What’s My Favorite Gadget?

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Credit: Apple

Kindle Paperwhite

Credit: Amazon

If you asked four years ago, three years ago, even one year ago my answer to this question would have been one and the same – my Kindle eReader.  Really?  Yes, I’ll get to why soon but to answer that question today is a bit of a conundrum.  First you need to know that I’m a voracious reader and naturally by reading this you must know that writing is a passion of mine so it might make some sense that the Kindle was my choice for so long but that’s not the main reason.  I’m a big fan of things that focus on doing only one thing and not things that try to be all things to all people.  I’ve owned a Kindle ever since I pre-ordered the 2nd generation Kindle back in 2009.  I”m referring specifically to the Kindle with an E Ink screen, not the Kindle Fire tablets that get so much attention.  Next to paper E Ink is still the best way to go for pure reading.  I pretty much ditched print from the get go allowing exceptions for only a couple of my favorite authors.  I won’t even attempt to knock print form because I actually morn its decline with many of you but I stop short of feeling guilty.  Let me tell you why.  Amazon’s Whispersync cloud technology means that I can go anywhere with my entire library of books and just like how iTunes and the iPod freed most of us from those giant cd albums once you go paperless so to speak you’ll never go back.  Amazon’s controversial low pricing practices don’t hurt either. Read More

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App Discovery | Timehop

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Welcome to my new series that I will called App Discovery.  I will provide posts like these periodically and they will differ from App Reviews by their depth.  In this series I will try to highlight apps I feel worthwhile for fellow Tekkies to check out so it is presumed that I offer at least a TekYa rating on apps showcased here.

To start I would like to showcase an app I’ve found to be at least novel if not timely.  Timehop available only on iOS serves one purpose and that is to serve you up daily doses of precisely what you did exactly one, two, three years ago and so on.  It does this by tapping into all of your social network feeds and regurgitating what you were doing, where you were doing it, what you were saying, and pictorially what you were sharing years past on the same date.  It can tap into all the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Instagram.  It goes deep on the photo front by syncing with Dropbox Photos, Photo Sync, Flickr, and even your iPhone camera.  Syncing with all services is as simple as signing in and okaying the usual obligatory do-you-really-want-to-give-all-access questions and for me synced flawlessly.

I love the reminders of all things past.  A couple days ago I was reminded that my son started crawling for the first time three years ago which is fantastic considering next year on the same date it’ll be displaying this year’s Instagram reminder of my son taking his first jumps into the pool and swimming.  One of the toughest things for apps to do is to garner at least once daily usage.  This app’s formula is perfect for such success.  I look forward to finding out what surprises await me each day since there’s no way to either look forward or backwards in the app unless, of course, if you want to methodically dig down each individual social feed.  The last morsel of history the app gives you is a snippet of news from years past via USA Today such as the six year anniversary of the first iPhone launch.

I will say the app isn’t very old and thereby is a bit buggy in its infancy.  I’ve waited for an update before going ahead and recommending it.  The latest update seems to have brought some stability however I am still unable to share to Facebook which seems silly anyways since I would likely just be resharing an already shared moment.  Nevertheless if you are fairly active on social networks I highly recommend the app.  It does one thing and does it simply and well and that almost always garners a TekYa rating in my book.

Dear AT&T Please Open The Throttle: What I did with access to a month of unlimited data

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I live in the heart of tornado alley, in fact I live within 20 miles of the very powerful EF5 that struck Moore, OK and the largest tornado ever recorded just a few days later near El Reno, OK.  Aside from a very near miss the day before the Moore tornado and spending this past weekend repairing my fence I’ve come out mostly unscathed as this year’s tornado season starts to wind down.  Not that I take joy in others’ misery but a fortunate thing occurred this past month as a result of the massive damage and lives put on hold.  AT&T decided to lift most voice and data restrictions for those in the affected area for a month.  Apparently that included me.  You see I’m one of the dwindling holdouts who purchased an unlimited data plan.   AT&T wooed me into another contract with the promise to grandfather my unlimited data plan in only to throttle me two months later.  That’s been about two years ago now and I’m still very bitter about it.  I pride myself as being one with common sense and knowing when to timely interpret the writing on the wall but on this issue I’ve decided to dig my heels in.  If there’s not a clearer issue of false advertisement I haven’t seen it and I just can’t understand why one of those big brother federal agencies you always hear about haven’t stepped in yet to squash the practice of throttling users with unlimited data plans.  I’ll get off my soapbox for now and get to the meat of this post which is what I did with a month of unfettered data access on a device running on arguably the fastest LTE network in the states.

To start I simply unleashed the reigns on one of my favorite music apps Songza.  Songza is one of many music streaming apps whose approach differs by allowing you to choose playlists by the mood you’re in.  It’s also got a great pool of playlists created by artists and brands.  Tip: check out the Songs From Apple Commercials playlist, it’s fantastic and surprisingly lengthy.  It’s fair to say I streamed from Songza at least four hours a day.  When I was in the mood for a specific artist or song I happily tuned in to Spotify and selected my choice at will at its extreme music quality setting no less.  This was a welcome experience after months of dealing with Spotify’s confusing interface and juggling my iPhone’s limited data storage when on wifi just to download the next day’s playlists.  If I ever felt in the mood for one of my own albums stored in iCloud I guiltlessly downloaded at will scoffing at the data warnings barked at me.

When tired of music I easily cleared out my queue on my Hulu app.  Now I don’t typically spend much time on YouTube except to view a video link I come across through the digital universe but I must say I got into the spirit quite easily a couple of times as I chased a couple rabbits after viewing a link.  There were a couple of  video podcasts that I usually would wait to download offline that I purposely streamed because I could.  When it came to watching Apple’s 2 hour long keynote speech and iOS 7’s unveiling at this year’s WWDC I skipped my employer’s putrid internet connection in lieu of my iPhone’s Safari stream.  The whole experience was quite liberating to be honest.  When the dust finally settled I had burned through 10 GB of data twice the normal amount I’m allotted on my unlimited data plan before being throttled on LTE (note: it is 3GB if you’re on a HSPA+ only device).  To be truthful I probably am the type of user that the powers-that-be at AT&T legitimize the decision to throttle but I must ask why else build the LTE network?

Relaxing restrictions for tornado ravaged victims was quite gracious of AT&T no doubt but I must say there’s massive amounts of irony in the fact that I finally got to experience my promised unfettered access on my LTE enabled device as a result of restrictions lifted to help victims.  Here’s some unsolicited advice AT&T, if you want to create some sort of brand loyalty, don’t offer your customers the promise of the the fastest network in America by getting halfway there by limiting their access.  Final thought, the folks at Chevrolet could make the Silverado the most fuel efficient truck in history overnight by adjusting the speed governor to 35 mph right?  Is this a fair comparison?  Sorry I just couldn’t stay off my soapbox.

Buying Into A Platform

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The motto of this blog is “Star Wars or Star Trek, Apple or Google, The Battle For Supremacy and Relevancy Thrives Here” and it is in this spirit that I write this post.  Choosing a platform is the quintessential decision we are faced with on a daily basis every time you fire up a PC, smartphone, TV, or glance at a billboard.  This is a battleground waged almost primarily through advertisements and press.  Apple or Android, Windows or Mac?  Let me first burst your bubble, you won’t find a single answer-to-it-all recommendation here.  Don’t leave though because just like you I battle the same desire to go all in on one platform.  There’s the allure of simplicity, uniformity, and accessibility in the idea of buying wholly into one platform.  Nevertheless I recently have come to terms with one fact…no platform exists that can adequately be all things to all people/me.

Oh yes many try, but at some point all fail.  How about some examples starting with Google.  It’s no secret that Google search reigns supreme.  I won’t digress into a comparison with other search engines; after all it’s part of vocabulary to Google something when you perform an online search and not to Bing it.  Besides every time I see the word ‘Bing’ I think of Chandler’s annoying girlfriend from Friends (Janice) wooing him in her nasally voice “Chandler Bingggg!”  Ick!  Yet comparing Google Docs to MS Office is also a gross mistake.  In this case feature by feature Office trumps Google docs by a long shot.  Sorry to disappoint again but for purposes of another article I’ll stay away from the Apple (iOS) to Google (Android) comparison.  That’s a whole different can of worms.  Instead how about another conundrum- internet browsers.  There’s Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari to name a few.  The lines blur a bit here but if you’re priority like me is speed and access to the cloud then Chrome is the clear answer.

Want a piece of hardware, then look no further than Apple the undisputed king (in the court of public and this engineer’s opinion) of innovation and good product engineering.  Let’s talk about some apps.  For instance note taking apps.  Try the popular Evernote or my personal favorite Springpad.  Have you seen the pathetic stock Notes app on the iPhone?  Honestly who still uses yellow note pads anymore, much less a faux one on a tiny screen?  Thankfully Notes is getting a makeover in iOS 7.  I can go on all day and would likely end up with a very long laundry list of me too products to compliment a few very good ones but I think I’ll just get straight to the point.  That point being hardware and software makers have their strengths and weaknesses.  Diving all in on one platform (Apple people are likely going to strongly disagree with me most here) will only be your loss.  My advice, find what you like and go for it.  Focus on things that try to do one or two things best rather than being all things to all people.  If it really is a good product it’ll offer cross platform integration anyways.  After all last I checked you can still open up Word and perform internet searches through Google on the Chrome web browser all on an iMac.  Don’t just stick to meat and potatoes when you can have your cake and eat it too.

APP REVIEW: Mailbox For iOS

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Price:  FREE

Goodieness:  If Gmail is your primary mailbox service and you have an iOS device you’ll never have a cluttered inbox again all without ever having to dispose of a single email.  Sorting mail is literally addictive, like playing Angry Birds.

Crummieness: Besides not being available before….only syncs with Gmail.

Review

With one quick download my pile of emails almost instantaneously got sorted.  I can honestly say that never has an app ended up straight to my main app dock so quickly.  Same day in fact.  Mailbox by Orchestra, Inc. is exactly what the name suggests.  It’s a mailbox for email, Gmail specifically and exclusively.  It’s currently available for Apple’s iOS devices only.  If you fall into both camps then this is good news for you particularly if you’re inbox is cluttered which so easily happens nowadays as you pretty much have to subscribe to everything online.

I read the buzz about this app a couple months ago and decided to take the plunge.  It was still in beta which meant going to the App Store and downloading it only put you in a long line to getting a link to downloading  it.  I was given a number (750K and change) that I could check daily by opening the app icon to see it tick down.  After about 6 weeks a notification popped up allowing me to grab it finally.  I was not disappointed.   Note it’s now available for download instantly.  After a painless sign in screen to my Gmail account the sync began. Then a really helpful tutorial ensued.  The first thing you’ll notice that’s different about its approach to mail is that  my icon badge defaulted to listing the number of items in my inbox (approx. 454 for me at time of download).  It did not distinguish read from unread items.  Before you get in a tizzy over that, realize this is the whole point of mailbox, it aims to help you clean out your mailbox and keep it clean in a fun and visually pleasing way.  In fact there’s even a reward for doing it!  I’ll get to that soon.

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