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Can a $50 tablet be any good?
- I get an Amazon Fire HD 8 on sale

By Alan Zisman 2017-07-28

When Apple announced its original iPad in 2010, it was yuge! The next big thing. Proof that we were now in a post-PC age. Maybe you were slow to get a smartphone, but you could still prove your cool by being early to jump on the tablet bandwagon.

(Embarassing admission - I bought a 1st-generation iPad the weekend they became available - paying CDN$1066 for the most expensive model - 64 GB of storage/WiFi+cellular data and a keyboard. It was also the only model still in stock on Day 2 of availability. Was I cool, or what?)

No surprise, various Android-powered tablets soon came to market, though none have been mega best-sellers. Fairly soon, smaller tablets, with 7 or 8 inch screens, joined the original 10 inch models. More recently, Apple began to sell an 12 inch 'iPad Pro' model.

But after initial success, tablet sales have slumped. Vendors have been disappointed to discover that tablet buyers seem content to hold onto to older models longer than smartphone users, who've tended to get a new phone every two or three years. That iPad 2 you bought in 2013 is still working just fine, thanks.

And the recent popularity of larger-screen smartphones (first Android, belatedly iPhone as well) has pretty flatlined the market for 7 and 8" tablets - Apple, for instance, seems to have stopped updating its 8" iPad Mini line, suggesting it's only a matter of time before it stops selling these models.

As for me, I replaced my original iPad with an  iPad 3 a few years later. Half the storage and no cellular data, but a lot less expensive than what it replaced - especially since I bought it second-hand. My generation one model was - like lots of first generation technology - slow and no longer supported by new operating system and software versions.

But I found I wasn't using the replacement iPad that much - instead, I was reaching for my laptop. It was more powerful and let me do things - like creating this blog post - that I couldn't do easily - or some cases at all - on a tablet....

... Read more

A tale of two smartphones  
By Alan Zisman 2017 May 22

Coke or Pepsi. Windows or Mac. Italy or France. Some rivalries just keep going on, with folks taking sides and not much changing, year after year

The same is true for the two smartphone behomoths, Google's Android and Apple's iOS. New hardware for each keeps coming out, more or less annual software updates. From my perspective, less and less reason to feel obligated to stay current on either hardware or software - smartphones and now a 'mature' product category with most new features rating a best a yawn.

I've tried to remain conversant with both Android and iOS. But while
I  own both Mac and Windows laptops (though I use my Mac laptop more), up until recently, I've only owned Android smartphones. (I have owned other iOS devices - an iPod Touch and a couple of iPads, though).

Recently, though, I was tempted by an email offering a refurbished unlocked iPhone 6 at an attractive enough price that I purchased one. As a refurbished phone, it warned that "the device has noticeable scratches or scuff marks on the casing and screen", but that the "phones are tested and in working order." Being unlocked, it would work with pretty much any cell phone provider; I could take it travelling and use it with a foreign SIM.

The iPhone 6 is no longer new or top of the line - Apple released it in September 2014, keeping it on sale through to September 2016. Today, Apple's online store offers for sale their 2016 iPhone 7 models alongside 2015's iPhone 6s. But two year-old technology seemed just fine to me - it can run up to date versions of Apple's iOS software and apps and provide reasonable - if not cutting edge - performance.

That's similar to my Android phone - a Nexus 5x, built by LG to Google's specifications. It was released in September 2015 and replaced (by the Google Pixel) in October 2016. Like the iPhone 6, it's no longer officially available, and unlike most Andoid phones it can run the current version of Google's Android software.

The Nexus 5x has a bit bigger screen - 5.2" to the iPhone 6's 4.7" and as a result is a bit larger. It's got a plastic body, while the iPhone 6 is sleeker with glass and aluminum. Put them both in cases, though, and they don't look too different from one another.

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Technology Workshops:
Spring 2017

Okay, not exactly a blog posting, but I've been offering a series of technology workshops at Vancouver's Brock House - each with a webpage summary + links that others may find useful:

-- Introduction to Android
-- Introduction to Windows 10
-- Files and Folders and Drives (Oh My!) - an introduction to file management
-- Introduction to Digital Photography
-- Introduction to Facebook
-- Introduction to digital security for Windows users
-- Better Travelling With Technology
-- Using the Internet better - email
-- Using the Internet better - the Web

Windows 10 doesn't make it straightforward to use international characters but....  
By Alan Zisman 2016-09-19

Have you ever wanted to flamb Windows?

If your computer is set with to use the US English keyboard and you wanted to type words like, oh,
flamb, that may be just what you want to do.

In Canada, both English and French are international languages, so many English Canadians find a need for characters that don't appear directly on the computer keyboard. Even unilingual Americans may want to appear more sophisticated, typing foreign-derived words like caf or maana.

If you're using a program like Microsoft Word, you may have found the menu or ribbon item to insert 'special' characters. But if you're using some other piece of software, it may be less obvious.

Macs have it easy!(If you're using a Mac, you're allowed to chuckle - at least if you realize that on a Mac, when you hold down a letter such as 'a' or 'e' or 'c' or 'n', like magic, a set of alternative versions of that letter will pop up, letting you choose or or or or what-have-you. At least most of the time. You did know that, didn't you?)

In Windows, it's never been quite so easy. Way back when, I encouraged folks needing to use accented or international characters to track down a chart of ASCI key codes, pick out the ones they needed, write them on a sticky note and paste it onto their computer display. Hold down the Alt key then, using the number keypad on the keyboard (remember those?) type a zero followed by the three number code. Lift the Alt key and bingo! - the desired characted appears. For instance, Alt+0224 =

There were other ways to get the same thing - in 2001 I wrote a tutorial titled 'Getting Easy Access to International Key Characters' describing how installing the International English keyboard might make some users' lives a bit easier.

Today I learned a trick for Windows 10. (It may work in Windows 8 as well). It makes use of the fact that Microsoft designed that operating system for both standard desktops and laptops as well as for touchscreen models like tablets. iPads and Android tablets include built-in virtual keyboards - and even if you don't have a tablet, a Windows 10 system offers an optional virtual keyboard as well.

And that virtual keyboard can be used to insert all those accented or otherwise modified letters.

- continued...

Wi-Fi woes (hopefully) solved  
By Alan Zisman 2016-06-06

Can you remember a time before pervasive wireless Internet access? I can. June 21, 1999, Apple's Steve Jobs introduced Apple's consumer laptop - the iBook - during his keynote address at that season's Macworld conference.

Alongside the iBook, he announced 'one more thing': AirPort - a (relatively) popularly priced Wi-Fi router. To demonstrate both the sturdiness of the iBook and the possibilities of wireless Internet, Apple VP Phil Schiller, iBook in his arms, jumped off a tower - iBook running and online. (Watch the iBook/AirPort introduction here - Steve Jobs' 'Look, no wires' is at about 14 minutes. The Phil Schiller jump is here).

As is often the case, Wi-Fi was not invented by Apple - Wikipedia dates it to 1991's WaveLAN; by 1991 there was a Wi-Fi Alliance to certify compatible products. But prior to Apple's announcement, Wi-Fi networks were rare and hardware was expensive. While Apple's 1999 pricing seems expensive now, the US$1599 iBook (wireless AirPort card an extra $99) and $299 AirPort router were consumer-friendly at the time.

A decade and a half later, Wi-Fi is faster, more secure, and seemingly everywhere: in cafes and fast food restaurants, hotels and airports, businesses, schools, parks (!) and homes. It lets users bring their laptops and tablets and get online with their cappuchinos. Or connect their smartphones  and get around the limited amount of data on their mobile plans.

It's easy to take it for granted as long as it works.

Often enough, though, that isn't the case.

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Choosing the “Best” Technology for You

  18 May 2016

Everywhere you look, you may be prompted to second guess what brand of technology you’re using. From television ads to discussions at the dinner table or around the water cooler, someone is probably telling you that you’re using the worst operating system, an inferior phone, or even the wrong browser. The debate surrounding technology is nothing new and it’s not likely to expire anytime soon. So, how do you know if you’re really utilizing the best of the best? It may not be so much about what is truly the best piece of technology, but whether or not it suits your needs.

Feel conflicted and bombarded by ads or a well-intentioned, but “know-it-all” friend? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Here are some things to consider when choosing the “best” technology:

Operating Systems

Many people feel as passionate about their operating systems as they do their favorite sports team and if you say something bad about it, you’ll probably get an earful. Then, there are some people who are simply either Apple or Windows type folks (always have and will always be) and can’t or won’t be persuaded to think otherwise. However, if you’re in the middle and don’t have a strong alliance towards one or the other, you’re really allowing yourself the freedom to choose which operating system is the best for your needs.

A great place to start is by making a list of what you you want from a computer, whether it be a laptop or a PC. Will it mostly be used for bookkeeping or are you really into art or music projects? Take your time, read reviews, be selective about the advice to you take, and choose wisely. Your computer should satisfy your needs for at least 3 years and maybe longer, depending on how up-to-date you want/need to be.

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Some thoughts for an Android newbie   

By Alan Zisman 2016 February 10

A friend of mine, is on the verge of getting his first Android device - an affordable 2012-model Nexus 7 tablet.
He was late to the mobile scene, getting an iPhone - which he loves - about 6 months or so ago.

I sent him an email with my thoughts of things he should know - particularly some of the differences between Android and iOS (the operating system running on Apple's devices). Here's what I said:

1) Just as having an iPhone means setting up an Apple account and using Apple apps - iTunes, iPhoto, App Store, etc, a key part of the Android experience is connected to Google - you need to set up a Google account (though you can use non-Google email addresses); get apps from the Google Play Store. A variety of Google apps - Google Maps, etc. are included on every Android tablet and phone.

2) iPhone/iPad users may sync their device with their computer using iTunes. There's no Android equivalent. If you plug an Android device into a Windows PC, it will appear as an external hard drive - you simply copy music files into the device's Music folder, photos and videos into the equivalent folders on the device, etc. Mac users need to download and install the Android File Transfer app onto their Mac: to do the same thing.

3) Android tablets and phones with the 'Nexus' name offer 'pure' Android; most other devices add custom shells to Google's Android - this has two results: first, there will be differences between what you see on the screen of (for instance) a Samsung phone and a Motorola phone, though increasingly the differences are getting smaller. As well, most non-Nexus models have to wait a while - sometimes a long while - for updates, as special versions of each update have to be created for each of the literally thousands of customized versions of Android that are out there. (Nexus devices are updated immediately as long as the hardware is supported).

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Wearables - The next big thing?   

By Alan Zisman
2016  2016-01-15

If you're wearing a smartwatch right now, show me your wrist. Okay, you can both put your arms down.

Tech manufacturers are always on the lookout for the next big thing. PC sales slowing? That's okay - we can sell you tablets. Digital music players and camera sales slumping? That's because you're buying smartphones. And replacing your smartphone (and maybe your tablet) with a bigger smartphone.

For a while now, the category to watch (sic) has been 'wearables' - primarily watches that do more than tell time. For the past year or so, that product category has looked like smartphone deja vu, with the Apple Watch competing with a variety of products based on Google's Android Wear competing with a variety of independents such as Pebble.

I've often been a tech early adaptor but I've resisted jumping into the wearable market. I've wondered how usable and useful they actually were - whether we'd hit the limit of miniaturization of our user interfaces. I've tended to not want to use devices that expect me to talk to them - partly because I've been diagnosed with a voice disorder, partly because I don't much want to be one of those people that mumbles to their technology when out on the street.

Still, when the Vancouver PR rep from the company with Motorola's account asked if I wanted to borrow one of their Moto 360 smartwatches, I was happy to agree.

Even though the whole category of wearables is comparatively new, the Moto 360 is already in its second generation - the first versions were released in September 2014, while the new models were announced a year later. Both models feature a round design - in contrast to the rectangular Apple Watch and many Android Wear designs. The 2G Moto 360s can be recognized at a glance by their removable watch bands and by having a 'home button' on the side of the case similar to the one on old analog watches used to change the time. While the button on old-style watches is typically at the 3:00 mark, on the new Moto 360s, it's up at an angle, around the 2:00 point.

The updated Moto 360 offers a higher resolution (360x325 pixel) display, a more powerful processor, and improved battery life compared to the first-generation models (which can be found on sale in a variety of online locations).....

-- Read more....

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About This Blog...

I've been writing about computers, software, Internet and the rest of technology since 1992, including a 17 year (1995-2012) stint as 'High Tech Office' columnist for Business in Vancouver. This blog includes thoughts on technology, society, and anything else that might interest me. Comments, emailed to are welcome - and may be published in whole or part. You can follow me on Twitter or Google + for notice of new blog postings.

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