Category Archives: Product Reviews

FitBit Force Review/Warning

I have had the FitBit Force for several months now, but have been hesitant to do a formal review. I have been a huge fan of FitBit devices for some time now, with the FitBit Force being the third device of their I have owned. Back when they first came out I even wrote about using a FitBit One. When the Force came out I knew this was going to be the device for me! Finally a quality wrist wearable fitness tracker that integrated with the online experience of the fitbit.com website. I have to admit that I loved this device. I wore it all the time (except for showers and the pool), but basically anywhere I would go. The accuracy was good. The battery life was good. The fact that I was able to avoid losing it as easily as the FitBit one was GREAT, but then I got burned and haven’t wore it since.

FitBit Force rash the day I stopped wearing it.

Like I literally developed a burn-like rash where a certain part of the FitBit touched my skin. When I contacted FitBit they were helpful and offered me a full refund without question (but nothing else was offered)… At the time of writing this post FitBit has (sort of) acknowledged this “skin irritation” and even issued a recall to address the problem.

9 days after I stopped wearing the FitBit Force I still have the rash. I have been using a prescription to try and eliminate the traces of the rash, but so far it is as visible as it was when I stopped wearing the Force.

FitBit Force rash 9 days after I stopped wearing it

I will end up getting another wearable at some point, but this whole experience has me much more hesitant to jump into it right away.

Google Bought Nest? No!!

Look I have been a loyal Google user since day 1. I have also been a loyal Nest user since it came out (I even blogged about it here). So upon hearing that Google bought out Nest (here is a great article on the purchase at Gigaom) you would think that I would be super pleased, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

See Google already took a shot at energy monitoring with PowerMeter and failed. They shut the service down in September of 2011. And shutting things down is the primary reason that I am really alarmed and disappointed by this acquisition. My loyalty to Google has extended across its many product lines and far too often I have been completely burned by their desire to shut down a service. Services I had come to rely on: shut down. Services I used everyday: shutdown. Services I, in collaboration with a former employer, spent many man hours and many thousands of dollars to deploy: shutdown.

Google’s leadership has decided that instead of making the web a better place and profiting as a benefit, they would rather solely chase profits and eliminate lower margin solutions. I would be shocked if we don’t see a message like this at some point in the future:

Parody of Google Reader shutdown message applied to Nest website.
Parody of Google Reader shutdown message applied to Nest website.

 

Unboxing the Belkin @TV

In planning a recent extended trip for the family, the issue of accessing our home DVR content came up in a conversation with my wife. I was going to go the industry standard Slingbox route, but decided to do some additional homework to see if the remote viewing market had evolved at all. I am also very weary of the 2 things that Slingbox users (including a number of friends) complain about (1. HIGH cost of add-ons such as a $30 iOS app and 2. The issue of boxes flaking out, usually due to patch problems) that I wanted to avoid.

Belkin's @TV Plus

Anyways, after some research I decided to go with the very budget friendly (around $130) Belkin @TV Plus – Mobile Television Anywhere. All in all it was fairly well received for being a newer device, seemed easy enough to setup, and the apps are more reasonable for iOS and Android (the tablet apps are free). I the device last night, so decided to share my experience so far….

 

 

 

Unboxing the Belkin @TV

First, let’s talk about the unboxing experience: everything inside the box is nicely arranged. The box has everything you would need in order to set this up: the power adapter, an Ethernet networking cable, component and composite cables, and an infrared blaster.

But there was no software included, just a link in the setup guide. As someone who generally likes a cloud-based setup, this didn’t bother me at first, but I found the @TV Plus setup to be a bit clunky.

Those who are unfamiliar with placeshifting (basically the concept of watching your content which is stored on one device but accessed from another place through another device) will likely be asking, why doesn’t the device support HDMI? Sadly, this is due to HDMI being somewhat unusable when placeshifting because of copy protection technology called HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Copy Protection). Sure some placeshifting devices come with HDMI options (such as the Slingbox 500), but anytime HDCP is enabled, your stream will not work. Honestly though I have found the 480p via Component signal to be totally sufficient so far.

 

Setting up the Belkin @TV

Belkin @TV’s greatest weakness in my opinion is the setup. It is disjointed, the download is kind of large (at 80+MB, but I suppose if you intend to stream video you need a connection that can easily handle an 80+MB download easily), and honestly I found it a bit slow.

Hooking the @TV Plus up to my set top itself was very simple. 30 seconds after starting I was finished. But then to setup and install it I had to load up my computer (versus using any old devices with web access).

Belkin @TV Setup ScreenThe setup wizard on the PC verifies the network connection (and despite having the @TV connected to a wired Ethernet connection it still wanted to configure on my wireless network, which I thought was a little pointless). After (several minutes) waiting for the connection to establish it checked for the latest firmware and updated the device. I did appreciate that, it is nice to see they are following best practices for new devices with new customers and getting them up to date first.

All said and done (over a 50 Mb Internet connection) the setup wizard took about 15 minutes, perhaps I am somewhat spoiled by the near-real-time technology world we have been presented, but this just seemed too long and while not overly technical, I wouldn’t trust my parents (in their 50’s and 60’s) to properly setup this device.

One of the final steps during setup is setting up your username and password. Once you have done this, you are all set and ready to use your Belkin @TV.

 

Belkin @TV on Tablets and Smartphones

Next, you’ll likely want to setup a tablet and/or smartphone. There are Belkin @TV Apps on all of the standard app stores out there, the good new is that most of them are free! Here is is a breakdown of the various apps and pricing available:

 

Using the Belkin @TV Plus

Once the Belkin @TV Plus is setup and your devices are configured (which is basically entering the username/password to connect), the experience is simple and works very well. I had no issues streaming my set top to all my test devices. One thing that annoyed me a little was that out of the box the default video input on the @TV was Composite, so in order for HD content I had to go into the settings on each device and change the video input manually. This was particularly important to me because I have DirectTV and their guide controls (and DVR menus are not shown when the video input is set to Composite) so the only way I could access DVR and guide remotely was by switching to Component.

Overall the  Belkin @TV Player is simple and easy to use. I have tested from PC, Mac, iPad and Android Tablet. I have found  all of them worked similarly.

Streaming was pretty much flawless over my home network and honestly worked almost as well remotely. However, I have not tested over 3G or LTE, so I cannot speak to the quality (or impact on your data plan) over those methods.

 

Limitations for Belkin @TV

There were several Belkin @TV limitations that were uncovered during use:

First, as mentioned above the default video input is Composite, so there is an additional step (which might not be so obvious to the less technical user) in order to get a decent experience.

Second, is that the maximum resolution it provided with my setup was 720X480. If you are expecting higher end HD resolutions, you will be disappointed. For me this wasn’t such a big deal since my primary use will likely be over an iPad and the 480p was super watchable.

 

Screenshot of Belkin @TV Plus in use

@TV Start Screen on an Android Tablet
@TV Start Screen on an Android Tablet
@TV Remotely Accessing the DVR
@TV Remotely Accessing the DVR
@TV Live TV Viewing from a Tablet
@TV Live TV Viewing from a Tablet

Tenny’s final summary of the Belkin @TV Plus

There are not a lot of products in the placeshifting space and one product has really owned the market for the last 5+ years. Belkin’s entry into the space with the @TV Plus product offers consumers a great alternative that works quite well at a more reasonable price. Even though set up is clunky, I would recommend the product, the Belkin @TV Plus is a good device that does its job well.

Purchasing Options

I buy most of my tech from Amazon, so if you’re interested I would highly recommend doing the same. Here is my Affiliate link to the Belkin @TV Plus:

I miss my Android phone…

So I have been a loyal Android user since the iOS vs. Android smartphone war started. That being said a month ago, due to a new job, I switched (based on several recommendations)  to an iPhone 5. While I was super excited about somethings, namely having access to iOS-only apps such as Vine, I am not in love with the phone as much as so many others are.  Now don’t misunderstand me, I don’t hate the phone, I just don’t love it either.

My biggest iPhone issues are as follows:

  • I miss the amount of Google integration I have on my Android devices. If I am a fan boy of anything I guess am a Google fan boy. Certain things work ok on iOS, such as gmail, gdrive, gvoice, ect… But others are missing altogether such as gTalk.
  • Speaking of, there is no great Google Talk app for iOS. There are a bunch of mediocre 3rd party apps (Vtok, IMO, IM+, and more…), but compared to Google official Talk app for Android, none come close.
  • Lack of iOS customization… I have always applauded Apple for locking things down so that people couldn’t ruin the experience that Apple was trying to provide them, but I want my customization!
  • Battery eater! Yes I know you need to turn off apps when you are not actively use them, but come on, you couldn’t build that intellegence into the iOS?

Again I don’t hate the iPhone or anything. Maybe I just miss how perfectly customized my Android phones were to my user needs. Maybe I am over looking something, but to me the iPhone seems second rate compared to Android.

Staining boring oak cabinets a rich dark color (with photos)

Ok. So for some of you who know me you’ll be happy to know that I am finished with this project and hopefully now that I am finished I’ll be able to shut up about it for a while. Heck it is just nice to be able to enjoy the work applied….

So anyways, here we go…

We had this boring builder-grade honey oak cabinetry in our kitchen. Both Marcia and I were not big fans but we lived with it because they were decent quality and they were functional. Anyways she told me about some Pintrest pictures she saw where they turned the honey oak into this “sultry, dark espresso”.  I am talking rich dark bown/black cabinets that looks really good. In the we were led to this blog post on simply a lifestyle that gave all the details we needed to get started.

How good does it look? Well you be the judge, here is a before and after of the cabinets (with the new appliances installed as well):

Now I have had experience both staining, and painting wood so I was pretty comfortable with all the standard prep work necessary. If you want a more detailed step-by-step check out the blog link above (seriously they deserve some of the credit), but here is my quick and dirty tutorial

Step 1: Equipment prep: Remove all pulls, hinges, screws, knobs or anything else stuck on the doors and drawers. Store them in a ziplock for safe keeping if you plan to reuse them.

Step 2: Area Prep. This is stain we are talking about, so add protection to nearby floors, ceilings, counters, walls, or any area that may get stain on it. I used painters tape all over but also laid down some roller paper on the floors and counter tops. Also if you have kids like I do and there were items protected behind doors that are now exposed, don’t forget to move that stuff to a less kid-accessible location.

Step 3: Clean everything first. I scrubbed the hell out of everything because of all the crud that ends up on there.

Step 4: Scruff sand everything. The linked tutorial says a basic sanding will work, but I prefer a more detailed sanding job. All in all I spent like 2 hours sanding.

Step 5: Stain. Dry. Stain. Dry. Stain. Dry. Seriously though I let a good day to dry between stainings. Also I am going to mention here because it came so highly recommended. The best stain to use on this type of project is General Finishes Java Gel Stain. This stuff is magic. It has the consistency of a hair gel, goes on like a paint, and when it dries, dries like a traditional liquid stain. It is so amazing. I will also say I preferred applying it with a sock (versus a foam brush). When applying it don’t be afraid to apply a thick coat of it. Also make sure to not rub it or massage it into the wood, it requires a bite of delicacy.
Step 6: Poly and let it dry. I ended up using 3 coats of poly with a day (to two day) dry time between coats.

All said and done this was very painless and well worth it improvement to our kitchen. We love the improved ambiance this change adds to the room. Here are a few additional shots of the new look (due to lighting some look more brown than they do in person, in person it is a rich dark coffee color), I hope you enjoy:

Nest – Unboxing and Install

I am a total gadget nut; friends and regular readers can attest to that. I love the whole concept of the automated and connected home. One of the home automation items I have been watching is the smart thermostat. Late last year I first heard of Nest and just knew it was exactly what I was looking for. Almost as soon as I had heard about it I signed up on their waiting list and just this week was notified that I could order mine. Tuesday I got the email, Tuesday I placed my order, and today (Thursday) I received and installed my Nest!  Here is the unboxing of my Nest as well as some shots of the install process and and finished installation.

Nest in the Box

I couldn’t wait to open my Nest! The packaging is sleek and very Apple-esque.

Nest components out of the box

So I didn’t really get a worthwhile picture of the HUGE Honeywell old school thermostat, but after removing it (well actually first I shut off the power at the breaker) I was left with the following blank spot on the wall.

The old thermostat removed and I was left with a blank space

So after a little sanding, plaster patching, and painting I had a nice clean slate to work with. First task was to install the Nest wall mount, which I must say is a simply amazing design.

Nest Wall Mount close up (don’t worry I went in and leveled it up right)

Once the wall mount was on it was time to add the Nest controller. Literally the Nest controller clicked into the base and it was time to switch the breakers back on. All in all in about 1 hour (due mainly to the time to sand, plaster, and paint), I had a running Nest thermostat:

First shot of the Nest booting up

The Nest is super easy to setup; all in all I was done with setup in 5 minutes. It is so cool to have a thermostat that connects to the Internet and starts to modify my heating and cooling based on my usage habits! Here are a few additional shots of the Nest running, including some shots of the Nest in the dark…

Final shot of the Nest installed and running
A view of the Nest at an angle
Nest settings screen in the dark
Nest temperature in the dark

Battlefield 3 versus Modern Warfare 3

Let me start this post about Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, two of the most popular first person shooters, with a few disclaimers. First off I am not a hardcore gamer (at least not any more). Second I am not one of those dudes who is gifted at first person shooters and is always at the tops of the leader boards when I play. Third, this review is completely based on my opinion, which means for someone my review is going to be totally wrong. Just so you know, I am totally OK with that.

Now that I have gotten that out of the way let me get into the games a little bit. I own both games on the Xbox 360. I know for many first person multi-player purists playing on a console is sacrilegious, but honestly I play for fun so deal with it. I got both games for the Xbox 360 because personally I find the multi-player the most enjoyable aspect of first person shooters and Xbox Live has like more players on its network than any of the others. Also, while I have played various first person shooter campaigns in the past, I never find them quite as enjoyable as multi-player. Se lets get to it….

VS 

Which game do I enjoy more? That is a tough one for me, but right now I need to give the edge to Battlefield 3. Whew, now that I got that out of the way let me explain why.

Things I love about Battlefield 3:

Game play is bad ass. Seriously it is a much more strategic and realistic feeling game than MW3. I really enjoy how much you can alter your play style while playing. You can zerg with shotguns, spam with rockets, sit back and snipe, play rogue or play with sophisticated team work.

Your actions determine your success much better in B3 than in MW3 in my opinion. It is much less about zerging to a certain kill streak to unlock some overpowered kill streak feature and more about strategically playing your character.

Things I don’t like about Battlefield 3:

Predictable spawn points suck. This is easily over come by good team work, but some of the predetermined spawning placements are too predictable and has led to some spawn camping.

Mismatches. As I mentioned I am not the best at first person shooters and it pisses me off when some much higher ranked player comes in and almost unfairly cleans up. Something else that pisses me off is when I join a match already partied with them and we are placed on opposite teams. As much as I like shooting my friends from time to time, I usually party up with them with the intend of playing with them, not against them!

The UI leaves much to be desired. The fact that you’re stuck between matches with a very underwhelming interface where you can’t do squat kind of sucks.

Things I like about Modern Warfare 3: (Keep in mind I have only had it for 1 day)

I really like some of the boards I have played so far and the game play is fun and quick paced. This game easily follows suit with the Call of Duty series of games.

I like how quickly one can level. B3 sometimes feels like a MMO watching your experience bar grow ever so slightly between matches. I don’t feel like that at all so far with MW3.

Things I don’t find so hot about Modern Warfare 3:

There only seems so be 2 play styles Zerging and Camping. While team work seems applicable it is more for the sake of overwhelming the enemy rather than truly offering support classes that can help protect, heal, and resupply your team mates.

Kill Streak weapons are over powered. I am not saying that helicopters, planes, missiles and tanks shouldn’t be powerful. I am saying the availability to use them in MW3 is too powerful. It is one of my biggest issues in general with the Call of Duty product line. I hate games that over reward the best skilled players with special perks that make them even more powerful. It’s like handicapping the less skilled players, which just doesn’t make sense. As someone who is not often at the top of the leader boards this frustrates me.

All of this may change as I continue to play both of these games. I give both very high ratings and really enjoy playing both.

Dell Sucks, I am forever done with Dell!

Let me start out by clearly stating that I am done with Dell. I promise I will never spend another dollar with Dell for the rest of my life. When I have had this conversation with different friends the general consensus is “what took you so long”. That is what I feel I need to explain…

Let me start with a little history, my first Dell came many years ago when the average home PC cost was in the $2500 range. I had heard some great things about the company and to be completely honest they had some of the best prices out there. Even in those early days I remember them trying to do semi-questionable things like forcing unwanted products in the shopping cart of online orders, but that was always easily avoided by calling up to finalize the order. In the last 11 years, between my wife and I, we have had different 4 Dell laptops. Being the “extended family computer support” I have also been the go to person when people are looking for recommendations for a computer to get. Between my Mother, Father, In-laws, and 5 siblings we are talking 20-25 Dell computer referrals since they were always the simplest option while still being reasonably competitive. Those first 5-6 years were relatively trouble free. When there was trouble things were always relatively easy to fix; a broken LCD (which was easily replaced), a keyboard rendered ineffective by spilled soda (easily replaced), and the average end user computer issue. Additionally, Dell used to always send a factory restore CD that allowed a clean install without the crapware, so from the very beginning the end users experience was positive.

This all sounds great doesn’t it? I don’t think I will ever go as far as saying I was a Dell fan boy, but for an OEM they used to be fairly reliable. Then a few years ago it all started going downhill. I don’t remember the exact day or even the exact family member’s issue, but the issues started piling one on top of another. When I am taking issues I am not referring to OS issues either, I am talking about problems with hardware. In the last two years I have seen laptop cases fall apart, mouse pads stop working, soldered components completely fall off, capacitors blown, DVD drives that stop working after minimal use, and laptops that get so hot within 2 minutes of turning on that they have literally burned the skin of the user. In fact every Dell I have worked with that was bought since 2009 has had major heat issues. I used to recommend cooling pads, but when the laptop gets so hot that it automatically powers off after less than 5 minutes of use (even with the cooling pad) enough is enough. I was getting calls almost weekly from family members and it all was due to Dells.

You would think it would be simple enough to just contact Dell and get these issues dealt with, but my time is more valuable to me than wasting hours with terrible support technicians who read scripts verbatim and don’t understand how to troubleshoot. I also do not buy the price gouging maintenance plans because when I buy something I expect it to work. On the off chance I get a lemon I just deal with it then, but when everything you buy is a lemon that becomes a problem.

Dell Sucks! Dell is terrible! They have lost my business and the business of any family member that relies on me for support.