MOMconnected Has Moved to www.MOM-connected.com

ImageThats right! We’ve moved. Now with a fresh design and richer discussion opportunities. Check it out! www.MOM-connected.com  

MOMconnected has had so much interest that we’ve taken the discussion up a few notches with a refreshed look. Come visit us over at www.MOM-connected.comwhere we feature the tech that makes life easier for your family. We’re highlighting the gadgets, the software and mobile apps that create efficiencies and save you time, helping you make things happen when you need them to happen. We’ll eventually do regular tech product giveaways, and you can shop for the products we highlight right from the site, courtesy of Amazon.com.  Visit us at:

www.MOM-connected.com

www.facebook.com/MOMconnected

@MOMMYconnected

I’m super excited to hear from all of you, so please follow, leave a comment, let me know what Tech gadget, gizmo or app that you’d like to know more about. :-)

Mobile World Congress 2012: What to Expect

Once again I’m on the sidelines for Mobile World Congress. It may be better this way, though. From here in Seattle, I’ll get a broader perspective on what’s happening, seeing the news unfold in greater context since I’ll have the benefit of watching it all bubble up from a distance. That said, I’m reliant upon many friends that have feet on the ground, who will get both first looks and hands on experiences. If you’re looking for a play-by-play, follow RemotelyMobile.

For my friends that don’t have the slightest idea what Mobile World Congress is, it’s the place where all the mobile thinkers and doers come to influence, strike deals and play. From network operators and carriers to device makers and app developers, the mobile industry is descending upon Barcelona today for the event, which opens on Feb. 27th, attracting more than 60,000 attendees, including roughly 12,000 developers, 3,000 industry CEOs from 130 countries and over 1,500 media outlets.

So, it’s sort of a big deal, and it’s where an amazing number of business deals are born. It isn’t just about quad-core phones, 4G networks, and other mobile devices. It’s also about supporting consumers with apps, software, and the cloud that keep us mere mortals connected.

With the theme “Redefining Mobile,” I’m expecting to see a gazillion new ways to use mobile devices to interact with other devices and streamline consumer experiences.

More Devices Face Off with Apple: Be it internet-connected phones, tablets or PCs, device makers will come out of the woodwork to try and take down Apple. Frankly, it’s a monumental task. Apple has had the market cornered on devices, but new tech innovations, more powerful components and new pricing models will give other vendors the opportunity to give Apple a run for the money this year. In fact, Apple shares have eroded with the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Nokia’s Lumia and the coming Windows 8 devices, not to mention how well Samsung has penetrated its marketshare. You can bet Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Samsung to make considerable investments in this years’ MWC, priming the market for some very exciting devices expected to ship later this year.

Smart Devices:  For years we’ve been inching closer to the promise of connected experiences across devices, and we saw a big jump forward at CES 2012 where smartphones acted as controllers for a variety of other devices: Smart TVs, home security, garage doors and even refrigerators. We’ll see even more of these scenarios at MWC. Innovative connected devices will be unveiled in Barcelona to manage and monitor your home or to consume an explosion of digital content.

Connected Vehicles: Wait…what? Yes, vehicles are becoming the latest “devices” to invest in these big technology shows. Ford, for instance, had a big showing at CES 2012 in January showing off its latest in-dash technology, SYNC, developed in partnership with Microsoft. Expect to see Ford and others at MWC again, sporting their play for the connected consumer’s mindshare with technology that strikes the right balance of safety, convenience and infotainment.

Advanced Apps: Technology innovations centered on faster processers, faster connection speeds and small but mighty devices are all culminating to advance a new class of applications that are delivering on the connected experiences dream. Mobile apps for shopping, media, healthcare and mobile in the enterprise are increasing efficiencies and improving productivity. Whether a client app or cloud app, MWC will be a breeding ground for app developers and startups looking for a break to get noticed. Though harder to find these gems, this is the part that really excites me, and I’ll be watching the folks like Venture Beat and others who are looking for the same gems

Infrastructure Advancements: The explosion of data driven by the use of our mobile devices has put a significant strain on the networks and infrastructures to support our increasingly mobile lifestyles. I would expect to see a number of announcements at Mobile World Congress from mobile networks and carriers to address the volume of streaming video, high-res images and documents that we share on a daily basis to stay connected and to keep the networks from breaking down.

Windows 8: Last but not least, we should expect some noise from Microsoft. Though no keynote this year, Microsoft is expected to offer the first Windows 8 consumer preview, which is likely to build a lot of excitement for the range of devices Windows 8 will support when it ships. Microsoft’s decision to preview Windows 8 at Mobile World Congress is a signal revealing how important mobility is to the Windows franchise, and we’re as likely to see Intel-based Ultrabook PCs as we are Windows 8 tablets running on ARM. Of course, we’ll see a range of Windows Phones, as well—notably Nokia phones and if we’re lucky the next version of Windows Phones, dubbed Tango, which will run on low-end devices, expanding its footprint into emerging markets.

This is just scraping the surface. We’ve been hearing industry buzz about Android, LG, HTC, Nokia, Samsung, Sony and many other device makers on what they’ll do for weeks. New tablets, new pones, new apps—there all expected at Mobile World Congress next week. But if you’re looking for a rundown of what specific devices will be unveiled, check out Engadget for a comprehensive list.

What are you most excited about?

PC Giveaway! Lenovo IdeaPad U300s

Ultraportable/Mainstream/Everyday: Lenovo U300s (courtesy Microsoft)

My friends at Techlicious and Intel are teaming up to give away a beautiful new Lenovo IdeaPad U300S Ultrabook.

I drooled over several skinny Ultrabooks just before the holidays and showed them off in a slideshow, and one of those new PCs was the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S. Ultrabooks are the new class of thin and light PCs, measuring 21mm thick, get five-plus hours of battery life and use Intel’s powerful Core i-series processor (i3, i5 or i7) and power up instantly from sleep. The great thing about these powerful new PCs is that they’re all less than $1000.

If you’re on the go like most moms, need something thin and light and stylish to slide into your bag or briefcase, an Ultrabook might just be the perfect PC.

Details and rules can be found here, but enter through February 24th, 2012 for a chance to win. Good luck!!

 

Pinterest: Mindless Inspiration for the Overwhelmed

My biggest complaint in the last two years? I don’t have enough time in the day. Like most moms, from the moment my eyes open (usually with a toddler staring back at me six inches from my nose) to the moment they close again for the night, I am in constant motion.

My husband and I scramble in the morning to get the kids fed, ourselves ready for work and kids dressed for school. I race through traffic to get into the office. My brain is on overdrive as soon as I sit down with my PC, rumaging through email and writing my first narrative of the day. I run from meeting to meeting not even stopping for lunch. And I rush out the door a few minutes before 5:00p to start the commute back home, picking up the boys from daycare/preschool along the way. I walk in the house and immediately whip something up for dinner, check my work email with a full tummy and then march upstairs with the boys to start bedtime routine (brushing teeth and reading books and sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow for the thousandth time). At 9:00p, I sit down to finish up a few work projects and then it happens. My brain finally shuts down. The only thing left to do is surf, and I start and end with Pinterest.

As if I had time to spend hours sitting, exploring images of often beautiful and sometimes rediculous furniture, gadgets, art/crafts, recipes and awesome places to visit, I do it. Mindless inspiration.

Here’s how it works: Users create digital “pinboards” and fill them with photos from around the web of the things they care about. They can follow other pinboards and users, and “repin” items that speak to them. Using the “Pin-It” gadget you install on a browser toolbar, users add to their boards from anywhere, saving us from uploading an image to a photo-sharing service. And the browser experience is ideal for the small attention spans of web readers (uh, that’s me!) — almost no text, almost all pictures.

Remodeling a home or looking for great finds, this site is ideal for keeping track of things you want to revisit. I use it for capturing images of kitchens, baths and furniture I love in preparation for the updates we’re planning for our home. I also use it as a wish list for my favorite gadgets, ideas for fun with the boys and saving recipes for the day when I might be adventurous. I even have a board that captures nothing but color palettes that I love.

Here are a few important tips:

  • Name your boards: Categorize each board that you create in your space so that you’re able to group similar objects and find them easily. I have a category for home inspiration, one for gadgets, one for food, one for the kids, etc.
  • Hyperlink the images: If you ever want to get details about your images again, hyperlink it…or at least include a link in your description. I didn’t do that when I started, and now I can’t remember where I found the link…to buy!
  • Make notes: Give the images a caption that will remind you what you liked about the image. Love the color? Inspired by the overall look? Just say so.
  • Follow people: This easy little app not only connects you to the things you care about, but it also connects you to the people you care about.
  • Show who you are: The thing I love the most about Pinterest is that I can express who I am visually. If you follow people, you can get a really good sense for who they are, too.
  • Add a time limit: There are so many cool things to look at, that it can literally suck hours of your time. Don’t let it.

Though I have only been using it for my personal pleasure, there are some interesting and fun ways to use it to promote your business, too. Though still in its infancy, I can imagine some pretty creative marketing directors will find fun ways to link it to and/or be the center of brand campaigns. Can’t wait to see what these smart people will do with it

And, if you like Pinterest, you may also enjoy Houzz.com, a digital scrapbook for your home decorating inspiration. The user experience on this site is really, really good.

I really don’t have any extra time in my day to do anything but work and take care of the boys. Yet, I keep finding myself drawn to both of these sites at the end of my days, relaxed and feeling good. So what if the laundry continues to pile up!

Do you have a mindless inspiration site to share? I want to hear about how you recharge your batteries in the comments below.

That’s A Wrap! CES 2012, Smart and Connected

In spite of a lack of ground-breaking news, CES 2012 put a stake in the ground for the tech trends we’ll see in the coming year and beyondSyndicated on BlogHer.com

Smart this, smart that. Gadgets unveiled at this year’s big dance focused on one thing: connected. We want anywhere, anytime access to our digital lives, in and out of the home, so this year at the International Consumer Electronics Show, everything seemed to be billed as smart and connected.

With more than 20,000 products unveiled, most of them streamline the connected experience. New PCs, smartphones, and TVs were expected, but even new cars and appliances are smarter than ever, simplifying the way we live and creating unexpected efficiencies.

Women play a huge role in making the vision for the connected home come alive. According to new findings from international research firm Parks Associates, women today share more content online and download more movies and music than men. For example, women are 73% more likely than men to have watched a full-length TV show online in the past 30 days.

“Women are frequently the product buyers – and once she owns a CE product, she becomes a heavy user, most particularly for devices that allow sharing and uploading content and downloading TV programs,” said Tricia Parks, CEO, Parks Associates.

I’m one of those women, and my device portfolio is growing rapidly, which is why CES interests me so much. But with so many new devices unveiled this year, it was impossible to see everything, though I still have a few favorites. Check them out below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Personal Computing

Generally speaking, I expect a ton of new PCs to be shown at CES every year without fail. There were lots of PCs from the usual suspects this year, but only a few of them pleasantly surprised me.

Lenovo IdeaCentre A720: A great option for the family command center, the world’s slimmest 27-inch all-in-one IdeaCentre A720, with Windows 7, uniquely combines a frameless display supporting 10-point multitouch for greater accuracy with a widely adjustable screen angle (from -5 degrees to 90 degrees) that allows comfortable use in any position.

Samsung Series 5 ULTRA: Somewhere between the Series 9 and the Series 7 Chronos, the Samsung Series 5 ULTRA is an affordable, thin and light beauty. In your choice of a 13-inch or 14-inch display, this new laptop connects in just about any way you. Each version can be equipped with either a 128GB SSD or with a more spacious 500GB standard SATA hard drive and 16GB of ExpressCache memory. Starting price is $899 and its available later this month.

ViewSonic EXOdesk: Long rumored to be cooking up something special, this unusual setup supports an HTML5 interface running on top of Windows 7, Mac OS or Android, the ViewSonic EXOdesk transforms a 32- to 40-inch touchscreen monitor into a Surface-style desktop, supplementing your keyboard and mouse, and connecting to your main monitor. Fully customizable, the surface acts as the hub for casual games, productivity widgets (calendars, weather) and an app launcher, including Microsoft Office. You really have to see the demo to understand its full functionality.

Though a dozen or so tablets were on deck in another attempt to give the iPad a run for the money, CES 2012 was really about Ultrabooks, which were shown off by nearly every leading PC maker. Intel said it expects to see at least 75 Ultrabook PCs hit the market in 2012, characterized by an ultra-thin and light chassis and powerful processors with extremely fast boot-up times.

One that caught my attention was the HP Envy Spectre, which won a “Best of CES” award.  One word: GORGEOUS. Unique in that its lid and palm rest are forged from durable, scratch resistant Gorilla Glass, which we’ve seen across most smartphones. But its style isn’t just all that glass, its sleek lines and powerful computing capabilities make it one of the most attractive devices at CES this year. You’ll get an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD drive. Connectivity is easy with the latest options, including Near Field Communication (NFC), which is the first that I’m aware of for a laptop, but opening up all kinds of futuristic capabilities. Think about how easy NFC will make it for your laptop and smartphone to share information—just by the proximity of each other!

Another Ultrabook launching at CES that caught my attention was the Lenovo IdeaPad “Yoga,” boasting a display that bends back into a tablet form factor, aptly fitting its name—though I’m not quite sure if it’s a tablet or Ultrabook. Either way, it’s pretty cool, and it took home nine awards from prominent industry publications, all highlighting its groundbreaking hybrid functionality, distinctive design and innovative engineering. Be sure to check it out.

If you’re an Internet multitasker—surf while you listen to music, check your email and social networking accounts, watch streaming videos, write a paper, work on a presentation, etc., your device portfolio is probably growing faster than your children. Expanding the portfolio, though, increases the power cords and a need for more ports. If this sounds like your household, you’ll be interested in this little gem:

The Toshiba dynadock USB 3.0 hub is a universal docking station that links all your electronic devices to your laptop with just one single USB 3.0 cable, enabling you to connect your computer to your large screen displays, stereo speakers, external hard drive, optical drive, printer, full-size keyboard and mouse. It has a built-in Gigabit Ethernet port for Internet connectivity and two 3.5mm jacks for headphones and a mic. The hub comes with a full HD video card built in, because of this feature the hub can support up to two additional monitors via its HDMI and DVI/VGA video ports. At about $180, look for it later this month. I’m not sure my family can live much longer without this gizmo!

Smartphones

Though most new phones will be announced next month at Mobile World Congress, there were still a few new ones shown at CES 2012. For me, the most notable were the two new Windows Phones nominated for cnet’s “best of CES” award:

HTC TITAN II  Available in the coming months to customers of AT&T in the U.S., the smartphone includes the largest display among Windows Phones, an advanced 16-megapixel digital camera, and access to AT&T’s 4G LTE speeds.

The Nokia Lumia 900:  This phone took cnet’s “Best of CES—Phones” award, and is the first of Nokia’s Windows phones to arrive in the United States exclusively to AT&T in spring, feature high-speed 4G LTE connectivity in a colorful cyan and matte black. With Nokia’s largest display at 4.3 inches, the Nokia Lumia 900 balances speed, power and size for a rich content experience in a phone that still fits easily in your hand.

Connected Entertainment

As in years past, televisions were amongst the stars of the show, with skinny flat screens, Internet connectivity and delivering rich picture quality. LG, Samsung and Toshiba were probably the “TV stars” of CES 2012, arguably stealing the show from Ultrabooks.

LG and Samsung both unveiled skinny OLED 55-inch HDTVs, including Internet connectivity with streaming capabilities and integrated social media features.  Samsung announced its Smart Interaction technology, which is similar to Microsoft’s Kinect, supporting face, voice and gesture recognition. You can expect these smart TVs to be very expensive, so if you can wait, LG predicts that by 2016, it will be able to deliver OLED TVs at the same cost as LCDs. For the most part, Google TV was the operating system of choice, which allows users to surf TV listings and the Internet using Google’s Chrome browser and a variety of apps, but a few other interesting products surfaced that enable you to stream content from the Internet directly to your TV.

Other Streaming Devices

Simple.TV is a next-gen digital video recorder (DVR), which might push you to finally cut the cable subscription. It allows you to access over-the-air TV programs, either live or stored on your connected hard drive, then streams it to a number of supported devices already on your home network, including Roku, Google TV, Boxee, and your iPad.

Roku Streaming stick: If you’re looking for a Smart TV alternative, then you’ll probably want to learn more about this tiny gadget. Looking a lot like an ordinary USB flash drive, the Roku Streaming Stick is a wireless, all-in-one power and HDMI streaming-media tool, offering tons of video content, supporting over 400 channels, including Netflix, Amazon Instant, Pandora, MLB.TV, HBO Go, MOG, and Rdio. It connects to the back of your HDTV, but it requires an MHL port, a relatively new mobile audio/video interface standard for directly connecting portable devices to hi-def displays (cnet has a great primer on this new connectivity port). That said, adapters are available for HDMI to MHL, which may work here. Expected to ship later this year, pricing isn’t available, but I suspect it will be between $50 and $100, considerably less than a new Smart TV.

Connected Home

While Whirlpool, Samsung and LG demonstrated smart washing machines that can alert you remotely when it’s time to put clothes in the dryer, what I was really watching for were the genius appliances, and LG delivered. The new LG appliances are focused on savings in energy, time and expense—the trinity for busy moms. But their latest appliances go further with new features, allowing homeowners to manage refrigerators, washing machines, ovens and robotic vacuum cleaners across a smart network, enabling them to talk to each other, to LG Repair and to you.

At $3200, the ThinQ Smart refrigerator will be available this summer, along with it,

a smart oven, and smart washer and drier. Imagine, with a smartphone, tablet or PC, you could see how much longer your food has to cook, or check the temperature and contents of the refrigerator without ever having to open the door. In addition, with its drag and drop icons, built-in camera, and voice recognition functions, LG makes it easy to keep track of where everything is in the refrigerator, when it all expires and it delivers grocery lists and recipes based on what you have inside—to your smartphone. Upping the ante further, its “blast chiller” can cool a bottle of wine in just eight minutes, and a can of beer within five minutes.

Connected Cars

We usually think of PC companion devices as smartphones, netbooks or tablets, but at CES 2012, a new companion was introduced: your car. Carmakers have been delivering enhanced entertainment systems, navigation tools and safety features that are controlled from the dashboard by the driver’s voice for a few years now. But more and more carmakers are boasting apps, touchscreens, and personal assistant capabilities to set themselves apart, transforming them from a vehicle to a companion and entertainment hub.

Ford has had a long and fruitful partnership with Microsoft for its Ford Sync software. Taking it a step further at CES and partnering again with Microsoft, Healthrageous and BlueMetal Architects, Ford announced an alliance to research technology to help people monitor and maintain health and wellness while on the move. Ford boasts that it is building a “car that cares,” hoping the new technology will not only improve drivers’ health, but also foster a more intimate bond between vehicle and driver.

Mercedes-Benz unveiled its mbrace2, billed as a “digital lifestyle” solution which can function as a “personal concierge,” continuously streams navigation information to the car, and enables connectivity to social media sites such as Facebook, and will send real-time automotive diagnostics back to the dealer. For us moms, the mbrace2 will allow parents to track what our kids are doing with the car and perform other common connected activities, including a variety of safety-focused functions.

Behind the showstoppers, other quirky devices were also introduced at CES, including motorized shoes, a laser system that will turn your car’s windshield into a see-through digital map (think Minority Report) and contact lenses that display images, text or other augmented reality information to the wearer. But from my vantage point, both LG and Samsung stole the show with their smart, connected devices with screens that range in size from 4 inches to 80 inches and appliances that communicate with each other and YOU.

This is just a sampling of the cool new consumer devices revealed at CES 2012, which was a hotbed for great topics to write on, and I’m not able to cover all of it here.  So, I’ll be showcasing lots more connected experiences from CES 2012 in the coming weeks, including more apps, more on the connected car and more devices that deliver on the connected home.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What got you most excited from CES 2012?

CES: Prom for Gadgets

The big dance for the consumer electronics industry, CES 2012 promises crazy cool gadgets and lots of excitement 

Like high school prom, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has historically been a pretty big deal for electronics manufacturers. It’s the coming out party for the most innovative, and sometimes the most outlandish gadgets and gizmos, sporting the latest technology advancements. This annual gathering draws more than 140,000 attendees and nearly 2700 different exhibiters crisscrossing 1.8 million square feet of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Given its exposure, the stakes are high and the pressure is on to impress.

Though some say CES relevance is waning due to the economy, competing events and big vendors sidestepping it in favor of other, more cost-effective product promotion, we can still expect at least one more year of fun, excitement, drama and gadget overload next week. I’m not attending this year, but I’ll be watching closely from the sidelines, looking for the latest computing advancements, home entertainment innovations and a variety of connected devices that promise to make our lives simpler.

Microsoft: Out with a Bang

(Disclosure: I supported Microsoft PR for eight years until recently, though I won’t be sharing any secrets here, sorry!). In spite of announcing its final year at CES, we can expect Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to give it his all in Microsoft’s final CES keynote, dazzling attendees and online audiences by demonstrating the advanced computing experiences we’ll get with Windows 8 on some pretty cool devices from its hardware partners (crossing fingers he’ll demonstrate a Windows 8-based tablet vs yet another notebook). And, he’ll probably put a big emphasis on Windows Phone 7, too, in a push to gain critical mindshare and compete with Apple and Google, both of which dominate the smartphone market. This is a pivotal year for Microsoft and consumer perception is crucial to the success of Windows-based devices, including Ultrabooks and tablets.

Ultrabooks: Thin, Light and Powerful PCs

Compact and powerful PCs are the way of our computing future, challenging the components under the hood to keep pace. As such, Intel has invested significant cash into what it has trademarked as Ultrabooks, requiring laptop makers to meet a very specific set of specs to realize the Ultrabook vision: thin, light, powerful and speedy, with rapid boot times that might rival what we experience today with our smartphones, which are nearly instant-on. We’ve already seen a few of these devices surface in late 2011, but I’m hearing we’ll see somewhere between 30 and 50 new Ultrabooks showcased at CES next week from the likes of Acer, Dell, HP, etc. Though expensive given the spec requirements, these skinny laptops make a world of difference as consumer mobility increases.

Tablets: Companions to the PC Workhorse

Though CES 2011 was all about tablets (I’ll have to confirm, but I recall counting something like 85+ different tablets unveiled last year!). Many of these tablets, mostly powered by Android, fell flat with consumers who were underwhelmed by performance and value relative to Apple’s iPad. That said, CES 2012 is an opportunity for device makers to re-set the tablet category and give Apple a run for its money, at least until Windows 8 ships. Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba and others are expected to show tablets, focusing on quality over quantity, many of which will likely support the long-awaited next version of Android OS, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS)—a much needed OS update to make a real run at the iPad and demonstrate to consumers it has a device worth considering. We’ll see.

Televisions: Smart Entertainment and Rich Experiences

Though I’m not as deep or smart on entertainment devices, I’m watching for the latest in-home theater advancements, namely device-to-device streaming gadgets and connected TVs. In previous years, our friends from LG, Samsung, Sony and others have shown us their entertainment visions with prototypes that either never saw the light of day or so far away from retail ready that our hopes die on the vine while we stood right there in their booths.

It’ll be interesting to see what TV makers do with 3D this year, which was all the rage in 2010 and 2011, but lacked consumer traction. For me personally, 3D is cumbersome and annoying, but if new devices surface that strip away the glasses and improve the experience, I may take another look. While I’m expecting to see glasses-free 3D TV, what I’d really like to see is better connectivity and more services options. We’ll likely see a slew of new internet-connected televisions that allow consumers to access digital content from the Internet right from their TV to supplement regular programming schedules.  I’m crossing my fingers for more strategic and meaningful partnerships to deliver interesting content that I care about with smarter delivery (can’t wait to dump cable!), including streaming content from Hulu, Netflix and Pandora. And as devices get smarter, we should start to see the ability for TVs to talk to our other devices like Windows Phone and Xbox, responding to voice and gestures, like Kinect.

Appliance to Appliance Chit-Chat: The Promise of a Connected Home

One of the more promising visions we’ve been hearing about is the ability for utilitarian devices, such as refrigerators, stoves or washer/dryers, to take on more meaningful roles in the home, enabled by connectivity features and cloud functionality. These features have been available to some degree in appliances recently, but they are super expensive and require fairly sophisticated networking to get their full value. Though still expensive and not yet mainstream, we’re getting closer. That said, I long for the day in which my smartphone can talk to my refrigerator, letting me know that while I’m at the grocery store I’ll need to pick up milk or that I only have one egg when I need two for the dinner that the appliance so thoughtfully recommended the week before while meal planning. Both LG and Samsung lead this device-to-device connectivity with a variety of appliances, and I expect to see them both unveil refreshed products next week.  I still won’t be able to afford one, though.

Device-to-device connectivity continues to evolve in the automotive industry, too, so connected cars are likely to be a big theme at CES 2012. Led by Ford last year, Audi, Chrysler, GM, Kia, and Mercedes-Benz all have a spot on the show floor, demoing new features that deliver digital content to their vehicles, including deeper dashboard and smartphones interface. But I’ll be watching for additional connectivity that supports robust safety systems, richer music services like Pandora, and hands-free, voice-activated texting, which I actually have now with my Windows Phone 7 Bing app, which also talks to my car’s Bluetooth navigation system—pretty cool stuff!

So, in spite of what might happen to CES in the future, I’m still expecting CES 2012 to be THE consumer tech event of the year. No doubt there will be lots of cool gadgets and gizmos that create a stir. In some ways, I wish I could be there this year to see them all firsthand. But since I won’t, I’ll be tracking my favorite tech pubs for all the latest news:

I’ll circle back after the event to highlight some of my favorite devices, but I’d love to hear what you’re hoping to see. Share a comment below.

Acer Giveaway: Aspire S3 Ultrabook

Acer Aspire S3 (courtesy Microsoft)

Acer is giving away its new Aspire S3 Ultrabook everyday until Dec. 31 from the Acer Facebook page. Super quick and easy entry, so its worth visiting and entering, which you can do every day.

This is a gorgeous Windows 7 PC, meeting very specific Intel criteria to be categorized as an Ultrabook, weighing less than 3 pounds and only 13 millimeters. The new Acer Aspire S3 Zenbook is one of the thinnest notebooks on the market. It ships with Windows 7 Home Premium and takes advantage of low-voltage Intel Core i-series processors to deliver real processing power, a 1.5-second wake-up time from sleep, and up to seven hours of battery life.

Check it out: https://www.facebook.com/Acer?sk=app_297878640224800

The Gadget Afterlife: Sell, Donate or Recycle Old Electronics

Give new life to your old devices this holiday season. 

Like many families, we have a gadget drawer, which recently morphed into a gadget closet, bursting with random cables and power cords, prehistoric gadgets, archaic mobile phones, old-school PDAs (remember the Palm Pilot?) and obsolete computers the size of baby elephants. So, before we whipped out the wallets this Christmas for our next “gotta have it” gadget, my husband and I agreed that these old devices deserve an afterlife.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that over 200 million pieces of computer parts are being generated annually — and growing. Yet, only 18 percent is being recycled, leaving over 150 million pieces of equipment (e-waste) in our landfills every year. I’ve seen how toxic this waste can be if it isn’t managed properly, so I did some digging and learned how to do it safely.

Generally, we have three options: sell, donate, recycle. Craigslist and eBay are great options for selling, but it’s too time-consuming for our crazy busy family, so we’ve opted to donate some and recycle the rest.

Donate: Giving Back One Device at a Time

My husband and I both work in the computing industry, where innovation happens fast. As soon as we bring home a new device, technology advancements lure us to the next shiny object. So most of the gadgets we have in our household are still considered current and can easily be donated to charity.

My favorite charity is Goodwill Industries, and we make a run at least twice a year. I recently learned that Dell partnered with Goodwill to develop the Reconnect Program, which fosters responsible e-waste recycling by keeping electronics out of landfills and preventing them from being dumped overseas. The program also goes a long way to create green jobs, provides training and educational programs, and helps employ people with disabilities or other barriers to employment. Dell says the Reconnect Program offers more than 2,000 donation locations for all kinds of used computer equipment and they accept any brand in any condition, including just about any computing peripheral. You can get a firsthand look at your impact by using the “Calculate Your Impact” tool located on the Goodwill site. I checked, and donating a working computer to this program amounts to 6.9 hours of training and education for someone in need. If you itemize your taxes, you may also be eligible for a tax deduction through qualified programs. Check with your certified tax specialist to get details if this is the route you go.

Other charity options include Recycle for Charities, an eco-friendly site with a “give back” mantra. Just round-up your donation (old cell phones, PDAs, iPods, digital cameras, etc.), select your charity, print out the ready-made shipping label and tax donation forms, then ship. Similarly, Close the Gap makes reused and refurbished computers available to underprivileged people in Africa and other developing countries. And Digital Links has distributed more than 50,000 reused computers to the developing world and provided access to technology for over 125,000 people.

Recycling: It’s Easier than You Might Think

All electronics, working or not, should be recycled properly if you decide not to sell or donate them. Throwing away any electronic device is dangerous and hazardous. Most electronics contain significant levels of toxic materials like mercury, lead, sulfur, and silicon and beryllium oxide that may be harmful to the environment, animals living in it, and to us.

As you might imagine, Dell is a big proponent of recycling computers, too, and has a full-page dedicated to the options. From store credits to refurbished PCs, this site gives you many options for doing the right thing. Sony has conveniently located boxes at select store locations and will take your old computer and any of their own products. HP offers a trade-in allowance for new HP products. For Apple products, including iPads, you should always return them directly. Apple will give you a gift card to use at their store with the estimated value of your product. If you live in Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, or Virginia, fill out this request form to participate in Apple’s recycling by mail program. Most of the other leading device manufacturers have some kind of program with benefits, so worth checking them out.

For a one-stop shop, Best Buy accepts most electronics for recycling and will offer a Best Buy gift card for your used video games, musical instruments and select used electronics, including TVs, DVD players, monitors, cell phones and more. Restrictions apply, so be sure to check with Best Buy directly. They also have permanent drop boxes for cell phones, rechargeable batteries and printer cartridges. Target said they would buy back my old HTC phone for as much as $50, offering me a Target gift card. Check out AT&T retailers, eBay, Office Depot, Staples, and other retailers for more info on their programs, many of which have tons of information and guidance for recycling tech gear on their web sites.

Never Throw Out Batteries, Even the Little Ones

Most rechargeable batteries contain metals that are harmful to the environment, but when recycled properly, can be reclaimed and used to make new products. Funded by a consortium of leading device manufacturers, the Call2Recycle program keeps millions of pounds of batteries from entering landfills each year, preserving natural resources and helping to fulfill their mission for a more sustainable earth. Consumers just collect their rechargeable batteries and cell phones, then log onto Call2Recycle.org or call 1-877-2-RECYCLE to find a nearby public drop-off location that accepts them hastle free.

Be Safe and Protect Your Privacy

One last thing: Before you sell, donate or recycle, be sure to move your personal files and media from your old device and erase (or wipe) your hard drive. In spite of all the good intentions of each of the programs and services I’ve shared here, you never want to neglect your digital privacy and security by putting it in someone else’s hands. There are a number of products and services out there to painlessly wipe your computer, including WipeDrive and KillDisk, and it’s easy to move your photos and personal documents to a USB flash drive or to the cloud for temporary storage using products like Microsoft’s SkyDrive or Dropbox. And some retailers will offer to transfer all your personal data from one device to another when you’re making a purchase.

Call to Action

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, each household in the United States has on average at least 24 electronic devices ranging from alarm clocks, computing devices and TVs to refrigerators. As our device portfolios grow, the amount of e-waste we’ll generate will be astounding. Visit Earth911 for a massive amount of interesting information about the impact our connected lifestyles are having on the environment. And if you’re still looking for more information, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to find all sorts of additional data and guidance on where and how to recycle and ways to nurture our planet.

So, if you find yourself hoarding electronics and gadgets like my family has because you just don’t know what to do with them, now you know…and you no longer have an excuse. Take action, and report back here on what you dropped off and share your overall experience. Easy? Rewarding? Pain in the neck? We want to know.

Is Your Living Room Connected?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Yesterday, my 4-year old and I had a very active and sweat inducing game of Fruit Ninja with Kinect for Xbox 360. Slashing fruit and dodging bombs, he was having a great time, and I was getting a great workout. But we’ve only recently introduced our kids to the world of connected devices, and have limited their exposure to traditional video games in favor of toys and games that don’t have flashing lights or sounds. That said, Xbox rules our living room and keeps us connected to our entertainment and the people we care about.

Last year, Kinect for Xbox 360 introduced controller-free entertainment by letting you use your body and voice to play your favorite games and access entertainment, turning you into the controller. This amazing innovation changed my view of the gaming world and consoles, seeing that Xbox isn’t just for gaming anymore. In our household, it’s our entertainment hub, enabling us to access new release movies exclusive for Xbox, our Netflix video library, see live concerts and access our favorite television shows, as well as a growing library of family friendly gaming. And we use the device for live video chat with family and friends in other time zones and on different continents.

In fact, we’re so connected that our family was “forced” to invest in two consoles (one for the Man Cave and one for the family room) to prevent the boys from arguing, and by boys, I mean my husband and our 2- and 4-year old kids.

And now I’m getting in the game. Microsoft just launched perhaps its biggest software upgrade for Xbox 360, refreshing the interface, deeper voice integration, stronger social capabilities and more robust integration across devices. With these updates, we’ll get more TV programing, more movies, more music and of course more games across new third-party applications, expanding our entertainment options. And Microsoft is further enhancing the connected experience by broadly integrating Kinect with Bing search technology across the Xbox Live dashboard for smooth and seamless navigation using voice and gestures to simplify search for content and services. With Bing on Xbox, your voice becomes the ultimate remote control to find the games, movies, TV shows and music you’re looking for. Though voice control isn’t new, the deeper integration with Bing creates a completely new experience. Tell that to my kids, though. My 4-year old son already speaks to Xbox and waves his hands around, commanding it to launch Dinosaur Train, and my 2-year old skips Xbox altogether, commanding the TV to launch Team Umizoomi. Now we’ll see our devices actually respond to them!

For me, the story is about the updates that push our connected experiences further, and devices are central to this scenario. Though using my voice as a controller sounds like a fun option, it won’t always be practical. So Microsoft has also released a mobile app exclusively for the Windows Phone that enables it to control the console, services and content. The free Xbox Companion app uses Bing to search for content, access and launch programing, and turns your smartphone into a wireless remote control for media playback and for purchase transactions. I can’t wait to try it out.

Another cool feature is how Xbox leverages the cloud to create a more seamless experience across our device portfolios, including other Xbox 360 consoles. Got to run out before finishing your game or movie? This new feature will allow us to log into any Xbox 360, then play our saved games or watch our in-progress movies from other consoles. This update enables us to take our entertainment with us when we’re on the go. Parents rejoice!

Though some of the major network and entertainment partners won’t be ready to launch their content this week (see GeekWire for a complete rundown of who, what, when), you can bet my family will be bundling all our digital content and subscriptions through this one device, simplifying our experiences.

If you’re intrigued and want all the details, the folks at Engadget have a super solid review of the new features and functionality. So check it out.

What do you have to say? Do you think Xbox 360 is on the right track regarding the future of connected entertainment? What are the barriers to drive this concept forward?

UPDATE: The updates are live in many households this morning, and I see that Microsoft has updated a variety of parental controls, which will likely be of interest here. I’m told that parents can manage their child’s console activity, sharing on social networking sites as well as regulate access to games, movies, television, and music. Additionally, the update brings enhanced navigation to Xbox 360 Family Settings to better integrate with Kinect. I’ll check those updates out and report back. For more reading, check out Microsoft Xbox and Kinect Newsroom

 

How to Choose the Right PC for Your Family

Before you brave Black Friday, make sure you know what you’re looking for.

Technology advancements are swift. With massive R&D budgets and marketing dollars, big named technology companies have teams of creative and smart people thinking up new scenarios, new capabilities and new products to move our experiences forward. All this innovation is exciting, but leaves many of us confused and in some cases completely paralyzed by the complexity. With so many device options, form factors and new features, you might be asking yourself where to start. Here’s a quick primer on how to break it all down.

First, ask yourself: How will this PC be used? Maybe you need a versatile PC that serves as the center of gravity for your home. Or you have a teen heading off to college who needs to balance mobility, productivity and entertainment. Or maybe you’re happy with your desktop PC, but want a companion device to surf the Web. Regardless, be sure you know how you’ll use it and be clear about your budget.

Desktop or Laptop?

Most busy families use some kind of technology to manage complex schedules, light computing and to keep everyone organized, so for some, it’s critical that there be a computer dedicated to the family and easily accessible by everyone. Naturally, this scenario might be well suited for a desktop PC, which is experiencing a resurgence this year as a result of key innovations that impact its size and usability. For example, All-in-One touch PCs have become a popular choice for families to help manage the home, while some desktops with powerful features and capabilities are dedicated to serving entertainment needs, be it movies or graphics-intense games.

On the flip side, some families are constantly on the go and need to take their computing experiences along with them, using the cloud as their family hub to connect multiple devices, including laptops. From tiny netbooks to big and powerful desktop-replacement systems, the differences in pricing, features, and performance are staggering.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 Notebook, Netbook or Tablet?

The explosion in innovation has literally changed the look and feel of PCs. Smaller and more powerful computer components, advanced materials and design aesthetics are part of the overall package now. From powerful productivity notebooks and ultrathin laptops to sleek new slates designs, which one is the best fit depends upon lifestyles and budgets.

Ultraportable: Generally weighing under three or four pounds, PCs in this category are skinny and light with fantastic battery life. Great for families on the go, connected by the cloud and with a growing portfolio of connected devices. These PCs command a premium given advanced CPU components, though.

Thin and Light: At a lower price point than the modern Ultraportable PCs, Thin and Lights offer a great alternative for those who need to carry their laptops with them. At 13-inches, this category is the sweet spot for mobility and productivity, but may not be able to accommodate all the functionality of its larger cousins.

Mainstream: Balancing productivity, mobility and performance, this PC does it all. The versatility makes them perfect for families. You’ll usually get a 15-inch display weighing in just under six pounds, powerful processors for quick starts and multimedia performance, like HD video and sound, and often long battery life. Whether desktop or laptop, it’s the perfect machine for most households.

Desktop Replacement: These massive 17-inch and larger laptops are meant to literally replace your old desktop, monitor and keyboard system with a single device that can also be easily transported in a pinch. Often weighing more than six pounds, these PCs are powerful and full featured. For families that balance time between blasting opponents online or watching HD movies, you’ll find these machines have discreet graphics processors, powerful main processors and advanced media components, such as Blu-Ray players. But with all this performance, expect a short battery life.

Companion: Companion PCs are tiny, low-voltage devices that are generally used to consume content like reading online magazines, email and Web browsing, but not intended to replace your primary PC. With eight- to 10-inch displays and weighing less than two pounds, these PCs come in a variety of different form factors, be it mini laptops, slates or something in between (referred to as convertibles). These are great devices to travel with, slide into your diaper bag for an outing or just cuddled up in a chair reading with it.

Making Sense of the Specs

If all that isn’t overwhelming enough, the other very important piece of the puzzle are the specifications you need to look for in your new PC. Once you are clear about how you will use your PC, you need to make sure the specs measure up to this vision. For instance, if you intend to use your PC primarily for entertainment, you’ll need to be sure the specs of the machine can accommodate that heavy workload.

Operating Systems: The Operating System (OS) is the software that makes your device light up, the bridge between the hardware and your applications, like Microsoft Office. It controls your overall user experience, manages the performance and security, and allows you to do things like save your files. You essentially have two choices: Apple’s OS X or Microsoft’s Windows. Apple and Windows platform zealots can be intense, so be aware that passionate supporters on either side of the “platform war” can be overwhelming. Be it Mac or PC, you’ll need to choose your platform wisely. More than 95% of all PCs in the world run Windows. The Mac platform tends to be more expensive than Windows-based PCs, and many popular applications (especially games) are not available for OS X, but its popular with trendsetters for no other reason than…well, it’s trendy. If you choose the Mac platform, you get one choice: OS x, but if you choose the broader Windows platform, Home Premium is usually sufficient for most home use (e.g., playing videos, Web browsing, and using Microsoft Office).

Processor/CPU: The central processing unit, or CPU, is the brains of the system and determines how fast your PC can manage data. AMD and Intel are the leaders in PC processors and are shipped in most Windows-based PCs.  Intel is the biggest manufacturer, and you’ll find its CPUs in most laptops, though AMD is often a less expensive option. Look for Intel’s Atom, Celeron, Pentium, and its new Core series (i3, i5 and i7). Atom processors are low voltage processors, but not quite as fast or powerful, suitable for netbooks and slates. Intel’s Celerons and Pentiums are made for low-end machines intended for e-mail, Web browsing and light computing tasks. Given the swift technology advancements happening today, it’s best to opt for Intel’s Core i-series or AMD’s Fusion processor, which are more likely to support future OS upgrades and a must for gamer and editing photos and video. Processor speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz), and higher is better.

Graphics Card: If editing media or playing videos games is important to your household, you’ll want to pay close attention to the graphics card, particularly for 3D games or managing HD media. Ideally, something between 512MB and 1GB is the best option, but don’t drop below 256MB if cutting edge graphics is important.

RAM/Memory: The more Random Access Memory (RAM) your PC has, the more multitasking it can do and the faster it will run. RAM is where the OS stores programs and data for actively running applications and files. You’ll want at least 4GB for modern and basic computing tasks, but 8GB is best, which requires a 64-bit OS (vs 32-bit) to maximize its potential.

Hard Drive: If you’re a pack rat (like me), you’ll want to pay close attention to the size of the hard drive to store your music, videos and photos. You should be able to manage all this with 500GB to 750GB hard drive, but at a minimum 250GB. Consider that the OS and your applications, like Microsoft Office, take up a big chunk of storage on your hard drive. Make sure you give yourself enough space, but also consider its performance. The hard drive is a moving part, a disc that spins inside the computer. The faster it spins, the harder it works, increasing the performance of the machine. Look for at least 7200 RPMs. Another increasingly popular option is the Solid State Drive (SSD), which increases performance and saves power consumption, which expands the life of the PC battery. With no moving parts, SSDs are less prone to failure, and can open and process applications and files faster, but storage capacity is smaller than a traditional hard drive. SSDs are a premium option and found in many ultrathin PCs that are hitting store shelves this holiday season.

Battery: The life of the PC battery is one of the biggest barriers to the ultimate connected computing vision, and is a huge focus for many tech R&D centers. The ultimate goal is to substantially increase power efficiencies and increase battery performance to realize the vision. Today’s PC batteries will get you anywhere from three hours to up to eight hours of battery life, but largely dependent upon how efficient your PC will run, and can be extended to up to 18+ hours with an attachment battery. Another issue with battery life is its tendency to degrade performance over time, so the life of the new battery will be much longer than the life of a two-year old battery.

Display: This is probably obvious, but the larger the display size the heavier the laptop and the more power it uses. For optimal mobility, look for a 12- or 13-inch screen with a resolution of at least 1200x 800 pixels. If you watch a lot of movies or play video games, you’ll probably want a lot of screen real estate, so look for a 15- or 17-inch display with a resolution of at least 1440 x 900 pixels or higher. And look for LCD screens with LED back-lighting, which are brighter and use less power, and a must for modern PCs. If no LED, consider looking at another device.

Connectivity: For me, this is the Holy Grail. Look for a PC with lots of connectivity options so that you can always be connected, whether at home or on the go. If your goal is to always be connected, look for machines that support 802.11 wireless standards, such as built-in WiFi, Bluetooth 3.0, and WiDi, which connects your PC wirelessly to WiDi enabled devices like HDTVs. Many PCs today also have optional 3G or 4G mobile broadband capabilities, though these options require a separate cellular data plan from your carrier. This is a worthwhile option if you need to be connected while traveling on business or vacation and a Wi-Fi signal is not available.

MY POINT OF VIEW

Though some believe the PC is at the center of your digital universe, I say YOU are at the center of your digital universe, supported by a broad device portfolio. The role of the cloud and nearly ubiquitous connectivity has shifted the paradigm from devices to people, getting you closer to the information and people you care about most. That said, the PC will remain an extremely important part of our lives, and as technology advancements are made, the form factors will evolve and morph to a variety of shapes and sizes. So try to think forward a little when you’re shopping for your devices and make sure you’ll easily be able to upgrade with the next wave of software. The goal is to mazimize your investment and keep you connected.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: