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Deciphering Geek Speak: A Guide to the Latest Tech Terms

The sliding glass doors open, and you walk into your local Best Buy store ready to browse for some new electronic toys. As the blue-polo-and-khaki-clad salespeople start approaching you to offer assistance, you realize they’re practically speaking a different language — a language that includes confusing technical phrases not used in everyday conversation.

But you, too, can become fluent in geek speak. In this week’s column, I’ll walk you through some terms that are often used when talking about smartphones, TVs, cameras and laptops. The words range from those that describe a category of device to particular features found in a gadget, but all are helpful to know as you’re shopping around.

Let’s start with cellphones. Go into any electronics store and you’ll find a myriad of touchscreen phones — some with displays so large that they look like they belong on tablets. This latter group is often referred to as phablets — a term born from combining the words phone and tablet (a la Brangelina).

Phablets offer all of the capabilities of smartphones, including the ability to make calls, but they feature screens between five inches and seven inches. (More normal smartphones have screens in the 3.5 to 4.7-inch range.)

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The benefit to the larger display is that it’s easier for reading text, viewing videos and browsing the Web. The downside is that the device is larger in size, making it less pocketable and more difficult to use with one hand. Some examples of phablets include the Samsung Galaxy Note II and LG Intuition.

Another word that’s tossed around when talking about mobile gadgets is processor. The processor acts like the brains of the device. It manages tasks like running the operating system and handling graphics in games and Web pages.

With today’s smartphones and tablets, you’ll most often hear that model X has a dual-core or quad-core processor. The advantage of these multi-core processors is that they can handle numerous tasks at once, thus speeding up overall performance.

But a quad-core processor doesn’t double the power of a dual-core one. Memory, operating system and other factors also play a part in a device’s performance. If all work together and efficiently with the processor, you’ll see increased performance, but the difference in speed will not be that dramatic.

One other term associated with speed, though it has more to do with data speeds, is 4G LTE. LTE, which stands for Long Term Evolution, is fourth-generation (4G) wireless technology that offers up to 10 times the speed of 3G networks. AT&T, Verizon and Sprint all operate 4G LTE networks. Meanwhile, T-Mobile will launch its LTE network later this year.

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Let’s move on to laptops, shall we? Like smartphones, there’s a new subcategory of notebooks called Ultrabooks.

Ultrabooks — the name was coined and trademarked by Intel — were designed to be a compromise between a full-size laptop and tablet (think MacBook Air).

To wear the title, they must meet certain size specifications, use Intel processors and have a minimum battery life of five hours.

Ultrabooks also must awake from sleep mode in less than seven seconds. To help achieve this, many models use solid-state drives (SSDs). Unlike the hard disk drives, which use moving discs to read and write data, SSDs have no moving parts and can retrieve data faster. The downsides are that they don’t offer as much disk space as hard drives, and they’re more expensive.

As such, Ultrabooks really haven’t taken off with consumers, partly due to higher price points that start in the $900-plus range. But prices are beginning to come down ($500 and up), and there is now a greater variety of designs available.

Whether you’re looking for an Ultrabook, laptop or all-in-one PC, you might have noticed that Microsoft released a new version of its operating system. But there are two versions — Windows 8 and Window RT.

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Windows 8 is considered the full version, and can run legacy software that you used on your older Windows machines, in addition to new apps.

Meanwhile, Windows RT can only run new Windows 8 apps, and doesn’t offer access to such features as Windows Media Player or Windows Media Center. Windows RT was designed primarily for use on mobile devices, like tablets.

Over in TV land, two terms are getting a lot of buzz lately. The first is smart TV. This refers to TVs with integrated Internet capabilities.

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Aside from allowing you to stream content from services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, you can also browse the Web from TV, interact with your social networks, access apps and more.

Samsung and LG, in collaboration with Google, are just a couple of the companies that offer smart TVs. But poor user experiences and the availability of the similar features on cheaper set-top boxes, like the Roku, have kept them from taking off.

The second phrase is 4K TVs (also known as Ultra HD). 4K refers to the horizontal resolution of the TV display. At about 4,000 pixels, 4K TVs offer almost four times the display resolution of today’s standard 1080p HD TVs.

Many TV manufacturers will brag that these new sets reduce the gap between pixels, but when viewed from far away, the difference may not be that noticeable. Also, since 4K TVs are still relatively new, they’re crazy expensive (we’re talking in the five-figure range). And there’s a lack of 4K content out there at the moment.

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Last but not least, we come to the camera section. If you’re looking to graduate from a point-and-shoot but don’t want to jump to a large, higher-end digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) device, mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras might be a good compromise.

They allow you to switch lenses and can accommodate larger sensors to provide DSLR-like image quality, while still offering relatively small builds. Unlike DSLRs, these cameras do not have an eyepiece (or a mirror-based optical viewfinder) that you can look through to frame and focus your picture. Instead, most offer a rear display to help you capture the image.

The world of tech is constantly changing, and trying to keep up with the latest trends can be frustrating. But, as with anything, a little education and research can ensure that you’re make the right decision when it’s time to buy.


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