Pebble Smart Watch

Pebble Smart Watch by Guest columnist August Flassig
Rating: ★★★★

Got a few gift cards burning a hole in your pocket after Christmas? Want to get some new tech after the holidays? Why not try the Pebble Smart Watch as something fun to pair with your iPhone. With the Apple Watch (“ Watch”) coming early 2015, some people don’t want to be early adopters and would prefer to wait for a product to be established. The idea of smart watches giving us info at a glance like new text messages, emails and controlling our music is a cool concept. Pebble is a great stepping stone for those interested in smart watches but not ready to pay the premium price tag.

Pebble Smart Watch

Pebble comes in two styles Pebble ($99) and Pebble Steel ($199) with various colors and watch bands (alternate watch bands included with Pebble Steel). Pebble is colorful and attention grabbing while Pebble Steel has a refined professional look. Pebble uses an e-ink display (such as the one found on Kindle) to be readable in direct sunlight and uses minimal power. Pebble’s battery life is around five to seven days on a charge but actively using it will decrease it faster. Your iPhone communicates with Pebble using Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) to push notifications and allow Pebble to control your music player and display text messages. Pebble is limited on what it can do with your phone in terms of information and control. For example, you can accept or decline calls with Pebble but still have to pull your phone out when accepting a call as the Pebble has no built-in speaker or microphone. You can also read and clear notifications from the lock screen and Notification Center but cannot respond to messages. Pebble only has four buttons: back, up, select, and down. The back button is similar to the Home Button on the iPhone and helps navigate out of submenus to the watch face. Up and down can be programmed to quick start an app if pressed for a few seconds and select chooses an item. Responding to a text or other notifications would be tedious so Pebble is great for giving you a glance to give you a choice on whether to pull your phone out or not.

Pebble App Store
The Pebble App Store


Out of the box, Pebble doesn't do much but tell time, set alarms, and control your music. To get started with Pebble, you download the “Pebble” app from the App Store on the iPhone. The app contains its own app store for additional apps and watch faces to add to the Pebble. Pebble only has space for eight additional apps and watch faces but removing and installing them is simple and fast through the Pebble app. The other apps you've downloaded reside in the “App Locker” where you can add and remove them with a few taps. There are a plethora of apps for Pebble to download and use ranging from step counters, weather apps, animated watch faces, Black Jack, and a BBC news feed. Some of the apps for Pebble require “companion apps” or apps downloaded on the iPhone’s App Store to give Pebble more functionality. The apps can gain access to calendar information, RSS Pebble App Store feeds, and even control the camera. However, a majority of these apps on the iPhone App Store cost money and not all the reviews are that great.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 3.13.08 PM
Pebble Tip Calculator


Pebble works great as an every day watch with the long battery life and up to 5 atmospheres (50 meters or 164 feet) of water resistance. Overall, the watch is very durable – I’ve bumped into walls or desks with the watch and barely scratched the face. I’ve owned it for a little under a year and have enjoyed it since the day I bought it. The “newness” and novelty have worn off but the functionality still remains. The apps I use the most are Tip Calculator and Black Jack and the watch face I prefer displays multiple timezones. Some of the other watch faces and games are fun for Pebble but I use it on a very basic level – reading notifications and controlling music. Some of the apps on Pebble’s App Store are Android-only and other apps require more time and computer knowledge than I wish to spend. For a tech hobbyists, this is the watch to get for experimenting with watch apps and doing more with your phone. For everyone else, the watch becomes more of a novelty item and a fun conversation piece. I bought it when it was $129 on Kickstarter and don’t regret my purchase. I would gladly recommend this to someone who likes to be tech savvy or being on the cutting edge of technology while not being stuck to a brand specific device.

Pebble is a great product to get me excited for  Watch and what new potential smart watches bring to our day to day lives. The  Watch is expected to have tighter integration with iPhone and  Pay support – things the Pebble is likely not to ever have. I’ll be retiring the Pebble when the  Watch is released, but Pebble has been a fun watch to own and a great to wear.

Inateck USB 3.0 Card for Mac Pro

Inateck USB 3.0 Card for Mac Pro (Early 2008 to 2012 Late Version)
Rating: ★★★★1/2

Until the newest Mac Pro started shipping in December 2013, the perennial workhorse of Apple’s professional computing line up did not have USB 3.0 ports and was, instead, saddled with USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 ports. Unfortunately, owners of older Mac Pros have not, until recently, been able to utilize USB 3.0 PCI-E cards for the lack of software drivers and the lack of internal power connections in their Mac Pros to supply those cards with enough power to power external USB 3.0 equipment such as external hard drives, flash drives, etc. Enter the Inateck USB 3.0 PCI-E card designed especially with Apple’s Mac Pro in mind!

Pros: Relatively inexpensive (at the time of this writing: $26.99). Easy to install - simply power off the Mac Pro, install the card, and restart your Mac! Does not require internal power connections in the Mac Pro in order to work. Works with built-in drivers in Mac OS X 10.8.2 “Mountain Lion” and higher. Although not tested in a Windows-powered desktop, the card came with a CD containing drivers for use with Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. If running Windows 8, the required drivers are already built into the operating system.

Cons: Although the card will function as a USB 2.0 card in Macs running Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” and OS X 10.7 “Lion”, the user will not be able to take advantage of the speed of USB 3.0 devices as those operating systems aren’t supported. There are many Mac Pros out there that are still running an older operating system that will not be able to benefit from USB 3.0 devices as a result.

As the card is mounted at the rear of the Mac Pro tower, it is quite difficult to access these ports temporarily. For long-term use, you can plug the devices in the card at the rear of the Mac Pro and leave them connected or consider using a powered USB 3.0 hub (pictured below). For temporary uses, though, you may want to consider either utilizing a USB 3.0 hub or a USB 3.0 extension cable (pictured below).

Comments: I tested this card using a Newer Technology Voyager Q Quad-Interface Drive Dock for 2.5" & 3.5" SATA drives as it features a USB 3.0 port in addition to FireWire 800 ports, a FireWire 400 port and an eSATA port. I also used a 3.5” Seagate Barracuda 2TB hard drive (an energy saving hard drive that spins at 5,900 RPM instead of the higher performance 7,200 RPM hard drives) for testing purposes.

Moving a disc image weighing in at 636.2 megabytes (essentially the contents of what would be stored on a burnable compact disc), I was able to copy that from the Mac’s internal hard drive, though the USB 3.0 PCI-E card to the external Seagate hard drive in 9.5 seconds. By contrast, if I used the USB 2.0 port built into the front of my Mac Pro, the same transfer took 21 seconds. More than twice as fast!

Moving the same disc image to a USB 3.0 flash drive placed in the USB 3.0 card, by contrast, took 58 seconds. If the same USB 3.0 flash drive was used in the Mac Pro’s built-in USB 2.0 port, the transfer took 72 seconds. It should be noted that flash drives do not read/write data as fast as conventional hard drives or Solid State Discs (SSDs) so these slower results were to be expected.

All in all, this is a worthy and very inexpensive upgrade for older Mac Pros running Mac OS X 10.8.x “Mountain Lion” or later. It will allow you to connect USB 3.0 devices to your Mac Pro without having to spend a ridiculous amount of money to do so.


For more information, click on the links below:







Mac_Pro_USB_3_card

Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 High-Speed Scanner

Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 High-Speed Scanner for Mac & PC
Rating:
★★★★★

For most people, if they have a scanner at home, it’s built into a printer (i.e. an “all-in-one” printer/scanner/copier/fax). This type of scanner can do the job of scanning an occasional document into their Mac or PC, or a photo when needed. But what if you had a lot of pages to scan? What about a lot of pages with text and/or images on both sides of the paper? What about converting the scanned-in image of text into editable
and searchable text in, say, a PDF? Lastly, how fast would this scanner be?

Enter the Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500!

Pros: Very fast scanning! I was able to scan a 50-page computer magazine (both sides - 100 total sides) into 300 DPI, searchable PDF file in less than 3 minutes! Fujitsu claims the ScanSnap ix500 can scan both sides of a document, in color, at a rate of 25 pages per minute. The ScanSnap software also provides for Optical Character Recognition (OCR) which converts the scanned-in image into searchable text.

By contrast, my Epson all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/fax could only scan a 1-page document (2 sides total) in about that time. Additionally, the Epson scanner was not able to perform the OCR needed to make the document searchable because it did not come with the appropriate software. Many all-in-one printers don’t feature good quality OCR software.

The ScanSnap can be connected either via USB 3.0 (USB 2.0 compatible) or via a wireless connection (aka: Wi-Fi). You can even scan directly to your iPad or iPhone too!

It works on both Macs and PCs and comes with the Windows-version of Adobe Acrobat XI Standard.

It’s compact. The entire scanner, when closed, is about the size of a 4-slice toaster.

Cons: There are only 2 cons that I can think of regarding this scanner.

The first: cost. It’s very expensive for a “one-trick pony” in that it’s just over $400. Yes, you read that correctly. The price, however, is comparable to the Neat brand scanner you’ve seen advertised on TV.

The second: scanning photographs may take some additional customization with respect to scanning settings to achieve the best scanning results. To be fair, most everything I scanned came out perfectly but color photographs took some “tweaking” to make sure the colors were accurate in the scanned version.

Comments: If you have a lot of paper that you want to get off your desk and organized such as you would in an office or even a home office, there’s no better way to do that than with a high-speed scanner. Do your homework and compare the ScanSnap to its main rival, the Neat brand scanner, and you’ll see the ScanSnap is the better choice. Compare the total number of reviews for both brands on Amazon, for example, and then compare the number of 4- and 5-star ratings for the ScanSnap versus the Neat and the choice will become clear.

The Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 high-speed scanner is worth every penny! The ScanSnap is, quite simply, the best scanner I have ever used - bar none.

Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 High-Speed Scanner


For more information, click the link below:

Sid Meier's Pirates for Mac

Sid Meier's Pirates!
Rating:
★★★★★

From Firaxis’ website:
“Raid the Caribbean as a 17th-century pirate captain in this epic, open-ended seafaring adventure. Based on Sid Meier's original masterpiece, Pirates!, Sid Meier's Pirates! has you facing countless dogged enemies, wooing fair maidens and raising the Jolly Roger on the high seas in pursuit of riches. Discover what it takes to become one of the most famous pirates in history!”

Pros: Excellent gameplay! Simple, easy to follow plot. Great graphics and sounds. This game can be easily played on Macs with integrated graphics cards (i.e. MacBooks & Mac Minis) so you know it doesn’t require a high-horsepower graphics card in order to be played. G-rated fun for the whole family. A lot of fun – my favorite game on the Macintosh!

Cons: Graphics somewhat cartoonish but given the wide age group that this game appeals to, it’s fine. Dancing with every governor’s daughter gets tiring and repetitive. Kiss your free time goodbye as this is a very addicting game!

Comments: I have been playing a variant of this game since the mid-‘80s and each version is better than the last but holds true to the fun gameplay of the original. You choose your nationality and roam the open seas in search of a better life whether through trading goods with other seaports or raiding other ships or both. You start out with a small ship and no titles or notoriety but, little by little, you start to make a name for yourself and local governors bestow you with titles, rank and privilege. Impress the local governor’s daughter enough and you might even take her hand in marriage. You’ll face dirty, cutthroat pirates as well as exceptionally trained naval crews from various nationalities such as Spain, England, Holland, and France as you battle your way to the top of the list of famous pirates.

Sid Meier’s Pirates for the Mac is
the game for the Mac. You’ll play for hours and hours. A definite must have!

For more information, click the link below:

Feral Interactive

Sid Meier's Pirates! for Mac retail box




          

Bluetooth Keyboard for iPad Mini

Some time ago, I posted about a Bluetooth keyboard for the full-sized iPad on Tech Me Back’s Facebook page and it was quite popular.

Well, this keyboard is specifically designed for the iPad Mini and is available with either black keys or white keys and costs
$29.99.

If you use Coupon code "ipadminibluetoothboard" the price drops to $23.99 + $2.85 for shipping. Deal ends
December 31, 2012.

Here are two (2) links to a Bluetooth keyboard from the iPad Mini:


Keyboard with Black Keys: Please Click Here

iPad Mini Bluetooth Keyboard


Keyboard with White Keys: Please Click Here

White iPad Mini Bluetooth Keyboard