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Vegas Bound – CES 2018

When this blog was created over 3 years ago I was a professional amateur. I worked in IT with no formal training. I still don’t have formal training, but through a series of career moves I find that I’m much more of an IT person today than those early blogging days. Along with my relatively new role working with Virtual and Augmented Reality comes a ticket to CES 2018. CES stands for “Consumer Electronics Show” and it highlights all the cool new tech for consumers from self-driving cars to TVs, smart appliances to all that wrist based tech, and so much more. I’ve long listened to live broadcasts from the arena floor in Las Vegas, but I’ve never been there myself. So here I sit in the airport, sipping a pretty decent ramen bowl, waiting my flight.

I plan to follow this post with my observations of the tech at CES. The challenging piece these days is that I’m becoming more cynical about the invasion of pocket based technology. I tend to agree with the news articles and scientific studies pointing to the negative element of carrying a super-distracting super computer in our pockets. So during my first trip to Consumer Tech Mecca, I’m hitting the floor looking for something very specific.

I started this blog with the statement: If your technology is not enhancing your life, then it isn’t serving it’s purpose”. And I don’t think constant access to the web is the purpose we want to see fulfilled. What I actually think is still up for grabs, and CES will be a true test of a fanboy turned consumer tech philosopher.

Stay tuned…

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HaikuReview – HTC One M9

Metal-wrapped body

Same as the one from last year,

But still beautiful.

Stainless steel is slick,

Probably ought to buy a case

Or get insurance.

HTC One M9 Camera

Last year’s five-inch screen

Same look, same feel, same smartphone?

Almost, but not quite.

HTC Generations

With last year’s model

Ultra-Pixel camera

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).

HTC One M9 -2

User interface

Is much more intuitive,

Using location.

When you are at work

The phone will respond to it.

Stop Candy Crush Now!

HTC One Sense 7 for Work

When you are at home

Everything auto-updates.

Candy Crush away!

Phone is still too big.

Wasted space due to logo

Makes one-hand use tough.

htc one front logo

A decent upgrade,

Although Samsung got more press

It’s worth Checking Out.

HTC One M9 - 1

Review – Basis Peak Fitness Watch

Basis Peak Banner

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.smartwatches

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.

  1. Show incoming calls and allow answer or decline from the watch (then you grab your phone to actually start talking if you selected “answer”)
  2. Show incoming emails and texts from multiple text/IM services
  3. 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.  ItPebble for Basis Peak Post 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.

Basis Peak Sleep MonitorMost 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.

Basis Peak Smartphone AppsAside 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

Basis Peak HR MonitorThe 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 Basis Peak Chargercharger, 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”.

Basis Peak 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

peak step counterI 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.

Gold Apple Watch

 

First Impressions: iPhone 6 – It’s Pretty Awesome!

iphone 6 image

I’ll admit it right out of the gate, I love this phone.  It’s simply awesome.  And now I sound like the typical Apple fanboy who can see the iPhone do no wrong.  But that’s not the case.  I love (and hate) Apple and Android both equally.  I’ve had both devices over the years.  I just switched to the iPhone 6 from the HTC One (M8) which was an excellent Android smartphone. In my opinion, the iPhone 6 is simply better; and this is especially true for the casual user.  And that’s who I’m most interested in.

Disclaimer:  Many of the items I will discuss here are also available on the iPhone 6 Plus, which I’ve reviewed previously.  I intentionally focused on what makes the “plus” different from the iPhone 6, as not to be too repetitive.  So if you like what you see here, but would like the larger 5.5 inch screen, the iPhone 6 Plus might be a better choice.  But read my review before dropping the coin!

iPhone 6 Evolution not Revolution

It seems like Apple has always been mired in one debate: is the company revolutionary or evolutionary?  Apple fans believe that their beloved company is truly revolutionary, creating new markets for products out of thin air (iPhone, iPad, iTunes).  Others, mostly Android fans, would argue that Apple doesn’t “innovate” but is rather copying already existing technology while, arguably, evolving the devices along the way (iPhone, iPad, iTunes – see what I did there?).  As a true tech junkie, I don’t have a horse in that race.  Apple is both in my mind.  And the rest is just marketing (which no one disputes they do better than anyone else).  For the sake of this review, I will side with evolution, because that’s really what the iPhone 6 is all about.

The Cup Half Full 

I’ve mentioned the amazing design in previous posts, but it can’t be overstated.  The difference between the iPhone 5/5S and the iPhone 6 is stunning.  And the most stunning is that it isn’t as revolutionary as it could have been.  All sorts of “mock-ups” flooded the internet leading up to the announcement of the iPhone 6.  Many showed a major departure from the previous model; truly revolutionary design.  Apple didn’t go that way.  And for a company dominating the US Market with millions of consumers using their devices, major shifts are usually not advisable.  The iPhone 6 is bigger but skinnier.  It has the same alumimum/glass construction, but the glass is rounded on the corner, giving the face of the phone an entirely different look and feel.  So first and foremost the iPhone 6 is a brilliant evolution of the design of the iPhone.  It fits perfectly in the hand.  I have bigger hands, and always felt the iPhone 5/5S was actually a little too small for me.  I think there’s a reason Apnfciphoneple went with 4.7 inches for the screen versus 5.0, and it’s all about how that device sits in your hand for one-hand use.

In addition to the form factor, the iPhone 6 has many new features coming with iOS 8.  The inclusion of Near Field Communication (NFC) partnered with Apple Pay will only prove useful if retailers adopt the program.  I, for one, like the idea of using my phone to make purchases.  And if you are concerned about security, I suggest checking out this link to see how Apple Pay works, because if anything this system would be more secure than our traditional swiping credit cards (assuming it works).

text response in notification screen

iOS 8 also allows you  to respond to text messages and emails directly from the notification as they come in (I just did this while writing this review).  It’s all about fast interactions with your phone.  The iMessage app has also been updated to allow for voice messaging with a single button push, and instant pictures and videos sent over iMessage.  I’m in favor of anything that makes my tech interactions faster.  While I love interacting with technology, I prefer to use time efficiently, and clicking through six screen when it could be one tap is a great evolution in speedy tech.  Third party keyboards are now also available (via the App Store).  If you’ve longed for the ability to swipe your words versus tap them, now you’ve got options.  Swiftkey and Swype are two good places to start for keyboards.

The Cup Half Empty 

Apple is a closed system, famously so.  Coming from Android this time around there are things I can no longer do that I liked doing on my HTC phone.  I’ve sung the praises of “launchers” that replace the Operating System with different hybrids.  Nothing of the sort will be found in the App Store,  no matter how deep you dig.  You get the grid.  Apple did allow for widgets in the Notification Screen, but widgets are easily the most confusing piece of the Android system, and so Apple has hidden them away to keep distractions from their clean ecosystems to a minimum.

HealthKit was supposed to revolutionize how we see mobile health, and it failed on the first day.  Apple is quickly putting out new updates to iOS 8 to rectify this problem, but it’s still a problem.  So if you planned to have the iPhone 6 be your one stop shop for fitness and health tracking, you’re gonna have to wait a bit longer.  Though the pedometer element is currently working (my phone is tracking my steps just like my old FitBit Flex).

The Whole Cup Summed Up 

I’m sure as my eyes come back into focus in the coming weeks after being star-struck by the iPhone 6, I will find more things to add to my “half empty” part of the cup.  But at the moment there’s not a lot I can say that’s negative about this phone.  It’s better than all of the current flagship Android devices.  Granted, it’s only in that spot because they took many features straight from the Android ecosystem and added them as “innovations” to the iPhone (What’s App has had all of the functions of the new iMessage for some time now).

If you’re debating between the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, head to your nearest retailer (Target, Best Buy, Walmart, Cellular Carriers) and get both devices in your hand.  I’m on the side that says the iPhone 6 Plus is simply too big for the casual tech consumer.  But you’ll have to be the judge for yourself.

First Impressions: iPhone 6 Plus

iPhone6 2
The newest iPhone is out and people are clamoring to get their hands on it.  The fact that Apple sold over 10 million units in the first weekend seems to indicate at least some level of consumer interest.  If you google iPhone 6 you will find no shortage of reviews about Apple’s newest phone offering.  You’ll see things about design and durability.  But, like many tech sites, many of these reviews can become quite technical.  What you’ll find here are my first impressions of the iPhone 6 Plus, and how I think it can make life easier, or harder, as the case may be.

iPhone 6 Plus – Disclaimer

The iPhone 6 Plus is BIG.  I’m saying that from the perspective of a guy who used a 5 inch HTC One (M8) for a period of time, and thought that was big.  If you are at all leery about having a huge phone, read no further, the iPhone 6 (with it’s 4.7 inch screen) is your best choice.  But if you are okay with a phone that won’t fit in your pocket (unless you bend it!) and a phone that will constantly require a second hand to use it efficiently, read on.

The Cup Half Full

So how does the iPhone 6iphone 6 size comparison Plus make the phone experience better?  First off is the design.  Compared to the Note4 or LG G3 (two competing phablets), the iPhone 6 Plus is a beauty.  It’s super thin.  It’s smooth aluminum back and rounded corners are an absolute delight to look at and it feels great in the hand (though I recommend a case to avoid it slipping out of your hand, here’s mine).  The long held design of the screen (with an app bar at the bottom, and stat information at the top) make much better use of the space compared to rivals, which only makes the screen seem larger and more useful.

The phone has a larger battery, which should allow for much longer periods between charges.  Only time will tell though.  The device also has an improved camera with image stabilization.  This could be a big deal.  In simplest terms, the camera in the iPhone 6 Plus is designed to help those of us with shaky hands.  Not a feature to underestimate.  Finally, the iPhone 6 Plus has some innovations in the way the screen works, taking full advantage of the larger screen.  This means that some apps (like email and messages) will actually look different than the apps on the smaller iPhone 6.  Also when the phone is in landscape mode, the “app drawer” will move from the bottom to the side.  Seems funny to me that the iPad Mini doesn’t even do that.   So there are no shortage of good things going on with the iPhone 6 Plus, but the pendulum still swings both ways, and this is where the device starts to worry me.

The Cup Half Emptyiphone 6 plus skinny jeans

While beautiful in design, the iPhone 6 Plus has one “big” problem.  This device is huge.  But here’s the trick; it’s supposed to be.  It’s a phablet, which is the horrid word somebody came up with to describe a device that is part Phone and part Tablet.  When the phablet device came into it’s own with the Samsung Galaxy Note, the device had a very specific purpose.  It was a device competing more with the 7 inch tablets than against 5 inch phones.  It was and is a device for “power users”.  You know the corporate types that used to live in their blackberry screens.  The phablet is trying to be more than a phone.  In terms of regular consumers, the phablet is a good choice if you don’t already own a tablet device (iPad, Nexus 7, etc.)  If you don’t want two devices, the phablet bridges the gap (which is even more relevant when cost is factored in).  And that’s what the iPhone 6 Plus is.  It’s a phablet.  But I worry that through a combination of factors, both on the part of Apple and consumers, people don’t realize this. And that could be a problem down the road.  I’ll explain.

By iphone 6 annoucement piclaunching both iPhones together, Apple made it look like they were selling two sizes of the same device.  When in fact they are selling the next iPhone (iPhone 6) and their first phablet (iPhone 6 Plus).  People jumping from the 3.5 inch screen of the iPhone 4/4S or the 4 inch screen of the iPhone 5/5S are in for serious culture shock when they try to wrap their hands around the case holding the massive 5.5 inch screen of the iPhone 6 Plus.  I believe that Apple set the precedent a year ago when they released the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C at  the same time.  The iPhone 5C was clearly the silver medal to the gold of the iPhone 5S.  So most people think the same is the case with the current generation of the iPhones. That reasoning would lead people to conclude the iPhone 6 Plus is the one to get if you want the “best” one.  And that’s why the backorders for the larger device stand at 3-4 weeks, where you can get your hands on the iPhone 6 in 7-10 days.   And after waiting all those agonizing weeks, these new iPhone 6 Plus users are going to realize that their new phone requires two hands for most of the things it can do.  And while we might think that’s a small thing, that’s probably because we’ve grown so accustomed to single handed cell phones we take that convenience for granted.

Reachability - iPhone 6 PlusBoth iPhone 6 models have a new feature to help address the increased screen size, and it’s called Reachability.  Basically you double TAP (not click) the home button and the screen lowers itself about 1.5 inches, bringing the top of the screen closer to your waiting thumb.  On the iPhone 6 this functionality works very well.  But based on my hands-on experiences with the iPhone 6 Plus, based on where we generally place our hand when holding the phone, the size makes it virtually impossible to reach either the home button (for the tapping) or the top of the screen (to pull down notifications).  You must either move your hand down or up, or use your other hand to tap the home button.  And that is a problem that “reachability” on the iPhone 6 Plus didn’t fix.

The Whole Cup Summed Up

So think carefully as you consider the iPhone 6 Plus, over the iPhone 6.  While you get increased batter life, a better camera, and a larger screen, you also must contend with a massive phone in your pockets and in your hands.  That’s my biggest beef with the iPhone 6 Plus.  It’s so much like the iPhone 6, just much much bigger.

Apple has designed a beautiful phone, no doubt, but I believe the 4.7 inch design of the iPhone 6  is the current sweet spot as far as comfort and usability.  But if you want the larger screen, the iPhone 6 Plus certainly has enough to offer to make it worth it.  Though one of these thumb extenders might come in handy…
iphone 6 plus thumb extender

September Big Consumer Tech Announcements

If you are considering a new smartphone or phablet (i.e. giant smartphone), or if you’re interested in being an early adopter of the smartwatch industry, this September has several new products you’ll want to consider.  Motorola, Samsung, and Apple are all releasing new smartphones and smartwatches.  There’s sure to be a lot of competition, so do your homework before jumping into any device.  Each company has pluses and minuses to consider.  And smartwatches are probably going to be clunky for a while, so don’t slap down cash for those unless you’re prepared for the headaches of an early adopter (I know from experience!)

It’s going to be an exciting first couple weeks of announcements, and I’m looking forward to reading all the “hands-on” reviews afterwards.  Will the iPhone be a major update (bigger screen, different body style)?  Will there be an iWatch?  Will one of these smartwatches be priced at anything other than premium rates!?  $200 seems to be the lowest price so far.  All these questions and more will be answered in the next two weeks!  Stay tuned for some “first impressions” here at “Have a Cup of T(ech)”!!

9/3/2014 9/3/2014 9/4/2014 9/9/2014 In October
Wednesday Wednesday Thursday Tuesday ???
Samsung Asus Motorola Apple Razer
Galaxy Note 4 (phablet) ZenWatch Moto X+1 (smartphone) iPhone 6 (smartphone) Nabu(Smartband)
Galaxy Gear S (smartwatch update) ANNOUNCED 8/28/14!!! Moto 360 (smartwatch) iWatch (smartwatch)
Moto G (smartphone) iOS 8 release date
OSX Yosemite release date