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Samsung’s new galaxy

Galaxy S9This post was originally published in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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Verizon Wireless sent me a brand new (not yet released at the time of my writing this) Android phone to test out recently, the Samsung Galaxy S9.

This is Samsung’s flagship phone for 2018, and it is quite a phone. I have been a fan of Samsung for years, and this phone shows why. Samsung also happens to be the largest mobile manufacturer in the world!

The specs are all state of the art with the newest chipset available for Android, the latest version of Android, expandable storage, wireless charging, waterproofing, headphone jack, Dolby Atmos sound with stereo speakers and more.

The 12-megapixel camera is great and has a variable aperture system that can seamlessly adjust the camera from f/2.4 to f/1.5 in low-light conditions. Colors are sharp and details are crisp.

There are neat features such as selective focus, which allows you to focus on a specific object and slightly blur out the background. When I tested the selective focus on some flowers, the photo came out great; the focus made the picture look like I knew what I was doing with photography.

For security, it has a fingerprint reader on the back. But more fun than that is the Intelligent Scan function, which uses facial recognition combined with iris scanning to unlock the phone. The only time I found that the Intelligent Scan didn’t work well was in a very dimly lit room with my glasses on; once I removed my glasses it worked fine.

While I think the Intelligent Scan is a very cool feature, it is slower than the iPhone X’s facial recognition and still requires a screen press prior to the Intelligent Scan before unlocking the phone.

Price appears to range from $720 to $800 depending on where you pick it up, but there are great trade-in offers from Samsung, Verizon and others as well. That is a great price point for a super-premium phone.

While I did not get a chance to check it out, I have read that the larger Galaxy S9+ model has more RAM (6 GB versus 4 GB), better cameras (the S9+ has the highest-rated camera ever, according to testing site DxOMark) and stronger Wi-Fi performance, according to PC Mag.

Both the S9 an S9+ have an OLED edge-to-edge “Infinity Display.” The Galaxy S9 has a 5.8-inch screen, while the S9+ has a 6.2-inch screen and dual rear cameras and costs about $120 more than the Galaxy S9. Both have a display with a ratio of 18.5:9.

I find the S9 to be a bit small for my liking. If I were to buy this phone, I would opt to pay more for the S9+.

I should point out, though, that I like large phones, and the S9 is small enough that it can be used with one hand. The S9+, like the Galaxy S8+ before it, requires the use of two hands to reach across the screen at times.

There are some innovative features — like the augmented reality stickers that you can make with your own face or the dual screen option that allows two apps to be open at the same time — but these are not features that I would use.

All in all, this is an excellent smartphone, albeit a bit small, with all of the bells and whistles you could hope for. The price is good and build quality is solid.


Paul Burnstein is a Tech Handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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Pixel 2 XL vs. the iPhone X

iPhone XThis post was originally published in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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Flagship phones are meant to represent the best that phone makers have to offer. I definitely found this to be the case while I testing out some demo units from Verizon Wireless.

They sent me the Android-based Google phone, the Pixel 2 XL, and the iOS-based Apple phone, the iPhone X (pronounced ten). I also got to try out the Bose SoundSport wireless headphones with each of the phones.

First off, I am an Android guy, but I love the iPhone X! Compared to the iPhones that I have been working with for the past few years, the iPhone X is a true upgrade with a new feel to the operating system since losing the home button. After using the iPhone X for a few minutes, it became very easy to navigate and swipe up on the screen to close apps and return home.

Before I lather all my praise on the iPhone X, I want to point out that the Pixel 2 XL is the best Android phone I have ever used and I am smitten with this phone too. There was nothing new to use on the Pixel 2 XL as far as operating system, but it is a fast phone and the display is crisp and clear.

Security on both phones is impressive. The Pixel 2 XL uses a fingerprint reader that is quite comfortably placed on the back and easy to access as you pick up the phone. It reads the fingerprint quickly and opens the phone all in one go.

The iPhone X uses FaceID, Apple’s facial recognition technology. FaceID was also incredibly fast and easy to use. I could be in a dimly lit room and it still read my face quickly and accurately.

As is currently popular, neither of the devices have a headphone jack. I rarely listen to music through headphones, so this was not a major loss for me. However, when I listened to music on both phones with the Bose SoundSport bluetooth headphones, the sound was great: robust, full bass and clear sound.

Google Assistant and Siri are the digital assistants on the phones, and both were easy to use. On the Pixel 2 XL, I could either say “Hey, Google” or simply squeeze the bottom of the phone to trigger it. For the iPhone X I could either say “Hey, Siri” or press the dedicated button on the right hand side of the phone. Both were responsive and helpful.

Both cameras are touted as the best cameras out there and I certainly had no complaints. Both were quick to take pictures, and photos looked sharp. Portrait mode is a feature on both phones that blurs out backgrounds and makes the main subject stand out clearly. On both phones, the portrait mode photos looked great.

The iPhone X and the Pixel 2 XL are both built very well and feel solid in the hand. Personally, I like the larger size of the Pixel 2 XL. Even though the iPhone is the smaller of the two phones, the screen sizes are about the same due to the iPhone having such small bezels.

The iPhone is covered in glass, which would prompt me to get a case for it. Then it would start to bulk up in size. The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, has a matte coated aluminum backing that feels good and also makes one think a case may not be needed.

It comes down to the fact that, if money were no object, the Pixel 2 XL is the Android phone to get and the iPhone X is the Apple model to get. Both phones are pricey, with the Pixel 2 XL currently coming in at $775 and the iPhone X at $1000.

I plan to stick with Android, but the iPhone X sure is tempting. The easy holdout for me is that Apple phones are built for the Apple ecosystem and therefore have default apps (calendar, contacts, etc.) that are baked in to be used for system functions.

I can still download Google apps (again, like calendar and contacts), but they do not get the same attention as the built-in system apps do. Google phones are meant for Google’s ecosystem but allow a lot more choice in selecting the default apps to use.


Paul Burnstein is a tech handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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Putting the Nest Cam Indoor to the test

This post was originally published in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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Security cameras are increasing in popularity and becoming easier and easier to set up.

I hear a lot of chatter around them, especially from users who want to track if someone breaks into their home (obviously) or simply to watch pets at home alone. I used to use mine to check in on the kids with a babysitter (always letting the babysitter know that we had cameras in the house).

Verizon Wireless recently loaned me a Nest Cam Indoor to try out. It is a small device that I was able to set up in minutes.

It takes a bit of time to register for Nest, but then you scan a QR code on the back of the camera and the smartphone (or tablet) app does most of the work to get you set up. Make sure you have your wireless password available.

The camera itself records video in 1080p HD, and it looks great. I set it up in my living room, and it picks up a nice wide angle (130 degrees) of the room.

There is two-way audio as well, which allows you to, say, talk to a pet in the room that you are keeping an eye on. However, I did not find the audio to be very clear during my testing.

Nest Cam Indoor also has night vision, which is essential for any security-type camera.

One thing it is lacking is the ability to control the direction of the camera. If you wanted a different angle, you would have to physically reposition the camera. You can, however, pinch to zoom-in on a specific area.

Where the camera really shows its intelligence is that it can track your phone’s location via a geofence to recognize when you leave or return home (optional) and will only turn on monitoring when you are out. What I mean by monitoring is that it has a great feature that provides you with notifications when it notices movement in the room. Again, this is an opportunity to speak into the room if there is motion you are unfamiliar with.

After playing around with the scheduling feature, I set some automatic times to reactivate the camera overnight while I was sleeping, even though the location of my phone was home, and I like that it does that.

I was out to dinner with some friends, and I received a notification that there was movement in the room. I jumped to the app to see who this intruder may be, only to learn that the culprit was my robot vacuum (Eufy RoboVac 11) doing its job cleaning the room. I thought it was pretty cool that it picked up that movement.

For a subscription fee, Nest will save your activity for either 10 or 30 days of 24/7 recording so that you can look back at your activity. I imagine this would be very helpful while traveling or if you owned a storefront.

At around $200, the Nest Cam is not the cheapest camera out there, but it is not the most expensive to offer security features either. The notifications seem to be pretty accurate, other than light triggering a false positive once in a while, such as a car driving by and lights shining through a window.

All in all, I like the camera and would recommend it as an easy one to install and have up-and-running quickly. Let me know if you try one out and what you think.


Paul Burnstein is a tech handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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Testing digital voice assistants at home

This post was originally published in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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Personal digital voice assistants are becoming quite popular. They allow you to use voice search for queries and control connected items in your home

According to a Google study “more than half of teens (13-18) use voice search daily — to them it’s as natural as checking social media or taking selfies. Adults are also getting the hang of it, with 41 percent talking to their phones every day and 56 percent admitting it makes them ‘feel tech savvy.’”

Last month, Verizon Wireless sent me a Google Home digital assistant to test out. My goal was to try it against my Amazon Echo (first generation) — or “Alexa,” as it is referred to — and see how each does as a digital assistant. At this point, digital assistants have become quite popular and common; personally, I have three variations of the Echo in my house, one on each level of my two-story home and one in the kitchen.

The Google Home and Amazon Echo are really pretty similar. Both can control lights and other smart switches. Both can answer questions and set timers. Both have their own personalities with jokes and silly responses to questions like, “What is your favorite movie?” Both can provide the weather forecast and play music. Both have female voices as well.

One area that Google Home stands out for me is in its ability to connect to Google Play Music. As a subscriber, I can then play my playlists and subscription music.

Amazon has its own subscription service, but I have not subscribed to it, as Amazon Prime still provides users with a lot of included music. I have a playlist built out of that, but you have to pay more for the full catalogue of Amazon Prime Music, just as you have to for Google Play Music, but Google Play Music is not even available on the Echo.

Both assistants can tell me my calendar schedule — which is through Google Calendar — but, surprisingly, the Echo provides more detail and can read other calendars that are linked to mine, like my work calendar. Both the Echo and Home can recognize multiple voices and provide calendar information for multiple users, a feature that I did not try out.

The biggest area in which I saw a difference is what Amazon calls “far-field communication”, which is the ability to hear someone across a room. The Echo did much better than the Home hearing me ask for “lights on” and turning off the air conditioner while it was running.

The Home, being built on Google’s search engine, does a better job answering questions, while the Echo sometimes just doesn’t understand the question.

I tried making calls on both devices. You can use both devices as a speakerphone for your mobile phone calls when initiated through either the Home or Echo. They were pretty similar, but I did get better call quality from the Echo when I was further away; again, probably due to the microphones they use for far-field communication.

The two are very similar, and knowing how to use one makes it easy to jump right into using the other.

Voice control has become such an easy way in our house, via our Echos, to turn on and off lights, set timers, add to our grocery lists, play music and check weather forecasts. The ability to turn on lights helps my young kids turn on floor lamps that they wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. Plus, my kids like to have Alexa tell them jokes, read stories and play music.

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Paul Burnstein is a tech handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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Playing with possibilities

This post was originally published in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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This past month, Verizon Wireless sent me a fun phone to try out: the Motorola Z2 Play.

Overall, it is a nice phone to play around with. The phone itself is an upper mid-range phone, but the range of possibilities it offers is the fun part.

Let me explain. The phone’s functionality is all around solid. In my use, it was speedy, lightweight, had great battery life of more than a day and had a very nice looking display. But my primary focus in testing the device was not really based on the phone functionality itself. Rather, I was in it for the Moto Mods (think modifications). This is where the fun part comes in.

I got to try out three of the different mods: a speaker, camera and projector. The mods attach via magnet and easily snap on or off. Other available mods include a gamepad, extra battery, 360-degree camera and more.

The mod for the speaker was the Soundboost ($79.99) made by JBL. Once attached, the speaker mod made the phone quite a bit chunkier, but it was better than carrying around a separate bluetooth speaker. It has a kickstand, and when in use it adds a nice full sound to the music being played.

Using the mod over a standalone bluetooth speaker is a slight convenience — one less thing to carry with you — but I didn’t find myself taking the speaker mod out of the house, even, as I was not listening to music through a speaker on the go.

The camera mod was the Hasselblad 4116 True Zoom ($199.99). Hasselblad is a well respected camera company founded in 1841. Once you click on the mod, it transforms the phone into a digital camera with an expanding lens and dedicated zoom and shutter buttons.

A very nice feature is the 10x optical zoom. It provides much more clarity than a digital zoom, which is just software creating the zoom feature. The optical zoom is just like using a zoom lens on a film camera.

The pictures I took looked great when I saw the quick preview that pops up onscreen immediately after taking the picture, but when I looked at them later on the phone they did not have the vibrancy that I had seen before. This could be due to screen calibration and the fact that I viewed them later on a different device.

My favorite of the mods that I tried out was the Moto Insta-Share Projector ($299.99). Wow! This is a fun mod that allows one to project anything from the Moto Z2 Play screen (or other compatible Moto phone).

I tried it out on my ceiling and it looked great. I also took it camping and projected Moana on the side of an RV so the kids could enjoy a movie. (I am the Gadget Guy; of course I enjoy camping with technology!) The only complaint I had was that the sound was not robust enough for us to hear the soudtrack by the campfire. You can only attach one mod at a time, so the speaker mod could not remedy this.

In the future, I would know to bring a bluetooth speaker for the audio to work with the projector. The projector mod also has a built-in battery, so it extends the life of the smartphone battery while projecting.

My favorite thing to do with the projector was lay in bed and watch on my angled ceiling. It projects up to 70 inches and looks crisp with deep colors. My wife and I have avoided a TV in our bedroom, but on nights when we are exhausted (with young kids, that’s every night), it is a nice option to lay in bed and stream Netflix.

The projector is a must-have if you get the phone, but the mods only work with the Moto Z line. If you want flagship phones by Apple (iPhones) or Samsung (their latest being the Galaxy S8 and Note 8), you are out of luck using the mods.

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Paul Burnstein is a Tech Handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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Putting new wearables to the test

smartwatchThis post was originally published July 27, 2017 in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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Wearable technology is a category of tech devices that are worn by the user. This includes smartwatches, smartglasses, fitness trackers and more.

Recently, I was provided with the opportunity to try out three wearables available through Verizon Wireless (they were loaned to me for review purposes). While wearables have been slow to catch on, I happen to be a fan. I wore a Fitbit for a couple of years before getting my current smartwatch, which I wear daily.

The first wearable I tried was the Verizon Wear24. It is an Android smartwatch and very similar to my daily wearable, the LG Watch Urbane, a device that is now almost two years old. The difference between the two is the Wear24 has cellular built into it. One can make and receive calls directly on one’s wrist, a feature I have to admit I didn’t find useful.

All in all, it is a solid smartwatch that can help with providing notifications on your wrist for calls, texts, emails, reminders and more. I also liked that, when used with the Google Fit app, the smartwatch could track your steps and activities. I liked the watch altogether and enjoyed wearing it.

Next, I tried the Samsung Galaxy Gear S2 smartwatch. The Gear S2 runs on the Samsung-developed Tizen operating system and can work with Android and iOS (iPhone) phones.

The Gear S2 works with all sorts of apps for notifications, including Google apps like Gmail and Google Calendar. For fitness, it is closely tied into Samsung’s S Health suite, and I did not get to experience just how that would translate over to a non-Samsung phone.

My favorite feature with the Gear S2 was that the bezel could be rotated to take one through the various options on the smartwatch. That being said, I found the Gear S2 needed quite a bit of customization to get the most use out of the apps that can be loaded from it and the quick access notification buttons. I liked the smartwatch, but recognized that more time would be needed to get it fully optimized to have all of the shortcuts and needed apps fully set up.

The Fitbit Charge 2 is a wearable, but not a traditional smartwatch; however, it is close. The wearable shows the time and provides notifications for calls and texts, but it does not allow the user to initiate any actions on the smartphone. For example, you can receive a text message but you cannot reply from the Charge 2; you have to reply from your phone.

As a fitness tracker, the Charge 2 is great. You can see your step count, heart rate, calorie count and more. It is easy to access the various readings by simply tapping through them.

Wearables really depend on the person wearing them and their purpose. If one is looking simply for tracking fitness, then Fitbit’s line of products is worth a gander. If the goal is to replace a watch and have the ability to receive notifications and quickly respond from the wrist, then a smartwatch is the route to take. All of the above are worth taking a look at.


Paul Burnstein is a tech handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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Questions to ask before you buy

Shopping

This post was originally published in the June 29, 2017 edition of the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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When purchasing technology devices and systems like printers, computers, home theater systems and more, there are a number of things to look for. The following list is a starting point for questions to ask and information to gather while researching a technology purchase:

What is the warranty and return policy? Will I have the opportunity to test out the product?

Be wary of any products that do not guarantee satisfaction. Technology can be tricky and you may not know if it is a good fit for you without trying it out first.

What is their return policy? Does the warranty cover a year or only 30 days? I would be hesitant to purchase something with a very minimal warranty.

If the product is defective, try returning it to the retailer first; I have found returning to the retailer to be less time consuming than having to go through the manufacturer.

I am not a fan of extended warranties, but they can save you a headache later, especially for a high priced item. Keep it in mind and weigh the cost of the warranty versus replacing the product.

What additional hardware (computer, smartphone, tablet) or software (Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS) is needed?

Many devices run with a computer or smartphone being used to read results or track activity like a Fitbit or other wearable device. If it is software, make sure it is for the correct operating system. If additional hardware or software is needed, make sure you have that factored into the total cost of owning the device or system.

What is the initial cost? Is there an ongoing subscription fee? Is there any long-term commitment?

Understanding the price is always important, and sometimes there is a monthly fee associated with monitoring and/or servicing the device. Make sure you understand your total cost of ownership.

Don’t purchase a product with a subscription fee if you are not using the features. Look for a comparable product without monthly fees. The Ring Video Doorbell is a good example: It offers a small fee for recording and saving videos.

Once the product is purchased, is there a contract holding you to a period of time where you must continue to pay a subscription fee? TiVo is a great service, but in order for it to work, you either need to pay monthly or purchase a lifetime subscription. Just as suggested above, ensure you need the subscription and therefore the contract. If not, consider a comparable product without the long-term commitment.

When should you buy the most recent model versus an older model?

Technology changes quickly and it is often best to buy the newest model to ensure it will be relevant as long as possible. I would suggest this for computers. However, for smartphones you will get a better deal buying the slightly older model.

The same goes for TVs: If you don’t need the 4K TV today, buy the HD TV and save some money. Ask if they have an upgrade program to allow you to get a discounted newer model when available.

What are the features and functions?

Does this product fulfill my needs? Does it have the features and functions that I require? For many products, there are product options that are more or less full-featured and the cost will vary based on the features. Make sure the product you choose fills your needs fully; if not, find one that does. 

What do the reviews say?

If possible, read reviews on the technology product.

Do a Google search for reviews and see what others have to say. Go to the product website and see if there are reviews there. If the product is on Amazon.com, that is a great place to read user reviews; Newegg.com and Bestbuy.com are also good sites for reviews.

Is accessibility an issue?

Do you have any limitations or health concerns that may affect your use of technology? Are the buttons on the remote too small? Is it too hard to read the screen? Think about your current devices and any troubles you may have with them.

Purchasing technology can seem overwhelming if you are new to the device or system being purchased. Following the above list will help to ensure you are asking the right questions to enable you to find the appropriate technology for your needs.

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Paul Burnstein is a Tech Handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through www.gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.home technology help

 

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A cheap, versatile home printer option

Printer

This post was originally published in the April, 2017 edition of the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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Printers.

It used to be quite an investment to buy a new printer to go with your new computer setup. But printers have dropped tremendously in price and become disposable items with the replacement ink sometimes costing more than the printer itself.

Gone are the days of the slow dot matrix printers. Today, we get to choose between inkjet and laser printers. Laser printers are higher quality, but unless you are a professional business, an inkjet will fulfill all of your daily needs, including printing photos for personal use.

I like the all-in-one printers that include printer, scanner and copier options in one device. I also like the document feeder as opposed to only having a flatbed to lay down an image or document on for scanning, copying or faxing.

The faxing function is not one I truly worry about, but it is generally included if there is a scanning option.

If you really need to fax, and it is rare that you do these days, you can use an online service. I use faxZERO.com and it is a simple service. You scan in your own document and then the service faxes it for you; no need to use a separate phone line or have a traditional phone line for faxing at all. That specific service is free for faxes up to three pages plus a cover sheet and only $1.99 for faxes that are larger than that.

Personally, I have always been fond of Hewlett Packard printers. My recent go-to printer for clients has been a sub-$100 all-in-one inkjet, the HP Officejet 4650. It is a basic printer with a monochrome screen, but being well under $100, it is definitely a disposable that will at least last a couple of years.

The ink, for a two-pack of black and color, is about half the price of the printer, but that still isn’t much money. The printer also works with both Mac and Windows PCs, so it is an easy choice for most people.

The printer is also capable of a wireless connection with your computer, so there is no need for wires between the printer and your computer. Additionally, it can also print wirelessly from your Android or Apple mobile devices, which is a nice little bonus.

If you haven’t printed from your mobile devices like your smartphone or tablet, it is a nice treat to not have to open up your laptop or boot up your desktop just to quickly print out a PDF receipt or email.

If you are in the market for a printer, think about how you will use it and how often you realistically print and then consider an inexpensive option.

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Paul Burnstein is a tech handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found at gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

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Smart as a doorbell

Doorbell

This post was originally published in the May 19, 2017 edition of the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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I recently had the opportunity to test out two products available from Verizon Wireless, among other locations: the Canary security system, a video camera with motion alerts, and the Ring Video Doorbell, which is a one-way video, two-way audio doorbell system.

Canary has been on my wish list for quite some time, so when Verizon Wireless offered for me to try it out, I was looking forward to it. I already have a couple of IP cameras (wirelessly connected cameras) in my house, but the Canary is a security device, not simply a camera.

The Canary requires Internet connection. It has the usual HD camera with night vision and a 147-degree viewing angle with three times digital zoom.

Where the Canary begins to differentiate itself from other cameras is the built-in, 90-decibel siren and that it also tracks temperature, humidity and air quality. I could not pull that information to my Amazon Echo, so it appears to simply be useful information to know.

The Canary of course has native apps for both iOS (Apple) and Android smartphones.

What does it do? When I talk about it, I talk about it as a security system, not a camera system.

When opening the app, it does not automatically open to a live view of what the camera sees but rather a home page listing the environmental settings (temperature, humidity, air quality) with options to view live or view your timeline.

The timeline is pretty cool. Canary is set up to chirp at you (via your smartphone) when there is activity or motion in front of it. Other IP cameras can do motion detection, but they generally require some setup to enable that functionality. It also records a snippet of video around that notification so you can view, via your timeline, the video associated with the activity the camera saw.

Canary is a learning system and is supposed to have the ability to learn your schedule and automatically adjust the mode to home or away, but I have to admit it never thought I was home, so every movement in front of the camera triggered a notification. I have read that pets can trigger motion detection as well.

I had set my settings for when I was home to be private and not record video or give me notifications, but again, this didn’t work as set up.

According to Canary: “When set to private, Canary’s camera, microphone, and motion detection capabilities are fully disabled. Only temperature, humidity, and air quality information are uploaded to the Canary Cloud.”

Without membership, you get 24 hours of recorded video. With membership, starting at $9.99 per month, you get 30 days of stored video and reimbursement of your homeowners or renters insurance deductible up to $1,000 in case of a burglary, plus an extended two-year warranty for your Canary.

Unlike the Canary, the Ring Video Doorbells is meant to be installed at your front door. Ring Video Doorbell had never really interested me in the past, but I wanted to at least test it out.

I was very impressed. It is the product that I didn’t know I wanted or needed.

What does a video doorbell do, you may ask?

When someone rings your doorbell, you are notified on your smartphone (Android and iOS) and have the option to view the ringer through the installed HD camera in the doorbell. It also provides two-way audio so you can ask them what they want if you don’t recognize them.

Mind you, you do not even need to be home to answer the ring. I could be out and my kids alone at home and the doorbell rings; I can answer it, send the ringer away and notify my kids via phone that they should not answer the door.

You can turn on motion detection and get a notification each time there is movement in front of your doorbell, and you can always look in live.

With a paid account of $3 per month, it provides the ability to have all of your alerted events recorded and viewable in a cloud account for up to 6 months, plus a one-year warranty. You can even download or share the events — useful if it recorded an activity outside your door that you’d like to share with police. The free account simply doesn’t record anything.

You need to spend an additional $30 for the Chime accessory if you want it to ring a sound in your home. It’s free if you just want the ring on your smartphone. However, it is fully compatible with the doorbell you may already have wired, and it can use that doorbell for inside notification.

One drawback that I found with Ring was that it needs charging, even when hardwired.

If it is hardwired to your existing doorbell chime, that will hopefully keep it charged. But there is the following message on Ring’s website: “Note: Depending on usage and temperature, the power from the doorbell wires may not be enough to keep your Ring charged, and the battery percentage may drop slightly over time.”

From the forum posts I read, it sounds like you will have to take it inside to charge every once in awhile. Ring provides a proprietary screw and driver so that it cannot simply be removed by anyone who wants to steal it.

Unless you don’t mind a lot of false-alarm beeps, I would hold off on the Canary for now. But give the Ring Video Doorbell a try. It provides a fun, new experience and added security to your front door entry.

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Paul Burnstein is a Tech Handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

home technology help

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Troubleshooting home Wi-Fi

Wireless RouterThis post was originally published in the April 6, 2017 edition of the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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“My Wi-Fi doesn’t work.”

I hear this quite a bit. Wireless networks can be finicky and there are quite a few things to look at to ensure your network is working properly and to its fullest potential. Without getting into the deepest of technical details, the following are basic things to look at and correct when trying to improve your home wireless signal and coverage.

The first thing to do in troubleshooting is to connect a computer directly to your router via ethernet cable. This rules out that any connectivity issues you have are due to your internet service provider (ISP) such as US Internet, Comcast or CenturyLink. If you have a strong signal while connected via ethernet, then it is time to look at your router to see if you can fix the problem with the wireless signal that is being spread through your home.

Next, power cycle your router. Unplug the power cord, wait 10 seconds and then plug it back in, giving it time to get back up and running. This generally solves temporary problems, but will not fix any bigger problems or long-term issues.

If that doesn’t work, review the router’s placement. Routers can be placed under desks or behind other electronics like a TV, and if you have problems, shifting that placement can help. It may be that, for your setup, the router needs to be in plain view in order to maintain adequate coverage.

The construction of your home can be a factor here, and what may work in one home or even one room may not work in another room with a similar layout. The material of your walls matters; brick walls are typically not good for Wi-Fi signals. As I understand it, wireless signals are stronger going up than down.

If you have ever tried to get into the administrative settings on your router (logging into your router), you can see that there are a lot of settings that you may have never heard of before. One of these settings is “channel.” The channel is not something you normally need to change, but there are ways to see if the same channel is being used by your neighbors and causing interference. If that is the case, you can look for a stronger channel and manually change it.

Another way to improve Wi-Fi in your home is to use a powerline adapter, wireless extender or both.

Powerline adapters are quite amazing. They connect between two units, the first one directly connected to your router and the second one connected to a device of your choice (i.e smart TV, streaming box, computer, etc.) via ethernet cable. Both powerline adapter units plug into your wall outlets and use your home’s circuitry to send the wireless signal as though it were hardlined. It is a great way to get wireless to a smart TV or streaming box.

If you have an older house with old wiring, the powerline adapter may not work as well. Both outlets you use should be on the same circuit for optimal performance, however I have seen them still work well regardless.

Wireless extenders are another way of getting your signal to spread farther in your home. They just plug into an outlet and then take your existing signal and boost it. They create a new network name — “mynetwork_EXT,” for example, with the “EXT” for extender. You can keep them the same name as your existing network, but then your devices may be connecting to the weaker part of a network rather than the extender.

Be on the lookout for the new, up-and-coming option of mesh networks, like Google Wi-Fi and the Netgear Orbi system. Supposedly mesh networks offer much better wireless speeds than range extenders and blanket an area in wireless to lose dead spots.

Hopefully this will help with some basic troubleshooting that you can do to improve your home wireless network.

 

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Paul Burnstein is a Tech Handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through www.gadgetguymn.com or via email at paul@gadgetguymn.com.

help with home wifi problems