If you get a call from someone claiming to be the "Windows Service Center," hang up.
I heard this week from one of our readers whom I've known for some time and who got one of these calls, telling her that her computer was at risk. She quite rightly smelled a rat and started asking the person on the other end for information.
I did some checking online and have found reports of such scams going back for months. Microsoft will not call you out of the blue to point out computer problems. If you get a call claiming to be from the "Windows Service Center" or the "Microsoft Service Center," asking for information about, or access to, your computer, disregard it, or else you could be opening yourself up to a virus, identity theft or some other scam.
Last week, Amazon announced a new flight of products in its Kindle and Kindle Fire lines. Most of the attention went to newly-upgraded Kindle Fire tablets, including a larger model more comparable in size to the iPad, but on Leo Laporte's "This Week In Tech" podcast, one of the commentators said he thought that wasn't right -- to him, the big news was the improvements being made to the e-reader products.
For purposes of this column, I'll use "tablet" to refer to a device with a color touchscreen that can be used for web browsing, watching video, or playing games as well as reading books, while I'll use "e-reader" to refer to devices with black-and-white "e-ink" screens that are primarily intended for reading books. Some e-readers have audio capabilities, can play very rudimentary games or have low-tech web browsers, but there's no question that their purpose in life is for books. The e-ink screen, unlike a color tablet or laptop, can be used indoors or outdoors since it doesn't wash out in bright sunlight. It's also thought to be easier on the eyes than a backlit screen.
When Apple's iPad revolutionized the tablet market, some thought it would be the death of the still-young e-reader market. But there seems to be room for both products, sometimes even in the same household. I don't own a tablet, but I love my basic, entry-level Kindle, and I've done more reading since buying my Kindle this year than the previous two years put together. Even at full price, e-books are cheaper than hardbacks, and if you're flexible you can get plenty of books on deep, deep sales or for free. You can also borrow e-books through a library-affiliated program.
Amazon last week upgraded its top-of-the-line touch-screen e-readers to what it calls "paperwhite" technology, with better contrast and resolution, to better simulate reading off a printed page. They also come with built-in reading lights, to compete with the Barnes & Noble Nook's new e-ink screen, which has a backlight that can be turned on and off. The entry-level Kindle, the one I own, has gotten some minor improvements as well as a $10 price drop, from $79 to $69.
If you haven't yet tried an e-reader, now may be the time. The new Nook and Kindle products appear to be better than ever, and I think they'll be showing up under quite a few Christmas trees later this year.
Apple, meanwhile, is rumored to be preparing a new tablet similar in size to the (original) Kindle Fire or the Nexus 7. Consumer demand for those devices, as well as e-readers, seems to have disproven the late Steve Jobs' claim that a 7-inch tablet was too small. Many people I know love their original-size iPads, and that size will continue to be popular, but others like the smaller, pocketable tablet. That's why companies like Apple and Amazon are introducing models in both sizes.
Another small tablet is being introduced by, of all places, Toys 'R Us. The toy store is introducing an Android-based tablet aimed at children, which it will sell only at its brick-and-mortar stores. Of course, the Wall Street Journal, which reported on the toy store chain's new tablet, points out that some adults updating tablets like the Kindle Fire may end up just handing down their older versions to the kids rather than spending the money to buy a new product.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.