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Life could be easier...with a phablet!

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Name: Link Swanson
Device: Samsung Galaxy Note II
Carrier: Ting

As a technologist, you would think that I would be "all about" tablets and smartphones; however, you would be wrong. Sure, I went through a brief obsession with jailbreaking and unlocking iPhones back in 2007. True, I did at one time drive around with an iPad to attached to my car dashboard with Velcro. But for the past few years I have felt an increasing desire to keep my screen-time at my desk, so I can actually be in the real world without constant interruption to bask in an AMOLED glow at regular five minute intervals.

In spite of this personal preference for keeping my free time screen-free, I must confess that I do whip out the phablet for certain situations, and that I am grateful that I have this miracle-curse on my person in these moments:

I'm looking at something that is broken and I need to fix it. Use the camera!

I snap a lot of photos during the process of repairing things: If I walk into the server room to a black screen filled with cryptic error messages in white text--I can't exactly print out the errors or take a screenshot when the system is stuck booting in runlevel 1--so I take a picture! Or when I am about to unplug a dozen cables from the back of the server: I take a photo before unplugging them all, which provides a handy reference point when it's time to plug them back in!

I'm driving down the road and I have this breakthrough idea. Voice notes!

Creative breakthroughs often come during rather bland routine activities. You can't always take time to write or type these sudden treasures. Voice recorder is a great way to capture them without much fuss. I use also use this for lyrical ideas or when I am improvising on my bass and want to remember that killer riff. Use at your (phone's) risk if you get great ideas while showering.

I'm playing a guitar that is horribly out of tune. Use gStrings!

For all the smartphone nay-saying that I do, I can't argue with the fact that it is pretty awesome to have a guitar tuner on me at all times.

I'm getting alerts that one of my servers is down: ConnectBot!

Hacking the command line while waiting in the checkout line: what a concept. I can make changes and fixes to my servers through SSH from any place where I can pick up a data connection. Pair it with Hacker's Keyboard for a truly powerful pocket administrative capability.

I'm talking with someone and we are trying to explain a spatial/visual concept: S Note and the Stylus!

My phablet has a stylus, and the S Note app from Samsung comes in handy whenever discussing concepts that are best represented visually. Sometimes scribbling a picture saves a lot of frustrating hand gestures when trying to convey spatial/visual relationships. Bonus: you can send the drawing in an email or text message to everyone involved in the conversation.

So there you have it: the situations that I value having a mobile device handy, and the apps that make it so.

Thanks, Link, for your tips! If you're interested in sharing tech tricks that you've picked up that make your life easier, please contact anyone in the PIM collaborative!


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wunderlist-icon.pngWe've listed a couple of list-making apps in our Life Could be Easier: On the Go series, and I wanted to put in a plug for one we haven't mentioned, but that I have been using a lot lately: Wunderlist. Not only is Wunderlist fun to say, it's also super easy to use and it syncs across all of my devices (android, iPad, desktop, web.) Per Paul Zenke's suggestion, I've been using it to keep my inbox empty (well, close to empty at least) by adding items to my Wunderlist if I need to follow up on them, and archiving them if I don't. I keep a list for each of the collaboratives I'm on and I can view them either by the categories, or by due date. It's really helped me stay on top of things. Wunderlist also has the option to create shared lists which can be useful for collaboration on work projects or for sharing things like grocery lists with your family.

Not least of all, I like Wunderlist because it has a very simple, intuitive, and sleek design. Here's a picture of one of my lists:


Life Could Be Easier - On the Go, Part 4

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Shortly after our September Life Could be Easier: Mobile Edition feature, Nancy Herther suggested that we investigate mobile apps with voice recognition capabilities. She also pointed out several apps to get us started. Days later, Apple announced the iPhone 4S, which features the greatly enhanced (and now Apple-owned) Siri app.

Siri's getting a lot of press right now, but it's not the only app out there that responds to your voice. Here are a few choices that support everything from web searching to more "personal assistant" functions:

Dragon Mobile Apps: iPhone and Blackberry
Nuance's Dragon Naturally Speaking speech recognition software has been available on desktops for almost 15 years. Nuance also markets several apps for iPhone and iPad that take advantage of the Dragon engine: Dragon Dictation allows you to send emails and texts or update Facebook. Dragon Search provides a voice interface for online search. And the recently released Dragon Go brings Siri-like functionality to earlier model iPhones and iPads. Nuance also throws a bone to Blackberry users, with Dragon for E-Mail.

Workflow example: Jerilyn Veldof reports that she records her thoughts following meetings using Dragon Dictation and sends the text straight to Evernote.

Google Search: Android, iPhone, Blackberry, and Nokia S60
Google Search provides voice access for general web searching.

Google Voice Actions: Android
Clearly, Voice Actions is the application that Siri leapfrogged over. With Voice Actions, you can send emails and texts, call contacts, get directions, play music by asking for a song title, artist, or album, and do general web searches.

Bing Apps: Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia, and Windows Mobile
If you're looking for an alternative to the Google world, the mobile version of the Bing website works great. It provides quick access to location-based deals, movies, news, and more. Although the mobile site doesn't support voice search, you can download a Bing app for that does. I had a little trouble finding the right app at first; at least for Android, Verizon phones require the Bing on VZW app instead.

Vlingo: Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia, and Windows Mobile
Like Siri, Vlingo focuses on keeping your hands free and translating what you say into the appropriate action. Lifehacker selected Vlingo as the closest thing Android users have to Siri of the apps in the field; the linked Lifehacker post profiles several other personal assistant options for Android.

Jeannie for Android
If you're looking for something with a little more personality, check out Jeannie. I haven't tried this one yet, but the video on its Android Market page is intriguing. There's even a kid-friendly version.

Life Could Be Easier - On the Go, Part 3

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Published in the September 12 Monday Memo:

From Amy West, Data Services Librarian, Device Type: Android

RememberTheMilk - app is free, but only available for RTMPro subscribers ($25/year)
Android Market
RTM Pro does cost $25 a year, but for the absurdly absentminded like me, that's a bargain. I have my todo list right on the home screen of my phone, installed as a plug-in next to my email and integrated into my calendar. Since I've got it on my phone, then when I think of something that I should do for work or home (usually on the bus coming or going), I can note it right then. I still forget things, but way, way, way less than before. Since the phone's always with me, RTM makes a nice bridge tool between work and home.

Tweetdeck - free
Best Twitter client for Android. You can specify notifications by type, e.g. do nothing for new tweets, flash a light for @ replies, make a noise for a DM, etc. You can also receive updates from Facebook when someone comments on a post of yours - better notifications than the native Facebook application. I do find the fonts a little small and you can't choose which photo upload service to use, but these problems haven't been enough to make me switch. Tweetdeck also supports multiple accounts.

PowerNote for Android - free
Android Market
PowerNote is a tool developed by Diigo the bookmarking service. I don't care for PowerNote as an independent app, but once it's installed you can save things from other applications like Tweetdeck to your Diigo account via PowerNote. Diigo is fabulous - it supports bookmarking, annotations and notes. I now use it over In the mornings while I throw cat food for Leopold to hunt down, I get caught up on Twitter. Any substantive tweets get saved to PowerNote so I can read them later at work. Since it's already added to my Diigo account, this means I only have to decide if I want to make it a public bookmark and if so, add tags. I have found that this is the single most efficient way to manage bookmarking & professional reading. For what it's worth, I have a standing reminder in RTM to check Diigo each day for items I saved!

Weatherbug Elite - $1.99
Very nicely laid out screens, displays temp in notification bar at the top of the phone and, for those days when I want to make sure to tell my family about all the character I'm building up here in February, built-in screen capture that I can then post to Facebook.

OurGroceries - free with ads
Shopping list application. Unlike RTM or other tools, this one remembers previous entries and displays the most commonly listed ones first. Turns out that makes it worth having a separate application just for lists. You can have multiple shopping lists and they'll be rearranged based on whether they have anything in them and/or how recently they were modified. I've also found it very handy for packing since ALA Midwinter because once I've entered "ipod charger" the first time, it comes right up every other time I put together a packing list. You're supposed to be able to share lists, but at the moment I'm the only one in the household w/a smartphone so I haven't tried that.

From Paul Zenke, University Libraries Instructional Designer Device: Paul uses a (self described) dilapidated iPhone 3G.

GoodReader (iPhone/iPad) $4.99
My favorite iOS application for reading, highlighting, managing, and syncing .pdf and .doc files. GoodReader has so many advanced features it feels like a desktop app.

Sample workflow: Save a .pdf article in Dropbox, sync to GoodReader, download the article into GoodReader, highlight sections and make comments, zip the original and the marked-up version, then email the zipped files to a colleague for their review.

Tweetbot (iPhone) $2.99
My favorite Twitter interface on any device.

Simplenote (iPhone/iPad) $0.00
A simple multi-platform writing tool.

Dropbox (iPhone/iPad) $0.00, web service has free and paid subscription options
Access your files on the go.

Apps previously mentioned by my colleagues on the PIM blog, that I also use:
Evernote (iPhone/iPad) $0.00, web service has free and paid subscription options
Where I keep my notes, images, and audio files.

Sample workflow: After a meeting, or while walking across campus, I'll create a new audio file and will record audio straight into my phone. I use this when I want to talk through an idea, or to avoid forgetting something while I'm not able to write it down. The audio file then syncs with Evernote's desktop and web interfaces so my audio note will be ready for my review on my desktop when I get back to my office.

Another Sample workflow: I use the iPhone's camera to capture whiteboard drawings directly into Evernote. I'll often paste them into the same note I was using to take notes during a meeting so I'll have all my media together in one place. I can also email these notes to a group directly from the application.

App to watch:
Mendeley (iPhone/iPad) $0.00
I use the Mendeley desktop app daily, however the current version of the iPhone app (1.3.1) consistently crashes. I can't wait for them to fix the bugs.

More Apps

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Bonnie Swogger has a post over at the Undergraduate Science Librarian blog on her favorite iPhone apps for research and collaboration. Some, but not all, of these have come up in our "Life Could be Easier: On the Go" series, so I encourage you to check it out. She also has an older post on iPhone apps for scientific literature that may be of interest to some of you.

Life Could Be Easier - On the Go, Part 2

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Life Could Be Easier - On the Go: part 2

Are you wondering whether you should get a smart phone? Do you have a smart phone that you'd like to get more out of? This summer, we're asking our colleagues from across the University to recommend their favorite apps, and to tell us what's so useful about them. Chime in in the comments here if you have questions or recommendations of your own.

This month, our app recommendations come from the Libraries' Web Development Department and Science/Engineering Reference:

Cody Hanson, Web Architect and UX Analyst, Device Type: IPhone

Elements - $4.99 (Universal)
Elements is a very basic text editor, allowing you to create and edit
plain text files on your iPhone or iPad. It has one killer feature:
Dropbox integration, which automatically syncs your documents across
all of your Dropbox-connected devices. In practice this means that I
can keep notes in my Dropbox folder and edit them on my iPhone,
laptop, and iPad, and my changes are seamlessly reflected across all

Instapaper - $4.99 (Universal)
Instapaper is both an app and a web service, allowing you to save
articles from the web for later reading. Instapaper strips extraneous
formatting and advertising out of web pages and presents articles in
an easily readable format with an innovative tilt-scroll feature.
Great for saving long articles from the web for reading on the bus.

Keynote - $9.99 (Universal)
Keynote is Apple's answer to PowerPoint. The Keynote app is a
fully-featured presentation creation and editing tool, which includes
PowerPoint file import/export. I used Keynote on my iPhone to create
my slide deck for a presentation at this summer's ALA Annual and was
quite pleased with the results.

Beejive IM - $9.99
Stupid name, great app. This IM client allows you to connect Google
Talk, AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Facebook chat, and MSN Messenger accounts
for mobile instant messaging. I've got both my personal and UMN Google
Talk accounts connected, and use it to stay available when I'm away
from my desk. If you see my UMN Google Talk status set to "mobile",
I'm using Beejive.

AnyConnect - Free (Universal)
This application is the OIT-endorsed method for connecting iOS devices
to the University's VPN. Handy if you need an on-campus IP address to
test a resource from home, or just want to protect your data when
using a sketchy public wi-fi access point off-campus.

Kindle - Free (Universal)
I am a complete and unapologetic convert to e-books for my pleasure
reading. In the past couple of years I've read several dozen books,
thousands of pages, on my phone using the Kindle app. I read more than
I did before because I always have it with me. A tip: use the white
text on black background setting, which is easier on your eyes and on
your battery.

Photo fx - $2.99
As a new parent, I take lots and lots of photos with my phone. There
are many apps out there for photo sharing or for applying novelty
filters to make lousy shots look arty. Photo fx is the best
application I've found for serious photo editing. The high-quality
filters and adjustments have allowed me to salvage one-of-a-kind shots
that I thought were goners.

Carcassonne - $9.99 (Universal)
Uh. This is a game. It's a high-quality version of the European board
game with excellent asynchronous multiplayer. I mention it mostly
because I'm eager for more opponents. If we're coworkers and we're
playing a game together that makes it work-related, right?

Jan Fransen, Computer Science and Engineering Librarian, Mobile Device Type: Droid Charge

Getting to, from, and around campus is a little more challenging than it used to be.

Two apps that help:

One of several apps for getting Metro Transit Next Trip information. Metro Transit lists several others on its site, but I've found this one works best for my needs. I especially like its emphasis on your own "favorite" routes and stops.

I've been using Nice Ride bikes to get around campus this summer, and have gotten burned by empty racks a couple of times. SpotCycle provides real-time status (number of bikes and empty docs) for Nice Ride stations near you, along with maps.

When I moved from pay-as-you-go to a smart phone on a family plan, I rationalized that I'd be able to use my "downtime" on the bus or waiting for kids more effectively.
Besides the usual Google suite, a couple of the apps that help me do that are:

Read it Later
Read it Later is Tivo for blogs. I subscribe to far too many RSS feeds, but I rarely read entire articles when I'm skimming through in Google Reader. Instead, I use Read it Later in my browser to mark the ones that interest me. The articles are downloaded to my phone and I can, well, read them later, whether I'm online or not.

Pocket Casts
I don't listen to much music, but I love podcasts. With Pocket Casts I can subscribe to the podcsts I like and listen by either streaming over 4G or wireless, or downloading to listen offline later.

The first day I had the Charge, my battery was dead before I caught my evening bus. 4G is fast and the Charge screen is beautiful, but both eat up battery life. Now the battery lasts at least a day, because of one simple app:

JuiceDefender preserves battery life by automatically doing things like turning off 4G when home or U of M wireless connections are available.

Virginia Bach, on behalf of the Current Awareness and Personal Information Collaborative. CAPIM is focused on helping people organize and access personal information more quickly and efficiently

Life Could Be Easier: On the Go part 1

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Are you wondering whether you should get a smart phone? Do you have a smart phone that you'd like to get more out of? This summer, we're asking our colleagues from across the University to recommend their favorite apps, and to tell us what's so useful about them. Chime in in the comments here if you have questions or recommendations of your own.

Our first two app recommenders come from the University Libraries' Web Development department:

Chad Fennell, Mobile device type: Android (Optimus V)
Recommended apps:
Gmail "Android's overall Google integration is, not surprisingly, quite good for Google email, calendars, contact information, etc."
Google Maps Navigation: "This is kind of a greedy application in terms of battery life, but for that you get an exceedingly useful navigation application. It's probably not as robust as, say, a Garmin Nuvi, but it's getting there."
Google Voice: "Even though the message transcription is often fairly garbled, it's nice to be able to actually be able to read voicemails. Google Voice also allows me to decouple my phone number from the device I happen to be using at the moment, so I won't have to rely upon carriers to get my number transferred to a new phone when I migrate off of my Optimus V."
GQueues (task manager): "I just started using it, but it's one of the best "Getting Things Done"-ish task managers I've seen with a nice mobile user interface."

John Barneson, Mobile device type: iPhone
Recommended apps:
SMS (text messaging): "The only way many of my family and friends communicate."
Twitter: "Easy to randomly browse on the go."
iPod: "Music and podcasts for the bus ride."
Google/Google Apps: "Not much else to say here."
TouchTerm (secure network for data transfer): "SSH terminal client if I need to access a server in a pinch."
Evernote: "Keep track of everything across multiple devices."

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Mobile category.

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