Hands On: Microsoft Band vs Fitbit Charge

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.

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Fitbit Charge Now Shipping

As the story goes, the Fitbit Force activity tracker was recalled due to steel- or nickel-induced rashes. With hopefully less irritants, along with guidance on fit and hygiene, Fitbit is back with the Charge and Surge (that we broke in June). While the $250 Surge, expected in 2015, is more akin to a Garmin Forerunner, the Charge … Read more

One Hour With The New Apple SIM

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Along with Apple’s introduction of the iPad Air 2 comes a new take on the lowly SIM card. Not only does the tablet ship with just about every LTE band and frequency one could want, the hardware is delivered preloaded with an agnostic SIM for network authentication. As T-Mobile’s CEO tweets:

So the Apple SIM theoretically saves Apple some packaging expenses and provides us, the end users, with amazing flexibility – buy the iPad and choose whichever carrier we want at any point after we get it home. And, down the road, we’d be free to flip carriers as coverage or pricing changes. It’s a grand, consumer friendly vision. However, the future hasn’t quite arrived. Due, once again, to short-sighted carrier protectionism (and technical glitches).

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Plantronics Backbeat Fit Bluetooth Headphones Review

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Intro

Back in March, Plantronics announced the BackBeat Fit ($130), a sportier version of their Backbeat Go 2 Bluetooth headphones designed to withstand the abuse of regular fitness workouts (and confirmed sweaty lawn mowing! :-). I’ve been evaluating these headphones the past few weeks and wanted to share a rundown of features and my overall opinion.

Product Info

When you unpack the BackBeat Fits, they come with the headphones themselves, a carrying pouch that doubles as an armband for your phone, and a micro USB cable and charger. The headphones use Bluetooth 3.0 for connectivity which gives you a range of 33ft from your device. As with most new Bluetooth devices, the pairing process was easy with an iPhone 5s. You simply go to the Bluetooth setting page, turn on the BackBeat Fit which goes into pairing mode, and then select the headphones to pair. The BackBeat fit can also remember up to 8 different devices for pairing so it’s easy to switch between multiple sources if needed.

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Soundfreaq Pocket Kick Review

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Previously on ZNF, we had the opportunity to review two Bluetooth speakers, the massive, if not questionably looking, G-Boom speaker, and the Pringles shaped Logitech Ultimate Ears Boom. Both of these speakers had their pros and cons depending on your situation. The G-Boom was great for parking in one place and letting the music rock. The UE Boom on the other hand offered a smaller package, great sound, and the ability to update features via firmware updates. Today we’ll be looking at an even more compact – the $100 Soundfreaq Pocket Kick.

Hardware and Setup

Compared to the sharp corners of the G-Boom or the circular shape of the EU Boom, the Soundfreaq Pocket Kick features a slab design with rounded off corners. The speaker grills are made of a steel featuring a nice pattern with the Soundfreaq logo in the middle. The outer edges of the of speaker feature a nice rubber material that makes the Pocket Kick easy to hold without slipping out of the hand.  The rubber sides also allow the speaker to stay put on any surface while the music is jamming. Speaking of size, the Pocket Kick is the smallest of the three speakers we’ve had the chance to review. It’s roughly the size of an iPhone 5s from a surface area perspective, and about 3 times as deep.

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Battle of the Home Automation Hubs

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.

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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.

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Kevo Bluetooth Smartlock Review

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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.

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Ultimate Ears Boom Review

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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.

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