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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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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

Where has my browsing gone, according to Chrome

December 16, 2008 Leave a comment

After spending a couple of weeks with the Google Chrome browser, I now can see an advantage of the ‘new tab’ screen that presents your top 9 sites most frequently visited. On the right side you’ll see an image of my top 9 and here is a brief description of my daily Web browsing which might tell you a little about me.

Row 1 (from left to right)

my most visited sites

Facebook : I spend a good a mount of time either on facebook or at least keeping the window open to check out what people are up to. Lately I have been connecting with a lot of old college buddies which has made me spend additional time catching up with what they have been doing for the past decade. I only play one or two games and visist a few of the groups that I am a member of.

WordPress – WordPress is my blog platform and I am on this site a lot, especially when I get writer’s block and just sit there looking at a blank new blog post screen. I also enjoy looking through the blog stats and where people are doming from.

CNN.com – CNN.com actually grew into my top 9 during the election. It was a tight race between CNN.com and Foxnews.com over the past few months and during the elction they were neck and neck, vying for my attention. After the election though, CNN.com won out because I felt they delivered more varied viewpoints on news stories while FoxNews.com was tilted toward the conservative viewpoint. I still visit FoxNews.com from time to time to get another angle on stories and they do a better job at highlighting local news around the nation. Oh and their Strategy Room during the election was the best web programming around.

Row 2

iGoogle – This is my home page. You can’t see too clearly what widgets i have but they are Hulu.com, Google Reader, Google Docs and weather. I recently added fora.com to my home page based on a recommendation, but haven’t really been using it, so it will probably get removed soon. 

I used to go to myyahoo.com as my home page, but slowly moved away from that. It wasn’t a one day switch. I can remember having a myyahoo.com and igoogle page running in parrallel. I would use myyahoo mostly for news and stocks. Once I started using CNN more for news and was less interested in stocks, I stopped going to myyahoo.com. I still visit myyahoo.com to check on how my fantasy football team is doing, but that is pretty much it. I never really thought about how much less I use yahoo now than say a year ago, but it is pretty remarkable. MyYahoo.com was my default page for almost 3 years.

I would say that the first four on this list are high traffic sites for me and the next two are medium trafficked sites.

Twitter –  I just started using Twitter and while I go to the website to look at profiles of people following me or for searching through tweets, I primarily use tweetdeck to monitor tweets of those that I follow. TweetDeck is a very cool application that allows you to organize groups of people you follow and filter out the rest. This is extremely useful  as your twitter network grows and you get inundated with tweets. 

LinkedIn – I am trying to figure out the best use of LinkedIn. It is great as a contact database for my professional network, but as I wrote earlier, I don’t make status updates in LinkedIn because I don’t think it is appropriate for the audience. I turned on the WordPress application today and linked my blog so we will see how that goes.

Row 3

CraigsList – This is on the top 9 primarily because I have been looking around for furniture for the kids’ rooms. I was able to get a great deal on a couple of beds, dressers and a desk and only had to drive 5 minutes to pick it up. Amazing. Craigslist will probably stay on the top for the time being as I try to sell the kids’ old beds and their car seats. Gotta love growing children.

BacknGear.com google home page – This is my e-mail, docs, etc… all powered by Google for backngear.com.

Meebo – I have written about Meebo in a previous post. I am still a big fan.

Finishing up

So there you have a day in my web browsing shoes. There are a ton of other things I do online that aren’t in the top 9 but are just as important. For example, I follow up on a lot of links through my Twitter network. 

It may be interesting to have your top 9 sites updated on your facebook or google profile so your contacts can see as well. Since Chrome is an open platform, maybe someone can write that app?

The missing Chrome browser extensions

December 1, 2008 Leave a comment

Today there was an announcement from Google about an update to Chrome that will support browser extensions. These extensions are very popular in Firefox because they enhance the Web surfing experience by removing unwanted ads, flash videos and other annoyances. In my previous write up about Chrome I didn’t mention extensions as a major hole in Chrome probably because I didn’t use them as much as others might have or I took for granted that I had them installed.

After hearing about ad-block plus and flashblock, I decided to give them a try in my Firefox browser. Wow, what a difference these extensions make!! Browsing is much faster and you are no longer inundated with annoying ads and auto-play flash videos. I ended up looking through the extension library and saw a few more that would be nice to have in Chrome to make this a more complete browser. But in saying that I must also reiterate the things I found really interesting about Chrome in the first place, namely the browser layout, integration of search and history all combining to offer a new Web browsing experience.

Google Chrome test drive

November 30, 2008 Leave a comment

A couple of days ago I decided to try out Google’s Chrome browser. I had heard the browser was faster which is one of the reasons I wanted to test drive it. The other reason is that I had a lot of my other information already being serverd by Google (google reader, gmail, picasa, G1, etc…) that I might as well try out their browser. It is also kind of scary to think all my information is being managed by one vendor who’s business model is based on data they can mine from their customer base. But that is a concern I can live with when you consider privacy is relative when considering the federal gov’t has even more access to my life than I could imagine. Here are my impressions about the Chrome browser.

Clean Interface

First let me say that I am Firefox user and have not really used IE over the past year except to test displays of Web sites. After opening the Chrome browser I was pleasantly surprised by the clean interface. Google has been known for their very sparse search page but it is hard to imagine bringing that same layout to the browser wars. Gone are the traditional menu items File, Edit, View and History that you see in IE and Firefox. No longer is the there a Title bar with the vendor branding in the top left corner staring you in the face. It does take a little getting used to but after a few minutes of surfing, you start to appreciate the new found real estate.

Chrome and Firefox

Integrated Search

The Google Chrome browser also has an integrated search which displays results as you type text into the URL field. As you see in the image to the right, as I typed the word ‘banana’ the results continued to update after each letter of the word. If I was looking for the Banana Repulic Web site, I can now just click the URL. The search also looks through your browser history to find matches and displays the results. You can also see how simple it is to launch a general search for any word by entering the word in the URL field and clicking enter. 

Chrome's integrated search

Intelligent History

The last thing I’ll mention about the Chrome browser is the ‘new’ tab window. When you click on the plus icon to open a new tab, the new tab displays the most visited sites, recent bookmarksand recently closed tabs. As you can see from the image below, the layout is again pretty clean and easy to understand. This helps me a lot when I accidentally close a tab and it saves me from having to go to the browser history to re-open that site. It is also a very easy way to show me which sites I visit the most.  

Chrome - New Tab

Summary

I would recommend installing the application and taking it for a test run. Installation is pretty seamless and all of the your bookmarks get migrated over. I will note that some sites too a little longer to load initially (cnn.com), but now come as fast as ever. If you experience similar results with sites you go to, just be aware that the delay occurred once or twice. While I wouldn’t classify this browser as an innovation in browser applications, I give a lot of credit to Google development for not sitting back and copying what is the status quo in browser look’n feel and for incorporating usable features to make a very good browsing experience.