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 volumes. 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.
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:
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!
I have reached the end of my two week testing of the Basis Peak Fitness Watch. If you haven’t caught up with my “first impressions” review, click here first for a breakdown of the features of this device.
The Basis Peak has definitely lived up to its category as a fitness watch. It’s much more than a typical fitness band, which generally counts your steps, calories, and maybe flights of stairs. A few fitness bands are starting to show actual clocks and collect or display heart rate data. I fall in the camp that says for a fitness band to be considered a watch it needs to look like a watch. Maybe I’m old-school. But I’ve asked around and that seems to be the general consensus. If it looks like a watch, it’s a watch. And the Basis Peak certainly looks like a watch. But it’s not a smartwatch, not by a long shot.
It is the current expectation in the tech industry that even the most basic smartwatch must do several things, and do them consistently well.
- Show incoming calls and allow answer or decline from the watch (then you grab your phone to actually start talking if you selected “answer”)
- Show incoming emails and texts from multiple text/IM services
- Show Calendar appointments with alerts sent to the wrist
That’s it. Those three things are not optional any longer. The smartwatch that I usually wear is the original Pebble, and it is arguably one of the most basic smartwatches, but it does those three things consistently. It also has apps for timers, weather, Evernote, and games. You can even track your Domino’s pizza order with it! Being that the Basis Peak costs TWICE AS MUCH you would expect that it would have similar “smartwatch” features. And while the device makes an attempt, it simply isn’t there yet. I found the watch could consistently receive incoming calls and texts, but nothing else. And this was only when paired to an iPhone. It was all but impossible to pair the watch with an Android phone during my tests. I made it work eventually, but for casual users, who want a “pair and go” approach for their device, this is not an ideal choice.
So if the Peak is not a Smartwatch, you might be wondering what it does to justify its $200 price tag? Simply put, it tracks your health metrics, and a lot of them. Steps are caught like any pedometer (no mileage calculated though). The device has an excellent heart rate monitor, which I found very useful. It also has sensor to detect perspiration and skin temperature. I guess I could see some value in the sweat sensor, but I live in Minnesota, and my skin temps are going to swing wildly just by moving between buildings and vehicles, so I’m not sure why I should care about that. Data is only good if you can do something with it. And that brings me to the last feature of the Peak Fitness watch that I found useful.
Most fitnessbands/smartwatches make some attempt to track sleep, but the Peak does this better than any other device I’ve used. Being able to look at my sleep metrics, which were broken down between Light, Deep, and REM sleep was helpful not only in determining if I was getting enough sleep, but whether I was getting the right amount of each type of sleep. I found myself trying to get to bed earlier to get more quality in my sleep, and that turns a gimmick into a tool.
Aside from the features on the watch itself, Basis offers a website and smartphone app. I found the website more useful than the app in general, having more real estate to show the data over time in effective ways. The company offers various “goals” to shoot for, but since there is little interaction with the watch itself, other than telling you when you’ve “met your goal”, I found that more gimmicky than useful. In the end I found tracking over time less important than tracking right in the moment. I walked a few flights of stairs, entirely winded, and I could actually check my heart rate, in real-time, and that’s pretty useful, if you’re trying to improve your health through exercise.
The Cup Half Full
The Peak went to market as a Fitness Watch. Its main feature was the Heart Rate Monitor, and that is the thing it does best. I tested the monitor against a doctor validated monitor and found it to be very accurate. Not exactly the same, but close enough to use it as a guide. I have used the heart rate monitor more than anything else with the Peak, and I know I will miss having that feature when I return to the Pebble this week.
The rest of the Fitness Watch metrics are nothing to get excited about, but they work. It tracks steps pretty accurately, if you’re one to shoot for those 10,000 daily steps. The fact that it is waterproof is a huge plus, and should really be a standard feature for this type of device. The battery life came through at roughly 4-5 days between charges, which is great. It also has a nice charger, using a magnet connection for easy charging, without any case to remove or small connection devices to lose.
The watch itself is very comfortable. The silicone wristband can pinch a little when you strap it on, but once in place I barely know it’s there. It needs to fit snugly to ensure accuracy with the HR Monitor, so comfort is very important. It’s not a stunning watch by any stretch, but it’s also not an eyesore. It works as a watch and as a Fitness Tracker.
The Cup Half Empty
As stated, it isn’t a Smartwatch. I found all of the functionality that was added to the device via a software update in early February to be inconsistent at best and at times virtually impossible. The watch connects to the smartphone via Bluetooth and after some initial problems with my iPhone 6 I got that syncing very smoothly. But only voice and text information came to the watch, despite ensuring the settings were turned on to have emails and calendar updates come too. My attempts to sync with an Android device (HTC One M8) were incredibly frustrating. Even after a software update came during my trial claiming to “resolve Bluetooth sync issues” I still could not get the device to pair. I’m in the business of finding devices that are so easy just about anyone can use them. The Basis Peak failed that test on all levels in terms of its “smartwatch features”.
In addition to those issues, the only other problem I have with the Peak is related to its price. For $200 it should be able to do more than it does. Things like showing the current temperature would be a start. You get the date when you tap the screen, but that’s it. There are no buttons on the device, which is actually kind of nice, but it took me a google search to figure out that you had to slide up and down along the right edge of the watch to turn on the backlight. The device is marketed as being “automated” and thus the premium price model, but it is simply too far behind with some basic features to justify the cost. I could deal with $149, but $200 is too much.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
I sort of love and hate the Basis Peak Fitness Watch. Over the course of my two weeks of testing I found the device very useful at times, and very frustrating at others. The 24/7 Heart Rate monitoring and Sleep Tracker actually drove me to change some of my habits, including giving up caffeine, and working harder to be more active. I can’t over-stress how important that piece of the puzzle is when looking at fitness watches or fitness bands. They MUST drive change in your habits, or they are really just an over-price clock. And in that regard the Basis Peak was a great success. A greater success than 2 years of wearing a Fitbit Flex and Pebble smartwatch ever were. Is it worth $200 for those features? That’s really up to each consumer. But if you are in the market for a fitness watch that will help drive behavior, the Peak is actually a decent contender.
But if you are in the market for a smartwatch that also has a fitness element, this is not your watch. Not at all. Certainly Basis will get their act together at some point and software updates will improve the notifications element of the Peak (after all, these features have only been live for three weeks as of 2/17). So only early adopters who can put up with the frustrations of inconsistency need apply. I’m one of those people, and even I was pushed to the breaking point when trying to sync to Android.
The Basis Peak is a great Fitness Tracker and has a place among the current crop of devices trying to give us all health data on the go, to keep us better informed about how our choices impact our health. Yet these devices are only as good as the value you place in them though, so bear that in mind as you ponder your choices. The Basis Peak is not a great Smartwatch, so steer clear until they fix those features.
For me this one is still over-priced for what you get. And if I really want to go that route, I’ll just wait for the Apple Watch in April.
Just when it seemed that the smartphone had eliminated the need for the old wristwatch, along comes the tech industry to reinvent an age old tool. Smartwatches once again dominated the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2015, showing that wrist-based tech is certainly on the rise! From the simple fitness bands like the Fitbit Flex and Misfit Flash, to the souped-up smartwatches like Moto 360, Samsung Gear S, and the forthcoming Apple Watch, the tech industry is very interested in slapping something on your wrist.
But how do you know what is best for you? Do you even need one? Well, all of that depends on what you value. Do you want fitness metrics like steps, miles, elevation, heart-rate, and calories burned? Do you want a wristband that interacts with your phone to show calls, texts, emails, and calendar notices? The Wrist Tech industry is very diverse, and actually pretty overwhelming when you really start to see how many options are out there. I recently got my hands on one of the lesser known devices. Based on my initial experience, I’d categorize it as a “fitness watch”. It’s called the Basis Peak, and these are my first impressions.
BASIS PEAK – Hardware
First off, the form factor. The Peak is not too big, and not too small. Weight is also minimal. It has a two tone LCD touchscreen which works very well. It comes with a rubber wristband that I find comfortable. This is important because to get accuracy from the heart-rate monitor it’s essential that the watch be strapped tightly to your wrist.
Battery life has been very good. I’m getting about 3 days of life (from the promised 5 days), but I have been using it a lot. Remember that the high end of battery life is usually found through minimal use. But 3 days isn’t bad, especially for a device that does 24/7 tracking.
The Peak is waterproof. So you can shower and swim with it on and there are no worries. Finally, the device will work with both Android and Apple phones, which makes it a rare breed indeed.
Overall I like the look and feel of the Basis Peak. So let’s talk about what this Fitness Watch does.
It’s a Fitness Tracker
First and foremost, this device is for fitness. It is not trying to compete with the Smartwatch category, at least not directly. The Basis Peak offers a few fitness metrics: steps, calories burned, and heart-rate (we’ll get to that last one in a minute). Noticeably missing from the device are the ability to track mileage (a significant omission), and elevation (which would require an altimeter to work). Many other fitness trackers offer both of those features, and for a premium cost device (the Peak will set you back $200) they really should be included.
Though the metrics are limited, it’s what the Peak does with the data that is pretty cool. The device sells itself as fully automated. You don’t have to tell the device when you go for a walk, take a run, or head off on a bike ride. The device can tell what you are doing, and the device responds with an icon for the activity, and begins tracking the activity as a “work out ” session of sorts. This is a great feature for people who like to track their metrics during exercise, especially those serious runners and bikers. And the key to solid metrics is the heart-rate monitor.
This is my first experience with a fitness band offering constant tracking of an actual health element. It’s one thing to see if you can get those 10,000 steps in every day and the resulting feeling of accomplishment. It’s quite another when your fitness watch can give you insight into your actual health in real time. I’m quickly discovering that I am pretty out of shape. I know that by watching my heart rate skyrocket, even during a long, slow walk. I am excited by the idea of mobile technology like a fitness watch helping people make better health choices in the moment. The Peak is already doing that for me, after just a few days.
It’s a Sleep Tracker
You didn’t know how important it was to track your sleep patterns, did you!? According to the fitness band/watch industry it’s very important because the feature is pretty much standard on anything strapped to your wrist. I’ve used the FitBit Flex sleep tracker for a while and I didn’t find it terribly useful. That particular tracker only tracked sleep and awake, using “micro-movements”. So it showed me when I moved around in my sleep, but the data didn’t get any more specific.
The Basis Peak is different, and it’s all because of the heart rate monitor, and something the company calls Body IQ. The device offers several metrics for sleep tracking including: Light Sleep, Deep Sleep, REM Sleep, Toss/Turn, and Interruptions. The phone based app also gives information to help you understand how much of each type of sleep is typical, so you have an idea if you are getting enough of what you need. This is the first fitness watch that I’ve used where the sleep monitor actually tells me something useful and something I can take action on.
It’s a Smartwatch (sorta)
When the Basis Peak first shipped it was strictly a Fitness Watch. It could do everything I’ve already described and nothing else. Then came the “smartwatch update“. This update was promised to early adopters and the company delivered recently with an update that allows Smartphones to communicate with the Peak, showing incoming calls, emails, texts, and calendar appointments on your wrist. The features are still pretty glitchy, which isn’t surprising because it’s so new. I tested both an Android phone and an iPhone and both were inconsistent with delivery of calls, texts, emails, and calendar appointments. Also the “manual sync” button in the phone app of both devices often resulted in an error saying “sync failed”. These issues definitely make the “smartwatch” element of the Peak less reliable.
Bottom line, if you want a full smartwatch experience, the Peak is not the device for you. At least not until they’ve worked through many of the bugs that are currently plaguing it.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
The Basis Peak is a Fitness Watch. That’s the most important thing to remember. It’s trying to take on some of the other Smartwatches out there, but it’s just not there yet. The fitness metrics offered by the Peak are pretty standard, and nothing to get too excited about. What I am finding most useful is the Heart Rate Monitor and enhanced Sleep Tracking. In the end, the purpose for wearing a fitness watch or fitness band is to help you make better choices about your health, and the heart rate monitor is proving an excellent tool for me in that regard.
The Basis Peak will certainly get better in time. The company promised a software update and they delivered. This is no small feat, especially for a smaller company. This builds customer trust and that is essential for the fledgling industry of Wrist Tech.
The device currently cost $199 and comes in a couple colors. You can swap out your wristband to jazz it up too. My opinion, based my first impressions of the Peak, is that it is overpriced for the features it offers. A $200 fitness watch should at least offer mileage tracking. It also wouldn’t hurt to put in that altimeter so users could track elevation (I used to challenge myself to take the stairs!). At a premium price, it should offer every feature possible. The only justification for the high cost would be the inclusion of “smartwatch” features, which the company is starting to offer. But the phone connectivity is still unreliable, and so be prepared for some frustration if you plan to use those features.
Mobile Health is taking off, and fitness bands and watches are leading the charge, providing valuable health data on your wrist (and your phone). This is technology that truly has the potential to change lives. Unlike the majority of tech updates (tablets, phones, and gaming consoles), wrist tech is often focused on health. At the same time these devices can keep you connected to the things that you value, in a way that involves minimal interruptions from technology.
These two elements in partnership on a small device like a wristband will revolutionize how we communicate with our friends and family, and with our doctors too! Great tech should be easy and life enhancing, and that’s the direction we are heading!
I first reviewed the Echo Smart Speaker in a “First Impressions” post on 12/11/14. So be sure to check that out here.
I’ve been kicking around writing a full review of the Echo Smart Speaker recently. The thing holding me back though was that I was pretty frustrated with a few specific elements of the speaker. I’m fine writing a bad review (check out my thoughts on the WinBook!), but the Echo had such great potential, and I knew it was one major update away from being something amazing. Well today that update came. Let me tell you briefly what it is.
It is a fully functioning bluetooth speaker…NOW
When the Echo first arrived it could play music, but your choices were very limited. You were stuck with Amazon Music, I Heart Radio, and TuneIn Radio. If you didn’t have your music collection in Amazon’s cloud, you only had those streaming services as options. Amazon Prime Members can get access to Prime Music, but if you’re used to services like Spotify, RDIO, or Google Music, you’ll find Prime’s offerings pretty limited. And that was the kicker, and why I didn’t want to pass judgement on the device. Echo was a bluetooth speaker that didn’t act like a bluetooth speaker. It acted like a conduit to the Amazon ecosystem, which is very much the business model of the company (ask any Kindle Fire owner). This $100 device ($200 for non-Prime members) couldn’t attach to my phone via bluetooth to allow me to stream other music services, and that was a huge gap. But now that gap has been filled.
Just this week Amazon released on update that allows for bluetooth access. In their marketing they state that now “Spotify, Pandora, and iTunes Music” will work with Echo, but in truth any music service can now connect via bluetooth. That includes RDIO and Google Music, among many others. And now my Echo Smart Speaker is able to play my entire collection (personal music stored in iTunes, and music streaming via RDIO).
It is the smoothest setup I’ve ever seen
I was very frustrated when I first set up my Echo back in December. The need to create a new WIFI connection to link my phone, install the app, and then connect my home wireless was tedious and touchy. It took me a while to get things going. I think about casual users whenever I set up any device, and I worried that the setup was not the smooth experience Amazon is known for. But they fixed some bugs with the role-out of bluetooth connectivity. Here’s how it works:
1. Say “Alexa, pair my device”
2. Alexa tells you to navigate to the bluetooth settings and select “Echo-###”
3. You follow those directions
4. Alexa says, “Your device is now paired”
That’s it. This worked on both my iPhone 6 and my iPad Mini (1st gen). Seamless. Once you start playing music on your mobile device, you can control it with your voice, just like the original music apps. Play, Pause, Next Song, Previous Song, Volume. It’s all controlled via voice. Though you can always control it with your mobile device too.
The Update That Was Needed
The Echo Smart Speaker is a great device. I already loved it before this update. Through Prime Music I found many playlists that have filled my house with music. I’ve used the “add to my grocery list” and “set a timer” functions many times. I ask for my “news update” now and then, and I think it’s amazing. I can see such great potential in this little speaker. And now with the full bluetooth functionality I’m not searching for music, or uploaded hundreds of CDs into Amazon’s cloud. I can use any music streamer I want from my phone or tablet, and the experience is great.
The jury is still out on whether or not it’s worth the full $200 that Amazon says it will cost when the Beta period is over, but we’ll deal with that when it comes. For now the Echo is truly living up to it’s potential.
Here are a couple other reviews worth checking out:
Amazon is usually not shy about releasing new products. Just opening up the home page of amazon.com will usually point you right at whatever new thing the company is pushing to the market. It’s the holiday season so the Kindle Fire tablets are front and center, which is not a surprise. But there’s a new device that Amazon is releasing very quietly. It’s a Bluetooth speaker called the Echo, and it’s like nothing you’ve seen before.
Thanks to a generous co-worker I am getting to test out this new device over the holiday season. Currently the speaker is only available via invitation (which you can request here). And it’s only for Amazon Prime members at the moment too, at the cost of $100 (it will be $200 when it releases to the general public). Based on my first couple of weeks with the Echo, I’ve already got my invitation request in! So what is the Echo exactly?
It’s a Bluetooth Speaker
There are tons of Bluetooth speakers on the market; everything from the cheap things you can get at Wal-Mart or Target, to the higher end (while still consumer focused) devices like the Jambox from Jawbone. You can always drop a ton of coin on the offerings from Bose, but that’s not what the majority of casual music listeners are looking for in a Bluetooth speaker. The Bluetooth speaker I’ve had for a while is the Jam Wireless Speaker (which you can pick up for $30). It’s a decent speaker but it has to be charged, and has limited bluetooth range. So I’ve been pretty sour on Bluetooth speakers in general. But the Echo is a powered speaker (meaning it’s plugged into the wall all the time). So no issues with power drain. So far the Bluetooth range to my phone has been good too. No dropped connections at this point. But Echo is so much more than just a Bluetooth speaker.
It’s a Digital Assistant
Think Siri. Think Google Now. If you’re a Windows user, think Cortana. These are all digital assistants. They come in all high-end smartphones, standard these days, and in plenty of tablet computers as well. They are tools that connect you to the Internet, for news updates, weather reports, calendar appointments, Wikipedia searches, that sort of thing. I have an iPhone and rarely use Siri, but I do use Google Now quite a bit. Especially for those “what sushi bars are nearby” kind of questions. The Echo speaker has a digital assistant built into it, and her name is “Alexa”.
All you have to do is say the name “Alexa” and the speaker comes to life (via a spinning blue circle on the top) and begins listening for your questions. Simple things like “what time is it” and “will it rain tomorrow” are child’s play for her. Using the WIFI element built into the speaker, Alexa can search Wikipedia with the best of them. Answering the question tech companies seems to always think we care the most about, you know it, “how tall is Mount Everest?” It’s really important that we all know this. And Alexa will make sure we stay informed. On that topic, you can ask “Alexa, give me my news update” and she will connect to either NPR or BBC radio to provide a quick news briefing just for you. There are some tailoring aspects that I haven’t had time to explore, but I’m excited to learn more!
With the Echo companion app installed on your smartphone or tablet, you can have Alexa save things to a “to do” list or a “shopping list”, just by saying “Alexa add milk to my shopping list”. That’s pretty handy. Now you don’t need to pick up a phone or tablet to have a digital assistant ready to take care of you. Alexa is still a bit of a beta device though, so she can’t answer everything, so be warned. “Alexa what movies are playing near me?” She hasn’t got a clue. But will gladly search BING for you.
One last note about music listening with the Echo. Prime members have access to “Prime Music” and that is the main resource Alexa uses when you ask for a genre or artist. Don’t be surprised that the selection is limited. Alexa can also search for any music you’ve purchased on amazon.com. The other two music resources, as of now, are “I Heart Radio” and “TuneIn Radio“. Both give you plenty of options for whatever genre of tunes you’re in the mood for.
It’s Always Listening
Here’s the coolest thing about the Echo speaker. There are microphones lining the top circle of the device (where the pretty blue light shows up when active). And they are long-range mics, so even if you are across the room, the speaker can hear you and respond. “Alexa, play some Christmas music” and before you know it, chestnuts are roasting by that open fire! Do you want more volume, just say “Alexa volume up” or “Alexa volume 5”. Beware of going over Volume 7 though. I made the mistake of saying volume 10 to her (the highest setting) and the music was so loud the mics couldn’t hear me. Pretty funny scene though as I shouted for Alexa to turn the music down. Volume can be controlled via an included remote control too, but you won’t want to use it.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
The Echo Smart speaker has a ton of potential. Tech writers are already speculating about what this new technology could mean for the future of home tech. Imagine coming home and saying “Alexa lights on and play some 80s hair bands” and it’s done (though darker lights might be a better choice if you’re planning to jam to Motley Crue). The possibilities go beyond lighting and sweet tunes though. Digital Assistants could control your thermostat (like the Nest does now), unlock your doors, open your garage, start your oven, or brew your morning coffee. We are only limited by our imagination! And Echo, along with Alexa is the first step into a pretty cool world.
To get an idea of what this device can do, check out Amazon’s official commercial here.
And for a slightly more “colorful” commercial, check out this parody.