This week a milestone was achieved. The blog “Have a Cup of T(ech)” reached the one year mark. That’s no small feat when you’re a one man shop, in a part-time capacity. I’ve had a great year checking out different technology for casual consumers. Over the year we’ve looked at Apple and Android smartphones and tablets. We went on the road to Walt Disney World, exploring the cool apps that make navigating the massive parks not only easy but fun! Reviews of “apps of note” from everything from pocket games like Scibblenauts to Smart News Readers like the Yahoo News Digest.
We reviewed our first “smart home” device with the Echo Smartspeaker, and played around with Virtual Reality with Gear VR. We’ve done our best to offer a wide variety of reviews, including the new Kindle Voyage and Beats Studio headphones. Mid-year we had some fun with a review of the “Funny or Die News” application, and more recently we reviewed the HBO Now service (coming soon to Android devices). One particular post had me trashing
the Winbook tablet computer, which garnered the most hits in the year (and I don’t take anything back).
This past year has seen 44 blog posts, which have been viewed over 5000 times in over 150 countries! I’m so glad that this little operation has been able to reach out so far! And we have no intention of stopping. The first year focused primarily on the blog itself and our twitter handle (@twolumpsoftech). A Flipboard magazine was introduced mid-year, offering another way to keep track of the
consumer tech that is making news. But a few new things are planned for the coming year.
Two Lumps of Tech now has an Instagram account. The focus of that site is to show off new technology IN ACTION. I’m not sure what direction that will take, but I’m excited about the chance to show how the tech works, in addition to continuing to write reviews. A new category is coming as well. “Where It Stands” will be revisits to products that have been reviewed previously. Too often reviews on the internet are published right when a new product comes out. Sometimes products that look great initially turn into duds, while at the same time, other products that have a rough launch, find new life in software updates. I want to return to products after initial reviews to share how the tech is holding up, and whether it’s still worth consumer’s consideration. Look for a “Where It Stands” review of the Amazon Fire TV in the coming weeks!
Finally we’ll be adding guest writers in the coming year. I hope to add some new perspectives and get writers with different areas of interest to give an even broader set of reviews (I can’t keep track of everything that’s going on in tech!). The focus will remain locked on casual consumers though, so don’t worry about this blog becoming another site written for technology geeks. This blog is for everyone. Because technology has the capacity to enhance your life. I believed that when this journey started a year ago, and that thought remains the same. So stay tuned for more First Impressions, Reviews (cup half full/cup half empty), Apps of Note, Tech News, and the occasional HaikuReview.
Thank you to those who have been following the site this past year. I sincerely hope you have found things that were interesting, informative, and even maybe a little humorous at times. A special thanks to friends and family for providing editing and feedback over the course of the year.
On to year number two!!
Cheers — BC Gordon – Two Lumps of Tech
A Note about Heating Issues:
I published a blog last week reviewing the Gear VR for Galaxy S6. I have since returned the device. Bummer! Right?!? Here’s the reason that my time with the Gear VR was so short. It simply heats up the smartphone too quickly. The device has a safety feature that stops allowing VR use when the phone is too hot. I noticed it right away but I thought I’d solved the issue by running a fan directly in the face of the person wearing the headset. But then one weekend nothing seemed to help with the rapid heat issue. I was getting five minutes of use and then heat warnings. I was cooling the phone down with ice packs and trying again, and BOOM, the phone was 100 degrees in five minutes. And that simply cuts the “fun factor” down to zero for me. I see great potential. I don’t take anything back that I’ve written thus far about how amazing this technology is. But part of what is amazing is tied to its weakness. Oculus Rift uses a full computer to power it and manage the software. The Gear VR is trying to do all of that same work with a small smartphone operating system (without an internal fan!). So the tech has some work to do before it’s consumer ready. I’m confident they’ll solve that puzzle, it’s just not there yet. So save your cash for now.
I’ve been dreaming about virtual reality for years. So long, in fact, that I totally forgot about it. I used to dream of strapping on the headset and disappearing into a virtual world of dinosaurs and roller coasters. Unfortunately, early attempts at virtual reality (VR) were always expensive and clunky. Even the king of VR these days, Oculus Rift, is still tethered to a computer in order to use it. The idea of VR anywhere seemed like a dream until this past year when Samsung got into the game.
Samsung released the Gear VR for the Note 4 in December 2014. Samsung built the hardware and Oculus providing the software support. It was seen as a novelty, mainly because the Galaxy Note series has never been one of Samsung’s mass market devices. It’s a top seller, for sure, but it’s nothing when compared to the Galaxy S line of smartphones. The Gear VR did something entirely new though. It took away the tether. The hardware of the googles used the smartphone as the screen and the operating system. VR was officially “anywhere” you wanted to use it!
Then in April Samsung made another strange move. They released another Gear VR. This one was tailored for the popular Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. Along with supporting the new smartphone, the updated Gear VR resolved several issues that early adopters complained about. The focus dial has a wider range, the head straps are easier to adjust and wear for extended periods, and the overall device is lighter. Shortly after the product’s release the next major step forward occurred when the Gear VR launched a Storefront, partnering with Oculus itself. Much like when the iPhone finally got an App Store, the Gear VR is now prime for developers to actually make money with the device! So it is only the beginning. I’ve had the Gear VR for just over a week. I’ve strapped it on every head I’ve encountered over that period, and I’ve been through every feature myself. These are my first impressions.
First off the headset of the Gear VR is solid. It finds that nice balance between being light but not feeling cheap. When I put it on someones head I set the straps at their widest and then assist tightening the two straps on the side and the one over the head. It’s all velcro, and super simple. Assistance isn’t really needed, but I’m providing a service here! : )
The Gear VR has a physical “back button”, which is mainly used when you want out of a game and need a “panic button” of sorts. There are also physical volume buttons on the front of the device. The Gear VR doesn’t provide it’s own sound output, it’s just your phone. But you can plug in headphones and control the volume with those physical buttons, which is pretty sweet. The rest of the navigation is done via a trackpad. Think of a tiny laptop mousepad. Swipe up/down and left/right to move through your options. Give the trackpad a tap to select. This feature is placed on the right hand side of the Gear VR and is very easy to use.
The last physical feature of the Gear VR is a focus scroll, located at the center of the headset. My understanding is they have improved the range of focus to allow people who normally use glasses to be able to use the Gear VR without them! I have tested this with several people, including myself, and the visually challenged are no longer out of the game!
Overall, the hardware is very good. The range of vision is certainly somewhat limited being you are, in fact, looking at a 5.1 inch smartphone screen. The dreaded “screen door effect” is present. This basically means you feel like you are looking through something into another world, but this feels more like a feature when you do diving games (the Gear VR is your scuba mask!) At $200 the hardware justifies the price. But what exactly does the Gear VR actually do? Here we go.
It Offers Experiences
The purpose of any virtual reality device is to offer a window into a new world. An opportunity to stand in a city on the other side of the planet. To swim with dolphins and sharks. Heck, to stare face to face into the eyes of a dinosaur! The Gear VR offers all of these experiences, and more. Through Oculus 360 photos, you can stand in London, Paris, or a wide variety of locations around the globe. It pretty spectacular to stand in the middle of Tower Bridge in London, as it literally “towers” over your head!
The device offers diving options, dinosaurs, 360 videos where you fly over New York City and Venice. One of the coolest features I’ve encountered is “Battle for Avengers Tower” which is a 3D experience placing the viewer smack dab in the middle of a massive Avengers fight! It’s pretty surreal to see Thor’s hammer spinning directly in front of your face.
The last “experience” I’ll mention is definitely something worth checking out. It’s the Oculus Cinema. The cinema is just that, a movie theater where you can watch any MP4 video file you have stored on your phone. Theater options include a small home theater (with 100 inch screen), a massive movie theater with a few hundred empty chairs around you, the “Ant Theater” which displays your videos on a discarded iPhone lying on it’s side under a mushroom, and finally “Moon Theater” where you are watching on a screen mounted on the moon. It’s a pretty cool way to watch videos, and definitely an experience not to miss with the Gear VR.
It Offers Games
I have not taken a deep dive into gaming, but the few games I have played have been very fun. The first game I played was called “Rocket Toss”. This is a ring toss game, but your goal is to put your ring around a rocket, which will blast off and explode above your head when you succeed. The game is played in 3D, which is very cool. You simply aim with your head and toss by flicking the touchpad on the right side of the headset. It is very addictive!
Another fun game that you can do without a physical controller quite easily is “Temple Run”. The game dynamics are exactly the same as the popular smartphone application, but now you are IN THE WORLD. You can look over your shoulder and see the monster bearing down on you. This was the first game that really did a number on my balance. You are racing up and down hills, using the trackpad mechanics to turn left and right, and to jump or duck. It’s a great way to experience the wonder of VR gaming. But when you add a Bluetooth controller, things get even more interesting.
I got my Bluetooth controller for about $20 online. I started with “Temple Run” and the gameplay was much easier now that I had physical button to jump/duck, and a thumbpad to turn. I lasted much longer in the game with the controller. I also purchased a racing game called “VR Kart”. This is very “MarioKart” but not nearly as fast. Still it’s in 3D, so you can literally look down at your hands in the VR and see your fingers gripping the steering wheel! That’s pretty cool. Finally I played a game that is heavily promoted in the store, called “HeroBound”. Think “Legend of Zelda” or “Fable”. Instead of first person view though, you are hovering over the game, controlling the hero through battles and world exploration. I didn’t play it much, but what I saw was very impressive. And it will only get better with enhanced graphics. So gaming was a good experience on the Gear VR, but the greatest thing about this device is that the target audience is vast.
It Offers Something For Everyone
There are several nature videos and experiences from swimming with dolphins (though they are CGI versus real animals) and being in a shark cage while a Great White stalks you (again, CGI). There are many applications that offer a wide variety of things that will interest lots of people. There is a helicopter ride, but the chopper is doing barrel rolls. I don’t ever want to do that for real myself, but it was a great thing to experience from the Virtual passenger seat. Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary show had a 360 camera set up during the taping of “Celebrity Jeopardy”. So you can be a “fly on the wall” watching the full video show, but now you can look around the studio and see the audience (there are movie stars in there if you look close enough). That’s definitely a cool experience. I’ve yet to a find a person who didn’t find the technology fun to check out. Not everyone wants to rush out and buy one, but it’s hard to deny that the experience of virtual reality is pretty amazing.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
The Gear VR is an amazing step forward for Virtual Reality. It’s making this fledgling technology mobile, and it simply has to do that to really catch on with average consumers. So many people are ditching desktops and even laptop computers in favor of tablets, that an emerging technology can’t be tied to an older hardware system. And the Gear VR is proving that such technology can be “unplugged”. There’s still some work to do (I’m noticing some issues with the phone heating up quickly), but this device is sold as a “innovator version” which means it’s meant for developers and early adopter tech geeks like me.
If you know someone with one of these, try and get some time with it. Check out the different experiences, and wonder at how a tiny little smartphone is running such complicated software. It’s a wonder. And within a year or so, it’ll finally be ready for everyone. Who knows what the future might bring!!
Recently I was handed an Apple Watch to test out. Coincidentally I was heading out of town for a family gathering near Fargo, North Dakota. So I strapped on the watch, synced my iPhone 6, added a bunch of apps, and hit the road. I am currently camped out at one of the rare Dunn Brothers Coffeeshops in Fargo, running through everything the watch can do (or claims that it can at least).
I love wrist tech (my Pebble Time is coming soon!!) but I am skeptical about the Apple Watch. I think it wants to do more than it should. But now my skepticism will be put to the test. Look for a more detailed CONSUMER FOCUSED review later in the week, once I’ve used the watch for a few more days. So far I like it. Not enough to buy one for myself, but enough to be optimistic. Still, I like to be right about my thoughts on tech ; ). So the gloves are coming off!
Stay tuned for more.
UPDATE: August 2016. This app is no longer being offered. But read on and remember a cool concept, and hope for something similar to return to the news landscape. We can all use a little humor in our daily news!
I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a news junkie. I do my best to stick to tech news and the major headlines, and I try to stay away from the comment sections. I think it’s good to be informed, but in a world where endless news articles are just a click away, some balance is required to not find yourself immersed by the torrent. Enter, smart news applications.
Smart News apps are designed to give you a quick burst of news. Not too much, but not too little. I’ve already reviewed one of my favorites, Yahoo News Digest, in a previous “App of Note”. Today I want to introduce you to another. And I’ll get this out of the way first, it is currently iOS only. So if you don’t have an iPhone or iPad, you are out of luck for the moment. But do read on, for this sweet little news app will certainly come to Android in the future, and if you’ve got a good sense of humor, and a tolerance for minor vulgarity, this news app will keep you informed while it’s making you laugh, and it’s called “Funny or Die News Flash”.
What Makes a Good Smart news App?
1. Scheduled Delivery– Smartnews should come at specific times during the day, versus constantly being updated. That way you can read all the content, and you know you’re done until the next delivery. Just like the good ole newspaper!
2. Short Informative Articles – Smartnews should be a quick read. I’m talking about the walk from the car to the office, or an elevator ride. You should barely need to scroll down through the article, because your goal is to know the top stories and that’s it. There are plenty of apps offering a more lengthy take on the news of the day (see #3)
3. Links, Links, and more Links – While a smartnews app is designed to be a short read it should offer links to get to longer articles, or even related articles from within the app.
4. Social Element – Smartnews should at the very least offer buttons for Facebook, Twitter, Text, and Email. That way if you read an article you want to share with others, it’s just a click to send it on it’s way.
5. Intelligent Swiping – This one might just be me, but every smartnews app I’ve used makes use of up/down and left/right swiping in intuitive ways. That’s the key to a quick read. Read what is on the screen, swipe left, read the next story, swipe left, and so on. You want to send to Facebook, swipe up, click the icon, and off it goes. If a smartnews app is clunky, it is no longer serving it’s purpose.
So let’s see how the “Funny or Die News Flash” application stacks up to my criteria.
It Offers a Good News Spectrum
The app takes brevity to a whole new level. Each “story” is designed with two sections. The first part is the informative news piece. The second part is the joke related to the first part. It can literally be two sentances. That certainly puts the “flash” in news flash. But while the articles are incredibly short, they are also very diverse. US, International, Business, Entertainment, Sports, Tech. They don’t all show up each day, but I’ve seen them all appear from time to time. I checked the articles showing in the app against some of my other favorite smartnews apps, and I found they all had similar stories, because they all cover the most popular things in the media at the time. So for “short informative articles” Funny or Die News Flash nails it.
It Offers Social Element and Links
Each article includes a “share” button, which allows you to send the story to a wide variety of sources. These include Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Flipboard, and Pocket. Along with standard email and text links. Across from the “share” button is a link to the “Full Story”, which includes the name of the source (i.e. Baltimore Sun, Telegraph). Clicking this link takes you into Safari and you are able to read the entire story, which is great. So “Funny or Die News Flash” is solid with “link, links, and more links” and the “social element”.
It Offers a Slick Interface
One reason I love the Yahoo News Digest is how the swiping works. There you just swipe left/right to go through the articles, and up/down to read the articles. The “Funny or Die News Flash” just takes out the up/down element. Each articles is a single page, and you swipe left/right through them. You might be think, “what’s so slick about that?”. Well the really cool part is the video element. This is the first app I’ve seen that basically has a GIF running for every story, relevant to the article it covers. That means you actually have a short video (muted), playing while you read the story. It looks great. It loads fast! So “intelligent swiping” is a solid yes.
Where it Hits, and Where it Misses
The other thing “Funny or Die News Flash” has that no other smartnews app I’ve seen has is the humor. I’ve found myself laughing out loud at some of the jokes they tie to current headlines. It’s like having a comedian reading the news, which is really the only way the news should be read in my opinion. I get to be informed and entertained at the same time. So that is a big HIT for this application.
The only element I find frustrating is related to “scheduled delivery”. The app seems to only refresh at certain times during the day, but there’s no control over that (like there is in other smartnews apps, like Yahoo News Digest). And I have found that they tend to add new articles to the front of the “news feed” while leaving some articles on the back end that I’ve already read. Those jokes were certainly funny the first time I read them, but they lose their kick the next go around. And I really want to swipe to the very end, because that’s when the Funny or Die News Flash delivers, what I think is it’s best joke (to the right).
The Whole Cup Summed Up
Smartnews apps are a great way to get fast news on mobile devices. They keep you informed while not taking up too much of your time. It’s the perfect tool for someone constantly on the go. Who has time to watch CNN, MSNBC, or the rest of the 24 hour news cycle anyway? With “Funny or Die News Flash” your in, you laugh, your out, and more clued in to what is going on in the news for the day.
If you have an iPhone and a good sense of humor, pick up the Funny or Die News Flash right now! It’s free and it’s hilarious. Well worth the few minutes it takes to get through the content. And if the news stories of the day aren’t so rosey, don’t they say that laughter is the best medicine?
When I was a kid every few years we got cable for Christmas. It was usually a six month stint, but it was a dream come true for me. I got the Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon (for NIck at Night primarily), and a hundred other channels to surf. But we never got the premium package, which included that great mystery that was HBO. The cost was too high, and I was too young for a majority of the content anyway.
As an adult I’ve never had cable. I like to say that my cable consists of Netflix and Hulu Plus. Between those two I can watch the majority of the shows I want to with Netflix providing lots of past seasons, and Hulu Plus providing current programming. But I’ve added a third service to my “cable” and that is HBO Now. In March HBO announced that they would begin selling monthly subscriptions that could be accessed via Apple TV and devices running iOS (read iPhone, iPad, and newer iPod Touch). After a period of exclusivity, the service will certainly come to Android platforms as well, and smart televisions as well. I signed up on the first day (as of 4/28/15 the first month is still free!), and I haven’t looked back since. So let’s take a quick look at what HBO Now offers.
It has tons of content
I started by taking in all the offerings. I was a total newbie having never had HBO before. I’ve seen some shows through DVD (i.e. Sopranos, Game of Thrones), but the vast array of options was a total surprise. The service breaks it up into categories including: series, movies, comedy, sports, documentaries, collections, and late night. You can add most of the content to your “watchlist” and I immediately started adding movies I wanted to watch, which included many current films like “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Edge of Tomorrow”, and “A Million Ways to Die in the West”. I found several shows that I’d heard a lot about, like “Veep”, “The Comeback” and “Silicon Valley”. There were documentaries that looked interesting, like “The (Dead Mothers) Club” which explores the lives of famous personalities who lost their mothers at young ages. I even found a documentary on David McCullough, one of my favorite biographers. Bottom line, there is tons of stuff that looked interesting, and well worth the $15 monthly charge. And all of that content comes to HBO Now the same day as it broadcasts on HBO itself, so no worrying about Game of Thrones spoilers!
Parental Note: the service offers “parental controls” so you can limit what content kids can access with a passcode. I found plenty of content my kid would enjoy watching, but HBO is well known for plenty of Rated R type stuff (ahem…Game of Thrones). So it’s nice that there is a built in “firewall” of sorts.
If you have an Apple TV, that’s the best way to watch HBO Now. During Apple’s exclusive period you are stuck with either that or watching on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. I’ve watched a bit on an iPad MIni, and it works fine for that size screen. Though Game of Thrones isn’t quite as epic on an eight inch screen. The Apple TV interface is very similar to the other video streamers on the device, like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Crackle. Easy navigation, great summaries of shows. The majority of the movies offer the preview right on the selection screen, which is a great feature (missing from Netflix).
For Your Consideration: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
When John Oliver took over the Daily Show with John Stewart in the Summer of 2014 it was awesome. I kind of liked him more than Stewart. When he left the show shortly after Stewart’s return I was bummed out. The fact that he then started a weekly news show on HBO was a twist of the knife. So when I realized I’d finally get to watch his program “Last Week Tonight” with my HBO Now subscription I was thrilled. And the show lived up to the hopes I had in it. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. While it feels a bit like The Daily Show (leans pretty heavy to the left politically), it also feels like an irreverent 60 minutes. Oliver spends most of the program digging into specific issues, using good old fashion investigative journalism. Sure he swears like a sailor throughout, but he makes amazing points, and really makes you think (even if you don’t agree with him all the time). It’s a great show, and well worth the cost of the subscription. For me, everything after John Oliver’s program is just icing on the cake.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
The dreams of my ten year old self have been fulfilled! Every time we start up a show and the static sound followed by the HBO icon appears I get a little excited. The grip of the cable companies on the premium content offered by HBO is starting to loosen. Or rather HBO is breaking free of their grasp.
For the time being you will need an Apple product to access HBO Now and an Apple TV to get the service off of your mobile device and onto the big screen. So if you don’t have those options, be patient for the service will certainly come to devices like Roku, Chromecast, and maybe even the Amazon Fire TV (they already have a deal to show older content after all). That’s not to mention an app for Android smartphones and Tablets. It should be mentioned that you can watch HBO Now on a web browser if that’s your only option, but that is certainly not optimal.
If you get in soon you can try the service out for 30 days at no cost, so what do you have to lose! And $15 is a pretty decent deal, since renting just 3-4 movies (which I found on HBO Now) would cost at least that much. So grab this link and give it a go.
I’ve had the Echo Smartspeaker (containing the digital assistant named Alexa) since December 2014, and it’s been a fun ride as Amazon keeps pushing out new updates. In January the device received an update to push any music app running on your phone to the speaker via Bluetooth. That was the clincher for me, and now the Echo Speaker is used almost constantly when I’m home. But Amazon wasn’t done yet. Today the company announced a new update, which is the ability to pair Smart Home Technology. This let’s you control those devices with your voice. So what exactly does that mean? For now, it’s all about the light bulbs.
I’ve been anxious to get some WIFI enabled light bulbs. But they are pricey. A basic setup will require you to drop $100 on the low end, and several hundred isn’t out of the question. So my light bulbs remain “dumb” for now. A smart light bulb kit comes with a WIFI Link, which you plug into the wall and a couple light bulbs (you can always add more). Before Echo got involved, you controlled those bulbs with your smartphone, which is still pretty cool! But now you can pair those bulbs with the Echo Smartspeaker and simply tell the lights to turn on. Now, you gotta admit, that’s pretty awesome! I have a couple lamps that, based on their location, are a pain to turn on, and my dream of just telling them to turn on and off is close to becoming reality.
But the potential goes way beyond just light bulbs. The Echo Smartspeaker, since the very beginning, has been a signpost in tech showing us where smart technology in the home can take us. With smart device connections, one day you could tell the coffee maker to start in the morning, the doors to lock before going to bed, and the dishwasher to start in the middle of the night. Even Crock Pots are getting connected! There are so many possibilities, and the Echo Smartspeaker is just the first step in that direction.
Of course all first generation devices have their glitches and the speaker remains pricey at $200 (by invite only). Prime members still get a discount though at $150 (again, by invite only). If you want an invite click HERE.
I’ve had a lot of gadgets, but the best ones have always been those that integrate easily into my daily life, enhancing it and making things easier. Now I can ask for a news update any time of the day, I can ask for the current traffic report before hitting the road, and I can tell it to play any song in my music library and it does it, consistently well. And hopefully soon I’ll be turning the lights on and off with my voice! It’s exciting to see what this thing will do next!
Same as the one from last year,
But still beautiful.
Stainless steel is slick,
Probably ought to buy a case
Or get insurance.
Last year’s five-inch screen
Same look, same feel, same smartphone?
Almost, but not quite.
With last year’s model
Was not a big hit.
So now it is gone.
Now twenty MegaPixel,
For amazing shots.
Camera on front
Uses those Ultra-Pixels
For those selfies (sigh).
Is much more intuitive,
When you are at work
The phone will respond to it.
Stop Candy Crush Now!
When you are at home
Candy Crush away!
Phone is still too big.
Wasted space due to logo
Makes one-hand use tough.
A decent upgrade,
Although Samsung got more press
It’s worth Checking Out.
This was originally posted on Sept 10, 2014, just after the Apple Watch was first announced. Now that we have a release date (April 24th), I plan to write a follow up in the coming week, discussing the pros and cons of Apple’s entrance into wrist-tech, including highlighting its features. But for now, check out my original first impressions of what a “computer on your wrist” could mean. And stay tuned for “part 2” in the coming days.
We have a rule in our house, “no tech at the table”. It’s a rule we follow most of the time, and it’s there for a very specific reason. Over the years that we’ve had smartphones and tablets in our house, we’ve noticed a distinct drop in how much we interact with each other. Instead of conversations about our days, we end up staring at our smartphone screens all evening long. So at least for a brief moment, there is “no tech at the table”. But what about when the “tech” is strapped on to your wrist?
Like all tech geeks, I spent two hours yesterday (Sept 9th) listening to the keynote address from Apple, where they unveiled new iPhones and the Apple Watch. And while the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are decent evolutions of the smartphone model for iPhone (bigger, brighter, faster), the Apple Watch is trying to be the definition of the newest category in tech: smartwatches. And based on my experiences with technology in my own house, I have to wonder what the impact of this new category will be.
Technology is saturating our society. From smart appliances, smart door locks, smart light bulbs, and smart thermostats and smoke detectors; technology is increasingly something you cannot get away from. The older generations that resisted the personal computer could do so because there were alternatives. In the coming years, you probably won’t be able to buy a microwave oven without a smartphone app to run it, and so sitting out on the next wave of tech advancements won’t be an option for anyone. But as our lives are infiltrated by technological advancements, the balance must not be lost with how we interact on a personal level.
I believe that the best technology is the kind that doesn’t take your attention away from what you are doing. That could be as simple as a media streamer that you are fighting with to watch a new episode on Hulu. Suddenly the joy of streaming internet television is lost, to a battle with failed technology. Smartphones have been the culprit of many failed personal connections ever since they came to dominate our society. I know many people who have “no tech” days during the week, and that’s a great idea. I’m far from alone in the realization that our personal technology is causing us to become impersonal, causing us to lose our connections to friends and family. And I worry that the amazing features of the new Apple Watch will not help in the struggle to keep those connections.
I thought a bit about how in films the future is full of technology that permeates all aspects of society. And then I thought about how in many visions of the future everyone is dressed the same way, usually in jumpsuits. And it dawned on me, the clothes they wear don’t matter any more. Because they no longer actually see each other. I see a future where we are all walking around staring at our phones, or now staring at our wrists. A world where we forget the voices of our friends, and only know them by emoticon and instant message. We can call that a more modern way to be connected, but is it better?
So when Apple releases their new Watch April 24, 2015, consider how much of your life that device might consume. Is the technology enhancing your life? Are your personal connections to friends and family made better because of this device? I would argue devices can do such things (the Pebble Time is a good example of a minimalist wristband, at a fraction of the cost of the Apple Watch), but we must be wary. And if you do buy the Apple Watch, make sure you don’t spend too much money on the most expensive model and band itself. Because if you’re looking for your new smartwatch to be a status symbol you might be disappointed, since chances are no one will be looking at you anyway.
If you aren’t a tech geek like me you probably had no idea that an annual conference is held ever year in Barcelona, Spain. And at this conference many tech companies roll out their new gadgets. Well that event is called the Mobile World Congress (MWC), and it started March 1st. Two major smartphone companies announced devices on the first day: Sasmung and HTC. Today we’ll look at the new Samsung phones, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Edge. We’ll focus on the S6 model, as the Edge is pretty much the same phone with the addition of having a screen that wraps around, you guessed it, the edge!
Samsung has long been known for putting out high-end phones in cheap looking cases. The tendancy to focus on plastic has been the chief argument by their competitors that they are not good phones. The Galaxy S5 last year found itself in those cross-hairs like never before because while the software was pumped up with new features (fingerprint ID, heart rate monitor, improved camera), the hardware itself still felt cheap; pic below – S6 (left) S5 (right). The tech industry knew that Samsung had to change that approach with the Galaxy S6 and they did exactly that. One review I read called the S6 the “love child of the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 6” and that’s pretty accurate. The phone is now entirely metal and glass. The metal edges look almost identical to the iPhone 6, and the glass back harkens back to the iPhone 4 and 4S. Though Samsung is using much stronger glass, so the scratching issues that plagued those iPhones should be avoided. This phone looks great! It looks like the high-end phone that this line has always been. Does it still look a lot like the previous models? Yep. The dimensions are even the same as the S5. The camera is the same (with improved optics). The three buttons at the bottom (including those two that disappear when not in use) are still there. But it’s an improvement, no doubt. It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary, but after 4 models that looked virtually the same (little bigger each time), I think evolutionary is good enough for this year. Let’s briefly breakdown what the new features are and what features are gone for good.
Last year to use this feature you had to swipe your finger/thumb across the home button (making it useless, based on my experience with it). Now it works just like the iPhone button. Rest your finger on the button and you are unlocked. The fingerprint will also pair for payments using Samsung Pay.
Improved Screen and Speaker
The screen is brighter and the speaker is louder. Since the phone size didn’t change, those updates should be pretty noticable.
While the 16MP back camera is the same, they’ve added “optical image stabilization” which means your pics will look better, as it helps handle shaky shots (the iPhone 6 Plus uses this tech as well). The forward facing camera is now 5MP, which means those selfies will be crystal clear! You also can access the camera much quicker, with a double tap of the home button (they say less than a second).
Battery Charging – This one is a mixed bag for hardcore Samsung users. The battery is no longer replaceable (like most high-end phones these days), but they’ve added tech to the device that makes charging lightening fast (10 minutes of charge gets you 4 hours of battery!). They’ve also made it possible for wireless charging with any of the many charging mats on the market.
While this means extra batteries are a thing of the past, you do get a slimmer phone in the process. And rapid charge is a huge move forward, making all those extra batteries rather redundant.
No more expandable memory for the Galaxy S Line. Samsung has adjusted the memory tiers from 16/32/64 to 32/64/128 (those would be Gigabytes). Most people would have to try and use 32 GB unless they are loading lots of videos or never cleaning out their camera roll. This is just another example of the movement towards cloud storage.
The S5 was one of the few high-end smartphones that was waterproof (meaning you could drop it in the toilet). That no longer is the case. So either get a LifeProof case for the phone, or be more careful when you’re at the beach this summer (not to mention those pesky toilets!)
The Edge – it’s trying really hard to be super cool
The other phone Samsung introduced this week is the Galaxy Edge. Last year the Note Edge was released, which featured a third screen along the edge of the right side of the phablet. Now the edge is on both sides, but it doesn’t act like a third screen. It just stretches the screen over the side. There is still a “clock mode” so you can see the time on the phone’s edge when it’s laid flat. The Edge definitely looks cool. Its guts are no different from the Galaxy S6 though, so we’ll have to see how pricing works out, and if the “cool factor” is worth the cost.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
I like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Edge. Samsung has always made decent phones that came in cheap packages. It’s great that the argument about the hardware can be put to rest (of course the lawsuits from Apple might start a whole new argument). Now you have some clear choices regarding SOFTWARE. Do you like Android or Apple? Do you like the interface that Samsung puts on top of the Android system (it’s called TouchWiz)? Do you like the grid design of Apple’s iOS 8? It’s really all about preference. All of these phones are premium hardware. Metal and Glass. They have similar cameras (though Apple remains the king for the moment at least there). They do the same things. They play the same games. Support the same apps. So head to the store when these phones come out and get them in your hands, and see what you think. I tend to jump between Apple and Android every six months (thank you T-Mobile Jump program). I love the iPhone 6. I think it’s the perfect phone, in terms of size, and functionality. But the S6 has me tempted. If it’s not too expensive the Galaxy Edge has me tempted too. But I have till May to sort it out. If you want either Samsung smartphone, your first chance will be April 10th.
Who knew that Samsung and Apple were cousins all along!?!