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.
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.
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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.
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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I’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:
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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
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.
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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The Amazing HP 7 Model 1800 “Mesquite” Tablet: Intel powered, Wal-Mart (!) exclusive
Not great, but pretty darn good. Email, social networking, Skyping, Google HangOuts, and watching videos are a breeze. Music player is awesome! Did I mention $99??
This is a guest post from our friend and longtime Practical Hacks reader and contributor, Michael W. After reading it, I purchased an HP 7; for the price, it’s very, very good. One point: it has 8GB of internal storage, but has a slot for a micro SD card. I added 32 GB of storage for $24.99
Sub-$100 tablets haven’t been that rare this year – I fell for the Hisense Sero LT based on online reviews claiming it was the first decent budget tablet, but the screen proved to be pretty dismal and the performance was noticeably slow.
This Black Friday / Wal-Mart exclusive HP 7 (NOT the Slate) is refreshingly different. The back lighting is somewhat weak (and therefore problematic in bright office lighting) but the colors are vivid and high quality in home lighting, and the performance is zippy, the build-quality rock solid. It leaves some things out to hit its price-point, but it doesn’t skimp on the features it does include.
Its single quirk is using an Intel Atom processor instead of the more customary ARM-licensed chip. Intel wants to be in the “mobile space” and teamed up with Google in 2011 to roll Android out onto Intel chips, and the chip powering this tablet is their first effort, the “Medfield” Atom-powered “system on a chip” or SOC where all the key video, Bluetooth, and WiFi components are on a single chip, to reduce manufacturing costs and to save power. The Medfield made its first public appearance in a Lenovo smartphone in April 2012 and was remarkable not for being great, but for being passable. Given ARM’s total dominance in smartphones and almost complete dominance (with the exception of Windows tablets) in the tablet arena, being “passable” was actually a win for Intel. In fact, the performance of Medfield (and the quickly released Clover Trail and Bay Trail) have been praised, the only question mark has been battery life – Intel is used to achieving performance at the cost of power, having grown up in the server and desktop world (remember those only 100 watt and up desktops?). So having to survive in sleep and during low activity on micro-watts is naturally a challenge.
The net result is a zippy, affordable tablet (you’d never believe it is powered by a single core chip with two virtual cores) that delivers on performance but has noticeably less battery life than it’s ARM-powered competitors – 5 hours vs. a bottom threshold of 7 hours on ARM tablets and an upper threshold of 12 hours, at least for the non-budget Android tablets. 5 hours here isn’t as bad as it may sound, however – many bargain-basement Android tablets don’t even run that long, since lithium batteries are expensive and tablets built to a low price point usually have smaller batteries. Also, compared to other bargain-basement tablets, this comes with 8gb of built-in storage (with a uSD slot to expand), 1gb of RAM, and 600p instead of 480p resolution.
About that 600p (1024 x 600) resolution: yes, that isn’t 720p like on the original Nexus or 1080p like on the current Nexus. But it’s not far off iPad 2 and original Mini levels (1024 x 768). The non-IPS screen is more of a problem – for the best video-viewing experience, you need to keep the screen carefully centered, unlike mid-range tablet with their wide viewing angle IPS screens. This is sharp enough for e-reading, but if you are a pixel hound you should also look at tablets with 1280 x 800 resolution levels (original Nexus, current Asus MemoPad HD 7 ($149) and EVGA Tegra Note 7 ($199)) or a “retina level” display like the 2013 Nexus 7.
Where this tablet excels is cheap, risk free tablet use – absorbing a $99 tablet damage or loss is a lot easier to accept than losing a $499 iPad Air (heck, the extended warranty alone on an Air is about 50% of the cost of this tablet). When I was overseas last time, I even got lazy about leaving out my MemoPad HD 7 when I went down for breakfast – under a pillow or stack of clothes, but not in the room safe. Same thing applies over here – if you know you are going to do a lot of web browsing at a cafe, a higher resolution tablet is what you should take, but if you want something handy all the time to slog around, this is fine. Beats the small screen on a smartphone and a smartphone Android interface any day of the week.
The Antutu benchmark is 11,200 which is “good” for a tablet. My own experience is that the downloading is fast, apps load and switch fast, touch is responsive, and videos play smoothly (I use Dice Player). Skype works well with clear sound so the built-in microphone and speaker work well; I didn’t try video calls however, and the front camera is just VGA quality (.3mp).
Since this has an Intel chip instead of the standard ARM chip, there might be some minor app compatibility issues, since Android apps are being rewritten to optimize for both ARM and Intel. Definitely all the factory-installed apps run fast and glitch free, as do Facebook, Skype, and my other key applications. But until a few days ago, Firefox was off the list; an Intel-supported version was just released, however. If you have any key apps, be sure to install and test them out during the 14 day return period. If you want me to check a particular (free) app, leave a request in the comments and I will try to help you out.
There is no rear camera. Presumably your smartphone is your first choice for pictures, though, and the lack of a rear-camera means fewer headaches about how to set the tablet down without scratching or smearing a rear camera lens. There is no GPS/GLONAS, so you won’t be using this in lieu of a GPS unit, but then again most smartphones now have turn-by-turn GPS built-in. Bluetooth is an older version, 2.1., but that’s good enough for an accessory keyboard (I like the Amazon Basics keyboard which has worked well with my iPad and also works with Windows and Android tablets).
Who is this suitable for?
Anybody who could previously get by with a netbook: travelers, grandma and grandpa, casual users. This tablet is perfect if your primary uses are checking email, checking and updating social media, viewing snapshots. At $99 it is a bargain, and a lot easier to carry to a Starbucks than a netbook. 5 hours is pretty good battery life for those forays. A Chromebook is a simple solution if you need a built-in keyboard, and/or larger screen, but the cost is greater. The Chromebook is probably more secure for online banking etc. simply because Google is always rolling out updates to the operating system, while Android seldom updates the actual operating system (but is constantly updating the actual apps).
Who is this NOT suitable for?
- I’ll go out on a limb here and say that even though the price is right for small children – and watching NetFlix is fine – most games and educational apps are still on Apple. So this may not be as good for kids as you hoped. It certainly makes a fine alternative to a portable DVD player, but it is NOT a good alternative to an iPad, due to both app availability, and the moderate performance specs of this budget tablet.
- Teenagers are also problematic. The just released Tegra Note 7 has the new Tegra 4 processor with amazing graphics – if your favorite game is released on Android and optimized for the Tegra 3 (original Nexus) or newer Tegra 4. But those are a couple of big “ifs” compared to the certainty of fast and visually engaging game play on an iPad Air or Retina Mini which both got upgraded to the “hottest” current chip on the market, the A7 home-grown by Apple.
The HP 7 Model 1800 Mesquite was an $89 Black Friday special at Wal-Mart that continues to be available, only at WalMart, for the remainder of the holiday shopping season at $99 (with at least one, one-day return to $89 on their website since Black Friday). After that it isn’t clear if HP will discontinue the model, keep selling it as a Wal-Mart exclusive, or roll it out to other retailers.
HP continues to sell the ARM-based, somewhat slower and low-rated Slate 7 through big-box stores like Staples, Office Depot, Office Max etc., and since it is offered on sale at $99 too, there is some confusion between HP’s two $99 tablets – but I give the nod to this Intel-powered one.
HP 7 with WiFi 7″ Touchscreen Tablet PC Featuring Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) Operating System, white:
1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2460 processor
1GB DDR2 of system memory
7″ touchscreen, 1024 x 600 resolution, virtual keyboard
Built-in 802.11b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 2.1 EDR
Additional Features of the HP Tablet:
Front VGA webcam with omni-directional microphone
8GB on-board storage memory, additional memory via microSD card slot
Up to five hours of run time on a full charge
Weighs 0.83-pounds; 7.6″ x 4.92″ x 0.4″ dimensions
Software and Applications:
Android 4.1 OS (Jelly Bean)
Google Search, Google Voice Search, Gmail, Google Sync, Google Talk, Chrome browser, Google+, Google Maps, Google Street View, YouTube, Widevine digital content manager and Google Play (for applications)
Media Formats: popular media formats
What’s in the Box:
7-inch tablet and AC adapter [note: a USB power charger with micro USB cable]
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U.S. Airways has brought back, albeit for a very limited time, its 50% mile share bonus program. Share miles with another U.S. Airways Dividend Miles, and you’ll receive a up to a 100% miles bonus in the process.
|10,000 – 19,000||50%|
|20,000 – 29,000||75%|
|30,000 – 50,000||100%|
If you share 50,000 miles, your recipient will receive 100,000 Dividend Miles. Your cost is $ .01 per mile plus a $30 processing fee. In the 50,000 mile example, your cost would be $530, a very solid deal. If you and your spouse both have Dividend Miles accounts, you can share miles with your spouse, and he or she can share them back to you, significantly growing your “miles bank” for a relatively modest cost.
A few notes:
The U.S. Airways account you use to share miles (as well as the one you share with) has to have been open for at least 12 days. If you don’t, be sure to get a free account now so you’ll have the chance next time
For now, U.S. Airways miles are best used for Star Alliance worldwide flights. Unfortunately, U.S. Airways doesn’t allow one-way redemptions, so you’ll need to make sure to plan a round-trip for any awards using these miles
On March 1, 2014, U.S. Airways will leave Star Alliance. U.S. Airways miles will likely be converted to AA miles (in the OneWorld alliance) at some point in the future
You can share to one account and then share back to the original account, although it may take a couple of days for the second share to post
See this deal here: Dividend Miles Share Miles Bonus
Finally, here’s the fine print: