Category Archives: Personal Technology

The iPhone 5 is a Great Piece of Tech

Updated Sep 16. I like the new iPhone 5 a lot. The 4 was a museum piece and 5 takes it to a new level of design goodness.

Apple is about simplicity. The features race is for the guys chasing the leader. What Apple does is make really good technical choices. They don’t go early on unbaked technology. They have the best volume pricing and availability of any phone maker so have their choice of exotic technologies. Their profit margins allow them to do whatever they want. We get incredible tech for the price.

To break it down, what stood out to me in the announcements, hands on reports and Apple’s iPhone 5 video.:

1. Feel. The feel of the device is extraordinary. Jony Ive says so and shows how they’ve done it. [Apple Video] People who’ve had hands on the device claim you will buy it if you hold it for 10 seconds. The fit and finish, texture, shape — these are subtle things and certainly hard to convey in a presentation. Gene Munster, who had hands on with the 5, calls it “a Rolex Among a sea of Timexes”. [Anandtech.com]

2. Size. The 4″ vs 3.5″ screen real estate is an 18%-sized chunk taller. I would probably be willing to sacrifice one hand use for a bit more real estate, but I’m satisfied with the improvement this time around. It is 18% thinner. 20% lighter. 12% less volume. Right – it is a smaller device overall than the iPhone 4S.

3. Museum Quality. People in the art and architecture world think about how great art and design elevate the human experience. The best iPhones so far from this point of view are the first, the 4 and now the 5. I haven’t had hands on the 5 yet, but the 5 should elevate us to a whole new level. I love carrying such a useful device that alters me at the same time. [Apple’s iPhone 5 Design page].

4. Speed. Anandtech.com was very pleasantly surprised by how big a speed bump Apple put into the iPhone 5. Up to twice as fast as the 4S. They didn’t think Apple would put in a new A6 chip loaded up with dual ARM Cortex A15 cores (correction, Apple is doing something custom in the A6 so Anandtech now (Sep 15) isn’t sure what is in there exactly). Double the RAM too (1 gb). Technology mavens know that an increase in speed increases the size of the playing field for creativity. Developer resources just shot up again and more is possible. The app marketplace will be inspired to find new and better applications for iPhone 5. [Anandtech on custom A6]

5. Better Screen. Anandtech reports the screen of the iPhone 5 is noticeably better than the 4S even in the very challenging lighting conditions in the demo room. 44% more color saturation compared to 4S. I can’t wait to see what a screen better than the amazing 4S screen looks like.

6. “Less but Better“. We know Jony Ive is and Steve Jobs was a big fan of Dieter Rams, the great industrial designer for Braun. Tenth of his famous 10 Principals of Good Design:

Is as little design as possible – Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Chasing specs and new technologies is for the Samsungs of the world. Apple moves on these technology opportunities and new materials when the time is right. That doesn’t make them less innovative. Throwing tech up against the wall to see what sticks isn’t all that desirable. [David Chartier] [Apple’s iPhone 5 Features page]

7. The Apps. Apple’s ecosystem is ahead here and that lead is showing staying power. There is little profit on the Android Google Play app store. Windows Phone bombed in the marketplace. Windows 8 isn’t out yet. A few apps like Evernote are on Android in good form, but so many are markedly inferior or missing. Unless you are gung-ho for Android or buy multiple phones, I wouldn’t be straying from iPhone any time soon. My home screen showing the apps I use most is at left.

8. Thunderbolt and Lightning. The new small 8 signal iPhone Lightning connector won’t work with old docks but is overdue for an upgrade. Not going with the standard micro USB connector gave Apple the chance make it the best connector ever and to future proof it. Luckily, Apple’s track record and less is better attitude means they’ve thought this through and we’ll be happy with the end result. [MacWorld]

Should you upgrade? I have a 4S and I’m going to upgrade on day 1, but that’s no surprise.  I can trade my *old* 64gb iPhone 4S in for ~ $350 and buy a new 32gb iPhone 5 (with a new contract) for $299. I’m switching from AT&T to Verizon and paying the $215 cancellation fee. It is worth it to me to pay the extra charge to take advantage of this exquisite tool. If you get good use out of the the computer in your pocket and are a knowledge professional eligible for a full upgrade, why not upgrade?

My Plans. Personally, I’m leaning towards the white/silver version although I think the black/slate is pretty hot in a darth vader sort of way. I’m still sussing things out and plan to go online before preorders start tonight at 12:01 am PST. Planning to use my iPad’s Apple Store app to place the order. (Update, I preordered the 32 gb black/slate shown here due for delivery Sep 21)

The iPad mini is going to be so cool

iMore’s iPad mini concept by John Anastasiadis from last week, says it well.

I bought a Nexus 7 a couple months ago and it has just whetted my appetite for the real thing — an iPad mini. Even though the Nexus 7 is the best tablet for Android, it doesn’t quite cut it for someone who uses a Mac and has or has had an iPhone or iPad. If I were a big Gmail fan and strongly preferred Chrome over Safari and a few other things like that, I might be happy on an Android device, but I’m not.

The apps are better on iOS. No argument there. App quality on a glass slab is a big deal. If you only use the most basic apps plus games, it doesn’t matter as much. But, I’m an independent knowledge professional living by my wits and I need the best apps available full stop.

With that disclaimer, let’s get down to why I’m so excited about an iPad mini which I fully expect to be available sometime in October (or possibly even September).

Size matters. This time in a reverse direction. This argument also applies to the iPhone relative to the big iPad. If you can get the job done on a less expensive, smaller, lighter, more portable device, do it. With the addition of the iPad mini, we will have three sizes to choose from. That might seem like a lot but look at notebooks in the paper world. There are tiny notebooks the size of an iPhone, lots of them the size of an iPad mini and other larger ones including many that are 8-1/2 x 11 — letter-sized. People have been carrying these around for centuries. As paper really does fade back into a special-circumstance material, we need devices of different sizes that come with unlimited pages.

Size matters for Creativity. Now here’s the reverse of this notion. A bigger work area helps you when you are trying to wrestle a creative challenge to the ground. It would actually help to be surrounded with 4 walls of screen even to get the full immersion that is like a murder room for a murder investigation. Same creative challenges. So, the iPad mini will be smaller than the iPad we’ve come to know. That will be a limitation for some things. Keep in mind, though, that we already have AirPlay to throw your iPad screen up on a TV screen. There will be more and more that kind of thing going on. Screens keep getting bigger and cheaper.

But it’s the notebook (Device) you have with you that matters. Just like the camera you have with you. A lot of people, even me sometimes, don’t carry their iPads everywhere they go. They keep them at home – which is a great place for the iPad but it is a shame that they are often left there to sit.

The iPad mini is going to be easier to hold one-handed for all kinds of reading which we know is job 1 for most iPads. How many times do you use your iPhone to read even when an iPad is available? I use my iPhone a lot for reading while standing around, when it is handiest and in bed. I’m betting I will choose the iPad mini a lot more often than my big iPad when it comes to both creation and consumption just due to its nice size and weight. The big iPad will be like Steve Jobs’ truck to a car analogy when compared to the iPad mini.

The iPad mini will be easier to take with you:

  • It will fit in pockets — not all pockets but percentage-wise, way more pockets than the 10″ iPad can fit in. Cargo pants might work well with the mini.
  • It will fit in purses. Yes, big purses are popular but there are many women (and men) who carry something smaller — too small for the 10″ iPad to fit comfortably.

It’s Cheaper. Vast quantities of rumors are out there right now and the consensus is that the base model iPad mini will cost somewhere between $199 and $299. That’s a country mile from $499 and means that many more people will be able to buy these iPads – all those students and underpaid knowledge professionals doing good work that doesn’t happen to pay well. All those younger family members who might also be smaller and more mini-sized anyway. All those kids and adults in developing countries where incomes are lower than in the US.

Nexus 7 Hands On: Pros, Cons, Tips and Apps

My Nexus 7 screenLast updated August 28, 2012

I come to this device as a knowledge professional, a relative newbie to Android though I have a Kindle Fire and as a major Apple fan with Mac, iPhone and iPad. If some of these bases resonate, you may find this post interesting. Hopefully, you’ll find a few useful pieces of information in here.

Yes, this screen to the left is my Nexus 7 as currently configured. Notice there are quite a few good apps here. You get apps plus  widgets! Mix and match. Widgets let you do many things like turn wi-fi on or off or adjust screen brightness more conveniently.

Without getting all jiggly, you can drag things around where you want them.

Nexus 7 Pros

  1. Smaller. Great size for portability and ease of use. Fits in my back jeans pocket.
  2. Shapely. Grippy back side and gently curving edges make it comfy to hold.
  3. Jelly Bean. Sporting the best Google has to offer: Android Jelly Bean. Google Now is pretty cool with its speech recognition even offline and quick information cards.
  4. Upgradeable. Will be easy to update to keep it current as Android versions release.
  5. Cheap. An excellent value at $249 for the 16 gb model.
  6. Responsive. Fast and smooth – very close to the snappy responsiveness of iPad 2, 3.
  7. Google. Good fit for Google fans who use Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Maps, Google Earth and/or Chrome.
  8. Android. Good integration if you already have an Android smartphone. Android apps will generally work on both devices.
  9. Screen. Crisp screen with fast graphics chip.
  10. Portable. Less fiddly to hold and carry than an iPad due to it being lighter, smaller in the hand, grippy back and its lesser expense makes you worry less about its safety.
  11. Reader. Its 7″ size is ideal for reading comfortably.
  12. Future. The improvements in Jelly Bean and the release of this quality device at this price point make me optimistic about the future of Android devices.

Nexus 7 Cons

  1. Apps. Less choice and quality of apps than iPhone or iPad. This is an issue for apps in many knowledge categories like outlining, writing and mind mapping and will also be an issue in more obscure areas that may not have Android coverage – yet.
  2. Portrait-Oriented. Designed to be used like a large smartphone in portrait orientation. That is fine except apps tend to be enlarged smartphone apps that don’t take full advantage of the 7″ screen.
  3. Very Good not Great. Not quite as nice as the excellence of iPad in design or feel.
  4. Integration. Doesn’t integrate easily into an Apple-dominated setup. If you already have an iPhone and/or iPad or Mac and these are your home base. You’ll need to do some work to integrate.
  5. Learning Curve. Not as simple as Kindle Fire, so you’ll need to learn more to operate smoothly on Nexus 7 unless you’ve already learned another Android device previously. If you are comfortable with Mac and iOS, you’ll stumble to become familiar in this Android world (at least you will have lots of company, though).
  6. Limited On-device Storage. Other Android devices typically have an SD-card slot which allows for expansion by adding, say a 32gb card and storing movies and other large items there. Since the maximum storage offered is 16 gb, this is a limitation which perhaps Google hopes will tilt people towards cloud usage.
  7. iPad mini. A 7.85″ iPad seems likely to be released some time in the Fall. If thought of a smaller iPad turns you on, you may want to save yourself some trouble with some of the above issues and see if the iPad itself is available in a smaller form factor at a lower price.
  8. Kindle Fire 2. Nexus 7 out classes Kindle Fire v1, but v2 will most likely be competitive, simpler to operate and rotate itself around the Amazon ecosystem. If you read books and want some of this, you should wait a little longer to see what Amazon has up its sleeve in its next release before jumping to Nexus 7.
  9. Smaller Screen. It is harder to do anything and everything in a smaller space. Onscreen typing is less flexible and crowds out content viewing and user controls.   Any kind of onscreen manipulation, drawing, content creation is limited by the small screen. The 7″ screen on Nexus 7 is only half the size of the 10″ iPad.

Nexus 7 Tips

  1. Rearrange your Screen. When you first use your Nexus 7, it has a great big widget on the front screen holding your content library and featuring new items. You can delete or move that big widget to screen 2-5 so you have room for your favorite apps, folders and smaller widgets. Touch and hold an item to move it or drag up to delete it.
  2. Seeing Applications. The center of your dock has a circle with 6 square dots in it. Tap it to see your apps. There is a second tab at the top left that will show you all the widgets that come preinstalled. You can drag the apps to your front page. Apps arrange 6 across with 6 rows.
  3. Where is the Home button? Right down there at the bottom of the screen but not below the screen this time. Its a line-drawn little house in the middle. Left is a back arrow that can be handy. It just may behave a bit differently in different situations. On the right is a nice recent apps button.
  4. Widgets. Consider putting the Display Setting widget on your front screen. I put a 5 item widget on my front screen that lets me turn wi-fi and bluetooth on and off among other tricks.
  5. Optimize your Dock. The dock is available on any of the five screens so you will want your most used items there. I kept the Google apps folder on the left, but eliminated some of the Play stores and put Chrome, Zite and Instapaper on there.
  6. Taking Screenshots. Hold down the power and lower volume button for a moment to take a screenshot.
  7. Face Recognition is Fun but Erratic. Not as secure as assigning a password, but face recognition is pretty nifty. So I’m using it. It does require that you look at the screen exactly the same way to recognize you. If it can’t recognize you which will probably happen often, you then can drag through some dots on the screen in your own special way to get in.
  8. Swiftkey 3 Tablet Keyboard. This is an app but will improve the on-screen typing experience nicely. There are many hardcore Swiftkey fans. I just broke down and spent $4 of my $25 credit at the Play store today and really like it so far. Very well-regarded and phonedog.com assures us it is a lot better than the not too shabby smarts of the built-in Jelly Bean keyboard. I seem to be able to just type nonsense and Swiftkey corrects me.
  9. Launch the Front-facing CameraModaco Camera Launcher. Just in case you want to launch it and play with it. Otherwise, it is launched by specific apps.

Nexus 7 Apps for Knowledge Professionals

This is a handy, inexpensive mobile computer you have here. Part of the plan is to be able to do useful things when you aren’t using a more prodigious (and bulky) machine, so what can you do? I’m still learning and hunting around to find good apps, but there are quite a few good ones. A popular device like the Nexus 7 and the slick Jelly Bean version of Android is going to help things along in the coming months.

News & RSS Reading. Nexus 7 is almost perfect for reading and the best apps I’ve found so far for this are: Zite, Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, Feedly and Pulse. I love Zite so am glad it is here it is not quite as good as the iPhone version. I do look for it to improve, however.

Social. Flipboard is quite good and is another news reader along with its social attributes. Plume doesn’t hold a candle to Tweetbot but is useable (for Twitter), Google+, Currents, Facebook for Android. Skype – not great but works fine.

eReading. Kindle. Nook. Kobo. This is a great category. No iBooks, but you can’t have everything. The Google Play reader needs elaboration. Also, it seems Google Play purchased eBooks aren’t ePub or at least you can’t just drag them to your iOS device and use in iBooks. A silver lining here is that you can move these eBooks and use on other devices if you register an Adobe ID and get permission that way. Seems convoluted and I haven’t tried to jump through these hoops. I am not a big Adobe fan.

Chrome. There are other browsers on Android but this is where to start. If you like Chrome you will like this. And Chrome is a really good browser. Enjoy!

Utility & File Management. Dropbox, Google Drive, ES File Explorer, Airdroid, Wifi File Explorer, Wi-fi Finder.

Writing, Notes. I’m looking far and wide but coming up short. The best I can do so far is Evernote, which is good on Android but not as enjoyable to use for writing. I am toying with Catch which is #2 to Simplenote. I did buy and like Notational Acceleration which syncs with Simplenote and is free with ads or $2 without. What I’m lacking with any depth are plain text, dropbox text editors. I haven’t found one that I trust or like so far. Trying to use Evernote in the meantime. Very disappointed with my results. I will update this post the minute I find a decent note, writing app.

Outlining and Mindmapping. There seem to be several choices for mind mapping and not much at all for outlining. Looks like the still in beta: Outliner for Android is most promising for the latter. Mindjet for Android seems to be free. Still shopping here. I doubt you will be as happy as you are now with iThoughts HD, Carbon fin Outliner or Omni Outliner on iOS.

I’m still learning and will update this post to include more links, apps and tips as I find good stuff. This Nexus 7 is quite nice. I think I’ll keep it around and use it in lieu of Kindles of all stripes and as a lighter and more manageable iPad when I’m not craving an app like Thinkbook or iA Writer that just isn’t available on Android — yet! Now, when that iPad mini shows up assuming it does, I will likely abandon my Android adventure. The iPad mini will surely be a stunner! Apple won’t make one otherwise.

Recommended Link: gottabemobile: Top Nexus 7 Apps & Widgets

Related post: Nexus 7 vs. Kindle Fire 2 vs. iPad mini

Why My Favorite Notebook App for iPad is ThinkBook

Thinkbook app for iPadThinkBook was released for iPad a little over a year ago. It took the app store by storm and was highly acclaimed. Since then, updates have been few and far between for this app. Nevertheless, this app stands tall in the app store because it is the best Think book. You should be using it as your idea book on your iPad. It’s available for $1.99 right now. Crazy good deal (iTunes).

ThinkBook is a remarkable digital notebook. There are many notebook apps on the iPad and I’ll discuss them briefly to explain how they differ from ThinkBook. Then on to twelve reasons to love ThinkBook and a couple limitations that might stop you. And one wish list item…

Handwriting is something else. First, there are a large number of Notebook apps that let you handwrite on the iPad with your finger or stylus. There are a bunch of these and the best of them are probably Penultimate and Notetaker HD. I’m going to skip that discussion to say, if you can type, you’ll probably prefer typing on your iPad even on the glass to handwriting just because it isn’t as tiring and you get digitally readable text when your done. Text is a godsend. It is lightweight and repurposable in the extreme. These handwriting apps are great and I keep hoping that Notes Plus will get debugged enough after its ambitious rewrite to win the handwriting category one of these days.

Catchall Notebooks Like Evernote are Different. I use Evernote to clip things to. To save articles for reference. It’s like an electronic filing cabinet for me and accessible from Mac, Web, iPhone and iPad. Evernote provides important knowledge functions – capture, collection, storage and search, primarily. ThinkBook is more about thinking than storing. It’s where you keep your thoughts and work with them. ThinkBook has the most powerful outlining and organizing tools I’ve ever seen. Keep using Evernote, but don’t stop there.

ThinkBook App for iPadThinkBook is this magical thinker’s notebook with unique and original features found nowhere else. There are limitations to ThinkBook and I will get to those, but first I want to talk about what is original and uniquely valuable in ThinkBook. The reason you should use it if your thoughts are an important part of who you are.

Twelve Reasons to Love ThinkBook

1. It’s an Amazing Outliner. Indenting and moving notes, to do items and more is built-in at the ground floor of this product. Organizing your ideas and notes is at the root of what this product does.

2. Several Great and Unusual Note Types. In ThinkBook, a notebook is a type of note. A Page is a type of note. A Project is a type of note. A To Do is a type of note. A Question and its answers is a type of Note. And, of course, plain text notes are notes.

3. Everything is a Note. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but what it means is any note type can be inside another note type. So, I can create a Day Page (note) on a Client Page (note) in a Clients Notebook (note) on some Business Page somewhere. It’s kind of like Alice in Wonderland or something. You get to stash things where you want. And then move them somewhere else or put things inside of the smallest thing.

4. Dashboards. ThinkBook has these widgets that will show you your outstanding to do’s and unanswered questions. They are called Finders because they allow you to define criteria about notes that makes them qualify to be found. Kind of like Smart Folders in OS X. Dashboards define a scope (Everywhere, a particular notebook or page to which it applies), required Tags, the number of found items to show, etc.. Very powerful stuff.

5. Projects. One of the note types you can create. A project has a special circle icon at the left and its text appears in bold. Underneath that project goes at least 1 to do item and any number of notes. As to do items under a project get completed, the circle fills in like a piechart showing % of completion of your to do items. Brilliant!

6. Fast Search. You can still just search for what you want when you want and get it in a hurry.

7. Tagging. What would a modern notebook be without tagging, so you can cross-reference to your heart’s content. And tags are inherited which is cool when notes can be inside of notes. If you tag a page business, then the notes on that page are automatically tagged as business.

8. Gorgeous Look. Every page of your ThinkBook is beautiful. ThinkBook looks amazing on the new iPad. I love it! I also really enjoy using Vera Sans Mono which is an unusual but very cool monospaced font option. Helvetica Neue, Gill Sans, Trebuchet MS, Hoefler Text, Palatino, New Times Roman and a cool newer font called Nobile is also available. Lots of font size choice. And three themes, Sky Blue, Polar White and Black Pearl. All three themes are great and I have trouble sticking to just one for very long.

9. Delicious Feel. You will love the intuitive and uber responsive gestures:
a. Indent or Outdent by dragging left or right and then down to move a series of contiguous notes. We need this all the time when outlining.
b. Drag notes to the right into the Slider when you drag on the right side of the screen. This feels wonderful once you get the hang of it.
c. Drag the slider up and down like butter and it pops into place in between items.
d. Drag things out of the slider by dragging left.
It goes on but the main thing is it is just right on iPad.

10. Tabs. My man Emiliano thinks things through. By default you get the most recent notes you visited last across the top, but there’s more. You can define some persistent tabs and then undefine them when your priorities change. If you are working on Money issues this week, bookmark that tab so it will stick around on the left side of the tab bar. When you have your money under control, slide the tab to the right to make it a normal tab that will only stay present for a while. Let’s say you made a mistake and really needed that Money tab back. Just slide it left and it gets a nice little black star on it to show it is here for the duration.

11. Dropbox Integration. You can save backups to dropbox of specific notes, notebooks, pages, projects. Or backup your entire Thinkbook to dropbox. Or you can save the text of a note, notebook, page, project to dropbox. By saving the text, you can then edit that text from Mac/PC or iPhone. Since dropbox is accessible via web, you can access from other devices too although you may need to download the file to edit it and then put it back in dropbox when you are done. You double-tap the icon to get all sorts of options for that item.

12. The Little Visual Help System. OK, I ran out of numbers. I could keep going but I like this help system! Lots of pictures. Accessible from whereever you are by clicking the little i in the left sidebar. There are 5 little instructional videos on the Thinkbook website. There is a Thinkbook Notebook on the Home Page with a lot more detailed help.

What’s Not to Like

1. Right now ThinkBook is text only. No pictures or documents or PDFs can be put inside your ThinkBook. But this is on the front burner for the Bitolithic development team.

2. Exporting is Limited and no Fancy Printing. You can email a notebook, page, project, to do or note in modestly formatted text form reflecting outlines, to do’s and notes. And don’t worry your data is not trapped in ThinkBook. In fact, ThinkBook’s notes are all plain text and use XML which is the most universal data language on the planet. The foundation is built, but, for now, ThinkBook doesn’t directly print or export to PDF so you don’t get the formatting pizzaz that comes alive inside of ThinkBook.

3. Useable URLs. Another essential addition – is on the do list.

Big Wishlist Item

1. ThinkBook for iPhone! But I can wait. The big plus will be that always with you thing that would place your wonderful Thinkbook in your pocket.

Don’t Wait

Don’t wait for more features. What has happened in the last year is the product has been debugged, polished and made wonderful. What hasn’t happened is these 3 items above and a lot of other things on the drawing board. But, ThinkBook is telling us our wait will soon be over. If you are anything like me, you’ll want to enjoy the powers of this tool now. It is mind-bendingly good!