Tag Archives: Android

Verizon Introduces go90 Streaming App for Mobile Devices

The video choices available to mobile users just got a big boost this month with the launch of Verizon’s go90 app for iOS and Android devices. Go90, which is ad-supported but subscription free, is aimed at younger users who spend more time watching video on their smartphones and tablets than watching traditional TV. The go90 name comes from the way users flip their phones 90 degrees to watch videos.

Rather than fighting the trend away from the traditional cable TV subscription model, Verizon has instead embraced the movement, first offering CustomTV packages and now over-the-top content strictly for mobile devices.

Go90 is launching with 8,000 titles and over 35 original series, which will grow rapidly in the coming months. The lineup includes networks like Comedy Central, The Food Network, ESPN, Discovery Channel, MTV, VH1, Spike and HGTV. Going forward, go90 will also add live sporting events and concerts. Although the service is available to everyone, no matter which wireless carrier you use, there is also some exclusive content just for Verizon customers.

Once you download the app, there is a simple sign-in screen where you set up a username and password. You are then asked to tap on a few favorite content categories, which include comedy, entertainment, and news and sports. There is also a “geek” category. The app then presents you with your custom feed of suggested shows and videos, similar to Facebook or YouTube. For now, go90 users seeking news will get a heavy diet of HuffPost Live but, as mentioned above, the app is expected to bring on additional content at a rapid pace.

You can also search out specific channels, shows, people or “crews” to follow. For example, if you search for Jennifer Lawrence, you are presented with a stream of video clips, including trailers for The Hunger Games movies, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. By following particular shows or people, you will further customize your go90 feed.

Crews represents the social media element of go90. You can either start a crew yourself or join a crew that already exists. Movie Lovers, Urban Dads, honest talk, and NFL Fantasy Players are just four of the dozens of crews that have already been set up. Conversation in these crews doesn’t appear to be moderated, although there is a button to report inappropriate content.

Go90 looks to be a strong addition to the world of streaming media for mobile devices and has obvious appeal to a younger audience. A promotional offer of an extra 1GB of data per month for 3 months gives Verizon customers an added incentive to jump on board!

The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional campaign for Verizon.

5 Apps That Teach Critical Thinking Skills

By Tracey Dowdy

Has the phrase “Don’t believe everything you read” ever been truer than it is today? I don’t think so. Whether it’s a post gone viral about the life saving power of coconut oil or a spiteful comment on an Instagram photo, the power of words is as great, if not greater, than ever.

The amount of information available online is staggering and many people lack the judgement to determine what’s fact and what’s fiction. My friend Todd is a university professor and the number of students that cite Wikipedia articles as their source material falls somewhere between disappointing and frightening.

As parents raising 21st century kids, we need to start teaching critical thinking skills from an early age. Not only will this help our children to discern fact from fiction online, but these skills will transfer to real-life situations and enable them to problem solve in all areas of their lives.

The following apps teach critical thinking skills from a number of different approaches:

Busy Shapes

busyshapes1Busy Shapes is far more than an app designed to recognize shapes and name them, it teaches spatial relations and how the shapes relate to one another and the space around them. The focus isn’t on rote memorization – toddlers must use early critical thinking skills to manipulate shapes and move them through puzzles. Play difficulty increases at each level and moves quickly to keep kids engaged.

Platform: iOS
Price: $1.99


Clockwork Brain

clockworkbrainClockwork Brain is a series of brain-building puzzles aimed at improving cognitive abilities in six specific areas: memory, perception, language, logic, reflexes and calculation. Games are fast-paced to keep kids engaged and, because play is fun and energetic, kids will want to play often creating a habit of daily brain-training.

Platform: iOS, Kindle Fire
Price: Free download, in-app purchases


Winky Think Logic Puzzles

winkythinkWinky Think Logic Puzzles is a series of games and challenges that provide kids with problem solving, logic, memory, eye-hand coordination and other skills. With over 180 puzzles that gradually increase in difficulty, kids will develop their logic and reasoning skills and, because no reading is required, games are user-friendly for kids as young as six.

Platform: iOS
Price: $2.99


Brain Jump Pro

brainjumpBrain Jump Pro was developed by teachers and neuroscientists to show kids our brains can get stronger by constantly challenging them. Ned the Neuron will guide kids through three different games with 54 different levels of challenges that develop concentration and memory skills. Plus, the app includes a Brain Science section that parents and kids can explore together.

Platform: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire
Price: $2.99


Brainbean

brainbeanBrainbean challenges kids through puzzles, memory and other educational games. Each game intuitively adapts to match users’ creative capabilities and offers a fun challenge to build confidence, test memory, improve resourcefulness, and boost critical thinking. Because challenges are designed to stretch cognitive and creative skills, no matter what  learning style works best for your child there’s bound to be a game or puzzle that stimulates their brain and ultimately improves their critical thinking skills.

Platform: iOS
Price: $0.99

Apps are merely a tool and nothing works better than making those critical thinking skills part of everyday life. Teach your kids to be critical thinkers with what they see, make sure they check their source, and remember, if something appears too good to be true, it very likely is. As Abraham Lincoln might have said, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet!”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Smartphone Tips and Tricks

By Tracey Dowdy

If you’ve owned a smartphone for more than 5 minutes, you may get the distinct impression that your device is indeed smarter than you are. These tips and trick can help you customize and make the most of your phone and maybe even give you back a little dignity, although we can’t do anything about your behavior at the office Christmas party; you’re on your own there!

Android Phones

Android is by far the most popular OS, with over 3 billion users worldwide and offering considerably more options for customization than iOS (iPhone). From audio settings to accessibility, wallpaper to widgets, Android devices are a lot of fun to play with.

Manage your data. Unless your plan includes unlimited data, you’re going to want to keep track of how much data you’re using each month. Click Settings>Data Usage and an easy-to-read graph is displayed allowing you to keep track over time. You can see which apps use the most data and set a limit so your usage doesn’t exceed your plan.

Customize your lock screen security. Android offers several options for locking and unlocking your phone.  Go to Settings > Security and then choose from None, Slide, Face Unlock, Pattern, PIN, and Password. Samsung Galaxy S5 and S6 smartphones raise the security stakes even higher with fingerprint scanners.

Add widgets to your lock screen. Widgets make it easy to get weather or email updates without ever opening the phone. They’re easy to install directly from the Google Play store and most are free. Once added, simply swipe left from your lock screen to access. (Android 4.2 or later)

Create folders. I love folders. On my desk, on my desktop, on my phone…everything is in its place. Android lets you clean up your screen by dropping apps into folders simply by dragging one app on top of another. This creates a folder you can name and on some devices even color code. Drag and drop additional apps into the folder to clear your Home screen and keep similar apps in one location.

Swipe gesture typing. Many devices include swipe gesture typing but if not you can download the Google Keyboard or a third party alternative like SwiftKey for free from the Play store. It takes getting used to but once you master it you’ll find it’s faster and easier than tapping out letters. Swipe gesture typing works by dragging your finger across the keyboard to the letters without taking your finger off the screen. The device intuitively determines the words you’re attempting to spell and the more you use it, the better it gets.

Opt in to Google Now. Google Now was included in Android 4.1 and is Android’s answer to Siri. To see if you have it but haven’t opted in, simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen. Unlike Siri, Google Now is constantly working in the background, staying one step ahead of you making your smart phone even smarter. It can be accessed via voice control from your home screen to provide alerts, reminders, dictate a text or email, get directions, have it read your schedule or latest message, and search for facts.

iPhones

The iPhone interface is much less customizable than Android devices but there are plenty of hidden features worth playing around with. You can set custom ringtones for friends or switch your phone to Airplane mode so it charges faster, or take photos in Burst mode to snap several shots in rapid succession.

Make full use of your earbuds. To the uninformed they may appear to be simple headphones, but they also function as a very handy remote control. By using the toggle button your headphones can pause, play, fast forward, rewind or skip music, or even jump back to the previous song. While on the phone, the toggle button allows you to answer calls, hang up or send a call to voice mail, or even toggle between two active calls. Finally, hold the toggle button down to control the shutter release on your camera and the volume up button to snap a photo.

Monitor data usage. As with Android devices, monitoring data usage and which apps use the most data is important. Go to Settings > Cellular to disable cellular data usage for any installed apps. This way you can decide which get to use cellular data, and which apps can load only over Wi-Fi.

Use iMessage while travelling. One of the best features of iMessage (iPhone to iPhone) is that you can still use this feature while travelling overseas even if you don’t have a data plan as long as you’re connected to Wi-Fi. Go to Settings > Messages, make sure Send as SMS is disabled and that iMessage is enabled.

Keyboard Shortcuts. By long-pressing on the keyboard, an entirely new set of characters and symbols appear onscreen. For example, hold down the letter “A” and eight different accented A’s appear, likewise for other vowels. Hold down the “-“ key and em and en dashes appear and holding down the zero key allows you to insert a degree symbol.

Increase battery life. There are two quick ways users can boost battery life. First is by limiting Spotlight search, a great feature for indexing but one that requires constant scanning of data for new information. Go to Settings > General > Spotlight and uncheck the items you don’t necessarily need indexed. This second option also protects your privacy, something we should all be more aware of.  System Services allows Apple to know where your phone is at all times. Go to Settings > Privacy > System Services to switch off the option and give your battery usage a boost at the same time.

Better Touch ID results. Sometimes Touch ID seems to struggle to identify your fingers. To improve recognition, go to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode > Add a fingerprint. Add the same fingerprint several times thus allowing Touch ID to have more information about the fingerprint and increasing recognition which results in a faster scan.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

What to Expect from iOS 9

By Tracey Dowdy

Apple’s WorldWide Developer Conference kicked off earlier this week but, in typical Apple fashion, they had our attention long before the first speaker hit the stage.

Among the biggest announcements at WWDC is this Fall’s release of iOS 9, which Apple is promoting as being “full of enhancements.” On a personal level, I was very interested to see what these “enhancements” were as I hated iOS 8 for no other reason than it ate up so much space. So, without further ado, here are some of the best and most important features of iOS 9:

Storage – As I mentioned, iOS 8 took up a significant hunk of storage – 4.6GB no less. This time around, iOS 9 takes a mere 1.8 GB, less than half its predecessor.

Battery Life – iOS 9 promises a full hour of additional battery life for your iPhone. Just as significant is “Low Power mode,” which will disable background features not needed for basic functionality and, in turn, give you 3 more hours of battery life once your phone reaches 20-10% of the full charge.

Passbook becomes Apple Wallet – Last October Apple introduced Apple Pay, giving users the ability to store credit cards, debit cards, and other payment data in the Passbook app, turning your iPhone 6 or Apple Watch into a virtual wallet at store checkouts. With iOS 9, Apple has added Discover to the list of cards that Apple Pay works with, as well as the ability to store specific rewards cards like Dunkin Donuts, Wegmans or Walgreens. In addition, users will be able to double tap the Home button when the iPhone is locked to use Apple Pay.

Proactive Assistant – Siri gets a major upgrade in iOS 9. Swipe left and Siri will bring up a list of frequently accessed contacts, apps, nearby places, news, and more. Search results will be contextual based on location, search history, and time of the day, enabling you to set location-based reminders like “Remind me to call the office when I get home.” Users will also be able search media based on dates, location or album titles, so you can ask Siri to “find videos I took in August 2014.”

As an added bonus, Siri will be able to identify incoming calls even if that contact detail is not already present in your contact book.

Maps – Instead of having to choose between driving, walking, or public transportation, Maps users will be able to combine modes. For example, if you’re taking the train into the city then hopping on the streetcar to reach your final destination, Maps will determine the most efficient route for both and provide those step by step directions we love. Some cities will have Transit detailing lines and stations and Nearby provides options for dining, sightseeing, shopping and entertainment.

Passcode – Lock screens will require a six-digit passcode to unlock your device, adding a million more possibilities to foil hackers. Users can divert back to the four digit code but why would you want to?

Search for options in Settings – If you’ve ever tried to remember where “Invert Colors” or some other useful but not necessarily frequently used feature can be accessed, you understand my excitement at the option to type a search term into Settings and be taken straight to the result.

iPad – With iOS 9, Apple finally allows iPad users Slide Over, Split View and Picture in Picture, features Android tablet users have loved for ages. Slide Over is self-explanatory, allowing users to slide over and open a second app without leaving the one currently being used. Split View, available for iPad Air 2, allows users to view apps side by side, and Picture in Picture allows users to watch a video, music clip or FaceTime and work on a secondary app at the same time.

Move to iOS – Finally, if you’re ready to take the plunge and switch from an Android or Windows phone to Apple, it’s never been easier. With iOS 9 you can download the Move to iOS app and wirelessly switch from another operating system. Within minutes you’ll securely download your contacts, messages, photos, videos, web bookmarks, mail accounts and other important data. Any free apps you had on your previous device that are available on iTunes are listed as suggested downloads and any paid apps are added to your App Store Wish List.

There are a host of other features in iOS 9: enhanced Car Play integrates third party apps from your car’s developer, Notes has been overhauled and now features a Sketch menu, and Newsstand has been replaced with an intuitive News App that learns your preferences and interests and gets better every time you use it. Apple is notorious for hype, but from my perspective this is one time they live up to it.

Apple will launch a public beta version of iOS 9 in July. You can sign up at beta.apple.com for a chance to test-drive this pre-release version. The full iOS 9 update will be available to all users in the Fall.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Choosing a New Smartphone

By Tracey Dowdy

With all the great options available, choosing a smartphone can feel like finding a needle in a haystack, except that the haystack is made of needles and you’re looking for the one needle with your name on it. Sure you’re going to find it if you have the time, but it’s going to take a while and it’s probably going to hurt.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The good news is that once you have a clear idea of what your specific needs are, you can sort through that haystack pretty quickly. And the even better news: no bloodshed!

Here are a few guidelines to get you started:

COST

1. Consider your budget. Before you get dazzled by all the features of the iPhone 6 or the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge and its curved screen, decide how much you can spend and stay within your budget. A fantastic phone with all kinds of features is really a waste of money if you can’t afford the data plan to support those features.

2. Don’t go for the cheapest phone just because it’s a bargain. The old adage “You get what you pay for” is just as true for phones as it is with every other purchase. Mobile phones have long since morphed from being a convenient way to make a call into handheld computers. Think long term; you’re probably going to be using the device for at least the next year or two, so choose the best phone you can afford.

3. Talk to a sales associate in store or online about what costs are involved in the various service plans. Major carriers like Verizon offer family plans that allow you to bundle services and customize them to your family’s specific needs.

PHYSICAL FEATURES

1. Weight – Are you going to be carrying the phone in a pocket or a purse? On your belt or in a backpack? Will you use it as a primary device and hold it all day or will it rest at the bottom of your bag? A few ounces can feel like a whole lot more; remember – they’re called handheld devices for a reason.

2. Screen size generally falls into three categories – Small (less than 4.5 inches), Medium (4.5 to 5.4 inches) and Large (5.5 inches or more). Generally speaking, the only smartphone with a small (4 inch) display is the iPhone 5 which makes it easy to use one handed. The iPhone 6 sports a 4.7 inch screen and the Moto X jumps up to 5.2 inches, making them harder to use one handed but that extra inch is huge when you consider how much larger the display area becomes. Devices with displays of 5.5 inch and greater fall more into the “phablet” category – a hybrid of a phone and tablet.

3. Phone size and screen size are not the same thing. There can be a significant difference between phones with equal sized displays. For example, while the iPhone 6 has a 4.7 inch display, its need for a physical Touch ID button on the home screen means it’s a larger handset than the Moto X with the same size screen.

4. Durability is another important consideration. My first cell phone was an ancient black Motorola that I once dropped down a stairwell – roughly four floors. I picked it up and made a call – the fall didn’t even make a mark on the phone. On the flip side, my first iPhone got dropped two feet onto a hardwood floor and the screen shattered like a special effect in a sci–fi movie.

5. Display quality will be more or less important depending on the primary use of your phone. If you use your phone to watch movies, you’ll want to choose a phone that offers the highest quality display with quad-HD resolution or 2560 x 1440 pixels. If that’s not a deal breaker, a full-HD panel with 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p) is often detailed enough, and screens with 1280 x 720 pixels (720p) while not great for movies are perfectly adequate for gaming.

6. We all think in terms of megapixels when we think cameras but other factors play an important role as well. A 13-megapixel camera will take poor quality photos if the lens isn’t up to par. Phones with high shutter speeds and autofocus mean less lag and better photo quality as well.

7. Ah battery life, the great white whale of smartphones. The more dependent we get on our phones the more power manufacturers try to cram in. Batteries typically start in the neighborhood of 1,700mAh and go all the way up to 3,500mAh but it’s important to remember usage plays a huge role in the length and strength of your phone’s battery life.

OPERATING SYSTEM

1. Android offers one of the most customizable interfaces of all the major players. Phones offer plenty of features straight out of the box, but if you’re tech savvy and like to play around, Android is a great option. The Google Play Store now offers well over 1 million apps.

2. Apple devices all run off its iOS platform. It has an intuitive interface and a huge selection of apps available through iTunes. The downside is that you are pretty much locked in to Apple’s interface, as it allows for very little customization.

3. Windows (Microsoft) was late to the party but that doesn’t mean they can’t play with the big kids. The Windows Phone OS has a simple interface and the latest version (8.1) helps level the playing field with the Cortana voice assistant and a notifications center.

My suggestion is to do a little research on your own and make a wish list. Talk to your friends and co-workers about their phones and plans and see what they love or hate, what they wish they knew before they bought, and how they feel about the customer service levels of their provider. Ideally, take your wish list to your local store and talk to one of the sales associates. They’ll help you sort through features, provide you with demos of the phones, and give you the opportunity to physically hold and feel the phone before you commit.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

How To Find a Lost Smartphone

By Tracey Dowdy

How many phone numbers do you know? I bet a lot fewer than you did 10 years ago, since they’re all stored in your Contacts and you don’t have to remember them. When was the last time you went inside a bank? I bet that’s been awhile too, since most of us now bank online. In fact, the list of what we don’t use our phones for is probably shorter.

But what happens if you lose your phone? With so much personal information accessible to whoever finds it – never mind the expense of replacing it – it’s important to find that phone as soon as possible.

Fortunately, smartphone providers are people who have probably also lost one or two things in their day, so they recognize the importance of finding your phone quickly and easily. Here’s how the three main mobile operating systems handle a lost device.

iOS

Every iPhone has “Find My” services integrated into the phone, enabling you to track your phone through iCloud. Simply enable “Find my iPhone” in your iCloud settings (Settings>iCloud>Find My iPhone) and should you lose the phone you can lock, locate, and even wipe the phone remotely.

To track the phone, use the “Find My” app or go to the iCloud website, log in with your Apple ID, and click on “Find My iPhone”. Devices are displayed on a Google Map so you can simply click on your phone’s dot to put the phone in “Lost Mode”. From there you can set a new password to prevent access or choose to enter a custom message for anyone who finds the phone. Even if the individual does a factory reset, the message remains and the phone can only be unlocked by using your original Apple ID and password. Lost Mode also activates a tracking history so you can monitor the location of your phone while you look. The Play Sound button will activate a two-minute tone on your phone, which is convenient if you know the phone is nearby but can’t remember exactly where you left it.

If all else fails and you can’t find the phone, you can remotely erase all data, leaving only your contact information and a brief message displayed for anyone who finds it.

Android

Google’s Android Device Manager allows you to track your lost phone without an app as long as the phone is powered on, connected to your Google account and has access to the Internet.

Go to Android Device Manager on your computer, log in with your Google ID and the location of your device will be displayed on a Google Map. At this point you can choose to have the phone ring or erase all data, returning it to Factory Settings.

You can also track your phone via Google Maps. Log in with your Gmail account, select the day that the phone went missing and a list of the phone’s locations for that date are displayed. Click “Show Time Stamp” at the bottom of the calendar, choose the latest time and the map will zoom in to that location.

Android users also have the option of remotely installing the “Lost Android” app if it wasn’t installed before the device was lost. Search for the app in the Google Play store, click Install, select the device and click “Okay”. Next, send a SMS with the text “androidlost register” to your phone.  Go to the “Android Lost” website and login with your Google ID. Select “View Map” and the location of the phone is displayed.

As a last resort you can erase the phone and wipe all data, resetting your phone to its original factory settings.

Windows Phone

Find My Phone is the Windows solution to tracking a lost phone. Go to the windowsphone.com website and login. In the My Phone menu, click on Find My Phone and follow the prompts in the dialog box.

If you think the phone is nearby in a pocket or stuck between sofa cushions select “Make it Ring”.

If you can’t hear it or the map displays that the phone is further away than you thought, choose “Lock”. If you don’t already have a password on your phone you’ll be instructed to set one up. You can leave a message with contact information for anyone who finds the phone, and once it’s returned, you can unlock it with the password you’ve set.

As a last resort you can erase the phone. Note: Choosing erase returns the phone to Factory Settings so you’ll no longer be able to use “Find My Phone”.

If you have your phone’s IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number you can call your service provider and ask them to track your phone. The number is unique to the phone even if the SIM card is replaced. Even if they can’t locate the phone they’ll be able to block access and prevent anyone else from using it.

Keep in mind many service providers like Verizon offer apps specifically created to help find a lost phone.  Verizon Support & Protection, an app available to Android and iOS smartphone customers who are subscribed to Verizon Total Mobile Protection is a great example.  The basic version is free for Verizon customers and the Premium version is $10 a month.

As with many situations, a good offense is the best defense. Be proactive by ensuring features like “Find My Phone” are enabled on your device and start tracking as soon as you realize your phone is missing to minimize the risk of your data and personal information being compromised.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Apps to Help Develop Social Skills for Kids with Special Needs

By Tracey Dowdy

Parenting a child with special needs is a beautiful combination of challenge and reward. One particular challenge can be the development of social skills. Learning to read facial expressions and learning appropriate ways to deal with emotions is often difficult and can leave a child feeling frustrated or misunderstood.

These apps can help young children who struggle with social skills improve their ability to read social cues and help family members and care-givers reinforce what the child has already learned.

Pre-School

Autism Apps

autism-appsAutism Apps is an extensive list of apps focused on meeting the needs of children with autism, Down syndrome, and other special needs. There are a multitude of apps available in the app store but sorting through to find the one that meets your needs can be a challenge. Autism Apps is divided into 30 categories such as Communication, ABA, Assessments, and Rewards Systems to simplify your search. Recommended by parenting.com as a top app for individuals with special needs, the app also includes reviews from parents and other users so you get first hand perspective on each app.

Platform: iOS
Cost:
Free


My PlayHome

my-playhomeMy PlayHome is a virtual doll house with 15 different dolls of different ages and ethnicities to choose from. Characters interact with each other as they go through their day – dress, eat, play, and sleep – and parents can use the multi-touch feature to join in and play with their child. Children learn to share, wait their turn, and other important social skills as they play, and improve communication skills by answering “who, what, where” questions.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: $3.99


Avokiddo Emotions

avokiddoAvokiddo Emotions uses four animals – a shy sheep, zany zebra, jolly giraffe, and a modest moose – to teach kids how to read body language along with emotion. Kids can make the animals laugh, cry, jump when startled, or sag when sad. They can dress the animals in costumes and send them to fiestas or the zoo, but more importantly, they can begin to see the connection between their actions and the animals’ emotional responses.

Platform: iOS
Cost: $2.99


Elementary

Feel Electric!

feel-electricFeel Electric! is from the makers of the PBS Kids show “The Electric Company” and builds users’ emotional vocabulary. Going beyond simple “happy” or “sad”, Feel Electric helps children understand and be able to express more complex emotions like stress, anxiety, pride, or excitement by using games, a digital diary and a story maker. Users can use music and video from the Electric Company library or choose their own to customize the app.

Platform: iOS
Cost: Free


ConversationBuilder

conversation-builderConversationBuilder is designed to help kids move through conversations with their peers in a variety of settings from the classroom to a restaurant. With 160 conversations to choose from, students can practice how to introduce themselves, when it’s appropriate to ask questions, change the subject and how to exit the conversation in both groups and one-on-one. Conversations can be customized and archived to review with teachers or therapists. One of the most important features of the app is its adaptability for students who are non-verbal, have limited motor skills, or are blind.

Platform: iOS
Cost: $19.99


Zones of Regulation

zones-of-regulationZones of Regulation is designed specifically to help individuals who struggle to manage emotional and social control. Through the game, students face a variety of social situations and are asked to identify their emotions. As the game progresses, students are challenged and presented with behavior options with common real-life consequences for those behavior choices. Students learn ways to manage self-regulation and increase self-control.

Platform: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire
Cost: $5.99


Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Apps to Encourage Health and Fitness

By Tracey Dowdy

Commuting to work last Friday, I listened to an interview with a personal trainer lamenting all the newbies in the gym come January 2nd. Apparently they are all there to kick start their New Year resolutions to lose weight and get fit but instead they mostly get in the way of the “real clients.”

Not sure she had a job come Monday morning, nor do I think that’s the attitude of the majority of personal trainers, but it reminded me of all the fantastic apps that are available to help us with our health and fitness goals without having to commit to a gym membership. Accessible anytime, anywhere, it’s like having your own personal trainer – minus the judging.

Food Journaling

A big part of meeting those health and fitness goals is making the choice to eat well. It’s not just a matter of what you eat, but when and how often. Food journaling can help you manage meals and snacks and use food as fuel instead of just taking on those extra calories.

Noom Coach is a weight loss app designed to encourage life-long healthy eating habits. Instead of simply counting calories, Noom Coach offers weight loss tips, a pedometer, a color coded calorie counter (red, yellow and green, like a stop light), recipes and nutritional information to help you make wise choices. The food database includes popular restaurants to make eating out less stressful, and there’s community support through user forums. (Free – iOS, Android)

Lose It! is one of the most successful comprehensive weight loss apps to date. When you download the app, Lose It! asks for your basic information like gender, height, current weight and weight loss goal. From there, the app creates a custom plan for you. Record your food intake and activity and Lose It tracks your progress. Find recipes, search the database for exercise and nutrition information, and even use the barcode scanner to determine whether that granola is really worth it. (Free – iOS, Android, Kindle)

Nutrition Menu is available offline so you can search its database of over 100,000 foods and 149 exercises no matter where you are. Track exercise, water intake, weight loss and, if you’re counting calories or carbs, use the “Food Score” or simply record your meals and snacks in the journal. With so many valuable resources, no wonder Nutrition Menu is recommended by Fitness and Women’s Health magazines. ($1.99 – iOS, Android)

Exercise Apps

Obviously diet alone isn’t enough to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If your wellness goals include a little exercise, these apps are a great place to start.

Couch to 5k promises if you’ll commit 30 minutes, 3 times a week for 9 weeks, you’ll be 5k ready. You can choose from four coaches and import your own playlist to keep you motivated. Couch to 5K tracks your progress and includes many other features like counting time on the treadmill to eliminate the “it’s too cold/hot/rainy/sunny” excuse on days you don’t feel like exercising. Because each day builds on the last workout, new runners are less likely to injure themselves. ($1.99 – iOS, Android)

Pocket Yoga is another app that functions offline so you can complete your workout even without an internet connection. Choose from 27 different workouts divided by level of difficulty and duration, so whether you’re a beginner or more advanced you can find a workout that meets your needs. Pocket Yoga maintains a log of all your practices to keep track of progress. ($2.99 – iOS, Android, Windows)

30 Day Fitness Challenges offers 20 different challenges focused on arms, legs, core and strength. Each challenge lasts between 1-5 minutes, which can feel like a very long time if you’re doing planks or burpees! With 30 Day Fitness Challenges you can access tutorials, learn different exercise techniques through videos, track your progress, and get regular reminders when it’s time to work out. ($2.99 – iOS, $1.99 – Android)

If you have a gym membership and simply want help with overall health and wellness, apps like MyFitnessPal, MyDietCoach, and MyNetDiary, can help you stay on track and maintain those healthy lifestyle choices. So whether you were naughty or nice over the holidays, getting back on track and reaching those fitness and wellness goals is well within your reach!

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Apps for a Better Night’s Sleep

By Robyn Wright

A good night’s sleep is an important factor in our overall health and well-being but it’s one that is often overlooked. And while it is best to keep mobile devices out of the bedroom, it’s also true that most of us don’t follow that sound advice. Since those smartphones and tablets are already on the nightstand, it makes sense to take advantage of apps that can help us fall asleep, stay asleep, and track the quality of our nighttime slumber. Here are a few suggestions:

Sleep Better

Turn on the Sleep Better app and set your device on your bed at night and it will track how you are sleeping. You can also input stress levels, exercise routines, caffeine consumption and other factors to see how these things are impacting the quality of your sleep. A dream diary is included to track what kind of dreams you are having.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: Free but with in-app purchases


powernAPP

There has been a lot of research lately into power napping to help reduce stress and promote better overall health. powernAPP will give you information about power napping, as well as allow you to set alarms, track the length and number of naps, and more. It also works with Windows Phone voice commands to make it even easier to use.

Platform: Windows Phone
Cost: Free


Relax Melodies

Create a mix of sounds and music that will help you fall asleep in 20 minutes or less. You can also incorporate your own music into your mixes. Relax Melodies is also great for other times when you want to relax, like during yoga and when you’re having a massage. If you need additional help and information, the app contains access to the Relax Melodies blog, with helpful tips and articles on how to get a better night’s sleep.

Platform: iOS, Android, Windows Phone
Cost: Free


Twilight

The Twilight app is based on research that suggests exposure to blue light, like on smartphones and tablets, may hinder your ability to fall asleep. The app will adjust your screen display based on the time of day. Perfect if you like to read on your device before going to sleep.

Platform: Android
Cost:
Free


Metro Nap NYC

If you ride the commuter trains in and out of New York City and want to nap without missing your stop, Metro Nap NYC is the app for you. Just let the app know where you want to get off and it will wake you within a certain distance of your stop.

Platform: Android
Cost: Free


I Can’t Wake Up! Alarm Clock

I Can’t Wake Up! Alarm Clock is the perfect app for those people who sleep soundly and have a tendency to oversleep. You have to complete certain tasks before the alarm will turn off – there is no just hitting the snooze button. You can experiment with several options to help you find what works best to actually wake you up and get you out of bed.

Platform: Android
Cost: Free


Robyn Wright is a social media specialist and blogs on her own blog, RobynsOnlineWorld.com, as well as several other sites. Robyn has a love for family, technology, food and lots of apps!