Author Archives: STK

ElevatoR(eview): JBL Charge 3 Speaker

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Tech reviews for the average consumer in under two minutes!

The JBL Charge 3 falls into the category of mid-tier consumer Bluetooth speakers.  There are cheaper options for certain (JBL Clip 2 comes to mind) and there are much more expensive options (I’m looking at you Sonos and the upcoming Apple HomePOD).  JBL makes quality speakers that focus on solid all-around sound without killing your pocketbook.  This speaker is about 8 inches in height, and has great sound even at high Charge 3 backvolumes.  I chose this speaker because it is wide range Bluetooth (100 feet without walls), waterproof (you can dunk this sucker), and it works with the Amazon Echo series of speakers (I pair this one with a Echo DOT).  The sounds quality between this speaker and it’s younger brother the JBL Flip 4 was basically the same, at least to my ear (I’m no audiophile though).  I chose the Charge 3 mainly because of it’s larger battery (20 hours) and it’s ability to charge devices on the go (it has a built in USB to charge your phone/tablet).

The only downside I’ve found with this speaker is pairing.  I was able to pair 2 different phones (as advertised), but not consistently.  Perhaps it was a fluke, but something to consider.  Also pairing to my Amazon Echo DOT has been challenging, as it keeps losing the connection.  As a bluetooth speaker, this thing rules.  As a “smartspeaker” jerry-rigged with a DOT, there’s work to be done to make that experience smooth.

ElevatoR(eview) Verdict:Charge 3 Grass

Design: Cup Half Full

Ease of Use (Bluetooth Speaker): Cup Half Full

Ease of Use (with Echo DOT): Cup Half Empty

Sound Quality: Cup Half Full

Cost: Cup Half Full

Overall: Cup Half Full

Long-form reviews to consider, when you have more time:

CNET Review

Tom’s Guide Reivew

Sound Guys Reivew

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First Impressions – iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

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There are plenty of long form reviews of the newest offering from Apple (see a few links below), so let’s keep this one short and sweet.  Apple released a “new” version of their iPhone in September.  They skipped the major form factor update this year because they plan a huge update next Fall, on the 10th anniversary of the release of the 1st iPhone.  So the phone looks the same, and for the most part is the same.  So for these First Impressions we’ll hit what’s new, and the ultimate question: should you update?

What’s New

iphone-7-plus-camerasCameras – the iPhone 7 gets Optical Image Stabalization, which assists with our shaky hands for pics.  The PLUS model already had it and still does.  The PLUS model gets a second back camera for a physical zoom feature and “portrait” mode, which blurs the background and focuses on the person in the foreground, which is pretty cool.  Standard updates are there too, for things like “aperture” which no one really understands unless they are hobbyists, IMO.

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-1-28-48-pmHome Button – the button doesn’t click anymore!  It’s now “haptic” which means it has a little buzz feel that tricks your brain into thinking it clicks.  The button also has a version of “3D touch” which was introduced on the screen with the 6S models.  Basically a soft touch does one thing and a hard press does another.  Takes some getting used to but it works.  And it’s prepping us all for the removal of the button entirely in the next version.

Headphone Jack: It’s gone.  You’ve heard.  The phone comes with a dongle that works fine with my wired headphones.  I await the sale of another dongle to give me two ports so I can listen and charge at the same time.  The phone is mostly water-proof now as a result, which is a good thing in my books.

New Colors – Two new “blacks” were introduced.  Goodbye to “Space Grey” and Hello to “Jet Black” and “Matte Black”.  I elected for Matte Black, having heard that Jet Black, while very pretty, will scratch like the dickens.  Who told us this you ask??  Apple!!  Not a good sign.

Should you upgrade?

If you have a 6S you should not!  There is absolutely no reason to upgrade if you have last year’s model.  The improved camera and home button are not worth the upgrade.  And by staying put you are perfectly positioned for the big update next year.  If you have an iPhone 6 you’ll want to think long and hard about this one.  If you are doing 2 year cycles, upgrading this year will put you on the outs next Fall.  The tried and true approach of 2 year upgrades to new form factors with iPhone has certainly gone off the rails this year.  So if you like getting the newest looking phone (versus the “S” year updates), then keep that 6 another year.  If you have the battery issues with the iPhone 6 that have been reported, you might find sticking it out 365 more days a challenge.

The Whole Cup Summed Up:

Design: Cup Half Full (unlike many, I think the 6 series is great)

New Features: Half Empty (this is a “S” year masquerading as a major update year)

Upgrade Now?: Half Empty (if you can, stick with what you’ve got one more year)

Overall: Half Empty (I only have this device because I need it for my job.  For my personal device, I’d wait for the big change Fall of 2017)

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Long-form reviews to consider, when you have more time:

The Verge – iPhone 7 Review

Neowin – iPhone 7 Review

Trusted Reviews – iPhone 7 Review

ElevatoR(eview): JBL Clip 2

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JBL Clip 2 ElevatoR(eview)

There are lots of cheap bluetooth speakers on the market, so finding a decent one is challenging.  This speaker is from a reputable device maker (JBL).  The speaker is completely waterproof (I dunked it without issue).  Pairing is simple (you can even “daisy-chain” two speakers together for stereo sound).  The speaker comes with a 3.5mm cable hard-wired into the bottom (and stored by wrapping around the side), so you can pug your phone in directly (saving battery life on your phone).  There is an integrated microphone so you can use it for phone calls as well. Battery life is good (8 hours of playback).  The clip is incredibly handy.  And the price is affordable without being “cheap” ($50-$60).

I looked at several other models, and the audio quality certainly didn’t stand up to it’s more expensive cousins, but it was good enough for using in the garage or the shower.  This is a nice choice for your consideration.

ElevatoR(eview) Verdict:jbl-underwater

Design: Cup Half Full

Ease of Use: Cup Half Full

Sound Quality: Cup Half Empty

Cost: Cup Half Full

Overall: Cup Half Full

Long-form reviews to consider, when you have more time:

Tom’s Guide Review

CNET Review

Android Police Review

ElevatoR(eviews): Coming Soon

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“What is an ElevatoR(eview)?”, you must be asking.  As we move into the middle of the third year of this blog, I’m trying to find new ways to write simple, concise reviews.  I think my primary model of “First Impressions, Full Reviews, and Where it Stands Reviews” is good for giving a bunch of info in a quick manner, but I wanted something even quicker for the casual consumer.  I wanted something you could read in an Elevator Ride.  So we’ll give this a shot, and see how it goes.  The odd “HaikuReview” might appear from time to time, but those are more poetry than informative, I feel.  Hopefully this new model will strike a good balance between informative and speedy.

New reviews coming soon…

First Impressions: Amazon Tap – UPDATED!

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It’s official.  I now own the entire Amazon Echo family.  It started almost two years ago with the beta version (by invite only) of the Echo Speaker.  Last Spring I added the micro version, Echo Dot, to the mix.  And finally I caved and bought the Wireless Bluetooth version, Amazon Tap.  This purchase was much debated.  It even resulted in buying a different Bluetooth speaker, which I don’t regret getting, but that purchase did highlight what was missing, and why the Tap was “needed”.  I’ve had the Amazon Tap for five days, and these are my First Impressions…

It’s Alexa with a Tap

amazon-tap-standI’ve been a fan of the Echo Speaker for years.  Check out my early reviews HERE and HERE.  The Amazon Tap has all the same functionality of the more expensive Echo, just without the “always listening” element.  For some, that might even be seen as a good thing.  To access the Alexa element of the Tap you just “tap” the button on the side, and the mics activate.  Ask for a song, the weather, the news, a timer, an Uber, or the Capital of Turkey.  Everything the Echo can do, so can the Tap.  As this is a portable speaker (read wireless), the always listening element would most certainly kill what is actually very good battery life (9 hours of playback).

It’s a Speaker on the Move

This is the first of the Echo Speaker family that is cordless.  So now whichever room of amazon-tap-sleevesyour house that needs some music can have it.  Basement?  Garage?  You’re covered.  In my first week with the device, I’ve found it my constant companion as I move around the house.  I look forward to taking it out on the road as well, as it’s much smaller form factor makes it ideal for tossing in my bag.  And I dropped some extra coin for the “sleeve” which lets me clip it to my bag as well, along with a little cushion for a tumble (though I don’t place much stock in that element).  When you’re done moving for the day, you simply place the device on it’s cradle, in any alignment, and you get your charge back.  Super easy experience!

It’s Got New Features for the Echo Line

amazon-tap-specsThere are now more buttons on the top of the device.  This is a big deal for me.  Your have “play/pause”, track advance in both directions, and volume in both directions.  These options are missing from the other two Echo speakers.  They both have a “turn the top part for volume” element, but the physical buttons for tracks and play/pause are great.  Sometimes I don’t have want shout “Alexa NEXT!!!”  And having a button to push is handy.  For those who don’t want an “always listening” device, this is definitely the speaker for you, as it only listens when you push that “tap” button.  The TAP also features a “line in” to plug the device into speakers or receivers to make your old tech smart (to be fair, the Echo Dot also has this feature).

 

 

It’s (of course) Missing a Few Things

The same feature could be seen by others as a missing element.  Without constant listening, you will have to move to the device to get it to listen.  Hands free is pretty awesome, and that button is sometimes a pain.  The sound quality is not on par with the big Echo speaker, but it still blasts pretty decently.  Though I wouldn’t choose this as my primary home speaker.  While it has that line in, it only works for attaching to speakers, it is not a headphone jack, which could come in handy when you want to keep the tunes to yourself, and save your smartphone battery.

The Whole Cup Summed Up

amazon-tap-final-bannerThe Tap is definitely a speaker worth considering.  If you dig the idea of voice activated speakers, the Echo line is one of the few choices out there.  Since the Echo Dot seems to have been a short lived (buy with Echo only) device, you are left with two choices, that offer very different experiences.  The large Echo offers better sound and always listening voice activation.  And that comes with a high price tag ($179 vs 139) and a power cord (which for many isn’t a big deal if this is their “stereo”, like it is in our house).  Then there’s the Amazon Tap.  You get everything in terms of functionality of the larger Echo but skip the cord and the always listening.  And a lower price tag.  You sacrifice some sound quality, but for a portable speaker it’s still a good bet for most.

UPDATE 9/15/16: My reference to the “short-lived” Echo Dot has proven false.  This week Amazon released a 2.0 model of the Echo Dot.  It’s shorter, it comes in white, and has some nice enhancements.  And it’s $50.  Definitely worth considering if the $100+ price tag is to high. Check it out HERE.

The market for “smart speakers” is sure to get more interesting as Google and Apple are rumored to be getting into the game soon.  But in the meantime, the Echo line of speakers are great and worth considering for your home music (or on the go music) needs.  Happy Listening!

 

Podcasts of Note: 7 to get you started

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I have many friends who absolutely LOVE podcasts.  They always have recommendations, and are always curious why I haven’t gotten on the “podcast train”.  I listen to NPR most of the time anyway.  Why not have curated shows around my interests?  I have one friend, a game enthusiast, who listens to many podcasts dedicated to his niche obsession.  I’m sure there are plenty of podcasts for someone like me.  But I always hesitated because like Twitter and Snapchat, to dive in seemed daunting.  Where do you start?  How do you know which ones are good?  How do you keep things organized?  It was easier to blast the FM dial and keep it simple.

But then my cousin started a podcast, and on Facebook asked people to check it out.  When I did I found that I enjoyed the format (especially his short 6 minute motivational podcast) and suddenly I dove in.  But I didn’t dive in so far as to get out of control.  True, I now follow roughly 20 podcasts, but I could have stopped at a smaller subset and been perfectly happy with it.  So now I have some answers to my questions.  The biggest being “Where do you start?”  Followed by “How to Keep Things Organized?”  Let me recommend 7 podcasts.  I will give you a few sentences to sum up each.  Then I’ll recommend a couple apps for organization, should you decide to jump into the crazy world of podcasts.  I don’t regret that I finally did.  And it’s not nearly as daunting as Twitter (at least for me).

7 PODCASTS TO GET YOU STARTED

YMH5ArtFinal1.Your Motivational High 5 – short format for quick motivation.  Phil, my cousin, has a great voice and sound advice.  He pulls in others to share their stories, and 5 minutes at a time, he’s helping his listeners re-organize their thought processes around healthy approaches to living a full, rich life.Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.39.48 PM

2.  Stuff You Should Know – Two hilarious guys share their love of learning.  From Evel Knievel to How Night Terrors Work, these guys have mad researching skills and are a blast to listen to.

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.34.27 PM3.  Serial – Two seasons are in the can for this episodic examination of criminal cases.  First it was a murder case, which resulted in a new trial for the subject, and then the Bowe Bergdahl case, of the soldier who abandoned his post.  Well paced, well researched, well worth your time.Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.35.30 PM

4.  Someone Knows Something – Similar to Serial, this first season
examines a 30 year old cold case in Canada, involving the disappearance of a little boy.  A cool view into the minds of investigators and an insightful look into different perspectives and the challenges of age and memory.

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.37.23 PM5.  Vergecast – For a techie like me, the Vergecast is top of my list.  A bunch of geeks around a mic once a week (roughly) talking about the tech of the day.  Feels like a place I could call home.

6.  Brains On! – For the kiddos.  This podcast produced at the Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.37.00 PMUniversity of Minnesota brings cool science stuff to the inquisitive child’s mind.  “How Do Airplanes Fly?”, and “Why are No Two Snowflakes the Same?”.  I, for one, was fascinated by the “Science of Baking”.  They are short, and full of cool stuff for kids.

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.35.48 PM7.  On Being – For those in search of some contemplation, Krista Tippett offers some amazing interviews with great minds.  Famous Names, and not so famous names are included, but all will make you think deeper about life in general.  Check out the Thich Nhat Hanh one for starters!

BONUS: I would be remiss to not include one last podcast. Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.43.02 PM “Spoilers” is the creation of a co-worker of mine.  Their format is basically a bunch of buddies sitting around talking about a specific movie.  Sometimes it’s current releases (Killing Joke and Swiss Army Man), other times it’s old classics (Alien and Time Bandits!)  At times chaotic, it only reflects the fun of hanging with friends and talking movies.  Check it out.

Finally, here are two “podcast apps” that will not only keep your stuff organized, but will help you find the podcasts I’ve mentioned, and find new ones too.

  1. Podcasts – native application on all iPhones and iPadsScreen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.48.18 PM
  2. Pocket Casts – this is my chosen app.  It costs a few bucks but has a great interface to keep it all organized.

That’s how I started.  I just downloaded some of the most popular podcasts and found topics that interested me.  And I’ve been listening ever since.

Hop on board and enjoy the world of podcasts!!

New Reviews Coming Soon…


There has been a hiatus for the past several months due to illness and an intense travel schedule for me.  As we move into the second half of the Summer I intend to return to the blog again with new reviews.  I have two new types of reviews to share, which the intention of making them shorter (Elevator Reviews) and more diverse (Inter-Reviews), where I gather review data through interviewing other experts in the world of consumer tech.  So stay tuned for more in the coming weeks and months.  Things like HTC Vive, mid-tier Smartphones (i.e. Affordable smartphones), and even more to come.  And FiTech is not dead.  The illness made that go on the back burner.  The plan will return as well in the coming months.

Looking forward to more reviews written for the casual consumer!!

FiTech – Using technology for wellness

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gym picIt might be a little late for New Year’s Resolutions for 2016, but when the “get fit” bug hits you, it’s best to just seize the moment.  I’ve had more “it’s time to get fit” moments than I care to reveal.  I imagine most can relate to it.  You have a bad test result at the doctor, you feel self-conscious at the beach, you just hit that wall where you want to change your health.  You want to lose weight.  You want to have more energy.  You just want to feel better.  So you sign up for a gym membership, buy a treadmill clothestreadmill, and load the grocery cart with fruits and vegetables.  And we all know how that ends.  The membership keeps getting paid, but you haven’t gone in 6 months.  The treadmill becomes a great place to hang laundry, and the fruits and vegetables go back to boxes and cans of processed “food stuff”.  Hopefully with each “get fit” moment a few good habits remain after the membership is cancelled.  But for me that’s the most I’ve ever been able to accomplish.  I’m in another such moment, and I decided to seize this moment as a tech opportunity.

fitbit altasFrom the beginning of “Have a Cup of T(ech)” the mantra has been that tech should enhance your life.  Tech should make things easier.  If it isn’t, then the tech is a fail and should be discarded.  I’ve never turned my geeky eye on fitness tech, aside from my old FitBits.  So I’m starting a new category on the tech blog focused entirely on fitness technology.  I’m calling it “FiTech”.  This category will cover reviews of devices like those popular FitBits (the Alta just released!).  I will also look at fitness apps, health apps, nutrition tools.  Each post will be looking for ways for technology to make getting fit easier.  To make nutrition less of a chore.  To make wellness more attainable.

Project 37 coming soonThe first major initiative will begin this coming week with something I’m calling “Project 37”.  This will be a weekly post on the blog, where I check in on my progress using two specific apps.  One is “Three Minute Mindfulness” and the other is “Seven Minute Workouts”.  I’ve picked these two after pretty extensive searching.  I’ve invested $9 up front for these apps to see if they can go where no app has gone before: prolonged fitness and long-term health improvements.  Perhaps you’ll join me.  Look for a post later this week with all the details.  And watch for more “FiTech” posts as well.  I’m excited to see where this will go!  The idea of technology improving our physical and mental well-being is full of potential!  So let’s begin!

Charitech – One Today (App of Note)

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I love technology and I strive to be charitable, as much as I am able.  As a tech geek I use technology to make philanthropy easier.  These are my tips and tricks.  I call it Charitech.

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Last Summer, when I started focusing a lot of energy on philanthropy, I was quickly overwhelmed by the daunting task of charity.  It’s so easy to see the great needs and want to run in the opposite direction.  Sadly, that seems like a natural reaction.  So my first goal was finding ways to make charity more accessible and less scary.  One of the first apps I found is called “One Today“.

image“One Today” is a Google product.  For some that’s a great thing, for others that might be a reason to run for the hills!  But I would recommend checking it out, regardless of your attitude towards the great search engine giant.  “One Today” is a great way to do charity in small ways.  And it’s as simple as the touch of a button.

When you first download the app, you are asked to select areas of interest that you would like to contribute funds towards.  I chose: Food, Health, Housing, Civil Rights & Liberties, and Poverty.  From there the application provides a variety of charities to choose from for donations.  And all you’re being asked to contribute is one dollar.  Yep, just a buck.  That is something I could manage.

The very first charity I gave to really opened my eyes to poverty.  The imagecharity is called “Rescuing Leftover Cuisine“.  This charity “brings excess food from restaurants, catering companies, and institutions to local agencies, such as homeless shelters”, in 12 different cities in the United States.  The app provides additional information about the charity and the need.  For this charity they point out that while “40 % of food produced is wasted, while 1 in 7 Americans face food insecurity”.  I was shocked that such a charity was needed in the United States.  In a nation of such great wealth, I couldn’t believe it.  But those are the numbers, and it makes sense, when you think on it a bit.

So what does your ONE DOLLAR get?  Again, according to the app, $1 means 42 meals for the hungry.  42 MEALS!!!  That was another shocker, and it was a simple choice to push the blue button in the lower right corner and contribute one dollar.  Maybe I even dug deep and gave $2 that time and BOOM!! 84 meals for the hungry.  It’s so small, and so big at the same time.

imageI love how this app makes small acts of charity accessible.  My daughter and I created an idea back in the Autumn of 2015.  It’s called “Penny for the fountain, Dollar for the Poor“.  Whenever she comes upon a fountain that she wants to toss a penny into, we open “One Today” and find a charity to give one dollar to.  We talk about the charity options, and press that magic button.  Then she tosses her coin in the fountain.  That’s everything I hoped to accomplish with my other blog “Developing Charity” in a nutshell.  Adding a little charity to an action that was going to happen anyway.  My daughter is a big believer in the power of wishing wells! 🙂

So consider downloading this app, and giving it a go.  It won’t take much time, it won’t take much money, but a little can add up to a lot.

Download the app here:  iOS and Android

And check out more information on charities at www.developingcharity.net

#practicecharity

Podcast of Note – “Your Motivational High 5”

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I’m new to the world of podcasts.  I am a music-head and so when I’m cruising around in my car, I listen to my endless music collection (thanks Spotify).  But I have friends who absolutely love podcasts.  They can’t say enough good things about them. So around the holidays I grabbed a recommended podcast app for my iPhone (Pocket Casts), and grabbed a handful of the most popular podcast in the store.

And I’ve never looked back. Whether it’s keeping up with tech news on the “Vergecast” or learning new things on “Stuff You Should Know“, I have found entertainment in a whole new way.  In my “blog post hopper” I have a draft called “Introduction to Podcasts – we’ll get through this together!”.  I plan to post that somewhere down the road.  I’m even kicking around the idea of a podcast for “Two Lumps of Tech”.  But before I do that I want to just highlight a few podcasts that make the dive into this freaky world worth it. I’m  starting this week with a brand new podcast. This baby is only a couple weeks old.  Its fast paced 5 minute approach is a great example of a micro-podcast, and it is my makes first “Podcast of Note”.

Your Motivational High 5

YMH5ArtFinalFirst things first.  I know the guy who just launched this podcast.  He’s a family member though not one I know extremely well.  After just a few episodes, I’m already getting a good picture of him.  And it’s this picture that makes me want to share this podcast with you; not just because of my family connection.  Phil Larson, the creator and host, is trying something out.  He’s exploring different aspects of our lives and our psychology, in an effort to discover more about what gives us motivation.  What holds us back?  What gives us hope? He’s looking at the “narratives” in life that give us inspiration or take it away. Phil is asking himself lots of questions, and his stories are personal and honest.  And by signing on to his podcast,”#YMH5″, he’s asking his listeners to ask these questions of themselves.

The category of “self help” is a crowded space.  Everyone is offering something.  Some of the advice comes from an authentic place, while in many cases self-help gurus are just out for the money.  Maybe they help people along the way, but that’s not their end game.  That is NOT the story of “Your Motivational High 5”.  Phil has a good heart, and he wants good things for himself, his family, and his listeners.  You can hear in his voice that he isn’t in this game for any other reason.

The approach couldn’t be simpler.  Phil has a topic, following a common theme using the word “on” (i.e. “on hope”, “on risk”, “on conflict” etc).  He speaks to this topic for a few short minutes, and then challenges listeners to look at their reflection and speak a sentence affirming things about themselves related to the topic.  Is that a little cheesy?  Sure.  I don’t think that invalidates it though.  If anything, for me, it just shows me more of the man behind the podcast.  If you feel silly speaking to your mirror, or your iphone in “selfie mode” imagine speaking these words to a podcast audience.  Phil has courage to put himself out there.  To share his struggles and his journey.  And I highly recommend you consider joining him, as I have already done.

Everyone can use a little motivation, and this great new podcast will only take 5 minutes of your day.  But you might be surprised by how motivational those 5 minutes can be.

Here’s the info if you want check it out:

Check out the home page with various links HERE

Or get it from iTunes HERE

Follow on TWITTER at #YMH5

Follow on FACEBOOK HERE