Tag Archives: apple

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.


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.

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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!

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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.


Helping My Mom Become Technology Literate

I’m a middle aged high school math teacher and lifelong technology fanatic. I’m also the daughter of two lifelong technology haters. When I was a kid, they wouldn’t even let me use my own money to buy a Commodore 64 computer because it would, “be obsolete in no time.”

I shouldn’t be too hard on them though. When I was in college, Mom bought me one of the first graphing calculators without me even asking. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that they don’t hate technology as much as they fear it. I got them a laptop several years ago, and initially my Mom was very excited. But when she, a woman who had zero computer experience, was confronted with Windows XP and Internet Explore, it was too overwhelming. I guess I was a little too zealous and tried to teach her too much at once. If I wasn’t right there with her she wouldn’t even turn the thing on.

A few years have passed since the failed laptop attempt, and I’m trying a new approach. I gave Mom my old iPhone 4. She can make phone calls and I think she can take pictures. I was surprised to find out recently that she’s also using a few apps that I left on the phone: the weather channel and a couple of news apps.

Since my daughters and I also have iPhones and my nephew has an iPod, I decided to teach her how to text. Since we all have Apple products, we can exchange iMessages for free. Mom was apprehensive at first, but I made her send texts to everyone, and they sent her messages back. She feels pretty good about it now. We just have to send her messages every so often and encourage her to reply so that she gets comfortable with this new mode of communication.

Now that she’s getting comfortable with the whole concept of launching and closing application (that was a major hurdle), she’s actually expressing an interest in using a computer. I took the old laptop (wow it’s slow) and I’ve ordered her a 3G Samsung Chromebook. It’s scheduled to be delivered in two days and she seems genuinely enthusiastic. After I placed the order, she and I sat down and pick out a username and password for her Google account. I got her all set up so that when the Chromebook arrives she can sign in and be ready to go.

I’ll let you know how this turns out.


eBay is a Gadget Fanatic’s Friend

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I think the Samsung Galaxy Note series of smartphones are the best phones ever made…for men…who wear cargo pants.

I ordered a Note the day it was released by AT&T and enjoyed using it as my phone/tablet for a year…until it fell out of my tiny little girl pockets onto a concrete floor and cracked the screen. The phone was still fully functional…but now it was UGLY!

20130323-161406.jpg

First, I consulted YouTube and watched several videos about screen replacement. I determined that replacing the screen myself was iffy and too expensive to risk it.

Next, I checked out eBay. I figured I could pick up a used Galaxy Note or SII, maybe even an SIII pretty cheap. Maybe not. Used phones were selling for more than $300 and ones with cracked screens…$200+

Finally, I knew what I had to do, what I always do, sell my old gadget on eBay and and get a new gadget. In this case I sold my Galaxy Note for $276 and bought an iPhone 5 for $200.

Now my only problem is deciding what gadget to get with the remaining $76.


Smart Watches!

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I’m a watch person…and I’m the kind of person that thought calculator watches were cool. So imagine my excitement when some of the early smart watches started appearing running Palm OS. Now imagine my disappointment when I saw one strapped to the arm of a grown man.

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An average size 1st grader has a larger wrist than me. But I REALLY wanted a watch with a touch screen interface and access to my calendar and todo list (I have memory issues).

Like many people, when the battery died on my watch a couple years ago I didn’t replace it, I started using my phone to tell time. But like I said, I’m a watch person, and all this talk recently about smart watches has me excited again. And they appear to be getting smaller…

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The previous generation iPod nano was attractive when paired with the right strap…

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…and Sony has a similar smart watch

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…but the clip makes it stand out from the wrist too far. Also worth noting, it’s not compatible with all android phones.

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Cookoo has a nice design, but I’ve seen one on a man’s wrist and it looked bulky.

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The Pebble Watch is the most intriguing prospect I’ve seen recently…

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…and it doesn’t look too bulky, does it?

I haven’t even begun to dig into the features of the various smart watches, so leave a comment if you have any advice about choosing one.


Equation Editors for the iPad (or Android Tablets)

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Last year I tried replace my laptop with an iPad. I’m a math teacher and I needed to be able to create and edit word documents that contained equations…lots of them. I found a few apps (like MathBot) that would allow me to create equations. The downside with these type of apps is that they are not word processors. You have to export each equation as a photo or PDF, then you have to paste it into a document you’ve created in another app, then you have to adjust the size and if you have several equations on the same page it is nearly impossible to get them all a uniform size. And there is no editing the equations once they’ve been exported.

It’s a lot of work, and the end product is not that great.

I continued to look for a word processor with a built-in equation editor. I nearly bought a Microsoft Surface RT because it came with MS Office, but the price ($599) convinced me to keep looking for a more affordable option.

I found the perfect solution: Refurbished iPad 2 ($319) + CloudOn (free).

CloudOn is an office suite with built-in equation editor, just like MS Office.

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It’s a web app, so you must have internet access, but finally there’s a productivity suite with a built-in equation editor. I’ve used it on an iPad 2 and a Nexus 7 and it works great on both tablets.

Check out my overview of CloudOn’s equation editor.