What a long strange trip it’s been. Vudu initially launched in 2006 as a $400 dedicated movie streaming box. The requisite price cuts and pivots followed, including serving up apps like Flickr and then feeding smart televisions, before Walmart swooped in. Since then, the video service has focused on its own mobile and set-top video streaming app … that’s landed on a whole host of set-tops and mobile platforms. And, here we are again, back to a dedicated piece of hardware in the new Vudu Spark. Having launched in Walmart stores just a few weeks ago, at $25, of course I had to pick one up.
Back in July, we reviewed the Kevo smart lock ($220) in light of the newer features that had just been released (scheduling, guest keys, performance improvements). Later in 2014, August, another Bluetooth based lock ($250), started to ship both pre-orders and to retail stores. Being the curiously obsessed gadget guy that I am, I had to at least try the August to see how it compared with the Kevo.
Fundamentally the Kevo and August work the same. Using your phone’s Bluetooth as a key, you can lock and unlock the device. Whereas you need to replace your entire door lock for the Kevo, with the August, you just need to replace just the inside portion of the lock. Installing the August was very simple and a much quicker than the Kevo as you are just removing the back of the lock.
At $450, I had no intention of buying the original Withings Activité watch. That’s a bit steep for my watch buget, even if it does incorporate activity tracking and is Swiss-made. Seeing an opportunity to use a similar design, Withings announced at CES 2015 a new version of the Activité called Pop ($150).The Pop looks almost identical to the Activité, except that it is made with cheaper materials which brings the price point down to a more reasonable $150. The features remain the same across both trackers. The Activité can record steps, track if you are running, and can automatically log sleep at night. These features are very similar to the new Fitbit Charge, but it’s safe to say that one of these looks more stylish than the other. :-)
Read on for additional impressions of the Activité Pop!
Back in September, Wink announced the addition of Relay to their ever growing lineup of home automation products. The Relay is a wall mounted touch screen device that connects to your Wink home automation system and is powered by an Android variant. It features Wifi, Zigbee, and Bluetooth communication protocols, but missing are the Z-Wave and Lutron ClearConnect capabilities included in the original Wink Hub. For $300, you might reasonably expect that that the Relay could replace the Wink Hub. Alas, not.
Late in October, Fitbit announced three new activity trackers: Charge ($130), Charge HR ($150), and Surge ($250). Each offers different features depending upon your need. At the base, the Charge provides step activity, floors climbed, calories burned, automatic sleep tracking, call notifications, and silent alarms. Moving up to the Charge HR, Fitbit includes an optical heart rate monitor (PurePulse) that uses light to track your pulse throughout the day and during workouts. The idea being that included heart rate data will provide a better measure of calories burned (more on that in a bit). The top of the line Surge includes everything from the Charge HR, but also adds a larger screen and GPS to the mix. This means you are able to log walks/runs even when you don’t have your phone on you.
Last week, Fitbit sent out a special limited release email to those who showed interest in the new Charge HR and Surge products. As these products were not supposed to be released until early 2015, it was a nice surprise. Fitbit provided a one time code to purchase the new trackers and I was lucky enough to receive an email for the Surge. Order was placed Thursday night, and on Monday the Surge was delivered.
Three years ago, Nest announced their first smart thermostat clocking in at $250. While others balked at the price, I saw the value of something that could potentially reduce our family energy expenditure. And save money we did! Despite the upfront cost of the Nest, after having used the device that first twelve months, I estimated we dropped our gas and electric bill by $500 for the year. The second year, the savings continued. I offloaded my 1st generation Nest and upgraded to the 2nd generation Nest along with adding a few of the Nest Protect smoke alarms to the house.
But despite seemingly being all-in on the Nest platform, there recently have been a few changes to both their products and the thermostat market in general that have me rethinking our current setup – including potentially switching out to a new brand. First, Google acquired Nest. As much as I appreciate Google’s ability to find pretty much anything on the Internet, I have reservations in providing them too much data, especially when it comes to our home. Call me paranoid all you want, but that’s simply how I feel.
Second, the Protect product seemed so promising at first release. Our Nest is situated in the dining room which is rarely accessed when we are in the house, therefore the Nest can not accurately tell when we are home or not. With the wired Protects, Nest would be able to monitor our house for motion and help adjust the auto features which would alleviate the Nest from not being able to “see” us when we were home. I found that this really didn’t work so well when we had our four-legged furry friends running around the house during the day. I was hoping that the Protects would help build a better picture of our occupancy of our home, but it really didn’t seem to add much smarts to the Nest, just false alarms for movement.
To tell you the truth, I really didn’t pay that much attention to the Ecobee3 launch back in September. For the most part, I was happy with my Nest and really didn’t see much benefit to the Ecobee3. I was wrong. After noticing a few of the tech sites I follow start to post more about the Ecobee3, the more I became interested. This was especially the case when I payed attention to the remote sensors that can be added to the Ecobee3. Could this solve the problem that my current Nest platform has with not being able to determine not only occupancy of the house, but also the correct temperature for the different rooms?
When it rains, it pours. And I had the opportunity to enjoy a few days with the iPad Air 2 alongside the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5. Both are fantabulous ultrathin 10ish inch tablets… that go about things in different ways. The Samsung does more, way more. But what Apple does, it mostly does better.
Of course within 24 hours of receiving the new Fitbit Charge, Microsoft goes and releases their first product geared towards the fitness crowd. And, of course, being me, I had to find one the day it’s released. I really think this is the first time I have bought a Microsoft product, other than the computers I’m forced to use every day. I even ventured into a Microsoft Store where customers are still outnumbered by staff. ;-)
With the Fitbit Charge being just a rehash of the Force (it even says Force when you look at your Bluetooth settings on the phone), the Microsoft Band is a much more interesting product as it not only adds GPS to the mix, but also continuous heart rate monitoring. This lines it up nicely with the ChargeHR and Surge from FitBit. The cost is even split as the Band comes in at $199, where as the ChargeHR is $149 and the Surge is $249. Microsoft has one big advantage here of having the product available now, instead of an early 2015 rollout.