Say you’re on a train without a connection to the Internet. If you’ve previously downloaded “Gmail Offline,” you can answer mail. It will be sent out the next time you’re able to connect. This is free for computers and phones. You’ll need to use the Chrome web browser. If you don’t have it, you can get it at Chrome.com; it’s free.
If you’re too busy to read the Web, or find the fine print too fine, let your iPhone read the Web to you.
To make the iPhone’s “Siri” voice start talking, tap “Settings,” then “General,” then “Accessibility.” Now tap “Speak Screen.” When you’re on the web, tap the uppermost left icon for “Reader View,” to skip the ads. Then swipe down with two fingers to get playback and pause controls. Tap the turtle picture to speed up or slow down the reading.
We couldn’t find anything comparable for the Android phone. The apps we tried all used a dull, robotic voice and Google Voice just wasn’t in the mood to read to us.
“20 Movie Scenes Before-And-After Special Effects.” shows you what it’s like to be an actor in Hollywood. You sit stroking a lumpy stuffed toy but the movie viewer watching ‘Game of Thrones” sees a dragon. When we watched a port with ships coming in for “Boardwalk Empire” it’s really just a bunch of people milling around in front of a blank wall of green paper. Saves a lot on building stage sets.
Musiclab.chromeexperiments.com is Google’s new music lab. Click on a picture, click again to add stuff to the picture and create your own music. We especially liked the rhythm section where we watched monkeys play kettle drums and triangles according to the rhythms we chose. Color it cute.
Google Maps is adding Uber taxi info to its maps for Android phones. You should be able to see it in the next few weeks. You’ll be able to see how many Uber cabs are nearby and what their fares are. We were hoping that the much vaunted app, “TextBer,” would let you hail an Uber cab with just a text message instead of an app, but it never got off the ground, even after reams of free publicity.
PC Magazine surveyed thousands of readers to find out which phone plan is best. The big winner was Google’s “Project Fi,” which hardly anybody has ever heard of. It combines T-Mobile, Sprint and Wi-Fi into a virtual network. (A virtual network is one that doesn’t really exist but seems to. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to make sense.)
Project Fi gives you unlimited U.S. calls and texts and unlimited international texts for $20 a month; add $10 for each gigabyte of data you use. The nice thing is, you get money back for anything you don’t use. We used only 100 megabytes last month, so we would have gotten $9 back, for a monthly bill of $21. The catch is, there’s no family plan and you must buy either the $199 Google Nexus 5x phone or the $449 Google 6P. But both are great phones, and you can keep your current phone number. You also get the latest version of the Android operating system “Marshmallow,” and a new Android system whenever an upgrade occurs.
Second in the PC Magazine satisfaction survey was Consumer Cellular and third was Republic Wireless. Read more »
Recently we wrote about taking our drone to the park and seeing it waft miles away from us in a few seconds. Afterward, a reader wrote us with his solution. It does not involve hours of practice flying.
He bought a much more expensive drone — the “DJI Phantom 2.” It costs $1500, or $1200 more than the one we flew, but has great features. It’s harder to lose because it locks onto GPS satellite mapping to stabilize flight. “You can take your hands off the controls and the drone will stay in place in the sky even if the wind is blowing,” he says. “It will come back down to the place it took off from if the controller is shut off, or if it flies outside the controller’s range.” This last part is purely theoretical, he admits, because he hasn’t tried it yet. He uses “Trackimo” to keep track of the drone if after all his safeguards, he still loses it.
“Hound” is a free competitor to Apple’s “Siri,” Google’s “Now” and Microsoft’s “Cortana.” The app works with Android and iPhones. It responds to your voice and answers your questions; it will even play games with you. It can estimate Uber fares, do translations, and handle more complex questions, like “Which hotels in Anchorage have swimming pools and are less than $200 a night?” (Well, for a place like Anchorage, that’s pretty easy. Bob has an interesting story about a coffee shop around the corner from the Hilton, but he can’t tell it here.)
We asked Hound to play us something by Cole Porter and it came back with “Anything Goes,” on a Honky-tonk piano no less. (Does anybody know anything anymore? Bob asked a clerk in a music store if he had any Cole Porter albums and the clerk said “Is that a new group?”)
“Postly,” free for Android and iPhone, turns smartphone photos into postcards. Take a picture, click to upload and send it. Each postcard has a special stamp made to look like it came from your location. Worldwide delivery is $2. The only odd thing: The app wouldn’t take either of our credit cards. We had to use PayPal.