Friday, July 27, 2012

Portable Internet Player Offers Progressive Lifeline

By Jim Cullen

For those of us who have resisted the siren call of smartphones — and we are still in the majority, although the gap is closing — there is a workaround that can give us much of the convenience of remote Internet access without paying hundreds of dollars more to cell phone providers.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project in February found that 46% of Americans say they have smartphones, while 41% of Americans get by with regular cell phones and 12% have no cell phone at all. Smartphone adoption rates of 60% or more were reported among college graduates, 18-35-year-olds and those with an annual household income of $75,000 or more. Among seniors, just 13% of those ages 65 and older have smartphones. But 53% of seniors (and 78% of American adults) use the Internet.

If you don’t have a smartphone, portable Internet access can be particularly useful if you live in the 90% of the country where conservative radio executives deny us access to over-the-air progressive talk radio. A portable media player such as the iPod Touch, which costs $199 to $399, depending on the “flash memory,” is a little thinner than an iPhone but has most of the same functions when you are in a “wi-fi” area, and you don’t have to pay the extra $100 monthly cost of remote Internet access.

(Similar portable media units that use the rival Android operating system include Samsung’s Galaxy players 4 and 5, which cost $229 and $269, and Sony Walkman Z, at $249.)

I got the iPod Touch (or iTouch) two years ago, partly because I needed to understand how these portable devices worked so that we might figure out how to incorporate The Progressive Populist into them. We still haven’t figured that out, but I found the iTouch was useful as a substitute for a smartphone.

If you’re looking for tablets that have the same functions as the iTouch but with a larger screen, which is especially useful when reading books and long texts, browsing the Web or watching videos, consider the iPad ($399 and up) and its less-robust Android rivals, the Kindle Fire ($199) and Google’s Nexus 7 ($249). But if you want something you can put in your pocket or purse, an iPod Touch, for my money, is the best choice.

The iPod started out as a device for storing music, and it’s still useful as a repository for your digitized album collection, but the iTouch debuted in 2007 as the iPhone’s poor cousin, though its features have been upgraded until it has most of the functions of an iPhone except the cell phone.

Since October 2011, when iPhone Operating System 5 was released with the fourth generation iTouch, you no longer need a computer to activate the iTouch, although you need to be in the vicinity of a wi-fi signal to get Internet access and obtain third-party applications (apps) from the App Store through iTunes. And it’s useful to have access to a computer that you can use as a base for your iTouch.

The iTouch comes with about 20 apps pre-installed, including email, calculator, calendar, camera, clock, contacts, FaceTime video telephone software, iBooks, iTunes, maps, music, notes, newsstand, photos, Youtube, stocks, weather, voice memos, videos and the Safari web browser.

The only apps for which I have paid money are TuneIn Radio (99¢), which allows you to record online broadcasts if you have a wi-fi signal, and RSSRadio Premium ($1.99), which allows you to download podcasts when you have wi-fi access and play offline. Among the podcasts I download are the Stephanie Miller Show (which is telecast as Talking Liberally on Current TV — if you can find Current TV on your cable); Sam Seder’s Majority Report; the Ed Schultz radio show; and Best of the Left, a compilation of progressive radio offerings. I also record Thom Hartmann’s radio show, among assorted online broadcasts on TuneIn Radio.

Other podcasts that are available include many NPR and Pacifica shows, Counterspin, Democracy Now!; Mike Malloy; Randi Rhodes, Ring of Fire with Mike Papantonio and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., WTF with Marc Maron; and many foreign radio shows. An iTouch can be a lifeline for progressives who are stuck in a small town or even a good-sized city, such as Austin, where talk radio is dominated by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the local right wingers.

Among my most-used apps that I can use offline — that is, when I am away from home and don’t have a wi-fi signal — are the Calculator, Calendar, Contacts, Clock, Dictionary, Music, Photos. If I have downloaded the current edition of the New York Times and The Nation, I can browse them offline.

Useful apps at home (where I have a broadband wi-fi signal) include the Internet Movie Database (, so I no longer need to bug my wife about who that character actor is on TV, and where else I have seen that actor, and the Safari web browser. Also handy are Facebook, Twitter, Weather and various news and sports apps.

Useful apps on the road, which you can check at wi-fi places, include Maps, which in addition to telling directions will tell whether highways are congested or closed, GasBuddy, to check gas prices down the road, the Weather Channel, which is particularly useful when traveling to or from Iowa in February. And podcasts and audible books that you can download to the iTouch are a pleasant diversion when you’re driving long distances in areas where the radio choices are evangelists, right-wing talkers or bad country music.

Places that offer free wi-fi include most Arbys restaurants, Barnes & Nobles bookstores, IHOPs, McDonalds, Starbucks and other coffee shops and most public libraries and many roadside rest stops support public wi-fi.

Comment on your favorite podcasts, apps and players. In case you wonder, we didn’t seek or get any consideration from Apple for this article.

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2012
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