Tuesday, July 30, 2013

6 Best Back-to-School Tablets


Summer's coming to an end, but don't let that get you down — instead, take advantage of back-to-school season and upgrade to a tablet that you truly love.

We've rounded up the best tablets on the market today, including the classically beautifuliPad with retina display, the light-as-a-feather Nexus 7, the media-rich Kindle Fire HD and more.

1. iPad With Retina Display

iPad With Retina Display

Image: Apple


This iPad is easily one of the most beautiful tablets on the market today. With over 3 million pixels, the retina display on this tablet makes for a stunning visual experience. It has a sharp camera and a new A6X chip, which makes it twice as fast as previous iterations.

Price: $499 (16GB), $599 (32GB), $699 (64GB), $799 (128GB)

2. iPad Mini

iPad Mini

Image: Apple


The iPad mini is enjoyably small, weighing in at about 308 grams. It fits nicely in one hand, and is small enough that you can carry it in your bag alongside your other books without breaking your back. The device has a 5-megapixel camera and 1080p HD video recording. With so many different data package options, you'll be able to enjoy the Apple store's 275,000 apps, take class notes and store your music, all on this miniature device.

Price: $329 (16GB), $429 (32GB) and $529 (64GB)

3. Google Nexus 7

Google Nexus 7

Image: Google


Unlike previous Nexus devices, Google's seven-inch tablet is designed by Asus. It's much thinner than previous iterations (2 millimeters thinner and 50 grams lighter than its predecessor), and boasts a high-definition LCD display. It also has a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, Bluetooth 4.0, and a micro USB 2.0 port. The Nexus 7 tablet clocks in as exceptional across the board: The UI is smooth, it weighs very little and it's cheaper than a lot of its competitors.

Its the first to ship with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro 8064 processor rated at 1.5GHz. There is also a 4G LTE version, priced at $349.

Price: $229.99 (16GB) and $299 (32GB)

4. Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7

Kindle Fire 7

Image: Amazon


This tablet features a sharp visual display, an extensive media library, and it offers a smart and streamlined UI. With an 8.9-inch display, it's bigger than some of its competitors. The Kindle Fire gives you access to more than just books — you can check out Amazon's films, music apps and games. It has a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, but does not have a camera on the back.

Price: $159.99 (16 GB), $189 (32GB)

5. Nook HD

Nook HD

Image: Barnes & Noble


The Nook HD is competitively priced, but it doesn't offer the same sleek user experience as some of its competitors. It's light, weighing just 315 grams, so it's easy to transport to class. However, some argue that the lightweight plastic makes the device feel cheap and detracts from the overall experience. This tablet doesn't have a camera, but it does have dual speakers on the bottom. It also has a microSD card slot.

Price: $129 (8GB), $149 (16GB)

6. Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Image: Samsung


The quad-core processor makes the Galaxy Note 10 exceptionally fast. With a stylus pen, it's great for taking handwritten class notes without having to carry heavy binders and notebooks. The Galaxy Note 10 also has functional multitasking, so you can have multiple apps running at once — perfect for updating your Facebook during the boring parts of class.

Price: $449 (16 GB) and $499 (32 GB)

Image: Flickr, Rares M. Dutu

Friday, July 26, 2013

This Dorm Was Tailor-Made For the Deaf Students Who Helped Designed It

Architects are bound by law to design buildings that are accessible to the disabled, but the deaf often get left out of the equation. A group of designers and deaf students are now trying to change that—and their first building, a dormitory at predominantly deaf college Gallaudet University, is their manifesto.
The building is a collaboration between a group of design firms led by New York firm LTL and an unusual stakeholder: DeafSpace, a group of students led by Gallaudet’s campus architect,Hansel Bauman. DeafSpace began as a campus initiative to develop principles that put the unique needs of deaf students first. But it has since blossomed into its own design movement, including a design class taught by Bauman, defined by a set of specific spatial guidelines available on its website.

But back to the dorm. In Metropolis this month, Linda Hales details the process of designing a $18.5 million mixed-use dorm that’s uniquely suited to deaf students. There’s more to it than you might think. For example, stopped to open a door can interrupt a good conversation, since sign language is all about the hands—so LTL specified sliding ones. The same goes for the width of hallways. When your conversation with a professor depends on keeping your eyes on their hands, a narrow corridor, unexpected steps, or a sudden turn can kill the flow, so the dorm's hallways are almost twelve feet wide.
Visibility is another huge issue. The interiors are painted colors that dull problematic glare, and there's plenty of daylighting—which reduces the eyestrain that comes with communicating in ASL. And what about lectures? If your view of a professor’s hands is blocked, you’re in trouble—so LTL and DeafSpace designed an amphitheater that’s optimized for perfect sight lines from any spot. Unexpectedly, acoustics also play a role: For students that use hearing aids, ambient noise is a major issue—so special acoustic panels and carpets dampen the junk noise.

There are plenty more subtle details at work, too. One point that stands out, though, is that sign language is inherently spatial. It deals with the three-dimensional movement of objects through space. "Deaf culture centers around the language," said Bauman a few years ago. "The language has all the elements of architecture-the spatial kinesthetic of sign language, the desire of deaf people for the visual access that open space affords-lends itself to express the deaf way of being."
So it makes sense that space itself should be tailored around those unique lexical properties. And thanks to DeafSpace, those properties are poised to become common knowledge amongst mainstream architects. [Metropolis]

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Secret Powers Hidden in Your iPhone's Accessibility Options

Unless you're constantly messing around with your iPhone's settings, most people don't dig into the Accessibility features in iOS unless they need to solve a specific problem. That said, there's actually a few great features hidden in those options that everyone can make use of, even if you don't need them.
The iPhone's accessibility options are pretty fantastic and cover a lot of ground. They're also easy for anyone to enable and play around with under Settings > General >Accessibility. With that in mind, here are a few cool things you might not realize you're iPhone can do.

Read Any Text Out Loud with VoiceOver or Speak Selection

If you don't mind being read to in the robotic voice of Siri, you can set up your iPhone to read any text you want aloud to you. Turning it on is incredibly easy:
  1. Head into Settings > General > Accessibility
  2. Turn on Speak Selection
Now, when you select a block of text you'll get the option to speak it out loud. That's not all though, as IT World points out, if you select the first line of a block of text and then swipe down with two fingers your iPhone will read everything on that page out loud to you.

Get LED Flashes for Notifications

The Secret Powers Hidden in Your iPhone's Accessibility Options
For whatever reason, the iPhone doesn't have a good system for providing a visual alert other than the screen turning on. If you want an alert that draws a bit more attention than just the screen, the LED notifications are pretty handy.
Just head into Settings > General > Accessibility, and tap the "LED Flash for Alerts" button to enable it. Now, when you get a call or other notification, the LED flash on the backside of your phone will light up.

Enable Custom Gestures with AssistiveTouch

The Secret Powers Hidden in Your iPhone's Accessibility Options
The AssistiveTouch option in iOS is one that few of us bother messing around with. The point of AssistiveTouch is to help people who have problems with the touch screen, and subsequently you can do all kinds of cool stuff with it, including creating your own set of gestures:
  1. Turn on AssistiveTouch in Settings > General Accessibility > AssistiveTouch
  2. Tap the new icon in the top left corner of your screen
  3. Tap the "Favorites" button
  4. Tap the "+" to create a new gesture.
Here you can enable you own gestures. This is useful in all kinds of ways. The blog Here's the Thing has a few examples, including making scrolling super easy:
For example, to scroll up on a lengthy web page without actually swiping, you could just call up the AssistiveTouch menu, tap “Favorites,” and then the icon for your new “swipe down” gesture.

Now tap the screen, and it’ll obediently scroll down just as if you’d swiped it.
The AssistiveTouch setting is actually incredibly helpful for all kinds of things, including taking screenshots without having to tap the power button and home button at the same time, and using your phone's home button when it's broken.

Enable Different Vibration Patterns for Different Contacts

The Secret Powers Hidden in Your iPhone's Accessibility Options
The custom vibration setting has moved out of the Accessibility options in iOS 6, but since that's where it started in iOS 5 we're still happy to include it here. Essentially, it makes it so you can set up custom vibration alerts for your contacts so you know who's trying to get a hold of you without ever looking at your phone.
In iOS 6, just click on a contact, select "Vibration" and then "Create New Vibration." Now tap out whatever vibration you want. If you're still on iOS 5, you can find the setting under Settings > General > Accessibility > Custom Vibrations.

Enable Guided Access to Lock Off Apps When You Hand Your Phone to Kids (or Strangers)

The Secret Powers Hidden in Your iPhone's Accessibility Options
Guided Access was introduced in iOS 6 as a means to make it easy for pretty much anyone to use an iPhone without messing anything up. Guided Access can restrict your iPhone to just one app, disable parts of the screen, or turn off any of the hardware buttons. As Cult of Mac points out that makes it great for when you need to hand your phone over to a friend or child.
To enable it, head into Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access. To enable it when you're in an app, just triple-click the home button, pick the settings you want, and hand it over to the person who wants to borrow your phone. I've found this especially helpful in those awkward situations when someone asks to borrow your phone to make a call.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

This Tiny, Portable Laptop Stand Will Finally Fix Your Posture

“The Roost–stop hunching over your laptop,” I read, back and neck aching as usual. I had been working at my laptop like a gargoyle since early in the morning. But in the Roost, a laptop stand that’s raised almost $100,000 on Kickstarter, I’ve finally found a solution.
My main issue with most laptop stands is that they’re big and bulky. At the least, I’d have to buy a stand for the office and one for home. But as a writer and college student, I’m constantly working on the move–so even multiple stands wouldn’t help me much. Last summer, I resorted to resting my laptop on a box at the office, which was less than ideal.
Enter James Olander, a literal rocket scientist who decided that designing systems at Lockheed Martin wasn’t for him anymore.
“I was on this blind path for working on aerospace for probably no other good reason than rocket science sounded cool,” he says.
Olander started working at Odesk, where he would work remotely a couple days a week. He says that after a few months, his hands, neck, and back shut down on him, and he had to see multiple doctors and start physical therapy. Olander says he was terrified of being unable to use a laptop, and he bought “probably every stand that’s on Amazon.”
“I didn’t find anything that really met the need, because nothing was portable enough to the point that you’d actually use it,” he tells me.

Naturally, Olander decided to build something himself, and The Roost was born. The Roost, which Olander builds himself in Denver, weighs just five ounces and folds down to a 1” x 1.5” x 13” package. Olander built it using strong materials (carbon fiber and a super plastic), so it’s also incredibly durable. It’s going for $65 on Kickstarter right now, more than some of the most popular stands on Amazon, but well worth it in my opinion.
He sent me a near-production unit to test out and I’m going to miss it sorely when I return it. The stand is super convenient–I toss it in my bag every day along with my thin Apple keyboard and track pad, and can quickly set up shop in the office, in coffee shops, wherever. The laptop clips on to the stand and is really secure and sturdy.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Could a Spell-Checking Pen Get You to Write in Cursive

Handwriting is dying out in general, but cursive especially. Does anyone under the age of twentyever use it anymore? They will, if the minds behind Lernstift have anything to say about it. They've got a haptic smart-pen that will spellcheck your script, but does that really make it any more enticing?
With its non-optical motion sensor and some other assorted electronic guts, the Lernstift will—in theory—not only detect and understand your cursive writing and vibrate if you're spelling things wrong, but also critique your cursive form. You know, kind of like a virtual nun with a haptic ruler.
So far the Lernstift is an unfunded Kickstarter, with over a hundred thousand dollars to go in funding. But whether or not it ever exists, the question still remains: could something like this even save cursive if it did exist and worked perfectly? Would you use it, or would you rather stick to keyboards and messy printing? [The Telegraph via Engadget]

Friday, July 12, 2013

These Synthesia Glasses Help Blind People “See” Via Sonar

People who have been blind since a young age can sometimes learn to develop a sort of low-grade echolocation. This technique, used by the likes of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Ronnie Milsap, and Ben Underwood, works much the same way as it does in bats and dolphins. But people who have just recently lost their sight can't harness this ability innately. They need the vOICe to do it for them.
Invented by Dr. Peter B.L. Meijer, Principal Scientist at the Netherland's Hemics BV in 1982, the vOICe (as in "Oh, I See") is what's known as a sensory substitution device (SSDs). SSDs instigate a mechanical synthesia—transforming visual information into audible representations—in order to overcome a lost sensory ability. The image below is that of Dr. Meijer mid-conversion.
These Synthesia Glasses Help Blind People “See” Via SonarSEXPAND
The vOICe consists of a glasses-mounted camera for collecting visual data, a backpack-carried laptop running the conversion software, and headphones to project the converted sound into the patient's ears, scanning left to right like a sonar sweep. While Meijer did come up with the idea in the early '80s it wasn't until nearly two decades later in 1998 that the necessary components had shrunk to portable sizes and even that used a desktop webcam—which was quickly replaced with a pair of those "spy" sunglasses you find in Skymall. The system still uses spy glasses, though users can also download the software to their smartphone and use its camera instead.

As the vOICe website explains:
The vOICe converts images captured by a camera into "soundscapes" delivered to the user through headphones at a default rate of one soundscape per second. Each soundscape is a left to right scan of the visual scene with frequency representing the image's vertical axis and loudness representing brightness... The user therefore experiences a series of "snapshots" passing from the left to the right ear.
Some studies have suggested that the brain adapts to the long-term use of these devices, rewiring itself to "see" sounds, like Daredevil. Claire Cheskin, a long-time user of the vOICe, toldNew Scientist that she can interpret full images roughly akin to her lost sight just by listening. "I've sailed across the English Channel and across the North Sea, sometimes using the vOICe to spot landmarks," she said. "The lights on the land were faint but the vOICe could pick them up." What's more, some skilled users able to do the same without the aid of the SSD. The next step will, obviously, be Geordi LaForge-style visors. [PopSci - SeeingWithSound 123 - Images: Seeing With Sound, diagram (below): New Scientist]

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sign-language service via iPads tested by JR East

A JR East operator uses sign language Monday on an iPad screen in Shinagawa Station as the railway began testing a new service for the hearing-impaired. 

June 19, 2013 

East Japan Railway Co. began testing a sign-language interpretation service in Tokyo on Monday using a videophone application on an Apple iPad tablet for the hearing-impaired.

The application allows passengers at information booths to use sign language and ask questions to a call-center operator via the iPad. The operator then orally relays the questions to a JR information guide before using sign language to return the guide’s answers to the passenger.

The test service will be available at 12 information booths in seven JR stations — Tokyo, Shinagawa, Ueno, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya and Akihabara — from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily until next March before JR East considers whether to expand the service.

JR East had previously only used written messages for guiding hearing-impaired people.

“The new simultaneous interpretation service makes communication smooth,” an information booth attendant at Shinagawa Station said.

JR East said the system will also be used to communicate with foreign passengers by connecting them with operators who can speak English, Chinese or Korean.

Source: The Japan Times