Saturday, December 31, 2011

Use Cases for the tablet, phone, PC ecosystem

I have to realize that instead of just having only a computer anymore, as I did from 1979 to 2008 when I bought my first smart phone, I now have a computing ecosystem.  I use my phone, tablet and PC together.  Some are better then others for particular tasks, while each can step up and do most of the tasks of the others if need be.

My Family Tech column for January 1, 2012 (Facebook comments about column) is thoughts for the many people who received their first tablets on Christmas Day.  I promised a blog post talking about how you can use your tablet, and phone for that matter, to go beyond the basic tablet functionality of reading, watching videos and surfing the net.

The same holds true for phones.  A smart phone is really just a small tablet, connected to the 3g network (while some tablets are too, mine is wifi only).

Since April of 2010 I have used an iPad, since November of 2011, a Xoom Android tablet running Honeycomb.

By adding apps, usually free apps, I have added functionality in these areas :

  • Productivity
  • Travel
  • Communications
  • Entertainment
  • Games
  • Location
  • Social
  • News
  • Utilities


There is no reason to rush to your PC just do few productive tasks.

 Evernote is the first app that goes into this folder.  I have written here about extensively.  Having Evernote on all your computing platforms let you easily grab and save any information you come across, and recall it wherever you are.

Also handy are any of the apps that let you view Office Documents like Documents to Go, OfficeSuite or others.  On my phone you really only need the free read-only version, while on the tablet I did opt for the version that lets me update documents.

Dropbox goes on all devices.  It is the easiest way to share files across all platforms.

I also have the Google Docs app, a free calculator, a free voice recorder, and Google Goggles in this folder.

I find a PC is still the best writing tool, but adding a wireless keyboard to a tablet makes it easier to enter in text for later formatting and editing on a PC.  Even after I have edited on the PC, a tablet makes a good platform to give it another once over, and is sufficient for small edits like correcting typos etc.

Fire users cannot use an external keyboard.  The Fire does not support Bluetooth currently.


Here I keep my preferred airline booking app, in my case Kayak, and also Tripit for managing all your travel plans, and FlightView.  Flight View saved me just yesterday.  I arrived on a flight, and needed to meet a friend's daughter on a flight coming in 45 minutes later and give her a ride home.  When I arrived, I could not find her flight number on the board for some reason, but FlightView told me she was arriving at the gate across from mine.


In this folder is Skype, my email clients, my IM apps, Google Voice app, and browsers.


Studies are showing a lot of people watch TV with the tablets nearby.  I have a folder containing the IMDB app, so I can easily look up actors and their past roles.  I also use an interesting app called IntoNow that listens to a program, and identifies not only the program, but the episode.

Also here are my photo gallery, video player, Netflix app, TV listing app, pod cast player, music programs like Pandora and Spotify, and ebook readers.


Google Maps, Navigator (if you have it), and other location aware apps go here.


Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus apps all go in this folder.  I actually prefer reading Twitter feeds on my phone, although it is a pain to then read any web links mentioned.  A tablet is a good Twitter consumer.


Apps like Google Connect on Android, or Flipboard on IOS that show news in magazine like format go here.

Also RSS readers like Google Reader.  The Weather Channel app etc.


In this folder I put my devices App Store.  On my Xoom I also have the Amazon App Store.

If you have a Fire, you have the Amazon app store, but cannot easily get the Google App Store.

On the iPad, you have the Apple App Store only.

I also have on my Android phone and tablet a file manager, wifi speed test, and wifi analyzer.  The latter app makes it easy to find wifi dead spots in my home I need to fix.

A really geeky type app that is turned out to be quite useful is a VNC app.  This app lets me see what is displayed on my PC on my tablet or phone, and even control my PC.  Recently I uploaded 20 home videos to my PC, and cut DVDs of them.  With my tablet I could see the progress of each action so I did not have to keep running down to my office.

You also have to install a small server app on your PC to use these.

Most of the apps I have spoken about are free, and available for both IOS and Android.  If I am wrong about one, there is likely a similar app on your platform.

As you can see, tablets can be used for much more then reading, videos and web.  And phones too.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Capturing VHS with your Digital Camcorder

Sometimes I want to document a process so that when others search for a solution, they can find it.

I am converting nearly 20 home videos on VHS for someone we know to DVDs.  I have a Dazzle 90 for this, but unfortunately they do not have drivers for Windows 7.

I looked at buying a new capture device, but was put off by the many negative reviews many had on Amazon.

Then I hit on an idea.  I knew I could run the video from VHS into my Sony digital camcorder, and record to tape, then transfer those tapes via fire wire to my PC.  Was there a way to skip the recording and send the capture the signal the fire wire sends to the PC?

I re-discovered WinDV.    WinDV is a free app for the PC that captures videos coming in from fire wire devices.

Using it, I can play a VHS tape and the video flows out of the VHS to the input on my camcorder, then via fire wire to my PC.  WinDV captures it as .avi files.  Then I use a DVD program to make the DVD.

I hope this helps someone else with the same issue.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Family Tech: Get your own oompa loompa

This week's Family Tech column is talks about virtual assistants.  Wouldn't you like a little affordable help?  You can have your how "virtual" staff.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Would Nordstrom's sell the Macys catalog?

Can you imagine walking into Nordstrom's department store and find they sell a Macys catalog?  Wouldn't you be shocked to find a display featuring the benefits of Ford cars, in a Chevy dealer?

Yet, go into a Best Buy or Walmart and that is what you'll find--them actually selling a competitors catalog.

Both these companies are actively selling the Amazon Fire tablet this Christmas.  Haven't they used a Fire themselves?

The Fire is basically an Amazon catalog with tablet capability.  Amazon is selling it near cost; they are likely losing money on it.  The tablet is designed to show you products from Amazon, both electronic goods like streaming and downloadable music, movies, tv shows, and books, and real goods, that ship to you for free via 2 day Fedex the first month.  That is because the Fire comes with a month free of Amazon Prime.  Normally $79 a year, Prime gives you a year of 2 day shipping with no more cost on tens of thousands of the products Amazon sells.  

Search for an item in the Amazon app, on not only the Fire, but also on your Android or IOS device, and you can choose to see only Prime eligible products.

So, get in a car and rive to a store, or just pick up your Fire that Best Buy and Walmart so helpfully sold you and buy a product, probably for equal or even lesser amount then from the brick and mortar stores.

The Fire is not going to put Best Buy or Walmart out of business by itself, but as Amazon hopes the Fire has a razor blades approach of making money for them going forward, Best Buy and Walmart and any other store selling the Fire will make money now, and have the Fire take small amounts away from them forever after.

Family Tech: Affordable Android Tablets

Are under $300 tablets like the Amazon Fire and Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet worthwhile?  I think so, and this was the topic of this week's Family Tech column.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Family Tech: Cool Tech Toys

Cool tech toys for kids of all ages was the topic of Sunday's Family Tech column.

Remote control toys are certainly cooler and more affordable then when I worked at Loreski's Hobby Shop back in the 70s.