Insights For Success

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Review of the Asus C434 Chrombook

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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I am lucky enough to have the chance to test a tone of devices every year. Chromebook testing is an interesting endeavour because the higher end units usually are fantastic to use, while the cheaper products are slow and clunky. Chromebooks that live in the middle ($500-600) typically inherit the bad characteristics from both categories.

The mid-priced ($600) Asus C434 doesn't fall into this typical model.

Build quality

Most (non-premium) Chromebooks feel cheap and flimsy. They creek and crack when you grab them from an edge.

The Asus C434 is an all-aluminum design that looks and feel premium. The design includes chamfered edges that give it a more premium feel. Even the hinges are chrome covered, which adds to the premium look and feel.

When used in laptop mode, the hinges slightly raise the screen end of the keyboard which makes typing slightly more pleasurable.

It feels like Asus has crammed a 14-inch device in the body of a 13-inch device without sacrificing usability.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the design of the Asus C434 is wonderfully tough-out and makes using the device a joy.

The screen

My everyday personal use device is a Pixelbook. I love my Pixelbook, but it's enormous bezels make it feel dated. Although the Asus C434 isn't breaking any new bezel records, its design is noticeably modern (87% screen to body ratio). It has a very good 14-inch Full-HD screen (1920x1080) IPS panel that has good viewing angles, good colour reproduction and respectable (300 nits) brightness.

The Asus C434 screen isn't class leading like the Pixelbook or Samsung Pro but isn't a slouch either. Most users will find the screen amazing and a pleasure to use.

The keyboard

Keyboards can make or break a device. Look at the thousands of vocal Macbook fans on Reddit that have jumped ship to Windows because they can no longer deal with the horrible butterfly keyboards included in most new MacBooks.

So a lousy keyboard can kill even the best most thoughtfully designed laptop. Luckily the Asus C434 does reasonably well in the keyboard category. For users coming from an HP x360 or a Pixelbook, the keyboard doesn't feel as good, but for most users, this thing will be a joy.

Asus chose a non-glass trackpad which makes using it a bit more of a chore. The included trackpad is acceptable, but the device does suffer a bit from a less usable trackpad. Remember that I am comparing the Asus to the premium end of the market. If you compare this to a $500 windows laptop or other similarly priced Chromebooks, you will not be disappointed by the trackpad’s performance.

The ports

I regularly curse at my Pixelbook for not including at least one USBA port. Sure I love all things USBC, but I still have a tone of useful accessories that are USBA, and I seem to forget my dongles when I need them most.

This is where the Asus C434 beats my Pixelbook; it has a tone of ports. The Asus C434 has USBC ports on either side but also a USBA port, a headphone/microphone port and a microSD card slot.

The Asus C434 has the ports you need to get your job done without worrying about dongles or adapters.

The Internals

Most reviewers based their tests on the Core m3 (m3-8100Y) device with 4GB of RAM. While 4GB is good enough for the casual web user, it isn't enough to load a tone of Android apps and to comfortably run Linux apps.

The Asus C434 comes in the m3, i5 and i7 varieties and power users will probably opt for the mid-tier i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage.

As I write this review, most sites still don't offer the 8GB/128GB version of the unit (Amazon, B&H, etc.) but it is coming. Unless you need a device right away (then get the 4GB/64GB), I would wait a couple of weeks to pick up the more powerful model.

VPN Support coming to Linux apps on Chromebooks

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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It seems everyone has jumped on the VPN bandwagon these days. On Chromebooks, we can use VPN extensions, but these don't protect Android apps. We can use Android VPN apps, which protect the entire ChromeOS (including Android apps but not Linux apps).

So what happens today? Even if you have an Android VPN running, the Linux apps go our via your origin IP bypassing the VPN network adapter. If you need to use a VPN with the Linux container today on ChromeOS, you have to install a Linux VPN client in the container itself.

In Chrome 76, Google will finally fix this issue and app Linux traffic will also flow through the VPN (extension of Android app). You can test this today if you have the developer or Canary versions of ChromeOS installed on your Chromebook.

We expect ChromeOS 76 to be released to the Beta channel June 13-20 and to the stable channel around July 30.

Other cool features coming with the ChromeOS 76 release will be

  • "Picture In Picture" support for most video platforms

  • "Web Share Target Level 2" which will allow any installed application to receive a file share (using a manifest)

Comparing NordVPN and ExpressVPN

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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This is not a sponsored post, and none of the links are affiliate links?

Readers regularly ask me to compare NordVPN to ExpressVPN

  • "Can you compare NordVPN to ExpressVPN?"

  • "Is NordVPN better than ExpressVPN?"

  • "Is ExpressVPN faster than NordVPN?"

Both NordVPN and ExpressVPN are considered to be top of the line premium VPN services. Both offer similar premium services and functionality such as:

  • reliable connectivity

  • fast connection speed

  • well designed strong encryption

  • 30-day money back guarantee

  • 24/7 technical support

  • No log policy

  • Kill switch to prevent leaking of your true identity or location

If you want a VPN to watch geographically locked streaming services such as Hulu, Netflix, BBC then ExpressVPN is probably your preferred choice. ExpressVPN seems to be one of the only services that has not been blocked by the Netflix proxy filter. In addition to successfully working around the Netflix proxy filters, ExpressVPN offers the fastest performance; therefore you are less likely to get buffering or lag.

Although NordVPN has had some issues with various streaming services blocking them, the support team works quickly to work around these issues so you should have access to most of your shows most of the time. NordVPN isn't as fast as ExpressVPN but is close enough for most users. NordVPN now has more than 5,092 servers which is an amazing amount (more than ExpressVPN).

NordVPN also offers a feature called DoubleVPN. DoubleVPN is a technique called VPN chaining (called on ProtonVPN). The concept is that they encrypt all the traffic once (standard VPN functionality) and then pass it through a second VPN server (encrypting again) before finally exiting to the internet. SoubleVPN will improve your security posture but will reduce your connection speed.

Conclusion

In summary, ExpressVPN offers better and more reliable access to streaming services and faster VPN speeds. NordVPN is good but not as good as ExpressVPN. NordVPN's claim to fame is the price.

NordVPN offers one of the best VPN services available today at a price that is significantly cheaper than ExpressVPN (especially with a multi-year subscription).

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With a 15 month ExpressVPN plan, the service costs $6.67 a month. On a 3-year plan with NordVPN, the monthly price is $2.99 (less than half).

Regardless of what service you choose, make sure you check for deals (which can discount as much as 50% sometimes).

Send large file via the internet securely and for free

Edward KiledjianComment
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I wrote about the original test version of the free Mozilla Firefox Send service in July 2018.

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Mozilla Firefox Send is a free service open to any user, accessible with any browser, that allows you to securely send a large (up to 2.5GB) file to another internet user. The process is very simple, you upload a file, they provide a unique link that you share with the intended recipient.

The file can be expired after one to one hundred downloads or 1 to 7 days.

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You can also protect the file with a download password

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There are other services but most charge for add on features like download password protection or expiry configuration. Firefox Send is completely free and comes from the fine folks over at Mozilla that we trust.

Mozilla Firefox 67 will allow letterboxing to protect your online identity

GeneralEdward Kiledjian2 Comments
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September 2016 I wrote an article entitles “Your browser will betray your identity” that discussed the various techniques legitimate (marketers) and illegitimate (threat actors) use to keep track of your identity even if you aren’t logged into any of their sites.

The purpose-built TOR version of the Mozilla Firefox browser has (for a while) implemented a technique called letterboxing to protect users from this type of nefarious identification through browser fingerprinting.

Most browsers allow a site to send client-side javascript code that detects the display size of the browser. This technique is used to create dynamically generated webpages that are optimized for the device size you are using. This is why modern well-designed websites render correctly on large 24" desktop screens and 6" smartphones.

Would you be surprised to learn that this can be one dimension threat actors or marketers can use to start deanonymizing you?

The privacy team behind the TOR project goes to great lengths to maximize your privacy while using their anonymizing network by minimizing your data exhaust while browsing the web. We have seen the Firefox team backport some of these privacy enhancements back into the mainstream Firefox. This backport initiative is called TOR Uplift and started in 2016.

In release 67, expected in May, Firefox will bring letterboxing into the mainstream version (from the TOR one). Letterboxing is a technique of rounding the actual size of the browser window (height and width) down to a multiple of 200 pixels for width and 100 pixels for height. This means more users will have the same window size value making deanonymizing more complicated. Firefox will add grey bars on a side that needs to be padded if the rendered page isn't a perfect fit. If you are more concerned about looks, you will be able to turn off this additional protection technique using a Firefox flag.

In the Bugzilla tracker, Mozilla wrote "Window dimensions are a big source of fingerprintable entropy on the web" & "Maximized windows reveal available screen width and height, excluding toolbars; and full-screen windows reveal screen width and height. Non-maximized windows can allow a strong correlation between two tabs".

Here is a demo of letterboxing while resizing the browser window. Notice the grey added around the rendered page.

The letterboxing feature won’t be turned on by default. Users wanting this extra layer of protection will have to open about:config and enter “privacy.resistFingerprinting” in the config search box and change the setting to “true”.