Gadling Gear Review: iPad Mini

Apple's iPad Mini Over the past couple of years the demand for tablet computers has gone from nonexistent to one of the hottest segments of the entire consumer electronics market. At the forefront of that demand is the iPad, which not only launched the tablet revolution but has continued to push it forward since its introduction in 2010. The iPad’s dominance has been so complete that competitors have been forced to attempt to carve out a niche with smaller and cheaper tablets, sometimes with solid success. Not one to let a market slip away, Apple released a smaller tablet of their own a few months back, bringing an excellent entry to the growing 7-inch tablet segment.

The iPad Mini was released this past fall and garners its name from the fact that it features a 7.9-inch display as opposed to the 9.7-inch screen found on the full size version. But the size of the screen isn’t the only part of Apple’s tablet that has gotten smaller. The Mini is also considerably thinner and lighter than its larger counterpart, which is probably the thing that is most striking when you first hold one in your hands. The fact that it slims down so nicely and still manages to maintain Apple’s legendary build quality is just icing on the cake. Put simply, the iPad Mini feels great in your hands and makes you think that this is what the iPad should have been the whole time.

Despite its smaller screen, the iPad Mini still runs all of the iPad Apps without a problem. That means that buyers get access to the best tablet apps on the market, while Android owners continue to wait for many of their apps to be optimized for larger screens. Apps look fantastic on the Mini’s bright and vibrant screen as well, although it doesn’t feature the amazing Retina display that is found on the larger, more expensive iPad. It seems logical that the first update to the Mini will be adding some form of the Retina display in a future update, but hopefully not at the expense of added weight or thickness.The Mini provides fast and smooth performance, running Apple’s iOS mobile operating system very well. In fact, I didn’t notice any appreciable difference in how the tablet responded or ran apps when compared to my third generation iPad, which features a much more powerful processor. The device also features two built-in cameras, one on the front and one on the back, which take passable photos and are great for video conferencing.

Apple's iPad MiniTravelers will absolutely fall in love with the Mini. Its smaller size and weight makes it a great travel companion, easily slipping inside a carry-on bag or purse without adding any kind of noticeable bulk. Its ten-hour battery life keeps it running for a long time and its vast library of apps provides games, movies, television shows, magazines, music and plenty more diversions for long flights or layovers in the airport. The fact that it is also considerably cheaper (the Mini starts at $329 for a 16GB model) than the regular iPad will make it attractive to new buyers as well.

In a lot of ways the Mini is the best iPad yet and as an owner of the full-size model, I am looking forward to Apple bringing some of the design elements over to the larger tablet. But as someone who actually does work on his iPad, the smaller screen is a compromise that I’m not ready to make just yet. I once wrote a 1000-word story on my iPad while on a flight home from Jordan with no real issues, but I can’t imagine doing the same thing on the smaller screen of the Mini. The smaller tablet is a fantastic option for those who consume media on their mobile devices, but it isn’t the best option for those that want to create content as well.

But the Mini’s competition isn’t just the full-size iPad, as both Google and Amazon have competing products that stack-up well with Apple’s device. Those tablets are smaller and lighter, yet feature higher definition screens and come in at a lower price tag. They also feel less solid in your hands and have a build quality that can best be described as “cheap” when compared to the Mini. Couple that outstanding construction with a larger display and an app store that is unmatched in the number of options designed for tablets and I believe the Mini provides an outstanding bang for the buck.

Just like the larger iPad, Apple offers the Mini with 16, 32 and 64 GB of storage and with options to connect to 4G data networks for Internet access on the go. No other small tablet offers such a wide variety of options in storage and connectivity, albeit at an increased cost as well. And that versatility is appreciated by consumers, particularly in an increasingly connected world. My third generation iPad is a 64GB model with LTE access and I find that to be incredibly useful for staying connected while on the road.

As far as I’m concerned, the iPad Mini is the best tablet on the market for travelers. Its small size and compact shape make it easy to carry with you whether you’re heading across town or across the globe. It is impressively built, powerful and versatile, and it comes with the best app store available for any tablet on the market. If you’ve been reluctant to invest in one of these devices in the past, then you really should take a look at the Mini. It is a fantastic product that will convince many first-time buyers to finally bite the bullet and add a tablet to their travel gear. And if you’re an owner of an older iPad who has been considering an upgrade, you’ll want to take a look too. You may find the Mini’s more svelte design too enticing to pass up, even though you’ll be reducing the size of your screen.

Make no mistake; Apple has more competitors in the tablet market than they have ever had in the past. But they also continue to stay two or three steps ahead of that competition, delivering the best devices in the category at competitive prices. The Mini not only continues that legacy but extends it.

[Photo Credit: Apple]

Video Games With A Refugee

“Are you American?”

The little boy with the big brown eyes was sitting at the couch next to mine in the lobby of my hotel in Najaf, Iraq. He was dressed in jeans, a button-down shirt and sneakers. He peered at me over the edge of his iPad. I looked up from my email.

“No, I’m Canadian. You Iraqi?”

“I’m Lebanese but I live in Syria. We move back to Lebanon now.”

“Your English is good.”

“I go to the international school.” He held up his iPad. “I’m looking for games.”

“You find any good ones?” I asked, smiling.

“Yeah, you want to play?”

There was something about this kid that reminded me of my own son. Maybe it was the obsession with video games. Maybe it was because he was bilingual. Maybe it was because I was missing my son so much.

“Sure,” I said.

He came over to my couch and plopped down beside me. I logged off my email and put away my laptop. He shook my hand – an oddly adult gesture – and told me his name was Mohammad and that he was 9 years old.

“I’ve been to Syria,” I told him. “I liked it a lot. Where are you from in Syria?”

“Sayyida Zainab. Want to see it? It’s on Youtube.”

“Sure.”

Then he showed me this video – bodies wrapped in bloodstained sheets being buried in a mass grave.

“They’re dead,” he said in a low voice.

I couldn’t think of what to say. This kid was 9 and this was his reality. I’ve spent the past seven years protecting my son from the ugliness of the world. Mohammad’s dad probably did the same thing until his country fell apart. After a moment I turned the video off.

“Don’t watch that, it’s sad,” I told him.

“OK. Want to play some games?”

The speed with which his mood changed shocked me. I was still numb from what I had seen.

“Sure, Mohammad. Let’s play some games.”

Yes, Mohammad, be a kid.

He’d downloaded a bunch of free apps. We played one where Obama and Romney shoot ping pong balls at each other. I played Obama and won. It was close, though. Mohammad was obviously experienced at video games.

One of the hotel employees passed by.

“See that man?” Mohammad said. “I hate him. He do this to me to tease me.”

He crossed his eyes. Suddenly I felt protective. Some guy was teasing Mohammad? For a moment it felt like someone had teased my own son.”Can you do that?” he asked.

I crossed my eyes and wiggled my nostrils at him. He smiled.

“My brother can move his ears.”

“I can’t do that. Can you do this?” I rolled my tongue. He did the same.

We searched for more apps as the massacre at Sayyida Zainab replayed in my mind. One app took my photo and Mohammad used a razor to shave me bald. Then we played a game where a cat and dog throw bones at each other over a fence. I tried to let him win while he tried to let me win. I eventually won at letting him win. To assuage his sense of Arab hospitality he fetched me tea. Then we played a parking game.

“My father had a car but somebody take,” Mohammad said, his voice going low again.
I flashed back to the video. What else did his family lose as they fled Syria?

He wasn’t so good at parking. He kept hitting other cars. Eventually he gave up and got onto the app store to look for more games. One ad showed a woman in a bikini. He put his hand over it.

“Don’t look, it’s bad,” he told me.

“OK.”

Mohammad’s two teenaged sisters, jeans showing under their abayas, sat at another couch nearby and occasionally added to the conversation from a distance. They told me they’re on pilgrimage here. Najaf and the nearby city of Karbala are sacred to Shia Muslims. I was here seeing the same shrines.

“How long you stay in Najaf?” Mohammad asked me.

“I leave tomorrow.”

His face fell.

“Oh. Let’s play another game,” he said.

“OK, Mohammad.”

My group was already gathering to visit the local shrine of Imam Ali, which Mohammad’s family had already visited. They were soon headed off to Karbala.

“You’ll love Karbala,” I told him. “The shrine is very beautiful.” Like Syria used to be, I wanted to add.

“You not going to Karbala again?” he asked.

“No. Sorry, Mohammad.”

Everyone was boarding the bus now. Reluctantly I got up and said goodbye. Mohammad looked sad.

“Keep practicing those games, kid,” I said, forcing a smile.

Then I got on the bus and never saw him again.

Sometimes you meet people on your travels that stick with you long after you say goodbye. The 9-year-old boy who likes video games and survived a massacre is going to stick with me for a long time – that and the fact that a couple of those bodies were smaller than he is.

Don’t miss the rest of my series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology, and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “Visiting The Sacred Sites Of Shia Islam!”

Sending A Postcard Fun Again With New Smartphone App

sending a postcard

Sending a postcard when traveling was once a big part of the experience. Never mind that the traveler often made it home first. Bringing along stamps and an address book to enable sharing the places we visited was part of it all. That was then, this is now and the Canvas Art of Living app enables iPhone and Android users a chance to make their own digital postcard.

Partnering with Hyatt Hotels, Canvas Wines has hotel guests looking for a QR code on their drink coaster at restaurants, bars and lounges. After scanning the code with their phone, users are sent to the Canvas Wines website where the free app is available for download.

Users can select a pre-made postcard design, upload a photo from their smartphone or take a new photo. A hand-written note is not an option but including a personalized headline and custom message is.

Automatically saved to each user’s personal gallery, the digital postcards can be shared via email, text message or on Facebook. iPhone users can convert their digital postcard into a printed postcard to be printed and mailed.

Shiny and new, the Canvas Art of Living app is getting a lot of attention but surely not the only way to send a postcard, digitally or otherwise. A number of services including Zazzle, Hipster and others use location-based photo sharing technology to enable postcard making.

Looking for something to collect? Need a break from digital?

Postcard collecting might be just what you need. Collectors of postcards engage in Deltiology, the study and collection of postcards by specific artists and publishers, or by time and location.




[Photo Credit: Flickr user btwashburn]

Aspen’s ‘Revolutionary’ New Restaurant: Is This The Future Of Fine Dining?

maroon bellsAspen is well known for many things, some more savory (its restaurants) than others (Charlie Sheen arrests). There’s also the world-class skiing, but a person’s gotta eat, and Aspen definitely boasts some of Colorado’s finest restaurants. In a ski town, that’s saying a lot.

In June, Aspen’s restaurant scene just grew a little bigger, better and more groundbreaking, with the opening of Chefs Club by Food & Wine, at the tony St. Regis resort. The innovative restaurant, which opened to great fanfare during the 30th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, marked the completion of a $40 million redesign of the resort.

The first restaurant of its kind worldwide, Chefs Club’s concept is simple, almost like a long-term pop-up. A select group of four Food & Wine Best New Chefs curate a bi-annually-changing menu of “seasonally-inspired cuisine.” The chefs will rotate on the same schedule, as well: the Fall/Winter talent will be announced November 15, via the restaurant’s website and Facebook. Following their initial, one-week tenure the chefs will make appearances throughout their “term” to offer menu specials, and showcase the Chefs Club concept to guests and the local community.

Notice that I said the concept is simple. Having four guest chefs, who are most likely total strangers, design a compatible collaborative menu, and having it consistently executed to high standards by a kitchen staff of complete strangers with varying degrees of training is a monumental task. I freely admit I was more than a little dubious when I first heard about Chefs Club. I’m writing this piece now, nearly six months after its opening, because I wanted to follow-up with staff and guest chefs, and find out how things are going.

Chosen to inaugurate the restaurant and menu were former Best New Chefs: George Mendes (2011) of Aldea, located in Manhattan; James Lewis (2011) of Birmingham’s Bettola; Alex Seidel (2010) of Fruition, in Denver; and Sue Zemanick (2008) of Gautreau’s, in New Orleans.

I was able to wrangle an invite to the grand opening reception at Chefs Club last June, as well as dine there the following night. It’s rare that I attend restaurant openings, because they’re usually a bit of a clusterf–k, as the kitchen hasn’t had time to work out the kinks or refine the menu. In this instance, however, I was curious to see how such a challenging concept would be carried out, especially given immense pressure for things to run smoothly.

%Gallery-165852%chefs clubSome of the culinary industry’s biggest players attended the grand opening and/or the Classic, including the Food & Wine editors and publisher, and some of the nation’s most prestigious chefs, among them Jacques Pepin, José Andrés and Thomas Keller.

If you’ve never been to a restaurant opening, just know it’s an ulcer-inducing event for any chef, no matter how experienced. The decor, service and every single dish is scrutinized by both diners and press, and in the weeks that follow, it’s critical that any flaws be ironed out. Yes, it’s just food, but it’s also the livelihood of dozens of people, from dishwashers to investors. Chefs/restaurateurs face a lot of pressure with the opening of a new place.

The biggest challenge, as I saw it, was finding chefs willing to relinquish control (or their egos), because unlike a normal restaurant, Chefs Club means entrusting an unfamiliar staff to carry out their vision. That means it’s up to the Chefs Club powers that be to find participating chefs who fully understand the concept of collaboration, and are capable of letting go to a certain degree.

Fortunately, St. Regis Aspen/Chefs Club Executive Chef Thomas Riordan is equally adept at ensuring his kitchen does right by guest chefs. Says General Manager Paul Duce, “I think this is a revolutionary concept, and it’s amazing to see it all come together so beautifully. [Riordan] has a very difficult job, and our team works so well together.”

Based on my experience, which included dining at Chefs Club on its third night of operation, the team kicks ass. In fact, I was astounded by how smooth the service was (the wait staff and sommelier were also genuinely friendly and enthusiastic; no pretense whatsoever). I sat in one of the seats located right in front of the open kitchen, and was amazed by how calm everyone seemed to be, guest chefs included. In fact, there was a lot of camaraderie and joking around.

As for my dinner, it wasn’t flawless (no meal is), but it was very, very good. I enpastajoyed a luscious Duck Confit Crostini from Chef Zemanick; Charred Mediterranean Octopus with cannellini beans, local lovage and pancetta by Chef Lewis; Colorado Lamb Saddle with Fruition Farms (Seidel’s sheep dairy) ricotta gnocchi, baby artichokes, and pine nut gremolata (Chef Seidel), and for dessert, an outrageous Malt Chocolate Semi-freddo with peanut butter fudge, toasted marshmallow, and graham cracker crumbs (Chef Zemanick). The sommelier graciously paired wines for all of my courses.

I left not only full, but very satiated, and convinced that Chefs Club might be onto something. Couldn’t this concept provide a feasible way for talented young chefs to avoid the pitfall of opening their own restaurants before they’re ready (emotionally or financially)? A way for older, more settled chefs to eliminate the stress, long hours, and administrative b.s. involved with owning a restaurant, but still allow them to do the thing they’re passionate about, which is cooking? An opportunity for experienced, savvy restaurateurs to keep their places relevant and exciting, long after the opening rush has passed? What about hosting guest chefs from around the world, as a sort of educational exchange for professional cooks and armchair travel experience for diners?

A month later, I asked Chef Seidel his thoughts when first approached by Chefs Club. “It’s a great concept, if challenging,” he said. “Being the first group of chefs meant there were a lot of unknowns, and participating chefs need to understand the level of commitment needed for this.”

If being a part of Chefs Club means time away from his own kitchen, farm and family, and entrusting that his staff will run Fruition as if it were their own, Seidel feels the benefits outweigh the potential risks.

“The opportunity to cook for so many different people, and work with great chefs from across the country is amazing. At my restaurant, we don’t cook with any attitude or ego, and this shouldn’t be any different. The four of us got a chance to hang out, learn from one another, and work together, and I gained three new friends out of the experience.”
chefs club
Other things to know about Chefs Club
The editors of Food & Wine have a hand in putting together custom wine and cocktail lists to coincide with the menus, while Jim Meehan, one of the nation’s top mixologists (PDT, New York), creates an original selection of seasonal cocktails (I’ll vouch for their excellence).

Don’t have any preconceptions about the menu, and be open to a diverse, but harmonious, melding of cuisines (there’s a three-course tasting menu with wine pairings for $85).

If you want to dine when a specific guest chef is in the house, check Chefs Club’s website and Facebook page for special events.

The elegant, white-walled dining room – done up in a mod ski chalet aesthetic, replete with giant snowflake cut-outs on the ceiling – features a long, low bar and row of seats in front of the open kitchen. If you enjoy watching the inner workings of a restaurant, reserve a seat here. There’s also a 24-seat patio, and 99 seats inside, including a communal table.

Make a reservation, regardless.

Enjoy yourself. This isn’t a pretentious, hushed temple of gastronomy. It offers a convivial atmosphere, and the concept and vibe are all about having fun, and a spirit of adventure. Cheers to that.

The bar is open to the public, not just diners. Says Duce, “A lot of the time, people will poke their heads in and say they’re just looking, and I’ll invite them in to check out our kitchen, or pour them a bit of Prosecco. We’re here to serve the community, and everyone should feel free to come have a drink at our bar.”

For information and tickets to the 31st annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, June 14-16, 2013, click here.

[Photo credit: Maroon Bells, Flickr user mland329]

Apple Granted Patent For Airport Check-In System

Apple's Travel Patent could change the way we travelThe U.S. Patent Office granted Apple a nifty new patent yesterday that could potentially have an impact on the way that many of us travel. The rather vague filing describes a number of unique ways that an Apple designed device could potentially interact with a check-in system used by airlines or other modes of transportation.

The patent, which was originally filed in 2008, outlines the use of Near Field Communication (NFC) protocols to interact with check-in systems using an app that was originally called “iTravel.” That app would be able to transmit data from an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch that could potentially confirm the identity of the person using it, finalize flight reservations and possibly even allow access through security checkpoints.

NFC technology has been around for some time but is just now starting to gain some acceptance in consumer products. The technology uses radio signals to allow two devices to share data with one another simply by touching or being within close proximity. Some experts believe that NFC could potentially replace the credit cards we carry in our wallets by allowing us to use our smartphones to pay for the things we want to buy. Others see it expanding further and being used for everything from subway passes and toll booths to sharing contacts and photos with friends and coworkers.

There has been heavy speculation that the next iPhone, due out in the fall, will include NFC capabilities. That speculation was fueled even further when Apple recently introduced a new app called Passbook that enables users to electronically organize and store everything from airline boarding passes and consumer loyalty cards to movie tickets and gift certificates. The iTravel app mentioned in the patent filing resembles an early version of Passbook, which is also scheduled to be released in the fall.

There is no doubt that smartphones have made our lives simpler in a lot of ways. But the inclusion of NFC technology and the kind of functionality that it can bring has the potential to be just as revolutionary. It remains to be seen if this patent will actually become a reality, but if Apple doesn’t do something similar, I’m sure someone else will.