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July 2015 tablet recommendations

The following is an email I sent on July 23, 2015, to someone who was looking to purchase her first tablet. It's now a month out of date, but I hope it helps someone, or is historically interesting.

Fair warning this is a long email, but you don't have to read it all. If you want to skip ahead I've put bold text to help you skip around. You can either keep reading now, or skip ahead to the bold text in parens below.

My first question was going to be whether you have a smartphone, but when I was talking to Jenn this morning she told me that you have a Samsung smartphone, which I'm guessing means you have an Android-based phone. If that's not the case, let me know, as that opens options a bit more.

I'd say if you're comfortable with your phone, that's good, as you have tons of Android-based tablets to select from (and they're cheaper than the iPad variants :)). There are some nice 2-in-1 tablets, but based upon what you've said I don't think you need one. And if you stick with Android any games or apps you purchase should be able to be installed on either your phone or tablet.

The next question is price range. I'm going to keep it near the low end, but not cheap range. Ignoring the iPad I bought years ago, I don't think I've spent more than $300 on any of the three tablets I've purchased.

Since my standard recommendation appears to be harder to find (Nexus 7), I'm going to pretend that I'm going to purchase one. I did talk to my mom, who got my old Nexus 7 tablet, and who appears to have usage similar to what you're looking for. She noted she would like one that has a larger screen, so I'll keep that in mind. I'm also going to try to recommend stuff that is local, so you can hopefully go to a store and actually try them out (and take a look at how nice it looks, speaker sound, and weight).

(Here's the first area you can skip to.)

Something you might want to keep in mind is the Amazon Fire TV Stick. They're about $40 from Amazon and use an HDMI connection on your TV. It uses your home's wireless to connect into a number of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and YouTube. I've been happy with mine and my mom has had no issues with the one I got for her. You can use an Android phone or tablet as a remote, and at least for the YouTube part you can search for a video and then have your TV actually play it.

Another alternative is the Chromecast which offers similar functionality. I haven't personally used one, but I have some friends who purchased them and were happy with them. They're a little older now, but $10 cheaper. I think this might also require either a laptop, phone, or tablet, while the Amazon stick can be standalone.

The reason I mention these is because casting from a tablet to your TV is either going to require that your tablet have an AV connection out (rare, and then you've got a cord) or some sort of dongle for your TV. So, it's another piece of hardware, but it might be cheaper and easier than buying a tablet that supports the connection out.

Okay, tablet time. If you don't want to read through all that I wrote (I don't blame you, I wrote way more than I thought I would :) ), if you scroll to the end of this message I list my three recommendations.

The first thing I'm going to do is head over to bestbuy.com so we can actually physically see the tablet. They've got decent prices, but they do tend to cycle through items fast. I'm going to limit my search to tablets in the $100-$500 range (but realistically $100-$300), Android, 4 or 5 star, and available through Best Buy, and not their marketplace.

Given how many good results this gives us, I'm going to change my limit to the $100 to $249 range.

I've used Samsung, Asus, and Lenovo hardware and have been pretty happy with all three, except the Lenovo had mediocre screen resolution.

There's not many Lenovo models, so I'm going to strike those.

Asus has a ZenPad, but it just came out last month. Despite positive reviews so far, I wouldn't want to recommend that to you at this point. It also has no reviews on Amazon, and I always like to look at Amazon reviews. But, it does have a nice amount of space, Android 5.x (current), and a very nice screen. Seeing speakers on the front also suggests it might have nice sound.

That brings us down basically to the Samsung Galaxy Tab A and Tab 4. I'm striking the Tab 3 because they're putting them on clearance to get them out the door, and they're an older version of Android, which means they might not get new updates. I'm also not a fan of the border size on them, and the screen resolution isn't that hot.

The Tab 4 has Android 4.x, while the Tab A has 5.x. Honestly, version 4 of Android is pretty stable, so I wouldn't instantly jump to the Tab A. You'll also notice that the Tab A has a lower resolution, despite being an inch larger. Amazon reviews seem to consistently bring up the poor resolution. Given your requirements, and my personal experience with a tablet with a poor resolution (but great sound), I'd take the Tab A out of the running.

Which leaves us with the Tab 4. Reviews are quite good about this, and while the 8 GB of space is pretty low, it does support a microSD card up to 32 GB. But it's also a 7 inch tablet, which might be a little small.

Sadly, while Best Buy lists an 8.4 inch Tab Pro, it's on clearance and there doesn't appear to be any in stock locally. But Amazon has one listed for ~$240. Reviews are positive, and the screen resolution appears to be (from reviews and specs) pretty dang good. It's also got double the space and supports an SD card too.

Switching over to Amazon and starting fresh, with similar filtering, the Samsung Tab 4 tops that list as well.

All that said ... if it were me, I would:

  1. Take a look at the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 at a local Best Buy. $150
  2. If you think you might like the extra 1.4 inches, you could see if you could find a Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 locally, or take a chance and buy one online. $240
  3. If you want to live on the edge, maybe take a look at the Asus ZenPad 7.85" at a local Best Buy. It's early in the product's lifecycle, so if you're not in a hurry you should be able to wait and see how it reviews over the next couple months. $200

Sorry about the length of the email, but hopefully that helps. I'd be curious what you end up doing, and if you decide to wait a bit can certainly take another look at things for you.

Tags: android, review

Categories: review

(All original content on this site is licensed under the Creative Commons License Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0.)

Review: Lumo Lift - Posture Coach and Activity Tracker

The following is a review of the Lumo Lift - Posture Coach and Activity Tracker, provided as part of the Amazon Vine program.

Works, but Android app leaves much to be desired

I'm a web developer. I sit at my desk for much of the workday and rarely get outside of the building I'm in until the day is done. I've always wondered how bad my posture is, so when I saw the Lumo Lift up for review I decided to give it a try.

After a couple of weeks I've had some good, and some bad, experiences.

First off, the packaging the product is in is definitely not frustration free. They opted to use some fairly strong tape which caused a bit of trouble when detaching the pieces of the Lift.

The Lumo Lift has a base station that is used to power the device. It's not too bad, but it does assume that you have a way to charge it, as it doesn't include a wall charger. I piggybacked off of another device's charger without issue. Not a big deal, since it keeps the packaging compact, but still unfortunate. I think I might have rather had the Lift itself include a USB plug, instead of using a base, however I suppose that could cause issues with sweat seeping into the device.

The next step was to get an app for the device. As I'm on Android I went with the official Android app. Pairing with the device was fairly simple, but for some reason I had difficulties actually using the application. I don't want this review to focus too much on the app, but some of the difficulties I had were with seeing past data (near the end of my first two weeks was when I finally found a way to go back to previous days, despite trying to swipe left/right a few times before then), pulling up the settings, and with syncing issues (it would tell me I had last sync'd days ago).

For the device itself I liked that there are two options for the top magnet, which displays above your shirt. The black and metal gray always stood out, though, and I usually got asked about what they were for.

Activating the Lift via these were pretty simple, and the buzzing was something I would notice, and thought was loud, but when I buzzed it for coworkers they couldn't hear it despite trying to listen for it. It's a powerful buzz that would, for better or worse, interrupt any deep thought I was in while in poor posture. I say better or worse because it would help me fix my posture, but more than once I wanted to break the device as I was deep into something and it kept breaking my concentration. Eventually I took it off and tossed it on my desk, and honestly haven't put it on since.

In addition to the posture tracking it also keeps track of steps (seems to be pretty accurate based on simple tests), which I actually found more interesting after I realized my posture is pretty dang good.

When you connect into the Lumo Lift via the app it does cause it to call home and send off an email (once per day for 2 weeks), sometimes more if you reach milestones, like my six hours of good posture. It is over Bluetooth however, and I'm still not clear on whether it has to always be on (I think it's fine to just connect to it at the end of the day), but if you do you might find like I did that it kills your phone's battery.

So the above said, can I recommend the Lumo Lift?

For me, the breaking of my concentration was the biggest reason I took it off and haven't put it back on. The rather poor app is the second reason. After a few weeks I realized that my posture is generally pretty good, hitting 6 hours of good posture a few times, and most of the time I would get buzzed just a few times over the course of a day. I definitely realized that I lean forward a lot, and in some particular meetings lay back in my chair. Both of these are issues that I knew about, however. The otherwise generally good posture was a nice confidence boost.

So ... I can see myself wearing this for a week every month or so, just to make sure I'm doing well with my posture. The step counting is nice, but given the limited reporting functionality, I wouldn't recommend this device for that.

I think for those reasons I have to give the Lumo Lift - Posture Coach and Activity Tracker a solid 3 of 5 stars. I expected a bit more, so the poor Android app integration was a definite downer, since I would have loved to play with raw data. Perhaps if I had worse posture, was on my feet more, or didn't require some pretty deep thought, I might have found great use from it.

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(All original content on this site is licensed under the Creative Commons License Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0.)

Review: George Foreman GFO240S Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill

The following is a review of the George Foreman GFO240S Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill, received as part of the Amazon Vine program.

Can't replace the clam shell models

A couple years after college I started hearing about George Foreman's lean, mean, cooking machines. Since I was living alone at the time, and wasn't much of a cook, I decided to try one of the early models, with the plates that could not be removed. I enjoyed it quite a lot, making burgers, chicken, pork, etcetera quite often, which I would normally have gone out for in the past. However, after a number of years I upgraded to a model that had removable plates, and continue to use it.

So with that said, I've been a fan of the George Forman indoor grills for almost a decade.

When I saw this indoor/outdoor grill I decided to give it a try. I thought it might be a little large, but since I usually end up grilling a good amount of chicken at once, and currently have to make three batches out of what I cook, I figured I would give this a try.

For someone who lives in an apartment with a smaller kitchen the 15 serving size model is going to be pretty unwieldy. My counter-tops only have one open side (they're on the outer perimeter next to the walls), and I had some difficulty getting this setup in a good location. However, there's very little assembly required for indoor use.

For outdoor use some assembly of the stand is required, as it doesn't have a base tall enough by itself that it could be set on the ground like some more standard outdoor grills (contrary to what the box photo suggests). A three prong-capable extension cord may also be required, depending upon whether you have an outdoor plug and where you have to place the grill.

I had pretty significant difficulty washing this in my apartment's sink due to the size of the unit. My sink is one that has two tubs, and while you wouldn't want to submerge this anyway, it was a tough balancing act to get it over the sinks. Sadly, even if I were to use it indoors I feel like I'd rather clean it off outside, for ease. Living in a state that gets snow in the winter, this realistically means I won't use it as much as my indoor-only model.

Finally we have the design of the grill. It looks pretty much like a standard grill. However, George Forman grills, to me, mean the clam shell design, with both sides being cooked at once, with proper drainage of grease. I thought this model might expand my horizons, but I still prefer the 'improved' grills I've been using all these years.

So while this has a market, I'm afraid that as an apartment dweller, with an apartment-sized kitchen, who lives in an area that gets cold part of the year, I'm not a fan. It's a nice enough product, but the George Foreman GFO240S Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill will see limited usage from me.

For the above reasons I give this product a neutral 3 of 5 stars. It does it's job, but functions more strongly as an outdoor grill.

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Categories: review

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