Tag Archives: tablets

Holiday Tech Gifts for Parents

By Tracey Dowdy

Like most parents, you’ve likely spent most of your list-making energy deciding who’s been naughty or nice and curating your kids’ wish lists to match your budget. But what about you? What about your partner? This holiday season, what are the best gifts for moms and dads?

This list of holiday tech should help you come up with some great ideas.

Whether you’re into the medicinal benefits of essential oils or think it’s the modern version of snake oil, you can’t argue that everyone enjoys a house that smells good. An essential oil diffuser can smell nice and scents are known to alter moods and performance. Soothing lavender or vanilla, energizing peppermint or eucalyptus, or even frankincense for relaxation.

If you’re in the market for a new TV or an upgrade for your home theater, consider swapping your flat screen for a projector. The cost of home theatre systems has dropped making customizable options more affordable than ever, plus they’re a great option if you have little ones who have trouble sitting through an episode of Peppa Pig let alone a feature-length movie. Individual specs vary, but some can project a 50-inch diagonal image from as little as 32 inches away, and with LED projection, you won’t have to replace the lamps.

Speaking of home theatre systems, even if you’re not in the market for a new TV or projector, you can boost your home theatre experience with a new surround sound system. You can choose from a Home-Theater-In-A-Box (HTIB), or if you prefer to customize, you can buy the speakers and the receiver separately. Keep in mind lower end systems will mean running wires and cables while higher-end systems will be totally wireless. Either way, a complete system is within reach for less money than you may think.

Tablets have come a long way since the introduction iPad, though tablets were around long before 2010. They keep our kids entertained, have become essential to the way many do business, with their lightweight portability and robust software. Whether you opt for a PC based tablet like Amazon’s Fire 7 Tablet with Alexa or Apple’s iPad Pro with iOS 12, whatever your need, there’s a tablet for that.

When the smartwatch was introduced back in 2015, many thought it was going to be one of those “Nice try, not interested,” devices. Not so. Today’s smartwatches are sleek, pack user-friendly interfaces with larger buttons than previous iterations, and longer battery life than ever before. If you’re in the market, this list can help you decide which best fits your needs.

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.

Tips and Tricks for New iPad Users

By Tracey Dowdy

The iPad has been around for several years and like most devices, each generation adds new features and shortcuts.

Whether you’ve just purchased your iPad or you haven’t explored much, these hacks can help you make the most of your new tablet.

  • Play a video within a separate app. To watch a video or FaceTime while you browse another app, press the Home button. The video will shrink and drop to the lower right corner of your screen. Tap the Home button again to return to full-screen. Note: this functionality is app specific, not universal. (iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro only)
  • Zoom in and out. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Zoom and make sure the slider is set to On to enable you to zoom in on specific areas of your screen.
  • Use Split View to run two apps simultaneously. Simply swipe in from the right side of the screen and one app will launch in Slide Over view. Tap the white handle that appears in the second app to expand it into a split-screen. (iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro only)
  • Customize accessibility features for users with visual or auditory impairment. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut to enable specific features immediately accessible by triple-pressing the Home button. Select Voice Over, Invert Colors, Grayscale, Zoom, Switch Control, or Assistive Touch.
  • Open a sidebar without leaving an app. This is one feature Android and Windows devices have offered for awhile and Apple is finally catching up. While one app is open, you can simply swipe right to the edge of your screen and a list of compatible apps will appear. Tap the one you want and it will appear alongside the app currently open. (iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro only)
  • Turn on Find My iPad. Go to Settings > iCloud > Find My iPad and toggle the slider to On. You also have the option to send location information to Apple if the battery is getting low. To find your iPad, log in to iCloud or open the Find My iPhone app on your phone. Remember, it uses your phone’s location services so it will let you know if the iPad is at your house, but sadly not where in the house.
  • Choose what appears in your dock. Siri is intuitive and learns the apps you use most, but you can go one step further and customize the six apps that appear in your dock. Hold down an app just as you would if you were deleting or moving your apps around and drag them to the bottom of the screen.
  • Use your iPad as a second monitor. (Available with some third-party apps) After installing third-party apps like Duet Display or Air Display, you have the option to connect your iPad to your computer and enable it to act as a second display.

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.

Mobile Tech Insurance: Is It Worth It?

By Tracey Dowdy

Here’s a sobering factoid: according to a survey by Plaxo, 1 in 5 people have dropped their mobile phone in the toilet. Whether it fell from the back pocket of a pair of jeans or tumbled out of a hand, 20 percent of cell phones have gone to a watery grave.

Clearly that’s a less likely scenario for your laptop or tablet, but accidents do happen. Should you consider insurance for your mobile tech to help protect you against a loss? Is it worth the peace of mind or is it simply a way for retailers and manufacturers to grab more of your hard earned cash?

Consumer Reports electronics editor Glenn Derene cautions, “Our reader surveys have shown time and again that extended warranties are not a good deal for most consumers…Many products are reliable and don’t break during the period covered, and the plans cost as much as you’d pay for a repair that might never be required.”

Keep in mind that when it came to smartphones, only 15 percent of consumers were given a new phone when the device needed repair. When you factor in an average cost of $10 per device per month and a deductible for as much as $100, the additional coverage really doesn’t work out to be such a bargain.

But what about other devices? Is coverage worth it for bigger ticket items? Again, not necessarily. With regular use, barring dropping or immersion in water, most devices are well made and don’t require a lot of maintenance or repair. It’s a matter of high cost and low risk, so purchasing an extended warranty often isn’t worth the expense.

“Only 15 percent of products in our survey were covered by the manufacturer’s regular warranty when they broke, and about 10 percent were under a service contract or extended warranty,” said Derene.

Courtesy of Plaxo Inc.

Courtesy of Plaxo Inc.


Having insurance is one thing – getting insurers to pay out on your claim is something else. There’s a lot of fine print in those contracts, so make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully before signing. Often the terms and conditions will exclude common accidents like dropping the device. In addition, many insurers reserve the right to choose whether they’ll repair or replace your phone with one of equal value, meaning you’re more likely to get a refurbished device rather than a new phone.

In the end, it’s up to you to determine how likely you are to lose or break your device. If you’re clumsy and know only too well the misery of a cracked screen, it might feel like it’s worth it. But keep in mind the cost to replace an iPhone screen is about $110 out of pocket which is cheaper than the insurance offered by most carriers.

On the other hand, if you’re likely to lose your device or have it stolen, the additional warranty could mean significant savings even with the deductible factored in. Also remember that your existing policies may cover loss or damage. Home owners and renters insurance generally comes with a fairly high deductible but may cover damage or loss of your device. And if you purchased the device with a credit card, the company may offer a less expensive version of the extended warranty that covers device malfunction once the manufacturer’s original warranty expires.

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.

Should You Switch Wireless Plans?

Read the fine print before you jump to another network.

By Paul O’Reilly

In a sure sign that the US mobile market is rapidly maturing, it appears that some wireless carriers are less concerned about attracting new customers to the wonderful world of smartphones and tablets and are instead concentrating more on luring existing customers away from the competition. This has led to a jumble of early upgrade offers, termination fee payments, and other incentives, as the emphasis switches to the cost of wireless plans rather than the ever-improving excellence of the devices themselves.

While this may sound like good news for wireless subscribers, it has mostly led to more confusion in a marketplace that wasn’t exactly a model of clarity in the first place. If you thought it was hard to choose the right wireless plan before, try figuring it out when data allowances change every month, extra gigabytes are thrown in on a seemingly random basis, and one carrier is even offering to cut your existing bill in half.

This last promotion comes courtesy of Sprint and, perhaps more than any other offer, it highlights the complexities facing consumers as they try to save a few bucks on their monthly wireless payments. Taking a page out of T-Mobile’s playbook, Sprint specifically targets customers of the two biggest carriers and asks them: “Wanna cut your monthly Verizon or AT&T bill in half?” Of course, like many of these offers, the details are in the fine print – in this case over 550 words of fine print.

Sprint’s offer starts out looking reasonable enough. You have to turn in your old phone (or multiple phones if you are on a family plan) and sign up for a brand new one with a two-year contract, but you would have to do that with your existing carrier eventually anyway. Sprint will even pay up to $350 per line in termination fees, although you might have to wait up to 12 weeks for the money to arrive in the form of a Visa Prepaid Card.

However, there is one thing to note about turning in your old phone under the Sprint deal: you get nothing for it, even if it’s a phone with good second-hand value like an iPhone 5 and you have paid it off in full. But again, this is probably not a deal-breaker. That phone was most likely destined for the kitchen drawer anyway.

However, as you keep going with the fine print things start to get a little murkier. You eventually discover that Sprint is not offering to cut your whole bill in half but only the amount you pay for talk, text and data. As most people pay nothing for talk and text, that’s half off what you now pay for data. Depending on how much data you use, that could be a little or a lot, but again, you’re only saving half of one line of your monthly statement rather than the whole bill.

But if you’re a heavy data user – heavy enough to make a 50 percent saving worthwhile – there’s one big problem with switching to Sprint: according to a recent RootMetrics report, it’s got the worst network of all the top wireless carriers.

Not only is Sprint’s inferior network likely to result in slower download speeds and less reliable performance, it could also have real unforeseen consequences for your new Sprint deal. Again buried in the fine print, there is language suggesting that other plans (i.e. plans that pay the full data rate) might receive “prioritized bandwidth availability.” In other words, in times of heavy data traffic, half-price ex-Verizon and AT&T customers will have to wait.

Even worse, there is also a clause that allows Sprint to terminate your plan if more than 100MB of data usage each month is “off-network,” i.e. data consumed while the user is outside of the Sprint network. Considering that my family gets through 300MB a day and Sprint has the smallest network in the country, this is definitely not a deal for anyone that uses more than a few hundred megabytes of data a month.

And there’s the rub. The “cut your bill in half” promotion from Sprint is really only designed for low data users. But if you are a low data user, you aren’t going to see much in the way of savings anyway. And if you are a Verizon or AT&T customer, you are going to exchange those meager savings for a markedly inferior network.

As it continues to mature, the wireless space is starting to look more like the rental car industry, where Hertz and Avis charge premium prices based on service, reliability and network, while the competition carves out a variety of lower-priced alternatives. Of course, a maturing marketplace also results in more knowledgeable consumers, who are better equipped to make sense of the myriad of choices they now face. If you’re a wireless customer, you might want to remember the old adage that has guided savvy shoppers for countless generations: You get what you pay for.

You can follow Paul on Twitter.

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

How Tablets and Smartphones Can Benefit Toddlers

New research suggests that learning from screens can help young children

By Stacey Ross

New media technology is here to stay and has become part of the fabric of our everyday existence. But as with anything else shiny and new, we need to weigh the benefits with the risks, particularly when it comes to our little ones. Sure, let’s have them engage with tablets and smartphones, but when we are conscious of the extent and pace that we introduce gadgets into their worlds, we can encourage age-appropriate opportunities that involve the whole family.

It’s not news that the American Academy of Pediatrics warns us that screen time for children under the age of 2 is not advised. Research suggests that it delays language development and can disrupt sleep. Likewise, when used as a form of consistent and long-term babysitting, it also adversely impacts the cognitive and social skills that are essential to normal development.

Interactive games foster creativity

Good news, though: Researchers discovered that while excessive TV watching slightly increased a child’s risk for conduct problems, age-appropriate digital games did not! A 2013 study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood found that certain digital games seem to affect children differently than TV. Take a guess why!

Games that are interactive foster creativity and participation, while TV typically does not invite consistent interaction, nor customize feedback for each user. Studies show that the more parents speak to their kids and the more extensive their vocabulary, the better the kids perform intellectually and academically. Routinely engaging directly with our children is crucial for them to hit developmental milestones.

Promise of interactive media

Heather Kirkorian, an academic at the University of Wisconsin, reports that while research indicates non-interactive video isn’t educationally valuable for kids under 3, that “some studies suggest that toddlers learn from screens when they are interactive,” and that toddlers “are more likely to demonstrate learning from video when interacting with a contingently responsive social partner on screen.”

Kirkorian discovered that children aged 2 to 3 were more likely to react to screens that prompted for interaction than screens that didn’t. She also found that interaction was key when dealing with word learning: “Kids who are interacting with the screen get better much faster, make fewer mistakes and learn faster,” adding, “but we’re not turning them into geniuses, just helping them get a little more information.”

Promote balance

The goal for parents is to promote balanced exposure. Our devices should not be replacing outdoor fun, painting and other social interactive activities, but can be used as supplements that add value and engaging stimulation.

Young ones thrive when they have parents monitor and stay involved with their kids’ activities. For example, when parents practice “co-viewing” TV shows or interactive games, they can help increase their children’s comprehension skills. Cognitive, social and language skills are crucial for the development of healthy children!

Stacey_Ross_50Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

Can a Tablet Replace Your Laptop?

By Robyn Wright

Tablets have become tremendously popular in the last couple of years and many people have started to wonder if they can use one to replace their laptop. The answer might be yes, depending on how you are using your current device.

While budget will also be a factor in deciding whether you can ditch your laptop, there are three areas that you need to consider before making the switch to a tablet:

Consumption or Productivity?

Will you use the device primarily to consume data, such as searching the Internet, using social media, viewing files, playing games, reading books, etc.? If so, then a tablet might be a good option. However, if you rely heavily on your device for creating blogs, editing images or video, working with large documents and spreadsheets, and other business tasks, then you might find a laptop is still the better choice.

Tablets can still help with business tasks but they are less likely to be robust (fast) enough for serious users and can leave them feeling frustrated. If you lean towards the lighter side of productivity, then an external keyboard is highly recommended.


If you are always on the move for work or play and need a device with you at all times, then a tablet’s lighter weight and smaller size can be a big benefit. Tablets also tend to have good battery life, so you can go longer without having to search for a power outlet.

Adding a data plan to your tablet increases the portability advantage, because you have a constant connection to the Internet. Adding a tablet to a Verizon More Everything plan is only $10 per month – a low price for such convenience.

If you want portability but need a more powerful device, there are thinner, lighter, and smaller laptops available. These will cost you more but you will have the ability to carry out more tasks, and they are still lighter than the older traditional laptops.

Apps and Programs

Some users may need access to more traditional software for work or school but most tablets don’t support these programs. If you need a specific program, see if there is an app version or a web-based platform that would work on a tablet. Apps are abundant and there are many alternatives for the more commonly used programs. Even if you do not need specific programs, it is still wise to visit the relevant app stores to make sure you can carry out the tasks that are important to you.

Have you made the switch to a tablet or are you considering it? What are the most important factors in your decision?

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!