Looking for a tablet for your child? Check out the Nabi 2

nabi2The Tablet computer continues its ascension and there is now a tablet for pretty much every need, including children.

Since the devices can range in price from $50(US) to thousands, with most in the $300-$800, many of us do not want to spend that much for such a fragile device for our kids.  Apple and the iPad Mini come close at just over $320, while Amazon is pretty much dead on with its $159 Kindle Fire and the $199 Fire HD.  However, these devices were still designed with adults in mind (though the Fires do have a child mode built in that is pretty effective.)

The children’s tablet, real tablets, is a fairly nascent market with two entries so far: the Kurio and the Nabi.  The Kurio sells for $149 for a 4gb unit. However, it seems pretty lacking and the touch screen is so-so. Also, it does not come with any full-version games.  The Nabi, on the other hand, not only comes with full-version games, it includes 50 very kid-friendly music tracks, an easy to use interface and the touch screen is really nice. Not Kindle Fire nice, but not bad either. Plus, the device is running Android 4.0 with a kid-friendly and a parent friendly user interface. The Kurio does allow for upto 8 profiles, while the Nabi has two: Nabi and ‘Mom Mode’ (which could also be called ‘Dad Mode’.)

In Nabi mode, the device is kid centric. Very few system settings are available here, only the ones dealing with the screen and wifi are available. Plus, the child cannot do much in the way of changing the appearance of the device, delete software, purchase anything or do other things they should not do.  In other words, it is pretty kid proof.

There are games like Angry Birds included. In all, there are 25 full version games and other software plus a slew of demo games.  Also included, is something called the Treasure Chest.  Treasure Chest can be a reward for the child: do something good and get rewarded with games, puzzles, music or what ever. The Treasure Chest uses coins as its monetary system. The parent buys coins from the Nabi store (think Microsoft or Wii points) which can then be doled out to the child via the management panel. When you allot coins, they are available to the child in the Treasure Chest. They can then use the coins to ‘purchase’ something from the Chest. It’s a fun, nice way to reward the child.

For the parent, they can add the Amazon App Store and purchase and download apps there as well. Since only the parent can purchase software, only the parent can make it available to the child via the Nabi mode home screens. In the parent mode, there is an ‘add/remove apps’ app that allows Mom or Dad to add or remove an app from the child’s home screens.  That game you just got too violent for them but you like it, just remove it from the Nabi home screen. By default, software is NOT added to the Nabi home screens, you must do this yourself.

The device also includes a lot of educational software and games as well as a trial for University,  a sort of online  school. I have not looked into this, so I can only repeat what is on the web site.

Internet access is via the Maxthon Browser’s child mode. There are ten or so links already in the browser for kid friendly sites and the parent can add sites as they wish.  The full Maxthon Browser is also available for the parent as well as Android’s Browser.  While Flash 11.1 is included, Flash based sites do not appear to work or work well.

The device, a 7 inch Tegra 2 tablet, is rugged, but kid friendly. It comes with a red rubbery bumper that is adequate for gripping by the child. Graphical prowess-which, I might add, is pretty damn good, is by nVidia. The speed boat racing game looked great and was very smooth. Audio, while not loud, was crisp and clean.  Overall, this is a very nice tablet for parents as well. It also comes with 8gb of storage and has a micro-SD slot for additional storage. Connectors include micro-HDMI, power and USB.

accessories-section-cMy one gripe with the hardware is the case itself: the middle of the back has these lego like things that protrude up. They are used for these blocky letters, so you can turn the device over and use with real world blocks to spell out things. They are called ‘Kinabis’. Check out the accessories page.

For $179, the Nabi 2 is really good tablet for both children and adults. A bit more expensive than the Kurio, but it seems worth the extra $30.  If you are looking for a kid-friendly tablet, hop on over to your local Best Buy or Toys R Us and check this thing out.

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iCade Jr: arcade fun for your iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad

iCadejrSince getting the iPhone 4 a few months back, I’ve managed to get a few accessories for it, either through purchase or gifts.  One of them really brings out the kid in you: the iCade Jr.  iCade, for those who do not know, is a mini arcade cabinet sized for the iPad. It has a real joystick (that would look at home in an actual arcade cabinet) and four buttons arranged in a diamond pattern. The device uses bluetooth, so it could really work with any bluetooth enabled tablet.

iCade Jr. is the same as iCade, only sized for the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and 4s. Or, actually, ANY similarly sized and shaped, bluetooth enabled device. (The iPod Touch works as well.)

Of course, the games themselves need to be compatible with the device and, sadly, most are not. There is a list of compatible games on the iCade Jr. web site.

I have purchased the Activision Atari Collection ($4.95 in the app store) and it works like a charm. The ability to play Pitfall, as it would have been on the Atari VCS, on my phone is pretty damned cool.  The collection also includes games from Imagic as well (Atlantis, anyone?)

Even though the device is diminutive, it really does ‘feel’ like the real thing…in miniature. I find that it has to be played on a table top and not one’s lap, not a big deal, but limits its portability. Some of the games need to be played with the phone rotated, so having phone sit sideways on the device is kind of a let down, but, once in the game, you really don’t care.

The biggest disappointment, however, is also a big plus: it is NOT a dock and has NO physical connection to the phone. There is, however, a slide through for your charging/data cable, so it does make a cool ‘dock’ to charge the phone.  This, by the way, also makes it more universal.

At it’s current sales price of $9.99 at thinkgeek.com, you could buy to use just as a cool charging station for your device.  I’m guessing, though, that there are games on the Android side that will work with the iCade.

One caveat: while the iCade should work great with the iPhone 5, the top may not shut all the way since the iPhone 5 is taller.

Lastly, since the device IS bluetooth, you can ALSO USE THE DEVICE with the iPad. So…prop up that iPad and use the iCade Jr. as a controller as well. And, for under ten bucks, it’s a rather cool controller.

iCade and iCade Jr. are from ION Audio and can be purchased from retailers like Target, BJ’s Warehouse and thinkgeek.com.

You can find a list of compatible iOS games here.

Windows 8/RT on your iPad? Sort of, with Smartglass for XBOX

smartglass2The Windows RT environment (the old “metro” for those of us who liked that name) is a rather elegant and clean interface.  It is one that lends itself to a variety of devices, from smartphones, computers and tablets and the video game consoles, specifically, the XBOX.

During the last E3 game conference, Microsoft demoed ‘Smartglass’, its answer to the Wii-U and other handheld and console combos, like Sony’s ill-designed Vita and PS3. In a nutshell, Smartglass is a means to present secondary game play or other information from the XBOX to a second screen. It also lets you remote control your XBOX.

At is simplest level, Smartglass is an application that works with the XBOX. There are version for Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, iPhone and iPad and Android.  You can get the app from the respective app store.  Windows 8, during install, however, found my XBOX and automatically configured Smartglass.

I also checked out the iOS version for iPad.  smartglass4Boy, the Windows RT environment would work very, very well on iPads.  Forgetting for a moment that I was actually using RT on an iPad, I was really drawn into the application and found myself doing things that are actually easier with Kinect or a controller, like navigating the XBOX dashboard.

Since I do not yet have any SmartGlass enabled applications, I was limited to checking out things like the new browser and getting stats and other information. Using the iPad as a remote control was pretty cool and really useful for text entry since it will take advantage of the iPad on screen keyboard.

The new browser for XBOX is nice. I was able to browse to smartglass1sights I visit the most, like Facebook, the Verge and my own blog. Each rendered correctly and videos played correctly.  Using Smartglass on iPad made browsing really easy..but..here’s the thing, if I want to browse, I’m probably going to actually use the iPad for browsing and not the XBOX. However, the browser does open up more content for your big screen (like Vimeo and the commercial networks) so it does have SOME utility. And, if you do not have a secondary device, you CAN use the controller to enter the URL, but it is a pain. You can use Smartglass to set up favorites and pin them to the dashboard and THEN use the controller.

Osmartglass6ne of the things Smartglass will do is show you your most used/played games and apps.  The recents page will show you played or used recently and you can tap on the tile to restart the app or game.

Smartglass really shines with the XBOX store. You can browse the store on the secondary device while the XBOX is doing something else. You can purchase music, apps or video in Smartglass and it will show up on the XBOX.

smartglass5Smartglass also lets you manage your XBOX account and avatar. You can customize your avatar on the iPad and it is updated almost immediately on XBOX. I think I prefer this over customizing the avatar directly on the XBOX.  I can use the funky XBOX controllers for games, but anything else? Forget it, I have the worst time.  Using touch on the iPad is more intuitive and convenient.

Perhaps the easy access to your gaming achievements is the coolest thing about Smartglass. You get complete breakdowns, by game, of all of your XBOX achievements. Now, I love to play games, but stick mostly to the Call of Duty games on XBOX, but, I smartglass8can imagine, others play a plethora of games so this feature is probably going to be the most important to these users.

Overall, Microsoft did an excellent job of bringing the RT environment to iOS and making it useful. Smartglass is, very likely, the nicest looking and smoothest iOS app out there.  And, best of all, it is free.

Goodbye, Android and good riddence…hello, iPhone!

285389-htc-evo-shift-4g-sprintI am about to end my year and change flirtation with Android.  It has been an exercise in futility. While there are a few things I like about it, the multitude of apps and the openness of it, I cannot say that I will miss it. So, what am I replacing my HTC phone with?

Well, I really wanted a Windows 8 phone. However, since I have Sprint, my chances of getting one are nearly zero. So far, Sprint has stated that they have no plans to carry such a phone in the near future.  Joe Belfiore, of the Windows Phone group in Microsoft, stated last week (via Twitter) that they have no idea what other carriers are going to carry the phones until they are announced. Seriously? I have a hard time believing that…he IS the face of Windows Phone.

So, what will it be?

Sadly, not Windows Phone. The next best thing, however, is an iPhone. So, I am eating my anti-iphone4Apple words and getting myself an iPhone 4. Why? Well, the ecosystem is established, the price is right ($0) and my son and wife have one, so I may as well get one so we can Facetime.  Hopefully, this foray into Apple’s world will be short.  I’m not willing to switch carriers just to get a Windows powered phone. Maybe, just maybe, next year Sprint will have seen the error of its ways and carry the damned things.  It will be just my luck, however, that they announce next month. 

Why can’t I wait, you ask? Well, FRUSTRATION. Frustration with Android. Every time I want to install something, I have to first: clear the internet cache, erase my Facebook data and clear the cache and then hunt for anything else to erase or clear because the damn memory management in Android stinks. I don’t know why it does not do a better job, but it does not.  Next, the shell. I cannot find a decent, reliable and fast launcher shell. The GO! Launcher was the closest thing I had found, but the themes were just terrible and GO! by itself was butt ugly. Plus, the GO! Locker has a HUGE bug: while the phone is ‘locked’, you can press the volume up and down buttons a few times and return back to the launch screen without entering a code.  Real secure there.  Lastly, speed. Android is DOG SLOW. Period. Performance is sub par to even my old Palm Pre.  Android, may you rot in hell.

iPhone 4, while not perfect, does seem pretty responsive.  Safari, while not the best browser around, is really fast compared to that junk in Android. Admittedly, Firefox on Android performs a bit better, but not by much.  The ecosystem for iPhone is top notch…but, as with Android, there is a LOT of crapware in there.  For every one decent app, there must be 20 terrible apps. It is worse with Android: it is more like 1 and 40.  Terrible. 

Android is not complete crap, though. Since it is Google, it did keep my calendar and contacts in the ‘cloud’ as well as the machine. That will make it easy to transfer them to my new phone. Thanks, Google!

My HTC EVO Shift 4G, hardware wise, was not an awful phone, it just wasn’t a good phone. The only time I really enjoyed it was when I was able to get 4G, which was almost never. I won’t miss that.

So, I am still not an Apple fan and feel really hypocritical for ordering the iPhone, I just don’t feel that there was a decent alternative. I think Windows Phone 8 COULD be that phone, but Microsoft has done little to promote it, sell it to carriers (other than AT&T, which has most of the new phones) or convince developers to code for the OS.  By withholding the SDK, they have not given devs enough time to get product coded, tested and released. What the hell are you thinking, Microsoft? The shroud of secrecy does not work for you.

So, I wait for my new phone to be delivered. Once I have it and have used it for a few days, I’ll post up a review. Yeah, it’s a two year old phone, but it is still relevant since it is now the low end phone for Apple.

“This ipad was made by samsung”

So, Apple is suing companies all over the globe for patent infringement, trademark infringement and copyright infringement. As well as a host of other things.  One of the companies they are hitting hard is Samsung.

Samsung makes a line of smartphones and tablets.  The quality of the products vary, but all of are generally sound design and Samsung just does not make junk, so it is all going to be satisfactory.  The operating system in most of the devices is some flavor of Android and therein lies the problem. See, Steve Jobs swore that he would do anything he could to destroy Android and litigation is one big weapon in the arsenal.

Apple’s biggest argument is that people will confuse the Samsung devices with Apple devices and buy the Samsung device instead.  Hmmm…let’s ponder that. They think people will just ignore the big SAMSUNG on the packaging. That they will ignore SAMSUNG emblazoned on the device in silver letters.  Do they really think the public is that stupid?  (Judging from the dreary but now defunct ads, I’d say yes.)

How anyone could confuse the two is a real mystery. You’d have to be pretty ignorant to do so.

And, Apple, by nature, there is only a few original ways to design a tablet or phone and you do not own that. No one does.

Good Night!

Flipboard for Android now available

FlipBoard2One of the best applications for the iPad has, finally, come out on Android:  FlipBoard.  FlipBoard is an RSS aggregator that looks like a magazine, newspaper and web page all rolled into one. It is, visually, one of the nicest looking iPad applications and its Android version looks even better. It isn’t often I say an Android app looks good, but this one does (so does Google+ for Android.)

FlipBoard, for those who have not seen, takes a number of RSS newsfeeds (RSS, Really Simple Syndication, is a means by which web sites can allow users to ‘subscribe’ to their feed for viewing in a browser, email client or RSS reader) and organizes them in categories. It presents any images that may be embedded in a magazine like layout. The use of typography, layout and images gives it a clean, polished look and one that, dare I say, resembles Microsoft’s Metro style.

I downloaded it for both my HTC Shift and Kindle Fire and it works well on both, though it is a tad slow on the Kindle Fire.  On the phone, I found my self having to scroll a lot, but the screen is tiny, so it is to be expected. Even the app looks and works great on my phone, the phone is ALMOST too small for this app to be really useful. On the Fire, however, it works well for the form factor.

FlipBoard is free and available from the Amazon App Store and Google’s Play Store.