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A big screen and a stylus, too

Galaxy Note9This post was originally published in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.

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The Galaxy S9 is Samsung’s flagship phone for 2018. The Note9 steps it up even more.

My friends at Verizon sent me a Samsung Galaxy Note9 to try out, and it is quite a phone. It is a very large phone with plenty of features and includes a stylus known as the S Pen for use with the phone. More on that pen later.

The Note9 is an Android phone running Android Oreo out of the box with Samsung Experience wrapped around it, giving a Samsung feel to the operating system. Samsung’s own enhancements seem minimal, and the operating system looks clean.

With a 6.4-inch diagonal screen, this is one big phone that takes two hands or a stylus to control. The screen is a beautiful Quad HD+ Super AMOLED display with rich colors and strong blacks. The screen is also edge-to-edge with very little bezel around it. The phone has an Always-On Display, or AOD, that displays the time, any music playing through the phone, notifications, calendar appointments and more.

The internal guts include an octa-core processor with 6 gigabytes of RAM and 128 gigabytes of storage (which can be upgraded to 8 gigabytes of RAM and 512 gigabytes of storage). It also has the option to expand storage via a MicroSD slot that can take an SD card with up to 512 gigabytes of additional storage.

Storage should not be an issue on this phone. This phone is fast and reacts quickly and responsively to actions.

According to Samsung’s website, the phone has an IP68 rating allowing it to be submersed in “up to 5 feet of freshwater for up to 30 minutes.” It has the capability of fast charging for both wireless and wired charging and the fast charging really does speed up the amount of time it takes to charge the phone.

Wired fast charging will always be faster than the wireless option, even for fast charging. For charging, the phone has a USB-C port. I found that the battery easily lasted all day long on a single charge. Plus, it still has a headphone jack.

The Note9 has three cameras: an 8-megapixel lense on the front-facing camera and two 12-megapixel lenses on the rear camera for both wide-angle and telephoto modes. The camera is fast to load and takes very nice pictures. I found colors to be rich and sharp with good detail in the photos.

The phone has Bixby, Samsung’s answer to Siri or Google Assistant, built in. Bixby can be called up via voice or a dedicated button on the left side of the phone. While I did not use Bixby much, it has matured and appears to be a solid digital assistant.

The S Pen, mentioned before, is a stylus that connects to the phone and pops out as needed to control actions on the phone. It can write on the screen for editing, drawing or note-taking.

The S Pen has a super capacitor that allows for 30 minutes of usage with just 40 seconds of charge time. (It gets charged inside the phone). New this year, the S Pen can remotely control phone actions via Bluetooth from a button on the stylus; these include taking photos by pressing the button or changing slides for presentations.

I liked using the S Pen for photos. I could hold the phone and press the stylus for capturing the pictures.

The phone’s retail price is $999.99.

Overall this is a great device as long as you can handle the size of it. It is not a one-handed phone, but the size helps enable a gorgeous screen and a large battery that will get you through the day.

I like this phone a lot and appreciate its size, but I can’t quite figure out many uses for the S Pen.


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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A smart speaker with more

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

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This month I am looking at a smart speaker sent to me by Verizon Wireless.

The JBL Link 20 is a portable smart speaker with Google Assistant built in. It functions like a Google Home or Amazon Echo with the voice assistant providing the ability to answer questions, control smart devices and, of course, play music.

It is a portable, rechargeable speaker and can be used outside of the home. But it must be connected to a wireless network to get the smart capabilities to work. It is very similar to the discontinued Amazon Echo Tap, which also was portable and built to be moved around.

The JBL Link 20 was very easy to set up with the Google Home app, which is available for Android and iOS (Apple). The app guides you through the quick process of getting logged on to your wireless network and ready to begin answering questions and using its smart features.

The JBL speaker is about the size of a wine bottle and has a robust, full sound thanks to its 360 degree speaker. It comes in black and white. There are volume and play controls on top of the device, as well as a top button to press to activate the Google Assistant manually, but all of those features can be controlled via voice from across the room.

You can also control it from your Android phone, which recognizes when music is playing through the speaker and allows you to control playback functions. I was unable to test this feature with iOS.

Built-in Bluetooth allows the speaker to be connected to a smartphone for streaming music directly from the phone. I could see this being useful for music you may only have on your mobile device or for when the speaker is off of Wi-Fi, but generally online streaming from the Link 20 is easier and allows you to quickly get a playlist going by just asking for it.

When paired with speakers that have Google’s Chromecast ability (which the Link 20 has), it can be used for multi-room playback. You can have music streaming the same song throughout your home. You can create zones for music to only play on specific speakers in your home or based on specific rooms.

According to JBL, the Link 20 offers 10 hours of playtime. I also tested that it can be used while plugged in — which is nice in case you let the battery run out.

Waterproofing (IPX7) allows the device to handle water and dust without damage, and it provides confidence to use it outdoors. Even just taking it out to your backyard, it is nice to know that the device is safe from the elements and accidental spills.

The JBL Link 20’s list price is $199. This is a bit high for a smart speaker, but you do have to look at the fact that this is made by JBL and had stronger sound than a basic smart speaker.

It is a fun device with good sound, but I don’t really see the appeal of moving this around the home or taking it with me for a picnic or tailgating. Perhaps that is why the Amazon Echo Tap was discontinued.

However, I did find myself recommending the JBL Link 20 to a client who would be using the smart speaker in different rooms through the house. So it really comes down to preference and style of use.

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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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Smart Home Tech that Adds Value to Your Home

Let’s be honest: nobody wants to have to go through the process of selling their home. It takes time, energy, and a lot of planning, which, in today’s day and age, are all very valuable things. Luckily, there are things that can make the process a bit easier.

Home improvements are often thought of as ways to make your home more desirable and updated, but they can also be quite expensive. Additions and upgrades can cost thousands of dollars, and you aren’t guaranteed to see a high return on investment. The better solution? Technology. Smart home technology can be affordable, and it can also make your home much more valuable in a matter of minutes. Here are some ideas:

Use technology to make your home more efficient

Almost every homebuyer looks out for energy efficient homes. Yes, these homes are absolutely more sustainable, but they’re also way better at keeping energy usage at a low and, in turn, keeping the energy bill low as well. A quick and inexpensive way to make your home more efficient is to change out the lightbulbs. LED light bulbs last much longer and use between 20% and 80% less energy than other bulbs on the market because of the way they’re engineered.

An automated thermostat that is connected to your heating and cooling units will also save you money on energy. A high percentage of units are designed to run continuously, whereas units hooked up to an automated thermostat turn off once the room hits a specific temperature. Especially in areas with hot summers and frigid winters, automated thermostats can save homeowners money and help you sell your house today.  

Use your smartphone

Smartphones and mobile apps have come a long way, and many electronics, appliances, and in-home utilities can now be controlled by them. One way to make your home stand out to potential buyers, including both those enthralled by technology and those who have mobility issues, is to hook specific pieces of your home up to your smartphone. These pieces can include the heating and cooling systems, lights, television, sound system, and security system.

Update security

Everyone wants to feel safe in their home, and a proper security system can give you that piece of mind. Regardless of the neighborhood your home is in, potential buyers will be on the lookout for homes that are guarded by security systems. New advances in technology have allowed us to keep an eye on our homes even when we’re far away from them. Smart security systems link cameras and sensors up to the cloud so that we can see what’s happening even if we’re thousands of miles away.

If you’re looking for tips on how to sell your house, look towards technology. Not only will your home look super cool, but it will also be more accessible, safer, and energy efficient. For assistance on how to take advantage of incoming technology, how to use it, and how to find gadgets and appliances that are suited for you, contact the Gadget Guy MN!

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This article is written by Julia Aldrich. Julia is currently living and thriving in Colorado, though her roots are in Pennsylvania. Some of her hobbies and passions include writing (obviously), running, traveling, and eating good pizza. She’s also a lover of quirky books, and suggestions are always welcome.

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Get your digital movies together

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

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I like watching movies, but it is rare that I make it out to the theater to see a movie. For the most part, I simply watch movies at home.

I use both Netflix and Amazon Prime for watching movies, but there are some special movies that are worth buying and adding to my permanent collection; often they are kids’ films. This month I am excited to share about a fun, new movie service called Movies Anywhere which allows you to combine your digital movies into a single collection.

Movies Anywhere is a service that lets you combine your purchased movies from various vendors (i.e. Amazon, Apple, etc.) into a single digital collection of films. Movie studios 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, Universal, Disney and Warner Brothers agreed to allow their films to live on multiple platforms once they are purchased.

Is this sounding confusing? Let me try to break it down.

Here is an example of how I used the service: I am a big “Star Wars” fan and own all of the movies (nine available and increasing). However, I bought the original six films through Google Play Movies and subsequent films through Amazon’s video service (called Amazon Prime Video). In the past, I would have had to jump between services to watch the different movies, but with Movies Anywhere, I can link my accounts to each other and all of the movies show up together under the accounts on each service, regardless of whom I originally purchased them from.

The eligible services are Apple’s iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, VUDU, Google Play Movies, and FandangoNow. All of your eligible movies (the ones that the movie studios have allowed; all of mine were eligible) will be displayed under each movie service. I should point out that the service does not work for TV shows. 

If you like the user interface of iTunes for your movies, for instance, you will see all of your movies there and can stick with that interface; same goes for the other eligible services. You can use the Movies Anywhere website or apps to log in and see all of your movie collection in one place there as well.

The benefit of using the Movies Anywhere website or apps is that there are included bonus features, including bonus features for older films that I own and did not expect to have bonus footage. One issue that I have seen with the Amazon interface is that the movies are sorted by date added, and that can be a bit frustrating when searching for a film. Other services allow you to sort by various criteria. 

The service is easy to use and easy to link up your accounts with. Once you have linked your accounts, you can start viewing any of your movies

 If I recall correctly, there may have been a slight lag before all of the movies showed up. It should be noted that only one account can be linked per service. So you could not link together two different iTunes accounts or two different Amazon Prime Video accounts.

This really is a true convenience to have my entire digital collection available under one streaming service. When I want to browse my movies I can see them all together rather than have to jump up and back between different services.


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.

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Clip it and forget it

Google Clips

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

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Verizon Wireless loaned me the most recent product to try out, called Google Clips. Thisis a small, square camera that looks like a miniature security camera. But what is it really?

Google Clips is a smart, hands-free camera you can set up and forget about, allowing it to take pictures on its own when it deems the setting and participants to be picture perfect. Its machine learning and artificial intelligence decides when to take pictures and can recognize what it considers to be good photos.

It actually captures little motion “clips” without audio. You can then look through the saved clip frame by frame and save a single frame as a photo. There is a manual capture button, but there is no preview screen unless you are looking at the live preview on your smartphone —in which case it would be easier to just take the picture directly on your phone.

According to Google, “Google Clips learns to recognize familiar faces. The more you’re with someone, the more it learns to capture clips of them. It can also pick out pets like cats or dogs.” Additionally, “Google Clips features Moment IQ, a machine learning algorithm that’s smart enough to recognize great expressions, lighting and framing. And it’s always learning.”

In a blog post from Google, “Clips’ improved intelligence can help you capture more of the candid and fleeting moments that happen in between those posed frames we are all so familiar with.”

I love the idea of this — grabbing those candid moments effortlessly.

At $250, this is a pricey gadget that does very little. Google Clips has a 130 degree field of view, captures 15 frames per second and has 16 gigabytes of storage built in, with about three hours of capture time. Videos are captured at 1080p.

It is a simple device, and there is not much more to it than that. The rubber case that it comes in includes a clip that can be used as a stand or attached to something else.

Google Clips requires very little user interaction other than to review the motion clips on your smartphone, where you can choose to delete or add them to your Google Photos account directly. Google has announced that functionality will be added so that you can view the clips from multiple smartphones. This makes sense, as I would like to be able to share the photos with family members.

The problem for me is that I don’t quite get it. I have tried it out, placing it in stationary positions and even clipping it onto my shirt while my kids were playing outside. Google Clips has taken some decent clips for me, but nothing that seems to justify purchasing a device like this.

The demo clips that Google has on their website show clips of young kids and pets, all from great angles. In use, I didn’t find that leaving it on a table produced desirable clips.

I really like the idea of setting it up and letting it do its own thing, but I just haven’t found anywhere good to set it up. My kids don’t remain in one room long enough to get any good pictures.

With the right setup for a good vantage point, this could be a fun device capturing those candid moments and preserving them without having to be prepared for them at all times. For me however, I think I am used to being more in control of my photos.

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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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A device with a mission

Xtorch

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

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This month I got to try out a product from EJ Case, a local startup company based in Edina that manufactures and distributes a multi-use device called the XTorch. The XTorch is a portable, handheld device — a rechargeable, solar powered flashlight, lantern and cell phone charger all in one.

It gets even more interesting. According to a statement on their website, their mission is: “To bring mobile light and power to those who suffer without; working in partnership with International Non-Profits in support of their efforts in disaster relief, refugee aid, medical and general humanitarian outreach.”

Said founder Gene Palusky: “The idea of the XTorch came to me after my time spent working in Equatorial Guinea, Africa and the Dominican Republic, where I witnessed the difficulties the local populations suffered each day and night due to the lack of reliable light and power.”

Palusky continued: “We have devices in over 20 countries, working in partnership with humanitarian non-profit organizations that focus on emergency relief, refugees, medical outreach and orphanages. We have also just begun to sell domestically, via our website and use part of the profits to donate devices around the world.”

Their website states that 25 percent of the XTorch’s retail net profit will be donated to assist non-profit organizations to support children’s education, women’s safety and small business development. Sounds like a great mission to me!

The company has already helped Compassion International, Haiti by providing 195 XTorches to school-aged children to help them with reading and studying in the dark. They also donated to Medical Ambassadors International for their midwife training programs in Argentina and Haiti, where midwives are often working and traveling in the dark.

The Xtorch is designed for camping and off-grid use, as well as emergency use when one’s home electrical power goes out. It is physically built for these uses too, being water resistant and built to float. Additionally, it has a spring-activated clip for hooking onto your other gear, a glow in the dark gasket and is built of high-impact ABS/polycarbonate.

XTorch

I love the company’s mission and the applications for the device. My main takeaway is that this is a flashlight and lantern first and foremost and a cell phone charger second.

The company claims that the XTorch can charge a cell phone up to 50 percent, and that is a great additional feature, but not a major selling point domestically in my opinion.

It was slow to charge my phone, but no complaints here, as this is great as a backup device for your phone: helping you get some juice into a dead device, as opposed to charging your phone up for a fresh day of use.

The XTorch sells for $44.95. And remember that 25 percent of retail net profit gets donated towards charitable causes.

The XTorch lacks any method of checking the current battery charge in order to tell whether it needs to be recharged or not. This would be nice feature to have, so you know whether you need to charge your charger so that it is ready when needed. It would also help to know how much time is left while it is charging.

It comes with multiple micro-USB cable connections for Android and a lightning cable connection for Apple devices. However, it is not USB-C compatible without an adapter or using your own USB-A to USB-C cable, and this is worth noting as many new Android smartphones are coming with USB-C.

Aside from its benefits to disaster relief and general humanitarian outreach, I consider the XTorch an excellent device for camping and keeping in the car or home for emergencies.


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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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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A lesser-known flagship phone
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A lesser-known flagship phone

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

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For my column this month, I have a smartphone review for you.

The friendly folk at Verizon Wireless sent me the LG V30 to check out. This is a flagship phone from LG with solid reviews, and I was looking forward to playing with it. A couple of months ago I wrote about the Google Pixel 2 XL which happens to have been built by LG, so I was hoping for this to be a sort of cousin to the Pixel 2 XL.

LG is a major Android smartphone manufacturer, but they don’t do as well marketing their phones and tend to be eclipsed by Samsung, the 800-pound gorilla. They have the hardware and software to keep up and still provide solid phones, but their reputation could use some help.

While the size is similar to the Pixel 2 XL, the LG V30 is its own phone. The 6-inch design of aluminum and glass does not feel as big as it sounds and instead rests nicely in the hand with a large screen including the now common 18:9 dimensions. It has an OLED display with Quad HD (four times as many pixels as a 1080p full HD display). The screen looks sharp and vibrant.

It has some nice features, including waterproofing, wireless charging, expandable microSD storage and more, such as a headphone jack. The phone has all of the features that I would look for in a smartphone, so it definitely has that going for it as far as a flagship smartphone. Waterproofing is a great safety feature, wireless charging is incredibly convenient and expandable storage means you are not limited to the phone’s built-in storage.

Even though the trend is that wired headphones seem to be going away, the LG V30 is getting quite a bit of attention for including the jack along with QuadDAC (digital-to-analog converter). LG claims it “sounds louder, cleaner, and more accurate — like the original live performance with the 32-bit QuadDAC.”

The LG V30 does not come with headphones, and all that I have on hand are inexpensive earbuds, but in testing it out, the sound was crisp, clear and rich and would no doubt sound even better with good headphones. Even when recording audio and video, it uses three separate microphones to maintain true sound for videos.

How are the photos? According to LG, “similar to DSLR cameras, the LG V30’s standard camera features a wide f/1.6 aperture and a glass lens, resulting in impressive low-light performance and improved color clarity.”

I noticed that colors looked warm and rich. Because of the dual cameras on the rear, zooming allows you to zoom in on any area of the image, and then you can control focus from there.

One thing that bothers me on this phone is the lack of an app drawer as part of LG’s own flavor of Android. An app drawer is a slide up or menu item that lists all of your apps and then allows you not to have them all displayed on pages like your home screen. It’s common for Apple to do this, but with Android I am used to only putting out the apps that I use on screens and leaving the rest in the app drawer. Not a major issue, but worth writing about.

A nice little bonus is that on top of the manufacturer’s one-year warranty, LG provides a second year of warranty upon registration. That definitely says something for LG believing in its build quality.

Additionally, the price is well below some of the newer flagships. The list price is about $840, but there are big incentives from the major mobile carriers, and it can be found for under $700 online.

All in all, the LG V30 is a solid phone that has the features most would be looking for. I may well consider this for my next phone.


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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