Friday, 5 July 2013

Ecoute offers a simple, attractive alternative for Macs and iPhones to Apple's 800-pound-gorilla media player, while MediaMonkey lets you manage your iTunes tracks and other media files in Windows via an Explorer-like interface.





Recently the subject of people's least-favorite software came up. Instead of the usual suspects -- Microsoft Office, Adobe Reader, Norton Antivirus -- I was surprised by the unanimous response of a mixed group of Mac and Windows users: "iTunes stinks" (or words to that effect).
Apple's media software doesn't earn a spot on my personal list of adventures in bad coding (which is dominated by products from Microsoft and Adobe), but I rely on the program primarily because of ancillary products: the iPhone, iPad, iCloud, and iTunes Match.

As stated in CNET's iTunes 11 review from last October, the program's interface is much improved from previous releases, but it's still too complex and too much of a resource hog. Using iTunes simply to listen to some music is like renting a backhoe to plant some tomatoes in the backyard.
I was struck by the disparity on Download.com's iTunes page between the program's five-star rating by CNET Editors and its two-and-a-half-star rating by users.
I looked at two very different iTunes replacements: the free MediaMonkey for Windows (also available are $25 and $50 Gold versions) and PixiApps' Ecoute for Mac OS X and iOS. Ecoute's page on Download.com indicates that the program costs $8 after a 15-day free trial, but the PixiApps site's FAQ states that the Mac version is free due to "sandboxing issues for the Mac App Store." The iOS version of Ecoute costs $2.99.
(An alternative to iTunes for transferring media from a Windows PC to an iPhone, iPad, or iPod is the free CopyTrans Manager.)
All your media-file information at a glance
The first time you run MediaMonkey, the program prompts you to register (optional) and to make the program the default for playing various media file types (deselect some or all of the preselected types to retain your current default player). If you change your defaults, iTunes will prompt you to change them back to that program the next time it opens.
Next, MediaMonkey prompts you to select which locations on your computer you want it to scan to discover your media. The current user's Music folder is selected by default.
MediaMonkey setup wizard media-scan options


The option to scan for new media files at startup is selected by default; you can choose to scan for files continuously. Click the Options button to make other changes, such as enabling a password-protected Party Mode.

MediaMonkey Party Mode settings

MediaMonkey's main screen has the multiple panes of Windows Explorer and File Explorer: a folder tree in the left pane, and folder contents on the right. Categories in the left pane include Music, Classical, Video, Playlists, Net Radio (Shoutcast and Icecast directories), and Web (five popular music retailers).
The chunkiness of the main MediaMonkey window takes some time to get used to. Stacked above the iTunes-like list of songs are small panes that sort your library by genre, album, and artist. On the far right are two Now Playing panes. The playback controls at the bottom of the screen include a mini volume bar and buttons for shuffle, auto-DJ, equalizer controls, and playlists (although not your iTunes playlists).
MediaMonkey main window

MediaMonkey's scan of my system discovered 5,074 files using a total of about 25GB of storage. The iTunes library on the PC has 5,191 files and just over 26GB of total storage (note that both libraries include many duplicate titles -- not MediaMonkey's fault).
My favorite MediaMonkey feature is the small playback controller that pops open when you hover over the program's icon in the Windows task bar.
After switching between iTunes and MediaMonkey for a couple of days, I came to appreciate some things about both programs. (Note that my testing was limited to audio playback and file management. I didn't test MediaMonkey's CD burning or on-the-fly volume leveling, nor did I use the app to sync with an iPod or iPhone.)
The Gold version of MediaMonkey costs $25 for a version 4.x license and $50 for a lifetime license (which begs the question, whose lifetime?) Gold features include support for multiple music collections, automatic file organization, automatic playlists, and "professional-quality" CD ripping.
Ecoute outshines the iPhone's music player
Where MediaMonkey throws eight categories of information at you in one big window, Ecoute comfortably squeezes your iTunes library into an unobtrusive box listing only a handful of items at a time. (You can resize the window all the way to full screen, but you really don't need to.)
You navigate your library via a single drop-down menu in the top-right corner. The current track's progress is shown at the top of the window, and playback controls are in a row at the bottom.
Ecoute main window

Click the eyeball icon in the bottom-left corner to switch to the current track's cover art and rating. When the shuffle setting is off, the icon in the bottom-right corner of the window pops up an alphabetical list of your library. When shuffle's on, the upcoming tracks appear in the pop-up window.
PixiApps' Ecoute music app for iOS
Lists in Ecoute's iOS music app display cover art when it's available. The iPhone's built-in music player is much more text-centric.
iPhone music app interface
With the exception of the small thumbnails in Albums view, the iPhone's built-in music player is a text-only affair.
Unlike MediaMonkey, Ecoute displays your iTunes playlists. Select a playlist on the left side of the window to view its contents on the right side. When I tested Ecoute I sometimes had to switch between views to have the vertical scroll bar appear in the two windows.
Similar to MediaMonkey's taskbar playback controls, Ecoute shrinks to a thumbnail on the desktop with tiny buttons for stop/play, forward, and reverse.
Ecoute really shines on the iPhone. (As noted above, the iOS version of Ecoute costs $2.99.) Both Ecoute and the iPhone's built-in music player give you the same basic view options: Artists, Albums, Songs, Playlists. The iPhone player lets you swap out one of these options for Compilations, Composers, or Genres. Ecoute's iPhone app has a Podcasts button and a Search box that slides in and out of view.
The big difference between the two apps is the appearance of their lists. With the exception of small thumbnails in the Album view, the iPhone's lists are text-only, but Ecoute shows each entry's cover art when it's available.
Other differences between the two apps are more subtle. For example, when you select an album in Ecoute, the cuts appear in a pop-up window. On the iPhone the track list slides over the album list. Both apps give you the option to shuffle the album tracks.
When you're listening to audio in Ecoute, double-tapping the iPhone button shows the playback controls on the lock screen just as when using the device's built-in music app. Ecoute works with Siri as well: when the app is active, say "play" and the name of the song to start playback in Ecoute.
Open the device's Settings and choose Ecoute to activate shake to shuffle and to choose a shuffle behavior. Other options let you change the player view to show the player when a track is selected or when the app detects inactivity. You can deactivate left or right swipes to move to the next or previous track, and switch the program to left-handed mode.
In the bottom-left corner of the Ecoute window is a button that lets you send Last.fm a list of the tracks you've listened to in the past two hours. You can also post a message about the track now playing to your Twitter feed or Facebook status.
I'm much more likely to use Ecoute on my iPhone than on my Mac because I like having easy access to the iTunes Store, playlist creation, and CD burning, among other features. Some people rarely use more than the play and stop buttons on their iPhone's music player. For them Ecoute's interface improvements may not be worth $3. But anyone who spends time rummaging around their iPhone music library will find the Ecoute app a genuine bargain.

Windows 8.1 desktop

The Windows 8 Start screen is a good starting point for Windows 8 devices with touch screens, but on PCs with standard screens, you might prefer to boot directly to the desktop. Previously, you could bypass the Windows 8 Start screen with Start8, but Windows 8.1 now lets you do it natively. Here's how:
Step 1: Right-click on the Windows 8.1 taskbar, then choose Properties.
Step 2: Click on the Navigation tab, then under the Start screen section, check the box next to "Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in."

Windows 8.1 navigation settings

The next time you boot Windows 8.1, you'll go straight to the desktop without ever seeing the Start screen.


Unless you've been living in a cave with no access to the Internet, you likely know Google Reader is now dead. If this comes as a surprise to you, you still have time to export your Reader data through Google's Takeout service. Be sure to do this before July 15th, when Google will remove Reader from its Takeout offerings.
One of the many Google Reader replacement services that has popped up since Google announced Reader's execution date is Feedbin.
Feedbin is a subscription service, costing $3 a month or $30 a year, with an API for developers to integrate into apps, and a functional Web site to browse through your newsfeed.
Currently Reeder (free) for iPhone has Feedbin support, with plans to add it to the iPad and Mac version in a future update. Press for Android ($2.99) also has Feedbin support. You can see a full list of apps with Feedbin support at Feedbin.me.
As Feedbin and its competitors try to gain traction with new Reader refugees, the app selection might not appeal to everyone, leaving those people to rely on the Web site. One major drawback to using the site is the lack of an unread count. Thankfully, a developer and Feedbin user decided to make FeedbinNotifier an OS X menu bar application, open-source it, and give it away for free.
Dropbox is one of the more popular cloud-based syncing and storage tools, and offers Mac users a convenient way to transfer files from one system to another, or share files with colleagues. Dropbox can sometimes give you errors, saying that it cannot transfer something because it does not have permission to access some of the files being copied.
If this happens, then it could be because of an improper permissions setup with the Dropbox configuration files in your account, or with the files currently being copied.
If a permissions error such as this occurs, then the first thing that might come to mind is to use Disk Utility's Permissions Fix routine. But this only affects access permissions on system files and installed applications, and will not touch files in your user account.
Dropbox permissions fix
Holding the Option key in the Account section of the preferences will show the "Fix Permissions" option, instead of the standard option to unlink the current computer.)
Instead, for Dropbox-specific errors, you can use a feature in the program that will tackle file permissions associated with the program's configuration and data files being handled by it. To do this, open the Dropbox preferences by going to its menu extra, then clicking the gear icon, and finally choosing Preferences. Then go to the "Account" section of the preferences, and you should see a button labeled "Unlink This Computer..." If you hold the Option key, then you will see this label change to "Fix Permissions," and clicking the button will result in Dropbox running its permissions repair routine.
This procedure should address most permissions-related issues with Dropbox, but if not then you can try running a home folder permissions fix, which should ensure that all files in your home directory are fully accessible by your account. To do this, reboot the system into Recovery mode by holding the Command-R keys at startup. Then choose "Terminal" from the Utilities menu, and run the command "resetpassword" (all one word, and lowercase).
When the password reset tool opens, select your hard disk, and then your username from the drop-down menu. Then click the button to reset home folder permissions and ACLs, and after a few seconds the process should be complete. Now reboot the system normally, and log back into your account. Then try using Dropbox again.
While the procedure here is described with respect to Dropbox, access issues with other cloud-based storage services like Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, and SugarSync can also benefit from running a home directory permissions fix
When using the Finder in OS X, sometimes you may want to have multiple views of the same folder open at once. Usually it's quick to create a new Finder window and navigate to the folder; however, this may be inconvenient if the folder is buried deep in the filesystem, such as may be the case when troubleshooting a problem or two with the system, retrieving a backed-up file, or organizing an extensive tree of work files.
If you need a faster approach, there are several, some of which use the Finder and its capabilities, and others that involve secondary programs

File path in the Finder info windowFirstly, in Finder, you can quickly create a duplicate folder view by pressing Command-up arrow to reveal the folder highlighted in its parent directory, and then pressing Control-Command-O to open the folder in a new window. You can then switch to the prior window and double-click or press Command-O to open the folder directly.
This is convenient for a single duplicate instance, but if you would like more than one duplicate, select an item in the folder and get information on it. Then expand the General section of the information window and note the "Where" listing that shows the full path to it. Select the entire path, starting with the first forward-slash and including all lines to the last folder. Then press Command-C to copy it.
With the path copied, press Command-N to create a new Finder window, and Shift-Command-G to bring up the "Go to Folder" field. Paste the copied path into this field, and press Enter to have the window go to that location. Repeat, creating a new window and pasting the path for any additional windows you would like.
Finder new favorite folder
You can create a sidebar favorite of a current folder by dragging it directly, or a reference to it from the title bar or Finder Path bar, and dropping this at a location in the sidebar. You can drag it out of the sidebar when no longer in use.
An alternative approach is to make use of the Finder's sidebar and toolbar, by dragging the current folder to these locations to make a link (you can drag the folder from the window title to the sidebar, for example). Then create a new Finder window by pressing Command-N, and click the new Favorite link to set the location. When finished, you can drag the link out of the Favorites.
Similar to the Finder's favorites menu, you can use the Dock by dragging the folder to it (in the user files section between the Trash and the separator bar), and then holding the Command key while clicking the folder. This will create a new Finder window at that folder for each click.
A final alternative is to use Spotlight, provided the folder is in your home directory, on an indexed external drive, or in another area meant for access by your user account. To do this simply search for the folder name and it should show up as a search result. Then select it and press Command-Return to open a new folder revealing the item. You can then repeat this to open additional folders revealing the item.
Slowly but surely, Next Issue is getting better.
The service slings unlimited digital magazines to your tablet (or Windows 8-powered PC) for a flat monthly rate, and its catalog is closing in on 100 titles (quite a jump from the 40 or so it offered when it first launched about a year ago).Next Issue now offers nearly 100 magazine selections via a Netflix-style subscription model.
Haven't tried it yet? Now's your chance to double the usual test-drive deal: StackSocial is offering a two-month Next Issue Premium subscription for free. Normally that would run you $30.
Let me get one big caveat out of the way right now: This offer is for new customers only.
Next Issue is available in app form for Android, iPad, and Windows 8. (Alas, it's still not available for Kindle Fire or Nook HD.) I've tried it on all three platforms, though most of my real-world usage happens on my iPad 3. Android users will be glad to know there's now parity with the iOS version, meaning you should be able to get the full catalog of available magazines. As for Windows 8, I must admit I didn't love Next Issue on a Surface tablet, owing to fuzzy-looking text, awkward navigation, and other issues.
But on an iPad, Next Issue is pretty solid, and truly wonderful for magazine junkies. The service recently added such high-profile titles as Backpacker, Consumer Reports, Food & Wine, Popular Science (nepotism alert: I'm an occasional contributor), Rolling Stone, and Travel + Leisure. That's on top of some of my existing favorites, which include Entertainment Weekly, Men's Fitness, and Time.
If you want to test-drive Next Issue without signing up for the trial, there's now an option to link to your Facebook account, which lets you sample various magazines for free. And the iOS version now lets you pinch and zoom in all magazines, not just certain titles.
Still missing, sadly, is Retina support. A company rep said this is intentional because "standard resolution...is the format used by the majority of our magazine titles." Uh, sure. Take one look at Zinio (which does support Retina) and it's hard to go back to Next Issue's comparatively fuzzy text. And the app still lacks any kind of bookmarking, sharing, or printing features (though you could always take a screenshot and print that).
So, yeah, Next Issue would do better to focus on improving its apps than just adding more titles. That said, for $10 or $15 per month, there's simply no better deal when it comes to magazine subscriptions. And now you can try it yourself for two months, no strings attached.
Most of the time I focus on practical proHere's a rare opportunity to score a deal on the way-cool Sphero robot ball.ducts, but can't we have a little fun once in a while? Yes, yes we can; today's deal is all about fun.

Today only, and while supplies last, Amazon has the Sphero app-controlled robot ball for $84.99 shipped. That's the lowest price I've ever seen for this way-cool gadget, which normally sells for $129.99.
Note: If Amazon does sell out, don't be surprised to suddenly see a higher price. What usually happens is that the product page flips over to a third-party seller, even though it's still under the Amazon banner.
Still, 85 bucks for a ball? I agree that's a little steep, but I defy you to show me another orb as entertaining as this one. The Sphero is a Bluetooth-connected gizmo controlled by your smartphone or tablet. Using tilt sensors (or onscreen controls), you can "drive" the ball around, which is cool enough by itself.
But Sphero can also play all kinds of games, including some new augmented-reality games that debuted earlier this year at CES. For example, try steering Sphero away virtual zombies that appear on your screen. That one's called The Rolling Dead, perhaps the most awesome game title ever.
The ball is darn near indestructible. It glows in all sorts of cool colors. It charges wirelessly. It's waterproof. In short, it's one seriously sweet little toy, at least based on what I saw at CES and the 4.1-star average rating from Amazon customers.
I am so, so tempted to grab one of these for my kids (uh, yeah, kids), who are already running out of summer activities. That said, I do wonder about its long-term replay value. Once the novelty wears off, is it still fun? (If you happen to have a Sphero, hit the comments and share your thoughts.)
Bonus deal: When it comes to powering your remotes, game controllers, spin-head toothbrushes, and the like, nothing beats rechargeable batteries. Today only, and while supplies last, Pennywise.biz has a 12-pack of Duracell AAA NiMH rechargeable batteries for $14.99, plus a penny for shipping. That's after applying coupon code dealnews1 at checkout. To put that in some perspective, Best Buy charges $19.99 for a 4-pack of the same batteries.
Bonus deal No. 2: Game time! Today only, Green Man Gaming is offering the LEGO Complete Pack (PC) for $28.97. The bundle includes Lego Batman, Lego Batman 2, Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4, Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7, and Lego Lord of the Rings. This last title usually sells for $29.99 all by itself, making this the single best Lego game bundle I've ever seen. Remember: Let the kids have a turn once in a while. Update: Sadly, the deal was short-lived and has no expired.
Bonus deal No. 3: Tablet Tuesday! I have no doubt that Google is soon to introduce some new Nexuses (Nexi?), but if you're happy with the current models, this is the deal for you: TigerDirect has the refurbished Google Nexus 7 (32GB) for $179.99, plus around $4 for shipping. It sells new for $249. The Android 4.2-powered Nexus 7 is widely regarded as the best "pure" Android tablet currently available.
Turn your Windows 7 PC into a powerful DVR with this antenna-powered HD tuner.

Cord-cutters of the world, unite!For just $20, this KWorld tuner can turn your Windows 7 PC into a DVR.
Hey, that sounds familiar. Oh, right, I'm plagiarizing myself: That's how I kicked off last month's post about the Mohu Leaf antenna, which helps you tune in locally broadcast TV stations. You can plug it directly into your TV or, better yet, a tuner connected to your PC.
Today, let's talk about the latter. Until tomorrow, or it sells out, Newegg has the KWorld UB435-Q USB TV tuner for $19.99, shipped. That's after applying coupon code VDTV4JU at checkout. (As with most such Newegg deals, you must be a registered user/newsletter subscriber in order to use the code.)
Update: In the event this sells out (as one user already reported it has), Meritline has theMygica A680B USB HDTV tuner for $25.99, shipped. Very similar product, but it includes a remote!
Update No. 2: Yep, sold out. But sharp-eyed reader ncwebb found the same tuner at Amazon for the same price.
It works like this: Plug the tuner into a PC running Windows 7, connect a decent antenna, then fire up Windows Media Center and run through the TV-signal-setup process. In short order you should be able to watch all your local channels in all their high-def goodness.
Even better, you'll be able to time-shift them: pause, rewind, quick-skip, and, best of all, record. It's true: Windows Media Center + TV tuner = pretty darn good DVR. I've used this kind of configuration for years, and much as I'm mad at Microsoft for perpetually mishandling the product (and booting it from Windows 8 altogether), I still totally dig it.
The KWorld tuner comes with a small, telescoping antenna, which may be sufficient depending on where you live. But you'll probably have better luck with an old set of rabbit ears or something like the aforementioned Mohu Leaf. (Check out AntennaWeb.org for help with antenna needs.)
I should note that the user reviews for this product are somewhat mixed. Some folks encountered driver issues while others received DOA units, but the majority of customers had a four- or five-star experience. My advice would be to get this only if you have Windows 7, and to grab the latest drivers from KWorld's support page.
Bottom line: For 20 bucks out the door, you can watch and record local channels on your PC. That's one seriously awesome solution for folks looking to cut the cable-TV cord. Your thoughts? Have you found another inexpensive tuner that's as good or better?
Bonus deal: Need some supplemental power for your iDevice? Today only, and while supplies last, JustDeals has the Tylt Zumo portable battery pack for $1.99, plus $5 for shipping. (At press time, it's the third item down in the product listing on the right; just mouse over it to see the details.) This 1,500mAh mobile battery includes two stowaway arms: one for charging (via USB), one for Apple 30-pin devices (iPhone 4/4S, previous-gen iPods, and so on). Price over at Amazon: $34.12!
Deals found on The Cheapskate are subject to availability, expiration, and other terms determined by sellers.
If you've had enough ads and want more skips, Club Songza will cost you 99 cents per week. But the free service is still plenty good.
Club Songza will cost you 99 cents per week, but you can still listen for free if you prefer.
Music-streaming service Songza has added a premium option for listeners who want it.
Dubbed Club Songza, it offers ad-free listening and twice as many song-skips (12 instead of 6) for 99 cents per week.
Wait a second -- ads? What ads? I've never heard so much as a single commercial while listening to Songza on my iPhone or PC. However, I did notice that the app now forces you to "interact" with an onscreen ad (usually by typing in a word) before you can start listening, which is kind of a hassle.
On the other hand, with that done, you're good for a full 24 hours of uninterrupted play. That's still pretty generous, especially compared with the likes of Pandora and Slacker, which play a commercial after every handful of songs.
But if you don't like that ad requirement and do like to skip more often, Club Songza gives you the option. It's interesting that the company is pitching it with a weekly (rather than monthly or annual) rate -- "cheaper than a soda!", according to the e-mail I received. That's true, but it also works out to $4 monthly, same as what you'd pay for Pandora One or Slacker Radio Plus. (Actually, it's a little more: 99 cents per week equals $51.48 per year, versus $3.99 per month, which totals $47.88 per year.)
For the moment, Club Songza doesn't seem like much of a value, but the aforementioned e-mail notes that your subscription includes "an ad-free experience with no visual ads and no commercial interruptions." Translation: commercial interruptions are probably coming for listeners who don't subscribe.

I'm on record as calling Songza the single best music-streaming app, and it's still my go-to choice when I want to discover new artists and play songs based on what I'm doing. I suppose the free-music gravy train had to pull into the station sometime, but we'll have to see if ads start spoiling the experience. For now, I don't anticipate joining the Club, mostly because I'm cheap. Your thoughts?
If you're big into Superman, Batman, and Harry Potter, it's time to start searching the couch cushions for loose change.
Bastion for iOS is a gorgeous-looking action-RPG, and for a short while it's on sale for just 99 cents.
Got plans for the Fourth of July weekend? If they involve long car rides, lines you can't escape, or just lots of couch/hammock/poolside time, consider stocking up on games for your iDevice. Warner Bros. will help keep you entertained on the cheap.
Ending soon, 11 Warner Bros. iOS games are on sale for 99 cents each. Here's the list, with links either to the download page or to related CNET coverage. (Be sure to note the system requirements before purchasing any game, as some of them won't work on older iOS devices.)
Bastion, top-rated indie action-RPG, regularly $4.99.
Batman Arkham City Lockdown, Infinity Blade-esque fighting game, regularly $5.99.
Harry Potter: Spells, multiplayer spell-casting game, regularly $2.99.
Lego Batman: DC Superheroes, the first non-Harry Potter Lego game for iOS, regularly $4.99.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4, an iOS port of the popular console title, regularly $4.99.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7, an iOS port of the popular console title's sequel, regularly $4.99.
Man of Steel, new-movie tie-in heavy on the combat, regularly $2.99.
Man of Steel HD, same game for iPad, regularly $4.99.
Midway Arcade, classic arcade games revived for iOS, regularly $1.99.
Scribblenauts Remix, a Nintendo DS classic that my kids are still playing two years later, regularly $4.99.
Tapper World Tour HD, the classic arcade game beautifully recreated for iPad, regularly $1.99.
There's plenty of good stuff here to choose from, but if I could scrounge up only a buck, I'd have to spend it on Bastion, which is just crazy-fun. But the Lego games are all great as well, and the Batman and Superman games will definitely satisfy your superhero bloodlust.
I don't know how long these prices will be in effect, so if you're looking to stock up on the cheap, don't wait. What title(s) do you think you'll grab during the sale?

Originally posted at iPhone Atlas
This Windows 8-powered convertible had a list price of $899 when it debuted late last year. And it's new, not refurbished. Plus: a free audiobook!
It's a laptop, tablet, banana-masher, and salad-spinner all in one!
The other day I mentioned my change of heart regarding touch-screens on laptops, noting that it's a nice feature to have for scrolling Web pages and documents, zooming photos, and so on.
Also nice to have: a laptop that converts into a tablet. Like this one: While supplies last, DealFisher has the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist S230u Ultrabook for $599.99 shipped. It's new, not refurbished, and it sold for $899 when it first hit the scene back in December. (However, Lenovo was selling these refurbished for under $500 in May.)
In case the name didn't give it away, the Twist can go from laptop to tablet with a twist (and subsequent fold) of its center-hinged IPS touch screen. That screen tops out at 1,366x768 pixels, which CNET dinged for being on the low side, but I find that sufficient for a 12.5-inch display.
This Windows 8-powered system includes an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive with 24GB SSD cache (which should make for faster booting and standby-resuming), and Bluetooth.
At 3.4 pounds, it's a little on the heavy side for a tablet, but at least it's fairly slim (0.8 inches). Even if you don't end up cradling it in your arm, you can "tent" it for easy touch-powered usage on kitchen counters, end tables, and the like.
You'll definitely want to read CNET's review of the Twist, which awards four stars and calls out its "very reasonable price" (and that was when it was $899). But beware the flaky screen accelerometer and average battery life.
Even so, I suspect these will sell out pretty quickly, so if you're looking for a convertible laptop that's not refurbished, I'd jump on this quick. (Alternately, you could wait for another refurb deal, which promises an even better price.)
Bonus deal: Pearl S. Buck's "The Good Earth" is one of my all-time favorite books. It may be classic literature, but it's as approachable and entertaining as any modern tale. For a limited time, Downpour has "The Good Earth" unabridged audiobook for free when you apply coupon code earthfree at checkout. This is for the download version, which normally costs $18.99. You'll need to create an account, but no credit card is required. The book is available in either MP3 or M4B format, the latter optimized for playing on iDevices.

Deals found on The Cheapskate are subject to availability, expiration, and other terms determined by sellers.
This Windows 8-powered convertible had a list price of $899 when it debuted late last year. And it's new, not refurbished. Plus: a free audiobook!
It's a laptop, tablet, banana-masher, and salad-spinner all in one!
The other day I mentioned my change of heart regarding touch-screens on laptops, noting that it's a nice feature to have for scrolling Web pages and documents, zooming photos, and so on.
Also nice to have: a laptop that converts into a tablet. Like this one: While supplies last, DealFisher has the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist S230u Ultrabook for $599.99 shipped. It's new, not refurbished, and it sold for $899 when it first hit the scene back in December. (However, Lenovo was selling these refurbished for under $500 in May.)
In case the name didn't give it away, the Twist can go from laptop to tablet with a twist (and subsequent fold) of its center-hinged IPS touch screen. That screen tops out at 1,366x768 pixels, which CNET dinged for being on the low side, but I find that sufficient for a 12.5-inch display.
This Windows 8-powered system includes an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive with 24GB SSD cache (which should make for faster booting and standby-resuming), and Bluetooth.
At 3.4 pounds, it's a little on the heavy side for a tablet, but at least it's fairly slim (0.8 inches). Even if you don't end up cradling it in your arm, you can "tent" it for easy touch-powered usage on kitchen counters, end tables, and the like.
You'll definitely want to read CNET's review of the Twist, which awards four stars and calls out its "very reasonable price" (and that was when it was $899). But beware the flaky screen accelerometer and average battery life.
Even so, I suspect these will sell out pretty quickly, so if you're looking for a convertible laptop that's not refurbished, I'd jump on this quick. (Alternately, you could wait for another refurb deal, which promises an even better price.)
Bonus deal: Pearl S. Buck's "The Good Earth" is one of my all-time favorite books. It may be classic literature, but it's as approachable and entertaining as any modern tale. For a limited time, Downpour has "The Good Earth" unabridged audiobook for free when you apply coupon code earthfree at checkout. This is for the download version, which normally costs $18.99. You'll need to create an account, but no credit card is required. The book is available in either MP3 or M4B format, the latter optimized for playing on iDevices.

Deals found on The Cheapska
It remains to be seen how well it works in the real world, but the new dual-pixel autofocus technology shows promise in Canon's promotional video about its latest SLR.The Canon EOS 70D's autofocus system can focus on a particular subject when a videographer taps on it with the camera's touch screen.


Canon wants to show off what its new EOS 70D camera can do when it comes to one persistent shortcoming in the digital photography revolution: autofocus.
It's posted two videos -- a demonstration video called Handmade and a behind-the-scenes explanatory video about it -- designed to show what the new digital SLR can accomplish with its new Dual Pixel CMOS AF (DPA) technology. Check below to watch the videos.
No doubt the autofocus technology won't work as smoothly in the real world as it does in these promotional videos with bright lighting, carefully arranged sets, and plenty of chances to shoot another take if things don't go right at first. But they're worth watching to at least get a flavor of what's possible and to see a reasonably broad selection of the 103 Canon lenses the company says DPA works with.

The streamlined Canon EOS 70D (pictures)

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Canon's dual-pixel technology works by splitting a photosite on the camera's image sensor into two halves then comparing the light signal between them. That information lets the camera calculate how far the lens needs to be driven -- and in which direction -- to achieve focus. The dual-pixel approach also lets the camera employ a helpfully broad area, the central 80 percent of the sensor, for autofocus.
In effect, the dual-pixel technology moves the fast and accurate phase-detection technology of SLRs' dedicated autofocus system to the image sensor. Before, image sensors only used an autofocus technology called contrast detection that often involves more trial and error since it calculates focus as the lens is adjusted. When shooting video, though, or composing shots with live view on the LCD rather than through an SLRs' viewfinder, the separate phase-detection autofocus system can't be used on an SLR.
Taking video with digital SLRs is often a frustrating experience because of the difficulties of autofocus. SLRs offer great cinematographic possibilities because large sensors and wide-aperture lens let you focus on subjects while blurring backgrounds away into insignificance. That advantage becomes a distracting liability when focus is set wrong, though. And amateurs taking videos of the ballet recital don't have external monitors and a dedicated employee to pull focus.
The 70D is due to ship in September for $1,199 with no lens, $1,349 with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens, or $1,549.00 with the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens.
The 4.7-inch smart phone hasn't turned things around, as the Taiwanese tech giant made roughly $41.6m after tax, a significant drop compared to last year.



HTC's financial woes aren't getting any easier, with the Taiwanese tech giant revealing an 83 per cent decline in net profit for the April-June period compared with last year.
The phone-maker said it's unaudited net profit for the three months up to 30 June was NT1.25bn, which equates to roughly $41.6m, the Wall Street Journal reports.
While the latest numbers make for grim reading, the results aren't as bad as they were in the first quarter of the year, when HTC made just $2.8m in profit.
HTC continues to struggle in the face of stiff competition from Samsung and Apple, despite the arrival of the HTC One flagship -- which has been well-received by critics and phone-fans alike.
What does HTC need to do to turn things around? Let me know your thoughts in the comments


Saturday, 29 June 2013



Today, during the keynote for the Microsoft Build conference in San Francisco, the company announced the preview version for Windows 8.1 (download the preview here). As a point upgrade to Windows 8, there are few sweeping changes to the operating system, but Microsoft has thankfully made some tweaks to the interface, along with upgraded apps and other enhancements that users will appreciate. But it's important to note that if you were hoping for a return to a Windows 7 layout, you're going to be disappointed; Microsoft is sticking to its guns on the Modern UI (the tiled Start screen interface), and you'll still be using it as your main launching point. With that said, Microsoft has added a few features that make it a bit more palatable to keyboard-and-mouse Windows desktop users.

New apps and features in Windows 8.1 (pictures)

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In developing Windows 8.1, Microsoft says it listened to feedback from users and tried to solve the problems people were having with the new interface. In our time with the updated OS, we think the company has done a good job on a lot of fronts and has added a lot more to like, but we suspect that some people will still find the OS' reliance on touch off-putting.
The Start menu returns! (sort of)
One of the biggest complaints for Windows 8 was the removal of the Start (or Windows) button in the lower-left corner of the desktop. Microsoft's move toward touch-screen computing made it rethink the way people use their computers in Windows 8, but those who spent years clicking the Start button to navigate the OS weren't pleased with an entirely new way of doing things.
The new Start button gives you many of the old features back, but not all of them.
(Credit: Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET)
As a compromise of sorts, Microsoft has reintroduced the Start button in Windows 8.1 in the lower-left corner of the screen. Clicking on it brings up the Start screen, where you can type a few letters to find and open apps, just like in Windows 8. While you still don't get the exact same pop-up menu you had in Windows 7, Microsoft has added the ability to right-click the new Start button to get to common Control Panel settings, open the Task Manager, perform a search, and other useful system tools. At the bottom of the pop-up menu you have the option to shut down or restart your computer -- a function that was previously found in Windows 8 by mousing to the top-right corner of the screen, dragging downward, clicking Settings, clicking Power, then clicking Shutdown or Restart.
There's obviously nothing groundbreaking about bringing a widely used interface element back from a previous OS, but we had hoped Microsoft could bring it back completely. We use Windows 8 every day, but we still miss the convenience of having recent files, the Control Panel, and everything else from Windows 7 in one spot, whereas you now need to drill down in multiple different areas when using Windows 8. Nevertheless, we're glad the company has made the menu more easily accessible for mouse-and-keyboard users at the very least.
Boot to Desktop
A change that many users will appreciate is the capability to set up the Windows machine to boot directly to the desktop from within the OS. It seems that Microsoft has heard the outcry from users, or perhaps the company is finally admitting to some extent that the tiled Modern UI is not necessarily ideal for mouse-and-keyboard setups. In any case, we're happy it's been added.
Search for an artist and Xbox Music will create a radio station with songs from that artist and similar music from the genre.
(Credit: Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET)
Xbox Music gets much more intuitive
In Windows 8, Xbox Music allowed you to stream free music from a huge library of more than 30 million songs. In Windows 8.1, the app has been redesigned to make it easier to move around the interface. A left navigation pane lets you start a radio station, explore artists, play songs from your collection, or create and manage playlists. On the right side of the screen you can view artists, explore content, watch videos, and more. We noticed this is a theme in Windows 8.1: many of the interface elements include a left-side nav with content on the right, and we think it's much better than the sideways scrolling found in earlier versions of Xbox Music. You can create Pandora-like radio stations by entering an artist to get a stream of similar music, and you can create playlists of music you choose. The process is a little involved, but when you're finished you can listen to a custom playlist in exactly the order you want. There are obviously other services like Spotify that let you choose songs to play, and Pandora, which does free streaming, but the new layout in Windows 8.1 makes it much easier to use and might be your new go-to app instead of third-party options.
The Search charm produces better results from several different sources.
(Credit: Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET)
Search gets an upgrade
The search charm in Windows 8.1 does a little more than it did before. Now when you perform a search, you'll get global results from several sources including files, SkyDrive, apps, and the Web. All your search results are displayed horizontally, with more results from other sources when you scroll to the right.
When you search for popular actors, musicians, sports figures, and other well-known people, Windows 8 displays what it calls a Hero screen. On a search for Kanye West, for example, you get a large photo, related songs and videos, movies, and -- as you scroll further -- more-basic Web search results to Web sites and images. When a person isn't as famous, you get standard Web search results with links to Web sites and photos.
More flexibility with Snap views
In Windows 8.1 you'll now be able to run more apps simultaneously on one monitor by resizing app windows and using the Snap function. Now, you can have up to four running apps on one screen simultaneously, as long as your screen has a high enough resolution: 2,560x1,440 pixels is required to display four simultaneous apps. With a dual-monitor setup, you could have eight apps running at once. On the Surface Pro that Microsoft loaned us for testing, we were only able to get three apps on one screen (Surface Pro features a 1,920x1,080 resolution), but it was easy to see how it could be useful.
Personalization
Microsoft has added some personalization features with both the Start screen and lock screens so people can add a bit of their own style to desktops and tablets. There are more colors to choose from for backgrounds, and you can display a slideshow on your lock screen with photos currently on your hard drive or from those stored on SkyDrive.
The new camera app has a ton more useful features, including editing tools, color enhancement, and filters.
(Credit: Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET)
Much-improved camera app
The camera app has been improved significantly in Windows 8.1. In Windows 8 your only option was to crop photos, but in 8.1, you get a full set of photo-editing tools to enhance color, adjust brightness and contrast, and red-eye, and pick from six different filters.
Our favorite part of the app is the color enhancement tool, which lets you pick a color on the photo, and enhance just that color to make it stand out. Where the camera app was almost useless before, in Windows 8.1 people will be more likely to use it with all the new features.
The new Windows Store has a cleaner layout with bigger images.
(Credit: Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET)
Windows Store
Part of this week's Microsoft Build event is about getting developers excited about making new apps for the Windows Store. A redesign in Windows 8.1 might be a step in the right direction with a cleaner look, larger images, and an overall more refined and sophisticated layout. Microsoft also made it so your current apps are now auto-updated, ensuring that you'll always have the latest versions.
One of the complaints of the Windows Store was that it didn't have a robust catalog of apps. While it's slowly grown since Windows 8 first arrived, hopefully a new look and auto-updates will make developers take a new interest in it.
Do the changes make Windows 8 better?
The short answer appears to be: yes. Windows 8.1 streamlines much of the touch interface, while adding many cosmetic and tangible, utilitarian features.
We think the real question, however, is: does 8.1 do enough to sweeten the bad taste left in the mouths of many Windows 8 users? That’s a much more difficult question to answer and one that will require much more time spent with the new OS.
Windows 8.1 probably still relies a bit too much on touch and may not do all it needs to repair damage caused by its predecessor; however, it’s a much-needed and in some cases impressive step in the right direction.
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