Saturday, December 29, 2012

Note Taking on the iPad is Easy. See How

Although note taking might be considered a lost art, we all scribble notes virtually every day. Can we take notes using an iPad? Of course we can and we can do it simply and easily.

I took cryptic notes when I went to meetings and still do at my local computer club meetings. I used to take a note pad but now use my iPad.

Let's define simple for a moment.
  • Screen is not crowded with feature buttons.
  • Instructions are easily understood by non computer people.
  • The average person can figure out how to use the app even without the directions.

My personal favorite note taking app is called Penultimate (say Pen and Ultimate). This very simple to use app does one thing, it lets you hand write notes. That's it. Penultimate's User Guide is hand written and only 9 pages. See 4 pages of the guide below.

Take notes, e-mail them, print them or save as a PDF for future reference.

Penultimate is 99 cents and, in my opinion,  worth every single penny. By the way, this is NOT 99 cents per month--just 99 cents PERIOD.

The next note taking app is called Notes and included with the iPad. Off course this means it is FREE and it too is very simple and easy to use. Contrary to Penultimate, Notes allows note taking via typing. That's it. Just open a blank note by touching the '+' and start typing. Save and start a new note.

I know what you're thinking, can't we get a single app that does both handwriting as well as typing. Absolutely but that will be for another day. For now, I strongly encourage simple to use apps that provide common value and Penultimate and Notes fill that bill perfectly.
Credit: Apple

Please share your favorite note taking app or even your favorite apps. I'd love to read about them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Got a New Tablet or Smart Phone? What's First?

If you got a new tablet or smart phone for Christmas... congratulations! But what do you do first?

Thankfully, this there are no right or wrong things here but I have a few helpful hints and some recommendations from others that I've seen.

First and foremost, you must remember that Apple ID and Password you created if you got an iPad or iPhone. You will use these when obtaining new apps. For Android folks, remember the account name (typically a g-mail address but not always) and it's password. You must also associate a credit card with the account used when purchasing apps but we'll let the device remember that. For you, please remember the Apple ID/Account name and password.
Credit: Apple

Once here, pretty much the sky's the limit. However, for many of you, connecting with friends that have a similar device might be fun. For iPad (this includes the new iPad Mini) and iPhone people, I recommend trying out FaceTime. FaceTime allows you to make FREE video calls to friends and family who also have an iPad or iPhone. A daughter and I have been doing this recently after she got her iPad and it is quite fun to not only talk to her more but see her as well. Here is my recent article on using and setting up FaceTime or see the iPad/iPad Mini/iPhone User Guide. Give it a try.
Credit: Skype

For those of you that got an Android smart phone or tablet and it has a camera on both sides, you can do the same thing with Skype. Skype doesn't care which brand of phone or tablet you have and that's really good. Here is a link to an article I wrote to use and setup Skype.

I have so enjoyed chatting with one of my daughters via FaceTime that I wanted to share this fun experience.

Here are articles from people I've read for a long time and trust their work. Enjoy.

Please write comments, critical or otherwise. I want to improve based on what you want.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

iOS Updates Coming. Do These First.

From time to time, Apple introduces major and minor updates to their operating system, referred to as iOS for iPhones, iPads and iPods. These upgrades are typically important and you should do them.

These days you will get an App Store notification on your device and you can do the upgrade over the air (OTA). This can be a slow process so it is wise to do the upgrade while on Wi-Fi or by connecting to iTunes. However, there are some things you can do BEFORE upgrading.

Before upgrading your iOS device (iPhone, iPad or iPods) you should do a few simple things to prepare and avoid or be able to quickly get through a crisis.
  1. Do some simple house cleaning by removing apps you no longer use. Just delete from the device and NOT from iTunes. This will speed up the upgrade time.
  2. Transfer purchases from your device to iTunes. Connect to iTunes and go through the Backup and Synch process. Or right-click on your device at the left menu. With iTunes 11.x, from the Menu Bar, choose File > Devices > your device > Transfer Purchases.
  3. Do a Backup. From the same menu as above.
  4. If you haven't done so, install the latest version of iTunes. This is CRITICAL to obtain and use the latest features in the upgrade.
You are now ready to upgrade your iDevice. There are some who want to wait a week or so before doing an upgrade to make sure no problems pop up. If problems happen, they usually happen quickly and are fixed quickly. Personally, I love to get the latest and greatest and take the plunge immediately. Please feel comfortable regardless of the choice you make.
One final point, you need to know your Apple ID when doing the upgrade so have it handy.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Take Better Pictures with your Smart Phone

Use that smart phone to take pictures instead of a camera. Why carry two items in your purse or jacket? Virtually all smart phones have a very nice cameras for the masses like us and they are pretty easy to use too. Take even better pictures following a few little tricks.

Most of us put our subject in the center of the screen and press the button and that is fine for many since it is we who will be looking at those pictures. However, if you wish to share those pictures you many want to consider this simple tip to get photos just like professionals.

Standard photo taking tips still apply.

  1. Hold the phone as still as possible.
  2. Lightly press the shutter button to take the picture.
  3. Take horizontal pictures at first for most desirable affect although portrait is possible too.
The professional tip is to use what is called the "rule of thirds". It works like this. Imaginary lines are drawn on the screen, both horizontally and vertically, to divide it into thirds. Most smart phones have a "grid" feature for this very purpose.

  • You place important elements where these lines intersect.
Here is a diagram of the "rule of thirds" grid.

Some smartphones (the iPhone 4S and above, most Android smart phones and iPads with a camera) have the ability to turn these grid lines on or off.

Below are two photos of the same flower. See how one is in the center and the other uses the "rule of thirds".

Try it out. Take a picture with your subject at the center. Then use the rule of thirds grid and see which you prefer. Click here to see many, many examples of photos using the "rule of thirds".

Another example is an outdoor shot of the sunset. Don't put the horizon at the very center. Place the horizon on one of the horizontal grid lines.

Of course, sometimes rules are made to be broken. Please feel free to deviate from this rule. After all it's all about taking pictures that you enjoy.

See my article about saving photos from your smartphone to your PC--AUTOMATICALLY.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How do Regular People Use iCloud?

My grandson, Jordan, asked me to write how he can use iCloud. So I did some research and tried some things.

Apple's iCloud works with Apple devices(iPhone, iPad,iPod Touch and Macs). Apple does this a lot. FaceTime video calling works between Apple devices only. iCloud allows information to move smoothly from one device to another device. iCloud stores your music, photos, documents and more . 

Please don't think Apple has the lock on this capability as data movement between devices has been going on for a while now. However, iCloud creates a nice experience for those of you in the Apple realm. View a short video look at iCloud.
iCloud fundamentally is a synchronization service. To many people used to services like Dropbox, or even Windows Live SkyDrive, iCloud will likely look like an online storage service. It's not -- even though such capability is available. Storage is there to facilitate sync across multiple devices -- Macs, Windows PCs, smart phones, music players and tablets. Other services primarily sync to the cloud, while Apple's service uses the cloud to sync content among devices.


Above is a graphic that shows how iCloud is so useful. It can move information from one Apple device (an iPhone) to another (an iPad). A really good example are photos. I hear often "how to I get photos from my iPhone to my iPad so I can view them on that terrific, large screen?" The feature is called Photo Steam and it uses iCloud. 
On each device, turn iCloud on by going to Settings > iCloud > [app]
In the old days (just a few months ago, one would either e-mail those photos or connect the iPhone to a Mac or PC and use iTunes to retrieve the photoes, then connect the iPad and use iTunes to transfer the photos. Whew, what a chore. Thank goodness for iCloud.
In many ways, iCloud eliminates iTunes as the method for moving information to the Mac and then synchronizing with another device. Turn the iCloud synchronizing on is 
I've been asked if iCloud works on Windows and it does indeed. Here is a brief article on iCloud for Windows 2.0.
Beyond the above photo example, here are some other real world uses of iCloud.
  • Back up your device. If your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch was lost, stolen or was damaged, getting all of your apps and data can be restored quickly and easily if it was backed up to iCloud.
  • Keep your calendar, e-mail and contacts synchronized on your devices and Mac by using iCloud instead of iTunes.
  • Keep the Reminders the same on your iPhone and iPad and iPod Touch by Turning Reminders on in iCloud.
  • Synchronize Safari Bookmarks between devices and Mac. Save a new bookmark on one device and have it go to all of your devices.
  • My wife loves the Notes app on her iPad. Now she can have the same notes on her iPhone by turning Notes on in iCloud.
  • We purchased the app mGifts for the iPad to make holiday gift lists and track what was purchased and at what prices. This handy tool is really nice but taking the iPad to the store as a shopping list is not very practical. mGifts uses iCloud to synchronize all of the information to the iPhone. As a result, my wife uses her iPhone as the shopping list in the store. This is done by turning on Documents and Data in iCloud.

Thank you for the blog idea Jordan.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

FAX at Home. Use You Smart Phone or Tablet

Ever been asked to FAX something to someone, an important document, drivers license, etc. but didn't have a FAX machine handy? Try taking a picture of it and send by e-mail. Many can convert that photo into a document and you're done. However, I use a handy piece of software to take the picture, quickly save to a PDF (Portable Document Format used by many FAX machines, etc.), save and then e-mail. You even have the original for your records. I mentioned this handy feature in a previous article titled "what other things can you do with a smart phone camera."

There are a few software titles that do this but this is the one I use now. It is easy to use, I can do multiple pages and even re-order the pages once I've taken all of the pictures.
Handy Scanner (FREE or Pro version for 3.99), CamScanner HD (FREE or Pro version  for 4.99), DocScanner S (FREE or 3.00 for pay version), DocScanner for 1.99.
I use Scanner Pro and CamScanner Pro. I have been using both of these tools. So far, I just can't decide which one to stay with. I have been using CamScanner on both my Android smart phone and my iPad and Scanner Pro for the iPad for a year or so. 
3 Easy Steps
  1. Take a picture of the page
  2. Use the scanner software on your smart phone or tablet to convert to a PDF.
  3. E-mail the result right from the software.
Most of these softwares are so intelligent they can examine the picture to detect the edges of the page too. If the software didn't do this correctly or if you only want to save a portion of the picture, you can make those corrections.
What can you get done with software like this?
  • Send a copy of a contract or important document.
  • Get a copy of the menu from your favorite restaurant, snap a picture of each page.
  • Need a copy of something you just signed? Take the picture and convert it later to a PDF and save.
  • Save important receipts for business or tax purposes.
  • Scan your important forms of identification like Passport and Drivers License and save to an on-line service like Evernote, Dropbox, SkyDrive, etc. for easy retrieval in case of emergency.
I don't use this software as frequent as every week but when I use it I continue to be grateful that I have it with me. it is a life saver. 
CamScanner for Android
CamScanner for iPad
Scanner Pro for iPhone. Credit:Readdle
Scanner Pro for iPad

Take Picture and let software find the edges
Add a 2nd Page
E-mail it, Save it or Print it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Should I buy a Windows 8 PC?

If you need a new PC, now is a great time to get one and don't let Windows 8 stop you. Now don't go getting a new PC just because you think Windows 8 needs a new PC either. This is NOT the case. If you need a new PC...Get One!

See my article on Windows 8. 

Just announced January 17, the Windows 8 introductory prices are going way up! Upgrade will be $119 Feb 1. Get the upgrade before then for $39g.99.

This new round of Windows PCs built for the new Windows 8 Operating System are hitting the market right now.  To get the most out of Windows 8 you will want to get one that is touch-capable. That is you can touch the screen to navigate around Windows. Although this feature is not new, it has evolved much and is a major benefit to Windows 8. Recent tablets like Apple's iPad are touch-cable. In fact, using a keyboard or mouse is NOT the norm to get a great experience. The new Windows PCs with touch give you the benefits of a tablet without losing the power of a laptop.

All of the major brands are embracing this new Windows 8 experience so there is a lot of choice. In my opinion, there might be a bit too much choice. To a certain extent, there are so many looks and configurations that one might get confused and have a difficult time deciding which to get. It will likely take the better part of a year before the masses gravitate to a narrower group of hardware while the less chosen fall by the wayside.

We have the common desktop, laptop, tablet, ultra book, hybrid and all-in-one. I'll describe these and show some pictures so you can be better prepared when you trek to the store to shop.

All the buzz surrounds new Windows tablets called Surface with Windows RT.  The Surface was made to compete directly with Apple's iPad and it does pretty well for the most part. From the articles I've read, the common complaint only seems to be that it is a bit sluggish but the look and feel are quite good. The Surface with Windows RT comes with Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote) pre-installed. This is a slightly scaled down version of Office but virtually all of us will be quite comfortable with it. You can even get a keyboard cover (priced extra) for the Microsoft Surface tablet. The Surface starts at $499 just like the iPad. It is wise to note that Windows RT, a version of Windows 8, does NOT let one install older Windows 7 software. Like the iPad, you will use newly created software that you can get from the Windows App Store right from the Surface.

Simon Bisson of ZDNet says  "what I've been looking in a tablet for years now has been something that's light, powerful, and above all, able to run Office. That's why my last four laptops have been tablet PCs. They've all been powerful, they've all run Office, but they have never ever been light. That's where Surface has the advantage."

Laptops and notebooks  have expanded to Ultra books, very thin and light, to convertibles, where the screen flips around. But the standard laptop is still alive and well and still popular but with Windows 8 and a touch screen, using the laptop is easier and just more fun. Laptops come from many suppliers and the sky is the limit on capability and price so do some comparisons. For those that want a regular PC that can run older Windows programs yet still does Windows 8 where surfing the web and checking e-mail are the common chores, then the less expensive laptops with Windows 8 will work just fine. There really isn't a badly built laptop for this type of person.

Ultra books and the next generation of thin and light and very powerful laptops are for the more technology savvy person. One who needs a powerful processor and speed. Check out the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 for $999. This a thin Ultra book that is also a convertible where the screen folds all the way around flat. It's a little thicker than a tablet but a very powerful PC.

Source: HP
Scott Glenn of CNET says that The Hybrid Windows PC is "a tablet that turns into a laptop or a laptop that turns into a tablet." This genre of Windows PC begins with the Microsoft Surface Table and tablets made from the likes of Acer, Asus and Samsung running Windows RT. After the first of the year the more powerful Surface Pro that runs Windows 8 that can run those older Windows programs. Some of these will be Hybrid in nature where keyboards can slip or click on to the back of a keyboard.

One of my personal favorites is the all-in-one style where the large monitor contains the DVD/CD drive and computer innards. Add a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse and you have a small foot print Windows PC that doesn't have that bird's nest of wires all around. Again, using the touch-capable Windows 8 and you've got a real joy for a PC and one that is easy to see. Check out Windows 8 all-in-one PCs from Samsung, HP, Gateway, Dell, Vizio and Lenovo priced from $550 to $1,400.

All in all, the current crop of new Windows PCs should be able to meet every one's needs. I have read that people are waiting on a new purchase because there is uncertainty with Windows 8. From my experience with Windows 8, the new operating system is absolutely no reason to wait on a new PC. If your old one is on it's last leg, feel comfortable that getting a new one with Windows 8 will not make your sweat.

News from Microsoft as reported on the Windows Blog.

"As we pass the one month anniversary of the general availability of Windows 8, we are please to announce that to-date Microsoft has sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses. Tam Reller shared this news with industry and financial analysts, investors and media today at the Credit Suise 2012 Annual Technology Conference. Windows 8 is outpacing Windows 7 PCs. And we also set out to make upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8 super easy."

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Should I buy Windows 8?

Windows 8 has a beautiful look and feel to it. The application icons are larger and show information right on them. These larger icons are called "live tiles". Most existing Windows programs will work on Windows 8. And you do not need to upgrade your current PC's memory, hard drive or processor to install Windows 8 either. A Windows 8 PC starts up in about 25 seconds and apps start faster too. Microsoft Word opens in 2 seconds. So, should you upgrade to Windows 8?

Just announced January 17, the Windows 8 introductory prices are going way up! Upgrade will be $119 Feb 1. Get the upgrade before then for $39g.99.

As is the answer for many questions, it depends. For many, the PC is something you use to get things done. Check a little email, surf the web and that's about it. Some will even do all of their finances on it. They want the PC to work, not be work and learning a new operating system might be considered a waste of least for some. If this is the case for you, passing on Windows 8 would be OK. Windows 7 works perfectly well. It's safe, smooth and you know how to do your stuff on it. Even if you have Windows XP you might still be good by staying where you are.

A computer enthusiast will probably go right ahead (likely already has) and take the plunge to Windows 8. I did and have absolutely no regrets.

If, on the other hand, you are pondering getting a new desktop, laptop or even one of those new Microsoft tablets, go ahead and do it. Do NOT let a new Windows 8 operating system stop you. Windows 8 works great and is easy to use. Most new PCs will have "touch". That is you can touch the screen to start apps and navigate around by swiping the screen from left to right or right to left.

I know, having to learn something new is not much fun. But, do you remember moving into your current home? The kitchen cabinets were different and you had to put things away in slightly different places and it took a while to get used to where things were. But you got used to it didn't you? Well that's the way it is with Windows 8.

If you are thinking about a new PC, go right ahead and do it. Windows 8 will be very good especially if the screen is a "touch screen". Windows 8 was designed for "touch". Please be aware. Windows RT will NOT run older Windows software. Windows 8 laptops, Ultrabooks and All in Ones will. Windows 8 tablets will hit shelves in January. (More on Windows 8 PCs in my next article)
  • If you are keeping your current PC or laptop, keeping Windows 7 is a safe bet.
  • If you are seriously pondering an upgrade, click here to take a look at the steps. Use the Upgrade Assistant to examine your current PC to see what is needed. Windows 8 works perfectly well with a keyboard and mouse.

If you would like more details on upgrading to Windows 8, Paul Thurott (author of Windows 7 Secrets and Windows 8 Secrets) shows what to do based on your current Windows version. See the links below.

Upgrade from Windows XP
Upgrade from Windows Vista
Upgrade from Windows 7
Upgrade from Windows 8 Release Preview

NOTE: You would actually upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $39.99. Windows 7 Upgrade cost me $109.00 3 years ago so this is a great deal.

If you'd like to take a quick preview of Windows 8, click here and watch a few quick videos from the Microsoft website.

Coming soon...Tablet Grandpa talks about new PCs and tablets for Windows 8.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Make FREE Video Calls with Skype. Here's How

Overseas Military personnel and their families keep in contact by video call using Skype. You too can use Skype to say hello and see your grandchildren at the same time.

Unlike Apple's FaceTime app which only works on Apple products, Skype is available for all types of computers and smart phones so anyone can participate. And it's FREE too.
Here's how to get started
  1. Create a Skype account at It's FREE.
  2. Install the FREE Skype software on your PC, tablet or smartphone.
  3. Setup Skype on your phone, tablet or PC (Windows or Mac)
  4. Search for contacts
  5. Make the call!
Go to
Create a Skype account. It's FREE

Setting up Skype
  1. From Skype, search for another person who has Skype and add them as a contact. A Skype message will be sent to the other person for permission to be a contact.
  2. Make the Skype call.

Choose the Skype Contact

Make the Call!
Making a Video call from a smartphone
A Skype Contact Profile
Skype is FREE with basic features. More advanced feature have a charge.

Please note:
  • Your device must have a network connection and a camera that faces you. 
  • Some carriers will allow video conference over a standard 3G connection while others will not. Either contact your carrier or give this a try to see. If not, make sure you are connected to the Internet via WiFi.
  • Skype can work while on 3G or 4G but works best on WiFi.
Your Skype User Name and regular name are ways for people to search for you. Please remember this when setting up your Skype account.
Using Skype can be FREE but you see frequent notes talking of premium or extra features, all with additional costs. My advice is to hold your ground until you find you use Skype more and more and feel you could indeed use those extra features.
Get Skype for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch from the Apple App Store.
Get Skype for Android from the Google Play Store.
Get Skype for Wmdows or Mac at
Get Skype for Wndows 8 from the Wndows store from within Wndows 8.