iTone-Deaf

I hate to keep telling people I’m a big fan of Apple, just before I criticize them. For one thing, it sounds so fake; for another, it’s just not as true as it used to be.

Yes, at one time, almost every media device I owned had the Apple brand on it, and I was a happy camper. iPhone, iPod, iPad, iTunes, MacBook; you name it and I had an Apple device that did it. However, over the past few years, I drifted away from the Apple fold and discovered other devices and other platforms.

Yes, I’m talking about Android.

Do I believe Android is better than iOS? No – and yet, the Android operating system had made great strides. Let’s be clear – Apple basically invented the successful Tablet and mobile computing platforms. However, with Google Play and Amazon, the Android user can find most of the content of the Apple iTunes store (many times at a slightly lower price!). You can’t find much in the way of older content – those classic or, perhaps, cult classic movies and TV shows, but new movies are released in Google Play at the same time as on iTunes.

So why am I now criticizing the very platform and ecosystem to which I was so happily devoted? I have three basic reasons;

  • Failure to incorporate the Micro SD:
    • I have a 16GB Apple Mini Retina. It is a beautiful tablet, but after loading the ever-growing iOS and the default applications, I have 10.8GB left.
    • The average HD movie is approximately 4GB in size. For example, “The Avengers” weighs in at 5.93GB, “Big Hero 6” is 3.21GB, and “Les Miserables” wins the prize at 6.05GB.
    • I can load 2, perhaps 3 of these movies if I want to watch them away from the friendly confines of a wireless internet network (like when flying on an airplane). That leaves little space for music or other apps.

Without the ability to use a Micro SD expansion card, I’m stuck with loading a few movies, apps, and music files for my trips. Oh, I have a few other options; load the Standard Version (SD) movie format, which is far less in size, but then why buy a Retina display? I could use an expensive wireless hard drive, but the iPad won’t play iTunes purchases movies or music (Purchased MPEG-4 video and AAC music format – Apple proprietary) from such a drive – I’ve tried!  I could also buy an iPad with more memory – but that is another expensive option.

The iPad Mini 3 with 16GB of memory and a 2048×1536 resolution screen costs $399. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4” with the same 16GB of memory and a 2560×1600 resolution screen costs $349. It also has a Micro SD card slot that can handle up to a 64GB card. That’s 4 times the base memory, all available for content – no operating system files. Plus you can switch out the SD card – tailor a card with the content for specific moods or purposes and change them on the fly, accessible from the SD card slot on the side of the device.

Let me see – better resolution, the ability to add substantial memory (SD card prices have plummeted, a class 10 64GB SD card will now cost you less than $35), a growing ecosystem of movies, TV shows, and apps, and for less money! Hmmm, let me think about that one!

  • iTunes just keeps getting worse – I don’t know who designs iTunes, but he or she really doesn’t like me! The new interface with iTunes 12 (and now with 12.1) is confusing, frustrating, and is confusingly frustrating!

I work with computers every day and have for the last 25 or so years – I’ve even designed software interfaces. The rule of thumb is to make it simple to use. iTunes used to be, but someone sneaked into the kitchen and added needless complexity to the cookie dough.

The result is not user friendly; in fact is looks like someone us just trying to tick me off! Finding a movie or a song is more difficult than before. Why? Don’t look at me. And the competition is gaining. While Google Play or the Amazon Music store is not iTune’s equal, they are getting better. The apps still trail in number and quality – the most glaring proof is no Amazon Instant Prime app for Android (yet), but watch out, Apple. That sound you hear is their footsteps gaining on you.

  • Justifying the cost is getting more difficult: I know, I know, Apple is a premium brand and one must expect to pay more for a premium brand. However, have you looked at a Samsung Tablet, or the Amazon Fire HD? Others are producing high quality products that cost less and do more (re: my Micro SD rant).

With profits soaring through the roof and its bank account bursting at the seams, Apple is flying high right now. And while I fully support capitalism with all its warts and freckles, there is a limit to what people will continue to pay for a product not that much more advanced than the alternative. And while I am also not an Android acolyte, I enjoy seeing them succeed – competition is good for everyone.

Will Apple listen? The new larger-sized iPhone 6 proves that it can. With its superiority in hardware, operating system, and ecosystem fading, Apple needs to listen more.

When a Pebble is not a small thing…

It seems like everyone is rushing to create, design, manufacture, and market a “Smart” watch.  The GERD likes watches. He had one of those LCD watches back “In the day”.  You know the one you had to push the button to see the time.  So, the GERD’s been geeking on watches for some time.  In the last several years it’s been difficult to find a good digital (“less than Smart”) watch.  I define a good watch as one that has several time zones, a countdown timer, stopwatch, and a display that lists day and date; a nice look, comfortable band, and a size smaller than a dinner plate is also desired.

With the explosion of “Tiny Technology” in the last several years, the poor old watch was left behind.  Computers, tablets, music players, and Blue Tooth headsets have all grown in capability while shrinking in size.  Your average 7” tablet has far more computing power than the Apollo Capsule that took men to the moon.  Where is the technological evolution for the watch?

Enter the Pebble… an interesting name for a really big technological achievement.  Leveraging existing technology in an innovative package, the Pebble will push everyone else interested in claiming a piece of this growing market to be better.  I read about this new watch several months ago because it was a “crowd sourcing” effort.  The developers obtained the needed funding (within six days, the project had become the most funded project in the history of Kickstarter) and produced the first prototype.

Those who invested were the first to get the new product.  However, the “little Pebble that could” was beset by some initial difficulties – some failed to work at all.  The Pebble team kept working, making improvements and released its first mass produced version in Jan 2013.  In May 2013, the Pebble team released the full Software Development Kit (SDK) which allows third party developers to write programs for the Pebble – this is where the success or failure of this effort lies – without aggressive third-party app support the Pebble is a nice looking but expensive ($150) simplistic watch.

During a recent road trip the GERD got his Pebble on after a visit to a Best Buy near Malbis, Alabama.  Finding these little jewels at a store has been difficult – until recently Best Buy was the only retailer to carry them (AT&T recently announced they will start selling them as well).  You can get them online, but the GERD was hesitant to invest blindly in a new gadget with a history of problems.

I’ve been Pebbleing for several weeks now.  It has a great, easy to see and read display; setup was a snap and it linked to my Galaxy S3 without a hitch.  I love the alert – the watch vibrates (quite strongly) rather than making a sound for incoming emails, instant messages, clock alarms, or anything else you set up.  No sound to embarrass you in a crowd (like those annoying phone ringtones!)  Battery life is rated at 7 days between charges – I’ve seen nothing to dispute that although the GERD does tend to charge his gadgets frequently.

The Pebble downside:  It has a unique charging attachment, violating one of the GERD’s Gadget rules.  Don’t lose it or you will be buying another one.  The Pebble lacks of some basic watch functions; stopwatch, countdown timer, and multiple time zone support (although when linked by Blue Tooth to your Cell Phone it changes time as your phone does in new time zones; in a stand-alone mode, you have to manually change the time.)  Hopefully the third party app developers will come up with these functions, or the Pebble team will add them in a future software update.  Speaking of third party apps, at present there are only a few apps, my unscientific review found approximately 100.  Some of these are pure fluff (fancy watch faces), some relatively useful (Calendar, agenda, SMS list).  Go to the Google Play Store to look for yourself if you’re pondering a potential Pebble purchase.

Bottom line: I like my Pebble, but I want it to get better.  Pebble Developers – Add those basic watch functions and keep the third party app developers working nights and weekends and you just may show Apple and Sony a thing or two!

Sorry Gertrude!

The GERD has his share of maladies – a bad knee, a Thyroid that went AWOL several years ago, Sleep Apnea, and a condition known as ShortFatUgly-ness.  All that is bad enough, but there is one condition that really bugs the GERD.  Way up, way, way up, inside my right ear sits a lady (I call her Gertrude) who plays an organ.  This is a special organ – it has only one key, a real high key, and Gertrude plays it ALL THE TIME!  I went to an audiologist last year and he had a name for it, Tinnitus, also known as “ringing in the ears”.  Only mine isn’t a ringing, it’s that real high-pitched key that Gertrude plays ALL THE TIME.  My audiologist was very nice; he gave me a very useful piece of advice.   He said, “GERD, silence is the enemy”.  Once I finished giving him that strange look that only the GERD can (ask my daughters), it started to make sense to me.  When I’m in a really quiet environment, Gertrude really goes to town on her organ.  The quieter it is, the louder she gets.  Ever tried sleeping with that going on in your head?  What my Audiologist told me was to go to sleep at night with some noise, any noise, to take my mind off of Gertrude (he doesn’t really call her that, only I do).  Otherwise she keeps me up all night with her one note song of torture. 

But wait a minute; the GERD’s wife doesn’t have Tinnitus!  How unfair would that be; “sorry dear but Gertrude demands that I play music so I can sleep.  What’s that, you need sleep too??”

To every problem in life there is a technological solution (OK, that’s not really true but it’s fun looking for one).   Like many of you I have used, from time to time, a blue tooth headset with my cell phone.  These tend to be large, expensive, and weak on battery life.  When looking for a technological solution to Gertrude I found a blue tooth headset that is not large, not expensive, and not weak on battery life.  The Plantronics Marque M155 Bluetooth Headset is small in size and fits comfortably and securely in the GERD’s offending ear, and lasts for several hours on a single charge.  It syncs easily and rapidly with my Samsung Galaxy S3, my iPad Mini, and every other blue tooth capable device I have.  I wear it to bed (don’t laugh; I have a condition, after all!).  I play a movie or a music playlist from my Nexus (in its docking station on my night table).  Once the movie/playlist is done, the Plantronics stays unobtrusively in my ear.  Sleeping on my back or on my left side helps.  Even if it pops out during the night, no harm is done.  The best thing is that this beauty only costs around $30.  That’s a deal in the GERD’s book of technological solutions to life’s problem!

 I wear it driving to work (listening to my favorite book from Audible).  I wear it at work listening to Pandora.  Since it’s in only one ear I can still hear conversations, the phone, and my email alert.  I wear it while shopping, doing chores around the house; I even wear it on the airplane.  Having one ear available to hear things is an advantage in every situation, except where certain relatives are concerned.

 The sound quality is really good, if only in one ear.  Sound controls are easy to use; it’s so small and light that I forget it’s there.  And yes, you can also use it to make phone calls!  Call quality is quite good (so I’m told by those who call me), and when the call is concluded the music/Audio book takes up where it left off.  I have 5 of these things and I use them everywhere.  They recharge (quickly) with a standard micro USB connector.

So my audiologist was correct, silence may be my enemy, but with my Plantronics blue tooth headset, I’ve made peace with Gertrude.  She’s not really a bad person, but I wish she would learn to play a new note!

Did the GERD Leave Apple – Part 2

Wait a minute! Am I having a mid-life tech crisis? Have I considered wondering away from my true love, Apple, towards a flirtatious encounter with Android? I’m feeling flush and a little dizzy…I need to sit down and think about this. It’s all so dangerous and yet exciting!

Will the GERD leave Apple for Android? Will leaving make the GERD happier or would he regret leaving? What would happen to the kids (all that iTunes content)? Tune in next time to see if the GERD leaves Apple!

The GERD has taken his summer break to consider his options, for he has much to think about.  Apple or Android; the walled garden of iOS or the wild wild west of Android.

When last we left our Technological Hero the GERD was facing a mid-life tech crisis.  He had flirted with Android; he had winked and smiled at a pretty face other than his faithful Apple.  What exactly happened and what are we to learn from this experience.

The GERD obtained the iPhone 5 as soon as it hit the streets and while it is an improvement in every way over the 4 and the 4S, the GERD came to a startling realization.  The iPhone had become STALE!  “Did he just say the iPhone 5 was STALE?” – oh yes, he did.  There is nothing wrong with the iPhone; there is just nothing really new or exciting about it.  Yes, they did make it a bit larger, but not large enough.  Most of the other (ah hem, Android Phones), are larger.  The iPhone 5 has a 4” screen, newer Android screens  run from 4.7”to 5” in size, even up to 6.3”  (Ok, that may be too large!).  Remember when smaller phones were all the rage?  Now everyone wants to watch things on their phones and that takes a larger screen.  The Android OS is maturing as is the Play Store (Android’s version of iTunes).  Android tablets are getting better; better screens, more power, expandable memory (something Apple refuses to do!).

There were two watershed moments that swayed the GERD more towards Android. (1) the price of the new iPad Mini, and (2) the new Samsung Galaxy Phone.  When the iPad Mini was announced it was supposed to compete with lesser priced smaller tablets like the Nexus and the Kindle Fire HD.  To compete with those offering, one would think that the price would be similar – somewhere in the $200-$250 range.  It came it at $329 (more for higher capacity units).  That decision really confused me; however, the Minis flew off the shelves.  But I never truly believed anyone could compete with Apple in the Tablet arena.  However, I grew impatient with my iPhone 5; the touch accuracy was a little off (maybe it was just my phone, but others have complained about the same thing), there was nothing really new about the thing and the screen seemed too small, especially after looking at the Galaxy S3.  So, I got one, and I have not regretted it.

So the GERD has left Apple, and yet he has not.  No one makes a Tablet like Apple (My iPad 4 and iPad Mini speaks to my opinion of Apple tablets).  However, the iPhone needs a serious jolt.  Come ‘on Apple, give me a bigger screen, expandable memory, and maybe something new (a stylus?). Give me a reason to get excited about the iPhone again!

Did the GERD leave Apple?

For those who know the GERD, you know I’ve been a big fan of all things Apple since 2003. You see, I’ve loved books on tape for years (hang with me, I’m going somewhere here); back to when they were only available on cassette tapes (hundreds of them!). Then I discovered Audible.com; away with you tapes and CD’s, its digital content for me! The problem was MP3 players in 2003 either didn’t have a large enough hard drive, or couldn’t handle the proprietary Audible format. Then I found out that this new iPod thingy achieved both of these lofty goals; I left a vapor trail to the nearest Best Buy and purchased one (I still have it!). That led to a procession of iPods, iPads, and even iPhones. I love the engineering, the innovation, and the ecosystem that Apple brings to the table.

Then a funny thing happened – others started to catch up. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Apple got an awful lot of flattery. While most of the attempts came up short (anyone remember the HP Slate?), slowly but surely the quality improved, and ecosystems caught up. I wrote last August about Android’s improvement (https://techgerd.com/2012/08/14/apple-or-android-ive-used-both/). Google Play and Amazon have stepped up with great content and more apps. The hardware is getting better as well. Better cameras, better processors, better screens, and bigger screens! People wanted bigger screens and the new Android phones have ‘em. Apple has yet to embrace these shifts in design, stubbornly clinging to its strive for a smaller product. I find the larger screens offered by Samsung very appealing; very appealing indeed! In fact…

Wait a minute! Am I having a mid-life tech crisis? Have I considered wondering away from my true love, Apple, towards a flirtatious encounter with Android? I’m feeling flush and a little dizzy…I need to sit down and think about this. It’s all so dangerous and yet exciting!

Will the GERD leave Apple for Android? Will leaving make the GERD happier or would he regret leaving? What would happen to the kids (all that iTunes content)? Tune in next time to see if the GERD leaves Apple!

Battery Up!

Did I mention that the GERD travels?  Did I mention that when he does he HATES to run out of juice for any of his technological friends?  Is there anything more sad that an iPhone, iPad, or Galaxy (fill in the blank here) that’s as dead as Julius Caesar?  Don’t you hate it when I ask a bunch of questions to start a blog?  Sorry!

The answer to your power grid-less needs is a good external battery.  Now these things can be expensive, heavy, and not very good so pay attention to the GERD and he will steer you straight.  There are two batteries I recommend for the serious Tech Geek who either travels or lives in fear of zombie attacks during power outages. The first is for your typical phone or media device; the second is the “Mother-of-all-batteries” to meet any need you may have, including laptops.

First, the Anker® Astro3E External Battery Pack Charger.  My go-to external battery for my iPhone and hotspot device, the Anker packs 10000mAh in a battery just a bit larger than your Samsung Galaxy S3.  That will give you 4-5 full charges or 40 hours of talk time to iPhone 5 / 4S / 4 / 3GS, 3 full charges for Samsung Galaxy S3, or a full charge for iPad / iPad 2.  It has 2 USB output connections (marked “Apple” and “Android”) and charges via a micro-USB connection (thus fulfilling the GERD’s requirement for standardized connectors).  It comes with a spring USB power cable with 4 interchangeable connectors (including micro/mini-USB and 30-pin Apple adapter).  If you are using the iPhone 5 or new iPod MP3 players, bring your own Lightning cable or adapter!

Second is a battery I would marry if I were not already a happily married man!  The Tursion Ultra Capacity High Quality 33600mAh Portable Charger External Battery Pack Power Bank Charger for Laptops and Notebooks packs a lot of power in a surprisingly small (pink) package.  About the size of a paperback book, albeit a heavy one (8.4 x 0.8 x 5.1 inches; 1.8 pounds), this jewel has a USB and proprietary plug; it comes with a variety of tips (14 to be exact) for all your devices including laptop computers!  If anyone makes a device that one of these tips won’t fit, let them be banned from the Kingdom, ever to roam the wastelands, unloved and unmissed. I used this on my trip to Hawaii last month; 11 hours in the air each way and I never tapped it out.  This battery ends your need to recharge anything!

Listen to the GERD!  If you need power for your phone or MP3 player, go with the Anker – if you need enough power to fight off zombies, the Tursion will do it for you; both for a reasonable price!

Alternate Tech Shopping

Let’s face it, technology can be expensive.  In the GERD’s super-secret East Coast electromagnetic fortress I have many examples of such expensive items.  A long time ago I learned that when it comes to electronics, you get what you pay for.  However, over time I also realized that you can pay less for the same thing; thus the rise of the “alternative” shopping sites.  Long before Amazon became to end-all be-all place to shop online, the GERD searched the web from end to end looking for better prices for good technology.  It started with MP3 players, then DVD players, PDAs, and then…the mother lode…iPods!  I managed to acquire quite the stockpile of gadgets (for the coming electronic apocalypse) for less than factory prices.  I could keep this critical information to myself (I do have a security clearance, you know!), but that would be most un-GERD-like of me.  Before I let you in on the secret, here’s the catch.  These are almost always older models, usually one version off of the current one, but still a deal for those looking for one.  Here are my top three “Alternative” tech shopping sites;

Ubid.comSign up for an account and then let the bidding begin.  Not restricted to just electronics, Ubid.com really got me to research prices and find great deals for MP3 players, DVD players, even desktop computers.  Find the current price and outbid it, repeat as necessary until either you win or decide the price is too high for you.  You can monitor the bidding process or sign up for email alerts when you are outbid.  Go with known brand names; everything comes with a 30 day warranty – I’ve never needed to return anything.  Look in from time to time and occasionally you can really snag a great deal!

 AtAuction.com – A Ubid-like bidding site that offers more than just tech.  Both sites even offer collectables, including Coins.  Between Ubid and AtAuction you should be able to find something interesting.

 Newegg.com – This is not a bidding site but it offers great prices, especially for components and accessories like flash memory cards and headphones.  A set of Sennheiser Wireless Infra-red Stereo TV Assistive Listening Sound System (Set 830-TV) that lists for $210.09 at Amazon goes for $179.95 on Newegg.

Listen to the GERD; if you are going to keep buying electronics and you’re not Donald Trump, use these sites to find the best deals to feed your Tech Monster!