Feature news

Do I Need a Tablet?

Tablets are fast becoming the technology to own.  Convenience, most people will tell you, is the main reason for having one.  I won’t argue.  Transporting a tablet that can house dozens of books, songs, movies, and games is easy.  You can work on documents on the go.  You can read a book and seamlessly switch to watching a movie.  They’re a handy invention whose latest releases are quickly catching up to low end laptops.

The question many find themselves asking as they browse the array of tablets available is “Do I really need one?”  Most importantly, “Which one do I need?”

The answer to those questions is as muddled as the tablet market, but I’ll try to help you answer them.

Something to understand before we proceed is that tablets are more about consuming and less about productivity.  Of course they can be tweaked with apps and home setups, but they’re mainly marketed as entertainment devices.  If you want to see how a tablet can be used for productivity, take a look at this Lifehacker article which includes a way of using a tablet to replace a GPS system.  Out of box though, tablets are mainly for fun.

A quick word of warning: At the moment, off brand tablets less than $100 are not worth your time or the promised savings.  They are too cheaply made to even consider making this list

Easy Answer:
No.  A tablet will not replace any essential devices in your life. If you don’t have a computer, consider getting a Chromebook before getting tablet.  Tablets are meant more for accessorizing technology you already have.  For example you won’t be storing your digital photo collection on your tablet unless you feel like shelling out upwards of a thousand dollars.

If you are in desperate need of upgrading your technology, look into computers and smartphones before diving into the tablet pool.

Do you have a smartphone?  Consider how much you use it if you do.  If you already use it a lot, move to the next section, but if you don’t you might be better off still passing on a tablet.  There are many people with iPhones that think moving to an iPad will be fine and fun.  For some it is, for others, I’ve known them to never pick up the more expensive and larger versions of their phones after the newness of the iPad wore off.  Consider if you might be one of these people and gauge your smartphone usage before making a table purchase.

Perhaps you have come into some extra money, or, you’ve had it all along. At the same time, you don’t need to replace anything so you’re looking for something fun and new. Either way, you’re not sure what you want to spend your money on.  

If you’re looking into tablets, you need to ask yourself: “What do I need/want a tablet for.”

If you’re just interested in movies, browsing the web, and reading, any versions of the Kindle Fire or Nook tablets would be suitable for you.  These are not great devices for intense gaming or for digging into the app atmosphere, but they are cheap compared to other tablets.  If you don’t think you’ll use a tablet outside of streaming media, but you’re really interested in owning one, check out these low-end tablets the next time in you’re in Best Buy.  They are low-end, but they’re far from being terrible.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD
Barnes & Noble’s Nook  & Nook HD+

If you have a low-end smartphone, but you are constantly using it, then a tablet might be for you. A tablet will render larger screen real estate and a larger battery.  Depending on how you use your phone will change tablet options.

If you have an iPhone, it would be easier for you to transition to iPad or and iPad Mini.  Both are much larger than a typical iPhone screen and the ecosystem is so similar the transition from iPhone to iPad back to iPhone throughout the day will be seamless.  If money is an issue, the iPad Mini is cheaper, but it is also smaller than the other iPads Apple offers.

The cost with any Apple product is going to be much higher than the Nook and Kindle products so be careful not to fall into the trap of buying a tablet and continuing to use your phone anyway.

If you have an Android phone you are constantly using, your tablet choices are going to be much greater.  That’s not to say an iPhone user or an Android user can’t use another company’s products, but in terms of ease of use and data, sticking with one specific manufacturer has a lot of benefits.

Samsung users might find using a Samsung branded tablet—which there are quite a few of—a great experience if you like the TouchWiz.  TouchWiz is the software Samsung overlays on top of Android’s native atmosphere.  It is pretty locked down and doesn’t leave room for much customization, but if you want something easy to use that runs Android and uses Google Play, Android’s app store, a Samsung tablet would be a great way to go.

Samsung offers 3 lines of tablets, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  The Note is more for people who want to make use of the S-pen Samsung offers.  The Note is expensive, on par with the iPad, but is Android and offers exclusive note taking abilities through the use of its S-pen.  The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 isn’t great.  I suggest passing on it unless you can only afford a $169 tablet and really want it to be Android. If you are really considering it, make sure you read plenty of reviews before taking the plunge and try out the device in an electronics store.  The Kid tablet is marketed toward the children in your life.  I don’t know much about the device since it was just released, but it also runs Android.  It might be worth checking out if you were thinking about getting a tablet for a younger child.

If you are on a budget, but still in wanting a tablet and an Android experience, consider Google’s Nexus 7.   Since it is manufactured by Google, it gets the latest updates and doesn’t have any overlaying software like TouchWiz.  The cheapest model rings in at $229, but the hardware and specs are some of the best in the market.  However, the screen is only 7 inches with the Nexus 7.  Google does have a Nexus 10, which has great reviews however there hasn’t been much support for it lately.  Unless you really want the 10 inch screen, go for the Nexus 7 instead of the Nexus 10.

Google’s Nexus 7 and Nexus 10

If you still want an Android tablet that is cheap, but works, your last choice is the ASUS MeMO Pad 7.  It’s not a terrible tablet and actually comes in cheaper than the Kindle and Nook.  On Amazon it is currently selling for less than $125 and has decent reviews.  This might also be a good tablet to get your feet wet with.  Buy it and see how much you actually use it over the course of a year.  If you find you are using it a lot then paying more for a better tablet later won’t leave you with regret.  Plus you can always give the MeMO away as a gift or try selling it on eBay.

I’m still not sure:
There are a lot of tablets so some trepidation when entering the market is perfectly fine.  There is also a new market opening up aptly called phablets. Essentially, phablets are sized in between a phone and a tablet. The Samsung Mega is one of these devices and has a 6.3 inch display.  It’s an expensive little device, but it is both a phone and a tablet.

You might also want to look at Asus’ Padfone Infinity which is a phone that plugs into a tablet screen.  It’s a better two in one because the phone is pocket-able while the tablet has a screen worth computing on.

If the biggest thing stopping you is productivity, then look at Microsoft’s
Surface Pro 2. Do NOT buy Microsoft’s Surface.  Only get the Pro because the cheaper Surface is slow and barely usable.  The Pro is one of the most expensive tablets on the market right now starting at $899, but it is an actual Windows PC that runs all of your Windows apps.


To summarize, there are a lot of different tablets and depending on your electronic usage and budget there are going to be different options available to you.  Keep in mind your needs and wants when shopping and be prepared to sacrifice a feature like an SD card port for a cheaper price tag.  Tablets are constantly being released so don’t worry too much about your device being outdated if you opt for an older device.  As long as you go with something you will use and can afford, you will not make the wrong decision. 
Learn more »

New Facebook looks a lot like something else.

Pretty soon this will be what many people see when they log on to Facebook.  For many, this layout should look familiar for two reasons.  The first is the emulation of the mobile layout.  In the image above and below pay special attention the left side of the screen.  There is a new fast-navigation menu that wasn't there before.  Originally, the same items that are in the new menu were in the same place so it isn't a major change, but it just feels more natural to navigate. Granted, I don't use the new menu much, but I use it more than the basic text menu that was there before.

Photos look better in Google Plus too. 

Facebook is now broken into cards.  As you can see from my screenshots, white cards are set against a light gray back ground.  The cards help to break up information overload and give Facebook a cleaner and more intuitive interface. Yet, the new design is oddly reminiscent of another...

One can definitely conclude that Facebook has been using inspiration from  Google's sites to refine its own, but reasoning behind the move isn't quite clear.  According to eMarketer Facebook is still pretty far in the lead as far as membership population and the amount of time spent on their site verses Google Plus.  That's not to say Google Plus isn't a strong contender to be the next best social media platform.  While it may seem like Facebook is the leading social network outside the U.S., Google is having major success worldwide.  Perhaps Facebook felt the heat of competition?

Google Plus is actually really starting to make a move on Facebook.  When it comes to photo sharing, there is a new feature called Auto Awesome that can make photos appear more vivid, create gifs, and more.  Everything on Google Plus is clean and the site seems more user friendly--no paying money to send people not on your friend's list messages. Facebook also recently announced they would be rolling out auto playing video ads in user's newsfeeds too which may send people away.

Obviously, Facebook isn't trying to aid people in transitioning from Facebook to Google Plus, but their latest design might be the death of them. When people become tired of all the intrusive advertisements, what social media platform are they going to go to next?  Probably one that looks a lot like the one they left.  So, while Facebook might be trying to get people from Google Plus, it might actually be pushing more people to Google Plus.

If you're interested in getting the new Facebook layout, click here.
Learn more »

Things We Should Be Able to Customize: The Motorola X Phone

A few weeks ago I did a blog post covering newly announced tech. Well, it's summer so everything is coming out.  Google Play edition phones are now available (android phones stripped of Sense and TouchWiz), and it seems the Motorola X phone isn't something that is just in our imaginations anymore.

Moto X phone: I'll believe it when I see it.
What is the Motorola X phone? That's a good question because no one but the employees working on it know. That's not to say that there haven't been rumors, but nothing was really substantial, until today.

This advertisement which is set to appear in newspapers tomorrow brings up what many were hoping would set the X Phone apart from other phones--customization.  Now, we are not entirely sure what this means.  What kind of customization exactly? 

Guy Kawasaki made a post on Google Plus back in March asking "Wouldn't it be great if you could personalize your phone like this?" with a link to a Porsche and the phrase "the most personal car."  Android enthusiasts can only hope this means deep customization instead of sacrificing components we want in one phone to get better battery life in another phone. 

What we Should be Able to Customize 

5. Screen Size (?)

I've seen some people hoping for screen size customization, but I think this is just asking for too  much. I think they should use a 4.8 to 5 inch display and be done with it. The people getting this phone are going to want that larger screen size. If they want something larger they can opt for the Note 3 or a tablet.

4. Camera

I have a DSLR camera so I don't need a great camera on my cell phone.  I'll take a 4 megapixel over the 10 megapixel the rumormill is turning out. There are others like me, but then there are also others that want a good camera on their smart phone. Customers should be able to decide what they want to so I don't have to pay for a great phone and a great camera attached that I don't need.

3. Battery

The user should get to decide the size of the battery. Manufacturers are hesitant to include bulkier batteries because it will take away from the sleek design of the phone. I, like many others, throw my phone directly into a case when I get it (I'm a dropper.) so I don't really care how thin it is. I purchased an extended battery for my original HTC EVO 4G, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. If longer battery life could come with my phone outright I would be a very happy girl.

2. External Storage & On Board Memory

Google is all about the cloud, which is fine and a great service they offer; however, this drips into their devices by locking out things like SD card storage. I would love to have 8 gigs of dedicated memory on my device and then slide my 32 gig SD card in with all of my music and movies pre-loaded. It's cheaper for the user this way. I can afford 8 gigabyte devices, but the price jump to 32 gigabyte devices is ridiculous when I already have an SD card with the same amount. I also have a lot of information that accessing on the cloud just wouldn't work for. For one, we have shotty signals where I live, and I don't have access to WiFi as often as I would like. Just give me my expandable SD card storage, please Google!

1. The Processor

One of the things that drives up the prices of smart phones is the processor. Samsung just released a Samsung Mega which is one of the first phones to be large, but also mid-ranged with mid-ranged specs. More consumers might flock to these kinds of phones.  The older users come to mind--those who have trouble seeing and want a big screen but don't need the latest processor for gaming or a large amount of apps. 

In the end the customization could just be what colors the buttons and face plates are.

But let's hope not.  
Learn more »

This Week's Tech News & Opinons

News of the Week //06/20/13//

A lot has happened over the last couple weeks with E3 and WWDC. E3 was it's own mess of things--in both good in bad ways. I think it is safe to say that WWDC came across the same way to those of us on the sidelines and not actual investors (that includes the emotionally invested too).  

Apple revealed iOS 7 after stressing that they can still innovate. They detailed how absolutely lovely and "beautiful" the new design is. The design came across as very familiar to many and prompted copy-cat calls from social media outlets. What were they copying? The very OS Apple is mainly competing against may have just served as a source of inspiration.  Check out this article for a side by side comparison of Android and iOS 7.

There was also a little bit of outrage on twitter over the design, some saying the design needs a complete re-do. Khoi Vinh, a prominent graphic designer, tore apart Apple's rampant use of the Helvetica Neue Ultra light font. Honestly, I love this font, but Vinh has a point that the actual user base might have a hard time using the OS as a daily driver.

E3 has long been over, but one of the biggest announcements just came as I am writing this. Xbox is reversing some of their DRM policies after waves of online backlash. The question cycling the tubes now is but is it too late? Since pre-orders were capped before this announcement I think this will only help Microsoft, but that doesn't mean that Sony has lost all of their swayed gamers--including me.

There were quite a few phone announcements and rumors this week. The HTC Butterfly looks like a dream and sounds like it will perform like one too. The battery alone will be well worth the upgrade when compared with other devices. More and more consumers are opting for extended batteries which bulk up the phone and make case buying awkward. The phone is boasting a 3.5 day music playback rate, but lacked specifics when factoring in actual phone usage. Does the 3.5 day playback include the screen being awake? Using on board speakers? Streaming through WiFi or mobile data? From my experience with 3500mAh batteries the screen would be off and the phone would be playing back music already on the device, but this is all speculation.

The Oppo Find 5 may just be a Google phone which would join the ranks of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One. It will be interesting to see how manufactures react to sales without their overlaying software such as Sense, Blinkfeed, or Touchwiz. Software is what brands Android phones. Sure, us power users care about hardware, but the average user cares about the interface--and sometimes the megapixels in the camera. This is a great phone though, and the manufacturers are all about helping people root and put custom roms on their phone as if it is a feature. They even highlight the range of roms that can be used on the phone on their website. If they do make a Google phone, I hope the company will see a little more success and stop letting HTC and Samsung hog the limelight. 

I'm not even sure where to begin with the Huawei phone, the Ascend P6. Brown. They're making a brown one, and I like it--I don't even.

The world's slimmest phone sparked a lot of attention on social media, but many were left unimpressed. There were some concerns about privacy in a lot of threads such as Chinese spyware, but once again, this is all speculation. Huawei has stated that they will not be making a Google phone. I didn't notice anyone else mentioning this, but in all of their announcements they came across as a little cocky.

Tomorrow the Samsung active is promised to start shipping from AT&T. It looks like a great phone, but I'm anxious to see the YouTube videos where people start actually testing how well the device works.

Samsung announced earlier today that they will be releasing a new camera with specs quite out of my price range. The camera will be running android and carries the name Galaxy. I think this could be the gateway to a new realm of photography. Plus, I think once the camera is rooted, the custom roms could be really fun to play with. 

On the last note: I like big screens. The Samsung Mega might be for me.
Learn more »

Samsung Galaxy S2 APN Settings for Straight Talk (AT&T)

If you're here then that means you had problems too.  Let me be up front,  I had to root and install a Jellybean rom to get this to work.  I used these settings with Gingerbread and it would not work.

As of this post I am running AOKP Build 5.28.2013 and my phone works great.  I recieve mms and fast Hspa+ data.  Hopefully, this will help some of you out.  If it does please plus one this post so I know to leave it up.  Thanks.

Keywords: Samsung Galaxy SII, Samsung Galaxy S2, Samsung i777
Learn more »

Top 5 Chrome Extensions

The Browser of Choice

Chrome is my browser of choice and the browser you should be using.  Internet Explorer has come along way, but it also left many users behind.  Microsoft won't let users of XP upgrade IE without upgrading their operating system, but Chrome doesn't care if you're running Windows Seven or Windows Eight.  Secondly, Firefox will always have a special place in my heart, but when I was more invested in web developing Firefox just wouldn't render things the way I wanted.  Also if you're using Safari, it's time to move on.  Chrome delivers webpages the way website designers want them to be seen.  Chrome will also link across computers and devices.  Use Chrome at work and at home and your favorites and extensions will all by synced.   Install an extension on one and it will be on all your devices that run Chrome.

Chrome Extensions

One of the greatest things about Chrome is the ability to install extensions or web apps.  These apps can be as up front as games or in the background like an ad blocker.

Top 5 Chrome Extensions

5. Turn Off the Lights

Turn Off the Lights is an extension that runs in the background and dims the screen when you are watching a video.  I make everything full screen so I don't really notice it much, but on those rare occasions when I'm just browsing videos or I want to keep my tabs in sight for notifications, it is a really nice extension to have.  

Everything is dimmed with Turn Off the Lights.  I have also adjusted the settings so my background is blurred as well.
Turn Off the Lights comes with a lot of settings to full around with, but the one I recommend ticking is the automatic dimming when playing a video.  There is a lightbulb that will appear in your address bar for you to click every time you want to dim the background for a video, but clicking that every time you want to watch a video is a step to easily eliminate.  

They are working on some other features which will be great once they work correctly such as dynamic lighting.  With this feature, a glow will be placed around the video, but the color of the glow will change along with the video.  This feature hasn't been working a hundred percent for me though and when it does it causes a lot of lagging.  

Be sure to dig into the customization of Turn Off the Lights for something that suits you, and you will probably find it as handy as I do.

Download Turn Off the Lights for Chrome Here

4. Hover Zoom

This great extension has become so integrated into my life that when I'm on a computer without it, I have a hard time remembering that Hover Zoom doesn't automatically come with my internet experience.  Hover Zoom basically takes the work out of looking at a photo on the web. First, you have to click on the photo then you have to wait for the page to load a light box just so you can see the photo.  Or, you could just use Hover Zoom.  

Any Image in Facebook's Gallery will pop up over the page

Hover Zoom takes the light box or redirection to a new page out of the equation.  Simply place your cursor over an image and it will pop up without any clicking needed. 

This extension is great for social media such as Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, and it's great on Deviant Art.  The beauty of this extension really comes alive on Amazon.com and Ebay.com.

I don't even have to navigate to an item's page to see the picture in full view.

3. Mail Checker Plus For Google Mail

Mail Checker Plus is a great extension for those of us that use Gmail and use Chrome.  Basically, you can get notifications and a snippet of what a new email contains without ever going to the actual Gmail page.  You can delete and archive messages right from the popup.

There is a subtle sound followed by the noninvasive popup with new emails.
Of course you can disable the sound or even the animation if you don't like those bits because this extension remains useful with all of it's other features. There is a persistent button the app gives located on the top right that says in a glance how many messages are unread.  Clicking on the button extends the information given to snippets of the emails with options to mark read, archive, spam, or delete for each.  Even if you have no emails you can click on the button and compose a new email without ever leaving the page you're on or share the page you're on all within this extension. 

The extension is clean and will speed leave your internet experience feeling quick without the sensation you've missed anything.  If you do install this extension, be sure to give a look over the settings.  You're in control of many things including the look of the icon that stays on your Chrome tool bar.

2. Feedly

For those of you who like Flipboard, you may want to check out Feedly.  On its surface, Feedly is an RSS reader which means it pulls content from other websites as they update with articles or stories.  Think of your Facebook wall and how it is constantly pulling content from your friends and randomly liked pages from five years ago you may or may not care about and feeding it to you.  This is what Feedly does, but on a much more organized and personalized level.
Feedly giving me headlines from all of my different news sources.
I could narrow it down easily by clicking a topic on the left of the screen.

Feedly has many different styles and ways of viewing pages.  If you don't like the reader look above maybe look at their other styles and see which you prefer.  You can even change the way Feedly shows you content by topic.  For example, I like having a photography feed in Feedly, but I don't want to have to click on a list of a 100+ photos just to look at what others are doing.  For my photography topic I have it set to a Pinterest-like tile view.

The great thing about Feedly is that pairs with its apps for Android and iOS--and its app is beautiful.  If there is an article you want to save to read on the computer later you can save it an it automatically syncs.  The app is very quick  and feels light.  Going into the advanced settings can be fun too.  The mobile app can be customized for gestures and animations.
The Android app with the navigation panel and a page of feeds.  Feedly looks at your content and will use image heavy content for more of a magazine feel like Flipboard.
*side note: Can we STOP talking about the X Phone?  Please?

What's great about Feedly is I've just barely started covering it.  Feedly is one of those tools that you didn't know you needed until you have started using it.  Instead of visiting ten different sites for information you just visit Feedly and it's all there.  Yes, this includes your local newspaper and your favorite forum all in one place.  Don't have content?  Feedly will help you create some!

Everything is easy to organize or delete with dragging and dropping.
Lastly, one of the best things about Feedly is its handy share and bookmark tool that follows you around the web.  A Feedly icon sits almost transparent on the lower right side of the screen called Feedly Mini.  If clicked on a page with content a menu will appear with many sharing options from Twitter to Facebook and Google Plus.  What's great about this icon is the plus icon which will add the feed straight into your Feedly.  So anytime you are wondering the web and you stumble on a blog or website you want to keep track of click the plus button in Feedly Mini.
Download Feedly for Chrome here

1. AdBlock

There isn't much to say about AdBlock other than you should have it if you don't.  Basically, it takes the noise out of the web.  AdBlock is available on other web browsers  but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be the number one add-on or extension for all of them.

Facebook looks very clean without the clutter of ads.
AdBlock even blocks some video ads, so if you use Hulu you will have to tell AdBlock "Don't run on this page" which is easy by clicking the button in the top upper right of your Chrome browser.  

YouTube looks very sleek without obtrusive, large ads on every other page.
Don't judge my YouTube subscriptions.  If you want to understand Google "ASMR".
Even if you don't think you need AdBlock, download it anyway.

Download AdBlock for Chrome here

There you have it, my top 5 extensions for Google Chrome.  Be sure to explore Chrome's Store.  There are a lot of free extensions showing up everyday--including games.  

Update: Here are some more great extensions that will change your internet experience.

Google Dictionary - Instead of opening another tab to look up that word you don't know just use this!

Google Quick Scroll - This extension automatically takes you to the relevant part of your Google search when you click on a result.
Learn more »

The New Google Maps

The new Google maps is rolling out, and I must say, I think it is a vast improvement.  In fact, I didn't realize how much I didn't like the original Google maps until I started using the new Google maps.

"One of the only good things with the Google maps interface is street view"

If we look at the old Google map interface we can see that the map is small.  Browsing the map isn't all that interesting.  Even if we turn on the satellite view the map doesn't do much for me.  One of the only good things with the Google maps interface is street view, but a lot can still be done with it.  When you think of Google maps you get this familiar view as if you just opened to a page in an atlas.  Your directions are off to the side like you pulled up a piece of scratch paper and figured out your route.  Don't get me wrong, the experience much more productive and fluid online compared to the the grueling task of defining your own path.    

New Google Maps with satellite view enabled 

In other words, there wasn't much done creatively with Google maps.  It was an amazing web that has revolutionized the way we think when it comes to travel since around 2005.  Since its debut, Google has never really changed their maps interface, until now.

"The experience is very fluid and fast in Google's browsing app Chrome. "

I must say I find the new redesign of Google maps beyond refreshing.  Satellite view is my favorite way to view the new app by far, because of the way Google is redefining discovery.  After I have input my directions a grouping of places shows up across the bottom of the screen.  These are considered noteworthy places either along my route or not far from where I'm going to be.  I can get a photo tour just by clicking on an image and it pops up over the maps. If I just hover over an image a line will appear showing me where on the map the image was taken. The experience is very fluid and fast in Google's browsing app Chrome. 

One of the newest features that makes using the app extremely fun is that you can actually change the perspective of the map.  

You can now zoom in and see how high buildings are in relation to each other which might become essential and very helpful for city navigation.

Now, it may seem easy to get lost in all of this, but there is a simple button on the bottom left hand of the screen that will bring beautiful transition and the atlas like map we all know and love.

Unfortunately, the new Google maps is not available for smart phones yet and is by invitation only for the web app as of right now.  You can request an invite by visiting this link and giving Google your email.  All in all, I'm glad to see Google thinking out of their predefined map box and moving into a more integrated atmosphere.  I mean, we should be glad their innovating at all.  Whose their competition?  Bing?
Learn more »