Cleaning Your PC for Free!

One of my favorite PC cleaners is CCleaner. This nifty free piece of software can really put some life back into your computer. There is a paid version but for the majority of home PC users the free version will add some life your PC. Here are some highlights if you take time time to install CCleaner.

Cleaning Out Some Old Programs

When you analyze and run a cleaning scan, CCleaner picks some default types of information to delete. But some of these aren’t worth cleaning regularly. For instance, browser cache can build up over time and use lots of space on systems with smaller hard drives. However, the cache lets you access commonly visited sites quickly, so clearing it all the time is detrimental.

On the Cleaner tab, have a look at the various categories CCleaner lets you tweak. The Windows header contains entries for Edge and Internet Explorer, File Explorer, and other system elements like log files. The Applications header lets you clear browser information, as well as various utilities you might have installed like Foxit Reader, Office, 7-Zip, and more.

Browse though these items and uncheck everything you don’t want CCleaner to remove. If you often navigate via the Recent Documents page in File Explorer, it’s not worth the minuscule storage you save by removing it.

Say Goodbye to Some of those Unnecessary Startup Programs

Whenever you install software, it often sets itself to run at startup and adds an entry to your right-click menu. In theory these are useful, but having too many startup items can slow down your system and a messy context menu is more frustrating than helpful.

CCleaner lets you easily edit both of these lists. Open the Tools tab and select the Startup option. Here, you can see startup programs under Windows, as well as Context Menu items and even Scheduled Tasks. Click an entry you don’t want, then click the Disable button on the right side. You shouldn’t Delete something unless you’re certain that you don’t need it.

To keep a copy of everything you have in these lists, press Ctrl + A to select all items and click the Save to text file button. If you’re not sure what an entry is, right-click it and choose Open containing folder to find the source.

If you’re not sure which items to remove, check out the top items you don’t need at startup. And once you’ve removed useless entries, you should boost your context menu by adding great shortcuts.

So Long Duplicate Files – and Hello More Free Space

Duplicate files are a pain. Not only do they waste space, they might confuse you if you edit one file, then open the other one and wonder where the changes went. To combat this, use CCleaner’s tool to find extra copies and remove them.

Head to Tools > Duplicate Finder to start. Here you can specify criteria, such as limiting file sizes, skipping over hidden and system files (which is a safe idea), and only searching certain drives. By default, the tool considers duplicate files as those with an identical name, file size, and modified date. You can also check the Content box to further restrict matches.

Once you click Search, the list will populate. Be careful with deleting these files; stick to removing your own documents and videos and avoid removing DLLs or other data used by programs.

Don’t Be Scared – Wipe That Drive!

When you click Delete on a file in Windows, it disappears from your view. But that file is still on your hard drive for a while after deletion. Windows marks the spot where that data was stored as free space ready for new information, so until that happens you can recover the old file with the right software.

CCleaner provides a tool to securely erase data from your hard drive so that others can’t access it. Visit Tools > Drive Wiper to access it. Under Wipe, select Free Space Only. A Simple Overwrite will do in most cases, but you can do an Advanced Overwrite with three passes if you’d prefer. Select the drives you want to perform this on, and click Wipe. Note that this will take some time, so you shouldn’t use your computer while it’s running.

Wiping the free space won’t affect the contents of your drive at all, but will prevent previously deleted files from being recovered. If you want to completely obliterate a drive, select Entire Drive next to Wipe. This will irrevocably destroy all information on the drive, so use it with caution! For safety you can’t run this process on your Windows disk, but it’s great for wiping external drives.

Getting Under the Hood with Your Disk Space

While CCleaner can free up a good amount of space for you, chances are that the bulk of storage on your computer is taken up by your files and installed programs. There are several disk usage visualization tools, but CCleaner has its own built right in.

Some Cookies Are Good – Some Are Not So Good

When you clear browser information, cookies are one of the items CCleaner can remove. You probably don’t have any problem with tracking cookies going out the window, but removing the cookies for your email or social accounts means you have to log back into them. Head to Options > Cookies in CCleaner to remedy this.

The left panel shows you every cookie on your machine, while the right lists the cookies that CCleaner doesn’t delete. You can scroll through the (likely massive) list and double-click any website to add it to the Keep list. For some help, right-click on the left side and click Intelligent Scan — CCleaner will automatically find cookies for sites like Google and AOL and move them to the Keep side. You can remove them if it keeps one you don’t want.

As I said at the strat of this article, the free version in most cases is enough  however there are a few features, like cleaning automatically on a schedule which are only available in the $25 Professional version. However, you can easily set up CCleaner on a schedule manually for free. You don’t have to pay to get a ton of powerful features in one great utility. Start using CCleaner to its full potential today!

You can learn more and download the free version of CCleaner here.

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A Quick Look at the New Pebble Time

Today, as the Pebble Time arrives the smartwatch landscape is very different then it was back in 2013 when Pebble released their initial model. Now that Apple has released their Apple Watch, survival in this emerging smartwatch arena will be tougher then ever before. This all being understood I have used a Pebble Smartwatch since its debut in 2013. I have tried a couple along the way, such as the Galaxy Gear and quickly gave up and returned to the trusty little Pebble.

My Pebble Time finally arrived at the end of last week and I have only been using it for a few days so I wanted to give this quick review.

Pebble Time is a lower-end product when compared to the likes of the Apple Watch or LG Watch Urbane. It has huge plastic bezels, a non-touch screen and a default band is a stretchy and rubbery. However if do not want to go into the poorhouse to have a smartwatch this can be forgiven.

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Not to be outdone by the Apple Watch, there is a great Mickey Mouse watchface available here as well!

This smart watch is a happy reminder of what made Pebble a major player in the smartwatch arena in the first place. First, this new watch looks better than I thought it would. Do not misunderstand, this is not elegant, luxurious or jewelry-like in any way – but it has a simplistic view that many will appreciate. Not everyone wants to scream out, “Hey look  at me,I have a smartwatch!”

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For me I just dig this Star Trek LCARS watchface. Just look at all of that information displayed on the screen!

The thick lines of that bezel and the border surrounding the screen bleed into the software’s visual theme – making the design feel less like a cost-cutting necessity and more like a choice (which could be an illusion, but at least it’s an effective one).

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All of the basic functions of a good smartwatch are here. Notifications appear on the watch with a vibration and they are easy to read at a glance.

Its software is now organized as a timeline. From the main watch face, the down button (again, it relies on four physical buttons, as there’s no touchscreen) moves forward in time, while the up button moves back. It’s logical, but it might only make sense for people with busy schedules full of lots of calendar events. The process of getting back to missed notifications is actually a bit less straightforward than it was on older Pebbles.

Pebble Time also now apparently has voice control, something no previous Pebble could do. I have not had a chance to test this yet but will do do soon.

Another important advantage of the Pebble Time is that it is cross-platform which means that you can use it with any smartphone you have. If you have an iPhone, Android or Windows Phone this will work. The Apple Watch only work with an iPhone. I do not like feeling trapped in any particular eco-system which is one of the reasons I have stayed with the Pebble line and waiting so patiently for this new one.

The Pebble Time is not perfect, but it does handle all of the basic tasks we think of when it comes to a good smartwatch. There are very little bells and whistles and it will not be mistaken for a piece of jewelry but that is not what I am look for from this type of technology.

I will have much more on Pebble Time in my full review, but my early impressions are that it could continue to fill a niche as a less expensive smartwatch with a quiet profile that many will apreciate.

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Lilyhammer Shows Us the Future of TV

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Season 3 premiered last week on Netflix.

It’s the middle of the Thanksgiving weekend and so the tech news is light. However catching up on the Netflix exclusive series, Lilyhammer I was thinking about the future of TV and how The E Street Band’s Steven Van Zandt is leading the way.

Although the Netflix series House of Cards is the series that generates most of the future-of-TV talk it is actually Lilyhammer that started it all. It preceded House of Cards as the first original series from Netflix to offer a full season all at once and be accessible 24/7 for streaming.

Lilyhammer premiered in January of 2012 while House of Cards first aired 13 months later in February 2013.

If you are unfamiliar with the series, the viewer goes on a journey with Tagliano, a New York mob boss, which begins when his beloved dog, Lily, is killed during an attempt on his life by a rival mobster.

In vengeance, Tagliano tells the FBI everything he knows about his rival in the hope of putting him in prison for life.

When asked by the feds where he would like to live in the witness protection program, he shocks them by choosing Lillehammer, Norway. He pronounces it Lilyhammer, which explains the title —which is also a nod to his deceased pet.

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Sound heavy? Don’t worry. Lilyhammer doesn’t play that way. In fact, the series sometimes goes too light and broad in its mix of comedy and drama. But that’s OK because it works as this really plays like The Sopranos on another strange parallel world.

As you would probably expect Van Zandt also supervises all of the music on Lilyhammer, which is why you see fabulous guest appearances and performances by the likes of rock legend Gary “U.S.” Bonds, whose 1961 version of “Quarter to Three” was an E Street Band staple on tours in the 1970s. I haven’t seen it yet by the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen apparently makes an appearance in Season 3.

Part of the TV future is the synchronicity presented here between ideology and the technology and it’s marketing that drives Netflix. Netflix is thinking globally with a series Lilyhammer which is seen in 50 countries.

Lilyhammer is set in Norway and is produced by a Norwegian cast and crew. But it stars an American actor playing an American-born and bred character whose values often clash with those of Norway.

No matter what country you are in, there are so many different languages spoken among the characters that you can’t view the series without subtitles and you must pay attention. Multitasking while watching this series simply won’t work.

You can learn more about Lilyhammer here.

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HTC One Maxx – Disappointment in a Big Size

Bigger is not necessarily better. The latest example of this is the HTC One Maxx. I tried this out for a month before ultimately sending it back.

The HTC One Maxx is one of the new giant smartphones and sports a Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor, 5.9-inch Super LCD3 capacitive touchscreen, 16 GB or 32 GB internal storage (expandable up to 64 GB), 2 GB RAM, and a 4 MP camera (on of it’s problems), all running on Android v 4.3.

The HTC One Maxx is certainly one of the biggest smartphone you can get, but ultimately it fails on several levels.

The HTC One Maxx is certainly one of the biggest smartphones you can get, but ultimately it fails on several levels.

 

On the surface the HTC One Maxx looks like a blown up version of the HTC One. Other then the larger form factor the phones look almost identical. However the Max is not really an upgrade from it’s little brother. Other then it’s size it is inferior in almost every way.

The Good

Measuring in at 6.48 x 3.25 x 0.41 inches and weighing 217 grams, the One Maxx has a surprisingly thin body with the same metallic finish at the One. Its 5.9-inch Super LCD3 capacitive touchscreen has an impressive resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels and a pixel density of 373 ppi. The best thing about this phone is its huge display and built-in stereo speakers.

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The Bad

Poor Processing Power

The One Maxx does not perform all that well. Compared with other smartphones with Snapdragon 800 processors, the One Maxx in clunky in its response. This is really a disappointment considering the mass size of the phone. There are actually times where even moving from the home screen, to text messaging to email is a chore as lag occurs.

Weak Camera

Another surprisingly poor performance issue is the ridiculous 4 MP camera with an LED flash, 1/3” sensor size, and a 2688 x 1520-pixel resolution. HTC also failed to include an optical stabilizer for better shots. It also has a 2.1 MP camera in the front. Therefore if you expect to take great pictures with your phone you should especially avoid the Maxx One.

On the surface the HTC One Maxx looks like a no brainier for anyone wanting a large smartphone, bordering on a tablet, but this one should be avoided.

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HTC One Max – Large But Comfortable

The HTC One Max is the big brother of the HTC One, and I mean the BIG brother. It has a 5.9-inch screen which is much larger than the 4.7-inch display of the that phone. What is amazing is that this large phone, is actually not that difficult to hold in one hand.  

At 5.9" the HTC One Max surprisingly is comfortable to hold in one hand.

At 5.9″ the HTC One Max surprisingly is comfortable to hold in one hand.

The HTC One Max is a large phone designed to look and feel as much like the HTC One and HTC One Mini as possible. There are a few added bonus features on the Max not available on it’s smaller siblings. 

Added to the Max is a fingerprint scanner on the back below the camera lens, there are little metal contacts on the rear to connect a charging dock to and a switch on the side that releases the back panel. This switch in particular which is for opening the back is a great feature which I hope to see on more smartphones. This really makes opening the back cover easier then on any phone I have seen before.

Once the back cover pops off you have access to the SIM slot and a microSD memory card slot. Sadly although you can see the battery here, it cannot be removed. 

The Max is a plastic phone with metal panels. It has a look similar to that of its little brother, but construction wise it is very different. However even with the “plastic construction” The HTC One Max still feels like an aluminium phone thanks to its metal finish.

HTC has also made sure the most commonly used physical buttons are easy to access. The soft keys are, at least for me within thumb’s reach, and the power button sits right under your right thumb.

Fingerprint Sensor

The HTC One Max uses a capacitive sensor that maps out the conductive properties of your digit (fingerprint) but not one of curvy lines and an optical CSI-like image. Unlike the iPhone 5S you have to run your finger across the sensor rather than placing your finger on it. This feature is there for convenience but I only used it for a day or two. The problem here is that the sensor is the rear side, under the camera (image below) forcing you to flip the phone over every time you want to log it.  There has also been some complaints that this was not working 100% of the time, although I had no problems with it reading my digit every time, I simply got tired of flipping the phone over countless times during the day. 

 

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Screen Quality

The HTC One Max has a 5.9-inch 1080p screen. The HTC One Max uses an LCD-type display, and it’s a good-quality panel. Contrast is good, black levels are decent and colors are fairly vivid without over saturating reds which I have seen on many phones. The large screen size sometimes can actually get in the way when reading email or text messages but it shines when using apps and especially playing games.

Camera

The HTC One Max brings superior low-light performance and impressive dynamic range. The camera benefits from a 1/3-inch sensor of four megapixels, resulting in sensor pixels of two microns a piece. The lens has an f/2.0 aperture, which is among the fastest you will find in a smartphone today. 

Where I am not impressed is with the ability of scaling.  At pixel level, it’s very clear that the HTC One Max is incapable of capturing anywhere near as much detail as the competition. A four-megapixel sensor can only do so much.

However the HTC One Max is a pretty competent snapper. Dynamic range is well above average when using the normal shooting mode resulting in your photos appearing detailed and vivid.

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An advantage I found with the HTC One Max over other smartphone cameras is with low light. Max’s low-light performance is better than most. To give you a sample of this the picture above was taken with very little light, in a dark room and no flash. Considering all of this the colors are bright an clear.

Front Camera

Nothing special or groundbreaking here. The HTC One Max has a good front camera. It is a 2-megapixel f/2 sensor that shoots video and stills at 1080p resolution. 

Video

Once again, nothing spectacular here. The HTC One Max captures average quality video. Phones are starting to make it to market with 4K video, but this phone makes brings 1080p. However few people own a 4K TV so this is not a problem for the masses, including me.

It does have video HDR (High Dynamic Range). This is a great feature, and one of the reasons that this is a high-end phone.

The video also brings fast motion (60fps) at 720p and slow motion – however this is only captured at a disappointing resolution of 768 x 432 pixels. 

Call Quality

Last but not least we arrive at call quality of this giant phone. The HTC One Max has great call quality. Its earpiece speaker is much better-than average, bringing improved clarity and sound depth compared to a lower-cost phone.

Like most high end phones, the One Max uses a secondary microphone to employ active noise cancellation. The tiny pinhole mic is found on the back of the phone, in one of the plastic seams. 

In Conclusion

In the end the HTC One Max feels high-end, and is nowhere near as visually imposing size-wise as some phones in this class.

This phone belongs to the relatively new group of super-large phones that are not much smaller than tablets and that won’t fit into every pocket. The good news is that HTC has made a very large phone that actually does not feel ridiculously huge and at least for me, still fits in my pocket, although I admit there is no room in there for anything else!

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