Trading My DSLR For A Smartphone

wp-1471229621006.jpgThis past weekend, we went to B’s aunt’s house to see some family that was in town.  In previous years, this would mean that I would grab my DSLR and spend much of the time snapping photos. For the third time, though, we went on a trip and either didn’t take the DSLR with us or took it but didn’t use it at all. This isn’t to say that I didn’t take any photos.  On the contrary, I took a ton of photos during our trips. The difference is that I used my smartphone instead of my DSLR.

Now, to some I know this might seem like heresy. A good DSLR camera can easily produce better photos than a smartphone’s camera. It can handle different light conditions and can allow you to change many settings to produce the best photo. DSLR photos tend to be higher resolution and can be printed into bigger sizes. So the DSLR would seem to be the better camera for the job in every case, right?

Well, not quite.

First off, there’s the weight factor. DSLR cameras are pretty heavy. If you add in some extra equipment (lenses, extra batteries, memory cards, etc.), a DSLR can really weight you down. The smartphone, on the other hand, is extremely light and portable. Not to mention that you’re likely going to have it on you anyway.

What about printing photos, though? It’s true that DSLR photos can make better prints at larger sizes, but nowadays we rarely print any of our photos. We mostly post them online or text/e-mail them to people. This is extremely easy with a smartphone. Simply click on the share icon and select the app you want to use to share the photo with. You can even send it to an image editing app first to crop the image, add a watermark, or combine multiple photos. With a DSLR, on the other hand, you need to offload the photos to a computer before you can upload or send them. Unfortunately, most times, you won’t have a computer with you so your “on-the-go” photo share will turn into a “I’ll share it later.”

Then there’s the problem of taking my camera to the pool. With a DSLR, I’d either wind up sitting on the side of the pool snapping photos or would need to place my bulky, obvious camera bag on the side hoping that someone didn’t take it. With my smartphone, though, I bought a waterproof case last year when we were going on our cruise. It keeps my phone dry even if it’s underwater. What’s more, I can use the touchscreen and even take photos with the case on. Sure, the touchscreen doesn’t work underwater, but I can set the timer, submerge my phone, and wind up with an underwater photo.


Yes, there are waterproof cases for DSLR cameras, but they can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The one I bought for under $20 works perfectly for my smartphone.

I’m sure my DSLR will still get a workout. I might still take it with us when we next go to Disney World, for example. Still, more and more I find myself relying on my smartphone instead of on a dedicated camera.

Do you still use a stand-alone camera (either point and shoot or DSLR)? Or have your photo taking habits shifted to smartphone-only?

Putting Too Much Trust In Google Maps

google_mapsI’ll admit it: I have an awful sense of direction. While my father seems to instinctively wind his way through strange streets to discover previously unknown shortcuts, I can take wrong turns going to destinations that I’ve been to a dozen times.  Thanks to the age of smartphones, I’ve come to rely on Google Maps to get me to my destination.  While it can be reliable most of the time, when it fails me, it fails spectacularly.

A few months ago, we were trying to get to a local trampoline park for a birthday party. We plugged the address into Google Maps and let it be our guide.  After a series of twists and turns, it declared that we reached our destination.  We could even see the trampoline park on our right.  There was only one problem: We were on a major highway with no method of going into our destination. Apparently, Google wanted us to park in the middle of the highway and walk over to the trampoline park.  After passing it, Google recalculated and we eventually arrived.

A couple of nights ago, though, NHL and I  topped this tale.  A classmate of NHL’s was celebrating his Bar Mitzvah.  We had printed directions and B implored me not to use Google Maps.  Of course, this meant that I insisted on using Google Maps.  Google didn’t fail me right away.  We wound through some dark main roads that I’ve never been on before but Google insisted we were closing in on our destination.  Then Google said we arrived.  Except there was nothing there but residential driveways.  I figured that the entrance was likely a dark path that we passed so I went straight until we reached a street to turn on.  I noted that the street has a sign that said "Henry Hudson Park." (This will be important later.)

We slowly drove back along the road but couldn’t find an entrance.  I pulled into a closed down store to figure out our next step. Looking at the printed directions, I noted the road just before our destination and put that into Google. Bingo! Google said it was close by.  Google had us turn onto an even darker road.  From the start, I got the feeling that this was a bad idea.  The road was a dark, unpaved, single lane with no room for turning around and bare trees growing all around.  I felt like we had stumbled onto a horror movie set.  I half expected the car to die and a man with a chainsaw to run out at us.

After winding our way up the road, we passed by a house.  By this, I mean we drove along their driveway, around the rear of their house, and back to the front.  We likely spooked them in the process.  Eventually, I conceded that we were lost.  We stopped at another house, I rang the doorbell, and asked for directions.  The man who answered was very nice and agreed that Google often mistakes their private road for a public access way.  He knew exactly where I was trying to go to and gave me directions.

Of course, my sense of direction being what it is, this isn’t the end of the tale.  I took another wrong turn, had to turn around twice, and ask one more couple for directions.  By this point, we had closed in on our destination and were only a minute or two away.

We arrived (with many cars coming from the opposite way on the street) and NHL had fun at the party.  When it was time to leave, I decided to try the path that I saw the cars coming from.  As we reached the end of the street, there was a sign: Henry Hudson Park.  Yes, this was the street we turned around on.  Had we gone up 400 feet more, we would have seen the entrance.  Instead, we went on a three mile scary detour.

Thank you, Google Maps!

When Batteries Die… Keeping Your Data Safe

TabletRecently, NHL suffered a technological tragedy. His beloved Galaxy Tab 2 tablet died. NHL plays many games on his tablet and, over time, had accumulated quite a bit of progress. The idea that all of this could be lost was quite upsetting to him. After much troubleshooting, including contacting the company and exploring sending it in for repairs, we got it working again.

Though we found a solution, let’s be honest. No device is going to last forever. At some point, something will happen that will mean the device can no longer be used. With that in mind, how can you protect your child’s data/game progress?

Let’s deal with the data first, since that’s the easy one. Some tablets and phones support microSD cards. If your tablet does, you can host photos, videos, and other important data there.

If your device doesn’t have a microSD card slot, or if you want to protect against a failure (like theft) that includes the microSD card, there is the cloud storage option. You can back files up to Google Drive, Dropbox, or other online services. There are also apps you can use to automate this process.  (I’ve tried a few but haven’t found one I really like just yet.  They exist, though, and when I find a really nice one, I’ll post about it at length.)

What about the games, though? If your device dies and you get a new one, you’ll reinstall your apps only to find yourself staying from square one. What we need is a way to back up the app’s data to be restored on a new device.

Unfortunately, there is no single solution to this problem. Each app is different. Some connect to your Facebook account (or another online account). For these, you merely need to log in on your new device and your game progress will transfer to the new device. Of course, this does present problems if the game to be backed up us for a child. Facebook limits accounts to people 13 and older. Even if they allowed younger people to join, I’d hesitate to put my young children in social media without any preparation merely to save a game.

For other games, there might be a support code in the app. Write this down somewhere safe and should you need to restore the game to the new device, you’d just send them this code in a support request. Of course, this process’ effectiveness will vary depending on the game company’s responsiveness and how old the game is. Some will respond quickly while others might not reply at all.

Diving Into Inexpensive Virtual Reality With Google Cardboard

TechyDad-With-CardboardWith the name TechyDad, you might guess that I love all things tech.  You’d be right, but often monetary realities mean I can’t get every cool new piece of tech.  Instead, I need to sit on the sidelines and watch as others enjoy fantastic products on the cutting edge.  Recently, Verizon Wireless gave away Star Wars branded Google Cardboards for free.  As one might expect, they were swamped by Star Wars fans.  B and I managed to get a free Google Cardboard each.  What I wasn’t prepared for, was how cool Google Cardboard was.

Google Cardboard is a very simple virtual reality viewer.  The specs were released by Google and consists of pieces of cardboard, two lenses, and some Velcro.  If you repurpose a pizza box, you can build your own Google Cardboard for under $10 in parts.  Alternatively, you can buy models online.  I’ve seen everything from simple cardboard-based Cardboard viewers for $5 to high-end-looking molded plastic models (complete with head straps and foam padding for a comfortable fit) for $30.  Compared with other VR viewers that cost $200 or more each, Google Cardboard is definitely cost-effective.  Your phone gets placed into a holder and the screen is split and distorted (by the Google Cardboard app – free for Android or iOS) so that looking through the lenses results in a 3D experience.

Google-CardboardNOTE: Some Google Cardboard viewers include magnets that are used to interact with the virtual environments.  The magnets temporarily mess with the device’s compass which Google Cardboard interprets as a click.  My viewers didn’t include this magnet so I can’t speak to how well this works.

Of course, an inexpensive VR viewer is nothing without content.  Luckily, there are a lot of very different apps to choose from.  So far, I’ve tried eight, all of them free on the Google Play store:

Cardboard Camera: This is a VR viewer as well as a VR creator.  The camera lets you create 360° panoramas as that you can then view using Google Cardboard.  I’ve created VR panoramas of JSL in the yard (where he ran into different positions during the panorama creation – making it look like there were three of him), NHL’s school auditorium before a concert (when it was almost totally empty), and panoramas of JSL in his blanket fort.  I’ll definitely be using this on my next vacation so we can drop back in at any time.

Cosmic Roller Coaster: Like the title says, this app takes you on a ride through a solar system not too unlike our own.  You rocket from the outer reaches, past planets and moons (with many close calls along the way), until you circle into the sun.  I found this to be mildly impressive, but not as good as Titans of Space or VR Roller Coaster (both of which I’ll cover in a bit).

Fish Schooling: This app lets you scuba dive without any equipment rental or training.  As you look all around you, fish of many different types swim by.  This app was impressive at first, but quickly got boring. Here’s hoping a future update adds some variety like sharks swimming past.

Star Wars: This was the obvious draw of the Star Wars-branded Google Cardboard viewers.  Along with the non-Cardboard content (such as GIFs and emojis), the Star Wars app included a Jakko Spy feature which transports you into the world of Star Wars for brief segments.  You get to look all around a desert planet, ducking as spaceships fly overhead, and greeting BB-8 as he rolls up to you.  Needless to say, my boys and I geeked out over this.  Even B had a mini-geek-out moment when she said “Oh, hi there!” as BB-8 approached her.

fish-schoolingStreet View: This is Google’s normal Street View app.  It contains not only views from every street that Google has mapped worldwide, but images that others have contributed.  Viewing Street View images is impressive on a desktop/laptop screen, but Google Cardboard takes it up a notch.  With a quick search I can be on top of the Empire State Building, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, looking at a castle in England, or even scuba diving with fish nearby.  Possibly the most surreal moment was when I looked up my own house on Street View one night.  My brain said that I was inside the house, but my eyes reported that I was outside and the house was right in front of me.  The conflict was almost dizzying.  I’ve decided that I need to use this app to take quick five minute vacations.  When life gets me down, I’ll just pop on over to some scenic local and pretend that I’m somewhere else for a few minutes.

Google-Street-ViewTitans of Space: After Cosmic Roller Coaster, I wondered if there were more scientifically accurate solar system models.  I’m not sure how accurate Titans of Space is – clearly they “compress” space so that traveling between planets doesn’t take months or years which also means that planets appear bigger from the orbit of other planets than they should.  Still, this app makes up for this with the sheer amount of information it gives on the planets and moons in our solar system.  And when your solar system tour is done, be prepared to have your mind blown when it shows you how big other stars are compared to our Sun!

TurnMe Panorama: During my recent cruise, I took quite a few panoramic shots.  I wondered if there was a way to turn these normal panoramas into VR panoramas.  Obviously, they wouldn’t be 360° shots, but perhaps Cardboard could display them as if I were looking at giant prints of the panoramas floating in front of me.  This is exactly what TurnMe Panorama does.  It’s not perfect, but it definitely beats looking at a squished down version on my monitor or having to look through it with keyboard/mouse clicks.

VR Roller Coaster: One of my first downloads after I got Google Cardboard was a rollercoaster app.  I’m not sure why this was as I’m not a huge rollercoaster fan, but I quickly found and downloaded VR Roller Coaster.  I put on the viewer and found myself rocketing around turns and going into loop-de-loops high in the air.  Though I wasn’t really moving, I could feel my stomach begin to react to the virtual coaster.  This is definitely my favorite roller coaster of all – if only because you can “jump off” at any time by removing the Google Cardboard.  I don’t recommend trying this on a real life roller coaster.

Whenever my boys see the Google Cardboard being taken out, they begin fighting over who gets to use it first.  (Answer: Me.  I get to use it first!)  I feel like the apps are impressive but have only scratched the surface as to what is possible.  I can definitely see more companies creating content and even giving away branded Cardboard viewers for promotional purposes.  Personally, I’d love to see Disney make Google Cardboard versions of their rides.  You could ride Splash Mountain, Test Track, or Expedition Everest without leaving your living room.  Of course, this wouldn’t replace an actual trip to Disney World or Disney Land.  However, it could spark a Disney World/Disney Land interest or help keep an existing one alive until your next Disney vacation.  (If Disney is reading this, they can take my idea and just give me copies of the VR rides.)

If you’re looking for a cool VR experience without draining your bank account, I’d definitely recommend Google Cardboard.

Rapid Charging With The Droid Turbo

DISCLAIMER: My wife received a Droid Turbo due to being a member of the Verizon Life Style Bloggers.  Since I was in need of a new smartphone, she gave it to me.  The opinions expressed below are my own.

When you’re out and about, the last thing you want to see on your smartphone is:


Even if you brought your cable, you might not have much time to recharge your phone.  You might gain a few minutes of use but you can wind up fighting a losing battle as your charging times don’t give you enough battery life to make it to the next charge.  When my wife received the Droid Turbo to review – and gave it to me – I wanted to put both its long battery life and rapid charger to the test.

One day, while out, I decided to put the battery through its paces.  I took photos, played battery-draining games, and used the phone as much as possible.  The end result was that my phone went from 100% to 14% in 12 hours.  If this seems like a short time period, note that this wasn’t "typical usage."  I was intentionally trying to use up the battery’s charge.  My old smartphone would, if I was lucky, probably have lasted half of this time with this level of usage.

Once the indicator reached 14% and the warning was popped up, it was charger time.  I plugged in the rapid charger and kept an eye on the percentages.  A half hour into the charge, the battery had gone from 14% to 46%.  This was a whopping 32% in only 30 minutes.  Basically, this half hour of charging gained me almost 4.5 hours of extreme usage.  Were I attempting to conserve battery life (instead of trying to drain the battery as quickly as possible), a half hour charge using the rapid charger could mean having enough juice to last the rest of the day.

Just over an hour in (65 minutes) and the percentage had reached 79%.  At the 81 minute mark, the battery was at 93%.  Finally, 143 minutes (2 hours and 23 minutes) after I plugged my phone in, the charge reached 100%.

Needless to say, I’m impressed with the results.  The Droid Turbo’s rapid charger definitely lived up to its name.  If you are out and about and your Droid Turbo is running on fumes, a short recharge break can give you enough battery charge to last you a good, long time.

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