5 Tips For Surviving With a WiFi-only Tablet

WiFi iPads and tablets

40Tech is pleased to present this guest post by Simon Butler from Rental Tablets.

More people buy WiFi-only tablets than tablets with 3G or 4G capability. This is partly because WiFi-only tablets are cheaper; in the case of the iPad it’s £100 (UK) or $130 (US) cheaper. In addition to this, if you want to actually use 3G or LTE on your iPad you’re looking at between £10 to £15 (UK) or $15 (US) a month extra for the data plan. So it’s easy to see why some users would just opt for the WiFi-only option.

However, all is not lost. There are many ways you can make the most of your WiFi-only tablet when away from a WiFi hotspot.

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Uh-oh. You Broke Your iPad Screen. Now What?

iPad broken screen

Today, 40Tech is pleased to present a guest post from Donal James.

An iPad without a functioning digitizer screen is pretty much worthless. Unfortunately the screen is a fragile component that is easily damaged. Even a fall of a few feet is usually enough to shatter the delicate glass.

Damaged or broken digitizer screens are one of the most common problems encountered by iPad users. According to warranty company SquareTrade, ten percent of iPad 2 owners reported damaging their iPads within the first 12 months of ownership, with the number increasing to 20% within the first two years of ownership. Many times when the touch screen becomes cracked or broken, the LCD screen beneath is unharmed. If that’s the case, you don’t need a new iPad – you just need to replace the digitizer screen.

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My Daughter Ate My Stylus — So I Learned How to Make a New (and Even Better) One

My Daughter Ate My Stylus -- So I Learned How to Make a New (and Even Better) One | 40Tech

My little girl is three. Three-and-a-half, to be exact — and before now, we never had to worry about her putting things in her mouth. I’m not sure what changed, really, but now we have to watch her like a hawk. And we do — but, unfortunately, it was already too late for my iPad stylus. For both of them…

The first one, she chewed on. It was pretty much a write-off. The second one, she decided it would be fun to see what the business end tasted like. Now I’m down two pens. They were the cheap kind, thank the tech gods, but that’s still about $40 down the drain! So I decided: the next stylus will be one of my own making. One that will cost me nothing to make, and that I can easily repair. And thanks to the wonders of the internet, making that happen was easy peasy.

There are several articles on the subject of the DIY touchscreen stylus. The ones that caught my eye were those talking about using a real pen. The basic touchscreen stylus isn’t exactly known for it’s ergonomic feel, so working one up from a real pen seemed like a good idea. I found a few iterations, but the basic concept can be traced back to a video on Make Magazine’s Makezine Blog. All you have to do is connect some light-gauge wire to some conductive foam — which can be found in the packaging of computer and electronic components such as microchips and CPUs — feed it through the empty body of a comfortable pen, and then wrap the wire around the outside, where your hand will come into contact with it. Trim the conductive foam tip to desired size and shape, and voila: instant iPad stylus.

YouTube Preview Image

The whole project can be done very quickly, and you can spruce it up a bit by drilling small holes to lock the wire inside the body of the pen, so that you don’t have to use tape. If you happen to have a pen with a metal body, even better. All you’ll need in that case is the conductive foam and you’re good to go! The wire method isn’t so bad, though. It’s not always pretty, but it works.

Here’s a (somewhat blurry) shot of my rough prototype:

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I made this on a whim, entirely from things I had on hand. I was able to use the original stylus head for the conductive foam, which was nice — we caught her before she swallowed it. I also used some very light speaker wire (all I had, at the time), and the head of an old 1/4 audio jack to provide support for the tip. It fit snugly into the point of the pen, once the pen’s original head was taken off. Note that the wire is only on one side of the pen. I did that because speaker wire is ugly, and wrapping it all the way around would have been a total atrocity, potentially involving metal splinters. The way I hold a pen would have me almost always in contact with it, anyway, and the next round will be prettier.

Looks notwithstanding, due to the ergonomic grip of the pen, I’ve already found that the DIY iPad stylus is much more accurate than those that are up for sale. I’ll never go back.

Looking for a fun, easy project? Make your own stylus! Then tell us all about it. Post pictures, even!

Collin’s Lab: DIY iPAd Stylus [Make]

Three Low-Cost, DIY Ways to Use Your Smartphone While Wearing Gloves

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So I’m in Winnipeg now. Winnipeg, affectionately referred to as Winterpeg, and thought by some (possibly me) to be a window into the truth behind the colloquialism “when Hell freezes over.” Okay, so I’m being a bit dramatic — but it can get freaking cold here in the depths of winter, man! Minus 75 degrees Celsius in the wind isn’t uncommon here. I have no idea what that is in Fahrenheit, but I’m sure you Americans will agree that anything north of Fargo has got to be cold.

In any case, my new location has me continuing my investigation into how to use my tech while freezing my butt off. Previously, I talked about winterizing smartphones, tablets, and laptops. My latest quest has been how to use my capacitive touch screen devices without having to take my gloves off just to answer the phone. And we all know I’m into doing things on the cheap, so we can squash any thoughts about buying those fancy-schmancy touchscreen gloves. It’s DIY or die, baby! This is what I found:

Perusing the Google brought forth three methods from three different, and trusted sites — Lifehacker, Make, and Instructables.

 

Sewing Conductive Thread

Instructables has a nice tutorial on sewing about a foot of conductive thread into the fingertip of a glove. The idea is to sew just a few close-set stitches (3-5) on the touchy-feely side of the glove, keeping things to about 1/4″ (6mm) in diameter. Smaller is bad, as your iPhone or other smartphone will pretend you don’t exist, and too big will sacrifice accuracy. Why all those inches of thread for just a few, small stitches? Because you want to leave a rats-nest of the special thread on the inside of the glove’s finger, to make sure you get good conductive contact. You may also want to save some for other fingers so you can do multi-touch gestures and the like.

The whole operation costs less than $5 (not including the gloves of course).

Instructables Touchscreen Glove with Conductive Thread

 

No-Sew Method 1: Snap-Fastener

Make Projects has a slightly different take on the subject. They take the complicated sewing out of the equation and shove a brass or nickel-plated snap-fastener right through the fingertip of a heavy glove so it can go clickety-clack on your screen. Now, one might be concerned about scratching or cracking the glass, but if that is the case then I say to you, this: how hard are you tapping your screen anyway? Are you angry? Calm down, guy… seriously.

In a way, this method is more complicated, as it requires more tools than just some thread abd a needle. There is little in the way of precision required here, however, and you get to hit things with a hammer (when you set the snap-fastener’s rivet).

This method costs about $5 to $7.

Make Projects No-Sew Touchscreen Glove with Snap Fasteners

 

No-Sew Method 2: Thermal Compound

Leave it to a Lifehacker contributer to come up with a clever and cheap (albeit messy) way to get the job done. Easy, too. This method would work better for thinner gloves, I should think, but be that as it may, it’s pretty cool — and there is not even a dream of a pun intended there. All you need here is a little CPU thermal compound rubbed in to the fingertip of your glove, and voila! No fuss connectivity. Well… no fuss until you need to rub some more in — and maybe a bit of increased screen cleaning.

This is by far the easiest method, though it lacks permanence. The cost of thermal compound (available at most computer stores) is about $7. You can even get it at Radio Shack.

Arctic Silver CPU Thermal Compound Used for Touchscreen Gloves

 

Those were the best — and cheapest methods I found to use your touchscreen tech in the dead of winter. Which one’s your favourite? If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

Winterizing Your Portable Tech

Winterizing Your Portable Tech | 40Tech

I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time in the soon to be frozen hell that is central North America. This has led me to consider things that, heretofore, I had no inkling about while hanging out on the often wet but nearly always mild Northwest coast. Things like: how to touch my smartphone or iPad screen in the freezing cold weather, should I even bring the damned things out in the freezing cold weather and, oh, what about my tech and the, you know, freezing cold weather? So I did a bit of looking around, and here are the best tips that I found…

The biggest — and most obvious — suggestion was to just never take the things out when it’s truly cold, and to make sure you never forget them in your car. This sort of silliness can lead to cracked screens (especially for the glass ones, like iPhones, iPads, and other smartphones and tablets), and dead batteries. That’s not all, though. Condensation is also a concern. Nothing like little droplets of water forming inside your electronics. That’ll make for a fun and expensive day, yes?

Condensation can form inside your device if you turn it on while it’s still cold. The best advice I’ve found to avoid this is to wait until your toy — or essential life device (ELD) as the toys are fast becoming — reaches room temperature before turning it on. Other management options are to try and keep the things warm in the first place. There are laptop warmers out there, and someone is probably bringing heated iPad cases to market as we speak, but the tried and true option is to keep the device close to your body. This only works if you dress warmly, however — and it really only works for smartphones or little wee-tablets.

If you do see condensation, don’t turn on your device. Wait! You’ll want to check if it’s still working but that is an incredibly bad idea! Instead, stick the thing in some uncooked rice — cover it! — and let that attempt to draw the moisture out. It may or may not work, but it’s your best chance, even if you drop your device in a puddle or something.

The phone doesn’t stop ringing just because it’s cold. You can always purchase (or make) some gloves with removable or conductive finger-tips, but a better option in extreme cold weather is to just keep the thing in your pocket and use a good earbud with inline mic and call answer buttons. Something with music track-changing buttons doesn’t hurt either.

Here’s something I didn’t know: I had no idea that leaving your device in sleep mode can increase the potential for problems and damage in cold weather. I read this on a couple of different sites and, while no one ever said why, they all said that turning off your device completely — at least in regard to laptops and netbooks — is always a good idea before going out into the frozen outside world. Better safe than sorry, I say.

Some sites also advised wrapping your device up in a scarf or something if you have to leave it in your car. If you use it often, this could work, as it will help to keep the device’s generated heat from dissipating. If you leave it out over night — or even for an hour — in really cold weather, however, wrapping it up won’t do a thing. Not unless what you wrap it in has it’s own heat source.

So what do you do to protect your portable electronic devices — smartphones, tablets, laptops, et al — in extreme cold weather?

Digital Paper is a Reality with the Upcoming NoteSlate Tablet

If you’ve always wanted to be done with pen and paper in favor of a comparable digital solution, or are just a fan of nifty one-trick gadgets, then you are going to want to put aside $100 this June for the NoteSlate. NoteSlate is a high tech gadget with low tech dreams; an E-Ink tablet with the sole purpose of doing its best to emulate a notepad — or, more likely, one of those personal chalkboards that is its namesake.

It’s actually a very cool idea. The tablet’s 13-inch screen and stylus combo make for easy note scrawling, diagram drawing, and other scribbles, and the single purpose aspect makes for a comparatively low-priced solution for the pen and paper crowd that want an upgrade that fits their work habits.

The specs of the NoteSlate are intriguing, as a few of them fly directly in the face of the MORE POWER mantra of most of today’s devices. Check out some of the highlights below:

  • 750×1080 pixel display that outputs at 100ppi
  • 1bit colour
  • No antialiasing — they claim this is their best feature
  • Optional WiFi (it’s free to add it in, apparently)
  • No web browsing (though there is some sort of sharing client)

It does have some of the more standard things you might expect from a modern tablet, however, such as its slick look and extremely light weight, a mini-USB port, SD card slot that supports up to 32GB, and mp3/PDF/OCR capability (another free upgrade). It also bears mentioning that the hardware and software are both open source, and that you can get a few different single-colour models, and even a four-colour model to suit your personal tastes.

NoteSlate_color Digital Handwriting Tablet

It is unclear how well the NoteSlate will do in the burgeoning tablet market, but it definitely does speak to a niche of more hands-on, note takers, especially those with a more minimalist bent.

What do you think of the NoteSlate?

What Next-Gen Tech, Gadgets Are You Most Looking Forward To?

What Next-Gen Tech, Gadgets Are You Most Looking Forward To In 2011 | 40Tech

CES 2011 wrapped up about a week past, and from the the look of things, there is some pretty sweet new tech on the horizon. There are tablets, smartphone/laptop combos, tablet/netbook combos, concept cars/bikes, connected TVs, WiFi-connected refrigerators, unifying cloud storage services, and much much more.

After the jump, I’ve listed three of the things I’m most looking forward to, as well as links to a few articles from folks who were at the event. Have a read, be tantalized and amazed — and let us know what you are most excited about in the world of tech and gadgets this year!


Motorola Xoom

There’s a reason this year is being heralded as the year of the tablet — and there’s a reason that this tablet stole the entire show. Motorola’s Xoom tablet was the only one at the show using the new, optimized-for-tablets Android Honeycomb. It’s packing a 10.1 inch display, 1280×800 resolution, 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 processor, and front and rear cameras. It’s ridiculously fast, can take 720p video, and will have 4G capability in the second quarter of the year.

Motorloa Xoom, Android Honeycomb, Best of CES 2011 | 40Tech

There’s no word on the price of this beauty, but it ought to give the iPad — possibly even the iPad 2 — a serious run for its money. Just the fact that it has all that power, supports Flash, and is on a network other than AT&T (Verizon) might be enough to sway some users. It is unknown whether there will be a WiFi-only version or not, or if anyone outside of Verizon will get a hold of it — but I hope that Motorola would be smart enough not to limit themselves.


Motorola Atrix 4G

Motorola came to win at CES this year, and their smartphone offering is, in a word, awesome! I own an iPhone and an iPad, and I thoroughly enjoy them both, but the geek in me is loving what companies like this are doing with Android. The phone itself is beefy (the dual-core Tegra 2 chip and 1GB of ram make playing 1080p video and Flash a breeze), but the coolest thing about it is the dock — which turns it into a laptop.

Seriously.

The phone just plugs into the back of the 2.4 pound laptop dock, and voila! You get an 11.6 inch screen with a compressed keyboard, a trackpad, and webtop software that lets you surf the full-sized web, even picking up where you left off on the phone. You can also access the phone’s interface, and run its apps in full screen. According to LaptopMag, you can even run Citrix Receiver, which allows you to basically run full Windows right there on the machine.

Very cool!

Motorola-Atrix-4G-With-Laptop-Dock


Real Networks Unifi: One Cloud Service to Rule Them All

Real Networks is coming out with a cloud service to combine all cloud services. Unifi will allow you to aggregate your multimedia files — or whatever files — that are on multiple devices and online services. This would allow you to keep just one central online media and file library to organize, manage, and access all of your stuff. Its incredibly convenient, especially as we are moving more and more to the cloud. The interface looks pretty good, too.

Real Networks Unifi | One Cloud Service to Rule Them All | 40Tech

Apparently, Unifi will be open for public beta in a couple of months, and Real Networks plans to offer the standard freemium model: 2GB of storage for free, with paid plans that climb up to 100GB. iOS and Android apps should be available around the same time as the beta lanch, with Windows Mobile 7 and Blackberry apps to follow. It ought to be useful for Google Chrome OS when it finally goes live, as well.


So those are the things that really stood out to me in CES 2011, but there were many, many more — good, bad, and weird. Here are a few links:

cNet: http://ces.cnet.com/best-of-ces/

LaptopMag: http://www.laptopmag.com/mobile-life/best-of-ces-2011.aspx#axzz1B4NBYH9c

enGadget: http://www.engadget.com/2011/01/11/best-of-ces-2011/


What tech are you most looking forward to? Anything you definitely did not like?

Sorry Stevie, Techies Think 7 Inches of Samsung Will Work Just Fine

Samsung Galaxy Tab | 40Tech

The tech community seems to be almost overwhelmingly positive about the new Samsung Galaxy Tab. Some of that is because the tech community tends to love the openness of Android, and some of that is because the Tab is a shiny new toy — but much of it appears to be because Samsung’s new tablet is actually pretty cool.

Check out the video, below, from Stuff.tv. It’s one of many reviews and unboxings that I’ve come across that sings a balanced tune about the Tab’s goodness. Some highlights are as follows:

  • The smaller size of the Tab is a good thing, as it can fit in a (large) pocket and is easier to type on than an iPad (for people focused on thumb-typing).
  • Having Flash on a tablet is awesome and it appears to work pretty well, even on 3G.
  • Samsung and Carriers have pre-loaded “helpful” software (or bloatware) onto the device.
  • The interface, while infinitely more configurable, is not a slick as the iPad — but it does the job.
  • People will like it, no matter what Steve Jobs thinks.
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My last two highlight points, above, were mentioned in every single positive review I read, watched, or skimmed, and though there are a few negative reviews out there, many of them come of as Apple fanboys doing what Apple fanboys love to do: trashing things that are not Apple. There are a some reasonable points to take away from the negative reviews, however, such as the difficulty that first time users of the Tab can have with finding the “on” button, and the fact that Android 2.2 was simply not built for tablets (just like Google said it wasn’t) and that leads to the occasional performance hiccup.

Overall, it seems that the Samsung Galaxy Tab will be a reasonable alternative to the iPad, even if it will never quite achieve the elitist notoriety of an Apple product. What do you think?

Samsung Galaxy Tab Video Review [Stuff.tv]