App: Evernote vs Keep


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Evernote Vs Keep

Notes. Since the dawn of college, students have taken notes to keep track of important comments from the teacher, write down facts and figures, and otherwise prepare for tests and papers.

With the development of the computer era, the scratch of pen on paper is quickly being replaced by the clack-clack of laptop keyboards. In the early era of laptops, students typed their notes into Word documents and filed them away for later, saved to the hard drive of their device and susceptible to all of the dangers inherent to the medium (hard drive corruption, laptop breakage, etc).

Now, we’ve moved into the world of mobile, where everything is interconnected, internet enabled, and accessible from multiple devices.

Enter, Evernote and Keep. These two apps serve similar functions: cloud-based note-taking apps that are accessible from any internet connected device.

Evernote

Evernote is the older of the two, starting out in 2008. It supports text notes, webpages or webpage clippings, photos, voice memos, and “handwritten” notes. 

The app is available on all of the major desktop and mobile operating systems and allows you to synch seamlessly between them.

Pros:

One of the biggest selling points for he Evernote app is that it allows you to organize notes into Notebooks, so you can keep things together. You’re also able to review notes based on tags.

The wide availability of the app is also a great benefit, as it allows students to access their notes no matter what kinds of devices they have.

Cons:

One of the biggest downfalls of Evernote, in my opinion, is that you are required to create a new login. While that might not seem like a big deal, in our ever growing list of things that we need to remember, having another login to keep track of is tedious.

Another con for Evernote is that many of the more advanced features, and the ability to sync larger files, are “Premium” and must be paid for. 

Keep

Keep is a relatively newer offering from Google. It was announced in 2013 and is currently accessible via Android devices and a web interface.

Pros:

Unlike Evernote, Keep uses the user’s Google login to access and sync files. This is useful as the majority of students will have a personal gmail account already and many universities use Google services for their email provider so this account can be used to sync info.

Keep is also free, so you never have to pay to use its services.

Lastly, Keep is integrated with your other Google services, so you can set location based reminders in the app and be reminded via the Google Now option on your device.

Cons:

Keep is, however, a far more basic application than Evernote. While you’re able to color code you notes and search by color, there are no notebooks or hierarchies to arrange.

Keep’s limited reach has also prevented it from gaining widespread adoption, as Android only accounts for roughly 50% of the mobile market.

Verdict

Despite the paywall which hides many of the more advanced features for Evernote, I have to give it to them based on the widespread availability and the ability to organize notes on a level deeper than mere colors.

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Device Review: Insignia Flex

So today I decided to do a device review.

Since tablets are the new “big thing” in portable technology, I decided to pick up the new Windows tablet from Best Buy’s “house” brand Insignia. The Insignia Flex 8″ Windows Tablet (found at their website, here) is $99 and can be found on-line and in-store.

Let me start off by saying that I wasn’t expecting much out of his device when I purchased it. Something to surf the internet with when I didn’t want to get my laptop out but I wanted something larger than my phone, maybe play a few mobile games, and access my writing materials through Dropbox and the writing program Scrivener.

Having said that, I was thoroughly disappointed with this device. First off, it claims 16gb of storage but Windows 8.1 occupies nearly 6gb of that before you even turn the thing on.

Once you get basic programs installed and the necessary updates to the operating system done, you’re down to 3 or 4 gigs of storage. The Flex comes with a 16gb micro-SD card, but you can’t delegate any of the basic stuff or applications to it. It’s like an external hard drive for full sized computers: best used to move media around and little else.

The display was also of much lower quality than I expected. I didn’t go into this with high hopes, but the 1200 x 800 resolution was terrible on the eyes. When in the “Desktop” mode of Windows, everything was far too small to see and the touch input was extremely inaccurate.

Finally, the overall performance of the device left much to be desired. The processor wasn’t much of a problem as it is on-par with most mobile devices, with the measly 1GB of Ram was fully not up to the task of running both Windows 8.1 and anything more than the most rudimentary of programs.

Overall, I’d give this device a 1/5; even for less than a hundred dollars, you’d be best to spend your money elsewhere.

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Service: Dropbox

dropbox

Dropbox

“The Cloud” is a term that has become more and more common in the last couple of years. We’ve seen commercials for everything from how “The Cloud” helped a developer make a new game, to products that offer you a “Personal Cloud”.

But what is “Cloud Storage”? Put simply, its someplace to store your digital stuff that isn’t necessarily on your device.

There are many competing products that offer their customers Cloud Storage, but one of the most popular is Dropbox. This service allows customers to attach multiple devices to an account and then sync files between their devices and with Dropbox’s own servers. This means that files are up-to-date when you move from device to device.

Pros

Dropbox is a great tool for multiple users to share information without having to worry about emailing or physically transferring files and keep track of who has what version of the file. Files and folders can be easily shared between users via email links, so getting another person involved in your project is an easy task.

Another great feature of the service is that Dropbox keeps all of your files up-to-date, no matter what device you are accessing them through. You can be logged into Dropbox on your desktop computer, update the file, and within seconds your laptop will update with the changes.

More than one of us has done something to a file that we didn’t mean to. With Dropbox, you’re able to access previous revisions of files that you’ve been working on and restore those unchanged file. This also provides a method of recovering files in the event that something malicious were to befall your data.

Cons

The ability to access your backed-up files from anywhere comes with some costs. The primary of which is that those files take up space on your hard drive if you want to keep them up-to-date on your desktop or laptop. While this isn’t necessarily a problem in a lot of cases, sharing large files like videos or games can provide troublesome for people with smaller hard drives.

Because files that are backed up must first travel to the Dropbox servers before they are updated on other devices, use of the service requires internet connection. Files can be saved and updated at a later time, but a real-time, constantly up-to-date project means that the users have to be connect. The speed and reliability of one’s internet connection means that larger files may take longer to update.

Lastly, Dropbox includes a rather limited amount of space for free. Basic accounts include 2 GB of data, and there are methods of increasing that amount of data, but without paying money you can’t get a lot of information backed up.

Wrap-Up

For students, Dropbox can be a useful service to coordinate and share projects. It also allows students to keep all of their important information backed up, even if you only use one device.

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Smartphones, Smartphones Everywhere!

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Smartphones

If you look around at your classmates or even just people walking down the street, you see them. You’ll see them sitting on desks, clutched in hand, sticking out of a back pocket, and riding in a holster. They’re a ubiquitous part of modern life: Smartphones.

Smartphones have been one of the most significant catalysts to the never-before-seen levels connectivity in our world. The ability to access the internet nearly anywhere, at lightning speed, has changed the way that we read, write, work, learn, and even how we sleep.

As Students, the evolution of the smartphone has come with both benefits and consequences.

Consequences

One of the most prevalent effects of our hyper-connected lifestyle is the ever-present distractions that are brought to the forefront by our reliance on technology. Smartphones, as our primary method of communication, are the biggest source of distraction for many students.

What are my friends doing? Who just texted me? What’s happening on Facebook/Twitter? These are all questions that students find themselves asking as their smartphone sits on their desk and rattles, or vibrates in a pocket.

A prime example of the Distraction phenomena is the increasing occurrence of injuries suffered while texting and walking.

iDigital Times, an online blog that focuses on tech, gaming, and digital culture, referenced a study on the dangers of texting while walking. The referenced study noted slower walking speeds and increased deviation from a straight line for people who were reading and texting.

The article also cites a study from Ohio State University that noted injuries involving pedestrians on their cell phones more than doubled between 2005 and 2010 – exactly when the modern smartphone was emerging as a major part of everyone’s life.

Other sites take the use of smartphones a step further and claim that their presence makes cheating easier. An article in the Chicago Tribune claims that “…educators and students say young people are finding new and increasingly devious ways to cheat.

They’re going to websites that calculate the answers for their math homework. They’re snapping covert photographs of exams and forwarding them to dozens of friends. They’re sneaking cheat sheets into the memory banks of their calculators.”

Benefits

These negative consequences, however, can be mitigated and even if they couldn’t, the benefits of advancing technology far outweigh the attendant downsides.

The biggest benefit to the ubiquitous smartphone access is the ability to work anywhere, and anytime. No longer are students chained to their desks, slaves to the bulky desktop computers, or worse relegated to the library and its restrictive hours.

With full web access and millions of apps on their respective app stores, the Apple and Android eco-systems have made it easier than ever for students to work on nearly any kind of assignment.

Always within reach…

Smartphones also give students the ability to keep in touch with fellow students and assignment partners. While “basic” cell phones would give students some of he same group communication options, the choice of using mediums other than text messaging provides a much wider range of options.

I had a recent experience of my own where an assignment partner’s smartphone was out of commission, but because I had a smartphone and she had internet access, we were able to use other means of communication to work together on an assignment.

Lastly, and probably the benefit that I personally take the most advantage of, is the ability for students to review and submit assignments on-the-go. If a professor makes an announcement in a class, it’s easy to hop online and review the message and any attendant changes that might have been made.

Wrap-Up

There are concerns with the everywhere nature of the modern smartphone, but it’s easy to see that they have the largest impact on the the modern student and that the benefits of our connected lifestyle mean students are more productive than ever.

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The Android Eco-System

Android Logo

Andy The Android

Android

Continuing with the theme from my previous post, introducing the mobile landscape to you, today’s post will be focusing on the other operating system that dominates the mobile landscape and has quickly ascended to drive a majority of smartphones across the world.

The Basics

The beginning of Android came in 2003 when it’s creators set out to create “a smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences”[1]. Android Inc was purchased by Google in 2005 and the search giant spent the next several years developing the operating system and lining up partners for its release.

The first Android device, the HTC Dream, was released in 2008, but it wasn’t until Google partnered with Verizon to release the Motorola Droid late in 2009 that Android really gained a following. Verizon was looking for something to throw up against AT&T exclusivity with the Apple iPhone and Android was the first real competitor to come along.

Android has prided itself on being Open-Source, allowing anyone to download the code for the operating system so that the could modify it was they see fit. Some of the major impacts of this policy are the Kindle Fire line of products, which use a heavily modified version of the base Android OS, and the CyanogenMod project, which releases a complete replacement operating system for Android phones that adds various user-generated features.

Evolution

In the last 6 years, Android has developed immensely, both in functionality and aesthetics. Like iOS in my post before, Android has a great visual history posted at The Verge[2] which you can look at in full, but here are some of the highlights.

Android 1.0 was the initial launch of the operating system, and it brought the pull-down notification shade, widgets embedded in the homescreens, and deep integration with Gmail to the smartphone world. It wasn’t terribly pretty, but it was new and fast and showed a lot of potential.

Android 1.5 introduced a naming convention to the Android releases: desserts. Cupcake became the first named release of the Android Operating System and it brought an onscreen keyboard, extended widget functionality, and video capture and playback to phones.

Donut (Android 1.6) was another pass of visual improvements, including the ability to scale the screen resolution to fit various devices, and software upgrades, including the ability to operate on CDMA: the wireless technology used by Verizon and Sprint. Most importantly, Donut brought the Universal Search box to Android, allowing searches to be started by pressing a dedicated button.

From Donut, Google jumped all the way up to 2.0 with the launch of Eclair and with it the partnership with Verizon on the Motorola Droid. It added multiple account support, a better browser, and speech-to-text among other features. But Google Maps Navigation was the truly massive feature added with this release. It eliminated the reliance on a dedicated GPS unit and cut paid services out by being free.

Froyo (Android 2.2) brought new lock options to the phones, rather than the unique pattern lock that shipped with Android. Again improvements were made in the visual department and additional homescreens were added to the stock experience for more customization.

Android 2.3 was code-named Gingerbread, and while it didn’t have many revolution updates to the OS, it did improve cut-and-paste features and added support for front facing cameras.

Honeycomb 3.0 was a bit of a redheaded stepchild in the Android world. It was never released to the Android Open Source Project and was seen as more of a building block than anything else. It was the first Android release that did away with physical or capacitive buttons in favor of entirely on-screen navigation. It also featured improved multitasking and a new way to organize apps and widgets.

According to The Verge, “Ice Cream Sandwich is, without question, the biggest change for Android on phones yet”. Calendar improvements, data usage analytics and the ability to use your face to unlock your phone were only some of the changes made in 4.0. NFC (Near Field Communication) support was brought to Android with this release and the whole design element changed.

4.1 Jelly Bean birthed Google Now, Google’s voice-activated assistant that was really more than an assistant. Now has the ability to learn your usage patterns, if you let it, and give you recommendations based on your history. It also helps you get to appointments on time by monitoring traffic and estimating (with uncanny accuracy) the amount of time it will take for you to reach your destination.

After some minor updates to Jelly Bean in the 4.2 and 4.3 updates, KitKat 4.4 was another major step for Android. It made productivity improvements, full-screen apps, and was designed with the flexibility to operate on a variety of hardware configurations, allowing older devices to continue updating long past their prime.

Android Pros 

Android is and always has been about choice. From the inception of the operating system, the ability to choose your device has been a cornerstone in the Android world. In modern smartphones, that manifests itself in a variety of hardware options, from your most basic Android phone that can be had for less than $50, to your powerhouse that you’ll need to sink closer to a grand into before you can have your cake. This choice has been a driving force behind the rapid and rampant adoption of the operating system throughout the smartphone eco-system.

Freedom and Customization are the second major aspect of Android. In addition to the choice of hardware, you can choose how your phone handles a wide variety of tasks and how your phone appears. Android was the first operating system to offer third-party keyboards on a wide scale, which allowed you to replace a base feature of the phone with  ease.

The best part of this freedom is that if Android’s stock app isn’t good enough for you. there’s a pretty good chance that you can replace it with a third party option and once you set that program as the default, you don’t have to worry about telling your phone how to handle that particular task ever again.

Android Cons

Of course, with freedom and choice, you run into obstacles. While Android has made massive improvements in the user experience from the early days of the OS, it can still be intimidating to users and requires more learning that its major competitor.s

Variety also leads to a fragmented experience. Every major Android phone manufacturer has take the stock Android experience and molded it in their own image. This adds functionality and diversity to the OS, but it also means that if you’re going from a Motorola to a Samsung, you’re going to have to relearn a few things along the way.

The Wrap Up

For Students, Android brings the benefit of choice and variety, allowing the user to purchase a device that fits both his or her budget and needs at the same time  Improved integration between devices means that it’s closing quickly on iOS in terms of universal experience and wide array of devices means there will probably be a device that’s right for you. Continue reading

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The iOS Ecosystem

ios8logoiOS

You can’t start a conversation about mobile technology without discussing the operating system that really brought the smartphone into the hands of consumers.

Before the release of the Original iPhone, smartphones were based on Windows Mobile, Blackberry, or a handful of other minor operating systems. Blackberry was designed more for business, and Windows Mobile was a smaller version of the computer operating system.

With iPhone OS 1, Apple brought the concept of Apps, functional Touchscreens, and an integrated lifestyle to the masses.

The Basics

What is iOS? Apple touts it as “The world’s most advanced mobile OS”. While many would argue that point, that’s not what I’m here for.

iOS is the Operating System developed by Apple for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad lines of products. It is a touch-based interface that revolves around the use of apps to make a user’s everyday life a little simpler.

A quick, and necessarily biased, primer on iOS can be found at Apple’s website[1] but I thought I would look beyond the press release and give you a couple of Pros and Cons to iOS, from a student’s perspective.

Evolution

A great place to read about some of the basics of iOS’s evolution is the online magazine Feel Desain[2]. You can see the evolution of the visual interface and some of the features throughout the years.

Some of the major changes came with the 2nd Generation iPhone, the iPhone 3G. This device, and the accompanying upgrade to the iOS (called iPhone OS at the time), introduced the iTunes App Store and ability for 3rd Party Developers to get their apps out in front of the public.

Other major evolutions included: iOS 3, which introduced the ability to record video, send and receive multi-media messages, and “Spotlight Search” which allowed users to search the entire device for specific keywords and information.

iOS 4 introduced face-time to the public, allowing iOS users to video chat with each other through a native app, and the inclusion of HD picture and video capture.

Siri, Apple’s voice-activated assistant, was introduced in the fifth iteration of iOS, along with the iCloud storage mechanic and iMessage: a way for iOS users to message each other when cellular service wasn’t available.

iOS 7, and the sensor built into the iPhone 5S, brought TouchID, which allows iOS owners to use a fingerprint to unlock their device and verify identity to other apps, including the App Store. It was also with iOS 7 that Apple changed their Design from a rounded, glossy look to a more flat design.

iOS Pros

One of the biggest “Pros” to iOS for Students is the high level of integration and so-called “native” syncing capabilities – meaning that the devices talk to each other at the base level of the operating system. What this provides for the average student is the ability to work on a project on one device and seamlessly transition to another device to continue.

iOS, being the first consumer friendly smartphone operating system, also holds an advantage in adoption rates across various mediums. Many student-centric or at least student-useful apps are exclusive to iOS.

A great example of this is the app Acompli. It’s an email client, calendar app, and more rolled into one big ball. Writing for The Verge[3], a very popular tech-blog, Casey Newton wrote of Acompli: “Acompli’s design encourages you to start thinking of your iPhone as a workstation in its own right. There’s something highly satisfying about responding to an emailed request for a meeting with a couple of taps.”

It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction for students who are looking to shed the bonds of laptops and desktops and move to an exclusively mobile lifestyle.

Another exclusive to the iOS sphere is Apple’s own suite of productivity apps, available for free through the App Store. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are Apple’s answer (and replacement of) Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. Included free with every MacOS and iOS product, these apps mean you don’t have to worry about picking up a copy of Microsoft’s own software, and that’s more money in your pocket.

Another pro for iOS is the continuity of the interface. Whether you’re using an iPhone, an iPod Touch, or an iPad, your experience is going to be as close to identical on each of the devices as you can get. Even Apple’s desktop and laptop operating system (MacOS) has moved toward the same design standard as their mobile offerings.

A unified interface means less time figuring out how to do things on each device – or trying to remember which device does things which way – and more time working on papers, homework, and research. Apple even has a developer’s style guide for iOS[4], further ensuring that everyone gets a similar experience no matter what they’re doing with their mobile devices.

iOS Cons

iOS isn’t, however, without its drawbacks.

While the operating system and interface have come a long way since their inception, it is still relatively restrictive in what it allows you to do with your device. Customization – such as organization of your homescreens on mobile devices – is still far behind other options. You’re relegated to organizing your grid of icons into neat rows and columns, rather than setting up an experience that might be faster to navigate.

And it doesn’t just extend to visual customization. As I’ll show in later posts, other operating systems allow you to set default apps, that is apps that are automatically delegated the task of opening specific types of files and links. If the app that comes with the device isn’t up to my standards, I’m able to download a replacement and make it my default.

Here’s a simple example: if I don’t like the way that Apple PDF opens files, I can download Adobe PDF and set it as my default. Whenever I click a PDF, Adobe automatically loads rather than Apple PDF. On iOS, this isn’t an option.

A second drawback to iOS is a simple matter of cost. With few exceptions, Apple products are more expensive. For a college student, that’s a problem. On the desktop and laptop side of things, this increased cost is offset by longevity and reliability, but in the rapidly evolving mobile space, devices are not going to relevant for long enough to justify the expense.

iPads, clocking in at a minimum of roughly $500 (compared to roughly $300 for a competing operating system) for a current generation model, will last 2-3 years before they start to suffer from age, and will be supported for maybe 4 before they are no longer capable of supporting the newest updates.

The Wrap Up

iOS has many benefits and a few not-insignificant drawbacks. It’s a great operating system and has come a long way since it’s launch, making it a contender for college students in search of mobile technology to streamline their lives. Continue reading

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What’s So New About the New iPhone?

The iPhone 6 has been announced. For years, the unveiling of Apple’s latest smartphone has been an event talked about, waited for, and watched by the tech media and world at large.

Ever year Apple brings us their latest offering, sometimes with major changes (adding 4GLTE data connection and a larger screen to the iPhone 5), other times with only minor upgrades (like the upgraded processor and fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5s). This year, Apple brought major changes to the table.

Continue reading

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