iPad Pencil, audiobooks, laptop chargers

Bob's Tech Talk

Q. Is the Apple Pencil useful?

A. For me, it fits into the “nice-to-have” category. I have avoided writing about Apple Pencil before now because it was something of a curiosity. It only worked with pricey iPad models, and it seemed like a product whose customers already knew why they wanted one.

Today all four iPad model lines support Apple Pencil, including the least expensive model. Moreover, a recent system update added a new app called Freeform on every Apple device. Taken together, these changes make the Apple Pencil worth a deeper look.

Unfortunately, selecting the right iPad and Pencil is not a consumer-friendly process. There are two models of Apple Pencil alongside the four different iPad model lines. Figuring out what works with what can be confusing.

Usefulness is hard to generalize. There are several tasks where it feels indispensable. Handwriting text, obviously, and drawing. But it is also especially handy for retouching photographs and working with the new Freeform app.

Handling text is a bit of a mixed bag. Selecting and moving text blocks around seems easier to me with touch. But as a markup tool for PDFs, it can be very handy.

One aspect of the Apple Pencil is undeniable. Using it feels futuristic. It makes using an iPad feel more personal than a traditional computer or laptop.

Q. Is there a way to listen to audiobooks on a smartphone?

A. Yes. I have three suggestions for you to explore.

The first is the most expensive and easiest to use. Audible (audible.com) has a giant catalog of audio books. The books can be purchased in a Web browser, and they will be placed in a digital library. Install the Audible app on your smartphone and download any of the books in your library. They are yours to keep.

The second option is free, but it is only available to library card holders. If your local library subscribes to a service called OverDrive (overdrive.com), you can use an app called Libby to borrow audiobooks.

Libraries are wonderful places, and I encourage you to visit in person if you can, and ask someone for help getting started.

The third option is a service I recently discovered called Chirp (chirpbooks.com). Chirp offers a catalog of books at discount prices. Like Audible, you purchase the books in a Web browser, then download the titles onto your smartphone. Chirp’s store is easier to navigate than Audible, making them an excellent option for beginners.

Q. Are laptop power adapters interchangeable?

A. Sometimes. The power adapter included with your laptop (or phone) is always the best option for maximum safety and performance. However, I swap chargers all the time.

My laptop charger is plugged in behind a desk, making it difficult to reach.

I could buy another identical charger for travel, but that can be expensive. Third-party chargers from Anker are less expensive and feature more options.

To make this work, there are two elements to consider: power (wattage) and cable connectors.

Connector compatibility is easy so let’s start there. The cable and device ports either match or they don’t. Every power adapter has a wattage rating. And every device has a wattage requirement. Properly engineered devices are designed so that if the power levels do not match, either they do not work at all, or charging takes longer. That is all there is to it.

My laptop can consume 140 watts. But I usually travel with a 3-port Anker Nano 2 charger that delivers 65 watts.

The Nano 2 is much easier to carry, but it takes longer to fully recharge my laptop. That is a tradeoff I’m happy to make.

Swapping chargers has limits. Do not expect a 5 watt phone charger to recharge a laptop.

Nevertheless, you may find that a lower wattage power adapter is a convenient choice.

Wander the Web

Here are my picks for worthwhile browsing this month:

World-Wide Radio Tuner

Do not be put off by the unusual address: Thousands of free radio stations around the world are only a click away.


Everything About Computing

The Crash Course Computer Science video series is accessible to a general audience. Watch it from the beginning or sample a title that interests you.


Look! Up in the Sky

A live map of the world and all the airplanes in the sky. Drag the map to see any region. There are also apps available for Android and Apple.


Bob has been writing about technology for over three decades. He can be contacted at techtalk@bobdel.com.

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