Categories
Entertainment

Netflix Arrives Nigeria – Quick Facts

  • netflix-logo3 Subscription plans available US$7.99/US$9.99/$11.99 per month. Details here . GT Bank rate is about N270 for US$1
  • New subscribers get one month free viewing. BUT you are required to provide your card details to sign up. Automatic debit occurs after 30 days – unles you cancel before then.
  • 4 Streaming formats available; LOW, SD, HD and Ultra HD
  • On an 8 inch tablet, LOW format renders quite well, consuming 300MB/hr. Watched Idris Elba’s “Beasts of no nation”. Other options; SD 0.7GB/hr, HD 3GB/hr and ultra HD 7GB/hr
  • Netflix has geographical restrictions.The US market, expectedly, is the most favoured. However, this VPN app worked well for me on my Android tab to bypass this restriction.
  • “House of Cards” and a bunch of popular TV Shows and movies are not available for viewing in Nigeria! Heard DSTV bought the rights from Sony for “House of Cards”. With your VPN app, however, you bypass this restriction.
  • Glo Internet, as terrible as it may seem to many, has the most cost effective plans for Netflix. Especially if you subscribe to the Android BIS Hack.
  • Glo also has a Weekend data plan of N500 for 3GB. However, you need to have an existing subscription to use this. Details here.
  • Though there have been a flurry of activities from the Mobile Networks to provide more generous data plans, unfortunately, Netflix is not going to be a threat to DSTV in Nigeria anytime soon due to high data cost.
Categories
Gadgets

Tecno Droipad 8H – A Hands On Review

TECNO DROIDPAD 8HINTRODUCTION

Reviews of this tablet is not very much available on the Internet. Worst still, the website of the manufacturer also do not have information on this device. Something akin to a mystery surrounds this tab.

It has been wrongly referred to as DROIDPAD and H8 in many online references, coupled with incorrect product specifications.

While its product specifications can be considered decent, there is no surprises here. Product differentiation among recent android devices, especially those manufactured by Chinese companies, can be considered trivial and almost non existent.
However, the Droipad 8H manages to differentiate itself in 2 key departments. More on this later.

TECNO 8H KEY FEATURES

Detailed device specifications, images and video reviews can be viewed here.

FIRST THOUGHTS

A few things have changed since i penned my first thoughts on this product (read here);

  1. OTA updates now works, but not with a 64GB memory card. I was able to achieve the update with a 2GB card. The 64 GB card, however, works well for regularly usage.
  2. Though this tablet charges somewhat slowly, power inverters and generator effectively charges it. Not sure if this good fortune was a result of a bug fix from the systems update.
  3. Side loading apps is a tad faster but still generally slow.
  4. And I still do not know where Tecno hid the game data of the games that came bundled with the tablet. Gigabytes of space remains tied up.

DESIGN AND BUILD

The trend is for manufacturers to have their products encased in very beautiful and attractive retail packages. Unfortunately, It is also a fact that some of these packages are probably worth more than the device itself.

That is not the case with Tecno.

The black variant of the Tecno Droipad 8H that I chose came in an all black beautiful retail packaging, with gold lettering.

Unboxing the package, the Droipad is the first thing that stares you in the face.

Carefully thought out and put together, the mature and premium feel that the retail packaging exuded continues with the device itself. Predominantly black with gold trimmings at the top and bottom edges, the gold colour choice was also extended to the volume and power buttons.

Digging deeper into the packaging, you can not help but wonder why such a premium designed product would come with such austere accessories; Flip case, decent earpiece and the mandatory charger. That is all! Not even a memory card!

The flip case that comes with it fits snugly onto the tablet giving it a protective feel. For those familiar with Tecno products, their flip case design has become somewhat boring as it does not seem to have changed at all over the years.

OUTSTANDING FEATURES

  • Audio

The speakers on this device would blow your mind. Audio quality is rich, mature and loud enough. Playback via the 3.5mm jack is also very good. For the audiophiles out there, i recommend this. Do not look any further.

The stereo speakers are located on the face of the tablet on its top and lower edges.

  • Battery

After 12 hours of moderate mixed use; WiFi on all through, light video watching, music playback, a game of scrabble, etc, the battery stood at 49%. Shocking, but true. To think Tecno quoted only 9 hours battery life for this device.

  • E-Reader

With about 2,000 epub ebooks, a sprinkle of Pdf files and my choice ebook app, Mantano, reading has been a joy. Scrolling through my ebook collections is a breeze, with almost unnoticeable lag.

OVERALL

It is a highly saturated market for Android devices. The tablets, especially, have never fared as well as the phones. Moreso, manufacturers have intentional crippled the features of tablets for reasons best known to them.

I will definitely chose the Droipad over any other tablet in the market, mainly because it managed to find the sweet spot between quality and price.

Definitely not the best in the market, but the audio quality and battery life is definitely too hard to ignore.

Categories
Gadgets

Extending The Capabilities Of The MS Surface Pro : A Review Of Plugable UD-3900 Docking Station

surface pro 2I use a Surface Pro 2 tablet as my regular laptop. With its up to 8 hour battery life, the tab stores enough juice to last an average work day. However, at home, its limitations become very apparent.

For reasons best known to only Microsoft, this device comes with only a single port – a USB 3.0 port. While I could extend its screen, wirelessly, using a WDTV Live Player I picked up a while back as a conduit, to a bigger 42-inch screen using Miracast Technology, my expansion options were still very limited.

Unfortunately, the Surface Pro 3, the latest iteration of this tablet, also suffer the same dearth of ports. These tablets are not cheap and it is a little disheartening that so much was paid for so little.

Browsing through Amazon, I stumbled on a docking station that compensated for about all the ports that the Surface Pro lacked. It is a universal dock – it extends the capabilities of just about any tablet or laptop, unlike the dedicated proprietary one Microsoft is offering, which you would have to throw out with the Surface Pro whenever you are done with it.

PlugableThe Plugable UD-3900 docking station connects to the single USB 3.0 port on the Surface Pro, compensating it with the following additional ports;

  1. Dual Video Outputs (HDMI up to 2560×1440* and DVI / VGA to 2048×1152 / 1920×1200
  2. Gigabit Ethernet (One)
  3. USB 3.0 Ports (Two)
  4. USB 2.0 Ports (Four)
  5. 3.5mm Audio Jack (One)
  6. 3.5mm Microphone Jack (One)

Like another reviewer noted, the Plugable UD-3900 and Surface Pro 2 do really go great together. Indeed, it is a good buy.

Plugable-UD-3900-USB3.0-Docking-Station-Connect

Categories
Gadgets

The Search For The Perfect 7 Inch Phone

I decided a while back to try out a 7 inch tab as my main phone. My reasons were simple;

  1. My quest for a functional and productive mobile device informed my decison to a stick to a Windows OS powered tablet. However, the allure of an android tab remains.
  2. In a bid to save myself from gadget overload, it did make sense to me to converge my desire for an android tab with my existing smartphone into a single form factor that could pass for both.
  3. Of course, I will also be avoiding the cost of shelling out money for two devices when I could just pick up one.

So far, the easiest part of it all has been actually deciding to tow the 7 incher smartphone line. Deciding on a shortlist of phones to choose from has been nothing short of a nightmare.

Problem is, not a single tab made the cut.

The 4 key specs I desired in my ideal tab are;

  1. 7 inch screen size
  2. Dual SIM
  3. 16GB internal memory
  4. 2GB RAM

Funny thing is, while these specs seem common place with sub 7 inch smartphones, I am yet to find a 7 inch tab sporting 16GB internal memory and 2GB RAM with Dual SIM. Funny, isn’t it? The surprising thing is that the nameless or little known Chinese brands have these features packed into their 7 inch offerings almost by default. Why is that?

I admit that there is a lot I am yet to understand about the smartphone manufacturers, especially those that have affiliations with the Western world and their reasons for some of the decisions they make.

As it is, I just might take a second look at these Chinese brands to make my pick.

image

Categories
Gadgets

Setting Up Raspberry Pi As A Media Centre Device

In my last post, we looked into setting up the Raspberry Pi in general, and what that entails.

This article is gonna focus on setting it up as a Media Centre device.

I have lots of media (Music, Movies, TV Series, etc.) on my laptop and I’ve always wanted a stress free way to have that content available to me on all my devices, be it on my TV, iPad or Phone.

The perfect solution for this came in the form of Plex Media Server.

Plex Media Server

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Plex Media Server is a free (but closed source) Media server application that indexes and organizes all kinds of media from Music to TV shows, Movies, Anime, etc. It also downloads Album art, Show banners and other metadata, even down to TV Show theme music. Plex media server is very easy to setup and is available to install on all major OSes.

I run Ubuntu on my laptop, so naturally, that’s where I installed my Plex Media server instance. After installation, Plex Media server runs as a background service which autostarts on booting the system. It has a web UI (pictured above) for managing your media collection. Its all really straightforward and easy to follow. I did have a little issue where some of my media wasn’t being recognized, but after changing file permissions, I was able to fix that.

The initial indexing of my vast media collection took a while and at the end, about 1gb of data, but it was definitely worth it. Once I had plex setup as a media server on my laptop, I could then move on to setting it up on the Raspberry Pi.

RasPlex

RasPlexPlex doesn’t have an official Home Theatre app for the Raspberry pi (or Linux), even though they have one for iOS, Android, Windows and OSX.

Some fine folks over at RasPlex have fixed this though, by creating RasPlex which is based on OpenELEC, which is in turn based on XBMC, which the original Plex Home Theatre app is based on. So, they are all more or less the same. :D.

Installing RasPlex on the Raspberry Pi has been made quite easy by the RasPlex team. There are installers available for Windows, OSX and Linux. Once the Installers are downloaded, they can be used to download the latest version of RasPlex, and also flash it to a compatible 8gb SD card. Pop that SD card into the Raspberry Pi’s slot and voila!, you have a working install of RasPlex.

As long as your Raspberry Pi is connected to the same network as your Plex media server, RasPlex should detect your media collection and allow you to play media directly on your TV.

Issues

I ran into a major issue after setting up RasPlex on the Raspberry Pi. Although it worked just fine on the big TV in the sitting room while connected via HDMI, it refused to display a thing when connected via composite video to the smaller TV in the room. After a bit of googling, I discovered that RasPlex is configured to use HDMI only by default. I guess the developers assumed nobody would be using TVs without HDMI input in 2013. Thankfully, there’s a workaround and it only involves editing a text file. I did have to do the edit on a windows machine though (something to do with those pesky file ownership and permissions issue), but apart from that hickup, it was a quick fix.

Once that was done, the RasPlex displayed properly on the TV and once I got a “3.5mm audio jack to composite audio converter cable”, I could also get audio into the TV.

OpenELEC

Openelec

OpenELEC is another Media Centre platform available on the Pi. RasPlex is built on OpenELEC, as evidenced by the OpenELEC splash screen that comes up when booting RasPlex.

However, if you want something as close to running generic XBMC on your Raspberry Pi, OpenELEC is the way to go.

Installing OpenELEC, like most installations on the Raspberry Pi is as easy as flashing the image unto a memory card. There are instructions on how to do this for each platform on the OpenELEC wiki. I did this on my trusty Ubuntu laptop and it worked perfectly.

Booting up OpenELEC on the Pi takes you to a generic XBMC UI. Its clean and uncluttered.

My preferred solution, of the two, is RasPlex.

Controlling your Media Centre

Although the Raspberry Pi supports both USB Mouse and Keyboard, these are not ideal when dealing with a Media Centre platform. One would not like to get up to the TV in order to change the media playing.

Thankfully, this is remedied by a host of Remote applications available for both iOS and Android.

For RasPlex, my favourite remote app is simply called “Plex Remote”. Its a free app in the play store, and so long as your android device is connected to the same network as the Raspberry Pi, it detects your RasPlex instance immediately and allows you to control its UI and launch your media.

For OpenELEC, any plain old XBMC remote would work. There are several of them on the Play store, but I haven’t tried out any since I did not decide on using OpenELEC in the long run, so I can’t recommend one.

Miscellaneous

The solution above allowed me to elegantly stream my media collection from my laptop acting as the server the Raspberry Pi connected to my TV. However, at other times, I might want to stream the same content to my phone or tablet instead.

Plex has awesome applications for both iOS and Android that do just that. Both applications cost $4.99 on their individual stores. They automatically connect to the Plex server and allow you to stream your content directly to your device.

The centralized nature of the media ensures that you can do cool things like marking videos as “watched”, filtering videos by genre, and even resuming from your last position across all devices.

So, I can start watching a movie on my phone, and later on, go over to the TV and continue from exactly where I stopped the last time.

Plex Media server uses Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) to stream media across devices. Therefore, if for some reason, you don’t have $4.99 to give the Plex developers, you use one of the free UPnP applications available on android. I can confirm that BubbleUPnP does recognize the Plex server and allows you to play your media, but you do lose some of the cooler features such as the resume feature highlighted above.

Its nice to be able to setup your home media centre using the Raspberry Pi, and stream your content from a central server to multiple devices. However, sometimes, your media might be on your phone or tablet. One might not be inclined to first copy it to your server, index it, and then stream it.

Luckily, there are ways to stream content directly from your phone or tablet to your Raspberry Pi powered TV, and we will explore that in the next post!.

Categories
Gadgets

Getting started with Raspberry Pi

After being constantly hounded by several people, I’ve finally gotten around to writing this post.

Instructional blog posts on getting a Raspberry Pi to do just about anything imaginable are a dime-a-dozen on the internet. That means, a lot of the stuff I’m writing in this post are not new, and are stuff I also learned from reading blog posts and wikis. I however am bringing a uniquely Nigerian perspective, and this might be useful to others trying to accomplish something similar in a similar environment.

Now, without much ado, lets get into it.

What exactly is a Raspberry Pi?

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According to the guys that made it,

“The Raspberry Pi is a low-cost credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard”.

It was originally designed for the educational purposes, especially for kids, but its uses have ballooned over the years and now, it can be found doing stuff like running Home Theatre software, controlling robots, home automation/ surveillance systems, etc.

I was originally interested in the Raspberry Pi just as a device for experimentation, and the extremely cheap price of $35 made it even more appealing. I bought this pack from Amazon and got the Pi along with a clear case, HDMI cable, Micro USB power pack and an 8gb SD card preloaded with some Pi software for Noobs.

I got it sent to Nigeria through Shippyme.

Setting up

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Setting up the Raspberry Pi is relatively easy to do, even more so if you have Linux experience (as I do), but still fairly easy if you don’t. The Raspberry Pi folks officially recommend a variant of Debian Linux called Raspbian. Since that was one of the preloaded OSes that came with my SD Card, I loaded it up first to see how things ran. If you don’t go the route of getting the pack, you would have to install Raspbian yourself. The setup process is relatively painless but the download would set you back 500+ Mb.

Raspbian is a full featured debian distribution with all its binaries recompiled against the ARM architecture which the Pi’s CPU has. It comes with a modern Desktop environment and has all the important bits of any OS. Overall, its pretty boring. Of course, there are things that can be done to spice up Raspbian and add some extra features, but I didn’t linger on Raspbian to try any of them out.

The Raspberry Pi is essentially a Computer board. Therefore, in order to use it, accessories such as a Keyboard, Mouse and even power supply have to be added externally. The Pi possesses two full USB ports for the peripherals, as well as a HDMI port for Digital Video/Audio output, Composite video and 3.5mm audio jack for Analogue output. The Pi doesn’t have a Wireless receiver, but it does have an RJ45 Ethernet port for all your networking needs. This turned out to be a bit of a limitation for me, but I was able to overcome it later with a bit of spending.

Issues

The only major issue I had while setting up my Pi was the fact that I use a MiFi device to connect to the internet. The device broadcasts a wireless network, and doesn’t have an Ethernet port. Since the Raspberry Pi doesn’t have a wireless card, this posed a bit of a problem as regards getting the Pi connected to the internet.

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I eventually overcame this by getting a fairly cheap Wireless Access point (TP-Link WA701ND) which has one Ethernet port as well as broadcasting a wireless network. The device doesn’t have a SIM Slot though, so it can’t be used to replace my MiFi.

I setup the TP-Link access point as a Wireless repeater to the network propagated from the MiFi. This essentially made the access point connected to the same network as MiFi, and meant that any device connected to the Access point via LAN (in this case, the Pi) also got connected to the same network originating from the MiFi. This fixed my issue with getting the Pi online.

Using the Raspberry Pi

Once you have everything setup the way you like, its time to actually use the device to get some work done (or not, depending on what you want). In my case, I was interested in using the Pi as a Home Theatre PC. This meant Raspbian wasn’t a good fit for me. Luckily, there are two excellent solutions available for the Pi in this field, both based on XBMC.OpenELEC and RasPlex.

In the next article, I’ll discuss how I got both setup, my experiences with them, and also discuss how to get content streamed from your media server PC, phone or tablet to your Raspberry Pi.

Categories
Gadgets Technology

I Sold My Samsung S3 Phone Today

Sold off my Samsung S3 [US Version] phone today. I had used it for about a year.

It was a tough decision to make as i had grown attached to the device and it did serve me well. But the fact is, i needed to move on. It had become a case of functionality and convenience over emotional attachments.

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I use two SIMs/Phones on a regular day, a work line and a personal one. Coupled with an android tablet, my usual day see me lugging all these devices around with me. Not much fun at all, trust me. I had decided a while back that dual SIM was the future for me and thankfully, the market for this class of phone is increasingly becoming vibrant. No better time than now to make a change.

Released in June 2012, the Samsung S3 is still a hugely popular phone and its listing is among the most viewed on gsmarena.com. Those that own the S3 do not see its successor, the Samsung S4, as being a worthy upgrade due to its minor incremental and largely unneeded additional features.

If it is any consolation, I did sell the S3 good, all N45,000 (US$280) that i asked for it.

Question now is, which phone do i use in the stead of the S3? Of course i know no dual SIM can touch the specifications of the S3 by a mile, but any dual SIM phone with decent specs will suffice for me for now, while hoping Samsung (or other manufacturers) will come out with better offers come 2014.

Below are the phones i am considering;

1. Tecno Phantom A+ vs Samsung Galaxy Grand

The Tecno brand has tried to redefine the perception the African market has about Chinese mobile phones. I got the Tecno Phantom A+ phone for my wife a couple of weeks ago. Only one word can summarize my experience with the device; Un-freaking-believable! (hope that qualifies as a word?). Sharp screen, very responsive and generous accessories (8GB card, memory bank, flip pouch). All for less than N35,000 – even at jumia.com.ng!

My major grouse with the phone is its limited internal memory, only 4GB.

The Samsung Galaxy Grand Duos shares almost similar specs with the Phantom A+ (love that name), even losing out in some specs but selling for much more, about N46,000! How much of this amount are we paying for the Samsung brand name?!

‘Nuff said, Tecno comes tops here!

Below is a comparison of some of the key specs;

[ws_table id=”6″]

2. Tecno Phantom A2 vs Samsung Galaxy Mega 5.8

The Phantom A2 is not necessarily a direct upgrade to the Phantom A+, i will probably liken it to comparing the Samsung S4 with the Samsung Note 3. My personal opinion.

Compared to the A+, the Phantom A2 substitutes its screen with a 5.7 incher, the front camera with 1.9MP and the price with about N43000.

Definitely, the Tecno loses out on this one. Notwithstanding that the Galaxy Mega costs about N56000, no way i am going to shell out N43k for such miserly specs. Tecno needs to be careful, the brand is still not strong enough to command such prices. I suggest they stick to sub N40000 prices.

Check out the spec comparison;

[ws_table id=”7″]

The results are in, definitely it is a Tecno on my mind. I have used and still own Samsung devices. Would be a nice idea to see if the other side is indeed greener.

My eyes are definitely on the Phantom A+, value for my money.

Phantom A Plus big

 

Categories
Gadgets Hack

Making Phone Calls Using Your iPad SIM

Background

I needed a second phone. The previous one that acted as a backup phone – housing my spare SIM card – was an ageing Samsung Galaxy Duos S6102 that was beginning to present some quirks.

This is a project that i did not set out to spend too much on, being just a backup phone to my trusty Samsung S3. But more importantly, stack of bills jostling for my attention would not allow me to be frivolous with my spending.

My Requirements

1. 7+ inch screen – Now, suddenly, even 5 inch screen phones seem so small. Thanks Samsung! But really, I was through with straining my eyes reading from a 3 inch screen, like that of the Galaxy Duos S6102. I wanted a phone that could double as a tablet too (Phablet), something i can easily read my Pdf files from, my Zinio Magazines and other eBook formats. My days of having separate tablet and phone devices are long gone.

2. A Dual SIM device would be fantastic

3. Budget of N40,000 (US$250) – Preferrably less

4. Preferably, an Alternative OS to Android. Do not get me wrong here. Android is fantastic, and the best mobile OS – without doubt. However, all i have known for about 3 years now is android, android and android! A little breather would not hurt.

My Shortlist

1. Techno Phantom A+ – Had to slip this device in, i felt i needed to give it a honourable mention. This Chinese company has made a good job of trying to change our perception of Chinese products as being inferior. At about N35,000 (US$230), the Phantom A+, though half the price of the Samsung S3, has been compared favourably with it. Unfortunately, its 5-inch screen makes it not worthy of consideration.

2. Chinese Tablet Clones – Some even come with Dual SIM and some are actually useable. My younger son has one. If i get one of these, would probably take me just a week to fling it at the wall.

3. Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 or 3 (7 inch) – The cheapest i got for this class of devices is N38,000 (US$235) that i negotiated for a used Galaxy Tab 2 i saw online. Comes straight out of the box with phoning capabilities. Pdf files and eBooks render fairly well on it but there will be very frequent need to zoom to view texts conveniently because of its relatively small screen estate.

4. iPad Classic (iPad 1 – First Generation) – Let us call this the grand daddy of the lot. Though the oldest in this line-up, its specifications compares favourably with the previously listed. However, its miserly 256MB RAM was a bit of a show stopper.

Unfortunately, hardware restrictions in iPad 2 and later iterations has made it IMPOSSIBLE to use any of these later iPad models for phone calls. Reason why they where not consider.

Conclusion

My eventual choice was the grand daddy, iPad First Generation. I am sure many will disagree with my choice, however i will share my reasons with you at the end of this write-up.

With a 2-minute hack (jailbreak) using absinthe and a US$19.99 software download from the guys at iphoneislam.com, the iPad is turned to a larger version of iPhone 4. For a few months back in 2011, i had experimented with using iPad as a phone. You may read about my experiences here.

Pros:

  • A breather from Android. Let me see what the competition has been up to.
  • Very generous screen estate, all 9.7 inch
  • Is it just me? Why do i think iPad tablets have sharper displays than Android tabs?
  • I only paid N35,000 for the 3G, 32GB variant of iPad 1. Pricing is very comparable, if not cheaper than i would have shipped it in from the United States.
  • Think of it as an iPhone 4, has about the same features.
  • Perfect for use in conference calls, very loud speakers.

Cons:

  • You will look very stupid slapping a 9.7 inch phone to your ears. Do not try it!
  • Apple, in its infinite wisdom, crippled the bluetooth hardware on the iPad 1 and i believe later models too. You can not make calls over bluetooth. You are stuck with a wired ear piece.
  • Though not very noticeable, iPad 1 has a miserly 256 MB RAM. It, however, does a better job in managing low RAM than Android devices.
  • Pegged at iOS 5.1.1, guess that is the highest iOS version its low RAM can accommodate. Because of this, you can not install recent apps made for iOS 6+ on iPad 1.

View the screenshots from the “phone” below;

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Categories
Lifestyle Technology

Children Of Nowadays

arthurwalesI overhead my 7 year old son discussing with his younger brother on how he took screenshots of the Lion King movie he was watching on his tablet. I was impressed but i kept quiet hoping to hear more about his exploits. I was particularly impressed because most android devices, including the tablet he uses, taking screenshots is not straight forward. For devices using Android 4.0 and above, taking snapshots requires you to  press the Volume Down and Power buttons at the same time, hold them for a second, and your phone will take a screenshot. How did he stumble on that?! I definitely did not teach him!

My wife was with me when this was going on. I asked her,

“Mams, did you know you could take screenshots on your tab?”

We all call her Mama. “Mams” was just my idea of funkifying the name a bit.

“Ehen, so you can …”, was her response.

Okay, i admit, i was expecting that. I am very sure she couldn’t care less about it. She is quite content with playing Farm Frenzy game (all day!) and reading her digital OK! and Star Magazine subscriptions on Zinio – to keep up with the gossips! That is as far as it gets for her.

Really, i find it amazing, Children of Nowadays. The ease at which my 3 year old navigates his own tablet is astounding. I sincerely pray that their generation gets a better deal than ours so that their intelligent minds can be put to very positive use.

Categories
Gadgets

Why You Should Always Pay for Apps

So you just bought a smartphone or tablet, or received one as a gift. Congratulations! Now go buy some apps. No, not free apps. You, or a special someone, just spent, what, $200-plus on your new gadget? Plunk down $10 for some apps.

Mobile app development is one of the last businesses in America where one or two guys with a good idea can make it big, and where consumers can get a top-quality, original product for little money. Big-box stores have crushed the mom-and-pops. Most culture seems to be created by giant conglomerates. Kickstarter is out there, but it tilts the playing field in the other direction; it isn’t a store, it’s a gambling emporium.

Most transactions in our world are so dispersed along an endless supply chain that it’s impossible to figure out whom you’re actually paying for what. When you buy a toy at Walmart, how much of your $20 goes to the checkout girl? How much to the truck driver who delivered it, how much to the person who assembled it, how much to the person who invented it? There’s no way to know.

Digital media distribution has some of the same problems. I recently bought Brave on Amazon for $20. I assume about 30 percent of that went to Amazon, but of the other 70 percent, how much did anyone involved in creating the movie see? How much went to some incomprehensible financial derivative rewarding large Disney shareholders? Once again, no way to know.

I think one of the reasons media piracy is so rampant is that these media products have become so disassociated from any particular creator. Obviously, it takes a team of hundreds, if not thousands, to make a Brave. But that makes too many consumers feel that pirating Brave is a victimless crime, as the “creator” has become this inchoate blob listed on a stock exchange.

When you buy a toy at Walmart, how much of your $20 goes to the checkout girl?

REWARDING THE LITTLE GUYS

AppsPeer into the mobile app stores, on the other hand, and you see a lot of excellent stuff made by small businesses. Take the “top paid” list at Google Play. Along with the big names, you see apps from little studios like Mojang, LevelUp, and ZeptoLab. My wife loves World of Goo, by two-man game house 2D Boy. When you buy from one of those, you know your money is going to the creators. Even better: If they make money, they’ll probably make more apps.

I’m currently working my way through the Windows Phone 8 game Dragon’s Blade, and I paid 99 cents for the “DX” version so Nate, the creator, knows he has one more interested player. When you buy a bag of gold in the iPad game Silversword, 70 percent of the money goes to pay the rent of a guy named Mario. He lives in Germany. He writes code. He’s working hard to bring you an expansion pack right now. Why wouldn’t you want to participate in a transaction like that?

There’s even a perpetual collection of small-developer games going around, called the Humble Bundle. I don’t like the Humble Bundle for stupid reasons, mostly because I associate it with people who live in Brooklyn, have artisanal facial hair, and listen to electronic dance music. I should probably get over that.

If there’s a paid version and a free version of something, get the paid version. Remember: if you aren’t paying for a product, you are the product. Free versions are worse for you and worse for the creators. You agree to sell your personal data to advertisers. The creator gets some attenuated dribble of cash from the bottom of a complicated pyramid of interests. But when you buy the paid version, the creator gets direct cash and knows you’re interested.

If there’s a paid version and a free version of something, get the paid version.

This logic also holds when you’re buying an app from a company like Disney or EA that doesn’t give you the warm fuzzies. By purchasing a paid app, you’re endorsing a clear, simple economics where you know how and what you’re paying. Free apps encourage companies to find invisible ways to “monetize” their users, from selling personal information to demanding perpetual, periodic in-app purchases. You’re still paying, you’re just rarely told how up front.

MOBILE PIRACY IS WORSE THAN DESKTOP PIRACY

If you pirate Android apps, on the other hand, you are scum. Yes, there are some outlier justifications: If you’re a subsistence farmer in India living on $2 a day and “Where’s My Water?” is not only an ironic statement of first-world problems, but the slim joy in your sun-blasted day, go for it. But I suspect you’re First World middle class, and you spent more than $1 today on something relatively worthless, like a bag of chips (or crisps, if you live outside the United States).

Mobile apps are so stunningly affordable right now, and the money usually goes so directly to programmers that you are taking food out of their children’s mouths for spite. Really, you can’t economize $2 in this week’s budget to reward someone for their labor? We’re not talking $600 Adobe software suites here. The only reasons to pirate a $2 app are if you’re below the United Nation’s global poverty line, or if you’re a complete jerk.

I understand that some people are hesitant to buy apps because they’re worried about quality. That is why we have reviews. PC Magazine has reviews, Amazon has reviews, the app stores have reviews, 148Apps has reviews, platform fan sites have reviews. Really. Do a five-minute Google search and you’ll find out how good an app is.

So go. Take that fresh iPhone 5, that new Kindle Fire, or that shiny HTC 8X and pick up a game or an app. It’ll be the best buy you’ve made so far this year, and one you can feel really good about.

Really, you can’t economize $2 in this week’s budget to reward someone for their labor?
Source : PCMAG