iPhone 5S vs 5C (5C Edition)

iPhone 5C Review

iPhone 5CLast February, when I was still working at the American Cancer Society, I was doing some canvassing one day and happened to pass by a Verizon store. My Droid Incredible had been giving me some trouble, so I went in to ask them if anything could be done. I ended up trading it in for an iPhone 4 for only $100–the 4s had just come out, so the 4 was cheap.

As a Mac person, it was about time I got an iPhone. When I had originally bought the Droid, I found I couldn’t sync any of my calendars in the correct direction (my Google calendar would sync to iCal, but I couldn’t get iCal to sync to Google). So I was just biding my time until I could get a phone that would sync seamlessly to my calendars, iTunes, etc. Getting the iPhone 4 completed the circle.

Fast-forward a year and 9 months or so. My trusty iPhone 4 was still working more or less perfectly, but its capacity was shot–having bought only the 8GB, I had barely 30 songs, less than 1,000 pictures, and only a few extraneous apps installed on the phone, but there still wasn’t enough space available to install iOS7. The large majority of these apps were daily essentials (banking, Facebook, Sparkpeople, Pandora), and my phone was running painfully slowly. So when the iPhone 5s and 5c came out, I got it into my head that I should upgrade. (Thankfully, there was an upgrade available on my family plan!)

Amazon – Apple iPhone 5c, White 16GB (Unlocked)

The first thing I did was check out the differences in specs between the iPhone 5, 5s, and 5c. I ruled out the iPhone 5 almost immediately because only the 64GB model was available through Verizon, and I wasn’t about to pay $300 for a phone that wasn’t even the most recent version. In comparing the iPhone 5s and 5c, I noticed only a few things the 5s had that the 5c didn’t, namely a few camera features (burst mode, slow-motion video, “True Tone” flash instead of an LED flash) and, of course, the fingerprint identity scanner. Deciding that I really didn’t want a fingerprint scanner anyway, and realizing that, if I wanted fancy camera features, I could just buy a camera (which I plan to do before I get married in April), I decided to go for the iPhone 5c. Plus, for $199, I could get a 32GB iPhone 5c, while that much would only get me a 16GB iPhone 5s.

So about a month ago, after watching BC get dealt a crushing defeat at the hands of FSU, I decided to cheer myself up by heading to the Verizon store a few miles away. After signing in and waiting a while for service, another rep finally called my name and I explained what I wanted. I also mentioned that I had an iPhone 4 that I would be willing to trade in if it would get me anything. Incredibly, my iPhone 4 had a $100 trade-in value! I got my new, blue iPhone 5c, a case, screen protectors, and an additional charger for less than $200. I went home a VERY happy camper.

I love this phone. Everything is fast. The capacity is great and (hopefully) more than I’ll ever need. The display is beautiful. The sound quality, both from the earpiece and the speaker at the bottom, is great. I haven’t had any antenna issues when making or receiving calls. The battery life, while never great on smartphones, is definitely an improvement over my drained-in-4-hours iPhone 4 battery, so I’m definitely not complaining. With moderate use throughout the day (some music playing, lots of Facebook, texting, and Words With Friends) I still usually go home at the end of the day with at least 50% charge. I worked from 8:30am until midnight a few days ago, and my phone only gave me a “20% battery” alert when I was about to go home.

The camera is also pretty great for a phone camera. There are a bunch of different instagram-like settings, including a “square” setting, as well as panoramic and video settings. The zoom is pretty good too.

Video quality is great, too:

Of course, I have to make a bit of a mention of iOS7. I got used to it pretty quickly and frankly not much has changed except the surface. I don’t love the eye-searing green that accompanies the toggle switches and text message balloons, and the dock bothers me because it seems like a step backwards all the way to Mac OS X Tiger:

Tiger OS X

I definitely prefer the “platform” look of the dock from previous iOS iteration.

Otherwise, though, while I do miss the skeumorphic touches of previous versions of iOS, I can live with iOS7 and frankly haven’t noticed too much difference. The starkest difference, to me, is the Messages app. The speech bubbles are entirely flat now and have taken more getting used to than most of the changes, just because texting is a large part of what I do on my phone.

I also LOVE that the new Maps app will actually REDIRECT when you take a wrong turn! It’s like a real GPS!! I was VERY happy when I discovered this feature. It also has much better graphics and actually makes sense when you’re using turn-by-turn directions.

 

Overall, I can’t say anything bad about this phone. If you’re looking to upgrade, I would highly recommend the iPhone 5c.

Does SparkPeople Work?

Bridget’s Experience with the Diet Website

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 7.02.38 PM

As I progress through my twenties, I notice more and more that my peers are all about exercising, losing weight, and getting in shape. Despite many attempts to get in shape throughout high school and college, I’ve never been a huge fan of exercise–I’d much rather eat pizza and mozzarella sticks while reading a book or surfing the internet–but with a wedding a mere eight(ish) months away and a general desire to be healthier, I’ve grudgingly jumped back on the exercise bandwagon.

I’ll be the first to admit that I suffer from a touch of OCD. (Okay, maybe more than a touch.) I love being able to track things and measure my progress, or lack thereof. I had started using LoseIt on and off my senior year of college, but couldn’t quite stick with it. Then, about two years ago, the American Cancer Society, where I was working at the time, decided to begin a company-wide health initiative which included the use of Sparkpeople.com, in which employees could receive rewards for completing challenges that could only be tracked through Sparkpeople. I thought it seemed fun, so I decided to join Sparkpeople.

Some quick background: Sparkpeople, like LoseIt (our review), is a free online food- and exercise-tracking software. You input your starting weight and your goal weight, and you can choose to 1) plan to lose .5-2lbs per week (in which case, Sparkpeople will project a date at which you should reach your goal) or plan to reach your goal weight by a certain date (in which case, Sparkpeople will tell you how many pounds you need to lose per week to reach your goal).

Immediately, I noticed that it had quite a bit more to offer than Loseit. First of all, instead of giving a hard and fast calorie limit for each day, Sparkpeople provides you with a range that you should stay within. Maybe it’s a psychological thing, but it was easier for me to remain within a range than it was to consistently stay beneath a hard and fast daily calorie limit.

Second of all, it was much easier to edit the foods I had entered into Sparkpeople manually. Whenever I tried to edit something in LoseIt, even something that I had personally entered, I always got an error message saying that my edits would have to be approved by a moderator or something. So I was glad to find that I was able to easily edit my changes in Sparkpeople!

Something that I initially didn’t like about Sparkpeople was that entering calories burned through exercise didn’t increase your calorie limit for the day. However, this was just recently changed so that the trackers “talk” to each other. You don’t have to make them talk, but I find this incredibly useful.
Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 7.06.25 PMSparkpeople’s articles are informative and their message boards can be helpful, if badly punctuated (but that seems to be true of message boards everywhere). They have quizzes and trivia, and their articles focus on a variety of topics like healthy eating, exercising, and motivation. They also have healthy recipes and exercise videos. I really haven’t even begun to explore the depths of what they have to offer.

As far as results go, I’ve been using Sparkpeople more or less consistently since January and have lost about 15 pounds. That’s not a whole lot in 8 months, but being back in the 130s for the first time since high school or so has been a great confidence booster for me. With 8 months to go, I’m reasonably confident I’ll hit my 125-pound goal by the time I get married in April!

All in all, I would absolutely recommend Sparkpeople to anyone looking to lose or maintain their weight or just be more conscious about their health and exercise. It’s so much easier for me to lose weight when I can keep track of all of my food intake and exercise output. Once you get in the habit of updating it every day (which, admittedly, can be a pain until you’ve inputted most of the foods you eat on a regular basis), it’s pretty quick and easy to keep it up each day. So if you’re looking to lose weight, sign up at Sparkpeople.com (and friend me if you want, I’m bridget_germain)!

MacBook Pro or iMac?

My iMac Experience

iMacI’ve been lusting after an iMac for years. As I got to the end of my college career, I began to think that my aging laptop might not necessarily need to be replaced with another laptop, and that a desktop would do just fine. This idea grew into a full-fledged WANT well before I graduated in 2011, but I didn’t actively start saving for a desktop until early 2012.

Part of this desire for an iMac stemmed from the receptionist job I worked in college. Most offices at Boston College (or, at least, the ones I worked in) were equipped with iMacs rather than Windows desktops. The summer before my senior year, one of the offices I worked in underwent a long-overdue hardware update; that fall, the other office I worked in followed. The iMacs we got had been out for a few years, but they were gorgeous, and only cemented my desire for one of my own.

Near the end of 2012, as my savings account neared its goal of $1,750, Apple announced they would have a new iMac out that winter. This model, instead of requiring you to upgrade to a 1TB hard drive (which I had planned to do), would come standard with one. Jackpot! I decided I could wait a few more weeks for the computer to come out.

And so I waited, and I waited, and I waited. There was a two-week period during which I called all of the Apple stores in a 30-mile radius every day, asking if they had any iMacs in stock. I didn’t want to order online for fear that my beautiful new computer would sit on my doorstep all day, easy pickings for the computer-stealers that roam the streets. But finally, I decided I could wait no longer, and ordered my iMac online. (I shipped it to my office so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it sitting on my stoop.)

After six blissful months with my iMac, I have to say that I love it. The display is beautiful. It’s lightning-fast. It runs historically glitchy games like The Sims perfectly (or at least about as well as could be hoped for). I love being able to open a zillion Safari tabs in the huge screen, and I love that the computer is still fast enough to handle it. Looking at photos in all their 21.5” glory is a magical experience.

There are a few imperfections, though they’re minor. First, FaceTime always seems to fail on the first try. Jeff, Alex and I meet monthly over video chat, and when Jeff calls me from his iPad and I answer, it always freezes on the “connecting…” screen for several minutes, prompting me to hang up and call him. But from there, it always works smoothly.

Something else that annoys me, really through no fault of its own, is the battery life of the wireless accessories (trackpad, keyboard). I’d never had a keyboard or trackpad that was powered separately from the computer itself before (previously they’d always either been wired or attached to a laptop), so when my mouse pointer wasn’t responding one day I flat out panicked before realizing, oh, it’s probably the battery. Duh.

Finally, I’m not too crazy about Apple’s suite of office products. However, I haven’t had much use for them yet, so I will save my review of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote for another day once I have used them more intensively.

Here are the specs of my iMac:

PROCESSOR: 2.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5
MEMORY: 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM-2X4GB
HARD DRIVE: 1TB 5400-rpm Serial ATA Drive
GRAPHICS: NVIDIAGeFrc GT 640M 512M GDDR5
MOUSE: MAGIC TRACKPAD
PAGES: PAGES PREINSTALLED
NUMBERS: NUMBERS PREINSTALLED
KEYNOTE: KEYNOTE PREINSTALLED
APPLE KEYBOARD: Apple WL Kybd (English)+UG
COUNTRY KIT: COUNTRY KIT

Altogether, that added up to about $1,440. It’s not cheap, but for such a gorgeous computer, it was worth every penny.
Buy at Amazon.com (aff)

Should I Trust Mint.com?

Review: Mint.com

When I bought my iPad last October, the first thing I did was explore the App Store. I was dazzled by all of the different “productivity” apps, but pragmatic enough to realize that I probably didn’t need and wouldn’t use the majority of them (after all, I still had a laptop and would have a desktop as well within a few months). But one caught my eye: Mint.com. I’d never heard of Mint before, so I don’t know what made me tap it to read more about it, but I’m glad I did.

Mint.com is something that will make certain people–especially those who have a pathological fear of identity theft–cringe: it’s a free, online software that pulls in all of your bank account data and lets you budget accordingly. As someone who is not burdened with a pathological fear of identity theft (go ahead, identity thieves, take on my $50,000 student loan debt), I immediately thought, “Wow, I need this!” So I downloaded it.

I quickly realized that account setup would be much easier using the actual online software rather than the app, so I did that first, pulling in my Bank of America checking and savings, my external used-to-be-high-yield-but-not-so-much-anymore savings account, my student loans, and my 403(B) from my old job at the American Cancer Society. It works about as you would expect: every time you log in, it refreshes your account information so that it pulls in the most recent transactions. You can label transactions however you want, and can do so in such a way that certain transactions are always given a certain label. For example, Royal Farms is a convenience store/gas station here in Maryland, but my transactions there (I only ever buy gas there, rarely anything else) always showed up as Fast Food. So I made a rule that said any transactions at Royal Farms should be labeled as “Gas & Fuel.” (You can get to this menu by selecting any transaction and then clicking “Edit Details.”)

Mint.com Screenshot

The budget tool is also really useful. It’s mostly useful for me so that I can remind myself how little disposable cash I have at any point in time and prevents me from spending a ton. For example, setting a $50 budget for food for the month (not including groceries) is a good way to make sure I’m not going out to lunch every other day. It also has a cute red-yellow-green feature where your bar is green if you haven’t spent much of your budget, yellow if you’re close to your limit, and red if you go over.

One of the things that was slightly irritating to me was that I couldn’t set budgets for specific spending accounts. It’s not a huge issue, but since my fiancé and I have a joint bank account for bills and rent and whatnot, it would have been nice to have those budgets under my account as well, without messing up my own personal budgets. (Because our joint account is also with Bank of America, when I gave my account number, the joint account info was pulled in as well.) But Mint does have a handy little feature that you can use to hide accounts you don’t want as part of your budget, so that does help.

Something else that is a bit annoying is that Mint seems to have some trouble with Bank of America. A month or so ago, my accounts wouldn’t update and I kept getting an error message telling me that my account info was incorrect even though I knew it wasn’t. It was eventually resolved, and my BoA accounts have been mostly fine since, but every once in a while it seems to glitch up again.

Another great feature is the “Trends” section. You can see pie charts and bar graphs and line graphs tracking your monthly spending over time, your spending breakdown, your net worth over time, and a whole bunch of other cool things. The graphs look fine on a browser, but boy, are they pretty on the iPad app.

 

By the way, don’t judge me for half of the money I spent last month going to “shopping.” It’s mostly because I bought a wedding dress 🙂

Overall, though, Mint.com is almost exactly what I wanted. (In case you’re wondering exactly what I wanted, it’s this: an app that will let me see what my account balance will be on any given day of the month, based on scheduled transactions, billpay, etc. so I can see in advance if that check will overdraw my account if it’s deposited on the wrong day, or if I should pay my student loans a week before they’re due or wait until the due date. So, whoever’s good at app design–get on it! Thanks.)

Pros:
1) Secure and easy to use. Oh, and FREE.
2) Really helpful for OCD people like me to need to check up on their money 10 times a day.
3) Graphs and pie charts make great visual aids for people like me who sometimes have trouble making sense of huge spreadsheets.

Cons:
1) Can’t assign budgets to specific accounts.
2) iPhone and iPad apps are pretty, but much less functional than the actual website.

Yes, Mint.com has its faults, but much fewer than its competitors (trust me, I know–when it was having problems with BoA, I started looking around for alternatives, and discovered that Mint is really in a league of its own). And to be perfectly honest, I’m guessing that most people don’t really care about assigning budgets to specific accounts or that the apps are less functional than the website. The apps are great to get a quick look at your net worth or if you want to spend some time looking at pretty graphs, and I imagine that’s what most people want out of them anyway.

I would absolutely recommend this site to anyone who wants to be able to have all your bank/investment/etc. accounts in one place. As someone who once vowed to never have more than one bank account and now has 3 bank accounts, 2 investment accounts, and a credit card…I’m thrilled that there’s one place that I can look at it all, and look at it all securely.

My iPad Experience

A Guest Post by Bridget Germain

iPadHi! I’m Bridget, a friend of Jeff’s. I just recently bought an iPad, and Jeff asked me to write a little post about my experiences with it so far. But first, some background on me: I’m a 23-year-old non-profit business professional (I work for Big Brothers Big Sisters doing corporate relations) and I love my gadgets, but know next to nothing about how they work. I’m also an unabashed Apple devotee, and have been lusting after the iPad for a while.

I bought it primarily to use as an e-reader after I discovered that I really liked using iBooks on my iPhone (except for the fact that it was tiny). Now, I know you’re probably going to say that I could have bought a Kindle for $99 instead of the $800 that I spent on the iPad, but I’ve used a Kindle before and didn’t love it (it doesn’t have page numbers! AGH!). Plus, I wanted to use the iPad for other things; namely, as a personal assistant.

No, I don’t use Siri. But when I started my new job, I really wanted something that I could use to schedule all my appointments, something that’s not always easy to do on the iPhone. Plus, I tend to forget to actually add things to my calendar when I just write them down in my notebook, so having the iPad with me at all times has been dandy.

While I have used it mostly for work so far, there are a few apps that have come in really handy for other things. One is the Mint.com app, into which you can import all of your bank accounts, investment accounts, and loans, and budget for just about anything under the sun. As someone who never wanted more than one bank account but somehow ended up with two bank accounts and three investment accounts (yes, really) plus student loans, it comes in pretty handy to see my total cash flow each month. You have to make an account online before using the app, and the website itself is somewhat easier to use than the app, but the app is great to just quickly check up on something. Plus, it uses lots of graphs and charts, and as a visual person, that helps me a lot.

I also blog on WordPress, so I use the WordPress app as well. I’ve never written a post from there, but it’s useful to check page stats and reply to comments when I’m at work and don’t want to log in on my work computer! It’s definitely a LOT better than it used to be, or at least better than the iPhone app used to be. Luckily, both have improved magnificently over the past few updates, so if you do blog using WordPress, I would definitely recommend the app.

Some of the other apps I use are Facebook (obviously), Goodreads (basically a social networking site where you can publicize and keep track of all the books you read), Slate (an online news magazine) and Kindle (because one reading app is obviously not enough).

I’ve been bad and haven’t really worked on keeping my iPad backed up, but I do use iCloud, so there’s that. I’m considering getting a Dropbox account for work, but I haven’t done it yet.

Something I’ve been having trouble with is finding a case. I originally bought a “Smart Case” from the Apple store, but I didn’t like it because it didn’t stand up the way it was supposed to. I’m looking now for a case that will fit in a folio, since I got a branded Big Brothers Big Sisters folio when I started working there. (If anyone has any recommendations, let me know!) So I’ve been pretty undecided so far, but for anyone out there who is also still undecided, just don’t buy a Smart Case.

Finally, I want to give you a quick breakdown of what I spent on the iPad. I had initially planned to get the wireless-only 32GB one ($599) but ended up going with the wireless+3G 16GB one, for $629. (I got it in black to match my iPhone.) I also got AppleCare for $99 (because I tend to be hard on equipment) and a dock for $29. I haven’t used the dock much yet, but plan to use it more once I buy my new iMac (which I imagine I will be writing about once I’ve spent some time with it!) and spend more time at my desk.

All in all, I would definitely recommend the iPad. I love mine, especially for reading using the iBooks and Kindle apps and for my calendar.