Unclutterer’s 2016 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Buying a laptop for school

2016 gift giving guideWhen I was a high school and college student, computers only existed in the school’s library or in the computer lab. Today, they’re as ubiquitous as group projects and starchy cafeteria meals. Elementary school students will be introduced to computers, and by the time they’re in junior high, kids will receive, complete and turn in homework assignments digitally. As such, a laptop makes a great gift for many students. In this article, I’ll go over how to approach this shopping task. The first thing to determine is what type of computer they’re going to need. The best source for an answer is the school itself.

Ask the school

My first bit of advice applies to buying any school supplies: check with the school. The IT department at your student’s school — junior high, high school or university — has probably published minimum requirement guidelines. For example, something like these recommendations from my alma mater. They’ll include the preferred operating system, hardware requirements, security concerns and so on.

You’ll notice that the guidelines I linked above are for architecture students. Those studying different disciplines will have their own requirements. Again, checking with the IT department is the best way to start. For example, my kids’ school uses Google Classroom extensively, and therefore suggests that students use Chromebooks.

The specifics

The school’s guidelines are a good starting point, but there is always a little leeway. If the school is suggesting a Chromebook but you would prefer to buy a Windows machine or a Mac, you may be able to do so.

Consider how your student will use his or her machine. For instance, should you buy a bigger/heavier or smaller/lighter machine? Will it be carried from class to class or sit in a cart between assignments? Perhaps it will stay home and not travel to school at all.

Next, look at internal storage. A solid state drive (SSD) will perform much better than a traditional, mechanical hard drive because it is fast with super snappy search and retrieval. But if the student will mostly do word processing, a less expensive hard drive is just fine.

Lastly, look at peripherals that you’ll need. A sturdy, ergonomic mouse is a good idea, as is a good laptop stand. A simple bag is useful as well, especially if the computer will be traveling to and from class.

What to buy

With all that said, here are my picks — one of each operating system.

Chromebook

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The Dell Chromebook 13 is a fantastic little computer. At $430, it feels like a laptop that cost hundreds more. It’s got a fantastic keyboard, a solid, quality trackpad and enough “oomph” to get kids through their assignments with ease. The eleven-hour battery life is a bonus, as is the 16 GB solid state drive and 4 GB of RAM. This is the Chromebook I would buy if I were in the market.

PC

11282016_dellwindowslaptop

If you prefer a Windows operating system, consider the DELL XPS 13.3″ Ultrabook. It offers a great-looking display and has small, portable body. It’s perfect for any coursework assignment. The aluminum body will take minor bumps and scrapes (let’s face it, kids aren’t always kind to their things).

Mac

11282016_macbookair

For most students, a MacBook Air will serve their needs. I recommend an Apple-certified refurbished model like this one. The Air is ultra portable, features startup times that are incredibly fast and has access to Apple’s ecosystem of apps and services. Plus, Apple laptops retain their resale value very well.

A laptop makes a very nice gift indeed, and hopefully this guide helps you choose the very right one. Happy shopping.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Unclutterer’s 2016 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Convenient tech

2016 gift giving guideTechnology offers the promise of convenience and ease. These awesome tech gift ideas deliver on that promise. From taking notes to the ultimate bedside charging cable, we’ve collected the best tech gifts that add convenience to your day – or night. Let’s get started with those who work in both the digital and analog world.

The Wacom Bamboo Folio Smartpad is a clever and useful device that marries hand-written and digital note taking. On the right, it’s pen and paper. Take notes, write text, plan world domination. When the planning is complete, simply hit a button and the information is transferred to your iPad, iPhone or Android device where you can share, enhance or continue your work digitally. The final product can be shared as JPG, PNG, PDF or WILL file formats. As for the Cloud, you can export directly to Dropbox, Evernote, and OneNote.wacom smartpad

The Tile Slim is a treasure for the wanna-be organizer who is prone to misplacing certain items (I’m raising my hand here). Once attached to smartphone, keys or whatever else you’re likely to lose, simply pair it with the mobile app and you’re a tap away from finding that pesky wallet. It’s not flashy but it is very useful.

The Amazon Echo Dot is a tiny device that takes online shopping to a very convenient and handy place. When connected to external speakers, the Dot listens for your voice to issue commands. It can play music, make purchases, control smart home devices and so much more. What’s even better is how easily it can be tucked away. Since it doesn’t need to “see” a remote of any kind, you can put it neatly on a shelf, behind a house plant or a stack of books. At $50, it’s affordable convenience that geeks and non-geeks will enjoy.

night cableThe Night Cable. I use my smartphone as an alarm clock, which means it spends the night charging up on my night stand. Unfortunately, the wall socket is kind of far away, so I needed a charging cable longer than what’s in the box. The Night Cable is a full 10 feet long, made of very durable material and, best of all, features a weighted knot just a few inches from the end. That way, I never have to silently shake my fist as it falls – once again – behind the table.

All of these gifts will please the convenience-loving techie on your list. Here’s hoping you find something great, and enjoy your holiday.

Feel welcome to explore our previous Gift Giving Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Organize your Google Drive

1610_google_drive_logoFor online document editing and collaboration, Google Drive is still king. Last month, Bradley Chambers said the following while writing for The Sweet Setup:

“When it comes to needing an easy way to share a document with someone, Google is still the standard choice for me and most people I work with. The fact that they were always a web-first platform has given them a head start in the interface and syncing technology.”

That’s exactly why I continue to use it: free, web-based (which means nearly ubiquitous access to your files), easy and accessible.

But just like any tool, your Google Drive can become disorganized.

Here, I’ll describe some best practices you can adopt to organize the files you’ve got stored in Google Drive. Let’s begin with something simple: sorting.

Get sorted

Once you’ve got a lot of files on your Drive, it can be tricky to find the one you’re looking for. Fortunately, you can quickly sort the list. First, click the button on the top right to toggle between List View and Grid View. Both sort folders from files, and list view lets your further sort by title or creation date.

Powerful search tools

Google is synonymous with “search” (how many times have you heard someone say, “Google it”?), and as such you’d expect robust search options in its products, like Drive. A simple click reveals that they are in place.

To begin, simply click the search field to perform a search by type: PDF, text, spreadsheet, presentations, photos & images and videos. That’s helpful, but it’s just the start. Click “More search tools” (or the disclosure triangle at the right of the search field) to access a slew of useful features. From there, you can search by:

  1. File type
  2. Date
  3. Title
  4. Words found in the body of the document
  5. The owner (if you’re sharing files with a collaborator)
  6. Who it’s shared with
  7. What folder it’s in
  8. Any “follow up” actions — again, if you’re collaborating

All of this makes it very easy to find the file you need.

Select many files at once

Occasionally you’ll want to move, share or otherwise interact with several files at once. You could click them one at a time, or hold down Shift as you click to select in bulk. This tiny tip can be a huge time-saver.

Look to the stars

You can add a star to any file or folder in Google Drive by right-clicking on it and then selecting the star from the resulting contextual menu. All starred items are immediately accessible from the star menu in the left toolbar. Just don’t go too crazy with this feature, or you’ll have a list of starred items that just as unwieldy as the “un-starred” masses!

Quick preview

You can quickly preview a document without opening it to save a lot of time. Simply click once to select it, and then hit the “eye” icon that appears in the toolbar above to get a peek at what that document contains.

Add-ons

Finally, consider the huge library of add-ons that are constantly being released and refined for Google Drive users. These easily-installed tidbits address all aspects of using the service, with the focus on making it more efficient. PC World recently published a nice round-up of great Google Drive add-ons, including Consistency Checker, which scans your docs for incorrect hyphens and other such errors, as well as Data Everywhere, which makes it easy to share across platforms (Google, Excel, etc.).

I hope this was helpful. As I said, Google Drive is a fantastic collaboration tool. With a little effort, you can make it an efficient, organized experience as well.

Tech for winter storm preparedness

As September gives way to October, we enter the heart of hurricane season. We’ve written about organizing your storm supplies before, and today I’ll focus on tech to help you weather a storm. If you haven’t organized your preparedness kit yet, there’s still time.

Stay informed

When a storm hits, it’s important to receive information from authorities. The American Cross ZoneGuard Weather Radio is great for this. It finds and delivers alerts for your area, flashes color-coded warnings and tunes into AM, FM and NOAA digital radio stations. It runs off of AC power or AA batteries.

A good hand-crank radio is also great to have, like this one from Esky. Just 60 seconds of cranking 20 minutes of use. There’s a solar charing option as well, but stormy days aren’t usually very sunny.

Your smartphone

If you own a smartphone, you’ve got a tiny computer that can be tremendously useful in an emergency. When your home’s power goes out, Wi-Fi goes with it. So grab your phone and rely on cell connectivity.

There are several great apps available, including The Red Cross, which offers apps specific to certain disasters, text alerts and first aid information. Of course, none of that matters when your phone’s battery dies. Keep it going with an Eton Boost Turbine. As you may have guessed, it’s a hand-crank charger for your phone and other USB devices. Just plug it in and get cranking.

Of course, don’t forget a good old corded phone. When cell/internet service goes down, or when your your power goes out, a corded landline phone will let you call out.

Shine some light

Finally, I have to identify my favorite flashlight of all time, the Coast HP1 Focusing 190 Lumen LED Flashlight. LED flashlights are brighter than those with traditional bulbs, and the HP1 shines a powerful beam indeed. It takes rechargeable batteries, is water resistant, impact resistant, compact and feels great.

There’s a lot more you should do to prepare for a storm. Today we’ve pointed out a few bits of tech that you can rely on. We hope this was helpful. Be careful out there.

An organized way to bring a new gadget into use

Whenever you receive a new goodie, like a new phone or tablet, it’s an exciting time. But don’t just tear into the box! There’s an organized way to bring a new gadget into your life, and the following is advice for making that transition as smooth as possible.

Carefully open the packaging

This might sound ridiculously obvious to you or it might seem just ridiculous. “Dave, it’s the box. Who cares?” There are several reasons to care, and the first is the gadget’s future resale value. I upgrade my iPhone every two years. I always sell my current model to help pay for the new one. Having the pristine original box helps with shipping and final asking price. Also, if you aggressively tear into a box, you could affect the contents. You don’t want to scratch a screen or case before you even turn on the device. Finally, think of returns. There’s always the possibility that your new doo-dad won’t work as advertised. A UPC code, the security tags, and intact contents are essential when trying to make a return.

Take your time, keep things neat and store that box in a safe place if you might return or resell the item.

Read the manual

If you’re not going to read it, at least skim the manual. Some gadgets come with a “quick start” guide. I always review those. Yes, you probably know how this works, but maybe not. Read/skim the manual and then store it in a safe place for future reference. I also recommend making a digital copy after some time has passed and if you’re not planning to return or resell the item.

Register the item

This is the step that nearly everyone skips. I always spend a few minutes registering my products, especially pricey electronics. It will make service easier should you need it someday. Additionally, if there’s an update or other notification that owners need, like a recall, you’re more likely to receive that information if your product has been registered.

Buy an extra power cord

If your device charges up with a cable, buy an extra one. I keep one in my laptop bag at all times. You might bring an extra to work or simply keep it around for when the first one gets frayed or otherwise stops working. You might want to somehow identify it as your own. My kids love to steal iPhone cables, so I make sure we all know which is mine.

Scan the receipt

Finally, scan the receipt and store it digitally in a place you can easily retrieve it if necessary.

Dig into the product

Now that all this preparation work has been handled, take the product out of the box and use it. Transfer data from your previous gadget and set up preferences.

The internet of things and home organization

Last week, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the world wide web (launched August 23, 1991). The phenomenal convenience — and distraction — we know today has evolved tremendously since then, from massive computers to the gadgets in our pockets. So what’s next? Engineers and computer scientists think it’s the “internet of things.”

What is the internet of things, or “IoT”? For our purposes, a working definition is:

“Every day objects with internet connectivity that are able to send and receive data.”

In other words, objects in your home that can grab information from the internet. It’s a compelling idea that has already spawned several interesting devices. But, will it help or hinder home organization? I looked at a few of the more popular IoT products to find an answer.

The Amazon Echo

Amazon’s voice-controlled, internet-connected speaker is part music box, part storefront, and a Siri-like personal assistant. Once plugged in and set up, the Amazon Echo cylinder knows when you’re talking to it and can provide, among other things, streaming music, weather, news, and the opportunity to buy from Amazon.com. How does it fare as an organizational device?

The benefit is the growing collection of services that are available in one place. You’ll get the news stories and streaming music that I mentioned before, but the Echo can also check your Google calendar, read audio books from Audible, even order you a pizza from Dominos. Mostly, it’s about efficiency and convenience. If you like using Amazon.com and want to talk to a device instead of type, it could save you time and be of assistance. If not, the phone in your pocket most likely already does similar things.

Key Finder Tags

Bluetooth-powered key finder tags like the Tile, the Chipolo and the Duet are cute, unobtrusive little doodads (not a technical term) that you connect to items you’re likely to misplace: keys, purses, backpacks, etc. Once paired with our smartphone via the accompanying app, it helps you find where your times have gone.

These get a ringing endorsement from me for their time-saving capabilities. I include “misplacing things I need” among my hobbies. It’s an annoying hobby, but also all too real. Key finder tags greatly reduce the time I spend stomping around the house in frustration.

Smart Lights

There are many Wi-Fi ready, “smart” lighting systems to choose from, each with varying degrees of functioning. The Switchmate, for example, is a tiny piece of hardware that fits over your existing light switch. Installation is as simple as taking the Switchmate out of the box and placing it over a switch. Install the app and it’s ready to use. From there, you can turn lights on and off with the tap of an app.

Meanwhile, the Philips Hue adds more functionality. These smart bulbs can be controlled by a mobile app to turn on and off when you like, notice when you’re home, and so on. They’ll also change the very hue of the light they put out and let you save the various combinations of reds, blues, etc. to meet your mood.

Perhaps I’m a crotchety old man, but my first impulse is, “Can’t I just hit a switch?” In part this seems like a solution looking for a problem. But I see how it could be handy to have your house illuminate as you approach, or turn lights on and off while you’re out, to make would-be intruders think there’s someone at home. In short, I think smart lighting systems are a fun convenience, but not a massive help. At this point, they seem like one more thing to break or go wrong, especially if your home WiFi is out.

Are digital Everything Buckets a good filing system?

Services like Evernote and Pocket make a compelling case in favor of the Everything Bucket: capturing information is easy (simply save information and don’t spend time filing it into a topic-related folder) and finding what you need when you need it is easy with a powerful search engine (search with keywords instead of drilling through folders).

Meanwhile, the idea of all your stuff in a pile, be it digital or physical, makes some people itch. Everything is together! In one place! There is no order!

The choice to use an Everything Bucket versus filing data into subfolders is a personal one and there are advantages and disadvantages to the Bucket system when considering it. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses can help you make a decision for what filing system is right for YOU.

As mentioned above, adding new items to an Everything Bucket is a breeze. Evernote’s web clipper, for example, lets you quickly stash any page you like. You can even grab a specific snippet from a website, if a paragraph is all you need. Meanwhile, desktop shortcuts make it just as easy to add items as you work.

Tagging helps you find items later. Simply attaching a tag like “recipe” or “receipts” to an item, you can make it easy to find information later when you do your search. Speaking of search, that really is the marquee feature of programs like Evernote and Pocket. Simply open the “bucket app” of your choice, enter a word or phrase into its search bar and up pops what you need.

You also can go paperless and have access to your stuff virtually wherever you are, even on a mobile device. It sounds like a good deal, right? But there are downsides.

First up in the strikes against the Everything Bucket: they discourage the use of a structured file system. In exchange for ease and speed, you let the computer make sense of your collection. It will do just that, as computers are more effective with organized data. The program will build an index to make sense of that pile, which takes time and effort. If you’re a Mac owner and you have a slow machine pretty much immediately after updating the operating system, it’s likely because Spotlight is making a new index of your disorganized data.

In the case of an Everything Bucket, you’re inviting an application into your daily workflow that could possibly go out of business in the next couple years. If it does, hopefully you’ll be given notice so you can export your data or, at the very least, operate the existing app but not be able to add more information to it.

There is a middle ground, should these Everything Bucket concepts only partially make your skin crawl.

One thing you can do is use what I think of as dedicated or specialty buckets:

  • Evernote is for reference material I will one-day want but have no immediate need for. (I call this “cold storage.”)
  • Recipes I want to try are handled by Paprika.
  • Web links for things I want to go back and read are saved to Pocket.

Instead of filing into subfolders, it’s as if I’m filing into apps. Within those apps, however, there are no subfolders, only an Everything Bucket.

Organize digital lists with Google Keep

Google Keep is the company’s note-taking app and to-do manager that works on nearly every device you throw at it: computer, iPhone, Andriod phone, or tablet. It gets the job done and is quite pleasant to use. If you’re looking for a digital list manager or to-do app, Keep is one to consider.

Keep didn’t get the recognition it deserved upon launch and that’s because of the inevitable, yet unfair comparison, to Evernote and Microsoft’s OneNote. I say unfair because it’s not meant to be the all-encompassing tool that other apps clearly are. Instead, Keep is a synching notepad for Google Drive that lets you quickly record notes, photos, voice memos, lists, and the like to Google Drive, all of which are then accessible via the devices I mentioned earlier. And that’s just the start.

Notes are color-coded and entirely searchable. That means you can search the entire body of a note, not just its title. Speaking of search, that works on notes you’ve deleted, too. That’s because, much like Gmail, notes aren’t deleted but archived out of sight. If you need information you thought you were done with, you can still find it.

Keep is also fast. My yardstick for speed for this type of app is in comparison to pen and paper. While not quite that good, Keep is speedy enough that it will “disappear” as you use it. That is to say, you’re not paying attention to/thinking about the app, you’re just writing down what you need to record.

You can set reminders, create labels, and re-arrange notes, so that similar ones — errands, home, shopping, etc. — are right next to each other.

After more than a week of playing around with Google Keep, I’ve moved it to my iPhone’s home screen (a coveted position). For its speed, simplicity, and cross-device sync, Keep is a keeper.

Ways to take advantage of digital photography advancements and still stay organized

Digital photography is changing the hobby of photography in interesting ways. The most obvious change is the ease with which we can fire off 300 photos in a matter of minutes. As a result, we’ve got bulging digital photo libraries that have tech companies struggling to organize for us. Additionally, The Next Web reminded me of the emerging changes that we’re still working to understand. The following are explanations of some of the changes taking place and possible solutions to issues those changes might create.

Photos as short-term memory

When I park my car in a huge public lot, I always take a shot of my parking space (“5F” for example) to help me remember where I parked. I do the same when driving a rental car, so I don’t forget which car in the lot is mine. And before driving out of the rental lot, I capture all the angles of the car to have proof of pre-existing scratches or issues that existed before I rented the car.

More recently, I took a photo of a poster advertising a walking tour that looked like fun. As with the shot in the garage, the intention wasn’t to capture a moment, it was to capture information.

Photos as file sharing

Earlier this week, I received a phone call from my wife who was at work. “Can you go into my bag and find [Paper X]? I need you to send me a photo of it.” In this situation, she needed the information on a paper she left at home, and a photo of said paper — while not ideal — was the easiest way to get her the information she needed.

Photos as shopping list

I take images of specific shopping items a lot. If I need to buy a special lightbulb or odd battery for something at home, a quick picture of that product saves me from having to lug it with me to the store.

Often times I’m out shopping with my wife when she expresses interest in something that I think will make a great gift. I’ll covertly take a photo of it to remind myself when the time comes to give her something. It’s really handy when, months later, I’m trying to remember exactly which scarf she meant.

How to manage these types of photos?

As Boris Veldhuijzen Van Zanten noted in his article on The Next Web, an ideal situation would feature apps that recognize when we’ve taken a throw-away photo or an image that’s meant for short-term memory, and act accordingly. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. Until our phones get smarter about digital photo management, we must be proactive.

First, if you’re backing up your photos to a cloud service like Dropbox, Google, or Apple’s iCloud, save yourself some space and don’t back up these shots. I use an app called Camera+. It allows me to shoot photos that aren’t sent to my phone’s camera roll where they’re automatically synchronized with my remote backup. Temporary photos I take exclusively with this app.

Next, remember to delete those one-offs. This isn’t the best tip, I know, but it will save you storage space as well as those “Why did I take a picture of this?” moments in the future.

Of course, you can turn to dedicated apps to help you manage these photos. Evernote is fantastic for long-term storage and supports photo notes beautifully. Gift Planner (free, iPhone) and Gifty (Android) will let you keep track of presents you’d like to buy. Lastly, Tiny Scanner for iPhone (free) and Smart Receipts (Android) will let you “scan” legible images of receipts and more.

Organizational tips from top tech CEOs

Tim Cook (Apple CEO), Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO), and Jack Dorsey (Twitter founder and CEO) are some of the biggest names in business. It’s likely that their products touch your life every day. With such a tremendous amount of responsibility, how do these titans stay organized and on top of everything they need to do?

Late last year, TIME magazine published a look at how high-profile tech CEOs stay organized. I love articles like this since a peek at such high-level organization and productivity is rare…and often surprisingly simple. The following are my favorite insights from the article.

Jack Dorsey gives each day a theme. Mondays are for management tasks, Tuesdays for focusing on products, and so on. I’ve set aside a day for administration type work, but never thought of giving each weekday a theme and, therefore, a focus.

Meanwhile, Marissa Mayer (president and CEO of Yahoo) looks to the impromptu moments that happen between meetings and scheduled get-togethers to spark meaningful ideas. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” she wrote to her employees in 2013.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg embraces the power of creating goals for himself. In 2010, for example, he set out to learn Mandarin Chinese. Just four years later, he stunned an audience at China’s Tsinghua University by conducting a 30-minute interview entirely in their native language.

Finally, Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction, makes a point to empty her mind and spend time on reflection. “I take 15 minutes every morning for contemplation and to empty my mind. I take a bag full of thoughts I need cleared and each morning I pick one out, read it, and send it down the river near my house.”

I love this one as it seems we spend less and less time in quiet reflection, processing the day’s activities, lessons and challenges. It’s so easy to succumb to the temptation to fill every quiet moment with a smartphone or an app that there’s no time to let your mind work on what needs attention. I’m going to adopt this practice and intentionally make myself stop, reflect, and process each day.

Simple, beautiful to-do management with TeuxDeux

Life fact: You’re more likely to use a tool that you enjoy using. Think about how you probably have a favorite knife in the kitchen, a preferred sweatshirt, or a beloved pair of hiking shoes and how those are your go-to items whenever you want to use that type of thing.

The same goes for all manner of tools, including software. TeuxDeux is a great-looking, effective, simple to-do task manager that might become a favored companion for you. Its developers describe it as “designy,” but we can go with pretty and functional. It works in a browser or a mobile browser, so don’t worry about compatibility. If you’re an iPhone user, there’s an app for you. The following is a quick look at TeuxDeux.

The timeline

The app’s timeline shows you five days at a time. Your view isn’t restricted to Monday – Friday. Instead, you can focus on today and the next four. If you need a broader view, just move forward (or backward) in the timeline with a click. It’s fast and intuitive.

Adding tasks

To add a task, simply click beneath the appropriate day’s header and begin typing. You can reorder items by dragging them up and down on a day’s list, and even move them between days just as easily. To edit a task, just double-click it, enter your change, and hit enter.

The app’s developers wanted to make something that was as “…easy as paper,” and I think they came very, very close. To me, paper is the ultimate in speed and efficiency because I learned all I needed to know about writing on paper in the first grade. At this point, there’s nothing new to learn. As far as the mechanics are concerned, that is.

Similarly, using TeuxDeux requires only skills you mastered a very long time ago, like typing, clicking, and drag-and-drop. When you sign up, you’re good to go.

Advanced stuff

What about advanced stuff like style (bold, italics) and recurring tasks? These things are not a problem. To make an event recur ever day, simply type “every day” at the end of the task. The same goes for every week, every month, and every year. Easy.

The staging area

The top half of TeuxDeux’s main window is pretty much a calendar of to-do items. Beneath that is what’s called the “staging area,” where you can create as many custom columns as you like, and fill them with whatever you want. For example, “To Read,” “For the Party,” “Errands,” “Dad Jokes,” or whatever you like.

TeuxDeux is pretty, functional, and inexpensive. You can try it free for 30 days, and after that, sign up for a mere $3 per month (or $24 per year).

Quickly measure a room with Roomscan Pro

Last week, I spoke with Jacki Hollywood Brown, former Unclutterer contributor. During that conversation, she brought a great app to my attention called RoomScan Pro by Locometric.

“Being a military family,” Jacki told me, “we move a lot. Presently we’re on our tenth move in 25 years.” With each new move, the military allows them do a “house hunting trip” of about 5-7 days, during which they can choose a new home prior to their actual move.

This preparation requires some careful calculation. The following is how it works. There is a maximum house size limitation that is based on number of family members. The calculation for the maximum house size only includes actual living space such as living room, kitchen, bedrooms, bedroom closets, and bathrooms. It does not include stairways, hallways, storage areas, utility rooms, or laundry rooms. Most of the time, rental agencies and real estate agents provide the square footage of the entire house. They may include room sizes (e.g. bedroom = 12′ x 11′). All this means that Jacki must quickly calculate the actual living space to determine if the house they are looking at meets the maximum limits.

“In the past,” she told me, “we’ve carried a large measuring tape and measured each wall. We also used a laser measurer.” That’s a time-consuming practice. RoomScan Pro makes things easier.

Instead of lugging a tape measure around and making measurements, you simply launch the app, place your phone on each wall in the room and watch as it creates a floor plan, complete with wall measurements. (RoomScan Pro in action.)

You can use it to draw the floor plan of one room in less than a minute. You can add windows and doors to your rooms too. In order to place the windows and doors in the correct places on the walls, you do need to measure the distance from one edge of the window/door to the edge of the wall.

You can add another room beyond any doorway you create in order to do the plan of an entire house. The length of the walls can also be manually edited if you so choose, for example compensate for thick baseboard trim.

Jacki notes that she and her husband were able to measure a 2000 square foot apartment in about an hour. The resulting plan will allow them to figure out what furniture will go where or whether or not it’s even worth it to move certain pieces of furniture from their current home.

I highly recommend this app to realtors, professional organizers, interior designers, and decorators who need a fast and easy way to create a floor plan. There is also an in-app purchase option that allows you to download the floor plan in various formats, including those that can be imported to a CAD program. It’s just not for those who routinely move, but anyone who needs a reliable floor plan quickly and easily. If that’s you, check it out.