Category Archives: web services

Looking for the best Google Reader replacement, don’t forget the plumbing

the feedly rss reader app on androidGoogle is shutting down Google Reader, its RSS feed collector, in July. Google’s bare bones reader web site was never the greatest way to actually read your RSS feeds, automatically updated collections of all your blog post subscriptions. There were plenty of alternatives for that function — I was using Reeder on my iPad and Press on Android, for example. But Google did provide a couple of essential behind-the-scenes functions and it provided them extremely well.

While I’m not going to miss the bland web site, I will miss Google’s ability to quickly and reliably update blog feeds and, maybe most of all, synchronize my reading history across all my devices. Even though I might read a few blog posts in Press on my Galaxy Nexus or with Reeder on my iPad, it was Google that kept track of which articles I had read and where I left off. Quite a few RSS reader apop makers have promised to build their own replacement back-end but there’s still a problem for omnivorous gadghet users like me — most of the app makers stick to one platform. So if Reeder and Press each start offering their own back-end to sync RSS feedss, that won’t help me because Reeder is mac and iOS only and Press in Android only.

That has me searching for a multi-platform reader replacement, much as I switched to Postbox for my email and 1Password for, well, passwords. So far, the only one I’ve found that I like is called Feedly. It works on the web, iOS, Android and Kindle. It’s also beautifully laid out and designed. I have my RSS feeds split into topical folders. As you can see in the picture above, Feedly lets me know there are fresh posts in a folder by showing it with a bright color. Folders with no new posts are grey. I also looked at Newsblur, which covers the web, iOS and Android. But it costs $24 a year if you follow more than 64 feeds and I didn’t think the apps were as good looking. It also has some social sharing features that seem a bit too intrusive to me.

Right now, Feedly is still running using Google’s back end, so I just had to sign in to my Google account and Feedly grabbed all my feeds and kept my whole folder structure intact. Phew. I also changed one setting. By default, Feedly shows you a sort of spread out, magazine-style view of the latest posts in your feeds, much like Flipboard, but I prefer a simpler list view. So I went to the app’s settings, tapped ‘advanced settings’ and changed the default view from Magazine to List.

It remains to be seen if Feedly, Newsblur — or anyone else — will be able to replace Google Reader’s plumbing with as reliable and speedy a service. I have my fingers crossed but I’ll report back as soon as the new services start coming online.

For additional coverage and suggestions, TheVerge had a good rundown of possible replacements, as did Lifehacker.

iPad, Nexus, Kindle Fire – which tablet should I buy?

Compare the ipad, nexus and kindle fire tablets

What a crazy time to be shopping for a tablet computer. There are so many, many choices. Which tablet should you buy? I have some advice — and please give me your intelligent feedback in the comments section below — on the biggest sellers, all of which I have personally used: Apple’s iPad line, Google’s Nexus family and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD offerings.

Unlike past years, the competition at the beginning of 2013 is hotter than ever, making a decision more complicated than ever. To to simplify, let’s review three basic factors and then I’ll have some advice at the end.

budget | content | uses

budget

How much do you have spend for a new tablet? If you want to hit that magic $199 price point or less, it’s between Amazon’s 7″ Kindle Fire HD and Google’s 7″ Nexus. If you can go up to the $300 to $400 range, you can reach the 10″ Nexus, the 9″ Kindle Fire and the 8″ iPad mini. Heading to $500 and over, you reach the full 10″ iPad.

Adding a mobile broadband radio, which you may want if you plan to travel a lot with your tablet, costs more:

+$100 to the minimum Nexus 7 (also doubles your memory) = $299

+$200 to the entry level 9″ Kindle Fire HD (and more memory) = $499

+$130 to iPad mini = $459

+$130 to the big iPad = $629

(The Nexus 10 and 7″ Kindle Fire HD aren’t sold with built in mobile broadband)

content

A lot of people will tell you that the easy way to decide on a tablet is to review your so-called ecosystem, or the existing collection of digital music, books, movies and TV shows along with any premium apps you have bought. Just stick with your ecosystem, they say. But I think it’s not nearly so simple anymore. Ecosystems matter less than ever.

First, for music, the vendor is all but irrelevant. Music files now a days are no longer locked to any company’s devices with digital rights management, or DRM, software and can be easily (and legally) trafficked among the brands. The new cloud services, Apple’s iTunes Match, Amazon’s Cloud Music Player and Google Music, all keep track of your songs and let you download them onto multiple computers and devices. And how important is owning all your music? At least in my house, the kids today are far more interested in using subscription music services like Spotify and Rdio, which work great on all the devices, too.

Next come ebooks, which sadly do still carry DRM locks. But even here, for most users, ebooks can travel onto many kinds of devices. That’s because the two leading sellers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, provide software to read their ebooks for all the different platforms. I’m a Kindle fan and I’ve read my ebooks on devices not just from Amazon but also from Apple, Google and BlackBerry. Google offers ebook software for Android and the iPad but Apple sticks just to iOS (for what it’s worth, I think that’s reason enough to avoid them completely).

Apps are an in-between case. Many are free or cost just 99 cents, so the lost investment of switching platforms is pretty small. Remember just a few years ago when switching, say, from Windows to the Mac meant spending hundreds of dollars just to restore a few key apps like Microsoft Office. In tablet world, this so-called “applications barrier to entry” is almost non-existent.

And many of the most popular apps are available on all three platforms. Amazon has the most limited supply and Apple tends to have the best new apps. But if you’re wondering, it’s pretty easy to see which apps you may be able to keep if you switch platforms by checking the web stores of Google and Amazon.

There is still one area where you might have serious investments locked to one ecosystem: movies and television shows. Apple’s iTunes store has been around for a decade and I know we’re not atypical with our vast holdings of hard-to-transfer iTunes videos. Likewise, movies and shows bought from Google won’t play on the iPad or Kindle. Amazon has built an app to let you watch its videos on the iPad, though not yet on Google’s Android devices (you can watch via the web site on the Nexus if you are willing to install Adobe Flash software).

Like music, however, video is an also an area where the ownership model is slipping away. Do you watch most of your shows on Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go or some other subscription service app? Those apps are offered on all three platforms.

A final consideration is Amazon’s amazing deals for anyone subscribing to its $79/year free shipping service known as Prime. If you pay for Prime you get access to a ton of movies and TV shows for free. That can save a lot of money in the future in addition to any savings by buying a Kindle Fire now.

So take a survey. Ignoring music, do you have tons of video and possibly ebooks that you bought from Apple for your iPhone or iPod touch? And is it the kind of stuff you want to come back to and watch or read over and over again? That could be a lot of lost value if you switch tablets just to save a little on the upfront cost. On the other hand, Amazon’s ebooks and video can play on the iPad (and sort of on the Nexus) and you get all the free stuff if you subscribe to Prime. Google’s ebooks but not video play on the iPad.

There’s also the rest of our digital life’s ecosystem to consider. For file storage and syncing, calendars, contacts and email, some people are deeply embedded in Apple’s iCloud. Others are all Google, all the time. What do they say about Harry Potter and Voldemort? Neither can live while the other survives? Apple-istas will do best sticking with the iPad. iCloud doesn’t do Android. Google-ites? In the past, I have found syncing Google data to iOS devices to be a huge pain and subject to major limitations, but I should point out for more experienced users, Google has made the process easier recently, as explained by TheVerge. Nexus devices, obviously were made for it. You can also sync your Google account with the Amazon Kindle Fire’s calendar, email and contacts apps but, again, nothing for iCloud.

usage

What are you actually doing with your tablet? When I reviewed the very first Kindle Fire, I said it was a good deal because it could do most of what you wanted to do on an iPad for less than half the price. And that’s still true today. If you want a tablet for mostly web surfing, reading ebooks, watching video, playing the occasional game and doing light email, the Kindle Fire HD line is hard to beat. Amazon has a smaller but more cultivated app store than Google and lags far behind Apple. But the actual hardware devices are pretty nifty, with really good screens, and at a bargain price. They also have the most innovative child control software by far.

Are you going to be doing “real” work or using your tablet as a laptop replacement? In this case, the Kindle Fires are a lot less appealing. They don’t play as well with other platforms. The iPad has plenty of software for writing, making presentations, editing photos and all that plus it benefits from the widest choices of keyboards. The Nexus works really well if your work is often via Google Docs and other Google services.

What about sharing a device or and handing one of these tablets off to your kids? The iPad stinks for sharing, absolutely stinks. Signing in and out of email accounts, iCloud accounts and the like is inconvenient and apps and movies and what not can’t be shared between iTunes store accounts. Given how annoying it already is to move and arrange apps just the way you want them on iOS, having other people move your cheese is no fun either. The Nexus is much better in this area — a recent software update added true multiple user accounts. And the Nexus is smart, storing only one copy of an app or other content that appears in more than one user’s account.

Amazon’s child control feature, called Freetime, brings sort of, kind of the notion of multiple user accounts to the Kindle Fire. It does offer by far the best and smartest child controls of any tablet if a kid is the primary user. The iPad child control screen is a nightmare.

And how much traveling will you be doing? While it’s possible to use the wifi hot spot feature on your phone to connect your tablet, it’s so quick and convenient to have built-in mobile broadband. It’s not free, typically adding about $20 a month to your cell phone bill, or $10 if you have a family plan on AT&T or Verizon. There’s nothing like the feeling of flicking on your tablet and getting right to work without having to mess with wifi sign ons or other devices to get connected.

bottom line

If you’ve considered all the the issues above, you may have already come to a realization about which tablet to buy. People deeply invested in either the entertainment or business-y ecosystems of Apple or Google probably have the most obvious answers. If not, I would suggest that for the most budget-minded, for those planning to use their tablet mostly at home and for more for entertainment purposes, the Kindle Fire HDs are a great bargain. The savings come not just in the lower price but also with all the free content you can access from Amazon.

If you are looking to get some business done, it’s time to spend a bit more for the iPad, which not only has a far more robust and diverse selection of apps but also a better selection of accessories like keyboards, cases and other add-ons (blood pressure monitor anyone?). The Nexus line is second best here by a fair margin but totally workable and far better in the realm of Gmail, Google calendar and voice and all that.

As far as whether to go for 7″ to 8″ screens or the larger screens, think again about your budget and your usage. Small screens are cheaper and work best on-the-go. They’re also good for reading. Try holding a full size iPad in one hand for more than a few minutes – forget it. I don’t love the screen resolution of the iPad mini — both the 7″ Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 are much sharper. But after a short time using a lower resolution screen, it seems not many people can even tell the difference, so I wouldn’t get too hung up on that one spec.

By the way, if you can’t even decide whether to get a tablet versus a laptop or e-ink electronic book reader, I have looked at that question as well.

Online storage prices come down slowly — Apple still the max

Drastic price cutting has hit the online storage space, or so you may read. But, unfortunately, most of the price cutting is for big time corporate users not us little guys. Well, that’s not completely true. There have been some serious price cuts on online storage for us ordinary users since I last wrote about this back in May.

That was when Google switched from super cheap prices to only sort of cheap prices — and you had to sign up to pay monthly instead of paying once a year. Big drag. Google’s prices remain unchanged, starting at $1.20 per GB per year (excluding the free space you get).

But, the competition is heating up some. In July, Dropbox effectively halved its prices by giving you 100 GB, not just 50, for $99 a year. Excluding the 2 GB they give you free, that’s 99 cents per GB per year. And ahead of the updated Kindle Fire tablets, Amazon made a similar move, halving the price of its Cloud storage to around 56 cents per GB (excluding the 5 GB you get free).

Sugarsync has not reduced its prices since May and still sits at $2 per GB per year for starters, falling to $1.02 if you buy the maximum 250 GB plan $1.58 if you buy the maximum 100 GB plan. Apple, too, remains stuck at the high end, charging $2 per GB for additional space on iCloud (excluding the 5 GB free) — and up to a maximum of only 50 GB.

So, slight improvements — I’m not complaining — but not the all-out-war that’s taking place in the enterprise online storage market.

Finally, I’ll add that I have sampled services from Dropbox, Google Drive and Amazon Cloud on Mac and Windows computers as well as on iOS and Android devices. And I’ve used iCloud on Macs and iOS. I like Dropbox best because it just works so reliably and in the manner you expect. But there are benefits from the more integrated services. Dumping photos into my Amazon Cloud drive as a back up and seeing them sync automagically into my Kindle Fire’s photo gallery app is pretty cool. And you retain more control, or a finer level of control, over the process than with iCloud’s photostream and other Apple syncing practices.

UPDATE: Here’s a table comparing the major services

Service Free (GB) Added data (GB) Prices per year Price/Gb/year
Apple 5 10/20/50 20/40/100 $2/$2/$2
Amazon 5 15/45/95/195 10/25/50/100 $0.67/$0.56/$0.53/$0.51
Dropbox 2 98/198/498 99/199/499 $1/$1/$1
Google 5 20/95/195 30/60/120 $1.49/$0.63/$0.61
Microsoft 7 20/50/100 10/20/50 $0.50/$0.50/$0.50
SugarSync 5 25/55/95/245 50/100/150/250 $2/$1.82/$1.58/$1.02

Notes: “Added data” and “Price/GB/year” exclude free space. Prices have been rounded in some cases. Amazon and Google offer even higher data plans up into the terabytes.

Great Google Voice apps for Android and freedom from cell phone plan tyranny

Are you a big user of Google Voice like I am? Here’s my best advice about apps and some cool tips to use Google Voice with an Android phone. You can also use these apps to make calls from an Android tablet.

One of the most important reasons I switched from an iPhone to Android was to get better (vastly better) integration with all the many Google services I use, especially Google Voice, or GV. For example, there’s no direct way to access all your Google contacts in iOS apps like the phone dialer or email, syncing to Apple’s contacts is a poor substitute that doesn’t work very well and even Google’s own iOS app for GV can’t access your Google data. But on Android, it all goes directly to the source.

Just as a mini-refresher, Google Voice is an amazing, free service, originally called GrandCentral before being acquired by Google in 2007, which lets you take total control of who calls you where while virtually eliminating the “pain in the ass” quotient of voice mail. Give out your Google number and then decide where it should ring — you can switch things up based on who is calling, the time and date and other criteria. Voice mail is transcribed for free and sent to your email. And you get free calling to numbers in the United States and Canada along with discounted rates to other countries.

Not nearly enougsceenshot of the google voice widgeth praise has been lavished on the Google Voice widget for Android. The widget screen not only provides a one click shortcut to your various GV mail boxes but also shows a live, scrollable list of the most recent voice mails and texts, including who called and a bit of the insanely useful transcribed text of the messages (see screenshot at left). Click on any message to hear the audio.There’s also one click access to send a text via GV. And at the bottom of the widget is a running total of your account balance (for covering international calls). It really shows off the power of widgets with Android to both display new information, with no clicks required, and make app features instantly available with a single click.

But the regular GV app lacks a simple settings screen to adjust your call forwarding. There are plenty of third party apps to access those settings with a minimum of clicks to adjust which phones you want to ring. I use Groove Forwarder, a very simple app with one handy extra feature. In manual mode, the app just offers a checklist of your Google voice registered numbers. Click to check or uncheck a number. But it also has an automatic mode that can switch the settings based on whether your phone is getting Internet access via WiFi or cellular.

Which reminds me, one of the most useful ways to use to Google Voice is to make and receive calls over WiFi. This is especially handy if you’re out of your cell phone carrier’s coverage but have Internet access, say when traveling abroad or vacationing in a remote locale (or maybe you just live somewhere with crummy cell service). This requires an app like Spare Phone or Groove IP. And the apps work on Android tablets, giving you the power to make and receive calls without a phone at all.

I like Groove IP so far, because it can integrate with my phone’s basic phone dialer if I want, providing a seamless WiFi calling experience. To use it, you sign into your GV account and then set GV itself to forward calls to the Google Talk option (not to the number of your cell phone — that’s very important). Instead of using minutes from your cell phone plan, the app is using data at a rate of about 1 MB per minute. That’s no problem if you’re on WiFi but obviously would eat into your data allowance if you started using it while on 3G or 4G mobile broadband.

Traveling in Europe this summer, I was reminded again about how inferior and overpriced our cell phone service is here in the states. But WiFi calling with Google Voice can free you from needing to sign up for expensive calling plans. Get a data-only plan and use GV for calling. Or buy a mobile hotspot and no phone plan and use GV for calling. The trick is easier than ever now that Google is selling the Nexus 4 phone relatively cheap and unlocked without a carrier plan.

Even if you don’t want to go WiFi only, Google Voice offers the possibility of taking more control and relying on prepaid plans to save a lot of money. For example, both Simple Wireless and Wal-Mart run on T-Mobile ‘s network but frequently have cheaper rates. It’s a competitive market and the best plan and carrier can change from month to month. If you have people calling your Google Voice number, it’s no problem to swap out SIM cards whenever you feel like it and pay for the cheapest available service. Your phone number may change but no one has to know or care.

Instapaper isn’t Instaworth it anymore – switching to Pocket

I think I was one of the earliest fans of Marco Arment’s ingenious Instapaper service. I even wrote up a rave review back in March, 2009. This is the original thing that let you save long web articles to read later in your browser or on your phone or ereader. The amazing feature that first hooked me was Instapaper’s ability to compile a bunch of saved articles into a personalized newsletter and email it once a day to my Kindle. Genius. Just think how many trees have been spared by the reduced volume of printing out long web pages.

But times change, competition grows and it’s now time to move on from Instapaper and its $12/year subscription fee (not to mention the bucks spent on separate iPad and iPhone apps as well as unofficial and finally official Android apps).

The main reason to leave is that competing products are more than good enough and cost less. Pocket, for example, has entirely free apps and a free service. It does almost everything Instapaper does that I need and it looks good, too. Adding the oddly named crofflr service to do the Kindle emailing trick costs a one-time fee of $5.

I’ve switched over to Pocket for the past two weeks and have had no problems at all on my iPad, iPod Touch, Galaxy Nexus Phone and Nexus tablet. Everything syncs nicely. The apps look really good and have enough font sizes to let me read in all conditions. Instapaper has a greater range of font choices but that’s not a critical issue. Pocket’s single serif and sans serif fonts are “good enough.”

To ensure that my reading material is downloaded to each app for offline use, I did need to tweak a setting. Under the “Offline Downloading” section of each Pocket app’s options, turn OFF “Download Best View” and then turn ON “Always Fetch Article.” Otherwise, Pocket sometimes wants to download an article from the web when you go to read it instead of keeping a cached copy available all the time.

Pocket also has those little snippets of code known as bookmarklets that you can slap on your browser’s bookmarks bar to instantly send the current web page over to your Pocket queue. And it has an array of other helper bits, like an extension for Chrome, to do the same. I’ll insert the usual Android brag here: just by installing the Pocket app on an Android device, you can send web pages from any other app directly to Pocket via the sharing menu.

The site’s extensive FAQs and discussion forums offer tips for connecting to other services. I wanted to have Pocket show up on the “send to” menu of Google’s online Reader, for example. A quick Google search found the instructions here.

There are, of course, times when we all pay more than we absolutely must for a product or service because of other benefits we receive or maybe just because we want to support a place we like. I often shop at local stores like Wellesley Books and Lower Falls Wine Co. in Newton, even though there are places to buy books and liquor cheaper, because I value their selection and service and I want to support local businesses and local jobs.

With Instapaper, though, it’s just the opposite. Marco Arment, who I once dubbed “the Mouth of Brooklyn” back in the day, is a one man mis-truth squad when it comes to too many of Apple’s competitors. His wacky theories and misstatements about Android are legion and he’s over-the-top on Amazon’s Kindle products, too. Personal favorite? When he whined about the build quality of a Kindle USB cable because, you know, Apple never has build quality issues or ships new hardware with imperfections or whatnot.

So — much credit to Marco for his beautiful and innovative reading service but time to move on. Sayonara and happy trails.

The great Google storage price hike of 2012

(I wrote an updated discussion of online storage prices on December 18, 2012)

The other day, I finally saw a unicorn crossing my lawn — no, not quite. Another almost as mythical a creature appeared on my computer, however: the Google Drive. It’s a long-rumored online storage space for any kind of digital files that lives on Google servers and syncs up with a designated folder on any computer of yours that you’d like. Like Dropbox. Or Sugarsync. Or Amazon Cloud drive. Or…many others. It is Google and that’s cool.

But one less than cool bit? Since Google started letting us upload almost any kind of file you wanted to an online storage bin associated with your Google Docs account, Google has had the most amazing prices on earth. With Google Drive, prices skyrocketed overnight. And even worse, there’s no longer an option to pay for a year at a time. Desperately in need of more customer credit card numbers to feed into its Android Play store and other new services, Google Drive’s extra space can only be paid for on a month-to-month basis. That may be a smart way for Google to catch up with Amazon and Apple in the paying customer accounts department, but for me it’s just blah.

I’m probably a little extra sad because at the instant the Google Drive was announced, I looked at the pricing for extra storage and it hadn’t been changed yet. When I returned a day later, however, I saw this:

Prices for extra storage on the Google drive

Under the old system, 1 GB of extra space cost 25 cents per year no matter how much you bought. Simple and cheap. As you can see, for just $5 I had 20 GB of extra storage. But from now on, storage is about 10 cents per GB per month. For 25 GB of extra space, I’m looking at an annual cost of $29.88, or $1.20 per GB per year. For 100 GB of space under the new plan, you get a better rate — four times the space at double the cost. That’s $59.88 or about 60 cents a GB per year.

Still, it’s cheaper than what others offer and that may be why Google saw room to hike its prices. You start with 5 GB free at Google. Dropbox gives you only 2 GB free and, if you pay annually, another 48 GB for $99 a year, or $2.06 per GB. SugarSync has an annual option for 25 GB in addition to the 5 GB free that’s $49.99 a year, or $2 a GB a year for the extra storage. They go to $1.81 a GB if you buy 55 GB and $1.58 if you buy 95 GB. Amazon’s Cloud Drive gives you 5 GB free. Then it’s smoothly increasing at $1 per GB per year if you ignore that first 5 GB. If you want to be as annoying as I am and exclude that free bit, it’s equal to $1.33 per GB per year at 20 GB, $1.05 at 100 GB and $1.01 at 500 GB. Apple’s iCloud is at the high end, scaling up from 5 GB free at exactly $2 per GB per year but only up to 50 GB extra.

And of course everybody EXCEPT Google lets you pay once a year.

Teenage wasteland? Defending the iPhone, dissing the Droid

(As promised, here’s my teenage daughter’s rebuttal to my iPhone 4S whining. Added bonus: she threw in a rant against her brother’s Droid 4)

iPhone world

Listen to your favorite new song by that British boy band you and your friends have become recently obsessed with stream out of your pocket. Fumble around in your pocket until you pull out your phone- streamlined, smooth, made of metal- classic and practically indestructible-but you keep the adorable designer phone case on it anyways. Slide the lock open to answer the call, talk to your best friend as she moans about how she knows no boys.

Decide to get some homework done while she mumbles on- email your french teacher about the new french vocabulary and your math teacher about that simple interest rate equation that nobody on Facebook can remember- as you’ve already checked multiple times in your super-secret group you set up for your class 5 minutes before. Finish talking to your friend and then send your mom directions to [another school] — she’s picking you up there later after the winter play.

Get on the bus ride home- the 6th graders are having a bus party and offer you a cupcake. Someone has their radio and you decide you love the song they’re playing. Go onto iTunes, the largest database of music for mobile devices in existence. Buy the song, it downloads in seconds. You also have a second copy on your computer automatically, just in case you need some homework motivation later.

Open up Pages, and continue writing that English essay that you started last night on your computer- finish it and save to all your devices. One more thing done.

Listen to music from Youtube — and play Temple Run, your new favorite game, at the same time. Get totally distracted from the awesomeness of the game, until Siri reminds you to get some work done, you idiot. Go to the [another school] play and get totally lost on campus.

While jogging through buildings you don’t recognize, tell Siri to text your friend for directions. The text is sent easily, and Siri calls you cupcake, making you smile. Finally get a call from your friend who goes to [another school], he gives you directions and you make it on time.

Enjoy the play, switching your phone to silent with a flip of a conveniently located switch on the side of your phone. Download all the pictures you took on your phone to Facebook. Show your friend that dress you’re planning on wearing to her Bat Mitzvah next weekend using the Nordstrom App. Take silly pictures with friends at the cast party with your amazing camera and make them your wallpaper for your phone, making you laugh every time you take it out. Get an email from your friend- your skit for drama class has been chosen for the Arts assembly this fall. Yes. Beat your friend in words with friends. Double yes.

Go to bed feeling giddy.

Droid World

Hear the cliche wind chime noise emit from your phone- well, it could be yours, but who knows? everyone you know has the exact same ringtone. Curse under your breath as the awkward lock- 9 circles- won’t open because you’ve forgotten your overly complicated lock pattern. Again.

When and if it finally opens, see the cliche wallpaper on your phone- weird black and grey lines- your phone obviously trying to cater to the overly “manly” and wannabe gangsters. You groan. You’d change it to one of the pictures you took with your friends last weekend with Apple Photo Booth, but you can’t connect your phone to your Mac. You also have a horrific camera, so that keeps you from making it anything cool either.

Waste way more money than you should because you have to re-buy every piece of music that you have on your computer. Accidentally log yourself out of your father’s Spotify account and mope. You have no music. Try Youtube, but you can’t do anything else if you do that — the music stops automatically when you close the app. Ugh.

Try and send your sister a text using a voice command app, but it won’t work. On top of that, you can’t even find anything because it’s all jumbled together- there aren’t any categories for easy access like there are on your sister’s iPhone. Stinks for you.

Drop your phone as you get on the bus. The cheap plastic of your cheap case cracks, which you were pretending was protecting the cheap plastic of your phone, although you know it wasn’t. Try and find your Google Maps app to find your way to the Starbucks where your meeting your friend uptown today.

But… where is it? You flip through countless pages of apps that you never use and are all seem to do the same thing. You start to question your purchase of this phone- something you should have done a while ago. More than half of these pages of apps are all Verizon technical stuff. What on earth is “My Verizon”? Are trying to sell you something all over again? ugh. And what is “Let’s Golf!” ? You never bought that. And TMZ? this stinks. You have an app to turn on your vibrate… this is pathetic.

Go to bed and try to set a reminder to go to the Apple store tomorrow and get this atrocity out of your life. But, alas, it doesn’t recognize the the word iPhone. Or any of the others, for that matter. See? Even your phone is in denial.

Go to bed crying about how terrible your life is.

A Day in the Life: iPhone versus Nexus

(People are wondering should I get the iPhone 4S or is the Galaxy Nexus better. Am I a man or am I a muppet, smartphone style. Everyone’s got their own needs and wants from their gadgets. Turns out, mine are best met by the Galaxy Nexus phone. The iPhone 4S? Tried it for a few months and got fed up. One man’s experience comparing and contrasting.)

Pleased with the galaxy nexus

Hearing the the slightly muffled tones of Cee Lo Green’s “F–k You” emanating from your pocket, you slip out your phone with your right hand without putting down the New York Times business section in your left. There’s that familiar, comfortable feel as you reorient the phone rightside up in your hand and then glance over and use your thumb to flick across the screen and answer the call.

Done chatting with Uncle Abe, pull down the notifications screen and see what’s up. Thumb flick away notices from Twitter and Facebook – you’ve got work to do.

But looks like you missed a call earlier – must have been driving through the Ted Williams Tunnel. Google Voice has got your back. The notice shows who called and the start of a transcription of the voice mail they left. Just the dentist’s office reminding you of next week’s appointment. Even if you hadn’t seen the notification, it’s right there on your home screen thanks to the Google Voice widget, too.

No need to call back but let’s make sure that oral appointment is down, shall we? Hit the big fat button for the list of all apps. CalenGoo is right where you expected it, sitting in alphabetical order. Handy. Looks like the appointment is all set. Hit the back button and you’re back in the list of apps.

Near by the Calengoo icon, there’s something new. Last night, after the kids went to sleep and you finally got your hands on the iPad, you read about a new Android app for Twitter that sounded cool, Boid. Zipping over to the web version of the Android Market — oops — Google Play Store, you checked it out and sent it to install on your phone right from the iPad. Play around with Boid for a few minutes and then back to work, salary man.

At lunch time, walking down the street, you decide to text the wife and tell her she’s sweet. Pull out the phone, swipe unlock and hit the microphone icon. Say “Text Whitney Connaughton I love you baby.” Watch as the phone calls up a blank text message and transcribes almost in real time. Hit send. Dictation fails when there’s no signal but you’re comforted that Android warns you immediately without making you waste time bleating into the void first.

Thinking of the wife, she wants you to get on your contractor, Chris, about those new windows. Hit the phone icon, then favorites. Scroll past those cute pictures of your favorites and there’s a handy-dandy list of frequently called numbers Android keeps up to date automagically. Of course, Chris is here — he’s not the world’s most reliable contractor. You can also get to him quick via the contacts app. There’s a button for groups and you’ve got one set up with all the numbers of folks working on the window replacement project. Done harassing Chris, it’s time for a sandwich. Pocket the phone and dig in.

On the walk back, call up some tunes in the Amazon MP3 player. It’s got everything — everything you ever bought from Amazon, saving a ton of bucks from Apple’s not-so-customer-friendly prices, and everything sucked up from iTunes, too. New Springsteen album got mixed reviews but we’re going to check it out for ourselves, aren’t we? It’s not on the phone yet, so hit the “Cloud” tab instead of “Device,” scroll to “Wrecking Ball” and start streaming it. “Heaven knocking on the door that holds the throne…”

Time to go home. Check how bad the commute’s going to be with a glance at the traffic widget on your phone. Yellow? Not good. Better grab a podcast. Love that awesome Pocket Casts app. It’s Friday so there’s a new episode of Hypercritical. Download it in about 30 seconds over Verizon’s super-fast LTE network.

After dinner, kids having grabbed all the iPads, you’re left surfing the Internets on your phone. Boston Globe too pessimistic about the Celtics chances this year? That got your juices flowing for a strong counter-argument to mount for your buddies on Facebook. Hit the share button, type in your unbeatable refutation and post. While you’re at it, jump over to the photo gallery and post that picture of your bike ride from last weekend to Facebook, too.

Time for sleep. Hit the microphone on the phone and say “Set alarm for 7 am.” Click okay. Head hits the pillow before the phone’s out of your hand.

Fade to black…we fade back in to: Three months earlier

Frustrations with the iPhone 4S

Hearing the familiar if far away bleating of the “Marimba” ring tone, you do nothing. Must be someone’s iPhone around here. But the music doesn’t stop. Better check your phone. Grab that sharp slab of metal encased glass and take a look. Upside down again? Flip it over and answer the call.

Done chatting with Uncle Abe, pull down the notifications screen and see what’s up. Try to hit those tiny little buttons to get rid of the Twitter and Facebook stuff – you’ve got work to do. Stab madly a few times and finally give up. Make a mental note to change the default on notifications for Twitter and Facebook so they don’t hog so much of the notifications list.

Back on the home screen, looks like you missed a call earlier. Back to the list of notifications. How did you miss that Google Voice listing? Must have been pushed down below all the Facebook and Twitter junk. Here on the notifications screen, Google Voice tells you who called and adds a transcription of their voicemail. It’s a reminder for your haircut. Wonder for the fortieth time why the notice always adds “Voicemail from [the caller]” at the beginning of every transcription – it already told you who called on the line above. Tap, tap, tap at that tiny “x” to try and clear the listing. Never mind, you just hit the home button.

Got to check the calendar about that hair appointment. We’ve got CalenGoo on the iPhone, too, you self-satisfied Android fanboys, you think to yourself. Now where the heck did you put that icon? In the folder called “utilities” on your home screen? Nope. Slide over to the left, second screen, nope, third screen, nope. Wait, wasn’t it back on screen two in the folder called “organized life”? Right. Okay, tap CalenGoo and you’re all set.

Back on the home screen, seeing the icon for the official Twitter app reminds you of something you were reading last night on your iPad. You bought a new Twitter client app. The app store downloaded it to your iPad, but where is it on this phone? Oh right, just go to the app store app, click on update and then purchased items. Hit the “Not on this iPhone” tab and wait…and wait. Here’s the list, tap the new app and it’s downloaded and installed. Enough time wasted — back to work for you.

At lunch time, walking down the street, you decide to text the wife and tell her she’s sweet. Pull out the phone, hit the home key twice to call up Siri and say “Send a text to Whitney Connaughton I love you baby.” Wait a few seconds, then a few seconds more. “I’m really sorry Aaron. I can’t do that right now. Please try again later.” Doh. Resisting the urge to hurl Siri into the Fort Point Channel, you call up the messaging app and type it in.

Next tap the Google Voice app to call that contractor you just hired to put in the new windows. Hit contacts and a huge list of your iPhone’s contacts come up, straight out of the Address Book on your Mac. Ugh. Google Voice on the iPhone still can’t get to your Google Voice contacts? Right. But don’t worry, you’re syncing Google contacts with Address Book and you have the contractor in the group called “Window Project.” Hit the groups. Oh right, the syncing feature doesn’t sync groups so that group’s not here. Back to the list. Scroll down the list to find his name. Sure is neat-o the way it bounces to a stop.

Grab a sandwich and on the walk back it’s time for some tunes. Bought the new Coldplay album the other day. Is it on the phone? Check the music app. Not here. Purchased? Hmm, weird not there either. You’re so sure you bought it. Oh right – it was on sale at Amazon for like $5 bucks less than iTunes. Wasn’t iTunes Match supposed to match stuff even if you didn’t buy it from Apple? But on the phone iTunes Match can only show either every single song in your entire library or just what’s on this phone. And since the setting to change the view is buried somewhere, you’ve got it just showing local stuff.

Head back to settings, dig around, flick the switch. Wait a while for everything to get up to date. Find Chris Martin’s latest without thinking about his sham marriage to G. Paltrow. Hit play. No, no play – that’s download. Wait for the songs to download. Deep sigh. Wonder about Verizon’s faster LTE service while you wait. Unhappy thoughts. Hit the app store to install Amazon’s MP3 app. No go — it’s not available. Wouldn’t it be cool if Apple’s music app had tabs for on the device and in the cloud? Deeper sigh.

Time to head home and you’re wondering about the commute. Find that darn maps app on side screen four, open it up and click on the traffic overlay. Looks pretty messy. Let’s grab the new episode of Hypercritical. Downloading, downloading, downloading, some day my Siracusa will come.

After dinner, surfing the net on the phone, the urge hits to post an article about the Celtics to your Facebook buddies. Hit the share button. Hmm, no Facebook here, just Twitter. Can’t you just add the services you want? No? Not at all? What the…okay, well then let’s load a photo to FB. Can’t do that either, just Twitter again. Damn you Twitter, how much did you pay Apple for this annoyance-enhancing exclusivity? Go to FB app and post the pic. Then go back to laboriously cut and paste the Celtics article URL into another FB app post. Annoying.

Time for sleep. Double press the home button and say “Siri, wake me up at 7 am tomorrow.” “I’m really sorry Aaron, I can’t…”

Screen wipes to dead TV channel static.

(Coming later, my teen-age daughter’s rebuttal and why she loves the 4S and hates her brother’s Droid 4 with a passion)

Phone to Desktop Computing, Nexus style

I got a little excited by some recent experiments of folks hooking their Galaxy Nexus phones to desktop computer set-ups: big monitor, speakers, full keyboard and track pad. Pretty sure that within a few years, we’ll have just one computing device in a phone form factor that can hook up to different size screens and is powerful enough to do all we need. So has the future arrived, Nexus style?

Well, it’s pretty cool at a rudimentary level. Using a Samsung-made HDMI adapter cable, I hooked my Galaxy Nexus up to a 23″ HP monitor. The screen is bigger than needed since the phone can only output video at a 1280 by 720 pixel resolution. But the HP was the smallest inexpensive monitor I could find with an HDMI port. I also wirelessly linked via Bluetooth an Apple portable keyboard and magic trackpad to the phone. As soon as you connect the HDMI cable to the monitor, the phone shifts to a horizontal orientation.

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The trackpad lets you use the computing set up without touching the phone. When you put a finger on the trackpad, a small white dot appears on the monitor signifying where your virtual finger would be on the screen. Taps, double taps and drags all work as expected. It’s easy to watch videos, read via a browser or other app or do pretty much anything you would do on the phone — even make calls using the speakerphone.

The bigger screen and full size keyboard also make it a breeze to get serious writing done — something that’s challenging to say the least using any smart phone keyboard.

Caveats and issues? As mentioned, the resolution is not that great for a desktop computer. I think some of Motorola’s Android phones have a separate operating system or shell called Webtop that can use more screen real estate. Also, the set up at least with the cables and adapter I have was incredibly sensitive to being jostled. In fact, I had to try three different HDMI cables before I got a solid connection. And you’re limited to Android apps. That’s less of a limitation than I thought initially. But with things like Linux for Android on the horizon, that won’t be a barrier for much longer, it seems.

And, by the way, I wrote this post using the set up as described with the WordPress for Android app and it was pretty easy. Adding photos might be even easier than using the full blown WordPress editor.

Using iTunes Match to get rid of DRM-protected music

Want to finally get rid of those low quality, DRM infested music tracks you bought from iTunes back before DRM free tracks arrived? Now you can.

When the iTunes Store first opened for business back in 2003, all the music tracks were locked up with a digital rights management (or DRM) scheme called “Fairplay” to prevent sharing. If you bought a track from the store, you could only play on it one of five authorized computers or via iPods that you had synced with one of those five. But not only could the songs not be shared with friends, you also couldn’t play the music you had just legally acquired on many other legal devices you might purchase, like a Sonos wireless speaker or almost all other non-Apple MP3 players. While DRM did nothing to discourage piracy, it harrassed, hindered and harried paying customers.

Eventually, the music industry saw the light, thanks in part to Apple agreeing to a huge price hike, and stopped requiring DRM encumbrances. That was a great move but it left a lot of us with collections filled with previously legally purchased music that still had the DRM lockdown. Apple graciously offered to upgrade such tracks to a higher quality, DRM-free version for 30 cents a pop. But the iTunes Plus upgrade service, as it was called, was a disastrous mess.

So I have long had a smart playlist I set up in iTunes to list all my music tracks that still had DRM. And, even after spending a small fortune on iTunes Plus, the list still had several hundred tracks remaining. Well, they were remaining until just the other day when Apple opened its cloud-based iTunes Match service as an extension to its regular iCloud music service. For $25 a year, iTunes Match lets you upload any tracks to iCloud which you owned but had not purchased from iTunes to share among all your registered computers and devices.

There is also another, less-publicized side benefit. Tracks downloaded from iCloud are DRM-free and recorded at the high-quality rate of 256 kilobits per second. This means that if iTunes match matched your leftover DRM-locked, lower quality music, you can finally get out of jail free. Here’s how:

1. Make a smart playlist where “Kind” contains the phrase “Protected AAC audio file” and the “bit rate” is “128 kbps.”

2. Everything that appears on this smart playlist is the old, locked up kind of music track. IMPORTANT: On the view of this list, right click at the top on the categories of stuff where it says Name, Time, Artist etc and add two more categories: “iCloud Download” and “iCloud Status.”

3. Run the “Update iTunes Match” on your library. It’s under the Store menu in iTunes.

4. Now you can start the laborious process of deleting these crummy DRM tracks and getting back better and freer tracks.

5. I started by sorting the list by artist. Then find all the tracks on the smart list that have an iCloud status of “Matched” or “Purchased.” THIS TRICK WILL NOT WORK ON TRACKS WITH A STATUS OF “UPLOADED” OR “ERROR.”

6. Unfortunately, you can’t delete tracks directly from the smart playlist. You have to identify each track on the smart list and then go back to your whole music library on iTunes and find it again. If you are paranoid, click command-I after selecting each track in the main music library to make sure it is indeed DRM locked, visible on the “Kind” line as “Protected AAC audio file.” Delete the track if so. DO NOT CHECK THE BOX THAT SAYS “ALSO DELETE THIS SONG FROM iCLOUD” — do not, not, not check that box. On the next dialogue box that comes up, click that you want to throw away the file in the trash.

7. Now that you have deleted the old DRM-ed file, the song should still be listed in iTunes but with a download from the cloud icon:

Click on the iCloud icon and a fresh new copy of the track will be downloaded from Apple’s servers, one that is DRM-free and 256 kbps. Sweet!

There are all kinds of tracks of that can’t be re-downloaded using this trick, unfortunately. In my library of 5,000 odd songs, I am still stuck with 25 that are low-quality, DRM-locked versions. Most are special versions of songs that the iTunes store no longer carries like an acoustic version of U2’s “Stuck in a Moment.” Some are from albums that are no longer sold for download, like Prince’s “Musicology.” Seven are tracks from the original, self-published release of Nellie McKay’s album “Pretty Little Head” that were excluded when Sony re-released the album later.

In some cases, though, the songs iTunes Match couldn’t quite match were just duplicates of songs I’d long ago upgraded via iTunes Plus. A little library clean up is in order in these cases. For example, a duplicate version of Matchbox 20’s song “3AM” was hanging around as the older DRM-locked file because it was listed as “3 AM” (note the extra space). I just deleted the duplicate from both my library and iCloud.

And that’s it! Good luck cleaning up your library.