Wednesday, October 19, 2016

2016 Cell phone wrapup

Is your contract up and you're starting to look at upgrade options? Or, are you finally ready to make the leap to a smart phone? If so, I'll give you a quick rundown on the latest models launched this fall.

Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

It seems like all we've heard about the new iPhones is the lack of a headphone jack. That may be a deal breaker for some. But early reviews have talked about the amazing camera on the 7 Plus. It now features a second lens for telephoto. And there will soon be a software update which promises to offer new portrait possibilities. Other than that, the usual minor updates in hardware. This new model purports to be water resistant. The new color for this year is jet black - fingerprint magnet. iPhone continues to be a solid seller with reliable and predictable updates from Apple and very good resale value. And it offers seamless integration with other iOS and Mac OS products.

iPhone 7 starts at $649
iPhone 7 Plus starts at $769
Available from all carriers, many retailers as well as Apple Store
Previous years' models available at discounts.

Review from the Verge -


Samsung is suffering greatly from the adverse publicity associated with its burning Galaxy Note 7. They've been recalled twice now. If you should happen to find one for sale, DON'T BUY IT! And if you have one in your possession that you're hard pressed to give up, get the fire resistant containers and/or take it back to your point of sale. But GET RID OF IT NOW!

That said, Samsung still makes other great phones and devices. The Galaxy S7 has no battery issues and is a well regarded new model in the very popular Galaxy S series. It also comes as the Galaxy S7 Edge. The Edge is larger and has a curved display. Both are water resistant.

Some of tech pundits recommend a Galaxy Note 5 for those with an earlier Note who are looking to upgrade and/or for those who are really attracted to a stylus.

Galaxy S7 Edge starts at $729.99
Galaxy S7 starts at $672.99
Available from all carriers and most retailers.
Previous years' models available at discounts.

Galaxy S7 Edge Review -

Google Pixel

Google recently unveiled its new Made by Google entry into the Android smartphone market: the Google Pixel and Pixel XL. These are designed by Google from the ground up but manufactured by HTC. This is a departure from the Nexus phones where Google contracted with various manufacturers to design a phone for Google.

Not surprisingly, this flagship phone from Google makes excellent use of all Google services from the newly renamed if not reworked Google Assistant to Google Play Music to Google Drive for storage... What's different this time is that it's also top of the line hardware with an excellent camera. The Pixel is also designed to work with Google's new VR system the Daydream View. This is due to release in November. Those who preorder the Pixel will get a free Daydream View unit. Pixel owners are also offered the option of signing up with Google Fi service for wireless access. This is no doubt a more attractive option in some areas. In Billings, you'd be relegated to 2G data.

Pixel starts at $649
Pixel XL starts at $769
The only carrier offering it for sale is Verizon. But unlocked version will work on other carriers and is available from Best Buy and Google Play Store

CNET Google Pixel Review -

Mid-Range Phones

I think the CNET review pretty much sums it up. Samsung Galaxy S7 and Edge continue to be the primary non-iPhone alternatives at the top of the market. But Google Pixel is a fine choice for anyone who is wary of Samsung and/or prefers the pure Google Android experience. But there are a number of well rated Android cell phones including a few who are new to the US market.


Moto Z series
I don't pretend to know enough about the numerous models of various Android handset manufacturers to be able to recommend one over another. I do know that these are phones which get overwhelmingly positive reviews. The Moto Z Play is the least expensive model. The top of the line is the Moto Z Force and is apparently available only from Verizon. All models in the Moto Z series are modular, meaning you can buy accessories called Moto Mods to change different aspects of the phone. You can buy a zoom lens, speaker, projector, power pack batteries with or without wireless charging as well as customizable backs. Nice idea but I don't know enough about it to know whether or not this is really a useful feature or more of a gimmick.

CNET Moto Z Play review with comparisons to other models in the series

Moto G series
There's also the Motorola budget series. Reviews say that these reasonable phones. The Moto G4 sells for $149.99

Motorola phones are available from carriers and retailers. The exception are the Droid versions of the Moto Z models that are exclusive to Verizon.
CNET Moto G4 review -

OnePlus 3

This is the third generation of a smart phone that has been well reviewed and regarded by tech enthusiasts. Earlier versions were invitation only. This the first one that seems widely available. It has a lot of the features of higher end smart phones at a mid range price. OnePlus has their own customized version of Android, Oxygen OS but I haven't heard any complaints about it.

Sells for $399 from the OnePlus Store -
International version available from Amazon at higher price. I'd go with manufacturer.


Huawei is the Chinese cell phone company that manufactured the last Google Nexus phone - the Nexus 6P. They have only recently begun marketing their phones directly to US consumers. The model currently available in the US is the Honor 8. This phone has a lot of high end features including dual camera.

Huawei Honor 8 is available from major retailers starting at around $390
CNET Huawei Honor 8 Review -

There are numerous other phones by other manufactures worth consideration. As always the array is mind numbing as well. I can say that Windows Phone is pretty much dead as is Blackberry. Too bad for those of us who were rooting for other OS alternatives, but at least the choice is down to iOS vs. Android.

For a rundown and comparison of all the major phones this year thus far:

Monday, February 29, 2016

Biting the Apple

A couple of my friends were talking last evening about iPhones. I heard one ask another why I hadn't talked her into an iPhone and away from a Samsung Galaxy 3, which, btw, I had recommended several years ago. I didn't hear the response. But it did get me thinking about Apple, the appeal of its products and the current controversy with the FBI.

I think Apple products hold a special appeal to people who view technology as a tool that can be used to enhance creativity. That's the market they're appealing to with many of their ads - artists, graphic artists, designers, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, writers, etc. If technology is viewed as an important tool in the creative process, you want it to work consistently. You want it to be maintained and improved on a predictable and on-going basis so that it will continue to enhance rather than distract or detract from your creative process. You don't want to have to spend valuable time worrying about technology or futzing with it. You're probably willing to pay a little more, and customer service like Apple Care and the Genius Bar is invaluable ensuring it all continues to work. At heart, it's a bit of a niche market. But I wonder. It's a comfortable world and easy to get used to. Technology just works. It took me a long time to appreciate that.

The iPhone has confused matters a bit. It's probably the logical choice for someone new to the smartphone market who knows little or nothing and doesn't want to spend a lot of time learning. IPhone is simple and pretty foolproof. But it does tend to be more expensive than its Android counterparts and not as enthusiastically marketed by cellular providers. However, I'd argue, as most don't really do much with their smartphones other than make calls, send and receive texts, take an occasional photo and perhaps check a few apps, it doesn't really make much difference which OS they use. Nor is the issue of privacy terribly important to the average person. They tend to see it in terms of location and call information. I've had several tell me you give that up when you get a smartphone anyway. You give some up when you get and use any cell phone. But the crucial question remains, does it have to be an all or nothing proposition? Shouldn't you be able to choose to keep some information secure and private without having to become a security expert?

To the creative person who uses Apple products including iPhones, privacy and security are about protecting the fruits of their imagination. Their iPhones are likely to be filled with photos, videos, notes: beginnings and continuations of ideas. Who knows what snippets might be misconstrued as having some nefarious intent when taken out of context? Therefore one can appreciate the fact that Apple, the company that provides the tools to aid the creative process, is also showing a dedication to respecting and protecting the content that is produced and stored on those iPhones. This sign of mutual respect will no doubt enhance brand loyalty in the future.

What do you think about Apple's decision to fight the FBI in the courts? Does privacy and security of your mobile devices matter to you? Do you take extra steps to encrypt or in other ways secure your device and/or data?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Windows 10 - You Will Be Assimilated

Ran across this potentially alarming bit of news last week.

Microsoft starts pushing Windows 10 as a 'recommended' update: Microsoft is stepping up its Windows 10 push by making the OS a 'recommended' -- though not required -- update for Windows 7 and 8.1 users, beginning February 1. Mary Jo Foley

This could be good news if you've been planning to upgrade to Windows 10 and just haven't gotten around to it. But, for many of us, this is not in our plans and an upgrade that's snuck in could have disastrous consequences. For example, if you have older computers running older software. Some of this software may not be compatible with Windows 10. And if you have older peripherals like scanners or printers, they may not have Windows 10 drivers.

So, you may want to choose not to upgrade older computers at all. This makes a lot of sense particularly if you're planning on getting new computers in the next year or so and would like to keep the older ones working in the meantime. Or you may just want to upgrade on your own time schedule instead of Microsoft's. At any rate, it would probably be useful to circumvent their automatic upgrade until you're ready.

So here are some directions and screen shots for how to change your update settings in Windows 7.

From the Start Menu, choose Windows Update.

start menu windows update

Click on Change Settings from the left hand navigation barwindows update change settings

You have a couple of choices from this screen. If you have Windows Update set to Install Updates Automatically but you don't want the Windows 10 recommended update automatically installed, you can just uncheck the box that sayse Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates.

Or you can change how you receive all updates to download but choose whether to install or even to check for updates but decide whether to download and install.

But if you change your automatic updating procedures, do make sure you download and install Windows updates on a regular basis as there are often important security updates included.

Finally, if you DO decide to go ahead and upgrade your Windows 7 and/or Windows 8 or 8.1 computers to Windows 10, be sure to backup your hard drives first. Windows does offer a rollback. If within a month, you decided that Windows 10 is not for you, you can go back to your previous operating system. Microsoft is reportedly keeping a backup of your system for that month. Go to Settings > Update & security  > Recovery. But, it's always good to have your own backup, just in case.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Virtual Reality to Enhance Empathy

While most of the talk about VR (Virtual Reality) seems to center around gaming, there are some interesting new uses emerging. VR for those unfamiliar with the term generally involves a headset, computer, headphones and potentially other equipment and is designed to put the user in an immersive environment. So, you can easily see how this would be appealing in video games. As I'm not an ardent gamer, up until recently, I wasn't very interested.

Late last year, the New York Times started experimenting with VR content. They sent out Google cardboard to subscribers. Google cardboard is definitely low end VR but you can put your smart phone in it, attach headphones and start to get a feel for what it's all about. In the NYTimes' case, they provided samples where you could feel like you were part of one of their stories. The first one I tried was a candle light vigil in Paris for victims of the bombing. You could look all around at participants in the vigil and hear them. It does make you feel like you're in the middle of the story. It's a different experience than just reading about it and more emotionally involving than just looking at photos. Here's a TED Talk exploring the possibilities of Virtual Reality along this line:

After January 2016 CES (used to stand for Consumer Electronic Show), I started hearing about other uses of VR including this one as reported by the Wall Street Journal: Getting Old? This High-Tech Suit Simulates Aging. Here is VR being used to give the wearer the experience of the more limited vision and movement that is common among older individuals. Might this make a younger person more empathetic toward his/her parents or grandparents?

Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab is doing all kinds of fascinating research. If you'd like an introduction to VR as well as some information on VHIL's work, here's a piece from a 2013 PBS NewsHour report:

"When I think about virtual reality, I think virtual reality is like uranium: It's this really powerful thing. It can heat homes and it can destroy nations. And it's all about how we use it." Jeremy Bailenson

So, what does all this mean for librarians and educators? As I said in the Holiday 2015 Gadget Guide, it's still early days for VR. Oculus Rift is available for preorder now at $599 and is expected to ship by July 2016. The price does not include the Rift ready PC required to run it. There is a test you can run on your PC to see if it will work. Not surprisingly, my work HP laptop does not have the graphics card, memory or processing power required to run Oculus Rift. Expect to need a newer high end PC. So, Oculus Rift is probably more for enthusiastic gamers and early adopters. But you should probably start getting familiar with VR and some of its possibilities, particularly in learning environments. You can certainly check out Google cardboard. It's available in various guises and sometimes via free promotions. And we should all start thinking about how to harness the energy of this new technology for positive goals.