Fitbit Blaze Sweepstakes: Smart Fitness Has Never Looked Better #vzwbuzz #FitbitBlaze

Fitbit Blaze Sweeps Graphic

This is a sponsored conversation on behalf of Verizon and OM Media.

A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. ~ Chinese Proverb

Fitbit Blaze 3

As a reluctant exerciser, this phrase motivates me daily. And while I’m just working toward 10,000 steps each day, meeting that goal begins with just one step. Whether it’s walking in the neighborhood, pushing through the pre-set workout, or just being active around the house, seeing those steps add up on my fitness tracker is motivation to keep going.

With so many fitness trackers on the market it’s hard to know which one to choose. Well, I’ll make it easy! How about a Fitbit Blaze? One of the newer fitness trackers on the market, the Fitbit Blaze is a fitness watch that looks like a watch so you don’t look like you’re wearing a fitness tracker. Designed more like a watch, it allows you to see text and call notifications.

While I have a different fitness tracker, I love the sleek and versatile design and function of this smart fitness watch. And did you know that the Fitbit Blaze automatically recognizes and records your exercise for you, so you’ll get credit for a workout even if you forget to log it? My tracker has a similar feature, and I love it because at the end of the day when you’ve put in your steps you want to get credit for them, right.

One really important feature is the continuous heart rate monitoring. This will help maximize the benefits of your workout. I thought I was getting the most from my workout until I found out about the heart rate monitoring feature and now I can really focus on getting the best workout. Another feature I really like about the Fitbit Blaze is that it gives you music control so you don’t have to fool with your smartphone to get to the song you want!

A new feature from Fitbit is the FitStar workout, which can be used right on your screen. It’s like having a coach right on your wrist! You’ll get step-by-step instructions right on the screen so you don’t have to keep doing the same few exercises you’ve always been doing.

I know you’ll love the Fitbit Blaze as much as I love my fitness tracker. It’s stylish, versatile, and can likely help you reach your health and fitness goals. As always, before you start a new fitness program consult with your personal health professional. And always be careful if you’re outside with your earphones on. So, what are you waiting for?

  • No purchase necessary to enter.
  • Must be 18 years of age or older to enter.
  • Open to US Residents only.
  • Void where prohibited.
  • See Official Rules for details.

Enter now for a chance to win a Fitbit Blaze Smart Fitness Watch


Fitbit Blaze Sweepstakes

Official Rules

More Things You Could Win!

Verizon is working with a few of my friends to bring you other great tech. Check out their posts and enter for a chance to win.

Share this post with your community!

Fitbit Blaze Sweeps FB Image

Sara

Parental Controls and Alternatives to Monitoring Kids Online

Parental Control Alternative For Monitoring Kids Online

FTC Disclosure

As a Gen-Xer my digital footprint didn’t begin until I was well into adulthood. Initially there was a sense of anonymity because we were able to use screen names. Quickly, though, we came to realize that we could be identified. Even in the early days of the internet there were ways to find out who was hiding behind whatever goofy name we chose for our email, bulletin board, instant messenger, and other lame-in-comparison-to-today social networks.

For many of us, though, our kid have grown up around increasingly sophisticated technology. These digital natives have faced concerns that most of us never did.

I grew up in an analog age. The fanciest of technology came about in high school when the Apple IIe came out when I was a freshman. While that was a huge step forward, it really didn’t impact daily life like technology does today. There was no risk of anything I did going too far beyond my little community. That’s not the case today.

Parental controls when I was a teen came in the form of not getting dropped off at a friend’s house, being picked up earlier from a party than my friends, or having to sit with enough distance between us if a boy had come over to do homework together. Ah, good times!

Now, though, parental controls are more invasive than your mom walking in offering milk and cookies when you’re trying to hold hands with that boy who came over to study with you. While we still could make decisions back then, today there is technology that takes the decision-making out of our kids’ control. For most parents it’s like manna from heaven. But what if you’re like me and are not a big fan of parental controls? What are the options? Is it even possible to parent today without enabling some feature on a smartphone or tablet to make sure our kids aren’t exposed to “inappropriate” content or spend too much time online?

When BabyGirl was about 5 or 6 I installed parental control software on the computer she used. It was a desktop computer I had used but replaced. It was her computer for all intents and purposes. I was homeschooling her at the time and she’d spend time online doing schoolwork or playing. That was in 2007 or so. Seems like an eternity ago some times.

Anyway, back then you’d do a search on Google or Yahoo and, like today, pages of results would be presented for you to check out. Search engines were primitive compared to what we use today. Invariably she’d click on something that was inappropriate for a 5 or 6 year old. She’d close the window and come tell me. We’d talk about it, and she’d go on with her day.

There was a big push about that time for monitoring software. I installed some monitoring software and set the parameters. And then every 5 or 10 minutes I’d hear that the computer wasn’t working. Instead of filtering out what would be truly objectionable content, the software had so many keywords it was checking that nearly everything was filtered and nothing would get through. I go in to adjust the setting and make it less sensitive. Still, it wasn’t possible to get to a lot of legitimate content. That’s when I stopped using parental controls.

Fast forward to 2016 and the sophisticated monitoring software and built-in controls on computers, smartphones, tablets, and other types of mobile devices. BabyGirl is officially a teen and I have never used parental controls on any of her smartphones or tablets. Really. I know many people love them and I have friends who’ve written extensively about the benefits of parental controls for TV and mobile devices. For me, I’ve taken a different route since she got her first mobile device.

Talk Openly – Since she was very young, BabyGirl knew that sometimes there would be things on the internet that weren’t for kids to see. Just like in the “real” world, we can’t keep our kids blindfolded until we’ve had the opportunity to evaluate everything they see and hear, we can’t do that on the internet. And while there are filters that will prevent kids from gaining access to truly inappropriate information, for some it’s a false sense of security and doesn’t leave much room for open communication. As uncomfortable as these conversations can be for both of us, it has to be done.

Be Proactive – I’ve always been very up-front with BabyGirl about what she may see on the internet. No, I haven’t been graphic or given her information beyond what I thought she could understand. But I have worked with her one-on-one to learn how to use different search methods, what to look for in URL names and extensions, how to determine if she’s clicking on a reliable source, and things like that. Just like we role play for fire safety, we need to do the same thing when it comes to internet safety.

Follow the Rules – There’s a reason why most social networks have an age requirement. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a law created to protect the privacy of children under 13. Not that all of a sudden at age 13 they gain a magical sense of maturity and capability. Millions of kids under the age of 13 have social media accounts, despite it being a violation of the terms of service. A few years ago my friend Heather wrote about why kids under 13 shouldn’t be on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or any of the multitude of social networks available. If we allow our kids to start out their digital life with a lie, it’s hard to expect them not to lie about other things.

Know their Login Information – I’ve been told many times that asking BabyGirl for her login information shows that I don’t trust her and I should just use parental controls if I’m so concerned. I’ve always explained that they’re missing the point. I ask this information because I do trust her, but I don’t trust the people on the other side. Being able to get in to her device and the different programs isn’t about snooping and seeing what she’s talking about. I go in to make sure other people aren’t doing stupid things that whether or not there are parental controls they shouldn’t be doing. It’s also an opportunity to make sure her device is up-to-date, clear out apps she doesn’t use any more, and encourage her to continue to make good choice since her parents can check in at any time. It’s kind of the digital equivalent of mom offering milk and cookies right when you’re thinking of kissing the boy who came over to study with you.

Parental controls aren’t the be-all, end-all magic potion many like to believe they are. They are one tool, but there are “old-school” parental control we can use in addition to using tech-based parental controls or in place of relying on technology to do our job. There isn’t one right answer. As with most things related to parenting, you just have to do what works for you.

Sara

Teens, Tweens, Tech Safety and Making Mistakes

Teen Tech Parenting Safety

FTC Disclosure

June is Internet Safety Month. Not a day goes by that BabyGirl isn’t online in some fashion. The interesting thing is that I’ve also seen October designated as Online Safety Month. As the parent of a tween, though, every month is Internet and Online Safety Month. Tech minefields are discovered every day and we can’t wait for one month to sit our kids down and talk about staying safe online.

In reality, it’s not easy to talk to kids about online safety. For many parents, the nuances of tech safety are more confusing than trying to learn a foreign language. Parents use tech differently than their children, regardless of age. When it comes to teens and tweens using tech, these digital natives are often the ones teaching their parents. Lessons about online safety are often just examples of where other kids have gone wrong. And, well, our kids would never to that.

Ask any parent of a tween or teen and they’ll tell you how happy they are that social media and the online world didn’t exists when they were a kid. When I was a kid, we made mistakes and did stupid things. Sometimes our friends were with us. But we had something our kids don’t have today – the ability to learn from their mistakes.

Kids today aren’t allowed to make mistakes. The consequences are so high, as parents we’re often more fearful of our kid making a mistake than they are. They’re just kids and may not see the horrible consequences mistakes have had on other young people. We certainly have, though. Then again, they probably have too.

The online world has removed the ability to make a mistake. Gone are the days of “learning from our mistakes”. That’s just impossible with technology. At the same time, though, we know that kids don’t listen to everything we say and glean the important message we’re trying to get across.

Every word, click, double-tap, like, share, retweet, and action is under constant scrutiny. Not only from us, their parents, but from their friends and strangers alike. For as much as we talk about online safety, there really is no such thing for our kids. It’s more like how can we make it less dangerous because safety is about being protected from harm or danger and in the online world today that’s next to impossible.

Throwing our hands up and doing nothing is not an option. And banning them from all things tech isn’t either. So what do we do to make the internet and mobile technology less dangerous for our tweens and teens?

1. Talk to them. Yes, just like teaching them about personal safety and safe touch we need to talk to them about safety with people we can’t see or touch. It’s not easy to talk about anonymity and people lying about their age or gender, but we have to do it. It’s uncomfortable talking about sex and often even more uncomfortable talking about virtual sex and porn. Unlike our parents, though, who often left it to books, magazines, or sex-ed we don’t have that luxury.

2. Trust them. The news if full of horrible things kids are doing online. But the truth is not all kids are doing those things. Not every kids is bullied or bullying. Not every girl is sending compromising pictures of herself to boys. Not every anonymous gamer is on the FBI most wanted list. If we are talking to our kids and having meaningful and helpful conversations, we have to trust that them when they say everything’s cool.

3. Create Offline Opportunities. Kids can’t get all their validation and conversation from in front of a screen. There is an entire world out there to explore and people to meet. When their friends come over, figure out things they can do that don’t have them sitting next to each other texting or watching crazy online videos. Hands-on crafts, cooking or baking, making, and creating are all things that we did that helped to shape us into the people we are today. Kids today are no different. It’s fun to hang out in the virtual world, but there’s so much more depth learned by being present in the physical world.

Yes, these 3 simple things can help our kids immensely when it comes to tech safety. Sure, there are parental controls to limit access to online content. That’s a limited solution, especially for teens and tweens who know how to bypass parental controls. You can forbid them to download certain apps, but there are many decoy apps kids download to hide things from parents.

Honestly, though, it comes down to open communication and trust when it comes to keeping our kids safe (or just safer) online. You don’t need to spend tons of money on apps or special wifi to block their access. We just need to talk to our kids. Although, sometimes that’s easier said than done.

How do you help your kids stay safe online? Have you talked to them about the consequences of making mistakes online?

Sara

Take Sound On The Go With Ultimate Ears Boom Speaker

Ultimate Ears Speakers

FTC Disclosure

I grew up in the era of the boom box. If you don’t know what that is, it’s that giant portable stereo John Cusack held up in the movie Say Anything. If you’ve never seen Say Anything, you really should. Not just for the boom box scene, but it’s a really great movie.

Anyway, teens and young adults in the 80s rarely went anywhere without their boom box. Then the Sony Walkman came along and made listening to your own music portable. I still have two Sony Walkman players. I don’t use them, but they are filled with so many memories.

Today, with smartphones it’s easy to carry our music with us.  The problem with that has been the lack of shareability. Sure you can crank up the volume and put your phone in an empty bowl to act as an amplifier, but who carries a bowl around with them? And while it works to some degree, the lame factor is quite high. And if you’re a parent of a tween who wants to be cool with her friends, a phone in a bowl is not going to do it.

As a Verizon Insider, I was sent the new Ultimate Ears Boom 360º Sound portable wireless speaker to take for a techdrive. Perfect timing for many reasons. Out of the box, the speaker was ready to go in under 5-minutes. I like to work in quiet, but CycleGuy always has something on in his office so we set it up there and he was listening to podcasts and music in no time. As he was heading out of town, he tossed the speaker in his bag because he hates the quiet of hotel rooms, and it’s also a speakerphone so he can use it for phone calls using the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or his Kyocera Brigadier.

Ultimate Ears Boom 360

With Spring in bloom, we’re spending more time outside. In the past we’ve relied on the house speakers, but then we’re kind of stuck having to be near where they’re mounted. Problem is I rearranged our outdoor seating and the sound doesn’t reach the new area very well. The Ultimate Ears Boom speaker was exactly what I needed. It’s designed for any lifestyle, which makes it great for me and my family.

UE Boom Speaker

One of the coolest features, though, is the Alarm. It’s a newer feature that was an update to the app and I’m pretty sure I’m never getting the speaker back from CycleGuy. With all the traveling he does, this new Alarm feature may be his new favorite reason for taking the speaker with him. I know that it’s coming with us to Israel this summer!

So whether it’s for the office, out by the pool, at the beach, or pretty much anywhere you want great sound, the Ultimate Ears Boom is a must-have accessory. I have the Blue Steel color, but it comes in nearly 20 different colors and patterns. Priced at $199 and available from Verizon Wireless or from the Ultimate Ears website it’s a good value for the versatility it brings. These would make a great gift for someone heading off to college or even a recent college grad. Great for work AND play!

Sara

5 Low Tech Tips For Monitoring Your Kid’s High Tech Life

Low Tech Tips High Tech Life

FTC Disclosure

For those of us in our 40s with kids who are on the cusp of becoming teens, when it comes to social media and the online world of teens we are, in some ways, our parents. All those times we said we’d do things differently, and tried really hard not to hear the words of our parents coming out of our mouths? We may have found our breaking point. Social Media.

In many ways, figuring out what kids do when they’re staring down at that glowing screen is like our parents trying to figure out how to get the VCR to stop flashing 12:00. It didn’t matter how many times we explained to them how to fix the clock, at some point they gave up on understanding how it worked. Except, that now the consequences of the ‘head in the sand’ option can be grave.

It’s nearly impossible for every parent to stay up-to-date on what sites and apps their kids are using. Not only does it change as the kids get older, what’s hot today may be totally lame tomorrow. Do kids even say “totally” any more?

Anyway, it may be impossible, but it’s our job because if we don’t try to stay informed someone else will come along and do it for us. Just like those kids we went to school with who seemed to have all the freedom in the world, we may have been envious but we knew they were up to no good.

Today, though, our kids don’t have to sneak out of the house to find trouble. Trouble sneaks in to our house through these hand-held devices. And just like when we rolled our eyes and rigged the VCR, if we ask our kids to explain the apps and websites to us they’re not going to tell us how they really work.

I don’t expect you to sign up for every social media website or app out there. It’s a full-time job for people to monitor social media. But it’s also a full-time job to parent. And at a time when our kids are gaining more and more independence, they are also very vulnerable.

Using these 5 low-tech tips to stay on top of your kid’s technology, you’re more likely to create appropriate barriers while breaking some down. We can no longer use the excuse of not understanding technology when it comes to parenting. It’s constantly changing, I know. But the risks for our kids are just too high to let the VCR keep flashing 12:00.

5 Low-Tech Tips To Stay On Top of Your Kid’s Technology

1. Set Parental Controls – Chances are the kids can override your settings, but if you’re in charge of their device then it has to be your rules. For each device, setting up parental controls is a little different so you may need to search for how it’s done on your specific device. Many carries, Verizon included, offers safeguards and controls at the carrier level so you don’t have to worry about the kids turning them off when you hand them back the device.

2. Set Ownership Rules – While some may want their child to pay for their phone or service, I have a slightly different perspective. I’ll pay for it because then it’s mine and I get to make up all the rules! Even if your child does pay for their phone, as a parent it is your right to know what’s going on.

3. Know the Tricks – Just because they approve your friend request doesn’t mean you’re actually seeing what they’re doing. Positive looking (or sounding) comments may not be what they seem. Online bullying, especially among girls, is very subtle.

4. Anonymity May Cause Poor Judgement – There is a level of anonymity provided by social networks that causes people to lower inhibitions, make choices they may not if their identity was known, or engage in inappropriate conversations. We have no guarantee that the person on the other side of the screen is who they say they are. Even as adults, we have to put our trust in the people and platform. But as children, despite them not wanting to be seen as such, they are just not equipped to grasp the nuances or see the warnings we would see. There are stories on the news daily about situations where an adult using social media has lost their job, had their kids taken away, had their house trashed, etc. It’s hard enough for adults to figure this out, know that it’s a million times more difficult for kids.

5. Ask Questions – This isn’t about interrogating the kids. It’s more about having a conversation to let them know you’re interested, you’re aware, and you’re there if they need you.

Don’t be afraid of the alphabet soup language kids use to text and communicate. Don’t take a hands-off approach to monitoring because it seems intrusive. And don’t think that just because your kid is a good kid, or would never bully or be mean or rude that you don’t have to pay close attention. Sometimes the good kids are the most vulnerable.

What other low-tech ways do you monitor what your kids do online?

Sara

What To Do With Your Old Phone When You Upgrade

What To Do With Old Phone

I’m very lucky that I get to test out many different mobile devices. I’m the dork who usually has 3 phones with me. Not because I’m so important, but because I want to use the new phones like you’d use them. But most people aren’t like that and when they upgrade to a new phone the old one ends up getting kicked to the curb.

I don’t know anyone who’d just throw an old phone away. Even if the screen was cracked or it wouldn’t hold a charge or can’t power on, few people would ever think to toss a phone in the trash or recycle bin. And that’s good because mobile phones – whether smartphones or not – contain chemicals that can harm the environment if not disposed of properly. That’s why I’m here to give you options on what you can do with your old phone.

 

1. Keep It – This is kind of an easy option if your device still works. Since all mobile devices have to be able to call 911 they’re great to just have on hand for a true emergency. Naturally you’d want to keep it powered up, although in reality it may end up stashed in the back of a drawer. Old smartphones without cell service will work on WiFi so you can still use it to get on the internet at home, when you travel, or at shops around town that offer free WiFi. It’s a great way to have something for the kids to play their games on while not having to hand over your device. Old phones also make great jukeboxes or a place to store your workout playlist. That way you can exercise and not get interrupted with texts or calls.

2. Give It To Someone In The Family – Maybe the kids need a phone. Or you’re trying to get your parents to ditch their 1992 flip phone for a “real” phone. If it’s just a year or so old, the technology is still relatively up to date and the device may still even be for sale with your carrier. Rather than buying a new device, hand-me-down devices are a great way to introduce new technology or upgrade older devices. Many carriers will allow you to add an additional line for a nominal fee or even provide pre-paid SIM cards so you don’t have to add a new line.

3. Sell It – Many people often think this is their main option. With new devices often costing several hundred dollars, it makes sense to want to off-set the cost by selling your old device. There are many options available for selling mobile devices – Craigslist, Ebay, Gazelle, uSell, Swappa, Glyde, – and they all have their pros and cons. I’ve sold several mobile phones over the years but I don’t do it any more. I’ve found that even though most are relatively hassle-free, for me it’s not the best option.

4. Trade Up – Some carriers will allow you to trade-in to upgrade. If you want to get out of a phone and get the newest device, check with your carrier to see if they have a trade-in option. Many do, but only for certain devices. Carriers may also allow you to trade up devices when you switch, too. This comes in handy when you’re out of contract and want to leave your current carrier but don’t want to have to shell out for a new device.

5. Donate or Recycle Your Phone – Donating old cell phones is easier than ever these days, and there are many different causes. Sometimes you can just drop them off at any carrier’s store and they’ll refurbish the ones that can be fixed and then provide them to the charity they support or, if they’re not able to refurbish them the devices are recycled properly. Many grocery and office supply stores have donation/recycle stations. Usually they’re combined because some phones people want to donate may not be suitable for donation so they’re recycled. I’ve donated several devices to Hopeline over the past few years, even though Verizon was not my primary carrier. I’ve had a Verizon account for over 10 years and I liked the goal of proving cell phones to domestic abuse survivors so that’s why I’d donate to Hopeline. While donations made to Verizon’s Hopeline are not tax-deductible, if that’s something you need check with the charities you support and find out if they accept donations of old phones.

So there you have it – several great options for what to do when you upgrade your old phone and get a new one. Each comes with pros and cons but I’m sure there’s one that will work for you. And just because you choose one way this time doesn’t mean you always have to do the same thing. Options! And who doesn’t like options.

What have you done with your old phones?

Sara

Kids, Smartphones, and Emergency Preparedness

Kids Smartphones Emergency Preparedness

VZW Disclosure

September is National Emergency Preparedness month. I didn’t know there was a month dedicated to this. And because I didn’t know and I consider myself to be well-informed I figured you may not know either.

As part of the Verizon Influencers group I participate in the weekly #vzwbuzz chat on Twitter (Friday at 3pm ET if you want to join in!). As part of the recent chat about using smartphones in emergency preparedness planning I mentioned a few tips for parents of tweens and teens. Based on the conversation and shares, I realized this is an area where we, as parents, really need to step up and help our kids.

As adults we’re not always prepared for an emergency. We take the jumper cables out of the car and forget to put them back. We can’t find the flashlights and never got around to downloading one on the phone. We don’t know the names and phone numbers of our kids’ friends.

And if we don’t have it all together we can’t expect our kids to have it together either. Especially when it comes to having many of the tools at the ready on their smartphone. Talking to our kids about this isn’t easy. These “just in case” type scenarios are often met with blank stares. That is if they’re even willing to take their eyes off the device and stare at you.

But we need to have the conversation and talk about what to do in case of an emergency. And not just leave it nebulous and broad, but talk about different scenarios. It has to be an easier conversation than the ones about sexting and bullying, right?

So I’ve come up with 6 things that MUST be on your kid’s phone in case of emergency.

1. Parent’s Name – none of this “mom” or “dad” only stuff on the phone. Even if the main name is Mom, in the notes put mom’s full name. Anyone with a title (mom, dad, grandma, etc.) or nickname should have the full name somewhere in the contact file. This is mainly for first responders who may need to contact you. Adding photos with the entry will be great help for emergency personnel, too.

2. ICE Entry – ICE stands for In Case of Emergency and every person with a smartphone should have a contact with this name. In here you put the main number to call, but also add in any other pertinent information. Include alternative phone numbers, allergy information, key medical information that doctors or emergency service personnel would need to know. Even things like, “wears contact lenses”, “broke right wrist in July 2012”, or “picks up sister from XYZ Elementary school” are important.

3. Flashlight app – kids will download a zillion different apps, but may not think of a flashlight app. There are many different types for Android, iOS, and WindowsPhone. A flashlight could come in handy in a power outage, be used to signal for help, or even just help you be found in the dark.

4. Programmed Emergency Numbers – maybe 911 isn’t who needs to be called and they can’t reach you. They may not remember the grandparent’s or close friend’s phone number. Having access to an alternative safe adult is key to ensuring kids have someone to call if they can’t reach you. If you child does babysitting (or pet sitting) make sure they’ve included the parent’s information in their phone in a clear and understandable manner. We’re so good at shorthand, but emergency personnel don’t have time to figure out what we were thinking.

5. Family GPS App – There are apps that help keep families in communication with each other without being overly complicated or intrusive. By downloading an app like Life360 you not only are able to communicate discreetly with your child, but there is a GPS functionality that will show you where the phone is located. Rather than being used to spy on the kids, a GPS app can be a safety measure and give a child peace of mind knowing that you’ll be able to find them in an emergency.

6. First Aid App – While younger kids may not use this, older kids may find the Red Cross First Aid app helpful in a variety of situations. While it’s always advisable to call 911 in case of an emergency, not everything requires a call to 911. Instead of having to search the internet, it’s helpful to have one app that will give them reliable and accurate information. While an app is never a substitute for taking a first aid or CPR class, having something that can guide you through a situation can be very helpful. Again, if your kids are responsible for another child (whether because they babysit or watch a younger sibling) have them take a babysitting class so they’re not solely relying on an app.

Now that the easy part is done on the smartphone, it’s time to talk to the kids and actually prepare them. In emergencies we aren’t calm and perfectly aware. We can’t expect our kids to be either. Especially younger kids. And while it might be easier to do all this yourself once they’ve gone to bed, let the kids be involved. It shouldn’t be scary for the kids. And they should know why you’re putting all this stuff on their phone. While we don’t expect emergencies, it’s like going on a plane trip – you have to know a few safety rules before you go.

What other “must haves” do you think should be on this list to help kids stay safe in an emergency using their smartphone?

Disclosure: I am a member of the Verizon Insider team and share information about technology. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sara

6 Ways A Tablet Makes You and Your Kids More Productive

Nokia 2520 Tablet Productivity

VZW Disclosure

I’m a Mac girl. Macbook Pro, iPhone, iPad. But I gave up my iPhone exclusivity and added an Android smartphone to my purse. And I’ve been tech driving the Nokia Lumia WindowsPhone to stretch my familiarity with another OS.

At a Verizon Insiders Summit, I was given a Nokia 2520 tablet and asked to see how I can integrate a tablet into my family. Not just any table, though. A 10-inch Windows-based tablet with a world-class lens on a forward and rear-facing camera. Together with a power-case keyboard I traded in my Macbook Pro and smartphones in an effort to see how productive my family and I could be.

Here’s the most important thing I learned from this little experiment. Phones and computers are very distracting. They multitask very well. And not that you’re unable to multi-task on the Nokia tablet, it’s just not as easy. In a good way.

So, here goes:

6 Ways A Tablet Makes You More Productive

1. Mega battery life – The Nokia 2520 battery will keep you mobile for hours and hours. With the keyboard case, I had extra battery life so I wasn’t constantly looking for a wall outlet while I waited for BabyGirl at her different classes. And think about not having to sit on the ground or jockey for that one outlet at the airport. Or wishing your flight was shorter as you put your dead device away part-way through your flight.

2. Uni-Tasking – I know you can switch between apps on a tablet. The Nokia tablet can actually dual screen and you can see two apps at once. But the key here is that you’re not likely to open the 2nd app unless you really need it for the first. Less distractions! And with less distractions work gets done faster. The added bonus is that the Nokia comes with the MS Office Suite so I can work in standard documents, even if it was emailed to me while I wasn’t at my computer.

3. Photo Editing – This is a bit tricky because the 2520 comes with a Carl Zeiss lens that gives you amazing photos in the first place. But combine that with pro-quality photo editing apps you can turn out great images that can be incorporated into presentations, shared on social media, or sent to friends/clients/co-workers all while being untethered.

4. Instant Answers – Sure your phone can do that too. And your computer. But, where are they? Usually somewhere else. And even if your phone is nearby are you really going to hand it over to your child, co-worker, or colleague? With a tablet it’s large enough to sit with another person and do research together. It’s great for brainstorming and collaborating.

5. Portable – One of the biggest complaints of business travelers is not having enough space to use their laptop. For parents just trying to keep a child entertained on a long flight, the bulk of a laptop together with limited seat space make tablets the real winner when it comes to being productive when you travel. Even if that travel is by car, it’s so much easier to handle a tablet than it is a computer. If your virtual office consists of a mall bench, a waiting room chair, a shared coffee shop table, or even your car having a tablet make it easy to actually get work done.

6. Taking Notes – Whether it’s school, work, or home it seems like we’re always taking notes. I find with a tablet it’s easier to annotate and add notes and comments rather than type out an email response and hope it’s understood. For PDFs there’s an app for that! Several, actually.

Being productive on the go or just not having to be tethered to one spot making having a table a top priority for many. My friend Terri Nakamura recently opened Alki Surf Shop in Seattle and her Nokia 2520 tablet not only kept her productive, but has become a go-to device for running her shop.

I use mine everywhere. Relaxing on the couch at the end of the day, cooking, reading, working with clients, or when I’m out waiting for BabyGirl at her different classes. BabyGirl uses it to read, play games, make movies, and learn to code.

How does your tablet make you more productive?

Disclosure: I am a member of the Verizon Insider team and received a device to facilitate my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sara

You Only Lose Your Hard Drive Once

Computer Backup Options

VZW Disclosure

When was the last time you backed up your phone and computer? If you opened up your computer and couldn’t access your hard drive would you panic and freak out or calmly remind yourself that you have everything on a backup? If you turned on your phone to find it has mysteriously reset itself, would you crumble to the ground in tears or head back to your computer to reload a recent backup? computer backup options

Few of us would be calm about it. Most of us would start wracking our brains to determine what’s been backed up and where that backup is located. If Facebook and Twitter updates are reviewed, hard drive crashing happens more often than we think. Yet, most of us don’t think it will happen to us.computer backup options

I’m here to tell you it does. And when it does, there’s a level of panic most of us don’t know how to stop from completely taking over. Even if there is a backup, somehow our minds don’t automatically go there.computer backup options

So when I plugged in my Drobo external drive and I couldn’t see the drives it took several deep breaths not to totally freak out. I thought I was doing the right thing and having a backup. I thought I was smart to have this super high-tech drive to backup my computer, tablets, and phones. I have 6 Terabytes of storage. I have enough space to backup my entire neighborhood and still have space for a few other friends.

But these days, having just one backup isn’t enough. Redundancy is an important word in all of this. Today we need to take similar precautions as any small business. Because if one day all our photos are gone, we’ll probably hyperventilate and freak out simultaneously. What are the options though? Do we entrust our files to some random company or this thing called “the cloud” or a drive that sits on our desk or we store in a fireproof safe. And what do each of these really offer to us?

External Hard Drive – With 1T external hard drives available for under $70 this option is easy. I have a “pro-level” storage and backup solution, a Drobo. But it’s not for everyday access, it really is a true data redundancy system. And it sits on my desk, unconnected. (At least I’ve done a few backups, right?) Owning an external drive and using it are not one and the same. Evidently, we need to take steps to set up a schedule to connect it to our computer and transfer the files. The magical backup fairies don’t seem to be real. Sure, we can set up reminders, but how many times have you dismissed these reminders because they become annoying.computer backup options

Cloud Backup – There are so many options out there, it’s hard to know which ones are good. It’s only after realizing that my external hard drive was inaccessible that I thought about this option. Fortunately, a very good friend on mine runs an IT company and suggested Backblaze off-site backups. I figured that if it’s good enough for his company and clients then it’s good enough for me. And at $5 a month it’s a no-brainer. It does take a while to do the initial backup of your entire system, but it’s necessary.computer backup options

Cloud Storage – You’ve heard of Dropbox, Skydrive, and Box, right? Or perhaps you have iCloud or Verizon Cloud. These are cloud storage options, not really backups. While they’re relatively safe, these don’t really have the built-in redundancies and protocols to protect your data. These are great options, but with the amount of space you’ll need for ALL your files it can get expensive. One great way to use these cloud storage options is with a service called IFTTT (which stands for If This Then That). With IFTTT you can automate some of your storage and backup needs. For example, you can create a recipe that will send your photos from Instagram to Dropbox or Google Drive or Evernote. In general, though, cloud storage is not a viable option for a true backup.computer backup options

There are many different things you may want to back up besides your photos and documents. You may want to back up your applications or even your entire system. Those things get very large and can take quite a bit of time. But, it’s something to consider.computer backup options

When it comes to backing up your information, redundancy is key. Having multiple backups is important too. For me, when my external drive “crashed” I knew that CycleGuy had another backup on another external drive. While it wasn’t recent and only had about 90% of my files and photos, it prevented the total meltdown upon realizing I have over 30,000 photos in iPhoto. And for most of us, losing our photos is probably one of the most difficult things we’d have to come to terms with when dealing with a drive crashing or becoming inaccessible.

Keep in mind that as technology changes, you may need to change your backups. I have CDs with photos going back to the late 1990s. I also have Zip disks and 3.5″ floppy disks, both of which have “important” information on them but are totally worthless to me. Yet, I still have them.

Disclosure: I am a member of the Verizon Insider team. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Sara

How To Turn Your Smartphone Into A Karaoke Machine

iRig Voice

Disclosure: I received a complimentary iRig Voice Microphone.

External Microphone

I’m a child of the ’70s and ’80s, so when I hear microphone I immediately think of the Mr. Microphone ads with the guy leaning out being all cool and suave trying to pick up girls. That ad today would be torn to shreds. Back then, though, it was memorable and made every kid want a Mr. Microphone.

Unlike the Mr. Microphone, the iRig Voice microphone is actually a real mic. It connects to most smartphones, comes in 5 fun colors, and delivers professional quality sound. I got the pinkish-orange one and I’ll be heading to the craft store to get plenty of gems to glamify it! I may be in my 40s, but I’m channeling my inner rock star!

I’ve never been one to go out and do karaoke. But I love singing along to music. And so does BabyGirl. Although, she channels her inner Simon Cowell when it comes to my signing. And, yah, she’s called my singing “pitchy” a few times. But she’s never called me “dawg”, so there’s that!

Anyway, back at So You Think You Can Sing – Home Edition I’m loving this microphone and the EZ Voice app (available for iOS and Android). I just upload my favorite songs and the app removes the original vocals so I can sing along. The iRig Voice operates through the headphone jack on the smartphone and you can even connect headphones so you can hear yourself singing. Although, why limit your signing to just you?

Let’s talk features:

  • Handheld vocal microphone delivers professional sound quality
  • Compatible with iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, newer Mac models and Android devices
  • Compact cardioid pattern minimizes feedback
  • Constructed of durable, lightweight thermoplastic
  • Available in 5 colors: Green, Blue, Yellow, Pink and White
  • Comes with EZ Voice app
  • Works with dozens of karaoke, sing-along and music making apps
  • Headphone jack for real-time monitoring
  • Convenient on/off switch located on the mic

EZ Voice Android EZ Voice Samsung EZ Voice iPhone FX EZ Voice iPhone

While this is a pro-style microphone its main goal is to let you have fun. The instruction manual is minimal, but you don’t really need it (and, really, when was the last time you read the manual for your electronics). Even if you don’t upgrade to the paid version of EZ Voice you’ve got several professional effects you can use. I’ll spare you my recording of me singing Madonna’s Lucky Star. Just imagine it being awesome!

At $39.99, you’ll find the iRig Voice from IK MultiMedia is at many popular big-box stores you normally shop at as well as a number of online stores. If you’re looking for something smaller that will enhance smartphone videos you take then consider the “must have” iRig Mic Cast.

External Microphone

Disclosure: I received complimentary product for review purposes. This article was not reviewed or edited by a third-party. All thoughts and opinions are mine. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Sara