Category Archives: Tech News

First Impressions – iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

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There are plenty of long form reviews of the newest offering from Apple (see a few links below), so let’s keep this one short and sweet.  Apple released a “new” version of their iPhone in September.  They skipped the major form factor update this year because they plan a huge update next Fall, on the 10th anniversary of the release of the 1st iPhone.  So the phone looks the same, and for the most part is the same.  So for these First Impressions we’ll hit what’s new, and the ultimate question: should you update?

What’s New

iphone-7-plus-camerasCameras – the iPhone 7 gets Optical Image Stabalization, which assists with our shaky hands for pics.  The PLUS model already had it and still does.  The PLUS model gets a second back camera for a physical zoom feature and “portrait” mode, which blurs the background and focuses on the person in the foreground, which is pretty cool.  Standard updates are there too, for things like “aperture” which no one really understands unless they are hobbyists, IMO.

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-1-28-48-pmHome Button – the button doesn’t click anymore!  It’s now “haptic” which means it has a little buzz feel that tricks your brain into thinking it clicks.  The button also has a version of “3D touch” which was introduced on the screen with the 6S models.  Basically a soft touch does one thing and a hard press does another.  Takes some getting used to but it works.  And it’s prepping us all for the removal of the button entirely in the next version.

Headphone Jack: It’s gone.  You’ve heard.  The phone comes with a dongle that works fine with my wired headphones.  I await the sale of another dongle to give me two ports so I can listen and charge at the same time.  The phone is mostly water-proof now as a result, which is a good thing in my books.

New Colors – Two new “blacks” were introduced.  Goodbye to “Space Grey” and Hello to “Jet Black” and “Matte Black”.  I elected for Matte Black, having heard that Jet Black, while very pretty, will scratch like the dickens.  Who told us this you ask??  Apple!!  Not a good sign.

Should you upgrade?

If you have a 6S you should not!  There is absolutely no reason to upgrade if you have last year’s model.  The improved camera and home button are not worth the upgrade.  And by staying put you are perfectly positioned for the big update next year.  If you have an iPhone 6 you’ll want to think long and hard about this one.  If you are doing 2 year cycles, upgrading this year will put you on the outs next Fall.  The tried and true approach of 2 year upgrades to new form factors with iPhone has certainly gone off the rails this year.  So if you like getting the newest looking phone (versus the “S” year updates), then keep that 6 another year.  If you have the battery issues with the iPhone 6 that have been reported, you might find sticking it out 365 more days a challenge.

The Whole Cup Summed Up:

Design: Cup Half Full (unlike many, I think the 6 series is great)

New Features: Half Empty (this is a “S” year masquerading as a major update year)

Upgrade Now?: Half Empty (if you can, stick with what you’ve got one more year)

Overall: Half Empty (I only have this device because I need it for my job.  For my personal device, I’d wait for the big change Fall of 2017)

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Long-form reviews to consider, when you have more time:

The Verge – iPhone 7 Review

Neowin – iPhone 7 Review

Trusted Reviews – iPhone 7 Review

Podcasts of Note: 7 to get you started

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I have many friends who absolutely LOVE podcasts.  They always have recommendations, and are always curious why I haven’t gotten on the “podcast train”.  I listen to NPR most of the time anyway.  Why not have curated shows around my interests?  I have one friend, a game enthusiast, who listens to many podcasts dedicated to his niche obsession.  I’m sure there are plenty of podcasts for someone like me.  But I always hesitated because like Twitter and Snapchat, to dive in seemed daunting.  Where do you start?  How do you know which ones are good?  How do you keep things organized?  It was easier to blast the FM dial and keep it simple.

But then my cousin started a podcast, and on Facebook asked people to check it out.  When I did I found that I enjoyed the format (especially his short 6 minute motivational podcast) and suddenly I dove in.  But I didn’t dive in so far as to get out of control.  True, I now follow roughly 20 podcasts, but I could have stopped at a smaller subset and been perfectly happy with it.  So now I have some answers to my questions.  The biggest being “Where do you start?”  Followed by “How to Keep Things Organized?”  Let me recommend 7 podcasts.  I will give you a few sentences to sum up each.  Then I’ll recommend a couple apps for organization, should you decide to jump into the crazy world of podcasts.  I don’t regret that I finally did.  And it’s not nearly as daunting as Twitter (at least for me).

7 PODCASTS TO GET YOU STARTED

YMH5ArtFinal1.Your Motivational High 5 – short format for quick motivation.  Phil, my cousin, has a great voice and sound advice.  He pulls in others to share their stories, and 5 minutes at a time, he’s helping his listeners re-organize their thought processes around healthy approaches to living a full, rich life.Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.39.48 PM

2.  Stuff You Should Know – Two hilarious guys share their love of learning.  From Evel Knievel to How Night Terrors Work, these guys have mad researching skills and are a blast to listen to.

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.34.27 PM3.  Serial – Two seasons are in the can for this episodic examination of criminal cases.  First it was a murder case, which resulted in a new trial for the subject, and then the Bowe Bergdahl case, of the soldier who abandoned his post.  Well paced, well researched, well worth your time.Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.35.30 PM

4.  Someone Knows Something – Similar to Serial, this first season
examines a 30 year old cold case in Canada, involving the disappearance of a little boy.  A cool view into the minds of investigators and an insightful look into different perspectives and the challenges of age and memory.

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.37.23 PM5.  Vergecast – For a techie like me, the Vergecast is top of my list.  A bunch of geeks around a mic once a week (roughly) talking about the tech of the day.  Feels like a place I could call home.

6.  Brains On! – For the kiddos.  This podcast produced at the Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.37.00 PMUniversity of Minnesota brings cool science stuff to the inquisitive child’s mind.  “How Do Airplanes Fly?”, and “Why are No Two Snowflakes the Same?”.  I, for one, was fascinated by the “Science of Baking”.  They are short, and full of cool stuff for kids.

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.35.48 PM7.  On Being – For those in search of some contemplation, Krista Tippett offers some amazing interviews with great minds.  Famous Names, and not so famous names are included, but all will make you think deeper about life in general.  Check out the Thich Nhat Hanh one for starters!

BONUS: I would be remiss to not include one last podcast. Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.43.02 PM “Spoilers” is the creation of a co-worker of mine.  Their format is basically a bunch of buddies sitting around talking about a specific movie.  Sometimes it’s current releases (Killing Joke and Swiss Army Man), other times it’s old classics (Alien and Time Bandits!)  At times chaotic, it only reflects the fun of hanging with friends and talking movies.  Check it out.

Finally, here are two “podcast apps” that will not only keep your stuff organized, but will help you find the podcasts I’ve mentioned, and find new ones too.

  1. Podcasts – native application on all iPhones and iPadsScreen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.48.18 PM
  2. Pocket Casts – this is my chosen app.  It costs a few bucks but has a great interface to keep it all organized.

That’s how I started.  I just downloaded some of the most popular podcasts and found topics that interested me.  And I’ve been listening ever since.

Hop on board and enjoy the world of podcasts!!

New Reviews Coming Soon…


There has been a hiatus for the past several months due to illness and an intense travel schedule for me.  As we move into the second half of the Summer I intend to return to the blog again with new reviews.  I have two new types of reviews to share, which the intention of making them shorter (Elevator Reviews) and more diverse (Inter-Reviews), where I gather review data through interviewing other experts in the world of consumer tech.  So stay tuned for more in the coming weeks and months.  Things like HTC Vive, mid-tier Smartphones (i.e. Affordable smartphones), and even more to come.  And FiTech is not dead.  The illness made that go on the back burner.  The plan will return as well in the coming months.

Looking forward to more reviews written for the casual consumer!!

FiTech – Using technology for wellness

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gym picIt might be a little late for New Year’s Resolutions for 2016, but when the “get fit” bug hits you, it’s best to just seize the moment.  I’ve had more “it’s time to get fit” moments than I care to reveal.  I imagine most can relate to it.  You have a bad test result at the doctor, you feel self-conscious at the beach, you just hit that wall where you want to change your health.  You want to lose weight.  You want to have more energy.  You just want to feel better.  So you sign up for a gym membership, buy a treadmill clothestreadmill, and load the grocery cart with fruits and vegetables.  And we all know how that ends.  The membership keeps getting paid, but you haven’t gone in 6 months.  The treadmill becomes a great place to hang laundry, and the fruits and vegetables go back to boxes and cans of processed “food stuff”.  Hopefully with each “get fit” moment a few good habits remain after the membership is cancelled.  But for me that’s the most I’ve ever been able to accomplish.  I’m in another such moment, and I decided to seize this moment as a tech opportunity.

fitbit altasFrom the beginning of “Have a Cup of T(ech)” the mantra has been that tech should enhance your life.  Tech should make things easier.  If it isn’t, then the tech is a fail and should be discarded.  I’ve never turned my geeky eye on fitness tech, aside from my old FitBits.  So I’m starting a new category on the tech blog focused entirely on fitness technology.  I’m calling it “FiTech”.  This category will cover reviews of devices like those popular FitBits (the Alta just released!).  I will also look at fitness apps, health apps, nutrition tools.  Each post will be looking for ways for technology to make getting fit easier.  To make nutrition less of a chore.  To make wellness more attainable.

Project 37 coming soonThe first major initiative will begin this coming week with something I’m calling “Project 37”.  This will be a weekly post on the blog, where I check in on my progress using two specific apps.  One is “Three Minute Mindfulness” and the other is “Seven Minute Workouts”.  I’ve picked these two after pretty extensive searching.  I’ve invested $9 up front for these apps to see if they can go where no app has gone before: prolonged fitness and long-term health improvements.  Perhaps you’ll join me.  Look for a post later this week with all the details.  And watch for more “FiTech” posts as well.  I’m excited to see where this will go!  The idea of technology improving our physical and mental well-being is full of potential!  So let’s begin!

Podcast of Note – “Your Motivational High 5”

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I’m new to the world of podcasts.  I am a music-head and so when I’m cruising around in my car, I listen to my endless music collection (thanks Spotify).  But I have friends who absolutely love podcasts.  They can’t say enough good things about them. So around the holidays I grabbed a recommended podcast app for my iPhone (Pocket Casts), and grabbed a handful of the most popular podcast in the store.

And I’ve never looked back. Whether it’s keeping up with tech news on the “Vergecast” or learning new things on “Stuff You Should Know“, I have found entertainment in a whole new way.  In my “blog post hopper” I have a draft called “Introduction to Podcasts – we’ll get through this together!”.  I plan to post that somewhere down the road.  I’m even kicking around the idea of a podcast for “Two Lumps of Tech”.  But before I do that I want to just highlight a few podcasts that make the dive into this freaky world worth it. I’m  starting this week with a brand new podcast. This baby is only a couple weeks old.  Its fast paced 5 minute approach is a great example of a micro-podcast, and it is my makes first “Podcast of Note”.

Your Motivational High 5

YMH5ArtFinalFirst things first.  I know the guy who just launched this podcast.  He’s a family member though not one I know extremely well.  After just a few episodes, I’m already getting a good picture of him.  And it’s this picture that makes me want to share this podcast with you; not just because of my family connection.  Phil Larson, the creator and host, is trying something out.  He’s exploring different aspects of our lives and our psychology, in an effort to discover more about what gives us motivation.  What holds us back?  What gives us hope? He’s looking at the “narratives” in life that give us inspiration or take it away. Phil is asking himself lots of questions, and his stories are personal and honest.  And by signing on to his podcast,”#YMH5″, he’s asking his listeners to ask these questions of themselves.

The category of “self help” is a crowded space.  Everyone is offering something.  Some of the advice comes from an authentic place, while in many cases self-help gurus are just out for the money.  Maybe they help people along the way, but that’s not their end game.  That is NOT the story of “Your Motivational High 5”.  Phil has a good heart, and he wants good things for himself, his family, and his listeners.  You can hear in his voice that he isn’t in this game for any other reason.

The approach couldn’t be simpler.  Phil has a topic, following a common theme using the word “on” (i.e. “on hope”, “on risk”, “on conflict” etc).  He speaks to this topic for a few short minutes, and then challenges listeners to look at their reflection and speak a sentence affirming things about themselves related to the topic.  Is that a little cheesy?  Sure.  I don’t think that invalidates it though.  If anything, for me, it just shows me more of the man behind the podcast.  If you feel silly speaking to your mirror, or your iphone in “selfie mode” imagine speaking these words to a podcast audience.  Phil has courage to put himself out there.  To share his struggles and his journey.  And I highly recommend you consider joining him, as I have already done.

Everyone can use a little motivation, and this great new podcast will only take 5 minutes of your day.  But you might be surprised by how motivational those 5 minutes can be.

Here’s the info if you want check it out:

Check out the home page with various links HERE

Or get it from iTunes HERE

Follow on TWITTER at #YMH5

Follow on FACEBOOK HERE

First Impressions: Gear VR – Consumer Edition

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In the spirit of my New Year’s Resolution to keep these posts “shorter”, I’m going to begin with a fast “first impressions” of the new Consumer Gear VR. I owned the “Innovator Edition” Gear VR briefly last Summer. This model was intended for developers and tech geeks like me. It was heavy, it was buggy, and the damn thing overheated so fast, it made it worthless for me. So I sent it back, and waiting patiently to see if they could resolve the issues with the “Consumer Edition”. Just before Thanksgiving I got my chance to find out.

The Hardware
Samsung Compatible Phones_Gear VRImprovements abound! The new Gear VR is lighter on the head, has improved straps both on the side and over the top of the head (which is optional). The track pad now has indentation to assist in use (whereas before it was basically a tiny mouse pad on the side). The Consumer Edition also fits every current Samsung Galaxy smartphone (Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge, Galaxy Note5, and Galaxy Edge +). You simply toggle a switch to fit the larger phones. While the issues of legear vr track padns fogging and overheating are not gone entirely, there is significant improvement (though I still run a fan in my face when doing long sessions to eliminate fogging and heat issues entirely).

The model continues to have the focus dial in the middle, which works nicely, and the plug to charge the phone while in use (though I haven’t had time to test this much). You an even wear glasses inside the headset!  The device feels like a consumer product now, as it should.

The Cup Half Full
Gear VR CabinThe best new thing to come to the Gear VR, in my opinion, is the inclusion of Netflix. Not only can you watch Netflix in the VR, but the software places you in a mountain chalet, sitting on a red couch in front of a massive TV screen. Look to your left and you can see the lights of the distant ski slopes. Super cool.

The other things I’m loving about the new Gear VR are increased 360 photo library in the “Oculus 360 Photos” feature. Thousands of photos from around the world are provided. I missed getting to the top of Rockefeller Center when I was in New York recently, but with 360 photos I got to see the views, both during the day and at night. The Oculus Videos feature is also vastly enhanced with videos from Vimeo and even video rentals (though $24 is kinda steep for “The Martian in 3D” – that’s a purchase not a rental).

More games and experiences are being added at a fast pace, and I’ve even dropped some coin for a few games that have quickly become show pieces when I have people check out the VR. Be sure to check out Eve: Gunjack and Smash Hit!

The Cup Half Empty

gear vr fanFogging and overheating issues do remain. That continues to be my main issue with the Gear VR. I’ve been told there are some scuba diving mask tricks to eliminate fogging in the lenses, I just haven’t tried that yet. A fan will fix the heat issue, but that kinda kills the “mobile” element. Now you’re strapped to the fan just like an Oculus Rift is strapped to a super-computer. Until I can watch a two hour movie on a plane without fogging and overheating, there’s work to do. But considering the processing power required to create these immersive 3D environments with a killer refresh rate, such heat is understandable. But I still get to complain! If you have issues with dizziness, you might want to test these out at your local electronic store before you pony up the dough. I find that I can stare at Netflix for hours, but if I play an immersive 3D game, I last about 20 minutes before I get sick to my stomach. It’s still super cool, but only in small doses.no iPhone support

Gizmag has a great article about improving the user experience.  It was written for the Gear VR for Note 4, but all of the tips apply to the Consumer Gear VR as well.

I guess we should also add that only the four Samsung phones work with it.  So if you are an iPhone user, you’re out of luck for now.  Though you could always check out Google Cardboard if you want to check out a little Virtual Reality.

The Whole Cup Summed Up

Gear VR cartoonI saved the best for last. Price. I paid $200 for my lackluster Innovator Edition Gear VR last JULY. Now one of these headsets will only set you back $99. That’s a great price, considering the amount of tech you’re getting. There are so many things to check out, and currently a lot of content is still free. If you have a current high end Samsung smartphone (see my list above) and a spare hundred bucks, I’d say this is a no-brainer. And if you do get the Gear VR, make sure you don’t keep it all to yourself. I’ve placed my headset on roughly 50 people so far, and I have to say I almost get more enjoyment watching people experience it thanGear VR silly smile actually doing it myself.   There’s a moment where everyone looks around and starts smiling like an idiot. My friend recently strapped on the Gear VR after I told her about the “idiot smile” thing. She was skeptical. The tech would have to prove itself. Less then two minutes into the Jurassic World dinosaur experience, she broke into a huge grin, and she says to me “I’m doing it aren’t I? The idiot smile thing.” Yes, yes she was.  So get on board, and you’ll soon be smiling too.

Here are a few additional reviews to consider:

The Verge – A Close-Up Look at Samsung’s new $99 Gear VR

GizMag – Gear VR Early Impressions

YouTube – To see the tech in action

 

The Tech of NYC – The Apps

Tech of NYC BannerThe holiday season caught me up in a wave, and time went along with it.  So a month after I spent a packed weekend in New York City, I am finally getting around to a quick review of the apps that I used to have a successful weekend in the Big Apple.  I’ll say right away that my app plan didn’t go as expected, but everything worked out perfectly in the end.  Some old apps showed new power, and some new apps proved duds.  So first off here are the apps that I pre-loaded for the trip.

The Apps that I planned to use

I love app folders.  I have hundreds, yes HUNDREDS, of apps on my iPhone, and folders keep me from going absolutely bonkers.  Though if you find yourself searching for an app, here’s a TECH TIP.  Just swipe down from the CENTER of the screen, and you’ll find a search bar at the top.  Type the app name and you’re on your way!  Ok, back to the apps.

NYC app folderI created a “New York City” folder to hold all of the “amazing” apps I planned to use.  Here’s the breakdown.

Top of the Rock

Rockefeller Center

New York eTips

NYC Tourist

NYC Essential Guide

NYC Subway

Central Park eTips

911 Memorial

nyc subway appMy choices of applications were based in what I “planned” to do.  I wanted to go to the top of Rockefeller Center (mainly because it was cheaper than the Empire State Building and closer to my hotel).  So I got a couple Rockefeller apps.  I planned to ride the subway at least a couple of stops, so there’s the NYC Subway app.  Central Park was on my Agenda and “eTips” had a nice app highlighting a few bits. Finally, every tourist needs some tourism apps that are all encompassing.  I grabbed 3 of them (New York eTips, NYC Tourist, and NYC Essential Guide).  I ended up missing the Top of the Rock so those apps went unused.  But I missed that trip because our team went down to the financial district to visit the 9/11 Memorial, and that’s where I ended up with my last app on the list, the 911 Memorial App, which proved to be one of the most interesting and powerful apps in the bundle.  So how did I use these apps?  Spoiler, my primary app wasn’t even on the original list.

The Apps that didn’t make the Cut

I browsed my tourism apps on the plane ride to JFK.  I quickly discovered that the eTips guides for NYC and Central Park had only limited content before you had to pony up some dough.  For a three day trip, I planned on spending my money on souvenirs not apps.  So there went both eTips guides.  NYC Tourist offers a nice map showing lots of locations, but it is incredibly busy.  I did keep the app the first day, and used it a couple times (found the closed Carnegie Deli with it).  But ultimately it went on the scrap pile too.  That left me with just a handful of apps that really made the weekend work.NYC Essential Guide App

The Apps I Actually Used

My primary tourism app was “NYC Essential Guide”.  This app does suffer from the “only a few things are free” issue that plagued all of my tourism apps, but one feature made this app worth it.  It’s called “Top 25” which highlights 25 points of interest, including brief overviews, maps, reviews, and contact information.  I can see a lot of potential in the “premium features” but I wasn’t spending nearly enough time to make that worth it.  Maybe next time!  The trip to the 911 Memorial was on the subway’s Red Line.  I used my “NYC Subway” app to keep track of the stops and to know when to dash out the doors.  TIP: if standing, lean against the train’s forward motion, or you’ll end up on your butt; it’s 911 memorial appfast!”  The final app I ended up with (aside from my final surprise) was the 911 Memorial app.  I highly recommend a visit to this memorial.  And plan to take the audio tour and keep your camera in your pocket.  This is a somber experience, a sobering experience, and one not to be missed.  Everyone I went with got the audio tour kit (with a tape player of sorts and headphones).  I opted for the earbuds only, and added the audio tour via the free 911 app.  The lady at the audio tour counter didn’t even charge me the $5 for the earbuds.  We went into the memorial as a group of 10, but we came out slowly one by one, as we each were immersed in the experience of the memorial.  If you can, go.

 

 

The old app worth its weight in gold!

google maps app iconTwo words.  Google Maps.  We all know this app.  We all have used it from time to time.  If it’s to find a local restaurant, get turn-by-turn navigation, or simply check out cities around the globe down to street view; this is an app I always took for granted.  But when I hit the pavement Sunday afternoon to begin my ambitious 10 mile hike around Midtown and Central Park, Google Maps was my guide.  I spent some time before I left the hotel figuring out how many minutes it would take to get from location to location, to ensure I would make it back to catch my ride to the airport.  I loaded my itinerary into my Evernote App, and I never touched the phone again (except to take pictures).  My plan, built with Google Maps, went off without a hitch.  I could totally see this being my go-to app when I’m in a new city (I get to test my theory in San Francisco in two days).  An old favorite showing it still reigns as the king of maps!

The Whole Cup Summed Up

Apps are only as good as how seamless they work with your planned agenda.  They are only good if they enhance your experience.  If you are fighting the app, it’s not worth the time.  I used some duds, and found some gems during my weekend in New York City.  So the next time you head out on the road, be sure to find some apps, and build a folder to keep them straight.  You’ll use some often, and quickly deleting others, and that’s okay.  Just don’t forget, when in doubt, turn to Google Maps!

Happy Traveling

The Tech of NYC

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Two Lumps of Tech is once again on the road (or in the air rather). Since I’m being sent to New York City to work at a conference, I figure it’s another great chance to see how tech tools can enhance travel. Hopefully enhancement is what I experience!

I have three days in NYC. Much of the time I will be providing app support for my company, but I plan to get out a bit. As my hotel is located just a block off of Times Square, and I don’t have much interest in dealing with cabs or the subway on this trip, I’ll be sticking to the “theater district” with a possible trip up 7th Avenue to see Carnegie Hall and Central Park. As this is my first trip to the Big Apple, I have absolutely no idea where anything is located, and so we have APPS!!!

New York App ScreenFor this first post, I’ll just quickly highlight a few apps I have downloaded and ready to go for the trip. Future “Tech of NYC” posts will focus on these apps more, and determine which ones might be helpful to others should they happen to find themselves in New York City.

I always have one “must do” on my list when I travel for work. This time it’s visit the “Top of the Rock” which is the name for the observation deck of Rockefeller Center. With it only being two weeks till Christmas, as trip to NYC has to include a visit to the massive Christmas tree at the Rock. Luckily “there’s an app for that”. I quickly found an app called “Top of the Rock” which covers everything you need to know before hitting the elevators (including the hours those elevators run). There is a feature I’m excited to try that turns your phone into a viewfinder. Theoretically you point your camera at a building and the screen gives information about it. We’ll see how well that works Saturday!

IMG_1005I have two other apps loaded to help navigate the city. “NYC Tourist” is a pretty generic map app, highlighting points of interest. Of course how long those city blocks will end up feeling like is still to be determined. The other app is called “NYC Essential Guide”. I’m pretty impressed with this app so far. Simple navigation shows things like attractions, transportation, restaurants, and entertainment (and sports for those who like that sort of thing). I quickly discovered the exact location of the Carnegie Deli, and discovered it is on my way to Carnegie Hall (not a surprise of course). I think this will be my go to app when I’m hoofing it around town.

I have lots of places I hope to visit during my off hours this weekend, and hopefully these apps will make things easier. Only time will tell. I hear there’s nothing like New York City during the Holidays.  Stay tuned for more!rockefeller Tree

 

Upgrade Time!! Two Lumps of Smartphone Advice

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We are officially in upgrade season!  I am well aware of the daunting task of sorting through all of the different options for smartphones.  There are just so many players in the game it can get overwhelming quickly.

What follows is a simple breakdown of my TOP FIVE favorites phones.  I’m including a few links to other reviews for each phone, to give you a well-rounded opinion of each device.  To keep things simple here, I’m focusing on a few key features of each phone, which I’ve found to be important to the majority of consumers, from the tech-savvy to the casual user.  So here we go!

Disclaimer #1:  This list is not in order of preference.  I’m not awarding medals here, just giving a shorter list than you’ll find with the carriers.

Disclaimer #2:  I’m sticking strictly with the high-end smartphones.  If you are upgrading, you can usually get a good deal regarding up-front cost, and the monthly cost will be consistent to what you’re used to.  As a general rule, upgrading at least every two years is the best way to make sure you have a smooth experience with your phone.  Things just change too quickly!  If you want to stick with a Mid-Tier phone, definitely try to get your hands on the MOTO G, which is an amazing phone for $180!

On with the list:

Moto X (2nd or 3rd generation)motox3rdgen

Motorola has been making great phones for the past three years, with the “Moto X” line.  These phones are defined by high
quality build, simple operating system, and small physical size (when compared to the actual screen size). The 3rd Gen Moto X was just announced in August.  This phone is HUGE.  5.7 inches makes it a “phablet” and those who want the smaller handset should steer clear.  The 2nd generation is still a very good phone, and smaller, so you’ve got options.  The 3rd Gen Moto X did vastly improve the camera though, so if that’s important, bear it in mind (though it still is not as good as Samsung and iPhone).

Moto X (3rd Gen) Review – Mobile Tech

Moto X (2nd Gen) Review – Engadget

iPhone 6S/iPhone 6S Plus

iphonesI had the iPhone 6 for a while, and I thought it was a perfect phone.  Great size (4.7 inch screen).  Great camera.  Decent battery life.  If you like Apple, the iPhone 6 is a great choice.  I am currently using an iPhone 6 Plus, but that 5.5 inch screen is just too big for me! Apple announced their new iPhones on September 9th.  As with all “S” models, the form factor has not changed.  This phone looks the same as the previous models.  They have vastly improved the camera with 12MP, and optical image stabilization (helps shaky hands take clear pics).  They’ve added a 5MP front camera, and are using the screen itself to make a “flash” for selfies.  the screen itself has been improved with the use of “3D Touch” which makes it so you can do different things when you press the screen versus just tap the screen (this tech is based on the Apple Watch screen).  Overall it’s a good “off-year” for the iPhone, but if you want major changes, wait another year for iPhone 7.

iPhone 6S Review – Tech Radar

iPhone 6S Plus Review – Tech Radar

Samsung Galaxy S6/Galaxy S6 Edge/Galaxy S6 Edge Plusgalaxys6

This has been my primary phone for the past six months.  Samsung made a beautiful phone with the Galaxy S6.  Metal and glass construction, it feels incredibly similar to the iPhone (almost too similar).  With a 5.1 screen, it’s big but not too big.  The operating system is intuitive, and camera is great.  I particularly like the “wide-screen selfie” feature and that you can snap a photo by tapping the flash on the back of the phone (less cumbersome than finding the button on the screen.  The Samsung Galaxy S6 also offers turbo charge (15min gets you 40% battery) and wireless charging, which is pretty cool.  If you aren’t into Apple, the Galaxy S6 is definitely the way to go at the moment.

If you want something different, Samsung is also offering the Galaxy S6 Edge, which has curved edges.  My experience with that device proved to me that the edges look cool but offer little in enhancement, and only make it harder to hold.  If you want something really big, the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge PLUS just release, with a 5.5 screen size.  Again it looks really cool, but for me is a pain to use, especially with the huge size.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Review – CNET

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Review – Digital Trends

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge + Review – Phandroid

LG G4

LGG4I hated the LG G3, so I wasn’t even going to include it, but a buddy let me play around with the G4 the other week, and my opinion suddenly changed.  The LG G4 is a very different type of phone.  It features a 5.5 inch screen, but the phone size is pretty small, all things considered.  LG definitely took a card out of Motorola’s deck, in terms of making sure big screens doesn’t mean gigantic phones.  The LG G4 features a leather back, in varying textures and colors.  It feels great!  The other odd thing about LG is that they moved the power and volume buttons to the back of the phone.  It seems like an odd choice, but I am starting to see the logic of it, and it makes those edges super thin.  All they need is a fingerprint scanner on the back, but that’s not here yet (maybe G5 next year!)

LG G4 Review – Engadget

LG G4 Review – Tech Radar

HTC One (M9) and (M8)HTCOneM9

Finally we come to HTC.  I used the HTC One (M8) for six months last year (that’s pretty much the longest I use a device).  I loved the feel of the phone (all metal).  The screen was brilliantly bright, and the device was lightning fast.  But my big beef was related to the extra space used for the company logo on the front (my opinions can be seen here).  You’d think they’d finally fix that with the M9, but that was not the case.

The HTC One (M9) is a minor improvement over the previous model.  The camera was switched from 4 ultra pixels (which no one ever understood, including me), to 16 mega pixels.  But lots of pixels doesn’t mean a better camera, and HTC has lost it’s way a bit here.  Still, when compared to ANY mid-tier smartphone the HTC One (M9) and (M8) are heads are shoulders above in terms of picture quality.  So as I knock on the camera, it still has a place among these top-tier phones.  The HTC One (M9) also updated their operating system to adapt based on your current location.  This functionality can be achieved through “launcher applications” like “Everything Me“, but HTC has it built it, which is actually a pretty cool thing.  I imagine other smartphone makers will be looking at options like this in future models.

HTC One (M9) Review – CNET

HTC One (M8) Review – Engadget

galaxynote5A Note on Phablets

Oh those giant smartphones!!  The line between phone and phablet is roughly 5.5 inches.  You have a few options.  We’ve already talked about the iPhone 6S Plus, Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, and LG G4.  Another popular phablet worth considering, if you’re in the market for a big phone is the recently release Galaxy Note 5.  They took the materials that built the Galaxy S6 line of phones (metal and glass) and blasted it to 5.7 inches.  As always with the Note line, there is a stylus.  This time around they have focused as much on the stylus as the phone, and my experience with it was great.  In my opinion, any phone over 5.5 inches should have a stylus, so Samsung is leading the pack there.

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Review – The Verge

The Whole Cup Summed Up

If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, you’ve got tons of options.  Hopefully this list is helpful in sorting through what makes these high-tier models different from each other.  In the end, there’s no right answer for everyone.  Some live and die for iPhone; while others believe Android is the only way to go.  Some say 5.5 inch Phablets are ridiculously large, but at the same time, I know many people who wouldn’t want any other size.  So head to your nearest carrier and get these phones in your hands before you drop the coin, and I’m sure you’ll find something that works great for you!

Happy Smartphone Shopping!

dilbert iphone comic

Have a Year of T(ech) – One Year Anniversary

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iPhone 6 togetherThis week a milestone was achieved.  The blog “Have a Cup of T(ech)” reached the one year mark.  That’s no small feat when you’re a one man shop, in a part-time capacity.  I’ve had a great year checking out different technology for casual consumers. Over the year we’ve looked at Apple and Android smartphones and tablets.  We went on the road to Walt Disney World, exploring the cool apps that make navigating the massive parks not only easy but fun!  Reviews of “apps of note” from everything from pocket games like Scibblenauts to Smart News Readers like the Yahoo News Digest.

samsung phonesWe reviewed our first “smart home” device with the Echo Smartspeaker, and played around with Virtual Reality with Gear VR.  We’ve done our best to offer a wide variety of reviews, including the new Kindle Voyage and Beats Studio headphones.  Mid-year we had some fun with a review of the “Funny or Die News” application, and more recently we reviewed the HBO Now service (coming soon to Android devices). One particular post had me trashing
the Winbook tablet computer, which garnered the most hits in the year (and I don’t take anything back).

20141218_210418821_iOSThis past year has seen 44 blog posts, which have been viewed over 5000 times in over 150 countries!  I’m so glad that this little operation has been able to reach out so far!  And we have no intention of stopping.  The first year focused primarily on the blog itself and our twitter handle (@twolumpsoftech).  A Flipboard magazine was introduced mid-year, offering another way to keep track of the
consumer tech that is making news.  But a few new things are planned for the coming year.

beats-studio-wireless-review-macro-enclosure-2-1500x1000Coming in Year Two!!

Two Lumps of Tech now has an Instagram account.  The focus of that site is to show off new technology IN ACTION.  I’m not sure what direction that will take, but I’m excited about the chance to show how the tech works, in addition to continuing to write reviews.  A new category is coming as well.  “Where It Stands” will be revisits to products that have been reviewed previously.  Too often reviews on the internet are published right when a new product comes out.  Sometimes hbo-now-launchproducts that look great initially turn into duds, while at the same time, other products that have a rough launch, find new life in software updates.  I want to return to products after initial reviews to share how the tech is holding up, and whether it’s still worth consumer’s consideration.  Look for a “Where It Stands” review of the Amazon Fire TV in the coming weeks!

Finally we’ll be adding guest writers in the coming year.  I hope to add some new perspectives and get writers with different areas of kindle_voyage_and_kindle_paperwhiteinterest to give an even broader set of reviews (I can’t keep track of everything that’s going on in tech!).  The focus will remain locked on casual consumers though, so don’t worry about this blog becoming another site written for technology geeks.  This blog is for everyone.  Because technology has the capacity to enhance your life.  I believed that when this journey started a year ago, and that thought remains the same. So stay tuned for more First Impressions, Reviews (cup half full/cup half empty), Apps of Note, Tech News, and the occasional HaikuReview.

Thank you to those who have been following the site this past year.  I sincerely hope you have found things that were interesting, MDE - ride locatorinformative, and even maybe a little humorous at times.  A special thanks to friends and family for providing editing and feedback over the course of the year.

On to year number two!!

Cheers — BC Gordon – Two Lumps of Tech

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