Tag Archives: smartphones

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Shop Class

Back-to-school shopping is in full swing for many people, and you’d think this would be the time when all the new computers and gadgets are rolling out. Sure, Microsoft released new Surface Pro tablets a few months ago and Apple just did a minor refresh on its MacBook Pro laptops, but the big new releases typically arrive in stores just before the winter holidays. Now, just how soon before the holidays can vary, but here are some tips to keep in mind as you get ready for your next shopportunity.

  • PC makers are all over the map in terms of release, but many companies put out new desktop and laptop models around Windows upgrades. This is an off-year for that habit, though, as Windows 9 isn’t really expected until 2015. So take a look back  to when your preferred manufacturer last released new models. The companies need to keep people buying product and most won’t go more than a year without some sort of update to the line. If you don’t remember when the last round of new stuff came out, check the media area of your preferred PC manufacturer’s website and look up the old press releases — the dates should be right there. Microsoft’s site also highlights certain new models of interest throughout the year.

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  • Hot new Android phone and tablet hardware also tends to arrive on the heels of a major OS update. Android L, the next version, was previewed at the I/O conference in June and is expected later this year. (Last year’s KitKat and Nexus 5 phone landed as Halloween treats, remember?) Android-focused blogs and gadgets sites often get wind of pending releases, so bookmark AndroidCentral.com, 9to5Google.com or a similar source to keep you on top of events concerning the little green robot.
  • Apple rumor sites have practically become a cottage industry for news about the iEmpire, and often tip off the world to coming-release timeframes. For that kind of info, iLounge, 9to5Mac, AppleInsider, Re/Code and BoyGeniusReport are among the many watchdog sites worth watching themselves. These sites are also on top of new operating system updates for iOS and OS X, if you merely want to upgrade the software on your current, perfectly fine hardware.
  • When it comes to buying your new Apple hardware at that perfect time – meaning not two days before Apple goes and releases all-new models — there’s one site in particular worth looking at: The Buyer’s Guide over at MacRumors.com. The guide has been around for years and keeps close tabs on when Apple releases new iPhones, iPads, iPods, Apple TVs and Macs. The information is detailed very nicely on the site so you can see how long it’s been since a version of the product was released, and plan your shopping trip accordingly.

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With  Apple, pattern recognition can pay off. After releasing the first three versions of the iPad in the spring, the company has shifted its new iOS gear to the fall months as of 2012 – lately, it’s been iPhones in September and iPads in October, with any new iPods, iTunes updates, Apple TVs and random laptops mixed in as well.

If you don’t care that your hardware is a generation out of date, Back to School time can be a gold mine, as some wireless carriers will bundle older models with new purchases in an attempt to clear shelf space. For example, Sprint is currently selling 16-gig iPad Mini tablets for $50 when you purchase an iPhone 5s or 5c. If you don’t need the latest and greatest, look around now.

If you can’t help yourself and buy something — only to be in geek tears when a new model comes out the next week —keep in mind that most places give you at least 14 days from your purchase date to return an item. The Apple Store, Best Buy, and Amazon all have their return policies posted, as do other companies, so check it out. Then enjoy your new hardware and rest assured that you probably have at least six weeks before all the rumors start up about next year’s model.

PTJ 84: Facebook Drones And Bitcoin Heists

J.D. goes all Winslow Homer on us this week and introduces us to apps she uses to convert photos into digital works of art on her smartphone.  In the news, Samsung reportedly spends $20 million on Oscars product placement; Facebook looks to fill the sky with drones; Radio Shack closes 1100 of its retail stores; the US Department of Justice sides with broadcasters in fight with Aereo; Google barge ordered to pull up anchor and scram; Sony’s PS4 arrives in Japan; and Pizza Hut developing an interactive touchscreen pizza-ordering table.

Paint Job

Far from those blurry VGA days of early mobile photography, smartphone camera are getting better and better. These days, 8 to 16 megapixels of resolution are not uncommon on some models, as well as other features like selective focus, add-on lenses and HDR. It all adds up to the ability to produce amazing pictures on the same device you use to talk to your Mom and program the DVR over the Internet. Along with the built-in software that comes with your handset, plenty of third-party photo apps can make your pictures look even better — or more unique.

We’ve all seen filter apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic, which can be great if they produce the effects you’re trying to achieve with your pictures. If you really want that hand-made touch, consider apps that turn your pictures into digital paintings. Through filters and algorithms, these apps cam make your photo of the Empire State Building look like a painting of the Empire State Building. 

If you’ve got an Android phone, check out apps like the Photo Painter, which sells for a whopping $1.49. There’s also the free Oil Painting (shown above), Photo Oil Painter and Camera Illusion, all for Android. Camera Zoom FX, which is $2.99 and considered by many to be one of the best camera apps around, also has some artistic filters you can use to give your photos a new look.

WaterlogueBeeps

If you’re rocking an iOS device, you have plenty of apps to choose from as well. Waterlogue is one app that transforms your photos into digital watercolor paintings. For a mere $3, it does incredibly nice work, as shown directly above. Other options for the iPhone and its ilk include Paint FX for $2.99, AutoPainter for about a buck. Although it’s $7.99, the SketchMee app for iOS does a lovely job transforming your photos, especially portraits, into pencil-sketch art; the same company also has apps that can give your photos the oil-painting treatment, too.

And don’t forget the filters and other features of Adobe Photoshop Touch for either iOS or Android. It’s $4.99 for the phone version and $9.99 for the tablet edition. And those with Windows Phone 8 handsets can tinker with images with Microsoft’s free Fresh Paint app. (These apps are just the tip of the iceberg, so spend some time in your local app store and see what suits you best from the dozens of options for every platform.)

And once you’ve made art out of your photos, wouldn’t it be cool to display them as art?  Many images make great desktop wallpaper, but some would look even better hanging on the wall.  If you want to go that route and print out your image, make sure your chosen app can output decent-size files — none of this 90 KB stuff.

Unless you’ve got a bunch of pro-quality printers around, you need to output the file to your computerand upload it to a digital-imaging service; you may also be able to upload it directly from your phone. Going for the art-museum approach? Use a service that outputs digital photos onto canvas or high-quality paper, suitable for framing.

If you’ve never heard of canvas printing, there are specialty services like CanvasPop and Canvas on Demand, for starters. Photo-printing companies you may already use, like Snapfish and Shutterfly, offer canvas-printing options alongside calendars, mugs, posters and everything else they can do with your uploaded images. Time-honored photo-finishers like Walgreens and Costco can also do canvas prints, too.

As you might expect from material costs, canvas prints are a bit more expensive than your glossy or matte 4 x 6 photos. Prices start around $30 for a smaller size in the 8 x 10 range, but it’s do-it-yourself art — no expensive supplies needed. Your kids won’t sit still for more than five seconds? Snap ’em and app ’em — and boom — you have an arty portrait of the brood, just in time to get it printed and framed for Grandma’s birthday.