Waiting In The Wings: Upcoming Wearable Technology Gadgets in 2014

Wearable technology has steadily been going mainstream, especially over these past two years. In fact, if you go by market figures, wearable technology may be the next big thing- just like smartphones were in 2008.To put it into perspective, the market value of wearable tech was a measly 6.3 million in 2010. In 2014, this valuegrew by leaps and bounds to reach a staggering (estimated) $ 5.1 billion.

A lot of money is going into research and development of wearable tech as well. Several companies have come up with a slew of outstanding wearable gadgets this year. Here’s a preview of 10 upcoming wearable technology gadgets that you can expect in 2014:

Google Glass

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Google Glass is, perhaps, the most looked-forward to gadget of 2014. Google Glass is still in open beta until the end of the year, but you can purchase it if you have a US shipping address and are over 18 years of age. The glasses are made of feather-light titanium. Google Glass can do a lot of amazing things, like record videos and click photos and reply to emails and texts with just voice commands. It also lets you listen to music, helps keep you fit through apps and help you find your way with Google Now.

Get Google Glass here.

Avegant Glyph

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Avegant Glyph is a revolutionary portable personal theater system that is built into a pair of wearable headphones. The band of the headphones flips to cover your eyes and videos are beamed directly onto your retina using Virtual Retinal Display technology. This makes for the sharpest, clearest and most colorful images you can hope to see digitally. The mobile theater system also includes premium 3D audio for an immersive experience.

Preorder theAvegant Glyph here.

Polar V800 Wristband

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The Polar V800 Wristband debuted early this year at the CES show. Polar V800 Wristband is a sports watch designed for professional athletes or people serious about their fitness. The watch can track your speed, distance covered and routetaken. It can help you plan and design a fitness regimen as well.

Get the Polar V800 Wristband here.

Intel Edison

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The Intel Edison is a tiny development board/ computer that is half as small as the palm of your hand. The development board contains a dual-core 400 MHz Quark processor that is as powerful as the early Pentium range of processors. It has integrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support. The board can theoretically be fit into anything – t-shirts, trousers and shoes. At the moment, however, you can only buy it with the Mimo Baby Monitor.

Learn more about the Mimo Baby Monitor and buy it here.

Freescale WaRP

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Freescale introduced a Wearable Reference Platform (WaRP) board this year. Like the Intel Edison, the WaRP features some revolutionary technology. It runs on the world’s smallest ARM processor and supports high-level operating systems like Linux and Android. It has several potential uses in the future, like gaming headsets, wellness monitors, smart watches and wireless insulin pumps. It also has a built-in Linear Accelerometer and Magnetometer.

Currently, you can see it in action if you buy the Garmin Forerunner 10 running watch.

Pebble Steel

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The Pebble Steel (Pebble 2) was another promising debutant at the CES 2014 show. The Pebble Steel is a wearable watch that comes in attractive Brushed Stainless Steel and Black Matte finishes. The watch is as useful as it looks good. Pebble Steel syncs with your smartphone to let you read messages. It supports apps and has a LED indicator. The watch can go up to 7 days between charges. Pebble Steel is available in limited supply, so expect to get it a few months after you order.

You can order Pebble Steel here.

Samsung Gear 2

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The Samsung Gear 2 is a wearable, water-resistant watch that debuted in the middle of 2014. The watch is a significant improvement over its predecessor, the Samsung Gear. The Samsung Gear 2 can sync with Samsung smartphones. It offers features like a heart-rate monitor, notifications for messages and calls and a range of fitness and health apps. It also doubles as a remote for your TV and set-top boxes. The watch is easy to use because of its touch-screen interface and is available in a range of eye-catching colors.

You can buy Samsung Gear 2 here.

Intelligent Headset

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The Intelligent Headset is a wearable headset that offers true 3D sounds. It claims to produce sounds as you would hear them in real life – from above, from behind and everywhere at once. It comes with several sensors- like an accelerometer, GPS, compass and gyro- that can tell you where you are and which direction you’re facing. It also has Bluetooth support.

While not available commercially yet, you can preorder the Intelligent Headset here.

LG G Watch

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The LG G Watch is one of the first watches fitted with the revolutionary Android Wear technology (controllable with the app). The LG G watch is available in a range of colors and has changeable straps. It is dust and water resistant. The watch can be used to access the Google search engine with just voice commands. It constantly displays useful information when worn, like the weather or the route you should take to work.

Get the LG G Watch here.

Misfit Shine

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Misfit Shine is a sleeping and fitness monitor that can be worn anywhere on your body – like your wrists, on your shoes, on your neck, hanging off your pocket and even inside it. The monitor works with all major smartphone brands and lasts for up to 6 months on a charge. The monitor has an attractive LED display. It helps you track your calorie intake, sleep patterns and distance traveled while running. Misfit Shine debuted earlier this year as well.

You can buy Misfit Shine here.

As good as 2014 is if you are a wearable technology fan, 2015 promises to be even better. Expect to see smart toothbrushes, wearable digital mood indicators and even vacuum shoes to hit the shelves next year.

Review: iolo’s System Mechanic 14

Recently, iolo technologies released the newest version of its award winning PC tune-up software: the System Mechanic 14. iolo technologies has long been a market leader in the PC tune-up segment. According to research data published by NPD, its System Mechanic software is the highest selling product of its kind in the US, with a market share of around 66%.

iolo’s latest offering, the System Mechanic 14, improves on what its predecessor, System Mechanic 12, had to offer in several ways. It introduces new features like LiveBoost, which dramatically improves a device’s performance and helps maximize its battery life. System Mechanic works with all devices capable of running Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows 7, Vista and XP.

Having a PC tune-up software is something of a necessity these days. PCs get cluttered surprisingly quickly and begin to slow down as time goes by. Sometimes, they can take twice as long to boot. These factors, aside from being major annoyances, also hamper productivity at work or home. System Mechanic is a tune-up utility that can solve these problems and make PCs – even the oldest ones- run as fast as they did on the day they were bought.

The Installation

Users can get a free trial version (30 days) of System Mechanic 14 at iolo.com. Installing the software is a pretty straightforward process that takes a few minutes, depending on the PC.

Once the software has been installed, users are required to run a quick system analysis scan before they can access the other features of the software. Upon scanning, System Mechanic displays a list of problems plaguing the PC as well as its overall health. Users can get more information about these problems by clicking on the View Problems option or choose to repair them all by clicking the Repair All option. Some of the issues the tool checks for include Windows core data conflicts, registry errors, system clutter, resource intensive start up programs, security vulnerabilities and memory levels.

System Mechanic’s unique feature is, apart from providing information about problems, it also explains exactly why they slow down your system.

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Run a health check for your PC

After the problems have been repaired – a process that takes a few minutes at the most- System Mechanic generates a detailed list of the repairs it undertook. It also gives users the option to rollback repairs if anything were to go wrong.

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Comprehensive summary of actions taken

Repairing the problems significantly speeds up load times, makes multi-tasking easier and helps the computer run much more smoothly in general. System Mechanic also optimizes the internet connection, providing a noticeable increase in download speeds.

While the surface scan takes about 1-2 minutes, users also can opt for the Deep Analysis scan. This is a much more comprehensive scan that checks the computer thoroughly for all kinds of errors. The scan can take up to 7 minutes, depending on the system in question.

The Features

Once the quick scan is done with, users can access the other features of the program. System Mechanic 14 has a friendly, no frills user interface. All the features of the programs are listed neatly in the comprehensive menu to the left of the screen.

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Intuitive user interface

Some of the noteworthy features users have access to in System Mechanic 14 include ActiveCare, Toolbox and LiveBoost.

Active Care: ActiveCare is a program that runs automatically in the background- optimizing the PC, detecting problems and repairing them. The utility only runs when system resources aren’t being utilized for other tasks. The program will free up unused memory, defragment the registry and optimize the system drive as well as the startup configuration. It will also automatically repair broken shortcuts, a broken internet connection and Windows conflicts and registry problems.

Toolbox: The Toolbox section of program includes a host of features targeted at helping users maximize performance, perform diagnostics and ensure their privacy is being protected. This is an advanced tool meant for those who want to get the most out of their system in every way possible.

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Swiss-knife of system utilities

LiveBoost: LiveBoost is a powerful new feature that has been added to System Mechanic 14. The tool runs separately from System Mechanic – switching off System Mechanic will not switch LiveBoost off. LiveBoost helps optimize and speed-up a PC in real time. It configures the device to run at peak efficiency, enabling users to get the most out of the hardware at hand. Users are given a choice of several modes, suitable for different resource-intensive tasks like gaming, video editing, internet browsing and office productivity.

Live boost has four buttons, with corresponding features, that can be turned on and off. The OptiCore feature will prevent background programs from hogging system resources, the RamJet feature will release memory reserved for programs that are no longer running, AccelWrite will automatically optimize file storage and IdelDown will reduce powerconsumption when the computer is idle. The RamJet and OptiCore tools also generate notifications (can be turned off) when they prevent problems and optimize the computer.

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Great features to boost performance

LiveBoost can also put devices in Endurance mode. This mode maximizes the battery life by making the device use as little power as possible – perfect for laptops constantly low on juice. Apart from using LiveBoost to improve performance and saving power, users can also keep track of the current RAM and CPU usage through the Dashboard section of the tool.

The Price

System Mechanic 14 retails at $39.95 for the standard version and $59.95 for the Pro version. The Pro version includes added features like an anti-virus and anti-spyware program termed System Shield, an advanced data removal utility to erase a hard drive called DriveScrubber and online backup support. For both versions, users get access to customer care support. Also, there are no restrictions on the number of PCs System Mechanic can be installed on, provided they are not being used for business purposes.

The Verdict

System Mechanic 14 significantly improves PC health and provides a noticeable boost in speed and performance. All in all, the newest version of System Mechanic remains a worthwhile investment, which can be used to breathe new life into even the oldest, most sluggish of PCs.

Featured Image : Rami via Flickr

Google Glance: A Look At Google Products, Services And Tools

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Google Einstein Logo at Google Kirkland

 

One of the biggest startup success of our times, Google has becomes synonymous with instant information. So much so that today the word “search” is on a brink of extinction with the new expression “Google it” taking over.  The Oxford English Dictionary has Google listed as a verb and a noun, goes to show its prowess and the mind-space it occupies.

What started on September 4th 1998 as a privately held company, Google became a name to reckon with in all these years and today offers bevy of internet related products and services. It was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin while they were Ph.D students at Stanford University. Since its IPO in 2004, the growth of Google has been rapid and has been responsible for increasing its reach exponentially through acquisitions and other partnerships.

Some of its breakthrough products that have been the lifeline of internet are discussed below.

Search Tools

Google Search: The core competency and the blood line of the company, Google search engine is its first and most famous product. Google receives over 100 billion requests on a monthly basis and also serves the regional domains.

Accessible Search: Built for the visually impaired, the results give accessible websites to minimize distractions and make browsing easy for the disabled.

Blog Search: This search lists all the blogs and not just the ones listed on the blogger.

Google Books: This search engine provides full texts or excerpts from the printed books, depending upon its agreement with the publisher.

Google Custom Search: The user can create a personalized search option for their websites.

Google News: the search engine is automatically updated by all the latest news in more than 20 languages.

Web History: web page tracking service that records all the searches, pages, videos, images, music etc.

Image search: The results on this search engine are based on the file name corresponding to the image.

Google Alerts: this is an email notification service which notifies every time there is a new result in the chosen items.

Advertising Services

Google AdSense: contextual advertising solution is offered to the web publishers that provides Google AdWords relevant to the site content.

Google AdWords: Advertisement option in the sponsored links section that can boost the website traffic and subsequently sales.

AdWords Express: easy online advertising option available to the customers

Google Grants: Charitable organisations get free AdWords advertising as a donation.

DoubleClick: This service is for the buyers or creators of the digital media which gives them the technology to manage the advertisements.

AdMob: Mobile advertising service offered to the mobile operators

Communication Tools

Google 3D Warehouse: This tool allows the users of Google Sketch Up to hosts 3D models of existing locations which also includes buildings. These models can then downloaded by Google earth or other users.

Google Apps: This service is available to business owners or education providers to customize the apps under their custom domain name. The service includes Gmail, Google Docs, Google groups, Google sites, Google earth, Gtalk etc.

Blogger: this is a weblog publishing service which allows the users to create custom blogs with features like comments section, photos etc.

Google Bookmarks: This free online bookmark service is available to all the Google account holders free of change.

Google business solutions: These set are services are specifically for the business owners with products that include Google AdWords, Google AdSense, Google Analytics, Google site search, Google website optimizer etc.

Google Calendar: this free calendar service can integrate your Gmail account. You can share the event and the ‘quick add’ function can be used to add events to the calendar.

Google Docs: get remote access to documents, spreadsheets, power-points which can be published or collaborated.

Google Drive: online service that allows backup and storage. This service is also linked to your Google docs.

Google Hangouts: IM and video-chat portal which has integrated Gtalk, Google+ and Hangouts service into single application.

Gmail: freeIMAP& POP email service offered by Google. This email service is highly popular because of its elastic storage capacity and search based UI.

Goo.gl: free service that shortens the Google & Non-Google website addresses

Google+: Google’s very own social networking site

Picassa Web Albums: one of its kind online photo-sharing platforms used widely for its easy accessibility.

Google Fonts: free directory of hosted web fonts

YouTube: One of the most famous video sharing portals that allows users to share, upload and view videos online.

Miscellaneous Products & Services

Google App Engine: allows the users to develop and run web apps

Google Maps: provides the most accurate driving directions and local business search to people using the mapping service

Google Analytics: get pure number data regarding the traffic your website generates with the help of AdWords integration into the content.

Google Earth: desktop based application is a virtual 3D globe that uses the imagery from satellite, aerial photographs and GIS

Google Public DNS: new entry into the DNS domain can be accessed publicly.

Operating System

Android: This operating system is Linux based and powers smart phones and tablets

Chrome OS: Linux based OS works with web based apps only.

Discontinued Services

Orkut: This social networking service was initially available through invitation only which was later opened up to everyone. You can use it create personal and professional networks.

Google Deskbar: this feature had a built in mini browser in the desktop bar.

Google Click to Call: One could speak to the businesses free of charge after looking them up Google search

Google Lively: Animated chat program that ran on 3D model

Dodgeball: This social networking site was built specifically for mobile phone users. They could text their location to find the nearest friends, interesting hangouts etc.

Google Rate finder: This service could be used in 14 US cities to get real time rates of taxis, limousines and any other shuttle service.

Google Buzz: social networking integrated with Gmail to allow users to share photos, videos, updates etc in one go.

Picnik: online photo-editor service

Meebo: users could create their personal profile and then advertise on a social network

Google Talk: IM service for text and video chat was replaced by Google hangouts

Google Schemer: search allowed to look for activities that can be done at home or globally

Google notifier: alerted the users of any new messages in their Google Account

You Tube My speed: now known as Google video quality report

Google, over the years has been there and done that. It’s offerings extend much beyond this list and continues to grow successfully. It has constantly experimented and brought in innovative solutions to augment the user experience. The newest entrant in the long lineup of Google products, we hear are the driver-less vehicles. Are you ready to get in?

 

 

 

Image Credit : Danny Sullivan via Flickr

All You Need To Know About The Google IO 2014

Google kicked off its annual developer conference, Google IO 2014 in San Francisco on Wednesday. The two day event focused on unveiling the road map for many of its products. The conference which was largely an invitation-only event, concluded today with over 80 sessions on the agenda covering important announcements on its long list of products.

The keynote, as expected was choc-o-bloc with announcements that’ll cheer billions of android users globally. We round up the big announcements, hits, misses, and things to look forward to from the company that once considered naming itself “The BackRub”!

Android L : Taking a bite off the Apple?

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Google announced its contender to iOS 8, simply called L (Android 5.0) thus moving away from its history of naming its OS after sweet treats. If the end-result is anything like the keynote suggests, it is sure to be lapped by its billion-strong users.

Android L will feature what Google calls Material Design, with its pixels having not just shape but also depth. This would hand immense power to the developers to create more real world designs that are portable across devices without losing finess or functionality. Other major changes would include lockscreen notifications, and proximity sensing auto-lock to beef up on device security.

Android Auto : In Top gear

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You won’t have to fumble with your phone while driving anymore. Android Auto integrates seamlessly into your car with support for steering buttons, touchscreen and console dials. You also get Google maps incorporated in your car system with other mobile features like contacts, messages, reminders and more. With Android Auto under the bonnet, it’d be like taking your smartphone on a spin!

Android TV : Stream Entertainment

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In its rechristened avatar, Android TV will feature refined scrolling for better user experience. Also on the anvail is the voice search feature that’ll help you search for your favorite movies, tv shows and even stars. It’ll have a native game support that should bring cheer to the Android dev community. Sony, Philips and Sharp are some of the manufacturers on board already. Though, Samsung seems conspicuous by its absence in that lineup.

 Android One : Pocket-friendly ‘droid

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An android device costing less than a $100 is a sure-fire way to capture the mass markets. Through Android One, low cost phone manufacturers globally will be able to ascertain minimum hardware requirements for unified Android experience to users.

The program will launch in India with the arrival of devices for manufacturers like Micromax and Karbonn Mobile.

Android Wear : Gear up

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Google unveiled it Android Wear SDK with LG’s G watch and Samsung Gear Live. The wearable technology will take a quantum leap with users getting a host of smartphone features right on their wrists obviating the need to whip out large screen phones to check new updates.

Going by the demo, it would support both square and round displays. Android Wear will let users browse Google Now cards-like interface and supported apps from paired smartphone. The wearer can also create notes, reminders, set alarms, and make calls using the “OK Google” command.

While Samsung and LG are both accepting preorders for the smartwatches from today, Moto G will launch later this year.

Chromecast Update

Google's Android And Chrome Chief Sundar Pichai Holds News Event

Google’s home invasion continues with the new Chromecast update. The most notable feature is that the user doesn’t need to be on the same wifi network to cast content. Users will now have an option of connecting through other available devices nearby or via cloud.

Android for work

Google aims to bridge the gap when it comes to Android users personal and work life with Android for work on a single device. It will integrate applications in one place. The users will now be able to access MS Office native edit functions in Google docs.

For its enterprise customers, Google will introduce a premium Drive with unlimited storage at $10 per user per annum.

 Google cloud : Up and about

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Though there were no ground-breaking announcements on the Cloud front, Google demoed improvements that’ll let developers debug a live application running on multiple servers.

The new suite will include Cloud Save, Cloud Monitoring, Cloud Trace, and Cloud Debugger.

Google fit : Step on it

Like its rival Apple, Google too had jumped onto the fitness bandwagon with Google Fit. It’s a multi-OS API for fitness apps and devices. It will partner with Nike, Adidas, and Withings

Google Play : Game on

Google Play Games has added 100M new users in the past 6 months alone! It is no wonder then Google is going all out to woo them with new additions like leaderboards and game progress screens. For those who like a bit of challenge there’s a new Quest feature that allows the gamers to set and surpass goals.

 So, what was missing?

With so many announcements to be excited about, one can easily forget to remember the big ticket items that didn’t get any attention. And Google IO did keep the lid on for some biggies.

Google Plus didn’t find a place in Google’s agenda this year. According to a Google spokesperson at IO, the social network didn’t fit into this year’s theme of Develop, Design, and Distribute. With this omission Google’s blow-hot blow-cold relationship with the social network continued.

Also out of focus was Google Glass which hogged major limelight in the same conference last year. Even though, the delegates all turned up in Glass in such large numbers that it seemed like a part of the dress code!

The bots didn’t find a place in the conference or a mention in the keynote despite high expectations from fans after the Boston Dynamics acquisition last year.

For Google the focus this year was clearly on the bouquet of products and tools that can help developers enhance the Android experience for its end users.

 

 

Images Credit : Google IO

Should You Worry About The NSA Scandal?

The National Security Agency has hardly been out of the news since the leak of internal documents revealed the extent of its online operations. Here’s our guide to what’s known about the agency’s Internet monitoring and how you should respond.

Where did the leaks come from?

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden left his post and shared an extensive collection of internal NSA documents with several newspapers. They then checked through the documents, consulted security officials where appropriate to see if their publication would constitute a genuine threat to security, then published them one by one over time. That’s in sharp contrast to outlets such as WikiLeaks which simply make entire collections of documents public without filtering.

Are the leaks reliable?

Naturally officials have been reluctant to publicly confirm any of the claims in the reports are true. However, both the newspapers that dealt with Snowden and other media outlets that reported on the stories say trusted sources confirm the documents as genuine.

What do the leaks reveal?

The big revelation was the existence of PRISM, a program by which the NSA gathers large amounts of data (much of it supposedly private) that travels through the servers of major US tech firms such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. The documents suggested the NSA had the ability to retrieve data directly from the companies rather than have to ask the companies to hand it over.

While many people assumed security agencies collect Internet data, the most fundamental shock in the revelations was that the NSA appears not to simply pick a target and then begin monitoring specific communications for evidence. Instead it seems its general policy is to gather as much data as possible about all users, store it on a long-term basis, then look back through the data as and when it selects a target individual. In other words, it stores data even when it doesn’t yet have any reason to believe it may be evidence.

The NSA later revealed to Congress that its collection of data allows it to carry out a “three hop query”. This means that once it identifies a target, it can retrieve all communications the target had with contacts, all communications those contacts had with other people, and then all communications those other people had with anyone else.

Were Google and company complicit?

It’s hard to say. Most firms involved have vigorously denied allowing the NSA access to their data. The problem is that they may be under secret court orders that ban them from admitting they have allowed access.

Am I safe in the US? Surely the constitution protects Americans?

In theory, the Fourth Amendment should mean the government can’t read American citizens’ e-mails without a court order based on reasonable cause for suspicion. When the story broke, government officials insisted security staff could not look at domestic communications unless they had a warrant.

It later emerged that the system the NSA created took advantage of a major legal loophole. The rules under which the NSA operates (laid down by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) allow security staff to examine the contents of an intercepted e-mail solely to check whether it is domestic or foreign, and thus whether either party can be monitored without a warrant.

However, if the security staff do notice anything suspicious during this check they can permanently store and use the e-mail as evidence, even though it was gathered without a warrant.

Is Prism the only project uncovered by the leaks?

No, another leaked document revealed Project Optic Nerve, in which the NSA was habitually intercepting Yahoo webcam chats and capturing a still image from the video every five minutes, whether or not the participants were under suspicion. The spies got a bit of a surprise from doing this as around seven percent of the images featured “undesirable nudity”!

I’ve done nothing wrong. Should I be worried about the NSA?

This is really something of a philosophical issue. From a purely practical perspective, the NSA may have data on you, but it’s highly unlikely it will have the time or inclination to do anything with it unless it has cause to suspect you of being a security threat. From a principled perspective, you may certainly believe the NSA gathering data on you is a breach of your rights and reject the old line that “you’ve got nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide.”

It’s worth noting that the NSA doesn’t just follow-up evidence of illegal activity. For example, a memo in the Snowden files shows staff considering leaking records that suspected Islamic terrorists had (legally) accessed pornographic websites in an attempt to discredit them among their followers.

What can I do to keep my data secret? Is it practical to do so?

This is really a balancing act between security/secrecy and privacy. There are three main practical tools you could consider using.

1) TOR, or The Onion Router. This is free software that helps disguise your web browsing. It does so by changing the way your data travels to and from a website by routing it through hundreds of different computers, making it much harder and more time-consuming to trace. It doesn’t guarantee privacy, but does mean security agency staff will have to be very determined to find out what you are up to. One big downside is that it can slow down your traffic, particularly when using filesharing services.

2) Encrypt your e-mail. There are plenty of services out there for this, the best-known being Pretty Good Privacy. Encryption means anyone intercepting your e-mail won’t be able to read it, but it only works if both the sender and recipient are using the same system. Be wary of encryption services from large security software firms as it’s suspected some of them may be set up to allow the NSA a “backdoor” to access the messages without encryption.

3) Use secure web connections. Tools such as browser plug-in HTTPS Everywhere will make sure your connection to a website is automatically secure whenever a site supports it. That gives you the same protection against interception by snoopers that you get when connecting to services such as online banking.

Five Of The Best Smart Android Keyboards and UIs

User interaction with the telephone has changed over the years, and you can reckon that it’ll keep progressing. Five apps are available right now that take telephone UI to the extremes.

The early rotary-dial telephone used a lethargic, circular interface to create electrical pulses to route the call. The introduction of audible tones for routing calls later, speeded things up, by allowing for quicker-to-press hardware buttons.

We’ve ended up today at the capacitive touch-screen, which in itself has limitations, not least that you can’t use them with gloves—the screen uses the human body’s electrical conductivity for input.

So, there’s still room for improvement. And developers will continually try to push the envelope in terms of improving UI within the limitations of the technology available.

Android has five apps that are available right now in the Google Play store, in varying stages of release, that take smartphone UI to the extremes.

Here’s a look at the best five innovative keyboards and ways to control your smartphone like never before.

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A single strip of keys runs along the bottom saving screen real-estate.

1. Minuum Keyboard

If you’ve found smartphone keyboards to be sloppy-typing inducing, and fiddly, app Minuum Keyboard (free to $3.99 in the Google Play store) may have the answer. This app provides a rethought keyboard for the miniature screens that we thick-fingered folk have to use.

Minuum has completely re-imagined the on-screen keyboard with a single strip of keys running along the bottom of the screen, rather than a mass of chunky keyboard decimating the bottom half of the screen. It’s space-saving, and remarkably helpful for the fat fingered.

 

 

 

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Icons haven’t changed much since Xerox invented them in 1973—until now that is.

2. Pie Control

Here’s an app that addresses the ergonomic shortfalls of a rectangular smartphone combined with a pivoting thumb. Coolace’s Pie Control (free) and Pie Control Pro ($1.90) lets you create a pie-shaped touch pad for common actions, on the left or right side of the screen.

The advantage to this pie-like layout is that it follows the form of your thumb pivot, allowing you to swipe easily reached icons, rather than stab, two-handed, at far away icons on ever increasingly large screens.

Pie Control may well be the first major ergonomic-induced change in the icon world.

 

 

 

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Swiftkey’s split-keyboard takes into account the limitations inherent in a thumb’s reach.

 

3. Swiftkey

Swiftkey (from free to $3.99) is the granddaddy of alternative keyboards and bills itself as a mind-reader. It’s now best-selling, and there’s a reason for that because it supplies highly accurate, learning-style auto-correct.

Somewhat creepily it predicts words based on what it’s learned from watching what you type.

However, what’s even more brilliant, is its multiple keyboard layouts. One of them, particularly well-suited to larger tablets, generates a split-screen thumb-based layout where the keyboard is broken up into two easy-to-reach by thumb sections, with the hard-to-reach void unused in the middle.

 

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Wave Control lets you operate your phone without touching it.

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  1. Wave Control

Wave Control (free) and its more-command-packed Wave Control Pro ($2.99) simply let you control apps on your phone with a wave. No touching is required—and that’s a good thing if you’re getting tired of wiping your screen of finger marks daily.

This app will allow you to control music in the kitchen when your hands are covered with ingredients; change songs when driving without taking your eyes off the road; and best of all, eat at a street-vendor without besmearing your device.

Call functions on a hands-free app such as this have applications in the medical field too, amongst other areas, where it’s impractical to touch a phone.

The app works with music or video streaming apps that support headset controls.

 

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Upgrade your device to trigger voice input.

 

  1. Google Now

Google Now is Android’s voice activated search feature.

While native on some phones including Motorola’s Moto X, Google’s Google Now voice activated launcher can be installed on any Nexus or Google Play edition device running Android 4.4 KitKat through a free app available in the Play store. Search for the term: “Google Now Launcher.”

Then just say “OK Google Now” when you’re in your home screen, and voice input for search will be activated. A less sophisticated version can be found for other devices in Google’s Search app. It’s also in Play.

2013 Gadget Gift Giving Guide

The holiday season is upon us once again, and along with it, the task of figuring out what to get our loved ones.  Looking for tech gifts? Below is a list of gadgets that are trending for the holidays this year.

Google Chromecast

Chromecast is a nifty little device that allows a user to play content on their TV from various Web streaming services over their home Wi-fi.  This means it’s no longer necessary to connect an HDMI cable from a laptop to the TV.  Once it’s set up, a smartphone, tablet, or computer can be used to control it.  At the time of this article, the supported services are HBO GO, Pandora, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Youtube, Google Play TV & Movies, and Google Play Music.  For anything else, you can stream the Chrome browser to Chromecast.

Chromecast
Credit: EricaJoy (via Flickr)

Nest Smoke Detector

Nest originally made a smart thermostat.  Now they’ve improved on the traditional smoke detector.  It’s called Nest Protect.  It has various, non-jarring ways of telling you when its battery is low (on your smart phone or by a yellow ring of light).  Before going off, it speaks the problem, such as that there’s smoke in the bedroom.  It can be turned off or queried with hand gestures.  It also detects CO2.  If you happen to also have the Nest Thermostat and it detects CO2, it will automatically turn off the furnace.  It comes in wired and wireless versions.  It can also function as a nightlight when you pass under it.

Nest Protect Smoke Detector
Credit: Nest.com

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=QXp-LYBXwfo

iHealth Activity Monitor and Sleep Tracker

The latest trend in healthy living has been self-monitoring, so what holiday would be complete without a wearable monitor to help your loved ones with their New Year’s resolutions?  The iHealth monitor is worn like a watch and tracks your daily activity and sleep.  It tracks the steps you take, the distance you travel, the calories you burn, and your sleep efficiency.  This device has a related iPhone app it syncs with to give you your stats.

iHealth Activity and sleep monitor
Credit: iHealth (www.iHealthLabs.com)

http://youtu.be/6l9IxY68qT8

HTC One

The HTC One is an affordable alternative to some of today’s more expensive smartphones.  It has one of the best cameras currently on smartphones on the market, weighs just 143 grams, and has a 4.7 inch, full HD 1080p display.  It also has dual front stereo speakers with built-in amplifiers that cause bigger sound with less distortion than other phones.  It also detects ambient noise to adjust in-call voice to compensate.

HTC One
Credit: John.Karakatsanis (via Flickr)

iPad Air

The iPad Air is Apple’s latest tablet.  It’s thinner and lighter than its predecessors and includes Apple’s Retina display, which makes the screen so sharp you can’t even see the pixels.  It’s also twice as fast, but has the same 10 hour battery life as its predecessor.  It comes with multiple storage capacity options.  16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB, or 128 GB.

iPad Air
Credit: Tim RT (via Flickr)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9gLqh8tmPA&feature=share&list=PLHFlHpPjgk713fMv5O4s4Fv7k6yTkXwkV&index=2

Nexus 7

For Android lovers there is the Nexus 7, which is 7” and .64 lbs.  It also sports a 9 to 10 hour battery life (depending on how you use it) and has wireless charging.  The screen is HD and you can use either Wi-Fi or 4G LTE if you’re not at home to connect to the internet.  Hard drive sizes are either 16 GB or 32 GB.

Nexus 7
Credit: Stephane<3 (via Flickr)

Pebble Smartwatch

Wearable computers are trending.  Pebble is a smartwatch that syncs with your smartphone to do more than just track your fitness.  It can also show you who is calling or texting without you having to get out your phone, get notifications, display the weather, and more. You can even choose a custom watch face.  It can go 5 – 7 days before needing to recharge.

Pebble Smartwatch
Credit: John Biehler (via Flickr)

Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

These are in-ear noise canceling headphones, so there are no bulky ear-pieces to wear for long periods of time.  These head phones can block the whole outside world or you can turn on “aware mode”, which lets some sound through.  They come with a rechargeable battery that can charge in just 2 hours and lasts up to 16 hours playing time per charge.

Bose QuietComfort 20 Headphones
Credit: Bose (https://globalpressroom.bose.com)

Skylanders Swap Force

A new adventure in the Skylanders games, collect figures that can interface with the major game systems on the market (Wii, PS3/4, etc).  Each figure has its own abilities and with this new iteration tops and bottoms of the figures can be mixed and matched to create characters with varying abilities as opposed to just ones in an individual figure.

Skylanders Swap Force
Credit: fuorigiocoit (via Flickr)

PS4 and Xbox One

Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen systems are on the market in time for the holidays.  The PS4 comes with a 500 GB hard drive, a headset, and the new DualShock 4 controller with a touchpad at its center.  The controller also has a new Share button that allows the last few minutes of play to be uploaded as a video, or you can broadcast your gameplay in real-time.  The PS4 can also stream from a number of services for movies and music.

The X-box One comes with a Kinect, a 500 GB hard dive, a Blu-ray drive, built in Wi-fi, a headset, and a 14-day subscription to Xbox Live.  It connects to your cable box and can switch between games and TV, and it uses voice commands.

PS4
Credit: Mooshuu (via Flickr)
Xbox One
Credit: Microsoft (news.xbox.com)

 

There are a lot of great gadgets out this season for gift giving no matter what interests your loved ones have.  What do you think of these?  Do you have any other cool gadgets to share? Leave a comment and tell us about the gadgets that made your 2013 gift list.

Windows 8 Disappointed; So Where is Microsoft Headed?

If you had a chance to analyze the Net Applications’ May 2013 release of NetMarketShare monthly operating system statistics it would be clearly obvious to you (as it is the whole world) that sales of PC’s are continuing to dive. Yes, not just fall but dive! One factor that might be further accelerating this downfall is the infamous and notorious Microsoft Windows 8.

Windows 8: the Black Sheep of the Family

Reviewing the performance of Windows 8 since its release, one can safely conclude that Windows 8 easily lags behind its predecessor Windows Vista at identical points in their life-cycles; Windows Vista being the first rogue child of Microsoft’s Windows line up.

Don’t get me wrong. Windows is still the dominant desktop operating system. Amongst all operating systems currently available for PC’s, Windows 7 is ranked at the top. This is followed by the still popular Windows XP. Vista also makes this list coming in at number 3.

But what this list does not tell us is that Windows is not the dominant END user operating system if you include tablets and smartphones. What is even more troubling is that Windows 8’s growth rate lags further and further behind Vista’s dismal numbers when it was released in 2007.

If we track the lifecycle of both Windows Vista and Windows 8, Windows 8 in its first month was behind Vista by more than 0.5%. And now – a few months on – Vista is leading by a whopping 3.64 percent. Surprisingly, Vista was considered a “flop” when it was released, yet Windows 8 is turning out to be even more so.

Windows 8.1 to the Rescue?

Enter Windows 8.1., Microsoft’s desperate attempt to stabilize the sinking ship which is Windows 8. Hoping against hope, Microsoft has re-invented Windows 8 by coming out with Windows 8.1, or blue, if you prefer.

What remains to be seen however is:

      a) Has Microsoft made the right changes? And…
      b) Did these changes come too late for fans to forgive them?

My instinct tells me that things are not going to get better for Windows 8. Be it 8.1, 8.2 or even 8.10. For one thing the changes are not that significant. Microsoft has brought back the start button (in a way) but all it does is take us back to that dreadful Metro interface. I’m pretty sure Windows XP and Windows 7 users will not care about this at all.

But even if Windows 8.1 does get users to love Windows 8 just a bit more, there is no way that it will make people fall back in love with the PC again.

Windows and PC’s on the Decline

Coming back to the overall decline of the PC and, in turn, Windows losing its dominant position as the END user operating system, the following fact cannot be overstated in the least: Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android have captured the lion’s share of the end user market and command 65% market share as compared to Windows 35%.

Another setback for Microsoft is that Windows is currently considered a non-player when it comes to tablets and smartphones, even though there are Windows phones and tablets on the market. None of Microsoft’s smartphone/tablet OS’s – be it Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, or RT – even reached 0.01% of the market share.

So What’s Next?

Microsoft took a risk by revamping Windows with Windows 8. With Windows 8 it tried to create a platform that would work on PC’s, notebooks and at the same time be suited to touch devices such as tablets, smartphones and hybrids. Where Microsoft went wrong however was when they gutted the OS of some key features that normal users had come to think of as their birth right.

No doubt, for the near future Windows will still matter because some people will always need a PC. But the question that Microsoft needs to answer is how long people will put up with substandard Windows releases?

Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini: The Giant Slayer

We’re not sure what Samsung’s game plan is, but it seems that they release a new phone almost every week! In my opinion they want to saturate all segments of the mobile market and leave people no other option but to buy a Samsung. Could be effective if it works.

In this weekly showdown, Samsung recently announced another phone from its Galaxy series, the Galaxy S4 Mini. Although I don’t really see a point in releasing a gorgeous phone like the Galaxy S4 and then following it up with a Mini version, Samsung believes that there is a market for people who want the features of the S4 but not the size.

The past few years have seen phones getting bigger and bigger with manufacturers squeezing the tablet space, but according to Samsung there is a piece of the pie to be had for the huge Mega’s and Note’s as well as the diminutive Mini’s – this being proven by the successful launch of the S3 Mini.

Price and Features

Back to the S4 Mini; the Galaxy S4 Mini is scheduled for release in July. It is also possible to pre-order the phone now, if you just can’t wait and you’re willing to spend 500 euros to get one.

Although the 500 euros price tag does seem a bit steep for the Galaxy S4 Mini, especially when an additional 50 euros gets you big brother Galaxy S4, it does make up for it with its features. The Galaxy S4 Mini plays around in the 4 inch screen area, 4.3 inches to be exact. This used to be a standard on phones a few years back but now categorizes the Mini niche.

The only other major player still operating in this area is Apple with its iPhone. In the Android space, there are very few, if any brands offering high end specs in this segment. This may be the reason for the launch of the Galaxy S4 Mini and the success of the Galaxy S3 Mini.

Another reason for giving life to the Galaxy S4 Mini (or the mini series on the whole) could be to elevate Samsung’s flagship phones (S4s, S3s) above the competition, mainly the iPhone. The Mini’s with their similar size to the iPhone can be left to tackle it and the S4s can have an open playing field.

To give you a better idea of the Galaxy S4 Mini, below is a comparison between it, the iPhone and the HTC One S

comparison chart samsung galaxy s4

If you want my perspective, the Galaxy S4 Mini has more RAM, a better front camera and is lighter, with the rest of the specs being almost equal, making it superior to both the HTC One S and the iPhone 5.

However, the difference is not as significant as it seems on paper and of course there is the question of why shouldn’t I just spend a little more and get myself the Galaxy S4 (Biggie) instead?

The Verdict

Although it does make sense to target the smaller screen niche (even when you have a hit like the Galaxy S4), the S4 Mini might not give the consumer many reasons to lose focus on the S4 itself, especially when the price difference is not that significant. It however could be another nail in the coffin for the illustrious iPhone.

Which Mobile Operators Have the Best Deals in the UK?

There are plenty of mobile service operators to choose from on the UK market, and knowing which operator to go for can be confusing. Whilst most operators offer an array of packages, some networks are simply better at some things than others.

Today we’re looking at the best operator to choose for various reasons, from those that offer the best business mobile deals to those that have the biggest calling plan options. So, if you’re looking to switch operators, or you’re signing your first mobile contract, then read on to find out which operator is going to be the best for you.

The Best Coverage

Coverage is pretty important when it comes to choosing an operator. Operators have different numbers of cell towers in different areas, meaning that some networks have better service in some areas than others. You can check out coverage on an operator’s web page. Poor coverage is going to give you poor service; you’ll get bad call quality and slow mobile data speeds, and may even find that your phone doesn’t work at all.

If you live in an urban area, you’ll probably find that you get decent coverage with most operators. However, those that live in more rural locations might have more of a problem. In general, the operator that offers the best coverage is T-Mobile, so if you’re having problems with getting service, you might want to look at their plans.

The Best Business Mobile Deals

If you’re looking for business mobile deals then the best company around is going to be O2, for several reasons. Firstly, O2 offers specific business contracts, with calling plans that are geared towards business customers, with high data limits and unlimited messaging. This means that you’ll have the good reliability of service that you need in a business phone. They also offer discounts to self-employed and freelance customers. Secondly, O2 has great deals on contract business phones.

Business phones tend to be high end, expensive models, and signing an incentive contract with O2 can get you a great business phone for little or no money down. And you don’t end up paying significantly more on contract than you would if you bought the phone direct. For business customers, O2 is a great choice.

The Best Mobile Data Plans

Whilst the cost of calling minutes and text messaging is fairly uniform amongst operators, the cost of mobile data isn’t. Data often makes up the most expensive part of your calling plan, meaning that operators often offer low data limits to keep prices down. If you’re an internet addict and want a great mobile data plan then you should look at Three. Three have the cheapest data plans on the UK market, as well as some of the largest. Plus, Three’s All You Can Eat data is truly unlimited.

Many operators offer unlimited mobile data but then employ a fair usage policy. This policy allows the operator to slow down your mobile data speeds if they think that you’re using too much data, even if your plan is supposed to be unlimited. Three do not have a fair usage policy so you can use as much data as you like.

The Best Big Calling Plans

If you’re a heavy phone user then you’re probably getting some pretty hefty bills. The problem with most mobile contracts is that they put a limit on the amount of text messages, calling minutes and mobile data that you can use for your monthly fee. Once you exceed those limits you end up paying some pretty expensive extra charges for any extra services that you use. Big users often break their monthly limits and therefore get big bills.

Heavy users can benefit from signing unlimited contracts that place no monthly limits on texts, minutes and data, but these plans are often pricey. However, T-Mobile currently offers the biggest calling plan for the cheapest price. The Full Monty plan is a completely unlimited contract and costs significantly less than any other comparable plan on the market.

The Best Roaming Operator

Anyone who frequently travels knows how expensive mobile roaming charges can be. With most operators you pay not only premiums for making calls and sending texts from abroad, but also for receiving calls and texts. These charges can add up to a pretty shocking bill when you get home. If you travel a lot and need to use your mobile then the best operator for you is going to be Orange.

You’ll have to sign a regular contract and then add a roaming package as an optional extra to take advantage of their great prices, but it’s worth doing. For a small extra fee each month you can use your mobile abroad for the same prices as you pay inside the UK. Plus, Orange offers the best prices for calling abroad as well. For travelers and those with friends and family out of the country, Orange gives you some great deals.

The Cheapest Operator

When it comes to low cost, Vodafone has the cheapest calling plans on the market. Be aware that these contracts do come with very low monthly limits, particularly for mobile data. However, if you’re looking to sign the cheapest contract that you can get and can keep to the limits that you are given, then Vodafone is the company to go with. These are particularly good contracts for light phone users.

The Best Pay as You Go Operator

If you don’t want to sign a contract and prefer to have a pay-as-you-go phone then most operators will meet your needs. The costs of texts, minutes and data are pretty much the same with nearly all UK operators nowadays. The one exception is Virgin Mobile, which offers more expensive calling minutes than any other network.

When it comes to benefits, Orange probably offers more than anyone else. Their Animal Plan programs will let you choose certain perks each time you load credit on to your phone. However, benefits change weekly as companies offer deals, so it’s worth comparing networks before getting a pay-as-you-go plan.

When trying to get find great business mobile deals Sam Jones knew exactly where to look. He had great success with online price comparison sites in the past and so sites like uSwitch were the obvious choice. Start with the information in this post, and then go do your own comparison if you need more details or are in a different location.