If you were a child or teenager in the 90′s, you’ve probably had a few articles circulating among your Facebook friends recently with titles like “You Know You Were a 90′s Kid If…” and “10 Things 90′s Kids Will Have To Explain to Their Children.” These include such things as Lisa Frank, Global Guts and how to wind a cassette ribbon back into place with a pencil.
Some of these nostalgia items are adapting themselves however. You don’t need to explain them to your kids and you might even get a nice walk down memory lane yourself. And we have the smartphone to thank for it. Trends whose time seemed to have been long past are being recreated as apps and we’ve put together a list of the top ten, so that you can respond on Facebook with more than the usual “Totally! Lol!”
This was just meant to be. In case you were living under a rock from 1994 to 1996, Tamogatchis were digital pets that lived on screens encased in plastic pods and attached to key rings. You had to care for them constantly by pressing combinations of three buttons. If you didn’t feed them or nurture them, they died. The app version is clearly built for nostalgia, since it gives you the option of showing the entire plastic pod on the screen, with your pet in 8-bit black and white.
2. Oregon Trail
In this classic computer game, you traveled the Oregon Trail, met historical figures and most importantly: hunted buffalo. The app is nicely modified for smartphones so that you may even be able to get your kids to play it and not just use it as a trek across memory lane.
This was the original and best catapult shooter game. You had to shoot squat aliens out of cannons to rescue the rest of the aliens before they were crushed by the shrinking ceiling. Or something like that. The story was never particularly clear and so the app includes both a “classic” version and an updated version which has a story line and sleeker graphics. Obviously I’ve only been playing the classic version.
4. Lisa Frank
For the boys of the 90′s: When you were making sure your school supplies had the right football team’s logo on them, the girls made sure they had neon pink unicorns, rainbows and waterfalls and the Lisa Frank logo in the corner. The Lisa Frank app lets you attach the traditionally eye-shattering hearts and flowers to pictures that you take with your smartphone.
We’re not talking about the TV show here. We’re talking about the game you played to pass the time in math class or under the covers with a flashlight at camp. To fill the boys in again: MASH stood for Mansion, Apartment, Shack House and involved using a randomly picked number and a process of elimination to predict who you would marry, where you would live, what job you would have, etc. The app is just a high-tech version that suggests options, lets you share results and does away with the scraps of paper that would awkwardly discovered under your desk by the boy who you had just been told you were going to marry.
6. 90′s Radio Music Player
Pretty self-explanatory. It’s for those of you who desperately miss N’Sync or the Smashing Pumpkins.
If you thought that gchat and facebook had destroyed AIM, you were mostly right. This app lets you integrate them both, as well as group chat and share pictures and voice messages. Plus it’s sort of fun to tell people that you still use AIM.
8. Full House Quiz
If you were a fan of the 90′s TV show, then this might be a great app for you. But be warned, you’ll need to be a true devotee. Being able to name all three of the Tanner daughters may not be enough. But try it as a group, since it’s the perfect game to play on a ladies night out.
This is for those of you who were really young in the 90′s. It’s not nearly as cool as the original toy, in which you placed transparent colored pegs onto a black covered light board and then lit up the pictures you had made. Since the whole screen of your smartphone is of course lit up, the effect isn’t as great but it’s still a fun drawing game.
10. Reading Rainbow
For the parents among us, here’s a way to really blame your kids for your reminiscing. The Reading Rainbow app is an interactive version of the classic TV show with LeVar Burton. It’s got a great library of picture books, video “field trips”, reading lists and don’t worry, it’s still hosted by LeVar Burton.
As we pointed out last week, we weren’t invited to International CES, the biggest Consumer Electronics Show of the year. Only the manufacturers and press got to go and we like to think of ourselves as the average-Joe consumer (helps us to review things more accurately).
Nonetheless, we’ve been following closely and we’ve put together a collection of our favorite new products that were displayed at CES. Some of these are brand new and some are actually updated versions of products that we just haven’t had a chance to try out yet. Some of these we liked for their practical applications, while others were just so offbeat and creative that we had to give them some attention.
1. Lego Mindstorm EV3
For years parents and toy marketers have been talking about how playing with toys like Lego encourages budding engineers but for some reason (possibly because we have no 12 year olds on staff) we didn’t know that they were talking about robotics engineering. Lego Mindstorm goes beyond the traditional bricks to include hinges, wiring and a connection to the computer so that you can build robots and get a leg up on the juvenile programming competition. This newest version includes a EV3 intelligent brick, with a faster processor, sensors and the ability to be remote controlled from an iPhone or iPad so you don’t even need to have a computer handy.
2. Televisions the Size of Texas
Ok, this might be a bit of an exaggeration. But this year’s CES did showcase more enormous screens than ever before. Although the biggest we heard of was 110 inches, there were plenty of other new features that adorned even the teeny-tiny 32 inchers. We’re talking curved screens, HD, full internet hookup, control from smartphones and our absolute favorite: a TV that you can control with your eyes (although it also comes with voice control for the Luddites out there).
3. Brother Entreprenuer PR1000e
You probably can’t guess it from the name, but this is a sewing machine. To be more precise: It is a 10-needle embroidery machine with an HD LCD touchscreen preloaded with design software that includes 110 designs and 28 size-adjustable fonts. My childhood games of Little House on the Prairie would have looked very different if I’d known that this kind of thing existed.
4. Oculus Rift
Although the title alone would have made this one of the coolest products at CES, it could also hold its own if it was called Big Bird. This is actually the result of a Kickstarter project that raised $2,437,429 for a commercially viable virtual reality headset. It’s much smaller than the virtual reality games that you find at arcades: it’s contained in a set of oversized goggles, rather than a helmet. If all of the reviewers out there are right, then this will take first person gaming to a whole new level. It’s one step closer to being able to really explore a new world that game designers create. But be careful: rumor has it that it can make first-timers a little queasy.
If we’re really lucky, you may not have noticed that our favorites listed here may not be the most practical of the new gadgets that were on display. But they certainly are some of the most fun. There’s plenty of information out there about more fun and crazy gadgets but don’t forget to also look for some of the more practical, such as new developments in everything from home printers and washing machines, to biomedical and financial tools.
If you were really lucky, then less than a week ago you got to watch the faces of your children, nieces, nephews, god-kids or any young relatives light up in wonder at a mesmerizing display of lights, new and wonderful musical or a gift more perfect than anything they had imagined.
Well, that’s not what I’m going to talk about.
If you were unlucky, then you were roped into teaching a slightly older relative how to transfer their holiday pictures from a digital camera or how to save a number in their new smartphone. For those of us without the patience of saints, it’s one of the most dreaded holiday tasks. And the worst part of it is that you never know when it’s going to hit. It sneaks up from behind.
But just yesterday, I found the upside. Let it be noted, that my mother is entirely tech-savvy. New things don’t make her nervous and she keeps herself up to date on how to take advantage of the latest gadget. My parents just came for a visit this week from a different time zone. When my mom turned on her smartphone after the long flight she discovered that the clock had automatically updated. It was completely out of range of her phone service provider and she hadn’t connected to a wi-fi network yet, but there it was. My peers may or may not have been impressed by something like that but the kids opening presents almost certainly won’t be. But whether they’re in their 40s, 60s or 80s we can still count on our parents to appreciate how fast technology is moving. One of the greatest gifts I ever gave was arriving for a visit to my 95 year old grandfather with a laptop in tow and a youtube playlist full of Gene Kelly movies from the late 40’s. Besides the fact that we both adored Gene Kelly, seeing that technology allowed me to go back in time with him absolutely fascinated my grandfather.
With the new year coming in, this is probably the best advice I can give to the tech-savvy consumers and small businesses of Consumer-Rankings.com: Don’t lose your fascination. As the year progresses technology will continue to change and the world will change along with it. And for once, try to keep the wonder of the generation before you instead of the generation after you. By appreciating how really wonderful the newest technological tools are, you can find what will impress your customers. Whether that means new ways to keep up or even new ways to go back a little bit.
Happy New Year from Consumer-Rankings.com
You know those days when you’re not quite sick enough that your mom would have let you stay home from school but feeling yucky enough that you’re tempted to use up a precious sick day from work? It’s one of those days. And on those days when you feel silly asking someone to come over and take care of you but at the same time getting off the couch to pick up the TV remote seems like an imposition, it would be nice to have a house that was connected to the internet. After all, I can already do my grocery shopping on my laptop so why shouldn’t I be able to turn the light on from my Smartphone?
Turns out, people are way ahead of me. Spark Devices is a startup that has launched a prototype on kickstarter.com called the Spark Socket. You screw a light bulb into the Spark Socket and then screw the Spark Socket into the regular socket where the light bulb would usually be. The plan is to connect these lights to an app that will allow you to set the light to do whatever you want: Turn on slowly when it’s time to wake up in the morning, go on and off on timers when you’re away on vacation or even flash if your phone is ringing. In fact, it was that final use that inspired the creator of Spark Sockets, Zach Supalla. Zach’s dad is deaf and uses a Smartphone for text messaging. But his son couldn’t reach him at home if he took his phone out of his pocket and couldn’t hear it vibrate.
Ok, so there was a really good cause for the development here, but I would argue that not having to get up off the couch is a good cause as well.
I also would like to think that this is just the beginning. It’s easy to imagine that you will eventually be able to run most of the appliances in your house through the internet and a Smartphone. Doing laundry, cooking and running the dishwasher can be timed for the highest level of convenience and moms will leave for work early and set their teenagers’ radios to blare when it’s time to get up.
The recent release of the iPhone 5 saw a ton of hype. We recently described exactly how much here. Launch date delivery ran out within an hour of the opening of preorders and analysts all over were discussing the effect that sales of the new gadget could have on the U.S. economy. The pros and cons of new features were debated and speculated about and Apple enthusiasts and newbies alike were impatiently awaiting the delivery.
Unfortunately, some of them were to be disappointed. Nobody seems to be happy with Maps program in iOS 6, which comes with the iPhone 5. People around the world have been offended by the fact that their house is on the wrong block, or their street or neighborhood simply isn’t labeled. One of the best examples is a 35 acre city farm in Dublin which was labeled as an airport, probably because its name is Airfield. But don’t worry, Ireland’s Minister for Justice noticed the problem and wrote a snarky email to Apple, suggesting some alternative symbols to replace the plane that is shown on the map, including a cow, goat, sheep or any type of plant. After all, he said “An aircraft is an entirely inappropriate flight of imagination.”
Some people point out that this is just the first version of Apple’s Maps and it’s not fair to compare it to Google Maps 6.0 which it replaced. What is fair game however, are scratches and scuffs that customers have found on their factory new iPhones. Complaints about the black and slate version seem more common than about the white one but it is possible that scratches are simply more visible on the darker colors.
While the attention this has garnered means that Apple is likely to want to solve the problem in their next version, nobody knows if changes will be made to the iPhone 5 or how easy it will be for customers who received scuffed iPhones to exchange them. Of course, if they do exchange them, they will almost certainly have to wait an increasingly long time, as orders continue to pour in.
So what we want to know is: Is it worth it?
Here at Consumer-Rankings.com we recently discovered that letting kids loose with digital cameras is a great way to keep them busy on days when it’s just too hot to go outside and parents need to get some work done. At least, we thought we had made this discovery but were surprised to find that the market is full of digital cameras designed specifically for dirty little hands that are likely to drop electronics off of tricycles. That’s the last time we let the kids play with our grown-up cameras!
The most common versions come from familiar companies like Leapfrog, Fisher-Price, Lego and Crayola. These are colorful, sturdy models that come with chunky, easy-to-grip handles for sticky and slippery hands. Prices fall out in the $30-$70 range, so you probably want to save this as a special birthday or Christmas gift.
Kids are usually not too picky about the technical specs but there are a few things to look out for. Make sure to pick one with a good clear view screen at the back, since the camera won’t hold kids’ attentions for long if they have to wait a week before they get to see the results of their photography. If you will be letting your child take this camera everywhere with them, check for extra durability features like waterproofing but keep in mind that these things can often add to the weight of the camera. If you still can’t choose, check for added perks like special effects tools and video abilities, especially if your kids are older and can handle a little more complication to their gadgets.
There are a number of eye-spy type games that you can play with your kids using digital cameras that can help hone observational skills. Send them running around the house or park taking pictures of “something blue” or “something round” or if they are a little older, try more abstract concepts like “something that makes you happy” or “something that comes in pairs.” You can even just send them off with instructions to take 10 pictures and see what they come up with. Not only will this keep them busy for a little longer but it gives you a great opportunity to see what interests your child and what the world looks like through his or her eyes.
As the middle of August approaches, so do the last chances for family vacations and some good old fashioned fun in the sun. But it’s pretty late in the game for planning summer fun, so to help you take advantage of the last few weeks left we’ve compiled a list of our top 10 favorite apps for summer fun. -
1. Hipmunk- This app searches and presents graphically all the flights and hotels that fit in your search critera, letting you easily see your options and compare prices, timing and other factors side by side.
2. HopStop- Traveling by way of public transportation can be overwhelming and confusing if you’re in a new city. This app combines all the different transportation options, including cabs, buses, trains and walking to help you find the best route wherever you are.
3. Hotel Tonight- Often, hotels will charge high rates for booking at the last minute, so this app is a great solution if you find yourself out later than expected. Based on your location, it will tell you what hotels still have rooms available before 2am and even provide discounts.
4. iPatrol Travel Advice- This app lets you search your destination and find out what are the most common warnings and tourist traps in the area. Or search a specific scam to see if it’s something to worry about at your destination.
5. Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder- This app is basically a nicely sort-able list of parks around the country. You can simply search by the closest to your current location or by the activities that are available.
6. RainAware- This is much more than a weather report. By checking your precise location, this app will tell you when to expect rain to within a few minutes, up to three hours in advance. It’s perfect for deciding whether or not you have time to get in one of the last swims of the season.
7. Simply Declare- This app helps you keep track of how much you spend in your travels so you know what you have to declare during customs. Includes currency conversions and budgeting tools for any number of travelers.
8. Weber’s On the Grill- Just in time to start planning for Labor Day weekend, this app is full of great grill recipes, menu suggestions and a grilling time.
9. Wolfram Sun Exposure Reference- This app calculates how long you can stay in the sun safely based on your skin type, geographic location, time of day and the strength of the sun-screen you happen to have with you.
10. World Festival Guide- This is exactly what it sounds like: A guide to all food, music, comedy, art, film, religious and cultural festivals all around the world. Besides just searching, this app’s got schedules, reviews and videos.
If you’ve been reading the New York Times, you may have noticed that Apple is considering coming out with a smaller version of the iPad. This one would be 7.85 inches as opposed to the current ten. As the tablet market grows, Apple is seeing that there may be room for other options. The Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble’s Nook are both seven inches, and there are more about to join the market. Microsoft will be producing the Surface tablet and Google will soon begin shipping the Nexus 7.
Keep in mind though, that seven inches is only slightly larger than many smartphones. It sounds like Apple is trying to catch those customers who find the iPhone screen too small for comfort but may not want to carry around an iPad. Although Steve Jobs had publicly rejected the idea of a seven inch tablet, Apple has been known to try to corner device markets by offering numerous sizes. The best example was their line of MP3 players, which ranged from the large iPod Touch to the iPod shuffle that was too small to have even the most basic screen.
A 7 inch tablet is still too small for a pocket, but may fit comfortably in a handbag. It’s also about the same size as a paperback book and very comfortable for reading. The question is, would you buy this instead of or in addition to a tablet? When you buy a device like this, how much is size a factor? Personally, I consider operating system to be the primary issue. However, I am rarely on-the-go and can’t resist the temptation to carry a large backpack everywhere I go, so I might not be the best judge. But I’d love to hear from Consumer-Rankings.com readers. Is size a factor in choosing a different product over an Apple device?
A report was released this week saying that the sales of LCD TVs went down for the first time in sales history. Which sounds very dramatic of course but keep in mind that a new product can never go down, since the only place to go from non-existence is up. So my immediate question on hearing this was “what are people buying instead?”
Turns out, it’s not plasma TVs. LCD sales fell by 3% but plasma sales dropped 8%. According to analysts at DisplaySearch, which conducted the study, nothing is replacing these flat-screen TVs; everyone who wants just already has. We don’t upgrade our TV the way we upgrade computers and cell phones. Sales of flat screens went up and up as we transitioned from our old boxy television sets but now the transition period is ending and flat screen TVs make up 84% of the market.
But it seems unlikely that things will coast for long. Soon, Apple may be in on the TV game and internet streaming, interactivity and 3D could all become factors that may tempt some consumers to upgrade yet again.
In the meantime though, this slowdown could be a good or bad sign for American consumers. Low sales often mean that consumers are being more cautious than they were before, perhaps because they are feeling insecure.
On the other hand maybe we are just learning when to stop. In order to be a smart consumer, we have to know our limits. And by that, I don’t just mean our budget. A fancy new TV may be great for some people but if you personally can’t tell the difference- then it’s a waste of money. As technology progresses at light speeds it’s easy to get drawn into the habit of just trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” At the end of the day though, the savvy consumer is one who knows when it matters and when to turn around and focus on the important things in life.
If you’re not in education (or a parent to kids in school) you may not have heard of this new gadget yet: Interactive whiteboards. In short, this is a board onto which a presenter can project a computer screen. It then allows you to manipulate what’s on the screen using a special pen, stylus or even your finger.
While the most popular application is in classrooms, these are also used in business meetings, by professional level sports coaches and in broadcasting studios. Interactive whiteboards don’t just make standard projectors obsolete, they also mean we can phase out those giant pads of paper I remember from my school days and later brainstorming sessions.
For most consumers however, this technology isn’t really that relevant. These boards are only useful in a home if you want to take showing off vacation slideshows to a brand new level. For small business owners however, these could come in handy but it’s hard to justify such a large expense.
And that’s where today’s gadget comes in. For about a quarter of the price, a company called Interphase will be manufacturing a “pen” that lets you turn any surface into an interactive whiteboard. It comes with a little projector that you can use to turn any wall into a screen and then use the pen as a mouse to navigate or a pen to mark that screen itself. At any point, you can take a picture of the screen and store it in the pen’s memory.
Not only is this cheaper than the full interactive white board, but it’s also much more portable. If you are a freelancer or own a small business and have to present yourself to clients, this could be a great way to make a very professional impression.
In the meantime however, this gadget is still in the preorder stage so we can’t know yet what it feels like to use and if it really lives up to the potential.