What Makes the Nexus 7 So Great?

In my opinion, the best Android tablet on the market is the 2nd generation Nexus 7.
The hardware may be a little on the fragile side, but under normal use it won’t be a problem. Especially when you consider the advantages the Nexus 7 has over other tablets:

– It has the best display on the market.

– It has premium specs at a budget price.

– It gets updates to the OS immediately

These OS updates are great. Have you ever tried to update Android on another device. It’s a pain if it’s even possible. In the video below, check out how easy it is to update Android on a Nexus.

I received a notification that said System update downloaded, touch to install.

When I did, it let me know that this was the Android 4.3 System Update. There was a button that said Restart & Install…so I did, and the Nexus 7 did the rest.

The Nexus 7 is powered off and rebooted on its own, then it began installing the system update. It took several minutes, so be patient.  When it’s done installing it continued to boot for a few more seconds. The Nexus splash screen appeared for a few seconds as well. When the device is done booting, it will begin upgrading Android:
– First it will optimize your apps. The length of this step will depend on the number apps you have installed.
– Then it will start your apps, upgrade contacts and media databases, and finish booting.

…and that’s it. You can unlock your screen.

If you look in the notifications you’ll see that apps are still upgrading so your tablet may be a little sluggish until its done.

*Update Description:
This software update will upgrade your Nexus 7 to to Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, which improves performance and stability. Create restricted profiles, for example, to limit family members’ access to apps and  content on your tablet or to secure a tablet in kiosk setting. Capture your thoughts on the go with Google keep. To find out more, visit http://www.android.com/about/jelly-bean/


Apple Certified Refurbished iPad mini Review

If the iPad mini’s relatively high price is holding you back from purchasing one, maybe you should consider an Apple Certified Refurbished iPad mini.

Here’s how retail prices compare to refurbished:

Wifi only
Memory Retail  Refurb  Savings
16GB        $329     $279      $50
32GB        $429     $359      $70
64GB        $529     $439      $90

Wifi + cellular
Memory Retail  Refurb  Savings
16GB        $459     $389      $70
32GB        $559     $469      $90
64GB        $659     $549      $110

Refurbished iPads arrive in boxes that resemble retail packaging.  The only notable difference is the absence of the picture on the lid. Other than that, everything else is identical. My iPad came wrapped in cellophane and when I removed it, the tablet did not have a scratch, a fingerprint, or even a speck of dust.
That’s because Apple tests and certifies all refurbished products. All refurbished iPads include a brand new battery and outer shell. They also include a 1-year warranty and you have the option of purchasing an AppleCare Protection Plan.

I have the 16GB wifi + cellular model. I chose the white & silver version because finger prints and scratches appear to show up more on the black & slate version. The natural aluminum back still picks up finger prints, but they’re not as visible.

The ipad mini is well designed and feels solid but light. The volume buttons are on the right side with nothing opposite them on the left. That’s an important design element for me, because I hate accidentally putting a device to sleep when I’m trying adjust the volume with one hand. The sim tray is also on the right side with the lightning port and speakers along the bottom.

I use the switch above the volume buttons as a mute switch, however, in settings you can change it to a rotation lock.

On a Nexus 7, the power button is Above the volume rocker so I frequently turn the tablet off when I’m trying to adjust the volume. I like the placement of the power button on iPads…up top & out of the way.

I’m not an audiophile, but the sound seems sufficient. I do prefer headphones when watching videos, but earbuds are not included with iPads, so I use the ones that came with my iPhone 5 and they sound great.

The iPad 2 and iPhone 4 charge via a 30-pin connector where orientation matters, while the iPad mini and iPhone 5 use the new Lightning connector. Unlike the original charger, the lightning connector works regardless of direction.  The iPad mini comes with an  iPhone style  power brick.

When I was researching the iPad mini, I was concerned that the screen would feel cramped. Many of the apps I use have an iPad version and a version optimized for the iPhone. But when I’m forced to use productivity apps on my iPhone, I’m usually left annoyed at the lack of space and wishing I had my iPad. I don’t get that claustrophobic feeling when working on the iPad mini. The experience of using an app on the iPad mini is identical to the experience I had using an iPad 2 – I don’t even think about the missing space so, I can stay focused on my work.

This is what editing a document looks like in Pages on an iPhone 5.
iPhone doc

This is what the same document looks like in Pages on the iPad mini.
iPad doc
The iPad mini and the iPad 2 have the same resolution screens – therefore, both displays contain the same number of pixels. However, since the iPad mini’s screen is smaller, it has a higher pixel density and in theory a sharper display. In my experience, I haven’t noticed a difference between the two – I’ve been equally satisfied with both. I have to note, though, some people have expressed strong opinions about the lack of retina displays in the iPad mini. If you have the opportunity, check one out in person and see if the ‘less than retina’ display will be an issue.

So far, I don’t have anything bad to say about the iPad mini. I really liked my iPad 2, and the iPad mini is all the good things about the full size iPad, wrapped up in a more portable package.


Chromecast Setup & First Impressions

I purchased a Google – Chromecast HDMI Streaming Media Player from Best Buy for $35 and received 3 months of Netflix for free. Since I’m already a Netflix customer, they just credited $24 to my account.

I’m impressed by how small and simple everything about this device is…the packaging is attractive, the instructions are simple, and when you consider what its capable of, the Chromecast is tiny.

It’s just a dongle with a small button and micro USB port on the back, an HDMI connector in front and an LED indicator.

Back in the box we have a USB wall charger, an HDMI port extender, a micro USB to USB cable, and some tiny instructions.

Setup is easy. First, plug the Chromecast into an HDMI port on your tv. If the LED indicator doesn’t light up, you’ll need to attach the dongle to a USB port on the tv or an outlet. My tv’s USB port didn’t supply power, so I’m going to use the provided  charger to to plug it into an outlet.

Now that the  Chromecast is receiving power, the LED indicator will light up.

Next, switch your tv to HDMI input…and you should see the setup screen.

To set up the Chromecast, you’ll need a computer with the Chrome browser installed or an android device. We’re using a Nexus 7. Launch the Chrome browser. And you’ll be prompted to launch Google Play. The link will take you to the download page for the Cromecast app. Install the app. I had to give Google my phone number to proceed…

Now open the app and accept the terms.

Select Setup and allow your device to connect to the  Chromecast. Let your device know if you see the code on your tv. Now you can choose a name for your Chromecast.

Then you’ll have to put in your wifi password so the Chromecast can connect to your network.

Once it’s connected, you  can watch a tutorial or just finish setup. You’re still in the Chromecast app, so go back to the home screen and launch Netflix or YouTube.

Even though I couldn’t setup the Chromecast with an iOS device, I can still cast YouTube and Netflix videos from my iPad to the tv …in fact, you can cast from any iOS or Android device that’s logged onto your wifi network…no app is required.

We went my YouTube channel and tried playing one of my old video. When you press the cast icon you’ll be given the option to play the video on your device or on the tv. It just takes a few seconds for the Chromecast to start streaming video…at this point you can do other stuff on your device or just let it go to sleep…the Chrome cast takes care of streaming the video.

When your done casting, tap the icon and send the video back to your device.

Chromecasting works basically the same on both Android and Apple devices. One thing to note is that you’ll have a few more options on an Android device…like access to video playback controls from the drop down notifications menu and from the lock screen. That’ll make multitasking more convenient.

Overall, the Google Chromecast is a great value at $35.


Get an iPad Mini Now or Wait?

It’s about time for us teachers and students to start thinking about heading back to school.  I love this time of year:  shopping for back-to-school clothes, and supplies…and GADGETS!

I decided to sell my iPad 2 wifi and get an iPad Mini 3G, but I was faced with the ever present tech shoppers dilemma: Do I get the current generation or wait for the update?

I watched/read tons of reviews of the 1st gen iPad Mini to make sure it would meet my expectations. I investigated every rumor pertaining to the unveiling of the 2nd gen iPad Mini. I determined that the 1st gen iPad Mini exceeded the iPad 2 in performance – so it would be an upgrade for me. And, if the rumors are correct, the 2nd gen iPad Mini will be revealed sometime in the next 2-6 months – not very specific.

If a retina display is a high priority for you, and you can wait up to 6 months (according to rumors), and you don’t mind paying full retail price, then wait for the 2nd gen.

I’m not already spoiled by a retina iPad so even though the resolution of the current iPad Mini is the same as the iPad 2, its smaller display has a larger number of pixels per inch, giving it a sharper appearance. I decided to go with the 16GB iPad Mini 3G that retails  for $459. However, you can get the same model, only refurbished, directly from the Apple Online Store for only $389. Even if Apple announces an new iPad Mini in a couple months, it would probably be well after the 1st of the year before they started showing up in the refurbished store. I ordered the refurbished device. You can watch my unboxing below.


Mom’s Chromebook: Update

I got my mom a chromebook for Mother’s Day to replace the laptop I got her for Christmas several years ago. Teaching her how to login and navigate Chrome was significantly easier than teaching her the intricacies of Windows XP. We bookmarked some sites she was likely to visit. I’ve tested her a couple times and she is able to login and find information on desired websites without my assistance…and those are the only two times that she has cracked the thing open! She may have fired it up when my sister was home, but sister’s almost as technology averse as my mom (but at least she has a Kindle).

Oh well, mom seemed to enjoy browsing antiques on eBay and at least it’s there if she needs it.


Gadget Decisions

Update: I’ve decided to stick with my iPhone 5 for now, so I’m counting on Apple to design the smartwatch of my dreams…

I have a difficult tech decision to make: Apple or Android.

Rumor is that Samsung will be announcing the Galaxy Note 3 in September.

20130704-090102.jpg

I grudgingly sold my 1st gen Galaxy Note when it squirted out of my pocket and cracked the screen. I switched to an iPhone 5 because I like that the compact iPhone fits in my pocket and doesn’t pop out every time I move. However, I’m starting to miss all that you can do with the Note’s screen area and I really miss the S pen. So, I’ve been excited about the prospect of getting a Note 3.

Now Michael Tong from the Apple Byte over at CNet says that his sources are saying that Apple will be launching an iWatch sometime THIS YEAR!

20130704-091810.jpg

I have always wanted a good smartwatch – that means useful features and attractive design. I think Apple is most capable of delivering…but…it will be one more device locking me into the iOS ecosystem (I also have an iPad 2).

Decisions, decisions…at least I have some time to weigh my options.


Sony Vaio E11 Ultraportable Laptop Review

20130608-085210.jpg

The Sony Vaio E11 falls into the ultraportable category which means it’s more capable than a netbook, yet not quite up to the standards of an ultrabook.

Netbooks typically have 10.1″ screens, traditional spinning hard drives, are powered by Intel Atom processors, and are housed in 1+ inch thick, plastic bodies. As a result, netbooks are slow, but affordable computers.

At the other end of the laptop spectrum you have ultrabooks (think MacBook Air). These laptops typically have 13″ screens, SSD drives, are powered by Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processors, and are housed in attractive metal bodies that are less than half an inch thick. Ultrabooks are fast, expensive laptops.

The Sony E11 is a nice compromise. This ultraportable has an 11.6″ screen, a traditional spinning HD, and is powered by a dual core AMD processor. The plastic body is nearly an inch thick, but Sony’s clever design masks the thickness. Here is a complete list of specs.

What I like about the Sony Vaio E11:
-adequate processor
-size
-design
-large HD

What I don’t like about the Sony Vaio E11:
-trackpad lacks responsiveness
-fan noise
-cheap, plastic feel
-battery life (3-5 hrs)
These negative points may be deal breakers for some, but they were acceptable compromises for me.

Check out my video review.


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