WHAT’S APP, DOC?

Our friend Olga called us from the Dominican Republic, using the free app, “WhatsApp.” It’s a great way for travelers to avoid having to buy a local SIM card for their phone, or face expensive roaming charges. But we’ve often wondered what other advantages WhatsApp has, considering all the alternatives, including Skype. One big one is simplicity. Because WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, you automatically see Facebook friends who use it. With Skype, you must know the person’s user name. Our friend Olga didn’t use her last name so she was particularly hard to find on Skype, but easy to find on WhatsApp. However, call quality on Skype is usually better. You can use either one for a video chat, […]

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WEARABLE MARVELS

We were invited to preview the first-ever wearable tech exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. We came. We saw. We were disappointed. Self-lacing shoes got our attention right off. Nike’s version of Marty McFly’s “Back to the Future” shoes worked fine in the exhibit but aren’t playing well in the rest of the country. As the Washington Post reported recently, at least one user said his shoe lost connection to the Internet and wouldn’t lace. He couldn’t tie it manually because the shoe’s software was buggy. Pushing onward, Nike will come out with shoes that collect information about your athletic performance. In another part of the exhibit, we saw the late actress Marlene Dietrich’s 1950s tech […]

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IS IT CHEAPER TO PRINT YOUR OWN PHOTOS?

Are you better off using an online photo service like Shutterfly or doing it at home? If you count the pennies, Shutterfly wins. Ink and paper in bulk cost around 12 cents per photo, the same as Shutterfly. But that’s not counting the cost of your printer, and the annoyance of paper jams and hassles. Possible further problem: the ink can dry up and clog the printer if you don’t use it much. We once lined up six printers that had clogged because of infrequent use. If you need a print immediately, places like Walgreens and CVS will let you pick up your photos a few hours after you order them. We use our printers, an Okidata laser and a […]

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SAVE THE JUICE

“Save the juice. Save the juice.” That comment is from a sign in Thomas Edison’s laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. The rest of the of the sign rhymes, with the added line: “Turn off the lights when not in use.” Frugal guy, Edison. So taking that advice up to modern times, we took out our wallet, blew off the dust, and cracked it open to the tune of $10 to buy a timer for our phone charger. According to AccuBatteryApp.com, you can’t overcharge your phone’s battery, but leaving it plugged in too long is bad for its health; the battery degrades. Well, we do that a lot, and decided to take measures to overcome our lack of self- control. […]

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DEVELOPING A TWITCH

An old friend in the computer gaming business called to pitch a new product. The product was interesting though not yet ready for prime time. But his call opened a window we hadn’t looked through in many years. We hardly ever mention computer games anymore, because it has become a specialty in its own right and is too narrow for this column. And yet, they’re still out there. More than half a million people tune in daily to Twitch.TV, where they can watch other people play video games. Ten million have downloaded the app to watch Twitch on their phones. Sound pretty stupid? We tuned in (because we have to) and it was actually interesting. In fact it was more […]

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GETTING A JUMP

We stopped paying for AAA road service after they refused Joy’s call for help. Joy’s car was sandwiched tightly between two others in a crowded medical parking garage and she couldn’t get in. She finally got help from a building employee.

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THING CHARGER

The $40 “ThingCharger” interested us: There more than a dozen kinds of chargers in stores and on the web but this one was different. It lets you plug in a regular devices, like a blender, a toaster or a vacuum cleaner, at the same time as you’re charging your cell phone.

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THAT’S FAST

Joy’s nephew recently graduated from a flip phone to a smart phone. The one thing he misses is the long battery life of the flip phone. What if you could fully charge an iPhone in five minutes? A charger that can do just that is slated to come out in August. This idea so electrified (so to speak) the Kickstarter community that “Pronto,” the forthcoming fast charger, quickly raised $375,249 in seed money. (That was $325,000 more than they were looking for.) The basic device will cost $89 and hold three charges. The super model will hold nine charges. Either will fully charge an iPhone in five minutes. You can pre-order one for June delivery from pronto-battery.backerkit.com.

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BATTERY LIFE ON THE IPHONE

After we reviewed some battery basics in a recent column, readers who own iPhones and iPads wanted more. There’s much you can do beyond looking at “Usage” in the “Settings” area to find where the battery hogs are.

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CELL PHONE BATTERY WOES

The battery in the Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone is supposed to last for 18 hours on standby, 10 hours if you’re talking, 8 hours if you’re playing a video. We’ve been lucky if ours lasted half that. A free app called “Greenify,” along with some basic adjustments, has made a big difference. Greenify for Android phones hibernates any apps you don’t need to have running. Our phone stays on for at least 18 hours now, with light use. Some apps, such as the Amazon Kindle app, take a little longer to load with Greenify running in the background, but that’s better than a phone that dies when you don’t expect it. Before Greenify, we tried several other battery life extenders: […]

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