The Technology Expert http://thetechnologyexpert.co.uk Simple solutions for your hom & office Fri, 20 May 2011 10:02:15 +0000 en hourly 1 Best iPad 2 SIM Deals best-ipad-2-sim-deals/ best-ipad-2-sim-deals/#comments Wed, 23 Mar 2011 20:18:58 +0000 Steve ?p=1383 ipad2 One of the best mobile devices currently on the market has to be the Apple iPad, has had an and version 2 is out now. The iPad was essentially the first tablet computer of its kind, and as well as causing massive stir, also resulted in other manufacturers hurriedly creating their own answer to the Apple tablet.

However, for many it is the Apple iPad that remains the firm favourite and while this is not a device that is cheap to buy, it does at least offer a formidable array of features. Central to everything is the ability to stay online, pretty much wherever you go. While the basic version comes armed with Wi-Fi, it’s well worth splashing out and opting for the pricier 3G edition that will allow you to tap into the world of mobile broadband.

What to buy

Things have been shaken up a little bit by the recent announcement of the new Apple iPad, which will be more powerful, has a more slimline chassis and two cameras allowing not only video calling but also the chance to snap a decent picture or two as well. Battery life also promises to be up to ten hours also, but the first incarnation wasnít bad when it came to that, so lets not disregard that original iPad either.

In fact, if you’re quick itís actually possible to bag a bargain when it comes to the first edition of the Apple iPad. Some electronics retailers, such as Carphone Warehouse, eBuyer and Best Buy have been selling the base level version of this tablet for just £329 recently, which is a bit of a steal. Of course, they’re hoping to clear their shelves of all old stock and not everybody wants something that is essentially an old model.

However, don’t forget that the Apple iPad was the first tablet and many people still consider it to be the best performer in the market place. It certainly looks cool and offers a great user experience too. There are a few drawbacks to the original iPad, such as no camera whatsoever, but if you’re in need of a mobile device that doesn’t include weight and bulkiness like many laptops, then it’s an ideal companion. We love the deals offered by GiffGaff but as of yet they don’t have a data owner 3G SIM and all of their offerings must be used with a phone. We are hoping this will change in the near future. But until then we have toi look elsewhere for our best buys.

Get iPad SIM deals

With the increasing popularity of the Apple iPad has come a wealth of really good SIM deals for the tablet device. The thing with these is that theyíre not youíre normal SIM card style option that comes inside a mobile phone. The Apple iPad SIM card is smaller, and so you need to be sure that when you buy a card for the tablet device that youíve got the right one.

The easiest way around that is to use the services of a free online comparison website, such as Broadband Genie. This location allows quick and easy access to all of the current best deals and offers, not only on iPad SIM cards but everything to do with going mobile. Itís possible to hone your search too, allowing for things like pay-as-you-go options, contract deals and what sort of data allowance you need.

There are quite a few things you need to take into consideration when buying iPad SIM card deals, so itís well worth spending some time doing your research so that you donít end up getting a deal thatís not really tailored for your internet needs. Although the Apple iPad deals out there are still currently limited, simply because Apple products command a premium price in most cases, deals are becoming more competitive as time rolls by.

What to look for

It’s a good idea to see what added extras are thrown into iPad SIM card deals, as some mobile providers will give you better allowances than others. These can change all the time, however, which is why it makes much more sense to check a comparison website so that you can stay abreast of the latest deals and offers. Lookout too for data allowances, as some are more generous than others.

If you’re the sort of stays online a lot and needs to download data rather than surf the web or check emails then spend time checking those data allowances. It’s worth looking out for bundle deals too, where mobile providers might throw in extra minutes, or other products and services if you sign up for more than one thing.

A little time spent doing your homework on a decent comparison website can pay real dividends in the long run, so be prepared to take some time doing a bit of through research first.

Best Buys

  • Three Mobile

    3′s iPad Micro-SIM 1GB 1 month

    Expert RatingConsumer RatingGreat for regular data usage, and the deal is available on a flexible rolling monthly contract. This offer also includes a free 3 month subscription to the Times Online

  • Weather HD Logo

    3′s iPad micro-SIM 10GB 1 month

    Expert RatingConsumer RatingIdentical to aforementioned 3 package, but much more suitable for the heavier userMake sure you are a heavy user. No point in paying for 10GB usage if you spend most of your time in wifi zones.

  • Vodafone

    Vodafone’s iPad SIM Regular User

    Expert RatingConsumer Rating2 GB per month of data.Do be aware that if you go over the 2 GB monthly limit you will be charged an extra £15 per additional GB.

About the author: Rob Clymo writes on behalf of www.broadbandgenie.co.uk, the independent comparison website for broadband, mobile broadband and smartphones.

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The Best of the Mac App Store the-best-of-the-mac-app-store/ the-best-of-the-mac-app-store/#comments Fri, 04 Mar 2011 14:26:20 +0000 Steve ?p=1331 macappstore Just a few of weeks ago the Mac App Store opened and it’s fair to say we love it. Just like the iTunes App Store, it makes it really easy to find and install great tools. With just one click you can select and install new software. There is a good mix of free and paid apps and it’s dead easy to see what users think of them with the classic star rating system. We do like Apple here at Tech Towers, but they don’t get everything right.  For instance, iTunes is slow, bloated and unintuitive but the Mac App Store is fabulous. You link your iTunes account to the Mac App Store so making payments is  built-in and you don’t have the pain of credit card details once you’re setup.

Our Mac App Store Best Buys

Pixelmator

Pixelmator is a fantastically designed image editor. I use Photoshop, and that is the choice of most design professionals, but at £650 a license, it’s really only going to make sense for people who use it day in day out. At just £17.99, Pixelmator supports layers, filters, effects, importing and exporting, of all the common image formats, including psd’s. It’s not 100% compatible with photoshop PSD’s and you will notice you loose effects and styling, so beware. For the price, it has the most important image editing features, it’s a lot easier to use than Photoshop and is a great place to start if you need a good image editor.
Mac Only – £17.99pixelmator.com@pixelmator

Alfred

Alfred is a quick launcher – a simple search bar, that pops up when you press a keyboard shortcut for finding local files, emails, applications, bookmarks and websites. Once you get used to this way of working, you soon find yourself using the mouse a lot less and getting things done a lot quicker. It’s a free tool but with the option to buy a Powerpack for £12, that gives you file system navigation, clipboard history and an an iTunes mini player among other things. Quick launchers aren’t for everyone and it’s something I have only recently started using. But it’s already saving me time and RSI and it’s free.
Mac Only – Free/£12 Powerpackalfredapp.com@alfredapp

MindNode

This is one tool that I really didn’t know about until the Mac App Store thrust it in my face. It’s a dead simple mind-mapping tool that’s incredibly intuitive. This is a task that I usually use pencil and paper for, and a sketch pad most definately still has its place. It makes me think more creatively. Having said that MindNode is a fantastically lightweight, simple tool to use, so you can keep your mind on the valuable thought process, rather than concentrating on how to use the software.
Mac Only – Freemindnode.com@mindnode

Evernote

Evernote is a neat note taking service. Take notes using text, voice, web links or images and have it all stored in one place online. The notes can be easily organised, searched and shared. There is a really nice web interface, smartphone apps and now a very tidy and free Mac app. So if you are as forgetful as I am then Evernote is worth a try. Especially, as the free account is pretty generous.
Mac/Windows/Web – Free/Premium: $5/monthevernote.com@evernote

Angry Birds

Angry Birds is everywhere and one of the biggest success stories on the iPhone. It’s a massively addictive and fun game and now it’s available on your Mac.
Mac/Mobile – £2.99rovio.com@roviomobile

Screenium

If you want to capture videos of what’s happening on your computer screen then this is probably the simplest tool for the job. Whether it’s for customer support videos, tutorials or marketing videos or screen-casting, it is a useful tool for web application and software vendors and trainers. We also like Screenflow, which has more editing features, but a much higher price tag. But if you want a simple to use product for screen capture, then give Screenium a go and use iMovie to edit the movie afterwards.
Mac Only – £17.99syniumsoftware.com

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The Best iPhone Weather Apps the-best-iphone-weather-apps/ the-best-iphone-weather-apps/#comments Wed, 23 Feb 2011 20:55:07 +0000 Steve ?p=1289 weather-app What could be more important to us in the UK than weather, it’s all we seem to talk about. So why not make sure you are in the know with the best weather app the iPhone has to offer. As ever if you don’t want to read the full review, just jump to the end to see our experts choice. Once again we’ve tried a big bucket of apps for the iPhone, so you don’t have to. This time it’s weather apps and although your iPhone comes with a pretty little weather application, you may well have noticed its pretty inaccurate and basic in the information it gives. Clearly other people agreed, as there are now at least 100 weather apps in the App Store, which between them have had many millions of downloads.

Weather HD

Weather HD ScreenshotThis is a pretty impressive weather app to excite your friends with. It doesn’t have the detailed forecasting of other apps, but hell is it fancy. It uses high quality video to give you a beautiful visualization of the forthcoming weather. It’s a really smart app, but perhaps more of a novelty option and not one for the weather data junky. There is a free and paid version, so there really isn’t much stopping you downloading it and impressing your friends anyway, well, apart from the huge app size making the install process very slow indeed!

Free Version- 59p Version – iPhone/iPad

Met Office Weather

Met Office App ScreenshotThis is one of the most downloaded, but not most liked weather applications, from the guys at the Met Office. We can expect the most accurate data for the UK with this application. The app seems to be well maintained, regularly updated so it’s improving all the time. But the design and usability really let it down. They just haven’t got the iPhone design sorte. It really is one of the ugliest applications I have used. iPhone apps should be a pleasure to use and I’m afraid this one isn’t.
Free – iPhone

Weather Pro

Weather Pro ScreenshotThis app is the most expensive of the bunch at £2.39, and that’s just the basic edition. It has a 7 day forecast, with detailed forecasting at 3 hour intervals, including temperature, wind speed, sun and rain. It also lets you add favourite locations, so you can easily whizz through the weather for your most visited places all over the planet. It has radar and satellite animations too, albeit only for the previous couple of hours. If you are really into your weather and want European snow reports, hourly forecasts for the next 14 days and Radar forecasts then you can pay another £3.99 a year for the premium in app purchase.
Free – iPhone – Android – Windows Phone 7

Weather+

Weather+ ScreenshotThis is comparable in some ways to Weather Pro, with a neat interface and detailed 7 day forecasts, including temperature, rain, wind-speed, humidity, visibility and pressure, at 3 hour intervals. It’s easy to add and flick between multiple locations and has both a free and paid version. It also has a couple of special features missing from most weather apps, which I find really useful, including a world clock and customizable layout.
Free Version – £1.59 Version – iPhone/iPad

Expert Choice

  • Weather Pro Logo

    Weather Pro

    Expert RatingConsumer RatingSimple to use, well designed app, with a vast amount of information at your fingertips, including radar and satellite animations. It’s a little on the expensive side compared to other apps, especially if you want radar forecasts and hour by hour detail

  • Weather Plus Logo

    Weather+

    Expert RatingConsumer RatingWell designed app with detailed 7 day forecasts that works great with iPhone and iPad. Includes world clock. No radar and satellite animation. Forecasts seem less accurate than Weather Pro, at least for the UK.

  • Weather HD Logo

    Weather HD

    Expert RatingConsumer RatingIt’s fun, it’s pretty and it will make you smile with its animated weather report. There is not a lot of weather detail here, just the basics made to look fancy. It will take up quite a bit of space on your iPhone too.

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Understand the iPad and other Tablets the-best-ipad-and-ipad-alternatives/ the-best-ipad-and-ipad-alternatives/#comments Thu, 17 Feb 2011 16:34:46 +0000 Steve ?p=1233 ipad An iPad is in the category of Tablet Computers, but because Apple are so damn good at marketing compared to most companies, you are more likely to know of the category in terms of iPads and iPad alternatives. It’s just like when most people stopped referring to mp3 players and starting saying iPod. Anyway, here we are going to take closer look at the iPad and see if it could be the right product for you. We’ll also look at the competition and see how it compares. As ever you’ll find a simple, to the point expert choice at the end of the article.

Meet the iPad

There is so much written out there about the iPad, plenty of reviews and plenty of opinion, so I’m not going to add to that. Instead I’ll try and explain why you should care and why it could be just what you need.

The iPad is designed to make those basic computing tasks dead easy and fun too. If you are in the majority of home computer users, who only really jump on their computer to use email, internet and social media, then you might find that the iPad offers a much easier and more fun product for this than a laptop or PC. All PC’s and laptops have evolved from business machines that fit nicely on a desk and are optimised for typing documents and spreadsheets. Our computer behaviour is changing, especially for home use. With the vast amount of information out there, we spend more time browsing, reading and buying than we do typing. We also do most of this thanks to the internet so as long as the machine offers a great online experience, you don’t need lots of processor power, memory or disk space. So Apple went and built a tool optimized for the home user, better for reading than typing, better for using on the sofa than at a desk. The iPad is also a great option for our ever more mobile life. Smaller and lighter than most laptops and netbooks, 9 hours battery life and the option of mobile broadband via 3G, make it an always-on, always-connected computer.

On the downside the iPad only has an onscreen keyboard. It can take time to get used to this and if you do a lot of typing perhaps it’s not for you. The multi-touch screen however does make browsing and reading much more intuitive than the monitor and mouse combination. In summary tablets are great for reading, web surfing, emailing, watching video, and organising and viewing photos.

So, if you are thinking of buying a netbook or laptop for home or travel, I would strongly recommend you think carefully about exactly what you want. Netbooks are generally low specification small laptops with all the same maintenance problems you would expect with a PC, but without the power. If you use your laptop for more business focussed tasks like word processing and spreadsheets and are happy sitting at a desk, then an iPad is probably not for you. However, if you are one of the growing number of people who sit on the sofa and browse the web, or at least you want to do that, then take a serious look at the tablets, especially the iPad. The simplicity of the iPads hardware and software means there is less to go wrong, less to understand, less to update and less to boot up when you switch it on. It’s also worth noting that you have the option of using it at a table with an external keyboard too. You just need an iPad dock or stand and a bluetooth (wireless) keyboard.

The Main Competition

The iPad really did seem to take the likes of Microsoft and Google by surprise and they now have a lot of catching up to do. There is a lack of good competition to the iPad right now because Apple have by far the best software for running on a tablet device. Software takes time to build and rest assured Microsoft and Google both have their heads down building special tablet software right now.

  • Samsung Galaxy has been the biggest and most popular tablet to follow the iPad. It has a smaller screen so comes out the smaller, lighter device and has 2 important things the iPad doesn’t: a camera and expandable storage space. However, it is let down by its Google Android software which is not yet specifically designed for a tablet device and usability is not up to that of the iPad. If it was significantly cheaper than the iPad then you can see how it would attract a massive following however it is currently around the same price as the iPad and simply less desirable.
  • Archos 70 The best of the budget bunch right now is probably the Archos 101. At under £300 it has a 10″ multi-touch screen. If you are prepared to accept a limited viewing angle, only 3 hour battery life and the Google Android software then this is a decent cheap alternative.
      • Apple iPad

        Apple iPad 16GB Wi-Fi

        Expert RatingConsumer Rating10 hours battery life, fantastic build quality. 9.7″ screen. 300,000 apps in App Store. Growing number of great quality iPad specific appsMost of the 300,000 apps are written for the iPhone so not optimised for the larger screen. No camera.

        prices
      • Samsung Galaxy Tab

        Samsung P1000 Galaxy Tab

        Expert RatingConsumer RatingCamera, expandable memory, ultra portableScreen size only 7″, battery life is less than iPad, at 7 hours.

        prices
      • Archos 70

        Archos 70 8GB Internet Tablet

        Expert RatingConsumer RatingWell liked budget tablet. Expandable storage, just buy a bigger memory card. Smaller 7″ version also available and cheaper too. Poor viewing angle and only 4 hour battery life.

        prices
    • Wait! 2011 Will Bring Much Better Tablets

      In 2011 we can expect a new version of the iPad with cameras, much higher quality screen and a few surprises. We’ll also get a version of Google Android software designed for tablets so the iPad alternatives are likely to be far better. I personally am looking forward to the Blackberry Playbook too because although I have never been a Blackberry fan in the past, it looks like they have built some very well designed tablet software. It’s going to be a good year for tablets so if you are in the market for a tablet in 2011, I would wait until the second half of the year and you’ll get a whole lot more for your money. It’s going to remain difficult for anyone to compete with the iPad which has the highly regarded App Store with over 300,000 apps, but this year the competition will definitely hot up.

      Experts Choice

      2011 is going to be a big year for the tablet with all the big names bringing out some exciting devices and a new iPad on the way too. That’s great for the consumer with more competition bringing prices down and choice, giving us the chance to buy exactly the device we need. Let me know in the comments section below, what you think.

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The Best Websites for a Perfect Wedding the-best-websites-for-weddings/ the-best-websites-for-weddings/#comments Tue, 08 Feb 2011 14:36:19 +0000 Steve ?p=1276 heart If you’re getting married over the next year or so, then below you’ll find the best websites to help you have the perfect day.

The Best Advice

  • Confetti.co.uk This site is packed full of fantastic advice for your big day. From haircuts to honeymoons, stationery to speeches, it’s all there and well presented. It also has a really useful and popular forum so if you can’t find the answer to your questions, just ask.
  • Hitched.co.uk Another fantastic site full of well written guides to a perfect wedding. Like Confetti it has a mass of well presented informative content and an active forum.
  • You & Your Wedding Another great site for wedding information and ideas.

Planning

  • You & Your Wedding Tools With a free set of online tools for managing your budget, organising your seating, tracking RSVP’s and much more, you’ll save time and sleepless nights with this site.
  • Top Table Planner This is a neat online tool for mapping out your exact table plan. Great for a bigger wedding or other event. It’s not free, but £10 for 6 months seems pretty reasonable to us.

Your Very Own Website

  • eWedding Offering a free website, RSVP management, photo galleries and video to name just a few features, eWedding is probably the most popular way of organising and sharing your wedding online. There are also reasonably priced paid options from around £30/yr if you want your own domain name and more storage space.
  • Wedding Window This is another site where you can create a lovely wedding website all of your own. Wedding Window includes some pretty useful planning tools too, but it comes in a little more expensive than eWedding at around £50 for a year.
  • Wedding WordPress Theme WordPress is our favourite free software for building websites. If you feel like building a site for yourself then you can buy some cheap hosting from evohosting for £29.99/yr and upload a professionally designed theme. This will take you longer and require a bit of understanding of hosting and WordPress, but anyone can do it. Below are our favourite WordPress wedding themes.

Honeymoons

  • 101 Honeymoons If you need inspiration, this site is a beautifully simple cascade of great honeymoon locations.
  • Virgin Holidays Virgin holidays have a great website and special honeymoon section with a vast choice of honeymoon options.
  • Mr & Mrs Smith This is a neat online tool for mapping out your exact table plan. Great for a bigger wedding or other event. Its not free but £10 for 6 months seems pretty reasonable to us.

Gift Lists

  • Amazon Weddings Our favourite online retailer, now has wedding lists.
  • Marriage Gift List If Amazon is too restrictive why not try this site that lets you manage one gift list and include items from M&S, Amazon, Curry’s, Tesco, B&Q and a whole lot more high street names. That really does give you choice and flexibility, what a good idea.
  • Not On The High StreetNot on the High Street is a company that sources a really interesting, classy range of gifts from some of the best small independent UK gift producers. Don’t expect rock bottom prices here, but instead be ready for some beautiful and creative ideas.
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Our Ultimate Productivity Toolkit our-ultimate-productivity-toolkit/ our-ultimate-productivity-toolkit/#comments Thu, 03 Feb 2011 12:07:48 +0000 Steve ?p=1253 productive There are hundreds of websites and applications claiming to make your life easier and more productive. We all want to get more done and as result get away from our computer screens and do something more fun. So we’ve researched and used 100′s of productivity and organisational tools, and below is what we consider the ideal, simple to use, low cost toolkit that you can get started with today.

Task Management: Teux Deux

OK, let’s start with one of our absolute favourites. Here at Tech Towers we use the free TeuxDeux web app to get organised. Its beautifully simple design makes it easy to add tasks to any day of the week or put them in a task bucket for ‘Someday’. Its basic design means it is flexible enough for you to use the way you want. Cross off tasks when they are complete, if you don’t complete them they automatically rollover to the next day, drag and drop, edit and delete tasks and you have it. This is the most simple and effective tool for getting things done I have ever used. To top it off, it’s free and has an inexpensive iPhone application too. The iPhone app is good but not perfect and sometimes syncing gets a bit muddled and slow, but hopefully these issues will be ironed out soon. If there is only one tool you try from this list, it should be this.
Free – Web based – iPhone app

Managing Bigger Tasks: Basecamp by 37Signals

Teux deux is great for day to day planning, but for longer term plans you might find its lack of grouping and space a little restrictive. This is where Basecamp comes in. Basecamp is a fully fledged project management and collaboration tool. It’s web based, has a free version and is dead easy to get started with. Its task management area makes it a breeze to add lists of tasks, assign the tasks to different people and schedule milestones. We find the free version is plenty good enough for personal use but have upgraded in the past when working with small teams for freelance & business projects. Upgrading to a paid plan gives really useful business features like uploading files, time tracking and managing multiple projects. We really like the “Messages” feature in Basecamp too. Rather than plans, ideas and comments getting mislaid in email conversations this feature lets you take the discussion online and keeps everything organised and easy to find in one place. There is also a range of 3rd party mobile apps, our favourite of which is Headquarters Lite ideal for the free Basecamp user.
Free – Paid plans from $24/month – Choice of iPhone apps from free

Scheduling: Google Calendar or MobileMe

Google Calendar is by far the best, free way of organising your schedule. It has a great, easy to use web interface as well as the ability to sync with your smartphone, Outlook and iCal. It does have a downside though. In our experience setting up the syncing and getting web, desktop and mobile to all read and write calendar information is not 100% reliable and you have to jump through a few hoops. It’s improving but has its quirks. If, like me, you have a Mac and want a more reliable solution that’s easier to setup, then you can buy a MobileMe account. I would say this only makes sense if you have multiple Apple devices such as a Mac and iPhone or iPad and are likely to make use of some of the other features, like the iDisk web storage, photo sharing, video sharing and email/contact syncing. If that is the case then it becomes a very easy to setup a one stop shop for most of your cloud based syncing needs as a consumer. However, I would be much happier paying the £60/yr if iDisk was as good as Dropbox for file syncing!

Google Calendar: Free – Web based – Mobile & Desktop Sync
MobileMe: Free 60 day trial – £60/yr – Web based – Mobile & Desktop Sync – Includes much more

Communicating: Skype & Campfire

Skype is probably the world’s most popular application. It’s not surprising when you consider what it gives you. You can do voice calls, video calls, text chat, video conferences and group chat all completely free of charge. That’s pretty amazing and if you are not using Skype then you probably should be. Skype also has great mobile apps making it possible to have voice and video calls between smartphones completely free too. One less used, but very useful feature of Skype, is group text chat. I find this a really useful tool for having group conversations with family, friends and co-workers. Another favourite feature worth a mention is file sharing which I use constantly. Just drag and drop a file onto a contact and it will send that file. Campfire from 37 Signals is another great tool for this. It’s a web based group chat application designed with work teams in mind. It’s designed for “always on”, background chat whilst in the work place to encourage non interruptive communication. You can share files too and all files and manuscripts are stored, so anyone can go back and find the details of previous conversations.

Skype: Free – Voice, video and text chat – File sharing – Windows & Mac apps – Free mobile apps
Campfire: Free version (4 users) – Text only chat – Web based – Free mobile apps

Taking Notes: Evernote

Evernote is the ultimate note taking tool. Capture all of your thoughts, ideas, and inspirations and they all get stored online. Evernote has desktop applications for your computer as well as really useful smart phone apps. You can make text notes or voice notes, save tweets, clip web pages and store photos. Evernote really comes into its own with its search and organisation features. All of these notes you add become searchable even to the extent of Evernote trying to read any text in photos. So you could use it to store and search all your business cards just by taking a photo of the cards on your phone.

Free – Web app – Free Windows & Mac app – Free mobile app

Fast Finding: Alfred & Launchy

Alfred and Launchy are known as quick launch tools. They making it quicker and simpler to find and open files, launch applications, do web searches and whole lot more. Basically, you have a keyboard shortcut that works from anywhere and pops up a box. Just start typing what you want to do and jump straight to it. Once you get used to it you’ll find its much easier and quicker than clicking around your computer or web browser. Alfred is our favourite Mac quick launcher with a fast growing fan base and one of the great success stories of the recently release Mac App Store. Launchy is our favourite quick launcher for Windows. We encourage you to give one of these a try, stick with it, it will change the way you work on your computer.

Launchy: Free – Windows
Alfred: Free – Mac

Get Offline: Freedom

When we are working we often get distract and waste time because of the elephant in the room – The Internet! Our always online lifestyle, real-time social media and constant news addiction means that the internet can very easily waste a lot more time than it saves. If you are one of the many people who are easily distracted by the internet, it might be time to try Freedom. Freedom is a wonderfully simple application that takes your computer offline for scheduled periods of the day. You can of course decide when those times are but it’s a great way to get disciplined and stay focussed.
Free – Windows & Mac

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Giffgaff, The Other Mobile Network giffgaff-the-other-mobile-network/ giffgaff-the-other-mobile-network/#comments Sun, 30 Jan 2011 14:00:37 +0000 Steve ?p=1311 giffgaff Who are giffgaff

Thanks to Jamie Riddell I recently stumbled upon giffgaff a no frills mobile network run by the community. The users seem to love it and it actually uses the 02 mobile network behind the scenes. In fact giffgaff is an O2 company but run quite separately.

Whats the Deal?

Anyway, to cut to the chase they offer 250 mins, unlimited web and unlimited texts, for £10 a month. I don’t know anyone else that offers such a deal. This is compatible with pretty much any phone, so great for iPhone users coming to the end of a contract, Android users who want a cheap monthly deal and non-smartphone users too. Its not a contract either, so you pay for 30 days and can choose to keep this recurring or stop at anytime. We love the zero contract idea. They can have significantly lower prices than all the other networks because they don’t spend money on call centres and expensive marketing campaigns, instead getting a committed online community handle queries and promote the service. So, our favourite bargain smartphone deal has to be the HTC Wildfire with a £10 giffgaff goodybag.

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The Best CRM For Your Business the-best-customer-contact-management-crm-solution-for-your-startup-or-small-business/ the-best-customer-contact-management-crm-solution-for-your-startup-or-small-business/#comments Tue, 25 Jan 2011 10:00:48 +0000 Steve ?p=1197 crm As ever, we have done the hard work so you don’t have to. We’ve researched all the best tools for keeping track of your contacts, communications and sales pipeline and written up a run down of the options and our favourites.

What Should I Be Looking For?

Don’t get bogged down by the reams of features you get with many of the Customer Relationship Managers (CRM’s). First of all think about your needs. Chances are as a startup or small business you basically want to manage your contacts and keep track of your recent communications and planned communications with the contacts. That in principal is what a CRM is for. If used efficiently you will be able to manage many contacts and know exactly what to say next time you contact them to get the best results. Whether it’s to sell your product, support your customer, deal with a problem or up-sell. It’s all about acquiring customers, enhancing your customers experience & retaining them. As a small resource constrained business the chances are you don’t have time to be getting into really sophisticated CRM features and you are likely to be more efficient with a lightweight, low cost, low maintenance solution. I would say ignore any solutions that aren’t completely web-based. Web-based means that someone else is maintaining and updating the software and that you and your colleagues can get to it from anywhere. So I’m only going to talk to you about the best web-based CRM solutions out there.

The Key Players

There are a lot of companies offering web-based (cloud) CRM solutions. We have reviewed the very best of the crop here and then chosen our top 3. If you don’t want to read the in-depth reviews just skip to the end of the article and take a look at the experts choice.

SalesForce

Salesforce is the giant in the room here. It’s an incredibly successful CRM solution with a long list of blue chip companies as clients. To me it’s more of the enterprise solution. It’s the most expensive of the options and has the largest feature set but it’s probably not the best fit for a startup or small business. I think the priorities for a small company should be simple, reliable and inexpensive when it comes to technology solution and although Salesforce is a great tool it doesn’t really hit this criteria as well as other solutions. If however, you are a well funded startup or small business expecting to grow a sales team to 100 staff pretty quickly then it may be worth starting out with Salesforce. It’s unlikely that many small businesses are in that situation so it’s unlikely the Salesforce is the best solution for you.
14 day free trial – £17/user/month – Web based – iPhone, Android & Blackberry Apps – Gmail Integration

Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM is a well featured and very popular web based CRM. In fact, saying it’s well featured is an understatement. It’s second only to Salesforce in terms of the feature set, but remember there’s no point in having a tonne of features if it just makes the whole experience more complicated and slower. If you are mainly dealing with email as a contact tool then Zoho is likely to be a good option. It has email built in with the ability to easily send, receive and track email at its core. It also has Outlook & Office plugins. It allows extensive drag and drop customisation of the interface. So if you become a power user or have very specific ideas about what you want, then you as a sales person and not a techy person, should be able to create your own forms and workflows. There is a free version for up to 3 users (then its $12/user/month) so if you are a small company and expecting to grow quite rapidly then this could be a great option as the software is powerful enough to not grow out of even with a medium size, tech savvy sales force. If you are a startup and just want a basic CRM this is probably not for you. It’s rich feature set and rather average user interface mean its not the easiest of the tools to get to grips with initially and you are never likely to need the more powerful features.
Free Version – Web based – Mobile web version

Highrise

Highrise, from the fantastic team at 37Signals, is a beautifully simple web-based CRM solution. They are great at boiling down a product to its essential features and making those features incredibly user friendly. It’s dead easy to get started. You get contact management, email tracking, task management and lead tracking all done simply. I also love the fact that it has twitter integration because I think twitter is fast becoming a really useful marketing, leads generation and sales tool. Seeing your twitter conversations within your CRM is therefore going to become essential. Although it may not have all the bells and whistles of Zoho CRM and Salesforce you may be surprised at how many features you can get if you really need them. Third parties have integrated with Highrise to offer integration with help-desk software, email campaign software, invoicing, Gmail and much more. This way you can pay for exactly what you need and pay the specialist for their service and plug it in to Highrise. I think that’s a good approach.
Free Version (250 contacts) – Web based – iPhone, Android & Blackberry Apps – Gmail Integration

BrightPearl

Brightpearl is an up and coming UK based business software company. They are aiming to be the one stop shop for your CRM, invoicing, accounting, project management, inventory, help desk and even public facing website. In principle this sounds like a good idea. Pay one company, get to know their product and you have all these features at your fingertips. I was concerned about them trying to be a Jack of all trades, but actually a huge benefit is that you have immediate integration between the different parts of your back office. They are still in their infancy, but given time they will make ground on the big boys in the market and it is very impressive what a feature rich powerful piece of software this young company has built. However, right now the lack of mobile access and the problem of too many features, leading to a more complicated piece of software, means it’s less enjoyable to use for me personally than some other options. Also when you try and do so many things it’s hard to compete with the best accounting and the best CRM software out there. Definitely one to watch and consider especially when integrating accounting, CRM and other needs.
30 day free trial – £20/user/month – Web based – Includes accounting solution

SugarCRM

SugarCRM is a widely used open source software solution. They have a basic free piece of software that you can install on a web host of your choice and get a limited CRM feature set. You can pay $360/user/yr (min 5 users) for the full feature set in order to get half decent under interface, mobile access and reporting. Thats a minimum of $1,800/year for your little company if you want mobile access and you still have to install and manage the software yourself. We don’t think this is the way to go, your time and money can be better spent elsewhere and along with many other technologists I talk to, I have had bad experiences with Sugar.
Basic free open source version – Pro version 1,800/year for 5 users – Web based, self install

Tactile CRM

TactileCRM is another one of those well designed simple to use CRM systems that I love, and are based here in the UK. They follow 37Signals approach with Highrise and offer a simple user friendly contact management and pipeline system and allow 3rd parties to create all the bells and whistles like email campaigns and help-desk integration. We liked Tactile and found it easy to use and their pricing model makes a lot of sense with a free solo account limited to 250 contacts and a premium account with all the features your likely to need just £6/user/month. If you are a small company and money is tight then this works out as a good deal for a quality app. One thing we don’t like is the iPhone app which is $7.99. Seems very strange to charge for an app to go with a subscription service.
Free solo account (250 contacts) – Web based – $7.99 iPhone app

Capsule CRM

CapsuleCRM is a fantastically designed CRM application. Kept simple and intuitive with all the essential contact, task and pipeline features you would expect. Again it allows third parties to integrate to provide the extra features which you may choose to use. This is where it really gets exciting for me. It integrates with my favourite accounting software FreeAgent, my favourite email campaign service MailChimp and my favourite content management system WordPress. Capsule clearly have lots of happy customers and we can see why. They are let down by a lack of mobile support but it looks like that is coming anytime now in the form of a sophisticated web application, with offline support rather than a native app. I look forward to seeing it as it seems like an innovative approach. The pricing is super simple with a free limited account or £8/user/month.
Free account (250 contacts, 2 users, no 3rd party apps) – Premium: £8/user/month – Web based

Experts Choice

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iTunes 12 days of Christmas itunes-12-days-of-christmas/ itunes-12-days-of-christmas/#comments Thu, 23 Dec 2010 17:59:24 +0000 Steve ?p=1192 12-days-of-xmas If you’ve just got an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad for Christmas then this should probably be the first app you download. Its a free app bought to you by apple that offers a free gift from the iTunes Store everyday from 26 December to 6th January. They will alert you everyday when a new freebie is ready for you. They did the same thing last year and there were some great free apps, music and video. So head over to the app store now, download the 12 days of Christmas app and start getting freebies from the corporate monsters at Apple who lets face it can just about afford to give things away now and then!

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Best Photo Apps for your iPhone best-iphone-apps-for-photos/ best-iphone-apps-for-photos/#comments Thu, 23 Dec 2010 17:09:30 +0000 Steve ?p=1167 iphone-photo Now the latest iPhone has a good quality camera its time to take some seriously good photos with your phone. The great thing about using your iPhone for photos is its always with you, you can easily share your snaps and you can quickly add effects with some of the wide range of amazing apps available. We’ve trawled through more than 30 apps to bring you the very best iPhone photo apps to impress your friends.

Instagram

Instagram ScreenshotThis is one to watch out for in 2011. It’s a really neat app that lets you easily take photos, add effects and upload them for sharing via twitter and facebook. It also has its own twitter like social network. So you can follow other peoples photo streams too. Its like Twitter for your photos. The app is beautifully designed, easy to use and the set of effects are my favourite effects from any of the photo apps. Oh and did I mention its free too.

 

Colors Pro

Colors Pro ScreenshotNow this one is sure to impress your friends. Take any photo from your photo album or camera and use this app to selectively color a part of the image to create a dramatic effect. The way it works is pretty straight forward. You grab the photo you want to add the effect to and Color Pro makes it a black and white photo. Then you simply use you finger to paint the color back in where you want it. Its not that easy to to do accuratly with a blunt finger but the tip here is to zoom in as much as you can for those fiddly edges. You can take a photo and have the effect added in less than a minute. In my book thats pretty cool.

 

FatBooth

Fat Booth ScreenshotOut of the set this one is the comedy option. It turns out making people look a lot fatter than they actually are is a lot of fun. This app takes your headshots and makes your face fat. Its as simple as that. There are other apps in the App Store that claim to do this but this is the one that actually shows impressively realistic results. In fact its so realistic it will give you enough motivation to keep your hands off the chocolate box for another couple of days.

 

Panaromatic

Panaromatic ScreenshotI use this app for those landscapes and cityscape shots. It lets you take a set of photos and then stitches them together for you to make a great panoramic shot. It allows you to shuffle the individual shots to line them up. Its dead simple to use. You can share the shots via facebook or email, and save them to your photo gallery too. Unfortunately right now there is no easy way to upload to one of the twitter photo sharing sites but hopefully that will be coming soon.

 

Hipstamatic

Hipstamatic ScreenshotHipstamatic is a very popular app for adding all kinds of effects to your photos. You add effects my using different types of virtual lenses, films and flashes. You don’t get that many choices in the default install but there are loads of in app purchases available for £0.59 each. I like this app but think its a bit pricey now at £1.19 plus £0.59 for each new set of effects. It has direct integration with flickr and facebook but again I’d love to see closer integration with twitter photo sharing sites.

 


 

Expert Choice

  • Instagram Logo

    Instagram

    Expert RatingConsumer RatingIncredibly simple to use and share photos with beautiful effectsWould like to see the photos taking up the full screen on the Instagram website when viewed on the iPhone 4

  • Color Pro Logo

    Color Pro Free

    Expert RatingConsumer RatingThe color feature on a black and white background is a powerful effect and this app makes it simple to achieveCan be awkward to color very fine detail, use the zoom!

  • Panaromatic Logo

    Panoramatic

    Expert RatingConsumer RatingFully featured and easy use app for stitching your photos together for an impressive panoramic viewWould like to see integration with some twitter photo sharing sites.

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