Digital Thingamajigs
Get the scoop on the latest mobile and handheld devices, high-tech gadgets, phones, gaming devices and more as well as computer-related tips and tricks. Keep up with tech trends, gaming software and check out some of the newest innovations that are turning heads in the electronics industry.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Motorola Droid 4 reviewed

I’m still amazed at how big smartphones are getting.

With each new phone I get my hands on, the screen size and bulk seem to get larger and heftier, and the Motorola Droid 4 is no different. And while bigger isn’t always better, there are some advantages to heft. Still, at some point, these phone manufactures need to call off their war on compact phone sizes.

One of the advantages of Android-based phones over Apple’s iPhone is the plethora of phone options and brands available to users. While iOS users are stuck with Apple’s iPhone, Android users have myriad manufacturers from which to choose, such as LG, Samsung and Motorola to name a few.

However, after using several of these smartphones over the past few years, I’m starting to notice a lack of variety in the various phone models available. As with most of the Android phones on the market today, the Droid 4 comes with a blazing-fast 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 540X960 pixel qHD screen and 1GB of RAM. All of these make for a very fast and smooth experience while using the phone. Still, the ubiquitous features of all these Android-based phones are making it harder and harder for any one phone to stand out.

As with many other Android phones, the Droid 4 also comes with USB and mini-HDMI ports, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, GPS and it works well with Verizon’s 4G LTE service, now available just up I-64 in the Capital City, Charleston.

This phone is massive. The Droid 4 weighs in at a lumbering 6.3 ounces, which is well over the average smartphone weight of 4.6 ounces, according to It’s not the largest smartphone on the market, but it is on the chunky side at 5 X 2.65 inches.

There are some advantages to the size and weight. Actually, much of the size is taken up by the slide-out keyboard on the phone. The well-lit keys are very easy to see and provide nice feedback when typing or texting online. The keys are nicely spaced out and just big enough for someone with gorilla-sized digits to type away. It sure beats using a virtual keypad any day, and to me, felt even better than the slide-out keyboard on the Samsung Stratosphere I reviewed a few months earlier.

The 8 GHz camera is very generous and takes nice photos, plus there’s a front-facing camera for voice chats or Skype. And although the display does have a high pixel density at 275 ppi, the qHD screen just doesn’t compare with the organic LED (AMOLED) displays of some other phones, such as the Motorola Razr and the Samsung Stratosphere. Once you’ve seen the clarity and contrast on an AMOLED display, the only thing that comes close to touching that kind of quality is Apple’s Retina Display.

Another small complaint is the placement of the on/off button at the top of the phone. As soon as I get used to turning on my phone by pressing the button on the side, the button gets moved to the top, which doesn’t really make sense. While gripping the phone in the most comfortable way, none of your fingers are at the top. And even the iPhone, which has its on/off button at the top, places it on the right side, which is a little easier to reach than right in the middle. I know it’s a minor complaint, but I do wish these Android-phone manufacturers would come up with a common button placement.

The Droid 4 comes with Android 2.3.6, which is preloaded with Google apps, game demos, Netflix and a gazillion other apps, many of which I wasn't even sure what they did: VCast Tones? VZ Navigation? One of the apps, Netflix, did require an update, but worked fine once that was downloaded.

With the Droid 4’s ultra-fast 1.2GHz dual-core processor, every app I tried loaded instantly and, coupled with Verizon’s 4G service, browsing the Web was rather zippy.

Overall Impressions
If you’re someone who loves to text or likes to type a lot on the road, this would be the smartphone for you. The most impressive feature, in my opinion, is the large, well-lit keyboard that makes typing almost as comfortable as using a desktop or laptop computer. And while the screen isn’t the best out there, it does pack a lot of pixels in a tiny space for high-resolution photos and very crisp text, even at small font sizes.

The ultra-fast processor and 1GB RAM also make for a smooth experience. And while it’s not my favorite Android-based phone on the market, the Droid 4 is definitely worth checking out — especially if you can snag one for under 100 bucks with a Verizon contract.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Should you buy the new iPad?

If you’ve been in the market for a tablet for a while, but feel overwhelmed by the choices now available, you’re not alone.

Since the original iPad surfaced two years ago, hundreds of similar tablets have hit the market ranging from the sub-$100 e-readers that are basically digital books all the way up to the 4G, multi-core, high-definition iPad recently announced by Apple itself.


If you’re anything like me, then one of the most important things is price. However, it’s not as simple as picking a price range and buying a tablet. You have to consider your needs first.

Some basic questions you may want to ask yourself first are: Why do I want a tablet? Do I want it for gaming? Do I want it for word-processing? Am I just going to surf the Web? Do I want it to replace my laptop? Or do I want it in addition to my laptop?

The Amazon reigns for us

If you just want something to complement your laptop, then you might want to consider an e-reader, such as Amazon’s line of Kindle readers or tablets.

Amazon’s tablets range in price from about $79 up to about $379. Amazon’s Kindle is the premier e-reader. If you’re a bookworm and will do mostly reading, you might want to go this route. The Kindle’s electronic ink display is easy on your eyes and looks very similar to paper. It’s low-priced and has an amazingly long battery life.

You’re not, however, going to do much Web surfing with the Kindle, unless you like single color (black) Web pages with no video or flash capabilities. There is an experimental browser available, but it’s quite slow at displaying images and if you’re using the non-touch screen version, you have to navigate with the menu keys. There is built-in Wi-Fi on all models (except for the DX, which has free 3G), but unless you’re using one of the 3G-capable models, you will only be able to surf in hot spots.

On the other hand, if you’re really into the Web and won’t be spending more than a few hours a week reading, then you may want to consider the Kindle Fire. Like the iPad, the Fire has an LCD screen, built-in Wi-Fi and is capable of playing movies, TV shows and music. And at under $200, the Fire won’t dent your budget too much.

The main drawback to the Fire is the lack of 3G, which again means you won’t be surfing the Web unless you’re in a Wi-Fi hot spot. That means you’re going to have to have a wireless router or spend all of your time at McDonald’s or any other spot that offers free Wi-Fi.

Android or iOS: What’s the difference?

If you’ve been searching for a tablet, you’ve no doubt heard mention of the dueling operating systems: Android vs. iOS. Basically, iOS is Apple’s interface and Android was created by Google for everything else.

The two systems are very similar, but each one has distinct advantages over the other.

For example, iOS comes with Apple’s App Store, which gives users access to the largest library of apps (programs), many of which are free or cost just a few dollars. Apple’s App Store currently has around 500,000 apps compared to Android’s 250,000, according to CNET. So, Apple definitely has more variety.

However, with Android, you have many more choices as to what tablet you’d like to try. The Android operating system is leased out to several tablet manufacturers, including the Kindle Fire, with many different options available. You can only use iOS on Apple’s iPad — nothing else.

So should I get an iPad?

So, you’ve thought it through, done you’re research and now you’re ready to buy an iPad. But wait! You’re not done yet. You’ll still have to decide which model and what features you’ll want.

If price is still a concern, then now is the time to buy. When Apple announces a new generation of iPads, the previous generation typically drops in price. Right now, you can get an iPad 2 for $399. You can find them even cheaper if you’re willing to buy certified refurbished iPads from Apple, which are an excellent bargain.

The big difference between the iPad 2 and the newest generation is the screen. The newest version of the iPad has a screen with double the resolution of the iPad 2, which means the tablet actually has more clarity and pixels than a 60-inch plasma or LCD TV. The retina display is the same technology that Apple has used in the iPhone and is quite remarkable.

And as far as options go for the iPad, if you go for the cheapest, you’ll be without 3G (or 4G, which is just faster 3G). There are basically three pricing/storage levels of the iPad: the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB, starting at $499 and increasing $100 for each storage level for the newest version. Add about $130 for 3G or 4G service on top of the base price.

Do I still need my laptop?

The question some may be asking themselves is: Will I still need a laptop if I buy a tablet. And the answer depends on the person.

While it may be hard to believe, you can do almost as much on a tablet now as you can on a laptop. Gaming? Check. Web surfing? Check. Watching movies/TV shows? Check. Word processing? Check.

Word processing? Really?

As a matter of fact, OnLive has just released an app that turns your tablet into a virtual Windows 7 machine, complete with access to Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.) and cloud storage. You can write a blog or a book, save it, come back to it later, delete it or do whatever you want. You can’t install your own software on it, but it does come in quite handy on the road.

So then, do you still need a laptop if you have a tablet? And my personal answer is no – with an asterisk. If you have a desktop computer at home and do little traveling, the tablet should suffice. If you don’t have a home PC or your job requires you to use specialized software or VPN, you may want to keep the ol’ laptop handy.

Otherwise, just trade the thing in and use that money to buy your new tablet. But be warned: With the way technology is advancing in this day and age, you might just have to trade that tablet up for the next big thing in a few years.