Improve your writing productivity with a physical iPad keyboard

revue-keyboard

Do you need a physical keyboard for your iPad? That is the question I have been debating for myself for a while now. I write for this site and a few others, and I am often writing the articles for all of these sites on my iPad. I have always typed directly on the iPad screen and never used a physical keyboard. However, when I type a lot on the iPad keyboard I find I frequently make typographical errors. I was hoping a keyboard might fix that.

I recently discovered the new trend of thin keyboards that double as an iPad cover, like the Logitech Ultrathin iPad keyboard that many people are raving about. The Logitech keyboard is pretty pricey ($100 retail) and I did not want to spend that much money on something I may or may not like and use.

I started shopping for similar keyboards and found many that started at $20 and up. I then decided to search eBay and found similar pricing results – generic keyboards for about $20, and the price went up from there. I searched for keyboards and found a Luvitt like-new keyboard at auction for less than $20. I researched the keyboard and found it retailed for over $100, although it sells for about $80, so I put in a bid and ended up winning it. I was thrilled; I got a decent keyboard that got great reviews for under $20. In fact, I am typing this article with it right now.

This particular style of keyboard is a lot smaller than a standard keyboard, but I prefer its portability. I’ve found myself making typos because I am still to getting used to the smaller keyboard and having certain keys (like the right shift key) in a different spot. However, I really do like typing on the keyboard versus the screen for something like an article. The keyboard also has arrow keys for moving around the text easily. It has other function like volume control, cut and paste, a home button, and more. It really does change typing on the iPad when you have a “real” keyboard.

luvvit

Should every iPad owner get a keyboard? No.

The keyboard is not for everyone, especially if you use the iPad on your lap. The type of keyboard I am using does not work on your lap. The iPad would fall out because it has to be used on a table top surface to stay balance in the system it uses. For the casual user, I’d say stick to the on-screen keyboard. That is what I plan on doing 90% of the time when I am not typing something like an article. However, if you do a lot of typing on the iPad I would say a keyboard will significantly improve your productivity. This can be a small keyboard or a full size keyboard – the choice depends on your preferences and how you plan on transporting it.

The iPad with a physical keyboard is a nice combination, but not for everyone. It can help with productivity for some and be a waste of money for others.

Meet Uber, your on-demand private driver

2013-04-11_09h49_14Thanks to the Uber app for iOS and Android, gone are the days of standing outside trying to hail a cab or find a car service. I was recently in San Francisco for work and I met a friend for dinner across town. We were about to leave, and I said to her, “I really hope there are cabs in this area.” She looked at me and said, “You don’t have the Uber app?” I immediately pulled out my iPhone and download the app, within 5 minutes I signed up and had a taxi waiting for me outside the restaurant.

How it Works

Set up an account

First, you download the app to your iOS or Android device and create an account. You must enter a credit card in order to complete account set up. An email will be sent for you to confirm your information

Right now Uber can be used in the following cities: Amsterdam, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Hamptons, London, Los Angles, Melbourne, Milan, Minneapolis-St Paul, Napa, New York, Orange Count, Paris, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Singapore, Stockholm, Sydney, Toronto, Washington DC.

Select the type of vehicle you want

The types of vehicles are listed below; however, not every type of vehicle is available in every city. When you launch the app GPS will locate what city you are in and give you the vehicle options for that area.

Taxi: No flagging or yelling required! Use Uber to request and pay for a taxi, at standard taxi rates plus a $1 booking fee. A 20% gratuity is automatically added for the driver.

UBERx: The convenience of Uber at a lower price with hybrid and mid-range cars in a variety of colors. Seats up to 4 people.

Black: Classic black car option is the default. Choose this and either a high-end sedan or SUV will be curbside in minutes. Note: choosing “Black” and being picked up by an SUV will not charge you the SUV rates. Seats up to 4 people.

SUV: When you’re rolling with more than four people, request only SUVs, for a higher rate. Seats up to 6 people

Use the app to tell Uber where you want to be picked up

You can use the map and your phone’s GPS to tell Uber your current location so they can pick you up. If the GPS does not find the exact location, you can manually type in the address.

www.uber.com
www.uber.com

Wait for Uber to respond

Uber will send you a text notifying you of how long you’ll need to wait before you can expect to be picked up, along with the driver’s name. When your Uber ride arrives, you’ll receive another text to let you know.

Wait for your payment to be automatically charged

Your card will be automatically charged, with the tip already included. You don’t need to manually hand over some cash or your card to the driver before you leave. It’s that simple.

Pricing

Uber’s pricing is similar to metered taxis, although all hiring and payment is handled exclusively through Uber and not with the driver personally. If the Uber car is traveling at a speed greater than 11 mph, the price is calculated on a distance basis. Otherwise, the price is calculated on a time basis. Prices are higher than prices charged by conventional taxicabs and 20% gratuity is automatically added.

At the end of a ride, the complete fare (which includes a tip) is automatically billed to the customer’s credit card. Uber has said that its high prices are the premium that the customers pay for a cab service that is not only reliable but also punctual and comfortable. Check out Uber’s website for prices per city.

Once the ride is over…

A receipt is sent to your email address (great for those who need to expense the ride) along with a survey to rate your experience. I also received an email for $10 off for every friend I get to sign up using the link they provide in the email.

Conclusion

Overall, my experience with Uber was great. The price may seem a little expensive to some people who give it a try, but when you work it out with the tip and realize that you’re paying for more of a high quality and convenient driver experience, it’s actually well worth the cost.

iOS App Roundup: 3 apps that keep me glued to my phone

According to a recent study, the average smartphone user has 41 apps on their device.

It interests me to know how many of these are in regular use. While I have a small set of core apps that never move from my home screen, I tend to go through phases with others. Several things from last year, for example, have fallen out of favor and been deleted. Examples include Words with Friends (there’s only so much Scrabble one can play), iQuit (sadly my giving up smoking attempt failed), and Instapaper (I just didn’t use it enough).

Meanwhile though, other apps have stepped in to take their place and keep me glued to my device for many a waking hour. In this article I list three that have been enhancing my life in recent months.

Flipboard 

These days, if I get bored, I go on Flipboard. This simple app aggregates news reports in various subject areas, giving you a brief overview of a story, courtesy of its pleasing “flip” interface, with an easy way to drill down to the full story if it’s of interest.

Flipboard - for iOS and Android
Flipboard – for iOS and Android

It’s something akin to StumbleUpon crossed with Twitter crossed with a standard news app, and if you’re a news junkie, it will occupy hours of your time. It’s available for Android too.

TripAdvisor City Guides

I was recently fortunate enough to enjoy a holiday in the USA where I visited New York and Florida. I downloaded various guidebook-style apps before my vacation, but TripAdvisor’s free offering was the one the really enhanced our trip.

Its best feature is its ability to use the iPhone’s basic compass and GPS functionality to point you at anything in the guide. Want to find your way from Midtown New York to Downtown New York, walking via Chinatown – no problem – you can navigate the streets like a pro. It does all this offline from a downloaded guide, meaning it works well enough with data roaming switched off.

Guides are currently available for over 80 cities worldwide. Finding yourself somewhere new without getting lost gives you a lot more time to see the things you want to. I’ll be using this app in every new place I visit.

Subway Surfers

I had to include a game, and for someone with a short attention span, Subway Surfers has stayed on my home screen list for a surprisingly long time. It’s essentially an “endless running” game, but one that runs at a rather more sedate pace than the likes of the popular Temple Run. There’s also something decidedly retro about it that appeals to the 80s gamer in me.

Also, although it’s a freemium game where you can purchase power-ups and such, it never makes you feel like you need to spend anything to enjoy it properly – which just seems…kind and fair, which is a good thing.

My apps come and go, but the list above consists of three that I think are destined to be “keepers.” I strongly recommend you check them out.

Xbox Live: Great for gamers, but unnecessary for everyone else

xbox liveFor the gamers out there, the thought of one of their most beloved gaming systems being unnecessary (gasp) is a virtual slap in the face. It’s easily accessible, relatively inexpensive, and opens our TVs up to the world of the internet.

But when not playing video games, how much does Xbox Live’s capabilities really have to offer us? Despite the constant access to play your friends at weapon-toting games or “party” watch movies – that’s when you and others watch the same movie at the same time, despite being in different locations – it’s a program that’s surprisingly limited.

Sure there’s ESPN channels, including live event streaming (not to mention watching the same game the next day without the need of a DVR), but that’s only if your internet provider also subscribes. So, despite the fact that you’re paid up, if say, Joe’s Internet Shop or Sally’s Cable Access isn’t, you don’t get any ESPN benefits … at all. It’s likely that larger companies will offer the program, but there are no guarantees, and nothing contractually obligating each provider to maintain Xbox Live access. For many, it’s luck of the draw.

Xbox Programs Plus

Next, look at other programs that are offered, such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, or movie rental – all require a paid or per-use membership. Sure that $50/year fee may not have sounded bad at first, but that’s on top of any additional subscriptions; Xbox live only allows you to access these outside programs, not to use their services.

Now back to video games. For avid gamers, it’s likely a worthy service. But for the rest of the population, we may just be better off using an internet capable DVD player, or a one-time payment box that doesn’t require additional fees. While I can’t speak for the gaming community (there’s obviously something there; the program continues to thrive year after year, despite the same consul being in production for nearly eight years), I can speak for the non-gaming community, and we say we want more – or rather, less. No more double subscribing to ESPN to get the same service everyone is paying for. No more gouged fees. And no more constant updates during the middle of shows; it’s just another unnecessary interruption.

But until a better option exists, one where gamers and non-players alike can intermingle and benefit from the same programs, it’s likely the service will continue to stay in place.

iOS app review: Tie Assistant its great way to learn how to knot a tie

tie assistant 3Knotting a tie can be as difficult. All those twists and turns, and knots and pulleys can get a man dizzy by just trying. How does Tim Cook do it every morning? Well, he probably has Siri do it, or his team of iPhone designers because we all know they haven’t been putting in any effort on that project since the 3G. I’m kidding, I’m kidding (no, I’m not).

If you are a tech geek that couldn’t knot a tie to save your hard drive from crashing, or just someone who loves to combine a great looking tie with any outfit, dressy or casual, then do we have the app for you: Tie Assistant. If you are new to the underground world of ties, or simply need a fresher on all the various types of knots to use, Tie Assistant is the perfect place to start.

The app, which is available for all Apple iOS devices, is a free download in the Lifestyle category, and will give you a step-by-step tutorial on how to knot virtually any type of tie that you please. It also may become the new favorite app for tie aficionados everywhere.

Tie Assistant is great for tie experts or beginners alike. The free version of the app has tutorials on six different types of knots, ranging from the simple ‘Kent’, all the way to the exotic, and, not for beginners, ‘Hannover’ knot. The charm of the app is its extensive list of knot types that tie beginners, or even experts, might not have known about if they were simply searching for instructional videos on the internet.

tie assistant 2

Tie Assistant also has a paid version of the app for $0.99 that will give you access to 22 different tutorials on how to knot your tie. Yes, 22 different ways. I am not kidding. The paid version of the app will teach you the Double Windsor, the Half Windsor, the Kelvin, and the Cavendish — and, no, I am not making up any of these names. And, that’s not even the half of it either, because there are over 80 ways to knot a tie, and the Tie Assistant app continues to add more and more tutorials into its system.

The tutorials themselves are simple and easy to follow. They are pictures of a shirt and tie that will walk you through each turn of the tie step-by-step. I tried tying a few different knots that I was not familiar with, and was able to get the process down quickly and without any major issues. The high-resolution pictures were a big help and easy to understand. But, of course, I only tried the simple knots. I don’t know that I am ready for the crazy eight-step knots like the ‘Hannover’—the force is weak with me.

tie assisant 4

Tie Assistant is an excellent app to have stored in one of your Apple device. It is available for both the iPad and iPhone, and could be a life saver during one of those James Bond 007 moments where you need to tie an exotic knot before you have a martini—shaken, not stirred. Or a Heineken… I’m not entirely sure what James Bond is drinking nowadays.

Overall, Tie Assistant is a stylish and easy to use app that could really come in handy when you need to knot a tie. With over 22 different ways to do so, it is definitely worth the price at only $0.99. I would recommend that you try out the free version of the app first, and if it turns out to be something that you like, then go ahead and splurge on the full version (you can upgrade at any time while using the app). Your ties may just thank you for it later.

I rate Tie Assistant an 8 out of 10 and it is definitely an above-average iOS app.

Leo’s Pad: An educational gem for children on iPad

Leo's Pad icon

While there are many educational apps available for the iPad based on kids television shows and movies, there are even more apps that have nothing to do with popular characters. These are the apps that get the most play in my house. However, every now and then an app comes along that has nothing to do with any television or movie characters and my son loves it. Leo’s Pad Appisode 1 by Kidaptive, is one of these games. Not only did my son love it, I loved it too.

While the app is not based on any popular characters, it is like watching an episode of a TV show made exclusively for the iPad. The story follows a young boy named Leo (Leonardo DaVinci) who is making a birthday present for his friend Gally (Galileo Galilei) and taking it to him. Leo also has a little pet dragon who tags along as his sidekick. As the story unfolds there are a variety of activities your child has to complete. These include building the telescope (which is the present), launching and flying Leo on his glider, and more. The activities are fun and educational at the same time. I’d say the entire game took us about ten minutes to complete.

What really sets this apart from other apps I have seen is the graphics, animation, and music. The graphics in the apps are fantastic. The artwork is beautifully rendered and the animation that goes with it is smooth and well done. The music in the app is a nice support to the story and the voice work was great. It truly felt like watching an interactive television show.

Screen shot from the Appisode 1
Screen shot from the Appisode 1

As of right now there are three appisodes in the Leo’s Pad series. Appisode 1 is free at the time of this writing and well worth downloading. Appisode 2 cost $1.99 and is definitely worth it. After finishing Appisode 1 my son was so engrossed in the story that I immediately downloaded Appisode 2, which is equally well done and fun. Appisode 2 continues the story of Leo and Gally with a third friend Marie (Marie Curie). The story leaves off where the first stopped and your child helps the friends build a rocket and go into space. Just like the first appisode, this one is a combination of story and activities that move the story along.

The only disappointing part of the second app is that the third part of the series is not available yet. I would have bought it right away and will be buying it as soon as it hits the app store. If you are a parent of a preschooler this is one app series you don’t want to miss.

Skype is getting worse

“Can you hear me now?

“Is that any better?”

“How about now?”

In recent times, the above three phrases are heard frequently emanating from various rooms in our apartment, where my wife and I both work as full-time freelancers.

Skype is an essential part of both of our respective businesses. We do work for clients in various countries, and being able to interact with them by phone at a low, predictable cost is essential if we are to live and work where we do – in a sunny apartment just minutes from the coast of Portugal’s Algarve.

Skype is, on the face of it, perfect for us. It provides us with London telephone numbers, which shield our physical location and make it inexpensive for UK clients to contact us. Skype also offers a range of all-inclusive call packages allowing us to call clients abroad without bankrupting ourselves.

Skype - Not what is once was?
Skype – Not what is once was?

Or at least that’s the idea.

For reasons unknown to us, the incidence of poor quality Skype calls seems to be on the increase. Now, as a techie, I know that we have a good, fast broadband connection with low latency. I also know that nothing has changed at our end since the days when we could use Skype with only very rare quality problems.

Yet, for some reason, it now seems that (more often than not), people are having trouble hearing us. Usually, this only happens for 10 seconds or so, before a high quality connection returns, but in the meantime we have to go through the whole “can you hear me now?” routine.

When I’m chatting with my mother in the UK, this is acceptable (while still infuriating). After all, I’m able, thanks to Skype, to spend hours talking to her at a very low price. It’s not, however, good enough when working with clients, especially prospective new clients. Sometimes it takes new clients some convincing that our geographical location is irrelevant. If our first few phone conversations keep cutting out, it doesn’t really create a good initial impression.

So, despite a long and happy relationship with Skype, I’ve felt forced to start investigating alternative Voice over IP services, and it’s a shame because when Skype works, it works incredibly well.

Sadly though, until I find a suitable replacement, I’ve had to switch back to a very old-fashioned strategy: If I’m calling an important client, I walk into the study and pick up the landline phone. The bills are unwelcome, but so too would be the loss of a paying customer.

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.

Google releases the Chromebook Pixel, designed for high-performance cloud computing

pixel chromebook

When manufacturing cheap personal computers, designers have to make trade-offs between processing power, memory and other computer components in order to strike an economical but workable balance. The balance, clearly, is a delicate one and any solution that eliminates the need for one of these components is highly welcome.

Google Chromebooks are such solutions that do away with the need for huge hard disk spaces by storing whatever you do on the cloud. The latest Chromebook, the Chromebook Pixel, is an amalgamation of the best hardware, software and design to come up with the next generation gadget suited for power users who have already fully adopted the cloud.

The Visual Display unit has the highest pixel density than any other laptop screen on the market. Packing 4.3 million pixels (239 ppi), the display delivers sharp text and vivid colors over an extra wide view angle. In addition to this, the screen comes with touch support to sate the need to touch the close-to-real HD images it displays. Organizing tabs and photos and other edits happens swiftly and easily with the swipe of a finger.

To support the grueling demand from long hours of use, the Pixel comes in an anodized aluminum alloy cover giving it a sleek and durable surface. To keep the outward appearance of the design, vents and screws remain hidden while the full-range stereo speakers fit snugly under the backlit keyboard.

To increase precision, a glass etched touchpad, finished using laser technology, is all you need to move the cursor about on the Chromebook in case you do not want to use the touch screen. With its 720p webcam and three strategically placed microphones designed to eliminate noise, you can now comfortably do your video conferencing in noisy environments.

Powered by Intel Core-i5 processor, anything you decide to do, from loading Web pages to changing apps is almost instant which is exactly what users with no time to spare expect from their devices. With its top-notch Wi-Fi range and dual-band support with optional Long-term Evolution (LTE), you can be sure that accessing your cloud-stored data just got easier and more fun.

google-chromebook-pixel-laptop

The Chromebook Pixel comes with one terabyte of Google Drive Cloud storage and 12 free GoGo Inflight Internet passes allowing you to store as much as you can and access it while on the go without having to pay more, at least for a start.

With all the favorite Google products just a click away, the Chromebook is definitely a workable solution for those who are already in the cloud computing bandwagon. Thanks to Chrome OS, you will no longer need to wait for the computer to boot up. In addition, you will need no maintenance. To sum up the whole package is a built-in virus protection that self-updates once every few weeks.

The Chromebook Pixel is available for purchase on Google Play in the US and UK. The Wi-Fi version retails at $1,299 with the LTE version retailing at $1,449 which will be available in the US come this April. High-end users who need a device that incorporates tablet functionality and cloud computing services now have something to smile about with the Chromebook Pixel.

The long wait for the PlayStation 4 is almost over

On Stage

Since the release of PlayStation 3 on November 11, 2006 in Japan, Sony game console lovers have had nothing to look forward to apart from the release of new games and hardware/design upgrades, which I must admit, though functional, were never enough to quench the thirst for something totally new and different. After the long wait, Sony has finally announced the successor, the PlayStation 4.

Impressive new hardware and features

The PlayStation 4 uses a single chip custom AMD processor with eight x86-64 AMD Jaguar CPU cores and an AMD Radeon-based graphics engine. The Graphic Processing Unit comes with 18 processing clusters with each having 64 cores, which will do all the heavy work in the PS4 due to its immense parallel processing power. This, coupled with its 8GB of GDDR5 memory, assures us of fast game loads and smooth playing experiences.

In bid to match Microsoft’s Kinect controller, Sony presents the PlayStation 4 Eye, an innovative set of two highly sensitive cameras with wide angled lenses and an 85-degree diagonal angle of view. Sony claims that these cameras, whose resolution total up to 1280 x 800 pixels can pick out the player image from the background and differentiate between players in the foreground and background hence improving on game play.

The PS4 controller, the Dual Shock 4 pad, comes in a classy design with better vibrations and enhanced motion sensors. PS4 PadApart from these improvements, there is a touchpad on the front, a change in the button layout, the addition of a “Share” button, integration of the “SELECT” and “START” button into a single “OPTIONS” button  and the addition of some PlayStation Move technology in a bid to improve on gamer experiences and fully exploit the console’s improved processing power.

Though the PS4 will be capable of 4K/Ultra HD video playback, Sony revealed that it would not support 4K game-play resolutions. Other incompatibility issues coming with the PS4 include the lack of support for Dual Shock 3 and its inability to give native support for PS3 games , a problem that Sony at some point plans to bridge by offering server side emulation for virtually all PS generation games through the Sony Entertainment Network.

Other impressive things the PS4 can do, with the majority being fruits of Sony’s purchase of Gaikai, include playing online games as they download, uploading and sharing game-play video (the share button on the Dual Shock 4 comes in handy for this) among many other cloud-based functionalities.

If Sony stands true to its promises, the days of waiting for almost a minute before your console boots up will be nothing but history. The console will have an instant on/off feature that lets you shut down during a game and pick up from where you left in future after an extremely fast boot up.

Though we did not see the actual hardware during the PlayStation 4 presentation, I am confident that come the holiday season, Sony will once again sweep us off our feet with a console that competes favorably with other brands of gaming consoles and PCs.