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Posts from the ‘Software’ Category

4
Dec

Microsoft hopes your Windows PC can replace an Amazon Echo


If rumors are true, Microsoft may be one of the few major consumer tech giants that doesn’t have a smart, voice-guided speaker in the works… but that doesn’t mean it’s sitting on its thumbs. In an expansion of recent code discoveries, Windows Central sources claim that Windows 10 is getting a Home Hub feature that will turn supporting PCs into rivals for the Amazon Echo and Google Home. You’d have a shared, login-free desktop that shares family resources like calendars and shopping lists, and a smart home app that would make it easy to control all your connected devices. And as you might surmise, the Cortana voice assistant would play a much, much more important role.

Under Home Hub, Cortana would have access to both shared content as well as that of individual users who are signed in. That would tackle one of the biggest issues with devices like Google Home — that they’re frequently limited to supporting a single user’s account. Supporting PCs would also be much more Cortana-friendly. You could use voice commands from a greater distance, and wake up the PC with voice alone. Home Hub-ready systems could even tout light and motion sensors to wake up whenever someone enters the room.

Provided the leak is accurate, it could be a while before you see every element of Home Hub. It’s reportedly scheduled to arrive through three significant Windows 10 updates (nicknamed Redstone 2, 3 and 4) that would start arriving in 2017. And if you want a PC designed for the feature from the ground up, you may have to wait until the very end of the year. Microsoft is said to be asking vendors (including HP and Lenovo) to step up with Home Hub-optimized all-in-one PCs in late 2017.

There’s no certainty that everything will pan out as planned. WC is quick to warn that delays and cancellations could change features and timelines, assuming Home Hub ships at all. However, it’s easy to see the incentive for Microsoft to make this a reality. In some ways, Echo-like speakers reduce the need for a family computer — you can’t do your homework through a speaker, but you can accomplish tasks that would normally require breaking out your phone or sitting at a desk. Home Hub would keep the PC relevant for homes where a shared machine makes sense, and might even provide an edge over smart speakers by offering the visual, multi-user info that you don’t get right now.

Source: Windows Central

1
Dec

Fitbit Charge 2 review


With phones and apps getting smarter all of the time, it’s easy to track your basic movements and activities. Be it counting steps in Google Fit or heart rate monitoring in a Samsung phone, it’s not hard to keep up with your basic health-related tasks. But, by being able to do everything in a handset, the question arises of whether we need purchase additional hardware. Is it worth it to buy a fitness band, activity tracker, or smartwatch?  And, if so, which is a good brand to start with?

fitbit_charge2_box

Fitbit is one of the first names that pop up when the discussion turns to wearables, and rightfully so. It offers a wide range of activity trackers, each of which comes with different features and price points to match. One of its latest, the Charge 2, is a $150 affair that builds on a predecessor by adding new hardware and features.

We’ve had a Fitbit Charge 2 for the last few weeks as it was provided to us by Fitbit for review consideration. What follows is our impressions of the wearable, its hardware features, and its accompanying app. Spoiler alert: we love the Fitbit 2 and think it’s probably the best value you can get from the brand.

What is the Fitbit Charge 2?

As part of the “Active” models in the Fitbit lineup, the Charge 2 offers up more than just step counting, sleep tracking, and other basic functions. It’s not quite along the lines of a full-on smartwatch or the Fitbit Blaze, but it’s a terrific middle ground unit.

If you’re the type of person who wants to keep an eye on how much you’re moving, heart rate, how you’re sleeping, and other activities, this is the one to consider. Moreover, it ties nicely to your phone, delivering call, text and other notifications as well. It’s smarter than a traditional activity tracker and half the price of a full-on Android Wear or Apple Watch experience.

fitbit_charge2_clasp

The Charge 2, while a successor to an already existing model, picks up some of the functions of the Charge HR. In other words, it now offers the heart rate monitor. From what we can tell, Fitibit has merged the Charge and Charge HR into one experience for this season.

Features of the Fitbit 2 include an always-on heart rate monitor, an OLED display, swappable bands, and a five-day battery. It’s the sort of thing that’s comfortable to wear, easy to read, and designed to get through a work week. You can do just about anything you want with it, just don’t wear it in the shower or to go swimming.

Design

The Fitbit Charge 2 is available in three sizes (Small, Large, and Extra Large) and comes in no less than four standard color options: Black/Silver, Blue/Silver, Plum/Silver, and Teal Silver.

Additionally, there are two special edition textured colors (Lavender/Rose Gold and Black/Gunmetal) which can be had for a $30 premium. Shop the Fitbit official store and you’ll find there are leather bands which can be purchased, switching it from hip and modern to classy or demure.

fitbit_charge2_sensor

The default bands are made of a flexible, durable elastomer material that bends and flexes like most smartwatch bands and wearables. It’s rugged enough to take bumps and scrapes without getting scuffs but it’s flexible enough to move when in a pinch.

A little bit bulky, it’s still sleek and unassuming. It’s not uncommon to see people wearing stuff like this in 2016; the Fitbit Charge 2 is every bit as modern looking as you’d expect. The colors might sound more vibrant or attention grabbing, but in practice they are muted and professional shades.

The bands buckle like a traditional watch and are comprised of “surgical-grade” stainless steel. We found it easy to put on and take off after only a few tries and now it’s a mindless process before showering or swimming

Display

The Fitbit Charge 2 houses an OLED display that provides images and text which are easy to read and discern. Be it checking heart rate, glancing at notifications, or simply eyeballing the time, it’s sharp and clear.

fitbit_charge2_arm

The screen is not always on, but a simple lift-to-peek gesture works to bring up the display. Moreover, you can also tap on the display to wake it or press the button on the side, too.

Functions

The Fitbit Charge 2 does quite a bit on its own, including functions such as stopwatch, exercise tracking mode, heart rate, and a new “Relax” mindfulness app. There’s not much need to open the app on your phone throughout the day unless you are looking to dive deeper into stats and historical data.

The Fitbit Charge 2 is capable of tracking distance, calories burned, active minutes, floors climbed, stationary time, sleep quality, and hourly activity. Additionally, it can connect to your phone for GPS stats on distance and mapping. The SmartTrack feature can automatically detect certain activities and record them in the app in a mindless and pain-free way.

fitbit_charge2_steel

The aforementioned “Relax” option is a guided and timed focused breathing exercise. Designed to center you, it coaches you into a breathing pattern based off of actual heart rate readings. It’s a nice touch that you might not use all that often, but one that’s welcome when you want or need it.

We also appreciate that the watch can detect that you’ve been sitting idle for too long. A gentle vibration and encouraging word pop up on the display to remind you that it might be time to get up and stretch those legs. You might be surprised at how quickly an hour rolls around.

App

One area where Fitbit has gotten exponentially better over the years is in the area of its apps. The Charge 2’s dashboard is comprehensive and full of all sorts of wonderful details. If you’re looking for historical data, there’s plenty here to dig through.

It’s also in the app where you can record stats for water intake or weight; users can also adjust personal goals for movement. Is it hard to get in 10,000 steps in a day? Set things down a bit and start celebrating a more attainable goal first and then move on to more lofty ambitions.

charge_2_app_splash

The Cardio Fitness Level is a really cool way of looking at your overall fitness level. Rather than simply giving you dry statistics, this becomes more of a game or score. In short, it takes everything it knows into consideration and provides you with a number. The goal is to raise that number with activity, weight loss, better sleep, etc. The app can help set realistic expectations and will work to get you there, but you just have to hold yourself accountable.

Conclusion

Battery life, at five days, was great and we appreciate only having to charge it up once or twice in any given week. Speaking of which, we kind of dig the charging mechanism and clamp which hold things in place.

There’s a lot to be said about the overall accuracy of consumer-grade wearables. Numbers can vary from one brand to another and things could change with a simple firmware update. But, when you take something like the Charge 2 as a whole and work with it, it’s a great way to get a base line read on your life.

Sure, steps might differ once in a while, but you can generally take the numbers as a solid indicator on things. Are you moving in the right direction? Are you even physically moving? The same goes for sleep. Maybe these wearable devices are not going to truly be able to discern between light and deep sleep, at least not for this price. What they can do, though, is tell you that you’ve been getting an average of five hours over the last two weeks and that you need more sleep.

fitbit_charge2_clip

Although Fitbit says the Charge 2 can take the occasional splash in stride, we would love to keep it on all day. Showers are a risk because of the jet streams and it’s simply not built for diving deep into water. If it were able to handle the former, we’d be totally fine without the latter. With that said, don’t sweat it if you’re sweaty. A summer rain isn’t going to do anything to your Charge 2, either.

There’s no internal GPS in the Fitbit Charge 2, but we’re okay with that. When paired with a phone and apps it can keep a nice set of data for runs, bike rides, and walks. You’ll need to keep your phone with you if you’d like

As a whole, there’s very little here for us to fault. The price is right and the functionality is more than what most people need. We might like a smarter experience in something like an Android Wear, but we’d have to drop twice the money. The Fitbit Charge 2 is a solid wearable from top to bottom.

Where to Buy

The Fitbit Charge 2 can be purchased at Fitbit’s site as well as other established retailers. Moreover, you may find it on the shelves of your wireless service provider. Pricing, as indicated above, is listed at $150. Below are some links to get you headed in a few directions.

  • Amazon
  • B&H
  • Best Buy
  • Target
  • Walmart
1
Dec

Discogs’ vinyl app offers more info on artists, labels and releases


Discogs’ vinyl-tracking app has been available for everyone since February, but today the company revealed an update for the iOS version. The redesign is primarily focused on serving up more details on artists, record labels and releases. For example, the mobile software now pulls it Discogs’ database info on an individual musician or band. We’re talking things like image galleries, band members, name variations, aliases and more. Any related artists and releases are linked which makes it easy to go hunting for new material.

The new artist view will also quickly display how many releases by a particular band or musician you own. Thanks to a handy “In Your Collection” button, that tally is easily visible. Artist pages also have sharing tools so you can broadcast your findings via your social channels, text message or email. You can also simply save a note to your phone to remind yourself to come back later.

Like the retooled artist pages, the label view now displays more information as well. The Discogs app will show you details on the parent label or sublabels for each imprint. You can also easily see which releases from a label are already in your collection or any that you’ve added to the so-called Wantlist for future consideration.

Although Discogs added release details in a previous update, it’s still worth a mention as part of this data-heavy revamp. When you’re looking at info on a particular release, you’ll now see things like sales history, Wantlist stats, collection totals, sales listings, tracklist credits, YouTube videos and more.

All of this added information is an addition to existing features like a barcode scanner to help verify and catalog any records you come across when digging through old crates. The Discogs app comes in handy when hunting for vinyl releases, so adding in loads more data will certainly help audio aficionados make informed decisions and keep track of what they already own.

1
Dec

Facemoji Keyboard: A fun, customizable keyboard


Keyboards might be the most boring things on our phones. For the majority of people, the keyboard that comes on your phone is the one you stay with. But there is a world of third party keyboard apps out there that do more than a stock keyboard app could ever dream. Today, we are taking a look at a keyboard that is trying to add some fun to your typing experience – Facemoji Keyboard.

Setup

If you have ever used a third party keyboard before, the setup here is no different from that. However, for those of you just now moving away from your stock keyboard, the setup has a couple of extra steps. After downloading the app, you will have to enable it on your device and set it as your default keyboard. Thankfully, when you first open Facejomi Keyboard, it walks you through these steps in a way anyone can follow. After that is all done, you are ready to type.

Experience

 

fileminimizer-facemoji-keyboard-themesSo what makes Facemoji Keyboard different from all the other keyboards out there? Over my week or so using the keyboard, I have to say that it is the most fun one I have ever used. The first thing you will notice is the emphasis on personalization within the keyboard through keyboard themes and emoji styles.

There are the normal keyboard themes like dark, light, and colors, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Just scrolling through the library of themes for a few minutes, I came across ones about baseball, flowers, tattoos, and Paris. Some of the themes are even animated to add to their uniqueness, but I don’t know how friendly that will be to your battery life. I personally stuck with a normal blue color, but the option is there to pick anything you want. The default emoji style is iOS-like, but it can be changed to several different styles. I went back to the standard Android emojis as I am one of the few that seems to actually like the way they look.

facemoji-keyboardAfter spending some time making the keyboard look just the way you want, you can finally get into the typing experience itself. At the top of the keyboard, you will notice several hotkeys. The left-most one that resembles a four-leafed clover will show you different settings options. The shirt icon will let you choose a theme to apply from any of the default themes or those you have downloaded. You can also quickly access the theme gallery to find a new one. The cursor icon in the middle lets you precisely move the cursor around to place it exactly where you want. While I appreciate this addition and love how useful it is, I wonder why it was not done in a similar fashion to Google Keyboard where you long-press the spacebar and drag to position the cursor. This way would have freed up a spot in the top bar for another hotkey, but at least the feature was included in the app.

The ghost emoji will take you to the sticker page, which we will talk about soon. Finally, the downward arrow on the right will minimize the keyboard. I think this is another wasted button as the back key on Android phones will minimize the keyboard already. I would have rather seen another shortcut in place of the arrow.

facemoji-keyboard-stickersThe inclusion of stickers and GIFs is what set this keyboard apart from many others that I have used. For those of you who do not know what stickers are in a keyboard app, they are basically advanced emojis that are more detailed and sometimes animated. I personally have never used stickers or GIFs when texting anyone, but the features were integrated so well into Facemoji Keyboard that I decided to give them a try. The included sticker pack is iOS-style emojis that have been animated, but you can search through the sticker gallery and download any pack that you find interesting. I personally like the sloth pack, but your options are numerous.

When you switch to the emoji tab, you will find the option to use GIFs. You can choose from trending GIFs, select a tag to view related GIFs, or just use the search function. Earlier, I mentioned that Facemoji keyboard was the most fun keyboard I have used, and that is thanks in full to the inclusion of GIFs. Being able to quickly search up a GIF and drop it into a conversation is great, and although I know the same feature is available in other keyboard apps, I still thoroughly enjoyed it when using Facemoji Keyboard. My only problem was how Textra handled selecting a GIF from the keyboard. Instead of just sending it directly in the conversation I was in, a window would pop up and have me select who I wanted to send the GIF to. I did not experience this problem with other texting apps.

There are a few time-saving features that Facemoji Keyboard also offers. Emoji prediction is exactly like preditive text but for emojis. Suggested emojis are displayed in the bar at the top of the keyboard, and you can tap directly on them to avoid having to swipe through multiple tabs of emojis. Holding down on the Enter/Return key will bring up your five most used emojis, which definitely saves time for those of us who use emojis constantly.

facemoji-keyboard-quick-emojisThe overall typing experience with Facemoji keyboard is about average, and I still cannot match the speed I get with Google Keyboard. The inclusion of swiping to type is wonderful, but I found myself typing at the speed I get with most other keyboards. There were a couple of problems I encountered while using this keyboard, too. If a word was autocorrected to another word after I pressed the space bar, I could not simply backspace and be given a list of words in the top bar (like I do in Google Keyboard). This meant I would have to retype any word that was wrongly autocorrected.

Also, when backspacing to add on to the previous word, the keyboard would sometimes randomly scramble the letters of the word I wanted to add on to. Finally, the keyboard would often overlap popups or boxes that were not covered up by other apps. Most notably, anytime I wanted to add a word to my dictionary, the button to press in the popup was covered by the keyboard. Thankfully, I believe all of these problems can be fixed through a software update.

Conclusion

I have enjoyed using Facemoji Keyboard over the past week, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to add some personal flair to their typing experience. As for me, I will be switching back to Google Keyboard for the typing speed improvements alone, but I will definitely miss the ease of sending GIFs with Facemoji Keyboard. For those of you looking to try this keyboard out, you can grab it for free from the Play Store.

1
Dec

Geohot open-sources his semi-autonomous car technology


George “Geohot” Hotz’s semi-autonomous driving add-on, Comma One, didn’t work out as planned. However, that doesn’t mean the underlying technology will never see the light of day — far from it. The Comma.ai team has published the source code for both its Openpilot self-driving tech and its NEO robotics platform. You’ll need hardware to use this for its originally intended purpose, but anyone who has a grasp of the programming languages involved can use the code for whatever projects they like. While you probably won’t see homebrew self-driving cars emerge from this (the law would have something to say about it), don’t be surprised if some of the tech finds its way into commercial projects.

Source: GitHub, Comma.ai (Twitter)

30
Nov

Make your own Moments with Twitter’s mobile apps


Back in September, Twitter opened up Moments and gave anyone the ability to create a narrative with a collection of tweets. Since then, the story-curating feature has only been available on the web. Today, Twitter announced that Moments is rolling out to all users on mobile as well.

To get started, all you have to do is hit the down arrow in the top right of any tweet. From the menu options, select “Add to Moment” to begin your collection of posts. After you do so, you’ll be able to add your own tweets, favorites or search for material from other users to fill out the story. As far as customization goes, you can re-order tweets, crop images and select background colors for text-only posts. Set a cover and enter a title and description and you’re all set.

With Moments, you can bring together favorite Tweets to tell richer stories – rolling out on mobile starting today.https://t.co/SMqIZ1Zngo

— Twitter (@twitter) November 30, 2016

Source: Twitter

30
Nov

PowerPoint brings real-time collaboration to your slides


It’s not much fun to plug away at a presentation, but Microsoft might have found a way to make the experience more bearable for Office 365 subscribers. It’s updating the Windows version of PowerPoint with real-time collaboration that helps you share the workload. You can see who’s editing specific slides, and see typing as it happens. You’ll need to be part of the Office Insider program to use this right away, but don’t be surprised if it’s available more broadly in the near future.

Microsoft’s updates will also let you know what’s going on when you’re away from your desk. Both Android and iOS users are getting notifications that let you know when someone is offering or working on a shared Excel, PowerPoint or Word file. Ideally, you won’t be caught off-guard when a coworker starts editing a team report. You’ll have to be patient if you think these would be useful, however. You need to be an Office Insider to get these notifications on Android at the moment, and you’ll have to wait for the December updates before they show up on iOS.

Source: Office Blogs

29
Nov

Tabata: A great exercise app for anyone looking to get in better shape


In today’s fast-paced world, many don’t have time to stay fit. In the struggle to find time to work out, many turn to fitness classes and gym memberships. This may be effective, but is expensive and you have to go to the gym to participate in these types of workouts. The Tabata app has a solution for anyone looking for a cheap, effective solution to fitness by offering an effective workout that takes less time to complete than brewing a cup of coffee.

TabataInstallation and Setup

The Tabata app can be downloaded for free in the Google Play Store. After downloading and opening the app, you are ready to go. There is no complex set-ups, logins, or installations. The app simply works.

App Use and Exercise

Before we get too far into this app review, let me explain what a Tabata is. Tabata is a type of HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) exercise routine. In a Tabata, exercises are grouped into twenty-second intervals of high-intensity exercises followed byTabata ten seconds of rest. The cycle of exercise followed by rest is repeated eight times for a total workout lasting only four minutes.

To get a taste of what this app and workout style is about, I did two fourteen minute exercise sets a day. These sets consisted of three workouts, each followed by one minute of rest. After doing the exercises every day for two weeks, I feel like a new human. While I live a somewhat active lifestyle, these workouts quickly showed me how out of shape I was. After only two weeks of the workouts, I have more energy, I feel stronger, and friends have commented about my improved posture. I feel the urge to inform/warn everyone, these four-minute workouts will make a huge change in your life, but these short workouts are very difficult.

App Design

The design of this Tabata app is very simple and easy to use. The app comes with six preloaded workouts, all aimed at a different part of the body and all four minutes in length. Within each of the workouts, you can track your workout stats, set a schedule that will remind you to workout, and edit the exercises to maximize your repetitions.

In addition to allowing you to edit the preset Tabatas, the app allows you to create and name your own workouts. You can set the number of repetitions, the length of repetitions and breaks in between. The only thing you cannot do is add exercises. While that restriction is significant, the app still offers users a lot of control over their exercise routine.

Conclusion

Tabata is an easy to use app that anyone can pick up. The intense four-minute intervals in the Tabata workout provide workouts that can be done at any time during the day while the variety of preloaded workouts allows users to strengthen and tone all parts of the body. The Tabata app also offers users a lot of control when designing workouts, while the apps scheduling capabilities and statistics keep track of your progress and make sure you don’t miss a day. I would strongly suggest this app to all looking for a little help getting in shape, but be ready for the hardest four minutes of your life.

28
Nov

Inspirational Daily Quotes: Exactly what the name implies (app review)


  • Dev: Spartan Developer
  • App Link: Inspirational Daily Quotes
  • Installs: 10,000-50,000
  • Price: Free w/Ad Support

Info

Today we will be taking a look at an app that is crazy simple. Do you ever need inspiration? What gets you inspired? The Bible, A speech from Martin Luther King Jr., Proverbs from around the world? If so, then you need to check out Inspirational Daily Quotes in the Google Play Store. This app has over 1200 inspirational quotes from all over history, From Jesus to Edgar Allen Poe to Conrad Hilton, this app is full of inspiration.

How it works

Now let’s dive into how it works. The first thing that I noticed is that the app did not request any permissions. This is great, as we will see once we get into the app there is really nothing that it would need to access. I am always leery of simple one-trick apps that are asking for location, read SMS, access phone or other odd permissions. I always deny these request until I can confirm that it is really needed for the app to function.

Next, you will see a quote. This is the meat and potatoes of this app. Let’s move to the top of the app for now, though. At the top right there are two buttons. The first is the share button, this will allow you to share the quote that is currently on the screen, via practically any app that allows that sort of thing. So whether you want to text you mom or share this quote with Facebook or Instagram you can do it. To the right of that is the three dot button that indicates settings. Once clicked the app keeps the simple theme going by displaying only four Daily_Quotes_NOtification_settingsoptions, Notification settings, Copy quote, Rate app and More apps.

Inside the notification settings, there are two options, time and show daily. The picture to the right shows what those do. The other three options, Copy Quote, Rate App and More Apps are self-explanatory and do exactly what you think they would do.

Let’s move to the bottom of the app. Just above the two buttons at the bottom, you see an ad banner. I don’t think this gets in the way and I much prefer this type of ad over a big full-pager that I have to close, which by the way, you will see when you click the all quotes button. Under that banner are the Show all Quotes and Random Quote buttons, I’ll let you take a guess at what these do. The last thing that happens takes place outside of the app in the notification shade. When you see the lightbulb in the notification tray, pull it down to see the new quote that is waiting for you. You can also click the notification and it will take you to the full app. That’s all she wrote on this simple little app to keep you inspired.

No app is perfect

2016-11-21-16_23_00-inspirational-quotes-daily

I do have a few small things that bug me about this app. The First is I seem to get notified more that once a day at 7:05am like I set the notifications to. I’m not sure why this is happening. Two, when scrolling through the quotes by clicking the random quote button I saw a lot of duplication, with 1200 quote in the library I should be able to click for an hour and not see the same one twice. And the third thing is when clicking on the all quotes button they are too far apart and it takes a lot of scrolling to get to a few quotes in this mode. Number 4 is the full page ad that I have to close to see all the quotes. I dislike these types of ads and think app developers should do away with them.

26
Nov

VLC media player now supports 360-degree videos


VLC, the app that lets you play basically any video format on practically any platform, is about to add support for a whole new medium. The company just unveiled a technical preview that enables its desktop app to play 360-degree videos, so folks can watch their dizzying footage those on their computers. The preview is now available for Windows and Mac machines, and the full version will arrive with VLC 3.0 , which is expected at the end of the month.

VLC’s creators VideoLan teamed up with 360-degree camera maker Giroptic to develop its system, which supports can display photos, panoramas and videos. You can use your mouse and keyboard to control your point of view in the footage. VideoLan says it will make these features available on its mobile apps as well, and let users navigate the clips by moving their accelerometer-carrying devices around. It also said it will support VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift, Google’s Daydream and the HTC Vive in 2017. The app is also getting 360-degree audio support “including head tracking headphones,” says the company, although it’s not clear when that will happen.

Since it’s still just a technical preview, those who are itching to try VLC 360 out should temper their expectations as it might be buggy. Even so, it’s clear that VLC is making a big push into enabling VR experiences across all its supported platforms, which should be good news for its large base of tech-savvy fans.

Source: VideoLan

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