Are you sick of your kids borrowing your toys?
By Adam TURNER
Are you tempted to buy extra gadgets just so you can wrestle your smartphone or tablet back from your family?
We recently became a two-iPad-family when I purchased an iPad mini. We were managing to get by with the original iPad, which I shipped over from the US before you could buy them here, but it made sense to pick up an iOS6-powered iPad mini for work. It seemed like an extravagance but it didn't take long for that second iPad to become an integral part of the family, particularly on our recent trip to Cairns to see the eclipse.
Our household iGadget family now includes a first-generation iPad, iPad mini and iPhone.
Miss 6 has adopted the mini as her iPad of choice while Mr 9 still favours the original iPad -- which certainly cuts down on arguments. It also means that occasionally I can actually get my hands on an iPad, perhaps even travel with the iPad mini for work, without leaving the family iPad-less. First world problem, I know, but it's important to keep the peace.
With an iPad each at their disposal, the children are also less likely to ask for my iPhone so they can leave slobber and grubby fingerprints on it. My new iPhone 5 arrived today and to be brutally honest I don't want my kids to touch it. Ever. It still has that new phone feel and I'd like to keep it that way.
Eventually my kids will be old enough to buy their own smartphones and tablets, but for now sharing tablets seems to be the most practical solution. As much as Cupertino would like the extra sales, I don't think we all need one each. But upgrading to a second iPad is already making life easier and I think that should be a specific target market for the iPad mini.
Are you sick of sharing your toys? What's the best solution?
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Are you paying the scratched DVD tax?
By Adam TURNER
Do you break the law and backup your DVD and Blu-ray movies?
Despite having two kids in primary school, we're not too rough on optical discs in my house. When it comes to music, new discs are opened, ripped to iTunes and then put away for safekeeping. Even when we travel I'd rather take portable speakers for our phones rather than take our physical CDs. But life's not so simple when it comes to movies and I've recently paid the price.
We recently stayed in a holiday house with a clunky old DVD player accompanied by a new television with a slot-loading DVD player built into the back. After the clunky old player developed a mind of its own and closed its tray unexpectedly, almost destroying a disc, I decided to stick with the drive built into the television. Only problem was that I tried to insert a disc when one was already in there, easy to do when you can't see the slot because it's behind the screen.
The spinning disc already inside the television scratched the disc I was holding so badly that playback was very jittery. Now it won't play at all. The damage is so bad that even AnyDVD and DVD Decrypter refuse to rip the disc to my media centre. HandBrake on my Mac doesn't like it either. I'm running out of options.
Of course I should have ripped the disc before ever playing it, just like with my CDs, but I didn't think of it because we're generally not rough on discs and I don't think I've destroyed one before. The question now is whether I simply buy another copy or whether I resort to less legal means to acquire a movie I've already paid for. I'll probably hand over the cash, because it belongs to the kids, but I might think differently if it was one of my discs. If it had of been part of an expensive boxed set I certainly wouldn't buy the whole thing again.
Some people would argue that I should just buy movies from the iTunes store, but I'm not keen on paying good money for format lock-in and inferior picture quality. Instead I'd still rather buy the disc and then convert it to my format and quality of choice. I think the lesson is that I won't take original discs on holidays again, instead I'll rip a few movies and burn copies to disc -- which isn't legal under Australian law even though I'm permitted to do exactly the same thing with audio CDs. It's a risk I'm prepared to take rather than pay the scratched DVD tax again.
Australian copyright law is up for review next year and the issue of making backups of your own DVD collection should be high on the agenda. Personally I expect the politicians to side with the copyright police rather than consumers, but I don't think that will stop most people from taking the law into their own hands.
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Are you paying the Windows 8 tax?
By Adam TURNER
Windows 7 with a $15 upgrade can be much cheaper than a shiny new Windows 8 machine.
I strolled into JB HiFi today, to pick up an iPad mini for work, and I struck up a conversation with the sales guy about what's hot and what's not in the world of tech retail. He said he's seen more interest in the iPad 4 today than in the iPad mini, which I found a little surprising. After lacklustre interest in 7-inch Android tablets, he doubts the little 7.9-inch iPad mini will usurp the 9.7-inchiPad. That might be the case, but the iPad mini is such a delight to hold that I'll be very surprised if it doesn't seriously cannibalise iPad sales.
Anyway, the conversation turned to Windows 8 and once again he said interest has been muted. Looking around the shop it was clear that there were bargains to be had by picking up discounted Windows 7 machines, with the offer to upgrade to Windows 8 for only $15. Some Windows 8 notebooks were $200 more expensive than exactly the same model running Windows 7. The price difference blew out even further for heavily discounted Windows 7 machines, or when the Windows 8 model only had minor hardware changes.
It's worth doing your research as to whether all the Windows 8 drivers are available for the Windows 7 model before taking the plunge. I'd consider drives to be the biggest hurdle although NitroWare points out that native Windows 8 could mean updated OEM utilities and improved tech support. I find that OEM utilities are generally bloatware but the tech support angle might be of interest to some people. Once you weigh up these factors you might find the upgrade path is a lot cheaper than opting for Windows 8 out of the box.
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Will you play the Windows 8 game?
By Adam TURNER
Could games drive Microsoft's push to run Modern UI on all your devices?
I spent a little too much time today playing Fruit Ninja on an Acer Aspire S7 Ultrabook running Windows 8. Don't tell my kids, I swear it was strictly business -- testing out the touchscreen sensitivity by turning a $2000 notebook into a glorified games machine.
I've spent a bit of time with Windows 8 and Modern UI over the last few months. It will certainly present a steep learning curve for many people. I can see its appeal, although I'm in no rush to upgrade as I just don't think it brings enough to the party to justify the hassle. Yet playing Fruit Ninja was one of the few times I found myself thinking that it could actually be worth the trouble moving on from Windows 7 to embrace the new ecosystem.
In terms of work I don't think Windows 8 has much to offer on the desktop except headaches. In terms of touch apps, the Surface struggles to stand out from the Apple and Android competition. But a unified Metro UI interface across desktops, notebooks, tablets and smartphones could be attractive when it comes to a unified user experience and syncing data -- for example running Fruit Ninja on everything. Apple's game centre offers a similar syncing experience, but I can't play touch-centric iOS games on my Mac the way Modern UI lets me on a PC. Microsoft is actually leading the way when it comes to touchscreen ecosystems and I expect Apple will follow in the next few years as it continues to turn Macs into overgrown iPads.
I guess what I'm saying is that the Metro UI interface is more than the sum if its parts. I don't see why you'd spend $559 on a Surface RT tablet which can't run Windows applications, but I can see how it might be appealing if you're already running Windows 8 on your desktop, notebook and perhaps your smartphone. Similar to Apple's ecosystem, the more Windows 8 gear you own the more sense it makes to buy more Windows 8 gear.
The difficultly for Microsoft is convincing people to take the leap, as individually Microsoft's new smartphones and tablets have little to offer over their Apple and Android alternatives. The thought of one interface to rule them all could be Microsoft's best hope, perhaps with games showing the way.
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Will Apple's iPad Mini target the lounge room?
By Adam TURNER
Would you be tempted by an iRemote?
If Apple does unveil an iPad Mini next week, the big question is how Tim Cook will convince us that we need it. Simply stripping it down to build a poor man's iPad is only going to eat into real iPad sales. The iPad Mini needs its own place in the Apple ecosystem and that place could be on your coffee table as a universal remote control. Except for the fact that an LCD-based tablet isn't really very well-suited to that role.
Before you line up for an Apple iRemote, ask yourself; what's the most important feature of a remote control? Battery life. There's nothing worse than reaching for the remote control only to discover that it's flat. If your remote runs on AA batteries that probably only happens every few months. If it runs on a rechargeable battery like my Logitech Harmony 785 then it's every few weeks. But at least it warns you first, so you can do what you need to do and then put it on the charge cradle.
Meanwhile a tablet-based remote control would run flat every few days unless you put it on the charger every night -- something you're not likely to do. Even if you remember, you can be sure other people in the house won't. Finding the remote dead flat once a week would not make for a good user experience.
For most people keeping the charger in arm's reach, such as on the coffee table, would mean running a power cable across the floor from a power point. Not something your average person will tolerate in their lounge room. It's actually more practical to reach for the smartphone in your pocket and use it as the remote. You'll find iOS remote apps for a range of devices including Sony Blu-ray players and Telstra's T-Box. You'll also find RF blasters which let an iGadget control all your home entertainment gear such as Griffin's Beacon or VooMote. Buying a dedicated iPod Touch for the coffee table (or repurposing an old iPhone) would be more practical than a 7-inch tablet living on your coffee table. But not as practical as picking up an old Logitech Harmony remote online for a song.
It's hard to see what an iPad-based remote control can bring to the party that a decent universal remote can't already deliver -- especially if you're already got smartphones and tablets in your home. Acting as a wireless QWERTY keyboard for an Apple TV is about the only thing that springs to mind, although that's simply a software feature which could be added to existing iGadgets. It will be interesting to see where Apple believes the iPad Mini fits into the big picture.
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