click the checkbox next to "Warn me when closing multiple tabs" under the Tabs category of Firefox's Options window, you'll get that dialog back.


Reading, Pa.: Rob:

Dell E530 desktop purchased in January, Pentium Core 2 Duo processor, 64-bit Vista Home Premium SP1, 750 GB HD, 6 GB RAM. Windows update history shows that Vista SP2 was installed June 11, but looking at Properties under My Computer still shows only SP1. I was looking for the compcln.exe tool you mentioned a few chats ago, but it cannot be found

Do I actually have SP2, and how can I confirm that it was actually installed?

Rob Pegoraro: Seems to me that you've already confirmed that it wasn't installed--another way to test this would be fire up Windows Update from the control panel and see if it finds any new updates.


Manassas, Va.: Rob,

You don't like either of these two navigation programs for the IPOD. Since Apple has to approve them, is there a chance that they won't approve them because of the flaws you noted in your column? In other words, are the flaws show stoppers?


Rob Pegoraro: If the flaws were show-stoppers, Apple wouldn't have let these apps ship in their current state. It's possible that Apple will reject updates to these apps for some other bizarre reason--this *is* the App Store approval process we're talking about--but mere bugginess probably won't be one of them, otherwise the TomTom app would have never seen the light of day.


Bethesda, Md.: Do you think Tom Tom is reluctant to make a really usable iPhone app, and/or to sell such an app for a reasonable price, because it would be the end of the market for standalone devices? And isn't that market essentially toast now anyway?

Rob Pegoraro: That's quite possible. The TomTom app's pricing alone suggests some real anxiety over cannibalizing its hardware business. But if that's how the company's acting, it's being foolish--either it's going to cannibalize that business itself, or some other company will do the job for it.

In that respect, Navigon is an interesting case; back in May, it announced that it would exit the GPS-hardware business in North America. Yet after Aug. 31, it will charge as much as TomTom.


Grand Rapids, Mich.: Facebook keeps sending me emails, telling me that people are inviting me to join, one of which is my college-age daughter. I have repeatedly asked her if this is true, and she said no, she does not want me to's her "thing." I have analyzed the emails from Facebook and believe they come after she has attempted to email me a link to see a photo album that is on facebook. Would this be a third party app that is just taking over her email list? What can she/I do about this? Thanks! I really don't need the time waster of Facebook!

Rob Pegoraro: That's exactly how Facebook is supposed to work; by default, the things you post on it aren't public, and so the only way you could view an album your daughter's posted would be for you to be on her friends list. For you to see those pictures without having a Facebook account, she'd either have to make that album public (which I don't recommend) or post them to another site.


T-mobile: Does T-mobile coverage suck in general? My family keeps telling me that and I've noticed recently as well. I've been a loyal customer and my contact isn't up yet but should I change?

Rob Pegoraro: Just take a look at its coverage map:

As you can see, it's pretty good in major cities but full of holes in rural areas. And 3G coverage is much worse:

Anybody want to guess their market share in Montana?


Arlington, Va.: Do you know anything about Metro's announcement that the tunnels are getting cell phone coverage from other companies? I got Verizon specifically because it was supposed to work in the subway, and it's coverage there is actually so spotty and poor that I'd love to switch companies. Rail Cell Service to Add Carriers (The Post, Aug. 19)

Rob Pegoraro: See our recent story on this.... to summarize, what's happening is that all of the four nationwide carriers are now installing their own transmitters, starting with 20 stations that will have service on Oct. 16. You won't be able to use your phone in other underground stations and in the tunnels until later on. Even then, you could still find drops in coverage, just as you do today. (For instance, I often have calls fade on the way from Courthouse to Rosslyn).


Washington, D.C.: Rob,

What happens when I jailbreak my iPhone? Will it explode? Seriously, I see many advantages, but I don't know the disadvantages. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Neither you nor your phone should explode, combust or smoke--but you could render the phone unusable if you screw up the process, and you certainly won't get any support from Apple or AT&T for it.


Arlington, Va.: Rob!! I bought my first laptop recently, thanks in no small part to the help you provided in your columns and chats. So thank you!! Now I'm planning to take it with me on the road tomorrow, and the hotel I'll be staying in has wireless internet access. I've installed software for anti-virus, firewall etc. (I use McAfee since it comes with my Comcast internet access) -- do I need to do anything else to protect my computer when I'm using a public wireless network? Thanks again!

Rob Pegoraro: Make sure nobody's "shoulder surfing"--looking over your shoulder to see what you're typing--when you use the laptop in public. And, y'know, try to make sure nobody steals the laptop.


Annapolis, Md.: Do you (or do any chatters) know of any Verizon-compatible phones that would allow sync with Outlook's schedule and contacts? Not email -- I'd prefer not to pay for a data plan. My Palm is about dead, and I'd love the functionality on a device I already have to carry anyway (cell phone). I'm up for a new phone with Verizon, too.


Rob Pegoraro: Verizon sells plenty of Windows Mobile phones. But I wouldn't buy one unless it had a guaranteed upgrade to WinMobile 6.5, due this fall. The current software has aged badly; the new version isn't likely to do much to slow down the iPhone, but it will represent a non-trivial step up.

Another option would be to get a phone that you can sync with Outlook using a third-party app, but I haven't looked into that issue in a while. Got any suggestions, chatters?


NoVa: I got a used computer which has a "wireless network connection (peer-to-peer)" which connects to something: "status: connected" and "signal strength excellent". Should this be disabled? If it's disabled will my computer be faster, more secure, etc.? Or should it just be left alone? I don't use the computer in any wireless places. Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds like you've run into an old Windows bug:


Eugene, Oregon: In the past few months when going to my Yahoo mail page, my computer stalls, that is, the cpu is nearly 100 percent consumed for 5-10 seconds by Firefox (3.0.13 running on XP with 1gb RAM), then the screen goes blank except for a bar that says "loading" at the page top, and then when the cpu finally is not so occupied with Firefox, the C drive starts to be occupied for up to one minute doing who knows what. I thought it might be disk swapping, but this is a relatively new problem which doesn't happen when I go to the same Yahoo page using Maxthon (an IE shell program). It doesn't seem to happen on other sites either. What's going on?

Rob Pegoraro: You're using an old version of Firefox--3.5 doesn't seem to need as much memory as 3.0. (That said, the Yahoo Mail page is a memory-sucking mess in general.)


Vienna, Va.: Thanks for the bi-weekly discussions. I learn something new every time. My question: Can Windows 7 be installed on a Mac running Windows XP SP2 with Boot Camp? I had previously run Windows Vista Home Basic on the same Mac using VMware Fusion. I was so slow I deleted Fusion/Vista and installed Windows XP using Boot Camp. Would I be better off reinstalling Vista over Windows XP and then installing Windows 7? Will I encounter Microsoft license problems installing Vista back on the same Mac using Boot Camp?

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't tried it yet but I plan to do so this weekend--I don't see how it would be a problem, since the same device drivers should generally work in Vista and 7. As for how to install it, if you've got time and a Vista DVD, the multiple-step XP->Vista->7 install will avoid the need to do a "custom," aka destructive install of 7.


Central Mass: I just got a new netbook and got talked into reluctantly buying Norton for Netbooks as it was only $20 after rebate. I haven't installed it yet; in fact, there's a free trial of Norton on the netbook that I have not activated. I see so many negative comments about Norton that I am hesitant to even try it. Heard that it's hard to get rid of all the bits and pieces even when you uninstall it. What's your opinion? Would I be better off with one of the free programs? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Not sure what to tell you, as I can't find a mention of this thing on Symantec's list of its products:

In general, though, I'm a skeptic of all-in-one security packages. They seem to be behind a large fraction of the problems readers report to me. You're better off using the firewall and spyware protection built into Windows, then adding just an anti-virus app.


Washington, D.C.: I want to buy my dad a gift. He likes gadgets, but is a bit iffy on "new fangled" technology. In other words - he has a desk top computer - no lap top. He has a cell phone - but can't use (nor does he see the point of) texting or other things (so no iPhone). Can you suggest kind of thumb drive or other attachment for his desk top? Or something else easy to use that a 67 year old retiree would grin at? Too big of a question?

Rob Pegoraro: Digital camera? (Thumb drives are so cheap, they don't make for much of a present.)


Nashville, Tenn.: 2 questions, different subjects: 1)How are employers and college admissions people seeing embarrassing Facebook etc pages, if users make their pages private? Or does this only happen when users make their pages public?

2)Will buy a new computer after Windows 7 comes out. Keep seeing deals for 64-bit but my programs don't require that. Have had no problems with 32-bit, have seen lots with 64-bit. Does Windows 7 change that? Would it run better on 64-bit, with increased RAM or for some other reason?

Thanks for all your columns and advice.

Rob Pegoraro: 1) Your profile picture is, by default, visible to anybody. Lots of people aren't very smart in choosing a profile pic (hint: posing with the pyramid of empty beer cans you've built in your dorm room doesn't go over well). And if you and the would-be employee are on the same network--college, regional, etc.--you can also view a little more detail.

2) I continue to recommend against 64-bit Windows for the compatibility issues you cite. Let me put it this way: I've had plenty of readers write in to complain or ask about software or hardware that won't run in Vista x64, but I can't remember the last time a reader wrote in to rave about how much faster their 64-bit software was.


Fairfax, Va.: re: Annapolis Phone to replace palm: Since you're not interested in the Web for your phone, the Centro is a good replacement since it is a Palm and can be set up for outlook scheduling and contacts. They will turn off data access for you. And the Palm help desk to convert your data is actually very good. But don't get it if you want Web access, its archaic and slow. I'm biding my time with it until Verizon gets the Pre.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


Mclean, Va.: Hiya Rob, I upgraded an old Mac to Leopard a while ago, and ever since, whenever I try to do a planned Backup (that is "Backup" not Time Machine) to my external hard drive, the Backup fails. I can save files to the external hard drive, but I cannot delete files. An error 61 shows up when I try to do this. I tried to check the disk using Disk Utilities, but it would not access the drive. It feels like it is a problem accessing the drive. Everything was copacetic until I installed the new Leopard software. Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: If Disk Utility can't access the drive, you've got a much bigger problem than just Backup not working right. I suggest copying that drive's contents to your main hard drive (or a second external hard drive) and reformatting it, in case it's picked up any sort of data corruption.


Columbia, Md.: My daughter will be applying to colleges this fall, and she would like to post some of her piano performances on-line for various college admission offices to review. She'd like to find a web site where an admissions officer would click on a tab and her performance would start, instead of the admissions person having to download the file. Do you know of any such web sites that do this? Thanks in advance.

Rob Pegoraro: YouTube jumped to mind immediately... you can post just an audio clip there. (I think you're better off using a site that an admissions officer might have heard of, so they don't have any hangups about where they're being asked to click.) But maybe there's some specialized site devoted just to hosting piano performances--suggestions, anyone?


Vista SP2: Rob:

Windows Update from the Control Panel lists only three optional updates; SP2 is not listed. Next steps, please?

Rob Pegoraro: I just checked on a Dell laptop, and that only has SP1 installed too. Then again, I also looked up my June blog post about Vista SP2 (, and in there I wrote that Microsoft wasn't planning to make this an automatic update until "a few months" later. So if you're desperate to get this update, you'd have to download the compete installer off Microsoft's site; that post has a link to that download address.


Windows 7: For what it's worth, I've been using the 64-bit 7 RC for a couple of months now and haven't had any compatibility issues. NVIDIA and Creative had 64-bit drivers that work just fine, my wireless card worked without me needing to install anything, and so on. The only program I've run into so far that worked in Vista but not 7 is a 10 year-old game. I haven't done any exhaustive tests, but I have one game that does seem to be running faster than it was in Vista, but that could be because of less OS bloat.

Rob Pegoraro: This is good to know. But let's remember that I'm not just writing for people who will put Win 7's RC on a computer--or who even know that "RC" stands for "Release Candidate." Given that there's no remotely easy to way to turn a 64-bit install into a 32-bit install, I have to be conservative on this subject.


Indianapolis, Ind.: Know anything about how Google's Chrome been doing? I've used the Internet browser since it came out and have been mostly happy. There is one problem I've noticed, though: When I click on one of my links, it will say the Web page isn't available. I click it again, and it the Web page comes up as it's supposed to. It happens fairly often, a couple times a day. Not a major problem, but it is annoying. Do I just need to upgrade to a new level of Chrome? Or is this more of a problem with my computer?

Rob Pegoraro: Chrome is supposed to update itself automatically. I haven't run into that problem, but I also haven't made Chrome my default browser on any of the computers I've got around, so I don't use it nearly as often as you seem to.


Clarksville, Md.: Do you plan to run another column reviewing netbooks in the near future? I'm particularly interested in your thoughts on the Samsung NC-20.

Rob Pegoraro: That'll probably be something I'll get to either in late September or sometime in October.


Fairdale, Ky.: Rob I have a Gmail account and I use RoboForm on a USB Flashdrive. Last week my wife did something while on our computer and wiped out my flashdrive. I was able to recover all my passwords accept for gmail. I'm getting my mail from gmail because I use Eudora, but I tried everything Google told me to do to recover my password, but I'm never able to get it. Is my only recourse to just open a new Gmail account?

Rob Pegoraro: Obviously, Eudora knows the passwords, so the trick is to get the password out of that app. But I haven't used Eudora in years... this app might work, to judge from its description:

Here's another option:


Re Chrome and pages not available: I've been having the same thing happen a lot lately with my Foxfire. Aren't the both Mosaic based?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope. Firefox and Chrome have just about nothing in common; Firefox uses an HTML software foundation called Gecko, while Chrome uses the WebKit framework inside Apple's Safari.


McLean, Va.: Thanks for doing these chats. I made the switch from Cox Cable to Verizon Fios--or I will as soon as the Verizon guys come to install it. We have 3 non-HD TVs. Is there anything weird I should be looking out for? Will I notice any difference in TV quality, TiVo use, etc.? How about the difference in Internet speed switching from cable modem to fiber? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Your Internet connection should be a lot faster. But watch out for tuner and DVR fees, especially if you get an HDTV later on.


online data storage: I have a question about online data storage for personal or home computer use. Why isn't this being pushed more? I considered this the future back in the early 1990s because in the last 20 years we have had 5" floppies, 3.5" floppies, internal hard drives, external hard drives, SDs, CFs, Mini SDs, Memory Sticks, "thumb" drives, CDs, DVDs, and everything else. The main problem with all of these is that you have to keep moving data from one format to another. Online these can be accessed at will. Your thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: Online backup works great until your Internet connection dr


Vista SP2: Came up the other day under optional updates

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report!


McLean, Va.: Rob:

I am not a gamer and don't use my desktops to watch movies. However, I have wanted to have the absolute best quality video for photos, the Web and 2D apps. Do you think acquiring either an HD monitor, an HD video card or both will make an appreciable difference in quality of my video experience? I know that video quality is subjective to a certain extent, but I am trying to find out whether there is a quantum leap in quality available out there by upgrading hardware.

Rob Pegoraro: There isn't--your desktop's current monitor probably exceeds HD resolution already.


Washington, D.C.: Hey Rob - I'm thinking about dumping Verizon DSL and scaling back to basic phone, just for the fax and just using the iphone, since no one ever calls me on my land line, anyway. And then, dumping Comcast CTV and buying Comcast internet only. I'm wondering how realistic it is to hook up a mac mini to my LCD Samsung and, along with a few software upgrades, stream the few programs I watch - basically SYFY (hate that) re-runs and re-runs on other channels? What do you think? Thanks, mj.

Rob Pegoraro: Wait a sec... you want to dump DSL and then get Comcast Internet? That will cost you more. (Vz DSL is $20 or so, while Comcast's cheapest Internet service is $25, and I think it's another $5 if you don't also get TV through them.)

That said, you absolutely could hook up a Mac mini to your HDTV and use that to watch streaming video, especially if you put a copy of Boxee and Hulu Desktop (both free, both allow you to use the Mac mini's remote) on the thing. Get a set of rabbit ears for the Samsung, and you can also watch HDTV off the air for free.


Arlington, Va.: Rob, I have a Netgear router that I bought 4-5 years ago to use with a pc that ran on XP. Long story short, I wound up never using it. Now I have a new pc with Vista. Do I need a new router, or should the old one work with the new pc? Thanks!!

Rob Pegoraro: The old Netgear box should still be fine--I'm tying to you through through a six-year-old router.


Suggestion for Dad present: I got my nephew a pen that has a built in thumb drive. Looks like a nice pen but the top pops off to reveal a flash drive. Here's a link:

Rob Pegoraro: That might be geeky enough to work as a present...


Two questions from a Hoya '92-by-marriage: We have Verizon for DSL and phone service. Because our house is old and has plaster walls, our WiFi signal strength level from room to room sucks. I bought a range booster but couldn't make it sync up with everything else. Any ideas on what else to do?

Also, and I know you've probably answered this one a million times so I apologize -- following up on the recent New Yorker piece that kinda took a chunk out of the Kindle. What are your impressions of it?

Rob Pegoraro: Try an 802.11n router. The faster speed of that standard won't help much, but the range improvements probably will.

About the Kindle... I like the hardware (though the screen still needs serious improvements), but I hate the DRM.


Madison, Wisc.: Re: Indianapolis, Ind. problem where clicking on a link at first gives a page not available message. I've seen this and it normally is caused by a problem with the internet connection somewhere along the line - either with the ISP itself or a problem with the hardware used to make the internet connection, such as the modem, router, etc. Often it happens when the browser can't connect with the ISP's domain name server.

Testing can be done with a different browser with the same machine and with a different machine using the same internet connection to narrow down the issue.

Rob Pegoraro: Good troubleshooting advice. This is one of those times where trying something again often *does* work, even though there are no obvious reasons why it might.


Chicago, Ill.: I'm having a problem with my Internet. It doesn't run the best on my computer. At first I thought it was an issue with our actual Internet, and we upgraded to the next faster level. But it works fine on our Netflix account through my husband's Xbox 360, as does his Xbox live account. The Internet seems to be slow only on my computer. So what's the likely culprit? It's a 6-month-old Toshiba Satelitte and has more than enough memory. And really, it's only the online videos that are slow. But I've been wanting to connect my computer to my TV so I could get rid of the cable TV, but with the videos running so poorly, it wouldn't be worth it. Any way I can fix this?

Or would buying a separate computer dedicated to being hooked up to my TV work better anyways, for watching stuff on my TV? I had thought about buying one of those netbook computers, but I wasn't sure how well they would work for that.

Rob Pegoraro: Make sure you've got the latest version of the Flash Player--the Toshiba I reviewed earlier this month had only version 9-something-or-other, while the current release is 10. Go to to fix that.

It's also possible you have some glitches in the Toshiba's WiFi setup. Do these problems persist if you use a wired connection?


Chicago, Ill.: Looking to buy a laptop, maybe a netbook, but have never had either. When I look at netbooks and see 1G of RAM, I flinch. I run Firefox and love to run the string of tabs. 1G doesn't seem like enough power.

I won't play video games, but would watch DVDs. Surfing on the Web is as intense as I will get.

I like the concept of netbooks, but can't deal with that small RAM level.

Are there advantages to netbooks that I'm not seeing, other than being lighter? Or am I just better off looking at laptops?

Rob Pegoraro: Get a netbook with Linux; that doesn't need as much memory as Windows. (Note that netbooks don't include optical drives, so you'd only be able to watch a DVD by ripping it on some other machine.)


Louisville, Ky.: Rob, love Fast Forward. Thanks for taking my question. Is there any real benefit to buying a Bluray player? I feel it's a waste of money. I'm in the market for a new DVD player and I'm thinking of just getting a good Panasonic that upconverts. What are your thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: We just replaced a DVD player at home ourselves--not with a Blu-ray player, but with a Toshiba DVD recorder (that also upconverts). And I gotta tell you, Firefly looked pretty damn good on a 40-inch HDTV, even if it was "fake" upconverted high def.


Rob Pegoraro: Somewhere out there, there's a sandwich with my name on it, so I've gotta wrap things up for today. Thanks for all the great questions... talk to you all soon.


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