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Nexus 5

$115 worth of Android apps for free for a limited time

technologyEdward KiledjianComment

Amazon's Android app store is at it again offering $115 of free android apps for free until this Saturday. Some are very good and others are just filler but this promo is definitely worth checking out and I have confirmation that it is valid in Canada, the US and UK so far.

My favourite apps in this bundle are:

  • Plants versus Zombies
  • Plex
  • Fruit Ninja
  • Sonic the hedgehog
  • World of Goo
  • Lapse it Pro
  • Longman dictionary of contemporary english

Download it now while these are free (link)

Joos Orange Solar Charger Review

technologyEdward KiledjianComment

I love gadgets related to camping or survival. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to test various solar chargers in real world situations and after all the testing was done, the Joos Orange won a special place in my heart.

The Joos Orange is a big heavy plastic box with a solar panel on it. Unlike all of the other major solar chargers I tested, it was the only one that is completely self contained (battery, circuitry and solar panel), waterproof and can be locked to a tree, table or other immovable item. 

Although its WATT rating was low (considering its weight), its solar cell is extremely efficient and it performed superbly well in all weather conditions.

It's the power dummy

The best place to start the review is with its power performance. I compared the Joos Orange to the SolarMonkey adventurer, Instapark Mercury and the Goal Zero. The Orange Joos charged my tablets (ipad and Nexus 7) or smarpthone (Note 3 or iPhone 5s) as fast or faster than its competitors. 

The built in angle legs held position the Orange Joos in the optimal position to catch the sun's rays.


These legs are a small touch that made a big difference in the field. Plus it was the only charger I tested that had these angle legs. 

The device comes with a 5400mAH built in battery that is large enough to partially charge an iPad or to fully charge an iPhone twice. You can pre-charge the battery before leaving which means the solar panel only has to top off the battery as you use it.

If you have a laptop, they offer a little app (MAC or Windows) that allows you to monitor the efficiency of the solar panels and the battery power level.

In field use

Here comes one of my biggest annoyances with the device, you have to use their USB cables. Why oh why.... Since the iPhone 5s lightning connector was not included in my kit, I used their Joos-to-USB connector plugged into my Apple cable. You can buy the lightning adaptor from them for $10 plus S&H. This one design flaw kept annoying me every time I wanted to charge a device. When you buy the kit, it comes with the basic Apple 30-pin connector, micro USB and standard USB connectors all stored in a weird waterproof zip up bag. 

The next version of the Joos Orange should have a standard USB connection. I can't stress that enough. There was one instance where I took the Orange Joos but forgot the proprietary connector at home so the kit was useless. 

Once I got over the above issue, every thing else was wonderful. I had a chance to test it in all kinds of weather conditions from direct bright sunlight to all day overcast with rain. In every situation, the little charging light was blinking. Since none of its competitors were waterproof, I was hesitant to leave them out when rain was possible. Plus the Orange Joos seemed to charge faster in every condition. In bright summer sunlight, I charged the battery from completely dead to full in about 9.25 hours. 

When you add the reflectors (sold separately), they cut charing time by about 35-40%. Which made the great charging time of the Orange Joos even better. Having installed and removed the reflectors about 60-80 times since this summer, you can see a little wear around the screw insertion spots. This won't impact performance but the charger will outlive the cheaper plastic reflectors for sure.

The large hole at the top of the charger was great for attaching to the outside back of my backpack while hiking. Other times I use to leave it at the camp site to charge in the sun and use to lock it to a large wooden picnic table to prevent theft. Nice design touch. 

I read over a hundred reviews on various internet sites and a complaint that kept coming up is related to the connector. A small percentage of users complained that after several months of use, the connector would become unreliable and you would have to fiddle with it to "make" the connection. After my months of in field testing, I didn't encounter this issue but wanted to make sure you were aware of it. I emailed some questions to their support team and always received prompt courteous responses. If your device does encounter this connector issue just contact them.

Q&A with the company

During my tests, I had some questions for Solar Joos and thought you may benefit from the answers so here it is.

Q1 - What drove the creation of SolarJoos and the Orange?

"The technology was originally created for commercial phone charging stations(before my time here), but ran into some complications so the founders decided to create a consumer product since there is such a large and growing market for portable power.  Since we have the best solar technology it made sense to try to create a consumer product for portable power, we came up with the JOOS Orange." - Dan Trautman

Q2 - What differentiates you from the other major solar player

"What separates us from Goal Zero and everyone else is our patented technology that allows us to use one complete solar cell(as opposed to cutting multiple cells into strips and wiring them together in a series).  It is an internal component that takes the 2.6W from the solar cell and 'saves' up enough to output at 5W into the battery so USB devices can charge from the battery.  Our competitors have to have enough solar cell strips to equal 5W which is why ours is a much smaller form factor.  If half of their solar mat gets covered in shade charging will stop.  You can cover 95% of our cell with shade and it will still collect some power from the sun as opposed to not working at all.  This is how the JOOS is able to charge in low light(real-world) conditions.  Also, the JOOS Orange has an internal battery that the solar cell charges and then the battery charges your device as opposed to having to have the solar cell and device in the sun simultaneously.  The sun doesn't have to be out for the JOOS to charge a device if there is power in the battery.  We also have a patent on our social media idea for people to be able upload their solar collecting data and compare with other JOOS customers, it will be a much better version of our dashboard diagnostic software."  - Dan Trautman

Q3 - What are the 2-3 most striking use cases you know for your product?

" Last year, the JOOS became a pretty popular device for helping keep families connected when hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the US.  The JOOS has also helped mountaineers summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Denali, and many other mountains.  We also have many customers in the Peace Corps that use it to stay connected while in remote parts of the planet.  We've also donated a few units to a US based project that helps bring tablets to schools in remote villages in Africa. the JOOS is their power source." - Dan Trautman

Q4 - How much is a replacement battery?

Replacement batteries are $29.99 and should last 200-300 cycles (about 1 year).

Q5 - Are there any other products in development?

"Yes, many new and exciting things are in the works.  We'll have a larger unit for better tablet charging and laptop charging.  Plus a smaller version(1 smart phone charge) that will be much more portable geared toward everyday usage and travel." - Dan Trautman

Conclusion

I really liked the Orange Joos Solar charger because it is self-contained (battery plus solar charger), water proof, charged extremely well in all types of weather and durable. If these are qualities you are searching for then buy the Orange Joos and I promise you won't be disappointed. 

If however you don't care about your solar panel being self contained. If you don't need a water proof solar charging solution. If you aren't concerned about maximizing charging in various weather conditions. If you need something lightweight then you may want to look at some of the other solar charing kits (like the InstaPark Mercury 10 - link - combined with an external battery). 

I'm excited to see what Solar Joos does with future products. 

AT&T brings free solar charging to NY City

technologyEdward KiledjianComment
Image by  Jimmy_Joe  under Creative Commons License

Image by Jimmy_Joe under Creative Commons License

AT&T is bringing back their solar street charging stations to NY city which will make thousands of tourists and locals happy. Your happiness should last until September when AT&T scoops up these stations and prepares them for winter hibernation.

45 of these will be distributed accross New York City (double the 2013 number). These are completely free and available to everyone (not just AT&T customers). 

The stations so have an internal battery which means they will charge your power hungry phone or tablet even at night.

Find these selfie saving devices in the following 5 burrows:

Manhattan:

  • Central Park
  • Marcus Garvey Park
  • Coenties Slip
  • Old Slip
  • Mannahatta
  • Pier 15
  • East River Esplanade
  • Bowling Green Park
  • South Street Seaport
  • Edgar Plaza
  • Union Square
  • Governor's Island

Queens:

  • Flushing Meadows Corona Park
  • Rockaway Beach

The Bronx:

  • Orchard Beach

Brooklyn:

  • Brooklyn Bridge Park
  • Coney Island
  • Brighton Beach

Staten Island:

  • South Beach
  • Midland Beach

You can read the details on AT&T's special webpage (link).

Run iPhone apps on Android

technologyEdward KiledjianComment

The iPhone 5s is my main primary use cell phone (even though I test dozens of other phones every year). One of the main reasons I have stayed (stuck) to the iPhone is the collection of high quality apps available on IOS and not on Android. Sure I wish my main apps existed on both platforms but there are still some very useful productivity apps that are iPhone only. 

Now six Columbia university students have done the unthinkable. they have forsaken everything that is holly and have devised a platform (called CIDER) which "fools" IOS apps into thinking they are running on an iPhone. 

I don't have the technical details but this is likely the same model used by Wine to run Windows app on Linux without needing a windows license. They likely emulate the APIs which trick the app. In the video, CIDER clearly suffers the same performance problem running IOS apps that Wine suffers running Windows apps. The other issue CIDER has is the inability to access many of the additional device hardware peripherals such as cell phone data connection and GPS.

I guess we'll have to wait and see how Apple responds to this development.

Perfectly Clear can improve your smartphone pictures

technologyEdward KiledjianComment
PerfectlyClear for iPhone and iPad

PerfectlyClear for iPhone and iPad

Search the Google Play or Apple Appstore and you will find hundreds of photo editing apps. One that tries to differentiate itself from the bunch is an app called Perfectly Clear from Canadian firm Athentech. Their claim to fame is a single click for 12 automatic corrections using their patented proprietary algorithm. They try to fix:

  1. Exposure
  2. Depth / Contrast
  3. Color Vibrancy
  4. Sharpening
  5. Tint Removal
  6. Noise Removal
  7. Skin Tone Correction - Removes Infrared data captured by the sensor 
  8. Perfectly Smooth - Produces flawless skin
  9. Eye Enhance - Also removed red eye
  10. Eye Enlarge
  11. Teeth Whitening
  12. De-Purple - Removes purple tint when shooting into bright light
Light Diffusion

Light Diffusion

Dynamic Range

Dynamic Range

When you start the app, you can shoot pictures directly from within the app or import a picture from your camera roll (gallery on Android). You can choose one of the presets :

  1. Fix - Main preset you will use most often
  2. Fix Dark - When a picture is overly dark
  3. Fix Tint - When the white balance is off
  4. Beautify - When the picture is a portrait and you want the portrait features used

Of course you can then you the tweak option to play with settings for each individual configuration. The configurations for each correction is done via slider (so it is simple and there is no learning curve).

You should never shoot pictures directly within the IOS app, it is way to slow. Everytime you take a picture, you have to edit it immediately then save it, then ask the app to take another picture

IMPROVEMENT #1 - The IOS app should work like every other camera app and allow you to take multiple photos, save them to an application lightbox and edit them later. 

 

A slider in the middle of the picture allows you to see the before and after image for quick comparison. 

Sometimes the improvements are stunning, other times they are barely visible.

IMPROVEMENT #2 - There are times the apps should be able to improve a picture (because you can improve it manually in other apps like Snapseed or iPhoto for IOS) but the improvement is imperceptible with Perfectly Clear. The algorithm probably needs to be improved. 

The Beautify preset and improvements are fantastic and can make a big difference if used carefully. Over using them will make your target look fake and unnatural. 

Beautify Preset

Beautify Preset

The app doesn’t offer some basic features every user expects like crop, resize, etc.

IMPROVEMENT #3 - Perfectly Clear should incorporate many of the basic photo editing features users have come to expect. Having to bounce between multiple apps is annoying and unnecessary.

I would like to have the ability to apply some of the features to a section of the picture (mask). I know the creators want to keep it simple but should offer masking or selective adjustment for power users

Color Vibrancy

Color Vibrancy

Important Android differences

The photo editing capabilities are the same on both IOS and Android but the photo taking features of the Android app are much more sophisticated. The features mentioned in this section are Android only:

  • HDR - Perfectly Clear gives you best-in-class tone mapping to keep colors realistic. A vivid HDR look is coupled with unmatched de-ghosting to produce perfect pictures even when your subject moves. Choose from either the Realistic or Artistic HDR mode. 
  • Portrait - When you use Portrait mode, Perfectly Clear automatically takes photos at the optimal time. Our face detection has the highest overall detection rate of any technology in the market, coupled with the best coverage of face angles (in plane, out of plane) and the biggest distance to subject detection in real time.
  • Panorama - When life's too big for your smartphone's tiny lens, our Panorama feature makes capturing landscapes a lot easier. Just pan in any direction and our advanced app automatically stitches your photo together with minimal error—and no complicated stop-and-go aligning of different photos. 
  • Burst - For the fastest, smoothest, longest burst on the market, switch into our high-speed burst mode—up to 30fps! With just one shot, you can catch those perfect moments that used to be too hard to time perfectly.
Portrait mode

Portrait mode

HDR Mode

HDR Mode

Conclusion

I've been using this app for over 6 months on both Android and IOS. I love this app and keep wishing they would continue to improve it. I want new features added without diluting the simple workflow the authors are trying to achieve.

Even with all of the cons I have listed, this is an app I bought on 2 platforms and I highly recommend it. When it works, it makes an incredible difference. One friend I was demonstrating it to said "it was like a plastic film was removed from the photo". Everything seemed cleaner, better, more vibrant and more real. 

I wish they added the 4 additional photo capture modes from Android to the IOS version.

Download for iPhone (link)

Download for Android (link)