Sunday, November 15, 2015

Kindle Fire 7 Review (Fifth Generation - 2015)

by Tony Thomas

The Kindle Fire 7 is a new tablet from Amazon at a very low price. I only paid $49 for mine. 

What kind of tablet do you get for such a paltry sum, you may be asking?  Well, it's not going to set any speed records and it isn't the sharpest screen that I have ever seen. But it only lists for $49!

Let's look at the advantages and disadvantages of the new Kindle Fire 7 tablet.

First, the advantages:

1. Very Low Cost. $49 is a hard price to beat.  And when you buy a six-pack, you get one free!

2. Good Performance for the Price: It is solid, works well and I didn't find any major bugs.

3. Great Content Consumption Device:  That is where the Fire 7 shines. Reading books, watching movies, listening to music (use headphones), light gaming, checking e-mail, shopping and web browsing are its strengths.

4. Perfect for Amazon Prime User:  If you paid for an Amazon Prime subscription, this tablet will let you binge on the full-range of Amazon content.

5. Decent Battery Life:  About 7 hours. Not great, but not too shabby.

6. Very Durable and Well-Built:  I have seen impressive drop tests on You Tube. It seems like it will take abuse better than most tablets.

7. Well Designed UI:  Very simple to use and better than the old Fire carousel.

8. SD Card Slot:  Since it only has 8GB of storage, you will need it if you want to watch movies. A nice touch at this price point.

9. Pocketable:  Bigger than a smartphone. Smaller than most tablets.

Now, the disadvantages:

1. Limited Onboard Storage:  Only 8GB, but only 5 GB is usable.  This is meant to be a web device so it is an acceptable limitation.  I still would have preferred 16GB.

2. Medium Screen Resolution:   No retina display here (1024 x 600 @ 171 dpi). More like a typical notebook computer display. I had no problem reading on it, however.

3. No Google Apps:  If you are an avid Googler, you may feel deprived. The good news is that you can still get your G-Mail and use Google search in the browser. But the only way to access You Tube is through the browser.

4. Limited Apps on the Amazon App Store: No access to Google Play. Thankfully, most of the "big hitters" are available on their app store and the included apps are functional and well-designed.

5. Mono Speaker: And the sound isn't that great. Pack some earbuds.

6. Limited Productivity Potential: You can cobble together enough apps to get some things done. I installed Evernote and Wunderlist, for example. DropBox isn't on the Amazon app store but I was able to download it from their web site and side-load it. (Yes, you can side-load most Android apps.)

7. Thicker and Heavier than Most Tablets:  Not super slim like the latest iPad. Not annoyingly thick and heavy, though. More like a tablet from 5 years ago.

8. Proprietary OS:  Fire OS5 "Bellini".  Basically Android Lollipop with the Google removed.

9. Poor Quality Cameras: Low-resolution front and rear.  Better than nothing and they will do in a pinch if you have a lot of light.

10. Screen is a Fingerprint Magnet:  Be prepared to clean it often.

11. Slippery Back:  Plan on getting a case.

12. Limited Screen Real Estate:  After all, it is only 7".

13. No Voice Commands:  I use Siri and "OK Google" a lot and I really miss them when using the Kindle 7.

What else can I say? It is a $50 tablet and a real bargain for the price. It is cheap enough to be easy to replace if you lose it or break it.  You really can't go wrong!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Xara Designer Pro 11

by Tony Thomas

Xara Designer Pro 11 combines all the features of its other design programs into one, easy-to-use package for the professional graphics designer.  

It is one program that can really do it all including page layout and design, photo editing, website design, and vector-based graphics illustration.  Its simple WYSIWYG interface makes it easy for you to turn your ideas into beautiful graphics in just a few minutes.

Taking a look around the program, I found that it has a full range of features to accomplish almost any graphics or web-design task.  It has an impressive array of import and export options as well as full print support including the ability to do four-color separations.  
If you have ever used any Xara product before, you will have no problem getting around its interface.  It is a beautifully designed and very easy to navigate.

New features include:

  • Functionality that allows you  to stretch the background to fill the entire web page, either horizontally or vertically.
  • The ability to sync documents with Dropbox or Google Drive.
  • New brush options including "art brushes" and "scatter brushes".
  • "Sticky objects" that remain in place while the page scrolls underneath.
  • A variety of new text enhancements including a background color option, font replacement throughout a document, "an update style to match" function, a hyphenation tool, auto-correct/abbreviation expansion, updated Google fonts, and more.
  • New animation options that allow you to animate on mouse over, on click and the ability to slide or fade objects as you scroll down a page.
  • New Blend modes and transparency types.
  • Liquify shape editing tools.
  • Secure FTP publishing options with support for both SFTP and FTPS.

As someone who has depended Xara tools for almost 20 years, I can tell you that they offer some of the most powerful graphic tools you can find at a reasonable cost.  Xara Designer Pro 11 is no exception.  If you are a graphic design professional, it may be the only tool that you ever need.  Take it for a test drive!

For more information:

Thanks to Xara for providing a review copy of this program.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Xara Photo & Graphics Designer 11

by Tony Thomas

I had a chance to check out the latest version of Xara Photo & Graphic Designer (Version 11) over the last week or so. As I expected, I was welcomed by the sleek and comfortable interface that I have come to know quite well.

Coincidentally, I had a cover to design for my new book: "How to Find a Job Fast: Job Search Techniques for the 21st Century" and I knew that Xara 11 would be the perfect tool for the job. I imported a picture I had taken and came up with a finished layout in about 15 or 20 minutes flat. No other tool that I am familiar with can produce such stunning results that quickly (See cover below).

Version 11 has a number of new features:

  • New Blend Modes and Transparency Types
  • Auto Correct and Abbreviation Expansion
  • Liquify Shape Editing Tools
  • Other Text Enhancements
  • PDF Import
  • Document Sync with Google Drive and DropBox
  • New Templates and Brush Designs
  • Retina Support for Web Graphics
  • Bonus Software
As usual, Xara Photo and Graphic Designer provides an incredible amount of bang for the buck. At $89.99, it really is a no brainer.

Cover I Designed With Xara 11

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Xara Web Designer 11 Premium

by Tony Thomas

Well, the folks at Xara finally turned it up to 11!  With the introduction of version 11 of their Web Designer program, they have taken an already solid program up another full notch.

The first question that anyone would probably ask is: Who needs a web design program in the age of cookie cutter web site creation tools?  The answer should be obvious. Anyone who desires to produce websites that stand out from the rest of the pack.  

While anyone can produce a simple website with very little time or effort these days using online web authoring tools, if you want to produce a website to customize to your heart's content,  look no further that Xara Web Designer 11 Premium.

New features in Web Designer 11 Premium include:

Sticky Objects: These are objects that stay put as the user scrolls to other parts of a page.

Text Handling Enhancements: Enhancements include custom abbreviation expansion, automatic URL creation, a text background color option for highlighting words, and much more.

New Object Animation Features: New features include animate on mouse-over, animate on click and animate on reveal.

Document Sync with Google Drive and Drop Box: This is a welcome feature for those working on multiple computers.  Older versions of files are also saved and can be reverted to easily.

Slideshow Widget: You can create slideshows using TaskPilot.

New Templates: To get you going quickly, there are more than 30 new general website themes, including mobile variants.

TaskPilot "Website M" Hosting: 12 months (2GB of storage and one domain name) included free.  

Other Features: They include SFTP and FTPS secure upload options, PDF import, Word import improvements and export support for Apple Retina files.

In use, the program maintains its clean and ergonomic interface.  If you have used previous versions of the program, you will be up and running with little time or trouble.  As someone who has used Xara for almost 20 years, just about all the features are programmed into my head.  Xara products have become my "go to" graphics tools.

Web Designer 11 Premium sells for a very affordable $99.99 US.  A slimmed-down regular version is only $49.99 US.

For More Information:

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Anker 5 Port 40 Watt Charger

by Tony Thomas

I have heard about Anker for a little while from their ubiquitous ads on Facebook and looked longingly at their line of  attractive USB chargers.

Since I have been suffering from a bad case of "wallwart-itis" lately, I thought I would give one a try.  Any device that helps clean up the inevitable cable mess of a technophile is certainly welcome.

The 5 port unit I selected can supply 40 watts of power at 5 volts for 8 amps total.  That is enough power for a few tablets, a newer phone and a few other small devices like cameras.  

Anker chargers use "Power IQ" which enables them to figure out the charging requirements of each device and reportedly provide a quicker charge than most power bricks.  

After using it for about a week, I can say that I am really pleased with this device and think it is a good addition for anyone who has too many devices and not enough outlets.

More information from: 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Asus C201 Chromebook Review

by Tony Thomas

I recently added the new Asus C201 Chromebook to my arsenal.  It is an 11.6" Chromebook with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage that is available for as little as $160\.  It uses the new Rockchip 3288-C ARM A17 quad-core SoC (system on a chip).

Key Features:

1. Price:  At $160, it is a no brainer.  It is almost disposable.  You can't even buy a decent tablet for that price these days.  
2. Between 10 and 13 Hours of Battery Life:  That is an amazing amount of battery life! 
3. Nice Sharp Screen: It is reflective, so it looks sharper.  And viewing angles aren't bad.
4. Weight: At only 2.2 lbs, it is light enough to carry everywhere.
5. Ports: It has 2 USB 2.0 ports, a micro HDMI, micro SD card slot and headphone jack.
6. Slim profile: It is not only small, it is nice and sleek as well.
7. Camera: It has1.3 MP webcam.
8. Graphics: It uses Mali-T764 integrated graphics.
9. Audio: It has speakers and a microphone
10. Scores: Octane = 6861 Sunspider = 617.8 ms

I have been using this as my road notebook for the past few weeks.  Performance has been great and it seems to be a pretty solid.  I am very pleased with it!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Calmly Writer for ChromeOS Review

by Tony Thomas

Calmly Writer is an immersive writing environment for Chrome with a strange name. It even works off line on the Chromebook since it is a standalone Chrome app. (Yea!) It is the only Chrome app that I paid money for ($2.99) and it is well worth the price, in my opinion.

Features include the ability to save files Plain Text, HMTL, Markdown, or a proprietary Calmly file. You can also open all of those file formats plus Microsoft Word DOCX. It also includes minimal formatting features like three levels of headers, bold, italic, links, curly quotes and numbered and bulleted lists. It also has the ability to print documents plus you can insert pictures.

Missing is the ability to precisely set margins, indents or center text. That is fair because it is not meant to replace a word processor or DTP program. It is an app that focuses on creating text, not formatting it.

Its full screen mode makes everything go away but your text (true immersion), focus mode blurs everything but the paragraph you are working on, and dark mode reverses the text. Other preferences include the ability to set narrow, wide or medium text width, select between two fonts (I would love to have more), change font size (three options), add space between paragraphs, and enable smart punctuation.

As a writer, I also like the fact that it shows word count, character count and reading time in the options side bar. I look forward to continued development of this app and hope it signals a trend towards more powerful and capable Chrome apps in the future.

For more information:

Free online version:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why I Love Chromebooks!

I am writing this article in Evernote on my Chromebook.  I love Chromebooks!  Why?

1. They Are Fast: I can open up my Chromebook and begin working in seconds.  Since it is essentially a web browser-based operating system, there is very little overhead and the system runs extremely fast.  Also, I can take any Chromebook, wipe it and reload it with all of my apps and bookmarks in about 5 minutes.

2. They Are Comparatively Cheap:  I paid around $250 for my original Samsung 11.6" ARM Chromebook and a bit over $200 for the Asus 13.3" Intel Chromebook I am using now.  That is a fraction of the price of a decent notebook with comparable specs.

3. Google Docs is Great:  It comes with a great free suite of applications that includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation program, drawing program and more.  It also supports a robust scripting language (Apps Script) for customization.

4. They Come with 100 GB of Free Storage for 2 Years:  You get 15 GB of free Google Drive storage with a Google account.  If you buy a Chromebook, they currently add 100 GB of free storage for 2 years.  That is a $1.99/mo. value.

5. A Growing Selection of Mostly Free Apps:  The Chrome Web store has tons of great apps and they are there for the taking.  

6. You Don't Have to Worry About Viruses and Malware:  I have spent many hours cleaning my Windows computers of malware and PUPs.  No worries on the Chromebook.  

7. Automatic Free Updates:  Major updates are released every 6 weeks and my Chromebook updates automatically in the background.  All I have to do is turn it off and back on and: voila!

8. I Can Also Run Linux: I also run Ubuntu on my Chromebook simultaneously with Chrome OS using Crouton. That also allows me to use my Chromebook sans the Internet and to run applications not available on Chrome OS.  Check out:

9. A Lot of Apps Can Be Used Offline: While you generally need to be connected to the Internet to use a Chromebook, a growing number Chrome apps can be run offline.  Some Android apps are also being ported to Chrome.

10. Your Work is in the Cloud:  Your work is stored in the cloud automatically.  No more worrying about crashing your hard drive and losing all of your work.  You also have the ability to download your work from Google Drive and store it locally.  

If you are looking for a inexpensive and easy-to-use notebook, I recommend a Chromebook!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive

by Tony Thomas

I picked up a SanDisk Wireless Flash Drive recently.

Mine has 32GB of memory and transmits via wi-fi.  It allows you to access its contents on any wi-fi enabled device such as a cell phone, tablet or computer.

Its range is about 150 feet and you can use it to stream movies, listen to music or access photos and documents.  Up to 8 devices can be connected simultaneously and up to 3 devices can stream media.  Battery life is about 4 hours if you use it to stream videos.

Inside the case, you will find a micro SD card, so its memory can be easily changed or upgraded.  It comes in sizes up to 64GB.  Apps are available for both iOS and Android.  If you use a computer, it is accessible via a web page (see picture below.)  Charging and data loading is via the USB connector.

It is a cool little device and is great if your phone or tablet has limited storage.  Highly recommended!

In use on my Chromebook.

For more information:

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Wordpress on Raspberry Pi!

by Tony Thomas

I successfully installed Wordpress on my Raspberry Pi headless micro-server.  It is great way to learn Wordpress and develop your own intranet. 

It only takes about 30 minutes or so to install.  You may find that it isn't all that speedy (on the original Pi Model B) but it works perfectly.

All you need is Apache, MySQL,  PHP (LAMP) and the standard Wordpress install.  Want to try it out?  

I found a great tutorial on here.