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Exactly four years ago I wrote an extensive article for our newsletter about switching from Comcast TV and Internet service to AT&T’s U-verse. At the time it was a good deal and U-verse was certainly more reliable than Comcast. We had U-verse for two years until the introductory priced contract expired and the rates rose. U-verse service was okay, but not great and streaming Netflix was annoyingly interrupted multiple times for buffering. Both my wife and I have part-time consultancies which require us to have good, consistent internet connections and U-verse just didn’t quite do it for us. So two years ago when a Comcast sales person came around and tried to get us back to Comcast with a deal that was equal to U-verse TV but with much better Internet speeds, we bit and made the switch. That contract ended this month and as we should have expected, our bill rose dramatically. We complained to Comcast and told them we had to get the bill back down to a manageable level, and certainly there must be some other bundle that would do the job for less. To make a long story short, we wound up with a basic TV, phone, and internet package, and upgraded the TV and internet portions to mid-tier levels and still wound up with a price well below the bill we had after our previous contract had expired. Continue reading…

iTunes Match Subscribers Were Robbed

Voila_Capture 2016-01-31_03-29-58_PMApparently Apple announced two weeks ago that it was discontinuing iAd supported radio in iTunes. This passed quietly since few people use iTunes Radio. What was less clear and something I for one missed is that the ad-free streaming music that was part of the iTunes match service was also being axed in the process. While I never associated the two since I pay for iTunes Match was that Apple considered these one in the same features. I respectfully disagree, but they don’t listen to me. So what is it that I’m talking about you ask?

Up until January 28, one could click on any of the pre-configured genres of music under the Radio tab in iTunes and listen to music with ads periodically inserted into the stream. You could also create custom radio stream based on an artist of your choosing. If you subscribed to Apple Music or iTunes Match you were spared having to listen to the ads. While Apple Music has many more features than this, it was one that came along with the $9.99/mo service. iTunes Match ($24.99/yr) is an entirely different service that allows you to store your own music collection in iCloud and not having to store the content on either your computer or iOS device; a boon to those of us with minimal storage space on our phones or iPads that can be put to better use. However the ability to also listen to ad-free music was a nice bonus to Match subscribers, but alas, no more. Now if you click on one of the preconfigured radio stations you get a snarky pop-up inviting you to subscribe to Apple Music – yeh at 5 times the price. Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 4.52.19 PM

To be fair, there are a few radio stations that continue to work – at least for now. They are NPR, ESPN and BBC World Service. Most likely this is due to not having to pay song artists and greedy copyright holders that were previously being paid through iAds.

Frankly, I don’t care for any of the other features of Apple Music and I don’t subscribe. I really don’t care for the odious cacophony of Beat’s One or any of the DJ’s Dre and company have come up with. My musical tastes live in the past, a fuddy-duddy, I suppose, but there are more of us than Apple cares to admit. So Apple has quietly taken away a valuable feature of its iTunes Match service, not reduced the price nor compensated existing subscribers. If more people were interested, I would anticipate a class-action lawsuit with good rationale. Apple has been sued for less.

The Art of the GUI

HUI2When the Macintosh came along in 1984, many of us gravitated towards it over the Apple II or IBM PC largely because of its graphical user interface or GUI. The Mac’s GUI with its mouse, point, and click was much easier to use. Those of us who were not computer majors could increase our productivity while not having to learn many of the arcane intricacies needed to use a PC. The Mac’s GUI and many of its applications were carefully crafted to make a program’s use inherently apparent so that a user could become easily productive without constantly needing to read through a user manual. Indeed Mac manuals were notoriously minimal, and still are today even though applications have become much more powerful. The unfortunate thing about today’s applications are that their powerful options are no longer inherently apparent. With the zeal to create clean interfaces of today’s Apple applications the modern GUI can now be described more as “hover and discover”. A very thorough review of this situation can be read in a recent post by Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini, both Apple alumni, who brought us the original Apple GUI and are in large part responsible for the success of the Mac. If you are at all involved in creating applications for any computer system, I encourage you to read this article recently posted on Fast Company’s website.

REVIEW: Photos for Mac and iOS: The Missing Manual

51XHpF9WPML._SX378_BO1,204,203,200_When it was first released, iPhoto was developed as an easy way to organize photos from a digital camera and consequently to print or share them. Each year Apple made improvements to this important software.

Several years later Apple released Aperture, an easy-to-use software program that was specifically designed for photographic professionals.

Last year Apple decided to replace both of these software programs with Photos that would serve the needs of both consumes and professionals.   To assist with the learning curve of this new software, Lesa Snider has written Photos for Mac and iOS: The Missing Manual (O’Reilly, July 2015, 312 pages) with a forward by David Pogue.

This book is part of The Missing Manual series from O’Reilly which gives more comprehensive information about its subject than the manual for that piece of software (or hardware). The title suggests that if you bought that digital camera or related software, you don’t have much detailed information to work with. This book will fill in the gaps. This O’Reilly book includes color photos to illustrate its points. Continue reading…

Review: ASUS ZenWatch 2

ASUS-ZenWatch-2_thumbTwo months ago I reviewed the ASUS ZenWatch with solid features that sold for an impressive $199.99 compared to the Apple Watch or other Android Wear smartwatches.

Now just 6 months later, ASUS has introduced a follow-up, the ZenWatch 2 for an even better value starting at an amazing $129. Just like Apple’s pricing, the ZenWatch 2 offers two sizes with a variety of watchbands from rubber to stainless steel.

Two Sizes

The ASUS ZenWatch 2 comes in two sizes: 1.63” (the larger model) that is the exact same size as ASUS’ previous model or a 1.45” size for smaller wrists. The larger model has a 320 x 320 pixel display and the smaller one has a 280 x 280 display.

ASUS has a different pricing approach than Apple. Its larger model is $129 while it’s smaller one is $149. The reason presumably is that the smaller model costs more to manufacture. Continue reading…

REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy S6 vs. Apple iPhone 6

81zwU5hwAmL._SL1500_81eFkI+CZAL._SL1500_When looking at the Apple iPhone 6 released last September, the closest rival is the Samsung Galaxy S6 that was introduced in March of this year. The rivalry is not just about features, but also about sales.

The Galaxy is the best Android seller in competition with Apple and this review is a look at the two best-selling smartphones on the market today.

Keep in mind that both Apple and Samsung have larger models with similar features. Apple has the iPhone 6+ with a 5.5” screen, while Samsung has the Note 5 model with a 5.7” screen. In addition, Samsung also offers the Galaxy S6 Edge+ that has a curved screen at the edge. Both larger screens from Apple and Samsung sell for an extra $100.

Android vs. iOS

Of course, if you are locked into a platform this would not be an issue. The iPhone operates on iOS 8 or later and if you are a loyal Apple brand follower this is the only phone you would consider (unless you wanted the larger iPhone 6+)

The Galaxy S6 operates on the Android platform that includes a wide variety of smartphone manufacturers. While not going into the details of each platform, Google’s Android offers many more customizable options. Suffice it to say that Apple users prefer the minimum customization and just want to own a dependable phone. Continue reading…

Review: ASUS ZenWatch

asus_90nz0011_m00010_zenwatch_android_smartwatch_brown_1421709650000_1112696If you buy any Apple Watch you have many choices although all of them involve the type of watchband or body you prefer. The mechanism itself is the same with prices ranging from $349 to $17,000. Currently, the Apple Watch only works with an iPhone 5 and up.

If you have an Android watch, however, you have more choices. Smartwatches are made for Android by Motorola, LG, Samsung, Sony and others. And within each smartwatch model you have case and band choices. Only Pebble offers the user a choice between iOS and Android platforms.

To make things simpler, most of these manufacturers have adopted Google’s Android Wear OS. So for whatever watch you choose, the operation while not identical will be very similar.

After having purchased 4 of these watches, I have found some considerations that I did not like. Features were the most common but price was a major issue. My last smartwatch was an LG Watch Urbane, a stylish model loaded with features. But it also came with a $350 price tag.

On the heels of this purchase, I discovered that the ASUS ZenWatch I previously considered had lowered its price from $199 to $150. This caused me to reappraise the ZenWatch. Continue reading…

Review: GMYLE Ultra-Slim Illuminated Keyboard

GMYLE-Backlit-KeyboardWe previously reviewed the Logitech K811 Illuminated Bluetooth Keyboard that operated 3 Apple devices from one keyboard. All these features came at a hefty $100 price. That keyboard is now scarce with prices over $150. For this amount you get an aluminum Bluetooth® keyboard with a full complement of function keys.   It sounds like a rip-off, doesn’t it?

As competition, GMYLE has introduced a similar Bluetooth keyboard with illuminated keys that work with Macs, iOS, Windows and Android devices. It uses typical scissor keys with a stainless steel back, just like Apple’s own keyboard. But unlike the competition, it lists for $50, but discounts can be found around $35! It comes in white or silver.

Unlike the Logitech keyboard, the GMYLE keyboard offers a choice of 7 backlit colors at the touch of a key: blue, green, purple, red, yellow, white, and cyan. In addition there are 2 brightness levels as well as off.  Continue reading…

REVIEW: HP Color LaserJet Pro (M252dw)

71mhBWOJReL._SL1500_No one can dispute the quality of today’s color laser printers. They produce great quality output at speeds and prices that get better every year. The HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw is the latest example of this phenomenon.

This printer is designed for the home or office user that wants crisp laser printing at a lower cost per page than what inkjets offer. Although this laser printer is listed at $299.99, many retailers are selling it for $199.99 with online vendors even less.

Compared to my previous printer the LaserJet Pro 200 (M251nw), this printer is priced similarly, but has added features. What do you get for your money?

Features 

  • Wireless Printing lets you print from your iPhone, Mac or PC, iPad or other mobile device directly to this printer.
  • 3” Touchscreen lets you make settings and view configurations directly
  • Automatic Duplex Printing lets you save paper by printing on both sides
  • Multiple Connectivity lets you connect by Ethernet LAN, USB cable, USB flash drive or wireless (above)

Continue reading…

Review: LG Watch Urbane

91+MPGeqeGL._SL1500_When the Apple Watch was released earlier this year, many critics found several problems that needed to be addressed. Battery life was just one of those issues. But critics also recognized that this was Apple’s first venture into watch technology, and so that future versions of the Apple Watch would correct these issues. Let’s face it, the first generation of iPods and iPads had issues as well but have since been improved upon.

LG, a major player in the Android camp, has already had two versions of its watches in release. Their first watch was the LG G Watch introduced in June of 2014 that had a rectangular display like the Apple Watch. In October of last year LG came out with the LG G Watch R that featured a round face. This year LG introduced its third version, the LG Watch Urbane.

This watch is an Android phone that works only on Google’s Android system format. This exclusivity is just like Apple watches that only work on iPhones 4S or later. So if you like the LG’s features, forget about it if you are using an iPhone. Continue reading…