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Maybe Dad is longing for a new tablet. Or your high school or college grad is begging for a new laptop. This is the season when gift-givers are filled with good intentions but overwhelmed by choices in every category of consumer electronics. Tech Tuesday asks a couple of experts for help in choosing the best laptop, tablet, phone, fitness tracker or whatever other tech gadget will delight your favorite dad or grad.
- Rob Pegoraro Freelance Journalist, USA Today tech columnist and Yahoo Tech writer
- Marguerite Reardon Senior Writer and Author of the "Ask Maggie" column, CNET
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. As anyone who's shopped for a tech gadget knows the choices are often overwhelming. iPad or Kindle Fire? Apple or Android? Is it okay to cross platforms and mix and match devices? Should I retool or replace my old desktop? With college graduation season in full swing and high school graduations just around the corner, it's a good time to dive in and explore the most popular tech gifts for your graduating senior. And with Father's Day less than three weeks away, you can put dad on that shopping list too.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining me to talk about tech gifts for grads and for dads is Rob Pegoraro. He's a freelance journalist and USA Today tech columnist and Yahoo Tech writer. Rob, good to see you again.
MR. ROB PEGORAROIt's good to be back.
NNAMDIJoining us from NPR's Brian Parks studios in New York City is Maggie Reardon, senior writer and author of the Ask Maggie column at CNET. Maggie Reardon, thank you for joining us.
MS. MARGUERITE REARDONThanks for having me.
NNAMDIIf you've got questions or comments, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Are you in the market for a new laptop computer for your graduating senior, your dad, yourself? What's the most important feature that you're looking for, 800-433-8850. You can shoot us a Tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Rob, a lot of high school grads want a new laptop computer to take to college. Does it matter if they're going to use it to crunch numbers as an engineering major or to write papers as an English major? What are the questions to ask before you buy your teenager a new computer for school?
PEGORAROWell, the first thing I look at is does the school in question have any guidance on that matter? You know, they may say this is the configuration we endorse. Maybe factor it into your tuition at some level. Yeah, you're definitely going to need one. I don't think we're at the point where I would say to somebody going into college, you'll be fine with just a tablet or a Chrome Book or something less than a laptop computer running a full traditional desktop operating system, (word?) or Windows.
NNAMDIBut you -- it would be a good thing if the college can give you some guidance so that it may indeed facilitate what you get.
NNAMDIMaggie, this is college graduation season too and some students are shopping for a new laptop to replace the one they probably got for their high school graduations. What's the lifespan of a computer these days and what are the signs that it's time to replace it rather than update it?
REARDONWell, it really depends on what kind of computer you buy. You know, generally if you buy, you know, a computer with enough RAM and high end processing and sort of very good components and a good piece of hardware, that can last you a lot longer. Whereas if you kind of just, you know, were trying to get the cheapest thing that you could, it's not going to last very long. So, you know, that's something to consider.
REARDONAnd, you know, I think it's -- overtime computers just tend to get slower. And again it depends on how you use it. So for example if you're downloading a lot of different things and installing different applications on your laptop, overtime that seems to have an effect. I don't know exactly why it happens but it just does. So if you want to keep your laptop, you know, for a very long time then I'd be careful about the types of applications you put on there. Don't just download something just to try it out and say you'll uninstall it if you don't use it. Just don't download it.
REARDONAnd also try to get the best quality that you can for the price point that you can really handle, and not just go for the cheapest deal. So when you're about to buy a new one, you know, the other thing you could consider is selling your old one. And there are lots of sites that allow you to trade that in. So you can at least make back a little bit of money before you start investing on new product.
NNAMDIYeah, I followed that advise this morning for my iPad, which was the iPad I.
NNAMDIAnd got almost 50 bucks, but that's okay.
REARDONHey, you're 50 bucks richer, right?
NNAMDIYou can do that at a number of websites In the tablet world it seems like it's the Apple iPad against everyone else. Is that the case, Rob? What are the most important considerations in choosing a tablet?
PEGORAROYeah, that is pretty much the way the market breaks down. And the iPad is a good general purpose tablet. I've got an iPad mini myself. It's, I guess, now almost two years old so I'd get maybe 100 bucks for it if I sell it. You know, it's not that if you buy an Android tablet like the Nexus 7, which is -- there's got to be a new one coming out in a month or two -- you're going to be just bereft and stuck only doing stuff on the web.
PEGORAROBut the selection of applications that are optimized to run well on a tablet's larger screen size is so much better in the IOS universe than Android. What you'll find instead is that like for instance Twitter, the Twitter app for the iPad is a totally different creature than the one you'd use on the iPhone. And unless they (unintelligible) for Android that's not the case in Android tablets.
REARDONYeah, I would agree. And I think you really have to think about, you know, what are you going to use the tablet for. You know, if this is something that you plan to watch a lot of movies on and read books and so forth, you may be fine with something really inexpensive like the Amazon Kindle. You know, that's a good little tablet if that's what you think most of your functions is going to be. You know, I think you really have to think about, you know, how do you want to use this, where are you going to use this?
REARDONI have a Nexus 7. I love it. I think it's -- you know, it's -- I love the price point. It's cheap. I don't use a lot of apps anyway but the ones that I do use, you know, they look find on that screen. And, you know, I use it mostly for web access. You know, and if you're going to hand it off to your kids to play with, you know, you probably want to go for something a little cheaper. But again, you know, the iPad has more of the apps. So -- and if you've already got an iPhone, I think you can share some of those apps across platforms. So, you know, then you don't have to reinvest in a lot of apps.
NNAMDIRob, what would be the disadvantage of having your first tablet be an e-reader?
REARDONBasically if you think you're going to like e-books, you can try them out for much less by putting an e-book reader app on a Nexus 7 tablet, on iPad, of course a Kindle Fire tablet. If you realize that you also like to do other things on a tablet like browse the web or watch stuff off Netflix, you're not going to have that option on a dedicated e-reader tablet unless you're already gone ahead and bought a higher-end model like the Kindle Fire that is really a general purpose tablet that happens to have this company that's sort of famous for doing something with books on the back of it.
NNAMDIWell, I don't know if my experience with reselling is a good example, Maggie. But we got a Tweet from Raymond who says, when I graduate can I resell this item to help pay off my student loan?
REARDONProbably you won't get that much money back.
NNAMDIYeah, that's what I was thinking.
REARDONYeah, I think schools have gotten pretty expensive.
NNAMDIMaggie, the Surface Pro 3 is pitching itself as a laptop replacement. Can you really use a single device as both a tablet and a laptop?
REARDONWell, I think that's the big question that a lot of folks are asking. I mean, Microsoft says that you can. And they say they have the tablet to finally do it. You know, personally I would never use an iPad, for example, in lieu of my laptop. I'm just too connected to my keyboard. I don't -- it just doesn't have enough functionality for me. But the Surface, I mean, it's running, you know, Windows 8. And, you know, they say that it can be the replacement.
REARDONSo, you know, I think that is a product -- and it's -- you know, it's priced pretty high for a tablet. I mean, it's more in the laptop price range. And I think that really kind of could give people the best of both worlds. And I think it's for real power users. Probably more for business travelers, so maybe this is more of like a gift for dad.
PEGORAROI'm a little intrigued by the Surface as well. My young tech colleague David Poe gave a really enthusiastic, seriously check-this-out-it's-not-the-same-old Surface-tablet review the other week. And the big difference, as you mentioned, it runs the full version of Windows 8, not this cut down Windows 8 RT edition that appeared on the original Surface tablet.
PEGORAROAnd I see it as being much more closer to laptops like the Lenovo Yoga series where the thing folds into a tablet or you can also stand it up for watching movies on the seatback tray table, a category device that doesn't exist in the Apple universe where you have laptops and tablets and there's no sort of comingling the two genres.
NNAMDIIf you're just joining us, it's Tech Tuesday. We're discussing tech purchases for grads or for dads since Father's Day is coming up with Maggie Reardon, senior writer and author of the Ask Maggie column at CNET, and Rob Pegoraro. He is a freelance journalist, USA Today tech columnist and Yahoo Tech writer. Taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Have you adapted your tablet to use as a smaller, more portable laptop? How well is that working for you, 800-433-8850? You can send email to email@example.com. Rob, talk about the Chrome Book. What does it do and who is a good candidate for one?
PEGORAROA Chrome Book is a laptop that's basically built around Google's Chrome browser and not much else. The number of applications you run locally, as they say, not off the web is pretty limited. And in its initial incarnation it was not very attractive. It didn't cost much less than a real laptop and you couldn't do a heck of a lot offline. You couldn't even use Google Docs offline to work on a word processing file or a spreadsheet.
PEGORARONow they've added all these features and the strongest selling point is for $250, maybe a little less than that, you've got this machine that if you're already spending most of your time in Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, you have all those things. And it's kind of bulletproof. You can destroy the laptop itself physically but all your data's backed up automatically. There's no migration procedure. To get at your stuff from another Chrome book you just sign into your Google account. That's it. And it's pretty secure as well.
PEGORAROIt's something -- I had a reader ask a while back, should I use this for my online banking? And I thought, you know, it's not a bad idea. And it's also -- you know, it's pretty straight forward. There's not -- there's no file system to figure out.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Maggie?
REARDONYeah, I mean, I think this is a great gift for -- you know, for example, we were thinking of getting this for my mother-in-law. She's not very tech savvy and my husband is basically her remote IT person anyway. So, you know, right now if somebody's going to buy a new computer, you know, and they're a PC user, they're going to have to relearn Windows 8, you know, if they've been using XP or something. So really the Chrome services and the Google services are not that difficult to figure out. So I think, you know, in terms of ease of use, it's pretty easy to figure out.
REARDONI think one thing that people really have to be comfortable with is this idea that everything is in the Cloud. And, you know, it has its benefits and it has its drawbacks. I mean, I think, you know, it's secure but, you know, nothing is bulletproof if it's in a Cloud, right. I mean, anything -- any piece of information is more secure if you have it on a device that's only in your home. Or, you know, better yet, if you don't put it in digital form and you just write it down. But, I mean, nobody lives like that anymore, right.
REARDONSo you know, we might have to give up a little bit of that freedom or that idea of security. But at the same time I think you have to really -- you have to understand that it's out there. And anything could possibly happen.
NNAMDIHere's John in Silver Spring, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNYes. Hi, Kojo. I just wanted to interject in here since we're talking about more simple kind of machines. I am a writer and a teacher. And I use a device called an Alpha Smart Neo N-E-O. It only cost about $150 or $200. It is extremely light. It is a word processing system that simply records keystrokes. It does not have a program and you can download a lot after you've taken notes. So it's great for taking notes in class or something like that. Very, very light. Has no distracting internet, Facebook, Twitter, any of that stuff. Just word processing and I like it and it works on a penlight battery.
REARDONThat probably would be good for students, right. I always think of that. I mean, when I went to college, you know, you didn't have the internet. And...
JOHNYeah, me too.
REARDON...I guess I'm really making myself sound old here. But, you know, it must be distracting to be in class and you could just sit there and Tweet away all day instead of listening.
JOHNRight, right. Yeah, that's why I like it because for writing, you know, you...
NNAMDIFor the focused student.
JOHNYeah -- no, but it's great, it's great, it's cheap, it's easy, it's light. And it's got like eight different sections where you can store up to 25 pages of text in each section. And you just -- it records your keystrokes so you just download it right into your computer.
NNAMDIHow large is the screen?
NNAMDIHow large is the screen?
JOHNThe screen is about 4" by 2". It's an LCD screen, looks kind of like a Brother PTouch kind of thing, but it has a full scale...
PEGORAROThere's lots of phones with bigger screens.
JOHNYeah, it has a full scale keyboard though and that I like very much. You know, none of these teeny weeny keys that you have to get your pen to push on or something like that. So...
NNAMDIYeah, but it sounds like a teeny weeny screen.
JOHNIt is a teeny weeny screen, yes. That's why I say. It's great for just taking notes and stuff like that. If you want to just, you know, not have to write something on paper and then transfer it to a computer or something like that, I find it useful.
NNAMDIOkay. John, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. If you've called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to call, the number's 800-433-8850. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a Tweet @kojoshow using the hashtag techtuesday or you can simply go to our website kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. it's Tech Tuesday. We're talking about tech purchases. This is a significant time of the year for that because college graduations are already taking place, high school graduations will soon be taking place. And of course, Father's Day is on the horizon. We're talking with Rob Pegoraro. He's a freelance journalist, USA Today tech columnist and Yahoo Tech writer. Maggie Reardon's senior writer and author of the Ask Maggie column at CNET. We go now to Constance in Arlington, Va. Constance, your turn.
CONSTANCEThank you so much, Kojo. I just wanted to make a plug for a program in Arlington, Va. based on the comment about selling their used laptops and computers as they upgrade going on either to college or going on beyond. A Dr. Tallmadge Williams in Arlington, Va. has a nonprofit. It's www computers, the number 4 and kids. And what Dr. Williams is -- nonprofit does is it takes donated computers, laptops, tablet, whatever, they refurbish them and they're given to kids in need in the public school system who do not have computers.
NNAMDIOkay, good. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. Rob, Maggie, what are your thoughts on mixed platform arrangements? Is it okay for iPhone users to buy a Google-based tablet? Can Android phone users be happy with an iPad? First you, Rob.
PEGORAROThat's my existence. I have an Android phone and the iPad Mini. It basically -- that does sort of lead you to use Cloud services that aren't locked into one platform or another, but you should want to use them anyways. Like, I don't like Apple's iCloud because I can't open a document on my MacBook and then get at it on my Android tablet. I can't even get at it from within the mail program on my Mac. The degree of gyrations you need to do to attach an iCloud document to an email is ridiculous. And yet I still use it so obviously I'm not learning.
PEGORAROSo Google Docs is a good example of saying it is pretty open. For note taking, I'm a real fan of EverNote which, I mean, they shipped an EverNote client for the Palm web OS that was around for, like, a year-and-a-half and then faded from the scene.
NNAMDIHow about you, Maggie? Mixed platform arrangements?
REARDONYeah, I mean, you know, it can be done. I think you just make your life a little bit easier if you stay within one ecosystem, you know. Although I sort of busted out of the IOS ecosystem a couple of years ago and it was a struggle. And I was really -- it was a pain in the butt. But, you know, Google has a lot of services. And sort of once you get into the Google world it's just easier.
REARDONSo, you know, if you have an Android phone -- you know, I have an Android tablet. I pretty much do everything within Gmail. It's just -- it makes life so easy for me. But, you know, at the same time you're potentially logging yourself into another ecosystem. It's a bit more open though than Apple. I mean, I find it's -- you know, the Apple users who struggle the most when they want to get a device that's not in the IOS family.
NNAMDIOnto Tim in West Virginia. Tim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TIMGood morning or good afternoon. I appreciate being on. Listen, I'm an engineer. I work pretty much all over the world but just wanted to comment on some of the tablets. I've been using tablets before most people even knew what a tablet was. One of the comments I keep having from my coworkers is the Surface, well, that you mentioned earlier, and from the iPads.
TIMThey're all -- iPad's great when kids have them, but the Surface Pro, a lot of people said the cost is a little high, but really, I mean, what you get for it is not as high, so it must be (unintelligible) more memory, keyboard, a few other things that come with it. Anyway, the one thing for professionals, engineers like me and some others is that the tablet laptop like Windows is now doing is, well, actually use -- like I can use Excel, all the Office programs, plus I use (unintelligible) from digital. And the big one for me as an engineer is Blue Beam, which is PDF. And it allows me to be out in the field to mark up drawings or punch lists and stuff.
TIMAnd none of the others have it, except for the high-dollar professional like motion feed, which is (unintelligible) with that. I just want to comment that Pro, I think's, improved. I got the first one. I'm on my second one now. And I just wanted to say I think Apple -- or excuse me, Windows is heading the right way. We'll see if they survive or not without marketing, but (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIHe likes the Surface Pro.
REARDONYeah, I mean, I would agree with the caller here that, you know, the Surface Pro series is really for productivity, you know, people who want to do things and use really productive types of apps, whereas I feel like the iPad and some of the other tablets we're seeing, they're kind of more consumption devices. You know, you play games on them. You watch videos. You listen to music. You read books. And it seems like it's a little more difficult to actually create things. I don't know, Rob, if you would agree with that too.
PEGORAROIt depends on the app in question. I mean, there are a couple of times when I've taken only my iPad on a trip and, yeah, you know, like some of the blog iPad apps I've used, they're fine for managing your blog, seeing what's going on. But then when I went to actually write a post, I find I'm suddenly writing in raw html code, which that's not something you have to inflict on your iPad users as somebody at Word Press decided that.
PEGORAROAnd in other cases, it's not a problem. You know, Apple with apps like Pages and iPhoto for the iPad, they're pretty good. You know, you can do a lot of stuff there. But, you know, then you have to be pretty well inside the Apple ecosystem. Because getting stuff in and out of the iPad, because there's no real -- there's no equivalent to finder where you can get to any file on the desktop. You only get to files from within individual iPad apps. And so data transfer can be a real pain that way.
NNAMDIKen in Frederick, Md. wants to continue the discussion of Surface Pro. Ken, your turn.
KENHi. Great topic and thank you for taking my call. I'm a big fan of the Surface. I actually have a Surface 2 and a Surface Pro 2. And what I like about the 2 is I use the Surface 2 more as I would use an iPad. And the Surface Pro is actually more I would say by comparison to Apple products more like a Mac here.
KENSo let me talk about what I like about them in terms of acceptability and then just sort of compare and contrast the devices because they're really for different things. So the one thing that I really like about them is the snappy sort of design and all of the accessories. The snap-on keyboard, which is very thin, has really evolved from, you know, the original membrane panel keyboard which didn't work very well to now a full tactile keyboard which is backlit. And you can use that same keyboard. You can snap it on to your Surface Pro or your Surface. It works for both. It's a great keyboard.
KENNow I'm a heavy keyboarder so I also have the wedge mouse and the wedge keyboard, which is a little bigger, substantial, on an aluminum frame, but it's also using the integrated Bluetooth. And it provides almost sort of a fully sized keyboard if you're doing a lot of typing and using the mouse. So first of all, the accessories are great and they're interchangeable.
KENNow just compare and contrast the devices, the Surface Pro 2 really is a laptop equivalent, so it runs the full Microsoft, you know, Windows 8. In terms of accessibility through ports, it used standard ports like USB, not proprietary Apple type of ports but has -- you can connect anything to it that you would connect to a regular laptop. And that's a huge advantage. Plus it has a, you know, very robust processor and lots and lots of memory. Now...
NNAMDIKen has really spent a lot of time making this comparison. Go ahead, you're gonna...
KENSure, let me tell you why I bought this. It's for very different reasons...
REARDONI think I might lose my job here.
NNAMDIFinish up your point, Ken. You're about to become a guest.
KENOkay. The Surface, not the Surface Pro, of course runs RT. Now, so that you know, limits you in terms of processor and things like that. But here's the real difference. On RT you've got all of the software free. You don't have to buy anything. So for 500 bucks roughly it's preloaded with Outlook, Excel, you know, PowerPoint, Word, all of that stuff. You don't have to buy any software. The Surface Pro you actually do have to buy the Microsoft Outlook, PowerPoint, et cetera. That's an additional cost. Bear that in mind.
NNAMDIWhat do you do for a living, Ken?
KENI work for Cisco so we make, you know, routers which are things like that.
KENYou know, before that, you know, 14 years at IBM. So I'm a little bit into this.
NNAMDII hadn't noticed.
KENGo ahead, I'm sorry.
NNAMDII said I hadn't noticed that you were a little bit into this. But go ahead.
KENOkay. So here's the big difference and a little bit frustrating for me. On the Surface platform you cannot control the maintenance. All of the maintenance gets pushed to you and it just gets uploaded and you cannot control it. You have the regular controls on the Surface Pro. A lot of that you do for maintenance for any other laptops. So you can sort of control which passes and, you know, packages you want to download.
KENHere's how that became a problem for me. I noticed on my Surface...
KENOkay. So that actually caused a problem. There were some maintenance that was downloaded on my Surface that caused my Bluetooth keyboard to stop working. I was able to block that maintenance on the Surface Pro, but I couldn't block it on the Surface. So...
NNAMDIComment, Rob Pegoraro?
PEGORAROWell, this sort of exposes a real fault line in how we've traditionally done computing. Because usually, you know, if you've been experienced with this, yeah, you do want to say, I don't -- I'm not ready to install this update. But something like the Chrome Book, there's no question about it. Eventually it'll say, click this button to restart it. Fifteen seconds later you've got a new version of the software.
PEGORAROOn the iPad, you know, you can opt out of installing a new IOS version, but they've made it about as easy as possible, except when you're out of space and you got to figure out where did all those gigabytes of storage go. And I think for a lot of regular people, you know, the idea that you're going to expect them to judge the suitability of a new software update is not working out. And what happens in practices, more people get harmed, the computers get hijacked by one kind of mal or another because they thought, well let's -- I don't want to install this today.
PEGORAROAnd so it's sort of like I'm looking at the cars going down Connecticut Avenue through all these studio windows. You know, driverless cars may offend a lot of people's sense of personal freedom but a lot of people aren't that good at driving their own cars. So maybe we should not instinctively reject that notion.
REARDONYeah, I would agree. You know, this whole idea of updates and so forth, I don't want to have to do that. You know, I like things to be as easy as possible, you know. But to the caller's point also about, you know, this difference between Surface and Surface Pro, I mean, I think he kind of hit the nail on the head in terms of, you know, you've got -- you know, there are different use cases here for these.
REARDONAnd I really think the Surface Pro is for more sort of hardcore probably business users, people who want to do more with the tablet than you might find somebody with a Surface or with an iPad or some of these other tablets. So, you know, when you're deciding which one you're going to buy you really have to think of what you plan to use it for.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Have you bought a digital camera lately? Is that still a worthwhile investment? Something we'll be talking about very shortly, 800-433-8850. It's Tech Tuesday. You can send us a Tweet @kojoshow using the hashtag techtuesday. Google plus has a new feature called Stories, Maggie, that looks through your photos and creates photo albums for you. It sounds both helpful and, well, a little bit creepy. Have you tried it?
REARDONYeah, I have tried it and I like it. You know, for me I am just a mess when it -- I take a lot of pictures. I have a new baby who's eight months old and I'm constantly taking pictures of her. But I'm not really good at doing anything with them. So -- and I fill up my phone, you know, so I can't do anything else. So I've now set it so it automatically uploads -- I have a Google phone -- or an Android phone so it automatically, you know, loads it to the Cloud and has, you know, categorized it for me.
REARDONSo that's sort of how I see the whole story thing is that I'll be able to find my pictures hopefully again, you know, when I go back to look for, where was that really cute one I took at six months? Although I took so many I can't really even pinpoint just one.
NNAMDIYou're not the only one having the experience of having to up the ante when you have a kid. Here's Rob.
PEGORAROYeah -- no, it was only a matter of days after our child's birth that I realized the iPhoto library was going to be baby and not baby and not be assistant managing. Now it's gotten a little more, you know, our kid's almost four and so it's -- we're not quite so crazy with the pictures. But yeah, it is overwhelming and, you know, some kind of automatic categorization might actually allow you to do something, make some sense to these pictures instead of just getting swamped.
NNAMDIHere is Lorenzo in Fairfax, Va. Lorenzo, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LORENZOGood afternoon to you, Kojo and your panel. Quick question. I'm replacing my laptop running on XP. I'm torn between Windows 7 and 8. According to the people advocating 7 is 8 has a lot of problems that has not been resolved yet.
NNAMDIYeah, I did that. I went to 8 but then I eventually went to 8.1. It's working okay for me a little better than 8 did. But here are the experts. First you, Maggie.
REARDONYou know, I haven't had too much experience doing a lot of those updates but, you know, I would probably go -- like you said, sort of for the latest version of it. I'm hearing people are having a little easier time. And, you know, you just have to recognize, it's a learning curve. You know, you're going to have to learn a whole new way of doing things and finding things. Like, I get frustrated.
REARDONWe upgraded our computer at home and I use a Mac at work so I'm all over the place and I'm like, I just can't find what I need. I just need the calculator. Where's that?
NNAMDIWhy do I have to go below the screen looking for stuff?
REARDONExactly. How do you turn this thing off? That was the big thing for weeks. I was like, where is this off button?
NNAMDIThat was a good one that I recently solved. What do you say, Rob?
REARDONYeah, I think with either Win 7 or 8 you're going to have a bit of culture shock dealing with the way the interface has changed. And Win 8 is definitely more secure than Windows 7 in a lot of ways. You may find that the start screen interface optimized for touch, any laptop you buy the odds are pretty good it will have a touch screen. You may find that's a whole new level of simplicity for basic stuff like just checking what's new on the web.
NNAMDIGot an email from Jack. "I'm listening via cell phone network internet from our vacation spot in Canada. How does one choose a full performance laptop for portable business use without being forced into Windows 8?
PEGORAROWell, that's the problem. I mean, you can still buy laptops with Windows 7 but it is not a great selection. And you know what? If -- you have to prioritize weight and battery life. And I would say -- this will sound bad but it's going to be easier to figure out Windows 8 than to put up with carrying an extra pound of laptop. It has an extra hour less of battery life.
PEGORAROBearing in mind that Windows 8 has progressed a lot, the first version, I don't quite know what Microsoft was thinking with some of the decisions they've made, and they've been moving back. Like they're bringing back a start menu that is actually sensibly updated instead of the same old, same old thing you've had where you can't find any one program in it. You know, that's going to be a whole lot easier because, yeah, Win 7, it's gone.
NNAMDIOkay. For the active grad, the active dad, a fitness tracking device might be a good gift. What are the options for keeping track of how far you run or how far you hike or bike, Maggie?
REARDONOh, there are so many of them. And I think, again, you have to decide what you're really looking for here. Are you looking for just fitness type tracking and applications or do you want this gadget to do other things? Because now we have smart watches that also do that. You know, my recommendation, if you're -- really want to buy something for a graduate now or for a dad for this Father's Day, I wouldn't spend too much money, mainly because I think that there are going to be some devices coming out in the next few months that people are going to be excited about.
REARDONFor example, Google is having their developer conference at the end of June and they're expected to announce something. And, you know, everybody's talking that Apple's going to have something. And, you know, I talked to our Apple reviewer at CNET and he really is convinced he doesn't think something's going to happen until the fall. And he really thinks that Apple's going to sort of take this the route of adding some fitness type stuff into the iPad -- iPod nano and sort of reviving that line, which I think is a really cool idea because people already love those things.
REARDONYou know, people -- music and fitness kind of go together. People listen to music while they're working out and, you know, what a great idea to kind of put it all together. So, you know, I just wouldn't spend too much, you know, nothing more than probably 100 bucks, 120 bucks. And there are plenty of those devices out there.
PEGORAROYeah, same thing. There's a lot of stuff going on. The other thing to consider is if you're just looking to do simple stuff like how many steps have I walked? Have I hit my 10,000 steps for the day? You can probably do that just as well through an app on your phone. You know, Android has this whole set of tools that developers can use to tap into the sensors already on the phone. The iPhone 5S has this M7 co-processor that it does nothing but track your activity.
PEGORAROAnd maybe it's not as accurate as a dedicated activity tracking wristband but none of these are that accurate. They all should be precise in that they should be inaccurate by the same degree. So if you want to know am I walking more, they'll tell you that even if they're not quite correct in the exact number of miles per day.
NNAMDIAny advice you have for someone interested in a smart watch?
PEGORAROWait honestly. All the ones I've seen have been really heavy, really thick. Like if you want to wear this with a suit, you may have a tough time with that. You know, need to be charged too often.
REARDONAnd they're ugly.
PEGORAROYeah, they offend my fashion sensibility. I would say you can probably find that a lot of these activity-tracking wristbands are not very smart but they now include a clock, which is sort of handy. If you're going to have this thing already on your wrist it might as well tell you the time.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you're called, stay on the line. We'll get to your calls. You can also send us email to email@example.com. What fitness tracker do you like? Have you tried Google's new stories feature that browses through your pictures, compiles photo albums for you? How did that turn out, 800-433-8850? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's Tech Tuesday with Rob Pegoraro helping us to decide what our appropriate tech purchase is going to be for grads, for dads. He's a freelance journalist with US and USA Today, tech columnist and Yahoo Tech writer. Joining him is Maggie Reardon, senior writer and author of the Ask Maggie column at CNET. And you too can join the conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Here is Cage in Washington, D.C. Hi Cage.
CAGEHey, how you doing?
CAGEThanks for accepting my call, Kojo. I just have a question for your panel. If this is the future of computing, I have a Microsoft Surface Pro II. I really like it, being able to switch back and forth between tablet usage and full usage like the regular computer. But the one thing is, I can't swap out any of the components, like the memory or the gigabyte, the RAM or anything like that like I could when I used to assemble my own desktop. Is there something that we'll look forward to? Is this kind of the end of the desk top era or do you think that these types of computers, like the Pro III that's coming out in a couple months will eventually be able to be customized?
PEGORAROI was actually thinking of this when we were discussing laptops earlier because a lot of the laptops you buy these days, they are sealed at the factory. My Mac Book Air I bought two years ago, you know, it can get better with software updates but that's it. I cannot get at the memory to add more. Certainly can't replace the hard drive or the processor. Now I've got this ThinkPad that's three years old. On that I have actually replaced the hard drive with a solid state drive. I could add memory. Unfortunately I can't do anything about the processor and that's kind of on the pokey side.
PEGORAROThat's kind of where we're going. If you look at Apple's desktops, they somehow decided they had to make the iMac so thin, like anyone really cares, they would take out the optical drive. And so that's a much less upgradeable machine than Apple's desktops used to be as well.
REARDONWell, although at the same time, you know, we're starting to hear Google talk about having these -- you know, a customizable cell phone. So I think that, you know, it's possible hopefully that we can get to a point where you can sort of swap out pieces. But, I mean, definitely, you know, as Rob pointed out, from, you know, our traditional desktops to where we are with a bunch of our gadgets today, it seems like we're going in the other direction.
REARDONBut I'm wondering if we'll sort of hit a point where, you know, people won't want to have to get a whole new device when they want more ram or when their hard drive fails. You know, I think there could be a little pushback in terms of people not -- I mean, these devices should not be disposable. I mean, they're expensive. So -- and people are investing in them. So I don't know, I mean, I'm hopeful that maybe we'll see some modularity here.
REARDONWhat do you think, Rob?
NNAMDIWhat do you think, Rob?
PEGORAROWhat was the first handspring phone where they had the -- this was an old (word?). Everyone's saying, what? This (word?) S compatible phone where it is you'd buy these modules that would plug into it to add, like, a camera or stuff, which was very cool for about six months. And then no one actually bought those, I don't think.
NNAMDII was about to say, I have no recollection...
REARDONOh, maybe I'm dreaming.
NNAMDIFor the couch potato, new television is always an option. For a while we were hearing a lot about 4K TVs, the next generation of high definition. But most of us probably don't really need that extra boost in resolution, do we? What should we be looking for in a new TV, Maggie?
REARDONWell, if you really want good picture quality -- and I know this is going to sound a little crazy -- but plasma is still better. And, you know, we're not seeing as many of them being made. And Panasonic, which was the leading maker of these TVs is now going away in terms of plasma TVs. They're not making them anymore. But, you know, those are still -- that's -- you're going to get the best quality in terms of picture and so forth.
REARDONYou know, our TV reviewers at CNET actually say that a lot of the specs and speeds and feeds that you see on the sheet, it's all bogus. It's just meant to confuse you and that you really just have to look at the TVs yourself when you're selecting. And that's really the best way. And bigger is usually better. So, you know, I know a lot of the guys out there will certainly like the idea of terms in terms of the screen size.
REARDONI remember when I was renovating my apartment and I was going to get a new TV and I really didn't want one that was that big because I have a small space. And all the folks at CNET, all the guys who were reviewing TVs were like, are you crazy? Do you ever want to have a boyfriend? They'll never want to come over to your house.
NNAMDIYes, you got to have the largest thing possible, it would appear. On now to Chris. Did you comment on this, Rob?
PEGORAROI was going to say, 4K, my advice is forget it. There's not really anything to watch. You need a screen that's going to be so huge to see these extra pixels or resolution, unless you plan to sit like 2' away from it. You know 4K, maybe someday will be relevant as a sort of niche higher in product that screen sizes 60" and above, which I should mention, I can't fit into my living room, unless I maybe somehow hang it from the ceiling and watch from the floor.
REARDONThere's also not a lot of content, right Rob?
REARDONI mean, there's not a whole lot of 4K content out there right now.
PEGORAROYeah, I don't really care that Netflix can stream House of Cards to me in 4K when I can't get regular HD to stream reliably over my Verizon FIOS connection.
PEGORAROYeah, I think you don't need to sweat the TV purchase as much as you used to. The quality has gone up so much, the prices have gone down so much. That's why TV manufacturers are very interested in 4K because they're thinking they can actually extract some profit margins from this. But that's not a reason for me to be excited about it as a customer.
NNAMDIHere is Al on the eastern shore of Maryland. Al, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALThank you. Hello to all the gurus. I just got a couple of points to make. My daughter majored in philosophy, of all things. Great job prospects. Anyhow, she had to write a million papers and she had an Alpha Smart which is what her alpha computer was called. And she kept having other students come up to her and say, what is that? I should've got one of those. My parents paid $4,000 for this thing.
ALAnd the Alpha Smart took every accessory we wanted and did everything she needed. And it was all solid state. The memory was on the card.
NNAMDIHow much did it cost?
ALHundred-and-fifty bucks. And four years later, she sold it for a hundred buck to a freshman.
PEGORAROWell, how'd she get her data off of it? What was the..
NNAMDIHow did she get her data off of it?
PEGORAROAll the papers and such.
ALOh, they were on the card, on the...
AL...you know, the little...
NNAMDIThat figures. That figures.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Philip who said, "I'm fairly technical but I am legally blind. I love the way my phone will allow me to simply stretch the screen to increase the tech size. I want a computer or tablet display that does that but I like a real keyboard and mouse. I want to simply scan in large music scores to read from. How good are the laptops that have a detachable pad? This seems to be a good idea." Any suggestions, Maggie?
REARDONYeah, I mean, well, the Surface Pro might be a good one. There's also -- you know, there's some other ones too like the -- the name is escaping me -- that -- the Yoda (sp?) tablets.
PEGORAROThe lovely Yoga?
REARDONYeah, yeah, Yoga, the idea pad, Yoga II Pro. That might be a good one for him. I don't know. What do you think, Rob?
PEGORAROYeah, I think you're definitely -- you'd want something with a touch screen. Windows and Mac OS 10 have long had what they call accessibility features you can magnify the screen. But they're not that easy to get to with a keyboard and mouse, whereas on the iPad you just do this gesture with two fingers and the screen gets bigger, boom. And -- you know, and a touch environment windows can have some of that utility as well and Android also.
NNAMDISince so many people now stream TV shows rather than watching them live, what streaming devices can you recommend? What's the difference say between Apple TV and Roku?
PEGORAROHere's where you need to sort of get out your little flowchart, your multicolumn spreadsheet. It's all who is in whose corner. So an Apple TV is a good pick if you spend a lot of time in iTunes. In fact, it's the only option if you spend a lot of time in iTunes because all the others, you're not going to be able to play your iTunes downloads through a Chromecast or Roku. You know, you might be able to stream the music you have on your computer in iTunes but that's about it.
PEGORAROIf on the other hand, you know, you're really fond of Amazon's properties, your access to those through a Chromecast is somewhat limited. I don't -- yeah, because there is a regular Amazon instant video app for Android. There is for the Kindle version of Android, which is not the regular one. This is how it gets sort of balkanized.
PEGORARORoku is a good sort of all-the-above option but it is, you know, a separate box and a separate remote. A Chromecast -- I like actually just bought one with my own money because in this case the remote control is the phone or tablet you already own. And it has the advantage -- if your laptop is new enough with a fast enough processor, anything you have open in a Chrome browser window, a regular page, some site like WatchESPN that doesn't have a functioning Android app, you can cast that to the TV through this little pod and you can watch that way.
REARDONYeah, well, I really like the Roku. And, in fact, I have been a cable-cord cutter for years. And I use the Roku almost exclusively. I have a Chromecast too but it just seems like we never really need it. You know, we kind of only break it out when it's something that we want to watch that we can only stream, you know, on the web but not through a Roku because it doesn't have the same rights or whatever for that.
REARDONSo, you know, I think the Roku's really -- it's really easy to use. And I like the fact that they're independent. So, you know, you've got -- you know, Amazon has its little device and Apple has Apple TV but, you know, they -- they're not in agreement with each other. And they have their own motivations for wanting you on their devices. And they want to keep you in their ecosystem. So Roku kind of is the company that all the applications end up coming to them, you know.
REARDONSo you can get Netflix. You can get Hulu. You can get all kinds of, like, really obscure things like Sail TV. CNET has a channel. You know, so -- and it seems like they're always adding new channels. And it's just super easy. So -- and it's cheap. You know, you can get one for less than a hundred bucks so it just almost feels like, why not.
PEGORAROFifty bucks, right?
NNAMDIHere's Bob in Gettysburg, Va. Bob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BOBThanks, Kojo and panel. This subject about the economics of smart phones for seniors and for graduates, I'm confused. I'm in the market to buy a smart phone. What's the best deal out there these days, both the price and the monthlies?
NNAMDIBest deal for a smart phone, price and whatever.
REARDONWell, I would say again it depends on if you are under a contract and you want to stay under that contract. Because you're going to get more phone at a lower price if you're under contract and you can either get it for free or you can get a subsidized price.
REARDONBut you have to be careful -- you know, I know a lot of seniors, for example -- you know, I have a lot of relatives who ask me, do I need an iPhone, do I need an iPhone? It's like, probably not. And you're going to have to pay for that data service but, you know, it's almost getting harder and harder to not get a smart phone and have to be locked into a data package.
REARDONYou know, there are also -- if you don't want to have a service plan, you can get -- there are some cheaper phones that are coming out. Like the -- is it the Moto E, I think, that's just coming out right now?
PEGORAROYeah, the E under $130.
REARDONAnd it's like 130 -- yeah, $130 or something like that. I mean, that's super cheap but it's -- that's without a contract. And -- but it's only for 3G so you wouldn't connect to the fastest network. We had the...
NNAMDII'm afraid that's...I'm afraid that's all about the time -- that's all the time we have, Maggie.
NNAMDIThank you so much. Maggie Reardon, a senior writer and author of the Ask Maggie column with CNET. Maggie, thank you for joining us.
REARDONThanks for having me.
NNAMDIRob Pegoraro is a freelance journalist and USA Today tech columnist and Yahoo Tech writer. Rob, always a pleasure.
PEGORAROAlways a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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