Everywhere I go all I see are tablets. The guy behind the lunch counter has one. Crews at concerts use them to setup lights and sound. Kids have them. It has reached the point where I rarely see laptops anymore. Everyone has a tablet!
I find this amazing, because tablets aren't the end-all, be-all when it comes to computing. Writing a paper is easier on a notebook, spreadsheets are easier to manipulate with a really big screen, and a workstation is better for editing video. Nevertheless, analysts say shared PCs are being phased out by smart phones and tablets.
According to IDC, global PC shipments fell 3.2 percent in 2012 to 352 million, compared to 364 million in 2011. Of the top five PC vendors, only #2 Lenovo and #5 ASUS showed increased sales. HP retained its #1 spot, but experienced a 7% decline. #3 Dell dropped 13 percent, and #4 Acer fell 10 percent.
Windows 8's failure to "wow" consumers has been blamed for the demise of the PC, as has hefty price tags for ultrabooks and worldwide economic doldrums. What's really lacking, however, is hardware designed to make the best use of Windows 8's controversial user interface.
The IdeaCentre A720 by Lenovo is one way to accomplish this. To start, it's gorgeous! This challenger to Apple's iMac features a 27-inch full HD screen equipped with 10-point multi-touch and a hinge that provides viewing angles varying from -5 to 90 degrees. Regardless of whether an application works better with an upright, angled, or completely flat screen, the A720 readily obliges.
The all-aluminum A720 is powered by the latest Intel Core i5 and Core i7 series processors and NVIDIA GeForce graphics, ample RAM and up to 1TB HDD and 64 GB SSD storage.
Its frameless 16:9 wide-screen design is complemented by Dolby Home Theatre v4 audio, a 720p HD webcam, slot-load Blu-ray player, HDMI input/output ports, USB 3.0 ports and integrated TV tuner.
Besides making office productivity apps and other PC software a pleasure to use, the A720 also functions as an ultra stylish addition to a modern home entertainment center. Tablets are cool, but Lenovo brings touch computing to a new level -- one where Windows 8 actually starts to make sense.
The Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 retails for $1,599. For more information, visit Lenovo.com.
Cloud services dominate computerized tax prep choices
Today's taxpayers, particularly younger ones, prefer web-based tax preparation to the antiquated practice of installing software purchased from a brick and mortar store or downloaded from an online vendor.
Ideally, tax preparation software should be easy to use. It should also simplify the filing process, ensure maximum deductions, and provide the ability to file taxes electronically.
Cloud-based tax preparation adds the convenience of working from any Internet-connected computer, plus most online purveyors don't charge until you're ready to file a return, so you can actually compare results without spending a nickel.
If you're old-school and purchase desktop software, there are perks. Desktop software, for example, allows you to do tax returns for multiple family members. Web-based filing usually involves paying a preparation fee for each return.
Regardless of which tax prep platform you use, little has changed among the major players since last year.
Turbo Tax is consistently rated #1, but the competition is always nipping at its heels. This year's improvements include easier to navigate help links and simpler to access expert help (free, either as a call and an online chat). Calculations are now guaranteed 100% accurate, meaning that if you are assessed a penalty based on a miscalculation, TurboTax will reimburse you for the penalty and the interest.
H&R Block also offers impressive assistance and guaranteed accurate calculations, plus if you file your return with Block, the company promises to represent you, free, if you're audited. TurboTax only offers free audit support.
TaxACT is less expensive than the aforementioned leaders, but it's not as feature-rich. Complete Tax (now called eSmartTax) and Citizen Tax are other less expensive alternatives.
The service you choose largely depends on which one you've used previously. It's almost like a beer or soft drink preference. Who can say why you choose the one you do, but repeat business is the name of the game.
H&R Block's marketing is especially aggressive this year. The airwaves have been saturated with TV spots whose demographic targeting is shameless. Who knows? It might work, but it's a little too "warm and fuzzy" for my taste. We're talking about the IRS, after all, not eHarmony.
Most providers also offer apps for iOS or Android devices so you can file simple returns directly from your smart phone or tablet, even allowing you to use the camera to shoot a picture of your W-2. Most were introduced last year, but I've yet to meet a taxpayer who's used one to file a return.
If you are in the right income bracket, you can also take advantage of Free File, a free, federal income tax prep and electronic filing program developed through a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance.
Eligible taxpayers can do their federal income tax returns using commercial online software provided by a group of private sector tax software companies. The program, however, is only open to taxpayers with a 2012 Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $57,000 or less.
Each participating company sets its own eligibility requirements, and not all taxpayers will qualify for all companies. For more information, visit FreeFile.IRS.gov.