Friday, September 30, 2011

GigaOM: How to manage your privacy with Lion’s “Resume” feature

In this article for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I cover some of the privacy concerns with Lion's Resume feature and how to protect yourself.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Review: Microsoft Office 2011 Portable Genius

The Wiley Portable Genius series is designed to be a quick comprehensive guide for a experienced computer user trying to learn a new program. Instead of focusing on all functions, this book attempts to focus on those 20% of the features you'll use 80% of the time. This book is great for someone familiar with computers who has never used an Office Suite before.

Each major program of the Office Suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Outlook) is given an introduction and then a series of in-depth analyses. At the beginning, the geography of the program screen is introduced along with a survey of major menu items and preferences as well as keyboard shortcuts for these functions. For intermediate and advanced users, these intros can easily be skipped. Ideally these menu and shortcut guides should be in the last chapter of the section because new users might get intimidated with the twenty or so different ways to do a simple task.

The book's style is highly visual and focused on functions, answering "How do I" questions. Unfortunately there is often no designation between which functions are new to Office 2011 and functions that have been there since the beginning (Outlook excluded since it hasn't been on the Mac platform for a long time). In particular, Excel's new Sparklines function wasn't covered nor were the collaboration aspects of the Skydrive. While these aren't as important as printing emails or creating formulas, users upgrading from previous versions might have found some coaching useful.

The final chapters of the book briefly cover Microsoft Communicator, Remote Desktop Connection as well as using Microsoft resources to get help with the program.

Experienced users of previous versions of Office for the Mac or PC won't find much value in this book, but for novice users new to the Microsoft family of products, this book will help them transition nicely.

Pros: Adequate guide to Office 2011
Cons: Lacks coverage and specificity of new features

3 out of 5 Dogcows

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Roundup: iPhone accessories to help you get a better night’s sleep

In this post for GigaOM/TheApple Blog, I discuss iPhone devices that help you get a good night's sleep

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hardware Review: PadDock 10

Although the iPad has excellent sound, it will never fool you into thinking it’s a true stereo system. However, wiith the PadDock 10 you get a rich full sound you’d expect from a set of standalone speakers. Unlike many other products, the PadDock was designed for the iPad rather then retrofit from an iPhone solution. This device serves three main purposes: iPad stand, charging dock, and stereo speakers, and does all of them well.

As an stand, the iPad fits securely and snugly into the unit. Other stands for the iPad generally hold the unit in place via gravity or a few clips. Since this is an actual dock, the dock connector holds it in place and the top of the unit has a firm clip that ensure the iPad isn’t going anywhere when the unit rotates. This snug fit does get some getting used to when placing the iPad into the dock or removing it. The rotation of the stand is 360 degrees, but at each 90 degree interval the stand has a soft lock making sure the rotation doesn’t stray. Clips at the four corners prevent you from having to put pressure on the iPad to rotate it. An elegant and stylish black and grey design matches the aesthetics of your iPad.

As a charging dock, the unit allows you to expand the type of cables used to charge your iPad. Included is USB power cord that uses a type A male connector to power the unit instead of the standard charging cable that came with your iPad. The PadDock also comes with a USB to USB Mini cable creating a more standardized solution. To charge, I was able to use a variety of USB chargers including the stub charger that came with my iPad. I liked keeping my original iPad cable connected to my Mac for syncing and using the PadDock to charge my iPad. To sync your iPad to your computer via a PadDock, you’ll need to flip a switch to go from charge to sync.

As stereo speakers, the dock’s sound was outstanding for its size. Compared with other bedside and table solutions that sound tinny, the PadDock had substantial bass and was able to achieve fairly high volume that let me listen to music and watch videos while working out on a treadmill at my home gym. I keep the PadDock in the kitchen to listen to music while cooking and keeping the iPad up out of harm’s way.

Eventually, my PadDock ended up in the kitchen so I could listen to music or view instructional vidoes, keep the iPad safe, and charge all at the same time. Overall this is an outstanding product that serves many functions. If you’ve upgraded to an iPad 2, the PadDock is a perfect way to extend the function and flexibility of your original iPad as an entertainment station.

Pros: Flexible stand and dock charger, quality stereo speakers
Cons: Tricky to move iPad in and out

9 out of 10

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hardware Review: dockStubz and dockXtender


While I’m a huge fan of extreme case protection for the iPhone 4 (my current favorite is the Griffin Survivor), one of the problems is that this extra protection frequently prevents my iPhone from fitting into various docking solutions and cable connectors. Fortunately, two products from CableJive solve this problem. You can have your protection and still keep your existing accessories.

The dockStubz is a simple yet effective 1.3 inch tall adapter that sits between your existing dock and the iPhone (or iPod touch and iPad depending on the situation) The svelte 30 pin male connector is designed to slip through most bulky cases without encumbrance providing a vital link to your existing investments. I’ve used it effectively with the entire Otterbox product line as well as select cases from Ballistic and Griffin. Just in case you need some extra power, the dockStubz also has a mini USB jack that can be used to provide power directly. Great for users who have existing devices that charge via mini USB: no need for an Apple iPhone charging cable.

For situations in which you need not just a more compatible male connector, but a bit of reach, the dockXtender has the same style connector as the dockStubz, but also provides two or six feet of cable extension. I’ve tried other cable extenders but run into the problem of fitting into my case. I could use my dockStubz with an existing cable extender, but why do that when CableJive provides an all in one great solution that protects the integrity of the signal? The dockXtender was a handy tool for using my existing iPhone accessories with my iPad, a total win-win device.

Although I did not test this aspect of the product, Cablejive proactively reports that the dockStubz does not work with the Apple VGA or HDMI adapters.

Both the dockStubz and dockXtender are necessary tools for anyone with a bulky iPhone case who still wants to interact with the existing iPhone accessories, cables, and adapters. Viewing their website, I appreciate their proactive warning to consumers and generous return policy for those with incompatible adapters

Pros: Effectively adapts existing 30-pin devices to practically any case
Cons: Problems with some Apple adapters

Five out of Five Dogcows

Friday, September 16, 2011

Software Review: Disk Tools Pro

Macware’s Disk Tools Pro is an excellent all-around utility for maintaining, optimizing and protecting your Macintosh hard drive. The suite of modules is an excellent addition to the market and possibly your own hard drive, especially older ones.

The primary focus of the program is to test the integrity of your hard drive’s structure and data integrity. Unlike Apple’s Disk Utility and other programs, Disk Tools Pro will proactively monitor your S.M.A.R.T. status and disk space and will allow you to schedule a battery of tests and procedures.

For hard drive testing, some functions such as optimization, volume repair, and scan/reassigning (they call this repair but that is really inaccurate) of bad sectors can be on a boot volume, but may be limited in scope. Full testing and repair requires the drive to be dismounted, which obviously can’t be done on a boot volume. Others tests such as preference file testing, file analysis, backup, broken alias/symbolic link files, and benchmarking can all be done on the primary drive.

Where Disk Tools Pro shines is its ability to schedule most of its tasks, so you can easily backup or clone a drive on a set

schedule or do regular maintenance during off times. Another great feature of this program is the fact it works on older systems running 10.3.9 as well as Apple’s latest systems as of this writing.

Overall the suite has a clean and easy to use interface with sufficient animation and graphics to explain its functions without being confusing or too technical. Each function is presented in either a “cover flow” style fashion or easily accessible from a menu.

The price for all these features is steep at $79.99 and most of functions of this suite can be found in other shareware or freeware programs, but the convenience of having it all in one place and having scheduling is of great value.

Pros: Comprehensive utility suite in a well designed package compatible with older systems
Cons: Cost

7 out of 10

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hardware Review: SleepPhones

If you’ve ever tried to sleep while listening to music on your iPod, you may have realized it was an exercise in futility. The earbud style connectors too often fall out and headphones with a band are incredibly uncomfortable. While you could use a speaker, if you sleep with others, this will surely disturb their sleep.

Enter the SleepPhones: a great way to listen to audio while you are sleeping. As someone who suffers from chronic insomnia, I frequently listen to mp3s designed to help me relax and fall asleep. In order to do this I either need to sleep in a separate room or use headphones. The problem, of course is that headphones are uncomfortable and interrupt or prevent sleep. The SleepPhones have found that balance of a comfortable solution that stays in place and doesn’t get in the way.

The soft fleece headband can be worn over the forehead or, as I often do, use it as a sleep mask to protect your eyes and block out the light. Two adjustable speakers are encased in the headband and can be moved to an exact position on top of your ears. At the beginning I didn’t quite realize this and found the volume too low and disruptive to my sleeping companion. Once I found the proper placement, volume issues were resolved. Note that as you sleep they may move so each night that I have to use them, I have to spend a minute or two to find the proper placement. The long headphone jack allows me to clip the iPod onto the side of the bed or pillow case without encumbrance.

The headband is machine washable with the speaker buds removed, but I’d suggest hand washing as the fleece headband probably is not sturdy enough for continued run-ins with an agitator. I was disappointed the product only had a six month warranty, but I’ve used it for over four months without incident. I’m a bit wary of any product with such a short warranty.

If you are looking for a great solution for audio on your way to dreamland, SleepPhones delivers on its promises. The headband speaker combination allows you to fall asleep and not disturb others in the room.

Pros: Works great as part of a sleep solution
Cons: Speakers frequently fall out of alignment, paltry six month warranty

7 out of 10

Sunday, September 11, 2011

GigaOM: Bandwidth Diet 10 Tips for Managing Your Capped Bandwidth

In this article for GigaOM, I cover tips and tricks for living under bandwidth restriction in light of ATT's new policies

Friday, September 09, 2011

Hardware Review: Otterbox Reflex Case

Although I’m usually a huge fan of Otterbox products, the current iteration for the iPhone 4 has been disappointing. The new “Reflex” case for the iPhone 4 leaves me bored and unimpressed.

The Reflex offers slightly more protection (and a slightly higher price) than the Commuter line in some areas. Similar to the Commuter, it’s a hard shell bumper case combined with some silicone to help with grip and to add some style. Instead of an integrated screen protector, both the Commuter and Reflex use screen overlays. I personally hate those as they almost always show bubbles for me. These bubbles are a greater risk with the Reflex, though, because the case didn’t fit right over the iPhone unless you place the screen protector absolutely perfectly.

Unlike the Commuter or Defender, the Reflex case offers no port protection. The headphone and dock connectors are completely exposed. That is a disappointing and annoying modification to a very important aspect of protection. Both those areas include a moisture sensor that can easily get tripped.

The Reflex’s namesake is a design that absorbs shock along the corners of the case resulting in a slight bounce when dropped. That’s cool and in my brief testing, the case nicely bounced when dropped on those corners. How often does the iPhone drop perfectly along one of those corners? Not very often from what I could see.

Another feature of the Reflex is easy separation and removal of the case. One problem with iPhone cases is that they get in the way of docking station solutions. The Reflex allows you to remove the bottom portion of the case to insure compatibility with devices that use the dock port. This was a handy feature, but I’ve been using a dockstubz to solve that problem. Occasionally as I pulled the Reflex out of my pocket, the case inadvertently separated which kind of defeats the purpose of having a case.

Overall this case offered a few gimmicks that might appeal to some iPhone 4 users, but overall the Commuter or Defender offer better value and protection.

Pros: Nice bounce on the corners, separation of case makes for easier docking
Cons: Difficult to use screen protector, case separates unexpectedly, no port protection

3 out of 10

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Hardware Review: Doxie Scanner

The Doxie sheet-fed “cloud-based” portable scanner is useful, but has some noticeable flaws that may make you think twice before buying it. Reminiscent of the Visioneer Strobe XP, this is a cylindrical scanner that derives power from USB. Unlike the other Visioneer products, Doxie supports both Mac and PC and the key feature of the product is it’s ability to scan directly to the cloud.

After downloading the driver software (no CD is included), the Doxie allows you to scan directly to online service such as Google Documents, Flickr, and Evernote as well as workstation based solutions such as iPhoto and PDF. The software must be running in the background in order for scanning to work, but does not need to be the currently running application.

Pressing on the “heart” button after loading a document begins the scan process. One very annoying aspect of the product is the over-the-top cuteness of that starts with the heart motif. Not only is the scan button a heart but hearts dot the logo on the scanner as well. Even the name Doxie screams cuteness and can either be a miniature dachshund or slang for a lady of the evening: neither of which evokes serious professional work. This is not the type of product I’d pull out at a business meeting.

The software uses a anthropomorphized female version of the scanner complete with a pink (or blue) background as well as fishnet stockings and high heels. I don’t know why Doxie thinks a scanner needs gender, but my British friends tell me that Doxie is slang for a woman of ill repute, so maybe this all makes sense. Fortunately this “feature” can be turned off and you can opt for a simple interface.

The Doxie scanned documents well. In order for the scanner to engage, the item being scanned had to be flush with the right hand side of the scanner and if the item was an irregular size, the scanner might stop in the middle of the scan. The scanner path was slightly curved which caused problems with stiff or irregular documents-I wouldn’t put anything precious through this scanner as I’d often have problems with it jamming.

The scanner software does not include optical character recognition (OCR) but relies on third-party options such as Google documents’ built in (but limited) option or other programs.

For pictures, the software included only basic preset options such as dpi and color vs greyscale. Selecting more esoteric options such as descreening and color depth were limited. The sheet fed aspect of this scanner doesn’t allow you to specify scan area.

Overall the scanner was a great value at $149 even with its saccharine image. For basic document and picture scanning, Doxie is a great choice and the cloud approach is a neat angle to the product. Irregular, precious, or stiff documents should be avoided with this scanner though.

Pros: Value, portable usb-powered, cloud scanning options
Cons: Too cute, sometimes jams

Two out of Five Dogcows

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Hardware Review: Kensington PowerLift™ Back-up Battery

The Kensington PowerLift™ Back-up Battery is an exciting, convenient and portable way to charge your iPhone at a desk or on the road. Its unique stand allows for easy use of FaceTime while charging and a nice boost of power when away from a computer.

It’s compact design folds to 2.5" (L) x 2.3" (W) x 0.7" (D), and weighs 1.76oz - perfect for slipping into your pocket or a laptop bag. The USB connector recesses into the unit and the stand and dock connector folds in as well. No exposed parts means less problems in the long run. No wonder it won a 2011 CES Innovations and Engineering Award!

Although the battery is relatively small at 1200 mAh, Kensignton claims it provides an additional 3.5 hours of talk time. Not a full charge by any means, but a nice little boost as well as an easy way to use FaceTime with its built-in stand. A battery status button has four blue lights to indicate how much of a charge you have. At a retail of $49.99, it’s a pretty good deal for a nice compact external battery charger.

The only negative is that the compact design is hard to figure out at first. It’s easy to fold it out incorrectly and insert the iPhone incorrectly. It takes some getting used to, but otherwise it’s so darn handy!

Pros: Compact and portable, built in usb cable
Cons: A bit tricky to learn

8 out of 10

Friday, September 02, 2011

Hardware Review: Richard Solo 9000 Mobile Charger

When you are looking for true charging power on the road, few external batteries can beat the RichardSolo 9000 Mobile Charger. The 9000 mAh battery will keep your iPhone or iPad charged for a long, long time!

RichardSolo has been an industry leader for iPhone chargers and the 9000 continues that tradition. The device comes in an attractive carrying case that contains a retractable USB charger as well as a standard USB charging cable (to be used as a spare). It does not come with any wall charging unit so you’ll either have to use the AC to USB adapter that came with your iPad or iPod or purchase one from RichardSolo (I’ve been using their dual USB car charger for years). There’s room for it in the case. I’m slightly annoyed that the device doesn’t charge via more standard USB Mini or Micro chargers, but obviously with 9000 mAh some concessions need to be made.

The device charges in about 8 hours and has indicators for 100%, 70% and 30% charge. In actual usage I got almost a full charge for my iPad. The charger is smart enough to know what type of USB charge to provide. It comes with no charging cables so you will have to bring your own and it can charge any device that uses a USB port. I did notice the smart charging was a bit more particular about the cables I used. Not all my USB cables worked on the device, but that wasn’t a real problem. I was delighted to have so much power on the road. I used it to charge a wide variety of USB devices such as my iPad, my iPhone, my personal hotspot, my bluetooth headphones and more. My laptop only has two USB ports so the Richard Solo 9000 allowed me to be truly mobile without sacrifice.

Of course with that much capacity, the device is going to be heavy. It weighs in at about 10 ounces and is a bit bulky, but the case makes it much easier to travel with. The black and silver accents match nicely with Apple’s current design aesthetic and if you didn’t know better you’d think Apple made it.

If you are looking for maximum portability with your iPad or iPhone, Richard Solo’s 9000 mAh mobile charger will keep your going on the road! Excellent capacity and compatibility make this an ideal choice for road warriors like myself

Pros: Outstanding capacity and compatibility with thoughtful accessories.
Cons: Non-standard USB charging cable, bulky

8 out of 10