The Gadgets Page

October 30, 2011

Are iOS 5 Location Reminders Helpful?

Filed under: PDAs and Phones,Software — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

I was first in line the night of pre-orders for the new iPhone 4S because my poor 3GS had seen better days. After skipping a generation, there are so many new features to enjoy on my new phone that I’ve felt a little overwhelmed with all of it.

That’s why I’m so surprised at how UNDERWHELMED I’ve been with the location reminders.

Having a phone with a working GPS antenna is a blessing, of course (my 3GS lost its GPS capabilities in its tragic fall that cracked the screen), but the GPS on the iPhone still isn’t sensitive enough to make location reminders work. The biggest problem is that the location reminder has to get pretty far away before it is triggered. We were about a mile away from the house when my test reminder went off and that was too late.

The typical example: “Remind me to call my wife when I leave work,” is a good test. Depending on how far away your home is, you might actually SEE your wife before Siri reminds you to call her.

Additionally, I had particular problems telling Siri where my work and home are. It’s perfectly easy to tell her to remind me when I leave “here,” but if I want to have her remind me to call Mike when I arrive at work, she would tell me that she didn’t know where my office is. I added my work address into my contact information and the iPhone was able to find it on a map when I tapped on it, but Siri still insisted that she didn’t know where my office was.

In the end, she had a problem with the city abbreviation. She couldn’t recognize SLC as Salt Lake City (even though the map app had no trouble with it), so she was powerless to set up that reminder until I changed it. It was frustrating to me and I’m a power user. I can’t imagine how frustrated a beginner might feel about this.

Yes, Siri is amazing and she makes me feel like I’m in the future, but her location reminders are hobbled by GPS inaccuracy and address parsing problems. They are a great thing to show off your phone, but they aren’t quite useful enough to be trusted.

October 28, 2011

How I Solved My Siri Envy with Vlingo

Filed under: PDAs and Phones,Software — Ian @ 10:37 am

Having heard about the iPhone 4S and Siri, I wanted to experiment with it and see how well it worked. Laura’s old iPhone 3GS had a cracked screen, so she bought the new iPhone 4S. She showed it to me and I thought Siri was very interesting and we became curious if there was something similar to it for the iPhone 3G. We began searching and we found Vlingo.

Vlingo is free to install and available for not only iPhones, but Android, Windows and Blackberry users as well. There is also a Vlingo Plus that charges a one-time fee, but that appears to be available for Samsung Jack and HTC users only.

We compared Vlingo on my iPhone 3G and Siri on Laura’s iPhone 4S together and took this video. They do both need to be connected to the internet in order to work.

I was very surprised at how well Vlingo did. My poor old 3G has slower internet than Laura’s iPhone, but it was only seconds behind when we searched for turtles. When we both called a phone number I forgot to push the button a second time otherwise it would have called at the same time. I like that with Vlingo you can choose when it starts listening, while in Siri you start as soon as you start the program. As you can see, Vlingo works slightly better than in Siri when emailing.

I was slightly disappointed with Vlingo when trying to set an appointment. Hilariously, it searched for “set an appointment at 5:00 tomorrow” in Google. Vlingo Does have some other disadvantages as well:

  • When starting the app, it asked for access to my contacts, so it doesn’t already have access to my contacts.
  • In Vlingo, you must hit the button again to stop it rather than it noticing when you stop talking like Siri does.
  • We found that Vlingo doesn’t have access to the Apple apps like the calendar, reminders or alarms.

For those of you who already have an iPhone 4S then you wouldn’t be interested in Vlingo, but for all of us who have older generation iPhones (or Android, Blackberry or Windows phones) I would suggest Vlingo. It cannot access the calendar or the alarms, but it can do everything else Siri can and will solve your Siri Envy nicely.

October 21, 2011

iHandy: Better Than An Ordinary Flashlight App

Filed under: PDAs and Phones,Software — Ian @ 10:00 am

I was looking for a free flashlight app because we were leaving for Yellowstone and we were staying in a cabin there. I looked for a while before I came across the iHandy flashlight [iTunes link]. There are literally hundreds of flashlight apps, but fortunately I found the best one for you. I liked how it worked for my iPhone 3 and it worked even better on my father’s iPhone 4. Rather than lighting up the screen it turned on his camera flash which worked twice as well as it had on mine.

When you first run this app, you will come to this selection screen. Along with the regular flashlight there are many other settings you can use for different purposes.

  • Lights: This is an ordinary flashlight. It lights up your screen (or camera flash depending on generation) in any color you want to get the brightest light from your phone.
  • Strobe: Lights will flash on and off and you can change colors if you slide your finger across the screen.
  • S.O.S.: S.O.S. in morse code will flash on the screen.
  • Emergency: This will make blue and red lights flash split screen, or red, blue, and white will flash one after another.
  • Motion Control: It will turn different colors if you shake it.
  • Spiral: Two different options of spinning colors.
  • Glow Sticks: A few different colors of glow sticks you can choose from.
  • Neon: Displays on the screen I (heart) NY. More options probably with the full version.
  • Trippy: This one was difficult to find, because you must swipe right to left from the main screen. One color of light will fade into another and so on.

If you slide you finger along the selection screen from left to right it will bring to this screen. In this mode, you can set if and how fast the lights will turn on and off along with setting it to say S.O.S. in Morse code. The numbers at the bottom of the screen control the speed of the light flashing. I prefer this mode when using the flashlight, but unless you swipe correctly, it is difficult to find.

We often used this app on our trip whether it was to see in front of us or if the fire was out. I think that this flashlight is one of the most useful things for the iPhone. Next time you catch yourself in the dark (or find yourself at a crazy rave), think of iHandy flashlight.

October 20, 2011

Home Monitoring Becomes Simple

Filed under: Cameras,Computers and Peripherals — Laura Moncur @ 9:20 am

It used to be so difficult to set up cameras in your house. CCTV was difficult to install and difficult to monitor. Even more irritating, you had to make sure to change the VCR tapes regularly. Fast forward a few years and it suddenly is easy enough for anyone to set up a hidden camera.

When Dru Ackerman broke her hip several months ago, a neighbor offered to help her. Unfortunately, her “friend” was also helping herself to Dru’s pain medication. When the woman noticed that some of her pills were missing, she set up a hidden camera in her house to see what was happening. She caught her neighbor red-handed with enough video footage to get her arrested.

Stem IZON Remote Room Monitor at She used the Stem IZON Remote Room Monitor, but she could have used the webcam installed on the computer on her desk. There are software options that allow you to monitor your home with your webcam and they will even upload the video to a remote server so if your computer is stolen, you will be able to see who did it.

The next time you are feeling paranoid about leaving your house, whether it’s just for a grocery trip, like Dru, or on an extended vacation, look into home monitoring solutions. There are so many options available right now that you’re sure to find something to give you peace of mind.

Via: iZON webcam and iPhone catch a thief in the act | TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog

October 13, 2011

Adobe Finally Gives Me A Reason To Buy Photoshop… NOT!

Filed under: Software — Laura Moncur @ 3:55 pm

This impressive demonstration is dry as dirt, but it shows how Adobe is making Photoshop relevant again. The BORING presenter does an excellent job of showing us how Photoshop can analyze a blurry photo and make it unblurry. With its algorithm, Photoshop will analyze your photo and find out how the blur was created: for example HOW your hand moved when you took the photo. It will then restore your image.

The audience was quite impressed and there was a point when someone said “No Way!”

It has been years since Adobe has given me a reason to plunk down the insane amounts of money they want for Photoshop, but finally they have given me a reason to buy it.

Via: Photoshop Will End Blurry Pics Forever

Update 10-31-11: It appears that Adobe faked the blur on one of the photographs in the demonstration. They applied an artificial blur to a photograph of Kevin Lynch and then used their algorithm to “fix” it. Here is the quote from their blog post: Behind All the Buzz: Deblur Sneak Peek | PHOTOSHOP.COM BLOG

For those who are curious – some additional background on the images used during the recent MAX demo of our “deblur” technology. The first two images we showed – the crowd scene and the image of the poster, were examples of motion blur from camera shake. The image of Kevin Lynch was synthetically blurred from a sharp image taken from the web. What do we mean by synthetic blur? A synthetic blur was created by extracting the camera shake information from another real blurry image and applying it to the Kevin Lynch image to create a realistic simulation. This kind of blur is created with our research tool. Because the camera shake data is real, it is much more complicated than anything we can simulate using Photoshop’s blur capabilities. When this new image was loaded as a JPEG into the deblur plug-in, the software has no idea it was synthetically generated. This is common practice in research and we used the Kevin example because we wanted it to be entertaining and relevant to the audience – Kevin being the star of the Adobe MAX conference!

When I showed Mike that Adobe video, he was skeptical and said that you can do anything in a demonstration. He said he wouldn’t believe it until it actually showed up as a tool in Photoshop. I guess he was right all along.

Via: Adobe admits using ‘synthetic blur’ image in deblur demo: Digital Photography Review

September 30, 2011

Life of George: The iPhone Game That Rocks Your Legos

Filed under: Toys and Games — Laura Moncur @ 8:10 am

I am so excited about this Lego game. It looks like a lot of fun.

You have to buy the Life of George pack at a store (Lego had a link to their store, but it didn’t work and it’s not listed on Amazon yet) and download the free game. When you run the game, it gives you little challenges to create with Legos. You create the challenge, and take a picture of it with your iPhone. Your creation is judged and you are given a score.

It looks like a lot of fun and I can’t wait until it exists!

Via: iPhone ‘Life of George’ Combines Real Lego With Virtual Lego | Gadget Lab |

August 24, 2011

Weird Al Goes Digital with Accordéon HD

Filed under: Software — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

I absolutely LOVE this video from Weird Al:

He is using Accordéon HD on his iPad. The app is here:

It’s also available for the iPhone, although it’s quite small:

I would think that playing an iPad accordion would be much harder than a real one because you couldn’t feel the buttons, but Al makes it look easy.

Via: “Weird Al” Yankovic Goes Digital – Celebrity Pictures, Lol Celebs and Funny Actor and Actress Photos – ROFLrazzi

August 23, 2011

elf Refillable Custom Eyes Compact

Filed under: Health and Beauty Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 11:35 am

I’ve gushed and reminisced about refillable makeup palettes in the past. You can see what I loved in the past here:

Most of the refillable palettes available today are FAR more expensive than I am willing to spend with the compact costing twenty dollars and the eyeshadows in the price range of five to fifteen dollars apiece.

Imagine my delight and surprise when I found and EXTREMELY affordable compact and refillable eyeshadows at Target.

They are the elf Refillable Custom Eyes eyeshadows. The compact cost ONE dollar and each eyeshadow is only ONE dollar apiece! I could hardly believe my good luck! There were a wide variety of eyeshadow colors, although they did not have any bright colors like blue, green or purple. I tend to be dramatic with my eyeshadow, so I was disappointed by the nearly neutral selections.

If you don’t have a Target store nearby, you can purchase them from elf’s website here for the same great price:

If you notice, they also have blush and lip glosses that will fit into the same compact (which weren’t available at my Target), so you have the option of creating a palette for nearly all of your makeup needs.

I’ve never tried elf Cosmetics, but I am sincerely tempted by this Custom Compact set.

August 22, 2011

Are Solar Trees In Our Future?

Filed under: Green Gadgets,Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

An ancient force has been harnessing the power of the sun for longer than we have existed. It’s called photo-synthesis and trees have been doing it efficiently for eons. Why did we never consider branching our solar panels out the way a tree does? It took a thirteen-year old child, Aidan Dwyer, to notice this and he has been given a patent on the design, although, nature kind of has first dibs.

After studying how trees branch in a very specific way, Aidan Dwyer created a solar cell tree that produces 20-50% more power than a uniform array of photovoltaic panels. His impressive results show that using a specific formula for distributing solar cells can drastically improve energy generation. The study earned Aidan a provisional U.S patent – it’s a rare find in the field of technology and a fantastic example of how biomimicry can drastically improve design.

It makes sense that a tree design would be able to capture more sun than a flat surface would be. With solar panel “leaves” facing all different directions, they are more likely to be facing the sun at different times of the day. Now, if only we could allow the solar “leaves” to rustle in the wind, they would be even MORE efficient.

I’m very excited to see where this technology leads in the future!

August 18, 2011

Solar Roadways Prototype in Idaho

Filed under: Cars & Transportation,Green Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

Imagine if every road and parking lot in the United States was paved with solar panels instead of asphalt. Even if they had only 15% efficiency (as the current solar panels do), they would be able to generate enough electricity to power our entire country three times over. That is the premise for the solar roadways. The roads are already there, soaking up the heat of the sun. All we have to do is design a solar panel that can do that and withstand the beating that comes from being a road.

Solar Roadways, based in Idaho is doing just that. They are building their prototype in their own parking lot. This video from YouTube explains it:

I love how they talk about how they are using the garbage from the landfills to be used as the structure of the road (3:15 mark). Since asphalt is oil based, it won’t last forever. These roads are better all around.

Via: Solar Roadways to build solar-powered parking lot | The Car Tech blog – CNET Reviews

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