Computer Scams can really Ruin your day…

Having a bad day today?  Well it could be a lot worse.  What it you were surfing the web on Facebook and suddenly saw this?

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Many people have seen messages such as this, particularly by clicking a link on Facebook.  Don’t fall for this scam.  The real infection here is to get you to call the phone number, let them connect to your computer to “Fix” it, and then have them install real spyware.  Then they show you how the machine is “infected” and tell you they can fix it for $190 only to steel your credit card info and make charges to your card.

Don’t make an errant click into a terrible mistake.  Force quit your browser to get rid of the message and ignore it. NEVER call a phone number for a computer problem that pops up on your screen and NEVER let someone you do not know make a connection remotely to your PC or Mac.

This can happen anywhere on the web but lately, many people see this from clicking a link from Facebook.

Problems with Free Wi-Fi Hotspots

imageQ: I have had increasing issues connecting to WiFi with my phone from free access locations at airports and motels. I get messages like “server not available” or “cannot connect to server”. So far, I have gotten around the problem by turning off WiFi and relying on cellular connection. However, I want to solve the problem, because once we are traveling to Canada we will rely on WiFi to send emails. Any explanation or suggested remedy?

A: I often times see the same thing coming from free wireless connections. In many cases you have to chalk it up to you get what you pay for. These free Wi-Fi connections are many times not very good and even more often don’t work. I find this to be very prevalent in airports.

But there are a couple of other things to consider when you connect to the free Wi-Fi hotspot. I’m finding more more often that these hotspots require you to open the Safari browser after you make connection to them and agree to some hold harmless agreement. I think the lawyers have gotten involved and people who offer free Wi-Fi are afraid someone will use the Wi-Fi for illegal purposes.  They allow you to connect, but unless you immediately go to Safari and agree to their license agreement, which often comes up automatically if you run Safari immediately after connection, you don’t actually have any Internet access.

The other possibility is that some of these are not truly free Wi-Fi sites. They may be connections other people are offering from their computers in the hopes of someone connects  Then, once connected, they are able to scan their computer for private information. It’s very hard to do this on the Mac, and nearly impossible on an iPhone or iPad, but on a Windows machine if you connect to one of these fake hotspots, and don’t have your firewall turned on, a thief can scan your computer for all kinds of private personal information. People create these fake access points hoping to get unsuspecting individuals to connect to them.  Nothing to really worry about with a Mac or an iPhone, but frustrating because they act exactly as your are describing when you try to connect to the Internet.

Finally, many free wireless hotspots, particularly at hotels, will not allow you to send email. They block the email ports in the Internet connection to keep you from using their systems to send out spam. I found this happen a lot in nicer hotels.  In fact, when I was traveling for business, it almost went without saying that if you paid for Wi-Fi at a hotel, it would always have mail blocked.

The best thing I can tell you, is to only connect to the  hotspots that your sure are legitimate. If a business says they offer a hotspot, it’s usually a good one to connect to. But if you see one named something similar to “Free public Wi-Fi” I find 90% of the time these are scams so only connect to one that you’re familiar with.  Also keep in mind that the only benefit of providing a free Wi-Fi connection to a business is marketing, so restaurants, and hotels, tend to put their names in the Wi-Fi connection. If you see an unlocked connection with an odd name you’re not familiar with it’s probably not one you want to connect to.

Those are just some of my thoughts.  Rest of shared, it’s not you or your devices that are having the problem, Everybody sees the same thing and has the same problems.

 

Google photos: the photos service that Apple should have developed

imageThe world of photos storage and manipulation, for the average user, has been turned on its head this spring with Apple releasing its new photos app to replace iPhoto, and now google introducing its own photos service that replaces Google+ photos and Picassa. Also the spring, Yahoo has greatly enhanced it’s Flickr service as a competitor to both the big dogs. With all these options for photo storage and manipulation, how does a person make a choice?

So let me start off by being perfectly clear. If you’re a Photoshop user these are not competitive products to you. If you use Lightroom to store your photos, then these are probably not services you’re going to have interest in either. If you were an Aperture user and Apple abandoned you, you’ve probably already looked into lightroom and likely selected it as your new system. But if you were in iPhoto user, someone who uses Windows Photo Gallery or still a Picassa user, the time is right to look at your other options.

I’ve written about Apple photos before and described how it was a good start at a new photo application for Apple. If you’re a Mac User this may be all you need. But if you’re a Windows user, or you’d like to get your photos into the cloud for storage without paying an arm and a leg, the other options are quite compelling.

imageNow I like Flickr. Flickr is very well developed and with its new release has many features that people will find very useful for dealing with their photos.  If your a Flickr user and have already worked out a workflow for putting your photos up at Flickr, then I see no reason to make a change. But if you have photos on your computer, that are haphazardly stored in folders, Google photos maybe just the ticket for you.

Like most Google services, Google photos is available as a web service in your web browser. First off you have to have a Google account to use the service. If you have a Gmail address you already have the account set up.  Once you connect to Google photos you have the ability to be able to put photos into the service and have them backed up. One of the benefits of Google photos is that they allow you to store up to 16 megapixel images uncompressed for free. If you’re using a camera that takes larger images, photos will down sample the image to that size or you can choose to pay for storage space to store full size images. For most users using the free unlimited storage is good enough.

So what makes Google photo special? Google photos has a lot of intelligence built-in similar to what iPhoto users had been used to with faces and places. Google photos gives you the ability to put photos up and then Google uses their algorithms to scan those photos to help organize them in a very simple way.

imageGoogle has made available a small application for both Macintosh and Windows users that allows you to automatically upload any photos on your computer. This application runs in the background and will send any new photos up to Google photos as soon as they’re on your computer. This makes using Google Photos extremely easy. You basically continue to work with photographs the way you always have and Google Photos sends copies of those photos up to their web service and stores them for you as a backup. If you’re in computer user that has photos stored on your computer and is not religious about backing them up I see no reason to not use Google photos just for that service. Even if you do nothing with the photos you put up in Google photos, just allowing Google to back them up for you at no cost is a big win. To do this you don’t even have to go to the website, you can just download the small application, run it, and let the backups begin.

But some of the real power of Google photos begins once your photos are stored with Google. As your photos are put online in an area that is secure and only accessible to you, Google analyzes these photos both by reading the metadata and also by analyzing the image itself. From this Google automatically creates things called stories that are basically short booklets of images that are related often by time or location. You really have to see this in action to understand it. I’ll tell you upfront I was pretty amazed. In addition Google organizes photos by peoples faces, locations, and generic terms such as lakes, mountains, flowers, and helicopters. I am certainly not very good at tagging my photos but the way Google analyze them and puts them into groups was amazing.

imageHere are some of the things googles literature says that it does.

• VISUAL SEARCH: Your photos are now searchable by the people, places and things that appear in your photos. Looking for that fish taco you ate in Hawaii? Just search “Hawaii” or “food” to find it even if it doesn’t have a description. Note: Face grouping is not available in all countries.
• AUTO BACKUP: Keep all your photos and videos safe and accessible from any device. Choose free, unlimited cloud storage available at high quality, or store up to 15GB original size for free (shared across your Google account).
• SAVE SPACE ON YOUR DEVICE: Google Photos can help you clear safely backed up photos and videos from your device so you never have to worry about deleting a photo to make space.
• BRING PHOTOS TO LIFE: Automatically create montage movies, interactive stories, collages, animations, and more.
• EDITING: Transform photos with the tap of a finger. Use simple, yet powerful, photo and video editing tools to apply filters, adjust colors, and more.
• SHARING: Share hundreds of photos instantly with shareable links and use whichever apps you’d like to share.
You can read more about some of the amazing things Google photos can do on Google’s website at http://www.google.com/photos/about/

Google currently has applications for photos on the iPhone, iPad, and android devices. And for first releases, they are very good.  They also promise native apps for Macintosh and Windows coming soon.

So if you don’t have a photo storage strategy, or your strategy has been blown apart with the discontinuing of iPhoto, or even if you just want to try a good way to back up your photos automatically, I highly recommend Google photos as your new photo storage service. I’m not completely counting out Apple photos at this point, but Google photos is the app Apple should have released. So I’ll continue to use the Apple photos app in addition to Adobe lightroom to manage my imagery, but I’m going to let Google backup my photos because I can see the amazing potential of what they released this week.

New Mediacom Mail Server allow for IMAP mail

If you are a subscriber to Mediacom, you may have gotten an email telling you that your mail account has been moved to their new server. Typically they send an email about a week before they’re going to do it and then again I’ll follow-up email telling you they’ve completed it. The email that you get for completion may look like this.
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One of the features provided in Mediacom’s new mail service is the ability to use IMAP mail.   These days most of us look at mail on more than one device. IMAP email allows you to leave your mailbox on the server rather than downloading all your mail to each device. This way if you delete one message from any device it gets removed from all devices.

You can set this up on your iPhone or iPad but it does require a little bit of trickery to get it to work. Setting it up on a Mac needs to be done in the same way.

The first step in the process is to go into settings: Mail contacts and calendars: and remove your existing Mediacom account from your device. Any mail you have left on the server Will come back down when you readd the IMAP account.  But if you have mail that’s fairly old it may have been deleted from the server so be sure you’re willing to do without that if you delete your account.

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With your account deleted you’ll need to go through the process of setting up a new mail account on your iOS device.

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Go to Settings: Mail Contacts and Calendars and select Add Account.

IMG_1717Select Other for the account type

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Select Add Mail Account

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Now here is where you need to trick the iOS mail setup application.  Apple’s auto mail setup goes out to look for the correct settings and unfortunately defaults to setting up the email as a POP account again.  So we will use a fictitious email address to trick it.

Enter your name and then enter an email address where the first part of the address is incorrect.  Be sure to use the correct portion of the address that comes after the @.  For instance, I entered gk@mchsi.com but you could also use something generic like xx@mchsi.com too.  Enter your password correctly and give the account a descriptive name.

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after a few seconds of looking out the server information, you will see the cannot get mail dialog popup.  This error is correct since you used an incorrect email address. Press OK.

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Next change the toggle at the top from POP to IMAP.

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Finally the last step is to correct the fictitious email address you used.  In each of the three locations, edit your email address to the correct one. Press Next in the upper right corner.

You should see blue checkmarks next to the user name and password fields to verify you got them correct.

IMG_1723You will see that the account is setup for mail and notes.  Notes will allow you to share notes using the mediacom server between all your devices.  You can choose to leave it on or turn it off but if left on the notes show up in the Notes application on your devices.  Press Done and you are finished.

I have also tested this process for adding the account to my Mac and it works basically the same.  I suspect Windows will work similarly also.

With an IMAP account now you only have to look at your mail in one place and delete it one time and it will be kept up to date on all your devices.

New Home Control Products

imageThe home control market is in the process of exploding. Many vendors are trying to create products that allow people to create their own smart home and control it from an application on their phone or computer.  Having more products in the market is always great, but determining whether those products really work in your home is another story. I had the opportunity to test a couple more of these products that I’d like to tell you about.

The first of these is called a Lutron Caseta dimming switch and remote. This switch replaces a light switch in your home with a switch that can be controlled from your iPhone, iPad, or android device. For the switches to work you have to have some type of a central home hub that provides control. The home hub I’m using is the Wink hub and I’ve written about it in previous posts.  The switches wirelessly connect to the hub and allow Wi-Fi connected devices to control actions. They give you the ability to be able to create what are called robots to perform functions in your home. An example of this is what I’m using to control my outdoor driveway lights. I installed one of the switches and created a robot script that tells it went to turn the driveway lights on and when  to turn them off.

The switch was easy to install by just removing the existing light switch and wiring this new switch in using the same wires and connectors that were in place. Once installed you use the app on your iPhone or android device to connect to the switch and pair it to the hub.  Once paired with the hub you have control over that device. Then you can create your scripts for how you want the light to function. You also have the ability to turn the lights on and off from any place that you’re on the Internet. This switch comes with a small remote but allows you to have remote control without the use of the phone. So far I’ve been very please with the switch and it’s ease of installation and function.

The other device I had the opportunity to test was a GE link lightbulb. This device is basically a lightbulb that imagescrews into a light socket and allows you to control the light in the same way as the Lutron switch did. It’s installation is even simpler in that you basically screw it  into a light socket and turn on the light. You then use the app, the Wink app  in my case, to pair the lightbulb with your system. At that point you have control of it in the same way as the Lutron switch.

One nice thing about the ability of the Wink hub is the ability to program conditional Robots. In my case, I have my lights set that when I turn a particular light on it automatically turns on this lightbulb. This allows me to control lights based upon the condition of other lights in the house. I can’t say enough about this lightbulb in the fact that it is simple to operate easy to install and works flawlessly. The bulb itself is an LED bulb and provides a nice warm light. This bulb was also relatively inexpensive at less than $15.

I really enjoy making my home smarter. When I pick devices to purchase I try to ensure that I select devices that have a good likelihood of being compatible with many other systems. That way I maximize my use of home control today and prepare for future developments that might come tomorrow.

Own Android but Tempted by the New iPhones?

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Apple just continues to innovate. Sometimes it’s actually amazing. But not everybody owns an iPhone right now. Many people choose android, and that’s a good solution also. But once in a while, people want to change platforms for their phone. Go from my android phone to an iPhone. And some vice versa. Apple has a new website it gives you information on how to get data over from android to an iPhone. Some of the suggestions are purely common sense but others are really good ideas for being able to get all the stuff that you have from your android phone over to a brand-new iPhone.

So if the new iPhones have you tempted, take a look at the site to see what it’ll take to get your phone information moved over to an iPhone.

“Wink” Provides and Integrated Approach to Home Control

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 1.18.02 PMI’ve dreamed for years about having a home that I could control electronically. Turn lights on and off from my phone, change the temperature of the thermostat, and open and unlocked doors. Over the years I’ve tried a number of products and many have worked very well. The one thing they lack was an integrated approach to being able to handle the controls.

A new product called Wink provides the ability to be able to control many other vendors devices from a single application. Just released in July, this unit allows you to connect other devices into a single integrated approach. While every device I have does not connect today, the open API provided should allow other vendors to make their connections work. This is the same approach Apple has to their HomeKit integration. While I’m absolutely sure that Apple’s products will be terrific, there was one thing I really IMG_0191liked about the Wink system. Wink has a single home unit that includes multiple radios to be able to connect to nearly any type of device. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, zigbee, and Z-wave radios are all included in the device. These multiple radios allow many vendors devices to be able to connect and integrate together. The real beauty of this approach allows a best-of-breed solution for home control. You can purchase devices that do the best job of providing a particular home control service regardless of how they connect with each other or with other devices you already own. This approach gives you the best opportunity to find the perfect device that fits your needs.

I’m trying out the Wink system in my own home. I was able to purchase two Lutron light switches and get the Wink box for free through a special offer Wink has at the present time. These light switches were easy to connect to each other and to the app on your phone. So the Z- wave radio within the Wink device connects them to my wireless network at home. Then I can use the Wink app on my iPhone to be able to control the switches

IMG_0192Wink also provides the ability to script actions that can be put together. An example is a single button that can turn all the lights in the house that are connected to control switches off. It also has the ability to create what it calls robots. These robots are scripts that are basically if then situations. If a particular light turns on to 100%, then turn another light off. You get the idea.

Wink has committed to providing connectivity to as many devices from other vendors as possible. I’m anxious to see if I will be able to control my nest thermostat and my WeMo light switches through this same application. If Wink continues to develop the way it looks like they have, I look forward to a day where a single app on my phone may be able to control all my intelligent devices in my home.

But Apples HomeKit will be a contender also. So as I purchase new controllable devices, IMG_0190I’m keeping my eye open for support for HomeKit too. That way if HomeKit becomes the better solution, all the devices I purchased can be used with it. Since the Wink controller was provided at no cost with the purchase of the two switches I just bought, I had no investment to lose by giving this a try.

Wink devices are available through Home Depot at Amazon.com.

I’ll continue to give updates on how I’m doing with Wink and home control. Hopefully that control I’m looking for in my home is just around the corner.

 

Internet Slowdown Problems

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 11.26.09 AMQ: Lately I’ve noticed that the internet has slowed down a great deal. I also tried to purchase music at iTunes and got an error message, three times, that the network connection had ‘timed out’

A: In my experience Internet slowdowns are often a result of two things. Obviously it could be a slow down at the cable company providing the service. But the second thing actually happens more often. The devices that connect us to that Internet sometimes get confused. These are boxes at tend to run 24 hours a day so any little glitch can cause a problem. The first thing I always do when the network seems slow is to unplug the router and unplugged the cable modem. But it’s important to reconnect them in the right sequence.

While these boxes are unplugged, restart your computer. It’s always a good idea to shut down all the way to power off and then turn the power back on.

Next, plug the cable/DSL modem in and then wait about a minute. Now plug the power into the router. This allows the cable modem to reset and make a connection prior to getting the router powered back up. Once you’ve done that the next thing to do is to test the speed of your Internet and see if you’re getting what you’re paying for.

I often use one of these websites to test Internet speed.

http://www.speedtest.net/
http://www.dslreports.com/speedtest

There are also apps to do this on the iPhone or the iPad.

If you’re not getting the speed you’re paying for, it’s time to call your Internet service provider and see if they can do anything to help.

Network attached storage for the home: The good the bad

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 2.06.00 PMEverything you hear these days is about cloud computing. Articles about ways that people are moving to the cloud seem to be all over the internet.  Many are related to many products that can store your files in the cloud.  I have had the opportunity to try a couple of network attach storage devices recently and had one very good experience and one not so good.

So why would you want a home network attached storage device? Well that’s pretty easy to explain . If you’re using cloud storage today you’re likely limited by the amount of cloud storage that’s provided at a low-cost. You can definitely add additional storage for additional cost but that still does not solve the problem of having enough storage for what you want to put in the cloud. Vendors have realized this need and have developed network attached storage devices that you can put in your home and that will provide you a large amount of storage for a relatively low cost. You also have the added security of knowing that your cloud data is located where you put it. There is no risk of the cloud service going out of business or losing your data by doing things this way. It does not eliminate the need for a backup of your network device, but it does provide you that peace of mind in knowing that you have the data and are the only one with the data.Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 2.06.27 PM

The first one I tried is made by Western Digital called My Cloud. Western Digital is a storage company that makes hard disk drives that are available at a local electronic stores so they were a natural to get into the network attached storage business. If you’re familiar with an external Western Digital hard drive,The My Cloud device will look very similar. On the back of this device you will find an ethernet connection port. This port connects to your local home network and allows you to configure the device for access outside the home. It also provides a USB3 port on the back of the device to allow you to either upload photos from a digital camera or connect directly to your computer.

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 2.10.13 PMSetting up the device only takes a few minutes. Once you install the included software on your computer it provides access to the device You then connect to the device across your home network to do the configuration. Once it’s connected you can map drive to your computer or you can access the files from the Internet. It’s very easy to work with and works very quickly. Western Digital offers mobile apps for the Android and iOS operating systems that which helps solve another problem many of us face: data fragmentation caused by having stored files on multiple devices. Install the apps onto your smartphones and tablets, and you can send all your media files over the Internet to your My Cloud.

One of the best parts of this network attached device is the cost. A 2 TB unit costs about $150. A 3 TB unit is about $200. Considering the cost of the drive itself is at least $100 to $150, these devices are are absolute bargains.

Unfortunately, I can’t be nearly as positive about the second device I’ve had experience Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 2.28.24 PMwith. This unit was called Transporter from Connected Data. (recently purchased by Drobo). If you were giving points for looks, the transporter would certainly be a winner. It has a very odd shape and a beautiful blue light that pulses when date is being accessed. But looks are about the end of the good things I can say about transporter. The software for this product has been extremely buggy. I ‘ve also found that when I have the software running on my computer in noticeably slows my machine down. You might be able to forgive the company for some problems with the software, but the problems with the transporter only begin there.

The Achilles’ heel behind the beautiful looks of the transporter is that it uses only a 2 1/2 inch drive. As a result, the costs are much higher for drives in a transporter. Plus many small 2 1/2″ drives are truly intended for laptops and not intended for something that spins and runs 24 hours a day. The result of this drive choice is that transporters are expensive and slow compared to other devices. As an example, a 2 TB transporter costs $350. That’s a full $200 more than the Western Digital My Cloud.

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 2.28.35 PMOne of transporters claims to fame is that can it can automatically mirror your data to another transporter. In practice, this proved to be difficult to make happen. Configuration, firewalls, and general lack of ability for the device to see itself on the network made doing this difficult. When you add in the fact that to make this work you need a second transporter, you have to wonder what these people were thinking about in their design and selection of product features.

You have to wonder why a company like Drobo, that provides high-quality storage devices, would purchase transporter. Couple that with the fact that Drobo doesn’t even advertise transporter on it’s own website makes me believe that the purchase was more related to software or people that it was to the device itself.

From my experience with these two devices there is no choice. If you’re looking for a low-cost network attached storage device, to build your own cloud in your home, choose the Western Digital My Cloud. Steer away from transporter.   It really does not perform as well as it should, and costs way too much.

Don’t let your first Tablet experience be a bad one

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 11.37.31 AMI saw it on the Internet just this morning!

Coby Kyros -4

7″ Tablet 4GB

Android 4.0 WiFi

just $49

Wow! What an amazing bargain. An android tablet running android 4.0 for just 50 bucks. Why would anybody pay for a tablet from Apple or Samsung when they can get one for just $50, right? Is this the shape of things to come, or is this just a big mistake waiting to happen?

Many times my father told me you get what you pay for. I’ve always felt it was that way when it came to purchasing computers. Purchasing on a machine and you’ll end up being sorry down the line. Or purchase a name brand machine and you’ll always be able to find support somewhere on the Internet either from the vendor or from other people with that machine type. When it comes the tablets, the story is exactly the same. I’ve talked to many people who have never had a tablet before and who have been thinking about purchasing a tablet. One of these people often ask me is are the jeep was just as good as the expensive ones? Well I can give you the answer. No! They’re not as good.

I feel strongly that the Apple iPad is the best tablet on the market. But that said, there are very good android tablets available also if that’s the choice and direction you want to head. But there are things you need to think about before you just purchased the odd inexpensive android tablet. First off, tablets from Samsung are good products. Even the models that are you’re too old are still very good devices that can download software applications and run them very well. Samsung, and android in general, are getting very good when it comes to interface use also. So what happened from Samsung, or one of the tables from Google are a good choice. Amazon is making some wonderful tablets also these days and they connect to Amazon’s own stores. But beyond that, you need to take a look at the specifications and the connectivity options.

Most low in tablets every slow processors and very small amount of memory. Many of them also have plastic covered screens that scratch very easily. When you buy one of these lowing tablets these features and up being very important to you after using the tablet for a short period of time. But probably the most important thing is that the tablet to purchase leads to be tied to one of the major software stores. If you’re purchasing an Apple tablet you obviously don’t have to worry about this but if you’re purchasing an android tablet you need to make absolutely sure that it connects to the Google play store or to the Amazon store, if it’s a Kindle fire. If you look at the specs for the tablet that I mentioned above you see things like:

16:9 Widescreen, 800 x 480 Resolution – (very low resolution by todays standards)

1.0 GHz Cortex A5 Processor – (Slow processor using a designation “A5” that makes it sound like faster one on the market)
1GB RAM ( for an Android tablet, this just is not enough to be usable in Android 4)

All of these items are much less than any of the competition makes available today. In fact, they are so much less than many applications will not even run on this new tablet she would purchase today. But here’s the more important spec that you need to check. If the android device talks about connecting to something other than Google’s play store you need to shy away. This particular tablet says the following:

Get access to thousands of applications from GetJar marketplace with plenty of games, social media, and productivity tools to meet your needs.

That single statement means that you may not have access to many of the things available from Google, Google stores, or android updates. That makes it a very poor choice, regardless of the cost. I’ve been asked to help people with their tablets many times and the towels in the being the small off brand versions. Basically what we generally find out is that these temples are not upgradable, they cannot perform functions that the user wants, and I cannot get software that they’re looking for.

So if you’re going down the android tablet path, make sure you purchase a good model tablet so that your first tablet experience won’t be a bad one.