Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why I Love My iPad

I have now had my iPad for about a week and it is even more than I expected. Not only does it do all the things I expected it to do, but has so much more to offer than I realized. Right now I am typing on it for this blog. The typing experience takes a little getting used to but is much better than a phone keyboard. So far my favorite feature is the zoom when reading. I can read articles, blogs and books at a comfortable font size instead of squinting at a page. I also love the touch feature. I thought I would miss the computer mouse but it really isn't needed with the touch screen.

What are my favorite things I have discovered?
Of course everyone has heard about the wonderful book reading options.  The screen is very easy to read and you can adjust the font size by just using your fingers to zoom in.  It makes it easier for reading newspapers as well.  Many newspapers are available to read for free online.  So, I can read the local paper, the Seattle Times and the San Diego Union in one sitting. A new find for me is a blog reading app that allows me to view online blogs from one location instead of having to go to each site to read them.  The app looks like the iBooks bookcase with all my blogs formated like books.  It is a wonderful way to read you favorite blogs (including mine, of course!).

Even though the iPad does not support flash, many video sites are coming up with alternative video viewers that will work on the iPad.  ABC TV even has it own app for viewing shows from there as well as HGTV.  I'm sure others will be joining to take advantage of the large amount of both iPhone and iPad owners. Both of these apps are free!  There are many other ways to download and view videos, including a Netflix app, and the screen is very clear and bigger than most portable DVD players.  With a 10 hour battery life, you can watch lots of videos.

Two other great features with the iPad that I am using quite a bit are the contacts and calendar.  You can snyc the iPad with your Microsoft Outlook or other calendar programs you are already using so you don't have to start over with adding all of the same information onto your iPad that you have on another computer.  And, a thing I discovered by accident, was that when your contacts are open, you can just press the address of someone and a mapping program will open up to show you where they live with the option of getting directions from where you are (via the built in gps) to the location.  What a great time saver if you need to get to someone's home and have no idea how to get there.  With the larger screen, viewing the mapping program is very simple.  It is much bigger than a traditional gps unit so you can really see where you need to go.  Within the same contacts app, you can also just press the person's e-mail address and it will take you to your e-mail program to send them an e-mail.  What could be easier?

The built-in gps locator (your choice to turn it on or not) helps when you want to find a business that is near where you are.  Use the locator and an app, such as the Starbucks one, you can find out where the closest ones are to your current location.  That will be a big help to me when I travel!  There are many such apps that use this locator to help you find what you want near you. It will always ask you if you will allow the locator to use your location to find something.  You have the option to use it whenever you want and turn it off when you don't.

There are many audio streaming apps that you can use such as Pandora.  A recent find for me was one called 'HiDef Radio'.  You can either stream it from your iPad directly or through the internet and keep it running in the background while your surf the web. It also has a sleep timer feature and recording feature so you can either listen to a station before going to sleep or record a station to listen to later.  For less than $2, I think this one is a bargain.

I could go on but you get the idea that I am finding that the iPad is a multi-purpose tool.  It is very portable, I can go all day on the battery without recharging and am finding more ways to use it every day.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Backing Up & My iPad and Me

My blog this week is supposed to be about back up options for your computer but I have to also include my thoughts about my new iPad.  Yes, I did get my iPad and am thrilled.  But more about that later.

Everyone knows that if your computer crashes, all your data will be lost.  Most people think they don't have much to lose but with digital photography, e-mails, contacts, and other documents, there is more to lose than you think.  For some people, doing a back up seems daunting and for others, they meant to back up their files but never got around to it.  I can speak to this topic personally because I got a virus earlier this year and would have lost everything if I had not done a back up of my files before the computer was infected.  I did lose a few items, but nothing too important.  So, what are the options for backing up your computer?

For those who don't want to deal with doing the back up themselves there are three options: Taking your computer to a location that will do the back up for you, having someone come to your home to do the back up, or using an online back up site. The cost options for these three vary widely.  When my computer was infected, I had to take it to a computer store to be repaired and they offered to do the back up for around $100. To have someone come in your home can start at $50 plus the cost of an external hard drive and software, if needed. The nice thing about that option is that you don't have to unhook your computer to lug it into a store. The online storage option has a yearly fee and most begin at around $50 per year.  The benefit of online back up is that is can run continually so it is constantly being backed up so your files are always up-to-date if something happens.

If you decide to do a backup yourself, you will need an external hard drive - either portable or a desktop size. The desktop ones are usually less expensive for more storage.  If you don't need to take your external drive with you someplace, a desktop is a good option.  You can leave it connected to your computer and set your computer to run back ups at regular intervals. If you want to be able to take all those photos or documents with you to someone else's home to share with them, then you will want a portable hard drive. You can purchase an external hard drive at most stores that carry computers and accessories.  Even Walmart and Target sells external drives.  Then the question becomes, how much storage to buy?  If you look at your hard drive size, it will help you decide how big your external drive will need to be.  In today's market, you can get a 500gb hard drive for less than $100.  That is more than enough space for most people.

Once you have your new hard drive, you will then have to set up the computer to do a back up.  Some Windows operating systems have that option built in.  Windows XP, Vista and 7 allow you to do back ups as often as you want.  They each differ a little in how you set it up so you will have to research how each one is done. Sometimes it is simpler to buy a program that will walk you through the process. Acronis Mirror Image Back Up is one of the better programs.  I have personally used this one and like it.  There are others that are also good but I haven't tried them so  I can't speak to how good they are. You have the option of doing a one-time back up or set the program to run a back up at whatever intervals you want.

Backing up your drive can seem overwhelming but it really isn't as hard as it seems.  Once you do it, you will see how simple it can be. Then you can feel confident that you won't lose all those precious photos.

Now about my new iPad.  I won't go into everything I have learned about my iPad in this post but I can say it is everything I hoped for and more.  I am still learning all it can do and have found some great features through the app store.  Yes, the flash issue (not being able to watch anything online that uses flash) is a little annoying, but nothing I can't live without.  In fact, on my computer, I have my flash turned off because it helps pages load faster without flash.  I have found that many sites are using alternatives to flash and more are working on it everyday so it should become even less of an issue in the near future.  With the popularity of the iPhone and iPad, web developers have a great motivation to come up with another way to show those 'flashy' sites.

I have already downloaded a couple of books to my iPad (one was on sale through B&N for just 99 cents!). I am trying all sorts of apps that can be downloaded to my iPad.  Some are free and are great programs, others have a small cost, usually around $2.99.  Yes, there are some that cost quite a bit more, but I would have to have a really good reason to download those.  The video playback is wonderful - crisp and clear picture with no streaming lag at all.  I can listen to my music, watch videos, read books, browse the internet and much, much more.  And the part I like the best is that I can slip it into my purse (a little larger purse, of course).  So, I don't need that large computer backpack when I go to Starbucks to do my internet surfing (soon to be free to everyone!) while I drink my coffee.

I could go on, but will save the rest for another time.  I will have more experience with my iPad then and will have lots more to tell you about.  If you want to know more about either backing up your computer or about the iPad, just send me a message or post a comment.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Websites With Free Stuff That I Love

I am a sucker for anything free and when I am given free software or websites that offer free options, I tend to go overboard and download more than I really need.  But, I do find gems in these sites and downloads so I though I would share a few of my favorites.

I current favorite free download website site is called "Giveaway Of The Day".  Yes, they GIVE you free software that you would normally have to pay for.  Why would they do that?   First, the companies that offer their software for free hope you try their product and fall in love with it.  Then you will want to buy future releases of the product or share you enthusiasm with your friends.  I have many great programs that I got from "Giveaway Of The Day" and am a big fan.  Is there a catch?  The only catch is that you are given just 24 hours to download the free program.  Once the 24 hour period is over, you would have to pay for it.  So, be sure and download and register it before the 24 hours are up.  Not all of the software they offer is useful and it is always a good idea to scroll down the page and read other people's reviews just to be sure you know what you are getting before you download.

A free website I have been using lately is called "Goodreads". It is a site where you can catalog all of your books that you have read or own. In this day and age where you can access the internet from your phone, it is a very useful tool when you are standing in a bookstore and wondering, "did I already read this book?" before you purchase another book.  I have bought a few books that I later found that I had read and I really hate spending the money TWICE on a book.  So, once I get my collection up-to-date, I can start using this site with my new iPad (see my May post on this topic).  I'm currently focusing my time with books that I read from one particular author since I want to be sure I don't buy the same book in her series that I already read. I will slowly add other books as I have the time but for a free site, it's a great resource for us book lovers.

Another free site that I have been using in my effort to have a healthy lifestyle is "Livestrong". It is a site where you can track what you eat, your activity level and calorie intake vs. energy expended.  It's easy to use and most of the food products I eat every day are already in the database so I don't have to go searching for the nutritional information.  It is free to register and track your daily progress.  Of course, there is an upgraded version but most of the content is available in the free version.  One of my favorite parts of this site is the "Loops" tab.  You can design a customize walking, running or riding loop that you may do on a regular basis. It uses google maps and once you set up your 'loop' will tell you how far you travel, how many calories you are burning and even the terrain elevation.  It is a very useful and helpful site to manage your lifestyle goals.

And last on my list for this week, but not least is a site where you can get free ringtones for your cell phone. I've been using this site for a long time and it is easy to use, even for novices.  Be aware that not everything on there is family friendly.  But, if you want to customize your ringtones and don't want to pay $3 or $4 dollars just for a bit of a song, check out "Phone Zoo". You can choose from ringtones that others have created or even create your own from songs that you have purchased and are on your computer. Once you choose a ringtone, you send it to your phone as a text message and then save the ringtone to your phone.  It has saved me lots of money and is simple to use.

I hope you find one of these sites useful.  I could go on and on but don't want this blog post to be too long. If you are looking for something specific that I haven't covered, send me a message and I'll let you know what free options I have found. Browse and enjoy.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Browser Wars

For the majority of internet users, they will click on the little IE icon that comes as the default on their computer and never think about what that means. Internet Explorer was the first, and official Microsoft browser that comes with every Windows based computer. It was fine for a while but with security risks associated with IE, some people wanted an alternative. So, other browsers started popping up over the years and now are a standard alternative to Internet Explorer. For Apple users, the default browser is Safari so that is what they will automatically be using with their Mac, Iphone or Ipad. Alternative browsers can still be downloaded and used with Apple products.

The question is, do you need an alternative for internet browsing? I have been a long-time user of Firefox for my web browsing. I had heard that is was less prone to security breaches so I wanted to protect my computer from evils such as "phishing, cyber attacks, bogus sites". I'm not saying that other browsers are immune to the same things, but because they are less used, the people who attack people through browsers are less inclined to worry about other, less used, browsers.

There are five browsers that are available to use: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, and Opera. According to statistics, IE still is used by about 50% of internet users. Firefox is the second most popular with about 30% with Google Chrome coming in third but is far behind at about 8%. Actually, that is pretty good considering that Chrome has only been available for about one year. Safari is far behind at around 4% and Opera is used by just about 2% of people. Opera has been around for along time but most people have never heard of them. I used them for a while but went back to Firefox for many reasons.

So, why would you want to use anything else besides IE? Besides the security issues, IE tends to run slower than other browsers. It's not just your computer, it has been proven through tests that IE is a slower browser overall. Google Chrome has been clocked as the fastest by some tests, so if speed is your number one criteria when browsing the internet, you might want to check out Chrome. I was using it for a long while and liked it quite a bit. What brought me back to Firefox is the fact that my Norton Internet Security only protected my browsing if I was using IE or Firefox. Since I was attacked last year through some internet site, I decided to return to "safe browsing" through Firefox and my Norton program.

The other thing that alternative browsers have done very well is offer "add ons". These are useful features that you can add to your browser to help make your browsing experience more enjoyable. Two of my favorite add ons with Firefox is right-click opening a link, and colored tabs. Firefox and Chrome were the first to offer tabs for opening more than one site. IE jumped on the bandwagon and has begun offering some of the same features that Firefox has offered for years. There are tons of add ons you can use, but be aware that the add ons can slow down the browsing. I overloaded my Firefox with add ons so it began running much slower. Now I am careful how many I choose to use. It is definitely something worth looking into to help you as your do internet searching.

If you are still using IE, look at the alternative browsers and try a few of them out. They are all free downloads and you can try them out for a while without changing your default browser. Of course, when you open a new browser, they will suggest that you make the current browser your default but you don't have to do that. But, in trying some out, you may just find one that you love. I will provide links to each of the alternative browsers in my links list. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ooma - The Phone Service No One Has Heard Of

Most people these days are familiar with the various options for phone services. Most younger people I know just use their cell phone as their primary phone and save the cost of paying for a land line. I considered this option but the quality of phone calls isn't always great and sometimes I think I would be running over my minutes for the month so I would have to bump up my plan to be sure that didn't happen. So, I began looking at other options to get rid of our $40 plus a month bill with the local phone company.

We first tried Comcast phone service, which is basically VOIP (voice over internet protocol). It is similar to Vonage and other services offered by cable companies. With a cable bundle, we were paying around $40 per month for everything included (long distance, phone add-ons, etc.) It worked great but we were still paying that $40 per month. So, when I heard about this other option called "Ooma", I was intrigued. It is another VOIP service so you do have to have internet through with either DSL or cable. Since I refuse to give up the speed of my cable internet, we were already paying for that service.

The main difference between Ooma and the other VOIP phone services is that you don't pay a bill! Yes, that is right. Once you purchase the hardware, you never pay a phone bill again. The cost of the equipment runs around $200, but I figured with the $40 per month we would be saving, it would pay for itself in less than 6 months. So, what is the catch you ask? Actually there is none that I have found. If you want to keep your same phone number you have now, you pay an extra $35 one time fee. And, free long distance is only for US phone numbers but that was not a problem for us since we don't call outside the US. You can purchase time for outside of US calling through Ooma.

We have now had our Ooma phone line for almost a year and have been very happy with it. It works as well as any other VOIP service we tried. You will lose phone service when the power goes out, but that is what cell phones are for, right? Other than that, we haven't found any down side to our new "free" phone service.

Now, I don't get any kick backs from Ooma for recommending them (however, they did send me a 'refer a friend' bonus if I find someone who is interested in the service that would give both of us a discount - if you are interested that is) but I am just happy to pass on a way to save a little money and share a great deal I have found. You can go to the Ooma website and read more and I believe Costco does sell their products, along with Best Buy in our area. So, if you want to save a little cash, check them out. Now you can say you have heard of "Ooma".

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A New Venture in Technology Review

An new venture has begun. I have tried writing blogs about my own personal life and found them to be quite boring. I don't have the patience to come up with interesting things to share about my life. It's hard to make yourself sound interesting for very long. But ask me about technology and I can always find something to say about it.

Yes, I am a technology geek. I will admit it freely and those who know me know it is true. Whenever someone wants to know about software, hardware, are even when they don't, I always have an opinion to share. I watch a minimum of three technology podcasts that I download to my TIVO daily. That doesn't sound like much to someone in the business, but I am just an ordinary person who loves to know what is happening in the world of technology.

This blog will cover anything that relates to technology. Whether is is software, hardware, computers, phones, or something you can't live without, I will discuss it. I plan to write a weekly blog, but sometimes I will have more to share than what can fit into a weekly blog.

Right now my obsession is the new iPad. I have been lusting for one since they came out in April. Yes, I know they are not perfect, and I am trying to hold out for the second generation when the fix some of the oversights in their first version - most notably and much written about - the missing webcam. I know it is not a computer replacement and the latest issue of PC World covered what it was and wasn't very clearly. What I see it as is a replacement for many of the small technologies that I would be carrying around, if I owned them. It can replace an e-reader, dvd player, netbook for websurfing and iphone for all the cool apps they have available. I know it isn't a phone, but my main reason for getting an iphone would be for the apps. I already have a perfectly good cell phone that I don't have to pay an extra $30 per month to use.

So, let's break this down.
1. As an e-reader, I love the crisp screen and colorful book-like look. I was never impressed with any of the e-readers I looked at, even with the assumption that the screens were easier on the eye. I like color and being able to feel like I am turning a page. The backlight is another great feature. It was something I really didn't like about previous e-readers, that you still had to have a book light to read at night. So, that would be my first gadget it would replace.
2. Replacing the dvd player. I know it doesn't play DVDs, but how many people are really carrying them around anyway these days? Most people are downloading their movies directly to their computers and watching them that way. Or, they are streaming from the internet or Netflix. All of these are possible with the iPad.
3. As a netbook replacement, the iPad can probably do most everything you would do on a netbook. I had been looking at netbooks but was not impressed with their power. Plus, the battery life on most were not anywhere near as good as the iPad. So, I see myself mostly doing websurfing if I owned a netbook.
4. As an iPhone replacement, it can't really be compared on the same level. Like I said before, I wouldn't have the need for the iPhone if I had the iPad because the apps are the main appeal for me with the iPhone. Since I can use all the same apps, and many more being made just for the iPad, I can download apps to my heart's content.
5. Lastly, I love the idea of not being locked into a contract when I want 3G connectivity. I really bristle at the idea of having to pay the extra $30 per month for 3G with a smart phone. Or, going with a internet service through one of the broadband companies and paying $60 per month. The month-to-month concept of the 3G service with the iPad is the best part of it all.

I have to admit I have not always been an Apple fan. I resisted the iPod for many years because it bothered me that you cannot replace the battery yourself. I chose another mp3 player for about 5 years before recently purchasing an iPod nano, 5th generation. What sold me on it was all of the new features it now offers. And, once I began playing around with it, I love it even more.

So, I think that Apple has something going with the iPad. Even if it isn't the machine for you, it will force other companies to get more creative in their future tablets. I look forward to seeing what they come up with. In the meantime, I am hoping for the iPad for my birthday present.

Coming up next week: The Voice-over-internet phone service you have never heard of.

Marilea Gray