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CCleaner

I’m the dedicated free technical support guy for my friends and family. It’s a thankless job. At best, you get a thank you and a pat on the back. At worst, you have to deliver the bad news to a loved one that they’re going to be spending some serious money in the near future. Luckily my hits are far greater than my misses.

CCleaner is not new software by any definition, but it is something every Windows user should Read More →

Motorola Droid Mini

My hands are small. Not just small for a man, but tiny in general. When shopping for gloves, I have to head straight for the children’s department at any store. Praise be to God that I don’t have to do manual labor for a living as I’m more apt to strike oil in my back yard than find a snug pair of work gloves.

So a few years ago when the smart phone industry decided to put their products on steroids, I became a bit distressed. I moved from a (quickly dying) HTC Droid Incredible to a fairly new Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx that some fool sold me on eBay for a song. Two years ago it was a top end device, and today it remains capable. But it was/is just so darned big! I like a device that I can use one-handed, and the Maxx wasn’t it. But I struggled on (First World problems, I know) until I found something more in my size.

Problem was the trend was super sizing phones, not down-sizing them (Galaxy Note? WTF?). Sure, for every Samsung Galaxy S, or HTC One, there was a Mini version. Sadly all of those Minis were stripped of all the cool things their big brothers had, and I’m not stupid enough to extend my contact on an already outdated device.

Someone from Motorola (now a part of Google) heard the pleas of myself and the rest of the small handed citizens of this round, blue ball in space and gave us a premium handset in a diminutive package. Enter the Motorola Droid Mini. Though never mentioned as such, it looks and feels like a follow-up to the fairly popular Droid RAZR M. It would be more accurately described as the runt brother of the Droid Ultra, Droid Ultra Maxx, and the phone everyone is talking about right now, the Moto X.

The only thing that differentiates any of these phones are battery, screen type, and pixel density. Cameras, chips, RAM, etc are all equal. The Motorola Droid Mini has a LCD screen versus the LED screens of the others, but offers the same resolution with a higher pixel density. The pixel density is even higher than what was found on the iPhone 5.

My favorite feature of the Droid Mini, aside from its size, is it’s ‘always on’ voice activation. Without even touching the phone, I can say ‘Okay Google Now’ and a command, and the Mini does it, all hands free. Neat stuff. ‘Active Notifications’ are pretty cool as well, allowing me to see what made my phone buzz without having to unlock things.

More goodies to be had as well, like 6 free months of Google Play Music. You can find the Droid Mini for as little as $49.99 if you shop around, and that is just a steal for a super speedy flagship phone. I highly recommend this device to anyone, not just those with baby hands like me. Easy ‘Yea!’

Official Site

-Jeremy Hobbs

Duck Dynasty Beard Booth

We’re tremendous Duck Dynasty fans in this house. When I saw that there was a free Duck Dynasty Beard Booth app recently released, I squealed like a little yuppie girl at a Justin The Beaver concert. I couldn’t install it on my phone fast enough (available on Android and iOS) and start playing around.

You can choose from four Robertson beards. Phil, Si, Jase, and of course, Willie. The application is very simple to use. Snap your picture, zoom in as to suit your tastes, then pick a beard. The beards can be manipulated to fit your face. I was kind of sad that I couldn’t get Phil’s (my favorite!) to match up on my mug very well, but it was fun trying. You may also choose a caption from a list of the show’s more common catch phrases, but that is entirely optional.

Obviously the Duck Dynasty Beard Booth app isn’t going to increase your productivity in any way, in fact it will probably do the opposite. It certainly is fun for what it is though! Made me ‘Happy, happy, happy!’ at least for a few minutes. Considering the price (free), I’m giving it a ‘Yea!’ If you try it out, share your photos in the comment section!

Official Site

-Jeremy Hobbs

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Ribbet – The Perfect Picnik Replacement

When Google purchased Picnik, shoe horned it into Google+, then closed the site down, I was crushed. I fancied myself as an amateur photographer and used Picnik to do post/editing. I used it to great success as well; winning several hundred dollars, and having one of my images featured on a MasterCard. I’ve looked for replacements since, and I’ve found usable alternatives, but nothing that was in Picnik’s league.

Last night I found Ribbet. It is Picnik in every way, name not withstanding. According to their official blog “We have no affiliation with Picnik or Google and were not the developers on the original site. We are a completely independent software company who built on the Picnik platform which was released by Google under an open source license.” That is more than good enough for me, and I’m thrilled that development will continue on this simple to use, but incredibly powerful photo editing software.

Ribbet is going to get me back in to taking photos again. Without a degree in digital design, a $1,000 camera, and the hundreds of dollars it takes to buy Photoshop and it’s upgrades, I was priced out of the hobby. Ribbet runs in a web browser for FREE, and can take a decent camera phone picture and turn it into something beautiful. That earns Ribbet an enthusiastic ‘Yea!’

Official Site

-Jeremy Hobbs

Samsung Chromebook

My old trustworthy HP G62 has been running a bit warm lately, so I began looking for its replacement. Being on a very limited budget for the forseeable future, as I’m sure many of you are, I was looking for a deal. I found one. As part of an eBay Deal of the Day promotion, I saw the Samsung Chromebook for around $160 (refurbished from Best Buy’s eBay store). I’ve kept an eye on the capabilities of these machines for quite a while, and it seemed to fit my needs, so I took a chance and hit the Buy It Now button.

First impression was that this was a solid little machine. The screen is matte so while it isn’t ‘light up the room bright,’ the lack of glare makes up for it. I have used it for hours on end with little to no eye-strain. I thought that reading on the 11 inch screen might have been an issue, but it isn’t. Even if it were, font size can easily be adjusted.

The Samsung Chromebook island style keyboard is a dream to type on, and the multi-touch capable touch pad mouse has given me no trouble whatsoever. It comes with a small but lightning fast 16gb solid state hard drive, a power sipping ARM processor, and 2gb of RAM. You can take advantage of the USB ports (2.0 and 3.0) to expand your storage, or simply insert a high-capacity memory card.

The Chrome OS is very simple to dive in to, and since I used Google’s Chrome browser on my windows machine, all of my bookmarks were already there waiting for me the first time I signed on. That was very cool and unexpected. Setup was so simple a monkey could do it.

So what’s the catch? Well, for the time being you must have a constant internet connection to be very productive. The Samsung Chromebook runs on web apps, and the number of apps that will run offline is very limited. The good news is that the number of offline apps seem to be growing at a pretty good rate. That, and in today’s world we’re rarely out of wifi range, so the immense number of quality web apps will leave you wanting for nothing from your Windows or Mac machine.

If you’re in the market for a maintenance free, light weight, fast, attractive, affordable and easy to use notebook, I would definitely recommend taking a look at the Samsung Chromebook. If you buy it new, it’s $249, and worth every penny. If you run across a deal like I did, you would be crazy not to pick one up. Easy ‘Yea!’

Official Site

-Jeremy Hobbs

Chromecast

Chromecast is a new device by Google designed to allow you to stream media from internet services such as YouTube, Netflix, and Google Play to your (HD only) television and sound system. Looking very much like a thumb drive, the Chromecast plugs into the HDMI port of your TV, and syncs with any app that builds the feature into their service or app. You can control the video or music with a number of devices, including your PC, Android phone or tablet, along with iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Macs. So basically anything that connects to your home network.

You can even stream this post! In fact, I’m typing this review more or less using my bed room TV as a 32 inch wireless monitor. You can ‘cast’ any Chrome browser tab to your television once you have the Chromecast extension installed (very simple to install, the Chromecast walks you through it in the very simple set-up). This allows you to watch content that hasn’t been specifically designed to run with Chromecast.

The technology is new, and while the amount of apps specifically supported at the moment are few, many more are in development. Pandora is confirmed to be working on adding the option to their service, and beyond that, the options are limitless for developers. I’m sure we’ll see some amazing things produced in the future.

I’ve included a video at the bottom, showing the capabilities of the device. I love mine, as does the (non-tech-savy) fiancé. For $35, you get a lot of bang for the buck. Total ‘Yea!’ from me; it’d take a lot more than $35 to buy mine off of me.

Official Site

-Jeremy Hobbs

Shush!

Whenever I’m in a quiet room, it’s a big deal for me to make sure I’m not ‘that guy’ who has his cell phone go off. Cell phone etiquette is quite important to me, as I am a shy guy, and easily embarrassed. So it goes without saying that I adhere to those silence standards almost without fail. My problem arises about eight hours (and ten or so missed calls, and probably fifty missed texts) later, because I forgot to turn my cellular noise maker back on. Shush! is an Android application that fixes that.

When you install Shush!, every time you switch over to silent mode, a little spin dial will appear. Drag it to however many hours and /or minutes you want you phone to stay quiet. After that, it automatically switches your noisy notifications back on, without any input needed from your forgetful self. Simple and ingenious, huh? The best inventions always are.

Shush! takes up hardly any room on your device, and has no noticeable affect on the speed your hardware. My phone is snail slow, so I’d definitely be able to tell if it did. For the amazing price of ‘free,’ this little app can’t be beat. ‘Yea!’

Official Site

-Jeremy Hobbs

Sodastream Soda Maker

It is no state secret that I am hopelessly addicted to soda. I swear I’d go into withdrawal within hours if I was left without a source of that sweet nectar. The feel of the bubbles tickling my nose, the beautiful sound that the bottle makes when being opened, the slight jolt from the caffeine; all wonderful traits of soda that I refuse to live without.

Now you can create these bubbly concoctions in your own home. For a few years now, I’ve had the fantasy of owning my very own soda fountain. That idea is completely impractical; the initial cost would be enormous, and it would take years to recoup your investment. Not to mention space constraints, upkeep costs, and the operational learning curve involved with working on a piece of machinery like that. Sodastream drink maker eliminates all of those problems, and offers a line of ‘mini fountains’ at affordable prices.

No larger than a large coffee maker, the Sodastream will make sparkling beverages for you one liter at a time. The kit arrives with the ‘chassis’ that holds everything together, two one-liter extra-strength reusable PET plastic bottles, a gas canister, and some syrup (amount/type depends on what you order). Set up was fairly straight forward, but I do recommend browsing the instructions before trying to put things together. After everything is assembled, the Sodastream operates at the push of a button; just screw on the bottle of (cold!) water, and you’re good to go. The instructions say to give the button 3 presses for ‘average’ fizziness, but I wasn’t satisfied with anything less than 4 ‘shots.’ Then you add the syrup slowly, cap it, give the bottle a very gentle shake, and then you can start sipping.

The syrup I’ve sampled thus far I’ve enjoyed. Calorie wise, even the ‘regular’ versions have around half the sugar as the major brands, and the flavor doesn’t suffer for it  all that much. The ‘cola’ had a bit of a ‘store brand’ thing going on, but it was still more than drinkable. There are a large variety of flavors, sweetened and diet, as well as an energy drink blend, and a line of extracts that help you create flavored sparkling-water.

One idea that the folks at Sodastream seem to be pushing is Earth friendliness. The idea is sound; by using this machine along with the reusable bottles, you’re going to help eliminate excess waste, thus helping the environment. Very noble ideal.

Packages start at $79.99, and I think it’s useful enough that you’ll at least get your money back out of it. The Sodastream is a bit of a novelty, and I’m certainly not going to give up the name brands for good, but I love having it around. Recommended if you’re a soda enthusiast such as myself. ‘Yea!’

Official Site

–Jeremy Hobbs