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Enhance new tech gifts with these great additions

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Day has come and gone, and with it may have come the tech gifts you were hoping for.

If so, here are some things to look for:

Protect them: If you got a new phone or tablet, be sure you keep it protected. A case can help prevent damage to that valuable item, What kind of case depends on any number of factors, including your budget and how you like using your device. In the case of e-readers, for example, there are pouch-like cases designed only for storing or transporting the e-reader -- you slip the e-reader out of the pouch before using it. But there are portfolio-like cases designed to hold the e-reader full-time. For tablets, there are cases with built-in keyboards or cases that also serve to prop up the tablet to a proper viewing angle when you have it on a desk or table.

Whatever you choose, do get some sort of case. Your tech gadget is too valuable, and the chance you'll drop it -- more than once -- is too great.

Of course, if you got a phone or a tablet you'll be busy for some time tricking it out with all of your favorite apps from the appropriate web store -- iTunes, Google Play or Windows Marketplace, depending on your operating system.

Here are a few quick suggested apps you might want to consider, a little off the beaten track. Most have been discussed in this space before -- but you didn't have your new gadget then, did you? Search for these apps by name in your device's app store.

PaperKarma: This handy app lets you take a photo of a piece of junk mail and will then attempt to identify the sender and have you removed from that company or organization's mailing list. It's not perfect, and not every organization honors such requests, but it does work in many cases.

Shazam or SoundHound: These apps can be used to identify a song you hear on the radio, on television, or wherever. Just start up the app and let it listen to a few seconds of the song. It's amazing. Shazam also has promotional deals with various TV shows, such that if you use the app when the Shazam logo appears on the screen, your phone will display some sort of information (such as trivia, or the chance to enter a contest) related to what you're seeing on the screen.

Didlr: This is a fun little social-sharing drawing app. It's much more fun than it sounds. You draw on your touch screen, and then share your drawing with the world. The drawings can be simple or elaborate. You can follow other users whose drawings you like, and they can follow you. You can also post your drawings to regular social networks like Facebook or Twitter.

Words With Friends: If you're already playing this Scrabble-like game on Facebook, you can install the mobile app and it will synch up with your existing account. Now, you can make a move any time it's your turn and you have your phone handy. One strange quirk is that the Facebook version seems to have a larger dictionary than the phone version (at least the Windows Phone 7.X version I'm using). There have been times when the phone hasn't allowed a fairly obscure or uncommon word, but the desktop version allowed it. This seems unfair, especially if one player is on one platform and the second player is on another.

Remember, however, to try to understand a little about how your app works when you install it, so that you don't run into overages on your phone or tablet data plan. For example, if you're installing a weather app -- the kind that displays the current temperature and radar -- you can tweak how often the app looks for automatic updates. If you have a pretty generous data plan, or if you spend most of your time with your phone accessing a Wi-Fi network for data, you can have several apps doing such checks often. But if you have a low-end data plan, you might want to make sure you have such apps tweaked so that they don't check-in as often -- or so they don't check in at all until you specifically ask them to do so.

Enjoy your tech gadgets while you can -- soon, you'll be coveting the newest and latest version.

--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.

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John I. Carney
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John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.