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Author Archives: Alex Kidman

How to make the most of your streaming subscriptions

There’s a lot of choice right now when it comes to streaming video services online. They’re all built on the same basic premise; you get access to a large library of content to stream for a month, typically (but not always) for around $10 per month. That kind of price can net you access to Netflix, Disney+, Stan, any number of dedicated single sport streaming services and a whole lot of niche content services covering everything from horror films to reality TV binges.

There’s still more coming, with Paramount+ launching in Australia from August 11th, although there’s an element of rebranding here.

Paramount+ is owned by CBS, who already own Channel 10 and operate an existing streaming subscription service currently known as 10 All Access.

That service will vanish the moment that Paramount+ kicks off, so if you’re an existing 10 All Access subscriber, that’s where you’ll find much of the content shifting to. It’s at least going to be slightly cheaper than 10 All Access, however, at $8.99 per month compared to the existing service’s $9.99 per month price point.

That sub-$10 price point plays a nice psychological trick on you, because you don’t need to watch all that much to convince yourself that there’s value there. Most cinemas won’t let you in the door for under $10, so a single good movie within the month could qualify that price point. Or if you prefer to think of the classic video store and that near-standard “6 or so movies for $10” deal that many of them did, 6 titles over 30 days would see you good.

However, it’s also something of a trap, because there’s no one-stop-shop for every single bit of content. Want to watch Stranger Things? Netflix exclusive. Want to see The Falcon & The Winter Soldier? Disney+ only. Keen on Mythic Quest? That’s only on Apple TV+. Fan of The Grand Tour? Amazon Prime Video exclusive. You get the picture – or more to the point, you only get the picture if you subscribe to a lot of services.

Suddenly, those $10 deals stack up, and while you end up with a lot of content to watch, it’s pretty easy to be spending $50-$100 or more on limited time access, and even more if you need to throw Foxtel into the mix.

However, if you’re smart, you can legally watch all the key programs without wasting a lot of money – it just takes a little discipline. While many shows and movies only appear on streaming services for limited timeframes, that’s still usually measured in a number of months, and that gives you the flexibility to shift and turn as new content comes up. Most of these services really do rely on the idea that you’ll simply keep on staying subscribed even if you’re not watching all that much, because it’s easier to set up a direct debit and forget about it, especially when it’s under $10 per month.

The smarter step is to evaluate the content on each service on an ongoing basis. Everyone’s tastes and watching habits are different, but right now, for example, there’s not so much on Netflix that’s catching my eye, so I’ve cancelled my subscription. It only takes a couple of clicks, and it’s just as easy to restart it as and when new and more compelling content comes along.

What this also does is tend to focus your viewing more on what’s available, rather than being overwhelmed by choice on so many different platforms. That means you can maximise your viewing on, say, Disney+ one month, cancel just before your month is up and jump over to Netflix (or Stan, Britbox, WWE, Hayu, whatever takes your particular viewing fancy) for a month’s worth of watching there. While the available content does shift, anything that’s appearing for the first time one month is nearly always there the next month for you to enjoy – and all the while spending less on your streaming subscriptions.


Apple Watch adds ECG in Australia: Here’s how to use it

In Australia, the vast majority of smartphones sold are tied either to Apple or Samsung. Everyone else in a brand sense runs a very distant third. Smartphones are very well established as a category, but they’re linked very closely to smart watches that pair with them. Again, the same kinds of trends emerge, with research suggesting that around 2.5 million smart wearables – a category dominated by smart watches – were sold in the second half of 2020, according to Telsyte’s Australian Smartphone & Wearable Devices Market Study 2021.

Of those, Apple has a commanding market lead, with its Apple Watch long being favoured by Australians for its style as much as its feature set. However, there’s one feature that has been notably absent in Australian Apple Watches, even though it’s been in the hardware since 2018. That’s the ability to take an electrocardiograph (ECG) directly from the watch itself. If you’ve ever had a hospital visit where they stuck lots of sensors on your chest, chances are good that (amongst other details) they were taking an ECG to monitor for unusual heart rhythms.

The Apple Watch ECG does that, but because that’s a regulated medical function, it had to pass through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) guidelines first. It’s hard to say precisely why it took so long – reports from mid-last year suggest that Apple simply hadn’t presented it to the TGA for approval yet for reasons as yet unknown.

However, with the most recent updates to iOS, the operating system that runs iPhones, and the Apple Watch itself, which runs on watchOS, Australians can use the Apple Watch to run a basic ECG on themselves. Here’s how you do it, and what you’ll need.

It’s worth noting that not every Apple Watch is ECG-ready, above and beyond watchOS upgrades. You need to have an Apple Watch Series 4 or newer, so older Apple Watch owners are plumb out of luck here. Apple simply didn’t add that ECG hardware until the Series 4 watches came out in 2018. Your Apple Watch will need to be updated to WatchOS 7.4, which you manage via the Watch app on your iPhone.

You’ll also need an Apple iPhone capable of running iOS 14.5, which is basically an iPhone 6s or newer. Make sure that both your Apple Watch and iPhone are up to date via software update, and you should then be able to set up the ECG function via the Health app on the paired iPhone. It’ll typically ask for your date of birth, as well as other details if you haven’t already configured the Health app before.

Once that’s done, you should then have a little ECG icon amongst your apps on the Apple Watch. It looks much like a heartbeat monitor graph as an icon. Tap on it, and you should be told to put a finger on the digital crown of the Apple Watch, and to wait for 30 seconds.

That process will run an ECG via your Apple Watch, but it’s really important to know the limitations here. The Apple Watch can’t detect in and of itself a heart attack, or a blood clot. While it’s had to be certified for use in Australia, it’s not a precision medical instrument in the way that hospital machines are. What it’s useful for is a longer term view of your heart health, and in terms of an ECG, that’s to do with your heart rhythm. If it detects something wrong, you should seek more qualified medical advice, and naturally, if you feel something’s wrong even if the Apple Watch isn’t detecting anything, that’s not bad advice either.


Apple’s Spring Loaded event provides upgrades and just a few new products

Apple is rather good at creating marketing hype – as well as tech products that a lot of people really do adore – and it showcased that at its most recent product launch event, dubbed the “Spring Loaded” event.

The reality is that Apple mostly just released updated and faster versions of products it already offered, with only one real “new” product to speak of – and Apple most definitely isn’t an inventor in that space, either.

The new headline act for Apple is an updated 11 inch and especially 12.9 inch iPad Pro tablet. These run on the M1 chip already found in Apple’s MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Air laptops released late last year, although that’s arguably less of a jump than it might seem. Apple’s M1 chips all use ARM architecture, and without getting too deep into the technical weeds here, ARM is precisely what’s been behind the processors of every iPad Apple’s ever made. It’s a newer chip, and it’s faster, although that’s relative to where you’re coming from in iPad terms. Apple made some grand claims here, around it being 75x faster than an original iPad, but that’s a tablet that came out some 11 years ago, so you’d expect it should be faster.

The 12.9 inch iPad Pro also gets a new type of display, miniLED, which should give it far greater colour accuracy thanks to the use of some 10,000 local dimming zones across its larger screen. It’s a tad thicker as a result, however, and if you had opted to buy Apple’s fancy (but pricey) Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro 12.9 already, you’d need to buy a new one, because the new iPad Pro 12.9 won’t fit on it.

M1 chips are also the order of the day for the iMac line of desktop computers. iMacs have had striking designs since their inception, when they came in a whole rainbow of colours, and that’s once again true for the 2021 models. They’re also substantially thinner, although I’m not quite sure what the benefit of “thin” really is for a computer that sits on your desk.

Speaking of colour, Apple did lay out one surprise… sort of… when it came to the iPhone. Nobody expected a new iPhone, because those typically release later in the year, but there’s at least a new colour hue available, with a purple shade available for iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 only.

Apple also updated its Apple TV 4K set top box with a faster processor and an interesting colour calibration feature that uses an iPhone as a light sensor. If you’ve got the existing Apple TV 4K – but not the older 1st or 2nd generation models known only as “Apple TV” – then you can access that feature now.

The sole “new” product in Apple’s lineup are AirTags. They’re Bluetooth connected tags that you can use via Apple’s existing “Find My” feature to find, well, anything that you connect them to, in theory. Outside Bluetooth range, the U1 chip in the AirTags uses the FindMy network that effectively runs through every iPhone out there to allow for triangulation and discovery.

While Apple’s had “Find My” on its iPhones and other devices for years now, this represents a step up for the company, but not one that’s massively innovative to speak of. Tile has offered Bluetooth and crowdsource-found tracking tiles for years now, Samsung’s got a take on that concept and there are numerous cheap third-party Bluetooth tracking tiles on the market as well.

None of that may matter to Apple, which can leverage that Find My network, plus its marketing hype to sell AirTags as though they’re new and innovative. They’re not – but they may well be a spark, as many other Apple products have been, to drive some actual innovation in that category.


Does it make sense to subscribe for printer ink?

With many of us working from home through 2020 and 2021, and the increasing needs for families to print items such as school assignments and permission slips, the humble consumer printer isn’t going to go away any time soon.

A little while back, I gave you a rundown on the differences between home inkjet and laser printers for consumer and small business use, which is well worth checking out.

One of the challenges for Inkjet printers is the cost of replacement cartridges. It’s been stated many times – and it’s still generally true – that printer ink is more valuable than gold, or indeed caviar or fine champagne. Although it is less valuable to keep in a bank account, and by no means should you attempt to eat or drink it.

Recently one of the bigger players in the consumer printing space introduced a not-entirely-new concept that does rather change the economics of using a home inkjet printer. HP’s bringing what it calls “Instant Ink” to around 80% of its existing printer families.

Why is it “instant ink”? Because it uses special – and rather large – ink cartridges that use an online connection to report their status back to HP on a more or less continuous basis. They’re not tracking the actual content that you do print, but simply the number of pages that you get through, because the Instant Ink subscription package works on the number of pages that you print.

The cheapest plan costs $1.99 per month, but for that you only get 15 pages to print. $5.99 pushes you up to 50 pages per month, $9.99 gets you 100 pages, $19.99 buys you 300 pages and the top tier plan provides for 700 pages per month at a cost of $39.99. Beyond that, and you’re probably a small to medium sized business better served with a print management style product, which have existed in the market for a very long time now.

If you do want to go “over” your page allotment within a given month, you can step up to the next tier of printing subscription with a payment, although that’s then the tier you’d be on for the following month unless you then remembered to step down a tier. That’s a classic kind of play that you see in markets like mobile plans at play.

Because the print cartridge and printer track usage, they’re also communicating ink needs, so as the cartridge nears the end of its capacity, a fresh cartridge is ordered for you and delivered before the old one runs out. You get a prepaid envelope to send the old cartridge back for recycling and re-use, so it’s an environmentally sound idea – or at least about as environmentally sound as printing can get, anyway.

Instant Ink isn’t a new product overseas, and indeed both Canon and Epson have variants on this idea already available in the USA, but HP is the first to bring the idea to Australian consumers.

So, is it a worthwhile idea?

There’s some interesting calculations that you need to make in order to work out whether HP’s Instant Ink might be worth it for you. There’s no calculated difference between a printed text page or a printed photo, even though quite logically one would use quite a bit more ink than the other. If you’re spending a lot on photo printing with occasional text or colour pages, that could tilt it towards being decent value. HP’s own estimates state savings of up to 50% on cartridge costs, but then HP wants to sell you an ink subscription, so it’s hardly going to say it’ll cost more, now would it?

There’s definite convenience in this idea, but you are paying a price for that convenience, especially if you’re someone who only uses a printer a very small amount.

That entry level $1.99 per month price feels very low. It’s $23.88 per year, generally cheaper than any set of replacement cartridges – but if you are only printing 15 or fewer pages per month, you might do just as well (or indeed better) hitting up your local Officeworks store.

Without meaning to seem like an ad, a typical A4 printed page there would run you 10c – which equates out to only $1.50 for those 15 pages.

It’s also worth considering the value of the printer you’re putting that Instant Ink cartridge into. Ink technology and efficiency has only gotten better over the years, and with competitors like Epson and Canon offering printers now with actual ink tanks that you put actual ink into for larger print capacities, it’s well worth doing your sums and working out your total cost of printer ownership over a year or so. Divide that up into monthly instalments, and you’ll get a much clearer picture of your real printing needs, costs and value propositions.


LG exits the smartphone business – so which phone should you buy?

LG recently confirmed something that had been doing the rumour mill rounds for a couple of months. The South Korean technology giant has declared that it will exit the smartphone business by the end of July.

It brings to an end LG’s smartphone ambitions as it sought to take on the other big South Korean smartphone player, Samsung. Over the years, LG’s brought a number of unusual innovations to the smartphone space, more than a few excellent handsets, and a handful of not-terribly-good phones. Whether the handsets were good or not didn’t seem to matter that much to the wider Australian phone buying audience, which tended to mostly buy either Apple or Samsung handsets.

It’s fairly likely that while LG will cease producing phones under its own branding, it’s not the end of its work in the smartphone market. LG is actually a group of companies that produce both LG-branded products and a wide variety of components such as batteries and displays. As an example, if you’ve purchased a fancy OLED TV in the past few years, the odds are exceptionally good that while it might bear branding such as Sony or Panasonic, the underlying panel was in fact produced by LG.

Still, LG’s exit from the smartphone business does raise a few questions worth pondering.

What happens if you’ve just purchased an LG phone?

In essence, not too much that wasn’t already in play. Australian consumer law protects you in terms of a reasonable warranty period for normal use, for a start. Just because a company opts to no longer sell a product doesn’t mean it washes its hands of its obligations towards existing customers, especially for a company like LG which still very much trades in Australia for a wide variety of other technology products.

LG has also confirmed that it intends to provide updates for what it deems its “premium” phones for up to three iterations of the Android operating system. That’s in line with what other vendors such as Samsung are currently offering, although LG’s track record in OS upgrades in a timely fashion wasn’t always the best. The choice of the words “premium” there are important as well. If you purchased one of LG’s 2020 Velvet 5G handsets, that would apply, but less so for the cheaper lines. LG’s official line on this is that “LG premium phones released in 2019 and later (G series, V series, VELVET, Wing)” will get the three year upgrade promise, while select 2020 models such as the Stylo and some K series phones may see two updates. We’ll have to wait and see.

LG’s promise for OS upgrades means that it’ll also have to keep on track for Android security updates for its phones as well. Again, LG’s track record here wasn’t the best or the worst, but it remains a vital step for smartphone users to make sure their phones are up to date.

Is it worth buying an LG phone now?

It’s obviously a rather open-ended question. There won’t be “new” LG phones coming to Australia, so we won’t officially see the rather weird sliding LG Wing phone officially for example, but if you can get a decent LG phone for a reasonable price, it could still be worth considering. LG isn’t a junk brand, and while its phones didn’t excite consumers in the way that releases from Apple or Samsung have, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t produce a decent phone. I’d definitely be looking for a discount from the regular RRP if I were you, and I’d also suggest that you check reliable online reviews to ensure that the phone you’re getting does what you want it to do, relative to its price point.

What does this mean for smartphone competition in Australia?

LG’s local market share wasn’t huge – after all, if it was, it wouldn’t be dropping out of the smartphone race – and at one time, losing LG would have been a bigger drop in the competition space than it now is. We’ve seen a few brands leave the local market before, Sony being the most obvious example. Sony still makes Android phones, but opted a few years back to quietly exit the Australian market on the basis of low sales. Like LG, it supported the phones it had sold for a while after it departed the local market, but it had a different story to tell, as internationally you can still buy new Sony phones. That won’t be the case for LG.

At the same time, however, we’ve seen a lot of new brands in the smartphone space, mostly Chinese brands such as Oppo, Xiaomi, Motorola, HMD Global/Nokia and realme bring phones that range from budget-space models to the fanciest premium brands. There’s still going to be a fair amount of choice open to you when you buy your next mobile phone – it’s just likely that it won’t include LG in the mix.


Google Nest Hub 2nd Generation Review: A smart display with less-than-smart sleep tracking

Google recently updated the smaller of its two smart displays, the Google Nest Hub, with a 2nd generation model that doesn’t change much visually if you’ve ever seen the original model.

For those coming to the party late, Smart Displays are effectively smart speakers – think devices like the Google Nest Mini, Amazon’s Echo speakers or Apple’s HomePod Mini – with screens on them to display contextual information, photos, videos and in some cases to act as integrated security cameras.

The original Google Nest Hub has had a lot of success in Australia, where Google’s Assistant is the dominant brand in smart assistants with between 64-80% of the total smart speaker market.

The new model is a little cheaper than the original was when it first came to market, although there’s been a bit of late rush recently of the first gen model being on sale even cheaper. While the design is much the same – a 7 inch screen that sits in front of a speaker wrapped in either a grey or black fabric – Google has made some interesting changes behind the screen.

The speakers haven’t changed in terms of output power, but Google’s claim is that they’ve got improved bass thanks to a larger internal chamber where the speaker sits. You pretty much have to sit two of them side by side to notice it markedly, but it’s an improvement no doubt.

The general features that make the Nest Hub attractive for many are still present; you can ask Google Assistant just about any question you’d throw into a Google search and it’ll either speak the answer, show you the answer or where it can do so, give you both. The 2nd Gen Nest Hub increases the microphone count from 2 to 3, and here I’ve seen some solid improvement in its ability to catch my voice from across a room, even when a noisy TV was running.

One of the defining aspects of the original Nest Hub was that it lacked a camera, with Google citing privacy concerns at the time. If you wanted that for security monitoring or for video calling through Google Duo, you had to pony up for the much pricier Nest Hub Max.

The Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen doesn’t quite have a camera, but it very nearly does. Specifically, it uses Google’s Soli radar technology, also seen in the Google Pixel 4 phone and Nest Hub Max for a couple of key features. You can access specific screen commands without touching the screen, thanks to radar tracking of your hands, although as with the Nest Hub Max this is a little bit quirky in real world use. The other area – and the one that’s drawn a lot of attention in tech circles – is the ability for the Nest Hub 2nd Gen to manage sleep tracking without you needing to wear a special tracking band or bracelet, or anything at all if you’re that way inclined!

Instead, you set it up by placing the Nest Hub 2nd Gen in your bedroom. Google reckons a lot of its Nest Hub users already do this, but the Nest Hub 2nd Gen’s radar can then grab a radar image – not a photo or video – of your form on top of your sheets. Then when you go to bed, it uses machine learning to track your sleep and provide you with metrics over a period, as well as advice on how to improve your sleep.

As technology goes it’s very cool, and Google’s at some pains to state that the actual tracking data stays on the device itself. Google says it’s not watching you while you sleep in that way, and in any case you’ve got to explicitly opt in to sleep tracking to even start using it.

In my experience, it’s surprising in a way how good the sleep tracking is on the Nest Hub 2nd Generation, but it’s far from flawless. It tended to overstate my sleep, and on more than one instance didn’t track when I was awake during the night due to some insomnia. That may improve over time, given that the Nest Hub itself has added all sorts of features such as video streaming since its first model debuted, but there’s another issue here. Google says that Sleep Tracking is a free feature for at least a year from now, but that indicates that it intends to charge for it, presumably at some point in 2022 or later. Right now I don’t know that it’s accurate enough to be worth paying for, and that’s assuming that you can get past the slightly-creepy factor of having radar watch you while you sleep.

Still, if you’re keen on a smart display, the faster processor and better microphone pickup in the Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen make it an easy enough recommendation. If you’ve already got a first generation model there’s not enough here to make it a must-have upgrade, however.

The Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen retails for $149 in either Charcoal or Chalk (Black/Grey) finishes, and you can pick one up from your local Officeworks store.


Windows updates will soon bring a facelift

Ever since Microsoft released Windows 10 – which was, astonishingly, all the way back in mid-2015 – the company has resisted the urge to shift to Windows 11, or indeed any other full “update” to Windows over that time. That’s a long time in the Windows world; after all, the predecessor version of Windows 10, Windows 8 only had an effective 3 year shelf life before being replaced.

The desire to stick to Windows 10 has very much been a deliberate strategy, with Microsoft announcing at the time Windows 10 launched that the intent was that Windows 10 would be the “final” release of Windows, but one that it would update over time to meet security needs and feature changes.

One of the ways that Microsoft tests out new features and changes is by periodically releasing updated versions of Windows 10 to what it calls its “Windows Insiders”. Pretty much anyone can be a Windows Insider – you can sign up at https://insider.windows.com/en-us/ if you’re particularly keen – but it’s worth bearing in mind that what you’re signing up for are updates ahead of schedule that may or may not come to market, and may have unrealised bugs in the software. Essentially you’ve got to be keen to see what’s new and upcoming in Windows, while ideally not running the preview builds on your only PC, because there is the possibility of inbuilt bugs along with the new features. That’s very much the nature of software, and the key market for the Insiders program are those who are willing to put up with a few inconvenient bumps along the way.

In return, however, they get early insight into where Windows is going, and right now, it appears that we’re in the middle of a bit of a Windows facelift.

Specifically, Microsoft is changing up the icons used for a number of familiar Windows applications as it seeks to freshen up its look. It’s a process that’s been underway for some time; as Microsoft itself notes in the release notes for the latest Windows Insider Build, it’s already looked into changing the Notepad, Windows Security and Narrator icons.

Next in line as of the latest build will be the icons for the drives on a given PC, as well as the recycle bin icon. It’s part of Microsoft’s aim to keep Windows 10 looking and feeling “fresh”, although of course updated builds will also have a slew of security and performance upgrades under the hood as well. Those are a little tougher to quantify across the many PCs that run Windows 10, however.

It’s an interesting balancing act for Microsoft, however. While it’s not changing the way that (for example) the Recycle Bin works, changing its look can somewhat upset a computer user’s expectation around where it is and what it looks like.

We all tend to rely on this kind of muscle memory when using our computers, and change like that can be confronting.

Microsoft hasn’t yet committed to when these design changes will come through to regular Windows Updates – and it’s possible if the outcry from the Windows Insider community is loud enough it may scale back its ambitions somewhat – but they’re likely to make their way to the wider Windows community in time.

New icons aren’t really a reason to update Windows in an of themselves, but it’s always wise to keep your Windows installation up to date to ensure that you’re secure against the wide array of security threats that target the world’s most popular operating system.


Samsung SSD 980 NVMe M.2 Review: A great mix of speed and cost

Samsung recently sent me one of its lower-cost SSD drives, the Samsung SSD 980 NVMe M.2 to test out.

Drives like this one are designed for PC builders and upgraders looking to eke out as much performance from their PCs as possible, but I was curious to see what kind of impact it might have on an existing PC I already had. Adding SSD storage to an existing computer can often be an affordable way to improve performance, as long as the drive you’re replacing is technically slower.

Specifically for this drive, you’d need a PC with a motherboard that supports the NVME M.2 standard, although that does encompass a fairly wide array of both desktop and laptop systems, as long as it’s possible to alter your laptop’s drive at all.

For my purposes I was using a desktop system with a much older and smaller SSD drive as its primary drive, backed up with an older SATA mechanical drive. That secondary drive was where a lot of the files and apps I tend to use on a daily basis resided, because the primary SSD really wasn’t that large.

As someone who’s been writing about PCs for decades now it’s fascinating to see how far we’ve come in terms of storage. The Samsung SSD 980 NVMe M.2 has the same form factor as other NVME drives, which is to say that it’s a small stick of solid state storage about the size of a stick of gum.

Comparatively, the SATA drive in the same system is roughly the size of a small paperback novel, and uses a more complex plug system to boot. Physical installation wasn’t much tougher than removing the old SSD and slotting the new one in, although of course if that’s a challenge for you, Geeks2U technicians could always help with that.

One Windows 10 installation later, and I could get to comparing speed, because that’s what this should be all about. The reason why jumping from older mechanical drives to newer solid state ones can work so well is because those drives are where your computer’s programs and files reside.

The faster your PC can access that data, the faster it can run, although there are obvious bottlenecks depending on other factors including the programs in question, the processor and memory to name but a few.

Still, I was curious to see what kind of difference it would make in real world terms. Samsung provides a benchmarking utility within its Samsung Magician SSD software to test this, so I ran that over the new Samsung SSD 980 NVMe M.2, the older SATA drive, and even the drive it was replacing, a smaller and cheaper Phison SSD drive.

Just to avoid any particular in-house sneaky benefits that Samsung might give its own drives, I also ran the third party Crystal Disk Mark application to gather up further SSD speed scores.

First of all, the older SATA mechanical drive, where I’d been storing most of my apps and data. It averaged around 185MB/s on both Samsung and Crystal DiskMark’s apps for read speed – that’s getting data from the drive to the computer to display in some way – and 180MB/s for write speed, which as you might guess, is how fast it can save data to that specific drive.

So how much faster was the Samsung SSD? In the same tests, it averaged 3,450MB/s read and 2,828MB/s write in both benchmarks, a huge leap over the mechanical drive. That’s exactly what I’d expect, and why this kind of drive is picking up in popularity.

Now, some of that speed is inherent in SSDs – for what it’s worth, the older and smaller Phison SSD managed 3,400MB/s read speeds too, but only 663MB/s for writing to the drive. I know which one will be staying in my home PC for the time being, because it’s also considerably larger, allowing me to keep the SATA drive in place for those files that I can live with accessing in a more leisurely fashion, while getting the SSD to manage the heavy speed lifting.

It’s absolutely well worthwhile doing your research in terms of these upgrades; some systems will predate accessibility for NVME M.2 drives, while others may support multiple drives, but sometimes not if you’re also already using a SATA drive. Still, while there are even faster NVME M.2 drives out there, the Samsung 980 NVMe M.2 hits a nicely sweet spot in terms of price and performance. The model I tested with comes with 1TB of onboard storage for around $199. That’s pricier than, say, most external SATA type drives – but considerably faster, too.


Netflix is closing the “brother-in-law” loophole

By a wide margin, Netflix is the most popular of the subscription streaming services in Australia. It has an estimated 13.2 million viewers each month.

Disney+ is certainly giving it a run for its money having recently launched its new Star hub with a wider gamut of content beyond its original kid-friendly fare.

It’s a long, long way from the days when I used to head to the local video store to snag 6 video tapes for $10. In some ways that was a precursor to having an array of video content on demand to watch. Although there were some limitations to that approach that streaming services dodge.

You don’t need to rewind Netflix to speak of, and the tapes don’t get gunk on them either. One thing I definitely did back in the days of VHS was share those tapes around friends and family during the week that I had them.

These days, that phenomenon lives on through account sharing, although its days may be limited.

The basics of account sharing are incredibly simple. If you have a subscription to a streaming service that allows multiple simultaneous streams, you share your login details with your family or friends.

You log in, they log in, and the costs can be split between you, or assumed by one of you depending on your financial circumstances.

A friend of mine refers to it as the “brother-in-law” scheme, because he subscribes to one service, they subscribe to another, and between the two of them they can watch content from both at what amounts to half price.

This does rely on being on a subscription tier that allows for multiple streams. Netflix allows that on its HD and 4K price tiers, but not its basic Standard Definition service.

Account sharing on a single stream subscription could be frustrating very quickly. You start binge watching Bridgerton only to have it cut out because the other user’s trying to watch Blown Away, or similar.

It also relies on Netflix (or other providers) not particularly enforcing their own rules. Account sharing is a breach of the terms and conditions of the service.

Netflix can’t exactly stop you telling your brother-in-law your account details. It appears that it is trialling blocking streams that don’t seem to come from familiar locations or IP addresses.

Multiple online reports show Netflix users having pop-up screens asking them to verify their accounts if they start streaming. You need to verify via either email or text message, with a not-too-subtle request that you also sign up for your own account at your own cost.

That’s a potentially effective pester platform to work from.

Your brother-in-law might laugh it off the first time it happens and share the confirmation code with you. Will he be as happy the fifth or twelfth time it happens?

There’s a solid argument to say that if too many people do share accounts, there won’t be enough income to provide for new programming as well. Although your view on the quality of a given streaming service’s content can of course vary.

As yet, the company hasn’t commented on the scheme, and it’s not clear at this stage whether it’s affecting Australian users. There’s an obvious commercial imperative for Netflix and other streaming providers to limit the quantity of account sharing that goes on. That’s also has to be balanced against limiting actual users who pay for the service not getting too annoyed at it when trying to watch content when they’re away from home too.


Understanding eSIMs: Why you might never need a SIM card again

While these days we’re tending to keep our mobile phones for longer periods of time – up to 3.5 years according to research, if you purchase a newer phone, and especially a premium device like an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S device, it’ll come with eSIM capability.

As a technology, eSIM has been around for a while now, and the three major carrier networks – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone – have offered it as an option to new phone buyers. Telstra recently announced that it’s adding eSIM capability to its Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) partners – these are the brands that use parts of the Telstra 3G/4G network but sell under their own branding, including supermarket brands Woolworths Mobile and ALDI Mobile, amongst others.

As such, you’re more likely to come across the term, and be offered an eSIM option for your next mobile phone, and possibly even tablet or laptop device in the future. Here’s what you need to know about eSIM.

eSIM vs physical SIM: What’s the difference?

Any mobile phone user – whether you favour a smartphone or a simpler “feature” style phone – will be familiar with the SIM card as the part of the phone package you get from your mobile provider that lets your phone play nicely on their networks. Over the years we’ve seen gradual reduction in the size of SIM cards, down to the Nano SIMs that most phones these days use. Mechanically, they can’t get much smaller, or they couldn’t until you introduce eSIMs.

Where SIM cards require those tiny bits of plastic and metal, and (typically) pop-out trays for them to sit in, eSIMs are embedded “virtual” SIM cards that live within the phone itself. No need for additional cards, nothing to drop on the floor and lose if you’re changing handsets, and no need to hit up a store or wait for a postal delivery to get your handset up and running.

So far, we’ve seen very few devices in Australia opt for an eSIM-only approach, with most still keeping a regular SIM card tray as part of their physical build. That does mean that just about any phone with an eSIM will in effect be a “dual SIM” style phone, capable of running two phone accounts if that’s useful to you.

For most providers, setting up an eSIM is no more difficult than scanning a QR code on the relevant device, at which point it sets about authenticating itself and writing the necessary code to the eSIM to identify it as your device and your phone number.

What happens if I want to change provider?

This should be easier than with a regular SIM card and new provider, because as long as both providers support eSIM, all you should need is to close one account and open a new one, scanning the QR code – or whatever process your new provider requires – and you’re good to go. Comparatively, signing up with a new telco with a physical SIM requires an entirely new SIM card, activation of that SIM card and a waiting period to get all that done. We’re still in the early days of cross-network eSIM activation, however, so it’s always wise to be ready in case you need to dig further with any network or provider change.

What happens with eSIM if my phone, tablet or laptop is stolen or lost?

You’ll need a new device, that’s what. Obvious answers aside, there’s little practical difference here with eSIM or a physical SIM. If you do lose a device, or it’s stolen or otherwise inaccessible to you on a presumably permanent basis, contact your provider and get them to block the eSIM. That’ll block down the device so that malicious types can’t use it for other purposes, as well as avoiding any additional charges to you. From there, your provider should be able to provide you with a fresh eSIM code – while still retaining your existing phone number – with relative ease.

There are some catches specific to providers with eSIM, and not every data or phone plan will offer an eSIM option. Some providers may only offer eSIM in their stores, while others will offer it online partially or in full.

Can I upgrade my old phone for eSIM?

Nope, although it is worth checking if it’s already eSIM capable. If you’re an iPhone user with an iPhone XS or newer, you’re already packing eSIM capability, for example. The reality here is that while eSIM will almost certainly become more widespread – it’s more environmentally friendly than printing all those SIM cards, for a start – it’s not likely that they’ll supplant traditional SIM cards particularly quickly. If your current mobile only has a standard SIM card slot, the odds are that it’ll stop working due to age before SIM cards are entirely phased out across phones in any case.


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