Posts Tagged ‘nexus 7’

Which Gadgets Do I Need, Again

Saturday, October 17th, 2015

Four-years ago I asked the question “What gadgets do I need?”, and it seemed time to revisit the question.

First, what gadgets do I have?

Pebble Watch

This is my most-present gadget these days. I like that it is limited, it is too small a screen to offer a rich experience, and it is too small a case to have a large battery. So it is limited in its ambition and achieves that goal beautifully. It is an accessory to my phone.

Smart Phone

My Android phone (Nexus 4, soon to be Nexus 5x) is my next most present gadget, it is pretty much always on me (I am not a “set it down”, user, I have it on my belt). I am paranoid about keeping it charged, so not only do I charge it at night, I charge it in the car, I charge it at my desk at work.

But I don’t use it as much as I used to. I do not obsessively check it a hundred times a day, I let my Pebble let me know if something notable has happened, the battery life has gone up since I got the Pebble. I also use it less because of my next gadget, my tablet.

Nexus 7 Tablet

I now have the “2013″ version of the Nexus 7, which was a nice improvement on the first one (that I broke), and it is a shame they don’t sell something like it anymore.

It took me a while to figure out what it is good for, but I finally realized it is good for everything. I have it in my “purse” which is always close at hand, or I have it in my hand. It is also small enough to fit in most of my back pockets, I don’t sit down with it there, but I can free up my hands. I don’t have cellular data service for it, but wifi is common, and I can turn my phone into a wifi hotspot when I need to.

Notebook Computer

I don’t use it as much as I once did. I don’t carry it around as much as I did. But if I need to do “computing” or writing or real web surfing, it is critical. A real keyboard, a lot of capacity and power, and–notably to me–a computer that I largely control. I run Linux on my notebook and I can do what I want with it. On my other devices someone else is pretty much in control and I am just a user.

It is also a nice way to read the replica version of the New York Times. A big enough screen to handle the current physical layout of the real paper.

The old Thinkpad X230 I bought shortly after my earlier gadget post is getting physically tattered, but it is still a nice machine. The addition of an SSD and more RAM have kept it very useful. And the “Displayport” jack that I didn’t appreciate at first (“What’s that?”) is useful now. And the two USB jacks that are the newer “super speed” flavor (“What’s that?”) are even more useful now. The PCMCIA slot has been useless and the missing modem I might have once wondered over has not been missed–it has been a very nice computer.

I carry it in a bag to and from work everyday, I always bring that bag with me if I travel, and even on a day trip I usually bring it, but I don’t just carry the computer alone with me anymore, I have other toys, the computer has been displaced somewhat.

E-Book Reader

I have a Kindle “Paperwhite”, the second version of that. And it fits nicely in my purse. I can use the Kindle software on my phone or tablet, but they have disadvantages:

  • Distractions, the Paperwhite is limited in a good way (see Pebble Watch);
  • Battery life, my Android gizmos can’t touch the battery life of the e-reader;
  • Better display, easier on the eyes, good in bright light;
  • Better user interface, the builtin dictionary works better.

One shortcoming: The Kindle is slow and has a more limited display. If I am reading something that is not just linear text, something that has layout and pictures and charts that don’t reflow well for the Kindle screen, it doesn’t work so well. So where a given recipe might work well on a Kindle, cookbooks do not. And anything much like a textbook that is more than just text also does not work well.

I do sometimes jump from device to device, and having my reading synchronized is nice. I will read the bulk of a book on the Kindle but read bits here and there while waiting for the washing machine to finish, maybe–because I have my phone on me when I don’t have the Kindle.

I wish I made more time to read.


Poor Ipod, I still carry it around (in the same bag as my notebook computer) but I don’t use it so much anymore. Why? Two reasons: Streaming radio stations on my Android devices (not streaming services, I actually like real radio stations from around the world) are my more common choice for music.

The second reason is the rather limited user interface on the Ipod. It has a lot of capacity and battery life, but it is hard to find things. One of my pet peeves is it is nearly impossible to listen to anything that came on more than one CD, because the persons who did the data entry were not consistent, and it is really hard to find the other discs of the opera, say. Further frustrations come from Apple neglecting their Itunes program on the Mac, they have made a ton of stupid changes that make it really hard to use.

Camera, Little

I no longer carry a little camera. My Android devices have pretty good cameras in them.

Camera, Big

Still photographs aren’t going away, but “still photography” is. That is, a conventional exposure, with a specific shutter speed, lens opening, focal length, focus distance, “film” speed–these are going away. There is a lot of much richer data collection that can produce a still picture with much more power–but that is another post I might get to later. In the mean time, I do have a big, old fashioned-ish, DSLR that I  needed for a specific project (35-mm slide digitizing, but that’s another post, too), and I sometimes get exercise by also carrying this camera.

This is not well resolved territory. It weighs a ton, but it has marvelous resolution and can see in the dark better than I can.

Hiking GPS

My old Garmin is feeling lonely, who buys a hiking GPS anymore? For about a year there I couldn’t even find it and feared I had left it on an airplane (I hadn’t). The point is it is at risk of being pointless. But it is not obsolete yet.

It works offline, when I am without cell coverage, where Google Maps becomes worthless. But I also have on offline map program that works well on my Android devices. Recently on a hike I pulled out my Nexus 7 several times for a good map of where I was, and finding where the trail we wanted branched off. No cell coverage, but it worked anyway.

I still carried the Garmin on that hike, it is much tougher, much better battery life (replaceable batteries!), and has a screen that works in sunlight. And it is small enough to have out and recording where I have gone, willing to help me retrace my way back to civilization. I also still use it in the car, knowing I can leave the main road and explore and it will show me a dotted line of where I have been.

But I also lost it for about a year and got along quite well without it.

I haven’t quite resolved where I keep it, hence my ability to lose it. Interesting how this will turn out.

I do worry that Garmin will lose interest in this model and quit selling maps, I should update my current North America maps if I can, my current data is starting to get obsolete. But I think Garmin isn’t interested in this business model, I think they want to sell me an expiring subscription, they want me more online. At that point they will lose me, maybe a find some armored “phone” with long battery life and use it as my new hiking GPS.

Extra Ipod Nano

It is the larger model Nano, not the really tiny square one. I won it in a drawing at some seminar. It has a fair amount of capacity–many, many hours of music. And it has an FM radio. And it is tiny enough to keep in my purse. But I seldom use it.

It does not have great battery life, but it is a different battery from my phone, I can wear it down without worry. I just have to remember to recharge it occasionally. I forget I have it.

Smart phones should have FM radios in them. Some have the hardware but the software is missing. For me it is worth carrying, but I don’t know that this device really has a niche that will last, I suspect not.

Missing Item: Big Tablet?

There is one thing I fear I need to add to my load: a large tablet computer. I want a big and very detailed screen for looking at detailed information: Maps and pictures and other graphics. Google announced one for later this year that might be tempting. I think this would go in my heavy bag with my notebook computer. I seriously doubt I would carry it around as I do with my Nexus 7, but I think it would be nice for specific purposes.

Hey! New York Times: I want the replica edition for Android!


Something I didn’t really talk about in my previous gadget post is a radio. I listen to the radio a lot and I think 4-years ago I was still carrying around a portable radio, listening to NPR. Now I use my Androids for that. It worries me that I can’t easily listen to local radio if something goes wrong with larger technical infrastructure, and that is the real reason I try to keep that Ipod Nano charged.


In the bag with my computer (a bag that is seldom far), I have a dual USB charger, and a reasonable collection of cables, including a short AC extension cord with three outlets on the end–very hand in airports when I would like to share a rare outlet. And an external USB battery pack so I can revive a phone, or run that Ipod Nano for hours on end if I need to. In my purse I have tiny car and AC to USB power adapters, and a couple USB cables. Oh, and don’t forget a little flashlight on my keyring, so much better than using my phone as a light.


Though my Android devices fill a lot of functions, they haven’t completely displaced that many gadgets: the Ipod, hiking GPS, and radio are endangered, but not yet banished. Good thing I am still young enough to haul around so much crap.

Something this technology has displaced: a lot of paper. We still buy travel books but we don’t carry them around much. We very seldom buy paper maps. (And when I do get a paper map I sometimes photograph it with my Nexus 7 and use it that way. I also photograph the big maps at the trail head instead of trying to just remember them.) Highway maps are long gone from our routine. And I miss them, spreading out a big map is still nice. That is why I want a big tablet, I think it will fill that desire.

There is still a lot happening in the gadget department. I wonder whether 4-years from now a followup posting would show more or less change? Will my load finally start to shrink?

©2015 Kent Borg

Finally, my Picturephone, so cool! And ho-hum.

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

I am a child of the future.  When I was young the future was going to be great! In fact every few years they held World’s Fairs to tell us about the future (and show us quaint glimpses of distant peoples and big corporations).

One of the perennial staples of this future was the Picturephone. (Notice, only one uppercase letter in the name, we were more tasteful then.)

AT&T Picturephone

AT&T Picturephone

AT&T spent many millions of dollars on it, and it failed.  They persisted, but it failed.

I did once get to try a real Picturephone.  There was a bank in downtown Minneapolis that had a fancy corner spot with a very early model ATM.  In addition to the ATM, there was an AT&T Picturephone on which one could talk to a human teller, and I tried it out.  The teller was very nice, I could see her, she could see me, it was cool.  We didn’t have much to talk about, so it was a short conversation.

Now it is here.  Yes, it has been here for awhile (Skype, for example) but I mostly never got around to making video phone calls because it was not really that compelling.  That was one of AT&T’s problems: Cool at it was, was a Picturephone really good for anything? Good enough to justify the bother and expense?  No, it was not even worth the desk space.  Certainly not worth the confusion.  And don’t even think about the toll charges that would have been necessary circa 1970.

But this morning I was doing a video chat between Boston and Los Angeles, in living color, on speaker (itself something from the future), and my mind was blown away to contemplate it.

Nexus 7 Tablet

Nexus 7 Tablet

The goll-darn future was finally sitting on my kitchen table!

For a geezer like me, who was raised on the future, to compare the promise with the reality, was stunning.

Amazing quality, easy to use, and free.  That last part, free, is a really big point.  No, a Nexus 7 is not free, nor are the wifi access points in my house (need more than one, need good coverage at home!), nor the DSL service to connect me to the internet.  It all costs a lot, but this infrastructure is there for other reasons.  Doing video calls is just a side-feature, so it gets to ride along for free.  I might go for months before I have occasion to make another video call, so it is a good thing I don’t need to use video chatting as the justification for all this expense.

The Future Isn’t What it Used To Be

So much of The Future that was shown at all those World’s Fairs was technically doable, but somehow not practical and stubbornly resistant to becoming reality.  Consider the robots that would soon clean our houses. Now, 40+ years after the heyday of The Future, the best we have along these lines is the Roomba!?  The Future has resisted happening.

Yet, that doesn’t mean the world hasn’t changed over these years.

“Data Processing”!

The World’s Fairs had computers, but they were oddly off to the side.  Something to marvel at, but outside of business and science, not obviously useful.

I remember as a teenager learning about early hobby computers and realizing that a computer was a universal machine that could do anything!  Well, anything that had to do with well defined logical operations, but still, what else is there!?  (I was a geek.)

Industrial vs Information Age

The clichés about how the information age changed the world are true.  (Does anyone still remember the “information age”?) But the way it changed the world wasn’t by just using electronics to build new single-purpose appliances, that was an industrial age perspective. No, it was by taking advantage of the universal properties of storing, transforming, and transporting information.  (Miniaturization, plunging costs and power consumption, and increased speed were also important.)

Consider the cell phone.  It started out as a carphone.  Your house had a phone line, your work had a phone line, so for fancy people, why not get a phone “line” installed in between, in your car?  Cool!  But, powerful as that was, it wasn’t worth it for most people.  Over a few years (thanks to miniaturization et al) the phones shrunk until they could fit in a purse or even pocket.  They became less specialized (more general purpose) and so more compelling.  People, not locations, started to have phone numbers.  It was big.  But kind of only the warm-up act.

Enter the “smartphone”. By putting a powerful computer in your pocket instead of just a telephone, things really change.  Yes, my Galaxy Nexus is an impressive “phone”.

Galaxy Nexus

Galaxy Nexus

I use it constantly. But I hardly ever talk on it.

General Purpose

What do I use it for? Everything! Well, Twitter, but lots of other stuff, too.

It is a “transistor radio”, camera, weather station, pocketwatch, newspaper, shelf of paperback books, atlas and world-wide street map, impressive reference library, wire-service news printer, stock ticker and trading terminal, calculator, flashlight, compass, artificial horizon (really: fly your small plane in bad weather), “cassette player”, calendar, address book, chess set, somewhat odd TV set, mail order catalog, bus and plane schedule, airplane arrival screen, GPS receiver (for you time travelers from 1970: “GPS” is a really fancy version of LORAN or Omega; it uses satellites!), constellation/sky map, dictionary, notepad, magazine rack, (small screen) movie player, video recorder, audio recorder, restaurant directory and reservation making machine, credit card, real estate directory, alarm clock, and more.

It does e-mail.  And, as long as I have it with me anyway, it will do video calls.

But sometimes I go for days without actually talking on this “telephone” of mine.

It is the general-purpose nature of this device that makes it compelling.  Most of the things it can do would not be worth putting my pocket, not alone, but the fact that it can do all that stuff, all from the same pocket, that is what makes it worth it.

The teenage geek in me was right, computers can do anything, particularly if you give them really cool sensors and many, many billions of dollars worth of support infrastructure, installed all around the world.

Before we all forget about the “information age”, stop to realize it happened, it is here.  No, you didn’t get a flying car (probably not a pony either), but an astounding change has come over our lives and I think it is damn cool.

Nexus Gripes: Very Few

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

I have a new Galaxy Nexus phone and a new Nexus 7 tablet.

The Nexus name is for Android devices that have Google’s version of Android software, without and other add-ons by manufacturers or phone companies.

In the case of these two devices, they did a good job, I recommend them.

My gripes are minor:

  • The power jacks are on the bottom edge of each, but one is flipped from the orientation of the other. The plug should go in the same on both, and it does not.
  • The speaker on the phone is not as loud as on my old Nexus One phone. I sometimes use the phone like a transistor radio of old, but it is too quiet.
  • It would be nice if the battery on phone lasted longer than it does, but the phone is nicely thin and doesn’t weigh too much, so I am getting demanding now.  And, unlike a lot of phones, the battery is replaceable, I can carry a second one.

Very nice gizmos. Very pleased with them.


Which Gadgets Do I Need?

Friday, September 30th, 2011

So Many Gadgets

This week Amazon announced new Kindles, both low-power e-book readers that work forever on a charge in ambient light, and the color tablet Kindle Fire.

Fun.  I want.  But what do I want?  What gadgets do I want?  (What do I need?)

Smartphone, notebook computer, tablet, e-book reader, Ipod, Camera, Hiking GPS?

Each has its virtues…


Little, always with me, internet access (when I am in T-Mobile territory).  Hard to be without.

Notebook Computer

Keyboard, real web browser, lots of disk space, multiple windows at once, lot of familiar software.  As a software engineer, needed for nerding.

(My current notebook is wearing out.  Anyone have a good recommendation for a nice sub-notebook? Under 3-pounds, full dimension screen, good trackpad, works well with Ubuntu, tough?)


I don’t really know, I don’t have one.  But I want one.  I want something like my phone but bigger.  Even though pulling out my notebook and opening the cover is very easy (sleep to RAM wakes up quite quickly) I want something that is even easier: just pull out the tablet and hit the switch, no lid to open nor surface to sit on needed.

I want a big screen phone with a front-facing camera (my phone doesn’t have that).

I want to be able to read the New York Times better. My phone can read the Times but with such a small screen. My notebook can read the Times, but such a production to open it up and set it down.  (Oh, so much work!)

I also want to use Google Maps on a bigger screen than my phone.  As impressive as maps are on my phone, maps scream for big. Remember paper maps?  They are big for a reason, so you can see where you are, and where you are going, and detail in between.

I want to play Angry Birds on a bigger screen.

I have this idea that a tablet can be more opportunistic, not as omnipresent as my phone, but more casual and available than my notebook.

The Kindle Fire

Is rather tempting at $200. Luckily I am saved for the moment because it isn’t yet available.

But it is rather limited:

  • No cameras.
  • No orientation sensors nor gyroscope.
  • No GPS (Google’s Maps application probably won’t install at all without GPS, doesn’t seem to exist on Amazon’s Appstore).
  • No Bluetooth.
  • No microphone.
  • Probably no apps that don’t come from Amazon’s appstore. (A little like Apple’s closed Ipad ecosystem.)

Still, it is only $200.

Update: Nexus 7!

Same price as the Kindle Fire, but all those things I complained about? Google fixed them all. Okay, the camera is front facing only, but it is there! Nice machine, I am using it to update this post now. Get one.

E-Book Reader

The key features here are long battery life, screen that uses ambient light and is easy to see outdoors, and limited function so I don’t keep looking at what new Tweets have shown up.  The new cheap Kindle is so small and pretty dang cheap at $79 (still only $109 without ads). And so small.  And linked to my reading on my phone’s Kindle app.

I’ve been reading a 400+ page book on the Kindle app on my phone and it is taking forever.  I have this idea it would go faster if I had a bigger, better reading screen.


(No, I won’t cooperate with marketing driven fuNNy caPITaliZatioN.) I have a 120 GB Ipod and it is great to have a ton of music available.  It works without any network connection.  It has great battery life.  (Alas, it might be discontinued soon. Constantly listening to things I already own, and free podcasts, doesn’t generate any bucks for Apple.)

I also have the FM radio adapter that Apple used to sell, and would listen to public All Things Considered and Morning Edition on it, but now I usually use my phone for that–it gets better reception in buildings.

I don’t usually have it on my person these days, not like I used to, my phone is the bigger entertainment. Instead my Ipod has been relegated to the larger bag I carry my notebook computer in.  Handy at work, handy in the car, not terribly far away at most other times.


I like having my little camera with my almost always. I like that “film” is now essentially free, I can use the camera to take notes and document physical stuff (what exact replacement part do I need at the hardware store?, I look the picture I took of the dismantled gizmo at home).

My phone has a camera, but I think it is a lesser device, though I haven’t tried side-by-side comparisons.  I know the phone doesn’t have a real zoom. Swapping new memory cards is easier on my camera than on my phone because the phone has other data on the card I don’t want to swap out.

The usage model is different, the phone wants to upload photos, the dedicated camera wants to transfer them to my notebook.

The camera has a battery that doesn’t need constant charging because it is only for the camera.  The camera doesn’t have GPS and can’t tag photo locations.

Hiking GPS

I have to throw this in.

My phone has GPS, and better maps than does my Garmin GPS Map 60Cx, but I still like my Garmin with the North American maps I bought for it:

  • It has better battery life.
  • It has a display that can easily be read in sunlight.
  • Its maps work when out in the sticks! No need for any cell service. (When there is cell service it is also sometimes nice to have a second opinion for navigating.)
  • It is far tougher than my cellphone, it is pretty happy being dropped and being used in the rain.  Works in cold weather where my phone reboots.
  • I have a nice mount for it on my bike where it is a nice speedometer and map.

I don’t have my hiking GPS with me always, but I frequently have it in my bigger bag, with my iPod and notebook computer.

And the Winners Are?

I don’t know yet.  These are very different beasts.  The dedicated devices are nice in that they are better optimized for their specific uses.  The multi-use devices (phone, notebook) are nice for their general purpose aspects but I am then afraid of dropping it on a hard rock and being out too many features.

I suspect there are some Amazon products to be added to my list of toys in the next few months.

Stay tuned.

-kb, the Kent who always has some tech on him.

©2011 Kent Borg