Category Archives: Tools

10 Awesome Dropbox Tricks (plus one more for the major geeks)

If you’re not already familiar with Dropbox, read about it here. It’s a little program that helps you not ever have to worry about losing your most important files or keeping them synced between multiple computers, a flash drive, and/or your phone.

It’s so easy and intuitive to use that you can just set it up and forget about it. So, a lot of people do. But if you really want to unleash the power of Dropbox, I recommend checking out this post on Unclutterer.

And…as a bonus, here’s a super geeky trick I came up with to text commands to your computer and have it do pretty much anything. There’s a tiny bit of programming involved, but the return on investment is amazing. It’s allowed me to essentially create my own app store for my old flip phone – for free.

Enjoy and let me know in the comments if you have any Dropbox tricks that I’ve missed!

All You Need to Know About Tablets: Part 4 – What apps should I get for my tablet?

There are a ton of apps for both iOS and Android, but these two lists will give you the carefully curated cream of the crop:

And that’s it. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time to listen to some audiocasts on my favorite app for the iPad: Downcast.

All You Need to Know About Tablets: Part 3 – Where should I buy my tablet and what accessories do I need?

Where should I buy my tablet? Should I go with new or used/refurbished?

Good questions! My answer will be simple. Follow the link to the device you want to buy:

All of those take you to the official website for each device, where you can buy online. That’ll get you a new device, which I recommend.

The problem with used is that even if the device looks brand new, that battery has already been worn out some and as I mentioned in Part 2, would be very difficult to replace. You don’t want to use the tablet for a year, then have to plug it in all the time because it’s now only giving you a few hours on full battery.

The problem with refurbished is that some vendors use it to mean used, broken, then fixed. So then you have something that’s not only used, but then had major surgery done on it. And just like with a human surgery, things can go wrong. The iPads in particular are very difficult to repair. A small tear, almost unnoticeable tear in a cable could drastically reducing wi-fi performance or touchscreen responsiveness.

Should I get a case? What about a screen protector?

While I’ve seen a lot of cracked screens, I’ve yet to see a single scratched iPad or Nexus screen. They all use very effective, scratch-resistant glass, so that I can write my name with scissors on my iPad screen and it doesn’t leave a mark. Don’t believe me? Come in to Power On with your keys and coins and I’ll give you a demo screen to test this with.

The moral of the story: don’t waste money on a screen protector. It’s easier to scratch the rest of the tablet than the screen and a plastic sheet won’t keep it from shattering if you drop it.

But what about cases? While portfolio cases and Apple’s “smart cover” are very popular, they don’t offer the best protection. And let’s face it – this is a portable device and some day, you’re going to drop it or it’ll get knocked off a table. Here are my suggestions:

If you have typical needs, the Seidio Active cases are the best I’ve seen. They look good, feel good, keep your buttons and ports very accessible, offer great protection against drops and while traveling, and act as a flexible stand so that you can work at any angle. Check out this video for more. Unfortunately, they do not yet have cases for the iPad Mini or Nexus 10, but those both just came out, so give it time. The wait will be worth it.

What about apps?

Hold on there. Let’s wait until you actually get the tablet before worrying about that. Part 4 (coming soon) will tell you about some of the best, free and paid apps available.

All You Need to Know About Tablets: Part 2 – Which tablet should I buy?

Which tablets are the best?

There are only two lines of tablets you should consider: the iPad and the Nexus. Short and sweet. Both are great choices. The Nexus tablets are cheaper, more powerful, easier to repair, and more customizable, while the iPad has more tablet-specific apps available – which is a pretty big plus. Some will say you’d be crazy not to buy a Nexus, while others insist the iPad still offers the better experience. I recommend reading both points of view and deciding for yourself.

Should I get a big one or a small one?

So now we’re narrowed down to four options: either the iPad 4 or iPad mini – or the Nexus 10 or Nexus 7. How do you make up your mind?

The obvious difference is the price. The smaller one will let you save you $150 for the iPad and $200 for the Nexus. If you can’t afford to spend the extra money, your decision is made for you. But what if you don’t mind spending the extra money if suit your needs better?

Well, then it comes down to a personal choice. I prefer a larger screen while my wife’s happier with something lighter, more the size of a book. Think about how you’ll use your tablet. Something else to consider is that while both the iPad and Nexus have roughly 7-inch and roughly 10-inch models, each brand has a different shape and feel. I suggest getting your hands on whichever models you’re still considering at this point (either at a store or from a friend) and getting a feel for them yourself.

Do I need a 3G/4G plan or can I get by on Wi-Fi?

Are you going to need Internet access when you’re not near a wireless network? For me, I have Internet access at home, at work, at other people’s houses, at many cafes and restaurants, which gives me Internet access 90% of the time. Is it worth paying around $30/month for that last 10%? Not for me, but it might be for you. Again, this is a personal decision.

What about space? Do I need 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB?

It depends on how you’ll be using your tablet. If you mostly want to browse the web, stream Internet radio, maybe install a few games, read some books, 8GB could work for you. On top of the previously mentioned, I download audiocasts and videocasts to my tablet, plus store other files that I want available while on-the-go. And for me, 16GB works well.

If you want to store music on your tablet, take a lot of pictures and video, load up a small library of books, or install hundreds of apps, you should probably consider 32GB or 64GB. Just remember that it would be extremely difficult to upgrade the space once you make your purchase, so if you’re on the edge, go for the next version up.

What color should I buy?

Are you serious? It doesn’t matter. Just pick one.

Great! Now where should I buy?

I’m leaving that for the next part of the series, where I’ll discuss not only where to buy your tablet, but also share my thoughts on cases, screen protectors, and new vs used/refurbished.

All You Need to Know About Tablets: Part 1 – Is a tablet right for me?

Many people buying tablets right now have never owned one before, so it can be difficult to imagine whether it’s the right choice for you. Would it replace your laptop? Would typing be a problem? Would navigating websites work as well? What are the downsides?

Well, for some of this, you’ll just have to go into a store and play with a device first-hand. But here are 5 possible cons and then 5 pros, to help you make your decision.

DON’T buy a tablet, if you want to…

  • …type on a big, real keyboard. The external keyboards for tablets are either integrated into a case, so no bigger than the tablet itself, or a completely separate piece of hardware that’s actually longer than your tablet – and another piece of technology you have to carry around and worry about crushing in your bag.
  • …use programs like Microsoft Office, Picasa, or Spotify Free. I’ve never seen an alternative for a tablet that I’ve been impressed with. If there’s any program you find essential, do some quick Googling to see if you can find an app that does the same thing on a tablet.
  • …use the Internet without wi-fi (unless you want to pay for a data contract). You can get an “ethernet adapter” for Nexus tablets, but that’s one more thing you have to pay for and one more thing to carry around.
  • …do a lot of file editing or content creation. There are apps like Goodreader and ES File Explorer that make this easier, but organizing and editing most files on a tablet is surprisingly cumbersome and limited. You can read files and websites, watch videos, listen to music, but for any considerable creative work, a desktop or laptop will still be necessary.
  • …have more than one app open at a time. Unlike on a regular computer, you normally can’t look at two different programs side-by-side. For most work, this isn’t an issue – but it’s something to be aware of.

DO buy a tablet if you want…

  • …a more lean-back, rather than lean-forward, experience. Using a tablet just requires less energy than using a laptop and especially a desktop computer. It’s great for traveling or lounging around – not as great for getting most things done.
  • …you want a larger version of or even a replacement for your smart phone. Tablets run on the same technology that smart phones do, so have the same essential interface and can run all the same apps – and even more. You could even keep a “dumb” phone and put it on a cheaper, pre-paid plan, then buy a tablet with the money you save.
  • …to not worry about always being near an outlet. Tablets are made to be carried around all day and it’s very possible to go for days without having to plug in again, even if you watch videos on your tablet.
  • …access to one of the fastest growing (and most affordable) gaming markets. There are a lot of great games built for tablets (and especially for the iPad), with more on their way. If you enjoy playing casual games to unwind, a tablet works very well and most games cost just $1 to $10.
  • …to just touch a screen, zooming and swooshing around. Seriously, it’s fun! Not monkeys controlling robots fun, but delightful all the same.

So now let’s say you’re convinced, you do want a tablet. But which one? That’s what we’ll be exploring in Part 2: Which tablet should I buy?

Wondering what SOPA is?

As Engadget summarizes:

SOPA is an anti-piracy bill working its way through Congress that would grant content creators extraordinary power over the internet which would go almost comedically unchecked to the point of potentially creating an “Internet Blacklist” while exacting a huge cost from nearly every site you use daily and potentially disappearing your entire digital life but stands a shockingly good chance of passing unless we do something about it.

I know that’s not a lot of detail, but you can read their full article for more info or even the bill itself if you’d like.

My take? Here’s a possible scenario, should the bill be passed:

  1. A 5-minute clip from a movie gets uploaded to YouTube.
  2. A movie studio gets outrageously upset and takes legal action against YouTube.
  3. This kind of thing happens enough times that YouTube gets blacklisted because it can’t perfectly filter the 8 years of video that get uploaded every day.
  4. No one can access YouTube anymore and any site that has an embedded YouTube video or links to YouTube is now suddenly illegal.
  5. Practically anyone with an online presence is now a criminal and content creators can have imprisoned and financially destroyed whomever they like.

That might sound absurd, because it is, but I don’t underestimate greed.

So what can you do?

Fortunately, all congressional representatives from Michigan oppose the bill, apart from Conyers Jr. Either way, it can’t hurt to contact your representative and let them know how to best represent you.

Just Plain Awesome: Automatically track your exercise and sleep quality with the Jawbone Up

As someone who spends a lot of time working on the computer, I sometimes worry that I’m staying idle too long. If you also worry about your fitness, the Jawbone Up looks like a fun and relatively easy way to keep an eye on it.

You slap it on your wrist and it keeps track of the exercise you’re getting, the amount and quality of your sleep, and can also give you vibration reminders to get up and stretch your legs once in a while. If you tell it when you need to wake up by in the morning, it can even wake you up at an optimal time in your sleep cycle.

Though this idea sounds Just Plain Awesome, here are some questions I still have about the device:

  • How accurate is it really? I’d like to see a 3rd-party study.
  • Is it really worth $100? That’s a lot of cash.
  • Is the hardware reliable yet, or should I wait for the next model? I’ve read quite a few stories of it failing after a single week of use.
  • Can the nutrition tracking just be turned off? I’ve heard that function isn’t as seamless and frankly, I know when I’m eating like crap.

For more info on the Jawbone Up, check out the video review below:

How to decipher technical computer specs

If you’ve ever been shopping for a new computer, you’ve probably come across some baffling technical details. How are most people supposed to know the difference between an Intel Core i3 2100 and an AMD Phenom II X4 980 BE? And if you play computer games, you might be looking at video cards and just want something that can play the kinds of games you like.

Fortunately, I have two tricks to help you read the technical gibberish:

(1) AnandTech

AnandTech allows you to compare the performance of popular processors (CPUs), video cards (GPUs), and even specific laptops and smartphones. You can even choose exactly what you’d like to compare, including not only general performance, but also battery life and how well the hardware can handle specific games. Very handy!

(2) Computer Reviews

If you want more information on a specific computers, CNET‘s reviews can give a good idea of whether a particular computer might meet your needs, explaining the pros and the cons of each model. It also never hurts to just google the name of a computer, plus the word reviews. Just keep in mind that some user reviews may be written by people who work for the manufacturers or their competitors.

I hope that helps! If you have any more questions or other tips you’d like to add, please comment below.