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A portable photo printer

Photo printer

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

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I got to try out a great gift idea from my friends at Verizon, the Lifeprint 2×3 Photo and Video Printer, a photo and video printer that prints on special thermal paper without ink.

How do you print videos with a printer, you ask? Well, by using the free app for both Android and iOS (Apple), one can see an augmented reality video by viewing the photo through the app. Lifeprint calls this Hyperphoto.

So if you wanted to send grandma a photo of yourself, but really wanted her to see a video, you would record the video and let the app do the rest by embedding it in the photo with a small code on the corner. It will print out as a photo, but will be viewable through the app as a video when you hold the app camera over the picture and let it read the code printed on the corner.

I would like to point out that you don’t need the printer to download the app. Only one person needs the printer for embedding the videos in photos, and then any person can view the augmented reality video by using the app to view it through.

Lifeprint with Phone

These are small, portable pictures. The pictures themselves print out at 2 inches by 3 inches and are cute, but understandably not the best possible prints available. However, for their size and purpose, they are great.

The photos also have a peel apart backing so that they can be stuck up anywhere. The photos take about half a minute to print.

When you go to print, the app offers to “Print and Share,” and this allows you to share the photo with any friends you are connected to on the Lifeprint network. They can then see your photo without having to wait for you to print it and send it to them.

The printer itself connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth (again, both Android and iPhone) so there is nothing to physically connect. The wireless printer itself is about the size of a large deck of playing cards, making it very portable.

Lifeprint

By logging into your various social media accounts including Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and more, the app pulls in all of your pictures to make it easy to print them out or pull in from your camera’s own photos and videos.

It took me a few minutes to realize that I had the printer upside down, but that is about the total time it took to set up. Once the app is downloaded and the printer is paired to your smartphone via Blutooth, you are ready to go.

The printer charges via the included micro-USB charging cable. It does not come with a power adapter, but you can easily use the power adapter that came with your phone or plug the USB into a computer to charge. It also says it will hold a charge long enough to print 20–30 photos on a complete charge.

There are a limited number of devices that the company says it is optimized for. You should check here before purchasing: lifeprintphotos.com/pages/compatibility.

It runs $129.99. This would be a fun gift to give to someone that likes physical photos, sticky photos and the ability to share video in unique way.

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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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Apple’s latest and greatest

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

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I recently got to try out the iPhone Xs, Apple’s latest flagship smartphone. It is a great phone, and this is the phone to get if you are an Apple lover (or maybe the larger form factor iPhone Xs Max).

I really like almost everything about this phone. The only issue for me is that it is built on Apple’s ecosystem, and I prefer Google’s ecosystem built around the Android operating system.

The device is easy to use with a smooth operating system that uses simple gestures to navigate through the phone. The layout is basically the same layout that Apple has used for the past decade. All of your apps are always available on your screen, and there’s no app drawer, a feature common in Android to store apps that you don’t need to have on your screen.

More and more, I have seen that the Apple/Mac ecosystem makes it very easy to get used to the phone if one is already using an Apple laptop or desktop. You have similar apps on the mobile and desktop OS for mail, calendar and more. Using it on one provides a similar feeling for using it on the other.

The iPhone Xs uses Face ID to unlock and secure the phone; there is no option to use a fingerprint anymore. Face ID is fast and works well in low light so that I never really saw any problems using it to unlock the phone.

The only issue I have with Face ID is having to still swipe up to open the phone after Face ID recognizes your face. If Face ID doesn’t work, the fallback is to use the regular 4- or 6-digit passcode.

The phone uses a Super Retina display with HDR, which is Apple’s OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen. The screen is sharp with nice colors and blacks.

Pictures look great on the phone. The display is 5.8 inches diagonally, while the larger iPhone Xs Max is 6.5 inches diagonally.

That leads us to the cameras.

There are two 12 megapixel cameras on the rear of the phone, one for wide-angles and one that works as a telephoto lens. The camera produces images that are considered among the best in the industry. Photos are sharp and crisp with rich colors and nice definition.

The front facing-camera has a wide-angle lens, and both cameras have a portrait mode that allows you to blur your background and focus on your subject. You can even adjust that blur after you have taken the photo.

The front-facing camera also has special light sensors that are used for depth mapping and Face ID recognition, as well as infrared dot projectors for Face ID.

The phone is splash, water and dust resistant with a rating of IP68, allowing the phone to be submerged in up to two meters of water for up to 30 minutes.

For charging, it uses Apple’s proprietary Lightning cable, but now also includes Qi wireless charging standard too.

Siri, Apple’s smart digital assistant, is still there to help with all of your needs. Siri works within the operating system well, but I prefer to still use Google Assistant on the phone for deeper searches.

With the latest iOS 12 release, Apple added new Siri integration with third-party apps, so a user can create special Siri commands that trigger actions in third-party apps.

The iPhone Xs is available from all major carriers and starts at $999 for the base model with 64 gigs of space.

All in all, this is a great phone. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the only reason this is not the right phone for me is that it is based on Apple’s ecosystem and meant to use the built-in apps for mail and such.

For someone who is already immersed in the Apple ecosystem, or someone wanting to switch to it, the iPhone Xs is Apple’s latest and greatest smartphone yet. It offers high-end smartphone features that can definitely hold their own against other manufacturers.

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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 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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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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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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