As with streamers and home automation gadgetry, I’m a frequent flipper when it comes to activity trackers – often vacillating in the features I want and motivation or actionable intelligence I find from such things. And, having recently checked out the Garmin Vivofit 3 ($100), I decided to go with the Fitbit Alta ($130) for my next wearable.

On paper, Garmin’s offering is superior given its waterproofing and months-long battery life. I also liked the idea of having a single app to track my weekly swimming along with the more passive daily step count. Not to mention Garmin’s app is more visually rich. But, after seeing the tracker person, I wasn’t sure I’d be comfortable wearing it in all settings and many Amazon reviews have surfaced some performance issues. Whereas, Alta feedback has generally been more positive and is Fitbit’s most refined band to date. The online imagery doesn’t do it justice — it’s significantly better looking and feeling than, say, the Fitbit Charge (that I previously owned). So, yes, I’m willing to pay a premium for good looks (assuming the requisite functionality is also present, which it is). My only minor complaint after a few days of usage is that the Alta screen can be hard to read in bright sunlight.

Now about the app. The same week my Alta arrived, Fitbit released their new graphically rich iOS Dashboard in “preview” form. It’s headlined by a “Daily Stats Tile” with smaller tiles below, such as water consumption and sleep tracking, that can be added, removed, or re-ordered to your liking. While the routine stats and circular meters are reliable, the updated interface is definitely still in beta as my hourly step goal and weight haven’t successfully migrated. (Given the new baby and unpredictable routine, I’m OK not looking at my Aria-recorded weight.) If you’d also like to give it go, head to the Advanced Settings to enable the Dashboard Preview.

Digital Media Bytes

Dave Zatz —  May 26, 2016

A periodic roundup of relevant news…


As Netflix is wont to do, they’ve rolled out a new interface to select users on select platforms. So, while I’ve received this update on my Roku 3, you may not see it on the exact same hardware and it hasn’t been pushed to my Apple TV, Fire TV, or TiVo.

Upon initial launch, I’m presented with five “Now Playing” vertical tiles, comprised of both in-progress television series and two Netflix Originals I’ve never touched – plus some visual indication there may be additional options below. With this revision, Netflix seems to have merged the traditional “Continue Watching” row with my former content discovery pane up top.

However, the results are mixed. As, without interaction after 2-3 seconds, the first vertical tile expands horizontally and automatically begins playing background video at full volume — either introductory material, as seen in Louie above, or, for an episode in progress like Archer, the show itself. Further, a superimposed 20-second timer counts down to full playback of the given episode which ultimately expands to fill the screen as the GUI chrome fades away. Scrolling right or left cycles thru these tiles, resulting in similar auto-play behavior. I don’t mind the opening jingles so much, but playback of existing content is potentially disruptive and that countdown clock is anxiety-provoking. Navigating up and down reveals mostly familiar Netflix interface elements. Continue Reading…

Comcast Unlocks The Box

Dave Zatz —  May 21, 2016


While the FCC’s flawed Unlock the Box proposal will be subject to various challenges and any potential implementation is years away, Comcast’s fortunately moving forward with their own solutions. And, from the cable industry’s annual trade event this week, they unveiled Xfinity apps for Roku, Nvidia Shield, and Samsung televisions. It’s early days yet and these “alpha” experiences are likely months from deployment… as not only will they provide live and on-demand cable television, but they’ll also link into an upcoming cloud DVR service. Cool, right? Continue Reading…


The newly released and highly regarded 2016 edition of the Roku Streaming Stick is already on sale for a mere $40. Boasting superior performance, compared to both its predecessor and the competing Amazon Fire TV Stick, this streamer represents an excellent value and is the best all-around streamer for most.

Of course, one size doesn’t fit all. And, for example, those needing Kodi would go for the full-fledged Fire TV, while others deep into Apple’s ecosystem would naturally gravitate to the iTunes-sporting, Airplay-mirroring Apple TV. While not my cup of tea, Chromecast remains an inexpensive option for those willing to control their television experience via a smartphone. Perhaps we’ll learn more about its future capabilities and Android TV this week from Google I/O.

netflix-fastBeyond their monthly ISP Speed Index ratings and hot on the heels of the recently introduced mobile app bandwidth configurator, Netflix appears poised to launch “Fast” – an online service and app functionality to provide customers even more insight into their connections and streaming video potential.

From Netflix’s newly filed USPTO trademark application:

  • Downloadable computer software for testing and analyzing the speed of a user’s Internet connection
  • Providing a website featuring non-downloadable software for testing and analyzing the speed of a user’s Internet connection


fios-mobile-voiceVoice interaction has evolved into something much more than a gimmick. And Verizon is up next with a pair of app updates today (iOS, Android) that bring spoken control to FiOS TV. The refreshed FiOS Mobile app allows you to speak fairly naturally when searching for programming, stars, or tuning a channel. While not yet as adept or versatile as say Apple TV or Comcast’s Xfinity implementation, with somewhat limited reach and requiring you tap the magnifying glass followed by the mic icons, Verizon surely beats TiVo’s yet-to-launch voice solution.

Related, as a TiVo owner, I can’t obviously use the FiOS app to change TiVo channels. Which reminds me… I’ve been meaning to check out this Alexa TiVo skill for use with Echo.

amazon-video-directBy Narottam Medhora and Anya George Tharakan

(Reuters) – Inc <AMZN.O> launched a service on Tuesday that allows users to post videos and earn royalties from them, setting up the world’s biggest online retailer to compete directly with Alphabet Inc’s <GOOGL.O> YouTube.

The service, called Amazon Video Direct, will make the uploaded videos available to rent or own, to view free with ads, or be packaged together and offered as an add-on subscription. Continue Reading…