Category Archives: Gadgets

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

Tablets seem to be all the rage right now, but some of us are still trying to figure out why we’d even want one. Well wonder no more: here are ten worthwhile, clever uses for tablets, whether it’s an iPad, Android, or Windows device.

10. A Productive Second Screen

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

Chances are you probably do a lot of work on your computer, and a tablet can actually make a great second screen to augment it—whether you hook it up to your computer as a second monitor or actually use it as a tablet. With a couple work apps and shortcuts, you can actually use your tablet as a more productive, secondary device for keeping up with email, your notes, or other work-related tasks you need to keep an eye on.

9. A Universal Remote Control

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

Your phone can control a lot of things, but a tablet’s size make it a great remote for just about anything. With the right apps, you can use your tablet to control your home theater PC, your computer from afar, or even your actual house.

7. A Note Taking Machine

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

If you’re in school (or need to take a lot of notes at work), a tablet actually makes for a pretty dandy note-taker. You guys had a ton of examples of how you used a tablet in class, from making annotations in books and articles to making handwritten notes and equations or even just downsizing your massive stack of textbooks. And with apps Evernote, Drafts, and OneNote available, you can do more with your notes than you ever could on paper.

6. A Creative Tool

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

Traditionalists may scoff at the use of digital tablets for art, but they allow you to do a lot of things you can’t do on paper—especially if you’re short on funds. Whether it’s making music, digital painting, or creative writing, a tablet gives you portability, ease of use, and the ability to easily copy or share your works quickly and easily. It may not be your go-to studio, but it’s a great tool to have at your disposal for creative tasks.

5. An Integrated Car Dashboard

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

Ever used the built-in navigation and music players in most cars? A lot of them leave a lot to be desired (okay, let’s be frank, they suck). Why not just integrate your iPad or Android tablet to the mix instead? It’s got music, it’s got navigation, it’s easy to use, and you can even control it with your voice. We’ve seen countless examples of this, from DIY mounts to more serious, built-in setups. Whatever you choose to do, it’s sure to bring your car into the 21st century.

4. A Portable Media and Gaming Center

Imagine the awesomeness of a home theater PC that fits in your backpack. You can bring it over to your friends’ house for the Game of Thrones finale, throw some old school video games on their TV, or stream some Netflix on a whim. All you need is a tablet and the right apps and accessories. Plus, it’s great for when you have those same cravings at the airport or while you’re out with no access to a TV. And if you’re really dedicated to those old school video games, you can turn it into a mini retro cabinet, too.

3. A Do-Everything Family Device

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

Having a tablet lying around as a general all-purpose device—for quickly checking email, reading the web, or killing a few minutes with a game—seems to be an ideal use case. It’s faster and easier than grabbing your laptop or heading to your computer, and it isn’t locked to one location. However, most tablets don’t really lend themselves to multi-user experience. Thankfully, we’ve figured out some ways around that problem, so you can use your tablet as a do-everything device for the whole household. And with a few dedicated "tablet stations," it’ll never get lost.

2. A Device Dedicated to Distractions

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

The internet is distracting. Between places like Facebook, Twitter, and even (admittedly) Lifehacker, it’s hard to stay focused when you have so many options for procrastination. blogger Ben Brooks recommends offloading all that distraction to your tablet. Then just schedule in some time for procrastination and switch to your secondary device to keep it separate from your work. Photo by Houang Stephane.

1. A Distraction-Free Work Device

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

On the flip side of the distraction coin, tablets are also great at focusing you on one specific task—mostly since you can’t have multiple apps open at the same time. That makes it great for distraction-free writing, and turns it into a surprisingly legitimate productivity tool. It’s also great (obviously) for distraction-free reading. In fact, when we asked you guys whether you use your tablet for work, a surprising majority of you said yes for these very reasons.

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

Tablets seem to be all the rage right now, but some of us are still trying to figure out why we’d even want one. Well wonder no more: here are ten worthwhile, clever uses for tablets, whether it’s an iPad, Android, or Windows device.

10. A Productive Second Screen

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

Chances are you probably do a lot of work on your computer, and a tablet can actually make a great second screen to augment it—whether you hook it up to your computer as a second monitor or actually use it as a tablet. With a couple work apps and shortcuts, you can actually use your tablet as a more productive, secondary device for keeping up with email, your notes, or other work-related tasks you need to keep an eye on.

9. A Universal Remote Control

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

Your phone can control a lot of things, but a tablet’s size make it a great remote for just about anything. With the right apps, you can use your tablet to control your home theater PC, your computer from afar, or even your actual house.

7. A Note Taking Machine

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

If you’re in school (or need to take a lot of notes at work), a tablet actually makes for a pretty dandy note-taker. You guys had a ton of examples of how you used a tablet in class, from making annotations in books and articles to making handwritten notes and equations or even just downsizing your massive stack of textbooks. And with apps Evernote, Drafts, and OneNote available, you can do more with your notes than you ever could on paper.

6. A Creative Tool

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

Traditionalists may scoff at the use of digital tablets for art, but they allow you to do a lot of things you can’t do on paper—especially if you’re short on funds. Whether it’s making music, digital painting, or creative writing, a tablet gives you portability, ease of use, and the ability to easily copy or share your works quickly and easily. It may not be your go-to studio, but it’s a great tool to have at your disposal for creative tasks.

5. An Integrated Car Dashboard

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

Ever used the built-in navigation and music players in most cars? A lot of them leave a lot to be desired (okay, let’s be frank, they suck). Why not just integrate your iPad or Android tablet to the mix instead? It’s got music, it’s got navigation, it’s easy to use, and you can even control it with your voice. We’ve seen countless examples of this, from DIY mounts to more serious, built-in setups. Whatever you choose to do, it’s sure to bring your car into the 21st century.

4. A Portable Media and Gaming Center

Imagine the awesomeness of a home theater PC that fits in your backpack. You can bring it over to your friends’ house for the Game of Thrones finale, throw some old school video games on their TV, or stream some Netflix on a whim. All you need is a tablet and the right apps and accessories. Plus, it’s great for when you have those same cravings at the airport or while you’re out with no access to a TV. And if you’re really dedicated to those old school video games, you can turn it into a mini retro cabinet, too.

3. A Do-Everything Family Device

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

Having a tablet lying around as a general all-purpose device—for quickly checking email, reading the web, or killing a few minutes with a game—seems to be an ideal use case. It’s faster and easier than grabbing your laptop or heading to your computer, and it isn’t locked to one location. However, most tablets don’t really lend themselves to multi-user experience. Thankfully, we’ve figured out some ways around that problem, so you can use your tablet as a do-everything device for the whole household. And with a few dedicated "tablet stations," it’ll never get lost.

2. A Device Dedicated to Distractions

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

The internet is distracting. Between places like Facebook, Twitter, and even (admittedly) Lifehacker, it’s hard to stay focused when you have so many options for procrastination. blogger Ben Brooks recommends offloading all that distraction to your tablet. Then just schedule in some time for procrastination and switch to your secondary device to keep it separate from your work. Photo by Houang Stephane.

1. A Distraction-Free Work Device

Top 10 Worthwhile Uses for Tablets

On the flip side of the distraction coin, tablets are also great at focusing you on one specific task—mostly since you can’t have multiple apps open at the same time. That makes it great for distraction-free writing, and turns it into a surprisingly legitimate productivity tool. It’s also great (obviously) for distraction-free reading. In fact, when we asked you guys whether you use your tablet for work, a surprising majority of you said yes for these very reasons.

Monster Outlets to Go Is a Tiny Travel Surge Protector with USB

Monster Outlets to Go Is a Tiny Travel Surge Protector with USB

We love a variety of mini surge protectors for travel purposes near and far. They make great companions anywhere, but especially at the airport. Many of the ones we’ve featured in the past have been a little bulky, blocky, or unstable when hanging out of an outlet. The Monster Outlets to Go solves those problems while offering more versatility.

First things first, the Outlets to Go offers three outlets nicely spaced so plugs won’t cover anything up if they’re a little bulky. You’ll find spots on both sides so you can dedicate one to a wall wart if need be. You also get a dedicated USB port so you don’t have to waste an outlet for that. All of this comes in a very slim package and has a small extension cable to prevent a wobbly connection to the wall. And if you’re worried about it dangling around in your bag, don’t—it’s designed to plug into itself for storage.

Monster Outlets to Go with USB ($15) and without ($10) | Amazon

The Verizon Jetpack Is a Flexible 4G Hotspot with Crazy Battery Life

The Verizon Jetpack Is a Flexible 4G Hotspot with Crazy Battery Life

Mobile hotspots are a great way to stay connected when tethering your phone just won’t cut it. After a lot of research and testing, our friends at the Wirecutter have dubbed the Verizon Jetpack their favorite hotspot for its long battery life, reliable service, and flexible plans.

We’ve shown you how to pick from a wide selection of mobile hotspots, but the Wirecutter says the Jetpack is worth a serious look. Not only does it have insane battery life—nearly twice that of other hotspots—but it shows you how much data you’ve used, and has lots of flexible data options (starting at $30 for 4GB).

We still definitely recommend doing your research, though. After all, if speed is the most important thing to you, an AT&T hotspot might be a better option. If you’re looking for something cheap for occasional use, FreedomPop and Karma are both great options. But the Jetpack’s 24+ hour battery life alone is pretty enticing. Hit the link for the Wirecutter’s full review.

The Best Wi-Fi Hotspot | The Wirecutter

Five Best iPad Cases

Five Best iPad Cases

If you just picked up a new iPad Air or an iPad Mini, or if you’re shopping for someone who has, you’ll probably want a case for it to make sure it’s safe on the go, in your bag, or on your desk. Whether it’s a rugged case you need, a soft case with pockets, or a keyboard case, you have options. Here are five of the best, based on your nominations.

Earlier this week we asked you which iPad cases were the best to keep your tablet safe while you use it or while you travel. You had plenty of nominees, but we could only pick out the top five. Here’s what you said, in no particular order:

DODOcase

Five Best iPad Cases

Cases by DODOcase don’t come cheap, but they’re some of the best handmade, sharp looking cases you can put your iPad into. Prices vary depending on the design and materials you want used to make the body of the case, but almost all of DODOcase’s offerings provide full folio-style protection with a wooden body that your iPad rests comfortably into and a firm board cover that flips over the screen to keep it safe when it’s not in use. The cases are also flexible enough to be used in portrait or landscape mode, both standing up or resting on their back. Ideally though, this is the type of case that makes your iPad look like a book and easy to slide in and out of a bag or briefcase without damaging the tablet itself.

Prices on the iPad Air versions vary, but you’re looking at between $65 and $85 depending on the colors you want, and perhaps more if you’re interested in their folio case (that has a pad and room for other papers inside), or customization and printing options. You can check out all of their iPad Air cases here here, and all of their iPad Mini cases here.


Apple iPad Smart Case

Five Best iPad Cases

Apple’s own iPad Smart Case brought in a number of nominations, largely because you can buy it at the same time right when you get your iPad, and because you’re guaranteed a solid fit and a full-body case. The iPad Smart Case specifically is a full-body case with a polycarbonate backing to protect the sides and back of your device, and a Smart Cover-style flap that protects the screen when not in use, folds up to be an impromptu stand, and will wake your iPad from sleep or put it to sleep when the cover is opened or closed.

The iPad Air versions of the Smart Case come in a variety of colors but will set you back $79. You can check out all of the color options here. The iPad Mini version is $69, and they’re available here. If you’re not interested in spending that much and just want the cover, Apple’s Smart Cover is only protects the screen, but it’s $39 for the iPad Air version and and the same price for the iPad Mini version.


Griffin Intellicase

Five Best iPad Cases

Much like Apple’s own Smart Case (although the Griffin version came first), the Griffin Intellicase offers full-body protection for the back and sides of your iPad and a magnetic screen cover that will wake or sleep your device when the cover is opened or shut. The back is polycarbonate, and the flip cover is polyurethane. The flip cover folds up nicely to be an impromptu stand, and the Intellicase comes in a variety of colors. The only downside is that the Intellicase isn’t currently out for the iPad Air, the latest full-sized iPad model on store shelves. However, if you’re getting any iPad older than that, you can get a great case for $60. If you have an iPad Mini, you can choose from colors and designs at $40.

If you are looking for a Griffin alternative much like the Intellicase for your iPad Air, the $50 Crosshatch Folio for iPad Air is a good option, and includes a spot to slide a document or two into place, and the affordable $30 Slim Folio for iPad Air is all fabric, but still offers the same all-sided protection and flexible screen cover.


Snugg Executive Case Cover and Flip Stand

Five Best iPad Cases

If you have a lot to carry around in addition to your tablet, the Snugg Executive Case Cover and Flip Stand may be up your alley. It’s definitely a bulkier case, but it adds both protection and storage space for credit cards, business cards, documents, pens, a notepad, a stylus, and so on. It’s a full-body folio-style case, so you get polyurethane and leather around the body of your case and as a screen cover that’s flexible enough to fold over itself and into a slot on the back of the case so your iPad stands up—ideal for watching video, reading, or typing with both hands. The slot on the back is even large enough to get your hand through, so you can hold it with one hand securely and use it with the other.

The Executive Case Cover is available in a number of colors, and it’s available for all models of iPad (including the iPad Mini) except the iPad Air. It’ll set you back $40, either direct from Snugg or over at Amazon. If you’re looking for something similar for your iPad Air, Snugg offers the $30 iPad Air Case Cover and Flip Stand which doesn’t offer quite so much room for other papers, but still folds up nicely, gives you a slot for a stylus or a pen, and still offers full body protection.


Logitech Folio and Keyboard Folio

Five Best iPad Cases

If you’re looking for solid protection that won’t break the bank, but is also from a well known peripheral manufacturer, you can’t go wrong with Logitech’s folio-style cases, and their keyboard folio cases, if you want to do a little typing on the go. Logitech’s keyboard folios are well regarded as some of the thinnest, longest-lasting, and still functional and solid to use on the market, and they don’t add a ton of width or bulk to your tablet at the same time. The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover earned a lot of praise when it was launched, but it was specifically the $50 Folio for iPad Air, the $50 Folio for iPad Mini, and $50 Folio for iPad (previous generations) that earned your nominations-all of which don’t have keyboard, but do offer full body protection, and flexible screen cover that doubles as a stand, and multiple colors to suit your tastes.

If you do need a keyboard, there were nominations for the $100 Keyboard Folio for iPad (previous generations), the $90 PU Leather Keyboard Folio for iPad Mini, the $100 "Tech Fabric" Keyboard Folio for iPad Mini, the $100 Ultrathin Keyboard Folio for iPad Air, and the $150 FabricSkin Keyboard Folio for iPad Air, all of which essentially make up Logitech’s entire family of keyboard folio cases for various generations of iPads (they’re just all at different links and at slightly different prices depending on the iPad you have and the fabric you want). You have a variety of choices and colors, and the various fabrics and case materials all function generally the same, although the "FabricSkin" and "Tech Fabric" offer water resistance and super-thin typing surfaces when compared to Logitech’s older keyboard folios. All of the models are Bluetooth, rechargable, and feature lonbg-lasting batteries that can be recharged while still in use if you’re close to an outlet. Logitech’s Keyboard Folio is the only case with a keyboard in this roundup, but we did an entire roundup of iPad cases not too long ago if you want more options.


Those are your top five! Now it’s time to put them to a vote:

The honorable mention this week goes out to Pad and Quill Cases, a line of hand-crafted high-end cases for iPads, iPhones, Kindles, Macbooks, and Macbook Airs that are all bound in wood and leather. If you’re looking for a high-quality case and you’re also willing to pay a premium for it, check them out. Their iPad Air cases range from around $60 to $100 depending on which ones you’re interested in, for example.

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.

The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at tips+hivefive@lifehacker.com!

Title photo by Tatsuo Yamashita.

Five Best iPad Cases

Five Best iPad Cases

If you just picked up a new iPad Air or an iPad Mini, or if you’re shopping for someone who has, you’ll probably want a case for it to make sure it’s safe on the go, in your bag, or on your desk. Whether it’s a rugged case you need, a soft case with pockets, or a keyboard case, you have options. Here are five of the best, based on your nominations.

Earlier this week we asked you which iPad cases were the best to keep your tablet safe while you use it or while you travel. You had plenty of nominees, but we could only pick out the top five. Here’s what you said, in no particular order:

DODOcase

Five Best iPad Cases

Cases by DODOcase don’t come cheap, but they’re some of the best handmade, sharp looking cases you can put your iPad into. Prices vary depending on the design and materials you want used to make the body of the case, but almost all of DODOcase’s offerings provide full folio-style protection with a wooden body that your iPad rests comfortably into and a firm board cover that flips over the screen to keep it safe when it’s not in use. The cases are also flexible enough to be used in portrait or landscape mode, both standing up or resting on their back. Ideally though, this is the type of case that makes your iPad look like a book and easy to slide in and out of a bag or briefcase without damaging the tablet itself.

Prices on the iPad Air versions vary, but you’re looking at between $65 and $85 depending on the colors you want, and perhaps more if you’re interested in their folio case (that has a pad and room for other papers inside), or customization and printing options. You can check out all of their iPad Air cases here here, and all of their iPad Mini cases here.


Apple iPad Smart Case

Five Best iPad Cases

Apple’s own iPad Smart Case brought in a number of nominations, largely because you can buy it at the same time right when you get your iPad, and because you’re guaranteed a solid fit and a full-body case. The iPad Smart Case specifically is a full-body case with a polycarbonate backing to protect the sides and back of your device, and a Smart Cover-style flap that protects the screen when not in use, folds up to be an impromptu stand, and will wake your iPad from sleep or put it to sleep when the cover is opened or closed.

The iPad Air versions of the Smart Case come in a variety of colors but will set you back $79. You can check out all of the color options here. The iPad Mini version is $69, and they’re available here. If you’re not interested in spending that much and just want the cover, Apple’s Smart Cover is only protects the screen, but it’s $39 for the iPad Air version and and the same price for the iPad Mini version.


Griffin Intellicase

Five Best iPad Cases

Much like Apple’s own Smart Case (although the Griffin version came first), the Griffin Intellicase offers full-body protection for the back and sides of your iPad and a magnetic screen cover that will wake or sleep your device when the cover is opened or shut. The back is polycarbonate, and the flip cover is polyurethane. The flip cover folds up nicely to be an impromptu stand, and the Intellicase comes in a variety of colors. The only downside is that the Intellicase isn’t currently out for the iPad Air, the latest full-sized iPad model on store shelves. However, if you’re getting any iPad older than that, you can get a great case for $60. If you have an iPad Mini, you can choose from colors and designs at $40.

If you are looking for a Griffin alternative much like the Intellicase for your iPad Air, the $50 Crosshatch Folio for iPad Air is a good option, and includes a spot to slide a document or two into place, and the affordable $30 Slim Folio for iPad Air is all fabric, but still offers the same all-sided protection and flexible screen cover.


Snugg Executive Case Cover and Flip Stand

Five Best iPad Cases

If you have a lot to carry around in addition to your tablet, the Snugg Executive Case Cover and Flip Stand may be up your alley. It’s definitely a bulkier case, but it adds both protection and storage space for credit cards, business cards, documents, pens, a notepad, a stylus, and so on. It’s a full-body folio-style case, so you get polyurethane and leather around the body of your case and as a screen cover that’s flexible enough to fold over itself and into a slot on the back of the case so your iPad stands up—ideal for watching video, reading, or typing with both hands. The slot on the back is even large enough to get your hand through, so you can hold it with one hand securely and use it with the other.

The Executive Case Cover is available in a number of colors, and it’s available for all models of iPad (including the iPad Mini) except the iPad Air. It’ll set you back $40, either direct from Snugg or over at Amazon. If you’re looking for something similar for your iPad Air, Snugg offers the $30 iPad Air Case Cover and Flip Stand which doesn’t offer quite so much room for other papers, but still folds up nicely, gives you a slot for a stylus or a pen, and still offers full body protection.


Logitech Folio and Keyboard Folio

Five Best iPad Cases

If you’re looking for solid protection that won’t break the bank, but is also from a well known peripheral manufacturer, you can’t go wrong with Logitech’s folio-style cases, and their keyboard folio cases, if you want to do a little typing on the go. Logitech’s keyboard folios are well regarded as some of the thinnest, longest-lasting, and still functional and solid to use on the market, and they don’t add a ton of width or bulk to your tablet at the same time. The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover earned a lot of praise when it was launched, but it was specifically the $50 Folio for iPad Air, the $50 Folio for iPad Mini, and $50 Folio for iPad (previous generations) that earned your nominations-all of which don’t have keyboard, but do offer full body protection, and flexible screen cover that doubles as a stand, and multiple colors to suit your tastes.

If you do need a keyboard, there were nominations for the $100 Keyboard Folio for iPad (previous generations), the $90 PU Leather Keyboard Folio for iPad Mini, the $100 "Tech Fabric" Keyboard Folio for iPad Mini, the $100 Ultrathin Keyboard Folio for iPad Air, and the $150 FabricSkin Keyboard Folio for iPad Air, all of which essentially make up Logitech’s entire family of keyboard folio cases for various generations of iPads (they’re just all at different links and at slightly different prices depending on the iPad you have and the fabric you want). You have a variety of choices and colors, and the various fabrics and case materials all function generally the same, although the "FabricSkin" and "Tech Fabric" offer water resistance and super-thin typing surfaces when compared to Logitech’s older keyboard folios. All of the models are Bluetooth, rechargable, and feature lonbg-lasting batteries that can be recharged while still in use if you’re close to an outlet. Logitech’s Keyboard Folio is the only case with a keyboard in this roundup, but we did an entire roundup of iPad cases not too long ago if you want more options.


Those are your top five! Now it’s time to put them to a vote:

The honorable mention this week goes out to Pad and Quill Cases, a line of hand-crafted high-end cases for iPads, iPhones, Kindles, Macbooks, and Macbook Airs that are all bound in wood and leather. If you’re looking for a high-quality case and you’re also willing to pay a premium for it, check them out. Their iPad Air cases range from around $60 to $100 depending on which ones you’re interested in, for example.

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.

The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at tips+hivefive@lifehacker.com!

Title photo by Tatsuo Yamashita.

How to Track Everything in Your Life Without Going Crazy

How to Track Everything in Your Life Without Going Crazy

These days, you can track just about anything with the right device: how you move, sleep, drive, and even how you eat, giving us the opportunity to quantify…anything. But how much data do we really need, and at what point does this information cause more harm than benefit? I decided to track everything in my life and here’s what I discovered.

The Dilemma of the Quantified Self

How to Track Everything in Your Life Without Going Crazy

Awhile back, in the usual Lifehacker fashion, I wanted to improve my everyday activities. I started monitoring the basics and recording the data in a spreadsheet, but actively tracking every little thing I did became tedious fast. Fortunately, personal tracking devices found their way onto the market and I was able to start passively collecting all sorts of data. I started with one tracker, then another, to the point where I was gathering as much information as humanly possible.

At first I loved it, but I quickly became overwhelmed. When you reduce everything to numbers, they start to control your choices. Sometimes this helps, as it can stop you from swallowing an entire chocolate cream pie on a whim. Other times it can make life more frustrating because you feel like you can’t do basic, everyday tasks—like walking enough. I spoke with therapist Roger S. Gil to find out when he thought tracking helped and when it went too far:

Quantifying behavior can be beneficial as long as it’s part of a larger intervention. It’s helpful when trying to identify a baseline for a particular behavior you want to change because it gives you a starting point. The thing is that you have to maintain the tracking in order to be able to monitor progress. For some people monitoring progress can elicit more anxiety since it makes the inevitable "plateau" periods that we all have seem that much more noticeable.

My experience fell into similar territory. I realized that while I enjoyed tracking myself, I could easily overdo it instead of using the devices in a healthy, effective way. Here’s what I’ve learned over the last year, and how I think you can successfully employ these awesome gadgets without going crazy.

All the Things You Can Track

You can track a lot of different things nowadays, but you probably don’t need to. Before you go out and buy a gadget, think of a problem you want to fix. Larger issues work better than small annoyances. If you don’t have something concrete, tracking probably isn’t the solution. All that data will do absolutely nothing for you if you can’t apply it to making your life better. To that end, let’s look at what you can track and if you should even bother.

Sleep

How to Track Everything in Your Life Without Going Crazy

For a lot of people, sleep is a very real problem. Few of us get enough of it, and even fewer get quality sleep. If you want to better rest, a tracker might help you find the root of your problem.

You can track your sleep in one of two ways: either use a cheap smartphone app or buy a more expensive wearable gadget. Both will tell you how much you moved around at night to determine the quality of your sleep, but dedicated hardware will work better than your smartphone. With that data, you can make an educated guess as to why you slept well or didn’t. (Maybe you ate a bad meal, had too much screen time, or just went to bed at the wrong hour.) The data can help you determine how your evening routine helps, hurts, or doesn’t really matter. Furthermore, most sleep trackers double as silent, vibrating alarms. This feature alone might be worth the price of admission.

Tracking your sleep, however, has limited use. Once you figure out why you suck at getting proper rest, two things can happen. Either you fix the problem and render the tracker irrelevant, or you don’t fix the problem and end up with an awfully expensive bracelet and a trip to a sleep specialist.

Do you need a sleep tracker? As a standalone device, probably not. They absolutely can help, but you shouldn’t buy one all by itself. Some trackers pack in multiple metrics (see below) and include sleep as one of them. Alternatively, smartphone apps can give you a decent picture of what happens while you’re unconscious and they’ll only cost you a few bucks. Either of those options will probably suffice over an expensive sleep tracker.

Fitness

How to Track Everything in Your Life Without Going Crazy

We’ve had pedometers and pulse oximeters for awhile now, so it shouldn’t surprise you that many tracking devices center around fitness and health. Some rest on your wrist, others clip onto your clothing, and some even hide inside of your shoe. They track everything from steps taken, stairs climbed, distance traveled, vigorous physical activity, your pulse, and a variety of other metrics—depending on the device you choose. That data can provide a picture of how much you move from day to day.

Why does this matter? Most people manage only 3,000 to 5,000 steps per day, which isn’t much. Many recommendations point to 10,000 steps as a solid movement goal, but that figure was popularized in Japan and wasn’t necessarily based on solid research. Nevertheless, we need to move to stay healthy and 5,000 steps isn’t much, so 10,000 makes for a good goal. If trackers help you move more, they’re doing their job.

Despite that specific benefit, many wearable trackers come at a reasonably high cost. You often get a smartphone app along with them that add more to the experience, but you’ll still pay at least $50 (and generally around $100). On the other hand, you can pick up a decent pedometer for $15-20 and just record the number yourself. Furthermore, fitness trackers can feel a lot like a solution in search of a problem. Do you actually need to move around more? Are you sure you don’t get enough exercise? Before you go out and buy anything, ensure it’ll help. Sometimes creating a few more good habits to keep you on your feet more will suffice.

That said, fitness trackers can prove valuable if you need a motivator on your wrist or lapel. Newer trackers offer a variety of different functions, too, so if you want to track your activity you ought to focus on one that handle more than just reporting steps to your phone. Figure out what fitness problems you want to solve in your life, and then seek out a tracker that can help you solve them. (We’ll have some suggestions later in the post, so stay tuned.)

Diet

How to Track Everything in Your Life Without Going Crazy

Technology can’t effectively track your diet, so you have to do it yourself. (The closest option currently on the market is this $99 fork.) If you want to track your food intake, the most consistent and reliable metric is the calorie. When you count calories, you need to manually enter everything you eat into an app, webapp, or simple spreadsheet. Unfortunately, tracking intake doesn’t tell you if you ate more than you burnt in a given day. You have to estimate that number or rely on a fitness tracker to assist.

Tracking calories can only take you so far. While burning 3,500 calories you didn’t eat can equal a pound of fat loss, that figure varies largely from person to person. Some of us may only require 2,000 while others will need as much as 5,000. Our bodies also burn more than fat when we have calorie deficits. Nevertheless, you know if you burn a good chunk of extra calories each day you’re making some degree of progress.

Tracking food intake can feel like tedious chore to some while it can provide comfort to others. If you don’t know how you’ll react to diet tracking, just try it with a software- or notebook-based spreadsheet. If you can write down everything you eat and the total calorie cost for a week without wanting to rip your hair out, tracking can help you achieve your fat loss goals.

If you don’t like the process, try a meal rating system instead. Let’s say a your lunch consists of a sandwich, some vegetables, and an apple, and all of that comes out to about 450 calories. You could rate that meal a single point. If you have a meal that consists of approximately 600 calories, you could rate it two. Moving up in increments of your choice (in this case 150), you can assign appropriate point values and endeavor to eat only five points worth of food. Once you identify enough meals, you won’t have to track calories specifically but can instead work on a point system. Some existing diets already do this with prepared meals, but you can handle it yourself just as easily (if not more so).

Ultimately you won’t get a full picture of your diet by tracking calories. Certain other aspects—like the nutrients in the foods you consume, how full they make you feel in proportion to the number of calories they contain, and how much you enjoy eating them—matter as well, and none can be quantified. It helps to find a plan you like and can stick to so you don’t overwhelm yourself with too much work. Diet tracking can help you eat better, but only if it doesn’t cause you to lose your mind.

Driving

How to Track Everything in Your Life Without Going Crazy

Most tracking devices relate to our bodies, but not all of them. You can also track your driving to find out if you utilize your car’s fuel efficiently. In the long run this might help you save some money, but probably not. It will, however, encourage better driving habits that can keep you safer and keep your car in better condition.

While you could find a wealth of competition when tracking every other category mentioned in this post, we only know of one option for driving: the Automatic Link. It costs $99 and pays attention to when you accelerate too hard, brake too quickly, and drive too fast (over 70 miles per hour, which apparently isn’t fuel efficient and could be unsafe in some cases).

After watching the data in my car for several weeks, I didn’t really notice much of a difference in fuel economy on the same trips regardless of how well I drove (according to Automatic). Different cars may see more of an impact based on these driving habits, so, quite literally, your mileage may vary. That said, you’ll get more out of the device if you think of it as a safety and car care helper.

That said, the biggest benefit of the Automatic Link—in my opinion—has nothing to do with tracking at all. When you leave your car, it automatically marks your location so you can find it even if you forget to make a note of where you parked. If you’d rather keep your $100, a few tricks can make your brain do the same thing. If you suck at driving safely, however, tracking your activity could help you improve. On the other hand, just making a concerted effort to hone your skills might do just as much.

What You Should Get If You Want to Track Your Life

How to Track Everything in Your Life Without Going Crazy

Tracking gadgets and apps abound these days, so picking one can be tough. On a very basic level, a Trackthisforme account—or even a spreadsheet in your favorite office application—can get the job done. You won’t have any data collected automatically for you, but you won’t have to pay anything either.

If you want the convenience of personal trackers on your body (or wherever else they need to be), here are the ones I’ve found most helpful and won’t break the bank:

  • Fitbit Force ($129) or Flex ($99): Despite the frustrating wristband, the Fitbit series tracks a lot of different things in one device. The Force manages to record steps taken, distance traveled, vigorous activity, sets of stairs climbed, calories burned, and quality and quantity of sleep. It also has a clock, stopwatch, and will notify you of calls (pending a future firmware update). It also has a silent, vibrating alarm for waking you up gently. The Flex costs a bit less and mainly tracks steps/distance and sleep. I also found it was notably less accurate than the Force. That said, both devices track a lot of things in such a tiny package and only need charging about once a week. Additionally, the included smartphone and desktop apps can help you track diet and exercise as well. Alternative: Jawbone Up.
  • Tinke ($119): For those who want to monitor other aspects of their health, Tinke can track your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, respiratory rate, and heart rate variability. It connects to an iPhone app—unfortunately there’s no Android version at the moment—by directly plugging the device into the bottom of the smartphone. From there you can just use its sensor to log your current health metrics and get an overall score as a general indicator.
  • Sleep Bot (Free, Android and iOS), Sleep Cycle ($2, iOS), and Sleep As Android ($3, Android): If you prefer to use your smartphone for sleep tracking, you can with these apps. They track your movement and try to provide a clear picture of your sleep quality and quantity. They also can wake you up gradually with silent alarms. If you don’t want to buy a gadget and only want to focus on sleep tracking, this is an effective, cheap method.
  • Automatic Link ($99): As previously mentioned and described in the driving section, the Automatic Link will track your driving ability and locate your car for you.

These options, by no means, cover every tracker on the market. I picked these options because they cover a lot of different metrics and come at reasonable costs for the services they provide. While their versatility should help you track what you need to track, always keep this in mind: collect only the data that will help you solve a problem. If these trackers can help you, great. If not, seek some out that will. Overall, you don’t want to buy a bunch of stuff that won’t improve your life or make it easier. If you plan to track everything, only do it for as long as you have something to gain.

Photos by kentoh (Shutterstock), Leremy (Shutterstock), Hermin (Shutterstock), and me.

Bolt Battery Charges Your Gadgets and Itself at the Same Time

Bolt Battery Charges Your Gadgets and Itself at the Same Time

Most backup batteries charge your gadgets, but when they run out of juice you have to charge them and your gadgets separately. This leads to carrying quite a few power adapters. Bolt seeks to solve this problem by providing a 3,000mAh battery that—when plugged in—can charge itself and your gadget at the same time.

When not connected to power, it’ll use that 3,000mAh to charge your smartphone (or whatever else) once or twice. While not a large backup, you get this extra power in a package so tiny that it won’t take up much more room than a power adapter itself. It also joins the slim ranks of batteries with this feature, making it a candidate for our DIY battery-powered charging bag. Although a little expensive, right now you won’t find another battery of this size with these features.

Bolt ($60) | BiteMyApple via Gear Hungry

Show Us Your Pile of Old Electronics

Show Us Your Pile of Old Electronics

Most of us have a stash of old gadgets, computer parts, stereos, or other electronic components somewhere in our home. Most of them are just things you thought you might be able to use someday, so why get rid of them. We’d like to see yours.

We’ve talked about what you can do with your old, outdated computer parts and how to determine whether they’re actually worth some money. We even rounded up our top 10 ideas for awesome things you can do with the underused gadgets you own. But now, we’re curious. Snap a pic and show us your pile of old electronics below.

Wearable Computing: Is It Ready for Prime Time?

Wearable Computing: Is It Ready for Prime Time?

With all the hoopla over smartwatches, Google Glass, and wearable computing, you’d think the revolution had already happened. Still, the holiday shopping season is getting near. Should wearables be on your list?

We talked earlier this year about smartwatches, and in the few months since, Samsung has already entered the game with its Galaxy-exclusive offering (which should give you an idea of how chaotic this market is right now). However, watches aren’t the only thing going on. Between Glass, Fitbit, Nike+, and the slew of other smart wearables out there, the tech world is poised to strap intelligent sensor-stuffed gadgets all over your body. Should you care, though?

What Do Wearable Computers Really Do?

The inevitable question when it comes to wearable devices is what benefit they really provide over your smartphone. You can already send text messages and check Facebook from your phone. What’s the point of putting it all on a watch or your face?

In general, wearables offer some combination of the following advantages:

  • Quicker access to notifications. If you want to read the entire text of your email or mess around on Facebook for a couple hours, your phone is a great tool. However, the ability to filter out the important messages from the mundane ones can be a huge time saver. Active Notifications on the Moto X (and the independently developed app of the same name for other devices) can make a phone a little better at quickly telling us what’s important, but if your phone is in your pocket, it doesn’t help much.
  • Heads-up information and ubiquitous search. Google Glass has a reputation for wowing its users by allowing them to display relevant information like directions without having to constantly glance down at their phone, and providing always-on, hands-free Google searches. Think of it like your own personal Jarvis (only without the quirky personality).
  • Recorded data and feedback. Perhaps the most useful function of them all is taking telemetric data recordings and providing useful feedback. Devices like Fitbit and the Nike+ Fuelband track your workout and can provide detailed information that can not only inform your workout, but motivate you.

Is this enough to justify an entirely new device? Hard to say. On the one hand, device like the Fitbit and Nike+ have done fairly well for the markets they target, but smartwatches haven’t really been flying off the shelves (and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear is allegedly seeing a return rate of about 30%). So, does that mean that you should ignore the entire market? Well, maybe not.

Which Ones Are Worth My Time?

Wearable Computing: Is It Ready for Prime Time?

Whether or not you should pay attention to the wearables market depends pretty heavily on what your needs are (and if you’re into fitness, you’re probably a candidate). However, here’s the state of wearable tech and where it’s going.

Watches

The Present: So far, the most popular smart watch that hasn’t been universally panned is the Pebble (and it was our favorite too). The Galaxy Gear has the highest brand recognition of all the devices currently on the market but our friends at Gizmodo found it to be less than stellar at a much higher price point. As mentioned before, we went over some of the other smartwatches already available on the market and which ones may be worth your time here.

The Future: While there are a few smartwatches on the market already, rumors have it that there are only about three people on earth that aren’t currently making a smart watch. HTC, Qualcomm, and most notably Google are all allegedly working on a device. While it’s not always the best idea to base your buying decisions on rumor, smartwatches are a luxury item and the only big name in the game right now is Samsung. You probably won’t miss out on anything big by waiting a bit.

Glasses

The Present: If you want to get your hands on a heads-up display like Glass today, your best bet is to know someone who already has one that has an invite to give out, and about $1,500 laying around. That’s going to be a tough deal for anyone, so chances are you’re just going to have to sit this one out. However, if you’re one of the lucky (and wealthy) few, you can get version 2 of the hardware which, among other changes, adds support for future shades and prescription lenses. What this means for the rest of us is that when Glass finally arrives, it might be easier to blend it into your normal wardrobe. That is, if you wear glasses or shades.

The Future: Like smartwatches, the storm is still coming for Glass-like devices. Vuzix has already demoed its own wearable device that competes directly with Google Glass at CES this year. Microsoft and Samsung may also be building their own versions. In this case, virtually all of your options are unavailable at this point, but they’re coming. We’d advise a "wait and see" approach but that’s more or less mandatory for those of us that aren’t made of money.

Fitness Trackers

The Present: Fitness trackers are perhaps the most evolved and polished of all wearable computing devices and, consequently, the easiest to recommend. Devices like the Fitbit and Nike+ Fuelband are proven and competent accessories for your workout routine. Of course, you’ll have to weigh the cost versus the investment. When we asked for the best fitness tracker, the majority of you said that your smartphone was enough.

The Future: Regardless of how well they work now, fitness trackers are just going to keep getting better. One contender is IndieGogo alum Amiigo. In addition to the basics (calorie count, step tracker, etc.), the Amiigo claims to be able to detect, count, and measure any workout you do. While it’s expected to come out some time in Fall 2013 (which you may notice is about now-ish), you can probably expect that competing devices will follow a similar path as software gets better.

So, Should I Get a Wearable Computer?

Wearable Computing: Is It Ready for Prime Time?

When I began writing this piece, I expected to find a few devices that are worth buying right now, even if the future is going to be a lot better. However, outside of the Fitbit, Fuelband, and possibly the Pebble, almost universally the answer is "I’d wait." And even those are only for certain, niche audiences.

Wearable computing is a trend that’s coming whether we want it or not. Nearly every consumer electronics company around is trying to crack the code and some of them might just do it. However, if they’re going to do so, it probably won’t be this year. The 2013 holiday shopping season is fast approaching and it can be tempting to lay down cash for a nice new toy. However, while typical gadget wisdom says there’s always something new and shiny coming down the road, there are some good and bad times to buy certain gadgets. Right now is, unfortunately, not a good time to get into the wearables game.