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Charitech – One Today (App of Note)

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I love technology and I strive to be charitable, as much as I am able.  As a tech geek I use technology to make philanthropy easier.  These are my tips and tricks.  I call it Charitech.

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Last Summer, when I started focusing a lot of energy on philanthropy, I was quickly overwhelmed by the daunting task of charity.  It’s so easy to see the great needs and want to run in the opposite direction.  Sadly, that seems like a natural reaction.  So my first goal was finding ways to make charity more accessible and less scary.  One of the first apps I found is called “One Today“.

image“One Today” is a Google product.  For some that’s a great thing, for others that might be a reason to run for the hills!  But I would recommend checking it out, regardless of your attitude towards the great search engine giant.  “One Today” is a great way to do charity in small ways.  And it’s as simple as the touch of a button.

When you first download the app, you are asked to select areas of interest that you would like to contribute funds towards.  I chose: Food, Health, Housing, Civil Rights & Liberties, and Poverty.  From there the application provides a variety of charities to choose from for donations.  And all you’re being asked to contribute is one dollar.  Yep, just a buck.  That is something I could manage.

The very first charity I gave to really opened my eyes to poverty.  The imagecharity is called “Rescuing Leftover Cuisine“.  This charity “brings excess food from restaurants, catering companies, and institutions to local agencies, such as homeless shelters”, in 12 different cities in the United States.  The app provides additional information about the charity and the need.  For this charity they point out that while “40 % of food produced is wasted, while 1 in 7 Americans face food insecurity”.  I was shocked that such a charity was needed in the United States.  In a nation of such great wealth, I couldn’t believe it.  But those are the numbers, and it makes sense, when you think on it a bit.

So what does your ONE DOLLAR get?  Again, according to the app, $1 means 42 meals for the hungry.  42 MEALS!!!  That was another shocker, and it was a simple choice to push the blue button in the lower right corner and contribute one dollar.  Maybe I even dug deep and gave $2 that time and BOOM!! 84 meals for the hungry.  It’s so small, and so big at the same time.

imageI love how this app makes small acts of charity accessible.  My daughter and I created an idea back in the Autumn of 2015.  It’s called “Penny for the fountain, Dollar for the Poor“.  Whenever she comes upon a fountain that she wants to toss a penny into, we open “One Today” and find a charity to give one dollar to.  We talk about the charity options, and press that magic button.  Then she tosses her coin in the fountain.  That’s everything I hoped to accomplish with my other blog “Developing Charity” in a nutshell.  Adding a little charity to an action that was going to happen anyway.  My daughter is a big believer in the power of wishing wells! 🙂

So consider downloading this app, and giving it a go.  It won’t take much time, it won’t take much money, but a little can add up to a lot.

Download the app here:  iOS and Android

And check out more information on charities at www.developingcharity.net

#practicecharity

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First Impressions – iPad Pro

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For years there has been buzz about a giant iPad.  An iPad that could take on the Surface tablet (which loves to point out how it beats the Macbook Air in side-by-side commercials).  An iPad that would finally be as much about content creation as it is about content consumption.  An iPad to rule them all.  In September those rumors proved true, when Apple announced the iPad Pro.  A gigantic iPad with a screen size of nearly 13 inches.  With increased processing power, and all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a $1000 laptop (with similar price tag).  For months the only people who could tell us anything were people in the tech review industry (i.e. tech geeks) and Apple itself (um…conflict of interest).  But last week I finally got my hands on one.  I’ve had it for about 5 days, and these are my first impressions.

It’s an iPad

imageLet’s get this out of the way first thing.  Yes, it’s a huge iPad.  It looks like some mad scientist zapped the old iPad with some type of engorgement ray.  Partnered with the classic “smart cover” the device looks pretty ridiculous at first glance.  It’s just a big iPad.  What good is that?  I asked myself that question immediately after getting it into my hands. Sure, it’s a very nice iPad.  It’s modeled after the current line of iPad Air 2.  That means it’s super thin, very light, and has nice features like touch ID and improved cameras.  While some apps have already been optimized for the larger screen, the vast majority of applications are just larger versions of their iPad Air counterparts.  I’m reminded of the time when the first iPad came out and all of its apps were just iPhone apps blown up.  Things are much better here, going from “little iPad” to “big iPad” but the comparison is worth noting.   And just like what happened back then, the apps for iPad Pro will soon take on a life of their own, as developers start taking advantage of that massive 12.7 inch screen; not to mention taking advantage of the multitasking feature (also available on iPad Air 2) and the new Apple Pencil (a stylus).  Right now this is a big iPad, but it won’t be that for long.

It’s a Laptop

imageIt took a couple of days to convince me of that statement.  At first I didn’t see it.  I’ve paired my iPad Air 2 with a bluetooth keyboard before.  Heck, I’ve paired my iPad Mini with the slick Bluetooth keyboard from NewTrent, and got to pretend like I had the world’s tiniest macbook.  But the iPad Pro is a different matter altogether.  Unlike these previous hybrids, the iPad Pro is not pretending to be anything more than what it actually is.  It’s a laptop (with a couple caveats of course).  So what makes a big iPad a laptop?  Let’s break it down.

Screen Size/Resolution – The first feature that easily distinguishes a laptop from a tablet PC is screen size.  For imagecomparison let’s talk smartphones.  When you cross 5.5 inches in screen size, the industry stops calling it a phone, and starts calling it a “phablet”, which is a hybrid of the terms “phone” and “tablet”.  Once you hit 7 inches in screen real estate the term “tablet” seems to be universal.  Usually the “phone” element disappears at this screen size too.  That term sticks around all the way through the current “full size tablets” like iPad Air 2, Nexus 9, and Microsoft Surface Pro 4.  But tablets are getting even bigger.  They are becoming laptops.  Please God, don’t let their ever be a “laptab” or a “tabtop”.   Most entry level laptops start at 11inches (examples).  So at almost 13 inches corner to corner, the iPad has the right screen size.  It should be noted that the screen resolution of the iPad Pro is on par with the Macbook Air, so check that box off as well.

Keyboard – This one is huge.  Laptops have always had keyboards.  Sure, many hybrid laptops these days have imagedetachable screens, but the key function of the computer is found in its keyboard.  It’s how you do everything.  It’s how I’m typing this post right now (on the iPad Pro!).  Email, web browsing, writing school papers, and the like.  All require a good keyboard.  And bluetooth keyboards are more often than not, pretty crappy.  I’ve had a couple of decent ones, but even those I always know I’m going to deal with disconnection issues and battery life.  For a tablet to become a laptop you need a keyboard that is literally part of the overall machine (no bluetooth, no battery charging).  And Apple has done it with the iPad Pro.  They introduced the new “Smart Keyboard” ($169) which connects to the iPad Pro using a new “Smart Connector” which are circles on the side of the iPad Pro that connect to 3 beads of metal on the keyboard case.  I’m currently using the Logitech Create Keyboard ($150), which protects the iPad all around (the Smart Keyboard only covers the front).  It’s adds twice the weight and three times the thickness, but it also makes the iPad Pro feel like a laptop (and is still the lightest laptop I’ve ever had).  Finally, the keyboard must have keys that CLICK.  Some might argue with me here, and perhaps the next generation will be more comfortable typing on flat surfaces, but I still need the response of the click.  The feel of the button vastly improves my typing rate and minimizes my spelling errors.

Processor – Quick note, cause I know this one is super geeky.  For a tablet to be a laptop, it needs to be able to work just as hard in terms of processing power.  The processor is crucial to everything from how fast your applications run, how effective multitasking will be, even simply how responsive all those cool games will be.  The iPad Pro has a processor on par with the Macbook Air, so again, no silver medal for the tablet this round.

It’s still missing some stuff

So I’ve made my arguments for why i consider the iPad Pro a laptop.  I’d be a fool to refuse to face the gaps that are clearly there.  So here is what the iPad Pro is still missing.  First off, it is missing a MOUSE or TRACKPAD.  Those are bold for a reason.  It’s essential to have another way to interact with your screen besides your finger.image  But what about the Apple Pencil?  The stylus could replace the mouse, right?  I do think that the stylus is a great tool.  I wish the iPhone 6 Plus had one.  The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 has an awesome stylus.  But that’s an accessory, and we are talking about the iPad Pro as a laptop.  The stylus is useful but not integral to the laptop model.  What is integral is either a trackpad, or option to attach a mouse.  And the iPad Pro offers neither option, and that is an issue.  This is particularly painful when I’m trying to edit something in a Word doc (like, say, this blog post).  A trackpad/mouse would make that process much easier, and would feel like a laptop.  So the iPad Pro needs something, even if it’s an over-priced bluetooth enabled trackpad to pair to it.  It would be better to put
imageit right into the case, like the Microsoft Surface has always done!  The next gap is USB support.  For the iPad Pro to be a laptop it must allow for peripherals.  This is where the whole mouse thing could be dealt with.  But this is also where you could add some extra memory options for the woefully inadequate 32GB storage in the cheapest model.  Apple seems to believe that Bluetooth/WIFI connected devices are the future, and everyone wants to store their content in the Cloud.  Maybe they’ll be proven right, but for now those missing USB ports (found easily on any other competitor of this size) are going to hold some people back from believing this device could ever replace the laptop.  The last thing missing are optimized apps, but those will come.  I wish that the device ran a hybrid of the Macbook OS (currently El Capitan) but for now we’re stuck with iOS.  But 3rd party developers seem to like making money, so I’m sure they’ll save the day sooner rather than later.

The Whole Cup Summed Up

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I wanted to hate the iPad Pro.  I wanted to say it’s just a big iPad.  That it isn’t going to replace the laptop.  But I was wrong on most of those counts.  I set my Macbook aside for the past 5 days and have used this iPad Pro as my laptop exclusively, and it’s proven itself to me.  I am certain that this device is just the first step towards a whole new kind of laptop.  Microsoft has had the “tablet/laptop hybrid” market more or less to themselves with the Surface line of tablets.  They have had a blast mocking how versatile the Surface Pro is compared to the Macbook Air.  And if not for the issues that plagued those devices around Windows 8, we might be saying Microsoft redefined the field.  But that playing field is starting to level out.  It’s not there yet.  The iPad Pro has a couple gaping holes that the competition is sure to point out right away.  No trackpad!!!?  No USB ports!?!?!  That’s just a huge iPad and not a content creation machine!!  That’s what they will say.  But they would be wrong.  The iPad Pro is a laptop.  It’s a first gen for Apple, and it’s an indicator of something new to come.  There will always be tech geeks who hate how Apple claims to do “new things” when what they are doing is hardly new.  (it actually annoys me too)  That will be the case for the iPad Pro as well.  But Apple markets their products with greater success than any other company, and they create markets where before there were only struggling sales.  They did it with the MP3 Player (iPod), then the Smartphone (iPhone); they did it with the Tablet PC (iPad), and most recently with the Smartwatch (Apple Watch).  All of those markets existed before Apple introduced their products.  But few can argue that those markets weren’t radically changed after Apple introduced their tech.  And those revolutionized markets brought opportunities for all sorts of new products, across many companies.  Apple drives me crazy a lot of the time.  The company just strikes me as too arrogant and full of themselves.  But they make good stuff.  And the iPad Pro will go down as one of their successes.  That’s my bet.  Though it might also be the device that killed the Macbook Air.  But, in the world of mobile tech, it’s all about change.  And this change appears to be a good one.

Here are a few other reviews of the iPad Pro to check out:

iPad Pro Review – The Verge

iPad Pro Review -Tech Radar

5 Things I noticed in my first hours with the iPad Pro – Macworld

iPad Pro: Awkward and Amazing – Forbes

iPad Pro: Great Product/Limited Potential – Inquisitr

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!

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App of Note – Funny or Die News Flash

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UPDATE: August 2016.  This app is no longer being offered.  But read on and remember a cool concept, and hope for something similar to return to the news landscape.  We can all use a little humor in our daily news!

I’ll admit it.  I’m a bit of a news junkie.  I do my best to stick to tech news and the major headlines, and I try to stay away from the comment sections.  I think it’s good to be informed, but in a world where endless news articles are just a click away, some balance is required to not find yourself immersed by the torrent.  Enter, smart news applications.

Smart News apps are designed to give you a quick burst of news.  Not too much, but not too little.  I’ve already reviewed one of my favorites, Yahoo News Digest, in a previous “App of Note”.  Today I want to introduce you to another.  And I’ll get this out of the way first, it is currently iOS only.  So if you don’t have an iPhone or iPad, you are out of luck for the moment.  But do read on, for this sweet little news app will certainly come to Android in the future, and if you’ve got a good sense of humor, and a tolerance for minor vulgarity, this news app will keep you informed while it’s making you laugh, and it’s called “Funny or Die News Flash”.

What Makes a Good Smart news App?

20150510_131352000_iOSIn my opinion, every Smartnews app should meet the following criteria:

1.  Scheduled Delivery– Smartnews should come at specific times during the day, versus constantly being updated.  That way you can read all the content, and you know you’re done until the next delivery.  Just like the good ole newspaper!

2.  Short Informative Articles – Smartnews should be a quick read.  I’m talking about the walk from the car to the office, or an elevator ride.  You should barely need to scroll down through the article, because your goal is to know the top stories and that’s it.  There are plenty of apps offering a more lengthy take on the news of the day (see #3)

3.  Links, Links, and more Links – While a smartnews app is designed to be a short read it should offer links to get to longer articles, or even related articles from within the app.

4.  Social Element – Smartnews should at the very least offer buttons for Facebook, Twitter, Text, and Email.  That way if you read an article you want to share with others, it’s just a click to send it on it’s way.

5.  Intelligent Swiping – This one might just be me, but every smartnews app I’ve used makes use of up/down and left/right 20150510_131459000_iOSswiping in intuitive ways.  That’s the key to a quick read.  Read what is on the screen, swipe left, read the next story, swipe left, and so on.  You want to send to Facebook, swipe up, click the icon, and off it goes.  If a smartnews app is clunky, it is no longer serving it’s purpose.

So let’s see how the “Funny or Die News Flash” application stacks up to my criteria.

It Offers a Good News Spectrum

The app takes brevity to a whole new level.  Each “story” is designed with two sections.  The first part is the informative news piece.  The second part is the joke related to the first part.  It can literally be two sentances.  That certainly puts the “flash” in news flash.  But while the articles are incredibly short, they are also very diverse.  US, International, Business, Entertainment, Sports, Tech.  They don’t all show up each day, but I’ve seen them all appear from time to time.  I checked the articles showing in the app against some of my other favorite smartnews apps, and I found they all had similar stories, because they all cover the most popular things in the media at the time.  So for “short informative articles” Funny or Die News Flash nails it.

It Offers Social Element and Links

20150510_131523000_iOSEach article includes a “share” button, which allows you to send the story to a wide variety of sources.  These include Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Flipboard, and Pocket.  Along with standard email and text links.  Across from the “share” button is a link to the “Full Story”, which includes the name of the source (i.e. Baltimore Sun, Telegraph).  Clicking this link takes you into Safari and you are able to read the entire story, which is great.  So “Funny or Die News Flash” is solid with “link, links, and more links” and the “social element”.

It Offers a Slick Interface

One reason I love the Yahoo News Digest is how the swiping works.  There you just swipe left/right to go through the articles, and up/down to read the articles.  The “Funny or Die News Flash” just takes out the up/down element.  Each articles is a single page, and you swipe left/right through them.  You might be think, “what’s so slick about that?”.  Well the really cool part is the video element.  This is the first app I’ve seen that basically has a GIF running for every story, relevant to the article it covers.  That means you actually have a short video (muted), playing while you read the story.  It looks great.  It loads fast!  So “intelligent swiping” is a solid yes.

Where it Hits, and Where it Misses

The other thing “Funny or Die News Flash” has that no other smartnews app I’ve seen hastime to get off the toilet is the humor.  I’ve found myself laughing out loud at some of the jokes they tie to current headlines.  It’s like having a comedian reading the news, which is really the only way the news should be read in my opinion.  I get to be informed and entertained at the same time.  So that is a big HIT for this application.

The only element I find frustrating is related to “scheduled delivery”.  The app seems to only refresh at certain times during the day, but there’s no control over that (like there is in other smartnews apps, like Yahoo News Digest).  And I have found that they tend to add new articles to the front of the “news feed” while leaving some articles on the back end that I’ve already read.  Those jokes were certainly funny the first time I read them, but they lose their kick the next go around.  And I really want to swipe to the very end, because that’s when the Funny or Die News Flash delivers, what I think is it’s best joke (to the right).

The Whole Cup Summed Up

20150510_131412000_iOSSmartnews apps are a great way to get fast news on mobile devices.  They keep you informed while not taking up too much of your time.  It’s the perfect tool for someone constantly on the go.  Who has time to watch CNN, MSNBC, or the rest of the 24 hour news cycle anyway?  With “Funny or Die News Flash” your in, you laugh, your out, and more clued in to what is going on in the news for the day.

If you have an iPhone and a good sense of humor, pick up the Funny or Die News Flash right now!  It’s free and it’s hilarious.  Well worth the few minutes it takes to get through the content.  And if the news stories of the day aren’t so rosey, don’t they say that laughter is the best medicine?

First Impressions – Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Edge

SAMSUNG GALAXY PHONES_cropped If you aren’t a tech geek like me you probably had no idea that an annual conference is held ever year in Barcelona, Spain.  And at this conference many tech companies roll out their new gadgets.  Well that event is called the Mobile World Congress (MWC), and it started March 1st.  Two major smartphone companies announced devices on the first day: Sasmung and HTC.  Today we’ll look at the new Samsung phones, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Edge. We’ll focus on the S6 model, as the Edge is pretty much the same phone with the addition of having a screen that wraps around, you guessed it, the edge!

The Design

samsung phonesSamsung has long been known for putting out high-end phones in cheap looking cases.  The tendancy to focus on plastic has been the chief argument by their competitors that they are not good phones.  The Galaxy S5 last year found itself in those cross-hairs like never before because while the software was pumped up with new features (fingerprint ID, heart rate monitor, improved camera), the hardware itself still felt cheap; pic below – S6 (left) S5 (right).  The tech industry knew that Samsung had to change that approach with the Galaxy S6 and they did exactly that.Samsung Galaxy S6 vs S5 One review I read called the S6 the “love child of the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 6” and that’s pretty accurate.  The phone is now entirely metal and glass.  The metal edges look almost identical to the iPhone 6, and the glass back harkens back to the iPhone 4 and 4S.  Though Samsung is using much stronger glass, so the scratching issues that plagued those iPhones should be avoided.  This phone looks great!  It looks like the high-end phone that this line has always been.  Does it sgalaxy-s6-iphone-6-comparison-bottom-frontstill look a lot like the previous models?  Yep.  The dimensions are even the same as the S5.  The camera is the same (with improved optics).  The three buttons at the bottom (including those two that disappear when not in use) are still there.  But it’s an improvement, no doubt.  It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary, but after 4 models that looked virtually the same (little bigger each time), I think evolutionary is good enough for this year.  Let’s briefly breakdown what the new features are and what features are gone for good.

What’s New

samsung fingerprint sensor Fingerprint Access

Last year to use this feature you had to swipe your finger/thumb across the home button (making it useless, based on my experience with it).  Now it works just like the iPhone button.  Rest your finger on the button and you are unlocked.  The fingerprint will also pair for payments using Samsung Pay.

Improved Screen and Speaker

The screen is brighter and the speaker is louder.  Since the phone size didn’t change, those updates should be pretty noticable.

Isamsung galaxy s6 cameramproved Cameras

While the 16MP back camera is the same, they’ve added “optical image stabilization” which means your pics will look better, as it helps handle shaky shots (the iPhone 6 Plus uses this tech as well).  The forward facing camera is now 5MP, which means those selfies will be crystal clear!  You also can access the camera much quicker, with a double tap of the home button (they say less than a second).

samsung wireless charging

Battery Charging – This one is a mixed bag for hardcore Samsung users.  The battery is no longer replaceable (like most high-end phones these days), but they’ve added tech to the device that makes charging lightening fast (10 minutes of charge gets you 4 hours of battery!).  They’ve also made it possible for wireless charging with any of the many charging mats on the market.

What’s Gone

Replaceable Battery

While this means extra batteries are a thing of the past, you do get a slimmer phone in the process. And rapid charge is a huge move forward, making all those extra batteries rather redundant.

samsung no sd cardSD Card Slot

No more expandable memory for the Galaxy S Line.  Samsung has adjusted the memory tiers from 16/32/64 to 32/64/128 (those would be Gigabytes).  Most people would have to try and use 32 GB unless they are loading lots of videos or never cleaning out their camera roll.  This is just another example of the movement towards cloud storage.

Waterproofing

The S5 was one of the samsung galaxy s6 not waterprooffew high-end smartphones that was waterproof (meaning you could drop it in the toilet).  That no longer is the case.  So either get a LifeProof case for the phone, or be more careful when you’re at the beach this summer (not to mention those pesky toilets!)

The Edge – it’s trying really hard to be super cool

Tsamsung S6 Edgehe other phone Samsung introduced this week is the Galaxy Edge.  Last year the Note Edge was released, which featured a third screen along the edge of the right side of the phablet.  Now the edge is on both sides, but it doesn’t act like a third screen.  It just stretches the screen over the side.  There is still a “clock mode” so you can see the time on the phone’s edge when it’s laid flat.  The Edge definitely looks cool.  Its guts are no different from the Galaxy S6 though, so we’ll have to see how pricing works out, and if the “cool factor” is worth the cost.

The Whole Cup Summed Up samsung galaxy edge 1

I like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Edge.  Samsung has always made decent phones that came in cheap packages.  It’s great that the argument about the hardware can be put to rest (of course the lawsuits from Apple might start a whole new argument).  Now you have some clear choices regarding SOFTWARE.  Do you like Android or Apple?  Do you like the interface that Samsung puts on top of the Android system (it’s called TouchWiz)?  Do you like the grid design of Apple’s iOS 8?  It’s really all about preference.  All of these phones are premium hardware.  Metal and Glass.  They have similar cameras (though Apple remains the king for the moment at least there).  They do the same things.  They play the same games.  Support the same apps.  So head to the store when these phones come out and get them in your hands, and see what you think. I tend to jump between Apple and Android every six months (thank you T-Mobile Jump program).  I love the iPhone 6.  I think it’s the perfect phone, in terms of size, and functionality.  But the S6 has me tempted.  If it’s not too expensive the Galaxy Edge has me tempted too.  But I have till May to sort it out.  If you want either Samsung smartphone, your first chance will be April 10th.

Who knew that Samsung and Apple were cousins all along!?!

galaxy-s6-iphone-6-comparison-side-table

Tech of Disney – Two Awesome Apps!!

My Disney Experience App pictouring plans app pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Walt Disney World vacation was a success and everyone involved agreed that technology played a central role.  We’ve already talked about how MagicBands made negotiating the parks, resorts, and souvenir shops easier.  Today we’ll look at the applications we used during (and prior) to the trip to make sense of the madness and make sure everyone had a great time.

Disclaimer:  Our vacation was in January, which is a slow month. So bear that in mind when making your plans.  Even with these great apps, heading to WDW in July will always be pretty busy, but I’m sure these apps will help.

I was the “tech guy” for our trip and I employed several apps to keep everything sorted out.  I used Google Maps to negotiate the way from Orlando to Clearwater, Florida and back (we spent a day at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium).  I used Yahoo Weather to keep an eye on the sky and help everyone know whether to wear a jacket or shorts, depending on the day.  I used the stock “Notes” app on my iPhone to keep tabs on souvenir money, and the breakdown of our meal plans (which we accessed with those sweet MagicBands).  But there were two primary apps that I used to make this vacation successful, and I’m very excited to tell you about them.  So here we go:

My Disney Experience App

my disney experience details

This app is the “official app” from Disney for your vacation. The app provides a ton of tools to use in the parks including Ride Information, Character Meet-Up locations, Dining Options, Guest Services, and even Shopping.

The My Disney Experience App is something you definitely need while you’re in the park, or even before you’re in the park for planning purposes. Let me share how I used the app for our trip.

Using the App in the Parks

MDE - Fast Pass ModifierI used the My Disney Experience App for two major things while in the park. First, the app allows you to modify your Fast Pass options directly on the device. We had an early Fast Pass for the Rock Coaster in Hollywood Studios. The bus took a long time showing up (one of the few times that happened to us), and the drive to the park was taking longer than I expected it to. Bottom line, we were going to miss our Fast Pass for the ride, and I knew, from reviewing the app, that we had a 45 minute wait if we had to go through theMDE - Rock Coaster “stand by” line. So I pulled up the Fast Pass options on the My Disney Experience App, located another Fast Pass window, and switched everyone in our group to that window instead. We did indeed arrive at Hollywood Studios after our first Fast Pass had expired, but because of the functionality of the My Disney Experience app, we were able to saunter our way to the ride (taking a family pic in front of the Tower of Terror along the way) and take advantage of our revised Fast Pass window. This is just on example of the many times I adjusted our Fast Pass times with this app. We actually switched which park we were going to one of the days, and I was able to completely reassign our Fast Passes to the other park, all from within the app on my iPhone.

MDE - Cosmic Rays Cafe Touring Plans Cosmic Rays CafeThe second way I used this app in the parks was for Dining. We were doing Quick Service Meals during most of our trip, which is the Disney equivalent of Fast Food. The app shows all of the Quick Service restaurants in the parks with menus provided. On our day in the Magic Kingdom we needed to find a location for dinner. While others in our group rode Dumbo the Flying Elephant, I pulled up the Dining options and took stock of what restaurants were around us (some restaurants have limited hours, and the app indicates that). By the time everyone was done flying I had narrowed it down to two places. With the whole group gathered around, I told them what foods each place offered, and the general consensus was to skip to gourmet mac and cheese of the Friar’s Nook (my choice), and head over for burgers and chicken in Tomorrowland at “Cosmic Rays Starlight Cafe”. You can’t win them all.  Having all of the menus at your fingertips is a great feature, and something unique to the My Disney Experience app. If you are doing Table Service Dining, you can even make your reservations right from the app. But make sure you do that way ahead of time, because those slots fill up fast, and you’ll have few, if any, options if you do it the day of your visit.

While My Disney Experience provided some great options, including visual maps to guide our way through the parks, another app was my primary tool to make sure we spent more time on rides, and less time in lines. It’s an app called “Touring Plans”.

Touring Plans App

touring plans site

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure how I stumbled upon the website for “touring plans“.  It was probably during my google searches for “planning a trip to Disney”.  However it was that I found it, I can say without hesitation that this app was the jewel that made our vacation a smooth ride from start to finish.  Unlike the “My Disney Experience” app, this one has a cost related to it, but I assure you that the price of $12.95 for an annual membership is well worth it.  Your $13 gets you access to the Touring Plans website, offering tons of tools, including pre-designed schedules, from which the site got their name.  You also can full access to the mobile application (available on iOS and Android).  The mobile app is available for free, but you can’t access many of the features without a membership.

The “Touring Plans” app offers all sorts of information about the parks.  Park hours (including the “extra magic hours” for resort guests), Crowd Calendar, Wait Times, Fast Pass Availability, and Ride information (height, intensity, description, and ratings).  Bottom line, the only things missing from this app are dining information, and the ability to change Fast Passes on the go (but you have My Disney Experience for those anyway).  While those features might sound similar to the “My Disney Experience” app, I found that Touring Plans was easier to use, and had more reliable wait times for rides especially.

As I looked over the app, I had a feeling of nostalgia that is usually associated with viewing photos from a trip.  But that makes sense, since I spent most of my time there staring at these screens.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Let me share how I used this app prior to our visit and during our time in the parks.

Using the App to Plan the TripTouring Plans 10 Day Forecast

Two months before our trip the family gathered to do some trip planning.  Using the “touring plans” application I accessed the “Crowd Calendar” which does its best to predict the tourist traffic each day.  We could see the days we would be there, with estimated crowd level.  We used that information, along with the days that each park had “extra magic hours” (resort guests get early entrance or staying after the park close to the public) to determine which park we would visit each day.  Our planning proved overwhelmingly successful.  We had minimal lines, and tons of space as we made our way around the parks.  Touring Plans Crowd Calendar proved accurate for us!

 

Touring Plans Big ThunderThe second thing we had to determine was which rides everyone wanted to go on.  Bear in mind we had ages ranging from an 8-year-old up to the Grandparents, so everyone wasn’t always going to agree.  I used a spreadsheet to create what I called “The Super Awesome Ride Selection Machine”, and filled it with data gathered from the ride descriptions in the “Touring Plans” app.  Then I sat with everyone and had them rate their interest in every single ride (0 – not interested to 5 – we MUST go on that!!!!).  In the end I had a good idea about which rides everyone wanted to go on, and when we’d need to split up.  I used that information in real-time once we hit the park.  We managed to get to roughly 90% of the rides we wanted to get to, and that is thanks to the wait time calculator.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

Using the App in the Parks

The “touring plans” app provides estimated wait times for all of Touring Plans Ridesthe rides and shows in all of the parks.  When you pull up the ride list, you see the Disney posted time (reflected on the My Disney Experience App) and the “expected time” as calculated by Touring Plans.  These numbers are derived from historical data and users entering their wait times while they are in line (which is added to the algorithms driving the historical data).  I used the app, to time several of the lines we stood in.  I verified just about every line’s wait time against the apps expected time and found the app was accurate almost all of the time.  If anything, it sometimes stated a longer time than we experienced; it never went the other way!  In addition to providing expected wait times, each ride indicates when there is a Fast Pass available, and when the line is expected to get shorter.  We planned to ride Big Thunder Mountain again on the day we were in Magic Kingdom.  I saw that there was a 40 minute wait as the expected time in Touring Plans.  But the app told me that if we waited another hour the line would drop to 10 minutes.  We waited (hit another ride in the meantime), and then we rode the ride an hour later with that 10 minute wait!  Spectacular.

Anyone planning a trip to Walt Disney World (or Universal Studios – they have this service too), should get Touring Plans.  It’s the easiest $13 you’ll spend, and it will definitely make your trip more enjoyable.  If you don’t have a tech geek like me in our group, the site offers designed “touring plans” that will literally guide you through the park, hitting all the rides you want to go to at the optimal time.  We didn’t use that service, but I can definitely see how it could benefit a group that doesn’t have a person who is fine staring at their smartphone the entire trip.

The Whole Cup Summed Up

As technology increases its presence in our lives, it is becoming more important to be comfortable with the tools.  This is certainly the case for a vacation to Walt Disney World.  The use of two relatively simple apps will have great benefits for your trip.  You will stand in shorter lines, you will use your Fast Passes effectively (we changed some when we realized we had Passes for a ride with a 5 minute wait!), and you will feel more in control of your experience.  Need to find a place to eat dinner?  The My Disney Experience app has everything you need to know from menus, to prices, to exact locations in the parks.  Need to know if it’s worth walking all the way across the park to hit Space Mountain one more time?  Touring Plans can tell you how long you will wait before you take one step towards Tomorrowland.  These are great tools.  They are easy to use.  And the first one is free and the second one is a bargain.  So make sure to grab these apps before you head to Florida and I’m sure you will have an amazing time!

And when you want to know where to find her, you won’t need a Fairy Godmother…

MDE - character locator

 

 

 

First Impressions – Basis Peak Fitness and Sleep Tracker

Basis Peak Banner

Just when it seemed that the smartphone had eliminated the need for the old wristwatch, along comes the tech industry to reinvent an age old tool.  Smartwatches once again dominated the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2015, showing that wrist-based tech is certainly on the rise!  From the simple fitness bands like the Fitbit Flex and Misfit Flash, to the souped-up smartwatches like Moto 360, Samsung Gear S, and the forthcoming Apple Watch, the tech industry is very interested in slapping something on your wrist.

But how do you know what is best for you? activity trackersDo you even need one?  Well, all of that depends on what you value.  Do you want fitness metrics like steps, miles, elevation, heart-rate, and calories burned?  Do you want a wristband that interacts with your phone to show calls, texts, emails, and calendar notices?  The Wrist Tech industry is very diverse, and actually pretty overwhelming when you really start to see how many options are out there.  I recently got my hands on one of the lesser known devices.  Based on my initial experience, I’d categorize it as a “fitness watch”.  It’s called the Basis Peak, and these are my first impressions.

BASIS PEAK – Hardware

peak heart rate full watch picFirst off, the form factor.  The Peak is not too big, and not too small.  Weight is also minimal. It has a two tone LCD touchscreen which works very well.  It comes with a rubber wristband that I find comfortable.  This is important because to get accuracy from the heart-rate monitor it’s essential that the watch be strapped tightly to your wrist.

Battery life has been very good.  I’m getting about 3 days of life (from the promised 5 days), but I have been using it a lot.  Remember that the high end of battery life is usually found through minimal use.  But 3 days isn’t bad, especially for a device that does 24/7 tracking.

The Peak is waterproof.  So you can shower and swim with it on and there are no worries.  Finally, the device will work with both Android and Apple phones, which makes it a rare breed indeed.

Overall I like the look and feel of the Basis Peak.  So let’s talk about what this Fitness Watch does.

It’s a Fitness Tracker

First and foremost, this device is for fitness.  It is not trying to compete with the Smartwatch category, at least not directly.  The Basis Peak offers a few fitness metrics: steps, calories burned, and heart-rate (we’ll get to that last one in a minute).  Noticeably missing from the device are the ability to track mileage (a significant omission), and elevation (which would require an altimeter to work).  Many other fitness trackers offer both of those features, and for a premium cost device (the Peak will set you back $200) they really should be included.

Though the metrics are limited, it’s what the Peak does with the data that is pretty cool.  The device sells itself as fully automated.  You don’t have to tell the device when you go for a walk, take a run, or head off on a bike ride.  The device can tell what you are doing, and the device responds with an icon for the activity, and begins tracking the activity as a “work out ” session of sorts.  This is a great feature for people who like to track their metrics during exercise, especially those serious runners and bikers.  And the key to solid metrics is the heart-rate monitor.

TPeak Heart Rate Monitorhis is my first experience with a fitness band offering constant tracking of an actual health element.  It’s one thing to see if you can get those 10,000 steps in every day and the resulting feeling of accomplishment.  It’s quite another when your fitness watch can give you insight into your actual health in real time.  I’m quickly discovering that I am pretty out of shape.  I know that by watching my heart rate skyrocket, even during a long, slow walk.  I am excited by the idea of mobile technology like a fitness watch helping people make better health choices in the moment.  The Peak is already doing that for me, after just a few days.

 It’s a Sleep Tracker

You didn’t know how important it was to track your sleep patterns, did you!?  According to the fitness band/watch industry it’s very important because the feature is pretty much standard on anything strapped to your wrist.  I’ve used the FitBit Flex sleep tracker for a while and I didn’t find it terribly useful.  That particular tracker only tracked sleep and awake, using “micro-movements”.  So it showed me when I moved around in my sleep, but the data didn’t get any more specific.

peak sleep trackerThe Basis Peak is different, and it’s all because of the heart rate monitor, and something the company calls Body IQ.  The device offers several metrics for sleep tracking including: Light Sleep, Deep Sleep, REM Sleep, Toss/Turn, and Interruptions.  The phone based app also gives information to help you understand how much of each type of sleep is typical, so you have an idea if you are getting enough of what you need.  This is the first fitness watch that I’ve used where the sleep monitor actually tells me something useful and something I can take action on.

It’s a Smartwatch (sorta)

Peak Smartwatch featuresWhen the Basis Peak first shipped it was strictly a Fitness Watch.  It could do everything I’ve already described and nothing else.  Then came the “smartwatch update“.  This update was promised to early adopters and the company delivered recently with an update that allows Smartphones to communicate with the Peak, showing incoming calls, emails, texts, and calendar appointments on your wrist.  The features are still pretty glitchy, which isn’t surprising because it’s so new.  I tested both an Android phone and an iPhone and both were inconsistent with delivery of calls, texts, emails, and calendar appointments.  Also the “manual sync” button in the phone app of both devices often resulted in an error saying “sync failed”.  These issues definitely make the “smartwatch” element of the Peak less reliable.

Bottom line, if you want a full smartwatch experience, the Peak is not the device for you.  At least not until they’ve worked through many of the bugs that are currently plaguing it.

The Whole Cup Summed Up

peak step counterThe Basis Peak is a Fitness Watch.  That’s the most important thing to remember.  It’s trying to take on some of the other Smartwatches out there, but it’s just not there yet.  The fitness metrics offered by the Peak are pretty standard, and nothing to get too excited about.  What I am finding most useful is the Heart Rate Monitor and enhanced Sleep Tracking.  In the end, the purpose for wearing a fitness watch or fitness band is to help you make better choices about your health, and the heart rate monitor is proving an excellent tool for me in that regard.

The Basis Peak will certainly get better in time.  The company promised a software update and they delivered.  This is no small feat, especially for a smaller company.  This builds customer trust and that is essential for the fledgling industry of Wrist Tech.
The device currently cost $199 and comes in a couple colors. peak colors You can swap out your wristband to jazz it up too.  My opinion, based my first impressions of the Peak, is that it is overpriced for the features it offers.  A $200 fitness watch should at least offer mileage tracking.  It also wouldn’t hurt to put in that altimeter so users could track elevation (I used to challenge myself to take the stairs!).  At a premium price, it should offer every feature possible.  The only justification for the high cost would be the inclusion of “smartwatch” features, which the company is starting to offer.  But the phone connectivity is still unreliable, and so be prepared for some frustration if you plan to use those features.

Mobile Health is taking off, and fitness bands and watches are leading the charge, providing valuable health data on your wrist (and your phone).  This is technology that truly has the potential to change lives.  Unlike the majority of tech updates (tablets, phones, and gaming consoles), wrist tech is often focused on health.  At the same time these devices can keep you connected to the things that you value, in a way that involves minimal interruptions from technology.

These two elements in partnership on a small device like a wristband will revolutionize how we communicate with our friends and family, and with our doctors too!  Great tech should be easy and life enhancing, and that’s the direction we are heading!

Apps of Note – Scribblenauts Remix

scribblenauts banner

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking a brief break from my “Tech of Disney” series, I thought it would be fun to highlight a game I recently came across called “Scibblenauts Remix”.  My daughter got a Nintendo 3DS XL just after Christmas.  The high cost of the system itself sent me off to the pawn shop to find cheap games.  While her focus was on Littlest Pet Shop and Pokemon, I was hoping to find some games that had some educational element to them, as well as fun gameplay.  I struck gold when I found the original DS version of “Scribblenauts” for $2 in a bargain bin!

scribblenauts questionBasically it is a puzzle-solving game.  You are presented with a challenge within a small 2D environment.  Could be a farm, could be outer space, or underwater.  You then use your “magic notebook” to type the items that you need to solve the problem.  Those items will then appear on the screen for you to use.  I love this game because it teaches critical thinking skills with the problem solving and it challenges my 2nd grader to spell all the words for the items she wants to use.  She is really enjoying it.  Heck, I’m really enjoying it.  But I got tired of asking her if I could play “her” 3DS (with her listing the conditions I must adhere to in order to use it), so I decided to see if the App Store had some version of the game.  I found it right away, and it is pretty awesome.  Let’s break down the mobile app, “Scribblenauts Remix”.

 The Cup Half Full 

scribblenauts peopleI’ve compared gameplay between the DS version and the mobile version, and I’ve found very little difference.  Sure the 3DS offers a second screen, but that’s mainly used for stats, the game itself is entirely played on the touchscreen of the 3DS.  So there’s no difference between it and the mobile app (aside from using a 3DS stylus, though you could use one with the mobile app too, if you wanted).

The mobile app offers up a ton of levels for $0.99!  And if you drop an additional….wait for it…. $0.99, you get all the current levels (around 50 right now) plus access to all additional levels coming down the road.  I did some research and the original 50 levels were a breakdown of 20 original Scribblenauts game levels, 20 Super Scribblenauts levels, and 10 levels created especially for the mobile app.  That’s a pretty amazing package for $2, being that buying new versions of the two DS games would run you $40 pretty easily (if you aren’t a pawn shopper like me).

scribblenauts magic notebookFinally, the mobile app has some cool additions not found on the 3DS version.  One is the use of the dictation speaker built into the keyboard to speak the names of the items you want to get in your “magic notebook”.  This negates my plan for spelling practice, but my daughter knows that speaking is a last resort, and she seems to be sticking to the plan so far.  Also, if you want to scrap all of your current creations in the current level, all you have to do is shake the phone and you will be prompted to agree to scrap all creations.  That’s comes in handy when my elaborate plans don’t work out so well.

One final bonus, since the mobile game works on iPad as well, you can play on a much larger screen than with the 3DS version!

The Cup Half Empty scribblenauts avatars

As with all mobile apps, this one offers “in app purchases”.  These come in the form of “avatar” character packs to use in the game.  It comes standard with the primary character Maxwell, as well as a Lifeguard, a girl Maxwell, and God (picture old guy in white robe).  There are several avatar packs that will run you another $0.99 for each group.  They include mythical characters, historical figures, and monsters.  So if you really want to play as Shakespeare or Dracula, you’ve got options.  But it’ll cost ya.  There are also “playgrounds” which come in a three pack for, you guessed it, $0.99.  So I call the “in app purchases” a half empty thing, but really, you could get everything they have to offer and not even reach the cost of a single 3DS game, so that’s pretty cool.

The other issue I’ve found with the game is related to “Game Center”.  At first glance it appeared that a game I started on my iPhone would transfer over to my iPad Mini, but that doesn’t appear to the case at this point.  Though that could be a setting issue as much as anything.  I’m not a hard-core gamer, so this isn’t a big concern for me, but I know that could be a deal breaker for some, who count those points like they’re real cash.

scribblenaughts-remix-weaponsParental Note:  This game does allow you to call up guns and other weapons.  If you “shoot” the weapon at another character they will lose hearts and vanish in a cloud of smoke.  When shooting humans, this will generally result in losing the level and having to start over.  The game does not have overt violence, but for those sensitive to this issue, it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

The Whole Cup Summed Up 

“Scribblenauts Remix” is a great little mobile game for both smartphones and tablets.  It’s been around for a few years now, so new gamers will find tons of content, with more coming.  I would expect a game with similar gameplay to cost at least $1.99 in the app store. But they’ve made this one accessible for everyone’s wallet.  The gameplay is on par with the much more expensive 3DS version, and even offers a few perks like shake to scrap and voice commands.

You’ll probably be tempted by those in app avatar purchases, and who could blame you!?  So if you’ve got a few extra bucks, pick this up.

And a note to parents.  I sought out a game for my daughter that would be so fun she would barely register that she was learning and developing her brain, and this was a total score.  So definitely check it out if you’ve got an elementary school kiddo.  But be prepared to spend some time playing it yourself, cause it is tons of fun!

Available on iOS and Android.

Try and tell me you don’t want to know what’s going on here!?

scribblenauts polka dot horse

 

Review – Pebble Smartwatch

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For months I’ve been waiting for a device that I was certain would change the way I interacted with my smartphone, the Razer Nabu Smartband. But while waiting for it’s release I continued researching other smartwatches and smartbands. My fitbit flex died a couple months back and my first goal was finding a new fitness band that had (gasp) a clock! I had considered the Pebble at one point, but it had two things working against it. One, it had a price tag of $149 and two, it didn’t do continuous monitoring, which made it’s usefulness as a fitness band much less attractive. But then one day the news came to the tech blogs that changed everything. The price dropped to $99 for the original model, and the device now supported continuous monitoring, with only negligible impact on the 7 day battery life. My excuses gone, I plunked down the cash and picked up a Pebble Smartwatch. I’ve been using the device for over a month, so here are my thoughts.

The Cup Half Full20141210_180105988_iOS

This device does everything I wanted it to do when I bought it. The pebble app has a ‘’store” offering a wide variety of watch faces, and using them I now have a few different faces telling me the time, date, and weather. I find it fun to switch between my standard watch faces to more fun ones like my Superman watch or my Dr. Who watch (12 doctors means each hour they show you a face but no hour – so you gotta know which Doctor it is!) So the “telling me the time” piece was handled.

pebble misfit appThe app store also offers a fitness band app from the makers of Misfit (which has it’s own hardware if you’re interested in a fitness band). This app allows me to track my steps just like my old Fitbit Flex. It seems pretty accurate, so I’m happy with that piece.

The set up to receive notifications of text messages and emails was seamless, and very user-friendly.  The watch will even alert me of incoming calls and I can reject them from my wrist if it’s not a convenient time to talk.  I find these features to be very handy, as much as I expected it would be.

Beyond those three features that were requirements for purchase, I have found several other apps that I use regularly on the Pebble. One is a multi-timer, which I have set up to open with a hard press of one of the buttons on the right hand side of the watch. This give me access to a timers, stopwatches, and alarms all with one press. It works from everything from cooking to timing my child’s daily reading. Another app is the “music” app, which comes standard on the device (no store required). This app allows me to control the music playing on my phone from my wrist. This comes in handy when I’m using a bluetooth speaker at home and want to change tracks from across the room. It’s also handy when driving, as another way to leave my phone in the seat next to me, and decrease distracted driving opportunities.pebble pebtris

Beyond these main apps, I haven’t found many other uses for the Pebble. I installed the Pebble version of Tetris (Pebtris) for a kick of nostalgia, but I found the controls very cumbersome (big surprise!).

ios android compatibleTwo final things to point out, and they can’t be understated.  First, unlike the majority of Smartwatches currently on the market (or coming soon), the Pebble is compatible with both Android and Apple products.  This is very important.  While Android has been pumping out some very cool devices lately, iPhone owners are out of luck.  And no matter how much they want to use that new Apple Watch come January, Android users won’t have that option.  The Pebble is truly one of the few smartwatch options that works on both.  Android connected watches will have a few more options than their Apple counterparts (with their open system approach), but both systems will support all primary functionality, seamlessly.waterproof pebble

And finally, the Pebble is waterproof.  Meaning you can submerge this thing in water and you will have no issues.  I have tested this (nervously), and it works great.  If we are moving into an era of wrist computers, it is imperative that they be waterproof, because that’s a pretty big risk to be taking, just to wash your hands, with a computer strapped to your wrist!

The Cup Half Empty

For all the things a Pebble can do, it is still a limited device. It is an extension of your smartphone, and really nothing more. Aside from the clock (and a few select apps), the device requires a connection to your phone. I am hesitant to include this fact in my “half empty” section because I’m an advocate for our wristbands not being “wrist computers”. I am not a fan of having another device that pulls us into the internet and away from what is going on around us. So I should be happy that the Pebble’s functionality is limited (versus the higher functions found in Android Wear and the forthcoming Apple Watch). But as I’ve used this device for a while now, there is one thing I wish I could do that I cannot do, and that is respond to text messages.

I experimented with an app that allows you to create five preset text responses, to select individuals, but I’ve found that difficult to work with, to put it nicely. I think it’s great that I can see my texts on my wrist without pulling out my phone. But it would be an enhancement for me if I could make a quick response. Something as simple as “OK” or “On My Way”. But to do that I still have to pull out my phone, and I find that is often the case when I receive texts from people. Email notifications are great because they don’t call for immediate response, but texts are not always that way (rarely in my case). So to be able to speak a text response to the smartwatch would be great. You can do that on the Galaxy Gear, Moto 360, Apple Watch, and many others, but you can’t on the Pebble, and that is the one major piece that I only discovered was missing after I used the device for a while.

The Whole Cup Summed Up

T20141210_180046295_iOShe Pebble isn’t trying to be what the other newer smartwatches are trying to be. It doesn’t have a mic or speaker. It’s doesn’t even have an LCD type screen (eInk is the approach with backlight). What this device does is keep you up to date on the things that are important throughout the day, and it keeps that smartphone in your pocket or purse. Want to know the time, date, and current temp outside? It’s got you covered. Text and email notifications on your wrist? Done. Add to that a few bells and whistles like music control, timers, pedometer, and games, and you’ve got yourself a pretty nifty little gadget for only $99. Try to find any Android competitor that is even close to that! But the Pebble is missing that mic and speaker and, like me, you might find that you miss that once you are using it. It’s not a deal breaker for me. I just pull out my phone and send my responses. No biggie. The positives far outweigh the negatives at this point. And the fact that the watch fits on any standard watchband meant I could transplant it to my favorite Fossil band!

While it’s not the fastest, or the most stylish, the Pebble is still relevant for the type of user who doesn’t want another phone strapped to their wrist. So give it consideration if you’re in the market. And if the standard Pebble seems a little to boring, with it’s plastic case, there is always the Pebble Steel, which is much more visibly appealing, while offering very similar functionality (and a higher price tag). This smartwatch has enhanced my life, and kept me focused on what’s important. Hopefully it could do the same for you.20141210_180056816_iOS

Coming Soon: iPhone 6 and 6 Plus – First Impressions

iPhone 6 Coming Soon

If you are an iPhone user, there are some new posts coming in the next week that you might want to take a look at.  I will be doing a “first impressions” review of both the iPhone 6 (my new phone), and the iPhone 6 Plus.  My reviews are always written with the casual user in mind, so if you aren’t a tech geek like me, but are debating about Apple’s new offering, hopefully I can help you out a bit.