Hi, I am Frank, and I am the designated geek. You know, the type of person who you and your friends seek out on all matters technical. At this time of the year designated geeks get asked for recommendations for what computer, smartphone, or tablet to buy. If I am asked by a person I know every well, I might provide a specific recommendation, but usually my answer is going to be preceded by questions such as how they intend to use the device and whether they have any preferences.

I find that unless someone has very specific preferences, like they will never use Android or Windows, most people want to buy the best device that they can afford. Consequently, my recommendations on tablets are driven by price points. Obviously, if you absolutely want an iPad, you can go straight to Apple's web site and pick one you can afford, although I do not recommend an iPad that does not have at least 32 GB of storage.

My answer to the question of which tablet to buy is a bit more complicated this year than last because of the emergence of large screen smartphones. Before buying a tablet, you might want to consider whether a 6-inch or 5-inch screen will suite the needs you will have for a tablet and smartphone. Many people are now opting to not buy two devices, but instead buying the iPhone 6 Plus, Nexus 6, Galaxy Note, or Moto X smartphones.

Frankly, I prefer smaller smartphones like the original Moto X, but they aren't going to replace a tablet for me, and if you are like me, are interested in buying a new tablet, and don't care whether the tablet is an iPad or runs Android, then my main question to you is, how much do you want to spend?

If you don't want to spend more than $200 on a tablet, then you will stick with one of the 7-inch models available. While Google no longer sells the Nexus 7, you can buy good 7-inch tablets from Amazon (I recommend the Kindle Fire HDXs) and HP (I recommend the HP 8 G2) [Disclosure]. You will also find many 7-inch tablets for sale for less than $200, in some cases much less, but I do not recommend them because they either have very poor screens, slow processors, or too little memory to run Android apps at what I consider acceptable performance. Do not buy a tablet that has less than 16 GB of storage!

If you don't want to spend more than $300 on a tablet, I recommend the Nvidia Shield, which runs Android, has a great screen and a fast processor. If you really want an iPad, the lowest price one I would consider is the 32 GB iPad Mini 2 for $349.

If you don't want to spend more than $400 you have three options, if you are going to mostly use the tablet to read books then I recommend the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, if you want a Google Android tablet then I recommend the Nexus 9, or if you want the ability to see multiple apps on the screen at the same time, then I recommend the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4-inch tablet.

Chances are that if you are willing to spend more than $400 on a tablet, you are interested in an iPad. You can buy either the 64 GB iPad Mini 3, if you are ok with a 7-inch screen, the 32 GB iPad Air. I do not recommend the 16 GB iPad Air 2, the minimum iPad Air 2 I recommend is the 64 GB model that costs $599.

If you are willing to spend more than $400 and want Android and a screen larger than the Nexus 9's 8.9-inch screen, then I recommend either the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 or the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition if you want a stylus, and if you want one of the largest tablet screens there is the Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2.

12/05/14; 05:02:41 PM

Once the Nexus 9 began to ship, I read all the reviews written, and the consensus has been that the hardware build quality did not meet the expectations for a tablet at its $399 price. The reviewers were comparing the Nexus 9 to the Nexus 7, which drew high praise for a combination of features and low ($249) price. In my experience, I have absolutely no problems with the hardware build quality, but I have had problems with Android 5.0 "Lollipop."

Most point out two hardware problems: flexing of the back case when pressing in the middle near the Nexus logo and light bleed along the edges of the screen. Consensus seems to be that these items are not show stoppers, but disappointing for a tablet that costs as much as the Nexus 9.

The back case of my Nexus 9 does not flex when I press on the middle near the logo. Either assembly and/or manufacturing improvements were made before my Nexus 9 was assembled, or people are being really picky. I do see some light bleed, most noticable near the top right of the Nexus 9, but again I really don't see it as a problem. Frankly, I think people are using their disappointment over the price of the Nexus 9 to color their opinion rather than evaluating the device on its merits and how it best fits their needs.

Where I have seen problems using my Nexus 9 is in the software, and I suspect it is due to a combination of bugs in Android 5.0 and apps not being fully compatible with this latest version of Android. The Facebook app particularly seems to have a problem.

Occasionally the screen just goes black when attempting to return to the home screen, although I can see the top status bar and bottom navigation buttons. Sometimes I can resolve the problem by switching to another app, and then selecting home, but there have also been times when I have had to shut down and restart the tablet to get it functioning properly.

Another problem I have had is home screen widgets failing to update, and the only fix is to restart the tablet. I note that both problems relate to the home screen, and seem to me to be memory related. It's possible there is a memory leak issue causing the problems.

The good news with software problems is that they can be fixed, and Google has already released an update to Lollipop, Android 5.0.1. Unfortunately, while 5.0.1 has decreased the frequency that these problems appear, it has not eliminated them.

What cannot be changed are the hardware features, and I can report that I am very happy with the Nexus 9 hardware. The most significant feature of the Nexus 9 for me is the screen size and corresponding aspect ratio, and I love both. Open a book in the Kindle app and what you see is nearly identical the a printed page of most books. Web pages are very readable, and content in Evernote and Pocket display wonderfully.

The Nexus 9 is not as light as the Galaxy Note 8 it is replacing, but is much lighter than my iPad 3. I cannot hold the Nexus 9 in one hand for as long as I do the Note 8, but it is more comfortable to hold in two hands for long periods of time than the iPad. Would I like it to be lighter? Sure, I wouldn't complain if it where lighter, but I find it light enough.

Battery life for the Nexus 9 is not as good as the iPad 3, but given that the Nexus 9 is smaller and lighter than the iPad, I really don't expect it to be. GSam Batttery Monitor showing average screen on time per charge of 5 hours, 20 minutes and most the time battery discharges at a rate of 2 to 3% per hour. I don't think the battery is completely conditioned yet, but I am not having any problem with the battery running out during my normal daily use.

Bottom line is that I am happy with my purchase of the Nexus 9. As I wrote previously, I don't find the iPad Air 2 more compelling and with a larger screen, I prefer the Nexus 9 over the iPad Mini. I say this while fully acknowledging a bias towards Android. While I disagree with other reviewers who think the Nexus 9 is too expensive given their problems with its build quality, I do think that unless a person has a bias between iOS or Android, a decision to purchase the Nexus 9 for most will come down to price.

12/05/14; 02:44:57 PM

I've purchased the white, 32 GB, version of the Nexus 9 tablet, which will become my daily driver, replacing the Galaxy Note 8. The Nexus 9 will also replace the 2012 Nexus 7 that I have mainly to test updates to Android. I will be writing of my experience incorporating the Nexus 9 into my work flow.

The main reason why I bought the Nexus 9 is that my other tablets are approaching two years old or older and are getting long in the tooth in terms of processing power. I have also made the decision that going forward all of my devices will have at least 32 GB of storage after encountering problems upgrading to iOS 8 on my 16 GB iPad 3.

I waited until Apple's iPad announcement before making a final decision on which tablet I was going to buy this year. So why did I choose the Nexus 9 over an iPad?

During this fall's iPad announcement I decided to not buy the iPad Air 2 for two reasons: price and functionality. Apple is only selling 16 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB models of the iPad Air 2, and having determined 16 GB is too little storage, that pushes me to the 64 GB model that costs $599, which is more than I want to spend on a tablet that does not have LTE. I also decided that while the iPad Air 2 will run much faster than my iPad 3, it doesn't really have any features that I consider "must-have."

Of course, if price is my main hang up, there are lower price iPad options. I could buy last year's 32 GB iPad Air for $449 or I could buy the 64 GB iPad Mini 3 for $499. While the iPad Air is a perfectly good device, at this point why would I spend nearly $500 for a device that is not the latest model? Frankly, it seems to me that the Nexus 9 is positioned to compete with the iPad Mini rather than the iPad Air, so I went through the mental exercise of comparing the two.

I decided on the Nexus 9 over the iPad Mini 3 for three reasons: screen size, ecosystem, and long-term viability.

Whichever tablet I picked is replacing the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 as my daily driver tablet. Having used the 8-inch screen on the Note 8 for some time, I have decided that I prefer a larger tablet screen. The iPad Mini's screen is practically the same size as the Note 8, so it would provide no improvement on that front. I felt that the 8.9-inch screen that the Nexus 9 has could be hitting the sweet spot between the iPad Air and Nexus 7 and in just the brief time I have used the Nexus 9 I find this to be the case.

I know many will raise their eyebrows over the idea of one picking the Android ecosystem over iOS, but for me as someone who has been using Android tablets for several years, I've grown accustomed to the apps and functionality that Android provides. I prefer Android over iOS, even if it may not be the best tablet UI. My hope is that Lollipop makes Android a better tablet UI than previous generations of Android.

Finally, I have doubts about the long-term viability of the iPad Mini, and I think there is a good chance that the Mini 3 is the last in its line. I was shocked when Apple first announced the Mini because in my opinion Apple built it in response to the Nexus 7 and other 7-inch tablets. Steve Jobs basically said Apple would never make a 7-inch tablet, and I believe if he were still alive that would be the case. Under Steve Jobs Apple never responded to their competitors.

Now that Apple is selling the iPhone 6 Plus, I am skeptical whether people will continue to buy the iPad Mini. If one wants a smaller screen iOS device, the 6-inch iPhone 6 plus seems to be the way to go and eliminates the need to buy two devices. If you want a device with a screen larger than 6-inches, why would you pick the Mini over the Air? I think the iPad Mini is basically the equivalent of the iPod Mini, a product category that has a short term need but is eventually replaced by other Apple products.

By the way, I wouldn't be surprised if Apple released a 6 inch iPod Touch that replaces the current models and fills a price point need for a lower price iOS device.

So, now you see the reasons why I picked the Nexus 9 over the iPad Air and iPad Mini. I honestly did not even consider other Android tablets, particularly Samsung's, because I still think there is value in owning a "Google" device, and I don't expect the Play Edition versions of other vendor phones to be around much longer. In just the little time that I have had with the Nexus 9 and I can already say that I am very happy with the purchase.

11/26/14; 02:48:42 PM

I have added an HP/Google Chromebook 11 to my Chrome OS collection. Ironically, a year ago I was planning to buy this device for Christmas, but then there was a problem with the power supply that caused HP and Google to pull the device from store shelves and I ended up buying the Acer 720C. I was able to buy this device at a discount through my employer, who happens to be HP. [[Disclosure]]

There are several interesting points about the Chromebook 11, first is that this device was designed in collaboration by Google and HP, and in actuality this is a Google Chromebook rather than an HP Chromebook. Although it was never really sold this way, I think the intent was for the Chromebook 11 to be a lower price alternative to the Google Chromebook Pixel.

The collaboration lead to some interesting design decisions. One is that it uses a ARM-based, Samsung CPU so it has the processing power more typical of tablets than notebooks. It has a nice IPS display and the case is glossy white and solidly constructed. Noone will be embarrassed carrying this device.

One of the interesting aspects of the Chromebook 11 is that you can charge it with a standard Micro USB cable, which I found intriguing because it means you could charge it with the same charger as the one you use with a phone. It requires more power to charge so the power supply may get warm, which is why the devices were recalled earlier in the year.

The combination of the ARM chip and the 2 GB of RAM make for slower performance than the Acer 720C. The Acer gets an Octane score of 11,000 while the Chromebook 11 tops out at 6500.

In my opinion, the ideal mid-priced Chromebook is a combination of the Chromebook 11 and the Acer 720c, put the Acer's processor and RAM inside the Chromebook 11 and I would be very happy with the result.

11/05/14; 12:08:59 PM

I just changed the time zone setting in my cmsPrefs file. Did it work correct?

11/04/14; 12:42:40 PM

Radio3 is a web application that provides the ability to publish content to Twitter, Facebook, and Wordpress, in addition to creating an RSS feed. In concept it is a wonderful idea but I find that in practice it requires remembering the unique requirements of the different social networks.

The best way to use Radio3 is to use a bookmarklet on your brower's toolbar so that if you want to share a web page all you need to do is click a button, do a little bit of editing, and click Submit to share that page on Twitter, Facebook, and Wordpress. By default, Radio3 is best used to share links to web pages without you adding additional content. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • When you click the Radio3 bookmarklet, a new tab opens in your browser to display the Radio3 editor. The title of the web page that you are sharing is populated in the main input box on the page, which is the box immediately below the head "Shut up and eat your vegetables". Below that input box is a line titled "Title, Link & Enclosure" and if you click that line three fields expand and the Link field will be populated. When you click Submit the following happens:

    • The content of the main input box and the link to the page are posted on Twitter, provided it is 140 characters or less.

    • The content of the main input box and the link to the page are posted on Facebook.

    • The content of the main input box is used as the title for a Wordpress post, and the link that you shared is posted in the body of the Wordpress post.

    • An item is added to your linkblog RSS feed.

    • An item is added to your linkblog home page.

  • If the content that you put in the main input box exceeds 140 characters, and you have Radio3 configure to post to Twitter, Facebook, and Wordpress the following happens:

    • The content and the link are not posted on Twitter

    • The content and the link are posted to Facebook

    • The content is posted to the title for a Wordpress post, and and the link that you shared is posted in the body of the Wordpress post.

In my opinion, Wordpress is not well suited for the linkblogging because it requires titles. Pushing the content of an item into a Wordpress title ends up with really long titles and no real content, so I go into Settings and clear the Post links to Wordpress option. The latest version of Radio3 adds the ability to write blog posts, properly formatted for Wordpress, but in order to post to Wordpress Radio3 must be configured to post links to Wordpress.

The Title field in Radio3 is ignored unless you explicitly select creating a blog post. To use Wordpress with Radio3 in the manner that I want to use it, I have to explicitly disable sending links to Wordpress until I want to create a Wordpress blog post, for which I then have to turn on sending links to Wordpress before submitting the post.

I think Radio3 could be made easier to use with Wordpress in the following way:

  • If the user does not enable posting links to Wordpress, then do not post links to Wordpress.

  • If the user populates the fields in the Wordpress tab in the Radio3 settings, and if the user selects to create a blog post in Radio3 AND the title field is populated, then post the item to Wordpress, Twitter, Facebook, and the Radio3 linkblog and feed. As a user I am explicitly indicating that I want to post to Wordpress by providing the link to the blog and my credentials and selecting blog post. Requiring the Title field be populated insures that the post is created in the format that Wordpress expects, which requires a title. The process of writing a blog post is simplified because the user doesn't have to change the settings every time he wants to post an item on Wordpress.

10/17/14; 08:59:47 AM

An update has been made to River4.js that enables it to write its data to a local file system as opposed to using Amazon S3. You may find that option preferable because it eliminates the complexity and cost of using S3. The addition of local file system support makes River4.js function nearly identical to the original River tool of the OPML Editor.

I've been using Dave Winer's River to manage the RSS subscriptions that I follow ever since Google Reader was killed. I choose to use Google Reader because it enabled me to read and manage my RSS subscriptions from any device connected to the Internet. Previously, I used apps that ran on my personal computer that restricted me to only reading my subscriptions on that computer, preventing me from doing so on my smartphones and tablets.

When Google announced it was turning Reader off, I looked around for a replacement. I initially thought I would use Feedly, but I also tested Dave's original river by setting up for myself an instance of the OPML Editor running on an EC2 image on Amazon following the EC2 For Poets instructions. I came to prefer the simplicity of the river format and didn't mind the cost of having a Windows server available to me on the Internet.

The point is that I have grown used to being able to read my RSS subscriptions using any smartphone, tablet, or computer, such that it is now a basic requirement, which brings me to the local file system change. I certainly see the cost and simplicity benefits, however I want to retain the ability to read my feeds anywhere.

To do so using local file system appears to require that I either have a web server running on the computer providing the local file system, or make the file system available on the Internet so that I could use the RiverBrowser to read in my feed files to that it can render them. From my point of view, adding a web server like Apache to my set up is adding complexity. Now I have to worry about maintaining that web server. The web hosting S3 provides is very convenient.

I am not entirely sure how to make the file system available to the Internet for RiverBrowser to access, one possible solution may be to sync a copy of the feed files RiverBrowser uses to a public folder on Dropbox, but then I would have the complexity of managing that synchronization.

It seems to me that the local file system support is most easily implemented on a local computer. I find that solution not as desirable as the hosted storage approach. Fortunately, local file system support is an addition so I can stick with S3 and use Heroku. If I want to eliminate Heroku from the mix, I could use the EC2 AMI image that Chris Dadswell is working on to host my own instances of node on Amazon so that I don't have the data transfer costs like what I have seen when using CloudAtCost to host River4.

09/25/14; 11:30:24 AM

At the beginning of the month I switched the hosting of my copy or River4.js from Heroku to CloudAtCost. The move was initiated by the fact that I needed to update the my instance of River4 and I couldn't find a way to do it given how I had originally set it up on Heroku.

It was pointed out to me that there would likely be a cost impact of my hosting River4.js on CloudAtCost and using Amazon S3 for file storage. Because Heroku is hosted on Amazon you don't get charged for data transfer because the data traverses Amazon's internal network. I was skeptical, but after running on CloudAtCost for a month and monitoring the bill for S3 I can confirm the higher cost.

After nearly a month, there has been a little over 58 GB of data transferred out of my S3 bucket for a cost of $6.99. Last month I only had 1.77 GB transferred out costing me a whopping $0.14.

So, from a financial stand point, it seems to make sense to host River4.js on Heroku as opposed to on CloudAtCost. I think I'll make the flip and see how I am charged on Amazon in October.

09/25/14; 11:18:00 AM

I've recreated an instance of River4 on Heroku, this time making a clone of the River4 repository rather than creating my own from a downloaded copy of the files. Now after Dave makes updates I should be able to do "git pull origin" and then a "git push heroku master" to update the app instance on Heroku.

One of the reasons why I have recreated my Heroku version of River4 is that some folks on the support email list have said that it costs more to run River4 on a server that is not on EC2 like Heroku. They believe that you aren't charged for network traffic within Amazon's data center.

The information that they provide is not consistent with my experience. In August I ran River4 exclusively from Heroku and my total bill was $10.94, with a little less than half of that for S3. I got charged $3.77 for 753,787 PUT, COPY, POST, or LIST requests, and $0.50 for 1,261,298 GET and all other requests. Clearly, S3 tracked my I/O traffic with Heroku and charged me for it, even if it was on their internal network.

I've been running River4 for almost 66 hours, and so far my my S3 bill is $0.69, 122,956 PUT, COPY, POST, or LIST requests and 169,752 GET requests. It seems to be in line for the charges I ran up on Heroku.

Right now I have my Heroku copy of river4 turned off but I could flip the switch to it in the future should I need to do so.

09/05/14; 06:11:07 PM

I had to install additional node modules beyond the ones provided in Chris' instructions:

  • MD5

  • opmlparser

  • feedparser

09/03/14; 09:02:04 PM

Last built: Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 10:12 AM

By Frank McPherson, Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 2:34 PM.