Trickle-Down Tech: A Review of the LG Tribute

The LG Tribute is amazing and I can’t get over it. You can get one for $60 at Best Buy. SIXTY DOLLARS! That’s $60 for a computer that fits in your pocket, makes calls, and connects to the internet … THROUGH THE AIR. That is amazing.

For perspective, the original iPhone was $499 for the 4GB model, $599 for the 8GB model (that was seven years ago). For the most part, manufacturers are still doing their best to make you pay about that much for your phone (though now it’s subsidized through your carrier if you have a contract). The new Samsung Galaxy Note 4 costs $750 off-contract. That’s a staggering amount of money. And it’s 12.5x as much as the cost of the LG Tribute.

Now, the LG Tribute isn’t a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. The Samsung is a “better” device. But it’s just not 12.5x better. The LG Tribute is more than “good enough” for nearly anybody.

And for $60, the LG Tribute is just amazing. The screen is nice and big and clear. Sure, it could have more pixels, but it’s $60! The camera could be better too, but it’s a camera that places phone calls, updates Facebook, and gives you your GPS location, on a just-updated Google Map, anywhere in the country. That’s amazing stuff. For $60!

If you haven’t jumped onto the smartphone boat yet, but want to do so without laying out too much cash, this is the phone for you. If you’re going to give your son or daughter a smartphone for Christmas, this is the one to get. If your wife is a phone-dropper and can’t seem to hold onto her phone regardless of the case or cost, this is the phone for her. It’s the phone for my wife as of this week.  And if you’re sick and tired of paying too much for your phone, this is the phone for you too.

Virgin Mobile’s plans start at $35 a month. This phone is a great deal.

Get one >>



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Acer C720 Chromebook vs. Apple MacBook Air 11

As a dedicated travel computer, I really like Acer’s new Chromebook. It’s great for so many things and so many users, but how’s it stack up against the MacBook Air? Let’s look.

Things that are the same.

Both the Acer C720 Chromebook and the Apple MacBook Air are laptop computers — you fold them open, type on a keyboard, that sort of thing. They both have trackpads. They both have 11″ screens with a resolution of 1,366×768. They both have webcams. They both have solid state hard drives. They both have USB ports. They’re both light (2.4 lbs. for the Apple, 2.8 lbs. for the Acer) while lasting a long time on a single charge (8-9 hours), so they’re both very portable. They both connect to the internet via WiFi. They both support Bluetooth. They both allow you to check your emails, waste time of Facebook, shop on Amazon. They are very similar in many, many ways. But they’re also different.

Things that favor the Apple.

Apple’s MacBook is better in a lot of ways regarding the quality of the components used. Its screen is higher-quality. Its webcam is higher-quality. Its hard drive is bigger. Its trackpad is nicer. It’s made out of aluminum instead of plastic.

It also runs OS X, a “real” operating system that runs full-on desktop applications, so you get to buy those and keep them up-to-date. Yay. The Acer, however, has a few strengths of its own.

Things that favor the Acer.

The Acer comes with an SD card reader unlike the 11″ MacBook model (it’s only available on the 13″ model). It also has a real HDMI port, so you don’t need a special dongle. Because it runs Chrome OS, it boots very, very fast and is very easy to share. Want to lend somebody your computer? Log out, let them log into their Google account. They’ll see their own Gmail, their own bookmarks, their own everything — and nothing of yours. That’s wonderful.

But the big strength is its cost. The Acer is 80% cheaper. It costs 1/5 as much as the MacBook Air. You could buy 5 for the same price as the cheapest MacBook model available. Five of them. That’s amazing.


So the question isn’t which one is better, it’s which one is better for you? Does the $200 Chromebook do everything you need? It probably does, and, if not, it probably does 99% of what you need. What’s that extra 1% worth?

Buy the $200 Acer C720 Chromebook from Amazon >>>

But the $999 Apple MacBook Air from Best Buy >>>

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Choosing the Best SSD: A Guide to Going Solid State

I still remember my first SSD — a 64GB Transcend model I installed in my aging Acer laptop. It transformed it — boot times halved, programs opened instantly. It was a great upgrade. For under $100, my computer felt brand new.

A little over a year later, I bought an actual new computer. I considered installing the SSD, but the new laptop was already damn fast. I had doubts. The new computer ran Windows 7 which took up a bit more space. I wavered on whether 64GB was enough or if I should buy something bigger. The new laptop’s 300GB HDD felt luxurious. I wondered if it would be worth all the installation time I’d end up committing on a weekend. In the end, I sold the old computer along with its SSD and decided to stick it out with the spinning disk drive. That lasted a bit over a year.

Now I’m back where I was years ago. I’d like a bit more zip, but I don’t want to spring for a new laptop. I want a new SSD, so I started reading around. Of course, everybody’s an expert on the web, and the volume of information is overwhelming. Paralysis almost overwhelmed me, but I persevered. In the end, I concluded that only three things actually matter when choosing an SSD: the size, the size, and the interface.

Two sizes? Yes. But let’s tackle these in reverse order.

The Interface: SATA I vs. SATA II vs. SATA III

Solid-state drives are fast. How fast they perform depends largely on their interface. SATA III is faster than SATA II which is faster than SATA I. After that, the nerds start splitting hairs. One SATA III drive may be marginally faster than another SATA III drive, but they’re both faster than all SATA II solid-state drives and they’re both screamingly faster than every spinning hard drive. Why’s this matter? Well, if you’re aiming to install your solid-state drive into an older laptop, be sure to check what interface your laptop supports. You can connect an SATA III drive to an older SATA II-compatible computer, but you won’t get SATA III speeds. Your computer will only be as fast as your weakest link, so if your motherboard maxes out at SATA II, it doesn’t make much sense to splurge on the fasted SATA III drive around.

My advice if your computer doesn’t support SATA III? Get a reasonably priced SATA III drive unless you find an awesome deal on an SATA II drive. If you get a new computer and still want to use the drive, you’ll get a bump in performance automatically (because your new computer will support SATA III), but don’t worry about getting the fastest model around. It’s just not worth it. If you put your SATA II drive in a new SATA III-compatible laptop, it’ll be as fast as it always was.

The performance boost of switching to an SSD from a spinning disk is insane. The performance difference between different models using the same interface is minuscule in comparison. Don’t worry about it.

The (Physical) Size

This one is easy: Always buy a low profile model unless you find a can’t-resist price on a taller model. Laptops continue to shrink, and 7mm SSDs are the only way to go if you want to be sure it’ll fit in your next computer. Skip the taller, 9mm ones.

The (Storage) Size

This is the big one. Get a big one. Don’t just look at absolute price, look at price per gigabyte too. That 100GB model that’s $10 cheaper than the 120GB model might be tempting. But 20GB is a lot of space (and it only costs $0.50 per GB in this situation to have it). For perspective, 20GB is probably more space than your smartphone has on board. Windows 8 takes up more space than Windows 7. Whatever is next will likely take up even more. If you really want an SSD that you can use for a number of years, get a big one to ensure you don’t just fill it up.

How big? That depends. If you don’t take photos or download digital music, you really don’t need much space at all (the top-of-the-line Chromebook, the Pixel, only offers a maximum of 64GB). But if you do save your photos and music locally, I recommend you at least get above 100GB and seriously consider going above 200GB.


I like Samsung’s 840 Series SSDs. They support SATA III, they’re slim, and their price per gigabyte is almost impossible to beat. Buy the 120GB model for $99 ($0.83 per GB) or splurge for the 250GB model for $170 ($0.68 per GB).

Pulled the trigger? Awesome. You’re going to love your SSD. While you’re waiting for you package, check out LifeHacker’s Complete Guide to Solid-State Drives.

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Why the StraightTalk “unlimited” data cap is complicated.

What’s the data cap on StraightTalk’s unlimited plan? Such a simple question. Such a difficult answer. It’s complicated. Here’s why.

See, StraightTalk uses both the T-Mobile and the AT&T network depending on the subscriber’s phone compatibility. I’m a StraightTalk AT&T user. Love the service, but how much data do I get? I don’t really know

Unlike other MVNO providers that only use one network, using two makes things more complicated. T-Mobile is wonderfully loose with their data plans. Their $30 unlimited data plan gives you 4G speeds for up to 5GB a month. StraightTalk’s unlimited plan is $45 — 50% more — so they probably love selling customers cheap T-Mobile data. Meanwhile, AT&T is notoriously stingy with their data allocation. Red Pocket Mobile uses the the AT&T network and their top plan only provides 1GB of data and is $55. StraightTalk’s margins on AT&T’s network are probably a lot thinner. And that’s what makes the answer to how much data you get complicated.

So it depends. I’d guess their “unlimited” ceiling is around 1-2GB on AT&T and a lot higher on T-Mobile. But try to explain that to customers and it’s easy to see why they’d rather say nothing.

UPDATE: StraightTalk and AT&T seem to be having a bit of a tiff. The AT&T SIM option is getting tougher to come by and is no longer available on the Straight Talk website. Looking for an alternative? Check out Red Pocket Mobile. If you’re in Houston, Orlando, and Tampa, check out Aio Wireless.


Posted in The Internets | 1 Comment

Um, there’s already a cheap-o iPhone. It’s the iPhone 4, and it’s $450.

Word on the street is that Apple’s going to make a cheap version of the iPhone to fight off Android’s market share dominance. Problem is, there’s already a cheap iPhone for sale. You can buy it on There’s just one problem — it’s not cheap at all and you shouldn’t buy it.

Apple still sells the iPhone 4. You can get one for $0 if you sign a two-year contract. This, however, is a terrible deal — you’re better off buying the iPhone 5 outright and using it on StraightTalk.

The iPhone 4 was announced in the middle of 2010. Apple has been making the thing for two and a half years, and it still costs $450 to buy unlocked and contract-free. For reference, that’s $200 more than the Nokia Lumia 620, the cheap-o Windows phone, and $150 more than Google’s “top-of-the-line” Nexus 4. How much cheaper can we really expect the cheap iPhone to be?

Well, it’s not going to cost less than $200 unlocked, because that’s what the iPod Touch costs. And it has to cost less than $450, right?

Let’s use the Nexus 7/iPad Mini price conversion. The iPad Mini is 1.6x more expensive than the Nexus 7. Sure, it’s bigger, but they both target the small tablet market. Google’s Nexus 4 is $300, so 1.6 x $300 is $480 — $30 more than the current iPhone 4. What the hell?

Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple prices the new “cheap” iPhone at $480. That’s their style — look, we made something cheap…er than what we’re already making! (Note: the iPhone 5 is $650, unlocked.) Everybody that expected discount pricing with the iPad Mini was wildly wrong. Honestly, $480, +/- $30 is probably a good price estimate for a ‘cheap’ iPhone.

But that price sucks. I’m sure some people will still pay it, but I just don’t think it’s going to work out. Why shell out for this thing when you can get a Windows phone for half that? If you really want to save $170 ($650 – $480), why not save another $180 and get the Nexus 4?

Apple, however, has to do it. They need to consolidate their screen sizes (and connector types) … which are pretty stupid reasons to do anything. They also have to sell more phones.

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@techcrunch Should Have Listened To Me In 2011

Wow, time flies. I wrote about TechCrunch’s switch to Facebook comments back in 2011. Back then, I said:

If I was building a blog for my mother, I’d use Facebook Comments.  You’re TechCrunch — be better than that.  I understand the accountability argument, but accountability doesn’t lead to good discussions. Accountability leads to the discussion you have with your boss at your annual review. Disqus fuels the discussion you have with your co-workers at the bar afterward.  The uninhibited discussion at the bar is much more fun.

Now they’ve done it, basically, and they’re begging their commenters to come back. They’re now using Livefyre which isn’t all that different from Disqus. The big story is the move away from Facebook.

Facebook is getting more and more boring and has been for years. Remember when you’d see countless cool things every time you jumped on Facebook? Now it’s ads and stale posts from barely-friends instead. Facebook is turning into Napster — a fun thing we all used to do that’s just not what it used to be anymore. We’re all ready for the next thing — we just haven’t found it yet.

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Get Free 4G Data For Your Nexus 7 Tablet (or iPad) With FreedomPop

Google charges a $100 premium for the Nexus 7 model that connects to AT&T’s network. Apple charges $130 more to get an iPad that connects to Sprint, AT&T, or Verizon. Yikes. How’s free sound instead? Yes, please.

Here’s the deal: FreedomPop will loan you a 4G hotspot ($99 deposit) and give you 500MB of free monthly data. More data costs real money (2GB for $18). The catch is that they currently utilize Clearwire’s 4G network which is only available in some urban areas. Sprint’s LTE network will get added into the mix in 2013. Sounds like a fair trade-off for a $99 deposit device. I want one.

The hotspot is the device to get because it’ll work with anything that connects to WiFi and can be shared. There’s also a USB stick and an iPod sleeve, but I’d pass on both those — they’re too dedicated.

Free Wireless Internet  Free Internet  4G Wireless Internet - FreedomPop - Goo_2012-12-28_13-22-07

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FIX: ‘Low on space / Phone storage space is getting low.’ message on Android phones

It’s annoying. You’re doing something, then your phone decides to be a jerk and tell you can’t open that webpage or send that email — it’s low on space. When your phone storage space is getting low, try these five fixes to solve the problem:

Move Apps to the SD card

This one is easy. First, navigate to Settings > Applications > Manage Applications. Tap to manage an application, and if you can click the “Move to SD card” button, do it. Some Apps won’t run off the SD card, so this won’t work for all of them.

Store photos on the SD card

Pictures take up space, so store them on the SD card. Usually this setting is inside the camera App, but you’ll have to look around depending on your phone model. The other advantage to this: if your phone self-destructs and you need to do a factory reset, you won’t lose your pics. After you change this setting, move your old photos to the SD card too.

Uninstall space-hungry Apps

Install the DiskUsage App to see what’s taking up space on your phone’s internal memory. See a big App that you barely use? Consider ditching it.

Stop using IMAP / POP email

If you’re using IMAP or POP email (either for your work or personal email address), try switching to a dedicated App like Yahoo Mail or Gmail instead. These are much more space-efficient. Using IMAP and POP means each email you receive is stored on your phone. Depending on your sync settings, this can end up taking up a ton of space. If you can’t switch, try tweaking your sync settings to save fewer emails locally (how you do this depends on the email client), or attempt the Inbox Zero challenge and keep your inbox as close to empty as possible.

Switch to Dolphin Browser Mini

The default Android browser is fine, but you don’t get cool Chrome unless you’re running at least Android 4.0. What are the rest of us to do? Switch to the Dolphin Mini browser. It allows caching to the SD card so that it takes up very little system memory storage space. After the install, set it to cache to the SD card, then set it to be your default browser and clear the data from your old one.

Got another tip? Leave a comment.

UPDATE May 26, 2013: Since removing Facebook, these messages have all but gone away, but if you want a more permanent solution, it may be time for a new phone. The Samsung Galaxy Victory with 4G LTE is currently on sale for under $190 from Virgin Mobile. Click here to check it out. Then read more about Virgin Mobile’s screaming deals on contract-free service that start at $35 a month. They sell solid smartphones starting at under $80.

Posted in Android, The Google | Leave a comment

The Problem with Google’s Chromebox? Hint: it’s Android.

What’s Google doing with their Chromebox mini PC? Yeah, it’s a good idea. I like the browser-as-computer idea. That’s all you need, really. But $329? Come on. That’s too much. That’s more than a Nexus 7, and the Nexus 7 comes with a damn screen.

And it’s over 3x-6x more than the little Android 4.0 Mini PCs that seem to be popping up everywhere. The bad news for the Chromebox is that Android 4.0 runs the Chrome browser too (and that’s ALL that runs on the Chromebox). It just runs a lot more cheaply, evidently, on Android.

Honestly, what the hell, Google? The Chromebox is a good idea. But it’s a $99 product. Stop charging $329 and I’ll buy one.


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Why the iPhone 5 screen is the shape it is.

I don’t know why Apple chose 320×480 as the original iPhone screen resolution. Those are nice round numbers, sure, but maybe they were just what was available. Maybe those capacitive touch screens were on sale. Whatever. That doesn’t really matter.

What I do know is that for a while, Android phones were killing the iPhone on resolution. They just had more pixels. Sure, it hurt battery life (more pixels to display = more pixels to process = more power consumed), but their displays were sharper and better looking. Then came the iPhone 4.

The iPhone 4 has exactly four times as many pixels as the earlier iPhones (original, 3G, 3Gs). The 4S uses the same Retina-branded display as the 4, and both have twice as many pixels in each direction, 640×960, which quadruples the resolution. Why was this resolution chosen? Simple — old apps didn’t have to be rewritten to look right — they just had to use 4 pixels instead of 1 to fit the screen. iOS could easily figure that conversion out, it didn’t need to stretch or scale apps using difficult math, it just did this simple conversion. Easy.

Then came Apple’s 6th iPhone, the iPhone 5. It has a bigger screen because it had to be physically bigger to fit the 4G LTE stuff inside it along with the bigger battery that technology demands. (Yes, the iPhone 5 is 1.7mm thinner than the iPhone 4, but it takes up more volume.) So Apple HAD to make the screen bigger or the normal-sized screen would look odd on the bigger-sized phone body. And customers want bigger screens (possibly giving Apple users Android-screen envy) — they want 4-inchers.

Apple delivered, but they delivered oddly. They just made the thing taller. Why’d they do that? Same reason as before, probably. They didn’t want to mess with all the old apps that were optimized for the old resolution, so they just decided to display them like your TV displays an off-resolution movie — with black, empty space on both ends. This way, the iPhone 5 can still display old apps optimized to 320×480 (by doing the 4x pixel thing then blocking off the extra space) and apps optimized to 640×960 (by just blocking off the extra pixels) and apps optimized to the new 640×1,136 resolution.

But why 1,136? That seems like an odd number (though it is, to be clear, even). Turns out, it makes perfect sense. It’s just the number of pixels needed to allow the home screen to show exactly one more row of icons. Simple.

So that’s why the iPhone 5 screen looks like it’s just gone through puberty and hasn’t filled out yet.

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