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The HTC One M8 (T-Mobile) [My Review]

After reviewing the Samsung Galaxy S5, I decided to try its direct competition - the HTC One M8.

Using these devices back-to-back allowed me to understand and appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of both devices.

Here we go!

The HTC One M8 (referred to as the M8), is an extremely well built device that feels great in the hand. Despite being a bit taller than the S5, the curved edges make it feel nice in the hand. What I appreciate is that the M8 is narrower than the S5, so typing on the keyboard with one hand is easier. The screen is also gorgeous. It’s not using Samsung’s Super AMOLED display technology, so colors are not overly saturated and vibrant, they’re more natural and clear in my eyes. The screen is arguably more visible under direct sunlight than the S5, but it doesn’t dim as much as the S5 for use in dark rooms. It dims to about the same as the iPhone 5s. It’s worth noting that like the iPhone, the M8’s auto brightness settings are well calibrated and do a better job of adapting compared to the S5.

Other aspects of the phone are good too. The Boom Sound speakers give my 15” Retina MacBook Pro a run for its money in terms of frequency response and is certainly leaps and bounds louder than any smartphone I’ve ever used. It even makes me wish I had ring tones for every little notification because it sounds so good.

Despite having a smaller battery than the S5, the phone lasted longer throughout my days of testing and the phone also recharged quicker on less powerful chargers. Something I mentioned during my S5 review was how the S5 would cause some chargers that I had to overheat and would generally charge very slowly unless you used a tablet charger or the charger and charging cable that Samsung provides. Even with extremely heavy use, I could get a full 12 hours out of the M8. This is better than the S5 and iPhone 5s for my typical usage patterns.

So what about the Duo Camera? I really wanted to like it but it sucks. I’m not sure if hardware or software is to blame, but it’s no good. It brings me back to the days of the Samsung Nexus S…you just cannot rely on it to get you a quick shot that’s clear and well balanced. You really can get some decent results using manual modes or some of the other effects within the camera. The one mode that really disappointed me was HDR. HTC’s implementation of HDR creates photos that are just blown out/overexposed. This is the only thing negative I have to say about this phone. The depth camera works when it says it will work and the effects are usually ok. I expect some bugs/glitches from a new type of technology, but the main camera sensor is really sub-par. The front-facing camera, although 5 megapixels, also disappoints. I truly think it’s a case of shoving too many pixels into a super compact sensor which results in poor quality images that are just large in resolution and file size.

What about the software? HTC Sense 6 is the cleanest version of Sense that I’ve used to date - granted there are a ton more features than the versions from a few years ago, but it still looks great and is very fluid and smooth; better than Samsung’s latest version of TouchWiz on the S5. I still believe that skins are no longer necessary, but HTC does include value-add features, especially to those transitioning from an iPhone and who still use a Mac. HTC has a dedicated app and software for data migration (Samsung has this too), but they have software to help you keep your phone backed up to either HTC’s cloud and/or your local computer, and synced with your iTunes library. Just like with the S5 and the 5s, the M8 does have glitches, but overall it’s better than the S5 and on-par with the 5s during my testing. My biggest gripe is that Apps on Android are still 2nd class when compared with their iOS counterparts.

Conclusion:

At the end of two weeks of phone testing, I am sticking with the iPhone 5s. I already miss the larger screens but the physical size, weight, and camera capabilities of the 5s make it the best all-around device that suits my needs the most. iOS is also more conducive to my line of work, which frequently requires quick and clear access to calendars and multiple exchange inbox management. In many ways the M8 and S5 are crippled by their respective skins from HTC and Samsung.

This question has been asked of me by many, “If you HAD to pick between the two, which one would you keep?” My response is the HTC One M8…but I’d go with the Google Play Edition because a skin is not necessary anymore. If Samsung offered the S5 with plain Android, then I might say that’s the better device because I did appreciate the fact that it is water and dust resistant as well as had a fairly good camera module.

What do you think?

Filed under htc one m8 HTC

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The Samsung Galaxy S5 (T-Mobile) [My Review]

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In 2014 there are a few things I expect from a flagship mobile device:

  • Good build quality
  • Reliability (software & hardware)
  • All-day battery life

My review applies to the black Samsung Galaxy S5 (GS5) on the T-Mobile networking in the San Francisco bay area.

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I used the phone over 5 days as my only smartphone, but I have since returned the device. As a moderate to heavy user, I consume 5gb of mobile data a month (streaming music, videos, e-mail, etc.), talk for over 1000 minutes, send countless messages (SMS and SMS alternatives), take and upload photos, and frequently use tier 1 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, Google+, etc.). The phone I will be comparing the GS5 is the iPhone 5s (5s) which I also have running on the T-Mobile network.

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Friends and family will call me an Apple Fan Boy, but in reality I’m not brand-loyal. I am, however, very picky about buying and using technology that best suites my needs.

The GS5 is well built, has a gorgeous display (which makes the 5s display look like garbage), has battery life that lasts a bit longer than the 5s, supports USB 3.0 data transfer with quick charging capabilities, and is water resistant and dust proof.

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The GS5 meets almost all the expectations I’ve listed above…almost. In comparison to the 7 month old 5s, the GS5 adds the benefit of water resistance and marginally longer battery life. For what I need a smartphone to do, the GS5 doesn’t get the job done any better or quicker than the 5s, and that made me sad.

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The ultimate reason why I returned the GS5 is because of the software. Before any Samsung or Android owner gets upset, I know all about getting a different rom onto the phone and tweaks, work-around etc. Here’s my point - I’m not willing to pay $700+ (yes there’s plenty of sales tax in California…) for a phone I need to “fix”. If a Google Play Edition comes out - like the one for the HTC One M8 - then that would persuade me to recommend this phone.

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What was so bad about the software? Frankly, nothing new if you’ve owned a recent Galaxy device, such as the GS3, Note 2, Note 3, and GS4.

  • Tons of Samsung software and settings are included. Some of which are thankfully disabled by default but still reside on the device and beg to be updated and launched every now and then. The settings menu is cluttered with pages icons (even changing it to the list-view is overwhelming). You can turn off some of the included apps, but the average user won’t know how to and won’t bother to.
  • The My Magazine feature on the home screen is powered by Flipboard. Unless you sign up for an account, it’s really a pain to read and share articles that the app presents to you. The integration with your social networks, which excludes Facebook, is limited and not that useful. The app itself is also not very responsive when it comes to scrolling - I’m sure that can be updated with a software patch.
  • The Samsung and Google Android Keyboards; while they do a decent job correcting my typing and they both feature swipe functionality, they are no match for Apple’s keyboard when typing on the go such as on the MUNI in San Francisco. A strange bug that seems to plague my friends and coworkers with Samsung devices is that the keyboard will begin to automatically capitalize the first letter of each word in a sentence. It’s unclear how it begins to do this but none of us can figure it out. I end up re-typing my messages frequently on the GS5 in comparison with the 5s. That’s not helpful when composing e-mail messages because it requires me to check my message a few times over to ensure that no random corrections were made.
  • I was an early adopter of Android and unfortunately some of the underlying issues seem to still exist years later. It only took about 2 days into using the phone when apps such as the gallery and Chrome would crash when I tried to open them.
  • Google has re-enabled the ability to move apps to an SD card if you have an SD card installed, but the bug with short-cuts and widgets disappearing still exist. I recognize this is actually a limitation of the Android system, but would have thought Samsung could work-around it using their modifications.
  • There’s also the issue of Apps still being treated as second class citizens in the Android ecosystem. This isn’t specific to the GS5, but tier 1 apps such as Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp, Instagram, even Google+ (just to name a few) have less functionality and don’t run as smoothly as their iOS counterparts.

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What about the rest of the phone?

  • The camera is good. Competitive with the 5s, though it’s not much better, unless you need to zoom/crop your photos. 4K video is a nice plus but the file sizes are huge and if you’re not holding the phone steady or have it mounted on a tripod, little shakes show up in a big way when viewing the footage.
  • The fingerprint sensor…well I didn’t even bother as I don’t bother with it on the 5s either. Reviewers have said it’s not as good as the 5s and judging by the way you need to swipe it perfectly down the center each time for it to work, I would agree.  
  • The heart-rate sensor works as advertised, but it’s not much better and doesn’t work any faster than what you get with 3rd party apps that utilize a phone’s camera and led flash to record your heart rate.
  • The water resistance works - you can wash your phone if you’re afraid of germs and enjoy time around the pool etc.
  • The call quality is good, but the speaker for audio as well as speakerphone is terrible. It is absolutely tinny and rattles the device at higher volumes. Surprisingly the earpiece for calls also vibrates the phone during calls if volume is above 50%. Luckily I use Bluetooth headsets which connect really well and give me a longer range than I’ve experienced with the 5s. I have to give the 5s a slight edge when it comes to call quality though. HD Voice calls over the T-Mobile network are noticeably more clear and offer a greater range of sound on the 5s.
  • There’s one software feature I did find myself using, only because I have unlimited data - Download Booster. This feature allows the phone to download over Wifi and your cellular data network simultaneously for files over 30mb in size. This made downloads blazingly fast when I’m on good Wifi and LTE networks.

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In conclusion, the GS5 is a good smartphone that many people have already purchased and many more will purchase. Talking with Samsung owners, it seems most of them try to ignore the app notifications and admit defeat when they run into the bugs that I’ve experienced. Of course there are those who will root their device and just put vanilla Android or some other flavor of Android onto their device, but that’s not what the majority of Samsung’s customers will do. It’s unfortunate that Samsung didn’t hold back on their kitchen sink approach because I feel it gives Android a bad name.

What do you think?

Filed under samsung galaxy s 5

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iPad Mini (late 2012) [My Review]

The iPad Mini was released a little over a year ago and with a new and improved version with a Retina Display coming soon, I took the opportunity to purchase a refurbished unit. There are many refurbished units on Apple’s Clearance website that can be over 20% off original retail price. 

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If you don’t need a Retina Display, super fast processing, ultra-fast wifi capabilities, and additional LTE bands, the original iPad mini is a good deal - especially refurbished units. 

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As expected, Apple does a beautiful job repackaging the unit in a brand new box and shrink wrap ripe for the tearing!

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After owning an iPad 1, 2, and 3, I have gotten used to and became extremely tired of a large and heavy units. I only need an iPad on rare occasions and don’t want to become tired holding it while on my commute, on the couch, or in bed.

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Have you ever had a full size iPad fall out of your hands and  onto your face while lying down in bed or on the floor? Neither have I, but I hear it hurts! 

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The iPad mini is incredibly thin and light, has cameras perfect for video chat, decent audio quality and a good mic. It runs iOS 7 just fine (not as smooth as newer devices but it doesn’t freeze up) and has all-day battery life. One thing to note is that this version of the iPad comes with the iPhone charger while the larger iPads and the upcoming iPad Mini with Retina Display will come with the larger 10W charger due to larger battery capacities and higher power draw. 

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So is the iPad Mini for you or a loved one? If you’re looking to buy your first tablet or only need a tablet for light to medium duty work, this is perfect. If you’re a power user that plans on editing lots of photos, videos, read many books or spends hours looking at websites with a lot of text, this might not be the best tablet for you.

Almost all of my devices that I use on a regular basis now have a high-resolution “Retina” display and when I first used the iPad Mini, I immediately noticed  the older display with lower color saturation, brightness, and pixel density. However, after spending more time with the iPad Mini and the really well designed apps, those negative factors fade away into the background and I just enjoy consuming content and keeping in-touch with family and friends.

I’m sure many people will buy the iPad Mini with Retina Display and I would argue that is the real power tablet on the market and the better value when compared to it’s larger brother, the iPad Air. This is because almost all of the components are identical between the two tablets. The Mini is equipped with a display with even higher pixel density, a smaller footprint allowing users of all ages and hand sizes to easily hold it for extended periods of time, and when held with two hands the won’t ned to be split for typing. The iPad Mini with Retina display will be noticeably lighter than the iPad Air, which helps reduce fatigue when holding it for a long time as well as keeps suitcases, backpacks, and travel luggage lighter. 

Now I just need to figure out what color smart cover to buy…

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Filed under ipad mini

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Mophie Juice Pack Helium [My Review]

The iPhone 5 offers decent to good battery life by today’s smartphone standards, but what about those days when you need to use your phone a lot and you’re not near a powered USB port? 

Mophie has been making power packs for Apple products for many years and arguably, they make quality products (Apple sells Mophie products in their stores). For the iPhone 5, Mophie has released two juice packs - the Helium and the Air - that offer about 80% - 100% battery capacity of the iPhone 5.

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I’ve had a chance  to use both the Helium and the Air. A quick note about the Mophie Juice Pack Air: I liked the build quality and it doesn’t add any noticeable thickness or weight above and beyond the Helium, but the pass through buttons for the volume, vibrate rocker, and power button were tough to operate and offered very little feedback. With those issues, I decided to return the Air and keep the Helium. 

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So how is the Helium? It’s also well built like the Air, but it leaves parts of your phone (power and volume buttons, and vibrate rocker) exposed to dust/debris. Some users have noted that it is more difficult to find and press the exposed buttons as they are recessed in the case, but I find this to be a good quality of the case to prevent accidental key presses. If you have “fat fingers” this might not be a great case for you. You will also notice that the Helium does indeed have a smaller capacity battery than the Air. I Helium runs out of juice approximately 1.5 - 2 hours before the Air. As a case for a phone, the Helium is feels great with soft touch hard plastic. It provides a good amount of traction in your hand and on various surfaces but can still slip in and out of pockets and purses with relative ease. 

Despite the Helium’s build quality and reliability, the fact that it requires a Micro USB connection for charging is a mixed blessing. I would have preferred that they stuck the Lightning connector because the Micro USB connection has traditionally been the weak point of most Juice Packs (Mophie included). These ports easily break after repeated use, and even brand new out of the box, the Micro USB cable could easily plug in and out of both my Air and Helium. That’s usually not good news for longevity. One last point I want to make about the Micro USB connection on this generation of Juice Packs - they do not allow you to sync your iPhone with your computer when connected. You must use WiFi sync or remove the bottom of the Juice Pack and connect your standard Lightning cable to sync, update, restore your iPhone. 

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So, should you buy it? 

Yes if you are are power user who is unable to plug your phone into a power source throughout your day. Essentially, if your iPhone dies before you are ready for it to quit, you could benefit from buying a Juice Pack. Just know that your phone will be heavier and thicker, as well as taller. 

Personally, I am keeping the Helium for my day trips where I will be frequently using the camera and GPS. If you follow the instructions from Mophie about when to turn off and on the Juice Pack, you will notice a slight bump in battery life compared to just leaving the Juice Pack on all the time. 

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The Retina MacBook Pro 15” [My Review]

I have spent a week with the 15” base model Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display, and I have to say I am impressed. Two things users will notice immediately upon using this laptop are how crisp and clear text and images appear on the display and how good the speakers sound on such a thin laptop. 

As an owner of an iPad and iPhone with Retina displays, I always found myself upset when I using my phone and laptop at the same time. I immediately notice all of the pixels on the screen of my old laptop display (1280x800) and on my external 22” IPS 1080p monitor. Yes, I know…”first world problems”, but having all Retina display products can have a positive impact on user experience. Apple has done a phenomenal job at reducing the glare of the display as compared with most laptops with glossy or glass displays (including their own regular MacBook Pro and MacBook Air). This really makes a difference when working in a well lit environment or outside. The viewing angles and brightness of the display are also superior to any display I have seen available to regular consumers. 

This laptop absolutely flies: the quad-core Intel i7 processor means business, the 8GB of ram really helps during multi-tasking, photoshop and running virtual machines, and the built in SSD is no slouch! I frequently run Windows 7 Ultimate using Virtual Box and the experience is often faster than most mid-range Windows PCs sold today. 

Build quality is on par with current generation MacBook Pros, which is a good thing. On CNET’s “Always-On” YouTube channel, you can find torture tests of the 13” version of the MacBook Pro with Retina display - the results of the test were quite impressive. One other design feature of the that impressed me are the two fans built into the system which feature blades that have been asymmetrically molded, reducing fan noise. I really don’t hear the fans till they go above 3500rpm, which rarely happens even when streaming full HD videos and running a Virtual Machine.

As with all products (yes, even Apple products), there are weak points and this laptop has a few that need to be called out. Apple has done a poor job of addressing screen ghosting and fan issues - neither of which I have experienced during the writing of this review. I have experienced major stuttering with YouTube videos played in all popular browsers (Chrome, FireFox, and Safari) when the system is under stress. I’m not sure what causes this, but I would not expect such a problem to happen with such a powerful system. I hope this will be resolved with a future software update for the OS X or the browsers. 

In conclusion, the 15” MacBook Pro with Retina display is a solid laptop for someone looking for a laptop with a gorgeous display, powerful processor and graphics card, and has high spending limit. This laptop is not for someone looking for a laptop with a small footprint, but it is worth noting that this laptop weighs less than the current regular 13” MacBook Pro and is significantly thinner. Apple is expected to update their laptops later this year (likely in Q3) with brand new chips from Intel and they may come out with a redesigned chasis too, so if you can stand to wait a few more months, it should be worthwhile. For the time being, I am very satisfied with this laptop and look forward to what Apple will release later this year. 

Filed under Apple retina display macbook pro

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18 Point Contract for an iPhone

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A mother bought her 13 year old son an iPhone 5 for Christmas this year. But he couldn’t open it until he signed this contract:

Dear Gregory

Merry Christmas!  You are now the proud owner of an iPhone.  Hot Damn!  You are a good & responsible 13 year old boy and you deserve this gift.  But with the acceptance of this present comes rules and regulations.  Please read through the following contract.  I hope that you understand it is my job to raise you into a well rounded, healthy young man that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it.  Failure to comply with the following list will result in termination of your iPhone ownership.

I love you madly & look forward to sharing several million text messages with you in the days to come.

1. It is my phone.  I bought it.  I pay for it.  I am loaning it to you.  Aren’t I the greatest?

2.  I will always know the password.

3.   If it rings, answer it.  It is a phone.  Say hello, use your manners.  Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad”.  Not ever.

4.  Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30pm every school night & every weekend night at 9:00pm.  It will be shut off for the night and turned on again at 7:30am.  If you would not make a call to someone’s land line, wherein their parents may answer first, then do not call or text.  Listen to those instincts and respect other families like we would like to be respected.

5.  It does not go to school with you.  Have a conversation with the people you text in person.  It’s a life skill.  *Half days, field trips and after school activities will require special consideration.

6.  If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs.  Mow a lawn, babysit, stash some birthday money.  It will happen, you should be prepared.

7.  Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being.  Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others.  Be a good friend first or stay the hell out of the crossfire.

8.  Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.

9.  Do not text, email, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud with their parents in the room.  Censor yourself.

10.  No porn.  Search the web for information you would openly share with me.  If you have a question about anything, ask a person – preferably me or your father.

11.  Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public.  Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being.  You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that.

12.  Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts.  Don’t laugh.  Someday you will be tempted to do this despite your high intelligence.  It is risky and could ruin your teenage/college/adult life.  It is always a bad idea.  Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you.  And it is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear – including a bad reputation.

13.  Don’t take a zillion pictures and videos.  There is no need to document everything.  Live your experiences.  They will be stored in your memory for eternity.

14.  Leave your phone home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision.  It is not alive or an extension of you.  Learn to live without it.  Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO – fear of missing out.

15.  Download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff.  Your generation has access to music like never before in history.  Take advantage of that gift.  Expand your horizons.

16.  Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.

17.  Keep your eyes up.  See the world happening around you.  Stare out a window.  Listen to the birds.  Take a walk.  Talk to a stranger.  Wonder without googling.

18.  You will mess up.  I will take away your phone.  We will sit down and talk about it.  We will start over again.  You & I, we are always learning.  I am on your team.  We are in this together.

It is my hope that you can agree to these terms.  Most of the lessons listed here do not just apply to the iPhone, but to life.  You are growing up in a fast and ever changing world.  It is exciting and enticing. Keep it simple every chance you get.  Trust your powerful mind and giant heart above any machine.  I love you.  I hope you enjoy your awesome new iPhone.  Merry Christmas!

xoxoxo

Mom

As phones become more and more powerful, I do believe parents need to set guidelines for safe and responsible usage. Furthermore, I also believe that parent’s, now more than ever, need to foster their children’s skills for face to face interactions - so many interactions are remote these days. 

Although you may not agree with every point this mother has listed for her child to agree to, we must recognize that each parent-child relationship and family values are different.

Filed under iPhone Contract Parenting

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RunKeeper 3.0

RunKeeper is one of my favorite apps to use on a smartphone to track my workouts. I’ve tried various other apps such as Endomondo, but always return to RunKeeper because of the overall better user experience. 

Version 3.0 of RunKeeper for iOS was released today and my initial impressions are that it’s much more aesthetically pleasing. I believe the developers have changed the code and made GPS tracking more accurate and hopefully a bit more power efficient. 

Over the past few years, RunKeeper has introduced many new features such as coaching and social integration, but they’ve realized that the user interface and user experience are key to making their users (such as myself) happy. For those of you looking to keep track of your cardio workouts - GPS or manual entry are allowed - RunKeeper is worth testing out. 2013 is just around the corner and I know plenty of you are resolutions to get into shape this year…this might help you keep your resolution for more than just 1 week. 

Filed under RunKeeper

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Cisco to sell off Linksys

Cisco is just not happy with the way things are going in the consumer router sector. Cisco has been known to buy brands and then shut them down or sell them off…I think they’re simply tired of the unpredictable consumer market and would just like to stick to business sales. 

Filed under Cisco Linksys

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A Decline in Text Messaging

It comes as no surprise that text message numbers have dropped recently. iMessage, BBM, WhatsApp, Viber, Line, Skype, and countless other messaging apps have become increasingly popular in the recent months and years. With everyone paying a premium for data, users are likely to cut back on text messaging plans (which carriers profit nearly 100% from) by using data based services.  

Filed under Text Messaging