Smartphone hacks: how to extend battery life & be more productive on your phone

3 January 2018 | 0 Comments

The New Year is a great time to take a few moments and tidy up your smartphone to make it faster and more efficient. Or, if you received a new device over the holidays, get it set up for success right out of the gate.

I was on CTV Your Morning earlier today, sharing my top smartphone “hacks”. Watch the clip above, and read my suggestions below.

3 tips for cleaning up and clearing space

  1. Update your operating system. Yes, it can be tedious and those update notifications always pop up at the most annoying moments… but updating your phone’s operating system is the best way to keep it running efficiently.
  2. Delete apps you’re not using. If you have a few minutes to kill while waiting for an appointment and you forgot a book, scroll through the apps on your phone. If you haven’t used one in a while (or never used it in the first place, as is often the case with the apps that come pre-installed), get rid of it! It’s taking up precious space on your smartphone. And if it turns out that you miss the app, you can always reinstall it later.
  3. Back everything up – especially photos. The most common reason for running out of space on a smartphone comes from the photo and video library. The cameras on modern smartphones take amazing photos and videos. Those in turn take up a lot of space on your phone’s memory. Back up and optimize your photo and video storage using iCloud for iOS devices (instructions here) or Google Photos on Android devices (instructions here).

Organize your apps for quick access

You may already have your smartphone apps organized in a particular order (or even in folders). You can go one step further and have your favourite apps and most used tools available to you when you need them first by changing what’s on your lock screen, home screen, and control centre.

If you have an Android smartphone, consider using an app launcher like Nova Launcher to customize your home screen with colours, apps, and other settings that you choose. iOS users can customize the Apple control centre (the tools that you can access by swiping – before unlocking your device) by following the instructions here.

Check on your battery health

Smartphone batteries have been a hot topic in the media lately, with Apple apologizing for slowing down older iPhones to compensate for aging battery performance. Most phone batteries can be charged around 500 times before they start to show their age. Replacing a battery is much cheaper than replacing the entire phone, so if you suspect you have an issue you can check your battery’s health with the free Battery Life Doctor app for iOS, or the free Battery Doctor app for Android.

5 tips for keeping your smartphone battery in top shape

  1. Dimming the screen or turning on auto brightness will help your battery last longer between charges.
  2. Be careful of the temperature! Using a smartphone in hot or cold conditions (below 0 degrees or above 35 degrees) can wear the battery down faster than normal.
  3. Update to the latest software. The smartphone’s operating system controls how apps interact with the phone’s processor and battery, and updates often include upgrades for battery efficiency.
  4. Enable low power mode when it looks like you’re going to run out of juice to conserve what’s left until you can charge again.
  5. Find out where your battery power is going by checking your battery settings in the smartphone settings. You may have a lot of apps and notifications running in the background that can be disabled.

Conserve your data

We all love to check email, get texts, and log in to social media while we’re on the go. That can wreak havoc on your data plan (especially any activity that’s transmitting images or videos over the cell network – I’m looking at you, Instagram). Use the free MyDataManager app on iOS and Android to see what apps are hogging your data and adjust your habits (or increase your data plan) accordingly.

2017 Year in Review

31 December 2017 | 0 Comments

I have a confession. I’m a procrastinator. Like, huge. I need to feel the pressure of a deadline or some other external motivation to get a task done, and I will usually leave it until the last possible moment. So here we are, on the last day of 2017, and I’m doing my annual reflection. It’s a Sunday morning, I’m in my jammies and slippers with a coffee while Clara watches cartoons and it’s snowy and cold outside. A fairly normal weekend morning in our house.

When I think back to where I was this time in 2016, I’m amazed at what a difference a year makes. I was in a low spot at the end of 2016, mostly because I was in that gross place in the middle of a big transition where things are unclear and confusing and messy and scary. I was moving away from my web design business (although it took me another whole 8 months to properly shut it down). Camp Tech’s Vancouver location needed big changes to be profitable, and we were having serious issues with our office location in Toronto. At the same time, Ian was on jury duty for a first-degree murder trial, and we weren’t supposed to talk about it. Overall, it was a super stressful period.

2017 was a shit year for our society, civilization and culture. I’ve spent so much time being angry and outraged, shocked and sad. That emotional and psychological stress takes its toll on all of us. We’re all so tired. Nevertheless, we persevere. Despite Trump and #metoo and natural disasters, I had a good year in 2017, personally and professionally.

Best Moments

Stopping work as a web designer

I’ve been a freelance web designer for 10 years. It’s the job that sustained me financially while building Camp Tech. But in 2017 I realized it was time to leave web design behind. I thought about what kind of work I want to do in the world, and what value and meaning I can bring to people. I care about the impact of my work, and did a lot of soul searching to figure out the best way for me to have the most effect.

When I thought about the work I do with website clients, and my favourite parts of the projects (which are also the parts I’m best at), I realized that the actual designing wasn’t it. While I’m not a horrible designer, sketching layouts and developing visual assets isn’t my strongest skill. I’m better at strategy and communication, and that’s where I bring the most value to a website project.

Of course, old habits die hard and it took me the better part of the year to stop accepting web design gigs. I’m now happy to say that I only take on contracts as a web advisor and digital consultant, which allows me to do my best work (and also have time and energy for Camp Tech and my media gigs).

 

Gather North

I hosted the third annual Gather North professional getaway for women in tech in November. This year I held it at the Chateau Montebello in Quebec, and it was magical. The huge fireplace and cozy lodge feel was perfect for our conference, and the speakers blew us away. I love the Gather North community, and how we support and inspire each other.

 

Clara loves school

I couldn’t do everything I do professionally if my home life wasn’t great. A big part of that is making sure Clara is thriving in her world, and she totally is! She learned to read in 2017, and moved from kindergarten to grade one in September. She loves her school, teacher and classmates and is happy and challenged. It is a huge relief for us as parents, and makes us so proud.

 

Speaking at Creative Mornings

I’m a longtime fan of Creative Mornings (the free breakfast lecture series that happens in hundreds of cities worldwide). When the opportunity came to speak at Toronto’s Creative Mornings chapter this year, I was beyond honoured and also terrified. A friend said, “Avery, you regularly appear on live network television with a lot of people watching. Why does speaking at Creative Mornings freak you out?” and I realized it was because it mattered so much to me. I love the Creative Mornings community and wanted to do well by them. I spent months preparing a 25 minute talk on Compassion and Computing, including my thoughts and concerns about how technology is designed and made for humans. I was nervous as all hell, but I think the talk went really well. It will be online for you to watch soon.

 

Covering the Apple Event for CTV

As a tech correspondent for CTV, I get to attend some pretty cool tech events. Hands down, the best one in 2017 was the iPhone X press announcement at the new Steve Jobs Theatre at Apple Park (in Cupertino, California). It was my first experience reporting live in the field for Your Morning (I previously had only done in-studio appearances on the morning show). Being one of the first in the world to be on-site at Apple Park, and standing in the press box overlooking the Steve Jobs theatre while the sun came up was a surreal moment for me. Yes, it’s nerdy and dorky but my inner fangirl was screaming with excitement.

 

A special weekend with family

Many members of my family are gone, so it’s important to me to spend special time with family while I can. In September my sister, Dad and I flew to Florida for a weekend to catch up with our beloved great Aunt, and other members of our American family. We almost didn’t make it due to logistics and a hurricane, but the stars aligned and all worked out. I’m so so glad we had that time together.

 

Developing and teaching the Digital Transformation Program for Small Business

Camp Tech was contracted by the City of Toronto/Digital Main Street to develop and deliver an 8-week digital skills training program for small business owners. Those in attendance learned about different options for using technology to enhance their businesses, and then completed a Digital Transformation Plan for how they’d like to implement what they learned. Those that finished the training successfully received a $2500 grant to put towards their plan.

I devised the curriculum for the program myself, and taught the first two cohorts. Spending 8 weeks with small business owners, talking with them about their struggles with technology and helping them to pick practical solutions was so rewarding for me. This is the kind of impact I love to have with tech – showing people how it can make a real difference in their lives and business.

(Psssst if this sounds interesting to you, we’re running the program again in February and March. Details here.) 

 

Worst Moments

Moving offices. Twice.

At the end of 2016, we abruptly had to move Camp Tech’s Toronto office and took a sublet from another tech company in the city. It was fine for the short-term when we were in a pinch, but by early 2017 it was clear the new location wasn’t the best (we had noise and temperature issues, and big problems with our neighbouring tenants). It was super super stressful trying to make it work, and then when I finally accepted it wasn’t to be, I had to hunt for a new office. More stress there. Finding a commercial space in downtown Toronto is as difficult as finding a residential space. After looking at countless offices that wouldn’t work, I finally found one that fit our needs. I signed a two year lease with the option to renew, so hopefully I won’t have to go through that process again for a long while.

 

Lesson Learned

The biggest lesson I learned in 2017 is a professional one. It comes from Camp Tech, where I’m the sole owner and decision maker. It’s so easy to get distracted and forget to take the pulse of your business, in a quantitative and qualitative ways. It’s not fun or glamorous, but regular reviews of short-term and long-term financials are super important. In 2016 I took my eye off the numbers for a while, and it took a lot of effort in 2017 to get things back on track. A hard lesson learned for me, but one I won’t forget.

 

What Next

I have so much great stuff already planned for 2018 and I can’t wait to share it with you as it all comes together. Every year I choose a word that sets a bit of the intention I have for the months ahead. Yes, this is a cornball tradition and borderline woo-woo for me (and I generally can’t stand woo-woo). The word I’ve chosen for 2018 is “focus”. That means taking all the activity, potential, attention and energy I have and gathering it together into concentrated efforts. Less diffusion, more precision. I get distracted easily, so “focus” also means discipline to me – discipline to stay on track and engage in the deep work I want to do. It’s hard, but I feel up for the challenge.

 

If I had a spare 3 million, I’d totally buy this house

17 December 2017 | 0 Comments

When Ian, Kinnon and I were in Palm Springs last month, we did a self-drive Mid Century Modern home tour (this app was our guide). We all loved the Edris House, and were shocked to discover it’s for sale. It’s in the foothills of Mt San Jacinto, so it has gorgeous views over Palm Springs and the valley.

If I had a spare 3 million, I would totally snap it up. View the real estate listing for the Edris House here.

My top gift picks for the tech-obsessed person in your life

2 December 2017 | 0 Comments

I was on CTV Your Morning earlier this week, sharing my top gift picks for the tech-obsessed person in your life. Watch the video clip of my segment here, and read about my picks below!

For the party planner…

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Sonos One Speaker, $249
Don’t let the compact size fool you; this speaker packs a serious punch with two Class-D amplifiers. The Sonos app seamlessly integrates with your Spotify, Apple Music, radio and podcast subscriptions, and you can stream your favourite sounds over WiFi (not Bluetooth) so there’s no frustrating setup or streaming interruptions.

 

For the fitness buff…
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Hexoskin Smart Fitness Shirt, prices vary
The fitness buff on your list might already have a wearable fitness tracker on their wrist… but do they have smart fitness clothing? The Hexoskin base-layer smart shirt has integrated sensors to track heart rate, breathing rate and volume, step count, cadence and stride, activity level, calories burned and sleep. The information is then passed on to the app or website dashboard, where performance can be analyzed and progress can be compared over time.

 

For the homebody…

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Google Home Mini, $40
Google has put all the features of the popular Google Home device in an adorably small package with Google Home Mini. The small speaker allows you to talk to the Google Voice Assistant. Ask what the weather is going to be, set a timer, get answers from Google, add items to your shopping list, play music, and so much more. Google Home Mini also integrates with your favourite compatible home automation devices, so you can control your home with your voice.

 

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Philips Hue Starter Kit, prices vary
The Philips Hue Starter Kit is the perfect gift for a homebody. They can connect Philips Hue lights to their Google Home and control their lights without lifting a finger. The energy-efficient smart LED lightbulbs can be set to 16 million colour varieties and controlled via the Philips Hue app on a smart device, Siri voice control, Google Home and Amazon Alexa – giving the option to control lights with just your voice!

 

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ecobee4 Smart Thermostat, $329
Rumour has it that we’re in for a chilly, snowy winter season in Canada this year. Give the gift of consistent warmth with the ecobee4 smart thermostat. Place the sensor in your favourite rooms and it will detect occupancy and help manage hot or cold spots, saving up to 23% of your heating and cooling costs every year. Integration with Google Home (coming in 2018 through a software update) makes it even easier to ward off a chill—you don’t even have to get up to dial up the heat.

 

For the pet lover…

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Furbo Treat-Tossing Dog Camera, $199
The Furbo dog camera allows you to check in on your best friend when you’re not home. It has a real-time barking alert, full HD night vision, and two-way talking so you can calm your pup with your voice. You can even use Furbo to remotely toss your dog a treat to reward good behaviour!

 

For the adult who loves toys…

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DJI Spark, $399
DJI, the leading brand of pro-level camera drones, has created Spark – a mini drone that features all of DJI’s signature technologies that is easy enough for beginners. Use Spark’s face-aware technology to launch the drone from the palm of your hand. Once Spark is airborne, hand gestures can control the flight path as easily as a smartphone or remote control. The ultra-smooth, stabilized video looks amazing, and can be edited in the app and shared directly to social media.

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Cozmo Robot
Cozmo is a small artificial intelligence-powered robot toy with a big personality. He recognizes your face, greets you, and loves to play games. Watch out though – Cozmo is a bit mischievous and sometimes the game will be on you! Use Code Lab to create new behaviours and explore the AI and robotics powering Cozmo, all while learning the basics of programming.

 

For the globetrotter…


Google Pixel Buds, $219
At first glance, Google Pixel Buds look like basic headphones. But they go far beyond just playing music. When paired with a Google Pixel smartphone, the Pixel Buds offer real-time translation with Google Translate. Just touch and hold the right earbud to activate the Google Assistant, and have your speech translated out loud to another language, on the fly. It’s a must-have for world travellers.

 

Stocking stuffers

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Wireless Charging Pad, $60
If someone on your gift list recently received an Android or Apple phone that supports wireless charging, make their life so much better by treating them to a wireless charging pad. Just place your device on the pad and it starts charging right away – no charging cables needed.

 

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Clip-On Selfie Lights, $15-20
 Selfies are pretty much guaranteed at holiday parties, and these fun and simple selfie lights are a perfect stocking stuffer. The clip-on LED lights fit any smartphone, and feature rechargeable batteries. Charge one up, clip it on, and snap away.

Will someone please put this in my Christmas stocking?

23 November 2017 | 2 Comments

The SipCaddy is hilarious and also practical. I would totally use it.

Yes! An adults-only trip to Palm Springs

3 November 2017 | 1 Comment

I spied a seat sale on WestJet a few weeks ago, so Kinnon, Ian and I booked direct flights from Toronto to Palm Springs for a vacay at the end of November. Long-time readers may remember our past trips to Palm Springs – it’s one of my favourite places to visit.

For this trip, we rented a private house with our own pool (!) on Airbnb. I’m so looking forward to lounging poolside and floating around, looking at the mountains.

Have you been to Palm Springs? Any must-see places or must-eat restaurants? We like Chocky’s for breakfast and El Mirasol for amazing Mexican.

Attractive, affordable backpacks and totes for carrying a laptop

26 October 2017 | 0 Comments

Whenever I’m at tech or media events, I’m always checking out people’s bags. Finding attractive, affordable backpacks or totes for carrying your laptop (or other tech gear) is hard! I’m always on the lookout for stylish, hardworking bags.

In Toronto, the startup worker’s brand of choice seems to be Herschel. Their backpacks are reasonably priced, but are a bit too trendy and casual for me. I prefer the backpacks and totes by Everlane (this one is my current go-to) or Montreal-based vegan leather brand Matt & Nat. I have two Bookhou totes (this one was my all-time fav, and I have this one in rotation as well).

The bag I’m now coveting is a bit of a splurge… maybe I’ll put it on my Christmas list. It’s this leather handbag by Edmonton boutique Poppy Barley. The website says it’s big enough to carry a 13″ or 15″ laptop, so it seems beautiful and practical. Only question is – should I get it in caramel or grey?

Photos: Matt & Nat backpack (top left), Poppy Barley handbag (top right), Bookhou tote (bottom left), Everlane backpack (bottom right)

A perfect evening in Leslieville

18 October 2017 | 0 Comments

It’s been over 10 years since I transitioned from working in the live theatre industry to working in the tech industry. While I don’t work behind the scenes anymore, I still like to attend theatre shows. And with Crow’s Theatre opening their own space in my Leslieville neighbourhood, there’s really no excuse to not attend regularly… so a friend and I purchased season’s ticket subscriptions.

Last week we saw the first show of the season (Asking for It) and had a pre-dinner meal at Gare de L’Est, conveniently next door to Crow’s. Both dinner and the play were great, and I’m looking forward to doing it again soon.

(photo of the steak hache at Gare de L’Est, which I had for my meal, by Hector Vasquez from the review in blogTO

Join me at the Hot Docs Podcast Festival this weekend

13 October 2017 | 0 Comments

For the second year in a row, my company Camp Tech has sponsored the Hot Docs Podcast Festival. I love supporting and participating in this great event. I was at the festival this morning, hosting a panel (Podcasting Essentials: The Tools You Need to Make Your Show) with panelists Suzanne Hancock, Sebastian Major, Nana aba Duncan and JP Davidson (pictured above). I’ll be back on Sunday to enjoy three shows: Modern Love, The Memory Palace and Canadaland. If you’re looking for something fun to do in Toronto this weekend, check it out!

PS – which podcasts are you loving these days?

A Weekend in Prince Edward County (with a 6-year old)

22 May 2017 | 1 Comment

This Victoria Day weekend, I was really looking for a family getaway. It was Ian’s birthday, and I’ve been working too much lately, so I figured it would be fun to head out of town and spend some time together. Some friends had told me about Sandbanks Summer Village, a condo cottage resort in Prince Edward County. They said it was great for families, and there were 2-bedroom cottages available for rent. Done and done.

On the way into the County, we stopped at my friends Lori and Lorraine’s farm, Thyme Again Gardens. They have a cute roadside stand where they sell fresh meat, produce, spices and more from their farm. Clara, now 6 years old and a total city kid, was beyond excited to get a farm tour from Lorraine. She met the pigs and got to pick fresh eggs right out of the henhouse.

We had lunch at County Road Beer Company, which is nextdoor to Hinterland Wines. I had a wine slushy (it was as good as it sounds) and Clara had the non-alcoholic version while devouring an entire cheese plate. She is my child after all. We picked up beer and sparkling wine from the bottle shops, and also hit up Rosehall Run to get more wine on the way to Sandbanks Summer Village.

When we checked into our cottage, Clara just about lost it when she realized that her room had a bunk bed (top bunk! yes!) and the pool was open. Ian braved the chill (it’s a heated pool, but it was still only 18 degrees outside) and took her for a swim while I read trashy magazines pool-side.

Sunday was cloudy so we played a few outdoor games at the resort before the rain came in. Then it was indoor games (Clara kicked my butt at Battleship) and a trip to Picton to check out the antique fair. I bought Clara a locket, since she’s kind of obsessed with them, and she picked a skeleton key so she could be “just like Mary in The Secret Garden.”

We drove over to the bottle shop at Barley Days Brewery, and then went to the small town of Bloomfield for ice cream at Slickers. Everything is close in the County, so it’s easy to bop from town to town.

A few places were open on Victoria Day Monday, but not everything, so those that were open were busy. We had breakfast at Enid Grace Cafe in Wellington which was fantastic, but it was so rammed with people it was hard to enjoy.  A good reason to go back sometime when it’s not so crowded.

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If you’re thinking of going to Sandbanks Summer Village, here are a few tips. The cottages are all individually owned, so while they’re the same from the outside, they’re really different on the inside (depending on which model the cottage is, how many upgrades the owners chose, and how they are furnished). The one we rented was… shall we say… spartan. There was one couch and one chair, a basic dining table, a double bed in one room and the bunk bed in the other room. The patio furniture was basic and the BBQ didn’t work until Ian fixed it himself. I got the feeling that this unit was purchased purely to be a rental. It was totally fine and we were happy enough, but if we were to go again I would rent from an actual owner (there are lots on Airbnb and VRBO). Our rental was through Expedia.

Speaking of rentals, read the fine print before you book. We paid what I considered a fair enough price for a 2-bedroom cottage on the long weekend, but it wasn’t super cheap. Then after booking I received an email from the resort saying there would be an additional $80 cleaning fee. I went back to Expedia and read the fine print, and yes it did say that there would be an additional cleaning fee charged. $80 seemed ridiculously steep though, considering the cottage was 600 square feet. I assumed cleaning would be included in the initial price.

The cottages are in three main areas – the “meadows”, the “woodlands” and “lakeside”. They go up in price based on location. We were in the meadows, where the cottages are close together and there are no mature trees. The weekend we were there was quiet so it wasn’t an issue, but it doesn’t really seem like a traditional cottage when you’re looking at the plastic siding of the neighbouring unit. If you’d like a more picturesque view, book a woodland or lakeside cottage.

All of that being said, the cottages are brand new and the facilities are great. There are canoes and kayaks for anyone to use at the lake, and tennis, basketball, shuffleboard, ping pong, and a putting green by the heated family swimming pool. There’s a large playground with swings, and a game room with boardgames and puzzles to take out. During the summer months there are kids’ activities every day. Everyone we saw was very friendly and there were many families with young children. If you were looking for a place to take your kids (or even go with your extended family or a few friends and their kids) it would be perfect.