Category Archives: Laptops

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.


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.


Sony Vaio E11 Ultraportable Laptop Review

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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.


Got Mom a Chromebook

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My Mom and Dad have always been wary of technology. I finally taught Mom to text a few weeks ago and she’s doing great…except that she calls me to make sure I received her text…but I’m not complaining. She can text now!

Mom is starting to realize, though, that she needs to have an email and be able to do some basic web browsing. I explained to her how a Chromebook works and asked if she would be interested and she enthusiastically said yes.

I decided to get Mom a Samsung Chromebook with built-in 3G. It comes with 100MB of data per month and 100 GB of storage on Google Drive free for 2 years. This is perfect for Mom. She won’t have to worry about getting internet for the house and if we see that she needs more data we can bump her plan up.

Newegg and Amazon appear to be the only places you can get the 3G model so I went with Newegg because it was the cheapest. Unfortunately, when the Chromebook came in and I began setting it up, it didn’t take long to realize that the sim card was missing. New egg is in the process of sending me a replacement.

I’ll let you know what Mom thinks.


Laptop Refurb Project Was a Bust!

I had a great Spring Break…the weather was warmer than expected…very Spring-like for a change. However, I spent much of my free time inside, glued to eBay, shopping for deals on hard drives, RAM, and batteries for an old laptop that I wanted to refurbish.  I was so excited about this project because I love playing around with new (to me) gadgets. In addition to that, I was going to get the satisfaction of knowing that I fixed the laptop myself.

I’m a tech fanatic, just not very tech savvy, so I also spent a lot of time on YouTube watching tutorials on replacing the parts I mentioned above. I also had to figure out what to do about re-installing the operating system. The original OS was Windows XP but I didn’t have a recovery disc. I found a Windows 98 recovery disc, but determined that it was too old to be of any use. I decided to install Ubuntu 12.10. This really amped up my excitement – a new OS would make this feel like a new laptop.

While I waited for the parts to arrive, I planned a series of YouTube videos staring me in the various stages of refurbishing my old broken-down laptop.

Well, the parts arrived. The Kid and I began filming Part 1: Hard Drive Replacement…and that’s as far as it got. Apparently, the laptop had issues in addition to the faulty HD. So disappointing. Fortunately, I bought the HD, RAM, and battery from eBay stores that accepted returns.

Well, I have a new project in mind. I’ll tell you about it in the next post.


Spring Break Project: Laptop Refurb

My project this week is to refurbish my old Compaq Presario 2100.

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I sold some stuff on eBay last week, so now I have a few bucks burning a hole in my pocket. I thought about buying something like an Acer TimelineX that I could tinker with. My husband suggested that if I wanted something to tinker with I should dig out the old Presario. He was joking but I thought it was a good idea.

The Presario was collecting dust on a shelf in the basement because it started having HDD problems and eventually quit booting.

I brought it upstairs, plugged it in, and hit the power button, and what do you know…it fired right up! I spent several minutes looking around for a way to reset it to factory settings, like in Windows 7…no such luck. I guess Windows XP doesn’t give you that option. I powered it down because we were going out to eat. However, when I got home and tried to fire it back up – nothing – it had stopped booting again.

I did a little research on YouTube and found that this is called the freezer effect. Apparently my HDD has physical damage. the cold air in the basement caused the metal components of the HDD to contract and move freely again. The effect is temporary, though, and usually only works once.

I did a little shopping and found that I could get a replacement HDD pretty cheap. So, this is my plan for the week: replace the HDD, and while I’m at it, upgrade the RAM and replace the battery. I’ll let you know how it turns out.