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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Looks like a nifty app, but how much of my data plan will it use?

KnowMyApp.org shows the impact of an app's typical usage on the most common cellular data plans.

Source: KnowMyApp.org

KnowMyApp.org shows the impact of an app's typical usage on the most common cellular data plans.

If you're on a limited data plan, knowing how much of your monthly allotment you're going to use up is pretty important. Overages can be costly. The problem is, paying overage fees are sometimes the only way to find out you're spending too much time, say, streaming that favorite Pandora station in your car. How can you find out which apps are likely to cause overages?

To your rescue rides the CTIA (which originally stood for Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, then for Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, and now apparently doesn't stand for anything). The group's Know My App website offers estimates of the typical data usage required by the most popular iPhone, iPad and Android apps. Candy Crush Saga, for example, isn't likely to cause you any problems — playing for about 10 minutes a day used only 8.11MB a month, in their testing. That aforementioned Pandora station might be worth a second thought. CTIA tests found typical usage rates from 997.10MB (Android) to 2,526.57MB (iOS) a month. If you see that level of usage on a standard 2GB data plan for your iPhone, you'll pay overage fees even if you use data for nothing else. …

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Protect your cables from damage with a twist-tie and Super Glue

We've definitely had our share of problems with Apple's iPhone and iPod charging cables at my house. The insulation tends to separate from the plug, exposing the wires and sheathing inside. I don't know that I'm wild about using Super Glue on a perfectly good cable, as Macworld recommends, but I'm close to being willing to give it a shot.

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Give your screen a little holiday spirit

Let It Snow adds falling snow to your Mac's screen, complete with a realistic physics engine and gusts of wind.

ilia Language Services Ltd.

Let It Snow adds falling snow to your Mac's screen, complete with a realistic physics engine and gusts of wind.

The Unofficial Apple Weblog has a post up today with some free and cheap apps that add a little holiday spirit to your Mac, iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. It might be 60 or 70 degrees outside here in the bay area, but there's no reason your screen can't help remind you it's the holiday season.

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Will you be able to buy an iPhone 6 in May?

Sounds like it's at least a possibility. (Tip o' the hat to Boy Genius Report.)

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Traveling this year? Take the right apps along

If you're flying to see family anytime soon, you might want to look over Mel Martin's list of his favorite apps for holiday travel. He lists his choices for everything from turn-by-turn GPS driving directions (Navigon, $32.99) to keeping track of flight departure and arrival times (Flight+, $3.99). I use Flight+ myself, and I like it. If he weren't limited to five apps, I might also have suggested Just Landed ($1.99), an app meant to be useful when you're waiting in the arrivals area, instead of departures. It tracks inbound flights and traffic conditions and uses them to give you an alert when it's time to leave for the airport to pick up whomever you're picking up. And when we're driving — most of our travel is on the road — we like using My-Cast ($3.99) to keep track of weather conditions. It's getting a little long in the tooth, but it's still my favorite weather radar and forecast tool. Add an annual severe weather subscription, and you can get an alert every time there's a lightning strike within 20 miles (definitely worth the investment here in Florida).

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Looking for a good deal on Apple gear?

You might think everyone is done with their holiday shopping by now. Or you might be like me. I'm not in the market for a new iPhone or iPad right now, but if you are, you might find MacRumors' list of the best holiday deals useful. An iPhone 5c for as little as $20? Who wouldn't want to know about that?

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Yo dawg, we heard you like video ads, so we put video ads in your Facebook …

They'll start playing automatically, under the social network's current plan, but mercifully without sound. As always, the questions with any ad-based revenue model are: Will you watch the ad, or scan past it? And more importantly, will you buy something because it's advertised in your Facebook news feed?

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AP: Robots ready for big test in South Florida

It'll be a while before you can buy one of these to help you around the house, but it's still pretty cool. A Defense Department competition at Homestead Miami Speedway will welcome 17 humanoid robots that will try to climb into vehicles, drive them, open doors — all things a person can do easily, but might not want to have to do in a disaster zone.

These aren't truly autonomous robots. They don't act on their own, instead being piloted remotely by human beings. For the sake of the competition, though, those people will be unable to watch what their robots are up to. They'll be behind a curtain, able to see only what the machine relays to them.

I know it's the geek in me speaking, but it'd be pretty cool to watch these things go through their paces. The practice runs don't exactly sound gripping, with the robots opening a door or attaching a hose to a faucet.

Still, it sounds more exciting that watching a Roomba.

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AP's gift guide: 'Navigating a maze of phone, plan choices'

A salesperson pulls out a phone for a customer during the opening day of sales of the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5C in Hialeah. The phone's camera is among the best for everyday shots, and improvements in the 5S make it better for low-light shots, too. For $100 less, you can get an iPhone 5C without the fingerprint sensor or improved camera.

Associated Press

A salesperson pulls out a phone for a customer during the opening day of sales of the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5C in Hialeah. The phone's camera is among the best for everyday shots, and improvements in the 5S make it better for low-light shots, too. For $100 less, you can get an iPhone 5C without the fingerprint sensor or improved camera.

If you're surprising someone a new smartphone for Christmas … well, first of all, I'm pretty jealous of whomever they are.

But in all seriousness, those are treacherous waters to swim in. It's like giving someone a puppy as a gift: You'd better know them well, and know what you're doing, because you're making a choice they'll have to live with for years.

That being said, the Associated Press moved a pretty good outline yesterday sketching out the phones, carriers and plans you should familiarize yourself with. Anick Jesdanun makes a good call, for instance, that you're best off avoiding that tempting, cheap iPhone 4S a few carriers are offering. I love mine but it's nearly two years old now, and "it will be 4 years old by the next upgrade," the guide points out. …

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iPhone app's claim that it can improve your eyesight might not be just hokum (unless it is)

The GlassesOff app comprises two components — "game-like challenges" undertaken about three times a week, over a period of three months, and maintenance sessions every few weeks.

GlassesOff Inc.

The GlassesOff app comprises two components — "game-like challenges" undertaken about three times a week, over a period of three months, and maintenance sessions every few weeks.

See what you think of this:

"Practically anyone can use GlassesOff to improve near vision sharpness by improving the image processing function of the brain," says the app's description in Apple's App Store. "some people will be able to completely eliminate their dependency on reading glasses by enhancing their brain's image processing function. … Just 12-15 minutes a day, 3 times a week over a period of about 3 months — that's all it takes to improve your near vision sharpness."

I'm not sure what it means if you're still reading. I'm pretty much conditioned to move on after hearing even the start of a pitch that seems too good to be true. And even if I sat tight, $59 price tag for four months' "training" (after a three-week free trial) is at least $58 more than I'd need to hear to keep reading. …

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Not to beat the TouchID thing into the ground, but ...

Macworld posted what seems like another pretty good guide to troubleshooting it today.

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The TouchID fingerprint sensor plot thickens

Remember just yesterday, when I was going on about what was being said about getting the fingerprint sensor working on your fancy new iPhone 5s (or five-esses)? It turns out there's more talk on the Interwebs today from blogger "Dr. Drang," described by 5by5 as "a consulting engineer well known amongst nerds on the Internet," and Daring Fireball's John Gruber. (Tip o' the hat to Boy Genius Report.)

Apparently some are saying they feel like TouchID works great when first set up, but the accuracy seems to fade over time. Setting it up again makes it work perfectly again for a while, but they say the accuracy still degrades as time passes. Other folks report seeing no such thing.

If you fall into the first category, stay tuned.

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Get the fingerprint sensor working on that fancy new iPhone you bought

Apple Inc.

Having trouble setting up TouchID? You might be holding your phone the wrong way.

Apple Inc.

Visiting family over Thanksgiving, I saw my sister was carrying a brand-spankin'-new iPhone 5s. She and her husband had changed carriers and got the new phones as part of the deal.

("iPhone 5s" still looks to me like the plural of "iPhone 5." What are the plurals of those supposed to be? "iPhone5ses" and "iPhone 5ives"? But I digress.)

We were talking about how she liked it, and I asked her about the fingerprint sensor on the home button. She said, a little sheepishly, that she hadn't set it up. It turns out the two of them had upgraded before changing carriers, and the iPhone 5s (the new one, singular) she'd been given by her old carrier didn't unlock when she touched the sensor. She'd almost always end up making multiple attempts and then being prompted to enter her passcode, so eventually she just turned TouchID off and used the passcode. When they changed carriers and they got their new phones, she'd just adopted the same setup. …

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Stream we now a yuletide carol

I don't know about you, but over the past 10 or 15 years my family has accumulated a ton of Christmas music. I'm pretty sure we could start playing it around the time the fake trees show up at Lowe's and never repeat a single track all the way through Valentine's Day.

Not that we would ever, ever do that.

But with all that music, it would be nice to actually be able to listen to it. And having it play on the iMac in the corner of our bedroom isn't really what I have in mind. What's the easiest way to get all that music from the computer to the stereo in the family room?

In our case, I've plugged an old Apple Airport Express into a power strip under the shelving unit in the living room, run an audio cable to the Audio In jack on our little bookcase stereo system and I can stream anything I want using AirPlay. Our house is small, and our network simple, so that does the trick. You can hear Deck the Halls from pretty much anywhere you'd want to hear it.

But maybe your house is bigger. Your budget might be bigger, too (or, though it feels unlikely, smaller). What if you want to stream traditional carols to the living room, but mix Weezer's and Relient K's holiday albums in the kitchen? …

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