The Facebook phone: Is it real this time?

HTC logoWe’re all still recovering from the recent Facebook changes – the pictures are larger, and now there’s a treat of video ads (sigh). But now having altered the site’s design, as well as the method from which it gathers News Feed info, Facebook is holding onto one more bombshell to throw at its users: there  still might a Facebook Phone in the works.

To be put into production by HTC, this hypothetical phone would be made almost exclusively to integrate best with Facebook’s site (new features and all), and to host a direct-to-Facebook button. Rumoredly named “the Myst,” this new phone is set to have many standard HTC features (large touchscreen, sleek, and user-friendly) with the Facebook additions being a happy bonus to smartphone users. It’s also a great excuse to roll out a new design, misspell a word, and sell altered versions of what millions already own.

The Phone Who Cried Wolf

But before Facebook fanatics get too excited about the forthcoming (and perhaps not real) phone, let’s look into HTC’s track record; their history with announcements isn’t exactly spot-free. After all, this isn’t the first time they’ve talked about releasing a Facebook phone. Who else remembers the ChaCha? Or the Status? Both floated around in 2011 and early 2012, but neither came to be anything more than blogs and tech lovers’ murmurs.

Further fueling the fire is the fact that neither Facebook nor HTC will comment on the speculation of such a phone. Both released almost verbatim comments stating that they “don’t comment on rumors.” This is the same tactic they pulled with the previous mentions.

Sure both parties could have nothing to do with the potential Facebook phone – this time or back in 2011. But they could also be trying to raise hype and/or get a feel for customer interest in such a phone. With this consistent of a trend, it’s hard to say either way. What the instances are pulling off flawlessly, though, is questioning our faith in HTC’s product announcements and ability to respond to growing trends.

However, with the extreme popularity of Facebook, smartphones, and the increased ability to access the internet, it’s safe to say any combination of the three will be well sold. Now all that’s needed is the actual phones – or at least the promise that they’ll exist – for users to update and “like” their way through any mobile situation.

Wi-Fi Etiquette: When is it appropriate to ask for access?

coffee mugWhen it comes to logging in online, there are a number of rules – usually unwritten ones – to follow. From where web access can be “stolen” to how long its ok to sit in a coffee shop, we’re all victims to this ever-changing trend. But because there are no set laws, it can be hard to know what’s kosher and what’s pushing your barista toward spitting in your next chai latte. To get the best of both worlds, consider the following the next time you log in.

A better option to stealing your neighbor’s Wi-Fi

Despite all the questions we may have, there are a few instances when it’s clear-cut, for instance, stealing your neighbor’s internet by hacking their password. Sure, if they leave it unprotected, that’s their loss, but when we have to resort to illegal activity, it’s best to pass.

However, secret option three can also be used; just ask your neighbors for their access code … and offer to split the bill. It may slow down the speed some, but for those with minimal net use, it’s a great budget-friendly solution.

When you’re visiting a friend, leave the password requests to a minimal. Generally hosts will offer up such info, especially long-term guests. But when checking game stats in a single evening, or wanting to Facebook after a dinner party, stick to your mobile network’s web access instead.

Public Wi-Fi

Other protocol to avoid comes into play in public. Places like the library usually offer free online access and expect nothing in return (though they may limit your time). But as for coffee shops, fast food restaurants, and cafes, that’s not the case. Customers are expected to make a purchase of some kind before hopping online.

However, if you plan on eating lunch, but want to check your email first, who says you can’t use then buy? (This isn’t a grocery store, after all.) So long as patronage of some kind takes place, it’s fair game. That means you shouldn’t re-use McDonald’s cups to look like you purchased a drink, and don’t bring in your own snacks, and especially don’t bring your own power strip and personal heater (I’ve seen it). If it’s free service you’re looking for, the library may be more your speed.

Conclusion

No matter how often we log in to Wi-Fi access points, there are a number of instances to come up each and every day. Be sure to follow these universal rules to stay online and in good terms with each router owner.

3 apps to make grocery shopping easier

grocery appFor most of us, heading to the grocery store can be a huge production. Even if it’s just to pick up that box of baking soda a new recipe just can’t do without. There are the canvas bags we always forget to bring in, carts that take up the best parking stalls, and hoards of people all trying to do the same: shop as quickly as possible. I usually come in with a list, but there’s no rhyme or reason to the layout. I’ll pick up frozen veggies, backtrack to the peanut butter, and become forever overwhelmed with the hundreds of cereal options that await.

That is, until I stumbled into the world of grocery apps. Free and easier than I would have ever imagined, now I can easily list, navigate, and save my way through the aisles with the help of a single app. Of course many options are available, but here’s an outline of some of the most popular (AKA best working) grocery shopping apps.

Grocery IQ

More than just a list, Grocery IQ allows users to put in their needed items, arrange them for maximum store efficiency, and even hear suggestions for sales in the area. A cohort of Coupons.com, print or email coupons straight from the site. As for the “IQ” bit, this app remembers most purchased items, allowing you to add them to future lists with ease.

OurGroceries

Perfect for families with multiple smartphones, OurGroceries lets users create and sync lists from multiple locations. Update, change quantities, or create different lists to suit each store; one for groceries, one for cleaning supplies, one for the hardware store, and so on. Homes with multiple smartphones often opt for this more versatile version.

Shopping List

Powered by recipe.com, this free app is great for regular site users; simply add ingredients straight from a recipe page and into Shopping List. Read items into your phone for voice recognition to pick up, scan, or type lists to receive area sales.

Conclusion

While it’s true that many of these grocery list-based apps hold similar traits, it’s also true that they help make life much easier. Find one that works best for you (free ones; many are paid but offer few upgrades from their no-fee counterparts), or choose the one that comes with a familiar face. All options will allow you to save time, cut back on funds, and save some stress along the way.

Thanks to these and other grocery-themed smartphone apps, shopping for food never looked easier.

The internet is overpriced

the internetThe internet is something we all need. It’s our communication, our source of purchasing, browsing, or even our livelihood. No matter what it costs, we’ll continue to pay the fees so we can access all that is the World Wide Web in a convenient manner. Whether through computer, tablet, or smartphone, we are hooked.

But how much money is too much? Are online companies cashing in on our virtual weakness? Knowing that we need this access, they’re jacking up the speeds along with the monthly prices. But how long will we continue to pay?

In an ideal world, Google will have provided free internet to the world. While this may seem far-fetched, it’s a process that’s already begun to take place. (Google Fiber is currently only available in Kansas City, though expansions are in the plan.)

Second best-case scenario, we share internet with our neighbors, splitting the bills. (But in this case, there would be no “peak hours” to slow service down, and routers can reach all corners of the house.)

Finally, we’re left with the status quo: either paying an outrageous monthly fee, or buying a $4 coffee for a day’s worth of service. And while service is expensive either way, there’s much to be said for the convenience of having internet in your own home.

This, however, is where the companies get us good.

“Because they can”

Take a look at your most recent internet bill and its break down of fees. If you have service for a cell phone provider, chances are you’re paying a monthly “service charge” just for owning a hot spot. Averaging $20+ per month, this fee accounts for no actual internet, just the ability to access it. Other companies may charge a rental price for routers, or a maintenance charge – even if you already own the router. Additional fees can occur from overage charges, sign-up fees, cancellations fees, set-up expenses, or even when accessing at the “wrong” time of day.

Rural living generally offers up the most added fees, whether or not the area is hard to access. Because cable access or broadband isn’t readily available, these residents are subject to strict pricing options and fees. For instance, satellite internet allots a certain amount of usage, half of which can only be used during the middle of the night. Unless a night owl, that means you’re paying for twice of what you can reasonably use.

However, until we find a reasonably priced option (come on, Google, dig faster), internet providers will continue to overcharge for their services. And we will continue to pay.

Netflix is finally getting it right

netflix logoIt’s been several months since Netflix has been under the scrutiny of the press. Despite their former fall from grace, the company has managed to make a solid comeback, gaining customers and fan loyalty in the process. It’s even gotten interest of internet emperor Google, looking at a price of $17.9 billion. This is especially impressive considering it was just under two years ago that Netflix put customers and shareholders on edge, announcing an entire company adjustment.

Splitting into two separate entities, jacking up prices, and a reroute of current services, it was to be the business equivalent of 52-card pick up. Luckily the company listened to critics and its fans, and, against the odds, has finally started doing things right.

The Good

To date, the company is up to 27.1 U.S. streaming customers and netting nearly a billion per year. They’ve also expanded their streaming base considerably (though I fail to be satisfied until every movie/show ever can be streamed). The site will also be the only source for new episodes of Arrested Development, which will air along a feature-length film later this year. Having grown into a cult classic, the show was revived after its cancelation nearly seven years ago. An unusual viewing for an even unusualer Hollywood situation.

What’s more is that the company shuns commercials and ads, instead it looks to its membership fees as a source of funds. Buffering speeds have greatly increased, and recommendations pan its past views for an accurate bank of preferred shows. Users can even search for movies by the stars who play in them, or search through bios, ratings, release dates, and average viewer ratings.

Still Moving Forward

Does Netflix sometimes have some quirky categories that we must decipher through? Like “witty workplace sitcoms” or “raunchy dysfunctional-family TV comedies”? Yes. And sure their blog sits at a weird URL and is only sometimes updated (with self-promotional content). Nor do they have writer profiles or pictures. There’s a glaring lack of request form, where users can ask for various shows to come through – or give much feedback of any kind. But if that’s the list of complaints, we’ll take it. When movies and TV shows can be streamed in unlimited quantities, a few blogging faux pas are nothing.

As any mechanic would say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; Netflix we’re happy it’s a mantra you finally decided to follow.

How to cash in with Viggle: Earn money while watching TV

viggle logoFor those missing out on getting free stuff for watching TV, welcome to the world of Viggle. Open to all iOS and Android users, this app allows us to “check in” to live TV shows or movies, which earn points toward gifts and discounts. Free to download and working with our current tube-watching schedules, it’s an app that might change the way we indulge in entertainment.

How Viggle works

The next time you sit down to watch Bones or Who’s the Boss reruns, just click “check in” and point your mic toward the TV. Viggle then identifies the program (it’s usually right, but sometimes takes a few tries, or if the show can’t be located you can type it in) and rewards you that show’s respective points. The earlier you check in to the show, the more point will be rewarded. Ad points are also offered, and there’s a sign-up wall where points can be earned for signing up for credit cards, etc.

Of course this sounds too good to be true, but it works, I swear. In about 10 months, I earned $90 worth of gift cards to various stores. I checked in only when it was convenient and made no extra efforts to find a TV when I wasn’t already watching. BUT this was also during the glory days of Viggle. Shows were often rewarded at 300-400 points a pop, 75 and 100-point ads were given freely, and only 14,000 points were needed to earn a $10 iTunes card.

Living high and loose caught up with the brand, and now primetime shows are 50 points, most with trivia, and ads are few and far between. Earning $10 will now cost 20k points, or the equivalent in iTunes dollars (when available) costs a whopping 25k points.

Making it worthwhile

With these rapid inflation of points (and subsequent loss in what shows are worth), Viggle took a quick turn toward not being worth the effort. But, it’s still free money for watching TV, right? To earn the same amount of points, we simply have to get creative when using the app.

To earn more points:

  • Check in at the beginnings of shows. If you wait until the last half (even if you watched the whole show), points or prorated for the amount of minutes documented.
  • Watch sports. Sporting events offer more bang for your time. Check out local showtimes and cash in.
  • Play the games. Whether it be MyGuy, which allows players to earn based off players’ performances, or trivia, which gives points for right (and even wrong) answers, play along. These may drain your phone battery, but offer a significant swing in point totals. (Between check ins, ads, and trivia, I earned nearly 2k points during the Grammys.)
  • Watch the ads. Even if you don’t watch them, “watch” them (we can only stand the same commercial so many times). These can be anywhere from 5 to 150 points.
  • Check in at prime time. While these shows are listed at 50, Viggle is notorious for giving out check-in bonuses that often double or triple your points. We may never know what they’re going to be, but the surprise is definitely worth it.
  • For bulk points, check out Viggle’s wall. Many require shopping or company sign ups, but you can also find videos; the offers are always changing.

Who says you can’t get something for nothing? With Viggle, earn gift cards and merchandise just for watching TV. And with the tips above, you’re sure to earn as many points as possible.

A society drowning in cords, and how to manage them

power cordsFirst, we got our own cell phones.

They were friendlier than the previous in-car versions, offering the same talking abilities without location restriction. But they also required a charging cord to be carried around, forever nesting in our suitcases and/or purses. Then computers became mobile, and they needed a cord too, lest we be stranded without a way to play Oregon Trail. Then MP3 players became a thing (which needed headphones, another cord), and then tablets, and before we knew it, we were carrying around cords upon cords. A tangled mess of single colored adapters that must stay with us a majority of the time.

For a while we thought our Apple products would feed from a single-shaped device, but even they changed, forcing us to either upgrade all around, or continue with the business of multiple cords.

The same can tangled-ness can be said for our homes; electronics of all kinds require a constant source of power, leaving us with the wake of their lines. TVs, stereos, lamps, and more have us bowing to their needs with their ugly plug in needs.

So where did we go wrong? Now even cars are becoming electric, requiring even a larger cord to be toted while traveling. While some efforts are being made toward wireless charging and hot pad stations, the majority of “wireless” devices still require a standard outlet, and a power cord.

Managing the chaos

Until all our electronics re-juice ET style, all we can hope for is a more controllable mess. Crafty types can bind together toilet paper rolls (with optional paint) for a storage grid – though this isn’t ideal for travel. While messier folks just tote around a knot of coated wire, pulling out what’s needed as items die.

For an in-between, look to cord keepers or rubber stick-ons that “grab” the cords and make them stay put. Best for in-home cords, such as desktops, phones, or power strips, models can be affixed to the wall for semi-permanent keeping. For traveling, stick to wrapping features, such as circular items that hold both ends down during movement. Both items come in various sizes, adaptable for all types of cords.

Whether choosing to organize gadgets with more gadgets or living with the ever-growing mess, it’s safe to say the age of the cord is upon us. Our only option seems to be grinning and bearing the technological whirlwind we’ve created.

Super Bowl advertising and its effect on tech sales

GoDaddy Super Bowl commercialWho else was horrified by GoDaddy’s commercial from Sunday’s Super Bowl? Meant to show the versatility of their company, millions were forced to watch two ill-matched people loudly kiss. For too long, and with awkward, unpleased faces. To GoDaddy, this was a way to mesh two very different entities, “smart” and “sexy.” (Though no one knows what the latter has to do with web hosting.)

Two days later my four-year old website (GoDaddy hosted) fell off the face of the internet. And they couldn’t fix it. I first spoke with a very helpful male employee, who offered a slew of helpful, albeit wrong options. And then I spoke to a rude, female employee who flatly said, “We don’t fix that; no one can help you.” And also, “There’s no one I can transfer you to.” Coincidence?

The company had its best sales day ever after the Super Bowl, but could the commercial have actually hurt GoDaddy? (If not the ad itself, surely their efforts to embody said commercial will.) Somewhat offensive to the computer-minded brains, if taken the wrong way, GoDaddy could lose a huge portion of their business. And if anyone should understand not to bite the hand that feeds them, it’s an internet-based company. Sure, dropping GoDaddy would mean re-hosting, re-domaining, moving, and launching websites with new server space, but hey, they’re nerds, they can handle it.

In contrast, Best Buy’s Amy Poehler appearance had users wanting to hop out of their recliners and purchase a new external hard drive, tablet, smartphone, or anything else that warrants a visit to the techie store. The commercial was smart, clever, and didn’t have viewers debating whether to cover their eyes or ears.

The Age of Tech?

The rest of the Super Bowl, however, was noticeably free of electronic-themed commercials. Advertisers must think the only football fans are truck-driving, beer-drinking, in-need-of-insurance Americans. To some end, it’s probably an accurate demographic. But in the age of constantly growing technology and where the commercials are more popular than the game itself, it’s downright surprising that more tech and/or internet-based companies weren’t represented.

Whether or not these commercials will have a long-term effect on GoDaddy’s sales is yet to be seen. However, if their services continue to reflect this overall “sexy” vs. “smart” theme, it’s likely they’ll do the damage on their own.

Communication Alternatives: Voice vs. Text

tech microphoneForms of communication come in all types of technology. There are computers, cell phones, landlines, “telephones” made of tin cans and twine, and, of course, actual face-to-face talking. While each method holds its own unique traits, they all allow us to talk, listen, and create conversations. But as gadgets continue to advance, these virtual interactions are widening their span, and have become easily accessible by users of all ages and locations. For instance, any computer, connected wireless device, or iPod touch with WiFi can send text messages. Once an act left to cell phones only, texts are growing in frequency and sendability.

Now that a large percentage of emails are sent and read via smartphone, virtually any length of information can be sent. But it’s not just text-based messages that technology is working to advance – it’s voice-based ones as well. Whether the voicemail, the voice memo, or walkie-talkie apps, which allow users to send and store spoken blurbs, our voices are taking on as many locations as our text.

The Voice Memo/Text Disconnect

How many of us actually use these voice memos? Despite coming standard on the iPhone, as well as various other smartphones, few users even know this technology exists, let along implement it on a regular basis.

For many techies, emails and text messages are the preferred method of getting in touch. Sure, we still need to “talk” with others, but that doesn’t mean we actually need to speak. Through an ever-growing intricacy of abbreviations, acronyms, and shortened terms, users are able to convey more information with fewer characters.

But sometimes – let’s face it – talking just makes things easier. Consider the difference between reading an intricate list of instructions and having someone explain them – which is preferred? Spoken works provide pause, emphasis, and other transitions that can’t always be expressed without sound. And it’s easy; phone owners simply hit “send,” and the microphone-clad button transfers specific, sound instructions to the chosen device. All without having to talk on the phone.

Another perk is the recordings are kept on file until a user actually deletes them; voice memos can be kept on hand as long as they’re needed. With abilities like these, who says we’re becoming disconnected? Users can hear the sound of one another’s voice on command.

But no matter a person’s preference, both mediums continue to hold value. Whether we type, record, or text our information, the world is staying more connected than ever.