Category Archives: travel

Best Productivity Apps for Your Smartphone

I often receive comments about how well I leverage my smartphone.
I don’t just use it as a phone or email device. My phone serves many functions in my daily life from secretary, scanner, telecommunications device, access to news, and keeps me on top of tasks, projects and deadlines. I believe apps are what make these small units indispensable and essential for boosting productivity and efficiency.

I currently use the iPhone 4, but many apps are available on a number of devices including Blackberry, Android, Palm. I have noted which device platforms offer the applications I have reviewed below.

I will briefly review some of my favorite and most frequently used productivity iPhone apps. Keep in mind, these are just a few to get started. I’ll be sure to feature more in a future post.

Awesome Note-This is by far my most frequently used iPhone application. Awesome Note lets you take down notes and categorizes them in custom folders.  The multiple views lets you create To Do lists, view all notes on a calendar, set reminders (with alarm) as well as geo-tag, add photos, and email the files. The interface is beautiful with a variety of templates and fonts. The thumbnail view is akin to a virtual bulletin board filled with post-it notes where you can view your To Dos, ideas, work projects, book recommendations, and more. The other feature that makes this application a must-have is the ability to sync your information into the cloud, using either Evernote or Google Docs. (You have to be on a wifi connection to sync). This means that you always have a back-up of your information and can access your lists when you’re on your computer.

JotNot Scanner Pro-For anyone who travels or occasionally works remotely. This application lets you take a photo of a document, receipt or other physical page and converts it to a PDF, JPG or PNG file.  It provides numerous options to send on the file including email, fax, send to Evernote, send to Google Docs, send to Dropbox, Send to WebDAV/iDisk, and more.  This works great if you need to get a hard copy of a document to someone and you don’t have access to a scanner or fax machine. An essential mobile office tool. *Available on Blackberry and Android.

Dragon Dictation-Dragon Dictation is a voice recognition application powered by Dragon® NaturallySpeaking® that allows you to dictate your speech to text and send on as text or email messages. They makers say that speaking is up to 5 times faster than typing, so it can also improve your efficiency. Dictation takes some getting used to, and while the software recognition is fairly good there are still times when it doesn’t process your speech correctly. Proper nouns can be especially challenging. A nice feature is that you can tap the incorrect word and it will come up with options for replacement. *Available on Blackberry and Android.

Pulse News-A great news aggregation application that lets you customize your news RSS feeds. The interface uses a grid system that showcases rows for posts from a specific site and columns for different feeds. You can send links out via email, Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites from within the application. *Available on Android.

Skype-Skype’s application lets you make and receive free calls, and have recently added the video feature. For any travel you do outside the US, or if you want to avoid racking up your phone minutes you can make free calls on 3G and wifi connection. This application also allows you to IM/Chat with your online contacts.  With the 4.0 OS multi-tasking feature you can stay signed into Skype while you’re in other applications or your phone is in standby. Your contacts can still see you’re online/signed in and can call or IM you (which comes up as a notification alert). *Available on Blackberry, Android and Palm.

NotifyMe-This is a great application for reminders. Sometimes people like to use their calendars for tasks or reminders such as making phone calls, working on a project, or a reminder to send a specific email. Nowadays many of us share our calendars with family members or colleagues so these “tasks” or reminders tend to clutter our calendars and are taking up a time frame on our calendar but aren’t really appointments. This applications lets you type in your task or reminder, as well as additional content, and alerts you when it’s due. An overdue tasks comes up in the upper right corner of the application icon (I keep this application on my homepage to ensure I don’t miss my alerts). This has an online version you can sync with and also allows you to connect with other users to put tasks on their Notify Me account.

Evernote-Another note-taking application that offers a few features that Awesome Note doesn’t (although the interface isn’t as pleasing) There is a desktop program as well as a web clipper, which lets you store content from a website you’re visiting with a touch of a button on your web browser.  You can input text, photos, and audio files. Another great feature Evernote offers is text recognition within photos. This means you can take a photo of a book cover, sign, or document and search for a part of the phrase later without having to actually create categories and tags (which it does let you do as well).  All of your clips and notes are saved in the cloud. Evernote has been featured as one of the top productivity apps on numerous websites and books. *Available on Blackberry, Android and Palm.

WordPress-A great way to blog on the go!

*Available on Blackberry and Android.



Have an app you love and want to recommend? Please post it in the comments.


Google Chrome Extensions

Despite the fact that many of us have laptops we carry around most of the time we still often have a “home” computer and a  “work” computer.  We’ve all had that moment where we go to work on a project, only to realize the program or file is on our other computer.

We’ve talked about cloud computing in the past, and it’s only going to become more prevalent. The idea that you can access your information from any computer and you store your information, applications and programs online rather than physically loading files onto a specific machine.

Google’s Chrome now offers applications and extensions in its browser so that you can access some of your favorite programs online without having to download any files or content to your computer.

Google has the Chrome Web Store which is an online marketplace for their applications, extensions and themes.  For more information on what these are, how they differ, how to install, and for video tutorials visit Explore What’s In Store.

Similar to iTunes, Google has categorized the thousands of apps by topic such as Education, Entertainment, Family, Lifestyle and more.

You will need to sign into your Google account to install the applications and extensions. Then every time you sign into Google, from any computer, you will see your applications listed on the New Tab/your Homepage, as in the photo above. One more way to make your life more mobile.

My personal favorite is TweetDeck.

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Kindle Lending

Amazon has turned on a new feature: Kindle Lending.

Another reason to make the switch to e-books for your fiction, non-fiction and textbook needs.
There are definitely still improvements to be made in the e-book and e-reader world.
Most notably, the still rather limited library of available books. But as the months pass more publishers are releasing selected titles, making the e-reader an exponentially advantageous device.

I have been waiting for the availability to loan out my e-books to friends with a Kindle, and while Amazon’s current Kindle Lending concept is a step in the right direction, there is still quite a ways to go.

A Kindle book is eligible for a 14-day loan period (reminiscent of library check-outs) but each book can only be loaned once. I think this is a bit too limiting.  I understand the publishers don’t want to deal with illegal reproduction, but if it is your legally purchased copy I think you should be able to loan it out multiple times (some industry tech writers are suggesting 5 loans per book is reasonable).  Another component is that if you have an e-book loaned out you cannot access it on your device. Much like if your hard copy was sitting on your friend’s nightstand then it wouldn’t be on your bookshelf for you to peruse.

Lending rights are up to the publisher, so not all books are lending enabled. This feature is noted in the product details on Amazon.

At this point the fact the e-book lending concept is being addressed, and presented in some limited fashion, means we’re working towards finding a place that hopefully makes both the publishers and readers content.

Here’s a great HOW TO: Use Amazon’s New Kindle Lending Feature from Mashable.


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Traveling with Technology | Devices and Programs

For all of you who are on the road as much as I am I thought I would highlight just a few pieces of technology that make my overseas travel jaunts a bit easier.

I have noticed lately that most international educators on the road carry a netbook, or even an iPad. Having a small, lightweight device makes it much easier to travel with than carrying a 17 inch, 15 lb brick in your bag.

Since I’m still waiting for Steve Jobs and Adobe to reach some sort of compromise I have found that a netbook, my iPhone and a portable keyboard does the trick. Although the shiny iPad does bring a lot of interested students swarming into a huddle around you.

The advantage with the netbook is that it has full multitasking support and the ability to load all Windows-based programs.  They do have limited RAM so loading huge programs like Photoshop and iTunes aren’t recommended, but these machines are built for internet browsing and email, and that’s mostly what you need on the go.

I have found that since I purchased a netbook I always have it on me. Since it’s only ~4 lbs I just leave it in my mid-size day bag on my meeting rounds. If I have 30 minutes between appointments I can drop into an internet cafe (or even draft emails offline) whereas with my full size laptop I wouldn’t have carried it around with me all day due to the extra weight.

My latest find is a Bluetooth keyboard for my iPhone.
I found the most challenging part of my overseas work travel was coming home and finding the time to write up all the notes and follow up reminders from my meetings.
With my iPhone and keyboard I can take notes down quickly, as well as set reminders for follow up. I can export these digital notes* into a word document, add the final touches, and my trip report is done before my plane even lands back home.
I do recommend you let your students/parents/clients know that you’re taking meeting notes on your phone and not surfing the web or checking Facebook while talking with them.  Most find it impressive that I’m using my device in a more unconventional way, which has started some interesting technology discussions.

*Stay tuned for my post to come on the best applications to take notes on the iPhone/iPad and export content.

So now you have all of these documents spread out between your work computer, your laptop, your netbook and your phone. How to keep track of them all, especially when you’re modifying them from different locations?
Move to the cloud.

While it may be difficult to get used to the idea that your documents are living out in space, I can assure you it will quickly become your preferred method of storage.
There are many advantages to storing your documents off your main frame computer, most importantly so that you can access them anywhere, or should you lose your computer you will at least avoid losing the valuable information you created on it.

You will obviously need to check with your institution’s IT policy on security of cloud computing document storage.  In the meantime, I recommend you check out some of the web based services that offer storage space. Some are free, others have a free-based account with upgrades for paid accounts.
The other advantages of these services is most offer the ability to invite users, which means you can create collaborative documents with your colleagues and update them in real time.

The following are basic programs that allow you to store simple files such as Word documents, Excel, and text files in the cloud to access via the web. These are great for storing basic files you want to access from multiple devices.
Google Docs

Below are several online storage and file management systems that offer a more robust storage system for all of your back-up filing needs. Think of it as a hard drive in cyberspace.

I am working on a post dedicated to my favorite productivity iPhone/iPad apps so stay tuned as to how you can further leverage your travel technology.

Feel free to comment on what you find useful in your travel technology tool kit.

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