Microsoft Surface Book – Get Ready to Make the Switch!

By Monica Vila

I love the idea of a tablet. It’s perfect for web browsing, late night binge-watching and killing time at the airport with the latest Stephen King novel. But let’s face it, a tablet is never going to replace the productivity of a laptop. When you want to get down and dirty with PowerPoints, spreadsheets and PDFs, then you need the processing power, built-in keyboard and other comforts of a proper computer.

Of course, there have been previous attempts to combine the best of both worlds by offering laptops with detachable screens, including the iPad with an expensive keyboard cover, but nothing compares to the latest line-up of Surface Book laptops from Microsoft.

Earlier this year, the good people at Microsoft heard me complain about my laptop (a MacBook Pro) and they kindly offered me a test drive with a Surface Book to see if they could get me to convert. I took the challenge but decided not to write about the Surface Book until I had at least six months user experience under my belt. Now that the six months is up, I can tell you this: The Microsoft Surface Book is a far superior product to my old MacBook. The touchscreen alone puts it in a different league, making file handling, navigation and media play simple, intuitive and fun! The Surface Book also works seamlessly with hundreds of apps like Dropbox and Slack, which I use all the time for work.

If you have previously used a Surface tablet or notebook, then you will be familiar with the touchscreen, the stylus pen, and the tablet and laptop modes of Windows 10. With the Surface Book, Microsoft has taken the best – and most practical – features of all its previous devices and rolled them into one powerhouse product that can compete with the very best laptops on the market today.

The first thing that jumps out at you when you start using the Surface Book is the screen. At 13.5 inches, it’s perfect for the office or the airplane but it’s the stunning resolution that sets it apart from its rivals. Microsoft calls its display technology PixelSense, and it’s one of the big reasons that Surface devices are such a big hit with the arts and design communities. The colors literally pop off the screen – and using the Microsoft Pen has never been so much fun! As a former Mac user, the contrast is remarkable.

My Surface Book has 128GB of storage and comes with the 6th generation Intel Core i5 processor, which is plenty of firepower for my workload. Most of my day is spent switching between Microsoft Office products, Adobe, and various web browsers, and when you use the Office suite as much as I do, you realize how proactive Microsoft is in delivering the latest improvements and updates.

The software on my Surface is the dependable Windows 10 Pro, with tablet mode and all the voice, pen and touch options that have quickly become essential prerequisites for a productive work environment. Windows Pro 10 also features Windows Hello facial recognition, which means any member of my family can sit down in front of the screen and be ready to go in a matter of seconds.

The Awesome Pen

As far as the Microsoft Pen is concerned, most users either love the pen and use it all the time or never pick it up at all. I happen to be in the former category and the pen that comes with the Surface Book has quickly become my new best friend. The one-click access to OneNote is a life-saver and turns the detachable screen into the world’s most efficient notepad. This was especially handy recently when I was trying to convey a specific image I was looking for our designer to create.


Interestingly, Microsoft has split the battery between the main keyboard dock and the display, so each unit can operate independently. However, the emphasis is clearly on use as a laptop, when the batteries can combine for up to 12 hours of video playback. The detachable screen has about 25 percent of the battery life of the combined unit, but that’s still enough to watch a hi-def movie in bed or on an airplane ride.

All this power and versatility puts the Surface Book at the very leading edge of today’s laptops. The price is also competitive, ranging from $1,499 for 128GB i5 model, going up to $1,999 for the 512GB version.

Bottom line is this: If you are a diehard MacBook user like I was and you think that a PC will never cut it, you’re making a big mistake. The versatile Microsoft Surface Book is ideal for creative types and non-creative types alike, setting a new standard for powerful and flexible laptops at a price you can afford.

Have you had any experience with a Surface Book? I would love to know what you think!  

The Danger of Fake Health News


By Tracey Dowdy

It’s no surprise to say fake news is dangerous, but when it comes to fake health news, the stakes are even higher.

Misinformation published by conspiracy sites regarding serious health conditions is often more widely shared than actual evidence-based reports from reputable sources, according to The Independent. Of the 20 most-shared articles on Facebook in 2016 that included the word “cancer” in the headline, over half reported claims that have been debunked by health authorities or discredited directly by the source cited in the article.

Kelly McBride, vice president of the Poynter Institute says, “My sense is that of all the categories of fake news, health news is the worst. There’s more bad health news out there than there is in any other category and reliable sources on other topics are [sometimes] really bad on healthcare news.”

Consider this: worldwide, there are over 2.01 billion monthly active Facebook users. Many of these users rely on Facebook for news and information, yet few are careful to vet the source of articles read and shared.

Some of the articles that have gone viral are fairly innocuous, like the ones purporting to list the benefits of brushing your teeth with charcoal or rinsing your mouth with coconut oil. Spotting the outright fakes can be challenging, as the articles are often linked to sites and sources that appear to be reputable.

Jackie Zimmerman, founder of the non-profit Girls With Guts, a support group for girls and women with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, often uses Facebook as a platform to get trending news and information to the group’s 15,000 members. But because Facebook is an open forum where anyone can post just about anything, Zimmerman chose to create a separate, private Facebook group for any discussions. This way, administrators can vet participants and screen out any fake news.

She suggests that if you spot fake news, you respectfully point it out and direct the poster to the correct information. Be respectful; many of the people posting inaccurate information are doing so with the best of motives, not malice.

Second, if you’re an administrator of a Facebook group, be sure the rules are pinned to the top of the page and easily seen by members. Then, should you have to address someone posting content that needs to be removed, you can respond with “sorry, your post is a violation of our rules” without seeming harsh or unreasonable.

Finally, don’t offer medical advice – not even if you’re a medical professional. Engage in discussion, but “ask your doctor” should be your default response if asked for advice.

A spokesman for the charity Sense About Science says, “While there is no easy way to know what to believe, there are questions you can ask, including, What’s the evidence for this claim? What does the research show? What do other scientists say? By knowing what kind of questions to ask, we can all make steps towards a culture change on false health stories.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Using Technology to Build Character In Our Kids

By Tracey Dowdy

As parents, there are many things we want for our children. We want them to grow up to have more, do more, and be more than we have, we do, or we are. Most of all, we want them to grow up to be kind and decent human beings, who care for the planet and each other.

Because technology has seamlessly integrated into our lives, we sometimes overlook its potential as a tool for character building. But looking for teachable moments and making the most of them when you find them, you’ll see plenty of opportunities to instill the values that matter to you most.

It starts with teaching them to care for your devices. Generally, the first technology your child has access to is your smartphone or tablet. From the very beginning, teach them that using the device is a privilege – not a right – and with privilege comes responsibility. Remember, most of what they’ve handled is designed for kids – think oversized plastic blocks, and board books – so they’re oblivious to the potential disaster of dropping your device.

Explore the internet together to teach them the world is a wild and wonderful place – online and offline. Watch documentaries about cultures or lifestyles different from your own, and have a conversation about what you’ve seen.

Play games and solve mysteries together. By engaging in co-play, you’re developing social skills, problem solving strategies, and teaching cooperation. Just as important, playing competitive games or games where they may sometimes lose teaches them sportsmanship and character.

Teach your kids compassion and empathy through social media. Nearly 43% of kids say they have been bullied online and 25% say it’s happened more than once, making it a critically important issue for families to talk about. Just as important is online privacy. Apps like Snapchat are popular with kids because of the short shelf life of images posted, but teaching your kids that nothing ever really disappears is important.

Finally, sometimes it’s good to take a digital time out to learn about self-control and patience. We’ve become accustomed to instant gratification, but taking a break from social media – even for an hour or two – can go a long way to breaking bad habits and restoring perspective.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Sarahah: Are You Ready for “the Honesty App”?

By Tracey Dowdy


An app designed to provide completely anonymous feedback. What could possibly go wrong?

Sarahah – honesty in Arabic – was created by Saudi programmer Zainalabdin Tawfiq as a way for employees to leave completely frank workplace feedback without fear of repercussions, but he soon realized the appeal went far beyond the office.

On its homepage, the app says it’s designed to “Improve your friendship by discovering your strengths and areas for improvement,” and “Let your friends be honest with you.” Anyone with a link can send or receive anonymous messages. It currently has over 85 million registered users and has consistently been at the top of app stores, even jumping ahead of Snapchat and Instagram in some countries.

In theory, it’s a great idea. In reality, it often becomes the latest platform for cyberbullying.

“Sarahah is the digital equivalent of an old-school suggestion box,” Tawfiq said in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP). He then reiterated that stripping the user of their identity would promote “ruthless honesty.”

If the ruthlessness Tawfiq refers to translated to positive messages, there’d be no need for this article. But the reality is that it has the potential to be used as a weapon, particularly by teens. In July, Snapchat added a new linking feature that allows users to share posts between the two apps, bringing another surge in Sarahah’s popularity.

Learning to be accountable for your words and actions is a critical part of growing up. Certainly there are situations where teens should be safe to share their thoughts anonymously, without fear of repercussions, but a social media app designed to share with their peers is not one of them.

Just as with other social media platforms, it’s important to reinforce the importance of appropriate online behavior and help your children to see that online actions have real-world consequences. According to the CDC, the suicide rate for girls 15 to 19 is at a 40 year high. Therapists like Nicole Callander, say much of that can be traced back to bullying, on and offline.

“Bullying needs consequences. Without consequences it becomes tolerated. Teach your children acceptance. All people are just as important regardless of race, gender, ability, sexuality, wealth, physical appearance and religion. Everyone deserves to belong and be loved. And if you can’t love everyone- then make sure you still show respect to everyone.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Friday, September 15: When to Upgrade Your Phone



When: TODAY, Friday, September 15, 2017
3:00 – 4:00 pm ET
12:00 – 1:00 pm PT

‘When to Upgrade Your Phone

Join @RobynsWorld and the MobileLiving team at 3 pm ET (12 noon PT) on Friday, September 15 as we chat about When to Upgrade Your Phone!
With the launch of the iPhone 8, many smartphone owners will be telling themselves that it’s time for another upgrade. But what are the advantages of a brand new phone and what are the features that can really make a difference?
Join us this Friday as we explore the latest upgrade options and help you decide whether a shiny new smartphone is the right move for you!
RSVP and attend the party for a chance to win one of TWO JBL Clip 2 portable Bluetooth speakers!

(Click here to learn more about our Twitter chats. You must RSVP and attend the party to be eligible for a prize.)

  1. Email (subject: MobileLiving) and include your Twitter ID.
  2. Spread the word and RT this link on your Twitter feed:
  3. Join us on TweetDeck or HootSuite (#MobileLiving) this Friday, September 15 between 3 – 4 pm ET
  4. Tell your Twitter followers!
PRIZE WINNERS will be announced during the chat!

Apps to Help Pre-schoolers Cope with Anxiety

By Tracey Dowdy

Anxiety is a normal emotion that affects every age and every stage of childhood. However, younger children are particularly prone to bouts of anxiety, with pre-school drop-off representing one of the more difficult times for parents and children alike.

Jen Theule, registered psychologist and assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Manitoba says, “Younger children are less able to articulate their worries.” It’s difficult for them to verbalize exactly why they’re anxious or what’s triggering the anxiety. It maybe be too many people, sounds, separating from parents, or simply the uncertainty that comes from a change in routine.

Renee Jain, creator of the GoZen! anxiety relief program for kids suggests the FEEL Method to help de-escalate emotions and help your child self-soothe.

Freeze — Simply stop and take deep breaths with your child. Deep breathing can help reverse the nervous system response and calm the situation and your child.

Empathize — Anxiety is innately frightening. Let your child know you understand and validate their feelings.

Evaluate — Once your child is calm, talk about possible solutions.

Let Go – Let go of your guilt; this isn’t your fault. You cannot control another person’s emotions but you can help them work through them.

These apps and websites can help your pre-schooler work through their anxious feelings and pick up the tools they need to face the next challenge.

GoZen! uses animated videos to teach kids how to overcome anxious feelings, become resilient and have a sense of well-being. The videos are complemented by games, workbooks and quizzes to reinforce what they’re learning without feeling heavy-handed. The videos are easily accessed any time – they’re free and there’s nothing to download. (Online – Free)

Headspace is a popular app for adults with anxiety but it is very effective for children as well. The app uses guided meditation mindfulness to teach adults and kids how to calm themselves in stressful situations or when they experience anxious feelings. There are hundreds of sessions to choose from that cover everything from sleep to stress and SOS exercises to avoid meltdowns. The basic version of the app is free, but there are expanded versions available for a subscription fee of $12.99 per month or $94.99 per year. (Android – free; iOS – free)

The Breathe, Think, and Do with Sesame app helps kids learn how to calm down and problem-solve as they help a Sesame Street monster learn self-control. The app is part of Sesame Street’s Little Children, Big Challenges initiative, which “aims to provide tools to help children build skills for resilience, and overcome everyday challenges and more stressful situations and transitions.” Specially designed to work with kids ages 2-5, the app allows kids to pop bubbles to help the monster breathe and think of ways to solve their problems so they can feel better. You can personalize it with encouraging phrases especially for your child and there is a robust section of parent resources so you can navigate these challenges with your child. (Android – free; iOS – free)

Stop, Breathe & Think is a “mindful games” app designed specifically for kids ages 5 – 10. Kids use emojis to identify their feelings and go on “mindful missions” to identify their emotions. The app uses stickers as motivation to kids to keep progressing through their mission and motivate them to reach their goal. Kids learn how to fall asleep, deal with being overwhelmed, stressed, worried, disappointed, and sad, and they’ll learn compassion for others who are also struggling. (iOS – Free)

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Essential Tech for the Dorm Room

By Tracey Dowdy

Hundreds of years ago when I went to a small private college, text messaging meant passing notes and spell check meant looking the word up in a massive Merriam-Webster Dictionary. There was ONE microwave in my dorm, and I shared ONE, wall-mounted, extremely long-corded rotary phone with my two roommates. Ah, the good old days…said no-one ever.

Though it wasn’t that long ago <cough, cough> things have changed for the so-much-better. But more than just having the world in the palm of our hands through our smart phones and the ability to straight up publish a book from our desks, the little things like kettles, file folders, and extension cords have made dorm life exponentially better. Here are some of my favorites.

When you think single-serve coffee makers, your first thought may be a Keurig. However, Black & Decker’s Brew and Go may be an even better option for students. It takes up less space, brews fresh coffee in minutes via pods or coffee grounds and comes with a built-in filter and a 15oz. travel mug. Plus, at under $20, it’s less expensive than a Keurig. (Best price: $14.69 – Target)

Remember life before power strips with surge protectors? Those were dark days, my friends, dark days indeed. The Monster – Core Power 800 USB 8-Outlet Surge Protector offers 6 side-by-side outlets with an additional two outlets offset for larger plugs. There’s also two USB ports so you can skip the adapter and plug directly into the power strip. Bonus: the first reviewer on Best Buy’s web site says, “I spilled a whole cup of water on this thing and it still works!” Pretty sure that’s not an intended use but it’s good to know nonetheless. (Best price: $39.99 – Best Buy)

The Jackery Bar Pocket-sized 6000mAh Ultra Compact Portable Charger is under $20, charges an iPhone three times or an iPad mini once on a single power cycle. It’s lightweight, pulls double duty as an LED flashlight, and comes with a 24-month product warranty and 24/7 customer service. (Best price: $16.99 – Walmart)

Go one better and get a solar powered external battery pack, like Soluser’s Portable Dual USB Solar Battery Charger. According to the specs, it can charge an iPhone 5S 4.7 times – that’s oddly specific – an iPhone7 3.8 times, and a Galaxy S6 2.8 times on a single power cycle. You can use the included USB cord to charge from an outlet or place the device in the sun for a solar charge. Compatible with all iPhones, iPads and Android devices, it also features dual USB ports to allow two devices to be charged at once. (Best price: $22.99 -Amazon)

Cloud storage is great but there are times secure access isn’t possible. In the meantime, drop all those files, documents and photos on a SanDisk – Cruzer Glide 128GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive. With 128GB of space, it’s probably got more space than your dorm room. It has SanDisk SecureAccess password protection and it’s hard to beat the price. (Best price: $22.99 – Best Buy)

If you’re an Apple user, the SanDisk iXpand is a USB 3.0 flash drive that comes with a built-in Apple Lightning connector that works with most standard cases. It offers 32GB of storage, and the 128-bit encryption ensures that data stays safe. Plus, when you download the free app by SanDisk, you can sync photos and videos from your mobile device and, even better, users can play music and common video formats on their iPhone or iPad directly from the iXpand. (Best price: $29.99 – Office Depot)

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.