Category Archives: Education

Apps & Devices For Better Health

Apps & Devices For Better Health

It’s important to keep up with your health and make sure you’re living well. Thankfully, there are plenty of apps and devices that can help you monitor your health, get help, and learn healthy habits.

You may already know about Fitbit, but there are plenty of other health devices available with great features. And though you really shouldn’t skip going to the doctor altogether, did you know you can get advice from a doctor right from your phone?

Always remember to make regular visits to your doctor. However, you have plenty you can do between visits. Here are some really useful apps and devices you can try to better keep up with your health!

Manage your doctor visits

  • Doctor on Demand (Android & iOS)—This app lets you connect with real doctors using live video. You can get prescriptions and advice for things like colds and anxiety.
  • HealthTap (Android & iOS)—Using HealthTap, you can get help from doctors in-app. You can search for answers in their database, or you can pay to talk with a doctor personally though either text or video, getting advice, prescriptions, and more.
  • ZocDoc (Android & iOS)—With this app, you can search for and find your next doctor to go to. You can even set up an appointment and get reminders right in the app.

Keep track

  • Your smartphone’s health app—Depending on which smartphone you have, you likely have a health app pre-installed or ready to easily connect with your account once installed. For Apple devices, you can use the iOS Health app to track your activity, monitor your sleep, log your eating habits, and more. If you have a Samsung device, Samsung Health offers the same kinds of features. These apps can be incredibly useful and may make it unnecessary for you to download anything else. Take a look at your phone and see which health apps might already be available specifically for your device.
  • Fooducate (Android & iOS)—Fooducate helps you keep track of your eating habits so you can learn to eat healthier. It not only helps you log and track your habits, it also provides information on healthy eating. This means you can not only keep track of what you eat, you can also learn along the way.
  • Lose It! (Android & iOS)—Using Lose It! is another way to focus specifically on your weight. It’s a weight loss program, so it works to help you meet your weight goals. You input and track your eating every day, take part in challenges, plan meals, and more.
  • MyFitnessPal (Android & iOS)—This app is offered by Under Armour. You can track what you eat, learn about your nutrition, add recipes, include meals from restaurants, and even add foods using a barcode scanner for more convenience.
  • Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock (Android & iOS)—The Sleep Cycle alarm clock contributes to a healthier lifestyle by focusing on an important (but often overlooked) area of health: your sleep habits. It listens to the sounds of your sleeping, learns your habits, and figures out the best time to wake you up (during a window of time that you choose). This way you’ll wake up at the right time and feel as though you’ve gotten a better night of sleep.

Use a device

Wearables—There are many wearables available to purchase. Fitbit is extremely popular, but there are other options, as well.

  • Fitbit does have many different options, so you can choose to buy a more pricey but full-featured watch, or you can spend less and get just the features you need. One of their lowest priced wristbands is around $60.
  • Garmin also offers a line of activity trackers. They can track your activity and things like your heart rate, and some have GPS built in. They even have some wristbands designed specifically for kids. One of their least expensive devices is around $70.
  • Moov Now also offers a wearable device to track activity. Their device is designed to be especially light and unobtrusive. It also includes an app with plenty of detailed information on your activity, as well as “real time coaching” so you can learn how to improve what you’re doing. This tracker is about $60.
  • Samsung offers a way to track activity, as well, with their Gear Fit series. Their wristbands use GPS to follow your activity, and they can detect what kind of activity you’re doing. It also has things like a heart monitor and different displays, as well as plenty of options in the connected apps.

Smart speakers—Any smart speaker can be a useful tool when taking care of your health. Most smart assistants can answer many of the health questions you may have, and there are skills and services available to personalize things further. Google Home can easily give information on how many calories are in a certain food and what nutrition is offered. Using your Amazon Echo, you can enable skills like Virtual Nurse, Fitbit (to link with your device), and Nutritionix. Just ask your smart speaker and see what health information is available.

**Editors Update**

After this article was published we came across some really great information on how to make sure your sleep cycle is optimized, and how important your sleep cycle is to your overall health. Health Ambition, a site full of great resources and information on living a healthy lifestyle, recently published an article on resetting and optimizing your sleep schedule, and if you enjoyed this article and are serious about improving your health then check out this article.

Spring Cleaning? There Are Apps (& Sites) For That

Spring Cleaning? There Are Apps (& Sites) For That

It’s very nearly spring, and for some, the urge to start spring cleaning has already hit. (It definitely has for me—I went for “late winter cleaning” instead.) Spring arrives on the 20th of this month. So if you’re about ready to get started cleaning out your garage or your messy closet, you should know there are some great and super helpful apps out there.

Here are just some of the ways you can improve your spring cleaning with apps!

Get organized

  • Any.do (Android & iOS): Any.do is a to-do list, calendar, and more. You can get reminders and schedule times for you to accomplish whichever spring cleaning tasks you want. You can even share your to-do list and set up certain tasks for certain people, and there are many more helpful features.
  • BrightNest (Android & iOS): BrightNest lets you plan your cleaning schedule and get tips on how to accomplish tasks. You can get reminders, and you can look through their tips for cleaning and organizing, among other useful features.
  • OurHome (Android & iOS): If you’re spring cleaning with other people in your home, OurHome can help. You can assign different tasks to different people, set up rewards, get reminders, view progress, and more.
  • Sortly (Android & iOS): Sortly is a great way to set up an organized system as you finish spring cleaning a section of your home. With this app, you can take photos of your stuff and then tag them, add notes, put them in different folders, keep track of who you loaned items to, and more. Using this app throughout the year could make spring cleaning even easier next time around.
  • Spring Cleaning Checklist (Android): With this app, you can create a helpful checklist for getting all your tasks done. You can organize your checklists by different areas of the home. There are also videos that give tips for cleaning, and you can listen to a playlist while cleaning.
  • Wunderlist (Android & iOS): With Wunderlist, you can create different lists and keep up with your tasks. You can share lists, add photos, discuss tasks, set reminders, and more.

Make it fun

  • EpicWin (Android & iOS): EpicWin can make completing your tasks a little more fun. It’s a to-do list in the form of an RPG. Instead of just checking off tasks as you complete them, you have a character that can gain XP and develop. There are “animated battles” as you complete tasks, you can find loot, and more. There are also some typical features, like reminders.
  • Habitica (Android & iOS): With Habitica, you can treat your tasks like a game. Finishing tasks allows you to level up your avatar. You can go on quests, fight with your friends (helping you stay accountable and on track), and gain rewards as you progress.

Clean efficiently

There are plenty of websites that offer tips for effective and safe cleaning! Here are just a few sites you can check out.

Get rid of unwanted stuff

Once you’ve cleaned out your closets and under your bed, you’ll likely have some items you don’t need anymore.

For those things that aren’t really worth anything and that you couldn’t sell, you should look into recycling. One app for this is iRecycle. This app is available for Android and iOS. Using this app, you can use your location to find recycling centers near you. After choosing which type of item you’re wanting to recycle, the correct recycling centers will be suggested for you.

If you have items someone might want to purchase, selling online is much simpler than it once was. You can sell through a site like eBay, an app like LetGo, or a service like Facebook’s Marketplace.

For help getting rid of your stuff, check out my article about selling online!

Apps & Smart Devices for Visual Impairment

Apps & Smart Devices for Visual Impairment

For many in the world of technology, improving lives has been a primary goal. As technology advances, there are more opportunities for people with disabilities to gain access to helpful devices, software, and services.

Recently, The Verge reported on the development of smart glasses that could help with visual impairment. With these smart glasses, someone could look at text and have that text read out loud to them. Smart glasses that could help with visual impairment have been discussed for some time, and these glasses could be another step in the right direction. Unfortunately, they’re not yet available. However, it goes to show that some tech companies are making a point to develop products for all.

Though these smart glasses aren’t really available yet, there are other ways to use current tech. One way people with visual impairment can make their lives a little easier is with the use of certain apps. More and more apps are being developed with the sole purpose of helping people who are blind or who have other difficulties with their vision.

Another area of tech that can be helpful for people with visual impairment is one that has been rapidly growing for years—smart devices, including smart speakers and devices that can be paired with them. With a smart speaker, a person who is blind can ask their smart assistant to read them the news, tell them the weather, get answers to questions, and more. They can also connect other devices, so they can ask the assistant to do things like adjust the thermostat or turn off a fan.

There are many different levels of visual impairment. Being visually impaired doesn’t necessarily mean someone is completely blind in the way you might think. There are varying degrees of visual impairment. Because of this, some people may want or need to use different tech than others. And there are so many different apps and products out there it might be difficult to even know what’s available.

What other technology is available?

This article is focusing specifically on apps and smart devices. However, there is plenty of tech that’s typically used by people with visual impairment. Here are just a few:

  • Screen readers (including touch screen readers)
  • Magnification software
  • Braille devices (like braille printers)
  • Text-to-speech software

Because there’s such a wide range of tech, this article will focus on some of the technology that is rapidly growing and offering many different options. New apps are being developed on a regular basis, and smart devices are getting better and better. So for this article, I’ll be skipping the other options listed above.

Apps

There are many different apps available to choose from. Some apps may be familiar, as they’re wildly popular and have become staples. However, some may be new or offer even better features than an app you already have. Here are some helpful apps!

  • Accessible Editor Talkback Pro (Android): This app works with Talkback, the service built into Android phones. It lets people read and edit documents, texts, Facebook content, and more.
  • Actiview Movie Access (iOS): This app helps people with visual impairment while they’re in the movie theater. While at the movies, you can choose which movie you’re watching and get audio description, louder audio, and much more.
  • Aipoly Vision (Android & iOS): This app is meant to help people identify what’s around them. Using your camera, it can be pointed at objects which it will identify out loud. It can work on objects, animals, colors, text, and more.
  • Arianna Navigation (iOS): Arianna is an app that works by interacting with your modified surroundings. After placing different-colored paths on your floors (with paint or tape), the app can use these paths to let people move around their home easily. It also works in other settings by using its navigation service.
  • Be My Eyes (Android & iOS): This app helps people with visual impairment identify objects and get help with their surroundings. People can use their camera to connect live with a volunteer. They can show the volunteer what they need help with (like identifying something) and the volunteer can give them the help they need.
  • Eyes-Free Fitness (iOS): With this app, people can maintain good health by keeping up with their exercise. Workouts are clearly described, making them easy to follow just by listening.
  • KNFB Reader (Android & iOS): This app lets people take photos of documents and have them read out loud. It can also connect with a braille display. There is a free trial, but after the trial ends, it will need to be purchased.
  • Nearby Explorer (iOS): This is a GPS app that more clearly describes surroundings. It has a map and can give directions, but it can also read out street signs and places that are nearby.
  • Seeing AI (iOS): Seeing AI is a Microsoft app that helps describe objects and surroundings. It can read text out loud, recognize peoples’ faces, describe scenes, recognize money, and describe photos, plus more.
  • TapTapSee (Android & iOS): This app is another intended to describe objects. After taking a photo, a description of what’s in the photo will be spoken out loud (using TalkBack or VoiceOver, depending on your device).
  • Voice Dream Reader (Android & iOS): This app is a customizable way to have documents, books, and other content read out loud. It can read from many different sources, including ebooks and PDFs, and people can choose from different voices, speeds, and more.

Smart devices

Smart devices are a great way for people with visual impairment to perform daily tasks more easily. Smart speakers have many helpful features built right in, and there are even more skills (or services) that can be added. And other smart devices, like smart bulbs and smart thermostats, can also be controlled easily. Here’s a rundown of some of the options in the world of smart devices!

Smart speakers

There are many different smart speakers on the market today. The options just keep growing. Smart speakers are convenient for anyone with an internet connection, but they can be especially helpful for someone with visual impairment. Four of the most popular choices are as follows:

  • Amazon Echo (and Echo Dot)—Amazon’s smart speakers are wildly popular. They use the voice assistant Alexa. They can perform all of the basic functions you would expect, like get the weather, find answers to your questions, and read you the news.
    You can also enable many other skills, as the skills store is fairly expansive. You can customize your news (your daily briefing) by enabling skills from other news sources. You can also find skills for many smart device companies, like WeMo and Nest. And there are plenty of other useful skills, as well as skills for entertainment and fun.
    The original Echo is a larger (and more expensive) device. The Echo Dot is a smaller, more inexpensive option. The only real difference of note is that the Echo Dot’s speaker is not as nice as the original Echo. If you want better sound quality (for music purposes), the Echo performs better than the Dot. Otherwise, though, the Dot is a great choice for a smart speaker, and it can even be connected to a different speaker if you really want better sound quality.
  • Google Home (and Home Mini)—Google’s smart speakers are also strong contenders. These devices use Google Assistant, which can also be found on many phones. It can do everything you’d expect, like provide the news, weather, and answers to whatever questions you have.
    There are also many third-party services that come with the Home or Home Mini. There are services for smart device companies, like Nest and Philips Hue. You can also hail a ride with Uber and order a pizza from Domino’s. There are also plenty of games and other entertainment options.
    Like the Echo and Echo Dot, the Home and Home Mini differ in size and shape. The Home is larger than the Home Mini, and it’s closer to a tube-shape, while the Mini is a small, slightly flat circle. Also like the Echo devices, the larger and more expensive device has better sound quality than the smaller cheaper option. You can connect the Home Mini with Chromecast, so if you want better sound quality for music, that’s a possibility. One thing both speakers do have in common is the ability to recognize different voices and perform tasks based on who’s requesting them. This is a very helpful feature if multiple people will regularly use the device.

These four smart speakers are definitely not the only ones out there. For a much more comprehensive look at available smart speakers, take a look at my article from February!

Household smart devices

There are many smart devices out there that can make daily tasks easier. Here are just a few things you can buy that will allow you to control them with an app or with your voice:

  • Door locks
  • Fridges
  • Lights
  • Security systems
  • Thermostats
  • TVs
  • Wall plugs
  • Washers and dryers

Using any of these devices, someone with visual impairment can likely use their smart speaker to control the device with their voice. If they can’t pair the device with their smart speaker, they can at least control the device with just their phone. This can make things incredibly convenient. Instead of getting up and going to the thermostat, someone can change the temperature with just their voice. For some product suggestions, see my article on the Internet of Things!

As a whole, smart devices can make life much easier for people with visual impairment. There are more new products coming out on a regular basis, and they keep getting better. With a smart speaker, someone can have books read out loud or get the bus schedule. With other smart devices, someone can control their home with their voice or an app. This tech is great for people with visual impairment.

Translate Languages with Tech

Translate Languages with Tech

When it comes to working with a language other than your own, it might seem intimidating. Some languages are incredibly complex, making them especially difficult to learn. If you decide to use a translator, you have another issue: when it comes to translation technology, it can be tricky to find a tool that translates with as much accuracy as you might like.

All of this being said, using some tech for translating can be a step in the right direction if you’re looking for an easy way to communicate some of the basics. Idioms might make things difficult, and some more complex languages might not easily translate when using a machine translator, but the tech is pretty consistently improving, and it can be a huge help.

Translation technology is on a lot of peoples’ minds. Many different companies are working to come up with the newest and best tech that will help people translate through text or through spoken word. For instance, news recently broke that Amazon is interested in making Alexa capable of translating in real-time.

Read on to learn more about what’s currently available in the world of machine translation!

When you might use translation tech

There are many different times you could benefit from accessing a translator. You might want translation tech if you’re:

  • Going on a trip
  • Working with a document written in another language
  • Communicating online with people who speak a different language
  • Accessing a website in a foreign language

Some of your options

Since most people know about Google Translate, you might be thinking that is the only real competitor when it comes to translation. While Google Translate is top-notch, there are actually a lot of other apps, sites, and devices to help you translate another language. This means you can find the one you enjoy the most and that fits with your specific priorities. You can:

  • Use an app
  • Use a website
  • Use a device
  • Hire a real person

Before we get started…

You might have noticed the last item on the list above. It’s important to note that translating with a device or an app just isn’t going to be as accurate as relying on a human interpreter or translator. If you’re looking for a high degree of accuracy, you should probably skip the tech and hire a professional.

To get started learning more about translators and interpreters, you can look into the American Translators Association. The ATA has a search function that lets you search for people available for hire. They also explain what translators and interpreters do.

If you don’t need or want a professional human translator or interpreter, let’s move on to the tech!

Translation apps

Google Translate—The app version of Google’s translation service is one of the most popular apps in this list. You can translate with its 103 languages. There are even 59 languages available for offline translation. You can translate text from images (using the in-app camera), handwritten text, and during two-way conversations, and there are many more features. (Android, iOS)

iTranslate—This is another hugely popular translation app. There are more than 100 available languages. The free version has some customization options, different dialects, favorites, a dictionary, and more. In the paid version, you can translate offline in some languages, translate from voice to voice, and more. (Android, iOS)

Microsoft Translator—This translator from Microsoft has more than 60 available languages, and some languages are available to be downloaded and used offline. You can use the in-app camera to translate text in photos, and you can have multiple people involved in a conversation. You can also save translations, connect with Android Wear, and access a phrasebook. (Android, iOS)

Naver Papago Translate—This translation app is a particularly good one for those wanting to translate between English and some specific languages including Korean and Chinese. There may be only 10 languages, but the idea is that the translations will be more accurate because of the narrow focus. You can do things like use voice translation, translate text in images, and use a phrasebook. (Android, iOS)

TripLingo—TripLingo is a translation app with some nice extra features. You can do the typical things, like translate with text and voice, look through phrases, and check the dictionary. But you also can choose different levels of slang, learn about different cultures, use travel tools (like a currency converter), and even pay per minute to have a live translation done by a real person—plus more. (Android, iOS)

Waygo—This app is another one that has far fewer available languages but might be ideal in certain situations. This app is for translating in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. You can translate offline, use the camera to get translations immediately (without actually taking a picture), share translations, and with Chinese food name translations, you can even see pictures of the food. There’s a free trial, after which you have to pay for unlimited translations. (Android, iOS)

Translation websites

If you don’t want to download an app, just use a site!

Google Translate—Again, Google’s translator is one of the most popular. It can translate in 103 languages, and you can do things like upload a document for translation, translate a website, or even write by hand.

Bing Microsoft Translator—Microsoft’s translator has more than 60 available languages. You can translate websites, listen to your translations, share, and more. You can also take part in their Conversations between people who are using Translator on computers and mobile devices.

Translation devices

There are some devices you can take with you to make translating a little easier. Most of these are in-ear devices, including earbuds. Here are just a few devices available to you:

Bragi Dash Pro—The Dash Pro is a set of earbuds that pair with iTranslate. The earbuds work as typical earbuds, so they’re not solely for translation. With the Dash Pro, you have earbuds that are recognized to work well with the iTranslate app. If someone else also has Dash, you can both speak to each other using the translation capabilities without even having to use a phone. With others, though, you’ll have to use your phone to translate during conversations.

Google Pixel Buds—Like the Dash Pro, Google Pixel Buds are also multi-purpose earbuds that have translation capabilities integrated (if you have Google’s Pixel or Pixel 2 phone). You can use the Google Translate app to translate dozens of languages by holding down a button on the earbuds and saying what you’d like to translate. The other person can then respond using the app on your phone, and the translation will be spoken into the earbuds.

iliili is a handheld device that translates English into Mandarin, Spanish, or Japanese. It works offline, so you don’t have to be connected to use it. It’s also meant to hear your voice better than a translation app on a smartphone because of the microphones it uses. It is a one-way translator, which means you’re the only one who’s being translated, and you may have to rely on things like gestures and body language during a conversation.

PilotPilot is an earpiece that can translate more than 15 languages. It uses noise-canceling microphones so it’s easier to pick up what’s being said, and you can share the earpiece with the other person in the conversation so you can communicate both ways. It currently doesn’t work offline, but this may not be an issue in most situations.

Techstars Startup Weekend

Our cofounders, President Michael Frentress and VP Kody Frazier, participated in a Techstars Startup Weekend event. Kody recaps their experience here:

This past weekend Michael and I had a great time participating in a Techstars Startup Weekend. These events take you through a crash-course in business development over a single jam-packed weekend, with opportunities to learn from mentors and to work with a team of people you would have otherwise likely never even met. For us, it was an opportunity to meet new people, step away from EIN for just a moment, and stretch our minds a little bit in new and exciting ways. We took a brand-new idea from concept to pitching it in front of business leaders in just 54 hours!

From the Techstars website:

At Techstars Startup Weekend, you’ll be immersed in the ideal environment for startup magic to happen. Surrounded by smart, passionate people and with the best tools and approaches at your disposal, you’ll take giant leaps toward creating a business, becoming a founder, and connecting with the right people and resources.

In just 54 hours, you will experience the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup. As you learn how to create a real company, you’ll meet the very best mentors, investors, cofounders, and sponsors who are ready to help you get started. Your community is here to help you — find an event today!

Visit the Techstars Website to learn more about their program.

The event was hosted by the Ozarks Small Business Incubator (OzSBI) located in beautiful downtown West Plains, right in the heart of the Ozarks, and the home to our Operations and Billing departments. OzSBI provides essential startup and business development services to the region.

EIN is proud to be a Business Level member of OzSBI, and to help support business development and entrepreneurship in West Plains and the surrounding region. If you’re an entrepreneur, or even if you’re not sure about starting a business yet, I highly recommend looking into any incubators, accelerators, or small business development organizations in your local community. Being a business owner is difficult, especially when you’re first starting out, so take advantage of every opportunity you can find.

Visit the OzSBI Website to learn more.

For the competition, we brainstormed an idea about providing better access for citizens to interact with their local government in a way that lets all parties be aware of exactly with whom they’re interacting. Citizens know that everyone else remotely viewing a City Council meeting, or any other government function for that matter, are also local citizens in their community and not a random “troll” looking to disrupt citizen engagement. The concept could be built as a neutral platform that let municipalities sign up for the service for a small recurring monthly fee, which then allowed local citizens to register to be notified of any upcoming meetings and to submit documentation to the municipality to confirm their identity. The citizen could then remotely view the meeting, interact live with the city representatives, and instantly be more engaged. We called the idea Citizen Live.

I pitched the idea to the crowd of entrepreneurs and business mentors that had gathered for the event. In total 19 ideas were pitched this evening, but only four would go on to be developed over the weekend. Everyone participating in the weekend voted for their favorite ideas and the top ones were selected, and Citizen Live made the cut! After being selected as an idea that would be pitched to business leaders at the end of the weekend we set out to recruit our team from the other participants. We were lucky enough to snag Jim, a young developer still in college, and Nancy, a local artisan that we knew could provide the non-technical insight that we were desperately missing.

Starting Friday night we began developing the basic framework for how the concept could work in the real world. We tried to just dump out all of the ideas we could muster and see which ones really “stuck” before calling it a night. The tight focus of our ideas was really promising at this point.

By Saturday we had a better understanding of what the platform could really be, and that’s when we started making mistakes. To be clear we didn’t know we were making the mistakes at the moment, but a big part of this experience is realizing in retrospect where you could have focused better to have a more concise final product. First, we went too far down the road of trying to build a Minimum-Viable-Product (MVP) from a technical perspective. We should have been focusing more on the feasibility of the business and working on customer validation. Second, we started branching our ideas off into all the various implementations of the concept and found ourselves really excited about the prospect of for-profit and non-profit business applications. This was a problem because we had already hitched our wagon, so to speak, to the municipal government concept. We never really came all the way back to our original focus, and it showed at the end.

When it came time to make the pitch on Sunday evening I once again stepped up to the front of the room and explained to the judges why Citizen Live was such a great idea. Or at least, that was the plan. In reality, I went over our allotted time and wasn’t able to completely explain the concept, in particular, the financial projections that really made it a viable product. If we had completely removed the secondary and tertiary markets from the pitch we probably would have had better timing and a more polished presentation overall.  But, I think we showed that we were an excellent team that came together in just a few short days to develop something really interesting.

In the end, we came in 3rd, and I’m really proud of our performance. I was glad to have the experience and the opportunity to be a part of such a cool program right in my hometown. I’d like to thank OzSBI for hosting the event, Nathan Gregg for being our facilitator, and the judges and mentors for giving up their weekend.

Team Citizen Live was amazing because of the people involved, and I especially want to thank our teammates for making the experience so great! We ate a ton of sugary snacks, drank too much coffee, watched Jim show us some close-up card magic, and built something together. That’s awesome!

Kody

P.S. If you’re interested in getting a weekly message from me join our VP Notes email list by entering your email address below. I give you a behind-the-scenes peek at the previous weeks inner workings at EIN and share some cool articles, videos, and freebies! Click Here to view my previous VP Notes messages.

Virtual Reality in 2018

Virtual Reality in 2018

Over the past several years, it’s unlikely that you’ve missed all the buzz over virtual reality headsets. Virtual reality (VR) headsets became highly sought after and hugely popular. Over time, some headsets became affordable for more people, while more VR content was released.

In recent months, a lot of the fuss over VR has died down. It seems as though people simply aren’t talking about it as much as they once were. It feels a bit like the novelty has worn off for some.

But even if VR isn’t hyped as often as it was not too long ago, it’s still making advancements, and it has a lot to offer. Less than a week ago, Qualcomm announced their newest VR headset. And near the end of last year, Oculus Go was announced, a different kind of headset that could be coming very soon.

Since we’re still early in the new year, now is a good time to take a look at what you can find in the world of VR in 2018. Read on for some basics, some tech options, and plenty of fun suggestions!

What is VR?

When I talk about VR in this article, I’m talking about the current VR technology accessed through the use of a VR headset. While wearing a headset, wearers are given the impression they are in another world. Users can turn around and see content in every direction, including above and below them.

Some people find the difference between VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) a little confusing. With virtual reality, you’re immersed in a completely separate world. You interact with content that is not connected to your own real-world visuals.

With augmented reality, on the other hand, objects are placed in your actual surroundings. You can look at something that is actually right in front of you, and augmented reality will work within those visuals to add content into what you’re really seeing. (Pokemon Go is an example of AR—when you used your camera to capture what you were really seeing while catching Pokemon, you were using AR.)

Since virtual reality doesn’t include visuals from your real surroundings, it offers something much more clearly separated from your real life.

VR headsets

VR headsets let wearers enter a different world. After placing a device in the headset (or plugging a tethered headset into a computer or gaming console), the headset is worn to fill a person’s vision with whatever content they choose.

Many headsets were very expensive when VR was first popular. They were sometimes fairly basic, as well. Over time, more headsets came out that were inexpensive, and other headsets added more features.

Keep in mind that if you buy a cheaper headset, you’re likely not getting as nice of features as you might with a pricier option. Cheaper options also might not be as comfortable or durable.

Here are just a few of the headsets you can consider when deciding whether to enjoy VR.

Budget headsets:

Popular (pricier) headsets:

What can VR be used for?

VR isn’t just for playing games (though VR gaming is great)! VR can be fun in a lot of different ways. Here are some ways to use VR, including for education and entertainment (and yes, that includes gaming).

Education
With VR, there are opportunities for learning. There are plenty of apps that offer educational experiences. Depending on which device you’re using, you might be able to learn a wide variety of things!

Practice public speakingVirtualSpeech lets you work on your communication skills in private. You can learn how to become a better communicator, plus you can practice by being placed in different surroundings. For instance, you can give a presentation standing on a stage in front of a virtual crowd.

Look through the human brain or look around StonehengeUnimersiv offers many different educational apps, including more than just a tour of the brain or Stonehenge. You can also do things like check out ancient Rome and the International Space Station.

Learn a new language—With an app like House of Languages, you can learn another language in a different way. You can learn English, German, or Spanish while actually looking at the objects that correspond to the words you’re learning and playing minigames.

Go inside the human bodyThe Body VR is one app that lets you learn about what goes on in the human body. You can learn about things like blood cells and viruses.

Make your way through the solar systemTitans of Space is just one app that teaches about the solar system. You can move through space, checking out planets and certain stars, all while learning facts about what you’re seeing.

Surround yourself with Discovery content—You can view VR content from Discovery, which lets you see places all across the world, check out different cultures, and experience special events.

Entertainment
There’s more entertainment to be found than just VR games. There are a lot of fun things to do in VR!

Watch 360-degree videos—If you access YouTube through your VR headset, you can search for tons of 360-degree videos. You can find videos that let you experience what it’s like to swim with dolphins, jump out of a plane, or follow along with a fictional story.

Binge Netflix in a quiet, stylish homeNetflix’s VR app lets you appear to watch your shows and movies on a huge screen. You’re set in a comfortable-looking home with the large TV in front of you.

Watch a movie on the big screen—Many devices offer their own apps for movie-watching. With some devices, you can use Virtual Desktop to use your own computer in VR. This means you can watch all your movies from your computer.

Surf the web—Whichever device you’re using, you can likely access a web browser. This means you can fill your vision with a browser and check out all of your usual sites. For instance, Samsung Internet is available on some devices.

Play around on Facebook—With Facebook 360, you can check out tons of VR content on Facebook.

Virtual tourism
VR has made it possible for people to travel places they might never have been able to go otherwise. With VR, people who have limited mobility or who just can’t afford to take a trip can get a sense of what some locations look like in person. Depending on which device you have, you might have different options for your virtual tourism needs. Search for VR experiences that offer high-quality video tours or look for apps that make use of Google’s Street View.

Visit some amazing placesJaunt VR offers VR videos of some specific locations. These videos are often documentary-style, and you’re given a chance to learn and walk through some interesting places.

Go anywhere you want and walk the streets—Some apps, like Viso Places, give you a chance to go basically anywhere and look around. Viso Places uses Google Street View, so you can search for a location and magically transport yourself there. You can even use this app to go inside some museums.

(Check out my article with the 7 places you should check out as a virtual tourist!)

Gaming
Though gaming isn’t all VR is good for, it is just a lot of fun in virtual reality. Here are just a few of the well-received or newer games you might try!

Chronos—An RPG that takes users on a hero’s quest to fight evil. ($39.99)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR—Players can enjoy Skyrim’s huge world in virtual reality. ($41.99 to $59.99)
Fallout 4 VR—The hugely popular Fallout 4 is available in virtual reality, so you can explore the post-apocalyptic world like you’re really there. ($59.99)
Job Simulator—A popular, lighthearted game that has players “job” like humans used to do before robots took over for them. ($19.99)
KIN—A puzzle platformer set on another planet. ($9.99)
Minecraft—Everyone’s favorite sandbox game, but in virtual reality. (Free to $6.99)
The Playroom VR—This game is free for PS VR users, and it’s a fun, bright collection of multiplayer games. (Free)
Rez Infinite—A VR version of this popular game that lets users experience the fast-moving and visually appealing action game in a new way. ($24.99)
Smash Hit—Smash objects as you move through a different dimension. ($2.99)
Vacation Simulator—An upcoming game from the people who created Job Simulator!

Tech Spotlight

Tech Spotlight

Hello, and welcome to the newest Tech Spotlight! This week, I’m continuing to highlight some of the tech that’s caught my eye and raised my interest. Like every week, the items I’ve found are cool, fun, incredibly useful, or all of the above.

The items I’ve found this week are an Echo Dot accessory, a TV touchscreen projector, and a solar light. Take a look at what I’ve found, then head on over to Amazon to take a closer look and add them to your cart!

The Spot by Dot Genie

The Spot is an accessory you’ll want if you have an Echo Dot or one of more than half a dozen other small speakers. This accessory allows you to keep your speaker at the ready while mounting it out of the way.

The Spot is a speaker holder that mounts your speaker using your outlet. You place your speaker in the holder, which holds it in with small tabs, then plug it into a wall outlet through the mount’s designated spot. This allows you to have your speaker mounted on the wall instead of taking up space on the countertop or desk. They’ve also designed the mount to prevent sound from being muffled.

This accessory also helps eliminate some clutter. You use your speaker’s plug, but the Spot comes with its own shorter cord that connects to the plug and makes things less messy. This accessory can plug into vertical or horizontal plugs. It’s also designed to avoid blocking the outlet above it, so it only takes up one space.

Speakers like the Echo Dot are small and convenient, but they can be even more convenient with an accessory like the Spot. It comes in five different colors, so check it out and choose the colors you need for each room!

Touchjet WAVE Android Tablet Virtual Touchscreen TV System Projector

This is a product you’ll want if you work with others in meetings, run a classroom, or want to use a smart device with the whole family. The Touchjet WAVE can turn your flat screen TV or monitor into a giant touchscreen device.

The WAVE attaches to the top of any flat screen TV or monitor (up to 65”) and projects a touchscreen down onto it. It uses the Android operating system, and it comes preinstalled with some apps already, including some games and a Chrome browser. You can then add more apps that you want.

This device works well in many different situations. It allows people to work together—everyone can easily touch the screen, unlike using a regular tablet. Using the accompanying app, everyone can share what they’re looking at on their devices. And it can be fun for a family, because you can all play games together on the large touchscreen. It also makes it easier to stream your shows, because you can add your favorite streaming apps to the WAVE instead of having to use a separate device.

Whether it’s at home, at the office, or in a classroom, the WAVE can be a fun or incredibly useful addition. Learn more about how it works, then add it to your cart!

Sun King Pico Portable Solar Lantern

This small lamp makes it possible to stay well-lit in the outdoors or at home without any plugs or batteries. The Portable Solar Lantern is a small solar-powered lantern with a sturdy stand.

The lantern is a small, round, yellow lamp that comes with a detachable base. It’s solar-powered, with its charging area located on the back of the lamp. You can leave the lamp on the base to charge it, or you can detach the lamp and easily set it in any windowsill to let it charge while you’re not using it.

The lamp is convenient in many ways. You can get up to 70 hours of use from the lamp with a full charge. It also has three brightness settings—low, normal, and turbo. It’s light, weighing only 150 grams (which, for comparison, is just slightly heavier than a baseball). And it’s water resistant and durable, so you don’t have to worry about breaking it during a camping trip.

Even if you’re not on-the-go or in the great outdoors, this solar lantern is a small battery- and cord-free way to add some light to your home. Head over to Amazon to take a closer look!

Keep Up With Astronomical Events

Keep Up With Astronomical Events

The recent ‘super blue blood moon’ was widely talked about and watched by many people. This lunar eclipse was particularly special because of the combination of different qualities. If you happened to miss this particular lunar eclipse, though, don’t worry—there are plenty of cool astronomical events to watch out for.

Some people may not really be aware of how many astronomical events there are each year. Between eclipses, meteor showers, interesting planetary alignments, and all sorts of other nighttime visuals, there’s plenty to watch. Because of this, it can seem difficult to keep up with all the upcoming events. And once you know what’s coming, you might be wondering how to best watch. Thankfully, there are sites and apps ready to help! You can always go the old school route, tech-free, but you can improve your sky-watching experience with the suggestions on this list.

What’s coming

There are plenty of apps and sites you can use to watch for upcoming events. You can typically find the same information through all these options, so it all comes down to personal preference. Check out these sites and apps to see which you like the best!

Apps
American Almanac of Astronomy and Weather—The Almanac (for iOS) lets you check out forecasts for many different things, including astronomical events. You can see upcoming events like eclipses and meteor showers, along with astronomical data.

Sky Events—This app (for Android) lists past and future astronomical events of all sorts. You can look by category, like lunar eclipses and meteor showers, plus you can learn more about the type of event and add events to your Google Calendar, along with other features.

Sites
Nat Geo’s Starstruck—This section on the National Geographic website features detailed and highly informational articles about upcoming astronomical events to watch out for. You can learn about exciting events, including the science behind them, in many cases. And since it’s Nat Geo, you can look at some stunning photos that accompany each article.

The New York Times Calendar—This calendar from NYT shows upcoming events, like meteor showers and eclipses, plus things like space launches. It can be accessed as a website, or you can have the calendar synced to your Google or iOS calendar.

Space.com Skywatching—The Skywatching section on Space.com posts guides to upcoming astronomical events, including lunar events, planetary events, and space launches. Since it’s Space.com, you can also expect to learn more about the science of these events through their articles.

Useful tools

Once you know what’s coming up next, try using one of these apps to figure out exactly where to look and what to look for!

Night Sky—This app (for iOS) can help you learn more about the night sky through an AR experience. You can identify stars, planets, and other objects, so if you’re not sure where to look for a certain event, this app can help you find the way. You can also do things like take “Sky Tours” and, if you have the Premium version, experience the solar system with augmented reality.

Sky Map—This app (for Android) is one of the early apps used for sky watching. Originally called Google Sky Maps, this app is now open-source (hence the name change) and lets you point your phone to find things like planets and constellations. You can even search for objects and let the app direct you to where they are.

SkyView—This app (for Android and iOS) lets you find or identify objects in the sky, like planets and stars. You can also learn about different objects that you look at. And it has night mode filters to make sure your eyes stay adjusted while you’re watching the stars.

How you can watch

Whether you’re stepping outside to watch or too far from the event to spot it, there are a couple sites you can use to make your plans!

Astronomy clubs—Thanks to NASA, you can easily find local astronomy clubs on the web. Their website has a club search that lets you search locations for a club to join. Even if you don’t join a club, knowing which clubs to follow can keep you up-to-date on things like watch parties.

SloohThis site has quite a few fun astronomical offerings. Perhaps most importantly, you can watch live feeds and live events. There are live feeds from a number of different telescopes that you can check out all day, plus if there’s an upcoming event—like an eclipse or comet—you can likely watch a live stream of it. You have to pay to maintain a membership, but you can start a free 30-day trial to check it out!

Tech Spotlight

Tech Spotlight

Tech Spotlight is back this week with even more fun and interesting tech! As usual, I’m sharing three tech products you can find on Amazon right now. This week, take a look at tech for entertainment, convenience, and learning!

Victrola Vintage 3-Speed Bluetooth Suitcase Turntable with Speakers

This turntable from Innovative Technology makes it easier to listen to a variety of different music sources on the go or at home. Not only is it a turntable, it also lets you play music from your device using Bluetooth.

In addition to using Bluetooth, you can also plug other devices in, like speakers or headphones. Of course, it has its own speakers, so it’s not really necessary to plug in different ones. And since it comes in a suitcase with a handle, it’s easy to take anywhere.

Another interesting aspect of this turntable is its design. There are many different colors and patterns to choose from. If you like visually-pleasing tech, you’ll like this product. There are classic-looking colors, but there’s also a tie dye pattern and even a galaxy pattern.

Check out Innovative Technology’s turntable and Bluetooth music player if you’re looking for a fun, useful, and interesting way to play your music!

GNARBOX – Portable Backup & Editing System for Any Camera, 128GB

GNARBOX is a device for anyone who is serious about photography and carries a camera with them wherever they go. This device is one way to make sure you don’t lose any of your photos while you’re traveling, and it even lets you tweak and share your photos on the go.

Using GNARBOX, you can plug your camera’s card in and back up all your photos while you’re out. You can then use GNARBOX’s wi-fi to connect with your phone, allowing you to work on and share your photos. The app even lets you edit videos, not just photos.

The device is designed to be very portable and avoid wearing down. Its battery life is 4 to 6 hours, and it’s resistant to shock, dust, and water, which is helpful if you’re traveling out in the elements.

If you have a camera and want to be able to save, access, edit, and share your photos on the go, take a look at GNARBOX!

Learning Resources Code & Go Robot Mouse Activity Set

This Activity Set from Learning Resources is another offering in the fun-but-educational tech toys category. This set helps kids practice coding by giving them something fun to do and getting them involved. Many aspects of coding may appear less than fun at first, but this toy teaches while making it entertaining.

The Code & Go Robot Mouse has kids build mazes using brightly colored maze pieces. Then kids think it through and code the mouse to make it go around the roadblocks, moving through the maze to get to the toy cheese at the end. The mouse itself is also bright and fun-looking, and it also makes sounds, has lights, and moves at two different speeds.

The product description notes that this toy works on several important areas of learning. Kids can learn about critical thinking, as well as problem-solving. And of course, it introduces kids to basic concepts of coding. It does all this while keeping kids’ attention by being visually appealing and “hands-on.”

Head over to Amazon and read more about Learning Resources’ toys and how they might fit with the kids in your life!

Tech Spotlight

Tech Spotlight

It’s time again for our weekly Tech Spotlight! I’m sharing tech that’s fun, interesting, educational, or just cool. Take a look at this week’s finds and then head over to Amazon to add them to your cart!

Makey Makey – An Invention Kit for Everyone

This tech toy lets kids and adults experiment and come up with ideas for new fun inventions. The kit is a small circuit board with alligator clips. Using these alligator clips, you can turn all kinds of different objects into something new.

For instance, the product description mentions a “banana piano” more than once. This invention can be made by using a virtual online piano, Makey Makey, and some bananas. Placing the alligator clips on the bananas turns them into piano keys. This is just one potential fun invention—their description says there are thousands of things to come up with.

Not only can it be silly and fun, it’s also meant to help people learn. The idea for Makey Makey started at MIT. There are lesson plans on Makey Makey’s websites, and the hope is that people will be encouraged to really think and be creative.

If you or your child want to learn and have fun at the same time, check out Makey Makey’s kit, and then get creating!

Navdy – Heads Up Display & GPS Navigation

Navdy provides the services you might have grown used to having in your car, displaying them in a convenient way. The device’s display projects the information you want onto your windshield so you can keep your eyes forward on the road, and it since it’s a transparent display, it doesn’t unnecessarily block a chunk of your vision. Information is displayed in the distance and in full color. It also promises to be visible in bright light, and it dims when it gets dark out.

It also helps you avoid having to turn to pick up or handle your phone. You can use gestures to swipe with Navdy, letting you answer your phone and perform other tasks. And since it can read information out loud to you, you won’t feel tempted to dangerously attempt to read information or messages.

You can do a number of different things with Navdy. Perhaps most important is its navigation service. It uses Google Maps, so if you already use that service, you won’t have to get used to a new one. You can also use Navdy to take calls, listen to and send messages, and play music. Plus you can set up a customized “dashboard” that shows information like how much gas you have left and how fast you’re going.

Whether you use a navigation service every now and again or want to keep up information during a drive, Navdy can work for you. Check it out on Amazon and make driving more convenient!

SZJJX RC Drones, Foldable Remote Control Wifi Quadcopter

This drone from SZJJX has some particularly fun and useful features. The drone can be used for multiple purposes and can be controlled in more than one way.

SZJJX’s drone is convenient because it can be folded when not in use. This means it won’t be particularly bulky if you’re taking it somewhere. It also has two speeds, LED lights, and a wind-resistant design.

What might be the most fun, though, is the HD camera with its wide angle lens. This camera can be used to take photos of cool shots from the air. It can also be used to experience the drone in flight. Your phone can be connected to the drone’s camera, allowing you to watch video from the drone while it’s in the air. You can even use a VR headset while watching the video.

The drone has a number of other interesting little features, like its “gravity sensor” and “altitude” modes. You can also use their app to create a flight plan by drawing where you want the drone to go.

Drones are becoming more and more affordable and accessible, and this drone seems to be a highly-reviewed and fun choice. Take a look at all of its features on Amazon!