Yet another report came out this week, this time from the United States Travel Association, all about the state of domestic air travel – how much we, the

Source: 11 Reasons Why Southwest Is the Best Airline You’re Probably Not Flying – Blog – Airfarewatchdog

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Approximately once a year, many of the U.S. frequent flyer programs offer a bonus when you purchase miles. American’s program is open right now, and represents a compelling way to get extra miles. Bonuses start at the 6,000 mile level (e.g., buy 6K miles and get an extra 1,500 miles for $177. In that case, after taxes and a $30 processing fee are added in, you’re paying $ .029 per mile, which is a pretty good deal.

The more miles you buy, however, the sweeter it gets. If you go whole hog and purchase 100,000 miles, you’ll receive a bonus of 60,000 miles, for a total cost of $3200, or $ .02 per mile. With 160,000 miles you could purchase two round trip business class tickets to Europe, a very solid deal. Click here for details: American Airlines Buy Miles Bonus

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No, this isn’t the second installment of a series of posts involving straws!  I’d seen this somewhere in the past and just this morning stumbled across another post on the topic at Lifehacker.  Courtesy of Lifehacker and the Mighty Girl site, how to make your own mini-sized toiletry “sticks” with plastic straws.  All you need are straws, Q-tips, toiletries, a Sharpie or similar marker, and an inexpensive bag sealer.

mini toiletry straws

Full instructions are at Mighty Girl:  Make Travel Size Toiletries With a Heat Sealer

 

 

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Hold It is one of those little tools that I suspect many of us never knew existed.  If you’ve ever lost the little tube off a can of WD-40, brake cleaner, compressed air or the like, this inexpensive widget will prevent it from happening in the future.  Available from Amazon.  $1.98 for a package of 2.

Hold-It Straw Holder

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Kevin on January 12th, 2014

I stumbled across this in Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools book, and thought I’d pass it along.  If you travel internationally, you’re likely aware that it’s a good idea to carry your passport with you when out and about.  Personally, I don’t like doing that out of fear that I might lose my passport.  Instead of bringing the real thing with you, make a proxy with a color copier and laminator.

Create a passport proxy - Cool Tools

Here are the instructions from the original post on Kevin’s site:

Make a good color copy of your passport, including the covers. Align the inside sheet of your passport data with the outside passport cover sheet. Glue together. Laminate. Score and fold. You now have a fairly official looking travel document.

I have found that for most purposes — changing money at a bank, rentals, hotel front desks, and even police — this passport clone is sufficient. You hide or store your real one and use this one for everything else except crossing borders. I don’t know why, but most people seem happy to accept it. It may be because it seems like some new futuristic version 2.0 passport and who are they to question it?

I’ll be making mine soon!

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Kevin on December 29th, 2013

 

Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools bookI’ve linked to Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools website since 2008, and have found numerous neat tools and gadgets on the site over the years.  So I was happy to learn that he’d decided to produce a book containing all the best tools and gadgets he and his site’s contributors have discovered and reviewed.

The result is a sort of “Whole Earth Catalog” of great tools.  The oversized paperback clocks in at 472 pages and is an absolute delight:  leaf through it for just a few minutes, and you’re sure to find an intriguing device that suits your needs and which you never knew existed.  Like the Whole Earth Catalog, you can pick up Cool Tools, flip to any page, and learn something neat or useful while being entertained.

If you love clever, useful gadgets and gizmos, this book definitely should be in your library – or on your coffee table.

Here are a few randomly selected spreads from the book:

Cool Tools 005

Cool Tools 002

Cool Tools 003

Cool Tools is available from Amazon; $30.38

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Michael W. on December 23rd, 2013

8gb $179, 16gb (recommended) $199

 In August 2011, Google announced its bid to acquire Motorola; the acquisition was motivated by two considerations:

  • Obtaining Motorola’s vast patent war-chest, to have bargaining chips against Apple since Apple had gone suit-happy against various Android phone makers for copy-catting the iPhone (note that, ironically, Apple never sued Google itself – despite Google inventing and controlling Android).
  •  Secondarily (notably secondarily, which is a reflection of how far Motorola’s market share as a phone maker had sunk) to make “pure Android” phones, free from the cluttering “skins” added by almost all phone makers (and hopefully to roll out Android operating system updates for at least 18 months after introduction).

Two years later the first flagship Google/Motorola phone was introduced, the Moto X.

  • Instead of focusing on blazing specs, the Moto X introduced some new usability concepts that depended on new hardware, not just on software modifications
  • Contract-free pricing launched at $579, has settled to $499 but there were $150 discounts available as part of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales push. This is more expensive than the $349.99 contract-free pricing for the 16gb Nexus 5 introduced a few months earlier

Earlier this month Motorola introduced the mid-market Moto G at a starting $179.99 for 8gb and $199.99 for 16gb

motorola-xt1032-amazon

8gb isn’t much these days, but in overseas markets where entry-level, yet ⅓ more expensive, Android phones can start with as little as 4gb (plus a uSD expansion slot, which the Moto G doesn’t have), 8gb is much better than average. With only a $20 upcharge to the next memory level (typically a $50 increment for other Android phones and a blistering $100 for iPhones), 16gb is within relatively easy reach for America and Europe.

By comparison, the next-best bargain in Android smartphones is still the Google Nexus series, now up to edition 5, running $349/$399 for 16gb/32gb versions.

To put $179 into perspective, consider that when the Nokia Lumia 521 (a T-Mobile minor variant of the international 520) running Windows Phone 8 came out for less than $200 (with sales at Walmart following quickly at $129) it was considered a great bargain – despite a much lower  screen resolution, just 512 mb of RAM making some Window Phone 8 apps unusable out of the gate, and almost no multi-tasking (like an early iPhone). And on top of that, although it was contract free, it was carrier-locked to T-Mobile (and later carrier-locked to AT&T as the 520). The Moto G is unlocked, period.

To put $179 further into perspective, the Moto G rolls out with Android 4.3 and and is guaranteed an update to 4.4 Kit Kat in January (Engadget has reported that the update is already rolling out) and given its latest Qualcomm chip, expectations are high there will be further updates as and when released (at least for as long as the Nexus series guaranteed 18 month support window).

What do you give up to hit $179?

Well first and worst, that 8gb of stock storage. Given Google’s use of its cloud resources as much as it does, you can still listen to ALL of your music, if you took time to upload it to Google (for free), or stream music from various providers (except, of course, iTunes Radio). You can also stream any music uploaded to, or purchased from, Amazon (but no Amazon Instant Video for YOU, Android users, Amazon still reserves its videos to Kindles). And of course you can download all the usual Android apps, since this is Google Play certified, and not limited, say, to the Amazon Android Store (take that in return, Amazon!).

The second sacrifice is 1gb of RAM, when premium Android phones are shipping with 2gb. This isn’t as much of a penalty box and you might first fear, however, since Kit Kat is Android re-written to run well on older 512mb devices – and even the older Androids (4.1, 4.2) run fast with just 1gb on my tablets.

The third sacrifice is a reversion to a 4.5” screen compared with the slightly larger screens on the Nexus 4 (4.7”) and 5 (4.95”)  – but still a very significant .5” larger than an iPhone 5/5c/5s – and even with a higher pixel density than Apple, surprisingly enough – “more retina than Retina” one might say . Since the Moto G side bezels (gap between screen and edge) are narrow, the phone holds and handles very well in one hand – significantly better than my Nexus 4.

In some ways this is a modern take on the classic “candy bar” phone, with its smooth rounded edges. If neither phone has a case, it is far more comfortable to hold than a metal-bodied, sharp-edged iPhone – although the iPhone continues to be, imho, the most beautiful phone on the planet, with materials and design that are more Gucci than Levi. If the Moto G is closer to Levi, though, it’s also as robust – fit and finish are perfect, and it is solid without being heavy.

The final “negative,” but a not a strong negative, is the 5mp camera at a time when high-end phones hit 8mp a long time ago, and 10mp and higher are now the stars. On the other hand, the resolution exceeds the average stand-alone snap shooting camera which can approach or exceed the price of this “camera with free phone included”.

Let’s see what you AREN’T giving up:

  • Plenty of zip. In many benchmarks, the Moto G matches the Nexus 4, and beats the Nexus 4 in more than  few. The just-introduced Nexus 5 blows it away, of course … in benchmarks. In user interaction – application loading and switching, smooth scrolling in web pages, the Moto G is buttery and fast. I haven’t tried the Nexus 5, but I have both the Nexus 7 tablet and the super-hot Tegra Note 4 and the Moto G is equally facile, subjectively, in common user interactions.
  • “Good enough” graphics for demanding games. I ran 3DMark on my Nexus 4 and on the Moto G. The Nexus 4 exceeded the capabilities of the 3DMark test at the 720p level (which is what games run at on the Nexus 4 and Moto G). The Moto G fell within measurable parameters – but exceeded the requirements of existing 720p game play.
  • A beautiful screen. Anandtech did another one of their state-of-the-art techie reviews at http://www.anandtech.com/show/7586/motorola-moto-g-review and while the tests show this can’t keep up with state of the art phones like the iPhone 5c and 5s and Nexus 5 or the Air, iPad 4, Nexus 7 tablets in terms of absolute color fidelity – imho the subjective colors, brightness, and vibrancy are great – much better than even my Galaxy Nexus (with its much-touted AMOLED Pen Tile screen) and than the Nexus 4. The iPhone 5s (daughter has it) and my top-rated Nexus 7 exceed Moto G by a quantum – but I can’t really see the difference. Once a device hits a certain level and YouTube trailers look great, I’m happy.
  • Extended battery life. Anandtech has battery test charts, with brightnesses equalized, and the Moto G is one of the best performers.
  • Dual microphones (the second is for noise cancelling).
  • A loud speaker phone – but it’s right in the middle of the back (left to right) so bouncing the audio back when watching YouTube isn’t so easy.
  • High quality – 1.3mp – front camera, for good video calls. Many mid-range tablets, and entry-level laptops, have only .3mp VGA quality video cameras.

The Moto G comes with a black plastic rear cover, which must (easily) be removed to insert the microSIM (micro, not nano, for easier SIM availability overseas, where microSIMs are still much easier to find than nanoSIMs).

For $14.95 you can buy a second back in a different color; for $34.95 you can buy a combination back/front flap cover, which got good marks from reviewers for retention (magnets) and automatic-on (magnets again) but of course not automatic PIN unlocking and there is no voice-unlock option (though their is a facial recognition option which I have not tried out).

Motorola has announced, but not priced, a third style of back cover, which doesn’t have a front flap cover but does have a rubber bumper and higher raised front edge to protect the screen when set face down (the stock rear cover already has a barely visible front raised edge which will protect from mere dust on the counter, but not from coins/debris). I have a slide-in accessory case, generic from Asia, which fits the Moto G perfectly (look for one that will fit a Galaxy Nexus on Amazon or eBay and it should fit fine).

A nit: the stock cover is matte, but absorbs fingerprints and oils. I washed mine off with rubbing alcohol then put on lines of grip tape, my current favorite anti-slip approach – I’ve gotten tired of gummy cases that turn svelte beautifully designed cellphones into chubby little uglies.

motog_1652365g

Ordering is direct from motorola.com or Amazon also stocks and sells – Amazon matches the Motorola direct price, but when Amazon is out of stock (even when Amazon isn’t!) third party Amazon Vendors will often MARK UP the selling price – and customers who assume list price is the upper limit often find to their chagrin that legally, and by Amazon policy as well, it isn’t. So price check!

Currently shipping at motorola.com is free, and over $35 and for Prime Amazon customers, it is always free (unless its an Amazon Vendor). Other than the amazing base price, there have been no discounts (so far) this holiday. My phone was promised by Motoroal for Dec 2 but delayed until Dec 14 due to winter storms affecting Motorola’s Texas shipping facility. When I contacted Motorola’s chat line the rep was responsive and helpful.

There is a 14 day return policy from Motorola except for California where it is 30 days (but please read the fine print on your own, in case it changes!), return shipping at customer expense. Amazon has its own policies which you should check, but absent shipping damage or broken electronics, I believe there are shipping charges and restocking charges. The box is the smallest I have seen, and includes a cable but not a charger, you can use your existing USB charger; if you must purchase one, I recommend either Amazon’s house branded Kindle charger (you may as well purchase the 10 watt version, although the Moto G will only draw 5 watts) or a GENUINE Apple “white cube” iPhone/iPad Mini/iPod Touch charger – since there are so many counterfeits out there (even from Amazon Vendors) I recommend the Apple Store or a reliable bricks and mortar retailer like Target or Best Buy, in original Apple packaging. I have tried third-party chargers from well-known (and regarded) US accessory sellers, and keep coming back to Amazon and Apple for these accessories.

It’s $179! But why not splurge a little and get the $199 version?!

The Fine Print

Caveat: there are currently two GSM versions, an “international” and a “US” version. The US version works much better on T-Mobile if you are in an area where T-Mobile has not yet “refarmed” its 1900mhz frequency to 4G / HSPA+. However, the US version has special bands only used by T-Mobile and not by AT&T (1700AWS1900), so the International version is not only better for Asia, it is better for AT&T (and hence also for GoPhone, AIO, Straight Talk, etc., which buy “time” from AT&T). Also, in most major metropolitan areas, like San Francisco by and Los Angeles, T-Mobile HAS refarmed its spectrum and the International version works fine. Finally, this is NOT a 4G phone – there are NO LTE bands included – so you won’t have LTE bragging right speeds. That having been said, it ISN’T 3G either – since technically it is actually HSPA+, at 21mbps, which is a good deal faster than the “original” 3G (up to 1.7mbps) and for that matter faster than many home internet plans. It streams videos just fine and loads pictures in FaceBook with alacrity.
Bonus Tip: T-Mobile still has the famous $30 5gb high-speed internet/100 minutes of talk time prepaid plan available by purchasing a SIM/first month “kit” from Walmart – http://www.walmart.com/ip/T-Mobile-SIM-Kit/24099996 which includes a micro-SIM and your first $30 of prepaid usage. T-Mobile retail stores do NOT have this plan, it is a “Walmart special” only. It is considerably cheaper than even the latest and greatest “lowered price” plans from T-Mobile – assuming you are a texter and not a talker (texts are unlimited, but calls are 10 cents a minute, taxes included, after your first 100 minutes).
My usage is about $40-$45 per month – still cheaper than any T-Mobile’s alternative with more minutes, and a lot better for me thanks to that very generous 5gb internet limit (after 5gb you don’t get “surcharged,” it just slows down, but I’ve never even hit 2gb much less 5gb).  AIO Wireless, owned by AT&T, has some good plans with generous internet usage limits, but to keep customers from fleeing AT&T, AIO limits the download speed on HSPA+ devices like the Moto G to 4mbps even during the “high speed” portion of your plan ($50 for 2gb of high speed data plus unlimited phone and texts) – actually not as bad as it sounds, since real-world download speeds are often lower, in congested urban areas, than the promised theoretical speeds.

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