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Here comes the sun

Hey there, Tech Savvy fans!

Well, happy summer to you all (finally)! It looks like the sun decided to come out and we can only hope that this trend continues for the rest of the season. In honor of this momentous occasion I thought this would be a good week to look at some random fun things for the summer weather. Whether you’re at the beach, road-trippin’ or just hanging out in the yard with the family, there are lots of great tech items to keep you entertained.

Summer needs a sound track. If you’ve read the column before you know I am a huge fan of Slacker Online Radio, and they keep making things better. If you haven’t been using the service, they continually update their Specialty and Themed station options so there is a revolving door for options for you to listen to. The best part about this service? They have both free and paid services! I personally opted for the first tier subscription so then I have 100 percent music streaming with no interruptions.

The second part to this is a better vehicle to listen to the music through. Sure, cellphone and tablet speakers have come a long way but they are still not up to par with a high quality system. Enter Bluetooth enabled audio. I use two different methods to connect to my devices — Bluetooth gateway and Bluetooth speaker. I’ve used the Bluetooth gateway for years now. I can plug that into any speaker system with a headphone jack and then my audio plays right through. This works great in the car, at home and on the go traveling. My only complaint with this method is it involves cords — a power cord and an audio cord. While it’s not the end of the world, I do find it a bit of an inconvenience to constantly trip over them.

And that’s where option two comes in: Bluetooth speakers. Lately I’ve been using a Jawbone Jambox on loan from Verizon Wireless. Similar to the gateway the Jambox pairs with your smartphone or tablet and is connected wirelessly. That’s about where the similarities stop. The Jambox is a self-contained unit that has speakers in an aluminum housing. There are rubberized buttons that control volume, pairing and power. You also have a micro-USB slot for charging and a headphone jack out. The controls are super simple to use and the pairing was effortless, meaning you are up and running within seconds. The headphone jack allows you to daisy chain them together to give yourself a surround-sound effect, which is really great if you’re outside or have a lot of people. The speaker itself has great audio quality, crystal clear sound and works well for most genres of music (bass and drum enthusiasts may not be perfectly satisfied). On the go all day? Don’t worry, the Jambox has held a charge all day and is a great option for a day at the beach.

Gas Buddy is another app I’ve been relying on this year. With gas prices so up and down I found myself increasingly frustrated at paying for gas only to discover it was 15 cents less at the station two blocks away. Gas Buddy eliminates that. They’re not new to the game but they have been accumulating their database and users to the point where they now have an extensive following which means there are more prices reported in more locations. For me that means I know I will get the best price on gas in my area. They also have a cool program where you get points for reporting gas prices and you can redeem those points for entries in drawings for gas cards. Spend less of your money at the pump and more on ice cream this summer.

Urban Spoon is another great tool on the go. It is essentially a dining app but has some really fun features that work well for us. My family enjoys different kinds of food and we make a point when we travel to try and find something new if we can. With that in mind, it’s sometimes difficult for us to pick a place to eat when we aren’t too choosy and there are lots of great options. Not only do they have listings with reviews and information, they also have a cool “eeny-meeny-miney-moe” tool that helps people like us choose a place to eat. How it works is you take a slot machine interface, select to lock your location, type of food, price range and it will randomly select an option based on those criteria. This is a fantastic app if you’re traveling in another city or if you just feel like trying something new.

Google Now is something I find myself using more and more each day. For you Apple fans out there consider this your Siri but with a little more backbone to it. Google Now incorporates the strengths of your Android phone along with the power of Google. Increasingly I find myself using it to answer questions, get directions and stay on top of my day. It’s more than just voice recognition though. Google now also includes weather alerts, ETA to regular haunts and helps manage my day. There has been, and will continue to be, much debate on which is better — Google Now or Siri — but if you watch some video reviews what you find is that the results will vary depending on the task. Here’s a rundown of some of Google Now’s features:

Parking apps are worth mentioning this week. It’s not a problem every place we go but with three kids and all the stuff we haul around because of it the last thing we want to do after a long day of fun is try to remember where we parked. Especially at the fair, state parks or festivals where there are lots of people and crowded conditions. There are tons of different options for these apps and they are continually getting better but make sure you find one that uses GPS (they all should) and I find it helpful to have the option of taking a picture of my parking location too. Some of the apps will store the picture with the app but even if the app doesn’t take a picture — especially if you are in a parking ramp and on a specific level.

Finally, here in the lakes area we have lots of wildlife and plenty to do outdoors so it’s definitely time well spent to look up some of the apps used to identify animals or birds for reference. Audubon has a number of apps that vary be region which is nice and there is one called NatureShare which allows you to share great sightings with other people in your area which is really cool.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when the weather gets this nice out, unplug and get outside. Consider this a PSA from Mother Nature. Don’t get me wrong, I rarely go out without my phone just because it’s also my camera but you’re really missing out if you don’t get out, get active and enjoy our short Minnesota summer.