Roger Stringer   About ▾

I'm Roger Stringer: a father, writer, developer, consultant, chef, speaker. Founder of TheInterviewr.

Reviews Archives


Reviewing the Google Chromecast

 

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Before we get started, yes, I know the Chromecast is not new, but it just launched here in Canada, and so I’ve spent the past two weeks playing with a review unit.

What is the Chromecast?

First, a quick recap: Chromecast is a $35 streaming dongle that plugs into your TV’s HDMI port. You can use it to stream online videos from YouTube, Netflix and elsewhere, and use your computer, mobile phone or tablet as a remote control. It doesn’t have any kind of separate app store or user interface on your TV – everything gets controlled from the PC or mobile device.

The key word here is control: Your phone doesn’t stream videos directly to your Chromecast dongle. Instead, it just tells the device which video it should stream from the web. That means that you can use your phone for something else, or even turn it off, once the stream starts.

This kind of remote control capability only works with apps and sites that directly support Chromecast. In addition to that, users can also stream any web content directly from their computer’s Chrome browser, as long as they have a special Chrome extension installed.

One interesting feature of this, is you can choose to "cast" one tab only, while keeping your other tabs open as well. This can be handy during presentations.

Setting Up the Chromecast

Setting up the Chromecast is pretty straight forward, you plug it into your TV, Then use an app to follow the instructions to set up. You can get the Chromecast up and running in minutes.

Streaming from Netflix or other apps

Streaming to the Chromecast is a little interesting, since it doesn’t exactly stream from your device as much as it sends the URL to it, so if you are watching Netflix on your iPad, iPhone or computer and want to send it to the Chromecast, you just hit the cast button and it sends the Netflix stream over.

As a parent, I also found it really helpful that Netflix on Chromecast lets me track the progress of a video on the mobile device while it’s playing on TV.

No more “just a few more minute” excuses. And the fact that I can switch from one device to another, launching playback from the Netflix website on my MacBook, then pause it later with my mobile phone, is pretty neat.

Youtube and Google Play Music and Movies also work pretty well for streaming to the Chromecast, but if you want to use Rdio for it, you’ll need to send it to the Chromecast from a web browser on your computer.

Streaming from your web browser

As I mentioned before, Chromecast does offer the ability to stream a tab from your computer’s Chrome browser straight to your TV. This is similar to screen sharing in a teleconference, meaning that the browser captures everything in a new video.

The idea behind this screencasting feature is to enable you to stream anything that’s not available through a native app yet.

I tried it with a few video streams from various websites that let you watch shows from their sites, and while it worked, it definitely degraded the quality to a less HD experience. It worked well enough, but it was sometimes painful to watch shows that I’d rather watch in HD.

I also tried to play a few local videos by simply dropping them onto the Chrome browser tab, and experienced similar mixed results. This may be acceptable if you don’t have any other way to get local videos onto the TV, but it’s definitely not great, which is why Google still calls this feature beta. Luckily, there are a number of apps in the works that will enable you to play local content without compromising on picture quality.

I also used browser-based streaming to listen to music from Rdio.com, which wasn’t too bad, and the Rdio player actually looked pretty nice on the TV. However, even with this, I occasionally encountered some weird glitches, including changes in tempo for a second or two.

Currently, you can’t "cast" from Chrome on your iOS devices, but this is apparently in the works.

Conclusion

After testing Chromecast for two weeks, I can say that it has easily become my favorite way to watch Netflix and YouTube, which make up a big part of my TV viewing these days. But Netflix and YouTube are just the beginning for Chromecast.

Hulu, Vimeo, HBO Go and others have already pledged their support, and a small army of independent developers have started to hack away and bring their own apps and games to the device. All of this means that Chromecast will get substantially better over the coming months.

But even without any of those improvements being present today, I definitely don’t regret spending $35 for the dongle. Should you buy one too? I would say yes, especially if you’re looking to finally bring Netflix viewing to that TV in your bedroom or den that hasn’t been connected yet.

But even if you already have a smart TV, or watch Netflix with the game console that’s otherwise collecting dust in your living room, Chromecast may be worthy of a consideration. The device takes a lot of friction out of bringing online video to the living room, and in turn makes TV watching a lot more enjoyable.

One last thing, Chromecast vs Apple TV

I’ve been a long time Apple TV user, so I can’t post this without answering the question about which I prefer.

Myself, I do prefer the Apple TV, simply because I can use AirPlay a little more than I can use the "casting" to the Chromecast currently. It’s easy enough to mirror my MacBook’s entire screen to the Apple TV for watching a movie, or playing a game on my iPad, but Chromecast is pretty close to it so it’s really a toss up.

In the end, your main factor may just be the price, Chromecast is $35 and Apple TV is $104, and that price difference may be all it takes to make a difference for you.

Filed Under: Reviews

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Comparing keyboards for the iPad Mini

 

Just like when I reviewed various keyboards for the iPad Air, I wanted to also review some keyboards for the iPad Mini.

I’ve been trying out various keyboards for the iPad air and thought I’d review them as one review…

We’ll be reviewing the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard, and the Logitech Ultrathin Folio for the iPad Mini.

There’s also the usual Apple keyboard with Origami Workstation, but that hasn’t changed from when I first reviewed it, so I won’t review that here. My fallback keyboard at home is always the Origami workstation, and it works well, but the others are also good.

As before, I’m actually writing each section of this review using the specific keyboard I’m talking about…

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover

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The Ultrathin keyboard is my main carry keyboard for the iPad Air, I bring it with me in my laptop bag every day, the iPad Mini version of the keyboard works well, but it has the same keyboard layout that the Ultrathin Folio has for the iPad Air, which I’ve never been a big fan of, and that is that they’ve merge the caps lock and tab key with the Q and A keys, which moves the keys over a little and takes a little getting used to as you adjust to the keys being moved slightly to the left.

Other than that, the keyboard is small and lightweight, and handy for when you want to do some quick typing on the go.

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Folio

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The Ultrathin Folio works as a complete cover for your iPad Mini, keeping it safe and making it act almost like a laptop as you just open it and prop the iPad up.

The keys on this keyboard are a little bigger than they are on the Ultrathin keyboard which makes typing a little easier, but the catch is that the case makes the iPad so much bulkier, to the point of defeating the entire purpose of the iPad Mini.

Filed Under: Reviews

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Comparing keyboards for the iPad air

 

I’ve been trying out various keyboards for the iPad air and thought I’d review them as one review…

We’ll be reviewing the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard, the Logitech Ultrathin Folio and the ZAGGKeys Folio Backlit Keyboard Case for iPad Air.

There’s also the usual Apple keyboard with Origami Workstation, but that hasn’t changed from when I first reviewed it, so I won’t review that here.

I’m actually writing each section of this review using the specific keyboard I’m talking about…

ZAGGKeys Folio Backlit Keyboard Case for iPad Air

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We’ll do the worst first… This case has some promise you fitted the iPad into a case with attached keyboard, but that’s where the promise ended…

The idea is you put your iPad inside the case and it works similar to a laptop, open the lid, go to work. Nice idea, ZAGG has made several cases like this one over the years, and I’ve liked them, but this time, they failed.

One thing they missed, was the “tablet” mode, this mode is where you fold the tablet over the keyboard and hold it in portrait or landscape mode as a regular keyboard. ZAGG has included this on nearly all of their previous keyboard cases and it’s the feature everyone likes, but they decided to leave it off this time.

The case itself is made of plastic and feels very plastic-y, you expect it to actually break at anytime.

Another problem is it’s very top-heavy, you can watch the iPad nearly fall over when you take your hands off the keyboard.

The only saving graces to this keyboard case are the lit-up keys to make it easier to type in low-light, and the final nice feature is that the laptop-like layout gives you plenty of angles to view the screen from, but that’s where the nice features end.

Basically, give this one a pass, unless you like the light up keyboard…

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover

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Another old-faithful, my previous Ultrathin keyboard case traveled with me to several conferences and served me well so I definitely wanted one for the iPad Air.

And I have to say that Logitech did not disappoint with this case either, following along my previous Ultrathin review, this keyboard case is definitely a recommend.

Logitech Ultrathin Folio Keyboard Case

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Logitech’s Ultrathin Folio keyboard case is interesting, it follows the same idea as the Ultrathin Keyboard case, but actually wraps the entire iPad in a protective cover, so that you don’t have to detach the iPad from the keyboard cover, you instead just open and let the magnets do the job.

This Keyboard case also features the “tablet” mode that the ZAGGKeys folio case was missing, so that is a plus.

I found the keys work similar to the regular Ultrathin, with one difference..

For some reason, Logitech, in deciding to make this case a little longer, decided to remove the caps lock and tab keys and instead tie them to the Q and A keys using the fn key.

This means that if you want to tab something, then you hit fn + Q and if you want to enable caps lock, then you hit fn + A.

This was an odd move, but once you get used to it, it works pretty well and is hardly noticeable.

I do like that the keys are a little bit bigger than the Ultrathin keys, it’s a slight increase, but it makes a difference when you are typing things, like a chapter for your next book, or a review.

In closing, stay away from the Zagg Air Folio, and choose between the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover or the Logitech Ultrathin Folio Keyboard Case and you’ll be a happy camper when it comes to keyboards for your iPad.

If you want full protection for your iPad, take the Folio, otherwise, I’d go with the Ultrathin Keyboard.

Filed Under: Reviews

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Editorial for iPad

 

Editorial for iPad, released this week, is a long-awaited Markdown text editor and workflow automation tool for iPad — and it is powerful.

Developed by Ole Moritz – the developer of the popular Pythonista app for iOS – Editorial looks like your typical iOS text editor on the surface. It has the standard support for things like Markdown previews (including real-time syntax highlighting), Dropbox sync, TextExpander snippets, and even a built-in web browser. But from there it starts to get a little more powerful..

In addition to the file browser and text editor, Editorial contains a complete Python console and a tool for creating tons of automated workflows. You can do simple things like convert some Markdown text into HTML, or converting a selection of text into a numbered list. But you can also get into some very advanced territory, as Federico Viticci outlines in his very large review. Also, make sure you check out Gabe Weatherhead’s review.

Editorial for iPad is just $5 on the iOS App Store. If you do a lot of writing work from your iPad, you need this now.

My favourite Markdown text editor before Editorial was Byword, but I’ve switched to this app and have been loving it.

Filed Under: Reviews

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