Archives For Reviews

2014-07-15 21.22.13

Intro

Home automation chatter has picked up over the past few months, especially now that Apple and Google are throwing their respective kits into the mix. There’s a plethora of approaches to introduce automation into our homes. Whether it’s Z-Wave to disengage your door lock or Zigbee to turn on your lights, the primary method to link up all the various protocols and centralize control is via a hub that rides your home network. And that’s what we’re looking at, three sub-$100 hubs – full of promise to tie together these protocols so that all our current and future home gadgetry play nicely together.

After spending a few weeks with the Staples Connect, SmartThings, and Wink hubs, I’ve come to realize that no one hub does it all… yet.  Depending on your app interface taste (UI), technical know-how, determination, and patience, you’ll experience a different reaction from each of these hubs. Like the story of the 3 bears and porridge – based on your breakfast preferences, there is one that may be just right.

To give you an idea of my “just right” hub, I prefer to have a straightforward and simple UI. It shouldn’t be flashy and confusing, but basically do three things well: easily add your connected devices, show the status of those connected devices, and have the ability to automate those device functions via rules. Seems simple enough, right? So, as you read the following sections, keep in mind my preferences. Continue Reading…

2014-07-23 21.07.17

Back in 2013, Kwikset released Kevo ($219), a deadbolt created by Unikey that let users lock and unlock their doors with just their phone. This process utilizes Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE 4.0) to determine the location of your phone or a keyfob and whether or not it’s inside or outside the door. So far, the release of Kevo has only been compatible with the iPhone 4s and later because of the BTLE requirement. But according to their support page, Android development is currently underway.

Now connected door locks have been around for a while in one form or another, but Kevo was the first to incorporate Bluetooth into a standard looking door lock. There have been others such as Lockitron and Jawbone’s August, but these are still not fully released. I had originally backed Lockitron, but after waiting a year and a half for the thing to ship, I cancelled my order. The August lock is set to ship later this year.

As for Kevo, they have just released a substantial update. These new features include:

  • New Guest and Scheduled eKeys
  • Faster Lock / Unlock Speeds
  • Improved User Interface

Let’s take a look at the Kevo itself, then go into each feature listed above. Continue Reading…

Ultimate Ears Boom Review

Adam Miarka —  July 22, 2014

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Intro
A few weeks back, we put the G-Boom rugged Bluetooth speaker through its paces and concluded that it packs some impressive sound in a distinct looking package. This time around, we’re looking at the competing Ultimate Ears Boom ($200) which offers some unique features not seen on the G-Boom, while shrinking the overall speaker size.

Hardware
The UE Boom, by Logitech, reminds me of holding a can of Pringles, but slightly smaller and definitely less salty. The circular shape is intended to allow sound to travel 360 degrees from the speaker. On one end of the tube, there is a power button and Bluetooth pairing/switching button. The UE Boom supports Bluetooth up to 50ft and NFC pairing. I can attest to the range using my iPhone 5s and Chromebook. Having the speaker out back for a bonfire, I was easily able to move around the yard without any issues in streaming. Continue Reading…

slingbox-m1

The Slingbox M1 has arrived and, as expected, Echostar’s smallest, lowest priced placeshifter packs WiFi… along with a variety of software enhancements across the board. As General Manager Michael Hawkey tells me, they intend to significantly grow their footprint with the $150 M1 and associated marketing: “Go big or go home.” While I can’t say for sure what the “M” stands for, amidst increased competition from all corners, their goal is to move beyond road warriors and sports fanatics (often one in the same) to target mainstream, millennials, and mobility.

Like all Slingboxen, the M1 is designed to relay one’s home television content to other parts of the house or beyond… without pesky studio agreements and provider restrictions limiting us. Also, unlike TiVo’s half-assed approach, Sling’s agnostic – operating on both WiFi and cellular networks via a wide array of platforms, including Apple, Android, and computer operating systems. Further, mobile app-powered Apple TV and Roku Slingbox video endpoints are newly improved. Continue Reading…

Wink Hub Quick Look

Adam Miarka —  July 7, 2014

2014-07-07 12.39.14

The Wink Hub ($50) that was announced just last month is now for sale at Amazon and Home Depot. This new low cost smart controller for the home promises to be the most connected hub there is and competes directly with the newly priced Staples Connect Hub. Supporting Wifi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Lutron’s Clear Connect protocols, there is reason to believe that statement might be true.

I was able to snag the Hub at Home Depot here in Indianapolis. My first online order was promptly cancelled with a call back to me saying that they had not received them. Not really believing the message (Home Depot stated they were in stock), I decided to drive to the store where I was able to pick up the Hub, the Spotter sensor, and a TCP Connected lighting starter kit.

Continue Reading…

2014-06-09 20.29.20

Intro
Ever misplaced your keys? Or wanted to know when your luggage has arrived at the baggage claim?  Maybe marked the spot where you parked the car in the mall lot?

The Elgato Smart Key aims to address all of these situations as a sensor that you either attach or place on different items for tracking. Depending on what you are looking to track, the Smart Key can notify you of certain situations that might need attention.  Walk too far away from your keys, it will start to beep. Attach to your luggage and when it comes near to you at baggage claim, your phone will notify you. Continue Reading…

As Verizon declares its FiOS Quantum TV rollout complete, fellow Northern Virginian Ananth Sarathy shares his initial experience with the new whole-home DVR. He’s also kindly agreed to take questions in the comments — perhaps he’ll even be able to explain Verizon’s obtuse pricing.

fios-quantumtv-extender

I’ve had the new Quantum DVR for about a week now. The interface is the familiar FiOS interface that we’re used to, for better or worse. It doesn’t seem to have yet received the recent UI upgrade and is missing a few elements, such as the autotune to HD feature. The boxes do use the same FiOS remotes as before, so I’ve stuck with my existing ones, and didn’t need to program them, which is nice. But I kind of wish they had upgraded to a remote that could control AV system volume as well. Continue Reading…