Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gadget of the Week - Max Burton Induction Cooktop



TechnoRV has been using the Max Burton Deluxe Induction Cooktop in our RV now for almost 2 years and WE LOVE IT! It was a gift for Tracey's birthday and we've used it everyday, twice a day since. In fact, I can't remember the last time that we used our propane cooker. Since we never use it, the cover stays on and we get loads of extra space in our kitchen.

So what do we like about the induction cooker?

Since 83% of the energy is transmitted directly into the food compared to 30 - 35% for a propane cooker, it's SUPER FAST. At our recent TechnoGeek Learning Rally, Tracey demonstrated the cook top by cooking Curried Parsnip Soup from start to finish in 20 minutes. That efficiency also means that the cooker won't heat up your RV the same as using your propane burner. This can be especially useful on very hot days and puts much less strain on your ac system meaning a cooler rig.

Previously I'd always sworn by propane as I found it much more controllable than electric. However, the induction is EVEN MORE CONTROLLABLE. It reacts super-fast to changes in power level.

The cook top that we recommend is the stainless steel topped deluxe model which is important because previously we had the basic plastic topped model and the plastic cracked. The unit has a 3-hour timer which means that I can set it on low so that I can leave it on while we go out, just like a crock-pot. In fact, we never use our crock-pot now.

Best of all, I get to use the campgrounds power that we've already paid for rather than burning up my propane!

A word of caution though. The induction cooktop doesn't work with all types of pots and pans. They must be ferrous meaning that a magnet will stick to them. In fact, the unit comes with a little test magnet. Generally, cheaper cookware (e.g. from Walmart) will not work. We had a nice range of All-Clad and everything worked. If it has a nice thick heavy bottom, it will probably work. You can also use cast iron pans and skillets on the unit.


If you're not sure, you can always take a look at our Induction Griddle which is specially designed to work with the Max Burton. It is constructed out of lightweight aluminum with an integrated steel disc at the center which distributes the heat evenly over the griddle. It's eco-friendly PFOA-free non-stick surface makes great pancakes, eggs and bacon. Can you smell the bacon frying yet?

TechnoRV Visits the Motorhome and Caravan Show



The Motorhome and Caravan Show is the UK's largest camping show with over 100,000 visitors this year. It was held in the NEC in Birmingham which is the largest exhibition complex in the UK and occupies 19 halls! Luckily they are organized side-by-side so you can easily walk from one hall to the next, as long as your feet will permit it.

As children, both Tracey and I had camped in the UK. A thoroughly miserable experience. My recollections are of wet grass, cow pats and lying on a blow-up bed in a tent watching a river run past me and wondering at what point my bed would up and float away with me on it.

It is perhaps for this reason that caravans and more recently motorhomes are becoming increasingly popular here. The campsites are still quite basic, many are simply farmers fields with no facilities, but there are more and more resort-style locations being built.

Looking back now at the show, one of the things that struck me most was how expensive everything is here compared to the dollar. A 1.6 to 1 exchange rate doesn't help, but I was still shocked. For example, a small Airstream trailer costing $60-70,000 in the US would cost around $117,000 here. Having an A-class in the US (our trusty Dolphin) meant that we were drawn to the A-classes here. I couldn't bring myself to look at an RV called a "Dethleffs", that just seemed to be tempting fate too much. There was a lovely German Concorde Charisma, but at $265,000 with no slides I quickly moved on.

After a much welcome cup of tea ($3.50!) we thought we'd found our ideal RV. It was an Auto-Trail Chieftain. It's a C-class which had a double bed at the back, clever pull-down beds over the cab, a good sized kitchen and a handy British-weather-defeating umbrella built into the door! But still no slides and at 29' long it would be a hand-full on these tiny English roads. Back to the drawing board.







I've always loved the VW Camper vans and we saw a very cool one with lots of extras which was new. In fact, it was one of the last ones in production which probably explained the $54,000 price tag. But style comes at a price right?


Perhaps there was nothing here for us? But then we say it. The Zone Caravan. Retro, customizable and very, very cool. Available in over 240 colors, I could see my daughter Ally's name all over this one ath the exhibition. Resplendent in shocking pink. Pink cushions, a pink couch, a 40" flatscreen TV and teenie frying pans. Teen paradise. Plus you could pull it behind your rig and never have to see the mess!

Slideshow of our Visit


iPhone vs Android - Music (Part 5)

Music is a passion of mine and I've tried about every gadget that came along to bring my music with me. In fact, I even modified my Parka (a popular brand of over-coat back in the 70's, see left) when I was in high school by sewing into the hood a speaker for each ear to be able to listen to the radio on the bus to school. The only problem was that I had to have my hood up to listen to music which got a bit hot in summer! I had to wait almost 10 years until Sony launched the Walkman in 1980. Do you remember the Discman (Sony's portable CD player), and then in 1997 came the first MP3 player. Then everything changed in 2001 when Apple launched the iPod putting 1,000 songs in your pocket. What a concept! I remember being so blown away when I saw my first one. More recently, streaming music services have grown rapidly in popularity. This year revenue from streaming grew by 40% and overtook downloads for the first time (streaming is where you listen to music played from the Cloud over the internet rather than from your phone's memory).

So given all this change, how do Android devices fare against iPhones as a way of listening to your music?

As you've probably suspected, the answers is that depends a lot on what sort of person you are, how you like to consume your music and how technical you are. I have used both and definitely prefer the iPhone as my Motorola MAXX HD would often skip during music playback. Don't know if this is Android or my phone, but it drives me crazy.

Having said that, rather than focus on the features of each device, I decided to focus on you and see if I can come up with some guidelines that might help.

I Like Music, but don't have many CD's and listen mostly to the Radio

This is probably the easiest category and quite frankly, both Androids and iPhones will work very well in this fashion. First of all, you'll need a music streaming app. There are countless to choose from. Some of the most popular are Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, Songza and Slacker. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but in essence you pay a monthly fee and in return get access to millions of songs that you can play as much as you like. Some even let you download them to your device to listen to when you're offline. They are very easy to use and setup. Tell them what you like, what you want to listen to or what you're doing and they'll do the rest. The downside for the RV'er is that many times you don't have WiFi and so streaming will eat up your data plan (streaming for an hour a day for a month will use about 1.8Gb of data).

One other thing to mention since you like the radio is Podcasting. I love podcasts because when we travel it's really hard to find a good radio station and the adverts drive me bonkers. In my opinion, this is where Apple scores very highly. With iTunes (or the Podcast iPhone app) I subscribe to my favorite radio stations (Science Friday, Talk of the Nation, The UK Chris Evans Show) which are then downloaded and saved to my phone. I can then play them back at anytime, without any internet connection through my RV's speaker system or using my Bose SoundLink (if you already have an Android, then apps like Podcast Addict do a similar thing). They really do make the journey go faster!


I Have Lots of CD's but don't Know How to Listen to them on my Phone

If this is you, don't worry, it's quite easy and I know so many people who are in this category (including my Dad!). The advantage of having your music on your phone is two fold. First of all, since you are already backing up your phone (right?), your music will also be backed up automatically. I have known people lose tens of thousands of dollars worth of music CD's through fire or theft.

Secondly, you might want to listen to your music when you don't have a CD player handy (e.g. cocktail hour outside, over at a friends house, or in the car). Finally, once you've loaded them on your device, you can get it to randomly play tracks from your entire collection (great if you're a little indecisive) or set up your favorite playlists of songs. You can even tell it which are your favorite songs and have it play them more frequently.

Another feature I like on iTunes is Genius. This looks at your music collection, what you listen to and then creates a playlist of other songs that you might not listen to much but might like. It's like having your very own DJ!

This is a category where I think the iPhone really shines. Combined with iTunes it makes it extremely easy to get your music off CD's and onto your phone. Once your CD has been converted to audio files (for example MP3), it will then automatically transfer them to your phone when you next sync. There are non-Apple music management tools, but in my experience none of them are as good as iTunes, especially when it comes to syncing with your phone.

Over time, you may want to start buying your new music directly from your phone. On iPhone, this is most easily done through the iTunes Store. On an Android, the Amazon MP3 app is probably your best bet for listening and purchasing, or Google's Play Music for listening.


I have Loads of MP3's on my Computer and Just Want to Listen to them on my Phone

This is easy. If you have a Mac, it's most likely that you'll be using iTunes and so transferring to an iPhone is super-easy and offers the most functionality. You can also look at using Apple's iTunes Match which syncs your entire collection with the Cloud and let's you access your entire collection from your device.

If you're on Windows and possibly don't use iTunes, then in my opinion, the best way to transfer your music is to copy them onto an SD card and to pop the card into an Android phone such as a Samsung Galaxy etc. This has the advantage of not taking up valuable space on your phone, is quick and easy and relies on the apps on your phone to manage your music. The downside is that it doesn't sync back your preferences or music collection to your computer, but in many cases, people don't connect their phones to their computers very often.

Summary

Let me see if I can summarize for you.

  1. If you are new to all this and don't have many CD's or music files, then both an Android or iPhone will work well for you. 
  2. If you have lots of CD's and would like to back them up and listen to them on a phone, I think the iPhone would be easiest for you. 
  3. If you are already into this whole digital music thing and are not on a Mac, then I'd suggest an Android device due to the convenience of having it on an SD card and the flexibility in music players.
Missed the others in the series? Click on the links below:


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

App of the Week - Evernote

I love Evernote. It's one of those apps that once you start using you say to yourself, "What did I do before I had Evernote?" Let me explain. Most of us like to make lists, I know that I do. The problem is, what do you do with those lists, other than lose them or can't find them? Take the example of a shopping list. Imagine being able to create a shopping list on your computer. Then when you go to the shop, it's automatically there for you on your phone. Better still, it's also on your iPad, Google Tablet and your wife's Galaxy.


But it's not just shopping lists. You can save web pages to Evernote, upload documents that you've scanned with Genius scan (remember that from our last newsletter), capture a photo and tasting notes from your latest beer. The list is endless. Each note can be tagged for easy capture, and you can also access your entire note collection online. Best of all, it's free!!


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Use your phone as a scanner with Genius Scan

I must confess that I have been "anti-paper" for almost 20 years now (that's a scary thought) and as such, don't even possess a filing cabinet or paper filing system, because I don't have any paper (except passports etc). Even though I have my trusty Docuscan scanner in the motorhome, that doesn't help me when I'm out-and-about.  You can imagine my delight therefore when I discovered an app that allowed me to use my phone as a scanner.

So many times in the past I'd gone into a spasm when someone gave me a copy of their favorite recipe, or wanted to save a menu from a favorite restaurant or even my beer tasting notes from a favorite brewery. What to do with it? Where to file it?


With Genius Scan, you take a photo of your document. Genius Scan will then crop it, straighten it, adjust for parallax error, enhance it to make the text better and then convert it to a PDF document (this is the standard format for saving and sharing documents, and is available free from Adobe).

Best of all, like many of the apps we review, it's FREE.












Even simple hand-written recipes like this are easily converted.








Genius Scan +


Now, if you like it, I would recommend upgrading to the paid version (Genius Scan +). For $2.99 you get to be able to AirPrint (print to AirPrint-compatible printers), and save to the Cloud (Box, Dropbox, Evernote, Expensify, Google Drive, SkyDrive). Since I'm a big Dropbox user, I can file my documents in my virtual filing cabinet and then access them from any of my devices. Plus of course, they're always backed up.

Should you upgrade to iOS 7?

Just in case you missed it, Apple has released its latest update to the operating system for its iPhones and iPads. In fact, you may have noticed the little red dot or "1" on your Settings tab signifying that there is an update pending. Your phone may have already downloaded the 750MB update - even if you don't update it's sitting there taking up to 3Gb of space on your device (that explains where all the space has gone on Tracey's phone).

So what's to be done? Should you go ahead and just update? If so, what can you expect? Normally it's not a big deal, but this is the largest phone OS release that Apple has rolled out since launching the iPhone and to be honest, the feedback to date hasn't been great. Don't get me wrong, there are some fine new features which we'll cover later, but many people, me included, think it's too "different", has too many unnecessary changes and not enough upsides to overcome the downsides.

The problem of course is that if you're on an iPhone 4S or above, there's no "going back". Once you upgrade you're stuck there.

First Impressions


Despite my better judgement, I upgraded, since I needed to for obvious reasons. My first thought was that, in a fit of jealousy, my iPhone had dressed up as an Android to get me back for my previous unfaithfulness (see Did Apple Copy Android).

However, rather than seamlessly integrate the best of Android into their beautiful OS, it seems as if they've taken a step backwards, and frustrated millions of loyal users in the process.

I'm sure that many of my colleagues will pull my leg and call me a luddite, but I feel strongly that software companies have a responsibility to their users. We've invested a lot of precious time learning the way something works. If they go ahead and change it and make people re-learn stuff they already knew, they get frustrated (just like I did when I tried Windows 8 for the first time, but don't get me going on that). As they say "if it's not broken, don't fix it".

Stepping off my soap-box, let's talk about some of the positive new features first:

Pros

  • There's a new Control Panel which you can access from any screen by swiping upwards. It contains quick access to things like Airplane Mode, WiFi, Bluetooth, the Calculator, Camera and a cool new Flashlight app. It looks like a small child designed it and is hard to read due to the grey on grey color scheme, but hey, it's there.
  • The App Store has been upgraded with new features such as searching for Apps that are relevant to where you are. For example, if you are in Disney, it will bring up Disney related apps.
  • Siri is "less robotic" and can be a dude. Meaningless for me as she never understands a word I'm saying with my British accent (Google is much better here).
  • Self-updating apps. These can be turned on or off in Settings / iTunes and App Store
  • Multi-tasking. Apps can now automatically refresh themselves (i.e. keep running) in the background. Beware however of the impact that this can have on your battery life). The fix is to control which ones can keep running in Settings / General / Background App Refresh
  • Improved security - you now need to enter your password before disabling Find my iPhone and you can force your phone to erase your data after 10 failed passcode attempts (recommended, unless you have grandkids).
  • Notification Center, straight from Android. Swipe down to see all your apps notifications such as email, text messages, to-do's, etc (you can customize what you see here). 

Cons

  • Quick Search (which used to be available by swiping right or double clicking the center button twice) is gone. If you hunt long enough, you'll find it by swiping the screen from the center downwards
  • I find the Camera harder to access from the Lock Screen
  • Some users have reported that the new user interface and animations make them feel "seasick" (if this is the case for you, go to Settings / General / Accessibility / Reduce Motion).
  • Reduced battery life (here's how to increase your battery life)
  • Cheesy low-contrast black-on-grey color scheme (there is an option to boost the contrast). You can invert the colors, but then your icons and home screen look like your iPhone's been doing acid. 
  • Slow. Did I say, Slow, especially if you're on an iPhone4.

Should you Upgrade?

It depends on the sort of person you are and how you use your phone. If you just want to use it to make calls, send text messages and use a few apps, I'd recommend waiting, at least until Apple releases iOS 7.1 or 7.2 and irons out many of these annoyances and bugs.

If you're a seriously heavy user and don't mind a relatively frustrating new learning period, then you should probably upgrade, but first:

  • Make sure you've backed up your phone, either to iCloud or to your computer
  • Make sure you're connected to a good WiFi signal (if your phone hasn't already used up all your megabytes)
  • Delete any unwanted or unused apps
  • Update all the remaining apps to the latest version
  • If you have certain apps that are critical for your business, check that they'll run on iOS 7
  • If you're updating with a computer, update iTunes to the latest version
  • If you're updating without connecting to a computer,  make sure that you have at least 3Gb of storage space. Yes, 3Gb! If you're not sure, you can find it in Settings / General / About

Good luck and stay-tuned to TechnoRV for updates!

Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker

For those of you who know me, you'll know that I love my music. In fact, if you've ever been at a rally early, you can always find the TechnoRV booth during setup, just follow the music. Up until now, my favorite way to play music was to stream using Pandora, with my iPhone plugged into my BlockRocker. The sound is great, but it's quite big and bulky.

Back in August it was my birthday and everyone was asking what I wanted. I'd seen a friend with a small portable bluetooth speaker called a Jawbone. It looked pretty cool, but when I read the reviews, I came across the Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker. It got 5 stars out of 316 reviews on Amazon and even though it was a little more expensive, that's what I put on my birthday list!

I Love it!!
When reviewing a new gadget I always try to think of both the positives and the negatives. In the case of the Bose SoundLink, I really can't think of any negatives. I've been using it now almost daily for the last month and absolutely love it. The main reason is the sound quality which is simply amazing. If you shut your eyes it's hard to imagine such good quality sound coming from such a small box. In particular, the richness of the sound is very impressive, with good solid base notes belying its small size.

Bose have made the whole bluetooth pairing pairing process a snap. In the past with my bluetooth headsets connecting to a new device had always been a bit of a hassle. With the Bose, it's a simple press of a button and you're done. For example, if you're at a friends house and want to let them use it, you simply press the bluetooth button and it pops up on their phone. Connect and you're done. I've tested it with my iPhone4, Motorola MAXX HD and Apple PowerBook and they all work faultlessly.

Let me run through some other noteworthy points:

  • Build-Quality is excellent. So often when you buy electronic gadgets they work but feel as if they're going to break any minute. When you pick up the Bose, you know it's a quality product. For a start, it weighs a ton, feels great in your hand and has simple, no fuss controls. The accessories are also well made which is rare nowadays.
  • The rechargeable battery lasts a long time, at least a day of continuous listening.
  • It's loud. This was one of the main criticisms of the Jawbone. It's very rare that I have the Bose on full volume (the only time was when we were partying outside). 
  • The charging dock is simple to use and convenient, just rest the Bose on the dock and it charges.
  • The charger comes with adapters for multiple countries, great if you travel.
  • It's small size makes it portable. In fact, I often have it on the dash of my car (be careful to put it out of sight when leaving).
  • Being wireless makes it very easy and convenient. The bluetooth range is impressive (20 feet) and it's very convenient being able to change the track and volume from your phone without having to go over to the speaker.

I guess my only criticism is the lack of a case. Amazon has a Bose Travel Bag, but at $45 it's pretty steep. I use a Skooba Travel Wrap which we used to sell and I find that works great at less than half the price.