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The Brydge for iPad – Review

March 3, 2013 1 comment

I have been meaning to write this for some time now that the Brydge is shipping and it’s been in my hands for the past couple months. Click here to see the video overview of the Brydge if you are not familiar with this iPad keyboard and cover.

The Back Story

A few years ago a friend, Eddy, and I were working together for a startup. The startup was on its last legs and during the summer of 2008 there was no light at the end of this tunnel as most venture capitalists were not willing to invest with the impending financial decline. As a result, we both had an extended vacation. At this point I decided on a career change to pursue Internet marketing with the consumer division of Symantec, started this blog and co-authored a web-comic with another friend.

Eddy went down a different path of self enlightenment and discovery. Eddy was always very creative and good at building things whether it was carpentry, electronics or other types of design. For exaample, while we were still at the start up, he worked evenings and weekends building a Segway. After our days at the start up ended, he spent most of his time at the techshop as a prototype builder-for-hire. When he wasn’t being paid to build something, he was building things out of his own curiosity. Things like colorful 3D printers back in the pre-hype days of 3D printers.

Fast forward to 2012 and Eddy emails me a Kickstarter link to a bluetooth keyboard for the iPad. This was his latest project and it had raised $800K. The promotional tagline for the Brydge was that it made your iPad look like a Macbook Air. This was definitely an interesting concept and the protoype looked very impressive in the videos. There have been other iPad keyboards on the market so what made this one so different? Having known Eddy for so long, I had the impression that it was not only going to be well designed, but functional and might actually make my iPad look like a MacBook Air.

The Review

The Brydge is pretty much what it promised it was going to be in the original Kickstarter campaign. There are now three versions, the Brydge with a brushed aluminum keyboard with or without speakers and a third version with a polycarbonate keyboard. The brushed aluminum version definitely feels more like a Mac keyboard with the same texture and a good weight. The Brydge supports iPad 2, 3rd and 4th generation models.

The element of the keyboard that most impressed me is the ease with which you connect the iPad by sliding into the clamp or hinge of the Brydge. The clamp is extremely well designed, very solid and feels sturdy. Setup is as simple as pairing a bluetooth device to your iPad.

Carrying around the Brydge connected iPad is like carrying a Macbook. The iPad easily folds down on the keyboard, looking like a clamshell and goes to sleep. There is a little extra weight added onto your iPad with the Brydge, but that makes the product feel that much more stable when placed on a table with no fear of the iPad tipping over when it is open. The clamp also alllows you to display the iPad in a range of angles depending on your preference, going from 90 degrees or greater if you want to get just the right angle to view a movie on your iPad. If you can image giving a presentation on your iPad or letting your kids use it for games or videos, this flexibility is a life-saver.

The keyboard itself works great and is very responsive, springing back upon touch as I type. You’ll have to get used to the width of the keyboard which matches the length of the iPad resulting in a more compact layout. Nonetheless, it takes no time to adjust and you’ll be blogging away in minutes. Also, the keyboard sleeps after a minute or so of non-use further maximizing battery life. Typing a key wakes the keyboard up within a second or two. One hidden gem of the keyboard is it runs up to 2 months between charges…seriously?

The Brydge is available online at www.thebrydge.com and goes from $150 for the polycarbonate version to $220 for the brushed aluminum with speakers. The aluminum version are on back order due to high demand. I have used the Brydge with and without speakers and find the speakers to be a nice to have, but not needed for everyday use.

If you happen to get the Brydge sometime in the near future, you’ll wonder how you were able to use your iPad without it especially when typing emails, blogs or note-taking. In the meantime, here is a closeup of the Brydge for your visual pleasure.

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You still have a Blackberry?

February 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Some habbits are hard to give up whether that is staying up late, sleeping in on the weekends or giving up on your Blackberry. I’ve been a BB user for the past 15+ years and it has been faithfully supporting me througout every phase of my career. These days when I bring out my BB and lay it on the meeting room or restaurant table, it suddenly becomes a topic of conversation. I hear stories of how those that have switched to an iPhone can now browse the web that much easier or download some fabulous apps from the App Store.

Great, I think to myself “Is it time for a change?” Considering I still have my BB, the answer has been no.

Now the answer is not so straight forward. Having an iPad for the past few months, I have a new appreciation for the amount of productivity the next gen of mobile devices bring. I can use my LinkedIn app on my iPad but not my BB. I can easily visit my bank apps on my iPad but not so easily on my BB. The list is getting longer by the day.

So has the market changed faster than I have? That will always be the case. Or has the value of mobile devices surpassed what my PC can deliver with regards to ease of use and productivity for specific needs. More likely. The fact that I am writing this on my iPad with a bluetooth keyboard is a good indicator.

That leaves me with a more difficult decision these days. When will I switch from BB to a new phone that gives me even more productivity than what my PC delivered.

My first iPad

I am not an Apple fanboy, but I’m not a total hater either. In fact, I have been the proud owner of various iPod Shuffles over the course of the past 8 years. The Shuffle is my music player of choice particularly because of the little clip that is perfectly designed for listening to music while working out.

All that being said, I wasn’t interested in shelling out $500-$600 for a tablet. Fortunately I didn’t have to because I ended up winning a iPad 3 32GB version last month at work. Overall I am impressed with the product. I had used an older version of the Barnes and Noble Nook as well as a Blackberry Palybook. Each of those had positives going for them; the Nook is slightly more flexible because of the Android OS and the Playbook offers greater security and connectivity for office email.

The iPad, on the other hand, blends greater usability and a more integrated experience. The Retina display is nice but I can’t comment on its improvement from the previous iPad 2. I have already downloaded a few apps both for home and work to test. With a few weeks under my belt, I am looking forward to exploring the iPad further.

Quick Poll: What kind of security do you need for G1 WiFi Tethering?

February 26, 2009 1 comment

I wrote an entry a couple weeks ago about how to tether your laptop to the G1 and Android to get Internet access. The method I described has you connect to the G1 over WiFi and uses an app called GWiFi. What I didn’t mention is that this also turns your G1 into a wireless hotspot. Now any Tom, Dick and Mary can connect and use your 3G link for Internet access. I looked at other tethering apps and they had the same security options…none.

Lock

It’s not the end of the world if the appdoesn’t provide any type of wireless encryption or MAC filtering. For example, in lieu of those esential security features, you can protect the WiFi network by monitoring who connects by looking at the status screen of the GWiFi app. If you see another computer connect, you can immediately disconnect them. Not the best security mechanism as you can see. 

To find out if other G1 users feel wireless security is important, I put together a quick question and sent it out via Twitter.  I explicilty named WPA and MAC filtering as two security options since those were the most well known. My guess is that most people will be happy with just being able to tether and securing that connection is of lesser importance. I’ll report back with the results in a future blog entry.

Photo Credit: CarbonNYC

My Android Speaks Sweet SMS to Me

February 25, 2009 1 comment

I mentioned in an earlier post the convenience of having your SMS message popup even when the screen is locked, well how about having the message spoken to you when it arrives? There is really no technical reason why it can’t come to fruition considering Android has a Text-to-Speech (TTS) app that can be downloaded and there are already apps that take advantage of TTS.

Using the phone in the car

This past weekend I found a new app called SMSpeaker, made by the same people that brought you Speaking Pad. It costs $.99 from the Android Marketplace which made it a difficult decision to test, but for the good of all G1 users I decided to give it a go.

Once installed, the app does exactly what it says. When a new SMS message comes in, it is read aloud. Pretty straight forward. You can also have it repeat the message if you missed by simply tapping the screen. This will come in handy with the newest California law banning texting and driving. Here is a video of the SMSpeaker app in use.

While testing, I found the app very handy if your phone is sitting across the room because you can now hear the SMS message and who sent it. This also brings up a word of caution because the SMS message may not necessarily be something you want other people to hear. Take for example, you may be planning a surprise party for your girlfriend or making arrangements for a boys night out which you really do not want read out loud.  On the otherhand, it could be an interesting intercom-like system to send audio messages to your wife or kids. As with any app that comes out, you can adapt it how you see fit.

There are other Android apps that could benefit from TTS integration. Take for example Twidroid or any Twitter app for Android. Short 140 character tweets are ideal for TTS, but there would need to be some filter on which tweets are spoken so you hear the ones that are from those twits you would want to literally hear from.  If the implementation is right, this is an app I could imagine paying for.

Taking the Next Step

As with Augmented Reality, we are only scratching the surface of the benefits TTS will bring especially for those with imparied or degraded vision. My father, for example, wears glasses for reading and has a lot of trouble reading his Blackberry because his glasses are not always around. I saw this first hand a few months back as he was struggling to read the small screen and text. Imagine being able to simply click on a message and have it read out to you.

So while all of these touch screen phones have brought a great user interface , where does that leave those that are unable to see the screen? The developers of SMSpeaker are already pushing ahead with more apps that will bring benefits to an audience larger than the everyday mobile phone user. 

Photo Credit: Tim Caynes

SMS Messaging with Android on the G1

February 22, 2009 5 comments

It seems like there are a ton of SMS apps on the Android Marketplace, but can they all be great? I thought I would share what is working well for me and maybe that will help a small percentage of Android and G1 users find something that works for them as well.

DISCLAIMER: To be honest, I’ve had a very limited exposure to all the SMS apps in the Marketplace. I usually try to test a few and then once I find one that works well, I stick with it. If the developer of that app continues to add interesting features and fix issues then the barrier for me to switch apps gets to be higher. Trying new apps that do the same thing as the one I have become accustomed to is really not my thing. So if you are looking for a review of all the SMS apps on the Marketplace, try AndroidGuys, AndroidApps or just Google sms+android+app+review.

SMS Messaging

Chomp SMS

I am probably what would be classified as a low volume SMS user. Most of my contact with friends and colleagues is, in order of use, via e-mail, IM and Twitter. SMS comes up fourth because I mainly use it to very quickly communicate with friends when I am not at the computer or they are not at the computer. So the apps I selected and now use daily are based on my own selection criteria. Yours may be different and thus these apps may not suffice. To each their own.

First off, the built in SMS app is OK but definitely not great. There were a number of bells and whistles missing and it takes two Marketplace apps to compensate for these shortcomings.

Chomp SMS adds a very cool interface that allows you to see your SMS conversations as word bubbles. It also adds an on-screen keyboard,  a highly sought after feature for sending off quick messages without needing to open the keyboard. Finally, you can text multiple recipients from a single message. For those of you that don’t have root access to the G1, thus no auto-rotate, Chomp SMS also has a auto-rotate option. There is a video review of the Chomp SMS app on Youtube for anyone interested.

SMS Alerting

SMS Popup

To make SMS on the G1 even more convient, wouldn’t it be great if the messages popped up on the screen as they came in making it easy to read them? It would be even better if the messages displyed even when the screen was locked so that you didn’t have to unlock the phone just to read SMS messages. Add to that being able to set a different LED color for SMS messages and you have almost a complete SMS alerting app.

That is where SMS Popup comes in. In addition to all of these features mentioned above you can also set the notification to vibrate and set reminders of unread messages. There is a video review of this app for those interested.

I’ve run with both of these apps for a few weeks and not had any issues with crashes or usability. You’ll notice that in order to get the close to perfect SMS experience you need both apps, but that is a small price to pay primarily because they are both FREE

That rounds up my SMS review for the G1 and Android Marketplace. There are a lot of other SMS apps on the market and I am sure they all have their benefits. If any of the apps mentioned above start to falter, I’ll be shopping for something new so let me know which ones are comparable or better in your opinon.

Wireless Tethering with the G1 using GWiFi from Ndroi

February 15, 2009 2 comments

Wireless Access in Coffee Shop

Over the past summer I was doing a lot of my work at the local coffee shops. I am a huge fan of coffee shops as workspaces especially if you are a consultant. It is a semi-quiet environment, you can listen to your music, there is a constant stream of caffeine  and most importantly, no one bothers you. I used to spend 3-4 hours at one shot sitting in the coffee shop. The biggest drawbacks were the missing social relationships you get when working in an office and a good Internet connection. I am still trying to explore how to compensate for the lack of office interaction via involvement with social networking sites. As far as the Internet connection is concerned, you have a choice between the one supplied by the coffee shop or bringing your own i.e. tethering your laptop to your phone. 

I used to have the Blackberry  Curve and tethering with that was brain-dead easy. Just connect the phone via USB and connect to the Edge network. When I transitioned over to the G1  late last year, tethering was one of the of main features that was missing. As a result, I was paying the $3-$10 for Internet access, depending on the location. Starbucks recently added the new offer of 2 free hours of Internet access if you buy a drink, which is a great deal. But there are situations when you stay for longer than 2 hours, or you are in a coffee shop, airport, hotel or any other place without free Internet access. In those situations the handy GWiFi app for the G1 is a good solution that allows you to tether your laptop to the G1 via WiFi and then use the G1′ s 3G Internet speed. 

GWiFi is developed by Ndroi. The app requires that you have root access to the Android OS on your G1 in order to install. The actual installation instructions on the Ndroi pages are very simple and it took about 10 minutes to complete. Once the app is installed, you simply click on the GWiFi app to start it and select Open to start tethering. From your laptop you’ll see the Peer-to-Peer connection from G1 appear in the list of available wireless networks. Just connect and you are good to go. I was able to browse the Internet and even connect back to another network via VPN. 

One word of caution is that once you open up the tethering, your G1 essentially becomes a hotspot. With no security mechanism or MAC filtering in the app, this means anyone can connect and use your 3G Internet bandwidth. GWiFi does alert you when someone connects so you’ll have a list of connected clients and you can disconnect non-authorized devices. Because of the need for root access and the security concern I mentioned, the app probably is not ready for novice users. Overall it has filled a very large hole in my own list of must haves for the G1.

NOTE: If you have not taken the leap of getting root access to your G1, then you are only scratching the surface of what the phone can do or how you can customize it. I was not too sure about this at first, but after a little reading, the steps were pretty straightforward. 

Here are some screenshots of the app taken from the Ndroi site. 

 A picture of GWiFi icon in the app list.

After starting the app, the GWiFi icon appears in the Status bar.

Click Open to start tethering. All connected client machines will appear in the list.

Update: If you want to tether without gaining root access to the G1 you can try this, but the limitiations are it only works for Web traffic using Firefox as the browser.

Photo credit: crouchingrasshoppa