Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hardware Review: Flygrip




Some inventions are so innovative and well thought out that you simply can’t imagine life without them. Somebody had to invent the wheel after all. While theFlygrip isn’t quite as groundbreaking, I can’t imagine using my iPhone without it.
The Flygrip will attach to practically any iPhone case with a very strong adhesive (Flygrip will provide a basic bumper case at a nominal charge if you don’t have one). That’s one of the things I like about the Flygrip–the ability to bring my own case (and in fact, it isn’t iPhone specific and will work with any phone)
While attached the Flygrip adds minimal bulk to the back of the case and can be used as a horizontal or vertical stand for your iPhone–perfect for those tiny airplane tray tables or really any situations in which you want an easy viewing angle.
The killer feature of the Flygrip is the ability to hold your phone with one hand when the Flygrip is extended. Instead of using a “death grip” to hold your phone, you easily mount your iPhone between your fingers and wear it like you would a ring. These leaves all your fingers free to text or swipe. A few minutes of using this in mass transit and I was hooked on the Flygrip. Holding my phone with my hand instead of between my fingers seems so 20th century now. With all the advances of the iPhone, we still hold our phones just like we did 100 years ago. Join the 21st century and get yourself a Flygrip.
One caveat about the Flygrip. While I absolutely love it, the adhesive had trouble with extremely cold weather. A subzero Kansas winter caused my first Flygrip to detach, so be careful with weather extremes. Additionally, the adhesives didn’t work well on a soft shell bumper cases or any case with significant texture. It needs a solid flat and clean surface to adhere, leaving some cases unable to work with the Flygrip.
Pros: Awesome way to hold your mobile phone and use an existing case without adding much bulk
Cons: Doesn’t work with all cases and may fail with extremely cold temperature
Five out of Five Dogcows

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hardware Review: Fitbit




As the weather starts turning nice and we start shedding the layers of clothing and blankets, many of us have noticed some of the inevitable winter weight gain. The Fitbit is an affordable solution to track your exercise and overall fitness.
The Fitbit is about the size of a small money clip and can be put in your pocket via a clip-on or worn around your wrist. Along with the Fitbit monitor is a a docking/charging station that creates a wireless port connection on your computer. When your Fitbit tracker is within range, the docking station uploads data to the Fitbit website so you can access tracking via the web and the iPhone app.
The tracker is a high-tech smart pedometer. It looks not only at how many steps you’ve taken but how many stairs you’ve climbed and monitors your sleep for you. Taking in account your height, weight, and age, it determined how many calories you are burning based on your activity and basal metabolic rate. Compared to more advanced analyzers such as a heart monitor or the BodyMedia Fit Core, the numbers were consistent. You can easily track your progress throughout the day and set goals for yourself.
The iPhone app also include a calorie tracker, but the database was very limited. Instead I used Loseit! Fortunately the FitBit has an API (http://www.fitbit.com/apps) that allows other programs to interact with your Fitbit. Combining the FitBit with LoseIt! made it very easy to track what I ate everywhere. Other apps include the ability to use the Aria Wi-fi enabled scale so that way you don’t even have to enter your weight.
Similar to such popular social apps as Foursquare, the Fitbit website allows you to compete with friends and earn badges such as having walked 250 miles or your best number of stairs in one day. This gamification makes it easy to create incentives to go a bit farther each day or climb a few more stairs.
According to the Fitbit specs, the device’s battery life is a minimum of three days and average is five to seven days. My personal experience matched that as I would usually only dock it on the weekend and had no problems with battery life. The charging must be via the dock so travelers could have problems if they don’t bring a laptop on a long trip. The Fitbit will only sync with the dock connected to a computer since it has no inherit ability to directly send data to the Fitbit website.
My only major concern with the device was its very small size. When I’d go to the gym or get on the elliptical at home, I’d forget to clip it on when I changed clothes. It was a habit I had to train myself to do: always put on the Fitbit. Once or twice the device had a near fatal run-in with the washing machine as I’d forget to take off the Fitbit before throwing clothes in the hamper. A frantic run to the basement saved the Fitbit before someone pressed the start button on the washing machine.
For $99 the Fitbit delivers a great way of tracking your fitness progress and keeping you accountable. The long battery life and the web interface and APIs make it easy to connect with others working on their fitness and track a variety of factors that can contribute to better fitness. Use this in connection with your own weight loss journey and have fun with your process. It makes working out almost enjoyable!
Pros: Fun, flexible and powerful way to track your progress
Cons: requires a computer for syncing, small size makes it forgettable at times
Five out of Five

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Book Review: iPhone 4S Portable Genius



This book is a great comprehensive guide to the iPhone 4s and iOS 5.0 in general. The books is organized in a question format with chapter titles such as “How do I configure my iPhone” and “How do I connect my iPhone to a Network” making more of a functional organization than simply a list of features. This allows the book to be used as a reference manual to skip the stuff you already know, and the chapters are further divided on a more functional basis.
Each concept is presented with an excellent description and screen shots so you know you are doing it right and can follow along with the book. Everything is covered in this book: basics, intermediate and advanced topics; not just setup and sync but video editing, iCloud and troubleshooting.
The Genius series is a great product line from Wiley. It retains all the knowledge of an Apple genius without the attitude and the long wait to get to the bar. Purchase this book and go to a real bar with your spare time! Just don’t leave your iPhone there.
Four out of Five Dogcows

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Book Review: iOS 5 in the Enterprise


If you’ve ever heard how cool it was to remotely manage a pride of iOS devices (would they be a pride since they are running the iOS equivalent of Lion?) iOS 5 in the Enterprise is for you.
The book starts off with reviewing multiple device configuration via iTunes directly and along with the iPhone Configuration Utility (iPCU) and all the really cool ways you can limit and lock down features. Want to remove the ability to install apps from an iPhone? There’s an app for that. Well not an app, but a setting in iPCU. Moving up from iPCU is Mobile Device Management and application servers and then finally applying these configurations via wireless and Over The Air (OTA).
The book covers configuration primarily for readers using iOS 5 and MacOS Server 10.7, but also will be useful for users of 10.6, iOS 4 and third party products such as Jamf’s Casper suite. It is not really a hands-on how to guide despite the title. In the introduction the author clearly states “If you’re looking for a cookbook of how-tos, I will tell you now, this is not the book for you.” Instead, the book gives a broad overview and identifies the pain points and tips you’ll need to pursue things yourself. Included in each chapter are links to Apple and third party guides about how to create these detailed configurations on your own and what to watch out for, identified in the side bars as “Big Scary Warning”
After reading this book, I wasn’t confident I could go out and do this myself, but I was confident in pursuing the subject more. The book is more of a coach on the sidelines saying “you can do this,” “you know this” (It’s a Unix system). The author’s humorous and laid back approach to technology really empowes the reader and doesn’t suffer from the dry and stale approach most technical books tend to suffer from.
Until I read this, Mobile Device Management of iOS devices seemed like a big theoretical construct I’d have no interest in. I’m not in an Enterprise after all. Now, besides the ultimate cool factor of these remote configurations (and the fact that Lion server is so inexpensive) I can see use cases within a family or a small business with just a few iOS devices. Enterprise is too narrow of a focus and I’d like to be able to instantly configure and remotely manage the iOS devices in my household or organization. If you are responsible for more than a few iPhones, iPod Touch and iPads in your family or business, this book is a great way of determining if you should be managing these devices via a central interface.
Pros: Great overview of centrally managing iOS devices, easy to read and understand
Cons: Title confusion – the book is neither hands on nor restricted merely to the “enterprise.” Home Office, Small Office and residential readers who have a few devices in their home will find great value in this book.
Five out of Five Dogcows

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Book Review iPhoto ’11: The Macintosh iLife Guide to using iPhoto with OS X Lion and iCloud


Great guide to iPhoto that includes iCloud, Lion and Photostream functions
iPhoto is a great program and understanding the basics is intuitive and easy. To really extract the power of this program, a guide like this helps.
Unlike many tech books, this focuses on practical applications and where to use them rather than a list of features and how to use them. Detailed real-life examples are used to explain confusing (at least to me) concepts such as histograms, gallery effects, and raw. I also found extremely helpful the last sections of the book focusing on printing photos and using the greeting card, calendar and postcard functions. Again, this was about getting stuff done rather than what it could do.
This guide is updated to include all the new features of Lion, iCloud and Photostream as well as the modern ways to use Facebook, Flickr and photo sharing.
Each topic was presented with deleted screenshots and explanations without overwhelming you with details. On average, each topic was about two pages and just enough to understand without getting lost.
Outstanding guide to getting the most out of iPhoto as quickly as possible
Pros: Perfect guide to using the best and most practical features of iPhoto
Cons: Won’t make you look that much better in your own pictures
5 out of 5
Four out of Five Dogcows