App Spotlight – Outlook for iOS

Although I gave up on Microsoft’s Windows Phone a couple of years ago I still have plenty of good memories of me and my nifty Windows Phone. In fact if you are in a nostalgic mood you can browse my Windows Phone articles here.

All is not lost for Microsoft in the smartphone world. Even though I gave into Apple empire for both myself personally and my organization all is not lost. That’s because Microsoft has been publishing apps at an amazing rate during the past two years and many of them are simply top notch.

One of my favorite Microsoft Apps is “Outlook”. Why do I recommend trashing Apple’s default mail app and installing Outlook?

Phones with Outlook app.

Innovation and Consolidation 

The Microsoft Outlook app is a mobile productivity powerhouse, bringing your email, attachments, contacts and calendars into easy reach. Outlook’s built-in analytic engine automatically surfaces important email (across multiple accounts) based on your communications, and quick swipe controls allow you to easily triage your email. It’s a great mobile email app, and works with Exchange, Office 365, Outlook.com, Gmail, Yahoo Mail and iCloud email accounts.

Also included with Outlook is your calendar, files (OneDrive, Box, Dropbox & Google Drive) and contacts. If you are using Apple’s default apps you have separate programs for each of these. With Outlook – you have one app to control them all.

Of course if you rely on Microsoft Outlook on your desktop this is the perfect companion app on your smartphone or mobile device.

You can learn more about Microsoft’s Outlook app here.

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Our Adware Battle Continues

Over the past couple years, we have focused much attention on Ransomware, and that’s for good reason. However old threats are still here to make our digital lives miserable as well. One of the oldest surviving threats we continue to deal with is adware.

Image result for adware

Adware Today

There’s no denying that adware is a big problem. In fact 2016 saw a huge spike in Mac OS malware, mostly due to bundled adware. Google has tried tackling this problem by kicking known adware distributors out of the Play Store.

Google is perhaps the most aggressive trying to battle adware today because Android especially has seen a great deal of adware in recent years.

Earlier this year, a number of Android phones were discovered to have been infected with powerful adware. The “infection” took place somewhere between the factory, and the business that ordered them. That means some Android phones were purchased with adware pre-installed!

Avoid Download Portals

Desktops also continue to be targeted. One of the popular ways of infecting desktop PCs are through download portals. Many people continue to unwittingly use download portals that bundle adware and other unwanted programs with legitimate apps that people are looking for.

Unfortunately, these download portals show up at the top of search results and trick searchers into thinking they’re getting the best version of the app. When you are looking for a specific app take the time to go directly to the software provider’s website. If you do not – and you simply click on the first link in the search results you may be using a download portal which usually will give you a boatload of unwanted apps, in addition to the one you actually wanted.

* Yes – I know I used the words “download portals” five times in this section. That’s because I want you to remember what they are – so you can avoid them.

Keeping Alert for Adware

As with any other type of malware, the best way to deal with adware is to be aware if them – and what they are. Here are four things to watch out for.

If Ads Abound on Your PC – Don’t Panic But You Do Need to Act

If you’ve been infected with adware, you’re going to be seeing a lot of ads. Pop-ups, in-app ads, browser takeovers, and all sorts of other annoying behaviors might happen.

Different types of adware behave differently.

phishing ad
Image Credit: Fireofheart via Shutterstock

However one thing that they all have in common is that they will show you a huge number of ads. You’ll notice more ads, more insistent and pervasive ads, and ads outside of the locations where you usually see them. If you’ve been seeing any of this stuff, download anti-adware software right away.

Just don’t get it from…

Third-Party App Stores

If you stick to Apple’s App Store, the Google Play Store, the Chrome Store, and other first-party, controlled app stores, you will be much safer than if you use third-party options.

The same rule for desktop and laptop software applies. Unless the app isn’t available from the Windows or Mac app stores — and you can’t find it on the developer’s website — avoid third party software download sites.

Watch for the Warnings

Believe it or not, you will often be warned right before you download adware. It’s those small print terms and conditions that often go ignored. Take the time to read them if you really – really want that free app. There’s a good chance that they contain something useful. They’ll often tell you that you’ll be getting something else in addition to the software you’re looking for.

No matter where you’re getting an app, make sure to at least browse the terms and conditions first. You just might save yourself the hassle of trying to deal with the problem later.

Avoid Free Versions of Software

If you found a place to download Microsoft Office for free, run the other way. You’re not going to get high-end, fully featured apps without paying. Someone might be offering it, but they’re probably offering a few other things that they aren’t telling you about, very likely adware – or worse.

Even apps that are normally free often carry some sort of adware. Ironically a number of illegitimate anti-virus apps have been discovered to come bundled with malware.

Always be very careful about where you get your software.

What to Do If You’ve Been Infected

Here are some warning signs to watch out for.

Have you noticed a lot more pop-ups than usual lately? Or advertisements that you can’t close? If you see a new toolbar (these are very popular), a new default search engine (also a common symptom), new programs that you don’t remember installing, or new bookmarks in your browser, you are then more likely infected with adware.

Do your best not to interact with any of these ads, as that may make the problem worse. Close — force close, if you need to — those apps and download an anti-adware application as soon as possible. Here are three choices that will help you rid your computer of adware for free.

Malwarebytes AdwCleaner (Windows)

With one of the best reputations in the game, Malwarebytes is a company you can trust to clean up your computer. Its AdwCleaner software specifically targets adware and browser hijackers, as well as “potentially unwanted programs,” which could include toolbars and other questionable downloads.

AdwCleaner is free, and all you have to do is download it and run it. It doesn’t get much easier.

BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition (Windows)

Another company with a great reputation, BitDefender is at the forefront of anti-malware tech. This lightweight antivirus app protects you from all sorts of mayhem, including adware and spyware. It also packs anti-phishing and anti-fraud features for additional protection.

While you get more features out of the paid version of this app, the free option is still a great way to go.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (Mac)

While some of anti-adware software out there only works on Windows computer, Malwarebytes’ anti-malware software will protect your Mac from attacks. This extremely lightweight client is great even if your Mac is starting to get old and slow down.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Macs don’t get adware. They do. So download this now.

And if you’re looking for mobile anti-adware apps, check out Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware. It’s free on the Play Store.

Be Proactive Against Adware

As with any type of malware, the best way to deal with adware is to not get infected in the first place. Make sure you have an up-do-date antivirus solution running on your computer, watch out for suspicious-looking sites, and remember that the best things in life aren’t free. Especially when it comes to software.

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Google Earth Receives a Major Update

Image result for google earth logo pngIn the first major update for over two years, Google Earth has added several new features in addition to updating the satellite imagery for a significant portion of the globe. The update also adds 3D maps of specific locations, facts about random places, and guided tours. Also you no you no longer need to download and install the application. Google Earth now loads in-browser, with all of its features ready to go. This improvement alone will probably intice many more people to check it out.

The Whole Wide World

The Google Earth redesign introduces some very cool new features.

First up is the Knowledge Graph. Knowledge Graph is the technology behind the bite size bits of information displayed directly in Google search. Meaning that each time you search Google Earth for a specific location, an informative snippet will display with details of the particular place.

Google Earth Just Received A Massive Global Update Google Earth Penzance

The next feature is “interactive guided tours,” created by scientists, non-profits, and other “storytellers.” The feature, called Voyager, showcases different aspects of the world around us. For instance, you can tour the Tanzanian Gombe National Park, led by primate expert Jane Goodall. There are several different habitats on offer, as well as interesting partners to assist with content creation, such as the BBC and Sesame Street (for child-specific experiences).

The addition of 3D view is excellent. Instead of the flat satellite imagery we are used to, you can now explore almost any location in 3D.

And there is more. Google Earth now has a “I’m feeling lucky” button. It works just how you would expect: one-click takes you to a random location. Additionally, Google Earth users can now directly share locations with a simple link.

Exploring with Google Earth

Google Earth’s massive update really brings some great improvements to what was already a great service. Check it out.

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Facebook Stories Arrives But What Is It?

Facebook Stories is rolling out to everyone on Facebook. Along with it comes a filter-tastic new in-app camera, as well as a direct messaging feature.

The update started rolling out this morning on iOS and Android and it brings with it three parts: a redesigned in-app camera, a new feed of ephemeral stories at the top of the News Feed, and a private messaging feature called Direct. Taken together, the features represent the biggest changes to Facebook’s core product in several years.

Just like Snapchat, Facebook Stories consist of photos and images that disappear 24 hours after they are posted. You can decorate your posts with text, drawings, stickers, and Snapchat-like animated filters. While the basic suite of creative tools is the same across Facebook’s products, the flagship app’s stories have a few twists of their own. It’s the first Facebook app to get animated face filters.

Facebook Stories works exactly like on Instagram; Stories live above your News Feed for 24 hours, and can include both videos and images with a variety of filter effects. There’s even now a dedicated camera button on the top left of the app to serve as a constant reminder to post some goofy filtered-up photo.

But to Facebook, the filters are more than just trivial additions. People are sharing more visual content than ever, and these effects are a way to augment and provide context for the moments being shared on screen.

Facebook apparently is so smitten with filters that the company has a small team of artists creating the filters, and works to adapt the filters for each region so that they are relevant to everyone using them. It’s also partnering with various brands for themed filters, including Power Rangers, Minions, and Wonder Woman masks, and intends to introduce “new ways for the Facebook community to create their own frames and effects” in the coming months.

One area Facebook is a bit different from other apps is that you have the option to share Stories directly onto your Timeline and News Feed as well, giving them a bit more visibility by placing them among standard posts. You can also now share 24-hour media with only a few specific people via a ‘Direct’ feature.

Stories is clearly a big push for the Facebook, and the fact that they live above your News Feed is remarkable, considering the latter has always been your main way of experiencing media on the social network.

 

 

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Tech Tips in Bad Weather

A massive winter storm is slated to slam the eastern portion of the United States tonight. The area where I live could see as much as 2 feet of snow.

These are some tech tips to help you prepare for the storm:

Keep Your Mobile Devices Charged

Make sure you keep your mobile devices, smartphones and laptops charged so if your home loses power you have a way to communicate and stay informed.

Stay on social media

Posting on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram is an easy way to let friends and family know you’re safe. Social media will also alert you to breaking news and updates on the storm.

Watch your local news

This should be a no-brainer, but you should be tuning into your local news for updates on the storm. In the case of a power outage, you could pull that old radio out of the closet. Don’t own a radio? Check your old iPods or smartphones. The iPod Nano and some Android smartphones, such as the HTC One M9, also include FM tuners.

Internet down? Use text instead of voice

Cell phone networks can quickly become overloaded during storms and natural disasters. It’s best to send a text message, rather than continuing to attempt a phone call. Standard text messages have dedicated bandwidth on cell carriers’ networks. If Web connectivity (or even worse electricity) is spotty or down, and the phone circuits are overloaded, your text messages have the best chance of getting through.

Charge all your batteries

It’s always smart to be prepared for the power to go out. Make sure all of your devices (not just your smartphone) are fully charged. When power and Internet are down, CNET editor Dan Ackerman recommends using a laptop’s USB port to charge your smartphone.

Apps could be a lifesaver

If you still have power and Internet, you should be keeping an eye on weather apps. Some of my favorites are NOAA Weather Radar, The Weather Channel, Weather Underground (Android, iOS) and 6abc (Philadelphia). Make sure to check out local apps because they will be there to help you stay up to date with where you live.

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Streaming Superbowl 51

It’s Superbowl Sunday and you are in a pickle. You either cancelled your cable (cord cutter) or you on the road. If you are in one of the situations… don’t panic. Their are options to catch the game. I do realize that my mighty Broncos are not in this year’s affair – and that’s OK because they can’t be in every year. I am sure the Broncos will be back in full force next season. This year we have the Patriots & the Falcons.

Here are some tips for catching the game if you don’t have cable or if you are on the road.

Over-the-air

If you have a digital antenna, you can (probably) catch the game, in HD, over-the-air. The channel varies with your local area, but it’ll be broadcast on your local Fox affiliate in some 170 local viewing areas.

Web, Phone, and Tablet

FoxSportsGo.com will host a free livestream of the event, complete with commercials. (Almost) any device with a web browser — smart TVs, laptops, and set-top boxes — can watch the game on the Fox Sports website with no need to log in, or to enter details about your cable package.

The one caveat here is that you can’t watch it on a smartphone, although who really wants to watch the game that way anyway? If you really want to tune in to the action on your smartphone, you’ll need to be a Verizon wireless subscriber. If that’s you, you can grab the app for either Android or iOS devices and stream via the NFL Mobile app.

If you’re on an iOS, Windows, or Android tablet (or Kindle), you can stream the game from the Fox Sports Go app for iOS, Windows, Android, or Amazon.

Set top boxes and video game consoles

SlingTV and PlayStation users are out due to licensing restrictions with the Fox network in Denver, but Xbox, AppleTV, Roku, Chromecast, AndroidTV, and FireTV users are in luck. You’ll have to download the Fox Sports Go app on your respective device, but you’ll be able to see all the action from your device.

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Outlook Mobile Gets 2 Year Anniversary Improvements

Outlook on my iPhone is awesome and may be my most used mobile app, and it just got better. That’s because today Microsoft today announced their two-year anniversary of Outlook Mobile for Android and iOS.

Starting today, the iOS version is gaining extensibility thanks to a new add-ins capability.

Outlook Mobile Hits Two Year Anniversary, Gets Extensible

Android will pick up this feature soon, Microsoft adds.

“Two years ago, we launched Outlook mobile with the goal of helping you accomplish more while on the go,” Microsoft’s Javier Soltero writes in a new post to the Office Blogs. “More means an inbox that helps you focus on the emails that matter most. More means a calendar that can manage your entire day, not just show you your schedule. And today, we are excited to continue that mission by bringing apps to your inbox with add-ins for Outlook on iOS.”

For this initial launch, Outlook for iOS will support several add-ins, including:

Dynamics 365. This add-in provides “real time insights about your business contacts and their organization, right in your inbox, so you can focus on the selling and have more meaningful interactions,” Microsoft says.

Translator. Helps you read messages in your preferred language, across devices, with support for 60 languages.

Nimble. Helps you get prepared for meetings and engage effectively with business intelligence about your email contacts and their organizations, right in email.

Trello. Turns your email into actionable items, keep track of projects, and make sure emails don’t go unseen.

Evernote. Capture what’s on your mind and stay organized by clipping emails from Outlook to a project notebook in Evernote.

Smartsheet. Helps you manage and automate work so you can get work assigned, updated, and completed more quickly.

GIPHY. This one helps you add GIFs to your emails. Why? Why ask why?

Microsoft is also providing developers with the information they need to write their own add-ins, so we should see these capabilities improve nicely over time.

Currently, add-ins are only available when reading email. But Microsoft says it will be adding more add-in actions for composing or replying to email in the future too.

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Microsoft Outlook’s Big iOS Update

Outlook is one of the bright spots for Microsoft in mobile and one of my most used apps. This week Microsoft issued a fairly major update on iOS that makes this already great app even better.

So, what issues does the latest version of Outlook address? Here’s the list.

Create and edit recurring events. You can now create and edit recurring events straight from the Calendar module in the app. (This feature requires an Office 365 subscription.)

Reading improvements. This is one that’s bothered me, but Microsoft has finally improved the way that emails with very small font are displayed. “They should now be much more readable,” Microsoft notes.

Search improvements. Outlook now displays search results by conversation rather than as individual results. “This means that if you search for ‘holidays’, [the app will] show you that very long family thread about what to have for dinner as just one result,” Microsoft notes. Previously, this might have displayed 23 (or whatever) different results.

Passbook support. Outlook now supports Passbook, the iOS wallet app, which is also used to store coupons, boarding passes, event tickets, store cards, and loyalty cards. Meaning you can now do things like see your flight details right from the inbox.

On Android, Outlook picked up that first change—the ability to create and edit recurring events—back in late December. But I’m not sure if the other improvements are available yet on Android.

And of course, as any Android-weilding user of Outlook will tell you, Microsoft has yet to address the single biggest—and most inexcusable—problem with Outlook, its inability to edit or manage contacts in any meaningful way. The software giant says it’s working on that.

Download Outlook for iOS

Download Outlook for Android

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Super Mario Run on the iPhone!

Super Mario Run is exactly what you’d hope and expect it to be. Why anyone thought Nintendo wouldn’t be able to make the most iconic figure in video games work on mobile is a mystery – because this is a very fun – nostalgic app.

This doesn’t mean that Super Mario Run is the greatest entry in the franchise to date. Nor does it mean you should expect the level of sheen that a home console version would offer. To do so is approaching this in completely the wrong fashion, because ultimately this is a mobile app. It’s meant to be enjoyed that way, too.

At its most basic all you’re ever really going to be doing is tapping the screen to make Mario jump as he automatically runs through numerous worlds. You can tell from a mile away that it was developed by Nintendo. It has that recognisable aesthetic, and all the usual additions are here; it’s just that they’ve been stripped back to make it accessible for a more casual audience.

Instantly that will sound offensive to some – gaming’s poster boy being shilled out to the masses. That’s an argument you’re welcome to have, but it doesn’t stop Super Mario Run from being extremely fun. Although you’re only ever in control of jumping, the way the world around you reacts and evolves means it can be far more tricky than it sounds. Mario will hop over small objects, including enemies, automatically, but timing your leaps right is imperative to both do away with foes, fly over giant chasms and execute special moves, the latter of which gets you more coins.

This is of the utmost importance, because coins fuel everything you do in Super Mario Run. While they’ve always been a staple of the franchise, now they not only determine how well you performed, but also act as the reason to replay levels and try to nab every coin you see. This includes special red coins which are even more devilishly placed, and black coins (which unlock after you’ve grabbed all the red ones and are even harder to obtain).

The point is that that’s three reasons to play through each level, which in turn triples your playtime. You’ll want to do that, too, to get your money’s worth, as you’ll probably have the basics done in about an hour.

Super Mario Run is so addictive, however, there’s a good chance you’d have wanted to replay it anyway. It progressively gets harder as you go on, and learning how to time your jumps to get the most out of an attempt is a skill within itself. You could call this an endless runner, and many have, but it’s much more in the vein of a platformer when all is said and done. The precision and care often needed isn’t so far away from Mario games of old.

There’s more to sink your teeth into as well, should the foundations start to wear thin. While it still follows the same basic structure, Toad Rally adds a competitive spin to proceedings. Using ‘Rally Tickets’ you’ve earned in the main game, you’re pitted against an opponent of your choice (and you can do this with friends by adding them into the game). The aim? To outshine your rival as you both race through a level.

This is achieved by timing your jumps right, not getting thumped by goombas, and looking out for the fabled ‘Coin Rush’, a power-up that allows you to increase the rate at which you’re gaining coinage. With each successful step, more toads will cheer you on, and whoever has proved themselves the most worthy by the end wins. Everything you’ve earned then gets shifted over to the creation hub.

Seeming to mimic in-app purchases (without asking for any real money), the kingdom-building element of Super Mario Run literally exists so you can unlock more objects, houses, shops and other bits and pieces for a central play area using your toads and coins. This then lets you play special levels, decorate the world as you see fit, or opens up the option to use other characters such as Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad.

Rather than just a visual change, they alter the pace of the game as – like always – Luigi jumps higher than Mario, so you have to switch up your playing style. That straight away gives you another reason to go around again, and it’s clear Nintendo isn’t looking for this to be a throwaway experience.

Is Super Mario Run a Worthy 10 Dollar App?

The question, then, is if it’s worth $9.99 – which is no doubt a premium price for an iPhone title. The novelty of having Mario on Apple’s device is probably worth it alone, but it’s only fair to say you’re paying a little extra given whose name is attached to it. The mechanics aren’t too out of the realms of what we’ve seen before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. Because it is. And having Mario in it just makes it better still.

It’s no surprise that Nintendo didn’t skimp on Super Mario Run. It’s a Nintendo product and therefore a certain amount of quality is expected. There’s a novelty here, sure, and this isn’t a game-changer like the franchise has produced so many times in the past. It’s good, though. And sometimes that’s enough.

Super Mario Run is a great iPhone game that sticks to the expected formula but makes that formula extremely fun. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Netflix Offline Launches

Here is some great and long awaited information for Netflix subscribers!

Netflix has begun rolling out the ability to download videos from its streaming service to smartphones and tablets for offline viewing. Offline viewing is arguably the most demanded feature by users, and one of the things that differentiated other services such as iTunes, TiVo and Amazon Video.

Image result for netflix offline

The feature is available as of yesterday, November 30th on Android and iOS devices, and includes “many” TV series and movies, including Netflix’s original content such as Orange is The New Black, Narcos and the recently released The Crown. The company says that more will be made available soon.

Video downloads will be provided at no added cost within the service’s existing monthly subscription fees.

If you already have Netflix installed there is nothing you really need to do.

 

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