The Kindle Fire HD really is a fine piece of mobile computing hardware. Everything from the high-definition screen to the staggering Dolby audio fidelity to the grip of the device has been well thought-out. It’s designed with media consumption in mind, with access not only to Amazon’s vast library of ebooks, music, movies, and TV, but also to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, and more. And it’s cheap too, starting at $200 for a 16GB wifi variety. It's a shame then that such a great device is paired with Amazon’s App Store, whose offerings are laughably, pitifully lacking when compared to the Google Play store. What’s worse, you can’t put the Google Play store on the device without some serious Android hacking chops and voiding the warranty in the process. But, if you or a friend own another Android device with access to the Google Play store, like an Android smartphone, there is a way around this!
Serial readers of the Tech Answers blog probably know that I would recommend either an iPad Mini or a Google Nexus 7 for an eReader tablet and that, though they are very pretty (the devices, not the blog readers, who could be pretty, but I wouldn’t know), I would guide most away from retailer-specific hardware like the Kindle Fire or the Barnes & Noble Nook. But that overlooks one very important buying category: Cheap Tablets. These are sub-$150 and often sub-$100 devices that you’ll find at convenience and drug stores.
Updated November 2013: After a year of living with much of this tech, I have some new insights that should help you decide if you want to settle for slightly older hardware at cheaper prices when shopping for the 2013 holiday season. I have also provided links to the updated versions of the devices that were listed in 2012 as alternatives to the standard Apple/Amazon/Google/B&N devices.
Our smartphones are our lives. Go ahead and deny it, but deep down you know you get jittery when you aren’t caressing your tiny portable computer that basically hands you the digital world on a tempered glass tray. As I pointed out in my Must-Have Android and Must-Have iPhone apps articles there are a lot of apps out there that’ll do just about anything. But there’s lots more that we can do to customize our smartphones and our tablets, especially for Android. Sorry Apple users, your fantastic apps may bring all the boys to the yard, but Android has you beat fair and square on the customizability front. Sure, you could jailbreak your iPhone or iPad (Google it if you dare, just know you’ll be put out in the cold if you take a busted jail-broken device to the Apple Genius Bar), but I’m not going to risk going there, so Android users, this one’s for you!
I've written a few articles advising our users to back up their data. Every so often, usually when we need them the most or when the warranty has expired, our computers stop working. This wouldn't be so horribly bad if we'd backed up our files first. So, let me reiterate for anyone who has read me before that backing-up your data means that the same files are stored in two completely different places. If you've copied all your important files to an external hard drive, but then erased them from your laptop, they are not backed-up; maybe your external hard drive goes kaput, and, even though your computer is still working, all those files are lost from the external device, aren't they? To back up your files they absolutely need to be in two different places. Redundancy is the name of the game, and I'm going to teach you how to play (wow that sounded corny).
Something I get asked a lot as the librarian tech guy is whether a person in the market for a new smartphone or tablet should buy Apple or Android. This is a far more nuanced question than most people realize, and the answer will depend on a number of factors. Read on for a detailed comparison of the two.
With the rise of the smartphone we have entered the world of the app. My, my, there is an app for that, isn’t there? Problem is, there are thousands upon thousands of them, and I’ll tell you what, most of them are junk. But this just makes the good ones stand out that much more. This is a list of my favorite apps for Android phones; I will follow this up soon with a list for iPhone/iPad users. And, please understand this list is by no means comprehensive and does not include games. These are simply the apps that I have found to be the most useful and fun in my day-to-day life. If you have a favorite Android app that you’d like to see added to this list please contact me here or leave a comment on Facebook! Most of these apps are free, except for a few that I’ve marked otherwise.
Lookout Security & Antivirus – FREE, w/ paid upgrades
Your Android smartphone can get a virus just as easily, if not more easily, than a PC or Mac. Make this your first install. The free version will run scheduled scans of your phone for viruses and make certain that every app installed is safe. It will also allow you to locate your phone in the event that it is lost. For a few dollars a month, you can get extra features like safe Web browsing and a privacy advisor which will keep track of which apps have access to personal data on your phone.