Monday, October 31, 2011

Why your next phone might be bendable

Nokia demoed a prototype of what could be the first in a line of products with flexible screens.
Nokia demoed a prototype of what could be the first in a line of products with flexible screens

CNN) -- As we enter the final months of 2011, the thoughts of tech watchers like me are turning to what we can expect in 2012.
Voice recognition in all our devices? Touch control replacing the mouse and keyboard? The death of the wallet as mobile payments become mainstream?
Maybe. But what I'm most excited about is something far more audacious: flexible screens.
Expecting this much-anticipated technology to become widely available in 2012 is optimistic but not unthinkable.
Last week, Nokia demoed a mindblowing prototype handheld devicethat lets you bend and twist the screen to complete actions like scrolling and zooming.
Meanwhile, Samsung said on an earnings call last week that it expected to debut phones with flexible displays in 2012 and that flexible tablets      would follow.
The advantages of flexible displays are obvious: They're more durable, and they pave the way for new input methods, such as bending the display to zoom.
But where will this new tech take us?
I think this technology will lead to the biggest breakthrough in mobile devices since the touchscreen. In fact, the next innovation in screen technologies may be an even bigger leap forward than touch displays.
Think not of a bendable display but of a foldable one.
You see, the biggest limitation of any device these days is screen size. There's a constant tension at play: You can have a small screen that fits in your pocket (your phone) or a big screen for home use (a tablet computer).
But you can't have both. Or can you?
The ultimate dream for these flexible displays is that they could roll up: Imagine a phone-sized device that could unfurl to be the size of a tablet.
Perhaps it would be like an ancient scroll, a tube that unrolls to create a full 10-inch screen. Or perhaps a phone display could expand in two directions, making it useable both when collapsed and when unfurled.
Ah, but why stop with our current form factors? Wouldn't it be wonderful if these devices could take forms more like the paper they replaced?
While the transition from newspapers, magazines and books to digital devices has led to a few compromises -- those tactile forms are all reduced to a rectangular square of glass -- flexible screens can mimic the paper they replace.
E-book readers might simply become single sheets of digital paper. Magazines and newspapers could be made up of multiple sheets that update their content wirelessly on a daily or even hourly basis.
Where flexible screens might have the biggest impact, however, is in their ubiquity. The iPad remains an expensive device, but that hasn't stopped it popping up in unexpected locations.
Some hotels let guests check in on an iPad installed with a custom app or even borrow one for the duration of their stay.
Upscale restaurants are using iPads instead of menus. One auto enthusiast installed one as his in-car entertainment system. Anotherput one in his kitchen cupboard, calling it a "kitchen entertainment system."
What will happen when screens are millimeters thick and virtually unbreakable?
Simply put: The cheaper, thinner, more portable and more durable screens become, the more uses we'll find for them. And what could be thinner or more durable than a flexible display? Any surface could -- and will -- become a screen.
Microsoft released a video this past week imagining what will happen when every surface is a digital display. It too is mindblowing.
It's an exciting future and one that's rapidly approaching: If the device makers can pull it off, next year could see the launch of the first "bendable" phone. Let's hope so.

Friday, October 28, 2011

How to Email Like a Pro

Email often straddles a fine line between help and hindrance. It’s an invaluable tool, no doubt about it, but sometimes it can be a stubborn, unwieldy, and intrusive monster—maybe even a security threat.

Start by learning how to add a snooze button to your inbox, then wrangle Gmail to make it smarter and more cooperative. Keep your inbox free of spam with disposable email addresses, then check to make sure your primary addresses haven’t been compromised by hackers. Finally, become a master of email signatures, and learn how to send giant files that would normally choke a mail server.So who’s in charge around here—you or your inbox? With the right tools, services, and knowledge you can tame the unruly email beast. It’s time to evolve from email user to email power user, and we’ve got just the six tips you need.

Set Your Email to ‘Snooze’ So It Comes Back Later

Here’s how to make messages bubble back to the top of your inbox—on your schedule.
A crowded inbox can be a productivity killer, if for no other reason than that important messages can get pushed out of sight by newer ones. What you need is a kind of “remind me later” button for email, a way to defer selected messages to a later date or time before they drop “below the fold.”
Outlook and Gmail users should check out Baydin’s Boomerang, which lets you reschedule email with just a few clicks. Or, if you’re not a fan of plug-ins, services like and NudgeMail work with any email system: You just forward a message to a specialized address (, for example, or, and you’re done. The email will reappear in your inbox at the designated time and date. And if you’re still not ready to act on the message, just click one of the embedded “snooze” options and go back to sleep—er, work.
Boomerang for GMailBoomerang for GMail can help keep important messages you can't read right away from getting buried by newer mail.
Both and NudgeMail are free. Boomerang for Outlook costs $30, though you can try it free for 30 days. Boomerang for Gmail offers its Basic plan (ten messages per month) free of charge; you can upgrade to a Personal plan (unlimited messages) for $5 monthly.

Tame Gmail With Priority Inbox and Dethreaded Conversations

GMail Priority InboxGMail Priority InboxPriority Inbox is Gmail’s answer to email overload. By evaluating your reading and replying habits, it predicts which messages are most important and “floats” them to the top of your inbox, corraling the less-important stuff for later viewing. (You can tweak the prediction accuracy by clicking a “plus” or “minus” button for any given email.) It’s kind of like having a personal assistant who separates the email wheat from the email chaff.
To enable Priority Inbox, head to your Gmail settings, click the Inbox tab, and then choosePriority Inbox from the “Inbox type” drop-down menu. Then click Save Changes and return to your inbox.
Alternatively, while you’re in the settings area, consider turning off one of Gmail’s most controversial features: Conversation View, which groups together messages with the same subject line. The longer a message thread gets, and the more people who participate in it, the harder it becomes to find the newest addition—or to review earlier replies. In other words, these “conversations” can quickly turned into muddled, incomprehensible, frustrating messes.
To turn off Conversation View—which will make messages appear one after another (as in most traditional email systems)—click over to the General tab, then set Conversation View to off. ClickSave Changes when you’re done.

Protect Your Privacy With Disposable Email Addresses

You know the routine: There’s some new service, promotion, or online freebie that requires your email address--but you don’t want the inevitable deluge of ads, updates, and other inbox spam. How can you sign up without actually sharing your email address?
MailinatorMailinator is simple and free to use.What you need is a disposable address, one that won’t negatively impact your inbox. Suppose you’re staring at a registration form and don’t want to use your regular email account. Just make up an address (like “ihatespam”) and tack on Then head to the freeMailinator service and sign in using the address you just created; you’ll find a Web-accessible inbox you can use to retrieve your promotional code, download link, or whatever. All Mailinator mail gets deleted within a day.
Mailinator isn’t the only disposable-email game in town. Services like 10 Minute MailHumaility, and YopMail offer similarly convenient registration-free addresses. And if you’re a Firefox user,Less Spam, Please integrates with these services, generating a disposable, reusable email address when you right-click in an email field and choose Insert a temporary mail address. Doesn’t get much easier than that.

Instantly Paste Your Choice of Email Signatures

An email signature is a great way to share snippets of contact information: your phone number, Facebook/Twitter addresses, website, and so on. But with most email systems and programs, it’s an all-or-nothing affair: signatures are either “on” or “off,” and you’re limited to just one appended block of text. What if you want to add your signature to some emails but not others? And what if you want to share different contact blurbs with business associates than you do with friends and family?
The solution: an “autotext” or macro program that quickly and automatically turns abbreviated text into expanded blocks of text.
For example, you could create a custom signature that you’ll use only with clients and customers, and designate it “bizsig.” Then, when you’re done composing an email, you just typebizsig at the end. Presto: The autotext program instantly inserts your full business signature.
You could take the same approach for a more generalized signature, designating it “sig1” or the like, then just paste it in as needed. And that’s the beauty of this approach: You apply a signature when you want one and skip it when you don’t.
A number of programs afford this kind of macro-powered convenience; two of the most popular are AutoHotKey and PhraseExpress. Both are free, but the latter is definitely the more user-friendly of the two. (AutoHotKey requires a bit of scripting.)

Find Out If Your Email Account Has Been Hacked

It seems that every day we hear about another email database being compromised by hackers. The “good” news is that these petty thieves often post the stolen databases online. The bad news is, there’s no way to know for sure if your email address has been compromised.
There is now: HackNotifier checks your email address against the growing number of publicly available “hacked” email databases. Just type in your address and click Have I been hacked? If the results are negative, you can rest easy--though you should continue to be diligent about using strong passwords and varying them from site to site.
HackNotifierVerify that your e-mail account hasn't been hacked with HackNotifier.
If the news is not good, HackNotifier will tell you which accounts were compromised and provide more information about the leaks. The service also offers 24/7 account monitoring for $5 per year ($7 if you want instant notification via text message). What it doesn’t do is offer any instructions on how to safeguard your email security if an account has been hacked.
For that, check out PCWorld's numerous password-protection guides, including How To Build A Better PasswordThe Art of Creating Strong Passwords, and How To Protect Your Online Passwords.

Send Super-Huge File Attachments

As a general rule, mail servers don’t like large file attachments. While some can accommodate files as large as 25MB, others balk if they exceed just 5MB. In these days of mammoth videos, photo libraries, PDFs, and the like, that doesn’t always cut it.
What you need is a file-sharing service that bypasses your mail server. Countless options are available, including such cloud-storage stalwarts as Dropbox and SugarSync (which give you 2GB and 5GB of free space, respectively). You simply upload your file(s) to a public folder, copy the “share” link, and paste that link into an email. The recipients will be able to download the file(s) via the link, effectively taking mail servers out of the equation.
SugarSyncSugarSync is a perennial favorite for storing and sharing files online.
If you’d rather not sign up for yet another service, or you just want a more straightforward way to share your big files, try In about the time it takes to read this sentence, you can upload a file and get a link to hand out—no registration, software, or plug-ins required. Files remain available for 30 days, or 90 if you elect to sign up for an account (which is free). That account also gives you real-time sharing statistics, something you definitely can’t get from email.
On the other hand, if you prefer the traditional (some would say easier) email-attachment method, file-sharing service YouSendIt offers a free Microsoft Outlook plug-inthat does an end run around your mail server, while still making big-file sharing as simple as creating an attachment. Note, however, that the maximum file size is 50MB unless you sign up for a Pro account ($10 monthly or $50 per year), which raises the maximum to 2GB.
With these tools in your arsenal, it won't be long before you're sending and sorting email like a pro.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

iPhone 4S vs. Android Phones: What's Better for You?

By Mark Spoonauer & Laptop Magazine
Published October 26, 2011

iPhone vs Android Laptop Mag

You know your smartphone is doing well when 4 million people buy it in the first weekend and it temporarily sells out on all three of your carrier partners. 
The overwhelming demand for the iPhone 4S is understandable, given the much-talked-about Siri voice-controlled assistant, as well as the device's faster dual-core processor and fantastic 8-megapixel camera. But today's top Android phones—such as the Samsung Galaxy S II—offer plenty of features you won't find on Apple's blockbuster sequel. How do you know which side to choose? 

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InterfaceI would never call the row-of-icons interface on the iPhone 4S fresh, but its ease of use means a lot, especially to first-time smartphone owners. And iOS 5 catches up to Android with its Notifications area, which is cleanly designed and dynamic (thanks to the addition of weather and stock info).
However, some Android phones let you do more from the notification area. On the Samsung Galaxy S II, for example, you can toggle the wireless radios on and off. And on HTC Sense phones, you can switch between apps from this menu as well as tweak several settings. The other edge Android has in the interface department is widgets, which let you access all sorts of info at a glance. Indeed, Google's OS is so customizable that the user experience can vary drastically from one phone to the next.
Winner: iPhone 4S. While Android is more flexible, it can also be more confusing. Simplicity wins this round.
MultitaskingJust as with the iPhone 4, it's easy to switch between apps on the iPhone 4S. You just double-press the home button and swipe to either side. To shut down apps, you press and hold the screen and then tap the X next to an app's icon. Because most apps are suspended when they're not open, you don't really need to worry about them zapping battery life.
Today on Android, you must long-press the home button, but you might only see a subset of all of your running apps—and you can't close programs from this view. Android Ice Cream Sandwich will offer a better user experience, with a Recent Apps button that displays live thumbnails of your running apps. And you'll be able to dismiss apps with a swipe.
Winner: iPhone 4S. But it looks like Android 4.0 will put Google's phones ahead.
Screen Size and QualityOne of the chief complaints people have about the screen in the iPhone 4S is that it's the same size as the original iPhone's: 3.5 inches. But what many don't realize is that this LCD's resolution is higher than the vast majority of Android phones. The display is not only crisper but brighter than most of the Android competition.
On the other hand, bigger screens are just easier on the eyes, and they don't force you to zoom in as much to read text. And although they're not as bright, the Super AMOLED displays on phones such as the Galaxy S II and the Droid RAZR offer better contrast and more vibrant colors, making them great for watching movies. The upcoming Samsung Galaxy Nexus will up the ante on with the first HD display (1280 x 720 pixels).
Winner: Draw. The iPhone 4S has the superior display right now in terms of detail and brightness, but some shoppers just prefer a larger screen.
Keyboard/TypingAmazingly, Apple's multitouch keyboard remains second to none, despite the fact that in most cases you're typing on a smaller display. Both in portrait mode and landscape mode, I can type quickly and accurately. I'll certainly make more errors than when using a physical keyboard, but overall the iPhone 4S keyboard just works.
With Android phones, keyboards vary quite a bit from one phone maker to the next. Generally speaking, I've found HTC's keyboards to be the best, with Android's stock keyboard on the Samsung Galaxy S 4G being a close second. But Android has a few advantages. One is that you can download third-party keyboards, such as Swype, from the Android Market. Second, only Android phones come with physical keyboards, though they seem to be a dying breed.
Winner: Draw. The iPhone 4S keyboard is great for its size, but some prefer a bigger screen and more customization options.
Web and Data SpeedsThe iPhone 4S may have a fancy new dual-antenna system and the ability to reach 14.4 Mbps (theoretically) on AT&T, but it gets blown away by 4G Android phones. For example, the AT&T iPhone 4S delivered speeds as high as 5.3 Mbps but averaged 2.2 Mbps. Both the T-Mobile Galaxy SII (12.6 Mbps) and theMotorola Droid Bionic (11.6 Mbps) are faster.
In terms of loading web pages, we’ve seen a huge real-world difference as well. The iPhone 4S takes about 10 seconds to load many mobile sites (regardless of the network) versus about half that for true 4G phones. Everything on an iPhone 4S that involves data will require more patience than on an 4G Android phone, whether it’s streaming YouTube videos or updating your Facebook news feed. The only caveat is that 4G radios (especially LTE) can drain your battery in a hurry.
Winner: Android. 4G speeds make a big difference in everyday use.
Social NetworkingApple is making a big deal about Twitter integration with iOS 5, and it’s certainly welcome. You can share photos, websites, and more with just a couple of taps. However, Android goes deeper by including Facebook, as well as pretty much any other service that uses Android’s APIs.
For example, you don’t have to use Twitter on Android; you can use Tweetdeck instead. Android also works with Evernote, Flickr, GroupMe, LinkedIn—you name it. We just wish the Sharing option wasn’t two clicks away from the browser page.
Winner: Android. The iPhone 4S makes it easy to share stuff on Twitter, but you need to use dedicated apps for everything else.
CameraApple has raised the bar for photo quality—both in terms of speed and low-light performance—with the iPhone 4S, thanks to new optics and an improved backside illuminated sensor. It also captures sharp and smooth 1080p video. Android phones such as the Galaxy S II are only a step behind in terms of speed, though, and they take equally good photos outdoors. 
While the iPhone 4S has an HDR feature, there’s not much else you can do when taking photos. An advanced Android phone such as the Amaze 4G has a panorama mode, HDR, burst shot mode, and more. And although the iPhone 4S has some editing features, the best Android phones go further, letting you add all sorts of effects without using a separate app.
Winner: Draw. The iPhone 4S has the best camera we’ve used yet, but Android phones give you more control of your images—before and after the shot.
AppsAfter trailing iOS for years, Android is finally catching up to Apple in terms of the sheer number of apps available in their respective stores. Apple has about 360,000 iPhone apps, compared to approximately 320,000 for Android (according to research firm Research2Guidance). You’ll also find that both app stores stock a lot of the same stuff, from Angry Birds and Words with Friends to Kindle and Pandora.
But if you dig deeper, you’ll find that the iPhone 4S has a better selection of high-quality games with more impessive graphics, such as Infinity Blade and Shadowgun. You’ll also find that apps either come to the iPhone first (such as Netflix) or exclusively (such as Instagram) and just look more polished (Facebook).
Winner: iPhone 4S. The iPhone has always been known for its apps, and at least for now it still has a quality and slight quantity edge.
Secret WeaponsOnly the iPhone 4S has Siri, a fantastic voice-controlled assistant that can help you with everything from scheduling appointments to sending messages. Other advantages unique to the iPhone 4S include iTunesGoogle only offers a subset of Apple's content. And then there’s iCloud, which does a better job than Google of keeping all of your content in sync across multiple devices. Last but not least is the iPhone’s vast number of available accessories. Having a single standard connector makes things a lot easier on makers of add-ons.
Android has plenty of unique strengths as well. In addition to offering 4G speeds, only Android has free GPS navigation built in. And only Android phones support NFC, which enables mobile payments and will gain even more power with Ice Cream Sandwich. With the beam feature you’ll be able to share all sorts of info with a tap.
Winner: iPhone 4S. Siri + more content + more accessories give Apple the win in this round.
Bottom LineAndroid phones won five points, but the iPhone 4S took home seven -- making this head to head appear to be a decisive victory for the iPhone 4S. But it really comes down to what you value most in a smartphone. If it’s ease of use and better apps you’re after—as well as smooth performance and a great camera—the iPhone 4S can’t be beat. Siri takes smartphones to the next level by serving your needs with real intelligence. As long as you can live with 3G speeds, you can’t go wrong with the iPhone 4S.
On the other hand, the fact that Android phones offer 4G should not be overlooked. It speeds up practically everything you do. Android also integrates with multiple social networks—instead of just Twitter—and you have a wider range of design choices. If you like the idea of customizing your interface to your heart’s content and want the option of a bigger screen, Android is the way to go.

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