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.

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Choosing a tablet is as bad as buying a car

ipadminiSo, this is the time of year when shopping is in full swing for the holidays.  Every year, there seems to be that one standout, must have category and, so it seems, this year it is the tablet computer.  As such, I thought I would give some pointers on how to shop. I don’t want to come out and recommend a specific tablet, but I will share my thoughts on several categories of tablets.

How to determine which category you belong in

First thing to decide is who is the tablet going to go to, it is the important part of the puzzle. If it is going to a child, then skip ahead.  If to an adult, or yourself, then you need to know the following:

  • Does the recipient have an iPhone already? If they do, they, likely, already have a multitude of accessories and applications.  Things like power adaptors, bluetooth keyboards, cables, etc. will work on the iPad and, if they do not have one, that it is the best and easiest way to go.
  • Does the recipient have an Android phone? If yes, then skip to the buying an Android tablet.
  • Does the recipient have a Kindle or use the Kindle software? If yes, there are three choices: the Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD 7 inch or Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch.  Here’s where you need to figure out which is better. If they have a hard time seeing, then get the 8.9 inch otherwise, the 7 inch is probably the best way to go.  Amazon has a nice ecosystem already and if they use Amazon Prime, then there is a whole world of streaming possibilities. Plus, anything you purchase from Amazon (like apps or media) will be store in the cloud and the device.
  • Does the recipient need or want an e-reader more than a tablet? If yes, then the aforementioned Kindle Fire or the Barnes and Noble Nook HD are good choices.  The Nook runs a more standard Android operating system while the Kindle Fire (and HD) run a modified Android OS.  Also, there is the KOBO e-reader with table like features and the low end Kindle and Nooks (with some tablety features) for under $80.
  • Does the recipient eschew Android and iOS (the operating system of the Apple iPad) and want something different? Well, if so, there are not many choices. You have Windows 7 tablets, Windows 8 RT and Windows 8 Pro. The Windows tablets are still on the pricey side, however if you want something more like an iPad, but not iPad, the Windows RT tablet may fit the bill. There are several brands, including the MIcrosoft Surface as well as one from Asus.  Keep in mind, Windows 8 RT Store is rather new and no where near as complete as the Android and Apple’s App Store.

If an Android tablet is in the offering, then read on…

Buying an Android Tablet

Android tablets are plentiful and run the gamut from 1.0 to 4.1.  Price is a big factor here, the cheaper the tablet, the crappier the tablet, with a few exceptions.  Generally speaking, stay away from brands that you have never heard of, as well as low end names like Craig, Emerson and, sadly, Sylvania.  These are going to be cheap, slow, lack performance and battery life and, likely, the Google Play Store.  You will have to get your apps from, shall we say, more questionable sources. Plus, many of these tablets will run older versions of Android (CVS carries one – a Craig – with Android 1.6) which may be wholly incompatible with most apps.

It is better to stay with names you know, like Motorola, Samsung and LG.  Samsung has the best Android tablet, the Galaxy 10.1. It rocks the latest Android, has the performance and battery life to make it useful.  Motorola’s tablet is nice, but lacks some of the prowess of the Samsung. Others to look for include Acer (which always makes good products) and Asus.  These are going to be pricier tablet, in the $300 to $600 range, but will be worth the cash.

Stay away, far away…

…from places like CVS, Big Lots, Wal-Greens or any such store.  They are likely to have the aforementioned low end brands and nothing worth laying down your cash. (One possible exception is thesylvania7 Sylvania 7 inch in the BLACK BOX. I don’t have the model number, but it has Android 4.1 and sports a 1.2ghz processor and seems fairly responsive. I would ONLY get this if you need a spare device to use for music or internet and it’s under $80.)  Be careful if you do decide to get a tablet at one of these retailers (which I really have nothing against, they just aren’t the place to go buy a tablet) since some tablets are being sold with WINDOWS CE. Read the box, carefully. You DO NOT WANT WINDOWS CE.  Not in a tablet, phone, ‘netbook’ or anything else. Trust me on this, that is one dog you just do not want.  Also, Pandigital is a brand to now stay far away from as they are no longer an active company. You can still find their stuff in the channel, but you will get NO SUPPORT. And, I’m pretty sure that most of the other tablets will render you supportless as well.

Buying for a child or for a family

There are many tablets for children that are really nothing more than toys. Some of these are fine and are inexpensive, like the Innotab. However, if you want a real tablet that is safe for kids, your choices are limited.  Ideally, you will want a tablet that lets you set up profiles for the kids and profiles for the adults.  Currently, the Kindle Fire and FIre HD will do this, as will the Nook and Samsung Galaxy (a combination of manufacturer software and Android.)  The Windows tablets will as well, but they are far too pricey for kids. iPad does not currently do this, but it does have the best selection of children friendly games and software, bar none.  The Kindle offering has a good selection as well.  Another thing to consider is durability. Currently, there are bumpers and cases for the iPad, Galaxy and Fire that will protect the tablet from drops and other oopsies.  Price is also a factor as well as size. The bigger the tablet, the harder it is for them to hold.  Here, the iPad MIni is a great choice. Children’s eyes are usually better than ours, so the difference in the screen won’t mean much. It is also cheaper than it’s much larger brother.

Ok, I’m still not sure what to get…

surfacertAlright, let’s look at it a different way…what does the recipient do most: play games, use Facebook or other social network, surf the net, be productive?  For simple net surfing and Facebook, pretty much any of the under $200 tablets will do that, hell, even those cheap ones I just warned you about will do that (still, stay away from them) but you want to get one that COULD do more,  Here’s where the Kindle Fire or Barnes and Nobel Nook HD would be excellent choices. Both are under two hundred bucks, both have a fairly decent ecosystem, both are easy to use.

If the recipient wants to play games, again most of the mid to upper end units will work, but the iPad has the advantage here. Every major game publisher supports the iPad and you can bet they will for a long time to come. Forget the iPad mini and get the real deal and go for the 32gb version, they will burn through 16gb in no time. The Samsung Galaxy, Kindle Fire and Fire HD and the B&N Nook HD also make nice game players. Not sure about Windows RT as the RT market is rather limited at the moment.

Being productive is the big limitation here.  This is the area where the Windows devices shine best. The Windows 7 tablets, while functional, should be ignored as they are nothing more than Windows 7 computers shoehorned into a tablet. Get a Windows 8 Pro device. You can use full size keyboard and mice and also use them as full desktops. Plus, they have the mobility factor.  The Windows RT devices CAN be used this way, but the PRO version is better. Also, iPad and the Samsung Galaxy are good, if not incomplete, choices.sylvania10inch

Ultimately, money is likely your deciding factor. Get the most for the least is my motto and you can do that with tablets, but you have to shop around. Best Buy will have most of them out so you can at least play around with them and their prices aren’t awful either.  Surprisingly, Target is another place to purchase them, but the selection is extremely limited.

A good resource to use for comparing features and reviews is CNet. Amazon is decent too, but can be confusing.

Good luck and Happy Holidays!

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.

Snoopy gets a new phone! Or is that Apple announces new iphones?

Today was THE big reveal day…the day we had been waiting a very long time to take place.  Yes, we finally heard the big news today.

And, what’s the big news? Kings Dominion is adding a 7 acre Planet Snoopy kiddie area to the park! Isn’t that exciting?

Oh, wait…not THAT news.  Ah, got it.

iPhone5_001You want to know about what APPLE said, right? Well, they sold a boat load of computers and iOS devices and iOS 6 is right around the corner. There are new iPods coming and, oh yeah, a new phone too.

iPhone 5 will sport a bigger 4 inch screen, an Apple A6 Microprocessor which, according to Apple, along with the new GPU, will double the performance of the device over the 4S.  Apple says ‘we added a fifth row’ of icons.  Naturally, with all of that space, applications need to be redesigned to use the resolution and full screen.  Of course, Apple’s own apps are updated. Non-Apple apps, however, get displayed letterbox style.  No stretching to fill the screen.

New cameras, iOS 6, bigger phone, higher resolution display, improved WiFi and…the biggest news? LTE.  LTE is the next generation cell radio. Higher speed, referred to as ‘4G LTE.’  Two times – or more – faster than 3G but not as ubiquitous.  Sprint, AT&T and Verizon in the States, Rogers in Canada and in Japan. The UK will also have an LTE version.

One other major change…the dock connector, long rumored to be going away, is now much smaller. Called Lightening, the connector is only nineiPhone_5_34Hi_Stagger_FrontBack_Black_PRINT pins and can be plugged in either way. There is, of course, an adaptor to let you use all of your current accessories with the new phone.

The software, naturally, has been enhanced and much effort was placed in the camera software. A nice panorama feature was added and the camera itself got a major update from the lens to the image sensor (which is now 8megapixels and, if the photos are real, the pictures look gorgeous.)

The iPhone 3GS is history and now the iPhone 4 fills the low end spot.  The 4 is going to be fully subsidized, meaning it is free on contract, the 4S is $99 and the 5 is $199. The price points are very enticing, if you want to lock yourself in a two year contract and the Apple ecosystem.

iPod_nano_7Up_PB_PF_wPods_PRINTSpeaking of ecosystem…iPods got updates as well. The Nano was most dramatic.  Sporting a 2 and a half inch touch screen, the new Nano is bigger, but thinner, than the previous model. It now plays video (again) and features an improved touch interface. 

iPod Touch gets much of the same improvements as iPhone 5, but instead of the A6 processor, it gets the A5, still a capable processor. It also gets the 4 inch retina screen, iOS 6, 8mp camera, improved WiFi and a built in Wii Controller like strap.  Apple seems to be positioning the Touch as a game player first and foremost (why else would the include the strap?) and a media consumption device second.

The improved products should bring in billions more for the company, but, really, none of it is earthshattering. The changes to iPhone are nice and the bigger screen was necessary but, really, nothing all that great.  I think I was more excited over the Nano than anything else. Well, that FREE iPhone 4 doesn’t look to bad, but it isn’t a Windows Phone 8 either.

MobileNoter for Android and a way to get your EverNote notes into OneNote with one click

As I have previously stated, I am a huge fan of Microsoft’s
OneNote note taking application.  OneNote is a terrific database whose sole
purpose is the art of taking notes. You can arrange your notes any way you wish
and you can include multimedia in them as well.  Handwriting recognition and
audio notation are included. The application, however, has one major drawback:
It is Windows centric.

Microsoft has released a somewhat limited iPhone client. While

MobileNoter for Android

MobileNoter for Android

it works, it is lacking in many features that make OneNote so great.

Last year, I wrote a mini-review of an application called MobileNoter. MobileNoter was an iPhone/iPad
application that also had a Windows piece that allowed syncing of OneNote
Notebooks with your iDevice.  The application worked very well.

MobileNoter now has two additional components: an Android
client and the awesome Ever2One converter.

First, the Android client works very much like the iDevice counterpart.
I won’t go into a lot of detail here on how it works. Click the link to go to
the product page for screenshots and a video.  Suffice it to say that it is a
tremendous way to get your OneNote Notebooks onto your Android device.

The second companion piece is more exciting for me
since I also use EverNote.  Ever2One is an EverNote to OneNote converter.  Once you
install the software, you give your EverNote credentials and then select your
EverNote notebooks to copy to your OneNote Notebooks.  While it is no speed
demon, it is a great way to your EverNote Notes into your OneNote Notebook. If Evernote to OneNote convertor
you are like me and use EverNote on the go but would like to incorporate them
into your OneNote repository, this is a godsend. My notes came over intact.  No
more manual copy and paste.  If you are moving from EverNote to OneNote, this is
the easiest way to do that.

MobileNoter does have a cost. The Android Standalone client,
which works directly with your OneNote files, is 6.99 and the standard
application is $15.00.  The Cloud Sync version is also $15.00. If you are a
heavy OneNote user, this software is a must.