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AmazonFamilySharing

One of the joys of reading has always been the ability to share books with your loved ones –how many times have you found a new favourite book that you can’t wait to discuss with the people around you? While there have been band-aid solutions and workarounds for a while now, being able to share digital book purchases from Amazon hasn’t been possible… until now! Amazon’s new Family Library feature includes support for household sharing that extends to books, apps, Prime Instant videos, audiobooks, and games.

Taking their existing Kindle loan program a step further (that only allows books to be loaned once and for a limited time period), the Family Library will give up to six users the ability to share content (allowing two adults to manage up to four children). Cleverly, this feature will work on Kindle devices (including the Kindle Fire phones, tablets, and e-ink readers), but will also extend to any third-party device running Amazon’s apps.

While I do appreciate their need to limit the number of people the app can share with, the 2 adults/4 children number seems a bit arbitrary. I’ve always liked the approach that says ‘anybody using the same home network’, but I may be alone on this one.

Along with the Family Library announcement, Amazon also added the ability to create user profiles for Kindle devices (building on the FreeTime feature they already released that creates kid-safe sections of their tablets). This is a very nice feature for any families that share devices, allowing each user to save their preferences for things like screen brightness and progress through each book or video they have on the go.

Movies, music, and television shows are not included in the Family Library, but for the moment we will take what we can get! They may have to re-think that choice though, when competing services like those offered by Apple do include this content as well.

Do family sharing features like this make you more likely to choose an Amazon device (or even just use their app)?

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instapaper

With the arrival of iOS 8, apps are starting to release updates to take advantage of the new features. Instapaper is no exception, adding several new features this week but also moving to a freemium business model. What this means for users is that the universal iOS app can now be downloaded for free –with the old subscription package being renamed to Instapaper Premium.

Reviewing a list of the new key features should persuade you that Instapaper continues to be a productivity app leader:

    – Now featuring text-to-speech (using Apple’s text-to-speech synthesizer) will let you listen to saved articles while on the go. Consider this a way of making custom curated podcasts from the news you are interested in knowing but wish you had the time to read.

    – Save an article with a single tap (functionality that the Android and web versions of the app have enjoyed previously, but was noticeably absent in the iOS version until now)

    – Unified browse brings articles from your favourite editors or friends into a single feed

    – Link to your friends’ profiles based on the articles that they like

    – View your article saves from today which will now appear in the Notification Center (and read with a single tap)

Once you give Instapaper a try, you will likely agree that a Premium subscription is worth the price of admission (currently listed at $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year). Premium members will enjoy unlimited highlights (free users only get 5 highlights per month) and text-to-speech playlists of saved articles.

If you happen to be an existing subscriber, you will be automatically upgraded to the new premium service at your current rate. If you purchased Instapaper in the past, you will enjoy a free month of premium service as compensation.

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Mumbai_Guy_on_phone_November_2011_-2-5_Closeup-640x426

The next time you are waiting in line somewhere and trying to pass the time for 28 seconds, complaining about the speed of the Internet on your smartphone… keep in mind that there are a lot of countries in the world where there are no proper data connections. As smartphone manufacturers start building less expensive Android One devices in many of these countries, finding ways around the lack of data plans is important. Fortunately Cosmos for Android is an app that could help –letting users browse the web using SMS text messages.

Sure it’s cumbersome, and definitely slower, but it’s nonetheless possible.

How it works is simple in concept: visit a web URL using the app, which will then send a SMS request to the Cosmos backend. The response will be a compressed package containing the source of the website being requested (minus the interactive pieces, CSS, and JavaScript).

It may not look pretty or quite as the web developers intended, but the jist of the content should be there.

There are other considerations, of course –such as needing an unlimited text messaging plan, given the number of messages that are likely to be flying back and forth if you are using Cosmos. Having this extra SMS traffic may also delay other text messages

Cosmos should be released by the end of the month. You may want to give the app a try even if you do have a data plan, you never know when you might be without 3G or LTE and needing to find out a piece of important information (you know, very important things such as settling a bet made around a campfire, or trying to find out the actual rules to a board game that you are playing at the cabin).

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amazon_fire_tv

Spotify fans in the US, with a premium subscription, now have an additional incentive to enjoy the popular music streaming service: full support for Amazon Fire TV. For those who may not be familiar already, Spotify offers on-demand access to more than 20 million songs instantly (with no Internet connection required and no interruption for advertisements).

In their launch statement, Spotify announced:

Using Spotify Connect on your Amazon Fire TV allows you to control your music using the Spotify app on your mobile or tablet. You can seamlessly switch your favorite music from your mobile to the TV and continue to make calls, use other smartphone apps and go out of wifi range, all without interrupting the music.

Amazon Fire TV was released in April, intending to rival devices like Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku. Initial reviews for the Fire TV have been positive, particularly given the increasing popularity of Amazon’s Prime streaming service.

If you haven’t tried Spotify for Android, download it now and start your 30-day free trial; when you become addicted, the service will cost you an affordable $9.99 per month.

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Chromecast

Chromecast is enjoying increasing support from app developers, which is good news for those of us with Android devices and the desire to make them interact with our televisions. Thanks to recent updates, this capability has been added to: Twitch.tv, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, iHeartRadio, and DramaFever.

What will you enjoy with these apps? With the three channels provided by Disney (free, if you have a cable provider subscription that includes this content), you will see kid-friendly shows broken down into roughly sorted age groups. Music lovers will be excited to try out iHeartRadio, well known as a free and well-populated audio service. Twitch.tv lets the gamers in your life enjoy videos of their favourite titles being played live, while DramaFever is all about International content (in Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, Spanish, among others).

Every one of these additions has to make Apple a little nervous –especially when the Chromecast device comes in at under half the purchase cost of the Apple TV.

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deathbat

If you are fans of the music by Avenged Sevenfold, and you really like the horror genre, news that the band is about to release a new action-RPG game for your iOS and Android devices will be very exciting. In Hail to the King: Deathbat you are invited to fight your way through Nightmare and Bat Country, parts of an animated web series already developed and released.

Describing their project, Avenged Sevenfold stated:

“Hail to the King: Deathbat is a brutal romp through the darkest depths of the underworld with an epic tale of redemption, devastating melee combat, towering boss fights, 7 hellish landscapes and classic Avenged Sevenfold cuts along with a new and original score composed by the band.”

The game will feature 8 new theme songs from the band that you can listen to while collecting swords, magic, and powers. Little else is known about the game just yet, other than news that those gamers who love to collect achievements will be richly rewarded.

Hail to the King: Deathbat is due to be released for Android and iOS devices on October 16, 2014, so there isn’t much more time to wait!

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spider_man_unlimited

There are plenty of action hero games available in the mobile world, but few that capture the true essence of their comic book beginnings. In Spider-Man Unlimited, Gameloft has found a way to marry an action-packed arcade adventure game with the hand-drawn charm of a classic Marvel comic.

The aim of the game is to defeat the Sinister Six. They have opened a dimensional portal in New York (in an effort to bring forth endless versions of themselves). Grouped by issues, the first two are ready to go –with each one featuring 5 boss battles and 25 missions. For those among you who are competitive, daily and weekly events offer rewards while in Event Mode. In Unlimited Mode you can fight your way to the top of the leaderboards.

Gameplay is easy to learn but difficult to master; when you are getting used to a new endless runner, you have to think fast and let the controls become second nature. The best part of the game might just be the storyline and the character voices (giving way to their personalities). A tutorial will get you started on your way, but before long you are on your own.

The graphics are colourful and fun, the text is very easy to read on the screen, and the animations are just detailed enough to make the game enjoyable without seeming over the top (or making you wait for them to load or play through). I am especially fond of the little things, like being able to see that Spidey is breathing by the movements in his chest (making him seem that little bit more realistic).

Feel like making the world a safer place? Download Spider-Man Unlimited for Android and try your hand at playing the hero. The app is free, but be warned –there are opportunities to purchase virtual items.

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makr

If you are feeling equal parts creative and entrepreneurial, Makr by Happy Media could be the app you need to succeed (using only your phone). Using your own visual identity or logo, create custom swag (like t-shirts, tote bags, or temporary tattoos). Once your items are mocked-up and looking just right, you can then sell your merchandise in the built-in online store (letting Makr handle all aspects of production, shipping, and payments).

The whole process is a little like Etsy, minus the handcrafting. Makr wins by capitalizing on your ideas while absorbing all of the risk so you don’t have to (by working with vendors). So what’s in it for you? If somebody buys an item that you designed, $2 goes directly into your pocket!

It may seem like a small profit margin, but consider that you really aren’t doing any of the heavy lifting.

Filled with design and marketing tools, Makr promises professional products that are easy for anybody to create. Need a little help? Try one of their templates, giving you a head-start on: business cards, party invitations, wedding materials, stickers, postcards, stationary, greeting and holiday cards –or maybe you want funny or themed clothing for an event you are hosting.

Makr – a design + print shop is only available for iOS devices currently –download it for free from the App Store now!

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win9startmenunotiles

Microsoft is no stranger to making huge mistakes with their Windows operating system. Beginning with Windows ME many moons ago, we all learned to be skeptical of the next best version that they have promised us. Even worse, some of us got so tired of Windows updates and service packs that we made the move to Apple and Mac OS. In a best effort to win back market-share and beg for market dominance once again, Windows 9 has been promised (and it will fix all that we hate about Window 8, they swear).

Keeping in mind that it’s very early (heck, Microsoft promised us Windows 8 for a few years before we ever saw a meaningful release of the software), there are a few versions of things floating around –some start menus we see have tiles, while others seem to be lacking those annoying graphics. This may mean that they are optional and configurable (which is likely).

The important takeaway from this leak –our comfort zone has been re-added… and those that missed the start menu desperately will be breathing a huge sigh of relief.

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Google-Play-refund-policy-2-hours

In the beginning, Google gave users a full 24-hours to regret an app purchase. In 2010, they updated their policy such that users only had 15-minutes to change their minds (which is a little tight, especially if you like to shop on your desktop and have apps downloaded onto your device from there –this method of shopping can add a few extra minutes to complete installation). As of September 10, 2014, the Google Play Store has become a little more generous and settled on a 2-hour refund window.

While many people enjoyed the original 24-hour window, most are willing to agree that it was overkill. Having 2 full hours to test-drive an app is very reasonable, and it is hard to complain when it beats the 0-minutes offers by the competition!

Some developers may be unhappy with this window being extended, but it should have a positive impact on reviews –with fewer users leaving poor reviews indicating that they are completely dissatisfied.

Google made this change without a press release or much fanfare, but it is laid out in black and white on the Google Play support page.

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Samsung_Ads

Before I begin, let me assert: I do not hate Samsung and I do in fact like many of their products. Heck, in many ways I actually think that their new Galaxy Note Edge is prettier to look at than Apple’s new iPhone 6 Plus. What I do find disappointing is that the day after Apple’s big announcement, Samsung responds with a series of ads that do little more than bash their competition.

Each of the advertisements centre around a couple of guys, behaving like idiots, that intentionally remind us of Apple Store employees. They mock things like the poor-quality of the Apple live-stream during the keynote at the event this week, and make jokes that are clearly supposed to poke fun at the hype surrounding the products Apple announced.

In reality, the advertisements look ridiculous and feel almost petty. Not only are they so annoying I can barely watch them, they communicate absolutely nothing of any value. Of course Apple is going to demo new products at a -product launch- (it should also go without saying that they would try to generate some excitement and hype while doing so).

Whether Samsung has a better product line isn’t clear and the company comes across as childish. Apple is probably delighted by the campaign: anybody who sees the ads is more likely to hit Apple’s website to see the new products for themselves than they are to become instant Samsung loyalists. In my view, Samsung would have been better advised to produce thoughtful (and classy) advertisements that detail exactly why their products are the right choices –comparing features, offering incentives, and providing actual details.

Curious? Watch the ads for yourself and see if you agree:

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sonyxperiaz3

It almost seems like tablets can be lumped into two distinct categories these days: “iPads” and “other tablets”; so if you don’t have one, you have the other. Those in the know will tell you this isn’t true, and that there are plenty of quality contenders in the tablet game –whether you are interested in an iPad or not. To this end, Sony has released their latest contender, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact.

The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is certainly portable, weighing in at 9.5-ounces (270-grams) and measuring only 0.25-inches (6.4mm) thick –while maintaining an 8-inch (213.4mm by 123.6mm) screen. Powered by basically the same technology as the Z3 smartphone, Sony’s new tablet features a quad-core, 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, Adreno 330 graphics, 3GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage memory (that can be increased up to 128GB by using microSD cards). For those interested in photography, the Z3 Tablet Compact has an improved 8.1-megapixel imager.

Of course, if you happen to love console gaming, Sony devices support PS4 Remote Play –meaning you are able to use your tablet to control your games on the Playstation 4. Plus, Sony’s software comes with extras like their DSEE HX technology that will upscale the quality of your MP3 and AAC music files (plus, you can perform one-touch mirroring if you happen to have a Sony Bravia TV to pair it with).

Whether it competes nimbly with the iPad remains to be seen, but there is no question that Sony knows how to make an elegant device with value-adds… so for anybody already brand-loyal, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact provides a very reasonable option.

Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but the device will ship in black or white (with LTE or Wi-Fi only options) in the fall of 2014.

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dell-venue-8-7000-series-android-tablet-tablets-620x379

I’m impressed with any manufacturer willing to release a new product the day after a major Apple event. This go-around, Dell has announced that they have the “world’s thinnest tablet” in their new Venue 8 7000 device. Featuring an 8.4″ screen-size, the profile of the Venue 8 7000 is only 6mm thick (thin).

There are other tablets that come in close: Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab S is 6.6mm thick, while Sony has their Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact that measures in at 6.4mm. For the moment, it seems like Dell is winning in this particular arena, but the rest of the tablet looks pretty decent as well –boasting a screen resolution of 2560×1600, RealSense digital photography technology (that is able to create a depth map of an image, giving a rudimentary understanding of object positions located across 3D space instead of only a 2D plane), and an Intel Z3500 quad-core CPU (running between 1.33GHz to 2.33GHz depending on the model).

There isn’t a price yet, or a specific release date –other than Intel is suggesting it will be available in time for the holidays this year.

Intel had more big news besides the release of a Dell-branded tablet: the technology giant also announced that they are working with Google to create the “Intel Reference Design for Android,” intended to serve as a developer tablet that will help manufacturers get their new products to market faster. Built with pre-approved components, the reference tablets will ship ready to pass Google Media Services standards –giving would-be OEMs something to use as a base.

Putting a big name like Intel so firmly behind Android can only mean good things going forward for the operating system.

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