Evernote CEO’s Mea Culpa — Plans To Address App Stability, Plus A Hiring Blitz

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Evernote CEO Phil Libin has responded to the scathing criticism of the company made in a blog post by former TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid. A post which ended up making headlines recently. Libin says new versions of all the apps are planned, targeting note editing, navigation, search, sync and collaboration.

He says the company has already started on these, and it now plans to focus on stability, design and simplicity – with many more hires planned to beef up their team.

Libin goes to some length to address the issues surrounding Evernote’s increasingly bloated platform, many of which are around the ecosystem of apps Evernote has built up which has led to a series of issues around bugs.

He says “reading Jason’s article was a painful and frustrating experience because, in the big picture, he’s right.” But, he adds, “We’re going to fix this.”

Specifically, he says that despite huge growth the company needs to “pause for a bit and look in rather than up,” and he promises Evernote’s “central theme” for 2014 will be “constant improvement of the core promise of Evernote.”

He says work on this started a couple of months ago, precipitated by the frustrating roll-out of their iOS 7 version, resulting in “stability problems”.

There are 164 engineers and designers working at Evernote, with 150 assigned to the core software products. He pledges the total number will increase “quite a bit” in 2014, but the proportion will stay the same. He claims that since then they’ve made a lot of progress, and Evernote is “measurably less buggy.”

Libin says App store ratings have gone from 2 stars to 4.5, customer support volumes for iOS “have been cut by more than half”.

However, he says it may well take longer for the improvements to be felt by users.

It’s an unusually candid response from what is now a pretty big company.


A Passive Yet Potentially Aggressive Mobile App Strategy

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Editor’s Note: Semil Shah works on product for Swell, is a TechCrunch columnist, and an investor. He blogs at Haywire, and you can follow him on Twitter at @semil.

Yes, we all know…If you’re reading TechCrunch, there’s a great chance we all look at our phones too many times during the day, during meetings, during conversations, during dinner, and every other piece of dead time in between. Mobile apps and the connectivity they provide to us induce addictive behaviors. So, as we think about how mobile evolves, two questions have been on my mind: (1) Could information be pushed to us (beyond push notifications) such that I look at my phone less? And, (2) Will there be apps which passively collect data from my phone, while running in the background, that will improve the notifications mentioned above?

Today in mobile, push notifications hold the promise of native re-engagement tools. Just as it’s hard to even get others to discover and download your app, it’s equally hard to get them to re-engage with your app. Where else could these notifications go to make sure we see them? Email is the next best channel, and with deep-linking becoming more uniform, helps developers touch users and coax them back into their silos. Maybe this is where “wearables” will come into play? Notifications can be sent to a wristwatch or connected glasses, but will we even use these new devices? And, maybe those notifications are just passive, or the types that bring us back into the phone. What if an app sends me great push notifications but I don’t go into the app — is that helping a developer today, or will that provide value in the future as the manners in which we use our phones evolve?

Now, what if we let apps just run like gears in the background after download and collect data for us? We wouldn’t have to open the app all the time and input information. We may occasionally go back into the app to see how our data is presented, or search for something in the past, but it wouldn’t require daily or even weekly active uses. Lately, this could be apps like Heyday and Memoir, which automatically create personal journals based on mobile activity. Instead of being inside our phones chronicling every check-in, or while we are out and about, such as Strava for cyclists, or using Automatic to track movements in the car. For instance, I have my Automatic set to turn on whenever I’m in the car. I rarely go back into the app itself, but I’m using it every time I’m driving. I’m certainly hoping one day I can do something with that data, but we shall see.

Now, let’s take a step back as 2014 commences and everyone recognizes the scale of the platform shift presented by mobile…

All of our attention is on mobile, and rightly so. As a result, investment dollars are focused on mobile, but most of those are chasing apps which could reasonably or already have achieved breakout status. There aren’t many of those. We may all focus on the daily swings of the App Store rankings or get sucked into what’s happening in a category, but if consumers aren’t using an app multiple times a day, the future of that app may be grim. Investors know this, which is why apps with serious daily engagement (like Snapchat) command such high valuations. Add on top of this the sheer number of people who are building new apps daily, and the competition is insanely intense.

Given the current atmosphere, could apps make a bold enough consumer promise to work smartly “in the background” and not ask for daily attention from users? That’s what I’ve experienced personally with Heyday so far, as an example. I know this app will make searchable journals for me based on photos and my location, and I can see them adding in people (as the app spreads), and then perhaps integrating data from Strava, Automatic, and the like. As a result, I let it track my location, I let it access my photo roll, and so forth. There’s a trade taking place, and while I don’t go into Heyday more than once a week, when I want to search for something the past, it’s usually there, right at my fingertips. These types of apps are like gears in a machine. We don’t see them every day, perhaps only when we need something at a specific moment, but we need them to work constantly and consistently for us. These gears could also make other systems run or even possible in the future, in that way, become platforms. While it’s early days mobile, it’s every earlier for these types of background apps, but I think it’s starting to turn in this direction, and with the competition for user attention so fierce today, apps that work like gears do, indeed, present a passive yet potentially aggressive mobile app strategy.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons / Sonny Abesamis


Holy Tech Batman! — Can The European Commission Be A Startup Super Hero?

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What is to be done with Europe? As The New York Times wrote just two days ago, there are not enough people in Europe qualified to fill all the technology jobs available. At the same time, Europe is not producing really big platforms to take on the global players. Too much of European technology has been caught up producing client-driven businesses in enterprise. As it is often said, where are the platforms like Google, Facebook and or Twitter in Europe? We can’t recycle stories about Skype forever. There are some amazing companies coming though. But more are needed.

So it is that the European Commission wants European member states to develop ‘a new generation of web services’, and of course, reap the economic benefits from those.

Of course, the Commission is not the magic bullet, or the super hero to save the day. But it wants to try.

There’s no getting around it. For a long time Europeans have looked with envy upon the sheer scale of technology innovation coming out of places like the USA (in software and internet platforms) and Asia (in hardware). The Commission, quite rightly, wants to help do something about this.

So back in May 2013 it introduce a set of ’6 actions’ by the EC VP for Industry & Entrepreneurship, Antonio Tajani as part of its grandly titled “Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan”. The little unit inside the Commission to deliver this is one year old, which, in EU Commission terms, is a teeny tiny baby.

So the question is, can they do it, and what the hell is their action plan?

Well, their Action Plan described as a blueprint for “decisive action to unleash Europe’s entrepreneurial potential, to remove existing obstacles and to revolutionise the culture of entrepreneurship in Europe.” (This was developed after a public consultation process with a number of European entrepreneurs).

The aim is to invest in in changing the public perception of entrepreneurs (typically poor in risk-averse European business culture), in entrepreneurship education and to support groups that are underrepresented among entrepreneurs. The aim is to revitalise an entrepreneurial spirit which has considerably declined in the postwar years. And let’s face it most jobs are created by SMEs and micro-firms that did not exist even 5 years ago.

The Commission wants to under-pin the idea that it is only when a large number of Europeans recognise an entrepreneurial career as a rewarding and attractive option that entrepreneurial activity in Europe will thrive in the long term.

So, what in each is in this “Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan”. Well, it has three main pillars: Entrepreneurial education and training; the creation of a business environment where entrepreneurs can flourish and grow; and finally, highlighting role models while also reaching out to specific groups whose entrepreneurial potential is not being tapped to its fullest extent.

Since it issued it’s action plan, the Commission has delivered six initiatives aimed at each of the above actions, which I’ll go into in a moment.

• Setting up a Startup Europe Partnership
• The “Leaders Club” of entrepreneurs
• MOOCs for increasing web talent in Europe
• Accelerators Assembly – A Commission-funded network of tech Accelerators who are asked to share knowledge and information.
• A network of EU investors active in raising venture capital
• An EU crowd-funding network

These activities are, in theory targeted as ‘web entrepreneurship’ (or W.E. as they like to call it) and is all about helping to cultivate more ambitious tech start-ups which, crucially, are also able to scale into full-blown going companies, while boosting overall economic growth and jobs in the internet-based economy.

The EU Commission has a motto for this action plan which is ‘start in Europe and stay in Europe’. Of course, it’s not going to suit every business, but it’s a laudable thought.

In order for this to happen they want to overcome what obstacles there are in Europe to starting up and to work out how they can enhance startups to ‘scale up’ inside the EU and compete internationally.

Here we detect a slight problem in the thinking. Many startups will want to scale internationally from the word go, not just in the EU.

But, of course, it’s only the EU area of member states that the Commission can deal with anyway. That said, if the EU can create some sort of ‘best practise’ there’s nothing to stop nearby non-EU states taking a leaf out of their book.

One area the Commission thinks it is ‘doing OK’ in is the area of the Telecom Single Market legislation – an area championed during Neelie Kroes’ second term in office, with it’s aim to reduce the cost and legislative burden on companies, and the geographical asymmetries that prevent ‘single market’ economies of scale. And to be fair, she has been pummelling the networks to reduce roaming costs – and it does indeed look like those will come down year over the next few years.

So what has the Commission been doing in a concrete manner on the ground, and where do they go next?

The answer is six main initiatives, with a couple of ancillary activities tacked onto the end.

• Startup Europe

They set up the Startup Europe which covers a a wide range of activities and calls on private sector to come together to support European startups. A number of these are listed here.

Confusingly, They have registered, and promote this URL StartupEurope.eu

which simply re-directs to this long URL. Meanwhile, they also have Launch.StartupEuropePartnership.eu which isn’t doing anything right now.

Under the banner of Startup Europe, the Commission ran “Tech All Stars”, which was basically a European Commission-backed effort to run a startup pitch competition. Except they did not run it. It was a series of two competitions run by AngelsBootcamp and Founders Forum culminating in the overall winner, Trustev, being showcased at the Digital Agenda Assembly in Dublin on the 19th June.

Note that this has a different logo to the StartupEurope Partnership. Confused yet?

Under the list of achievements is the expression of interest and the quality of the corporate ‘pledges’ received so far from companies such as Telefonica, Microsoft, Adobe, Google.

The pledges they are after include things like mentoring, Open office hours, access to office spaces, funding, training, etc etc. All things corporates are famously bad at, of course, but at least it’s something.

They’ve had Telefonica bring Campus Party to Europe. Microsoft pledged to create CoEntrepreneurs.eu as a “a platform, a community and a collection of 2.0 initiatives enabling massive entrepreneurship support by the entrepreneurs themselves” – however, the site re-directs to CoEntrepreneurs.be, a Belgian domain, and a site with a couple of guys taking in French about startups. Not very Microsoft.

There’s also a vague commitment from Microsoft BizSpark to engage with European Institutions, but since this is simply cover for MS to sell software then you’d expect them to do this anyway.

The Leaders Club

“The Leader’s Club” is a group of six successful web entrepreneurs assembled by the Commission to basically come up with a list of things they think Europe should do, which they called the Startup Manifesto.

These are: Daniel Ek (Spotify), Kaj Hed (Rovio), Joanna Shields (Tech City UK), Reshma Sohoni (Seedcamp), Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten (The Next Web), Zaryn Dentzel (Tuenti), Niklas Zennström (Atomico) and Lars Hinrichs (formely of Hackfwd).

In March last year they met EC VP Neelie Kroes and in September launched their Manifesto of 22 actions needed to boost entrepreneurship for internet-driven economic growth across Europe. They boiled down to five headings: improving tech skills and education in Europe; making it easier to access talent in and outside the EU; increasing access to capital; modernising data laws across the EU; getting European countries to take ‘thought leadership’ in tech.

They tested the interest in the manifesto by subjecting it to public vote, but that garnered a relatively low 3,000 or so votes. That said, the ideas were rock solid. Indeed, the Leader’s Club has probably come up with amongst the best output of any Commission initiative to date – assuming anyone is listening.

If this were to go any further, one might suggest they look at the UK’s Tech City policy of creating a ‘Fast 50′ layer of much larger startups on their way to an IPO.

• Fostering Web Skills

The Commission has put out to tender a project to study the capability of MOOCs to improve web skills in Europe, for EUR 90,000. The study is due to report later in 2014, and will map the supply and demand for these, with the results to be published at a conference Q3 2015. The MOOCs Tender was launched to explore short term and long term objectives in developing massive online courses, such as the ones launched by Stanford’s Coursera, or MIT’s EdX which have had an explosive growth.

Massive Online Courses have clearly aided the development of skills, though, arguably, basic Computer Science combined with trawling the web for the usual coding resources works equally well.

There’s little to say about this initiative other than it’s probably a good idea to get data on MOOC usage in Europe.

• The Accelerators Assembly

This is a network of tech Accelerators which was launched in the first half of 2013. It was set up as an on-line group but has had some offline meetings. It has some 200 active accelerator members who are supposed to be sharing knowledge and information about access to funding opportunities. The Commission has commissioned a report expected Q1 2014 to summarize the overall situation in Europe with respect to the growth of accelerators.

• Web Investors Forum – A network of EU VCs

This is the work to create a network of Venture Capital firms, ongoing since March 2013. Oddly, although this is to “create awareness” about the growth of web services, you can probably agree that they already know this already. However, there is more specific work going on to survey of over 60 VCs and publish the results later this year.

• Crowdfunding Network – the EU crowd funding network

Once again we have a separate web site for a pretty related project. Launched in June 2013 by various Commission departments, the idea here is to make EU member states aware of the movement of Crowdfunding and ‘Crowd-Equity’ financing for startups. Why? Well, to put it bluntly, this who thing has apparently not been noticed at policy-making levels by quite a lot of EU states. This has led to some very non-EU friendly behaviour, such as the fact that legislation in Germany and Italy has a completely different view of what crowd funding actually is. Thus, ‘harmonisation’ – a favourite EU word – of the on-line crowd funding market is very relevant. If EU platforms played by the same rules, then they would be able to raise much bigger sums of funding. The Commission plans to commission a report analysing the policy priorities in the EU and run an event around this issue in the second half of 2014.

Other Activities

Aside from all this, the Commission has started some work on trying to dynamically map what is going on in Europe across the EU ecosystem, but there has not been results of that published yet.

In addition, the Commission has been dabbling in what amounts of PR works for startups.

It created the Europioneers awards to use its media profile to highlight the work of startups, alongside the Techallstars activity.

So there you have it, a long laundry list of things the Commission is planning or already implementing.

The question is, can they achieve what they have set out to do?

And should the Commission even be dabbling in these initiatives at all?

The questions is, are these the right things? Many would argue that the Commission would be better off emphasising that EU Members States invest vastly more into Computer Science and Engineering skills, than dabbling in startup competitions usually better run by the private sector.

With Europe facing a skills and entrepreneurship gap over the next few years, it would seem they have to do something.


Square And Griffin Debut An Integrated Merchant Case And Holder For iPhones And Readers, Will Create More Accessories For Sellers

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Last year, Square debuted Stand, a piece of hardware that turns a merchant’s iPad into a card-swiping register. The idea was to provide a simple and elegant way to allow merchants to accept Square for credit card processing and swiping via their iPad. In news announced today at CES, Square is extending this ease of use to iPhone users of its card readers, via a new partnership with hardware developer Griffin Technology.

Until now, Square hasn’t debuted any accessories for its card case reader. Third-party developers have created key chains and cases for the readers, but these haven’t been part of the Square ecosystem. Square and Griffin are announcing a new Merchant case for iPhone 5s and iPhone 5, which is a protective case optimized for a Square Reader and a companion iPhone. The Merchant case, which also includes a Square Reader, is available to order for $19.99 here (current orders shipping within 2 weeks).

Square is also announcing a new initiative called Works with Square, which allows developers to build accessories for Square businesses. The inaugural partnership is the one being announced today with Griffin, and Square says it actually partnered with the hardware accessories developer to design the Merchant case to enhance both performance and convenience for merchants selling on the go with Square.

The case itself is custom-molded to secure the Square Reader when connected. A groove in the bottom of the case aligns with the Square Reader to guide a credit card to a frictionless, consistent swipe. The case is made from silicone, and aims to protect the phone from bumps and drops. Additionally, the merchant case features non-slip sides and corners so it’s easier to hold the phone and to hand over for customers’ signatures. And when merchants are not using the Square Reader, the hardware can be detached and stored in the back of the case. Aesthetics wise, the case is no beauty, but it seems to be solid and functional.

It’s unclear what percentage of Square’s merchants use the iPad vs. iPhone for readers, but it’s probably safe to assume that many merchants who are on the go (i.e a massage therapist, tutor, taxi driver) would use their iPhone over an iPad. The case provides a pretty easy way to use your iPhone for personal and professional use when accepting payments. Square decided to develop this case for iPhones, and has not yet developed any sort of external accessory or stand for the Android (although its reader does work with Android).


In terms of the Works With Square program, Square is expanding its ambitions beyond just providing point-of-sale hardware into providing accessories that are optimized for the Square experience. This could mean that the company starts partnering with the developers of receipt printers, kitchen printers, cash drawers and barcode scanners to create a more connected experience for merchants. We asked Square whether there is a revenue-share agreement with developers in this program, and did not receive an answer. But the company did say that products in the Works with Square program can use the Works with Square badge on their packaging, and in certain cases, can include Square readers as part of their packaging.

As Square prepares to potentially go public, it’s clear the company is creating an ecosystem of sellers and developers around its payments products and hardware. Square just debuted an API for the first time in December and also launched a marketplace for its merchants to be able to sell online as well as in-store. Works With Square could be another channel through which Square’s brand and readers are promoted.


Just Feel, Write, Edit, and Publish

Returning to Medium in pursuit of better writing, or just simply writing?

I love to write. I’d be happy to earn a stable living through writing. I believe I am capable of high-quality writing that people want to read and many friends, colleagues, professors, and others have complemented and encouraged this belief through the years.

I dream of writing, of a writer’s life, of connecting with and impacting others with my unique crafting of our shared words. Yet I don’t follow through with many of the writing projects I feel inside, ones I think of as I drift to sleep, drive home from school, or while distracted from family at our dinner table. I either have too many other commitments or I block myself from pure expression in a variety of ways… I also dream of being known and loved by others for what I do; in this case, for writing. Therein lies my dilemma.

On the one hand rests a pure longing for shared humanity, for making some difference in this world through words. And if I can eventually obtain income from such effort, then so be it. But writing for the sake of pure, unadulterated expression and sharing is primary.

On the other hand festers an impure desire for notoriety, for satisfaction of ego’s hungry, tainted desires. As I dig deeper I discover ego’s tree is rooted in a relatively pure desire for acceptance—we all want and need to belong—and for validation that what I offer unto the world is accepted, appreciated, and even praised. Ugh! Did you see that? The desire for praise sprouted forth from those roots. Ain’t ego somethin’!

And this desire for praise, recommendations, editor’s picks, shares on Twitter, it all leads to a me that I don’t want to be and a motive for writing that seems to taint or squelch the expression. A writer writing for famous glory over the purity of shared humanity. And when that insatiable ego isn’t fed—”Feed me, Seymour!”—it leaves me feeling discouraged and rejected, like I gave something to the world and selfishly received nothing in return.

Enter Medium

In the fall of 2012, I caught some social media buzz of this new project called Medium. I logged in, explored and read what little was there, and I clicked the small targets on and off, trying to figure out what they were for. The space was appealing, but I couldn’t explain why. In November I revisited Medium and found it had a different look with some great stories and ideas being shared, and I wanted in.

I asked @Medium if I could “craft some powerful prose”. The next morning my inbox contained an invitation. I was stoked! I fancied myself to be someone special; this late-thirties, New Hampshire family man and high school teacher cavorting with these hip web and writing folks, included among the relatively few able to write in the space at that time. I then felt a sense of urgency. This Medium space was going to be big. This was my chance to get some writing noticed and perhaps a blend of serendipity and good storytelling would make way to something greater.

From the start I found there was something special about not only Medium, the online space, but also Medium, the people. I received personalized feedback and encouragement from a variety of Medium folks, thus personalizing and narrowing our online and geographical divide of 3,096 miles. I found bugs, reported them, and tested the fixes when asked to do so. I offered some Medium Ideas. I interviewed with a small team exploring beta user experience and thoughts on this evolving space. I felt I was a contributing part of this Medium thing that I knew was going to be quite large. I felt accepted and embraced into the Medium community.

And I wrote. In two weeks I published a range of stories, stories I had been holding onto, but were yet unwritten, which were easily inspired onto the screen by the collections that prompted them and the feedback I was receiving. While this effort proved to be an effective, though potentially harmful distraction from my CAGS studies, I couldn’t help myself. I felt the thrill of knowing through feedback that I had an audience for my writing, of knowing I was connecting with others through words. And an Editor’s Pick of some posts certainly inspired me further.

And the text editor? Ooh! It creates an oh, so beautiful medium of organic thought to digital text, like a silky cloth the keyboard easily embroiders with every stroke, sewing this elegant font on this beautiful, digital fabric you’re reading now. And for the easily distracted — me — it is a welcome improvement upon getting far too much from all other WYSIWYG editors and admin panels I’ve ever used—and I’ve used a lot!

Seeking a Writer’s Home

I was torn. Where to write? What to write? For whom to write? How much to invest in that writing and to what end? I already had an insignificant blog where I occasionally shared educational ideas. While I came to view Medium as requiring my best effort to publish Editor’s Pick-worthy pieces, I viewed my blog as a casual space with little pressure for high craft and refinement (read: a space to crank out stream-of-thought posts with little fear of rejection and regular peer feedback through the now-archaic comment thread system and shares on Twitter).

Then the pressure of the thought and writing required of my CAGS studies combined with the growing feedback and connection I was receiving through low-pressure blogging led me down a gentler path to not challenge myself to publish great writing in Medium or to risk the sense of rejection I’d feel if a piece I did publish received little feedback.

Yet I’d occasionally return to Medium and wonder. I’d observe how the space was evolving. I posted an occasional piece over the past year to test the waters, but then deleted them as I felt they didn’t measure up to the space and my feeling that each piece must be part of a curated collection of my best writing. I gradually withdrew from Medium and turned off email notifications.

Meanwhile, last week I accidentally deleted the entire contents of my blog, all the posts I shared over the past two years. In my recent battles to win the war against ego and ease the collateral damage of distraction from family and career priorities, I took my blog down. I needed time and space to reassess where I devote what little spare time and energy I have for personal pursuits. Somehow in the process I lost the sole WordPress database file that contained all my posts. It’s okay; that happens.

When they had spills or setbacks my wife and I taught our children to say, “It’s okay; that happens.” My son so beautifully demonstrated this learning when he was two. We were famished while we awaited our dinner at a restaurant. As the waiter approached with the tray of plates, my son’s plate fell to the floor. When the waiter began apologizing my son simply said with a smile, “It’s okay; that happens.” Love that boy!

This has left me without a writing home when I already felt like moving, an aspiring wordsmith with no block of text from which to carve and shape sculptured messages. And also one who is continually distracted by styling my blog and tweaking so many settings. I want to be a writer. In the purest sense, I am a writer, but I’d like to improve my craft for its own sake, and as stated, perhaps earn some or all of my living from it.

It’s a dream, I know. It may and likely will never happen as I’d like it to. I may never find or commit to the necessary discipline and time to fulfill it or the courage and resilience to accept the rejections—perceived or not—along the way. But as a flower cannot resist turning toward the sun, I cannot resist writing and sharing, for whatever it might be worth.

Thus I return to Medium and all that is special about this space and community, to the pursuit of a higher craft of writing, and to the determination to write and publish purely for writing and sharing’s sake while limiting ego’s interference. I aim to view any lack of feedback and sense of rejection as a nudge to better writing. I aim to write and publish even if it’s only for me, such as this post is, not stopping the process because it’s not a front-page piece.

And not every piece has to be my best. It’s okay to publish posts that are not as cultivated, but that I feel a need to put out there to whatever end. I need to be okay with that as well. Like learning to fly fish, though all casts may not be my best, repeated casting is the only way to improve and eventually catch that perfect trout.

I just need to feel, write, edit, and publish. It’s that simple. Or is it?

New to Medium? Looking for the comment form? Read this and then return to leave a note. Learn more about Medium.

Written by

father, husband, educator, & @edcampHOME organizer; ∴ i am

How to Make Coffee Before You’ve Had Coffee

Ristretto Roasters’ Spectacularly Simple Guide to Brewing at Home

Today marks the publication of a new book I edited and designed for Dymaxicon. It was written by my little brother, Din Johnson, founder of Ristretto Roasters in Portland, Oregon. The book contains instructions for how to brew coffee simply, using basic equipment, and covers several methods, including French press, Chemex and cold brewing. Below are the instructions for brewing with a barista favorite, the Hario V60.

You can buy a paperback copy of this book on Amazon.com or at Ristretto Roasters in Portland, OR. Follow Hillary Louise Johnson on twitter @hillaryjohnson.

Further Reading

I Want My Coffee, And I Want It Now

 — Why we desperately need a better way to order coffee

Written by

Writer, Editor, Publisher, Designer.

Instagram & Hotels 2014

Examples of great and poor marketing, using pictures and video

A chinese proverb says the following:

A picture is worth a thousand words

Searching some #words on Instagram that are very popular destinations in Greece, with thousands of tourists visiting them every year, shows these results:

#santorini: 367.220 photos
#mykonos: 304.067 photos
#kefalonia: 39.895 photos

Combining these facts, there is no excuse for hoteliers in Greece (this applies in every country too) for not “playing the game” of Instagram.

When I say “playing the game” I don’t mean just the creation of a profile with a bunch of pics, #some #hashtags and then hoping people will double tap them and with a magic spell, reservations will hit a record high.

That’s not gonna happen.

I mean a social approach that has as main objective the hotel’s communication with people, giving them valuable content, within the context of this medium. Photos and mobile is deep in the DNA of Instagram, making it an ideal tool for those who travel or are on vacation and want to share moments with their friends and the world.

Numbers don’t lie. That’s exactly what 150+ million users do. They share photos.

A Mykonos hotel will be out of business in 2 years if they think that searching on Instagram every day about #their_name and words like #mykonos, #mykonos2014, #mykonosisland and #mykonostown is something unnecessary.

8.000 likes and 1.000 comments every second is a lot of data for a top tourist destination that attracts hundreds of thousands of people every summer.

Right content for your hotel’s instaprofile is:

  • Photos of the rooms and other spaces that highlight their character
  • Videos and photos of the finest dishes from the restaurant and the stages of preparing them #foodporn
  • 15″ video of making a nice cocktail in the bar and info about it
  • Photos of POI (points of interest) and related activities (beaches, swimming, windsurfing, other sights)
  • Behind the scenes content with the staff (reception, restaurant, bar, pool) showing the human aspect of the hotel
  • Photos from the past #tbt, #throwbackthursday

Using more than 6-7 hashtags and autopost in Facebook and Twitter should be avoided, but geotagging is critical for the user to see the exact position of the content shown.

Igers love exclusive content and businesses should understand and pay attention to the context and the psychology of Instagram. The quality of the photos is more than obvious that should be high and posting should be consistent.

The most important factor of getting the most out of Instagram is the way you communicate with people. Instagram profile should not be used as another distribution channel. Being social is 100% the best way to succeed.

  • If someone asks something, you answer
  • If someone says good things about your services, you say “thank you”
  • If someone says bad things about your services, you say “sorry” and you try to fix things

Iconic Santorini Hotel posted a beautiful picture with a great view, but there are two mistakes.

First of all, there are no #hashtags. If someone searches about Santorini, there is no way that this pic will show up. #santorini, #santoriniisland, #summer2013, #view, #besthotel etc are some tags that can be used.

There is a link to the hotel’s website, BUT it’s not clickable. The only place that a link is clickable is in the description of the profile.

San Giorgio Mykonos Hotel “forgot” to add more pics after the end of summer. Also, following 0 or only a couple of people is bad. It shows that you don’t care about your followers. I am not saying 1/1 ratio is necessary, but following back and caring isn’t bad at all.

Gary Vaynerchuck says that it doesn’t matter how many followers you have. What matters is how many of them do actually care about you.

Engaging with them, liking and commenting on their pics is a good thing!

White Rocks Hotel in Kefalonia Island uses social media in a non-social way.

In the first pic, nobody answered to the girl saying that she will visit the hotel in 2 months. In the second pic, someone wrote a comment saying that this pic is awesome and the answer was a bunch of hashtags…

Nobody said “THANKS” as someone would do in real life!

Belvedere Hotel in Mykonos shows that understands the context of Instagram and respect the psychology of the users.

They posted an old photo of their hotel using the right hashtags (#tbt, #throwbackthursday). They respect this Thursday habit, as million of Igers do.

Humanizing your business in the tourist industry is one of the factors that matters the most. Hotel staff interact with people everyday and this is reflected in the second photo.

Even a wink is an acceptable answer in a comment. These 4-5 seconds that you will spend for writing lol or ;) have great value.

After all, Istagram is a social media. SOCIAL media!

Long story short, I believe you should focus on these 3 key points:

  • Cool, original and exclusive content with consistency
  • Be imaginative, social and don’t be afraid to say “thank you” and “sorry”
  • Treat social media as something necessary for your marketing strategy

After all, dear hotelier, I don’t think you love giving your commission to Booking.com.

Think Big, Think Social

Written by

Social Media Marketing — Founder @thinksocialeu

Updated December 31, 2013

In a sea of options and plenty of other fish out there, which smartphone is the right one for me? (25 Minute Read)

A quick guide for a first time smartphone buyer or potential buyer, with a few handpicked handsets and a little background story to get them started.

If you’re a digital castaway, lost in a sea of smartphone choices and brands, and platforms and stores and all those numbers and features that make no sense to you.

A) Breathe…

B) Go get some pop corn, coffee or something — or not…

C) After you read this, you will a clearer vision of what you may or may not want and hopefully a few more things will make sense to you.

I will be describing 3 main categories, of phones and their users, feel free to scroll through as it is a long article.

1. Techies or Premium Devices

2. Regular users or Mid-Range Devices

3. Social or simple users or Mid-lower range Devices

In the era in which we live in, there are still people that refuse to trade their Paleolithic dumb-phones with physical buttons for the sleek screaming-edge technology touch screens.

Living most of their lives surrounded by analog controls i.e.: buttons, levers, and switches is hard for them to accept a virtually intangible action to take place. I find it frustrating, to be honest, and quite hard to understand. If the reasons are financial, it’s understandable. On the other hand, many people don’t do this just because they’re afraid of new technology. That which is unknown to them and they don’t quite know how to operate they don’t buy. When in reality ; the main point of a smartphone is to aid the user, be as easy to use as possible, safe to operate without fear of messing it up in any way and a generally a pleasant device to carry around. Sadly, though, these devices — to those less aware of them — are complex and unnecessarily over-functional electronics.

Your old Nokia :)

Part of this issue and perception, however, is also partly fault of the lower range manufacturers. Some people are curious and buy a cheap “higher end” phones and soon find themselves with a laggy, unresponsive, hard to use device and end in a cycle of unclaimed guarantees and frustrating store trips.

For others, the switch to a smartphone comes with a few surprises here and there, for instance something I hear often: “ My battery life is really bad! It only lasts a day, maximum two…” Well… Your previous phone literally was just a phone, touchscreens suck a lot of power off your battery, internet, background services and many other factors change the way consumption is affected. So, don’t expect your new shiny toy to last 9 days, like that old Nokia you had. “It feels weird to not have buttons…” It just takes some getting used to, plus, phones, computers and other devices are manufactured with less and less buttons as time goes by so better start getting used to not having a keyboard now.

Personally, I have fallen in love with all the 32 phones I have had so far. I remember myself in every occasion to sit down in front of the computer to read reviews, to compare specs, to watch all the YouTube videos and spend some two or three weeks fixated on which phone to buy. When the time came to finally crack that piggy bank and go for it, I was never disappointed.

I’ve had my fair share of experiences with all sorts of phones starting from TDMA technology.

In hopes of making this experience, not only mine, but everyone else’s pleasant too and attempt to minimize the burden of the decision I wrote this to you.

Things to consider when you start entertaining the idea of a new smartphone:

If you live in the US, or any other country that has phones locked to certain operators, you might want to make sure that you can switch devices at no cost, and or that you are able to buy your own phone and use it with the operator’s settings.

Mobile phone operators could have your phone locked only to their network and can’t be used anywhere else.

Who are you? What do you want/expect from your device?

When choosing a phone most people make the mistake of wanting to get the best, most expensive over-featured phone, when in reality that’s far from their needs. Phones are tools, as any other tool they need to be appropriate for the job.

First of all, you need to determine what’s the purpose of you trying to purchase this phone.

Do you want to snap a few shots here and there and post them on Facebook, check your email, play a few games and text? Are you in for business and need productivity apps and efficient and responsive tools?

If you’re one of these two AND you’re not interested in how it works, how to customize it and make use of every single feature one can imagine, you’re probably an iOS person. Generally speaking, iOS is fast, efficient, visually appealing and easy to use. The set up process of these devices barely takes a few minutes, and assuming you’re on wireless you’ll be ready to go in no time.

iOS is the easiest form of usability in a smartphone. iOS 6 and new iOS 7 side by side.

If you already have a Mac at home, you’ll enjoy the bliss of compatibility features it offers with the rest of its environment, as well as the latest features of Apple’s AirDrop and sync options.

So… Why don’t all of us just get iPhones and iPads and enjoy comfortable numbness and default automation?

Because it’s boring (for some of us, at least).

While for some, it’s great if something works right out of the box with minimal input, and little to no thinking. In the safe garden of no risks or hassles and a perfect atmosphere of Apple’s products you lose the freedom of experimentation. Some others prefer to have it more complicated with the rewards of higher power-user benefits, but we’ll get to that later.

The other problem is that, despite other phones having the same or better hardware, that little glowy Apple icon will cost you a pretty penny. Apple devices are expensive, if they break down chances are you’ll need a new one or a very expensive repair. Also, Apple being the sole seller of their products, you can’t “hunt around for better prices” or catch a deal… Nope, not even in Black Friday…

But… Don’t despair.

Assuming you do in fact want a piece of the Apple but you’re not willing to sell a kidney, or a retina for their “retina”, you can always buy an older model. A decent iPhone 4 or even a 4S could set you back a more reasonable amount of money. Online you can still buy new units and even in Craigslist you might be lucky and find a nice one in mint condition.

iPhone 4 and 4S packaging.

Beware, however, if you’re not in the US or you’re on a different network than the one the used phone was on, you want to make sure that the phone is unlocked (preferably from the factory) before you get it or you would be stuck with an aluminum and glass brick. Sure, you could unlock it, but if your chosen model is relatively new it could be harder to unlock or close to impossible.

Another plus side, is that the App Store has more than 900,000 apps at the time of writing this post. There is an app for mostly anything that you could want, need or imagine. However, honestly, at least 890,000 of them are useless looking at it with very positive eyes. Still, the offer is great and there’s a bit for everyone.

There’s an app for everyone, for everything, everywhere.

How about Jailbreaks? What is it? Why would one do such thing?

Jailbreaking is to iOS what rooting is to Android.

I won’t get too much in depth as it is a huge topic on its own already, but it’s basically an action you take that gives you elevated privileges in your phone and lets you install apps that aren’t on the market, themes and extensions. Warning, though: Jailbreaking IS NOT unlocking so even if you can Jailbreak your phone, this doesn’t unlock it for other networks if it is locked.

Moving on…

Instead of jumping straight into Android (which will take a while) I’d like to touch on a constantly improving platform: Windows Phone 8

Microsoft increasingly has been improving their software to be more sleek, agile… Mobile.

If your work, or general routine requires you to use Microsoft Office, or other Microsoft products you will find a very nice sync environment that is being built around the Office suite, Skype, and Skydrive. If you have constant meetings through Lync, that is also a feature that you will enjoy.

Office integration into the Windows phone 8 platform is brilliant.

The app environment is not quite at the level of Google’s or Apple’s, but little by little all those recognizable apps are slowly starting to appear here and there. The offer is better and better and with no doubt it has become a real competitor to the dominating platforms.

The hardware also has amazing offers like the current Lumia lineup from Nokia with outstanding cameras phones all the way to cheap yet fully-functional devices.

Nokia’s devices coped with Windows Phone 8 are smooth and do not stutter to respond to your input regardless if it is a higher end version or a lower end phone. The phones in general feel solid such as the Nokia 920 (built like a tank), the 925 (built like a stronger tank) and the amazing 1020 with 42mpx camera. They all come with a variety of color selection (maybe except for the 925 as it is aluminum).

Lumias come in all sizes, colors and wallets. Amazing hardware and solid build quality, they just lag behind on apps but definitely a competitor — a serious one.

There are a few missing features such as a centralized notification center or the ability to assign different ringtones to third party apps, however, with time this should be solved and if you are not so picky about those little details, or you’re just entering the smartphone era, this is definitely something you want to check out and try.

Of course, my favorite by miles: Android

Android versions often have names of sweets, our latest version at time of publishing is 4.4 Kitkat

Androids come in all shapes, sizes, prices, colors and flavors. Regardless which is your interest, casual usage for emails, news and games, passing through heavy texters, social network addicts, snapbugs or business men and/or women there HAS to be a device for you. Undoubtedly.

The phone’s essential OS is manufactured by Google, but being an open source platform, many manufacturer’s may use the code and modify it accordingly to their needs and or desired specifications. This gives them a lot of headroom when it comes to pricing and it lets you in turn to shop around.

Android’s versatile platform lets you do anything you can possibly imagine, customization options are endless and countless and if you root your phone (root user privileges to access system files) you can even install customized ROMs and modify system files to change basically anything you want. At a price. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you might want to sit with some coffee in front of your computer and research on your particular model before doing these things, as you may brick your device (make the device unusable because it is unable to boot the system). However, without the need of being rooted, it is possible to make many of these customizations and still get away with a lot.

Some other advantages that come with an Android device is the early adoption. For example: While NFC is and has been available on Androids for a while, iPhones don’t have it and most likely won’t for a while. (Near Field Communications, phones within certain proximity may exchange data without needing active user input)

They have different specifications from model to model which gives you an ample variety to choose from.

They’re ambitious early adopters, therefore they include the newest and greatest in technology as it becomes commercially available. Finally as they are many manufacturers there’s a healthy non-monopolized *cough… Apple* market so there’s price variation depending where you buy it, which storage version and technology variant you get (LTE, just 3G and such).

For the more advanced users, or tech saavy there’s other benefits like the usage of Tasker which is an extremely powerful app that acts based on conditions and executes actions on and from your phone as you configure them. I will also make a post and some tutorials on Tasker as well in the future for those interested.

So, which one?

I will not be telling you how many cores, nuclei architecture, gamma corrections or any other technical terms since I believe if you’re reading this, they’re only meaningless numbers for you. So, this is not a technical review, just feature overview. I will however, where available, add a list of main highlights at the end of each summary of each one of these phones and a short video review to have all in one place.

Alright, so let’s make three main groups:

1. Techies or Premium Devices

2. Regular users or Mid-Range Devices

3. Social or simple users or Mid-lower range Devices

None of these phones have keyboards, as this is no longer an option offered by manufacturers, only BlackBerry, which I won’t cover since it’s a ship that has been sinking for about 5 years now. Also, lower end, cheap phones are not covered as they often result in the frustration of their users, and nobody likes a bad first time ;).

If you’re an addict to gadgets and devices i.e. geek: Your current options at the time of this post would look something like this:

  1. Samsung Galaxy Note 3: It is ridiculously loaded with features with it’s TouchWiz UI (Samsung’s custom software arrangement) that could take you more than an hour to configure, and at least a few days to fully discover. The screen quality is superb, and the content creation functions are just miles and miles ahead of any other phone. Needless to say, it’s a very powerful and pretty much future proof (for a few months at least) phone. A pretty decent battery life considering the size of the screen and functions and it’s just a handful — literally.
  • 2 MP front-facing camera, 1080p video recording
  • Dual shot and dual video recording, Drama shot, Shot and sound
  • 32GB/64GB of built-in storage
  • microSD card slot
  • microUSB 3.0 port with USB host and MHL 2.0; Backwards compatibility with microUSB 2.0
  • Bluetooth v4.0
  • NFC
  • IR port for remote control functionality
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Accelerometer and proximity sensor
  • Barometer, thermometer, hygroscope
  • IR gesture sensor for Air gestures
  • Smart gestures: Smart stay, Smart pause, Smart scroll
  • Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
  • Ample 3,200mAh battery with great endurance
  • Smart volume and Adapt Sound features for the music player
Samsung Galaxy Note III

PhoneDog Review (video)

2. HTC One: This is as close as you would get to an iPhone in the sense of premium feel. The phone is made of aluminum, and has a very solid feel in the hand. The glass panel is bright and very easy to read in all lighting conditions. It has two speakers with a jaw dropping quality (for being a phone) which point forward to amplify your sound and direct it towards you. HTC, as well as Samsung, have a load of features and software optimizations that make the experience far above standard Android. The camera is more than pretty decent and with an interesting hardware-software bundle make it a great cameraphone as well, although it is much more than that. There is a Sense UI version (HTC’s customized software version) and a Google Play Edition which gives you a pure android experience at the expense of a few features.

4.7″ 16M-color 1080p Super LCD3 capacitive touchscreen with 469ppi pixel density

  • Android OS v4.1.2 Jelly Bean with Sense UI 5.0
  • 4 MP autofocus “UltraPixel” camera with 1/3″ sensor size, 2µm pixel size; LED flash
  • 1080p video recording @ 30fps with HDR mode, continuous autofocus and stereo sound
  • HTC Zoe
  • 2.1 MP front-facing camera, 1080p video recording
  • 32/64GB of built-in storage
  • MHL-enabled microUSB port
  • Bluetooth v4.0
  • NFC
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Accelerometer and proximity sensor
  • Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
  • Aluminum unibody
  • Front-mounted stereo speakers with BoomSound tech
  • Class-leading audio output
HTC One shown here in it’s Google Play edition, meaning it has no Sense UI installed and lacks proprietary software features. Runs pure Android.

PhoneDog review (video)

3. LG G2: This is a very interesting phone, at least as far as hardware goes. The buttons are not located on the bezel as usual but rather on the back of the phone. This may or may not suit your taste, however it’s very original and it’s quite handy once you get used to it. The phone has other nice features such as knock to turn on the screen, which means you can have it sitting on the table and knock twice on the screen to switch it on. The UI has options to customize the permanent soft buttons’ arrangement and functions such as color, position and which buttons go where and do what. The icons can be switched around and even you can customize the icons straight out of the box. On other interesting notes, it also has a better-than-average sound system with software optimization that will just blow your head off with the right uncompressed sound files. Rock on!

5.2″ 16M-color 1080p True HD IPS Plus FullHD capacitive touchscreen

  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3 display protection
  • Android OS v4.2.2 Jelly Bean; LG Optimus UI
  • 13 MP autofocus camera with LED flash, geotagging, Intelligent Auto, optical image stabilization, Time catch shot, smart shutter and VR panoramas
  • 1080p video recording @ 60fps with continuous autofocus and stereo sound; HDR mode, Dual recording, optical image stabilization
  • 2.1 MP front-facing camera, 1080p video recording
  • 32GB of built-in storage, 24GB user-available
  • microUSB port, USB host support, USB on-the-go, SlimPort TV-out
  • Bluetooth v4.0
  • NFC
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Stereo FM radio with RDS
  • Voice commands
  • Multi-tasking with mini-apps and optional transparency (QSlide)
  • Accelerometer and proximity sensor
  • Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
  • Non-replaceable 3000mAh Li-Po battery
  • IR emitter for remote control of home appliances
  • Quick Window cases available at launch

PhoneDog review (video)

4.Samsung Galaxy S4: Same story as the Note 3. Endless features, amazing specifications, gestures, camera, screen technology… Beautiful device. Of course, many have complained about it’s plastic body frame and lightweight construction. However, I personally don’t see it as a problem. Why would you want a heavy device anyway? The phone still feels good in the hand, it is smaller than the Note lineup and it does not look or is cheap by any means. The feature of double camera shot, and other breaking ground features (gestures, eye tracking, accelerometer interactions) made it a huge leap forward in phone technology. This is my personal daily driver and I surprisingly don’t feel urged to change it any time soon. Although I’ve been flirting around with that Note 3 quite a lot in my head…

5″ 16M-color 1080p Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen with Gorilla Glass 3

  • Android OS v4.2.2 Jelly Bean with TouchWiz UI
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 13 MP autofocus camera with LED flash,1080p video recording @ 30fps, continuous autofocus and stereo sound
  • 2 MP front-facing camera, 1080p video recording
  • Dual shot and dual video recording, Drama shot, Shot and sound
  • 16GB/32/64GB of built-in storage
  • microSD card slot
  • microUSB port with USB host and MHL 2.0
  • Bluetooth v4.0
  • NFC
  • IR port for remote control functionality
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Accelerometer and proximity sensor
  • Barometer, thermometer, hygroscope
  • IR gesture sensor for Air gestures
  • Smart gestures: Smart stay, Smart pause, Smart scroll
  • Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
  • Ample 2600 mAh battery with great endurance
  • 7.9mm thickness
  • Smart volume and Adapt Sound features for the music player
Samsung Galaxy S IV

PhoneDog review (video)

5. Sony Ericsson Xperia Z Ultra: This is the last one for the tech-oriented people. This is a great phone (phablet, actually — it’s HUGE (6.4 inch)) it has a bright vivid screen with the Bravia Engine software (Sony’s imaging technology) and tons of features, specially for multitasking. It lets the user open “windows” to take notes, open the calculator, calendar, and so on while you’re working on different applications at the same time. This phone, has something the other ones does not have, it is splash and impact proof. (Warning: It is resistant to water and shock, not indestructible or a submergible.) It has amazing benchmark test results are very high, amazing hardware all around. Battery life is really good, plus the power saving features will easily get you through a day.

  • 6.4″ 16M-color 1080p capacitive touchscreen Triluminos display (344ppi pixel density); X-Reality engine
  • Android OS v4.2.2 Jelly Bean with custom UI
  • 8 MP autofocus camera with geo-tagging, HDR
  • 1080p video recording @ 30fps, continuous autofocus and stereo sound
  • 2 MP front-facing camera, 1080p video recording
  • IP 58 certification — dust resistant and water resistant
  • Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA; Wireless TV out
  • 16GB of built-in storage; microSD card slot
  • MHL-enabled microUSB port
  • Bluetooth v4.0
  • NFC
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Accelerometer and proximity sensor
  • Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
  • Gorgeous design and impressively slim waistline
  • Ample 3050 mAh battery
Phablet Sony Xperia Z Ultra

PhoneDog review (video)

Again, this is just a ROUGH overview of the features of all these phones, by no means there are any technical details, for more data I recommend you to visit GSMArena. Usually feature phones have great, very detailed reviews, and most of the phones I mention here are flagship devices. Also, note that, PhoneDog, Erica Griffin, Android Authority and Pocketnow on YouTube have very enjoyable and in-depth reviews of most of these phones too.

For the average Joe (users that just want a phone that does what it does, without missing out any feature AND keeping a decent budget).

These phones are not bad at all, by any means. They are just equipped with a more modest set of features and hardware but very well live up to standard.

1.Nexus 5: This is Google’s brand new device running the latest version of Android (4.4 KitKat at the time of writing) it is designed to be a budget friendly phone without sacrificing much. It has a decent camera, active Google Now listening on the homescreen which is a very handy feature to access the devices functions without need of having to touch it. The phone has most LTE bands for 4G connectivity in most places in the world so for the business traveler and the heavy roamer there should be no issues. Gorilla glass protects the screen against dings and cracks, however one must remember that the added rigidity of the phone’s glass does make it prone to cracking in the event of a strong shock or impact. Finally, the camera is a great improvement over the previous Nexus 4 with better software correction and overall hardware.

  • Penta-band 3G with HSPA; LTE cat3
  • 4.95″ 16M-color 1080p True HD IPS Plus FullHD capacitive touchscreen
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 3 display protection
  • Android OS v4.4 KitKat
  • 8MP autofocus camera with LED flash, geotagging, optical image stabilization, photo sphere, 1080p video recording @ 30fps with continuous autofocus and stereo sound; HDR mode, Dual recording, optical image stabilization
  • 1.3 MP front-facing camera
  • 16GB/32GB of built-in storage
  • microUSB port, USB host support, USB on-the-go, SlimPort TV-out
  • Bluetooth v4.0
  • NFC
  • Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Voice commands
  • Accelerometer and proximity sensor
  • Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
  • 2300mAh Li-Po battery, wireless charging
Nexus 5, with a heavily imprinted, sharp industrial design.

PhoneDog review(video)

2. Motorola Moto X: This is a quite simple phone with understated characteristics. At the time of launch it was not clear why Google had gone for such simple characteristics and hardware, however, for a very specific market sector it is a great option as it is subtly understated, comfortable and solid. The phone has amazing, easy to use features such as Active Listening, which lets you operate the phone without having to turn it on or unlock it. Some gestures such as a wrist motion to switch on the camera or saying OK Google makes the experience very futuristic and pleasant.

  • 100Mbps LTE with a second dedicated antenna
  • 4.7″ 16M-color 720p RGB AMOLED capacitive touchscreen with 316ppi pixel density; Gorilla Glass
  • Android OS v4.2.2 Jelly Bean with stock UI
  • 10 MP autofocus ClearPixel camera with LED flash
  • 1080p video recording @ 30fps with HDR, continuous autofocus and stereo sound
  • 2 MP front-facing camera with 1080p video recording
  • 16/32GB of built-in storage; 2GB of RAM
  • microUSB port with MHL and USB host
  • Bluetooth v4.0 LE
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Dual-microphone noise cancellation
  • Touchless Control, Active Notifications
  • Ambient light; accelerometer; proximity sensor
  • Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
  • Superb handling and overall ergonomics
  • Moto Maker user customization program
  • 50GB of free Google Drive storage
  • 2,200mAh battery
If you live in the US, you can get it from their website and literally customize it with whichever combination of color you wish. Buttons, back front and camera trim.

PhoneDog review (video)

3. Samsung Galaxy S3: Granted, it is an older phone, but for the price you get a very similar set of features to those of the current flagships and it does not fall short by any means from the other phones. It has a great camera, eye tracking to keep your screen on while you’re reading it to not let it go dim, great battery performance and it has been updated regularly and you won’t be left behind… For a while.

  • 4.8″ 16M-color Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen of HD (720 x 1280 pixel) resolution; Corning Gorilla Glass 2
  • Android OS v4.0.4 with TouchWiz launcher (updated already)
  • 8 MP wide-angle lens autofocus camera with LED flash, face, smile and blink detection
  • 1080p HD video recording at 30fps
  • 16/32/64GB internal storage, microSD slot
  • Accelerometer, gyroscope and proximity sensor
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • microUSB port with USB host and TV-out (1080p) support, MHL, charging
  • Stereo Bluetooth v4.0
  • FM radio with RDS
  • Great audio quality
  • Super slim at only 8.6mm
  • 2MP secondary video-call camera
  • Full Flash for the web browser
  • NFC support
  • Document editor
  • File manager comes preinstalled
  • Extremely rich video and audio codec support
  • Impressively large 2100 mAh battery
The SIII comes in plenty of colors and special editions.

PhoneDog Review (video)

Finally, for the casual socially adept users and those who just need the phone for access to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vyne… etc. still want to remain with relatively new equipment but don’t need the fancy bells and whistles of their elder brethren:

  1. Samsung Galaxy SIV Mini: This is a downsized, downpriced version of the S IV, however, this is not something to look down on. While this version has lost a bit on the premium software and hardware side, it still is a more-than-decent device. The S4 has another two brothers, the S4 active and the S4 Zoom, one for active people, or sporty people if you will, and the other focused on the camera respectively. The S4 mini has a less powerful mid-range processor, as well as a screen with lower resolution (qHD 540*960). The camera has gone down from 13mp to 8 but the pictures are still great. Enough of the downgrades — This device is still great, it’s smaller than the S4 as you may have guessed by the name, but it still has all the great features expected in a modern smartphone like NFC, GPS, great camera, radio, the Jellybean 4.2.2 out of the box, and LTE connectivity. This is a true value for your money for less than the full price of the full S4.
  • 4.3″ 16M-color qHD Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen; 256ppi
  • Android OS v4.2.2 Jelly Bean with TouchWiz UI
  • 1.5GB of RAM
  • 8 MP autofocus camera with LED flash, 1080p video recording @ 30fps, continuous autofocus and stereo sound
  • 1.9 MP front-facing camera, 1080p video recording
  • 8/16GB of built-in storage
  • microSD card slot
  • microUSB 2.0 port
  • Bluetooth v4.0
  • NFC
  • IR port for remote control functionality
  • Stereo FM radio with RDS
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Accelerometer and proximity sensor
  • Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
  • Ample 1,900mAh battery; user replaceable
Looks a lot like the regular S4, but only when you put them side by side you see the size difference.

PhoneDog review (video)

2. HTC One Mini: Some say, it is a lot better than the S4 mini in terms of comparison S4 features lost to the S4 mini vs HTC One lost to the HTC One Mini. Maybe. Depends on your taste and requirements. The HTC One Mini has retained most of it’s premium features from the HTC One. HTC’s Zoe which is a piece of software that can take videos and images from your camera and add a soundtrack to them while it shuffles a personalized slideshow of them in sort of a movie kind of way. It still has that premium, solid aluminum body, Jellybean 4.2.2, LTE connectivity and a brilliant screen protected by no less than Gorilla Glass 3. It did however lose NFC, MHL and some image stabilization features that made the HTC One special. Nevertheless there’s still plenty of features and great specs out of this small device.

Premium aluminum unibody

  • 4.3″ 16M-color 720p Super LCD2 capacitive touchscreen with 342ppi pixel density; Gorilla Glass 3
  • Android OS v4.2.2 Jelly Bean with Sense UI 5.0
  • 4 MP autofocus “UltraPixel” camera with 1/3’’ sensor size, 2µm pixel size; LED flash
  • 1080p video recording @ 30fps with HDR mode, continuous autofocus and stereo sound
  • HTC Zoe
  • 1.6MP front-facing camera, 720p video recording
  • 16GB of built-in storage
  • Bluetooth v4.0
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
  • Accelerometer and proximity sensor
  • Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
  • Front-mounted stereo speakers with BoomSound tech
  • Class-leading audio output
  • 1,800mAh Li-Po battery
This is the black version of the HTC One Mini

PhoneDog review (video)

3. Oppo Find 5: The reason why I placed this phone on this list and not on the premium devices or tech-oriented list, is because this brand is very little known other than for some home electronics such as Blueray players. Though, this phone was launched to compete very well with all the flagship devices of this year. It has a 5” 1080p display with eye-popping colors and an pixel density of 441 ppi. A 13 mpx camera capable of HDR video and up to 120 fps video (in vga mode, but still) makes it a pleasure to take some shots. It does have MHL and NFC and even comes with NFC stickers (2) to be able to get the user familiarized with the usage. This phone is definitely something you should check out, unless LTE connectivity is an issue to you, since it does not pack LTE radio.

Quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE support

  • 5″ 16M-color 1080p IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen with 441ppi pixel density
  • Android OS v4.1.1 Jelly Bean with custom UI
  • 13 MP autofocus camera with LED flash and geo-tagging, HDR
  • 1080p video recording @ 30fps with HDR mode, continuous autofocus and stereo sound; 120fps HFR mode
  • 1.9 MP front-facing camera, 720p video recording
  • 16/32GB of built-in storage
  • MHL-enabled microUSB port
  • Bluetooth v4.0
  • NFC; two NFC stickers in the box
  • Standard 3.5 mm audio jack; Dolby Mobile sound enhancement
  • Voice dialing
  • Accelerometer and proximity sensor
  • Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
  • 2,500mAh battery
Oppo Find 5 in Black and White

PhoneDog review (video)

As a disclaimer, this is just my own point of view on which options a first time buyer could have in mind as of November 2013, things change quite fast in mobile technologies so the list could be outdated if you read it a few months ahead. I always invite you to check out specific reviews on GSMArena, and watch great reviews on YouTube by Android Authority, Pocketnow, PhoneDog, and Erica Griffin. These are always well explained and cover all possible aspects, hopefully all this aid will make this decision no harder than it should! :)

New Kid On The Block: Windows Phone 8

New data shows Windows Phone 8 snagging mobile share from Android & BlackBerry. Could we see WP8 make a huge difference in 2014?

Sure, a 200% increase, when you’re moving from a market share of under 2% may be paltry when stacked up against the Android and iOS behemoths may not seem promising, but when you consider who it’s putting out of business, there’s a lot more to the story.


BlackBerry, once dominant in e-mail and messaging, continues to drag and lose marketshare. Rightfully so, since the company repeated the age-old mistakes of other huge companies by failing to innovate, to adapt and change. Nokia was also once the premium phone retailer for the world, and we all know what happened there. These companies have gone in different directions: BlackBerry’s futile attempt at re-emerging into the smartphone market turned out to be a flop, and the company was recently purchased by a smaller group of investors, who are now deciding it’s fate. Nokia, on the other hand, after losing massive amounts of market share to Apple’s iPhone and Android’s phone lineup, has re-branded itself as the phone of tomorrow.

I’m thoroughly impressed with Nokia’s bold advances in terms of hardware and software. Their phones are beautifully built, available in multiple ranges for virtually all markets (the premium Lumia 1520 vs the low-end Lumia 520, respectively) and are now made almost exclusively for the Windows Phone operating system. In terms on hardware, I would dare say that Nokia’s Lumia lineup is second only to Apple’s iPhone. The phones come in a bold array of colors, and the Lumia 1020 has even had me thinking twice about that new iPhone.


Now while Nokia may be on the up in terms of hardware design, Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform has had a hard time getting to market. The first reason is purely it’s late arrival into the smartphone game, where iOS and Android have dominated over the last few years. Secondly, the lack of major-title apps has slowed adoption even further. Thirdly, in my opinion, is the lack of ecosystem. While it’s easy to show the visual consistency between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 for desktop/laptop use, the entire “Windows Phone Store” vs the “Windows App Store” has been confusing to many. Whereas Apple has the App Store and Android has the Google Play Store, both of which are available to smartphones and tablets, there is a large disconnect when it comes to Windows Phones, Tablets, and Laptops. And while it may be easy to say that Apple or Google have the same issues when it comes to phone and tablets vs desktop, Windows does not have the privilege of being in the market as long as the other two.

Recently, however, the Windows Phone platform has had some big wins, in my opinion. Namely, Instagram, Vine, and Mint. Those three big titles give renewed hope for Windows Phone to become the 3rd giant for smartphones. Windows Phone is beautifully built, intelligent, and fun for users to play around in. That, and the seamless integration with SkyDrive for storing your everything, along with the new app expansions and beautiful hardware from Nokia make it a viable option for users wanting to make the switch.

What The Future May Hold For Windows Phone

I really do hope that WP8 takes off, particularly in the states. I may say that with a bias since I reside in the state of Washington where Microsoft resides and is a dominant economic force. Steve Jobs once said “We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose”. I would now turn that around and say that for Microsoft to win, Apple and Google have to lose. And they’re slipping. What the future for Apple hardware holds is unknown, but it seems to me that for all smartphones, at least in terms of hardware innovation, we have reached an apex. Sure, Samsung may show you some gimmicks but these are software based. Software will matter going forward, and Microsoft is in a great place to be able to start from scratch, to be able to build from the ground up, to gauge the current marketplace and innovate for the future.

It may only be a measly 4% market share for now, but with BlackBerry slipping, Windows Phone growing in markets like India and China, WP8 is poised to eat up even more market share in the next year. Who knows? Maybe that 4% will turn into 10%, and for a market of millions globally, that’s a huge deal.

Hey y’all, I’d love to discuss any of your thoughts about this article on Twitter. Hit me up @veeozee

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Wannabe designer. Products & stuff.

Why You Should Brag (Just a Little More)

The Consequences of Staying Quiet about your Accomplishments

You know people whose main gig appears to be self-promotion? The ones who talk a lot more than they actually do?

If you’re anything like me, you despise bragging and try not to do too much of it yourself. Unfortunately, being a writer already inherently involves a lot of sharing of thoughts, so in a way I already feel like I talk too much. That’s why sometimes, I am a bit quieter about business and writing —often not naming names, not sharing too many details.

This is because I wince everytime I hear a casual humblebrag. “Oh, I was just chatting with ABC from XYZ the other day,” (I didn’t ask — why so specific?). Stuff that’s just Like-fodder on Facebook, that just serves as validation for their own ego. What, do you want a gold star?

In contrast, I have admired individuals that move behind the scenes and get stuff done without explicitly congratulating themselves for it on a daily basis. And, as Derek Sivers points out, talking about your plans makes it less likely you’ll achieve them. Another reason I had resolved to keep my mouth shut.

The thing is, however, the real-world consequences of not bragging are much more significant than I had thought:

Making Achievements Known

While the extremes of egotism can be awfully distasteful, there is something to tooting your own horn. Among the complex reasons for the promotion paradox that women face, including harmful gender stereotypes and perceptions, is a lack of confidence in communicating achievements, in saying so even when they actually are awesome at what they do.

In fact, a 2011 Catalyst study found that the most powerful tactic for women in advancing their career was to make their achievements known. Calling attention to accomplishments led to more career satisfaction and was actually the only reliable factor associated with bigger raises. As much as we believe, or want to believe, that our achievements speak for themselves, that alone isn’t enough. We have to speak about them too.

Janet Choi, CCO of iDoneThis

Part of the job is to speak about your achievements, and to share them with the team or with the collaborators. It can be tough to distinguish this from bragging, and you may not get it right on the first try (that’s cool), but it’s important to figure out where that line is.

Who knows? Your “brag” could change the way processes work at your company. It could act as inspiration for the other teammates. Or you could get recognized for your strength and get put on projects that are more interesting to you.

Reframing Bragging

So here I’m thinking, because you never say anything at meetings, that you’re either dumb, you don’t care, or you’re arrogant. When maybe it’s because you were taught when you were growing up that when the boss is talking, what are you supposed to be doing? Listening.”

“My parents would say, ‘Don’t create problems. Don’t trouble other people.’ How Asian is that? It helped to explain why I don’t reach out to other people for help.” It occurred to Takayasu that she was a little bit “heads down” after all. She was willing to take on difficult assignments without seeking credit for herself. She was reluctant to “toot her own horn.”

Takayasu has put her new self-awareness to work at IBM, and she now exhibits a newfound ability for horn tooting. “The things I could write on my résumé as my team’s accomplishments: They’re really impressive,” she says.

— Paper Tigers by Wesley Yang, New York Magazine

If you don’t show your achievements, in everyone else’s eyes you’re not being stoic and effective — you are behind.

How Others Brag Gracefully

Here are how some people have bragged without having the world hate them:

  • University of Manchester’s Professor Speer writes in Social Psychology Quarterly about one method of acceptable bragging: when others brag about you.That’s how tons of B2B companies share their achievements (through client testimonials) and share their list of previous clients without bragging. In this case, recommendations and public relations could do the job.
  • Software engineer Matt Swanson writes about his process in building something in order to provide value while sharing his accomplishment. It’s resulted in hundreds of thousands of pageviews and happy readers. (B2B companies use stories called case studies.)
  • Don’t try to conceal it with a self-deprecating statement. “I don’t know how I get straight A’s, I never study!” fools much fewer people than you think. (Henry Alford wrote a great piece in The New York Times about this. There’s another piece about the Humblebrag’s cousin, the Underbrag.)
  • Show your relevant communities what you’ve built. For example, if you’ve built a cool website or mobile app, try posting it on Show HN on HackerNews.

“You could see Willie standing on a street corner, sweating through his seersucker suit, with his hair down in his eyes, holding an old envelope in one hand and a pencil in the other, working out figures to explain what he was speaking about, but folks don’t listen to you when your voice is low and patient and you stop them in the hot sun and make them do arithmetic.”

— All The King’s Men, Robert Penn-Warren

Presentation matters. Sharing achievements has real-world consequences.

Don’t stop doing things. However, perhaps it’s time you told, or showed, more people. The world knows about people like Derek Sivers because he told his story and shared his achievements. Don’t hog your memories, people might learn from them.

Show your results to the world. I know I’m going to start showing more of mine. Don’t let the fear of being called a barker, or a loudmouth, be a barrier to the opportunities you could be gaining by showing people what you’ve accomplished.

With that said, I’d still reconsider the “On the grind hard,” Tweet every morning.

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Herbert Lui is exploring the intersection of art and commerce. You can connect with him on Twitter. He is the author of a free guide to building credibility online.

Image Source: Thomas Hawk

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I share stories. Follow me on Twitter: @herbertlui.