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    Tech Lab Plus

    Tablet stand a nice device, but not perfect

    XFLEX tablet computer stand

    $99.99 at

    This elegant-looking ­accessory for tablet ­computer fans is just the thing for iPad owners who feel their arms ­getting tired.

    But while it’s a nice ­device, it needs a tweak or two to make it near ­perfect.

    As it is, the XFLEX isn’t half bad.


    You get a big, heavy, but attractively-styled base, with a slot on one side.

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    Into that slot snaps a stout but highly flexible arm with a suction cup on the other end.

    You just press the tablet against the cup, snap a lever to form a vacuum, and hold the tablet in place.

    With the XFLEX, you can easily rest an ­iPad on your desk or kitchen countertop, ­leaving your hands free for other work.

    But the suction cup makes me nervous.


    As the instructions warn, it could lose its grip if you attach it incorrectly, or you’ve left dust and dirt on its surface.

    One little slip, and your $600 tablet could meet an ugly end.

    The XFLEX also lacks an easy way to ­rotate the mounting so you can easily turn the tablet sideways. Instead, you must detach the ­suction cup.

    That’s an invitation to disaster if you’re as clumsy as me.

    I’d prefer an XFLEX that holds the tablet around its edges and used a rotary mounting for easy turning.


    I’d also like one that’s a good deal cheaper.

    Still, it makes an attractive iPad holder for those who trust suction cups more than I do.

    Picfari travel photo app

    Free for iOS devices at the Apple App Store

    With any luck, you’ll visit some new and unfamiliar places on your travels this year. No doubt you’ll take lots of photos. But of what? If it’s somewhere you’ve never been, how will you know the best places to get spectacular shots? Here’s an app to show the way.

    Picfari is a social photography app, where travelers post geotagged images of interesting places.

    A user in Chicago might shoot photographs of its downtown area, the Loop. These photos are presented with precise geographic data, as well as the camera settings for each shot.

    The pictures now serve as a guide for other Picfari users. If you’re going to Chicago, Picfari can guide you to the same area, and show you how to set your own camera for best results. The app comes with a basic photography guide to help you along. And of course, when you shoot pictures of your own, you’re encouraged to post them for the benefit of other Picfari users.

    For now, Picfari’s photographic offerings are limited. No surprise, as it’s a brand-new service.

    But as more people start using the app, it could build up a huge library of high-quality images, while encouraging visitors to shoot something even better.

    Picfari — it’s a play on “picture safari” — is one of the worst names for an app I’ve ever heard.

    But wandering shutterbugs shouldn’t let that scare them away from this smart new app.

    Snippet e-bookstore

    Free for iOS devices at Apple App Store

    Electronic publishing is quickly coming of age, thanks to the efforts of Now here’s an upstart e-book service with a new approach to selling and publishing content.

    Snippet is designed for readers who like their literature in small bites. Authors must create their works in chapters that can be no longer than 1,000 words each. Readers purchase the work piece by piece. Each chapter can be priced between 99 cents and $4.99. Authors can supplement their works with photos, videos, and audio files. It costs a flat $99 to publish a book on Snippet, and the author can keep half of the revenue generated by sales.

    The Snippet app is lovely to look at. But there’s hardly anything to read there — a yoga manual and a couple of self-help books. If it catches on, Snippet promises to be an unusually good e-book system, with low prices and seamless multimedia integration.

    In addition, it offers a simple, inexpensive way to publish essays, short fiction, and other worthy works that don’t require a full-length treatment. There have been lots of efforts to make short-form writing profitable on the Internet. Snippet is one of the most appealing yet.

    Hiawatha Bray can be reached at